the tdk st800 is a 50mm dynamic driver closed-back headphone with a built-in electronic equalization function. they are priced around $150.
Disclaimer: The st800 tdk you sent us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the tdk team for giving us this opportunity.
Reading: Tdk st 800 headphone
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Please note that this 2-page review follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read about here.
I remember the 80s! Although I don’t readily admit that I like all aspects of it, I still look to my dose of hair metal and lost boys soundtracks as my go-to material when I need a pick-me-up.
The ’80s will never be as fancy and quirky as the ’70s, but for tech fans, the ’80s were the age of the casio digital watch, the metal mickey, the rubik’s cube, and of course, the humble but revolutionary cassette tape. of which the tdk name was in the foreground.
tdk made a number of other splashes in the audio market, like some tape decks and, until recently, some low-end headsets and disposable pc headsets.
but something has changed, tdk has become cool and has done something quite interesting by releasing a line of audio gear that has more than a passing nod to 80’s nostalgia with two lines of headphones: the st800 and the wireless wr700.
They also released a super shiny new version of the iconic boombox (you just have to see it to believe it, very big, very boombox and honestly, it just commands you to play mister mister right out of the box!). tdk is taking this audio prank a bit seriously now, but does it compare to what is already a very competitive market?
the st800 is perhaps the standout headphone over the wireless wr700 in terms of audio quality, so let’s look at that. i tried the wr700 and enjoyed it, but i really see it as a great functional headset for moving around rather than an immersive music experience.
However, the st800 is offered in the $150-$200 market and as such is up against the likes of the formidable sennheiser hd25-1 ii, the funky aiaiai tma-1, the warm and woody esw9 and omnipotent marketing. beast that is a monster to name just a few. It takes a lot of work to be a success in such a sacred company.
now the local price of these is a little over $150 so I’m going to base my opinion on that price entry point and not the US msrp of $300 because I’m going to go straight for the jugular and Say this isn’t a $300 headset: it just doesn’t have the finesse and construction for that price.
At $150 it’s a much more interesting proposition and to be honest, in the local market, pricing them at 6k with decent packaging should create some ripples and turn heads.
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The one thing to note about the tdk life on record st800 is that the packaging is well thought out for the price. it’s big, boxy with a nice two-thirds cut and lots of sexy photos of the headphones emblazoned on the outside. it’s eye-catching, modern, and a cut above some of the more spartan packaging of the competition at that price.
opening the st800’s package reveals a nice little envelope pocket for warranty and product sheets on the front, which slopes down at an angle to reveal the cans. inside is a contoured simulated suede tray that holds the headphones.
to be honest, it’s not bad at all, and you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth with the st800 packaging. genuine thought has been put into this. It reminds me of the tma-1 in that regard. I wish other top headphone companies would try this more often in this price range.
A game of two halves here: the st800 leather-like finish of the band that extends down over the cups is terrific for a headset in this range and far outclasses its competitors who are still messing around with the plastic captain.
so first half for tdk but then the bits of plastic on the cups show up and I found they were a bit out of place and a bit cheap compared to the rest of the unit. it seems that it is not as integrated as it could be.
top brands for the look, feel and feel of the st800 plastic, though they do take a thumbs up. overall though, these headphones feel quite durable, well put together and certainly you’d be hard pressed to find a headphone as stylish as these at this price point outside of the ath-m50.
the st800 cable is a jacketed lanyard type cable that seems quite durable and is terminated in a silver and gold 3.5mm jack (comes with a 1/4 adapter and extension cable as well in case you need them).
below the y-split, it’s wonderfully memory-free, but sadly the left and right wires from the ‘y’ to the cups on this were a bit more unruly and tried to curl up under my chin on a few occasions. the nylon makes it a bit stiffer and heavier and probably wouldn’t have minded a lighter cord for more flexibility.
The st800 is a larger headphone that looks more like studio beats than solo beat dimensions, but the thick leather over-ear pads are comfortable and everything is fairly well balanced once placed on your head. the leather can leave you prone to sweating a little with prolonged play, but nothing too irritating. overall these are relatively comfortable to wear with no unwanted pressure points.
tdk life on record’s push for a retro revival means we’ve got some unique features on the st800 that for serious headphone enthusiasts may seem like an unnecessary distraction, but for many other listeners, they can add a touch of fun and flexibility to your listening pleasure.
The first is the little square plastic box in the middle of the cable: the EQ box that gives you about five steps of bass and treble that you can adjust separately to get your favorite EQ setting. they’re a bit simplistic but they work and they do alter the pitch of the headphone squares. it’s a definite throwback to the 80’s with the simple equalizers and the simple tiny led screens.
The second thing I’m not so fond of is the volume control dial on the right cup of the headphones. to be fair, it’s pretty low profile and doesn’t stick out, but the control is fiddly and not very precise and can be cumbersome to use.
I can understand its inclusion as a feature to help those with their primary volume control: amp or dap from having to search their bags and pockets, but personally, I just found the right volume match and let it stay over there. it’s really just another barrier to your ears in all honesty.
the equalizer activates the volume dial, so if you run out of battery (note these need 2 aaa in the cup), you can still use them as normal headphones with the equalizer off.
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the st800 isolation was great for my ears and allowed me to focus only on what was coming out of the cups. they’re a bit more unwieldy than for example my esw9 required me to go up about 2 notches on my fiio e9 and alo audio rx2 amp carrier so be prepared to get a little more out of it if you’re testing it from a headphone jack of your ipod.
So, sporting 50mm drivers in circumaural cups and large ear cups, I was expecting big sound, lots of bass. it’s a closed-back earphone, so don’t expect a massive soundstage, but better-than-average isolation. in fact, it wasn’t too far away.
Without the EQ box turned on, the st800 bass, while not as punchy as, say, an ath-m50 or colored like the ad700 mk2, was quite capable given the 50mm drivers on offer. excelled at v-curve friendly music such as electronica, r& b, but sadly less bright on more detail-oriented metal and rock tracks.
Treble sounded a bit muffled and the rather small soundstage gave a stuffy feel that didn’t allow the guitar work to rise or flow as I’d like. put it back on tracks like daft punks “the grid” and that low-end bass makes it right at home again.
It has a relatively warm signature without the EQ which is nice and not fatiguing and I don’t see anyone dying from listener fatigue.
so let’s fire up the st800 eq and see what we got, huh? when you turn it on, there’s a little pause while it boots up before allowing you to listen to your music and it remembers your previous settings, which is nice. but keep in mind that the volume dial on the side of the right cup is activated so better take it off first in case you have it loud.
The default is flat on the bass and treble and you can boost them with 5 clicks. pushing the bass only up to the fifth click gives me something akin to ath pro700 mk2 coloring with just a wall of bass and not much else to be honest. great if you’re a fan of bass, but not so great if you want to hear more than that.
however, turning the treble up to 5 wasn’t as extreme as I thought it would be, lacking the punchy or high-end sharpness I’d expect with overly emphasized treble possibly suggesting the treble is a little off.
now mixing them together was more fun for me than the default flat equalizer. if i’m paying $150 i want fun and not analysis to be honest. I found the best combination of bass and treble to be around 2/3 – change that combo either way to suit your preferences, but it seemed to give the best balance between rock beats and clarity.
Overall the st800 is a bit of fun with a snazzy retro look and with a local price of $6,500 and an international price of around $150 I’d say it’s worth it.
I had my reservations initially as I’m not a fan of gimmicks like inline EQ boxes and a volume dial, but the EQ box adds a touch of fun to the sq when you need it. as for the volume dial, just get the setting right and leave it, it adds little to the settings and isn’t as precise as it should be for quick adjustments.
Its warm boxy space will be pleasing to many and frustrating to the most demanding with its muffled highs and stuffy little soundstage. it’s a bit big to carry around, but sturdy enough to take outdoors.
Combine the st800 with electronic music, hip-hop, dance and r&b and you’ve got a nice package worth the price. try to take this further and you may have difficulty. if pairing with amps and a dap, look for neutral and transparent setups to squeeze every last drop out of the top end, and try to avoid existing dark square amps and sources.
technical details of the tdk st800
- power supply: 2 “aaa” (included)
- drivers: 50 mm
- sensitivity (iec): 104 ± 3db
- frequency response : 20 – 20,000 hz
- cable length: 1.22 m (4 ft)
- plug type: 3.5 mm
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