The Sennheiser HD800 is one of the best headphones money can buy, but it’s not without its detractors. It’s not cheap, is demanding of headphone amplifiers (Sennheiser has recently re-entered the headphone amplifier game as a result), and has so much HF detail in tow, some find it too much of a good thing. The HD700 is the response.
There is a strong family resemblance, both physically and sonically. In essence, the HD700 is an example of both ‘trickle up’ and ‘trickle down’ technological development, mixing up aspects found across the home Sennheiser range. So the basic design of the 700 takes much of the band and ear cup development produced for the 800 and makes it a little less flexible, and replaces a lot of the metal with plastic; making a lighter feeling, cheaper headphone with almost no sacrifices to the comfort gods. It also uses a smaller diaphragm than the 800, something closer to the HD650 in construction.
It still features a pair of detachable, replaceable cloth-wrapped cables, joined in a plastic Y-piece at about the third shirt-button. Unlike the screw-in terminals at the ear-cups of the HD800, these are recessed mini-jacks, but ones that are extremely hard to remove.
The performance of the HD700 sits midway between the company’s evergreen HD600 or HD650 and top HD800, albeit with a slight accent toward the HD800. It has a warmer overall presentation than the HD800 and a far less laid back sound and none of the ‘plumby’ bass found in the HD650. Depending on your viewpoint, this either represents the best of both worlds, as in a ‘better’ stepping stone that gets you from ‘good’ to ‘best’, or a headphone that falls between two particularly well-respected stools. Certainly, in the clarity and tonal balance stakes, it falls smack in between the two legendary designs.
For my part, I felt the HD700 takes the whole ‘better’ part of the Sennheiser continuum and runs with it. The HD700 backs away from the sheer amounts of information supplied by the HD800, and for many will sound the better for that. Treble in particular is kept in check; it still has lots of detail – and sounds detailed – but not in the stark ‘in front of the desk’ way of the HD800. For the record, I ultimately still prefer the HD800’s unalloyed, analytical presentation, but I can see why this more comfortable listening experience will gain a good many supporters.It’s not tonally neutral, though. To the extent where it doesn’t appear neutrality was a stated aim of the HD700 design team. In a way, this is akin to the ‘more like a piano than a piano’ sound of something like a LS3/5a loudspeaker, and it’s little wonder the HD700 is causing a stir. In most cases, this characterful nature will come over as the perfect mix of HD800 insight without HD800 brightness.
A shift away from neutrality is absolutely fine if it doesn’t mean you end up editorialising your music collection. I’ve been through practically every musical genre I could find in order to fox the headphones and I failed. If it makes Tragic Songs of Life by the Louvin Brothers sound even more redemptive, Bach’s Goldberg Variations sound more cerebral, Mastodon sound more graunchy, and Skrillex sound just more odd, something’s going very right. The nearest the HD700 gets to letting its guard down is on the latter; playing dubstep with its over-engineered überbass can sometimes be more about the midrange than the deep, OTT bottom end. This is more about bass refinement and precision than intensity.
The big difference between this and the HD800 is it lacks the ability to play clean at stupidly loud levels with the right headphone amplifier. Having experienced precisely how people use the HD800 in the flesh, this might not be a bad thing – the temptation to drive the HD800 past safe listening levels is almost irresistible. We all do it. The HD700 has a lower ceiling and consequently, you play at lower typical volumes than the HD800.
I admit some trepidation here. If the HD800 is too rich for some people’s blood, then the worry was the HD700 could end up being its anaemic little brother. In fact, it’s as much a destination in its own right, rather than a stop-off on the journey. The combination of its more enticing presentation, a treble that goes for insight over analysis and a less demanding headphone amp load makes the HD700 a true force to be reckoned with in the headphone world. Highly recommended!