Sennheiser's new HD 700 ($999.95) over-the-ear headphones sound "effortless," without strain, harshness or aggressive edge. Their stereo soundstage is more open and spacious than you'll hear from most audiophile headphones, and the bass, midrange, treble balance is very smooth, with no overly exaggerated frequencies. The HD 700 is straight down the middle, a very accurate set of headphones designed for buyers who want to hear sound with nothing added or taken away from the music.
Design and features
The HD 700 feels like it weighs almost nothing on your head, but in fact it's 272 grams, which is about average for full-size headphones. Its plush microfiber-covered earpads allow for some air circulation, so they are less likely to make your ears sweat than leather pads would.
I find the HD 700 well above average in comfort, even after hours of use. Earpad pressure against my ears was light, and that certainly contributed to the HD 700's exceptional comfort. It's one of the few full-size headphones that didn't put pressure against the frames of my glasses.
The HD 700's unique styling may not align with everyone's tastes, but I think it looks great. Overall build quality is top-notch, but the earpieces and headband are made of gray plastic, which feels out of place on a high-end design. The 40mm driver is unique to the HD 700, and is not used in any other Sennheiser headphones.
The HD 700's open-frame earpiece supports the 40mm driver within a tightly controlled, open-air acoustic chamber. The three ultrafine, stainless-steel mesh grilles gracing the earcups' exterior may appear to be purely cosmetic, but they were carefully designed to control the air movement behind the 40mm driver.
The steel mesh may dent if you handle the HD 700 too roughly, but even small dents won't adversely affect the sound of the headphones, according to a Sennheiser engineer I asked.
Then again, high-end headphones should be treated with the same care one would give a $1,000 digital camera. That's not to imply a concern for the HD 700's long-term durability; my 15-year-old Sennheiser HD 580 headphones' plastic parts never cracked or deteriorated in any way.
The HD 700's earpieces are free to move on lateral and vertical pivots, so they should conform to everyone's head shape with ease. The open-back design does not isolate the wearer from hearing environmental noise, and people near the listener will hear sound coming from the headphones. As such, the HD 700s probably won't be the best headphones to listen in bed when you're not alone.
The headphone comes packed in a handsome and sturdy padded storage case. The 9.8-foot-long Y cable has 3.5mm connectors that plug into the left and right earcups, while the stereo 6.3mm connector at the other end can plug into an AV receiver or dedicated headphone amplifier.
The cable is very flexible and covered in a durable fabric, but has a tendency to kink when bent. It does not come with a 3.5mm adapter plug.
The HD 700 has a 150-ohm-rated impedance, as opposed to 300 ohms for the flagship HD 800 headphone. Even so, 150 ohms is higher than most headphones designed for use with portable music players and phones, typically rated at 50 ohms or less.