Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K701: An 8-track, One Night Showdown - - An Overclocking Community

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Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K701: An 8-track, One Night Showdown

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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 05-31-2009, 12:44 PM - Thread Starter
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The other night I was sitting around, feeling sorry for myself that I could not attend this year's largest headphone meet (CanJam in Los Angeles). While doing so it occurred to me that an analytical listening session might be able to cure what ailed me . Courtesy of fellow OCNHC member Azazel (Matt), I have been fortunate to have had a K701 on loan for quite some time now. I have listened to it periodically over the last few months, but never really directly compared it to the other headphones I have owned during this period. Upon receiving my HD600, I knew it was a matter of time before I compared these two headphones directly. In the past I have commented that both sound fairly similar to one another in presentation and style, but after my single-night tango it is clear that this is not quite correct.

Listening Conditions

The environment was excellent for conducting a comparison, it was held in my own bedroom where my headphone/speaker rig currently resides. The time was from roughly 7 PM to 10 PM Central; my parents, being middle-aged, settle down around this time and the only noise that could have possibly interfered was the television, which I negated by keeping my door closed .

My current rig is comprised of:
  • Source - Marantz CD5001 (CDP and transport) + Parasound D/AC 1100. The Marantz feeds the signal from the optical output using a Blue Jeans optical cable.
  • Amplification - Moth Audio EC2A3. Tubes are 2x Sovtek 2A3 in output, Sylvania (rebranded as Tung Sol) 6SN7GTB in driver, and Shiguang 5AR4 rectifier. RCA Interconnects feeding signal from Parasound to Moth are Heartland Cables RCA's.
  • Power cables are hospital-grade for both DAC and amp, CDP uses it's own cable built in to the unit. All components run from the same basic power strip (non-conditioning), fed from my bedroom's primary outlet.
  • HD600 is in stock configuration with the exception of the cable, currently using an Oehlbach cable terminated in 1/4th. Drivers are older version with black covering.
  • K701 is in stock configuration with the exception of retermination of the stock cable to a Neutrik 4-pin XLR. Using a Neutrik 4-pin XLR to 1/4th adapter. Serial # is 20729, making this a later production unit.

Important to Note

The HD600 is my absolute reference headphone. I owned an HD580 for quite some time, probably 4-5 months last year, and in that span I developed a sense a familiarity with this Sennheiser beyond that of any other audio listening device I have ever owned. This HD600 is very close in sound, differing in headstage/soundstage aspects that overall I prefer.

It is important to note that the HD600 is my reference because...

A) Possible bias. Even I will not deny this.

B) The comparison is mainly in my impressions of the K701. I conducted the session in such a way that I would listen to the Sennheiser first and the AKG second. The Sennheiser comments are not as enlightening as the AKG's, mainly because I was listening more to the music than the way in which it was being reproduced. Once I listened to the AKG's, both headphones' presentations became clear.

The Impressions

* The comments that follow were written down immediately during listening. This is a complete and full transfer of my words from my notepad to the pc. *

Song 1: Porcupine Tree - In Absentia - Trains. For this track I went back to HD600 a second time, to compare further. See endnotes of HD600.

  • Mids very focused throughout
  • Slight forwardness in acoustic guitar @ beginning
  • Super tight bass (more voluminous than K701)
  • Good echo/decay in vocals
  • Drums set behind rest of instrumentation
  • Headstage is fairly flat, not a lot of 3D beyond echo
  • Percussion lines during mellow part (4:00) are very textured, feel forward
  • Much more 3D than K701 @ 4:50
  • Entire instrumentation is somehow working together better, with K701 is separated but not cohesive

  • Acoustic feels almost veiled, still detailed but mashed
  • Leaner bass (still accurate)
  • Treble seems more noticeable
  • Mids feel flatter
  • Same texture on percussion lines @ 4:00
  • Slightly wider headstage, but feeling less 3D to convey sound location in front of me
  • Too much relaxation in guitars

Song 2: Frou Frou - Details - Breathe In. One listen with both headphones.

  • Good depth work between back, synchronized part and more forward vocals
  • Lots of sweeping from left to right channel = wide headstage
  • Bass is controlled and not able to bloom [bloom = over-bloated bass, excessive in quantity]
  • @ 2:50, super 3Dness in vocals
  • Nice separation in multiple vocal lines after 3:00, very flowing

  • Almost a sort of roll-off in lowest bass notes, gains more quantity as it moves up in pitch
  • Vocals are very close to HD600, maybe a tad bit drier
  • Same treble presence as 1st song
  • Bach synchronization is working well
  • Again, more width

3rd Song: Tool - 10,000 Days - Jambi. What kind of toolhead would I be if I didn't use at least one song in my session?! One listen with both.

  • Great control
  • Drums are presented very wide, most noticeable in cymbal hits and tom rolls during fills
  • Bass line playing wide and textured
  • Drums also providing 3D
  • Maynard's voice dropped back for depth, still super detailed and very discernable
  • Good treble hits 3:20 - 3:30
  • Great sound overall @ 4:00, really rocking out, great imaging going on, drums are the star of this song

  • Even in guitar line at beginning, the pitch seems higher because the lower portion of the instrument is leaner [I could tell this in every piece of instrumentation]
  • Very weak @ 1:20, entire sound is much too lean
  • Feeling the same flatness, but drums are providing a bit of 3D
  • Super tight treble, not enough splash throughout [cymbals]
  • Wideness in guitars works well
  • Little impact @ 4:00, HD600 hits considerably harder

4th Song: John Williams - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition) - The Battle of Hoth. One listen with both.

  • Easily identifiable track in both # of musicians in parts and recording environment
  • Love the texture in strings, especially the violas
  • Horns really can emphasize
  • Treble (flutes/violins) are sitting back, more forward in mids, giving a lot of musicality
  • Good reverb. on piano after 4:00
  • Easily most 3D song thus far
  • Great french horn rip after 6:00, really textured
  • Speed not a problem with fast melodies after 6:00
  • Separation at quieter parts is pristine
  • Bells around 9:00 are placed very well

  • Not finding as much of a need for the low-end as previous songs
  • Texture is toe-to-toe with Hd600
  • Very wide across the channels
  • Snare is too laid back compared to HD600 from 2:20 to 2:30
  • Finally hearing some 3D with this headphone
  • Still hearing slightly upturned pitches
  • Good timpani after 4:20
  • Might prefer K701's presentation of trumpet, very emphasized
  • Wideness is working in its favor, giving more fullness to part after 5:30

5th Song: Bonobo - Days to Come - Hatoa. One listen with both.

  • Textured bass
  • Wideness coming from percussion, depth shown in bass, retaining focus in center of presentation
  • Really laid back melody line, adding 3D

  • Roll-off @ beginning
  • Lean percussion yet again, weakens the song which emphasizes these leans on the HD600
  • Feeling less 3D
  • Echoing counter melody done well
  • Lean bass not bad, still has the texture
  • Softer feeling in general

6th Song: Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between - Down, Down to Mephisto's Cafe. One listen with both.

  • Really good vocals
  • Focus in horns, sound great
  • Lots of percussion impact
  • Depth being carried through midrange (vocals/gang vocals) and percussion
  • With so much instrumentation taking place [there are 8-9 separate lines at once], surprised nothing feels mashed in
  • Bass could be brought out more
  • Horns and guitar mainly adding width to soundstage
  • Getting nice echo off horn solo around 4:15

  • Upturned pitch
  • Confirmation that horns are done just as well with this headphone
  • Surprised bass isn't ruining experience, just enough impact
  • Eww drums, snare and cymbals are barely saving it
  • Low-end may not be doing it during chorus
  • Vocals are very close to HD600, still pushing some 3D
  • Guitar might be adding more depth compared to percussion
  • Good separation, just not as exciting as HD600

7th Song: Josh Groban - Josh Groban - Alejate. One listen with both.

  • Main focus in vocals, lots of echo providing depth
  • Orchestral piece sitting back
  • Guitar in front, great detail
  • Nice little bass beat accenting
  • Rough recording in vocals around 2:20, we'll see if K701 finds it
  • Great musicality surrounding back instruments with guitar

  • Drier vocals
  • Guitar spot-on, close to perfect
  • Orchestral is roughly the same, maybe even further back, giving possibly more depth
  • Found the rough recording easily
  • Echo on mids is very similar
  • Overall it's close to HD600, very close

8th Song: The Flashbulb - Red Extensions of Me - Sensual Data. One listen with both.

  • Super tight beginning bass
  • Bass is too far back and lean
  • Good depth, width is lacking
  • Almost hitting roll-off in lows
  • Pace is good, not having trouble with speed
  • Around 3:10, width gets a quick jolt, followed up @ 3:30
  • Electronic melody feels too laid back for my tastes, attention is on the pulse/tempo lines

  • Way too tight, more thickness please
  • Bass [like HD600] is too lean and laid back
  • Melody seems a little more upfront
  • Bass is pretty important in this piece, and this is where K701 loses out

Conclusions/General Thoughts

So I wrote down quite a few comments across the eight different tracks, but what does it all amount to? Here are my general thoughts when I compare the two headphones:

#1: Headstage depth. HD600 wins here rather easily. On the majority of the tracks, it was not a close competition. I felt the Senn. was giving me a much better sense of 3D sound, the feeling of where instruments were located in the context of the larger environment. Lines that felt forward, were more forward. Lines that were sitting back, felt more back.

#2: Headstage width. K701 was wider in virtually every track. This was beneficial in some cases, but not in all. I personally find depth to be more desirable for overall imaging, and it is much more difficult for a headphone to present. The more width of the AKG gives it a flatter headstage. For close-mic'd recordings, this is a big flaw. For open mic'd, well recorded tracks (Star Wars in this case) the K701 is able to pick up some depth and compete on the same level as the HD600.

#3: Pitch. K701 does some funky stuff because of its lean bass. As first noted in Tool's Jambi, I could hear that every individual instrument felt slightly higher-pitched because the lower-range tones of each note were very lean. Bass goes beyond drums and bass guitar; there is a low-range element of each note in each instrument, and when it is missing the sound is neither as natural nor as musical in my opinion. HD600 is able to present every note with adequate fullness, but the K701 misses out. I could tell this in each track during the session. It's an attribute that the listener could get used to if he only listened to the K701, but when another headphone is added it does sound funky.

#4: Musicality. This point is entirely preferential and exclusive to each listener. I found the HD600 more musical based on what it was doing that the K701 could not. I find sufficient bass to be musical, and in many cases the K701 was not adequate. Both of these headphones exhibit some dryness in the midrange, which I feel is the most influential area of the freq. range for providing musical sound. In general, K701 was drier. This is a disadvantage. HD600 is certainly not syrupy, but it gives vocals a decent amount of thickness and roundness that sounds good. I think that the HD600 is more responsive to warmth that can be provided by tube amplifiers; it seems at times like the K701 was fighting the warmth instead of letting it take over.

#5: Genres. I tried to select tracks that were unique in their own way, giving a wide variance for the session. Tracks 1, 3, 5, and 6 were the most revealing of the HD600's advantages over the K701. Rock music can tell you a lot about the reproduction you are hearing; the synergy between vocals, guitars, and drums is difficult to do right. HD600 is not spectacular at rock, but it gets it correct for the most part. K701 feels too uninvolved for close-mic music. It prefers a wider, more airy recording that doesn't depend on a solid low-range to be musical. Tracks 2, 4, and 7 support this claim. In all three, I felt the K701 was on par with the HD600. If I had to choose which I preferred for these tracks, it would be more of a matter of preference than simply choosing the headphone that outperformed the other. I might also add that with brass instruments, the K701 is exceptional.

The most difficult track was easily #8. Both headphones struggled with the first half of the song. I did this on purpose to see how a headphone can respond to something that does not fit its natural reproduction. I would say that the HD600 faired better, and because of this I find it a more well-rounded headphone. When the AKG struggles with something, it really struggles.

Ultimately, if I were listening to a lot of orchestral/soundtrack/musical/classical, I would say that K701 is a safe bet. Anything outside of this, and you might want a more well-rounded headphone. The AKG is too inconsistent for me to warrant purchasing it. I am, and will remain, satisfied with the HD600 for a long time to come.


Thanks for sticking through the lengthy read. I hope you learned something useful somewhere in this post. Best wishes.

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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 05-31-2009, 05:40 PM
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A nice in-depth comparison, thanks for taking the time

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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 05-31-2009, 08:38 PM
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nice review. i havent heard eather of the phones sadly enough but i did listen to that flashbulb song, and i can agree with the funky headstage explosions. but the snare has so much punch in that song even for a you tube vid.

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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 05-31-2009, 08:44 PM
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Good review.

Although I have not listened to ANY of the songs you've reviewed. >.>

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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 05-31-2009, 09:46 PM
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Besides being one of the most well written and in depth reviews I have read ... Tool + Porcupine Tree ftw. Great music for comparisons.
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 06-01-2009, 12:34 PM
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Great job, Aura!

I have compared these two phones, and the K701 is just too thin for my tastes. The HD600 is a fairly flat/neutral phone also, but it seems to have more punch. Perhaps the HD600 bass is tuned up a bit and the K701 is more flat, but I just like the HD600 better. It's still my reference phone, but I am not playing in the $1000+ headphone league (yet).

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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 06-01-2009, 04:16 PM
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Good read. Its interesting for me to read your review as the only headphones I considered before finally buying HD600 are those in your review. Seems I made a good decision. Fuller and tighter bass is always welcomed (HD600). Does the recabling do a big difference Aura?

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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 06-01-2009, 04:21 PM
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excellent, as always bryan.

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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 06-02-2009, 02:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks fellas.

.Sup - I have not heard an HD600 with the stock cable, funnily enough. Every pair I have ever heard at the meets I attended were all using an upgraded cable, from RSA's custom job to Cardas to Enigma Audio, etc. I used an HD650 cable with my HD580, and overall I do prefer this Oehlbach in functionality. Problem is, the HD600 could very well sound different (though minor I suspect) from the HD580 even they were utilizing the same cable, so honestly I really cannot say for sure how large of a difference the cable has/has not made. I would probably argue that the differences are in the headphone itself, if I had to.

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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 06-07-2009, 05:36 PM
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hmm... I've got a pair of HD580's with HD600 grills and a pair of K701's that were just recabled earlier today burning in...

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