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5,453 word post, approx. 8 min read.
First check out this quick comparison before we get started!
The HD650 offers a warmer and more relaxed overall sound. It tends to smooth over the rough edges in music, like sandpaper to wood. It’s better suited for casual listening where your goal is to sit back, relax, and not analyze the music too much. I also found the Soundstage on the 650 to be a bit better for Gaming and movies as it’s more immersive and tends to separate details and sounds better.
The HD600 by contrast is a little cleaner sounding, and definitely less warm than the 650. This is a mixing and mastering headphone above all else, as it will reveal flaws in the recording quite easily. I would also say that the mid-range sounds a bit more forward, due to the increased roll off in the bass, or simply a bump around 1-3k. In all honesty, I don’t hear this amount of “forwardness” with the 650, and at times the mids of the 600 can simply be too much from a pure musical enjoyment standpoint.
If you’re interested in my in depth look before you pull the trigger, I totally understand. I’m that way too, so read on!!
Prepare yourself, as this article will attempt to cover any and all questions you may have regarding the Sennheiser HD600 vs. 650, two former flagship models that really set a standard for audiophile headphones back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
The HD 600 debuted in 1997 and the 650 followed in 2003. They have both been around a long time, and have a great track record as some of the most respected, and best all around open back cans in existence to this day!
Before we get started with all the fun, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because..
The build each of these is roughly the same. They are very similar in weight as well. The internet has them both at 9.2 Oz., but I weighed them on my scale and the 650 is a bit lighter at 259g vs. 262 for the HD600.
As you can see from above, with the cable the HD650 is significantly bulkier because it needs a 1/4″ to 3.5mm adapter. The HD 600 terminates in a standard 3.5mm jack and comes with a great snap on adapter. Most of them are of the screw on variety, but the 600’s is unique because of the black base. I no longer have to worry about trying to find it. It sticks out like a sore thumb!
The padding on each headband is also a bit different. The 650 has one uniform pad with a sort of crater in the middle, while the 600’s utilize 4 individual pads. Both are made of the same material and feel great to the touch.
Visually, the HD 600 has that speckled blue/marbled finish that you’re either going to love or hate. Personally I love it. A friend of mine Cory from YouTube actually loved the color so much he did a custom controller mod with it!
In contrast, the HD 650 utilizes a Grey and Black Metal Flake finish, and personally to me, it doesn’t have as much character as the 600’s.
Termination & Wiring
Another notable difference between these two headphones is their termination and cable.
The HD 600’s cable is very thin and very retro. I tend to run over it a lot with my chair, but it’s held up remarkably well. Still, it’s kind of a bear to get the wire out of the ear cup. Each piece is incredibly small and it’s hard to get your fingers around it.
On the 650, I have no such issues. This time around Sennheiser made the cable larger overall, and thicker at the base. I can easily pull the cables out of each ear cup and they also feel a bit sturdier. On the 600, there is a red cable to indicate that it should go into the right cup vs. all black for the 650. Both also have small “R” and “L” indicators on each piece. On this picture you cannot see that for the 600 because they are turned over.
Aside from all that, these headphones are the same throughout.
They have the same grilles, the same velour ear padding, and are made of roughly the same materials. The headband adjustment going from the ear cup to the headband is also that same sliver of metal, and while it doesn’t look very durable, it actually is!
Both headphones’ ear cups move slightly in, but don’t rotate otherwise. Lastly, both also have the rectangle on the side with “HD600” and “HD650” written. This adds an official touch and looks very nice as well.
I would wager that both of these feel almost the exact same on your head. They are both extremely comfortable but do need to be stretched out a bit at first. To do this, you can either:
Just wear them as normal and wait for them to loosen up a bit.
Stretch them out over some books, a pillow, or something similar.
Just be very careful with them. The HD 600’s headband has been known to snap under pressure, sort of like Henry Hill in Goodfellas. 😛
Even though the headband padding on both is slightly different, I didn’t find much of a difference at all with regard to comfort level. Fortunately, the padding is fantastic on both and never digs into your head over long listening sessions.
After both open up, clamp pressure is snug like a bug in a rug, and you’ll pretty much forget you’re wearing them.
Not much more to say here. In addition to the HD 598, both of these are some of the most comfy I’ve ever worn.
The HD 600 has a fairly balanced sound signature aside from that bump around 3k, which I’ve talked about ad nausea. Keep in mind that this headphone will sound fantastic for the most part. There’s loads of detail, great instrument separation, smooth bass with some nice impact, and a darker sounding but still detailed treble.
The only real issue I’ve had with it since 2016 is that mid-range. It’s just too forward at times, and you will notice it at some point (especially the more time you spend with it).
By contrast, the 650’s mid-range tones that area down a bit, and it’s much more enjoyable overall. The other main difference is that the treble will be a bit darker than the 600, and dare I say “more veiled.” In some ways I think The Sennheiser Veil is kind of a myth, but it sort of does apply with the 650. There are times when it’s so relaxing that it may actually lull you to sleep! Definitely not a bad thing in my opinion, but something to keep in mind.
In a world where most headphones overemphasize the treble, the 650 is a welcome deviation from the norm.
The other main difference here is a bit more subtle, but still noticeable. It’s the mid-bass. From a graph you can clearly see a bit more of a rise in the HD 650, somewhere around 100-200 Hz.
I did a measurement of both and averaged them. Below you can see the differences in graph form!
Notice that rise around 3k for the HD 600? It will be a little off putting at times and it’s probably the main reason why I prefer an HD 650 nowadays. Still, if you’re going to be doing more reference work, I’d recommend the HD 600 since it’s snappier and will do a better job of revealing flaws in your mix.
The best way to describe the difference in sound is akin to something like wood and sandpaper. With the HD600, you’re getting a raw piece of wood. The HD 650’s sound is like the effect of that same piece of wood after it’s been sanded down. It kind of smooths over the rough edges in music, and therefore becomes more accessible for the average listener who just wants to know what the whole audiophile experience is like.
In fact, I firmly believe that the 650 is thequintessential audiophile headphone. Once you listen, you’ll kind of have a better understanding of why people get sucked down the rabbit hole and end up mortgaging away their life savings for better sound. 😛
I find the bass roll off with each of these two headphones to be a lot more tolerable than both an AKG K240 and a Sennheiser HD 598. With those, it’s almost too lean, and won’t provide enough impact for more bass heavier genres that I like to listen to: namely Indie Pop, Hip-Hop and the like.
As far as Imaging is concerned, I was surprised to find that the 650 excels a bit more here, especially for Gaming and Movies. I found myself more immersed in the environment and hearing sounds a lot farther away. The image is wider, with more depth and better spacing. The Best Headphones for Gaming!
The HD 600 does have a tendency to sound kind of closed in and narrow, but instrument separation is still phenomenal. Just don’t buy this headphone expecting it to work well with Gaming. It just won’t be as good as a 650.
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Let’s take a look at some pictures!
Click to see them in action!
Let’s talk about amplification! Will you need any?
At 300 Ohms, these will also need an adequate amplifier to reach their full potential. They simply resist more power than your average headphone, and also require more from an amp to reach acceptable listening levels. What is Headphone Impedance?
Interestingly enough, the HD650 at 103dB Sensitivity will not require quite as much, and you’ll have an easier time driving it. I find that I’m not having to dial up the volume as much with an HD650, whereas with an HD600 I feel like I’m constantly adjusting and re-adjusting the volume based on the source, as well as their “on the cusp of being low” Sensitivity. The 600’s are simply not as receptive to a steady volume level, which I find rather irritating at times. What is Sensitivity in Headphones?
They take a bit of burn in time to really get acclimated, so prepare to really be thoroughly impressed after around the 50 hour mark. Things start to open up considerably and everything kind of settles in. The sound becomes focused and tightly in place, which results in a very clean overall signature. Related:Do headphones need to be burned in?
I find that both of these headphones handle a wide variety of genres pretty well. There aren’t really any standouts until you get to Rock. I would say both probably do best for this type of music, as there’s the perfect amount of bass, good presence in the mid-range, and the treble isn’t over the top. You’ll be able to kick back and listen for a long time with the HD 650, but be prepared to take semi frequent breaks with a 600.
That said, I wouldn’t rely on either of these headphones for really crunchy guitars, or genres like Hard Rock and Metal. While it will still sound good, it’s going to lack the raw power and excitement that something like an HD25 provides in spades.
I’d say these will do well with anything from Jazz, Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock, Indie/Pop, Acoustic, Folk, Bluegrass, and really anything in between.
What are these good for?
Production. Critical listeners and producers looking for an honest mix down. The HD650’s signature isn’t as conducive to mixing, but they will still work. Just know that even though there are differences between the two headphones, they are fairly subtle. More on that in a bit!
Jazz and Classical. The HD650 in particular is sublime with certain Jazz recordings. Make sure you’re primarily listening to the highest quality sources possible, but also know that the 650 tends to smooth out the rough edges in music. It’s a headphone that’s a bit more immediately enjoyable, as opposed to the more sterile sounding HD600.
Hip-Hop/Indie Pop. There are some folks who wouldn’t outright recommend either of these for Hip-Hop, but I’m not one of those people. I think they do exceptional for both, as well as Indie Pop. Why? Because instead of feeling the bass, you’re able to now hear it. Because of this, the music immediately has more detail and sounds much better than a pure bass head can. You’ll start to hear things that you never dreamed were there. For instance, I much prefer Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” with a 600/650 than I do with a more V-shaped can. It just sounds so much better and more refined.
Rock. Perhaps their bread and butter, both of these headphones do phenomenal for Rock as there is a perfect amount of bass and the mid-range is really allowed to shine. The somewhat darker treble never gets out of line either, but still retains a great sense of clarity and detail.
They sound good with just about every type of music though, and have been called a genre master.
What are they not good for?
Not for every recording. They are really honest and will reveal flaws in your everyday recordings. This reviewer mentioned that he was tempted to throw away all of his old badly mastered stuff. Make sure your source is of good quality! The 650 is a bit more forgiving in this case, so it will match better with the more casual listener. I do find myself skipping over some tracks with the HD600 as the mix/master just sounds awful. This is the exception and not the rule, but still something to keep in mind.
Office and portable use, etc. They will bleed sound and aren’t really made for on the go situations or where there’s the potential for disturbing others.
Both headphones have 300 ohm Impedance, and do well with similar amplifiers.
Both headphones have a Circumaural fit (around the ears).
Both headphones have that nice velour padding, and are very comfortable.
Both have an open, airy sound, and provide great Soundstage as well as instrument separation. Be aware that the Soundstage on the HD600, while good, isn’t particularly wide like an AKG model. You’re getting more of a pinpoint accurate sound. With the 650 it’s a bit wider. More on that below. What is Soundstage?
Both have detachable cables.
Both weigh roughly the same.
Both have the same grilles and headband adjustment.
Both ear cups move in the same way.
Color. The HD600 has a blue speckled finish, while the 650 sports a grey and black metal flake finish.
Sound. The sound of each is very similar, but you will notice that the 650’s are a little warmer & more colored. Their target audience is people who prefer a more enjoyable listening experience rather than the critical one that the 600’s provide. The 600’s are a bit livelier and crisper by contrast. This difference is rather subtle and took me going back and forth a few times before it became apparent.
Bass. The bass is the main difference. With the 650, you’re getting that warmer, lusher, and slightly more in your face bass. It’s a bit more syrupy like Sunday Mornings with Aunt Jemima. It hits a tad harder, but is still in no way out of line. The main thing to understand is that because of the warmer sound of the bass, it renders the 650 slightly less clinical/sterile as opposed to the 600. The 600’s are crisper, with a tad more clarity, while the 650 comes off as a bit more exciting. I suppose the 650 may suit the casual listener a little more.
Soundstage. This is rather subtle as well, but I noticed that the 650’s Soundstage is a bit wider than the 600’s, and may explain why part of me enjoys the 650 more than the 600, even though I prefer the more clinical sound of the 600.
Detail & Transparency. The problem with the HD600 revealing more detail than the 650 is that it can make certain recordings sound downright awful because it’s so honest and transparent. That said, with stellar recordings there is really no contest. I’ve heard things with the 600’s that really have no business being heard. Even so, they have a tendency to become a bit metallic and somewhat harsh at times in the way that they portray instruments and voices. On the other hand, the 650 kind of smooths out a lot of imperfections in music and sounds more pleasant with a wider variety of tracks. This renders them better for pure musical listening enjoyment. The casual audiophile is likely to be more drawn to this type of sound, and cares little about accuracy even though the 650 is an accurate headphone in it’s own right.
Hip-Hop. The 650’s do a little better with this genre because of that slight bit of extra bass emphasis.
Construction. The 650 improves on the durability and overall build. The 600 is solid, but a bit less so.
Headband padding. The padding on both headbands is made of the same material, but shaped differently. The 600 has 4 small pads while the 650 has 2 uniform pads. I didn’t notice a difference in comfort with either. Both are very comfortable.
Wires. Let’s face it: the HD600’s chord looks and feels like 1997. It’s cheap, and belongs on a $20 set of headphones. That said, I haven’t had issues with it. It’s long and cumbersome, so you may want to grab a twist tie. I’ve run over mine countless times with my computer chair but it’s still doing fine. Maybe it’s not so cheap after all? To the contrary, the 650’s chord is much improved, thicker, and detaches from the ear cup with greater ease. I found myself tugging rather hard to get the chord out of the 600’s cups. Both have the same termination, but the pieces that insert are smaller on the 600, and therefore are harder to pull out with your fingers.
Both of these headphones are going to need a good amp to deliver optimal sound quality and volume. The good news is that they aren’t incredibly picky about what you go with. That said, some combos are going to sound better than others. In particular, a tube amp makes both the 600 and 650 really shine. The downside is that tube amps are a bit less reliable than a solid state. Learn more: Tube amp vs. Solid State.
Before we get into it..
The great news about both of these headphones is that they aren’t that picky about what Amp you decide to purchase.
I’ve found quite a few entry level options to work extremely well. I wouldn’t become too concerned about trying to find the perfect pairing, although a tube amp like the Bottlehead Crack is likely the best overall as far as synergy and warmth is concerned.
To start out, I would recommend a solid desktop solution or an Amp/DAC combo. You’re going to really enjoy the sound regardless.
For under $100, the E10K is the Amp/DAC to get if you are a bit strapped for cash but want an incredible sound. I’ve been using the E10K with my HD600’s as well as the 650’s, and the response is phenomenal. It’s crisp, neutral, and immensely detailed with a hint of warmth. It’s got an output impedance of less than 1.04, which means that it will power most headphones without a problem. I wouldn’t try to drive anything over 300 Ohms however. Do be aware that it’s total power output at 32 Ohms is 2oomW, whereas something like an Objective 2 outputs 613mW into 33 Ohms. It doesn’t have the raw power of other amps, but is still a lot more capable than people give it credit for. It’s got a bass boost, gain switch, coaxial out, line out, and USB input. I’ve found the gain really helps with something like and HD600/650, and there’s still some headroom left as well! What more do you need?
The Audioengine D1 is a small Amp with extra large capabilities. In my opinion this (along with the Dragonfly Red) is the next logical step up from something like an E10K as far as portability and sound goes. This combo has RCA/Analog outs, as well as Toslink/Optical out and USB input. So you can rig it up to a gaming console like your PS4, use it to power some studio monitors, and use it as a headphone amp. It’s more than capable as well with regard to sound. With Fallout 4, the gaming environment was 100x more immersive, detailed, and rich, with life like sounds forming in all directions. This would make a perfect FPS rig as well. Not only that, but music sounds equally as lush and inviting. If you’re searching for a versatile Amp/DAC that can handle everything, look no further.
The Dragonfly Red is the #1 portable option without question in my mind, and perhaps the most convenient piece of gear ever assembled. It looks like a flash drive but can power my HD600’s. How is that even possible? The good folks over at Audioquest really accomplished something great with this piece. Like the E10K, I wouldn’t try to power anything over 300 Ohm with it, but it’s incredibly powerful especially given how tiny it is.
What’s more, you can take it anywhere with you, as it needs absolutely nothing but a USB slot. This is one of my main gripes with most Amp/DACs, even though it’s not really the fault of the manufacturer. I crave convenience, and the Dragonfly Red is king in this regard. There’s absolutely no hassle involved. Just plug it in and be taken away to audio bliss.
Even paired with your phone it only needs a dongle, which isn’t a big deal at all as they are very affordable.
A fantastic portable amp that really makes music come alive. Out of everything I’ve tried, the HA2 had the best build and the 2nd best overall sound. It used to be my benchmark for Amp/DACs until I heard the Chord Mojo. The HA2 functions as a desktop or portable amp, with a gain switch and bass boost like the E10K. It’s got USB, micro USB, and line out, as well as a gain switch for more power hungry headphones and a bass boost for you bass heads. 😛 What makes the sound better than the other options is that the sound is so crystal clear it may give you goosebumps. The detail, clarity, and Timbre of the music just comes through in such a powerfully honest and raw way, without sounding too sterile. This combo gets my highest endorsement.
I always thought there were little differences between budget amps and more expensive ones, until I plugged the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow into the Mojo and got completely blindsided. Yes, we’re discussing the 650, but bear with me. I think the Aeon closed would make a great closed back compliment to the open 650.
Simply put, there’s no Amp/DAC combo you need more than this one. If you’re looking to drop some serious money on a set up and be done with it for A LONG TIME, then stop what you’re doing and just purchase an HD650 with this Amp/DAC and don’t look back. Don’t ask questions. Just trust me. Lol.
The bundle to the right will allow you to pair it with your iPhone!
It’s absolutely the best I’ve heard, with music taking on an almost lifelike quality and hyper sense of realism. The vocals are so intimate that it’s like the artist is speaking directly to you. The attack, sustain, and decay with instruments is absolutely mind blowing, to the point of discomfort.
You know how sometimes when you’re listening to music it’s sort of like being on auto-pilot? Maybe you’re preoccupied with something and are kind of halfway listening. With the Mojo I was frozen dead in my tracks as soon as the first vocal passage came on. This thing demands your attention in a powerful way.
Instrument Timbre, dynamics, resolution, clarity, detail, warmth. They all come together in such a way that leaves you almost speechless. You know you’ve met your match when the music makes you want to do cartwheels. 😛
Designed and built by NwAvGuy (Northwest Audio Video Guy), this amp has an output impedance 0.54 ohms. I believe it to be a superior amp to the Magni 2, paired it with the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100, or even paired with Schiit’s Modi DAC. The Objective 2 amp provides a cleaner and more resolving sound than the Magni. More details are present, and the sound takes on a more revealing, life like quality with better resolution, vividness, impact, Timbre, and Soundstage.
What I recommend?
Buy the JDS Labs Objective 2 + these cables + a DAC Magic 100. Boom. Plug in the power brick from the amp to the outlet. Plug in the 3.5mm jack to the front of the 02. Plug the other ends into the DAC Magic (RCA). Plug the DAC Magic into your computer using USB. Plug your headphones in. Take a swim. Lol.
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A couple of others
Schiit Asgard. A step up from the Magni.
Lake People G109. Another clean and transparent offering, this time from the good folks over at Vioelectric. The G109 has very good bass depth and detail, and hits hard. This amp also does well with many different headphones so if you decide to upgrade or add to your collection, it bodes very well.
A perfect entry level tube amp to get your feet wet. Does a great job of providing plenty of warmth and detail, while also separating sounds and providing a good 3D landscape. What is Soundstage?
Includes 2x input ports including line in and RCA. It’s also got 3x output ports including 3.5mm jack, 1/4″ jack, and RCA jacks. So it’s flexible in that if your headphone terminates in a 1/4″ jack you won’t need an adapter.
This is probably the overall top pick for both the HD600 and 650 because of the fact that it’s both warm and detailed at the same time. Be advised that it is a DIY project, but by all accounts that I have read it’s fairly straightforward and fun! You can also request them to build it at an extra price, but I would recommend getting your hands dirty.
This is likely the second best tube amp to pair with the 650, and it doesn’t disappoint. You will want to immediately upgrade the tubes however, as the majority of folks weren’t digging the stock homies that come with the amp. The Amp seems to add color and warms up the sound of the 650, while also bringing the mid-range forward a bit. This renders songs in a way that’s very resolving but also musical, with a Soundstage to die for!
This little beast pairs extremely well with a Topping D3 DAC, and has RCA outputs on the back for some added flexibility. You can use it as a preamp to power some studio monitors or you can hook it up to your Turntable for some fresh Vinyl snacks! Like the Darkvoice, this Little Dot also benefits from some tube rolling but the stock tubes sound fine too if you don’t want to upgrade right away. This amp is not to be taken lightly, as it’s one of the best overall pairings with the HD650. It has a rock solid build and lots of power as well. If you’re coming from a cheaper solid state amp, get ready to have your mind blown!
These aren’t always available all of the time, but you can always request a drop.
La Figaro 339. A great upgrade from the Darkvoice 337.
Massdrop x Alex Cavalli Tube Hybrid Amp.
All of these options, across the board, are considered the go to in regards to quality and convenience. There’s a little something for everyone on the list, but I didn’t just choose these haphazardly. They all specifically pair well with both the HD600 and 650, so you won’t be disappointed regardless of your budget or preferences. 🙂
The HD 600 and 650 are two very similar sets of headphones. If you are planning to do more mixing in studio, and need a revolutionary reference can that has the ability to reveal even the smallest of nuances, look no further than the HD 600. They just may be the finest example of an open back model that has ever been made. Don’t believe me? Out of 58 headphones reviewed, only 4 from this man’s collection received an A+ price to performance ratio.
Out of the roughly 80 headphones I’ve demoed (as of this article), the HD600 and 650 are both in the Top 3-5 easily.
If you prefer a more colored sound, and want to enjoy the experience rather than be too critical of it, the 650’s may suit your tastes better. They are less analytical overall, and have been called the more “fun” sounding headphone out of the two.
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.