Home The Audiophile Rabbit Hole Series Philips SHP9500 Review – Will It Change YOUR Life?

Philips SHP9500 Review – Will It Change YOUR Life?

I've owned the SHP9500 since 2017. What exactly makes it so hard to let go?

by Stuart Charles Black
Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

Originally published 5/20/21.

Updates:

  • 5/4/22. Article overhaul.

Part of The Audiophile Rabbit Hole Series!

This series takes a look back on my experiences with headphones dating back to 2010. Enjoy!

 

This is also part of my “Budget Kings” Series, which takes a look at some of the best options for under $100. Check out:

Why did I place this second?

The 9500 was tops on the list for 3 years until I tried the 30i, which I believe is a perfect headphone across the board. The 9500 is close to perfection but has one issue which now prevents it from holding the crown.

It’s still high on the list because its overall detail, clarity, imaging, comfort, build, and more are all exemplary, and way better than they have any business being for something so dirt cheap.

In other words, the price to performance ratio is unbelievable.

It’s just about the closest you’ll get to a true audiophile headphone, without the audiophile price tag.

With that, let’s see what you can expect in this review.

By the end, you will learn exactly why I still recommend this headphone, and what makes it so special. You’ll also be well-equipped to decide if it’s ultimately right for YOU.


Table Of Contents

In The Box/Specs
Intro, Build & Style
Comfort
Sound
Imaging, Soundstage, & Gaming
Decay & Timbre
Mixing, Mastering, & Production
Pros, Cons, & Videos
Amp/DAC Requirements & Genre
Stu’s Notepad & Consensus
Final Word

Onto the official review…


In The Box

Philips SHP9500 Headphones

4.9ft. Straight Cable (Detachable)

1/4″ Adapter

Specs/Graph

Big shoutout to Crinacle for the graph!

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Impedance: 32 Ohm. What is Headphone Impedance?
  • Maximum power input: 200mW
  • Sensitivity: 101dB
  • Speaker Diameter: 50mm
  • Frequency Response: 12 – 35,000 Hz

Intro…

Introduction

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Time is a funny thing.

Looking back on moments and events in our lives can sometimes give us a new perspective or simply reinforce what we originally thought or felt at the time.

Since 2017, my original impression of Philips’ SHP9500 hasn’t changed one bit, even despite the naysayers, even despite new products flooding the market, even despite other reviewers flip-flopping on their position, even despite how trashing the 9500 became a fad, even despite the simple passage of time and my somewhat jaded view on audio in 2022.

If the SHP9500 were a person, it would say something like this:

“It get kind of hard to replace me, so don’t go lookin’ for nobody else. I was keepin’ my heart there on safety, but now I’m letting it go until ain’t none left. You got a lot to lose, but it’s all basic. I’ll probably ride the times to prevent a late text. I bet I’m living it up while so spacey, you love to wine and dine come be my lady.”

Replace Me – Nas ft. Big Sean, Don Toliver

Of course, that’s a rather comical analogy, but my headphones talk to me, what can I say.

I’ve you’ve ever slept with your headphones, you’ll know what I mean.

Oh, behave!

Build & Style

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

For the uninitiated, the Philips SHP9500 is an open-backed headphone that will leak quite a bit of sound.

I wouldn’t recommend taking these puppies out because they will bother everyone around you + you’ll look like a nerd and will probably get stuffed in a trash can by your local bully.

At full blast, I can literally hear the details of every song, so you should definitely chill with them in the comfort and safety of a quiet home studio environment.

Wouldn’t want to get mugged, now would we?

They are pretty big and bulky, but not very heavy. They sit on my head quite nicely, but the fit is rather odd. It’s not loose or tight, but just right I suppose.

I’m thinking that the cloth padding is what’s always thrown me off a bit as it does feel rather odd when you’re wearing them, but not necessarily in a bad way.

It’s just.. different. It’s like that chick you meet who isn’t quite your type but you fall in love with her anyway.

You’ll love the somewhat throwback, retro look of the 9500, one that employs metal for the headband and a bit of a loosey-goosey numbered click mechanism complete with a window indicating where you are.

The “loose part” was rectified in the newer 9600 iteration, but it’s not a dealbreaker here. It just kind of is what it is.

Do keep in mind though that the adjustments will not stay in place quite as well and tend to slide a bit more than I would like. In other words, they don’t quite lock into place as they do on the corrected 9600.

The cups themselves rotate in and out just enough to get a good fit on your melon, and you’ll really appreciate the robust nature of how it can move freely but still feel very solid.

In other words, the construction here is top-notch and almost shocking considering I paid $54 dollars for these when I bought them years back.

The detachable 3.5mm cable also ensures you’ll be able to use these in a plethora of ways which we’ll get into in a bit.

Rounding out the build is the somewhat strange piece of cloth for the headband which actually separates from the plastic but feels excellent on your head.

While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss comfort.

Comfort

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Ask anyone about the comfort of the 9500 and you’ll likely get some strange replies.

This is because it’s actually kind of hard to describe, but if you go to bed naked or roam your apartment with no clothes on, you’ll know exactly how these headphones may feel on your head.

It’s pretty much like you’re wearing nothing, which still feels rather jarring at times even despite the fact that I’ve owned these for many years.

If there were any headphones that fulfilled the “It feels like air” sentiment, I think the 9500 would have to be tops on the list.

In short, these quite easily make my most comfortable headphones of all time article and can be worn almost indefinitely without so much as a single adjustment.

If there’s one small caveat to this, it’s that because they are so light, they tend to slide a bit back and forth on your head. I did rather humourous demo years back of me actually throwing them on my dome piece which I’ve yet to be able to do with any other headphones.

In short, comfort is as close to perfect as it gets. Could they stand to clamp a tad harder? Absolutely, but then again maybe that would ruin how good they feel. Who knows.

In any event, I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever felt like they hurt my head or I had to take a break from wearing them. They’re that good.

But how do they sound?

Sound

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

There are many reasons why I will continue to defend the 9500 until the day I die.

Much of it has to do with the comfort and build, sure, but there’s more to it.

There’s just something special here and I feel that way every time I go back to listening after a long hiatus away.

The first thing that will jump out at you is how airy and open they sound. This is incredibly significant.

Why?

Well, because 99% of headphones under $100 sound like complete dog sh**.

Lol.

In other words, they’re claustrophobic, clammy, muddy, and generally awful. Their bass response is overly exaggerated and sounds exactly as its price would indicate.

Not so with the 9500.

Speaking of bass, let’s talk about the 9500’s low end.

Bass

If you’re used to what we just discussed, the 9500’s bass may be a bit of a shocker.

It’s lean, light, and doesn’t slam as you’ve come to expect with most entry-level products.

The difference here is that you’ll actually be able to hear every individual bass note, not just feel it (What a concept, I know).

It may take a while, but you likely will come to appreciate this more over time.

Because the bass isn’t trying too hard, it actually ends up sounding more impressive, more detailed, more textured, and more nuanced.

In short, more about how the bass is supposed to sound rather than what you’ve been conditioned to think about how it should sound.

Don’t get me wrong though – it’s not as lean as a K240 and can thump somewhat, but the thump and rumble feel exactly right and will more often than not leave you with a big ‘ole stupid smile on your face.

Sort of like this:

That’s not me listening to “Breathe In” by Frou Frou through FiiO’s K9 Pro.

Spoiler: That’s actually me listening to Breathe In by Frou Frou through FiiO’s K9 Pro.

So yes, the bass does roll off a bit below about 60Hz, but there’s no artificial unnecessary weird mid-bass bump. This ensures balance across the bass frequencies that don’t bleed into the others.

Speaking of the others, let’s talk about the mids and treble.

Mid-Range & Treble

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Another aspect of the 9500 that will likely jump out at you is its incredibly present and accounted for mid-range.

Vocals have just the right amount of presence and I never feel like the artists are shouting at me.

Likewise, instruments feel lively and have plenty of realism, meaning they jump out at you while at the same time not sounding over the top.

If you’re familiar with frequency response, our ears expect a rise around 2-3kHz, and I think the 9500 handles it exceptionally well.

Moving into the upper mids and treble, yes, I will concede that the 9500 can sound essy.

This is confirmed in listening to Nipsey Hussle’s “None Of This” which does border on sibilance and is something you will experience a bit depending on the track in question.

Now, do I believe that this particular song is mixed a bit brighter in the treble?

Absolutely.

For the most part, any perceived sibilance issues in my opinion are minor, and it’s one of the main reasons why I stress the importance of your source (the song itself) and have been for years now.

There’s simply no replacement for a well recorded, mixed, and mastered track, and in the case of the 9500, it’s no different.

For example, Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” doesn’t suffer from the same issues as Nipsey’s track did, and I firmly believe it’s the result of the source and not the headphones.

You can clearly hear the hi-hats were mixed lower and sound more subdued and integrated better into the composition.

If I had to give a grade for each:

Bass

  • Quality: A+
  • Quantity: B+/A-
  • Extension: B.

Mid-Range

  • Quality: A+
  • Quantity: A

Treble

  • Quality: A+
  • Quantity: B/B-. Yes, it can sound essy at times.

Imaging, Soundstage, and Gaming

The Best Mics For Gaming

Attaching the Mod Mic to the SHP9500.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of these headphones is their openness and propensity to deliver a spacious, wide, and deep Soundstage.

You will experience this in both listening to music and gaming. Need to attach a mic for FPS shooters? The 9500 has you covered.

Just snag a Boom Pro and Creative SoundBlasterX G6 and you’re all set. This is what I currently use on PS4.

For PS3 (older Call of Duty games) I run the Mod Mic + 9500 + K5 Pro (via optical) as unfortunately, the PS3 doesn’t support direct USB-in for the G6.

These are both great gaming setups and I love them.

Why?

Because I hear everything that’s going on like the NSA and know exactly where enemies are coming from as directional cues are exemplary with the 9500.

This will prepare you for the gunfight before it happens – something super important when you’re gaming in a peer-to-peer (read: Unreliable) connection environment.

For instance, if I hear an enemy from the left and know he’s probably coming around that corner, I can pre-fire him and ensure my bullets hit first.

Pre-fire just means you start shooting before he appears on your screen.

What’s also great about FPS gaming with this setup is the openness that the 9500 provides. Sounds are never going to become jumbled together and there is plenty of distinction between them.

In short, you will be able to tell exactly where an enemy is 99% of the time as directional cues are exemplary.

I do recommend running Ninja/Dead Silence in your classes though as I personally cannot stand hearing the sound of my own footsteps.

Fallout 4

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Back before earning the platinum trophy, I played Fallout 4 for hundreds of hours dating back to its release in 2015.

In many of those lengthy sessions, I used the 9500 exclusively because of how detailed and immersive it sounded.

There were times when I legitimately thought someone was knocking at the door – behind me and to the right of where I sit in my living room.

It turned out to be a sound coming from the game, so you can imagine how paranoid you’ll be (and you should always be) playing an FPS shooter.

I’m always on the alert with the above gaming setup and it prevents me from getting killed unnecessarily.

Back to the future

That sentiment still holds true to this day, and one of the best things about an open Soundstage is that you’ll be able to discern a lot of things going on in the background of songs previously unaware of – not just in games.

The most prominent of these additional artifacts lie within the song’s atmosphere or backing soundscape – those elements that give the song that extra edge or fullness.

Often times and with a headphone like the 9500, you’ll notice it in the hook of a song.

For instance, in Limp Bizkit’s “N 2 Gether Now” there’s a one-note vocal chant/ring that sort of sits in the backdrop of the beat.

It kind of sounds like the song’s producer, DJ Premier, used a synthesizer scream but made it sound kind of subdued and ghostly.

In over 20 years of listening to this song, I had never really noticed it because my main focus was on the beat and the main melody, which samples the harp heard on Annie Challan’s “Sonate No. 2 en Do Mineur: Allegro Maestoso.”

The other reason it stands out is that most headphones typically only reveal to you the meat and potatoes of a song: Drums, bass, and main melody.

The 9500 helps to shed light on the rest which is why most people end up going down the rabbit hole of audio and never come back out. Those juicy details are what make the experience that much better.

🎶So don’t. go. chasin’. audio. Keep it to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. Lol TLC. 🎶

Further, you may also feel as if the voice or sound is close to you.

In “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse, there’s a subtle voice in the background unheard with cheaper sets and I thought it was in the room with me, which stopped my heart for a second!

Decay & Timbre

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

Another fantastic aspect of a headphone like the 9500 is its decay. That is, the way an instrument, voice, or sound trails off after it rings out.

This adds the incredible immersion factor and helps to give the songs, a big boost. 😉

And a live flavor!

There’s nothing quite like feeling as if the artist occupies a space rather than simply being a sound heard through a device.

I’m never going to sit here and say “It’s like you’re there!” but man, sometimes it really does inch close to that type of sentiment.

Everything feels that much more realistic and helps to ensure the headphones are as honest and transparent as possible.

Timbre

As far as timbre, is it as good as planar timbre? No, not quite. But for under $100, it’s phenomenal. I oftentimes marvel at the instruments themselves because of how good their tone sounds through the 9500.

It’s just another one of the many reasons why these headphones will always be valuable to me in some form or fashion.

Will it change your life?

It can and will change your life because it helps you to understand just how much you’re actually missing in music. I remember the first time I paired the 9500 with my smartphone; falling asleep listening to music like old times.

I got that “heart drops into your stomach” feeling because it hit me all at once just how articulate and detailed the music sounded. It was delicate and beautiful.

I could hear so much subtle nuance to the track that I thought “Surely it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Surely.

It’s kind of like when you smoke out of a vaporizer for the first time and you be all, “Oh, well that was cool, but what’s the big deal.” You literally feel nothing. Then about 2 minutes later you feel like you just got hit in the face with a brick.

Then you turn to your friend like, “Wow, I’m really high.”

Not that I’ve ever smoked before.

^You after hitting the vaporizer (Colorized).

Experiencing the revelation of the 9500 is sort of like that. It hits you pretty hard when you realize just how well done the sound signature is.

Mixing, Mastering, and Production

Speaking of being transparent, is the 9500 good for mixing?

Absolutely. The clean, incredibly detailed, neutral, and honest portrayal of music make these an ideal choice for studio work but I will caution you not to overcompensate on the bass.

As far as pure transparency goes, it doesn’t get much better and the 9500 will likely always have a place in my best studio headphones for mixing guide.

This is because it easily highlights flaws in any track you may be working on to a startling degree, allowing you to quickly rectify mistakes and make the best mix possible.

Philips SHP9500 Review

^This was an OG photo on Instagram from 2018 and one of the most memorable moments I had listening to the 9500!

Pros

  • Lightweight and comfortable.
  • Robust, durable, and comes with a 3.5mm detachable cable. Very versatile set of headphones that can easily be used for FPS or single-player gaming.
  • Crisp, balanced sound, with fantastic detail, clarity, openness, decay, and separation. The Soundstage here is also remarkable, especially given its price point.
  • Its transparency and honesty bode very well for studio work, allowing you to easily find flaws in a mix.
  • Astounding price to performance ratio and still one of the best pure values in entry-level audio.

Cons

Video Reviews

These are all videos I’ve done over the years!

Volume I

Volume II

Volume III

Comparison to the HD600

Volume IV

Comparison to the 9600

Volume V

Is it ultimately worth buying?

And yes lol. Some of these thumbnails are ridiculous. xD

Amp/DAC requirements

At 32 Ohms Impedance and 101dB Sensitivity, these are very efficient and won’t need much power from an amp to reach acceptable listening levels. The 9500 is actually one of the few headphones I really enjoyed straight out of my LG-X Charge Dinosaur phone.

As mentioned in the sound section, I’ve used them with almost every amp I’ve demoed over the years. If I had to recommend 1 or 2 specific Amp/DAC combos to get you started, I’d look to the K3 or K5 Pro. Either of these will pair extremely well with the 9500 and sound great.

I mostly tell people to bypass the K3 nowadays and go straight for the K5 Pro (as it’s more versatile and has a better overall value) but the 9500 + K3 was perhaps my favorite overall pairing aside from my beloved but now gone forever HA-2.

The Best Headphone Amp for the Sennheiser HD 600 and 650

Pictured K3 & E10K. Out with the old, in with the new.

Who do these headphones benefit?

They do very well with a variety of genres and uses:

  • Indie
  • Hip-Hop
  • Classic Rock
  • Gaming
  • Movies
  • Mixing/Producing
  • Pop
  • Classical
  • Jazz

If you’re a real obnoxious bass head, I may not recommend them strictly for hip-hop, but as discussed previously I love the way the bass is portrayed and use them for this genre often.

Final thoughts from Stu’s notepad

Difference between SHP9500 vs. 9500S

  • The S model is the same as the original model sound-wise but does not come with a 1/4″ adapter which disappointed me.

Bass heads

These are not for bass heads, but they will render hip-hop very nicely. If the track has bass, they will let you know. Overall though they are what I would call “bass lean.”

The emphasis is more on the overall sound rather than any specific frequency. The bass is tight but doesn’t bleed into the mid-range which I really appreciate.

For instance, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” sounds a lot different due to the fact that you can actually hear the subtle instrumentation going on – a concept we discussed earlier.

Fit

The fit is good, but a tad loose. I actually kind of prefer it to some tighter-fitting headphones. They do seem to be made for big melons and I definitely have one of those. 🙂

Also, your ears will touch the drivers as the ear cups aren’t very deep. I haven’t had any issues with comfort in this regard but keep it in mind.

Build

I would put these above the AKG K240s as far as build quality goes; they are a bit heavier and feel less like a toy. I love the 240s but I could imagine them breaking down pretty easily.

The 9500s don’t feel like they’re going to just sporadically break down but also don’t feel quite as durable as an M50x.

Earpads & Headband

The earpads are said to not be removable but I heard that if you’re extremely careful you can get them off.

The headband is very unique in that it actually displays numbers on each side so you aren’t guessing while trying to size them to your ears.

R&L Indicators

The inclusion of the large white “R” and “L” to indicate which ear is which is extremely helpful, especially since most headphones put them in tiny letters that you can’t even see without a magnifying glass.

Consensus/Conclusion

The SHP9500 has long been an entry-level staple and remains so to this day.

Its crisp, balanced sound, fantastic detail, clarity, openness, decay, separation, and excellent Soundstage all make for a revelatory experience that may change your life and/or your perception of recorded music.

Though its treble can get a bit hot at times, its overall sound more than makes up for this in addition to superior build and comfort levels at this price point.


Final Word

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

The lightweight fit and open, airy sound is what keep me coming back to these.

I love the crisp character and attention to detail. These are just immensely enjoyable headphones in every way. They make you want to kick back and analyze the intricacies in the sound, and perhaps pinpoint something you haven’t heard before.

They aren’t so analytical as to ruin the experience but do reveal stuff that you may have missed. These would undoubtedly be perfect entry-level open-backed headphones for the enthusiast looking to see what audiophile sound is all about.

 

 


Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Philips SHP9500 review.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Just want to make a one-time donation? Click here. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps keep this site running!

What do you think about these bad boys? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Philips SHP9500

4.9

Build

5.0/5

Comfort

5.0/5

Sound

4.8/5

Pros

  • Excellent Soundstage
  • Excellent Build
  • Excellent Comfort
  • Fantastic Overall Sound
  • Great for Gaming & Film

Cons

  • A bit bright in upper mids/low treble
  • A little loose fitting

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

You may also like

Leave a Comment