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Comparison Review: FA003, HD558, K601

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

The players:

Source - Sansa Fuze through LOD (with Silmic II 220uf 6.3v caps if anyone cares)

Amp - Mini3, high-performance version, self-built with stock parts

FA003 - 100 hours burn-in, using the leather pads

HD558 - 25 hours burn-in, stock foam in place

K601 - over 100 hours

(all cables stock)

 

The playing field:

Cornelius - Point

Stereolab - Sound Dust

Outkast - Stankonia

Apples in Stereo - Fun Trick Noisemaker

Gilberto Gil - Gilberto Gil (1968)

Joao Gilberto - Joao Gilberto (1973)

Chopin - Nocturnes

Rimsky-Korssakoff - Scheherazade

Sam Cooke - Live at the Harlem Square Club

and a few others

 

Bass:

The FA003 is definitely the most bass heavy of the three, due to the closed design, but it's never overpowering and retains great texture and detail. The HD558 is in the middle - it can thump and does a decent job on hip hop and electronica (or a great job, if you consider it's a mid-tier open headphone). Only rarely for some songs it makes me wish for a bass boost, and it's also slightly loose and doesn't present as much micro-detail and texture of the other two. The K601 has great bass if you're looking for extension and detail - listening to an upright bass on an acoustic song sounds amazing. But the bass is extremely 'dry', and completely fails to groove with stuff like Stereolab.

 

Midrange:

The FA003 has a great, balanced mid-range that feels very natural - this is a significant achievement in a closed headphone, from my experience. The HD558 sounds very slightly hollow on vocals, but it's hard to tell unless you compare it to the K601, which dominates the others here. The clearest I could hear the difference was with Joao Gilberto's acoustic album. For those not familiar, it's just his voice, his classical guitar and some backing percussion. With the K601 his voice sounds spookily real, with texture and body, like he's singing right in front of you. The HD558 falters here, with the raspiness in his voice taking on a slightly hollow tone. It's hard to explain, but easy to hear. The FA003 sounds natural, in an average way.

 

Highs:

I've commented before that the FA003 has slightly sharp highs, but the FA003 cheerleaders dismissed me... I stand by that, and for proof, listen to Frankie Valli and tell me the highs aren't somewhat grating. It's not overly bright or unnatural sounding, but there's a distinct harsh treble energy that can be irritating. The HD558 does sound slightly too bright, by a hair's breadth. Certain vocals come across as sparkly with the HD558, where they sound more full-bodied with the K601. It's a very subtle effect, however. To my ears, the K601 has the best highs, very natural and non-fatiguing.

 

Detail:

Because of the isolation, the FA003 seems to have the best detail, but I give the edge to the K601. On complex passages, the K601 ever so slightly outshines the FA003 in separation and precision. But both of them have great texture and make instruments feel real. The HD558 is clearly outclassed in this area - it just doesn't have the same amount of detail or micro-texture, and instruments can slur together slightly on complex songs.

 

Imaging:

The FA003 has decent imaging for a closed headphone - soundstage is at least somewhat outside of your head and 3D placement is fairly realistic. But it still feels constrained, artificial and claustrophobic at times... it's hard to put your finger on, but something's not right. HD558 had the best imaging of the three, and maybe of any headphone I've ever tried. Soundstage is decently wide but not too distant, and 3D placement was absolutely amazing. Listening to drums, you can pick out where each drumhead is in the kit, and sounds pan from left to right with dead-smooth transition. It can feel hallucinatory sometimes, in a good way :) The only negative was with sounds mixed totally to one side or the other, which seem to come from behind your ear - but with crossfeed it goes back to being amazing. The K601 was a big disappointment. 3D placement was not realistic at all, and soundstage was wide but discontinuous, with a clear gap in the center while left and right sides feel separate from one another.

 

Fatigue:

I just can't get over how fatiguing the FA003 are to me. Maybe it's because of the closed design, but the sound pressure can become intense, and I can't make it through even one album before it becomes uncomfortable (maybe I shouldn't be telling you guys this since it's pretty gross, but last week when I was listening to the FA003 exclusively, I q-tipped out a huge chunk of ear wax, and it made me think my ears were trying to protect themselves from the pressure waves). While I'm listening, I sometimes have to clear my ears like on an airplane. I posted a thread about this phenomena, and tried using crossfeed to remedy it as suggested, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. I think I just can't handle closed headphones.

 

Conclusion:

Even though the K601 are stunning with certain genres, the other two sound more natural with a wider variety of music, and I just can't live with a headphone that doesn't groove. If I had the budget/space for multiple headphones, I might keep the K601 to use exclusively for acoustic music... For the first five minutes when listening to the FA003, it sounds like a better, more impressive headphone than the HD558. Unfortunately, it becomes more and more disappointing the longer I listen to it. The fatigue is a big reason, but also the artificial imaging and closed-in feeling started to bug me more and more over time. It's a shame because these seem great on paper, but if halfway through an album I can't wait to take them off, there's something wrong.

 

In the end, I'm only going to keep one, and it's the HD558. Yes, from a technical standpoint it's a lesser headphone than the other two, but it feels the most natural by a long shot. I'll eventually get used to all the nit-picks I have about the sound signature, and I can overlook the slightly squishy details, because the imaging is just that amazing. If you're looking for an affordable* headphone to transport you to another world, and you don't sweat the details, this is it... but my upgradeitis has not been sated, and now I'm itching to try the HD600. Any ideas about how it compares to the HD558 purely in terms of 3D imaging and soundstage?

 

*(I was able to get the HD558 for $128 shipped (to Hawaii, by UPS second day air, which should cost over $40 normally but they only charged me $11) by calling J&R and asking them to price match the Electronics Expo 40% off deal)

post #2 of 23

Yay spaceconvoy!  Maybe if you bought your HD558s from me, your final decision would have been more momentous XD wink.gif  It seems from your review that you agree somewhat with my description of the HD558s, right?

 

Try removing the tape from the HD558; although I did it at the 5 hour burn-in mark, from what I could tell the bass and midrange gained some more emphasis.

 

I want to ask, even though you described it yourself, how big a difference is there between the soundstaging ability of the FA003 and the HD558, if you were to rate each out of 10?  The soundstage was one of my favorite things about that headphone.

 

Thanks for the review!  I think I will try for a pair of FA003s.  And whether I like it or not I'm keeping them!  Even if I miss the HD558 soundstage!!

post #3 of 23

I like it! Good layout, and a nice quick read.

 

And a very unique trio to compare as well.

post #4 of 23
Thread Starter 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hayang View Post

Yay spaceconvoy!  Maybe if you bought your HD558s from me, your final decision would have been more momentous XD wink.gif  It seems from your review that you agree somewhat with my description of the HD558s, right?

 

Ha! But then I wouldn't have gotten them until tomorrow, and I'd have lost 4 days of my precious headphone-listening life :P  I do agree mostly with what you said about the HD558, but let's take it piece by piece:

Hayang
Ahhh... the warmth, the soundstage... I missed them so much since I sold the HD555s and got the M50s.
THESE ARE AWESOME!
Only some 10 hours of burn in so far... and wow.  They are everything I expected them to be.  Immersive, lush, completely effortless and natural (on most songs).  Perhaps not the most punchy or sparkly headphone if you need to hear the crack of bass drums and snares cut through, but as I listen to them, the way they don't push any low or high frequencies too far lets me really appreciate how every part of a song complements each other.
 
I'd agree with this, with the exception that I don't find them particularly lush, at least compared to the FA003 or the midrange of the K601, but I think it's just a matter of perspective. They're definitely on the lush side of the spectrum however. They're relatively balanced and the transition between frequencies is very smooth which helps make them feel effortless and natural. 
 
Hayang
These sound so silky smooth with anything acoustic, and their soundstaging and positioning just complete the deal.  That was not something I could not get with the M50s.  Now, pianos and guitars sound rich and warm (or "heartwarming" as I like to say), drums complement bands very nicely, vocals come through clear and emotional.  Classical also works AWESOME with these.  I'd say that a major strength of these is that they are very good at capturing the natural "air" of a well-recorded acoustic song.  They are also very good at reproducing atmospheric sounds like bass rumbles, ambience, rain, etc.

 

Again, I think we're probably used to different headphones... the HD558 is definitely no slouch with acoustic music, but it's not as silky smooth as the K601. But I totally agree about capturing the air of a song. On some albums if you close your eyes, you can not only see where everything is, but almost imagine the size and shape of the room it's being recorded in.

 

Hayang

Right now I will qualify my rave by saying these could be more aggressive with rock.  I will have to burn in for a little longer to see if this is still the case later.  But for now, my M50s sounded just a bit more clear with thick rock mixes.  BUT they definitely did not have the soundstage that the HD558 has with rock.

 

I don't listen to a lot of rock, and can't stand that in-your-face Grado presentation, so take my opinion with a grain of salt... I like the HD558 for the type of rock I listen to, but I think people looking for a 'rock headphone' will probably be disappointed. 
 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hayang View Post

Try removing the tape from the HD558; although I did it at the 5 hour burn-in mark, from what I could tell the bass and midrange gained some more emphasis.

 

I might try the tape mod, but based on my experiences with socket-modding the KSC75, I feel like manufacturers usually have a good reason for putting foam in certain places. Yes, removing it might make it brighter, punchier, etc. but it's similar to turning up the volume. It's a temporary rush, usually unsuitable for longer term listening... I'll still probably try it out of curiosity :P
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hayang View Post

 

I want to ask, even though you described it yourself, how big a difference is there between the soundstaging ability of the FA003 and the HD558, if you were to rate each out of 10?  The soundstage was one of my favorite things about that headphone.
 
Thanks for the review!  I think I will try for a pair of FA003s.  And whether I like it or not I'm keeping them!  Even if I miss the HD558 soundstage!!

 

The FA003 has great soundstage in its own right, but it can't quite escape the inherent flaws of a closed headphone.* It doesn't feel as spacious and open as the HD558, and the 3D imaging doesn't feel as realistic. It's the difference between watching Avatar on a big screen TV at home and in 3D Imax at the theatre. (In this analogy, the K601 is like watching Avatar on a bank of TVs - big, distant and disjointed). But to answer your question, I'd give the HD558 a 10 and the FA003 an 8.5 
 
* This is a good overall description of the FA003. It's probably the best you can get if you need a closed headphone, but for those who don't or aren't willing to sacrifice certain aspects of open headphones, it's not quite good enough to overcome its own closed-headphone-ness. 
 
And thanks for the kind words, Katunbeerchug.gif
post #5 of 23

Oh, well I actually meant my description given to you in PMs rather than the rave I did in my thread!  I was rather excited for them during that time of writing, and I still like them but the FA-003 thread filled me with envy of the unknown... lol.

post #6 of 23

Thanks for the review. The K601 is really under-appreciated here. Despite all it's faults, it's pretty good and I always loved it for vocals. I'm still kicking myself for selling it and getting the K702.

It's almost impossible to sell a K601 and it took me nearly 3 weeks. I had to take a $70 loss.

 

Surprised you were somewhat disappointed in the imaging of the K601. Compared to the K702 it's quite good, but not better than the HD-598's imaging. The only reason I kept the K702 is that the sound was a bit more clear and it has more detail.

I haven't tried the 558, but if I had to pick between the K601 and the HD598, I'd take the 598 any day. The K601 isn't worth more than $150 to me and it's too bad it costs $240 at most websites.

 

For me, the K601 has a somewhat harsh lower treble. I think that's what it was because it only showed up in specific songs and fatigued my ears very quickly. The K702 didn't in any way, which is strange.

I still think K601 is quite a good gaming headphone if you can find it for cheap and don't like the 558/598 sound signature. It's just too bad the K601 is so hard to drive. The K601 sound isn't as clear or detailed as it should be for the asking price.

That's the biggest difference for me between that and the K702. I prefer the soundstage of the K601.

 

The FA003 has been interesting lately. I saw pictures awhile back and wrongly assumed it was very heavy, but I guess it's not at all. It's mids interest me, but at this point the only headphone I'm going to try next is maybe the W1000X.

It's going to take a lot to convince me to fork over around $500 for a headphone. I don't know if it's even worth it considering I have the ATH-AD2000 already. I also want to try the K501 if I can ever locate one.

post #7 of 23

Nice work.  I don't usually like Senns but the 558/598 are really good.  Certainly a case here of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.  Don't be shy w/ the foam mod on the 558.  The 598 doesn't have the foam and other than the grill structure are identical.  The imaging really is some of the best I've heard, commits no major errors and is enjoyable to listen to.  Something I haven't said about a Senn for a few decades.  Haven't heard the HD800 or HD25 though.  People I've read that have heard the 600/650 actually comment the imaging and SS to be superior on the 598.  After hearing it, I can believe it.

post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 

tdockweiler:

I was actually very disappointed in the K601's imaging :)  Yes, it's big and wide, which is what some people mean when they say 'great soundstage', but it doesn't sound precise or realistic at all. There's a distinct hollowness in the center, sort of a void where sound disappears... if the HD558 has a smooth spherical soundstage, then the K601 is more like looking into a corner of a room. It feels like the music is coming from two angled planes intersecting at a more distant point in front of you. If that makes sense.

 

If you want to test this, you can find online the Pilooski remix of Frankie Valli's Beggin'... behind the guitar riff between 0:25 and 0:32, there's a sound that warbles subtly between the left and right channels. With the K601 it sounds like it's bouncing from one side to the other discontinuously. With the HD558 you can feel it wavering in the air. I'm sure there are other ways to see this effect, but this is the best I can think of right now. 

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hayang View Post

Oh, well I actually meant my description given to you in PMs rather than the rave I did in my thread!  I was rather excited for them during that time of writing, and I still like them but the FA-003 thread filled me with envy of the unknown... lol.


Haha, oh well... I think you said the HD558 felt like a big brother upgrade to the PX100, right? I sort of agree. The PX100 is much bassier with slightly rolled off highs (and has all the typical supra-aural soundstage issues), but it's a good match for poor sources which tend to be overly bright with rolled off bass. If you don't upgrade your source, the HD558 would probably be a disappointment coming from the PX100, unless you're only looking for better soundstage. But they definitely share an affinity and feel like part of the same family. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaxilus View Post

... The imaging really is some of the best I've heard, commits no major errors and is enjoyable to listen to...


Yep, this is a good summary.
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 

 

Update:
 
I just tried the foam mod on the HD558, and I love it! I don't think it 'improved' the bass/mids so much as it decreased the treble. It's hard to tell without A/B comparing to an unmodded pair, but I can say the frequency balance has definitely shifted from slightly bright to slightly warm... makes it closer to my ideal headphone (but upgradeitis still lurks in the shadows).
 
I've heard all the speculation about why Senn added the foam, most of it negative and more like conspiracy theories than plausible explanations... so I'm curious, does anyone feel the foam adds something positive to the sound?
 
...
 
Also, I had the chance to compare the 558 out of the Fuze's headphone out vs. line-out to my Mini3, if anyone's curious about unamped performance. For some people the difference would be subtle. The 558 doesn't benefit from amping in an obvious way like some headphones do (some lack bass unless amped, or sound veiled, etc). But amping improves sonic texture and imaging/soundstage, making everything sound more realistic. 
post #10 of 23

I can't even think how they sound with the foam in. They're so much better without, to my ears. And although I have a pair of HD25s and a new Grado SR80i to play with, I'll be keeping the HD558 because of the wonderful soundstage presentation and their relaxing, almost natural sound, which makes them really good for random all-night listening.

post #11 of 23

I bought my FA003s from spaceconvoy and I would just like to say I agree with most of what he says in this comparison, at least between the HD558 and the FA003.

 

Both are awesome cans.  Possibly the best open/closed headphone pair under $200.

post #12 of 23

Hmm, I kinda glanced over this review when I first saw it awhile back, but now I've read it a lot more closely. I have been feeling the itch to try out the HD558, and have always been curious about the FA003. And I'm having strange K701 curiosity withdrawls as well. This is comparison is about as good as it gets for me to decide on another headphone! Excellent job again, by the way.
 

Quote:

Originally Posted by spaceconvoy View Post

 

...but my upgradeitis has not been sated, and now I'm itching to try the HD600. Any ideas about how it compares to the HD558 purely in terms of 3D imaging and soundstage?


Funny thing is, I've bought the HD650 twice, and found it not quite to my appeal. But I'm getting urges to buy the HD558? It just looks so stinkin' comfy! How's the comfort against the K601?

post #13 of 23
Quote:

Funny thing is, I've bought the HD650 twice, and found it not quite to my appeal. But I'm getting urges to buy the HD558? It just looks so stinkin' comfy! How's the comfort against the K601?


 


Have you tried the new HD-650 that's brighter and less veiled than the older one? The version with the white fabric? I never liked the pair I had back in 2004. The new version I bought a few days ago is quite good. Even a little bright at times and sound better for music than my HD-598 in some ways. The mids are definitely less forward though. To me though female vocals are better on the HD-650 compared to the HD-598. Not sure about the HD-558. I think the 558 has more forward upper mids compared to the 598 doesn't it? I think the upper mids are more forward on the HD-650 compared to the HD-598. Not sure though. I just know female vocals sound closer to my ears, but it could be due to the smaller soundstage on the HD-650. Who knows. Soundstage on the HD-598 is really large, but not as large as the AD700 of course.

 

The HD-598 should feel similar to the HD-558. If so, the HD-598 is one of the most comfortable headphones there is. No clamping pressure at all after a few days. When I put the HD-650 on my head it's a bit of a shock at first because it feels like my eyes are going to pop out of my head because of the pressure. After 5 minutes you don't even feel it?! Strange. The clamping force should get reduced in a few days. The HD-650 still has about 5% more bass than I'd like, but no big deal. Pretty terrible for gaming because of this. Thankfully I don't listen to much bass heavy music. It never feels bloated. I think only on one song it did.

 

BTW I got my HD-650 for $329 from JR when calling them. Pretty good deal considering some websites are selling them for $400-$500!

 

K601 and HD-598 for gaming would be a nice comparison. It's sad that K601's these days are going for as low as $120-$160 used. I might get rid of my Sextett and get another K601. I'm kicking myself for going from a K601 to a K701. K701 is better in many ways, but the soundstage and distant mids (not recessed) ruined it for me. I think the mids of the K601 and HD-598 are quite similar. The lower treble of the K601 was kind of fatiguing for me though. K601 is a totally underrated gaming headphone. To me it's even better than the K701 for gaming.

 

post #14 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by tdockweiler View Post

Have you tried the new HD-650 that's brighter and less veiled than the older one? The version with the white fabric? I never liked the pair I had back in 2004. The new version I bought a few days ago is quite good.

 

I'm pretty sure I had the newer version, as I had both pairs about 2-4 months ago. I will admit, it was the least fatiguing sound I've ever heard. It beat both my Beyers.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tdockweiler View Post

The HD-598 should feel similar to the HD-558. If so, the HD-598 is one of the most comfortable headphones there is. No clamping pressure at all after a few days.

 

That's exactly what I wanted to hear. Lately I've been on the ultimate hunt for uber-comfy headphones. (Nearly bought the Sony F1 yesterday for $300...) And I've always, always, always, thought the HD5** series looked super comfortable. But If you've noticed in the pictures, the HD595 and HD598 have what looks like a plastic/leather type headband padding, and the HD558 and HD555 look like a soft velvet fabric. I wonder which one is more comfy... (I'm guessing about the same).

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by tdockweiler View Post

When I put the HD-650 on my head it's a bit of a shock at first because it feels like my eyes are going to pop out of my head because of the pressure. After 5 minutes you don't even feel it?! Strange.

 

I remember that day... But I couldn't even get past 5 minutes! tongue.gif

(Thank goodness for the headband stretching!)

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tdockweiler View Post

 

K601 and HD-598 for gaming would be a nice comparison. It's sad that K601's these days are going for as low as $120-$160 used. I might get rid of my Sextett and get another K601. I'm kicking myself for going from a K601 to a K701. K701 is better in many ways, but the soundstage and distant mids (not recessed) ruined it for me. I think the mids of the K601 and HD-598 are quite similar. The lower treble of the K601 was kind of fatiguing for me though. K601 is a totally underrated gaming headphone. To me it's even better than the K701 for gaming.

 

I've been thinking about the K701 recently, but then the (more comfortable) K601 popped into my head. I thought about the two and remembered many users preferred the K601 more. What was it about the soundstage that killed you? Lack of it or too artificial?

 

That's why I found this comparison so dang interesting. It's comparing three neutral headphones I've been thinking of getting -- I just need to decide which one. (The FA003 has been knocked out, and the K601 is hard to find new for a good price) Besides, the HD558 just looks to comfy to pass up, not to mention Senn's smooth sound, and detachable cable...


Edited by Katun - 3/5/11 at 1:10pm
post #15 of 23

The most non-fatiguing headphone I've ever heard is the HD-598 by far. Even more so than the new HD-650. It's signature to me is pretty smooth and you'd think that with the somewhat forward mids it would not be. Somehow I actually feel that the HD-650 is slightly brighter than my HD-598.

 

I had the K601 at one point and I bought the K702/701 just to compare them. On the first two days my reaction was.."Wow, these are so much better!". There was a MUCH clearer and clean sound. Vocals sounded less forward, but a little better somehow. The problem with my K702 is that the soundstage felt very inaccurate and artificially big. Some small details seem to get lost or felt much too distant in it's huge soundstage. I never felt mids were recessed and it's a bit hard to describe. I remember in a game there was a guy holding a torch about 4 feet away. On the K702 it felt like he was like 8 feet away! Some of those tiny details in songs felt the same way too. This is what ruined the K702 for me. Luckily the K702 wasn't too bright for me and I was perfectly fine with it's comfort and bass.

 

When you put on the K601 you can clear hear that it's really the inferior headphone in most areas, but still good. The sound feels a tad more muffled and less clear, but still good. I felt the K601 had a more accurate soundstage compared to the K702. Despite the K702 having more detail, what detail the K602 did have was more forward and easier to hear. Because of this I also felt that it was better for gaming. Footsteps were much easier to hear and could be heard much sooner. Imaging to me is fine on the K601 is quite good and far better than the K702 to me. Still probably can't compete with the HD-598 though.

 

I personally loved the K601 for female vocals. I always felt it was not worth more than $170 though. Sounded about as clear as a headphone in the $150-$200 price range new. What really is strange for me is that I found the K702 less fatiguing than the K601. At times with very bright or poorly recorded songs, the K601 can be too shouty. Something in it just annoyed my ears. Again, this was mostly with bad recordings, but it did make them sound worse than on other headphones. The K601 mids are definitely more forward compared to the K701. Man if the K601 had the clarity and detail of K702, I'd be set!

 

In the end I found the HD-598 better overall than the K601, but just based on memory. Instead of the HD-558 I'd suggest the HD-598. I think it's less fatiguing than the K601, more comfortable and still has those forward mids. It's sound isn't as clear and detailed as the K702 or HD-650, but not that much worse. I love mine. Soundstage though on the HD-598 is so much larger and better than the HD-650. I can't say for sure which headphone between the HD-598 and K601 has the best vocals, but it'd be an interesting comparison for me. I'd actually like to get another K601 again just to compare to my HD-598 for vocal quality and gaming.

 

BTW I got my HD-598 for $170. Not a bad deal and they're coming down in price. Too bad the K601 is still $200+ new.

 

Oh one thing I forgot about is that the K601 is a tad more comfortable than the K702. K702 was comfortable for me, but did feel a bit huge. The bumps never bothered me at all.

The K601 is also less neutral than the K702 to me. Not a big deal. The forward mids make it a bit more fun to listen to sometimes.
 

Quote:

 

I've been thinking about the K701 recently, but then the (more comfortable) K601 popped into my head. I thought about the two and remembered many users preferred the K601 more. What was it about the soundstage that killed you? Lack of it or too artificial?

 

That's why I found this comparison so dang interesting. It's comparing three neutral headphones I've been thinking of getting -- I just need to decide which one. (The FA003 has been knocked out, and the K601 is hard to find new for a good price) Besides, the HD558 just looks to comfy to pass up, not to mention Senn's smooth sound, and detachable cable...



 

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