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A Detailed Comparison of my Sennheiser Collection (HD800, HD650, HD600, HD545)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by The Correlation, Nov 11, 2018.
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  1. The Correlation
    My Sennheiser Collection (Detailed Comparison Inside) - Imgur.jpg
    So, from left to right: HD800, HD650 (silver damping), HD600 (black damping), HD545. Not pictured is my girlfriends HD650 with black mesh. All pads on the headphones are new OEM pads. I also have listening tests with a set of pads I highly recommend purchasing if you need them, and these are the Accessory House memory foam velours. They are a fantastic alternative to the OEM pads and the best I have heard yet from a 3rd party.

    The HD545 is a vintage Sennheiser and the predecessor to the HD580. It is the grandfather of the current HD6X0 design and its sound also proves testament to this. I’ll compare them all relative to each other first, then I’ll provide my listening notes for each category. The 650 silver vs black are quite similar, but the 650 silver actually sounds very similar to the 600 black, whereas the 650 black has slightly more bass and more recessed low and mid treble. I shall use the black 650 in this comparison to make it fairer.

    Bass Impact: HD650 > HD800 > HD600 = HD545

    I wouldn’t call any of these bass head headphones. The HD650 digs the deepest and has a very good amount of slam, probably helped by the greater mid-bass hump. They’re all pretty close to be honest, but give the HD800 some EQ and it can hit harder than all of them.

    Overall Bass Quantity/Perception: HD650 > HD600 > HD545 > HD800

    The sub-bass quantity within these headphones is pretty similar, but the HD800 and HD650 have slightly more than the HD600 and HD545. In overall bass quantity however, including the mid-bass, the slightly emphasised and wooly bass of the HD650 puts it ahead of the 600, which has slightly more than the rest.

    Bass Texture: HD800 > HD600 > HD650 = HD545

    The cleanliness of the HD800 bass is noticeably better than the rest. The bass here, while not as textured as something like my LCD-3 and HE1000, is very good indeed and very planar-like in its speed. The HD600, given its slightly reduced mid bass and wooliness over the HD650, trumps it here. Surprisingly, the HD545, which also has less bass than the 650, didn’t really do better than it in this regard.

    Midrange Neutrality: HD650 > HD600 = HD545 > HD800

    I think the HD650, closely followed by the 600 and 545, has some of the best midrange accuracy you will find in any headphone, period. Better than the LCD-4, better than the Utopia, better than the HE1000. The 650 pulls ahead of the 600 and 545 in that it is slightly less hard and emphasised in the upper midrange (at around the 3K peak). The HD800 has a somewhat artificial sounding midrange, which is actually slightly recessed. Female vocals lose their intimacy and body, but gain a lot of ‘air’ in the process here. I personally find this a slight set-back for the 800 that EQ can’t fix sufficiently.

    Midrange Seperation: HD800 > HD650 > HD600 = HD545

    The HD800 has a significantly airer and more open midrange with fantastic separation relative to the rest. This is no doubt a result of the better soundstage and transient response, as well as the cleaner bass and lower distortion. The rest are quite similar, but I find the HD650’s smoother upper midrange to reduce acoustic masking and help give body and space to individual instruments.

    Midrange-Treble Transition: HD650 > HD600 > HD800 = HD545

    The HD650 has an almost flawless transition into the treble. There is fantastic coherency here, marred only by a slight grain in the mid-treble that also exists on the 600 as well, albeit to a greater quantity. The HD800, whilst having great cleanliness across the board, has the infamous resonance at 6K that casts a slight ‘haze’ on tracks that trigger it, which includes almost any song with cymbals. Interestingly, I found the 545 to also have a slight emphasis in this region. I have a feeling this is a result of the plastic housing which is not as open as the metal mesh on the other headphones. Removing the back of the 545, whilst adding more treble and reducing bass, somewhat reduced this slight peak I was hearing.

    Treble Quantity: HD800 >> HD545 > HD600 > HD650

    The HD800 has remarkably more treble across the board here. The HD545 actually has more treble than the HD600, and this is where this headphone differs from the 600 the most, as it has been really, really similar thus far. The HD650 still has excellent extension, good sparkle and nice ‘air’ above 10K, but it is definitely darker than the rest in the low and mid treble.

    Treble Cleanliness: HD800 > HD650 > HD600 > HD545

    The HD800 is so wonderfully clean and puts a lot of other bright headphones to shame. The K812 for instance, has almost the same amount of treble from memory, and it was a hazy mess. This is similar to my previous Beyer T5p, which tried to be bright, but ended up just sounding harsh and messy. The HD650 is slightly cleaner and smoother than the 600 (this is a result of the lower treble on the 650 and some added refinement in the tuning). Again, a slight brightness and lack of refinement in the HD545 sets it apart from the 600 here.

    Transient Response: HD800 >> HD650 >= HD600 = HD545

    The HD800 is king here, and probably against every other headphone I have heard. Transients are marvellously clean and quick. The 650 feels slightly snappier than the other two (despite a woollier bass), but it’s too close to tell and transients across the spectrum on these headphones are quite good.

    Soundstage Width: HD800 >> HD545 >= HD650 = HD600

    No comparison in width, the HD800 has a big lead over the others. The 545, maybe as a result of the added treble and air, feels slightly wider, but again, it’s close.

    Soundstage Depth: HD800 > HD650 = HD600 > HD545

    Again, the soundstage capabilities of the 800 shine here. The 650 and 600 do have quite a ‘tall’ stage however, and this is something I really like about these headphones as it gives acoustic instruments good depth and realism. The 545 feels slightly flatter than the rest. Again, I feel this may be a result of the plastic housing, which is more closed off.

    Overall Timbre and Naturalness: HD650 > HD600 > HD545 > HD800

    As I said before, I really love the 650’s naturalness and timbre in the midrange and, paired with the smooth treble, it has possibly what is the most accurate tonal balances of any headphone I have heard. I want to call in the Focal Clear here, which even Tyll has said has a near perfect tonal balance. I liked the Clear, but a slight shout and tizz in the mid treble still make the 650 come on top here in this regard. The 600 and 545 are close, but the 545 loses out because of its reduced treble performance. The HD800, which can be made better with EQ, still has an unnaturalness I can’t get over.

    My Personal Enjoyment (Without EQ): HD650 > HD600 = HD545 >> HD800

    My Personal Enjoyment (With EQ to match the Harman target as closely as possible): HD650 = HD800 > HD600 = HD545

    Adding EQ to the HD800 can make it come close to a super-charged 650/600 in the bass and treble. The only issue is the midrange body and euphoria, which EQ hasn’t really fixed. Adding moderate warmth makes the 800 very honky so it is very sensitive to how you EQ the mids. I therefore love the HD800 for classical and acoustic, and equally love the 650 for electronic, jazz fusion, pop etc.
  2. SilverEars
    I just recently reheard the HD800(S). I don't know why I even bother. I just keep telling myself I won't get that sharp piecing treble this time, and it comes out every time. :weary: It's the worst! And a buddy next to me would say,"no, I won't touch that." He already knows it's piercing.

    For me, HD6XX is the one to keep. With a good solid-state, it does respond quick. Tried both HD800(S) and HD6XX with a transformer coupled tube amp, but it gave the bass more softer and weely quality for the HD6XX, and the treble I didn't like (didn't find it controlled as well as my solid-state). HD800(S) still sounded piecing.

    I prefer solid-state for my HD6XX. It has quick response, and better bass control and slam.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2018
    volly and The Correlation like this.
  3. The Correlation
    Oh yeah I agree. Without EQ the 800 kills me. It's somewhat ok for some classical tracks at most, but otherwise it just makes everything sound thin and aggressive. I like the 800S even less for some reason, because I still found the treble excessive, and the slightly tamed harshness didn't make up for the added bass wooliness (albeit only slight). It's with EQ to correct the fundamental tonality that made me begin to really appreciate the 800's speed and clarity.
  4. SilverEars
    Next time, I'll try to apply some EQ. I just don't find EQ equivalent to a physical tune. I've heard some weird effects from EQ (from software processing I believe).

    If I'm in the mood, I try out equizer APO, but with EQ I have to dedicate the DAC to a specific response, and the software is tied to a pc system that is able to run a precisly tunable EQ software.

    If EQ works out great for you, all good.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2018
  5. Sefelt103
    Interesting analysis of these famous headphones. The HD650 comes out well as does the HD800. Presumably you like full sounding bassy headphones. I was surprised that the HD800 was the least accurate timbre and hence sounds unnatural. I've never heard the HD800 but I have observed many posts relating to its 'unnatural/exaggerated soundstage'. Of the Sennheiser's that I have owned (HD580/600/650) I always thought their timbre sounded lifelike.
  6. Rattle
    Did I miss which amp or amps were used ? which DAC? also source material ? lossless ? vinyl? MP3's ? What kind of EQ ? I don't see how this is useful without any of that information...
    pretzel06 likes this.
  7. pretzel06
    Very interesting find. You enjoy HD600 than the HD800.

    Yes that information is important
  8. The Correlation
    I mean, saying that this is useless without knowing the above is a bit unfair, no? The comparisons are all relative. But I did accidentally leave out a paragraph. For clarity:
    - The tracks used are songs from my Modern Audiophile and Electronic Audiophile playlists from Spotify.
    - They were streamed at 320 Kbps from my HP Spectre x360 to my Geek Pulse Amp/DAC.
  9. legion1capone
    Thank you for this write up! I used to own the 555's a long time ago. The first real headphone I bought. I've come a ways since then and am starting to have quite a collection. I've been trying to decide between the 600's and 650's for some time. You helped me decide on the 650's. Have you heard the 660s?
    The Correlation likes this.
  10. kman1211
    Good comparison. Agree the HD 800 shines when EQ’d, the treble is just unpleasant unless eq’d/modded. Owned a HD 545 in the past, I found it the most euphoric of those 4 headphones, technically worse than modern HD 6xx headphones but very enjoyable, oddly liked it more with worn pads. Definitely brighter and more spacious than the other HD 6xx headphones. As much as I like the HD 6xx family tuning, sadly I can’t really go back to them. After experimenting with modding and EQ on certain Beyer models; few headphones outside Beyers that have tame treble sound quite right to me.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2018
  11. volly
    Appreciate the comparison and easy to understand. I started out with the 600's before coming over to the 650's, I 'liked' the 600's but fell in-love with the 650's and just couldn't go back!

    Mjolnir (First gen) with the 650's is something to behold! Jotunheim and Darvoice are close seconds regarding amps!

    I was lured in to the world of tubes through the 600/650's but damn...a decent Solid-state can make the 650's SING!

    @The Correlation - Will you be adding to this thread later? i.e. 660s/700 or MD 58x?
  12. Monsterzero
    Grab an HD250. You will thank me later.
  13. ourfpshero
    Nice write up! The hd545 was my 1st wow! Headphone some years ago, got a beat up one in a trade. Moved to hd565 soon after, pretty much the same but with metal grills. I prefer these to the 580, 600, and 650
    The Correlation likes this.
  14. Mormonsloot
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2019
    The Correlation likes this.
  15. The Correlation
    Thanks! I have heard the 660s and think that they are a good headphone. I didn't really dislike them as much as Tyll did, but I agree that they are a somewhat more aggressive presentation than the 650. The bump in price is also a bit 'eh' considering that it is more of a different flavour than a solid upgrade. I would have to take home a pair to get more detailed impressions, but this is what I came away with from about 30 mins with them at Audio Sanctuary.
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