Sennheiser HD600 vs. Philips SHP9500 | THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Note:I will attempt to put to rest this debate that has grown more heated as the days go by. This article will address everything you could possibly want to know (hopefully) about these two headphones, and aims to be the most comprehensive and exhaustive article on the internet regarding them. I will lay out everything I have and then I’m going to be done with it.
Before we get into the Sennheiser HD600 vs. Philips SHP9500 comparison, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
If you’ll notice, the graphs are very similar. Let’s get into the two main differences between these headphones before we actually dissect them both at length.
2 Main Differences
First off I will say this: Yes, these headphones do differ in 2 ways, but they are fairly subtle.
Bass. Both have considerable bass roll off, but the 9500 has slightly more. This becomes apparent after testing many tracks, which I have extensively. The HD600’s bass is slightly less rolled off, and comes across as warmer with a bit more thump.
Forward Mid-range vs. Forward Treble. This is the main difference, and I look at it in this way: Which would you rather be annoyed by? A shouty mid-range that’s a bit too forward, or a somewhat metallic sounding treble with a bit too much bite?
That’s the only question you should ask yourself when deciding whether to purchase these two. It’s the fundamental difference, but for some reason has caused so much uproar in the “audiophile” community.
There are other considerations to make before deciding between one or the other, but we’ll get into that later.
Lately I’ve been getting comments on my YouTube channel from people that go something like this:
“There’s absolutely no way the 9500 ever competes with the HD600.”
“A $50 headphone simply cannot rival a $400 one.”
But yet, we’re given no reason as to why other than it’s more expensive.
The only argument that I’ve gotten is detail, which actually turns out to be the reason that the 9500 can compete!
I’ve tested countless tracks at this point, and the difference is clear. There is no difference.
Both reveal exactly the same amount of detail.
Rtings graphs illustrate my point about these two phenomenally well. Not only that, but both graphs describe exactly what I hear.
One headphone is a bit too emphasized at 2-6k (The 9500), and one headphone is a bit too emphasized at 1-4k (The HD600).
What is so hard for people to understand about this?
Neither headphone is perfect, and both annoy me in different ways. For instance..
When I’m listening to the HD600, I have to turn the volume down because sometimes it feels like the vocalists, instruments, or both are shouting at me.
When I’m listening to the 9500, I have to turn the volume down because sometimes it feels like the instruments have too much sizzle and bite to them.
But GUESS WHAT?
God invented this thing called EQ. With it, you can magically tame down the areas that are annoying! Wow, what a concept.
The top image is what I prefer for the 9500 out of iTunes and it works fantastic for taming the treble down a bit and adding some mid-bass. Sounds amazing actually.
As for the HD600, I added a bit of mid-bass and also tamed down the 3k area as well, which results in less shout.
It’s important to keep in mind that neither of these is required, but will help should you have issues. Both headphones sound fine without EQ, but at times you’ll notice both of their respective shortcomings.
For all intents and purposes, the mid-range is mostly the same on both.
What does this mean?
It means that the 9500 is just as revealing as the HD600. No magic fairy dust. No detail that you’re missing in the 9500. No hidden keys. No strategy guide for unlocking more detail.
It’s all there. Yes, a $50 headphone provides just as much as a $400 one in this case. I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we’re going to put on our big boy pants and take the red pill today.
Wow, I went off on a tangent already.
Some people have made the claim that I said the 9500 was better. I did say that a few times, and with certain tracks I think so. But there’s actually a reason.
Because the 9500’s bass rolls off more, it gives the headphone more room to reveal more detail, at least that was my perception when listening.
This added detail might be somewhat fabricated or artificial, but I did notice in many instances the separation of instruments and vocals seemed more transparent on the 9500, meaning you could decipher things a little bit better.
So in that sense, there are times when I enjoy the 9500 more because it seems less veiled than the HD600. If there were ever a time when the veil moniker fits, this would be it. The HD600 can sound a bit dull with certain recordings.
Let’s get into some of the tracks where I noticed this “crazy” phenomenon of matching detail and clarity, and why I chose them.
Keep this bookmarked as I will be adding more tracks as I demo them!
Amp/DAC used: Audeze Deckard.
Sources: CD quality.
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
This album in general is very well recorded, and I chose 3 songs in particular.
Lost Ones. It has a clean, thumping bass line, and lots of articulation. Detail retrieval was the same. Background artifacts and sounds came through marvelously well on both.
Final Hour. Bass was more satisfying on the HD600. Better thump. Vocals were pushed back on both. This is likely the recording, and one of the only low points as far as mixing/mastering quality.
Doo Wop (That Thing). HD600’s bass hits hard when it has to. Admirable. Bass articulation just about identical on both. For this particular track, the HD600 resembled a bit more of a bass head flavor.
9500 = Leaner. Less fatty.
600 = Fuller, a tad more fat and thump.
Neither quality was negative, just a bit different. Think of it like you’re lifting weights for bulk vs. lifting and shedding body fat. Same principle.
Wilco – A Ghost is Born
At least that’s what you said. The only track I tested off this album. I was looking for discrepancies in the bass line because I’ve heard it so many times. Both headphones rendered it roughly the same. The 9500 was a bit brighter as far as the overall picture.
Interpol – Turn on the bright lights
Obstacle 1. A bit too bright in some areas on both headphones.
PDA. Another bright affair.
In general, this album was not recorded very well and not that enjoyable to listen to so I moved on. There are too many layered guitars and it just ends up being a huge mish mosh. A true testament to the importance of source files.
Phish – Junta
You Enjoy Myself. A track that I’ve heard countless times. Sounded incredible on the 9500. This is the power of a good recording coupled with a good amp (Audeze Deckard). Micro details everywhere. The HD600 had the same amount of detail but was slightly more veiled. What is the Sennheiser Veil? There seemed to be a thin layer of blanket over the sound, but it was subtle.
Amp/DAC used: NAIM DAC V1 & Audeze Deckard.
Pink Floyd – Wish you were here
Shine on you crazy diamond. Richard Wright’s keyboard felt extremely alive and articulate on the HD600 and the 9500. There was little to no difference other than the 9500 is a little brighter, which is a common theme here as a whole. That said, the HD600 again is a bit shouty at times. I also noticed that separation of instruments is a bit better on the 9500, but overall yes, the 9500 is brighter.
Have a Cigar. Extra bass notes came through on the HD600 that I never noticed before. A bit shouty at times (instrumentation). 9500 reveals same level of detail.
The Roots – Things Fall Apart
The Next Movement. This is another great recording with a lot going on, but not so much as to ruin your ability to discern. The 9500’s treble here is clearly more metallic, and the HD600’s mid-range is clearly a bit too forward. Another running theme in this article. Same exact details, voices, and micro details present in both headphones.
Amp used: Schiit Magni 2.
Sources: Vinyl, CD’s through iTunes.
Cabu feat. Akacia
Purchased off of iTunes
Cabu – Good (Single) feat. Akacia. A great indie pop/EDM type of track with some nice bass thump. The 9500’s bass response is definitely leaner overall, while the 600’s plays the part of the bass head type. Neither bass gets in the way of the mid-range or the enjoyment of the song in general.
Chon – Homey
Feel this way. Without my magic EQ, the snaps and snares on this track are a bit too in your face on the HD600. With it, the song is mellowed out just enough but still really slams in a crisp and controlled manner. Mellow out man!
Waterslide. This track is a prime example of why I sometimes like the 9500 more than the 600. It’s a crunchy track, but the 9500 brings out that crunch much more effectively, and the result is a livelier sound with more energy. That’s not to say the 600’s renders it badly, but it’s ho hum in comparison. Both benefit from my EQ settings here as well.
Fleetwood Mac – Mirage
Love in store. Let’s start from the top, shall we? The pulsating bass line is absolutely fantastic on this track, and the detail is magnificent.
More track analysis coming soon!
The build of both of these is very good, albeit in different ways.
The 9500 almost feels like air on your head, even though it’s build is significantly better than a headphone like the AKG K240.
As cheap as it is price wise, Philips put a lot of care into the construction itself. It feels extremely solid, and boasts metal headbands and rugged plastic. The ear cups rotate a bit inwards and outwards, and handling them feels solid to the touch.
The ear-cups also have large block letters indicating Right and Left on the outside, as well as two numbered adjustments on either side with a window to boot.
The padding is a fabric, and though the clamp force isn’t tight, they are comfortable for long periods of time without the need to adjust.
No, not TV show. 😛
The chord on here is detachable, and represents the perfect length for me. Not too long and not too short.
It terminates in a 3.5mm jack and mine DID NOT come with a 1/4″ adapter. I highly recommend getting a snap on, as most screw on adapters will not work. I believe my version was the “S” version. The regular version comes with an adapter if I remember correctly.
The HD600’s build is also very good, but surprisingly it feels lighter than a 9500.
They’re made of mostly plastic, and the headband itself has been known to crack under extreme stress.
This is because the clamp force itself is very tight at first, and users tend to want to stretch them out for a few days prior to an extended listening session.
Fortunately, mine have not cracked despite being dropped on the head band a few times! If you can believe it, they simply bounced like a bouncy ball and survived the fall unscathed.
The headband adjustment on these is fairly solid, but the material itself doesn’t seem to be the most rugged I’ve ever felt. That said, this headphone is deceptively solid; it’s not going to break down unless you put it through extreme conditions and will be fine in an isolated studio environment.
I’ve even traveled with mine (when recording the YouTube video), but I don’t recommend it as they do not come with a case.
The fit as discussed before is fairly tight at first, but does open up over time even without the need to stretch them. I never stretched mine, because I actually liked the fit at first. They fit very snug on your melon, and in fact it’s probably the most secure fit out of any headphone I’ve personally tried.
The ear-cups are oval shaped, and contour your ear nicely. The pads are velour vs. the fabric of the 9500, and do feel more snuggle bunny overall. We’ll get into that more later.
The wire on this joint is one of the most annoying that I’ve ever come in contact with.
It’s long, cumbersome, flimsy, and tends to get in the way more often than not.
It is detachable like the 9500’s, but comes out of both cups while the 9500’s only comes out of one. It also comes with a snap on adapter.
Fortunately, for as many times as I’ve run over the chord with my chair, it’s still in tact.
It’s just that it resembles something out of the 90’s (which it is), but I think it could be improved upon.
Ear cups: HD600
Overall Comfort: HD600
Comfort on both is good, but again, in different ways.
The 9500 is much looser of a fit, but is still very comfortable over long periods of time due to the lack of clamp force.
It does feel awkward at times, but you get used to it. The only time I’ve had to adjust the 9500 is when it slides forward, which it will do from time to time. Getting a secure fit is rather simple though, and you shouldn’t have much trouble with it.
The 600’s are much tighter, and fit securely on your dome piece without issue.
They are also more snug and the velour feels more accompanying on your melon.
That said, I rarely adjust these when they’re on my head, as the comfort level is nothing short of exemplary. I would describe them as being very unassuming when they’re on. You kind of don’t really tend to notice them.
I say this because both provide great comfort but both are vastly different in how they administer it.
Here is where things get interesting.
The bass here is a bit more rolled off than the 600, which tends to render them a bit more detailed in some regards.
However, this may be somewhat of an illusion, but as I said before: I noticed a bit better separation in certain songs with the 9500.
My EQ settings in iTunes does bring out the bass a bit more, and in some regards I do prefer the more lean response.
The HD600’s bass in comparison resembles more of a bass head sound, but that’s only with the 9500 as a buffer. You’ll notice more thump, and less of a needle like precision.
I would say the 9500’s bass is more textured and lean, while the HD600’s is warmer with a bit of extra fat.
Winner: HD600 by a slight edge.
This is where the bulk of the debate lies. The people that argue with me on this say that the 600’s provide more detail and clarity, but it’s simply not the case.
The mid-range on both is almost identical before you get to the area where it becomes somewhat obnoxious on the HD600.
The level of clarity here is exactly the same, and I would argue it’s sometimes better on the 9500 due to the more rolled off bass response.
I think most of the people who claim the 600’s are better simply want to justify the amount they spent on the headphones + amp, which is understandable.
I did the same thing at first. I was in denial for awhile before finally realizing that a cheaper headphone was just as capable of providing as much clarity as my beloved HD600.
Winner: 9500 by a slight margin.
The HD600’s mid-range tends to become somewhat obnoxious at times, as if the instruments or vocalists are shouting at me.
This is going to be tough, because there are times when I prefer a brighter treble and times when I do not.
Yes, the 9500’s treble is bright, and yes, it can come across as metallic sounding at times. The graphs do confirm it and they match what I hear around 2-6k. It just ends up being too much at times, but for the most part I would say it sounds fine and people over-exaggerate it a bit too much (especially for the price).
To me, it’s only veiled when I listen to a bright headphone like the 9500, and I do like the treble here a great deal.
These are never going to sound metallic or overly bright, which is a breath of fresh air considering most cheaper headphones tend to hype up the 8-10k area with reckless abandon.
So in a treble sense, the 600’s are extremely non fatiguing and probably work better for longer listening sessions at lower volumes.
The imaging here is very good. In fact, despite a lot of claims that these won’t work for Gaming, I found the opposite to be true. The Best Headphones for Gaming.
A lot of people say that they don’t have a good Soundstage, but I also disagree. I think it’s very wide and spacious, giving off the illusion of width and depth.
For instance, when I was playing Fallout 4, there was a knocking sound in game that I perceived was coming from behind me. I got up and went to the door thinking someone was knocking on my door!
So they’re capable of being out of your head, and do pretty well in this regard with music.
The 600’s by contrast have a more narrow image, but still achieve fantastic instrument separation. It’s just that the Soundstage itself is not all that impressive with regard to space and depth. What is Soundstage?
It’s more of a 2-d image rather than the 3-d image that the 9500 possesses.
The 9500 does not need an amp. Being 32 Ohm with 102 dB of Sensitivity, they’ll sound fine out of most mobile devices. However, for the sake of comparison, I did use a variety of amplifiers given that the HD600 does require one to reach acceptable listening levels.
The 9500 does well with most genres, although if you prefer more bass slam, they may not cut it for heavy stuff like EDM or R&B.
That said, I’ve come to really appreciate the texture and nuance that the bass provides, but do prefer the EQ’d sound in iTunes with some added mid-bass.
You’ll notice the roll off in the sub bass regions, but I would say these provide a bit more than a K240. AKG K240 Review!
The 600’s do well with all genres too, but they excel a bit better with bass heavier stuff.
Winner: HD600 by a slight margin.
Alright, the moment of truth. Let’s tally this thing up.
Bass: HD600 by a slight margin.
Genre Pairing: HD600 by a slight margin.
As you can see, this is way closer than people want to admit.
HD600: 3 Wins
9500: 3 Wins
The importance of your source files
I noticed that with both of these, source files are extremely important and neither headphone is very forgiving. If the song sounds like poo, it’s likely that the headphone is exposing the mix/master and you’re better off just skipping it.
Once you do find quality recordings, you’ll know because both headphones will render tracks with an almost flawless sense of precision and accuracy.
It’s really something to behold.
That said, with the HD600, stick to FLAC, WAV, and high quality CD files. 320 kbps and up will be most beneficial with these headphones. I’ve found that most Spotify tracks are pretty good, but there are some that are downright awful so beware.
With the 9500, the same applies, but I would say these are a bit more forgiving. You’re able to listen to a wider variety of tracks without issue.
The Law of Diminishing Returns
Another thing to keep in mind is The Law of Diminishing Returns.
What this basically means that spending more nets you a smaller and smaller incremental increase in sound quality.
For instance, I really like the Grado GS1000e, but do I think the increase in sound quality is worth 10x as much as the Grado SR80e? No, not at all. The sound is better, but it’s not 10x better.
For clarity’s sake, the 80e sits at around $100, and the 1000e hovers around the $1000 mark.
What does this have to do with the HD600 vs. the 9500?
The HD600 represents that threshold. Sure, there are headphones that outperform it, but it will get you around 90-95% of the audiophile sound.
In fact, you could buy it and never have to upgrade again, but we all know that won’t happen 😛
The 9500 challenges that notion however, by being considerably cheaper, with the same amount of detail and clarity, without needing an amp.
The Decision Process
If you’re on a budget, and want to know what an audiophile headphone is supposed to sound like, the 9500 is the best you’ll get.
You may not even ever need to purchase an HD600, and that’s okay.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great headphone, but I think the 9500 can competes and holds it’s own without question..
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.