Some of us still want great-sounding headphones, wires or not, and we’re willing to spend a decent amount of money to get them. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to break the bank to get some of the best headphones money can buy.
Acclaimed audio brand Sennheiser has had more than its fair share of hits in the audiophile 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 debuting, the HD 650 have gotten a refresh (sort of), and you might even say they’re better than ever. This second coming of the HD 650 was actualized in the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX, the result of a collaboration between the storied audio brand and the “audiophile” subset of Massdrop’s commerce community that have proven extremely popular — so popular, in fact, that the company is still selling them years later.
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, now known simply as Drop, has resculpted some key design traits for better usability and a crazy low price point of just $220. Best of all the HD 6XX are no longer a fire-sale option with limited quantity – they’re now available from Drop on a regular basis.
Out of the box
When the HD 650 debuted in 2003 (and for much of their 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 (and the original HD 650 on most sites), 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, and 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 tweak or two
A closer examination, however, reveals some moderate upgrades driven by Mass … er, Drop’s user base that set the 6XX apart. The most notable design change at the outset is the color — the HD 6XX trade 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 and are 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.
The cable length has also been shortened from a studio-friendly 10 feet to a tighter 6 feet. 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 sessions, although your hair will get appropriately disheveled by those mondo earpieces.
By the numbers, the HD 6XX tout a massive frequency response of a claimed 10Hz-41khz, which is otherworldly for headphones significantly below $500.
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.
You are in for a buttery treat that results in some of the best sound dynamic drivers can bring
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 them) 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, which are 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 expand 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.
The HD 6XX come with a two-year warranty on parts and workmanship that’s backed by Sennheiser.Our Take
The HD 6XX are a welcome and brilliantly executed second generation for one of Sennheiser’s best values, and a chance to nab easily accessible audiophile sound for a serious bargain.
Is there a better alternative?
Honestly, we have yet to hear a pair of headphones that offers this level of clarity, warm low end, and soundstage expansion at the $220 price. Even significantly more expensive models pale in comparison to the sound of the HD 6XX (and HD 650), which is why they’re still so beloved among audiophiles.
How long will it last?
Many people have owned the HD 650 for a decade-plus, and given that they have replaceable cables and are very well made, they should last for a very long time if treated right.
Should you buy it?
Yes. These are, hands down, the best-sounding headphones we’ve ever heard for $220. They easily compete with headphones that cost many multiples of that price. If you want the best possible sound for your money, these are among the best you’ll find.