The Very Important Sennheiser HD 580, HD 600, and HD 650

Editors Note: These headphones have an interesting history for headphone enthusiasts, but if you're here just to read a review of these headphones, you can safely skip to the next page.

History - They Always Take You for Granted in Your Home Town
There's a rare moment in the life of a headphone fanatic when you put on a pair of headphones and go, "WOW! I never knew it could be this good." Revolutionary, not evolutionary. It's happened to me maybe a half dozen times. The first time was with the Sennheiser HD 580. I wanted to tell every headphone enthusiast I knew about the HD 580...but there was barely any internet back then, and no such thing as the headphone hobby. I emailed the handful of people I knew who would be interested, and just started telling people about them when the phone rang at HeadRoom.

By the time the headphone hobby started with Chu Moy and the Headwize forum in 1998, the HD 580 was well established, and HD 600 was just becoming available. They were the de-facto standard to which all other headphones were measured...but because they pre-dated the hobby, they were never the flavor of the month, they never received a love of their own, they were never the new and shiny thing to lust over. They were always just there. And they did have one little problem...which, in my view, got blown out of proportion.

The Sennheiser Veil and Other Issues
In a time when overly detailed headphones built by Grado, Audio Technica, and Stax pre-Omega were considered the norm among headphone enthusiasts, the HD 600 was heard as polite...too polite for ears used to the up-front treble and poor bass response of high-end cans at the time. And so the relentless damning began, gently bludgeoning the HD 600 away from it's first place position at every opportunity with the fluffy club curse: "The Sennheiser Veil."

This berating went on so vehemently for so long that it even got it's own smiley at Head-Fi. I'll let Jude's words from a recent post tell the story:

Years ago on Head-Fi, one of the biggest debates you'd see on these forums was the debate over whether or not the HD 600/650 was veiled. Some thought it was, others (like me) felt differently. This argument would pop up in any number of discussions rather frequently (as, for years, the HD600 and HD650 were the most discussed headphones here), sometimes steering threads off-topic.

The discussion of it got so old and tired, that, as the old saying goes, it was like beating a dead horse.

You're looking at the beating of the Sennheiser veil horse.

(I don't recall who created this emoticon, but it was many years ago.)

Frankly I'm with Jude, I've never heard it that way either. Polite? Yes. Laid back? Sure. Slightly lacking in the airy sound of very good top end response? Okay. But not least not the HD 600. I do think the HD 650 might be worthy of the moniker though.

And that brings up another issue: As the product evolved from 580 to 600 to 650, hobbyists were prone to nitpicking each step along the way...and not without merit. First, the HD 580 had a problem: The small springs that are used as contacts for the cables connection to the ear were too soft and malleable. Over time, the spring would stretch a the coil into which in the contact pins were inserted resulting in an intermittent connection. People often thought their cable was going bad, but I've never seen that to be the case. When the HD 600 appeared first as the HD 580 Jubilee 50th Anniversary Edition, and then subsequently as the HD 600, this problem had not been addressed. Enthusiasts were enthusiastically ired by the oversight. Fortunately, new springs were developed, and Sennheiser did offer replacements free of charge for some time thereafter. People also griped about the HD 600 being significantly more expensive than the HD 580.

When the HD 650 came out, the tumult began again. The 650 while a bit more refined sounding, seemed even warmer than the HD 600, solidifying---somewhat correctly this time, IMO---the myth of the Sennheiser veil. And the price hike over the HD 600 was again criticized.

Lastly, and this one is a bit too complicated for me too keep up with, the headphones seemed to be going through a number of internal changes in a somewhat random manner---at least from the viewpoint of enthusiasts. The acoustic damping material over the driver's baffle plate seemed to change willy nilly. I did notice, in the period after the fire in the Ireland plant where the HD 600/650 was built, a number of small changes. I won't speculate on what was going on, but the fire coupled with normal manufacturer in-line engineering changes has certainly kept enthusiasts guessing at what a standard 600 and 650 really looked like...even up to the present day.

What a Difference a Decade Makes
It took a decade or more, but eventually the hobbyists tired of their flaming fan-dance around the HD 580/600/650, and things settled down quite a bit. New headphones have come and gone, but this family of headphones have remained securely, but quietly, well positioned in the pantheon of audiophile headphones. An odd thing has been happening lately though, it seems to me enthusiasts have increasingly begun to turn their attention back to the HD 600/650, and have begun rediscovering it as a great headphone.

One possible reason for the gradual resurgence of interest is more and more headphone geeks getting into tube amps. While most headphone makers are striving to build better sounding cans at lower impedance and higher efficiency to be easily driven from portable players and smartphones, the HD 600/650 has remained a 300 Ohm headphone. This high impedance delivers a better damping factor with the higher output impedance of most tube amplifiers, and especially with OTL (Output Transformer-Less) tube amps (Bottlehead Crack and Woo Audio WA3, for example). However, I don't think this fully accounts for the continued rise of interest.

Fondness and Contempt
Maybe I'm making too big a deal of this, but human nature is human nature. We've all heard the sayings: "familiarity breeds contempt" and "absence makes the heart grow fonder." The HD 600 has been with us for a long time...we're very familiar with it. I know I often take them for granted; I know when I reach for them I'm not expecting the excitement of something new. At some level I'm bored with them. Stupid human.

When I put them on to listen though, I'm suddenly struck with the need to face my prejudice. I'm swept away with the music. Simply put, this is one of the world's best headphones. I think we've always known that; it's just taken us a long time to allow ourselves to feel it.

Enough with the social studies, on the the review proper...

Sennheiser USA
1 Enterprise Drive
Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 434-9190

Maxvla's picture

I started out life in Head-fi land with the HD580 (later added an OTL tube amp) and moved to the HD600 when balanced tube amps were beginning to be more affordable. The scalability of this series of headphones is really astonishing. In many ways this is mirrored with the HD800 with a practically unlimited ability to increase with gear capability.

I liked the section where you talked about build quality and listed the part numbers. I would submit that the broken headbands were a problem for the HD600 and HD650 as I still have my original HD600 and it's snapped headband from normal use. I bought a new one to replace it, thinking the headband was not available. I've recently been told the headband is available and it would be great to repair this to keep in my stable. Do you know the part number of the HD600 headband? 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...But you can call the number in the manufacturers address, extention 2, and ask for the parts department. They're very helpful.

Maxvla's picture

Thanks. Spoke to the parts guy and he was very helpful. He said the part was out of stock, but that they would be in soon, and that it was a part they sold a lot of. Gave me a little discount too after talking about how I'd replaced my broken 600 with another 600, and also currently use 800s so I'm still in the Senn family. Nice gesture.

SoniAdler's picture

Good afternoon, I came across this interesting article on the Internet. I want to buy myself headphones for study - Advise which model will do better than all, well, or a few options. Thank you in advance .

Impulse's picture

Despite the conclusion, right now you've actually got the HD 650 and not the 600 on the IF Wall of Fame... Time for an edit? I think that section of the wall could certainly use a couple lower priced alternatives above the Fidelio but below the rest of the current range anyway.

How would you say the 600 & 650 stack up against some of the T50RP mods like the Mad Dogs and Paradox? (the former being cheaper than either Senn and the latter being about the same as the 650)

I know closed vs open isn't a fair comparison but I'm looking to try something different from my Beyer DT 880 and those plus the HD 600 are currently my shortlist, a lot of people seem to pin a similar sound signature to them.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...I'll be changing the Wall post tomorrow. 

I'm about to revisit the Mad Dog and Paradox soon, but I'm not quite sure the measure up to the smoothness and coherence of an open phone. They're good though.

Not_A_Fool's picture

I came to the same conclusions. . . except about tube amps and cables. In a sea of glaringly bright and overhyped headphones thse are an island of awesome. The modified T50RP's are of no comparison.

maxmba's picture


Could you tell why your THD graphs stops at 7Khz for all phones that you measure? I have suspition that THD rises sharply after 7 kHz.

I very value your reviews and most importantly i see that your assessments are in line with measument data yes Based on your revies i have purchased Logitech UH6000 and AKG 550 and agree with your opinion about these phones. smiley

Tyll Hertsens's picture

At 7kHz the third harmonic is at 21kHz.  There are filters in the Audio Precision that stop signals above 22kHz, so the reading would go down with the loss of third harmonics and no longer be reliable.

maxmba's picture


Any plans to review Ultrasone PRO 750 or 900 S-Logic surround sound?

I had 750 loaned to me for a week and the sound stage as good as AKG 550, but the frequency response is very uneven in mid frequences: spikes at 4-5kHz. These cans use platic drivers covered with titanium and also drivers mounted on a metal plate with holes in it to create bass boost. It feels like there are internal resonsounses are going on. There is a mod that allegedly makes 750 sound better.

Thank you,

Max smiley

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'm of the opinion that S-Logic is a bunch of hooeee.  You can read my thoughts about it on this page.

Brentagon's picture

I got my HD580s more than a decade ago, and I'm still happy with them every time I put them on.  I haven't bought another full-size headphone since then, and I have no plans on looking into one anytime soon.  During the same time, I've been through dozens of earbuds and IEMs, and I'm never very happy with any of them.  Are there any IEMs out there that an HD580/600 lover can fully embrace?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I find very few IEMs that I like as well.  My favorite are the Shure SE 535.  Cry once at the price, and be smiling forever after.

KikassAssassin's picture

I love my SE 215's. They're a bit bass-heavy and they aren't the most detailed headphones I've heard, but they have a really smooth, inoffensive sound that, while I wouldn't really say they sound like my HD 650's, I like them both for similar reasons. I'm sure (Shure?) the SE 535 is better, but I couldn't bring myself to spend that much on an IEM. Maybe someday when I'm less poor. :)

episiarch's picture

Brentagon, I've always felt the Yuin PK1 had an HD580-like sound.  It's an earbud, not an IEM as we normally interpret the term, and IMO it requires amplification to sound its best, but it's very clean, a little the warm side of neutral (taking ER-4S as my definition of neutrality), and extremely satisfying.  When I first got mine, I remember literally saying things like "dark magicians have somehow enslaved the soul of a full-sized HD580 and trapped it in the body of a plain plastic earbud," so I was making the comparison even before you asked this question.  I don't want to oversell this, though, since that was some years ago, and I've seen comments to the effect that today's PK1s aren't built the way they used to be.

Audioaddict's picture

I have no idea if they sound similar but my HiFiMan RE-262 are my favorite iEM (forwarded mids, but done very nicely with a great soundstage and very appropriate bass and a slightly smoothed treble) and since those are unfortunetly out of production you might wanna look at the new RE-400 (99$)

sdecker's picture

With three generations of HD600s there, have you found any sonic differences between them due to their running changes to drivers, baffle plates, and damping material?  Have they finally supplied a better cord than what I replaced on my ~2001 versions?

Which HD600 was measured for your archives?  Too bad it has a bad right driver -- is it worth remeasuring a 'good' pair? 

Sennheiser always advertised the aluminum voice coils and neodymium magnets of the HD600, they're not unique to the 650, though they do carry different part numbers for re-ordering.  Like when you stick a needlenose into the diaphragm :-O  The 650 ad copy references an "acoustic silk" for damping not mentioned in HD600 lit.  Where?  Is that the white material on the baffle plates of both current models?

I've tried HD650s at length several times, but with an excellent SS headphone amp and source equipment, always preferred the 600s due to its more balanced bass and far more neutral midrange with more pop, presence and spatial cues; never found the 650's to have the greater 'refinement' you mention.  Though I wouldn't mind a couple dB more sub-100Hz bass from the 600s.  Seems the 650s were designed for lesser amps that couldn't generate the bass (so the headphone provided it) and a grainier top end (so the headphone suppressed it).   But I'll let the head-fi forums hash that out.

Finally, I guess I missed the era of weak bass and bright balance that you say preceded the 580s.  Starting in 1970 I had Koss K6 -> Koss Pro4AA -> AKG K240 then the 580 to my still-current 600s.  All had ample bass and tame treble.

donunus's picture

The hd600s have always been my favorite open cans and i have always bought and sold them after 6 months to a year. I think the reason I keep on selling them is that I think they may sound a tad too wide for me. I think i may have to buy them again and try them with a good OTL.

donunus's picture

In addition to my comment, may i ask if you(Tyll) still feel that these cans may be inferior to the momentums in many ways like you said on your review of those cans? I mean I didn't feel from reading the review of the momentums that you thought they were veiled in any way even though the frequency response graph looked more veiled than the hd650. I myself love the senns, even the 650s and am thinking of getting some momentums which is why I ask.

anaxilus's picture

Hi Tyll, nice article.  Just wanted to comment that I think there is more to the veil than just FR.  Acoustic impedance from the thicker paper seems to contribute to a lack of dynamics where music seems 'flatter' sounding.  This is why a solid amp can help the driver fight trough this and 'come to life'.  I think you referred to it as 'snap'.  So the 'Senn veil' to me is a combination of the enhanced bass cloud and increased acoustic impedance upon the driver.  

A good study to compliment this one, with respect to the Sennheiser veil, would be a comparison between the HD555/HD595 and the HD558/HD598.  The primary changes between the generations was damping material over the driver and it's readily audible even though the frequency responses and driver behaviors are largely measurably identical.  This is just as clearly visible if you perform the same dissection in your article.

Between intermittent changes, random listener impressions, amp/power discrepancies and even pad wear, there's a plethora of reasons to contribute to the various impressions of seemingly the same model.

However, despite all the noise, there is often a little truth buried in widespread mythology.  One just needs to separate the wheat from the chaff and it can be found if it is there.

donunus's picture

yup the 558 is quite a bit brighter than the 555. I'm not quite sure the material change worked there as well as they did for the newer hd600s and 650s which I prefer compared to the older versions which I got to compare side by side with.

ultrabike's picture

Thanks for sharing a little about the story behind these great and classic cans, and for your impressions. The HD600 is definitively in my list of possible upgrades.

HK-47's picture

I was lucky enough to grab an HD650 back when it was priced at around $360 on Amazon (it even went down to $300 on occasion) , and that was pretty much it for my headphone search, at least for home use.

While there's no doubt that there are better headphones out there, it has never really left me wanting more. Guess I'm one of those who actually like the so-called Sennheiser veil, as I find even headphones that most people consider relatively neutral, like the SRH440, to have fatiguing treble.

I've gone through several headphones and IEMs over the past couple of years, but the HD650 has remained, and barring any sort of malfunction/breakdown, will remain in the forseeable future.

Impulse's picture

The prices have definitely creeped up, tho I guess at least they're stable (ever tracked the price of Beyer's DT line on Amazon? they're all over the place).

Despite their recent history and their own pricing policies, Senn themselves ran a good deal for the HD 650 during the last Black Friday... Think they were like $350 + a big iTunes gift card (which you could resell if nothing else). It wasn't a short run deal either, ran all day.

I don't hold off until BF to buy much of anything, but headphones are one of the few things that are still worth waiting for and seeking out on BF.

KikassAssassin's picture

Yeah, I got my HD 650 in that black friday sale. $350 and a $50 iTunes gift card was a great deal and I couldn't pass it up (though I don't use iTunes so I gave the gift card to a friend). Even if Tyll thinks the 600 is better, I still feel good about getting the 650 for that price, because that's less than the 600 normally costs. I think I prefer a slightly warmer than neutral sound signature most of the time, anyway, so I really couldn't be happier with my 650's.

AsSiMiLaTeD's picture

Which amps do you guys like with these cans?  I've got the HD600 running off the Schiit Valhalla and really like the sound, but am thinking about upgrades.

Tyll, looks like the WA3 on the front photo, is that your preferred amp?

AsSiMiLaTeD's picture

Or is that the WA6?  Hard to tell from the photo...

Tyll Hertsens's picture

It's a WA3.  The good thing about these cans is that they'll bring out the best of most any amp, it seems to me. I don't find them to be picky, unlike the HD 800.

donunus's picture

Whats funny about this is that around 7 years ago or so, the 650 was known to need a really good amp to lift the so called veil. I think the 650 really changed in that aspect due to the changes from the older to the newer versions. The new version hd650 I heard was even really good already out of a basic fiio e9.

Tyll, I was wondering if you also tried these cans with a variety of solid state amps too and wonder if there were instances where you thought the hd650 trampled the 600s with those amps.

RJF's picture

Hi Tyll,

This is my first post! I actually own all 3 of these headphones and agree with your review 100% I have owned the HD600 for about a month now and it quickly became my favorite of the 3. I am curious as to how you feel these 3 cans compare to the Sennheiser Momentum particularly which of the 3 it sounds closest to (if any). I keep thinking of buying one for portable use but am afraid it will be a letdown compared to the HD600 and HD650 I own.