Pros: Very neutral, treble and mids are finely balanced, bass goes deep, modest clamping force, just enough musicality without being dull
Cons: doesn't quite have the warmth of the HD600 nor scale of the HD650, out of production means mint examples are hard to come by
After owning the HD650, I found that at times on my system, there was a little too much thickness and darkness. So I wanted to try another Sennheiser that had more forwardness to the treble and mids, and was leaning more toward the neutral side. And I didn't want a bright headphone; I usually hate bright headphones as they give me stabbing pain in my ears. I prefer the smoothness of Sennheisers, even if they lack a little excitement for certain moods.
The HD580 Precision was released somewhere around 1991, and it marked a change in direction for the sound of audiophile headphones. Headphones during the late 80s to early 1990s were generally treble forward and not very present in the bass region. This was especially true of German headphones of this time period. My experience from owning the MB Quart (German Maestro) QP220, and the less expensive sibling to the HD580, the HD545 Reference, seems to have confirmed this. Those headphones were quite loose fitting, very comfortable, but their treble was exaggerated and their bass lacked tightness and extension. In short, they sounded too top-heavy. The HD580 departed from this trend with what many other similar headphones, as well as similar-aged Sennheisers didn't have: a well extended sound without uneven exaggerations. This brought the HD580 to the attention of many audiophile circles and magazines, long before Head-Fi was founded, and it soon developed a fanbase. The HD580 was a game changer in the dynamic audiophile world. I noticed that most of the people who invoke the the "Sennheiser Veil" curse don't usually cite the HD580 as an example, but instead the HD600. I'll dive into this later in the review.
Nowadays all the attention seems to go to the 580's younger brothers, the HD600 and HD650. But those who do like the HD580 own it for a long time. Example being Japanese electronica composer Towa Tei.
Build and Form Factor
Build-wise the HD580 is the older brother to the HD600 and HD650, and the parts between the three headphones are interchangeable. The very overpriced earpads are the same, though the HD580's original earpads are said to be a little thicker than the 600 and 650 pads. The padding on the headband is the same 4-bump design as the HD600, and the thin dual sided cable that terminates to a 3.5 mm jack with a 6.3 mm stereo plug is also the same as the HD600. As aesthetics go, whereas the HD600 has a blue granite plastic finish with lacquer and HD650 a graphite and sparkled finish with lacquer, the HD600 has a blueish-gray satin finish on the headband and black bales with no lacquer. The ear capsule grills instead of mesh metal are color coded plastic with houndstooth-looking patterns. These aren't exactly as pretty looking as the mesh, but add a quaintness to the HD580 that I personally like. But if you so wish, you can change out the grills for 600 ones.
A problem with the HD580 and some HD600s is the spring tensioners that make contact with the positive and negative terminals on the plugs, and carry the signals to the voice coils. Over time, especially with repeated removal and reattachment of the cable, these springs lose their tension and fail to touch the plugs, causing the sound to cut in and out. My HD580 does not suffer from this problem thankfully, but that is something to watch out for when shopping for used HD580s on Ebay or other sites. Make sure to ask the seller if they experience sound cutting out when wiggling the jacks, or if it was a problem, have the voice coil springs been replaced.
Another issue with the HD580 is simply due to the age of the headphone and the amount of time people have owned theirs. The headband padding and earpads tend to go flat and need replacement. I haven't seen a single HD580 for sale on eBay (other than unused NOS ones) that didn't have a flat headband and earpads. So when you purchase the HD580, new earpads are a cost you need to take into account when purchasing the headphone. I purchased an aftermarket HD600 headband from a retailer in China for under 3 US dollars, and it is almost indistinguishable from the real deal. So there is 17 dollars saved. HD600 earpads will work, but unfortunately they do not come cheap. About 60-70 dollars, maybe a little less if you can order them directly from Sennheiser. I found that aftermarket earpads aren't as good when it comes to thickness and build, and using Brainwavz earpads can make the bass too strong and shelve off the mids too much. So I don't recommend cheaping out too much here.
Fortunately, earpads wear shouldn't be as fast on the HD580 as the HD600 and HD650, due to the fact that the 580's headband is a wider shape, and as a result it clamps quite a bit less. You can see in the picture below. The HD580 is on the left and HD650 on the right.
Now, onto the sound.
I haven't heard the HD600, but I do own the HD580 and HD650, and from what I read, the HD580 is the neutral of the three, the HD650 warmest, and HD600 the halfway compromise between the 580 and 650. Or to a 600 fan, the 580 is the brightest, the 600 neutral, and 650 darkest. But I wouldn't call the 580 bright.
The HD580's treble varies on how the pads fit around your ears, but without a good seal it sounds peaky and thin. With a good seal however, the HD580 to my ears sounds well controlled and smooth, with good upper treble detail in guitars, triangles and cymbals. There is a bit of an emphasis around 7-8 kHz, and on brighter systems this can sound more apparent, but it is not anything that I would call sibilant or metallic. It is just somewhat emphasized. The HD580 has a treble cleanliness that I haven't heard often. I relisten to songs and I hear cymbals off to the left and to the right crashing or ringing out, something I haven't heard before on the track and something that often gets masked over with the HD650. The HD580 does this while not being ear piercing or underemphasizing the treble, an excellent balancing act that still today new headphones do not seem to be able to do. They either recess the mid treble and hype the upper treble, which gives a grainy and uneven sound; or they overemphasize the treble to give people the impression of detail, which more often than not sounds metallic and artificial.
The mids to my ears have an even and coherent presentation to them. They do not feel veiled, nor are they emphasized relative to the treble and bass. This isn't a mid-forward headphone. Compared to say the HD650, the upper mids aren't darkened to mute out shoutiness, and the lower mids aren't tuned to sound emphasized or rich. The HD580 can do female and male vocals equally well. Vocals and mids have an equally front and center feel. If there is any complaint I may have, it might be that the mids aren't inherently lush sounding like they may be on the HD600, and certainly less than the HD600. But the HD580 isn't dry or raw sounding. This is a headphone that can do rock and opera music equally well. The HD580 feels like the sort of headphone that you don't have to cut through distracting emphases in the treble or bass to get that right sounding tonality. Beyerdynamic DT880 fans might still feel the HD580 veils some energy and details, and AKG K702 fan may not get that biting rawness to the mids they
enjoy, but for the average person the HD580 is a great sounding midrange headphone.
Bass on the HD580 has a very slightly wooden or swelling sound to it (Sennheiser house sound), but never gets bloomy like the HD650 can be. It remains tight and controlled from the upper bass to the sub bass. And as for that sub bass.....yep, it ACTUALLY has sub bass extension. Something people often complain the HD600 doesn't have. I'd say due to the fact that the bass is tighter, it has a better audible extension than the HD600 or HD650. Often the warmth has to be cut through on amplification to really make the sub bass noticeable. The HD580's bass is neutral with just the right sounding tonality to it. What I enjoy is how versatile the HD580's bass really is, with enough impact to sound right with trance, house music, and may I even say some hip-hop? Sure, but if you listen to electronic music predominantly, I'd recommend the HD650 more.
The HD580's soundstage is comparable to the HD600's, i.e. sounding more "around your head" than if it was coming from all directions. Still, it is acceptably open, without being the least bit cupped-hands sounding, hollow or "in your head". Neither does it sound diffuse. As for classical music, the HD580 sounds best with string-emphasized sections or chamber orchestras; in other words, classical music that doesn't rely as much on depth and layering to convey the right sound. Where the HD650 pulls ahead of the HD580 is in depth and layering of the soundstage, which makes it a better choice for horn sections, and full symphonies with greater range of instruments. The HD580's true forté is in acoustic guitar genres like flamenco and jazz, where depth and layering isn't as important as quickness in the mids and treble.
My system consists of the Schiit Audio Modi USB DAC, and the Lyr 2 hybrid tube and solid state headphone amplifier. While my DAC definitely needs upgrading, the Lyr 2 is a good paring with the HD580, bringing out plenty of sub bass and mid bass, while keeping the midrange neutral and clean, and the treble behaved. The Lyr 2 is great for its solid sound in the bass and its solid state midrange, but for those of you who would prefer a tubey sounding midrange and do not require a lot of bass extension and impact, there are a couple of other choices. The HD580 is 300 ohms, which means it plays well with output impedance output transformerless tube amplifiers. Good pairings include the Bottlehead Crack, the Little Dot MK II and MK IV, and for more money another excellent choice is the Woo Audio WA3. The transformer coupled Woo Audio WA6 is said to be a great choice. There are plenty of different headphone amplifier options for the HD580. And since the HD580 is quite neutral, it is easier to fine tune the sound the way you want with your gear. You can choose to have a drier sound with solid state amplification, a lusher sound with all-tube amps, or have a more impactful sound like I have with a hybrid amplifier.
The HD580 is a real ownership joy due to its sound that can still hold its own today among the best mid-tier neutral headphones such as the AKG K702, Beyerdynamic DT880, the new Audio-Techica ATH-R70X, and even Sennheiser's own HD600. Because of its sound and its ease of use with different amplifiers, transducers that are made to last, comfortable fit, ease of sourcing spare parts and replacing them, the HD580 is a vintage headphone that has none of the usability drawbacks that other cans of similar age do, and still feels as good as it did when it first rolled off the assembly line nearly a quarter of a century ago.