Is the SHP9600 an upgrade over the 9500? Is the increase in price worth the investment? Did Philips actually improve on the shortcomings of the original?
All of these answers and more, comin’ up..
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Now, let’s discuss the Philips SHP9500 and compare it to the all new 9600 shall we?!
Full disclosure: I own both of these headphones and used my own funds to purchase each.
We’ll start with build, which is much improved over the original 9500 if you can believe it.
Right away you’ll notice that the 9600 is more compact all around, with a slightly tighter clamp force that feels quite incredible on your head. No longer does the headphone feel like it’s going to slide off. It’s also a tad smaller and less bulky than the 9500.
Note:The 9600 actually weighs a bit more than the 9500 (I included this in the about section on the graphic in the video), but was surprised. It doesn’t feel as bulky to me, but this may be my imagination. It likely has a lot to do with the grill size and Philips doing away with the old design. Even so, the weight disparity is only around 11 grams, so not that much.
The fit is more snug like a bug in a rug this time, and even despite the cups being smaller in both length and width, there is still ample room for my big Dumbo sized ears inside. Depth of the cups is about the same on both.
Philips has brought back the same exact headband mechanism and padding, but this time there are no windows. Instead, they’ve opted to improve the click adjustment.
It’s still numbered like the 9500, and not only is it easier to settle on a number appropriate for your head, but it actually holds it’s place this time. If you’ll recall, the 9500’s was a bit loosey goosey in that regard, sometimes moving a bit too easily up and down and not really locking into position. The 9600 does.
Aesthetically, Philips has removed their logo, all text, as well as the giant Block “R” and “L” indicators; the latter being a point of contention among-st some audiophile snobs. Replacing those elements is a single gold ring around the grille, housing the same 50mm neodymium driver.
I personally really like the new look. The same rugged plastic has returned, and the headphone cups swivel in the same way as the original 9500, ensuring that you’re able to get a good fit on your noggin.
You will notice the grille on the 9600 is a tad smaller, perhaps reducing a bit of air that was present in the 9500, making it a bit less of a “fully open” headphone. More on that in a bit.
The detachable 3.5mm cable has returned, but this time around it feels more solid and robust at the business end. There seems to be a protective measure taken in looking at the grey-ish blush cap, a stark contrast to the rubbery, flimsier material inherent on the original 9500.
The 9600 also comes with a more rugged looking and feeling snap on 1/4″ adapter, with a subtle but still noticeable “grip” towards the bottom. Instead of “Philips” engraved on the jack termination itself, it’s now embossed, reading “Philips” on one side, and “SHP9600” on the other in a more readable way due to the better color matching.
All in all, it seems like Philips has really honed in on small details with this newer iteration 9600, and it
hasn’t gone unnoticed.
But are they comfortable?
Absolutely. Both headphones are incredibly comfy, but I feel more secure with a 9600 on my head if that makes sense. It doesn’t want to slide around at all, and feels more like a headphone should feel. Clamp force is just right like Goldilocks’ porridge, and it’s still incredibly comfy for long listening sessions, feeling mostly like air, but with a slightly tighter clamp force.
The 9500, while feeling like complete air, did tend to move around a bit more than I’d like, which was the trade-off.
Again, the small attention to detail here from Philips is more than admirable, it’s outright amazing that they would adjust and improve the fit that subtly.
Note: The clamp has opened up since I first put them on, and is roughly the same as the 9500. Perhaps a tad tighter (which is a good thing) but not a huge difference. Being that I bought the 9500 a while ago, I can’t actually remember if the clamp was as tight as the 9600’s straight out of the box. If I look up or down and move my head, the 9600 does slide, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Now for the moment you’ve been anticipating.
How do they sound in relation to one another? Is the 9600 an actual upgrade? Did Philips improve the 9500’s upper mid/low treble issues? Does the bass hit harder?
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Right off the bat, you’ll notice the 9600 has a bit more mid-bass emphasis, likely somewhere around 100-200Hz. I also feel like it doesn’t roll off nearly as much in the sub bass regions.
The kicker here (no pun intended), is that it adds slam without interfering with the other frequencies.
This was something I was a bit worried about, but Philips has proven once again how adept they are at making headphones. It’s truly astounding that a gigantic conglomerate again came out of nowhere and slapped us in the face with this product.
There’s significantly more MEAT on this version of the headphone. It sounds fuller and more impactful, while still mostly retaining all of that incredible micro detail that the original 9500 provided in spades.
The treble sizzle and brightness that many snobs complained about has been fixed for the most part, as it no longer sounds overly essy or bitey in most instances.
I think this is very source dependent as well. Some songs still have that essiness, but to me that mostly boils down to the way the track was recorded.
The 9600 mostly still provides the same great experience of the 9500, but it feels a bit more like bass oriented sound for sure.
This will be fairly unanimous.
The 9600 is tad more claustrophobic, but still incredibly crisp and lively. It’s hard to explain. It sometimes feels like it’s trying to be and do too many things at once, but still works somehow. There isn’t much to complain about at all, and I think that was the idea.
As alluded to in the build section, I think this in large part also has to do with the smaller grille present.
Technically and quite literally, the 9600 is simply not as open by design. There isn’t as much air around the instruments, which is something you will clearly hear and feel in relation to the breezier, cooler 9500.
To clarify, I was NOT one of the people clamoring for more bass. My impressions and synopsis of the 9500’s sound have remained consistent for over 2 years since I first bought it in 2018. I haven’t once wavered in my opinion or stance on it.
This to say that I enjoy both sounds. I’m glad Philips didn’t butcher the headphone with an overly accentuated low end, so don’t get me wrong. The bass is clearly deeper and weightier, but it doesn’t feel out of line, and doesn’t cause the mids to sound recessed, pushed back, or lost. The same excellent mid-range fidelity has returned; Vocals and instruments still stand out, sounding very lively, intimate, and engaging.
The bass just kind of sometimes sounds a tad clammy or something. Like it’s trying a bit too hard, whereas the 9500’s didn’t really give a d**n what you thought.
That headphone had a confidence and swagger being exactly what it was.
Keep in mind that for the 9600 this is a minor nitpick, and I’ve noticed the bass settle in quite a bit the longer I listen.
It hits harder, but still sounds crispy asf.
Of course, the debate rages on whether this is my brain becoming acclimated to the sound, or if burn in is a real thing. I honestly think it’s a bit of both, and I’ve talked quite a bit about this with folks over the last few months..
The notes may not have had as much impact on a 9500, but darn if they weren’t incredibly articulate and crystal clear!
As for the treble, I really appreciate the improvement that they made. It’s more subdued and less obnoxious, like your bratty teenage son who’s finally stopped smoking weed and eating Cheetos for breakfast.
The 9600 will most certainly appeal to a wider demographic of people. Cats who are more bass happy will undoubtedly love these. As a former bass head, I truly enjoy them quite a bit. If you can honestly put these on your head and tell me you don’t enjoy them at all, I’ll eat my sock and my shoe.
Soundstage and instrument separation on both is about the same. You’ll get some of those same “out of your head” moments like you previously enjoyed with the 9500, but I do feel like the 9500’s Staging is a bit better overall. Related: What is Soundstage?
Both will do excellent with Gaming and Film, but I’d probably rely on the 9600 more so for Film, and mostly use the 9500 for Gaming. The 9600 is going to fare extremely well for action movies with lots of explosions.
It’s an intense but meaty sound that matches quite well with that particular cross section of entertainment.
Background instrumentation and subtlety is still there to a large extent, and you’ll still be noticing a lot going on in songs that you may have been previously unaware of – one of the main perks of the audiophile sound for sure.
This hallmark tradition in the line hasn’t changed, much to my delight and likely yours as well.
Genre wise, the obvious is apparent. The 9600 will fare a bit better for bass happier music: Hip-Hop, R&B, EDM, and Indie Pop all sound phenomenal with these. There’s an unmistakable slam that you’re likely to become addicted to. With the 9500, there’s more air and clarity, but at the expense of a somewhat more fatiguing high end and not as much meat on the bass.
The 9600 will do well with most genres of music outside of bass heavier tracks as well: Rock, Metal, Jazz, Classical, etc.
In fact, I think I may have found my go to budget headphone for Classical in the 9600. It’s taken quite a while to find something, but the 9600’s added “meat” seems to really help tame the volatile nature of the genre. I had read something a few years ago that claimed Classical actually needs more bass, and now I know why.
The 9600 does really well with it. I don’t find myself adjusting the volume as much, and I really like the way it portrays the sound. Time will tell if this sentiment stands.
Nah, fam. The same highly efficient headphone with a low impedance is there. Both come in at 32 Ohm, but the 9600 is actually a dB more efficient at 102dB, vs. 101 for the 9500. It doesn’t really make much of a difference in practice though. Most mobile device will power either them just fine.
Still, I’d recommend an Amp/DAC for best results sound wise. I listened to both with a wide array of set ups:
Out of all the Amp/DACS I tried with the 9600, I enjoyed the FiiO K3 the most. I think it matches really well with the 9600, and sounds the most “right” to me. The 9500 will also do well with the K3, but I actually like it more with a simple E10K.
Both the E10K and K3 sound very similar, but the K3 is perhaps slightly more refined, and a bit less grainy. Still, it’s a less than marginal difference, as you wouldn’t really be able to tell unless you had both and went back and forth exhaustively (like I have in the past).
The worst pairing was most certainly the G3. While I think the G3 does very well for console gaming, I wouldn’t ever rely on it for music listening. It pretty much a perfect reflection of it’s price point, i.e. cheap.
The important thing to remember is not to get carried away. Both headphones are highly efficient and don’t need a lot of power to get cranking.
Speaking of set ups, check my store link. I’ve got some great ideas for both of these headphones, and your support of the blog and channel is much appreciated.
Is the 9600 worth the investment? Is purchasing one a “sound” decision?
I’d say so. The extra $45 or so that you’ll spend has gone into improving the build and functionality, while also fixing the treble issue and adding some weight to the low end. I’ve always said that I firmly believe a 9500’s true value lies at around $200. The 9600 garners a similar sentiment.
Sound wise, the 9500 and 9600 represent somewhat different flavors, but still bear a lot of the same general qualities. Which you go with depends on personal preference really. If you already have a 9500 like I do, the 9600 is most certainly worth a listen, but:
It’s for you to decide… It’s up to you.
As for me, I plan on keeping both of these wonderful headphones around.
It feels like Philips tried to make a product that would appeal to both audiophiles and consumers alike.
I think they did a fine job.
Are you after a more neutral headphone with more air around the instruments? Will you be doing more mixing/mastering in studio? The 9500 is the solution.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.