Had an opportunity this weekend to listen to some cans for comparison and took a few notes. Thought it might be of use to somebody to reproduce them here. I am indebted to Oxford Audio Consultants for their generosity with their time and equipment. Phones compared were: Audeze LCD-2 Audeze LCD-3 Sennheiser HD-700 Sennheiser HD-800S B&W P9 Signature Audioquest Nighthawk Equipment used was my own Graham Slee Solo SRG-II with PSU-1, and a Chord Hugo 2 DAC with high def media server (don't ask me which - know nothing about these things). Preliminary remarks. I know people are hooked on the HUGO but I was not keen. I don't like the look of it. I tried it as a direct headphone amp, bypassing the Slee, and it had that "in your head" sound which I always try to avoid with headphones. The variable level output was fiddly to use (the multicoloured dome thing doesn't make identifying a reference volume very easy). The other thing is, I am a reluctant joiner of the headphone brigade. I cannot blast music out of speakers where I live, so have had to settle. I know some people swear by headphones, but I should add up front that not one of these cans really impressed me that much. A decent £1k pair of speakers will give you far more involvement with the music. There are two deficiencies for headphones which I found to be irredeemable. The first is bass response. It is just poor compared to loudspeakers. Nothing has "presence" through headphones (an illusive but essential quality). The second is imaging. Even the best headphones here could not escape the "in your head" sound. So I would say if you can accommodate them, even modestly priced stereo loudspeakers I find much more musically involving (I say this as a musician). HD-800S These were first up. They are extremely comfortable headphones. First impressions were "studio-like". Listened to Norah Jones (a CD I have used as demo material for many a loudspeaker setup). Her voice came across as "in your head". All the instruments were present & correct, but not that musically communicative. I did not get the sense of a professional band playing together (which mid-range loudspeakers can give). My notes say that there is a modest bit of glare to her voice, in that it had a slightly "shouty" quality at moments, but I should make clear that all of the headphones exhibited this quality to greater or lesser extents, perhaps because of the proximity to your eardrum. The Senns were the best in class for this, and kept it to a minimum. The Police's 'Roxanne' my notes simply say "no bass!". Anybody who has heard the remaster of this knows how much kick the drum and bass of this track can have through a decent speaker system. It sounded somewhat washed out through the Senns. Buena Vista Social Club had good timbre to instruments and voices, but was emotionally uninvolving. I should add that the 800S easily had the best imaging of all of the 'phones I listened to, but was still no match for loudspeakers. LCD-2 These were second. They are much heavier than the 800S, but were still comfortable on my (rather large) skull. My notes say "much better bass than the Sennheisers, but can also be a bit lumpy at the low end - like a pair of speakers interacting badly with a room". Roxanne had more 'presence' here, and Sting's voice sounded rather more passionate and forthright than with the Senns. Norah Jones was less successful, with glare in her voice which had a slightly shouty quality, and some colour to background instruments that simply wasn't there with the Senns. LCD-3 Heavy, but again comfortable for me. The best way to describe these is a sort of marriage between the HD-800S and the LCD-2. It kept all of the 2's qualities of emotional engagement and presence, but ironed out its problems and took on an overall more neutral tone akin to the 800S. A song by Damien Rice, 'I Remember December', has a slow, almost sweet opening, and then builds to an orchestral and electronic crescendo at the very end. Good speakers can handle this in a way that doesn't make the track start to sound like noise. The LCD-3 presented Rice's voice as if he were physically millimetres away from the studio microphone (whereas the 800S, he sounded further back). When the crescendo began, the LCD-3s fell apart, where quite a lot is going on in the soundtrack. Another song by the same artist, 'Cheers Darlin', was much better handled. Roxanne was superb through the 3's. It is a weird song in that it has quite a peppy, engaging rhythm, but here String's voice gave the song an altogether more emotionally disturbing meaning - a sort of melancholy that none of the other headphones quite matched. Nighthawk These were easily the most comfortable headphones of the group. Very light on the head. Sadly in all other respects they were outperformed by all the other headphones. Instruments and voices alike were coloured with glare, music was not very engaging. B&W P9 These were the only closed backs I listened to. The build quality was truly beautiful to behold - they had the most impressive in-hand feel of all those here. They were a little tight on the head, so maybe not ideal for long listening. Also they seemed a bit heavy. Sound-wise, they sounded different from all the others, rather more 'in-ear' sounding. Voices appeared to be between your ears rather than in a room. I never really got the impression of a soundstage from these - more a series of instruments playing along a plane. If you need closed back, then obviously they are Hobson's choice. HD-700 All that really needs to be said about these is that they sound very similar to the 800S, but with a smaller soundstage They had a studio-like neutrality, and you get the impression that the headphones are simply communicating to you what is in the signal. They were also extremely comfortable. If you like these, you will like the 800S and vice-versa. They had all the benefits and shortcomings of the 800S. Conclusions I cannot hide my disappointment overall with all of the headphones - but perhaps I was hoping for the impossible (i.e. something to displace the need for decent loudspeakers). The Sennheisers do give you the almost subliminal impression that you are hearing exactly what is in a recording with no interference whatsoever. I can see why they are trusted for mixing. However, I also subjectively felt like they were achieving this by taking their foot off the gas, so to speak. Instruments and voices sounded further away, something that could not be remedied with volume control. The 800S clearly have the edge on the 700, but they are so easily identifiable as from the same 'stable' that if you like one, you will like the other. I have not heard the famous HD-650, but I expect that sounds similar again. The Audeze. I am very apprehensive of these having read about quality control problems from various sources online. There are some truly glowing reviews from the press of the 3's in particular. I could not quite figure out how, between the import tariffs, lambskin leather, bamboo wood etc there could be much budget left for the much-vaunted planar technology, when the Sennheiser 800S with its altogether simpler construction retails at an almost identical price to the 3. However, I cannot deny that they do some things very well that the Senns don't. Bass response in particular was far better. The B&W are beautifully built and very different to everything else, but I felt like they were appearing to the top end of the Spotify user market, than the genuine hi-fi buff. The Audioquest are comfortable to wear but rather less comfortable to listen to. I would not recommend these. The Slee more than held its own in this company. I greatly preferred it to the Hugo. I would much rather have not had the Hugo in the signal chain but this was unavoidable due to the way things were set up. On rankings, done purely on sound quality: 1st - LCD-3 2nd - HD-800S 3rd - HD-700 4th - LCD-2 5th - P9 6th - Nighthawk Which one will I buy? But for the widely reported quality control problems, I would buy the LCD-3's. However, I have pretty much settled on the HD-700, which offer most of the performance of the 800S, at a fraction of the price.