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The Headphone Sessions- Part I- Sennheiser 500 Series

[caption id="attachment_1981" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Josh, Jeremy, Mike, Travis, and Mike are gearing up for the next Headphone Session."] [/caption] Welcome to our first official addition of The Headphone Sessions.  Every week HeadRoom's Sales Staff discusses and reviews various headphones.  The focus of last week's session was the new Audio-Technica ATH-W1000x Grandioso, as well as the recent Sennheiser HD 500 series: HD 518, HD 558, HD 595 and HD 598. The majority of our evaluation listening is conducted individually beforehand using HeadRoom Ultra Desktop Amps, Home Amps and Max amps. We then discuss our thoughts or impressions in a round-table format and come up with some consensus and conclusions -- or not. ATH-W1000x Grandioso [caption id="attachment_1992" align="alignright" width="215" caption="Audio Technica ATH-W1000X"] Audio Technica ATH-W1000X[/caption]

We all agreed that Audio-Technica did an awesome job with the aesthetics of these cans (the first headphone to be made of Black Cherry wood used for piano making), and the wood inlay on the jack is a is a nice touch adding to the sophistication. No doubt, these look and feel like real high-end headphones. One ergonomic point that came up for a couple of our HeadRoom testers is the classic AT “3-D wing” style headband which doesn’t always feel like it holds the headphones securely on your head. The lack of a swivel on the vertical axis of the earcups may also keep them from completely sealing on some ears. Sonically, these large circumaural headphones have a richly present bass that is expertly balanced with clear vocal mids and detailed highs without audible edginess. A weakness of some less expensive Audio Technica models is perhaps a lack of musical body and acoustic fullness, but these issues were certainly not present in the ATH-W1000X. There does, however, seem to be a hint of resonance in the upper bass and low mids, bringing a slight honkiness to certain recordings, most noticeably with tracks that fill up the low frequencies and thus are prone to muddiness; more 'burn-in' time may help clarify that nit-pick. Nevertheless, the ATH-W1000X maintain a very good level of definition and musical separation, even if slightly lacking an organically natural tone -- always a difficult feat for any sealed-back headphone.

The group consensus is that the ATH-W1000x is a true top contender in the “High-End Sealed” category, especially for someone looking for more of a neutral sound than the somewhat bassy Denon AH-D5000 or AH-D7000. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Sennheiser 500 Series"] Sennheiser 500 Series[/caption]

Sennheiser HD 500 Series

Many customers ask us to define the difference between the HD 595 and HD 598, so we decided to revisit these headphones, along with the HD 558 and HD 518. After several months of time spent with the HD 518, we now realize this is one of the very best values in full size, open headphones available in the industry. More on that below in “Bang for the Buck”. HD 595 vs. HD 598 The long-running HD 595 has been amongst our top choices for a full size, open-back audiophile headphone that doesn’t demand a dedicated headphone amp to provide great sound. It’s also a departure from Sennheiser’s typically laid back signature with a more lively, “up front” musical presentation. The HD 598 was released in December 2010 and stays within the category of full size, open-back audiophile design that does not necessarily require a headphone amp to perform. (Still, to reach maximum sonic potential, we recommend an amp for all 500 series models for a tighter, more controlled response and fuller sound.) The HD 598 has a smoother, more refined sound and does a better job imaging than the more flatly forward and slightly grainy tonality of the HD 595. If the upscale burl inlays and distinctive taupe color floats your boat, we think the superior resolution, detail, and neutrality of the HD 598 is worth the extra few dollars over the HD 595. The next step down in price is the HD 558. We all found this model to be nicely spacious and perhaps the most analytically neutral of the bunch, but lacking in bass authority. If you’re an audiophile who doesn’t like bottom-end getting in the way of well-detailed, tightly-focused mids and highs, this could the choice for you under $200; but honestly, these are likely our least overall favorite in this series. Bang for the Buck [caption id="attachment_1993" align="alignleft" width="215" caption="Sennheiser HD 518"] Sennheiser HD 518[/caption]

Easily the biggest take-away from our Headphone Sessions came with the HD 518, an affordably-priced full size open headphone. We put these cans through the ringer, throwing all genres from rock, to acoustic, classical, & slammin' hip-hop at them, and they shined throughout. They brought out the woodiness of a bowed upright bass, thumped correctly with hip-hop, reproduced the smooth airiness of Allison Kraus’s vocals and the metallic shine of the resonator in Jerry Douglas’s Dobro, and gave rock the punch and impact of a live show. Like the short kid on the basketball team who outscores his taller teammates, the HD518 is a huge 'bang for the buck' performer. Although the resolution and soundstage of the more expensive HD models is slightly superior, the HD 518’s bass authority, perfectly balanced presentation and unique ability to deeply engage the listener makes them a superb overall value in full size open headphones.

If you’d like to talk with us about the best choice for your tastes within the Audio-Technica or Sennheiser HD500 Series or any other headphone for that matter, please feel free to ring up our Sales Staff at 800-828-8184. We’re ready and listenin’!

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