I’m not going to bore anyone with the detailed history of this headphone’s past, at least not beyond the fact that the original HD650 was first released way back in 2003.
Damn…do you know what I was doing in 2003?! I was salivating like a super nerd over true closure in my life and after the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King trailer was gifted to us, having girlfriend issues back in 11th grade in high school, debating how Finding Nemo would surely win the Oscar that year and also terrified over the idea that The Terminator himself somehow got elected in California.
Damn you, Sennheiser! Damn you for releasing this headphone in 2003 and not in 2002 when I actually needed it. I could have had a far less stressful and happier time in high school if I had been able to take my HD650 with me to use during study hall or lunch hour. My crippling depression and regrets are on you.
The King is still King.
Let’s make no mistake. The HD650 still owns all the land in the sub $500 tier for open backs, despite a few competing threats to its 15 years or so reign after it was first released. In late-2016, Massdrop collaborated with Sennheiser to produce this HD650 variant, broke their website with pre-orders and has since been unable to keep stock of the new model HD6xx. Rightly so. The only difference between the original HD650 and the Massdrop HD6xx is a new, deep blue paint job, a different box.
Also included, a shorter 3.5mm cable included instead of the god awful stock cables Sennheiser still stuffs into their boxes because they still have not figured out yet that people do in fact have this thing called “portable rigs”. These mystical, mythical things called “portable rigs” sound amazing now and that we’ve no real need for a 15ft, super thick ¼ giant adapter termination that requires an extra ¼ to 3.5mm adapter to be used on a tiny little 3.5mm output jack on your Astell and Kern, Cowon or whatever the hell other nice DAP you happened to solicit on Head Fi’s forums…
Sweet Baby Jesus, someone finally listened. All I can say is thank you “insert name of the random person who insisted that the HD6xx come only with a 5ft long, 3.5mm terminated HD650 cable.”. Thank you for not forcing me to pay $150+ for a custom cable just so I can use it around the house and on the go. The cable is perfection for most of us who don’t care too much about cables. Nothing else needs to be said. It is just the right length for a human being…unless you are a mutant who is reading this in the post-apocalyptic, run-down world where headphones have become currency and who could be over 10ft tall.
Musicality Incarnate – Tone
Ye Old’ HD650 has always been the poster child of Musicality: the less clinical and more fun sounding headphone sound type. Without taking it too far into the boosted area, few headphones offered such a vivid heft to the overall sound signature as the HD650/6XX have. Truly, it took a decade and a half for another company entirely to actually make a proper upgrade to the HD650 that retained similar sound signature and presentation, but that drastically improved quality across the board: The Focal Elear.
Musicality is hard to get right and it is a rare type of a sound in the ‘High-End’ world of headphones. It seems the shift of expensive headphones these days has gone the way of surgical accuracy, forgetting that there are many listeners out there who prefer a thickness to the sound signature itself, some boosted bass and vivid treble. Of course, without going overboard…and that is where the HD6xx and HD650 shine.
The man or woman who tuned the HD650 should have received an award for adjusting literal, physical quantities of bass and treble in perhaps the yummiest manner on the market, especially so back in 2003 when pretty much nothing great also shared that sound signature. Hell, the HD650 was a vast departure from its more clinical little brother: The HD600.
I still see HD650’s being sold for $499 here and there on the Internet and nearer to $300 on the used market. I paid $299 for my used HD650 a few years ago and thought I got a good deal. Somehow, Massdrop was able to sell this HD6xx for $199 new. They’ve effectively destroyed the market for used HD650’s, but I suspect neither HD650 owners, nor Sennheiser will ever drop prices. You can’t question this, it is law now: This Massdrop HD6xx is the best overall deal in the full-size headphone world. Price tiers are irrelevant. For $199?! You can’t beat this.
The lower regions of this headphone are neither impressively responsive nor absurdly clean when comparing it to the current era headphone titans. Back when it was released, it was top tier. Today, though, many other sets have matched and even exceeded the response capabilities of the HD650. It is not the best you can get, but it is the most well rounded now for the $199 and under tier, I don’t think anyone can honestly state otherwise. You’ll need to seek out specialized headphones, or very new headphones to get on this level of quality, headphones like the Philips Fidelio series are good alternatives that also offer more physical quantity and equal clarity.
True, that the HD650 scales up in cleanliness with more power and higher quality amplifiers and USB DAC’s. Out of my Airist Audio Heron 5 ($2000 originally, but now only $999), the HD6xx sings with impressive smoothness.
I’ve not heard anything this smooth in the $500 and under open back headphone world, nor have I ever used an open headphone that cheap that also scales up with better equipment to such a degree. But then again, this is no surprise to HD650 owners of the past, as we all are perfectly aware that the HD650 is legendary with regard to scalability factor: put more voltage and better quality into the fire, receive a better edge on your blade.
Not many other sets can sound that nice on a portable rig without any amplification, but then very noticeably improve beyond what you might have thought it would have with proper amplification and rig pairing behind it.
The HD6xx is a mellow sounding headphone, one that lacks harsh physical impact (dynamics) and that has a relaxed midrange. With that in mind, it is not presented as a V-shaped headphone, meaning more bass and treble than midrange, which causes a distant-feeling vocal experience. Thankfully, that is not the case here and the presentation of the midrange is in balance with the treble and bass in terms of quantities provided, but still “relaxed and not forward“. This is a great thing if you just want to kick back and chill out, grab a glass of wine or even take a walk when the weather is nice.
The tonality of this headphone is soft on the edges and not clinical, surgical or at all quick with decay factor. What I mean by that is that the headphone lingers on just a bit, especially so in the lower midrange to my ear. Some headphones simply sound fast, effortless or your pick of other “accurate” sounding terms used to describe a neutral sound signature. The HD6xx is not neutral. It is gently warm, boosted and vivid in heft to the entire spectrum, top to bottom. This lends credibility and enjoyment factor for those who don’t want to wince or feel the nasal tendency that very neutral headphones offer. If you like musical enjoyment over accuracy, this is the headphone for you.
Treble- Veil! AH, RUN!
Nah. It really isn’t a problem. Boost your EQ a bit up top and you’ll be fine. I never understood this veil topic that much. I understand it from a technical standpoint, as the HD650 sounds less prone to hiss, static and brightness by comparison to the HD600 (which is the neutral benchmark headphone in that price tier). But, this HD650 is all about the enjoyment on a musical level, so they made sure to tune it down a bit up top so you don’t ever shrug and blink in pain when that swing’n jazz cat smacks the high hat cymbal hard in the track.
If you want to experience that, grab the HD600 and enjoy your bleeding ear for the sake of accuracy if the track isn’t nicely recorded. If you want to experience a subdued, lesser quantity up top experience that is still present enough to swing a “meh” vote, then the HD650/6xx should be on your bucket list.
I can hear a quality difference between my $799 Cowon Plenue M portable player and when I use the Plenue M as a pure DAC and tack on my Airist Audio Heron 5 as an amplifier in the chain. So, there really is no doubt that the HD6xx scales up again here with the treble quality and with the home desktop rig, I don’t really notice much of a problem. Again, reviewers seem to forget this headphone is now $199, so the complaint about a veil at this price range seems unfair. Boost the treble a bit. It helps with that, it is why the Audio Gods made EQ for us. Use it. It is not a sin. You are using a musical headphone aimed for musicality and enjoyment, so why stick with the stock sound if you can alter it a bit to make things more to your enjoyment?
Sadly, the headphone does not image grandly. Is it poor in that regard? Certainly not. Just good seems more appropriate of a phrase used to describe sound staging experiences on this headphone. It doesn’t exist vividly deep, tall or wide, but has enough depth of field to enjoy for me. I understand the plight of many owners here with regard to the width and height factor feeling a bit constrained, but the depth of field and realism factor seems just good for the price, even still today.
No doubt, Philips bested Sennheiser here with their Fidelio lineup, so if you want much nicer staging properties, I’d opt for the X1 or the X2 instead. The headphone is also just god awful for gaming. Pinpoint accuracy is so vividly terrible here, that my ears cannot properly tell where an enemy may be hiding or running in CoD or your pick of any FPS game online. For casual, single-player gaming? Hell ya! Go for it, as the experience is yummy, soft and fatigue free throughout. For pinpointing locations of sounds in the game void, this is a horrendous failure. Grab a used ATH AD700 instead if you are an FPS gamer in need of location spotting.
Oh, come on! This is a brand new HD650 for only $199. It probably has a better paint job as well that won’t decay in a few years time, as all HD650’s of old tend to. This is quite literally the best open back headphone deal that exists and I hope it forces Sennheiser to wake up and go back to their roots. I’ve cried for years and felt supremely lonely in the fact that I am a musicality buff and personally prefer fun over accuracy in my headphones. It seems like the HiFi market shifted to mostly natural/neutral sound signatures and forgot about the classic, musical sounding headphones from yesteryear, the HD650 being the poster boy of that class of listeners.
The proof is in the pudding, as the demand for the HD6xx is exceeding what Massdrop can even produce and it feels like Sennheiser needs to revamp this headphone with an HD800 variant that sounds just like the HD650, but scaled in quality to the HD800 level. We musicality lovers are here to stay and there are much more than I thought that still are around. No, buyers like me do not personally want brutal, clinical and cold sounding products that relay the track as it was recorded.
Come on, Sennheiser. Release an HD799, a variant of the HD650 that did the fusion dance with the HD800 and created the undisputed Super Saiyan of musicality and massive sound stage. Until then, we HD6xx owners are just going to pester you until you do.
We all owe Massdrop a huge thank you for giving us a $199 HD650. Toss them an email saying thank you for dropping the price on this headphone and giving it an overhaul in the community. They deserve the gesture and years later, I enjoy this headphone just as much now as I did back then. Thank you, Massdrop. Thank you, Sennheiser for finally caving on the pricing and allowing it to be sold this cheap.
- Color: Midnight blue
- Transducer principle: Open, dynamic
- Frequency response: 10 Hz – 41 kHz
- THD: < 0.05%
- Nominal impedance: 300 ohm
- Cable length: 6 ft (1.8 m)
- Connector: ⅛ in (0.3 cm)
- Weight without cable: 9.2 oz (260 g)
- Made in Ireland