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Exactly as good as the price suggests

A Review On: Sennheiser HD-598

Sennheiser HD-598

Rated # 4 in Over-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $250.00
barneypooch
Posted · 46192 Views · 11 Comments

Pros: Very comfortable; gorgeous looking, IMO

Cons: They're fine, but nothing special.

Most of my at-home listening is done via speakers, but if I'm in bed and not wanting to disturb the rest of the house, I have Shure SE 530s, via the laptop or a Sansa Clip. However, I've never been particularly in love with the Shures, which have spent most of their life in their case. I'd pretty much stopped listening to music on headphones.

 

I thought I'd try these. I don't know why I expected $250 'phones to sound better than $500 ones, and they certainly did not.  They sound exactly like what they are: mid-range, mid-price.

 

That's not to say they're bad - they certainly aren't; they're just middle of the road. They're lovely and airy, and the sound stage gives a fair illusion of being out of the head. The bass is very nicely controlled (and there's plenty enough extension for this classical music afficionado). The highs are clear without being tiring. The mids... Ah, this is where I noticed where I (hadn't) spent the money. "Transparency" is probably one of the most abused words in audio, but once you've heard it (truly heard it) you're never happy without it.

 

Although I've never spent crazy money on hi-fi I've some decent kit over the years, transducer-wise. I've had Quad ESL 57s, 63s and 998s; Spendor BC1 and SP1 and currently B&W 802. HPs have included Stax Lambda Pro (which I sold because they were just so bloody hot and uncomfortable!). All these transducers have what I think is true transparency - and none more so, IMO, than the positively ancient ESL 57, which I have never ever heard bettered in that department. They didn't have deep bass, and they weren't much use for a party, but I miss them to this day (thirty years after I had to sell them. Sob).

 

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I was stupid to think the 598 would somehow defy the price/performance equation. I should probably simply have got the Visa card out and bought the HD 800s, but I wanted something easy to drive. And that brings me to...

 

The Fiio E17! I bought this little miracle at the same time. Oh, my. Suddenly, I realised just how good the SE 530s can be. I've always shied away from external DACs and amps for 'phones. Too much trouble and bulk for what's supposed to be a neat/portable alternative to my main system. I took a chance (at that price, why not?) on the E17 and to say I'm thrilled is an understatement. In combination with the Shures (and my laptop or Nexus 7) we're definitely in touch with the high-end. I've never been a great believer in the post-1980s philosophy of "spend most of your budget on the front end", but the E17 has made me realise that proper hi-fi does demand a little more than a Sansa Clip (amazing as that little device is), or the headphone output of a Samsung laptop.

 

However, though I'm very happy to discover just how good the 530s can be, I'm afraid the 598s (although improved by the E17) still remain firmly earth-bound, and nowhere near as fine as the Shures.

 

I'm not familiar with all the 598's competitors at their price point, so I can't say if they're a standout in their market segment. What I think I can say is that they're neither a bargain nor a rip-off. If someone put them on my head, blind, and asked me to guess the price I'd say $250 (or £164, in our money).

 

Before I go, I can't stress enough that the 598s are very good - but if you're fussy and spoiled, these won't do it for you. I'm tempted to keep them, though, because I really like the design. They go so well with my few treasured pieces of Art Deco furniture!

 

PS:I'm not sure if the rating system on Head-Fi is absolute or relative, so I've given them three stars for audio quality. If that's wrong maybe a mod could change it to four or five (though I'm not sure how logical that would be).

 

 

 

 

11 Comments:

I don't agree with this review but we all have different taste.
The HD598 is better than the Philips X1 and in most respects better than the HD600 unless you pair the HD600 with a killer amp. Transparancy, detail, soundstage, balance is spot on.
They do lack bass impact though.
I didn't like mine at all the first day either.
Now I've had them about 2-3 weeks and i LOVE them.
@chimmycham
Hi, can you say where/how they improved? There's a lot about them I do like. Might be worth burning in for a bit longer...
These need a lot of burn in. After using mine for a couple of hours a day for 2 months I think I can still hear improvements in the level of bass and male vocals are becoming more natural (not quite HD600 yet). Some have said that 50 hours is needed. I like these headphones because I can either get really involved in the music or just run them as background. If I listen to the headphones crtically then I know that there is something missing, but very soon I get sucked into the music and end up playing the whole album when I wanted to play 1 track.
I think the "spend most of the budget on the front end" came about in the late 70's when the mags started to notice the Linn LP12 and realised that a decent turntable could make even mediochre speakers sound OK. Personally I bought the O2 and ODAC then started to look for headphones. I bought the HD598s DESPITE testing them on the appalling Sennheiser test stand at my local hifi store.
Go buy some athm50 and enjoy
and the shures you have are $600 bucks and you should research the nature of in ears before posting (saw your review on amazon :D)
I have a lot of problems with this review. First off let me say that I completely respect other people's opinions. Not everyone is the same so it's only natural for us to have differing opinions. But here's the problems with this review: 1. You're comparing an open back, over-ear set of headphones to IEMs. That's just a big no no here in the audiophile world. That's like comparing a moped to a street car. 2. You're comparing two different price ranges to each other. I would be more liable to take you seriously if you had compared two $500 sets of cans. It's only natural that a more expensive set is more likely to sound better, but I still have trouble believing that you think the 598s are mediocre.
It seems to me that you're hold the 598's to a top-of-the-line type of standard which they were never meant to hold up to. They're meant to appeal to the mid-range type of headphone customers, not the high end. Now it's obvious to me that these aren't better than higher-end headphones at all, but I certainly don't compare them to higher-end headphones. That just doesn't make sense.
I don't think I could have been more respectful, or careful of others' opinions than I was in my review. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear.
As I said toward the end of my review, I'm not sure how the star rating on head-fi is supposed to work. Is it a measure of ultimate performance, or is it a measure of performance within their own category? When you think about the rating system, it's a bit of a logical mess.
Not to be a ******, but I have owned some good gear in my time (eg the Stax Lambda Pro), and thus my rating of three stars is exactly right, in my experience. What I DON'T know is how good the 598s are, in comparison with other mid-price phones. I'm prepared to believe that, at the very least, they hold their own in their price band.
If anything, my criticism was aimed at MYSELF, not the 598s. My mistake was to think that mid-range open-back phones would somehow be "high end" when, of course, they aren't. I should have spent more money, it's as simple as that. My bad.
They're fine 'phones for the money, but they're not some sort of super bargain. That's life!
@xdobermanx
Not sure which Amazon review you mean? Was it the Fiio E17? I didn't buy my se530s from Amazon, thus no review.
That said, I don't really know what you're saying (or why I'm replying, tbh).
@barneypooch
Oh no, I wasn't talking about you. I was just saying that I'm respectful of other people's opinions because I vehemently disagree with your review. I wasn't implying that you were being disrespectful at all. I was just saying that so that people wouldn't get me wrong.
But anyway, I can see your point about the review system. However, it's kind of an unwritten rule on here that you need to base your opinions on the price range of the headphones, not in the entire spectrum. That's just not fair because not everyone is looking for the absolute top of the line pair of headphones. They're looking for what's in their budget, and it's easier for them to get an idea of how good the set is compared to others of the same price range. For example, most of the Beats are priced around $200+. For that reason, they almost ALWAYS get a terrible rating because compared to other headphones in their category, they are absolutely awful. However, if they had been priced anywhere from $50-$125, I'm certain that they would get a much better rating. $200 is a rip off for the quality (or lack thereof) that you get.
The guy who suggested the ath m50, you're in the wrong review. These are open back, mid ranged headphones. The m50s are good, but they're closed back and more of a budget headphone
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