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High-End Headphones

September 21, 2009 By Steve Guttenberg

Click the images below for bigger versions:
Audio Technica ATH-W5000
Denon AH-D7000
Sennheiser HD 800
Headroom Ultra Desktop Amp

Head Games

Headphones sound fundamentally different than speakers. The sound is, after all, all in your head; with speakers, it's in the room. And that's the problem.

Room acoustics, your position relative to the speakers and the room itself dramatically affect the sound you hear. Room reverberation, reflections and standing waves—not to mention ambient noise—all conspire to blur detail and obscure quiet sounds. With headphones there's nothing between you and the sound.

Sennheiser HD 800After spending some quality time with the new Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000 and Sennheiser HD 800, I'm convinced we're now entering the golden age of high-end headphone design.

Each headphone is in its own right a major advance over what was available before.

All three are circum-aural (over-the-ear) headphones, but they differ in operating principal.

The Audio Technica and Denon are closed-back (aka sealed) designs that isolate the listener from external, ambient noise, and both feature real wood earcups. People who listen in bed or in noisy environments tend to gravitate to closed-back headphones.

The Sennheiser HD 800 is an open-back design. Listening to these headphones you'll hear sound from all around you, and anyone near you will be aware of the HD 800's sound.

For this review, I listened to the headphones with a dedicated headphone amplifier, a HeadRoom Desktop Ultra.

Trust me on this, with headphones as good as these, don't even think about plugging them into a receiver. They're too good for that.


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