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Brilliant all-rounder headphones

A Review On: Sennheiser HD-598

Sennheiser HD-598

Rated # 4 in Over-Ear
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Recent Pricing:
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $186.00
Garraty
Posted · Updated · 650 Views · 6 Comments

Pros: Spacious soundstage, airy, realistic mids, extremely comfortable

Cons: Stock cord and adapter, lack of sub-bass

Design and Comfort:

 

These headphones are made of plastic for the most part and this contributes to the wonderful lack of weight and fatigue while wearing these. True, for the price I would expect better quality material for the frame of these headphones but in reality, without the plastic, it wouldn't be nearly as comfortable. However, if you do buy this; keep in mind that these will not fare well if they're dropped. These headphones were designed with looks of retro cars from the 60's and 70's in mind and though I wasn't sure I'd like the look, I've grown to love it. 

 

The large velour pads and supple leather headband make sure that it the HD 598's are very comfortable, which was well needed for my large head and ears. The brown velour pads provide comfort for hours and are spacious for larger ears and the headband ensures no certain pressure point of the head is pushed. These headphones can be worn for hours without discomfort; in fact, I often forget it's even on my head! The only flaw in the design is the cord and adapter which is cumbersome to say the least. It's terribly long for those who need a bit more portability and most just use the 3.5 mm jack. However, Sennheiser has come up with a replacement cable that is shorter and terminates into a 3.5 mm plug but I do wish that they'd include it as a secondary cable with the headphones.

 

http://store.sennheiserusa.com/store/sennheis/en_US/list/ThemeID.10315700/categoryID.34557100

 

Sound Quality:

 

Of course, no headphone is worth its place without excellent sound and this phone has wonderful sound quality in spades.

 

The treble of the phones is for the most part unfatiguing and buttery smooth with a small bit of sparkle from 17-20 kHz. This is from a small peak and it adds a wonderful bit of glimmer to drums and cymbals but can be a little sibilant in poorly recorded records, with vocals in particular. This can easily be remedied if you're sensitive to it as the HD 598 respond beautifully to EQ but this occurs rarely. (this is probably why the HD 598 is considered to be a bit bright)

 

The HD 598 are a mid-tastic phone, as their sound is more focused on the mids than other parts of the spectrum with a forward presentation. Guitars and vocals are absolutely breathtaking with these headphones with lovely pluck to strings. The midrange of these phones hold a very organic, realistic tone and this is especially noticeable with its large, spacious soundstage, making it seem like the music is actually being performed in the studio.

 

The bass of these headphones are the least noticeable of the whole spectrum but is presented politely and accurately; it's very well defined and tight. However, it's always lacking some physical part of the bass. Upper and mid bass are plentiful but the sub-bass has a noticeable lack in amount of it. At times in bass-heavy recordings, the bass seems too polite in its presentation and as a result, the HD 598 are not especially renowned for their sound in club music, hip-hop and rap. The sub-bass problem can be partially remedied by amping and EQ but in the end, if you prefer a more bassier sound preference, you're better off looking for something else.

 

The HD 598's also hold a fair amount of detail retrieval and clarity but not in the way you'd expect, Instead of improving detail retrieval and clarity on these compared to cheaper headphones, the HD 598's instead present the details and clarity more prominently and in a more refined fashion to give the sound signature more musicality. Besides that, the HD 598's hold an airy, spacious soundstage that is perfect for those who want a more natural soundstage than that of the AKG's. The soundstage is balanced in width and depth, never claustrophobic yet never too thin in its presentation, providing a very realistic presentation of sound.

 

But let's actually hear the sound instead of generally describing it. 

 

Right now, I'm listening to Motion Picture Soundtrack (320 kbps, MP3) and the intro begins with an organ, chords dropping one at a time. Sub bass could hit a little harder here to give the lone organ more emotional impact. Thom's vocals are wonderful here; they're alive. They're very organic and those wonderful harps-I can hear a bit of sparkle here and there as well as some well-defined pluck to the harps.  

 

Now, I'm hearing John Wayne Gacy Jr. (Lossless, FLAC) and my god, that guitar is beautiful. Stevens's vocals are buttery smooth here, very lulling and smooth for the dark subject matter. And that falsetto and moaning- heavenly. The piano drops in quietly, never intruding into the vocals, only adding to the musical soundscape. 

 

Orchestral and symphonic pieces are beautifully placed in the soundstage with enough seperation, but perhaps there's a small lack, a bit more would be lovely for clarity but there is enough so as not to blur the sections together. Each orchestral section plays their part and none oversteps the other. 

 

The HD 598's in short have a forward mid-focused sound presentation that is very organic thanks to its large soundstage and musical detail retrieval and clarity. The bass and treble take to the back burner and are relatively laid back but are presented well to provide a tad bit of sparkle with tight, accurate bass. These are great all-rounders, especially with acoustic, classical, rock and jazz. But, if you prefer a more exciting sound signature in the treble and bass or a headphone with a more V-shaped sound signature, you may not prefer these. 

 

I was worried at first if there was any astonishing differences between my old Klipsch Mode M40 to the HD 598's. As a test, three weeks after I got these phones, I decided to try out a friend's HD 419 for comparison and I was immediately grimacing. The pads were extremely uncomfortable than what I was used to. More so, the sound seemed tiny and claustrophobic and all the time, I could tell it was a recording, not once fooled that it was real.

 

The sound of these headphones will take some burn-in (or your brain getting used to it, I really don't care) and need to be listened to for about 50-100 hrs I'd say, just to be safe. But once you get used to the enrapturing, euphoric sound of the HD 598's, there's no going back to lesser headphones.

 

Value:

 

Are these headphones worth it for the price of $250? I can't really say but I can say there are better phones in the same price bracket (SoundMAGIC HP200, HifiMan HE-400, Sennheiser's very own HD 600, AKG's, etc.) but these don't really need an amp or lossless music and this is why it shines. I've tried an amp or two and though I found it gave the HD 598 more body and slightly better bass extension and presentation, I found amping doesn't change the sound all that much.

 

These are a great value, even at its MSRP. It can provide easily 80% of its full sound quality potential, un-amped on an iPod. More expensive headphones near this price range require an amp to drive them to their full potential and become more cumbersome. These don't need an amp and if you're bold enough to go portable, why the hell not? The price of these phones fluctuate from $150 to $250 online but I got mine on Amazon for about $190. If I hadn't heard the phones before, I would be reluctant to buy them. But now that I have, if that was the price and nothing else, I'd pay gladly. 

 

Usually, these are on sale on Amazon and Fry's for $180 (Amazon) and $150. (Fry's) For this price, it's a steal. Don't hesitate.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0042A8CW2/

 

http://www.frys.com/product/7821729

 

 

Have a good day and as always, happy listening. :D 

 

 

Albums Used: 

 

Coldplay- Parachutes 

Living Stereo: Bruch Violin Concerto No.1; Scottish Fantasy & Vieuxtemps: Violin Concerto No. 5

Radiohead- Kid A 

Relient K- Forget and Not Slow Down

Sufjan Stevens- Illinois 

The Smiths- The Queen is Dead

 

...and many more that I can't name. These are the albums I mainly listened to while burning in these headphones.

 

EDIT: Edited this review many times to give more in-depth information and to edit the previous text. Hope this time will be the last!

6 Comments:

I heartily agree with your assessment.  As I related in a post in the Introductions, Help, and Recommendation sections http://www.head-fi.org/t/707419/recommend-top-sq-open-headphone-for-ipod-not-needing-amp#post_10319214 , I was determined to find an open headphone suitable for my iPod that was better than my HD 598, and I was ready to pay for it.
 
Comparative listening tests against the HiFiMan HE 500, Grado PS 500, HiFiMan HE 6 with ER-6 headphone amp (a $3,000 combination!) left me unable to discern a clear preference for these other headphones, costing up to 20X as much, against the HD 598s.  Differences, yes (though slight) but a preference?  NO.
Thanks, kayandjohn! I do agree, much of audiophile-ism is placebo and preference. Most headphones as they grow more expensive follow the law of diminishing returns. 
 
Thus, that's why when I have the money, in a couple of years when these wonderful cans will have worn out, I'll simply get a Sennheiser HD 600/HifiMan HE-400i or some phone in that price range, an amp a DAC (altogether no more than $800) and be done with it.
 
I'd rather not spend thousands on headphones and amps and DACs that have revealing sound with exceptional clarity and the like. As long as I have a headphone that fits to my needs and values my definition of musicality without becoming too revealing, I'll be happy.
I don't mean to say more expensive phones can't sound far better, but to get their full potential, you'll need good sources, amping, recordings and the like. That can get costly (look at Stax!) and I wouldn't be interested in that and so, I'm drawing the line.
 
Cheers!
Yeah, they are fantastic for the bucks. I've missed them! 
Great review, thanks.
You may check the first line under sound quality. "The treble of the phones is for the most part unfatiguing and buttery smooth with a small bit of sparkle from 17-20 Hz." I wonder if you meant to say 17-20 kHz. 
Hah yeah, I did. Thanks for catching that.
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