The Grandad HD 600 Is Showing Its Age
Decent build quality
Soft ear pads
More bass than the FR suggests
Good with piano
Cons: Cable Length and connectors
Pretty bad/non-existent highs
Not a lot of bass quantity
The Sennheiser HD 600 (600). It literally needs no introduction – unless you’ve never heard of it before, then you might be new to the high-end audio world and you’re reading this review because you’re looking to move from the stuff that comes with your phone over to something…good. If that’s the case, you can grab these and you’ll be quite happy for a long time. The HD 600 has been around for over 20 years! It is a lightweight over-ear open-back headphone with aluminum voice coils and neodymium ferrous magnets with a 2-layer diaphragm. So, uh…it has stuff that makes it sound good – no need to get a degree in Electrical Engineering to understand that these are just higher quality than your “normal” headphones. These retail for $400 normally, but can be found for less quite often.
The 600 doesn’t come with a lot of accessories, which makes sense at this price, but what it does come with is high quality and really all you need. It has a really nice hard clamshell-style case like a DCA set comes with. I’ve seen headphones 3x as expensive that don’t come with a case, so a case of this quality is super nice. The inside is filled with soft neoprene, so it’ll keep your headphones from getting scratched, but if you hit the case hard enough against something, they could break – it’s not super padded. The 600s also come with a 6.35mm adapter that attaches to the 3.5mm jack – meaning you can use these on almost anything – a phone, a laptop, a computer, a home stereo system, etc. as long as it has one of those two jacks.
The ear pads are a soft velour that breathes well and should last quite a while, but if you want more bass, a leather/pleather aftermarket set would be the only way to get that. Sadly, these don’t come with those ear pads – multiple ear pads are more the trademark of expensive sets of headphones. Overall, these receive a decent accessory/earpad score, not the best, but better than some.
Interesting. That’s the first word that comes to mind. For starters, it’s long AF at around 10 feet – great if you want to listen from far away. It will not work for portable use unless you want to wrap it up and carry around 8 feet of cable in your pocket. Aftermarket cables do exist for this if you want to use it portably, so add that to your cost if that’s your plan. Next, the ear cup connectors feel like a weird take on the 2-pin design you’d see on IEMs. You’re not going to find very many aftermarket cables terminated in this style as it’s not the industry standard (3.5mm is.) So, if you have literally any other cable already, it won’t work with these. The plugs do come in black and Red so you can tell which goes where (Red is Right, Black/white is Left.)
Lastly, and this is a big one, the cable is as non-microphonic as I’ve ever heard on just about ANY headphones. That’s a little crazy because I’ve heard headphones that cost 10x as much as this that still have more microphonic cables than this. Yeah, it doesn’t perfectly pass that tap test or the head-move test while there’s no music playing, but with music playing it’s nearly silent – impressive. The amp-end termination has already been mentioned, but you get two common options and I’d be surprised to see a balanced 4-pin XLR on a headphone at this price.
Build Quality/Comfort (7/10):
Sure, it’s a little clampy and there’s a lot of plastic, which can scratch easily, and the mesh grills can dent if you’re not nice to your stuff, but the overall quality on these is high for the price. You’re not going to see wooden ear cups or leather or all-metal construction, but you will pay a lot more to get those things – so if you want those, stop reading this review and go get those – message me and I’ll give you some ideas of what to get.
Comfort is good – I could wear these for a long time, but as mentioned before, the clamping pressure is high. They definitely won’t slip off your head and your ears are unlikely to overheat, but you might get a headache after a while.
Yeah, the Frequency Response chart below from Crinacle pretty much covers the HD 600 in a nutshell. There is almost no bass. You can hear the bass, and it’s good quality bass, but it’s definitely not to blow your mind – there’s basically no thump or reverberation. The rest of the tuning here is VERY neutral, almost to a fault, though the highs actually drop off quite a lot, which can be good in some ways and bad in others. I am powering these with the 6.35mm jack on low gain from my Cocktail Audio HA500H at around 48/100 volume with the tube amp off through Tidal HiFi.
You can definitely hear the bass drums on David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)”, though they have some rattle and almost no body. The same goes for the sub-bass – you can hear it, but it’s muted and to the rear, without that breathtaking quality you can get from bassier headphones. It’s better than some I’ve heard, but it’s nowhere near the bass response of the JM Audio XTC-O I’m comparing it to (not a fair comparison, these retail for $850 and are some of my favorite headphones ever – it’s all I have to compare.) It’s certainly not the worst bass I’ve heard, but it’s just not competitive with headphones designed to have more bass.
Well, as you may imagine, on the next song, Demon Hunter’s “I Am A Stone,” the bass doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the song here. The bass is still surprisingly present, and that may be my amp pushing more low-end than a lot of other amps, but I’d expect the typical DAC/amp/computer soundcard/phone most people will use to power these to have almost no bass on this song.
Weaving The Fate’s “The Fall” sounds decent here, but I keep having to adjust the volume because if I go loud enough to enjoy the song I also end up with harshness in the mids, which is uncommon. Everything can sound pretty grating to me here and it makes me not want to listen to one of my favorite songs.
Staind’s “Something to Remind You” is my vocals forward test song and the clean guitar sounds really good in the intro. Aaron Lewis’s voice comes in very clearly and cleanly with none of the issues “The Fall” had. The bass can be heard clearly without overwhelming the song and the overall presentation here is very good at this price.
To test classical music performance, I use The Piano Guys’ “Code Name Vivaldi.” The intro bass sounds good but has a little extra reverb in spots that don’t belong there. The pianos sound good but very muted and distant. The mid-strings come in cleanly, but get lost with other instruments. The overall presentation here is very 2D and the instruments blur together more than I would like. If you’ve never listened to a headphone over $500, this might still sound really good to you, so don’t let my comments put you off from this set – I’m supposed to nitpick and the HD 600 is still an excellent performer for this price.
Now, at this price, the performance here is pretty good – I’m really not sure of anything at this price that sounds better, certainly not the Hifiman HE400, but maybe the Deva or Sundara, or XS.
As usual, the horns sound good in the intro of Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes,” but I use this song to test for sibilance and sharpness. Oddly, the 600 is more sibilant than I’d expect with the rolled-off highs, but if you look at the corrected bottom chart from Crinacle, you can see that 3-4k is actually boosted, which is where the sharp “S” sound lives. So, not a great presentation from the 600 here, which hopefully means the next song does well.
Nope. There’s almost no instrument separation here – I can’t even tell there’s high-hats or cymbals in the background most of the time – that’s terrible. They elevated the highs, but that sharp drop after 3k is hurting the highs performance heavily now. Rough tuning Sennheiser – I’ve heard multiple IEMs in this price range that sound way better.
Then maybe Michelle McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren” will sound better. Yes, finally a song that benefits from the 600’s tuning. It avoids almost all of the sharpness that this song can portray. SO, if you listen to a lot of classical piano, but hate the sharpness that some other headphones present here, the 600 may be for you!
Soundstage/ Instrument Separation (5/10):
It’s OK. The soundstage is better than you would expect for this price, but it’s not mind-blowing like the HD820s are. The instrument separation is pretty bad, once again, in this price range it’s fine, but compared to more expensive headphones (or the cheaper Final A5000 IEM) it’s not great.
OK, this is not a fair fight, but the XTC-Open are the only other full-size Open-back I have. Even the $275 Final A5000 IEM is better than these, but they’re brand new, not 20 years old. The XTC-Open has a more microphonic stock cable. That’s about the only thing it’s worse at. It has better bass, better mids, and better highs – no point in spending more time on that. I don’t have a Sundara here to compare to these, but I hear really good things about the Sundara, and my memory of the Deva was really good as well. Honestly? Unless you really need the long cable, I’d just get the Final A5000 IEM as I really enjoy the sound from those. If you want a full-size, check out the Sundara, Deva, or XS for under $500. If you can grab a pair of these for $200 used, it may be a good deal.
More bass than I was expecting, sharper mids and highs than I was expecting, better piano than I was expecting, and worse highs detail than I was expecting. A legend like the HD 600 has to compete with its own reputation, and also its younger siblings, the HD 650, 6XX, 660, 660S2, or whatever the heck it is now. Sennheiser just needs to stop remaking the same headphone over and over and over while giving them slightly different names – it’s getting old. It’s time for something new Senn. Get one of the newer versions, they’re supposedly better. The 600 is really starting to show its age, but that said, it’s still a solid choice under $300, just not under $500, and definitely not under $1k.
|Headphone Scoring (v3):|
|Accessories / Earpads / Eartips (10 pts):||7|
|Cable (10 pts):||7|
|Build Quality/ Design / Comfort (10 pts):||7|
|Lows (20 pts):||10|
|Mids (20 pts):||10|
|Highs (20 pts):||7|
|Soundstage / Instrument Separation (10 pts):||5|