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A Review For Classical Music Listeners

A Review On: Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones

Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones

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Pros: Tonality, Easier to match with other equipments, smooth sounding, beautiful mids

Cons: For some recordings and with some equipment it can sound bass heavy or too dark, narrow soundstage, colored treble

My reference for reviewing the HD 650 is the AKG K701. I've used the HD650 with various amps and sources including the Nuforce HDP, Headroom Ultra Micro Amp (now discontinued), the Beta 22 (2 channels), Musical Fidelity M1 and the ALO Rex MKII. Sources included Marantz CD5003, Ultra Micro DAC (discontinued), Ultra Desktop DAC (discontinued) Nuforce HDP and Centrance DACPort LX.


I think many reviewers have already talked a great deal about the characteristics of the HD650. Most of them have better experience and probably are more capable of discerning the pros and  cons. I only wanted to add a few points regarding classical music listening.


Some listeners shy away from the HD650 when listening to classical for their dark sound and lack of airiness but for my ears they are suitable for the genre. First of all they have a beautiful natural tone for strings and winds, in comparison to the K701 which has an anemic neutral to bright tonality. The HD600 has a similar tonality to the HD650 but IMO the latter is more refined, less grainy and enjoys a better sound stage and imaging. The only drawback is the HD650 need for a neutral to bright system to sound their best. With some set ups it can sound too dark and dull. I heard them at their best with the Beta 22: a very big and tall soundstage with exceptional depth and detail. 


When listening to orchestral music on the HD 650 there is more weight and impact. The experience is closer to live performances in comparison to K701. There is also more emotional involvement, using the K701 is like reading the notes, while both HD600 and 650 reveal the mood and the feelings of the piece. In other words, listening to the HD 650 is like being in the concert hall, while the K701 experience is closer to being in the studio. 


The HD650 is more forgiving with older recordings. Classical gems like Arrau's recordings of Beethoven's piano sonatas or Oistrakh glorious recordings of Prokofiev and Shostakovitch can't be rendered with revealing headphones like the K701 or the HD800.


It's also much easier to match the HD650 with the right DAC and AMP in comparison to the K701. Actually the HD650 is an excellent performer with high grade equipment and a steal at its current price (around $300 used). For the K701 it's very hard to find the right amp to pair with it, it sounded at their best on the Luxman and MF M1 HPA amps. 


The K701 is definitely more airy, with a wider sound stage, but the warm tone of the HD650 provide a solid placement of instruments in space. Sometimes I feel the K701 too thin sounding for complex passages compared to the HD650. 


This review was done on mid fi gear involving Cetrance Dacport Lx and ALO RxII. 


Update 03/28/14


I did an extensive comparison on the current set up: Flac and Aiff files played by Audirvana plus on a Macbook computer. The macbook is connected by optical cable to Headroom Ultra Desktop DAC. The UDAC is connected to Musical Fidelity M1 headphone amplifier via DiMarzio RCA cables. 


On this set up the AKG Q701 is performing very well indeed. The highs are smoother and the sound is more open, with fuller, richer and clearer mids. The imaging and the depth of the soundstage have been immensely improved. In short I feel that the Q701 and the MF M1 amp are very good combo, much better than the HD650 combined with the same amp. Probably the M1 being slightly warmish works better with brighter headphones like the Q701 and the HD800. 


The HD650 is certainly more fun to listen to, but the Q701 is more detailed with a wider and bigger sound stage, better imaging and more extended treble. But the tonality of the HD650 is more true to life, where K701 sounds pale in comparison. When listening to the HD650 you feel like living inside the music, while the Q701 is more objective and cold. The mid on the HD650 is rich and has a palpable presence, compared to the thinner mid on the Q701.



Of course these observations are purely subjective, and based on my experiences with different set ups. 


I really liked the comparison here, and seems to be spoken of by other's who have done similar comparisons. Wanted to ask if you have ever listened to the K712 and or compared it with the HD650? I am able to trade for one and wanted tro hear some thoughts on it if you have. I would be pairing the K712 with the PanAm to give it a little bit of warmth. 
Never listened to K712. But currently I own the HD800 and it's a huge improvement over the HD650. I don't agree with reviewers who consider the HD800 an improved version of the K701. 
I have demoed the sennheiser hd800 on a McIntosh MHA100 AMP/DAC combo, and compared it with my sennheiser hd650's, and I'm not going to kid anyone here. The hd650 is superb on that rig! Yes, hd800 is better...that much better? I don't think so. It's something called "diminishing returns". Look up that meaning on Google. The hd650's are a VERY SUPERB headphone. I know because I own the hd650 and use it on a very Niiice rig. Don't fool yourselves. $1500? They're not worth that much. The hd650 to me, is under priced...IMHO...hope this helps everyone before you drop $1500 bucks
Very good description of the 650's sound, thanks! I do feel that my 650's darkish quality sometimes muddies things a bit in the upper bass/lower mid range with SOME classical, compared to my trusty 580's. My 650's are still a work in progress, will report back after swapping out the cables for some silver plate copper aftermarket ones. In stock form, I'm thinking these things need more air, as I said in my review.
great review,  I'll be getting my HD650 soon and will be listening mainly classical (lots of solo piano) and some jazz, cheers!
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