Hot on the heels of recent Grado and Audio-Technica high-end headphone offerings, comes this new AH-D7000 range-topper from Denon.
Smart satin-lined packaging and first-class finish are a given at this price, but what's behind the facade?
The differences between a model like this and something more mundane are largely in the details. 50mm drivers with neodymium magnets are hardly surprising, though the use of microfibre diaphragms is less common.
The closed earcups are made of mahogany, finished so well on the outside that to the casual glance it looks like plastic.
The frame is made of light metals, magnesium and aluminium alloy and it adjusts with the businesslike click of a sturdy precision mechanism. Earpads and the headband are lined with particularly luxurious soft leather.
One subtlety cited by Denon is an 'Acoustic Optimiser', which we take to be the damping in the earcups. Closed cups run a much higher risk of resonance than open ones, and controlling how the sound off the rear of each diaphragm is reflected, transmitted and absorbed is critical.
A simple test of tapping on the outside of each cup suggests that Denon has this well covered. One feature that does slightly concern us is the lead, which is fabric-covered to reduce tangling: the fabric generates mechanical noise as it slides over skin or clothing and that noise is efficiently coupled up to the ears.
That aside, we are happy to report some very impressive results with the Denon flagship. We've yet to hear a headphone that is absolutely neutral, but this model gets closer than most.
There is even considerably less sibance than we've heard from many headphones. The midrange is mostly neutral, with only mild congestion in the general region of female vocals preventing us from dropping the 'mostly' bit.
The real glory of this headphone, though, is its bass. It has a degree of extension, coupled with solidity and control, that is remarkable going on unique for a headphone. To use a venerable hi-fi test favourite as an example, the 'heartbeats' on the very first track of Dark Side of the Moon are so weighty one could easily believe they are being felt as well as heard, a particularly rare trick for any headphone to achieve.
At the same time, they don't dominate proceedings and the excellent detail relayed by the AH-D7000 means that one hears the background speech more clearly than usual.
Just occasionally, that bass can become oppressive, particularly in tracks where there is relatively high-speed use of bass drum, for instance. Such tracks are not too common, though, so the drawback is relatively minor.
As with most fine headphones, detail is really very good indeed; a clear improvement over the standard of most affordable loudspeakers. Instruments and vocals have tons of character and individuality.
Each instrument here exists in harmony with the others, but within its own tonal and physical space. Imaging is more 'left and right' than 'seamless stereo', but it is also clear, stable and precise.
The closed-back design also gives better exclusion of outside noise than several models we've tried recently, and less 'spill' outwards, too.
Having only recently completed an Ultimate Group Test on upmarket headphones, we feel confident in proclaiming this one of the finest models around.
Our favourite, the Grado GS1000, is open-backed and very different in presentation, but among closed models, this is the most persuasive we've heard and is even more neutral than Audio-Technica ATH-W5000.
£800 feels like a lot of money for a pair of 'cans' if you've never experienced what really good headphones can do. A trial of Denon's AH-D7000 could change attitudes, though. You'll be won over in an instant.
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