Damn! I never thought that I hadn’t written them a review! I thought I wrote it but upon searching over my website I can’t find any, not sure what the heck am I doing but for me, it is kind of disrespect for an Iconic headphone in this hobby, without any objection, I believe, both the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 are the most important headphones in this hobby, ever.
Sennheiser HD600 was debuted in 1997, and HD650 succeed it in 2003 (However both of them still selling even today), in 2016 Massdrop juiced more life into the HD650 by introducing drop version called HD6XX, which is same as HD650 (same audio quality) despite some minor appearance tweaks, but bringing down the selling price for only 199USD! Browse the headphone forum today, and it is quite obvious that people still discuss them, they are famous and might be the most well-known headphone among the headfiers for 23 years, and still counting. They didn’t need any introduction because everyone knows them well, so we will straightly get to the audio quality of them.
I have paired HD600 and HD6XX with JDS Labs Element, Stoner Acoustics UDXA, and EGD as DAC, amped with M2Tech Marley MKII and Teac HA501. Played high-resolution files, including some DSD128 through Foobar 2K through PC and streamed Tidal Master. Surf Cable 4-Pin XLR cable was used when listening through a balance system.
I will be comparing the HD600 (2016) and HD6XX (2018), for your information there are few variants of them over the years, and Sennheiser secretly changed (Sennheiser deny this statement though) the parts and the sound of it, while I am not so sure of this, but my assessment is purely based on these two models. Both HD600 and HD6XX sounded rather similar than different, and there is no better headphone between them, it purely depends on your listening preference.
Sound signature wise, both HD600 and HD6XX has a good body to the sound, but the HD6XX sounded bolder and weightier. HD6XX is also warmer and darker than the HD600, overall the HD600 is the airier and neutral between the two, to be exact, HD600 is more ‘Hi-Fi’ to my ears with a more neutral and open sounding.
HD6XX also has more bass impact, and the bass is bigger too, while the top end of HD6XX is a tamed down, it is quite dark sounding, and details are easily portrayed in the background, it is an expert tuning, and you can see why people regard the HD6XX has the ‘Sennheiser’s Veil,’ for me the Sennheiser Veil is only appeared in HD6XX but not on the HD600. Both of them are smooth sounding and laid back, but HD6XX is the more laid back out of the two. They are quite similar but:
-HD600 is airier, has more treble energy but still never be bright sounding, no sibilant and such, still smooth sounding. HD6XX, on the other hand, has a tamed down treble, which makes it a smoother and more laid back/darker headphone in comparison.
-HD600 is more neutral (still has slight warmth) and balance while HD6XX is colored. HD6XX has a more pronounce midbass, especially on the slam and impact. As a result, HD6XX has a weightier tone and sounded lusher. As a result, HD6XX can portray the atmosphere slightly better and has a better transient response, so I enjoy HD6XX out of the Classical Symphonies and something like Quintetto Bislacco Jokes.
-HD600 has a very good tone and neutrality that excel at classical music, although HD6XX has more impact transient for Symphonies, I still pick HD600 for Classical music and instrument timbre accuracy overall.
-HD600 has more nuance in the vocals, and the vocal sounded more open and lighter too. On the HD6XX, however, is a smoother vocal but not as clear as HD600.
-HD6XX sounder more intimidates and closer to your ears. I think HD600 has a slightly wider soundstage and give you a more distant space in between the instruments, HD600 is more open sounding.
-HD6XX is a slower pace headphone, didn’t mean that HD600 is fast, but HD6XX is slower.
-HD6XX is more forgiving although both are rewarding if you play high quality of recording music
-Can’t help but I think that the HD600 is a tonally more correct sounding headphone, while HD6XX has too laid back and lush tone to be called exactly true to the sound, arguably though HD6XX has a smoother sound that can be more euphonic to some people ears, especially on vocal and jazz.
HD600 is a neutral headphone, the treble and bass is not extend to the finest end, but it is still dominant in the frequency range that is most count (10k and below and midbass region), I didn’t find any veil in the sound of it, it is neutral (with a very minimal hint of warmth, very very minimal) and balanced, the treble while has a more proper amount, never harsh sounding and bright to my ears, relatively open sounding, but the soundstage is not that wide and deep, but the shape of the soundscape is okay, imaging is very good too. Midrange is very nice, natural and organic sounding with minimal coloration, HD600 is quite detailed, but it didn’t push it toward your face, generally still a smooth sounding headphone with a good pace, I love the sound especially for Classical, but even for OST type of music I am enjoying it although the attack might not be that biting, the bass still hard-hitting but not as impactful as its brother. Tonal wise, it has a beautiful tone and very good body to the sound, without significant coloration. You always have a perfect distance from your music.
HD6XX in another hand has a recessed treble which always keeps me wanting, the midrange is closer to your ear, and it is quite close and depend on how you look at it, you might think it is more intimidate and euphonic, the tone is lusher, fuller and weightier than HD600 and majority of the headphones that I have tested (except the Audeze LCD3), the midrange has the coloration that I believe a lot of headfiers will love, but I am not the one, I don’t know why but when I listened to some audiophile recording vocal albums I always found it is too close to me and felt pressured, it is a little close sounding and colored to my preference. However, I can assure that the coloration is completely appropriate and make the music sounded good with no edge, so I see it as a good thing, but it is just not my listening preference. I love something more neutral. The bass, yes the bass, while still roll off too early in the lowest octave, is quite impactful and solid, with a good amplifier it shine, because of the very good and slow transient HD6XX is quite suitable for music like Jazz, OST, and Symphonies, the bass is of good quality, but it is not a bassy headphone at all. The detail level is good enough but can be better. The soundstage is not wide and shorter than the HD600, it is deeper though and has very good imaging in that small soundscape. It is a slow pace headphone with a laid back sound signature; music always sounded good with it with a smooth sound signature.
Although HD6XX has more pronounced bass, both of them are rolled off in the sub-bass octave. The HD600 however, is not bass light, and I think it is quite balanced, none of them will give you rumbling bass for the electronica and metal music though, but more than enough if you listen to jazz, vocal and classical music because they are so natural/analog sounding and smooth.
So, HD600 or HD6XX?
The choice solely depends on your tone/sound preference and your choice of music. I enjoyed both of them and hard to pick one as my more favorite pair than another, but I can say I much prefer HD600 for the neutrality and somewhat bodied but not as heavy tone as the HD6XX, HD6XX has a quite forward and thick vocal that I felt too colored and need some time to get used. However, I agree that HD6XX is the more special one, it is kind of outlier in headphone world, which such colored, weighty and the way it portrayed music, HD6XX is special for the dark sound, while HD600 is a neutral headphone that you can find substitute which can sound better than it, it is not that HD600 is not special, but HD6XX is more special and fun in comparison, without talking about price, I will choose HD600, and wouldn’t even complain if it is my only headphone.
But things get more complicated if we factor in price factor, HD600 is about 500USD and HD6XX selling as low as 199USD in Drop, for the price HD6XX is a much better headphone and excel in musicality.
Hard to drive?
Nop, they are not difficult to drive; I think they are quite easy to drive. Worry not, and I believe HD600 and HD650 are one of the benchmarks every manufacturer use to tune their DAC/Amplifier, so you can’t get an amplifier that cannot drive HD600/650 properly, it just makes no sense. In real life, I drove them with every headphone amplifier that I have, including the tiny headphone amplifier like the JDS Labs Element, Centrance Audio DACPort HD, and Stoner Acoustics UD125 can drive them well. To my surprise, I plugged them in the Venture Electronic Odyssey HD type C dongle, and it drives them loudly at 70% of maximum volume, but of course, Odyssey HD don’t live it to the fullest, but in my honest opinion saying HD600 and HD6XX are hard to drive is tale of last decade, but I agree that they improve upon good source and amplification.
Comfort and build
Both of them are built with plastic but are very well built and tough. I love the finishing and surface pattern of HD600 more, which looks more like a marble surface, it is unique, and none of the headphones look like it. The HD6XX, however, is just black. Both of them are quite comfortable despite some strong clamping force. The original cable of HD600 is longer at 3m and is harder to detach, and I prefer cable of HD6XX, although I think that it should mark the left and right terminal with red/blue color like HD600. Both cables are good enough, but I prefer the one at the HD6XX. One thing to note on HD600 is the 3.5mm to 6.25mm stereo adapter is much nicer but can’t be used with other headphones. I see people complain about their clamping force, but I am quite okay with it, with time it will loosen up, so I don’t see a problem here.
So are they still worth to buy in the year 2020? I will say it is worth to get a used unit for HD600 if you can find one with reasonable price in used market or get a Drop version of HD6XX which essentially a HD650, just for you to experience how the legendary sounded, for sound quality though, I prefer something like Philips X2HR for even more musical performance, I think it combines the strength of HD600 and HD6XX and performed even better although not as smooth sounding. However, both of them can be my only headphone, and I won’t complain, they are still excellent sounding, and if you already owning them, you will need to spend quite a bit more to find a better headphone, especially the tone of them are special, you can easily find a technically superior headphone than them, but can’t promise better musicality. They are excellent and capable, but I recommend them, just for sentimental value and their legendary status in the headphone world.