Audio-Technica ATH ES700 Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 15, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: Audio-Technica ES700 Portable Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube


    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the ES700 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M80 and M100, the Beyerdynamic DT1350 and T51p, the FAD Pandora IV and VI, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the ES700 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    My first impression of the ES700 was "midrange with recessed treble". The chart included here and on my dalethorn website tells the story - it's down 9-12 db from ~3.5 khz to 8 khz, which is very easy to validate against the average hi-fi headphone. This is the third 'Earsuit' headphone I've had, preceded by the ATH ESW9a and ESW11LTD. The ESW9a has a mild recess of 3-4 db between 3-5 khz, and some rolloff above 8 khz, but is otherwise highly regarded for music listening. Even though the EQ settings I created to balance and smooth the ES700 response were tricky and a bit extreme, the result was a fairly smooth sound with very little harshness. In fact, since I prefer a minimum (or "just there") treble balance, any edginess to the sound would not rise to the irritation threshold. Oddly enough, the result sound has a resemblance to the ESW9a, even though the ES700 does not have wood earcups like the ESW9a.

    The ES700 bass response seems good to me - I prefer a bass that's warmer and has slightly more impact than the classic 'neutral' headphones, and so the ES700 bass is very satisfactory I think. The earpads are a low-cost plastic, unlike the leather or pleather earpads of the ESW9a, yet they don't seem to have any negative effect on the bass even though they don't form a seal like the more expensive earpads. In fact, the ES700 earpads may be advantageous to people who use the headphone in warm and humid environments - since they don't tend to seal to the head as much as the pleather or velour etc. earpads, they're likely to be more comfortable in those warm and humid climates. Summarizing, the ES700 sounds dull out of the box, so the the stock sound isn't good enough for hi-fi listening as a portable, let alone a good at-home stereo system. With the Audioforge EQ treatment it's good enough for use in nearly any situation.

    The ES700 comes with a plastic bag for a carry case, which I don't find useful. Since the earcups fold flat, there are some low-profile and stiff carry cases available online that will protect this headphone when carried in luggage. You would be taking a chance on damaging the ES700 if carried in a backpack using the plastic bag that comes with it, since the build isn't very rugged. The 4.5 foot dual-entry cable is very thin and not detachable, and the plastic parts around the headband could be damaged. The earcups connect to the headband via two thin metal posts on each side, and those could be bent with moderate force. The ES700 isolation is a good average for a closed headphone and the leakage is very low. If used in a very quiet office at moderate volume, I don't think anyone in an adjacent cubicle would hear sounds coming from the headphone.

    The comments in the music tracks listed in this review can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the ES700 plays the different types of music listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the ES700 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    ES700 review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a modest weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The ES700 plays this very well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled fairly well by the ES700.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The ES700 plays this music perfectly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the ES700.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The ES700 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The ES700 reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the ES700 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The ES700 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The ES700 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The ES700 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the ES700 plays this music pretty well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has very good detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The ES700 makes this track really come alive.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the ES700. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Human League - Keep Feeling Fascination (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's bass line is very detailed, but the somewhat forward voices don't have quite the "you are there" quality of the Heaven 17 track noted above.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The ES700 provides excellent detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the ES700 does those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The ES700 plays this so clearly that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the ES700 is an excellent example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle with the ES700.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The ES700 reproduces those sounds very well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The ES700 conveys that experience in a subtle but convincing way. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the ES700 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The ES700 delivers the impacts with a fair amount of weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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