Technics, a brand established in high-end audio, steeped in culture, venerated by artists who made their turntables the paragon of performance, has long been silent, with very few innovations, and even fewer product releases. Panasonic, Technic's parent company, sought to revitalise the brand by venturing deeper into the high-end, luxury, audiophile market. Their latest offerings include new reference class turntables, amplifiers, speaker monitors, and most recently, a pair of headphones. Retailing at the manufacturer suggested price of $1,200 USD, the Technics EAH-T700 Premium Stereo Headphones sets itself out to be a prime contender in the saturated audiophile headphone market.
On paper, everything looks right:
Freq. Response: 3Hz - 100kHz
Speaker Unit: Ø50-mm Dynamic Driver / Ø14-mm Super Tweeter
Sensitivity: 102 dB / mW
Impedance: 28 Ω
Power Handling (IEC): 1500 mW (IEC)
Its paper specs are quite impressive. These are the kind of numbers only a few other headphones can surpass. The Sennheiser HE1 and Orpheus come to mind here. They are similarly spec'd but come packaged with their own DAC/AMP and cost $50,000 MSRP. So what can we get for two percent of that price? To answer this question, I decided to purchase my own pair.
The quest for fire:
Acquiring the EAH-T700 was a bit of a challenge with many HiFi audio US dealers on backorder or not carrying the unit altogether. It's important to mention that the lack of availability has less to do with units being sold out and more to do with the less than ideal, initial, western market reception of the product. I decided to search for them internationally. Although, Technics is a Japanese brand, local Japanese quantities were also slim. Eventually, I landed on a new pair which I found at Japan's Denki Station electronics store. *insert credit card swipe / register ding sound*
While the most important thing about high-end audio products is the audio, there's something to be said about companies that go above and beyond obsessing over minor, and perhaps, trivial details in their products. At a price point above a comma, I expect the trivial to have some polish. Technics doesn't disappoint. The unboxing experience is ... well just that. It was an experience. You're first greeted with a little envelope adhered to the box containing a certificate of authenticity and product registration paperwork. I'd like to note that the adhesive used didn't leave any residue. Plenty of companies miss this minor detail. Opening the box is like unfolding origami. It has an outer shell that has some intricate folds at the top. Once out of the card shell, you're left with a hexagonal shaped cabinet. There’s this animation that happens as you unfold and open the cover. It tilts the headphones toward you. It’s a subtle touch, but it does its job in conveying the premium quality the product is striving for and it does it well. This is a similar experience to opening a pair of McIntosh MHP1000 or Kennerton Odin Zebrano. The materials used in the presentation are not quite in the level you would necessarily call luxury, but I commend Technics in the effort. It was able to get some “oohs” and “ahhs” around the people who witnessed the unboxing. Under the hexagonal box is a smaller hexagonal box that contains the two cables, a leather carrying pouch, a 1/4” TRS adapter, and the owner’s manual/warranty information card.
Build quality and construction:
After the high from opening the package for the first time, things start to move toward a gradual decline as I find my way around the headphones and play with the various hinges and adjustments. Things feel unbound. I could use the term “loose” here, but I felt that it may bring too much of a negative connotation. The hinges in the cups that let it tilt, swivel, and slide have an ease to how they adjust. There is a lot of play in the various points of articulation. The loose adjustments naturally help conform the headphones to the wearer as they put it on, and I’d like to believe this is by design. Even though the build is secure, it can tend to feel flimsy because of it. Things got better as I approached the headband adjustment. It has a very solid click and tick marks for precise height customisation. The headband itself is nicely put together. It has ample padding that is soft with a premium leather surround sans logo/branding, capped by small chrome accents where it meets the headphone hinges. The cup housing, hinges, and arms are all constructed from aluminium and finished with a satin, deep grey, soft touch finish. The plush, soft ear pads are surrounded by GRANCUIR leather which is a fancy term for a very specific/patented way to prepare leather resulting in greater comfort for the skin. It’s soft and it breathes well. The cushions have a unique shape to them that accommodates for natural contours of the neck and the area around the pinna.
There’s a 50mm Multi Layer Film diaphragm driver accompanied by a 14mm aluminium tweeter in each cup. As far as I can tell, there is no cross-over component ,so the drivers are left to render the entire signal. Fortunately, there were no phase issues between the main driver and tweeters. They’re mounted at an angle towards the listener’s ear on a speaker plate that has reverberation reduction material which looks like faux fur. There are vents on the housing to balance air pressure levels inside the cup, and although these are marketed as closed headphones, they perform more like semi-open because of it. There's a bit of a sound leak through the vents. The detachable cables connect to threaded 3.5mm TRS connection ports on the bottom of the cups. The locking connectors turn independently of the cables, so there’s no concern of excess cable tension from twisting.
Ergonomics and comfort:
The headphone calliper pressure is quite nice. It just fits comfortably without any pressure points from any part of the headphones. The headband does a really good job spreading the weight on your crown. The forward diagonal adjustment is a welcome addition as it adds more customisation to fit and placement. My listening environment is around 20°C, and so far, I haven’t felt the pads getting too warm. They’re nice for longer listening sessions. They’re also surprisingly light. The uniquely shaped pads didn’t seem to make a difference. Putting on replacement pads that were just regular donut shaped had the same comfort and feel. The difference is the leather though. I do prefer the GRANCUIR leather. Whatever they’re doing there, it’s figgin’ magic.
Soundstage / Imaging
The soundstage is good and wide within reason. It’s tuned to be realistic and accurate with clear stereo separation.
These headphones are bright; Grado Labs bright. The high frequency extension goes up pretty far. Out of the box, the highs were over powering and sharp. Overtime, whether its through pseudo speaker burn-in or ear drum damage from sharp frequencies, the highs started to become tame and airy. The sparkle started to come through cymbals, and metallic sounds lost their harsh sharpness. It’s hard to quantify the quality of the highs because it evolved over time and depends on whether you believe in burn-in. Mids are punchy and they are present. These are a colder sounding pair of headphones. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What they lack in warmth, they make up for in speed and accuracy. Thuds and thumps hit hard. Transients are pronounced. Mid-bass is fast and tight. There is little to no bleed in this area. Lower octave notes are all rendered clearly. There’s a very subtle, smooth boost in this frequency range that starts to go down as you approach the bass range. The bass is just as fast and tight. It’s renders very accurately. They tuned for a more subdued, flat response in the bass and this continues towards sub frequencies. It’s clear that the drivers can deliver frequencies sub 20Hz. While I don’t have golden ears, I can hear/feel down to 12Hz in these cans. It probably goes lower than that, but I can’t say for sure. Although it is able to hit sub frequencies, the fall-off is quite drastic. These may not have that low rumble bass-heads look for. Then again, they’re not made for that. Still, I feel that the fall-off in the bass extension is a little too drastic to call it balanced or flat for reference.
So what do you get for a $1,200? I’d say you get a pretty competitive pair of cans. The sound profile isn’t perfect, whether you look at it from a scientific-reference or an embellished-musical perspective. It's a bit of a mixed bag but a bag that is filled with interesting things to discover. It isn't necessarily bad. I feel that it has an identity issue. The accuracy it's able to deliver shifts its profile more towards reference listening, but some of the tuning choices they made keep it from truly achieving that endeavour. At the price point, there are better options. Technics got many things right and a few other things questionable at worst. They ended up with a competent headphone for the collection. I’m excited to see what they do with a second generation of these.