Mid-fi Challenger: Phillips Fidelio X2 Vs. Sennheiser HD650
Aug 2, 2015 at 6:33 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 18

maverickronin

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 5, 2010
Posts
7,390
Likes
420
I heard the X2 briefly at a recent meet and was initially very impressed.  They seemed to have a nice relaxed sound and I thought they’d make a good pair of “rainy day” headphones to use when it was too humid to power up my Stax (or my hair’s just wet from the shower) so I obtained a pair for a longer term comparison against my HD650s which currently fulfill that roll.  Some people might not think this is the most relevant comparison given that HD650 prices have jumped back up to MAP on Amazon but the HD650 is a popular an well-known headphone so comparisons will still be helpful even if they’re no longer in the same price bracket.
 
Ergonomics and Comfort
 
The X2 and HD650 are about equal in this regard but for quite different reasons since they both have pros and cons.
 
The HD650’s strong point in this arena is its weight, or lack thereof, which can help it to “disappear” on your head the way few other high quality headphones can.  The X2s are much heavier.  Fortunately their suspension headband and soft memory foam pads distribute the weight very well and don’t leave any “hotspots”, at least on my head.
 
The suspension headband also deserves special mention as I find its implementation an improvement over the AKG style.  Unlike AKGs, the X2’s self-adjustment mechanism has only a single piece of elastic which is hidden inside the headband as opposed to AKGs which have a solid headband and one piece of elastic on each earcup.  I find this to be an improvement for several reasons.  The single piece of elastic is much easier to repair or replace than on AKGs.  Having only one means that it will wear evenly over time for a more balanced fit and you won’t have replace both at the same time if one breaks.  Being easier to replace, it is also more conducive to modding with tighter or looser elastic to further customize the fit.
 
Another win for the X2 is its single sided cable which detaches with a standard 3.5mm TRS jack.  The HD650’s dual entry with proprietary connectors mean the cable will be in your way more than it needs to be and makes it more difficult than necessary to make custom cables, which I often do for ergonomic reasons.  To add injury to insult, the HD650’s is too short so I usually end up garroting myself when I take them off absentmindedly.  To remedy this I put them on from back to front with cable running down my back.  Then when I take them off my ponytail gets caught in the in the Y split...
 
Only electrostatics have a physics based excuse for being hardwired with dual entry.
 
The X2s have a slightly above average amount of clamp for a full size headphone but the memory foam mitigate this and make it more comfortable than it might otherwise be.  On the other hand I find that the HD650s have far too much clamp.  Fresh out of the box, they quite literally gave me headaches because of it.  Given that they weigh almost nothing and aren’t even supposed to isolate I’m at a complete loss as to why they clamp like a medieval torture device.
 
Fortunately for the HD650 this can be fixed rather easily.  Remove the pads from the HD650, stretch it across some books that total a couple inches wider than your head, heat up the headband with a hairdryer, and then let it cool back down to room temperature.  After such “heat treatment” I find that the HD650s end up being the more comfortable headphone to wear.  OTOH its cable is usually in the way while the X2’s isn’t.
 
Isolation?
 
Despite the fact that the X2s are marketed as completely open back and actually do sound very open, they have surprising amount of isolation.  According to Tyll’s numbers it averages 9dB between 100Hz and 10KHz.  Some closed headphones such as the D7000 and TH-900 don’t isolate that much.
 
The HD650s, as expected, have no noticeable isolation.
 
Soundstaging and Imaging
 
The X2’s soundstage is fairly wide and has an open, airy feeling to it but it lacks depth and forward projection.  Overall, the amount of forward projection isn’t especially bad, but since the stage is so much wider than it is deep the X2’s soundstage comes across as a flat and fairly one dimensional.  I find that a bit surprising given that the X2’s drivers are mounted at a bit of an angle which usually helps with projection.  I can only assume that projection would be worse if they were parallel with the head.
 
The HD650’s soundstage isn’t as wide or as open and airy as the X2’s.  The 650’s do have noticeably better forward projection though.  Its decreased width and increased depth make the 650’s staging much more symmetrical than the X2’s.  I find this makes it more cohesive and natural sounding, thus I prefer the 650’s presentation to the X2’s
 
The imaging of both the X2 and HD650 seem equally sharp, despite their other differences.
 
Clarity, Detail, and Separation
 
These are all major wins for the HD650.  I knew that going in but still thought that the X2 was worth a longer audition for other reasons.
 
While being slightly dark, the HD650 has a much more even FR than the X2s which results in less detail hidden by simple masking.  Although it isn’t loose and distracting, the X2’s bass boost does mask overtones a bit.  Both the HD650 and the X2 have moderate notches in the low to mid treble which help to smooth over harsh recordings.
 
The HD650’s also have a cleaner and more even decay than the X2s which reduces fatigue and let’s more detail shine through.  I find transients on the X2 to be blurred, smoothed over, and sometimes missing when compared to the HD650.
 
Treble
 
This is the X2’s biggest weakness, and the reason why I ultimately decided not to keep them.  The X2 has rather sharp peaks on either side of its strategic treble notch which seem to exhibit resonances.  I’m particularly sensitive to this particularly kind of distortion and after half an hour or so the X2’s begin to cause quite a bit of listening fatigue.  Besides that, they also seem to blur the treble a bit and I find it most noticeable with bells and chimes.  The peaky nature of the treble also gives it a bit of an inconsistent sound.  Depending on particular track it may sound either dark, or bright with a “V” shaped FR.
 
Even with its similar “anti-harshness” notch, the HD650 has smoother treble with smaller peaks and much better controlled resonances.  This results in more detail being audible in the HD650’s treble even though there’s less of it.
 
Midrange
 
Despite the fact that it tends to be recessed between the bass boost and treble peaks I count the X2’s best points.  It’s quite even with better clarity and detail than the bass or treble. The X2’s bass boost is low enough to not bleed into the mids and make male vocals sound too thick.  It’s uneven upper mids/lower treble to obscure some of the higher harmonics on female vocals though.
 
This is still a win for the HD650, which has much better clarity and is more natural sounding with both male and female vocals, but not by as large a margin as the treble.
 
Bass
 
The X2 has a quite tasteful bass boot which is designed to counter the so-called “missing 6dB” effect that many people perceive with headphones.  It has an impressive amount of rumble for an open dynamic driver headphone going deeper and stronger than the HD650 but it doesn’t reach the level of low and sub bass an ortho is capable of.  The bass boost does mask a bit of detail in the mids, which is an intentional tradeoff, but it doesn’t intrude upon them and thicken vocals.  Overall I count this as a strength for the X2.
 
The HD650 while slightly dark, is hardly a basshead ‘phone.  It doesn’t go as deep as the X2 or hit as hard, but it is tighter and better defined.  The HD650 makes a different tradeoff, for accurate sound over accurate feel.
 
Summary and Conclusion
 
The X2 delivers a slightly “relaxed”, slightly “fun”, and overall “pleasant” sound.  It’s more for getting lost in the music rather than obsessing about every detail in the recording.  Personally, I find this mission marred by the peaks in the X2’s treble.  They’re too grating to me and after a half hour so causing fatigue, and inconsistent sound between different recordings.  Admittedly, I’m very sensitive to this kind of thing and the X2 is hardly the worst offender in this area, even for its price *cough*HD700*cough* so it remains a viable alternative for those with less sensitivity to this sort of thing.
 
The problem with the X2’s treble is the primary reason I will be keeping the HD650 as my ‘rainy day’ headphone.  I was prepared to sacrifice a little clarity and detail for better ergonomics and maybe a little euphony, but I find the experience is ruined by the X2’s treble.
 
Supporting Equipment
 
DACs: Leckerton UHA-4, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Amps: Objective2, Leckerton UHA-4
 
Aug 2, 2015 at 9:56 PM Post #2 of 18

Claritas

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Feb 7, 2013
Posts
3,688
Likes
317
Location
Carolina
This is the X2’s biggest weakness, and the reason why I ultimately decided not to keep them.  The X2 has rather sharp peaks on either side of its strategic treble notch which seem to exhibit resonances.  I’m particularly sensitive to this particularly kind of distortion and after half an hour or so the X2’s begin to cause quite a bit of listening fatigue.  Besides that, they also seem to blur the treble a bit and I find it most noticeable with bells and chimes.  The peaky nature of the treble also gives it a bit of an inconsistent sound.  Depending on particular track it may sound either dark, or bright with a “V” shaped FR.


This is the crux of the problem: lack of shelving. Vocals sounded dark, whilst other genres were either marred (piano, orchestra) or ruined (chamber) by the / leg of the V.
 
Aug 3, 2015 at 11:02 AM Post #3 of 18

maverickronin

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 5, 2010
Posts
7,390
Likes
420
This is the crux of the problem: lack of shelving. Vocals sounded dark, whilst other genres were either marred (piano, orchestra) or ruined (chamber) by the / leg of the V.

 
Yeah,  it would probably be better if all the treble was just shelved a bit instead.  Then it wouldn't sound as inconsistent.
 
Aug 5, 2015 at 12:18 PM Post #6 of 18

maverickronin

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 5, 2010
Posts
7,390
Likes
420
BTW what was your music genre preferences when you tested out these headphones?

 
Mostly various subgenres of metal and electronic, some Jpop, and a little of everything else except county and rap.
 
Nov 23, 2015 at 6:49 AM Post #8 of 18

fiddler

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jun 24, 2001
Posts
1,930
Likes
30
Just thought this review deserved a bump because it agree with it generally, although I don't know if the treble harshness or the bass hump was more distracting to me personally.
 
Nov 23, 2015 at 7:18 AM Post #9 of 18

mysticstryk

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Dec 9, 2008
Posts
2,415
Likes
711
Kind of a similar conclusion I drew when trying them both out myself.  I also chose the HD650 over the X2 after a month of owning both.
 
"Mid-Fi challenger".... It's still crazy to me that the HD650 is now considered mid-fi.
 
Nov 24, 2015 at 11:59 AM Post #10 of 18

sikki-six

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 5, 2007
Posts
525
Likes
177
I've had no problems with "evil spikes" in the treble-region, but that lower-treble/upper-mids region is very colored and somewhat scooped out. Because the high-freq boost is so high up, it doesn't really affect vocals or guitars for an example. Those instruments lack some bite and clarity to my ears. On some occasions X2 sounds just too safe and soft - like the curve is doing everything to not annoy you. To me, that can be boring at times.
 
I'm still loving that low-end punch (even though my D2000's seem to trump them easily in that regard, especially sub tones), but there's just lots of coloration all the way through the FR.
 
Nov 24, 2015 at 12:25 PM Post #11 of 18

fiddler

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jun 24, 2001
Posts
1,930
Likes
30
  I've had no problems with "evil spikes" in the treble-region, but that lower-treble/upper-mids region is very colored and somewhat scooped out. Because the high-freq boost is so high up, it doesn't really affect vocals or guitars for an example. Those instruments lack some bite and clarity to my ears. On some occasions X2 sounds just too safe and soft - like the curve is doing everything to not annoy you. To me, that can be boring at times.
 
I'm still loving that low-end punch (even though my D2000's seem to trump them easily in that regard, especially sub tones), but there's just lots of coloration all the way through the FR.

 
IMO violins have enough HF info that you can hear a bit of the edginess, from my listening anyway. Also I'm sensitive as hell to anything unnatural happening in string instrument timbres due to my experience with them.
 
Feb 2, 2016 at 9:51 AM Post #13 of 18

Soundizer

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Dec 29, 2015
Posts
1,581
Likes
482
I had the Senn 600's for 10 years and then sold them due to wear and tear (out of warranty). I got the Fidelio X2's and loved everything about them apart from awful (treble sibilance, no matter what amp and I have several types. Using high quality audio source). I was hoping it would improve and maybe the ssssssd sounds would relax, but they did not. I totally loved the awesome Soundstage for High Definition movies - incredible and the amazing Base. I with much emotional pain (like agreeing to putting a dog down) returned them to Amazon.

So now I am burning in my HD 650's which currently after only 15 hours playback sound dull. I misd the X2 soundstage and lovely Base. I hope the 650's will deliver performance audio after burn in. I might buy a Schitt amp as the much revered O2 amps are not available in the UK.
 
Feb 2, 2016 at 9:57 AM Post #14 of 18

fiddler

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jun 24, 2001
Posts
1,930
Likes
30
I had the Senn 600's for 10 years and then sold them due to wear and tear (out of warranty). I got the Fidelio X2's and loved everything about them apart from awful (treble sibilance, no matter what amp and I have several types. Using high quality audio source). I was hoping it would improve and maybe the ssssssd sounds would relax, but they did not. I totally loved the awesome Soundstage for High Definition movies - incredible and the amazing Base. I with much emotional pain (like agreeing to putting a dog down) returned them to Amazon.

So now I am burning in my HD 650's which currently after only 15 hours playback sound dull. I misd the X2 soundstage and lovely Base. I hope the 650's will deliver performance audio after burn in. I might buy a Schitt amp as the much revered O2 amps are not available in the UK.

Many people prefer the Schiit amps to the O2, so you might be happier this way anyway. I tried out the HD650 for about 2 months but in the end I went back to HD600 - I found the 650 too mid-bassy and thick. Recently picked up a Valhalla 2 and I'm over the moon. I personally don't think the X2 is in the same league as either.
 
Feb 2, 2016 at 10:10 AM Post #15 of 18

Soundizer

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Dec 29, 2015
Posts
1,581
Likes
482
I had the Senn 600's for 10 years and then sold them due to wear and tear (out of warranty). I got the Fidelio X2's and loved everything about them apart from awful (treble sibilance, no matter what amp and I have several types. Using high quality audio source). I was hoping it would improve and maybe the ssssssd sounds would relax, but they did not. I totally loved the awesome Soundstage for High Definition movies - incredible and the amazing Base. I with much emotional pain (like agreeing to putting a dog down) returned them to Amazon.


So now I am burning in my HD 650's which currently after only 15 hours playback sound dull. I misd the X2 soundstage and lovely Base. I hope the 650's will deliver performance audio after burn in. I might buy a Schitt amp as the much revered O2 amps are not available in the UK.

Many people prefer the Schiit amps to the O2, so you might be happier this way anyway. I tried out the HD650 for about 2 months but in the end I went back to HD600 - I found the 650 too mid-bassy and thick. Recently picked up a Valhalla 2 and I'm over the moon. I personally don't think the X2 is in the same league as either.



Thank you for the feedback. Actually I might also opt for the Valhalla 2. I am sitting a distance from the amp and really wish there was a remote control for volume control.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top