The HD 6XX is a welcome and brilliantly executed second run for one of Sennheiser’s best audiophile values.
Once in great while, a pair of headphones come around that scratch every itch, overturn every stone, and hit every note with the subtlety and musical vision of a Chris Thile mandolin solo. Even for a company with a century-plus of experience in the business, Sennheiser has had more than its fair share of hits in this sought-after sweet spot, but the company’s HD 650, often regarded as one of the best audiophile headphones of its kind, stands apart.
More than a decade after its debut, the HD 650 is back (sort of), and you might even say it’s better than ever. This second coming of the HD 650 is actualized in the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX, the result of a “first-ever” collaboration between the storied audio brand and the “audiophile” subset of Massdrop’s commerce community. Nothing has changed about the 650’s sound signature — the same golden grit, silky smooth bass, and ultra-detailed topside are all present and accounted for here. But Massdrop has resculpted some key design traits for better usability and, best of all, the company will offer them as low as a spit-takingly affordable $200.
Update 11-8-2016 at 9:05 a.m. PT: As is often the way of these things, the HD 6XX are already gone. However, the company will likely be relaunching the headphones in the coming weeks. Alternately, there are currently still HD 650s and HD 600s available online at a higher, but still value-packed price point.
When the HD 650 debuted in 2003 (and for much of its tenure at the front of Sennheiser’s fleet), the headphones cost a cool $500-plus. And while the price has plummeted for the 6XX version, that doesn’t mean potential buyers won’t get a real taste of audiophile luxury. That experience begins with a hefty black case of thick cardboard, layered with an ample bed of hard foam, and boasting a black-gloss Sennheiser logo on the lid.
Inside, the cans rest in their foam bed, looking comfortably close to an OG pair of HD 650s. The giant open-back earpieces pop out like oval hula hoops, attached on an adjustable hinge and layered with dense mesh windows that unveil spiderwebbed drivers beneath. On the interior are thick earpads cloaked in the same fuzzy lining of “acoustic silk” that breeds luxurious comfort in the HD 650, which also boasts a brilliant acoustic seal. A Sennheiser logo atop the headband assures you of the high-quality sound within, and few details betray the new HD 6XX design.
A closer examination, however, reveals some moderate upgrades driven by Massdrop’s user base that set the 6XX apart. The most notable design change at the outset is the color — the HD 6XX trades the HD 650’s charcoal gray for almost pitch black, with lines along the borders cast in a subtle shade of Midnight blue (you’ll likely need sunlight to see them). The original “HD 650” badges above the earpieces have also been replaced with the “HD 6XX” moniker, matched by a Massdrop logo on the interior. Perhaps most notably, the removable cable now terminates with a 3.5mm jack rather than quarter-inch (with an included quarter-inch attachment), making these cans much more versatile to pair with all your many devices.
By the numbers, the HD 6XX tout a massive frequency response of a claimed 10Hz-41khz, which is otherworldly for headphones well below $500. The cable length has also been shortened from a studio-friendly 10 feet to a tighter 6-foot length. Total weight is 9.2 ounces, and these babies have some serious clamping force. That’s alleviated by the soft padding, making it easy to wear the 6XX for long listening stretches, although your hair will get appropriately disheveled by those mondo earpieces.
If you’ve already heard the HD 650, you may just want to skip this section and head straight to the “where the hell do I buy these” links below. If you’ve never heard the HD 650 before, you are in for a buttery treat that results in some of the best sound dynamic drivers can bring to the table — at this price point, and above.
Warm and brassy bass meets a midrange that dips close to the ruddy colors of analog tape saturation.
Specifically, we’re talking about warm and rigid bass, a midrange that dips close to the ruddy colors of analog tape saturation (without sacrificing an ounce of detail), and a laser tight response up top that helps illuminate vivid clarity and granular instrumental texture across the board. So yeah, they sound pretty good.
It’s easy to regard the HD 6XX’s sound signature as just another dynamic-driven headphone, bringing with it traits that often have audiophiles drawing lines in the sand between those who love a drop of pleasing warmth in their sonic coffee, and those who demand near-clinical dedication to the recording as it was originally rendered. However, what is so pleasing about the HD 6XX (and the 650 before it) is that these headphones offer a pleasant mixture of each, for a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
Yes, in the bass and midrange especially, these cans revel in the grimy grunge of ‘70s electric guitar tones and crunchy B3 organs, driving the sounds home with the presence of a vintage Marshall amplifier head. But they’re equally adept at revealing the subtleties of each recording as it stands, leaning into the cold detachment of a pop tune a la Chvrches, or even Depeche Mode. The HD 6XX’s knack for detail and presence includes all the instrumental textures and timbres an audiophile longs for, especially well outlined in the bubbly puffs of a saxophone reed, or the subtle scratches of a horse-hair bow across a violin’s strings.
Apart from that gorgeous sound signature, the HD 6XX offer an open-range soundstage fit for Big Sky country. The open-back design perfectly distributes the sound waves, letting the instruments stretch out of those few inches from ear to ear, and expanding into a sonic cloud around your head. The result is a sound that’s surprisingly akin to sitting in front of a good pair of studio monitors — or even sitting at the center of the recording room itself. That allows for the often-discussed virtue of hearing things you’ve never noticed in previous listens to your favorite tracks, from the rogue buzz of a guitar amp, to a quiet vocal double that’s never surfaced before.
In short, the HD 6XX is a welcome and brilliantly executed second run for one of Sennheiser’s best values, and a chance to nab easily accessible audiophile sound for a serious bargain. The only problem we have with the 6XX? With a limited run of just 5,000, there may not be enough to go around. The good news is, if enough listeners participate in the HD 6XX’s “drop,” the price will fall to a crazy-low $200. But even if it goes for well above that level, the HD 6XX will be a killer value. Our advice? Grab these while you can.