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SoundStage! Update

Headphone Shootout

October 18, 2006

A few months ago we published our first set of headphone measurements, which came courtesy of HeadRoom. We reached this agreement with the most prominent advocates of headphone listening earlier in the year, and the review signaled our commitment to covering the world of headphones in a regular way -- with an article each month.

AKG K701s


Sennheiser HD 650s


To assist in this, I bought a two pairs of headphones: Sennheiser HD 650s and AKG K701s. Both have been highly touted in our cyber pages, both were named a Reviewers' Choice, and both are used by more than one SoundStage! writer. All of this had influence on my purchases, but most important was the fact that these two acclaimed headphones sound rather different. I could have settled on just one set of these cans, but variety adds context to reviews, so I bought 'em both.

The K701s sound light and airy -- seductively so -- while the HD 650s are more weighty and substantial, especially in the bass, which has weight that the K701s can't equal. The midrange of both pairs of headphones is exemplary for its high resolution and elecrostatic-like seamlessness. In fact, precious few loudspeakers can approach this -- you will notice it as soon as you put the K701s or HD 650s on your head. The K701s are a little easier to drive, but there is no great difference in this regard between them. A battery-operated HeadRoom Total BitHead can do the deed without effort. The K701s are most comfortable headphones I've ever used; they feel like they're floating on my head, while the HD 650s seem to grip it.

I suppose you're wondering which pair of headphones I prefer. Well, I'm not going to cop out and say that one is better for certain kinds of music or that I could be very happy with either pair. The fact is, when I listen for pleasure, I pick the HD 650s every time. Their sonic balance resembles that of the floorstanding speakers I listen to regularly. The K701s, on the other hand, have the easy, open sound of a very good pair of two-way minimonitors.

What's best about owning two pairs of headphones is that I can swap 'em so much easier than speakers....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com

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