The ST750 seems built to appeal to retro types, or maybe to the guys (like me) who read S+V's predecessor, Stereo Review, back in high school and still long for that hand-tooled vibe of classic hi-fi gear. The champagne-finish metal parts and stitched-leather cover remind me of the products I see at my fave vintage audio store, Innovative Audio in Vancouver.
The earpieces swivel in every direction, so the ST750 should conform well to practically any head shape. The earpads aren't the plushest we've encountered, but they're comfy enough for a couple of hours. A permanently attached cable danges from each earpiece. The power switch for the internal amp is on the right side, easy to access by feel and accompanied by a red LED "on" indicator. The cap on the right earpiece twists off to reveal the compartment for two AAA batteries.
Only one bit of this $249 package disappoints: the carrying case, which is just a drawstring sack made from thin fabric. There's an upside, though: It won't take up as much room in your computer bag as the hardshell cases supplied with many over-ear headphones do.
Lauren and Will both gave the ST750 a good listen. In her case, an iPhone served as the source. In his, a Rane HC6S headphone amp fed by a Denon DVD-2900 SACD/DVD/CD player. I listened with the Rane rig, driven by a Firestone Audio ILTW USB DAC, and from my iPod touch. Both Will and Lauren thought the build quality of the ST750 was a notch or two above what they usually encounter at this price. We did most of our listening in active mode, with the ST750's internal amp switched on.
Anything but old-fashioned
I'll start with a comment from a "mystery panelist"—a visiting headphone manufacturer who upon seeing my table full of headphones immediately started checking them out. After trashing every other model I had around—even the PSB M4U 2, S+V's 2012 Product of the Year—he surprised me with his assessment of the ST750: "These are really good!"
"You don't think they're kinda bright?" I asked.
"I like bright," he replied.
That little convo nicely sums up our impression of the ST750. This is not a headphone for those who like big bass. It's not for those who like a super-dynamic sound. It's a high-quality headphone for those who want to hear the details and subtleties in their favorite recordings, delivered without adulteration.
"It's at the opposite end of the spectrum from most of the headphones we test," Will said. "It's very accurate, especially in the upper mids and treble. The low mids and bass are damped down compared to what I'm used to hearing. The overall balance works well if you listen at moderate levels. If you listen loud, like I do, it gets a little too bright." Lauren's comments dovetailed almost perfectly with Will's; she thought the quality of the sound was great but it just wasn't enough bass for her taste.
My longer listening sessions brought out the ST750's characteristics in—appropriately—greater detail. When I listened to "Big Bang" from K-pop boy band Haru Haru, I wrote "It's pretty hot in the highs, but god are the vocals detailed and god is the bass tight." ZZ Top's "Chartreuse" sounded totally fun, with a great sense of crunch on Billy Gibbons' guitar and ultra-tight, perfectly defined bass. Bassist Dusty Hill's background vocals are a little hard to hear on this track, but the ST750 brought them out clearly, almost as if I could hear Hill standing right next to Gibbons at the microphone (which might happen live but surely never happened in the studio).
Cueing up Steely Dan's "Aja" once again, I was completely blown away by the ST750's detail in the cymbals, piano, and guitar, and by the sense of space I heard. That perfectly played bass line sounded perfectly tight and precise. Donald Fagen's voice sounded clean and naturally reedy, although I noticed it got a little thin when I cranked up the volume. However, the tune sounded brighter than though any other headphone I had around, other than my Grado SR225.
Let's go deeper. Comparing the ST750 to the $399 Yamaha Pro 500, I noticed that when I played "Nancy Jane" by Pacific Northwest revivalist group The Crow Quill Night Owls, I could hear more midrange detail in the Yamaha, while the TDK seemed to be missing a little in the mids around 1 or 1.5 kHz. Same result with jazz singer Sue Matthews' recording of "I Fall in Love Too Easily"—great sound overall, just a mild recess in the mid-mids.
The bass takes a big hit when you switch the amp off. A tonal balance that sounds thin yet appealing suddenly becomes grating. It's good that unlike some noise-cancelling headphones, the ST750 still works when the batteries run down, but ST750 buyers will want to stock up on AAAs.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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