Music is a very personal thing, even more than movies, and games for that matter. People can be really particular about their kind of music and more importantly, how natural it sounds to them. There are a few companies that do this really – one of the popular names in the market, undoubtedly has to be Sennheiser. The Sennheiser HD650 has long been one of the most recognized headphones around the world. We had to review it, even if it wasn’t one of the newest headphones on the scene. The Sennheiser HD650 is good seven years old now. Let’s look at what makes it so legendary.
The Sennheiser is in no way glamorous, in terms of its shape and finish. There are no exotic materials used in the frame or on the cans themselves. Sure, the thick dual-wire cables give away that the HD650 is meant for greater things than showing off. It’s long, strong and split into two separate cans. There’s enough space, so you aren’t choking by the V-shape cabling. The 6.3mm TRS connector is gold-plated, there’s also a convertor patch cable that lets you connect to sources using a 3.5mm jack. Gold-plated connectors aren’t anything new and can be found on almost every headphone that’s priced above the Rs. 2,000 mark or so.
The only clear branding, on the large, sturdy headband
The headphones are supported by a flat, metal band that takes the weight of the entire set-up above your head. There’s a padding of foam on the top, neatly shaped to distribute the weight evenly. The HD650 headphones are an expensive pair, so the last thing you want is to have customers complain about how uncomfortable these headphones are. We’ll come back to the comfort a little later. The rest of the headphones are mostly plastic with the exception of the grill, facing the outsides. Yes, the HD650 are an open headphones and there’s a dense metal mesh protecting the insides of the headphones.
The cans are flexible – the hinge lets them shift inward, outward and a little sideways, too. That bundled with the foam makes them easy to fit almost anyone. The design and shape of the cans are elongated, not circular, in order to better fit the shape of the human ear. There’s simple foam, not any kind of exotic leather or velvet to keep your ears warm. The quality of the foam is good, it’s hard enough not to tear and fall apart after a few months, but also smooth and soft enough to enclose your ears snugly. The flat surface on the ears don’t touch the hard plastic, either. There’s a thin layer of softer foam that keeps a comfortable distance between your ears and the drivers.
The features section of our reviews are written to explain the specifications of the product, while talking a bit about its functionality. In the case of the Sennheiser HD650, the numbers by themselves are impressive. Like other headphone and speaker manufacturers boast of numbers, explaining frequency range and power output and so on. The HD650’s have a frequency range that extends from 10Hz to 39,500Hz , as specified by Sennheiser. That’s way better than any headphone we’ve reviewed and most speakers don’t stand claim to such hardware either. Human ears can’t pick up very low frequencies, but we decided to put it to the test, by setting a frequency sweep from 10Hz to 30Hz. Even at 10Hz, there’s a clear movement of air around your ears that can be felt and it only grows stronger when you approach the 30Hz.
Separate connects for each driver
Moving on to the impedance, that’s where the downside to owning such high-end headphones comes into picture. Sennheiser rates the headphones at 300 Ohms – the average everyday-usage headphone has an impedance of 32 Ohms. This kind of impedance has more driving power than the typical PMP, laptop or PC. The HD650s need to be driven by a powerful amplifier of some sort. Sound cards, such as the ASUS Xonar STX should do the job just fine. There are a whole bunch of smaller brands selling headphone amplifiers and DACs that are available on popular Indian technology forums. This is a growing trend – one should really research on this before going out and making this purchase.
Large pads to snugly fit your head
The Sennheiser HD650 is a joy to wear, unlike some of the other headphones that require a lot of adjustments to the band extension and the position of the cans, the HD650 fits naturally on everyone’s head. At first, the lower half of the can can apply a bit of pressure under the ear, making you feel a little light headed, but some tweaks and you get over it. The ears tend to make contact with the inner foam lining, but it doesn’t hurt like it does, with some other headphones.
So far, the HD650 has been all about its sober look and its functional design. Performance is where the HD650 headphones need to shine, to justify the price that you’re expected to shell out for these cans. The set-up we used to review them also had to be top notch, keeping in mind of course, the requirements for a high-end headphones, such as this. We used the ASUS Xonar Essence One USB DAC-amplifier, something we had reviewed a while back. We used FLAC audio files, which are lossless and offer the best quality audio off a PC. We had the system set up with foobar2000 and the WASAPI output plug-in.
The first things you notice about the HD650 is that they’re pretty well balanced. The tone isn’t all over the place and there’s close to no coloration to the sound, either. Grados for example, are considered to be very warm sounding headphones. They are slightly inclined towards the mids and they have a well rounded sound to it. The HD650 is in a different direction – more shrill, more crystal clear, but without being too high on the high frequency range.
Large drivers hidden behind the mesh
Of course, everytime I receive a new pair of headphones, I need to run through my collection of tracks that span a variety of genres, trying to discover nuances that I haven’t noticed before. And at that, the HD650, along with the Xonar Essence One opens up an entire world of these things that you’ve never heard before. There’s an incredible amount of detail, all across the spectrum that you slowly come to notice as the seconds pass by – it’s pretty surreal. Of course, some part of it is due to the fact that you’re wearing an expensive pair of ear-gear.
Let’s take for example, Eric Clapton’s Layla played live. It’s primarily an acoustic track. There’s a very natural sound to it that’s different than any studio recording. You hear people clapping and cheering in the background. The coarseness of Clapton’s voice, without too much of audio treatment is there. Sound separation also is very visible, with the pianos specifically playing off the left channel – there’s no mixing, distortion or anything of that sort. It’s something that’s present in mainstream alternative rock songs, too. Most of them use guitars with overdrive, a clean sounding bass and a vocalist.
Metal tracks are often more complicated, especially the newer bands that use a variety of instruments in additional to the existing guitar, bass and drums. Between The Buried and Me (or BTBAM) has a vocalist who plays the synthesizer. Tracks such as White Walls have almost all the instruments playing together. There are two guitarists, a bassist, a synthesizer, vocals and a bass drum, all of which are playing together at some parts of the track. The HD650 does a tremendous job of handling all of these instruments together, doing justice to each of them. It’s easy to pick out instruments from this mix, all thanks to the neatly isolation of tracks. For example, the double bass doesn’t eat into the guitars and bass guitar.
Simple design, functional and great performance
Insomnium’s Down with the Sun is another similar track with loads of high-gain guitar setups and double bass guitaring playing through the song. There are waves of sounds coming from the cymbals and the crash from the drum kit, all of it that is clear to hear. There’s no loss to detail at higher volumes or when the song peaks. When things slow down, and there’s even fine details, such as the feedback off the speakers that can be heard with great clarity.
The Sennheiser HD650 wasn’t just designed for metal heads and rockers, it handles other genres of music well, too. Michael Jackson’s music often start off with a bassline after which drums and vocals join in. The HD650 has well pronounced bass, but you can’t call them a basshead’s cans. You don’t get a headache after listening to tracks on this.
LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem is another bass heavy track that has a very low-end bass track in the background, which kicks in and drops every couple of times. Listening to it is a treat and like with some of the tracks we’ve talked about, there’s hardly anything to complain about, at least, so far. Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger has some similarities with synthesized voice effects playing off what is a very bass heavy track. We also enjoyed listening to Deadmau5’s Ghosts N Stuff as well as Nero’s Me and You, (Dirtyphonics Remix). Dubstep feels right at home here, those who need more bass will have to look elsewhere, though.
Songs by Beth Gibbons (from Portishead), such as Sand River are very soft, warm sounding tracks. There’s an incredible richness in the sound and fine details, such as Beth breathing in slowly, without making a quick sniffing sound can be heard.
Flexible headband on the HD650
Reggae / Ska
One of our favourite tracks – Two Shoes by The Cat Empire is a ska/reggae kind of song. Like metal, it’s got a variety of instruments, but they’re not always playing like they would in a metal song. Although easier to handle, the HD650 make the track really come alive. All through the track, it’s easy to make out. Every aspect of the instruments used – from the drums, to the bass to the trumpets are all rendered with precision – there’s no loss in quality or mixing or the feeling that they could sound much better. Other fine details that can be heard is the rattling sound of the metal coiled wires under the snare drum moving by the sound of other instruments. This sound seems to be pan from one side to the other in the recording.
The Sennheiser HD650 truly offers an incredible experience and once you listen to it for a while, there’s little doubt left as to why they are so popular. The Sennheiser HD650 are pricey, without a doubt and they’re not value-for-money, either. Here in India, they sell for a maximum retail price of Rs. 29,990. Add in the price of a decent source and amplifier, and you’re looking at good Rs. 40,000 at least, for an audiophile-class set-up.
Sennheiser HD650 – designed with performance in mind
Sure, it’s a lot of money and if you’re not the kind of person who spends enough time listening to quality music, then don’t really bother thinking about these. However, if you like spending half your free time with headphones on your head, then you’ll agree that the HD650 are some of the best sounding headphones that you’re likely to come across. You will appreciate them and find your money well spent.
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