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Headphone newbie's review of Sennheiser HD-598s (posted on amazon as well)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by jtmccoy, Jan 20, 2014.
  1. jtmccoy
    PROS: Fair amount of detail in the mid-range; buttery warmth if that's your thing.
    CONS: Flabby, congested bass; not enough sparkle in the treble; sound stage is overrated considering the reviews; for me, the velour ear pads get as itchy and hot as a pig's butt in July.
    I'm an audiophile in the sense that I do love great sound and can discern detail and texture at various frequencies (as can most people if they care to listen for it). But I'm also not compulsively obsessed with it to the point where I'm willing to make my wife and kids go homeless and hungry. I've been in this hobby for twenty years, and I've long since learned that the audiophile world is a lot like wine tasting. Perhaps you've heard about those experiments where they have world-class wine tasters do a blind test between a $100 bottle of wine and a $10 bottle, and it turns out that at least half the time, they get it wrong. It's the same with audiophiles and their equipment. To be frank, the community is full of people who are trying to ameliorate their guilt and justify the thousands of dollars they spent in the hopes they'll be able to hear the spit smacking between Etta James's molars. It literally becomes an addiction, with all the symptoms thereof.  Audio equipment manufacturers are obviously aware of this and exploit it to their full extent. [End of rant]
    Anyway, I recently won some fantasy football cash and decided to splurge on a $200 pair of headphones. I neurotically researched everything I could find online and settled on these bad boys, believing they'd deliver the miraculously spacious sound stage, airy highs, and crisp bass that I'd read about. I plugged them into my Denon receiver, fired it up, and--huh, that's it? I've tried them out with all my various sources (Blu-ray movies, Xbox 360, and cable TV) and different kinds of music (Leo Kottke, female vocal jazz, some generic EDM, and a Brahms violin concerto). Everything sounded really "nice," but the sound stage only seemed to extend about two inches beyond my skull, the bass was muddy when there was a lot of low-frequency activity happening (like lower strings and brass), and the highs were a bit recessed. They definitely sounded better than old $30 Sony headphones, but a $170 better? I dunno, I guess that's for you to decide.
    I later read that you shouldn't plug good headphones into an AV receiver, because the headphone amps on those things are usually garbage and instead you should buy a DAC combined with a separate headphone amp and yadda yadda yadda and GOOD GRIEF STOP ALREADY! I have other financial obligations. If it doesn't sound amazing with my receiver, then it's just not worth it to me.
    I have quite a bit of experience with speakers but not headphones. Maybe my expectations were too high. I really wanted headphones for gaming, movies, and music (mostly jazz, classical, and acoustic pop), because I've always heard how much more exciting and immersive they are. But for $200, these are a little underwhelming so far.  I do love listening through headphones late at night, but I'm thinking I might step down in price and get something that's "almost" as good, such as the HD-558s.
    UPDATE: After several days, these headphones are growing on me, probably because I'm settling into lowered expectations, or maybe they're burning in (though I think that's somewhat a myth; it's your own ears that "burn in").  In any case, I'm going to pick up the HD-558s soon, compare them, and decide which pair to keep.  Any advice or comments are welcome!
    Gizb0 likes this.
  2. pp312
    I too was underwhelmed with the HD598, and I DO know something about headphones. The treble seemed rolled off, and as the sound otherwise seemed generally mediocre I sold them. I dunno, maybe I'd got too used to my Beyer DT880s, but they certainly didn't justify the hype.
    Now, many people are going to respond here and tell you your review is invalid because of the Denon AV, but it probably isn't; you probably wouldn't like the 598 with a Luxman HP amp. That's not to say they can't sound better, but in my experience even a less than ideal amp will tell you if you're going to be able to live with a pair of phones. Give them a thorough try, but don't buy a dedicated amp in the hope it'll work miracles. It won't.
    Congrats on an excellently written post. It's not often Head-Fi is graced with this degree of literacy and lucidity.  [​IMG]
  3. Asr
    The sonic issues being reported make it seem like the output impedance of your AVR could be too high to properly drive the HD598. It requires an amp with very low output impedance that can also output high current.

    Try the HD598 with something more like a smartphone, digital audio player, or your computer's headphone jack; although the results won't be ideal you'll get something much closer to the sonic truth of the headphones.
  4. jtmccoy
    Thanks, pp312!  The DT 880s can be found in my under-$200 range, depending on the retailer.  How would you differentiate their sound signature from the HD598s?  I'm looking for something crisp and airy with a wide sound stage.  I also want an all-rounder that'll work with music/movies/gaming.  I don't necessarily need monitor headphones.  A little coloring is fine as long as I get that sparkle, for lack of a better term.  Am I asking for too much in my price range?
    Like I said, the 598s are growing on me.  I certainly don't dislike them.  I think I was just expecting a little more, especially regarding a more spacious sound stage, considering everything I'd read about them.
  5. jtmccoy
    Thanks, asr!  The output impedence of my avr is around 5 ohms, and for the 598s it's around 50 (if I remember correctly), so that shouldn't be an issue.  I did try them with my laptop.
    Anyway, I'll hit up Bestbuy, get a few other sets, and keep the one I like best.
  6. pp312
    Sounds like the DT880s may be right up your alley. They certainly have the crips and airy sound you seem to favour; as for soundstage, though some  have complained about the width it seems plenty wide to me. As for comparisons with the 598, I'm almost afraid to answer, partly for fear of bringing the wrath of the latter's supporters down on my head, but also because my initial disappointed meant that I never really gave them a fair go. To my ears, and again without a fair audition, they weren't in the same class.
    When I initially bought the DT880Pro it was more out of curiousity. Given the under $250 price I wasn't expecting much, especially coming from a pair of orthodynamic phones. However, the instant I heard them I realized that here was something special in terms of clarity, balance and lack of colouration. Yes, they were a little bright--I was expecting that. But so are most phones out of the box, and this brightness was toward the extreme, meaning it could be easily fixed (and was). I've said in another thread that the 880 properly matched and driven can rival phones up to $1000, and I don't revile from that. For $200 or slightly above, it's unbeatable, at least for classical.
  7. jtmccoy
    I'll check out the 880s. Another question: If I were to go the whole DAC/amp route (*sigh...and so it begins*), how exactly does that work?  I see a lot of people recommending Fiio as a budget-friendly option, but it seems those are mostly for PCs, iPods, and their ilk.  I want to listen to music and watch movies through my Blu-ray and game through my Xbox.  My Blu-ray just has an HDMI out and a Coax out.  Do they make DAC/amp combos that work with HDMI, and if so, how would I still get video?  Or does the DAC/amp plug into my AV receiver?  Thanks again!  I'm going to post this on another thread as well to get some more responses.
  8. PurpleAngel Contributor
    I really doubt the headphone output impedance on the Denon is 5-Ohms, I would guess it would be around 10 to 20 times higher then that.
  9. jdpark
    I think you're confusing output impedance of the amplifier source with the impedance of the headphones.  5 Ohms is fine for output impedance for a source, and means that even pretty highly sensitive phones should sound clean.  It's probably suitable for either the Senns or the Beyers (though not the 600ohm version).   
    Although the soundstage isn't nearly as wide, maybe the Grado 225 would be another good bet in that price range, given that it works well with the genres mentioned, and is very easy to drive. It's also pretty impressive on first listen, though some people prefer the smoother sound of the Sennheisers and airy space of the dt880s.
    That's really annoying that the BlueRay player only has optical outputs.  Even though there is a digital audio conversion chip in the player, you would have to hook it up to an external DAC plus amplifier, or DAC/AMP combo that accepts optical inputs.  Also, I might be wrong, but it might be that the coax out is an audio-visual output, in which case, you have a problem, because obviously a dac will only handle the audio part.  

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