It's a Headphones Thing

A Headphones Reviews Blog

REVIEW: TDK ST800

Prior to the review, I would like to thank Tren for the review sample.

TDK Life on Record is a huge well known worldwide data storage’ recordable media and electronics company. In the 90s, almost every cassette and VHS Tapes was manufactured by them. In the 2000s, when the DVD had begun to be the most used media, TDK started to disappear. Fast forward to 2007, Imation, an American corporation from Oakdale, Minnesota, had purchased TDK’s brand name, and made a new TDK brand: TDK Performance, which offers mostly portable audio products: Headphones, IEMs, “Digital Boom-boxes”, etc. In January 2011, TDK Performance had announced the ST800 over the ear headphones, which are their current flagship headphones. They contain a few nice gimmicks; the most interesting one out of them is an on-cable Equalizer with a 1 inch large screen.

Before we start here are the specifications of the TDK ST800 headphones:

  • Drivers: 50mm
  • Sensitivity (IEC): 104 ± 3dB
  • Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
  • Cord Length: 1.22m (4ft)
  • Plug Type: 3.5mm
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms

Packaging: The ST800s come in a pretty big cardboard box, with a huge image of them printed on its front, and some information about them on its back. It’s built from two parts; when lifting up the top part of it, the headphones are revealed in a very luxurious looking way; they’re held on velvet like material piece, with the on-cable equalizer in the center, between the two cups. When opening the box and seeing this vision, I was very impressed of the package’s designing. Behind the velvet like piece of material, there are all of the supplied accessories. Also, the manuals are held in a special paper booth, which is falling when opening the package first.

all of the included accessories

Accessories: The following accessories can be found in the ST800s package: A soft fabric-made carrying and storage bag, a big glasses-like cleaning cloth, an extension cable, an extension cable and 2 AAA batteries, which are used to power the on-cable EQ. A pair of spare replicable ear-pads would’ve been nice, as it’s sometimes supplied with headphones at this price range. Other than that, the supplied accsseories are absolutely on point. The rating is 8/10.

the batteries placing in the left ear cup

Building Quality and Design: Most of the headphones’ construction is made of plastic with leather and golden plastic accents on it. Next to the leather pieces, sewed to the headphones’ body, the golden plastic looks quite cheap. The whole build is quite solid and strong. The size-adjustment slider mechanics is working quite well and smooth. The plastic headband is stuffed with soft leather. The cups are quite large; after all, they contain huge 50mm drivers. The cups can move to certain directions, to adjust better comfort and fit. Left and Right marks are embedded on the rear side of the plastic pieces which are holding the size adjustment sliders. When spinning the golden plastic circle which is on the right ear cup, the place where the batteries are placed can be opened. The cups are strain relieved with flexible rubber pieces. The cloth braided cable is quite thick, though, it’s also quite weighty. The on-cable EQ is very light. It’s made of sturdy plastic, and feels durable enough. To protect the3.5mm jack, there’s a short rubber strain relief in the connection between it and the cable. The jack itself is coated with aluminum and gold plated. The rating is 8.5/10.

Unique Features/Gimmicks: TDK had combined some unique features in the headphones: Firs of all, the best feature in my opinion is the on-cable EQ; it’s not too precise, though, I was able to change the sound somewhat while using it. It contains a 1′ inch screen. The Bass and the Treble can be controlled through it; each can be controlled 5 levels up or down. When not EQ’ing, there’s a dynamic response of the music visualized in the screen. The second feature is a volume control, placed on the right ear cup. When spinning it at the clock’s direction, the volume is lowered, and when spinning it in the opposite direction, the volume will be increased. Also, when pressing in the cup’s center, on the TDK logo, the music is muted. All of these features are powered by two AAA batteries, placed in the left ear cup. All of the features can be bypassed when turning off the on-cable EQ, by sliding the power slider which is on it. Also, the batteries aren’t needed to power the headphones, just the special features; without batteries, you’ll still be able to use them. The unique features are nice, but they aren’t too useful; Because of that, I’m calling them “Gimmicks”.

Comfort/Fit: The ST800 is an over-the-ear headphone, which means that it wraps your ears, and unlike on-ear, the cups do not sit on the ears themselves. The leather-like pads are very soft and pleasant to touch. The cups can be moved a bit, to adjust better fit. The headband is padded with a bit more rigid leather-like material, though, it’s still comfortable enough. The ST800 weights around 400 grams. It’s a bit heavy, though, it’s not too felt, because the weight is divided through the whole headphones, and not only on a few of its parts. That means that even though it’s quite heavy, it’s not really impacting the comfort. The clamping force isn’t too bad, it’s a lot lesser than the clamping force of the AKG K518; due to that, I was able to wear them comfortably enough for around 2.5 hours, while, I can wear the K518s for only 30 minutes at most.  My only complaint is that the fabric braided cable which was used is a bit too heavy, which makes it quite oppressive. The rating is 8.5/10.

Isolation and Microphonics: The ST800 is a closed back headphone. They isolate quite well, comparable to the amount of isolation which is provided by the Audio Technica A700, though it’s still not comparable to the amount of isolation which is provided by the AKG K518, though, not a lot of other headphones provide its isolation level. The cables are braided with fabric, so they give a pretty big amount of microphonics in ratio to the microphonics amount which is usually provided by other full-sized headphones” cable. The rating is 7/10.

Sound Quality: The ST800s sound-signature can be described as very warm, bassy, slightly V-shaped and a bit dark.

The Bass: The bass is quite bloated, and it’s very big. It’s very boomy, and lacks some punch in my opinion. It’s a bit muffled and contains some distortion, making it loose some clarity and clearness and lack some resolution. Also, the big 50mm dynamic driver lacks some speed; fast tracks can suffer from lost details and bad layering.

The Mids: The mids are quite forward and sweet. They don’t have enough texture, they’re quite liquid.

The Treble: The treble is slightly recessed and quite veiled and muffled. It is overshadowed by the dominant and forward mids and by the bloated bass. After a bit of playing with the on-cable EQ, I’ve found that it can be a bit less recessed if the treble part in the EQ is set to 2 clicks up.

The Sound-Stage: The sound-stage feels pretty closed and small, quite claustrophobic. The imaging isn’t too good either. The instruments separation is average.

Amplifying: The ST800’s impedance is 200 Ohms. I had to get the volume of my iPod Touch up to around 85% of volume. If you do not listen to your music in a very high volume, an iPod can drive it good enough. If you want to get a more proper sound, you should add an amplifier o your setup. Nothing too expensive is needed; the FiiO E6 was enough in my opinion.

The rating is 7/10. It’s rated in ratio to the ST800’s current price.

In Conclusion, The TDK ST800 is a nice set of headphones for its current price, which is around 110$. The Building Quality is good, the design is great, and it looks very luxurious and classy. Also, the comfort is quite good. The unique features are cute. Some will find them useless, while, others can love them. I was a bit disappointed with the stock sound-quality, though, when using the on-cable EQ, I had managed to get a better sound. The overall rating is 7.5/10.

Pros: Good Comfort, Nice design, On-cable EQ is very unique and special, Building Quality.

Cons: When to EQ’ed, the sound-quality is only decent, not the best isolation, microphonic cable, high impedance (200 Ohms).

The TDK ST800 can be bought through TDK’s authorized dealers for around 110$-150$. A list of the ones which are selling the ST800 can be found at TDK’s site, in the ST800’s page, when clicking on the “Find a Retailer” button.

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