The HD 600!
Here's a recap of how I got to this point. Just add "to me" to the head of any sentence that describes the sound.
A couple of months ago I started searching for a new pair of headphones. I do audio for a living, so up until now all my headphones have been closed and chosen for their flat frequency response or their ability to cut during recording... not for their amazing presentation. This time I was looking for something that might be useful as a reference for mixing, but mostly for having an impressive audiophile-like presentation. I didn't plan on spending over $200. Ha ha!
The music I listen to is:
60% Rock/Pop (Alt and progressive rock, classic rock, pop rock; not much R&B or dance pop)
I bought a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 880 600 Ohm headphones after comparing a few models, including the DT 770 and DT 880 Pro 250 Ohm. If you've seen any of my recent posts you know I'm loving their sweet open treble, but I dislike their tendency to sound thin and, with some material, harsh in the highs. Their openness and soundstage had me hooked though, so I set about building a system around them, including a Matrix Mini-i as a warm-ish DAC and a Darkvoice 336se tube amp. Then I added RCA NOS tubes known for their warmth. I'd say I've done everything I reasonably can to warm them up.
I'd also heard the HD 650s a few times while shopping around, and I really liked them but the price tag kept me away. I couldn't stop thinking about them, wondering if they'd be the answer, so I ordered a pair. They would either get returned or replace the Beyers. To make it a fair fight, I bought a Sylvania tube known for its brighter character, and I also have a solid state amp with two headphone outs that has a sparkly treble.
The HD 650 may as well just be called the opposite of the DT-880.
880: sweet, open treble. Check.
650: not exactly.
650: thick, warm low end. Oh yeah.
880: nope. (though the bass does extend deceivingly low, there's no thump)
With both of these phones I want to reach for an EQ to "fix" them. Meanwhile I kept reading about the HD 600's peak in the upper-mids and their cleaned-up lows, and they sounded promising. I was in the middle of burning-in the 650s (whether there was any merit to it, I didn't know, but there's such an overwhelming consensus on this that I couldn't ignore it) to see if they'd "open up" as some say, but my impatience got the best of me and I ordered a pair of 600s. I received them when the 650s had about 100 hours on them.
When I listened to them for the first time I knew right away they hit the mark for me. That bump in the upper mids seems to give the illusion that there's more treble and lifts the infamous veil of the 650s. Compared to the 650s, there's more clarity and less warmth. I have songs I've been referencing for over 20 years, so I've heard them on many, many systems and I know what they should sound like. To me, the 600s are more what mix and mastering engineers have in mind when they're frequency sculpting. Songs that have too much treble sound like it, and songs with too much bass are somewhat exposed. It's nice to find something that you just know is right without all the second-guessing.
The DT-880s are what you get when you take great headphones and hype the highs, taking audiophile treble detail to the next level. Fun!! (but thin)
And conversely, the 650s are what you get when you take a really beautiful sounding headphone and artificially warm up the low end and recess the upper-mids a bit. Also fun! (but muddy)
Now I understand what people mean when they talk about how music just floats by with the 650s . Usually they're talking about how smooth they are and how they get lost in the music. It's easy to do with these -- they don't beg for your attention, that's for sure.
The HD 600s strike middle-ground. I was afraid this was going to be Goldilocks syndrome: These headphones are too bright; these are too dark; etc... and it would never end. Fortunately for me, these headphones are almost perfect. I don't feel like I should add or subtract any EQ. This is from a mixing/mastering perspective, so it's what my ears are used to. We all have a sound signature that appeals to us and that can be quite different depending on our ears and what we're used to.
I'd read some conflicting comparisons to the HD 650s -- some saying that they're very similar, if not exactly the same. Not really. They DO have a very similar approach to sound and dynamics, but to my ears the 600s "fix" the 650s, and I'm sold. The box they came in had "Natural Sound" written across the top and I agree with that. At times the 600s border on too much peak in the upper-mids, but just barely. Hate to say it, but if Sennheiser made a "625" they might be absolutely perfect: A bit more of the big low end of the 650s and a dose of the veil-lifting upper mids of the 600s.
So the 650s will go back (I sure hope the next person doesn't try to burn them in for 200 hours and expect a change!!), and I'm keeping the 600s. The 650 are awesome, but the 600s are awesomer.
By the way, I'm finding that if I read enough comparisons here, I end up with an amazingly accurate picture of what things sound like. I know you can't just buy headphones based on reviews, but so far they've been spot-on with everything I've tried. There's always the occasional post that goes against everything else, but if you eliminate the extremes I think you get an accurate and true consensus.
Oh yeah... as of now, I think I'm keeping the 880s. For classical and jazz especially, I know I'd miss them too much. They're special for sure.
Lastly, my thoughts on the 650s break-in. I used a wide variety of music tracks, pink noise, and silence for 200 hours to break them in. They were not on my head for most of it, so the pad break-in -- that many people claim is the real change -- wasn't a factor in my results.
I fully admit I could've been imagining any changes. Sound gets so subjective you almost can't trust your ears. I can't tell you how many times I play something for a client and they say, "Hey, can you turn (this or that) up?". So I play it again to hear what it is they're talking about, and they shout, "Oh yeah, that's better". Huh? I haven't even done anything. OK, moving on...
And there isn't a mixer on the planet who hasn't been tweaking an EQ, thinking, "Yeah, that's better", when they were actually tweaking the wrong track (talk about humbling).
That said, if someone put a gun to my head and demanded answers, I would say this about the burn-in on the 650s: At first they sounded bass-heavy and muddy. Some people are referring to this as "bloated bass". At about 100 hours they actually thinned out and got a little peaky in the mids. At 200 hours they returned to their warm bass, but it was tightened up a bit, and the treble seemed more present and slightly more extended. However, these changes that I think I perceived were very subtle and really, the basic sound signature of the 650s didn't change. They were still too dark for me. I was very sad nonetheless to send them back.
Edited by ccash - 5/22/14 at 11:45pm