Expert review by David Solomon
is one of the purest sounding headphones I have ever heard. While quite a few offerings trump the HD650s in terms of detail retrieval, soundstage and instrument placement – very few headphones sound as seductively beautiful as the HD650. For this reason, I often find myself returning to the HD650 even though newer flagships are stronger in specific areas.
The HD650 was an evolution of the HD600, a headphone which was already an evolution of another headphone – the HD580. Experienced headphone audiophiles like to debate which of these three headphones is the superior one. It is generally agreed however that this trilogy was comprised of Sennheiser's three finest dynamic transducer headphones until the release of their HD800 in 2009. Even today, there are plenty of headphone enthusiasts whom prefer the warm lush tone of the HD650 to the more neutral / analytical tone of the HD800. For me, it is a matter of which amp I am using and which music I am listening to. The HD650 are much less picky when it comes to amplification. For relatively little money, you can get a terrific sound out of the HD650. With the HD800, I recommend tubes when possible, and a good tube amp at that. When compared with the HD800, the HD650 sounds thicker. The soundstage is also much narrower than that of the HD800. For this reason, I still prefer the HD650 for rock music more than the HD800. When it comes to classical, I would take the HD800. What I am really getting at here is that for some listeners, the HD650 is still going to be among the best headphones on the planet, if not the best. It is that gorgeous sounding – I am willing to make such an assertion.
I will also mention that for me the HD650 is perhaps my favorite of the trilogy mentioned previously (HD580 / HD600 / HD650) because it is the most flavored and it is a flavor I really like. The HD600 and HD580 are more neutral by comparison, but for me, lack a certain magic that the HD650 has. The HD600 however is one of the most neutral headphones on the market and I can certainly understand if someone preferred it to the HD650. The HD580 has been long discontinued by the manufacturer.
THE FIT & THE FINISH
One thing Sennheiser does better than anyone else, in my opinion, is ear cushions. I love the earpads on the HD650 – the shape; the feel; the removability. Ovals fit the human ear better than circles in my opinion. It ensures that the ear will not have a pad resting on it. One criticism I have heard in the past is that the pads are so large that they can exert some pressure on the jaw. This has never been the case with me, but I think it is worth mentioning. The outer grills are removable as well – should you dent them or wish to replace them in the future, the manufacturer makes it easy! It is worth mentioning here that the headphone itself is open-back – the grills are vented to allow sound in and out of the headphone. No sound isolation here.
The cable is removable too! This way you can easily use an aftermarket cable should you get the urge to upgrade your system. The cable itself is a Y-split design, approximately 3 meters and terminates to a ¼" plug. Sennheiser includes a very nice 1/4 " to 3.5 mm adapter. This adapter is designed as a small extension cable in order to not put stress on the headphone minijack you plug it into. The HD650 ships in a hard cardboard box with a secure foam interlay. Outside of this box is a thin ridged cardboard sleeve.
ALL ABOUT THE SOUND
When I think about the sound that the HD650 brings to my ears, a few words come to mind: Beautiful; Smooth; Sultry; Warm; Dark. Of course, I state these attributes with a positive implication, but if I had any criticism of the sound at all it would be perhaps that the sound is simply too beautiful, too smooth, and in the process, not as revealing as some other headphones. Still, when listening to something so pure sounding as the HD650, it is hard to imagine a better sounding headphone.
- The sound is as beautiful as it is transparent
- Voices have great presence and depth
- Bass is punchy without any bloat
- Extremely forgiving with bad quality recordings
- Non-fatiguing for long listening sessions
- Sounds great with most genres (Rock, Jazz, Hip Hop and even Classical)
- The headphones do not render upper harmonics as forwardly as some other headphones and this leads to what some have called a slightly veiled sound
- The soundstage and instrument placement abilities are bested by other offerings
To get the most out of the HD650 you will need to use an amplifier. I highly recommend the SPL Auditor. At its price, I have heard no better amp for the HD650. I also particularly like the way the HD650 sounds in balanced configuration. Balancing the HD650 will require you buying an aftermarket cable that terminates to dual 3-pin XLR or 4-pin XLR and then you will also need to plug it into an amp which has balanced outputs. Finally you will need to have a source that connects to your amplifier in balanced mode. This can be rather expensive!
Listening to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" I am reminded by how impactful the sound of the HD650 is. Drums sound so full and have so much slam; the round tone of the bass is forward without interfering with the vocal at all. The cymbals have a lot of presence without being particularly piercing or fatiguing. In fact, I'd venture to say that the HD650 is among the least fatiguing audiophile-grade headphones in the industry.
Listening to Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", I am struck by the sheer openness and seductiveness of the sound. With the HD650, I almost completely forget that there are headphones on my head. When John Handy's tenor solo began, I felt like I was in Columbia Studios 1959, hearing it live as it was played just before me. For me, the HD650 is among the finest choices for jazz. The music sounds alive! It is with jazz in particular that I feel the HD650 excels over the HD600.
Listening to Mahler's Symphony No. 2 as performed by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, I feel the sound is a tad masked and congested. The instruments do not sound as though they are spread out across a stage. Strings sound a bit lush and lacking in realism. Still the overall tone is extremely compelling. The HD650 are not my preference with classical, but they certainly do not sound badly matched.
The HD650s have been around for nearly a decade. In this time, several manufacturers including Sennheiser have released new headphones which were their attempt at raising the bar. While the bar has certainly been raised, the HD650 still has a place in a state-of-the-art headphone set up. In my opinion, there is still reason to call the HD650 the world's most beautiful sounding headphone.
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