July 16th, 2005
So, over the course of the last (almost) year, I’ve made a lot of comments about the HD595s that have become my primary cans, but I haven’t gotten around to writing one big detailed review. So now I’m finally getting around to it, spurred on in part by the recent chance I had to listen to a lot of different cans through a lot of different amps at the Headroom tour stop in Houston.
I want to say up front that I really like these cans, but this will not be a purely one-sided review. There are very legit reasons for people to not like these cans and I want to be as clear as I can about them.
So, off we go. Oh, one very important thing to note: I was an “early adopter” of the HD595, which means I got them before the now-famous Senn factory fire, which means my set is the 120-ohm variety. I don’t know exactly how they compare to the 50-ohm version as I’ve never A/B’d them.
Equipment and Music
My current rig consists of:
* A Sony CDP-601ES player. This is now a “vintage” player, circa 1993 with one of the early Sony 1-bit DACs in it.
* A 1st-generation Headsave Classic with OPA627s.
* I’ve also driven them from an iPod both directly and through a Xin Supermicro (v6)
I’ve had these for a long time now so the music is, well, my whole collection, which ranges from new age solo piano and guitar to AC/DC and Tool to chamber and symphony classical to techno and electronica. I listen to only a small smattering of jazz and rap and exactly zero country and opera. A good slice of my critical listening for review/comparison purposes is based on my Audio Test Mix.
I find these cans to be the most comfortable I’ve worn for any extended period. They have velour pads (which I prefer to leather or pleather) and a nicely padded headband. To get them to sound their best you have to position them so the headband is slightly more forward on your head than most other cans, but this doesn’t affect comfort for me. Based on short tries with other cans I’d say the high-end Beyers are in a similar category. Some people do report some head clamping but fortunately my head isn’t big enough for me to have experienced this. They’re light for full-sized cans which really helps.
The cable is one-sided on the left, which I prefer over y-cables. However, the cable is a little light for my tastes and tends to snag more than I’d like. The slightly rubbery plastic covering doesn’t help with this–I’d prefer a heavier cable with one of those cloth-like covers.
Build Quality and Appearance
These are a little bit funky looking, kind of extra-modern. The grayish green color choice is not something I would have picked, but I guess it’s not that bad. I like the Senn logo underneath the grilles. Build quality seems good; they feel solid and I don’t worry about damaging them in routine handling.
Obviously, the most important part of the review!
The big draw of these phones that brought me to them in the first place is that the reviews generally say that these phones split the difference between the (to me) overly harsh and bright Grado house sound and the dark and laid-back Sennheiser house sound. These are extremely well-balanced headphones. That’s a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is that they spit out a very faithful reproduction of what’s fed in. If you like it really bright, the recording has to be bright. If you like it bass-heavy, then the recording will have to be bass-heavy. For me, this is what hi-fi is supposed to be all about; fidelity to the input. However, if you want your headphones to color the sound in a particular way, these are not the way to go. For me, this is a positive, because it means these headphones sound good across a wide range of music. While I listen more to rock/electronica than anything else, I do listen to acoustic/classical enough of the time that I wanted a headphone which doesn’t sound bad going there (a real weakness of the Grado house sound in my book).
Bass is tight and clear but not overdeveloped. Bass extension is good. I will admit that there are times when I would like a little more bass from them; I tend to tweak the volume knob up just a little bit when I hit a recording where I really want to focus on the bass.
Mids are very well-balanced. The Senn “house sound” cans (the 580/600/650) sounds to me like there’s a little bit of a push in the lower mids which the 595s do not have. I think these perform particularly well on female vocals and piano because of the balanced mids. Detail is terrific, ambient sounds are clear and placeable. The drawback here is that the mids can be a bit grainy. This is particularly exacerbated by bad recordings and compression artifacts. I’ve never heard them through a tube amp but my suspicion is that these might not synergize well with the distortion generated by tubes; tubes may make these sound even more grainy. Any tube fans want to comment on that?
Highs are clear and detailed, energetic but not overpowering. In classical, I do like quartets, which means the violin can sometimes be miked rather close. Cans with treble harshness can make such recording sound screechy but the HD595s handle violins very well. They resolve detail very well in the upper register and cymbals actually sound like cymbals.
Soundstaging is excellent. To me it’s a little deeper than the Senn 580/6×0 soundstage, but definitely not as wide. I’m constantly impressed with how good the soundstage is. These sound a little sharper than the traditional Senn flagships, but they’re definitely not as full-sounding.
Finally, they’re not too hard to drive but amping them does indeed make a difference. They sound good unamped out of my iPod, but they definitely sound better amped. In particular, bass energy is much better with an amp.
The thing about the 595s is that they do almost everything well but they aren’t the best at anything (except maybe comfort if you don’t get clamping, which some do, but comfort is so individual I’d be hard-pressed to suggest everyone would find them the comfort champ). Kind of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I think that’s why some people really don’t like these; for every application, there’s probably something better in this price range.
So, if you listen to entirely rock or hip-hop (maybe techno), these might not be the best choice. If you can get past the comfort issues (which I can’t) with Grados, well, Grados are hard to beat for involvement and energy. The 595s bank in somewhere around the SR225-SR325 price range depending on what kinds of deals you can find, so for the same money you’re in a pretty nice spot in the Grado line.
If, on the other hand, you listen to entirely acoustic or classical (especially symphony), your money is probably better spent on something from the Senn 580/600/650 family. The classic Senn sound is more lush and full and I would recommend those over the 595s for classical. The 595s come in kind of in between the HD580s and the HD600s on price (again, dependent on what deals you can find).
So, if instead of $250 for one pair, you have $500 to spend on two cans, you can drop $350 on your primary desire and $150 on your secondary cans, and you’ll definitely be better off than if you try to do everything with the 595s.
However, if you listen to a wide variety of music and only have the budget for one good set of headphones, I really think this is a very strong option, particularly if you’re really into detail and can stomach a bit of grain in the mids to get it. They are indeed more lively than the classic Senn house sound, but they’re not as forward as Grados (or other cans like the Sony CD3Ks) so they hold up dramatically better for music that isn’t happy with ultra-forward presentation.
OK, so what did I miss?