Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones Sound Exceptional, But They May Not Be For You [Review]

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The Sennheiser HD 650’s ($500) audio performance is among the best available, but they won’t be worth their high price tag unless you’re willing to listen to them correctly, and for some, the hassle may not be worth it.

The Good:

Beautifully accurate mid and high tones; full, precise bass notes — there’s a reason audiophiles across the world love the HD 650s. I could say they deliver an exhilarating audio performance, and just leave it at that, but that wouldn’t be the whole story.

If you’re a music lover, in a quiet room, the HD 650s will transport you to another place. You’ll be in the studio with Led Zeppelin, hearing Jimmy Page’s fingers slide up and down his guitar strings. And, masters of nuance, they won’t only deliver your favorite musicians’ notes during classical pieces, you’ll hear the breaths they take between verses. You’ll experience the finesse they put into every note. The HD 650s’ remarkable aptitude had me revisiting many of my most loved albums, just to hear what I missed.

I’m also in love with the understated look and finish of the HD 650s. They make use of several shimmering metallic plastics and dark grey metal. I particularly like the metal screens covering the outside of the headphones over the speakers. The dark fabrics also add a nice touch.

Comfort wise, I found the 650s over-the-ear design to be quite cozy, though they did fit my head a bit too tightly (a problem I know others have also complained about). The earcups were well-padded and covered with a soft velvety-type fabric, and their open-air design kept my ears nice and cool. The fabric-covered headband was also well-padded and comfortable.

The Bad:

You’ll love the 650s so much, you’ll probably want to use them all the time — but that’s not gonna work. The 650s aren’t going to be your go-to headphones for several reasons.

First, the 650s open-type design means you’ll hear the ambient noise in any room you’re in. It also means whoever is in the room with you is going to be listening to whatever you’re listening to. So either they’ll be intruding on your listening experience, or you’re going to be interrupting theirs. The HD 650s are meant to be used in a quiet room with no competing noise, and often times those specific conditions just aren’t possible.

Second, the HD 650s are not your standard plug’em-in-to-any-old-iPod kind of headphones. They need ample wattage and a good amplifier to really sing. Could you just plug them into your Macbook’s audio jack? Yeah, you could do that, but that would be like putting a nascar engine in your Subaru — it doesn’t really make sense. To use them to their fullest, the 650s will forever need to be tethered to a nice amp, and if you don’t already own one, that’s another $500 (and up) investment.

Third, remember all those lovely metaphors I used to describe how good the audio quality was on the 650s? Well those are only going to be true if you’re listening to a good recording. The 650s are going to transmit audio to your ears with superb accuracy. That’s a good thing if you’re listening to a CD mixed by a talented audio engineer. It’s not a good thing if you’re planning on listening to 128 kilobit streams of that poorly recorded indie band you love. And unlike less expensive headphones, the 650s aren’t going to lie to you and color your audio with a bunch of muddy bass and mids. You’re going to hear that crappy recording in all it’s crappiness — and it’s going to drive you nuts.

Verdict:

The Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are easy to recommend. Their transcendent sound can provide you with an audio experience you may never have thought possible. But remember, without a quiet room and a good amp, you may be left wondering why your 650s’ audio performance is only slightly above ordinary.

Buy from: Amazon

Rating: ★★★★½

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  • Zudeo

    I’m listening to them right now.. they sound so beautiful.  

    Sennheiser HD 650 -> Fiio E7 + E9 -> MBA 2011 i5.

  • techendeavour123

    I would like to buy one. 
    Let me know the price?

  • DarkAudit

    And the E7+E9 combo doesn’t come anywhere close to $500. Win.

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  • High Fashion

    I could have substituted AKG-K701 for HD-650 and the review would have been identical.

  • Zudeo

    I actually got mine used for about $300 on head-fi.org.  Great site if you want to know more about that type of stuff.  You can find them new for about $549-$500 at most eTailers.

  • Zudeo

    I actually got mine used for about $300 on head-fi.org.  Great site if you want to know more about that type of stuff.  You can find them new for about $549-$500 at most eTailers.

  • ErinsDad

    Oh to have young ears again, to appreciate the difference between good and great headphones.

  • John

    Nah, much more a fan of the Beyerdynamic sound. Still, a preamp does not have to be that expensive. I use a Dr. Dac Nano and a PenguinAmp. Not the greatest combo for a true audiophile, but much better than the macbook’s output.

  • imajoebob

    You’ve never heard of a Subaru WRX STi, have you?

  • Zudeo

    The price for a Sennheiser HD 650 is $549-600. The MSRP is $649, although you can go on a forum like head-fi.org and find them used for around $300-350. It’s an excellent site for everything audio related. I highly recommend it.

  • Zudeo

    The author of this article is correct though — these headphones sing with a higher priced amp + DAC. They’re one of the most scalable headphones out there.

  • Zudeo

    What’s does a Subaru WRX STi (Which is a great car by the way) have to do with headphones?

  • Hoser Man

    I have a pair of older Sennheiser’s that are pure electrostatic speakers. In order to enjoy any electrostatic headphones you need to be in a quiet room with no ambient sounds. They are pure joy I must admit, the bass is not real strong for you rockers out there, but they are what would be called flat response curve sound source. 

  • Zudeo

    …while the MacBook’s audio chipset is better than anything i’ve heard in any laptop… ever. I love my MacBook Air. It gets as much attention as my iPhone did in 2008.  It’s as if I was like Jobs showing the world a piece of the future.  

    It’s a great feeling. 

    R.I.P.

  • Zudeo

    I have Beyerdynamic’s DT-990/600’s at home that I use with a Little Dot MK III vacuum tube amplifier. (I have a budget you see — being a lover of all things tech, a newfound lover of all things mac, a gamer, and a wannabe audiophile has me stretching my canadian monopoly money to the fullest you see) Anyways, I find the Beyer phones are fun, especially great with rap, drum and bass and dubstep.  I prefer my Senn’s for classic rock.

  • penguinstorm

    It strikes me that writing a review that basically insults your listeners doesn’t help much:

    This was uncalled for:
    > It’s not a good thing if you’re planning on listening to 128 kilobit streams of that
    > poorly recorded indie band you love.

    In a world where Indie Bands record at a professional level.

    Also, this:
    > First, the 650s open-type design means you’ll hear the ambient noise in any room you’re in. It 
    > also means whoever is in the room with you is going to be listening to whatever you’re listening 
    > to.

    These aren’t the only “open air” designs. Grado uses similar designs. If the other people in the room are hearing your music, you have the music you’re listening to turned up WAY too high. You’ll end up damaging your hearing.

  • muirtone

    An expensive headphone amplifier costing $500 is not required to get the best out of the HD650. The NuForce Icon uDac-2 headphone amplifier with USB DAC (24bit/96khz) costing $129.00 will get you 90% there. It will also improve powered speaker reproduction because it is better than most sound cards out there. Just listen with a high bit rate source and you will know instantly because the background hiss is lower, or missing altogether, and the sound clearer that a direct plug-in. Read Amazon review for more technical review. This is a cheap no brainer.

  • imajoebob

    Bad choice for an illustration. The WRX has more than 300bhp, so a NASCAR engine would barely double the power. Hyperbole works better the more extreme it gets. Maybe a Smart car?

  • Jovanvaldeze

    They look sexy, surely going to buy one. http://www.socialcubix.com

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Erfon ElijahErfon Elijah is the producer and host of The CultCast. When not editing podcasts or watching Mrs. Doubtfire, you’ll find him on Xbox Live hunting CoD Ghosts foes like the Predator. Here are his tweets...

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