After spending more time with the new HD558 and HD598 headphones, I begin to form a fairly solid opinion on the two of them. There are a lot of popular open headphones on the $100 range, such as the Alessandro MS1 (or the Grado SR80/SR125), the Audio Technica AD700, or the AKG K240. Although they all have their own strengths, I feel that they are not balanced enough for people looking for an all rounder $100 open headphone. The previous HD555 model had an overall good performance, but perhaps one of the main reason that makes it hard for people to enjoy is the lack of soundstage performance and open feel. For an open headphone, the HD555 doesn’t feel very open, especially when compared to the likes of the MS1 or the AD700. Hence, I’ve never been a big fan of the HD555, and I’ve preferred the AD700 or the MS1 over the Senn despite the latter two having a lack of proper bass body (even for non bassheads like me).
I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence, or if the engineers at Sennheiser have been doing some in-depth comparisons between the HD555 and the competitor models, because the HD558 mainly improves on the one factor that previously holds back the HD555 from being a crowd favorite: soundstage and a more open sound. Even if that may sound like a small improvement, the HD558 is far a more enjoyable headphone than the HD555 ever was to my ears. Also included with the upgrade is a more comfortable fit that results from a softer clamping force. The HD558 is much more enjoyable to listen to over longer periods of time, and yet it still sits fairly stable on the head. I’m guessing that the HD558 will retail on a similar pricepoint as the HD555, though being a new product, it probably will enter the market at a slightly higher price before finally settling to a lower street price.
On the first HD558 & HD598 article, I had posted a mod that was supposed to make the HD558 closer to the sound of the HD598. As with many modifications, however, when you gain some you also lose some. And the HD558 mod does sacrifice some amount of bass control, resulting in a slightly boomy bass area. Without going into too much detail on other changes with the mod, I felt that in the long run, the stock HD558 configuration is the better version, and I’ve reverted my HD558 back to the stock configuration. Ultimately, the HD598 is still the better version between the two (a point-by-point comparison between the HD558 and the HD598 can be found a few paragraphs down). The HD598, while sharing a similar construction and driver as the HD558, upscales very well as I find it to create very beautiful music with the Zana Deux. While not entirely up to the refinement of the HD650 or the HD800, the HD598 has a more lighter presentation that’s easier to enjoy with a lot of recordings.
It is interesting to note that Sennheiser created the HD555, the HD558, and the HD598 out of the same driver and the same frame design. The only thing that differentiates them, seemingly are the grill portion, and in the case of the HD555 to HD558, the construction around the driver. I think that speaks a lot of the level of expertise that the engineers at Sennheiser are capable of. Certainly, designing a grill portion that will tune the sound to a specific presentation is far more difficult than experimenting with different driver coil materials, pads, or damping methods. Imagining how Sennheiser is able to tune specifically the final sound of a headphone just by changing the holes on the grill is beyond me. The issue about the cracking headbands, however, is still a big question mark on the new headphones.
On the next page I will list a point-by-point comparison between the three headphones.