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)
EPISODE I: THE DARK TIMES
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…”
EPISODE II: BASS IMPACT
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.
EPISODE III: THE DARKER AGES
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…
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