The Dark Sennheiser HD650: All For The Music


Editor’s Note: An HD650 review? Don’t we have one already? One of the reason for this newer review is because I noticed that the Sennheiser HD650 actually increased in popularity these past year, despite its age. In contrast, not too many people talk about the K701 and the DT880 that much anymore (the three were considered rivals in the old days). The other reason is to share the story from a common enthusiast’s point of view: Dave, who started like many of you, looking for a pair of good headphones to enjoy his music. Especially noteworthy is the talk on HD650 budget amplifiers on the second half of the review.


(a special thanks to Josh, Kate and Jacob for their input and help)

It was over a year ago when I made a decision. I wanted a nice pair of headphones with which to listen to my music. My lowly iPod ear buds just weren’t cutting it; and I always found headphones more comfortable anyway. I wanted something that would do justice to the music of Beethoven, and Shostakovich and Bach I was so fond of. So, it was off to do research to find what pair of headphones would suit me best.

Now, I am sure there are others with the same affliction I have. You can read ninety-nine glowing reviews of something and have decided that is what you will get. But the second you see that ONE negative review, your whole plan is sent into a top spin. Needless to say, it was a difficult search. I will spare you, gentle reader, the gory details, but after lots of looking, browsing, reading, crying, worrying, circling, screaming and drinking, I decided I would get a Sennheiser HD280 and a Fiio e6. The only obstacle in my way at this point was my wife, who scoffed (SCOFFED!) at the idea of spending a hundred dollars on a pair of headphones. So, being a man of modest means (with a family that might take it personally if there was no food on the table because of the headphones on my head); I would need to save the money, myself. Incidentally, my wife can occasionally be heard muttering, as she cries herself to sleep, “if only I had let him get those one-hundred dollar headphones…”



Headfonia has had a large impact in how I listen to music, not just with what audio gear I use, but how I actually perceive music, and I am not just saying this because I bribed them into letting me write this review. See, up to this point, I never considered the importance of bass impact in music, particularly the classical music that I hold dear. So, when I saw a headphone (like the afore mentioned HD280) described as being weak in the bass department, I didn’t think that would be a big deal for me. This is why I found it funny when, after discovering Headfonia and starting to read the reviews, questions and answers lying within, Mike would refer to a pair of headphones as not having enough bass impact for classical music. I like bass with rock, or rap, but with a violin concerto? I didn’t get what Mike was talking about, so I kind of ignored his advice on the topic because we clearly were looking for two different things.

Then came the day when I took my sister to the Minnesota Orchestra for her birthday. After a wonderful performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, and a very disappointing rendition of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, the concert came to a close with a PHENOMENAL performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. As the Dances ended with a thunderstorm of timpani and the audience shot to their feet, I had a realization: it was the bass that pulled you into the piece. Without that thunderous impact, the excitement of the music would have been lost. This completely changed how I looked at classical music.



So needless to say, after that, I didn’t end up with the HD280. A little bit of saving, a tax refund and a wife in a good mood brought me my first “high end” headphone purchase. Based on a glowing review from another website, and a sale at Best Buy, I bought the Sennheiser HD518, and based on the glowing review here, I got a pair of Sennheiser HD202. I figured it would be nice to have a pair of cheap, beater headphones around, and the HD202 were only twenty dollars. I figured that setup would be good enough for me.
Something happened, however, that I didn’t expect. Despite the obvious superiority in technicalities, I found myself preferring the HD202 over the HD518 with almost every genre. It was the fuller midrange that did it, with nice low end-weight, and treble that never made me wince. It took me a few hours to get used to the sound of the HD202, it had a darker tonality than I was used to at the time, but once I did, I was in love. And this love stood the test of time. The mids on the HD518 were just too recessed. It couldn’t compete. Even when compared to the likes of the AKG K550, which is technically playing a whole other sport than the HD202 or HD518, I came back to the wonderful tonality of the HD202. I realized what this meant. If I wanted an upgrade, the only natural step for someone who loved the HD202 as I did is the legendary HD650. And then that day arrived…




Continue to the next page…

The Dark Sennheiser HD650: All For The Music
3.44 (68.78%) 41 votes

  • Sergio Mejia

    Thanks for all the assessments, it is clear that the Crack is great but I have no knowledge of welding and A20 amp is out of my budget, what seems to them the amp + dac Glacier?

    The review of Mike is very good but if not ideal for HD650.

    Thanks in advance for your opinions.

    • Dave Ulrich

      Maybe the Pan Am?

  • William

    Hey Dave, I’ve got a pair of Sennheiser HD650 myself and I love ’em.

    Problem is that the sound has started stuttering in the right earphone so I’m going to have to replace the cable, would you perhaps have any recommendation for a good cable for the hd650’s?

    • L.

      Stock cable is really good. If you want aftermarket cables check out Forza Audio Works or Effect audio for affordable great looking and sounding cables. Or make one yourself

    • dalethorn

      First, pull out the cable on both sides and wipe the tips, check for any crud in the jacks, then plug it back in.

  • SoundEskimoo

    Hi there, please enlighten me, between WooAudio WA6 vs OTL tube amp, which one will give better sound quality?
    OTL from wooaudio is WA2, or Crack, or other else.

    • L.

      Better depends on your preferences. WA2: cleaner, bigger sound stage but less tube smoothness and warmth. Crack is in between and 339 is full tubeness

      • SoundEskimoo

        i like tube smoothness & warmth (not too thick), overall for voice and bass, the impact good for modern genre & jazz.
        i dont really enjoy like cold, analytic, super details but bass shy presentation. any idea for my preferences?
        how about WA6?

        • L.

          I recommend the OTL

          • SoundEskimoo

            My cans Sennheiser HD650, still confuse to choose the right one. Either choose WA6 (which i dont know why u didnt recommend) or OTL.
            On OTL camp which one to choose : WA2, WA3, Crack, LF339? need guidance pls.

            • L.

              WA6 is not OTL. Like I said it depends on the sound you want. WA3, Crack and 339 are good

  • chuck77

    I bought the HD650 a few days ago since I have always been curious about it. I’ve had the Crack with Speedball before, but never with a HD650. Between my HD800 and my Beyer T1, I find the HD800 very picky and extremely resolving and unforgiving. I am using my HD800 with a Zana Deux Transformer and a Audiolab 8200CDQ, which sounds great with the Beyer T1, but not as good with the HD800.

    This has me wondering about what I need to get the HD800 to sound fantastic. It’s hard to listen to them now, especially when I can hear so much background noise/artifacts, etc.

    • L.

      Zana and HD800 are supposed to be magical together. Maybe the HD800 is not for you?

      • chuck77

        It’s strange, because I prefer the HD650 synergy with the ZDT. It sounds fully and less tinny than with the HD800, even though it is slightly veiled and less detailed on the HD650.

        • I don’t think you’ll get the ‘full’ sound with the HD800 unless you run right off of speaker taps, using some kind of step-down device.

  • SoundEskimoo

    Hello, which DAC would you highly recommend to accompany HD650, either with WA6 or CRACK amp?

    • there are so many. for the moment I’m a big fan of Resonessence Labs

      • SoundEskimoo

        ok. price matters, can you rank top 10 under 1000$?
        that brand you mentioned might not avail here

        • Sorry I don’t have time for that

          • SoundEskimoo


        • Dave Ulrich

          I second that. The Resonessence Labs Concero HD. It runs for $850.
          You can buy it through there website or see if a dealer is in your area.

          • SoundEskimoo

            so many killer DAC on $800 segments, including new Denon & Marantz.
            I will wait whether local dealer will sell Resonessence Labs.

      • SoundEskimoo

        OK thanks

  • Ed.Rotteveel

    Hello my name is Eduard, after some research for a head amp for the hd650 i just bought, and find here tons of info ,moment zo mij wife is coming down, “are you coming to sleep” not nou love i am busy writing, hole evening you are busy with it. okay I can type my questians: is it a good fit with a Grace m902 a discontinuing amp/dac? i kan have it for an reasonable offer. €700

    Not to bad i think including the hd650. my tonal experiences are 3 years with grado 225I on the pc.

    I listen mainly hifi , classic orchestra and movies on a IMac. ok maybe also some rock, opinions? Also i read the big research on 3 golden oldies hd650.akg701 and the bd880 all in all an very nice site with reasonable explenations thanks

    • Thank you. I have to say I’m not familiar with the Grace m902. sorry

  • Synyster Jasnizam Paget

    hi i wanna know what amp best for this headphones..currently i using it with samsung galaxy note 4..i want mind-range level amp at least..thank

    • I’m not sure if I have ever recommended this amp before, but the Bottlehead Crack at around 300 is the best there is in that segment.

      • Dave Ulrich

        This review might say as much too. I’m not sure.

      • Synyster Jasnizam Paget

        tq for your reply sir..very long time..huhu

  • Alfred Tolentino

    HI, I’ve had my Beyer DT990 Prem. 600ohm for a few months now, but now I possible deciding on getting the Senn HD650 300 ohm cans. I’ll be running it w/ a Valhalla (v1). What sort of difference or improvement will I experience?

    • It’s a completely different sounding headphone, I wouldn’t call it an improvement, it’s just different

      • Alfred Tolentino

        Thanks, DT990s seems a bit ‘bright’ on my benchmark DAC2, sounds ‘warmer’ through my Valhalla. But overall I like he sound, just thought the HD650 might be a bit warmer?

        • My impression isn’t so much cold versus warm, it’s more soft-and-silky versus precise, detailed, and analytical. But that’s just my impression.

          • Alfred Tolentino

            Great choice in wording. Thanks for the input. I’ve actually put a layer of tissue in each cup and it did soften the 990s a bit.

  • DTSxJP

    Would the HD650 work great with Hip-Hop and R&B? How’s the bass?