|Sennheiser HD-600 Headphones|
|Home Theater Accessories Accessories|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Sunday, 01 October 2000|
Headphones are not a particularly glamorous product and are often overlooked by many consumers. For years, I have paid practically no attention to headphones or headphone amplifiers. I didn’t know what I was missing but, after experiencing the best in headphones, I doubt I will ever be without a pair of good headphones again.
I spent time listening to two top-of-the-line dynamic headphones, the Grado RS-1s and the Sennheiser HD-600’s. There are some more exotic designs, including electrostatic headphones costing upwards of $10,000, but these represent the top-of-the-line dynamic headphones from two well-respected companies.
I turned to Tyll at Headroom, a company specializing in headphones and headphone accessories, to get started on this article. I received a quick lesson not only in headphones but also in headphone amplifiers. I used Headroom’s "Maxed Out Home" headphone amplifier, as well as a Grado Reference headphone amplifier, in my testing. The Headroom amplifier has special circuitry that provides amazing imaging through a pair of headphones. Anyone interested in headphones would do well to explore the offerings of Headroom, as they make a wide variety of headphone-related products and are resellers for other brands as well.
The Sennheiser HD-600’s retail for $449 and are an open-back dynamic design. The frame is made out of a faux-granite material and the oversized earpieces fit comfortably around the entire ear. The HD-600’s come in a cool storage box and have a 10-foot cable with a built-in mini-plug adapter. I had several people assist me in listening to the headphones. All found the design of the HD-600’s, with their padded band and oversized elliptical earpieces, to be extremely comfortable. I used the headphones to listen to CDs played through both the Headroom amplifier and the headphone outputs of my B&K Reference 20 and Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW. All of my listening notes below reflect listening to material played through the Headroom amplifier, as it was far superior to the headphone outputs on my other equipment.
The first selection I listened to was Bill Berry’s For Duke (Realtime Records). This is one of the best-recorded jazz discs available. I was amazed by how much better the HD-600’s sounded than the headphones I have tried out in the past. The imaging was solid and the soundstage expansive. For the first time, I truly experienced bass through headphones. Of course, it wasn’t the floor- shaking bass of my theater system but satisfying nonetheless. I continued my jazz listening with Dave Brubeck’s Together Again For The First Time (Mobile Fidelity). The imaging remained solid and placed the listener a few rows back into the audience. While listening to Brubeck’s "Take Five," I felt as though I was in the middle of the audience and I could easily picture Desmond and Mulligan on stage with Brubeck. The sound was reminiscent of my old Vandersteen 2cis, with incredible midrange, slightly reticent highs and recessed imaging. My opinion of the headphones remained constant while listening to Doug MacLeod’s You Can’t Take My Blues (XRCD) and a variety of other rock and pop CDs that I played through the HD-600’s. I briefly listened to the Grado amplifier through the HD-600’s and found the Grado to be slightly cleaner and quieter, but it lacked the benefit of the Headroom processing
The Downsides of the RS-1's and HD-600's
The RS-1's were generally less comfortable than the HD-600's, with some listeners finding them actively uncomfortable. This demonstrates the importance of trying on any pair of headphones before purchasing them. The RS-1's also had the occasional "glitch" in imaging. I spent a lot of time listening to the passages where I noticed this and the best explanation I can come up with is that it is caused by the extreme detail and position in the soundstage of the "offending" instrument. It was intermittent problem, but it was very apparent, given the otherwise impeccable audio performance. The HD-600's weak point was only noticeable when these headphones were compared to the RS-1's. The RS-1's were clearly more detailed and dynamic. After listening to the RS-1’s, the HD-600's were still enjoyable, but lacked that last bit of quickness and detail. They just didn’t sound as "live" as the RS-1's.
Each set of headphones, like normal speakers, have their own characteristics. Both the RS-1’s and the HD-600’s produce amazing sound, are more accurate than most speakers and capable of producing soundstaging and imaging I never thought possible from a set of headphones. Listeners who prefer a more laid-back, forgiving yet still accurate sound will likely prefer the Sennheiser HD-600's. Those who want every last bit of detail, along with an up-front presentation, will probably prefer the sound of the Grado RS-1's. The Sennheiser’s were universally praised for their comfort, whereas the Grado’s got mixed marks in that area.
Every audiophile should own a pair of high-end headphones. There is no speaker that I have heard that comes close to offering the degree of realism provided by the above-mentioned headphones at a similar price. I know a thousand bucks or more for a headphone and headphone amplifier may sound ridiculous at first, but I would be extremely surprised if you could get a speaker and amplifier sounding this good at any price close to that.