My weird discussion with myself now in text form!
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
The iconic Sennheiser HD 600 headphone family used to be simple to grasp, as a consumer. If you wanted the legendary reference-grade diffuse field-tuned headphone, you?d buy either the 600 or the 650 depending on the look, tuning, or price that fit your budget. That was it. Two choices.
Now it?s not so easy. In ways both good and bad.
If you want to skip all of this and just read my review of the model I picked, you can by clicking this!
Let me start at the beginning.
The Sennheiser HD 600 actually started out as the HD 580 Precision. Which had a sound almost nothing like today?s 500 series headphones.
Uh oh, this is already confusing.
The HD 580 Precision eventually got a special limited edition version called the HD 580 Jubilee, and that model was further tweaked to become the HD 600, the mid 90?s reference headphone you?re probably sick of hearing about in audiophile and studio production circles online.
It was so good that the HD 580 vanished into the ether.
The HD 600 has stood the test of time thanks to its generally-agreed-to-be-neutral tuning, with a midrange that?s hilariously flat and accurate to the original source material. They?re one of a very few headphones that you can mix audio on without getting yelled at by random people that care deeply about this sort of thing.
What hasn?t aged so well is the finish on the headset, which sort of looks like an old countertop, or a bird egg.
In spite of the blue speckled paint, the HD 600 has continued to sell for over 2 decades. It has a suggested retail price of $399, but usually goes for around $300 online new, sometimes even a little cheaper.
Critics of the headphone thought that it either sounded too peaky in the treble or too veiled in the treble?which should give you an idea of how subjective the audio hobby sometimes can be.
When the time came for a new version, Sennheiser released the HD 650.
They threw out the blue speckled color scheme in favor of a silvery one, changed the headband pad a little, upgraded the cable materials, and slightly tweaked the tuning of the driver. The HD 650 is a little darker in the bass and a little smoother in the highs. But still generally agreed to sound incredible.
And so began endless debates about which one was ?better.? Each attracted their own fan base, and just like the 600, the 650 is still on sale today too. It has an MSRP of $499, and you can usually find it for around $385 new online.
For years and years, this was your choice. Which finish do you like better? Which sound signature graphs look more appealing to you? Maybe you?d even have the chance to demo them against each other at a trade show, an audio store, or a friend?s house if you were lucky.
Either way you were guaranteed great, famous sound quality thanks to their perfectly tuned 300 ohm drivers?for a somewhat-lofty price. And you were then required to be a fan for life.
In the last few years, all of this changed.
The two old models still exist?but in just two years, after what seemed like eons, this family has grown by THREE.
First, Massdrop shocked the world by making a new color of the HD 650 called the 6XX?and selling it for $199. (Or sometimes $249, depending when you got into the drop).
Availability has been an issue depending on when you decide you want a 6XX, but there?s no denying the incredible comparative value. As of this writing, they?re back at $199 and a drop is still open but spaces are limited.
So then?why does the HD 650 still exist? Well, it still has that ?Titanium? color scheme. And Sennheiser has a much wider retail network than Massdrop does with constant availability.
But how could anyone justify paying for the 650 when the 6XX now exists? Especially if a drop is currently open and they ship to your region? The 6XX has the same 300 ohm drivers, the same tuning, and a color scheme that many folks prefer.
I guess when the 6XX is out of stock, you might be more likely to go ?well I could get a 650 right now.?
Then things got crazier.
In a world where Sennheiser had effectively just undercut themselves by producing the 6XX, they then decided to launch the HD 660 S?a more expensive version of the headphone with a ?new? driver and a bonus ?Pentaconn? cable for use with amplifiers that hardly anyone owns.
Reviews of the 660 S were a bit mixed, with some liking the new tuning and others hating it. Of course. And then there?s that price point. Unlike the 600 and 650, the 660 S tends to hold its retail price out on the market.
The $500 price is a bit hard to swallow in a world with a $199 HD 6XX. Even if that 6XX is only available in limited quantities. It?s not that the 660 S isn?t worth the money, it?s just that as the most expensive in the line it has a lot to prove.
Some fans of the 600 and 650 were dismayed by the use of a different driver in the 660 S, a 150 ohm model based heavily on the driver from the HD 700. It?s easier to drive and has a slightly different tuning than the classic originals.
At this point I thought the madness was done. There were now four models (three really) and everyone resettled into their own camps for which was best.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Sennheiser released another collaborative effort with Massdrop, the HD 58X Jubilee. With a name and an industrial design that evoked the origins of the series, the 58X also got a new driver, this time a 38mm 150ohm model designed to refine the work done on the 660 S into a more value-conscious platform.
Axel Grell is the lead headphone engineer guy at Sennheiser, and all of these are his babies. So it stands to reason that, in making this new Massdrop model that paid homage to the very beginning, he?d want to build on all the work already done rather than going backwards. Some folks wanted the 58X to be a copy of the old 580, but Axel went forward instead.
The initial prototype had the 600-style headband pad, but the production model has a 650-style headband paired with a matte and gloss black color scheme. Like the HD 6XX, it?s not always available thanks to Massdrop?s business model, but they?ve done several drops of it already since it launched earlier this year.
And the really wild part: It?s $150.
SENNHEISER WHAT IS THIS MADNESS.
First they released a $199 version of their 650, and now here?s a brand new concoction in the same performance ballpark as their latest $500 660 S?for $149.
If I were a marketing guy I would have screamed at this idea and flipped over a table.
I can see three reasons for releasing this entry level-priced variant. First, it?s the perfect way to suck in new users. And second, it?s a great second or third pickup for someone that already owns a different 600 series model. Third, the limited time magic of Massdrop means that people who miss out might opt for a more expensive model instead of waiting.
I?m sure some of the cost-cutting of the new pair comes from long ago passing the profit line as far as R and D on this line is concerned. Also, in the case of the 58X, it comes in more basic packaging. And they?re always guaranteed to sell out thanks to the way Massdrop works.
Sennheiser produces the 6XX and the 58X in the same factory in Ireland that the 600, 650, and 660 S are made in. And many of the parts are interchangeable.
You might still be reeling from the concept that this headphone lineup could even have a model that costs $149. Can it really offer similar sound performance to its bigger brothers? Yes! And you don?t have to take my word for it, you can read this excellent review and pour over its graphs to your heart?s content. I?m more than happy to plug DIY audio heaven! They are tremendously smart folks with far more technical knowhow and interest than myself.
HD58X Jubilee (Massdrop)
back to Sennheiser back to measurements home NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have?
I ran a survey on my personal web site recently, and by far the article that everyone expressed the most interest in was a review of the HD 600. I?ve never owned one of these lauded headphones for myself, so it was long overdue.
However, when faced with all of the above information?I just couldn?t bring myself to spend the $300. At least, not yet.
I actually love the blue speckled finish, and there seems to be consensus that it?s still has an incredible sound?
But the 58X Jubilee exists! It has a black color scheme, a sound signature worthy of the lineup, a long pedigree, a design/name that?s an homage to a legend, and it?s one of the latest designs by Axel Grell. For just ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY NINE DOLLARS. And earlier this week, a drop just so happened to have open space and the headphones were in stock.
It was practically shouting at my brain and my heart to buy it.
So I did.
Well done crafty limited-time Massdrop marketing scheme.
I?ll have a full review next week. UPDATE: It is now next week and my review is live. In early listening it has more than lived up to its long road to existence. It?s good enough that it deserves to be on the market at all times in all of Sennheiser?s retail channels.