Between the HD580/600 and the HD650, the sound is quite similar that people often mention them interchangably. After some time, however, everyone started to notice that there was something different about the HD600 that you don’t get with the HD650, and likewise the opposite.
Let’s start with some quick facts:
(for the sake of simplicity, whenever the HD600 is mentioned, the same thing also applies to the HD580)
- The HD600 is more neutral, the HD650 more colored.
- The HD600 is more forward, the HD650 is more laid back.
- The HD650 is darker, while the HD600 has more lower treble and upper midrange presence.
- The HD600 has a more balanced frequency response (one of the best, in fact), the HD650 is more low-end heavy.
- The HD600 can maintain a faster pace, the HD650 is generally slower.
Perhaps the first thing that people will notice between the two is how the HD600 has a lighter bass presence than the HD650. The HD600 is by no means bass-light, and in fact the HD600 represents one of the best frequency balance in the industry. Clearly, the HD650 is a bassier headphone with a lot more weight on the low frequencies. The bass heavy nature of the HD650 isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and as a matter of fact, many people loves the HD650 for its bass, which is one of the most musically pleasing bass presentation among all headphones. The HD600 is more neutral in this sense, and depending on the music, some may prefer the HD600 or the HD650.
The bass heavy nature of the HD650 makes it inherently slower than the HD600. Not only slower in the sense of transients, but also in the HD650’s ability to keep a good pace with faster music. It’s like comparing a small engine but lightweight roadster to a bigger sedan with a V8. The big sedan with the V8 will have more grunt — this is the HD650. Yet the small engine roadster, the HD600 in this analogy, will always be more nimble and would take on a series of tight corners better. The HD600 is not leaps ahead in terms of pace, but sometimes it’s enough to make or break a music. Some people who listens to Progressive Rock and Metal would probably prefer the HD600 over the HD650. On the other hand, the HD650’s superior bass weight and impact is much better for Classical Symphonies, and also feels fuller for the slower Jazz and Vocal stuff.
Another difference that can be easily felt is how the HD600 has a more forward presentation than the HD650. A lot of people would prefer the HD600’s forwardness, and the HD650’s “laid back” label tend to carry some negative connotations. When I compared the same vocal recording on both headphones, I discovered that the vocal is actually just as forward on both headphones. The difference actually lies in the HD650’s superior ability to place instruments in the back when the main vocal takes a forward position. It’s definitely more three dimensional than the HD600. The HD600 is more two dimensional, but also more consistently forward — and this, people will like. Without a proper amp, people would feel the laid-back ness of the HD650, but not so much of its three dimensionality. This is why we hear people talking often about the HD650’s laid-back ness, but rarely about its three dimensionality. And most often, people will like the HD600 better due to its more consistent forward nature.
The Trio is often branded as having no soundstage, or congested at best. This is unfortunately true in most cases, unless you have the proper amplifier to drive the Trio with. With a high end amplifier like the Zana, I definitely prefer the soundstage presentation of the Trio Sennheisers over the AKG K701 or the Beyerdynamic DT880. But without proper amping, the Sennheisers do sound dark and congested in the soundstage. Between the HD650 and the HD600, the last and most significant difference is how the HD650 has a better capacity for a more superior and more three dimensional soundstage. I used the word “capacity” because this would depend heavily on the amplifier. With entry level amps, you may not notice the difference in the soundtage of both headphones very much, and both of them would feel just as narrow and congested. But with a heavyweight amplifier like the Beta22 or the Zana Deux, the HD650 has one of the best soundstage presentation in the industry. The HD650 definitely deserves a balanced set-up with the Beta22, while I don’t feel that the HD600 is worth building up a balanced Beta22 for.
Among the three, the HD580 looks more drab than the fancier looking HD600 and HD650. Between the HD600 and the HD650, the HD650 feels slightly sturdier, with a better quality clear coat finishing over the HD600. Ergonomically, however, all three headphones feel the same to my head, and any comfort differences they may have would be caused by the different hours worn on the pads.
Brand new pads are fairly stiff and still hold a very good shape. It places the drivers slightly farther to your ears than a well worn pads. I find that brand new pads give a better control on the bass and a better, less compressed soundstage imaging. On the other hand, brand new pads exert significantly more clamping force than worn pads, and this may not be very comfortable for some people. For the HD650, I prefer the sound with brand new pads, as it gives me the full soundstage performance and a clearer bass control. For the HD580 and HD600, I like the worn off pads better as it gives me a better midrange presence.
The grills on the HD600 and the HD650 are mostly the same, or so it seems. Other than the different paint finish, I feel that you can swap the grills between the two with no acoustic differences. The HD580 grill, on the other hand, is of lesser quality than the HD600 and HD650. And replacing the grills on the HD580 with the HD600/650 gives a better midrange presence.
The HD650 has better scalability, and improves further with better amplifiers. Although the HD600 does improve with better amplifiers, it doesn’t quite have the same range as the HD650. For instance, I don’t feel that going balanced with the HD600 is worth the significantly higher cost, while the Balanced Beta22 and the HD650 is one of the most famous pairings in the headphone world. So, the HD650 comes with a lot of technical advantages over the HD600. On the other hand, the HD600 comes with a lot of practical advantages. The fact that the HD600 is less demanding on the amplifier is a big factor for people considering to build a headphone system. The HD600’s more balanced frequency response, and its “quicker” presentation, also gives it a wider genre bandwith.
It’s true that the HD650 deserves the higher position in Sennheiser’s line up, as it also scales up beautifully with every upgrades in the components behind it. And yet, the HD600 continues to wins a lot of fans due to its more universal nature.
Set up used for review:
Source: CEC TL51XZ, Onkyo ND-S1, Ipod Classic
Amplifiers: AMB Beta22 (balanced and single ended), Eddie Current Zana Deux, Grace m902, Matrix M-Stage, Hifiman EF-5, Ibasso PB-1
Headphones: Sennheiser HD580, HD600, HD650
- World’s Best Headphones: Sennheiser HD 650, HD 600, and HD 580.
- Sennheiser HD650 Press Release.
- On Hi-Fi.