If you’ve been following Playback’s headphone coverage over the past two years, you may have noticed that I am a fan of Denon’s high-end but not too high-priced AH-D5000 headphone. The AH-D5000 isn’t set up to be neutral, but I’ve used it to explain why literal neutrality and psycho-acoustic neutrality are likely to be two different things especially when it comes to headphones. The Denon 5000s have a somewhat elevated bass range that often does a better job of simulating the dynamic impact of live bass than does many a more “flat” headphone.
I still hold that point of view, because it is rooted in some pretty sensible logic as well as lots and lots of listening to both headphones and live music. But, since my original review of the AH-D5000s, many new high-end headphones have come to market (e.g., the Sennheiser HD-800, the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla, and the Ultrasone Edition 8, to name a few). As technology marches forward, the colorations of the Denon 5000s have seemed more bothersome (they were always obvious). This lead me to wonder if the maximum supreme Denon model, the AH-D7000, might resolve some of the issues with the 5000, while retaining strengths no other headphone has matched recently.
I’ve been listening to the AH-D7000s for a short while now, and I can offer some observations. While reading this, keep in mind that the street price for the 7000s lies in between the upper-middle headphones in other lines (e.g., the Sennheiser HD-650) and the new ultra-premium headphones (e.g., the Sennheiser HD-800).
Bass Response: Bass remains a relative strength versus most other headphones when you listen to the 7000s. I would rate the depth of the bass as outstanding and the overall level is probably a better compromise between technically balanced and psycho-acoustically neutral bass (the 5000 is really too rich here). There is, however, no free lunch, and the 7000 fall short of the ideal (i.e., live music) in upper bass definition. I think the bass on the 7000s is a little better than on the Sennheiser 800s, though maybe not quite up to the Ultrasone Edition 8s.
Mid-range Response: The mid-range of the 7000s is clear, with excellent instrumental separation. This is high praise, because most headphones have some wobbliness in the mid-range that is pretty obvious. The 7000s don’t entirely escape criticism here, as extended listening reveals a somewhat over-damped sound that may be the result of a shallow dip in the upper mids.
Perhaps related to this, but perhaps not, I didn’t get the sense that the 7000s are at the state of the art in resolving power. Instrumental decay (e.g., the lingering resonances after a guitar is strummed) fades faster than what you would hear live. This slightly reduces the sense of the space in which the recording was made and makes instruments of different construction sound more like each other. You may not be thinking about this stuff as you listen, but the lack of micro-detail reduces the sense of realism you get with the 7000s, just a bit.
Treble Response: Through the 7000s, I notice a very small spike in the lower treble. This makes some vocals sound more sibilant than they really are and leaves a slightly un-natural sheen on some ensemble work.
Overall Balance: The great thing about the 7000s is that the macro-balance from bass to mid to treble is very artfully judged, which is probably the item most people will notice first and consider most significant. In addition the bass depth and weight are impressive. Whatever remaining flaws you might notice seem small, especially if you like the character of the particular spectral balance the AH-D7000s have on offer. The 7000’s bass and mid-range issues are mostly subtractive, so you might not notice them overtly. The region of treble “zing” mentioned above is relatively small, so it could go unnoticed too. For those of you hoping for a sampling of top-shelf sound at a near middle-shelf price, Denon’s flagship AH-D7000s could do the trick.
Watch for my full-length review of the AH-D7000 in an upcoming AVguide/Playback email newsletter (click here to join AVguide—it’s FREE—and to receive our newsletters).