Pros: Warm, Bassy, Musical, Lush, Smooth, Inexpensive, Ruggedly Built, Mech Design, Comfortable
Cons: Not high fidelity (very colored and not analytical)
Panasonic RP-HTF600 Step Monitors Big Sound with a Not So Big Price
On the never ending quest to find hidden gems out there, yet another challenger has come forth. The Panasonic RP-HTF600 Step Monitor. I try a lot of headphones. I love picking up a set of inexpensive cans and seeing if they sound good or not. Why? Because it's fun. I already have high end stuff but that doesn't mean I can't also look for something fun and great to listen to while not spending much. That also gives me the ability to listen to high end, mid-tier and entry and then there's headphones like the HFT600 which isn't even entry level in terms of cost, because it's so ridiculously inexpensive (anywhere from $25 USD to $30 USD on Amazon; and retails 40EU~60EU elsewhere it seems, so more for non-USA countries, sorry!). I never feel like I'm taking a chance on headphones that cost this. So naturally I go through quite a few. Some are worth talking about. Some not so much. This one, the HTF600 however, is very much worth talking about.
Quick reference as to what's contained here for the impatient:
- Closed back full size headphones
- Inexpensive ($30 USD!)
- Warm, bassy, musical, rich, full bodied, smooth sounding
- Good sound stage (big angled drivers)
- Easy to drive, and forgiving of source
- Comfortable & solidly constructed
Why am I still clamming on about these things? Well, simply put, these headphones have a huge sound but not a scary price tag. Anyone can try this headphone and I bet they will at least like it for what it is and likely keep it for fun, or actually use it often. I've worn mine for the past few days to really get into it and I ended up buying a second one so that I could share it with others because it's just so much fun to put in and crank up the music with. And without being humble about it, this headphone is as much fun to listen to with big warm musical sound that literally to me is more fun to listen to than some $150~$250 headphones out there in the mid-tier. Sounds like absolute hog-wash, I know. But I have those mid-tiers. And high-ends. And these inexpensive little gems. And they really do sit right next to them and I do actually listen to them. I was quite floored by them and my crush on them hasn't let up yet.
What Comes in the Box:
- The headphone itself
- 1/4" gold adapter (original cable terminates with 3.5mm)
- Wasteful paper stuff and packaging
There's nothing really to call home about when it comes to the packaging. This isn't focused on giving you a display piece, but it does come nicely packaged and you get a nice headphone, so we forgive them for not including a sweet wooden case or something.
Specifics of this Headphone:
- Cord length 10 feet, terminating with 3.5mm, included 1/4" gold adapter
- 50mm drivers, angled (like S-logic)
- 56 ohms (easy to drive, no amp needed)
- Sensitivity 100dB/mW (gets loud easily)
- 10hz ~ 27khz Range
- Weight 250 grams (not heavy at all, but not a feather)
Construction, Materials & Comfort:
The HFT600 is actually a solid headphone, unlike most inexpensive models I try often. It's not flimsy and doesn't creak or squeak. It's a nice durable hard plastic unit. It doesn't have any fancy folding or bending or anything though. The cups can flip 180 degrees, but this is not a useful feature other than to make the headphone stand on its cups if you wanted. The cable is good, not too tiny, not overly large and heavy. The adapter is of average quality.
The cups are padded with a pleather material that is better than other inexpensive headphones that I've tried (they're a nicer grade than SR850's I've tried amongst others for example). The cups themselves are soft, but have a firmness behind them, so they're not weak little pillows nor are they bricks. The cups themselves are pretty big, and house that big 50mm driver too which is angled. The inside of the cup has a felt across the face which is glued (but easily removable). The pads are easily removable and easy to put back on (so could be replaced, or modded, etc). The driver housing is actually nice, it's vented along the back (which helps with bass response, see mods of other headphones and they all include a bass port basically). The drivers angled and the vents combined give you a very nice sound stage considering these are closed headphones (however note, with the vents, they leak a little, and are not very isolating, but are still more isolating than even a semi-open headphone, and don't leak like a Grado). The back of the driver plates are a brushed aluminum with chrome, quite nice actually. It has a look to it that is very technical, mechanical, not organic. The cups do not swivel like a DJ headphone or some monitors. They have a degree of movement to adjust to the contour of a head, but that's all.
The headband has a very generous cushion on top that is very squishy and comfortable. The headband itself has a weird little addition, it has "quick fit" options with two buttons on each side for settings. Essentially it's there so that you can hold the button, pull the headband down to enlarge it, and it will stop at a preset limit based on the button you push. This is a gimmick really and I didn't find it all that useful because I will put them on and adjust them to wherever I want them and leave them that way. But regardless, it's there, and you can quick-adjust them to two preset values for headband size just by holding the buttons and they will be equal on both sides. The headband and the cups do not fold up at all.
The cord is 10 feet long and enters a single cup, so you only have one wire coming from the left cup. It is not detachable.
The headphone is held together with screws; you can literally take it apart. This is helpful for modders.
The construction over all is very sturdy. It's made of good solid plastic, not the flimsy stuff and none of the parts are thin or tweak around, so it should survive a good amount of abuse.
The HTF600 surprised me. I didn't expect what was going to flow out of them. They rendered this rich atmosphere, this ambient wonderland, and took my listening pleasure from skepticism to devout acolyte. What a rich musical headphone. So let's get more into it.
Quick summary for those not interested in the long winded detail stuff:
- Massive amounts of reverbing bass. They're basshead cans through and through.
- Bass bleeds into mids a little, but mids are not recessed in a big way.
- Treble is very smooth, rolls off, not bright or fatiguing at all.
- Great soundstage for a closed headphone.
- Below average isolation, the vents are numerous.
- Signature: Warm, Bassy, Lush, Rich, Smooth, Detailed
Some examples of music I tested that I tend to always use because I know the tracks very well: Ani Difranco (Acoustic, Female Vocals), Regina Spektor (Folk, Pop, Female Vocals), Euge Groove (Jazz, Bassy), Ludovico Einaudi (Classical, Piano), Keith Jarrett (Classical, Piano, Live Concert), Rostropovich Cello (Classical), YoYoMa Cello (Classical), The Cranberries (Pop, Female Vocals), Elton John (Classic Rock), Avantasia (Metal, Fantasy), Buckethead (Alt. Metal), Rusko (Dubstep), Ephixa (Dubstep), JesusDied4DubStep (Dubstep), Robyn (EDM), BT (Trance, Techno), OceanLab (Trance, Techno).
Hardware used ranged from my Droid Incredible, Sansa Fuze, Asus Transformer, Vivid V1 Technologies DAC/AMP, Matrix Cube DAC and Schiit Lyr. Note, I did not find any significant difference when juicing anything up with them. They're easy to drive and are pretty forgiving of source so it wasn't a big difference from piece to piece, the idea here is just to express that they work on all these things pretty much equally so you can use them on basically anything without worry.
The highs are very smooth. The headphone has detail, not a lot of congestion up here, but they're not transparent or airy like a detail monster or analytical headphone might have, instead, it's just a nice smooth listen that gives you enough treble to know it's happening, doesn't sound like it's distant or damp, and isn't spiking enough to fatigue you. No sibilance at all. I listened to different synth sounds, female vocals, drums, guitars, etc, and the treble was great all through it with no point where I felt I was missing out on treble or had too much. It literally is just a good smooth listen. The detail is surprising though, it's not a dark headphone to the point where you don't hear what's going on. I was hearing little things in recordings of Cello works that I adore and it was just there, crisp as ever.
The mids are not recessed to the point of notice, which is contrary to most bassy headphones. The bass bleeds into the mids a little, so you will hear some weight added to certain tones in vocals for example I found. But it's a warm sound, it really comes out and grabs you. It's a very organic, lush, full bodied sound that makes you feel like you're listening to music for pleasure, not analyzing it, not being critical. It's all musical here. Plenty of detail going on. I was surprised that female vocals were so musical here, even with some heavy bass pulsing behind it. I was able to run any kind of music through this headphone because the mids are strong enough to present it. Rock, Indie and Jazz were really pleasant and I felt like I had the right headphone on for the job. A good indication of being a decent all around headphone. Guitars were rich and ripping. Vocals were angelic and lush. Instruments were full bodied and just bloomed all over. There was good separation of sound too, it wasn't a congested mess of bleeding everywhere which surprised me.
The bass grabs you by your jimmies and rustles them. How about that for a description. This is basshead headphone. I directly compared it to the XB500 because it's an inexpensive bassy headphone too. The HFT600 sounded like the XB500's bass, very similar, a slight edge maybe going to the XB500, but in return for that, you get all the mids & treble that the XB500 has a big veil over (without equalization). I was quite surprised so much reverbing low bass was pulsing out of these things while still having great lush mids and smooth highs and no equalization going on to balance anything out. It completely replaced the XB500 in my book in all ways which some may not agree with, but as an entire package, it surely did, especially considering it's cost. The bass goes low. There's a mid-bass hump, but it can also hit those low sub bass frequencies with authority which really impressed me and made me think of a Denon. This kind of bass makes pleasure listening for someone who appreciates a good reverbing blooming pulsing bass rumble just grin from ear to ear. It adds immersion to gaming too which was really fun. And it makes movies sound a lot like how they present in theaters (rumble!). The bass is not, however, so out of control that you can't listen to soft acoustic--I tried that too and the bass just added body to the end of a sound, but didn't take over to the point where you felt like it was going too far. It was a very pleasing experience, and the bass presence is just commanding. Officially stamped as basshead approved headphones.
There is not a lot of isolation, they're below average with that, they do leak a little more than your typical headphone, however they don't leak like a Grado. I would say they're just below semi-open in terms of leaking sound. So if isolation is critical, this could be an issue. And if leaking is critical, this could be an issue. There are a lot of vents, and they let the sound leak out a little. It's feint, and someone in the house in the next room isn't going to hear it. But someone next to you on the train or bus will hear you likely (let 'em riot). They do isolate on the inside sufficiently where you don't hear a lot of what's going on outside of the headphone (for example, with music playing, I don't hear my keyboard slamming and clicking at all, only when the music stops; I don't hear the AC, I don't hear a fan, if my phone rings, well, oh well I missed it hah).
The sound stage is pretty good. It's not your typical headphone that is closed. Like Ultrasone's S-Logic, the big drivers are angled (the AD700 does this too for sound stage for example). Combine big angled drivers with a nice big open cup and some vents and you get a nice sound stage. Separation and distance is good, it "sounds right" so to speak. Not cramped, but also not wildly artificially expanded either. I found it pretty good for gaming even, the imaging is good.
Gaming & Movies:
We don't typically think of closed headphones for gaming, but if you're into immersive gaming and watching movies on headphones with some privacy, these things do it great. The soundstage gives you a good sound field to fill up. But the bass and immersion and musicality of the headphone really lends to having a really full bodied experience in games. So if you're into games like Skyrim or watching movies like Dark Knight, these headphones will give you goosebumps. Excellent for gaming (read: varieties other than competitive online-foot-step-listening) and wonderful for movies.
Comparing To Others & Closing Thoughts:
Here's the section you love or hate. I really don't like hearing "Giant Killer" used, but it's so popular to say it, it's hard not to use it in some fashion. Are these going to topple the big analytical detail giants of the mid-tier and high-end spectrum? No. Not at all. But will it compete for pleasure listening? Absolutely. You may sneer and think I'm totally full of fecal material, but I absolutely adore listening to these headphones and don't always reach over for my HE-500's. Next to some D1100's, I was impressed how similar they were. The Pansonic had more bass, but had smoother treble, while the Denon had a tad lower bass volume and brighter sounding treble. I totally preferred the sound of the Panasonic here. I already compared the XB500 to it, and like I said, I really think it completely replaces the XB500 for an inexpensive basshead can in every way (equivalent bass levels, better mids, better treble, better sound stage, better build and comfort overall for me and better cord). It's very energetic, and reminded me of the kind of energy that a Grado gives me, so naturally ran it up against some SR60's and a SR325, the bass completely overshadowed the Grados, and while the Grados had more mid-centric sound, the Panasonic had more sound stage and was warmer and less fatiguing while still having a huge amount of energy. I couldn't even stand to listen to the AudioTechnica ESW9 & M50 after listening to the Panasonic. It completely was way more fun and musical, though the ESW9 was actually a lot more fun to listen to than the M50 (which is sterile and bleh). Previous budget headphones like the Kicker & Monoprice? Forget about them. This thing eats their lunch. These are not giant killers. They are not high fidelity in the slightest. Let's get that straight. But they are absolutely david when it comes to pleasure listening for someone who wants a warm, bassy, musical and smooth listen for having a great time with music. I'll get completely disregarded for it, but these are like a little HD650. Seriously.
Pad Modification (Optional):
By the way, the Beyer velour pads came in today. They're a perfect fit.
I have two sets of Panasonics RP-HTF600 Step Monitors. I just fitted these pads which work on several headphones in terms of size on a pair of the Panasonics. It's a perfect match. Fits like it was made for it. So no worries about it slipping or being loose or having to mod or do anything. They just slide right into place no problem at all without any extra modification. Simple swap.
Comfort: Absolutely comfortable. Beyer Velour is just wonderful. I loved all Beyer headphones I've worn. I'm also a big "velour" fan, as I actually dislike pleather. I only stoop down to pleather when I am forced. And even then, it's only indoors for me because I do not like sweaty ears/head when wearing pleather headphones outside (my portables are always velour due to that, or at least, most of the time). These feel great. They fit just like the stock pads, but they're a nicer material, comfortable, soft and feel even better on my glasses frames.
Sound: Ok, they do have an impact on sound. All pad changes should because it changes how sound is absorbed and reflected, so it changes the end dynamic in your ear folds and reflects differently there too. So no matter what, it will sound different. The question is, do you lose good qualities, or do you get a neutral change, or do you get a positive change in qualities of sound.
Bass changes: Insignificant. Seriously. The bass is still impactful, low, and reverbing. That is awesome. So changing to velour does not effect the warm bass of this headphone in an appreciable way. I tested bass with some dubstep drops and some Cello over and over at the same perceived volume level to test it.
Mids changes: I swear that the bass bleed falls out of the mids, so the mids sound a little less warm and instead have an edge of detail on them. This can be a pro or con depending on what you're looking for. For me, this is an excellent change in the positive direction as this headphone now sounds more balanced actually and the clarity sound comes from the detail shift. I tested this with female vocals and piano (Tori Amos specifically).
Treble changes: Again, the bass is still tremendous and warm, but the highs feel like they lost some weight and became more tight and detailed, instead of being warm and smooth. Now, they're edged. It's not bright or fatiguing though. It's still a smooth listen. But it's not overly smooth to the point of sounding damp. I tested this with some guitar, cymbals, and some really high pitch female vocal with a lot of consonants (some French stuff that I listen to).
Verdict: I think the mid-bass hump gets tamed by the velour pads, therefor you keep the big sub bass hits that we love, but the mid-bass stops bleeding as much into the mids & highs, which results in a more balanced sound. I would call this an improvement. Even though I love the stock sound, it's so warm and musical, I also like a more detailed and clear sounding image. The velour I think takes the mid-bass hump down a notch. I just played with an equalizer to confirm this suspicion and felt like I found the same effective sound by dropping 220hz, 440hz and 622hz 2~3 dB. There's the hump by guestimation from previous thoughts on the matter of frequency response (as this headphone has an obvious mid-bass hump).
Velour pads are an excellent change. Reduced mid-bass bleed. Increase in clarity and detail by a notch. Retains sub bass slam and reverb. Still warm and musical. With the velour pads, the headphone's sound, as a combined package (costing new $50 total shipped) sounds much like $200 headphones I've sampled and have/had and feels like them too. This headphone is reminding me heavily of a mix between a DT770 and an HD650, but $50, and no amp needed, and inbetween fully open and fully closed so sound stage difference. I still feel this headphone has a great sound stage for it's closed nature and considering it's cost (when I compare to closed headphones that are fully sealed and do not have angled drivers, which have next to no sound stage I find, these things have quite a bit better sound stage).
Recommendation: Get the velour pads folks.
This headphone reminds you to enjoy the music. For the cost, you should definitely try one!