New Senn 5xx-series flagship with distinctive style
Feb 16, 2011 (Updated Feb 19, 2011)
Review by redmonddad
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Wide soundstage, open/airy, forward presentation, single-end detachable cord, comfort
Cons:Construction, styling/color may be gaudy for some, little isolation (if you need it)
The Bottom Line: Comfortable with pleasant sound and versatile presentation suited to a wide musical range. Build quality could be better. Style is a bit odd for some.
I recently reviewed the Sennheiser HD595 and, with sufficent (4-5 days) burn in, I quite liked it. I was using it quite frequently in the office whenever closed headphones were not convenient (eg., when I needed to be able to hear my phone ringing). However, I had been reading good things about the new flagship of their 5-series (although not the overall flagship, that would be the HD800): the HD598. I just could not resist getting a pair to try out. I will get to the details, but I'll state up front that I like them better than the HD595. It looks at first like a minor and (in my personal opinion) somewhat gaudy cosmetic upgrade, but there are notable and pleasing shifts in the sound quality that justify the upgrade.
Recommend this product?
The HD598 is a low-impedence, open, cirumaural (over or around the ear rather than on the ear) headphone. It has the same basic frame as the HD595 (and HD555 and HD558). The most noticable difference is cosmetic: cream colored plastic and leather (or more likely fake "pleather"), a few bits of polished burl wood-pattern trim around the grills and edges of the headband, and chocolate brown velour earpads.
The marketing materials compare the look to the look and feel of a modern European sedan. It's love or hate. Some people love the look, but honestly, to me it is more evocative of my late father's 70's era cream-colored Buick with the vinyl "Landau" roof. Still, I don't have to look at it when it's on my head so I really don't care as long as it's comfortable and if it proves to have great sound. Like the HD595, the construction is a bit disappointing with (on my sample) a little bit of a gap between some of the plastic trim pieces and a bit of creaking when flexed. I do like that the grills appear to be metal and more open and airy than the cheaper plastic grills on lower-end models. The padding on the headband is comfortably soft but covered in leather-look vinyl that could be a problem if you get sweaty easily or have bare skin on top. The covering on the top of the headband has a much higher quality fake leather (or maybe it's actually leather...probably not, but it looks very good) and is stitched on both edges.
The cord of the HD598, like it's stablemates, is single-sided and plugs into the left earpiece. Being single-sided, there is less tangling of the cable. The cable seems to be a bit tougher and at the same time a little more supple than the HD595 cable. It is 3m long and terminated with a 1/4" plug; a basic (non-corded) 1/8" adapter is included in the package. I would have preferred a 1/8" plug with a 1/4" adapter, which would put less strain on small devices, but you can work around that with any number of corded adapters like the Grado. The cord is detachable, using a bayonet style mount that requires a 1/8-turn twist to lock and unlock the cord for security.
The foam in the velour covered earpads is soft and comfy right out of the box whereas I found the HD595 foam a bit on the stiff side. The clamping force is a little on the tight side at first but combined with the softer foam, I found the HD598 to be more comfortable than the HD595.
Well, this is the important part. Fresh and right out of the box with no burn-in the HD598 had much better sound quality than a fresh HD595: less recessed bass, less high-end roll-off and more detail. That is not to say that the HD598 does not need burn-in; it definitely benefits from it and, at least with my sample, the HD598 has a much more rapid improvement curve than the HD595. The HD595 did not even start to reveal its potential until after 2 days of continuous burn-in and it took 4-5 days before I started to really enjoy them. The HD598 started to reveal it's potential after around 4-5 hours of burn-in. It makes me wonder whether I had an unusually stubborn sample of the HD595.
While the starting state of my HD598 was promising, without burn-in the signature is a bit harsh and raucous on the high-end, the bass is recessed, and the soundstage is small bordering on claustrophobic and not at all airy, especially for an open headphone. After just 4 hours there was notable improvement and about 18-24 hours, I was pleased enough with my sample's signature that I just started using it. I considered fully burned in around 36 hours. It now has a wide, somewhat laid back soundstage that find quite comfortable for long listening sessions. The highs on piano were "sparkly" and detailed and the bass seemed to have weight and authority...although some of that probably comes from the Schiit Asgard amp I am using to test these. Without the amp, the soundstage is a bit smaller and the bass a little more recessed (but still detailed). I'm still a neophyte at deconstructing a sound signature, but I think overall the HD598 offers less high-end roll-off and a more forward presentation of mids than is usually associated with Sennheiser's 5xx lineup.
The HD595 seemed especially good with accoustic jazz and pop, sometime struggled a bit with orchestral and symphonic recordings. The HD598 seems more versatile than the HD595...I still think that jazz and pop are particularly suited to it, but it also better handles the HD595's weaker genres. I have been enjoying it across the breadth of a very eclectic collection...classic rock, pop, grunge, ska, jazz, soundtracks, new age, classical. (Note that I'm not usually a bass fanatic and for those times that I am, I turn to my Denons.)
Since these are open headphones, there is very little isolation offered. If you want to block out environmental noise you need to look into phones that physically seal or block noise, like closed headphones or IEMs (in-ear monitors), or active noise cancellation headphones.
On the other hand, if you are in a quiet environment or a situation where you need to hear some ambient sounds, these open headphones offer great sound that conveys a sense of airiness and enhanced spatiality.
I had a super deal on the HD595, which I quite like, and the HD598, which has not been out long enough for substantial discounts, is consistently listed online currently at $249.95 (the silly artificial MSRP is $349.95). I didn't think there would be enough improvement to justify trying them out at that price. However, I found many online retailers can offer a much better price well below $200 if you call their phone order center (yup, you actually have to call...I didn't find any "Place item in cart for our low price" deals). At the time of this writing, I got $180 with free shipping, but I have heard of the price occasionally dipping to $160. At that price, I found the improvement in comfort and sound quality to be well worth the difference in price and I have since gotten rid of the HD595's.
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