For some strange reason, I waited a long time to buy these headphones. Silly me. We review one of Sennheiser's top headphone options.
Originally released in 2003, the HD650 is certainly aging. In fact, the headphone market has exploded since its debut and it's no secret that there are better headphones out there. Heck, even Sennheiser has their flagship HD800 and the soon-to-be-released HD700, $1,500 and $1,000 respectively. But just because there are more expensive options doesn't mean those are the better options.
If you start reading into a site like Head-fi (which I love, don't get me wrong), you'll start to feel like the HD650 is a thing of the past. Why buy the inferior HD650 when the HD800 exists?? Well, a number of reasons actually.
- 99.9% of people would never, ever consider spending $1,500 on headphones. Most people couldn't afford it. Most that could wouldn't find the point in buying them. The HD800 is a unique headphone for unique people.
- The HD800 is probably the pickiest dynamic headphone ever made when it comes to powering them. Typically the rule of thumb is to spend as much on an amp as you do on the headphones. That's upping the ante; 99.999999% of people wouldn't spend $3,000 on a headphone setup.
The HD650 is a relative bargain in today's headphone market. So let's forget about all the more expensive, technically more superior options, if only just for the rest of this review.
Ooo, nice box! Something special must be in store...
Before we really gave them a good listen, they had to "burn in" for a while. I piped music through them at a moderate volume for a few hundred hours. The process takes a while, but it's necessary to get an accurate impression. Pretty much every aspect of the tone improves.
build and aesthetics
Though all plastic, they feel very sturdy and look quite sexy. I much prefer the graphite look to the HD600's mid-90's green marbling. Yuck. The velour pads are squishy enough, though the actual surface is a little scratchy. Doesn't bother me. Many people find these to clamp on your head pretty tight. Also doesn't bother me. Some people recommend stretching these out over a basketball or a stack of books and while that works nicely for most headphones, DO NOT attempt to stretch these out. There are plenty of horror stories of the headband's hard plastic simply snapping in half. Bear the slight pressure for a while and the HD650s will slowly and safely loosen up to fit your melon better.
Detachable cable? Hells yes! While this seems like a simple, unimportant thing, I value this feature so much. What if you snag the cable on something? What if your stupid cat chews through it? What if? In that case, you simply remove the old cable and stick in a new one. See my soft hands demonstrating that very action? Easy as pie. Plus, this often-overlooked feature allows you to quickly and easily upgrade the stock cable to something more worthy of these headphones. Me? I upgraded to the $300 15' Cardas cable. Sound nuts? I am... don't judge me. To my ears, it made a substantial difference. The nicer connections and larger gauge made the notorious "rolled-off" property disappear and I swear I can hear a more precise low-end. Definitely consider this worthwhile upgrade.
What do they sound like, you ask? To be quite honest, I didn't like them at first. I came from mostly listening to the Denon AH-D2000 which offer more of a WOW! experience since they have super punchy lows, scooped mids, and diamond-like highs. The HD650s simply didn't impress me. There was no WOW! :-(
Then I kept listening... and listening... and then I realized something. The low-end doesn't thump my head around. I'm hearing the warm, present midrange of Norah's sweet, sweet vocals. I also don't get lost in a sea of bright cymbal splashes. What in the world does all this mean?! It means they are pretty damn neutral.
The HD650 is an open-backed headphone. This generally allows for a more accurate sound. When headphones have closed backs, sound gets trapped inside, bounces off your ears and muds up the sound (oh no!). Open backs allow longer frequency waves (lower notes) to escape as they should and produce a clearer sound. Open backs also means that the HD650 has terrific imaging. This is how it "places" instruments and people "around" your head. Ever notice how in-ear headphones trap the sound into this narrow beam in the center of your skull? That isn't the case with the HD650. Yay! The only negative is that your music is very loud to those around you. These headphones are generally best suited for private listening in a secluded space.
While the bass doesn't kick hard, it does exactly what it is supposed to. It establishes a solid platform for all of the other instruments to build off of. Some headphones have so much thick bass it makes me want to throw up. These simply play the notes they are supposed to. I hear the tone of the kick drum, which isn't something I've ever noticed with another set of cans. The most important thing to remember is to listen to properly mixed stuff. Many sound engineers will actually mix in less bass nowadays to compensate for people's bass-boosting tendencies. Other engineers boost it in the studio to keep consumers happy. Take a listen to some well recorded upright bass and it's as if the bass is in the room with you. The attack is almost perfect, the warmth is there and you can hear the fingertips scrape across the resin. Overall, the bass presentation is nearly perfect, unless you want punchy-thumpiness, in which case there are better options.
The midrange is sweet. Some headphones sound "scooped," while others pump honky midrange down your throat. Headphones are under the ultimate midrange test with chunky electric guitars and most vocalists. There isn't much else to say... The HD650 renders the midrange very well, nestled between warm bass and clear treble. No complaints!
Many people say that the HD650s "roll off" the treble. In my opinion, the general population has a skewed standard, People tend to like things unnaturally bright (as well as unnaturally bassy). Listen to someone singing or playing a guitar and then listen to these headphones. Listen really carefully. In any case, most people have lost their upper-frequency hearing anyways, so many people will never notice this "problem." I think the treble is crystal clear and appropriate in volume and presence.
let's set the record straight: revised HD 650
Many audiophiles insist that the HD650 is a warm headphone. Some say that they're "muffled." These comments are still floating around the interwebs. Let me be clear here: Sennheiser revised the HD650 a few years back (2007-ish?). Basically, they changed a few dampening things on either side of the drivers and magically removed the dreaded "Sennheiser Veil." It's not there. The HD650 is not "rolled off." It is not "bass heavy."
Having a strong musical and AV background, I can tell you that the (newer) HD650 is a very well balanced headphone. If anything, people generally want those "punchy" dynamics, which means hard-hitting bass and screeching treble. So yes, in comparison, a well-balanced headphone would have a "warm" sound.
Well, more practical than the HD800. At only $450, these are a steal in today's headphone market. I've listened to headphones that cost twice as much and sound half as good. At 300 ohms, they'll struggle out of an iPod. In fact, don't even attempt it. I used a $300 aftermarket cable and powered them with an $850 amp, however, the HD650 will sound superb through an entry-level amp and its stock cable. We're talking $600 said and done—maybe less with common price flux.
After 600+ hours of burn in, I find the Sennheiser HD650 headphones to be nearly perfect. I guess they aren't "the best" in any one, specific aspect, but overall, they are a serious contender for the world's best dynamic headphone. Many will disagree with my observations, but those are pretty much only people spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on audio equipment. These are among the most incredible headphones I've ever had the pleasure of listening to and are a relative bargain.
Don't think; just buy.