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this is the overview and methodologies post for the Headphone Roundup
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Headphone Roundup - Overview, Methodologies, and Scorecard

by Wayne Myers


Introduction - Two Facts About Headphones

Our first challenge is to convince you that the world needs another collection of headphone reviews. Consider two basic facts:

Fact number one: Headphones and headphone listening preferences tend to get very personal. They fit on your head and cover your ears. The music you hear is all inside your head. They separate you from your surroundings, allow you to enjoy your chosen tunes without bothering others at home, in the car, on subways, buses, airplanes, at work. This personal, inside-the-head experience is hard to share, leaves us searching for words, and the ones we come up with can end up sounding downright ridiculous.

Fact number two: Headphone characteristics are hard to measure. How do you measure what is going on inside a person's ear, way down at the end of the ear canal, at the eardrum? How do you put numbers on it? Headphone measurements involve expensive calibrated heads and ears with special microphones and special measurement transfer functions. Most reviewers have no choice but to work in the realm of the subjective.

These two facts make the headphone a somewhat unique animal in the world of audio, where there are already plenty of reasons to disagree about what sounds good and what does not. As luck would have it, they also present us with an opportunity.

The Goal - A Different Kind of Headphone Review

This project was born during the summer of 2012 when I was visiting a fellow audiophile family member who had several sets of nice headphones I was not familiar with. In no time I was listening, comparing, taking notes, and before I knew it the idea for a quantifiable comparison method was being born. The approach centered on the following idea: Why not take subjective listening tests and feed their results into an objective scoring system for comparing headphones?

Subjective listening tests can be performed by anyone, and the only standardization for the results ends up being, "I trust her or his opinion," much like the way we end up trusting a particular movie reviewer. So why not develop a system with very specific listening tests, right down to the test track and what to listen for, taking the mystery out of the testing and giving direct comparisons between different headphone models?

The Objective-Subjective Headphone Review - Details of the Approach

A spreadsheet was quickly born, test tracks were chosen, along with test criteria, and I was well on the way to having an objective–subjective test method which anyone could apply. When the opportunity presented itself here at the Home Theater Shack to give this project a home, I jumped at the chance.

I decided early on to put headphones across a spectrum of designs on an equal footing. Rather than dividing them by price range and then comparing qualities within those ranges, the approach here is to compare all models directly, regardless of price. Why? Sometimes there are surprise models that defy their price range. If a $100 headphone manages to sound as good as a $300 headphone - I have not seen it yet, but there are those that come close - then they should be allowed to compete directly. Each of the various listening tests, then, results in a score, weighting factors are applied, numbers get crunched and combined, and a final performance score is arrived at for each model of headphone.

As you will see below, six listening categories have been identified. Test tracks have been specified, listening criteria have been detailed, and a scoring method is outlined for each. There is a formula for combining scores to come up with a category score, and finally the grand Overall Performance Score pops out at the end. The scores are all entered into a comparison matrix, the Headphone Roundup Scorecard, which makes it easy to directly compare the listening characteristics of different models.


Notes
  • These tests are all comparative in nature. Reference headphones for each category are compared, often switching back and forth several times, in determining which scores to assign.
  • The test tracks mentioned are personal favorites. In the case of the two chosen for high-frequency imaging tests, they are by far the best I have found for the task; nothing else comes close. In all other cases, there are many possible candidates. The formulas are set up to work with any suitable test tracks.
  • For the Imaging, Clarity, and Speed tests, it can take some time to catch just the right details necessary to make the evaluations. There is no need to rush this process. For the Soundstage and Frequency Response tests, the ear acclimatizes to whatever it is hearing after a minute or two, so these evaluations should be made fairly quickly, in a minute or less.
  • Additional descriptors often used in headphone reviews include words like "detail," and "resolution," and numerous others. It is my opinion that the categories included cover the headphone characteristics that matter the most, and include the characteristics that these other descriptors try to address.
  • A good quality headphone amplifier is a must. The Firestone Audio Cute Beyond Headphone Amplifier with Class A output stage and the FiiO E10 USB DAC Headphone Amplifier were used for these tests. (It is highly recommended that you use a headphone amplifier with near-zero (under one ohm) output impedance. Both of the amplifiers used meet this requirement. Many headphones do not need this to sound their best, but SOME DO.)
  • Test tracks should be lossless or highest-quality MP3 files (320 Kb/s). The high-frequency imaging and clarity tests must be done with lossless files.
  • All headphones were either used or burned in for 100 hours or more before evaluation.
  • A tip of the hat to Tyll Hertsens, the man behind a good part of the useful headphone measurement data available on the web.


Categories for Scoring

Imaging

Imaging is the apparent ability for the listener to precisely locate the sound of a voice or instrument in space. Tight imaging, especially with a wide soundstage, can lead to the impression of voids between other well-localized sounds. This effect can take some getting used to. However, tight imaging can also be a transcendent quality of headphones in making a voice or instrument or sound seem in-the-room real.
  • My reference headphone: Sony MDR-V6
  • Test track and what to listen for:
    • Note: Small amounts of individual high-frequency hearing loss in one ear or the other can cause apparent image smearing on either of the high-frequency test tracks.
    • Ain't It A Shame, the B-52's - very high-frequency imaging - Cindy's vocals have a glossiness to them which shows up in the octave between 7 kHz and 14 kHz. All aspects of the sounds of her voice should remain precisely centered. Especially listen for smearing on the "S" sounds, the sibilants. With headphones that do not image well parts of the S's will appear to smear left or right, or will be all over the place, difficult to locate precisely. The harmonica tones also contain complex harmonics which will seem hard to localize precisely if imaging is weak. Precise imaging keeps all these sounds perfectly together, no smearing or imprecision. Some headphones do not have a high enough frequency response for that glossiness to be heard. In that case, they are not penalized since the imaging is not degraded, and the formula is modified to leave out that one factor.
    • Reasons Why, Nickel Creek - high-frequency imaging - Sara's lead vocals contain strong sibilants, falling in a slightly lower frequency band than with the previous track. They will remain precisely centered with no sign of smearing on headphones that image well.
    • Ode To A Butterfly, Nickel Creek - general imaging - With precise imaging, it is as though you can precisely locate in space the point where pick meets string for the mandolin and guitar throughout this piece. The fiddle appears rounder and wider because of the way it was recorded. With the standup bass, listen for the string buzz near the end of the song, it should also be laser sharp.
  • Scoring:
    • The result of each of the three Imaging tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10. I settled on assigning integer evaluation scores so I wouldn't spend forever splitting hairs with fractional scores. All calculations thereafter are rounded to the nearest 1/10.
    • 10: Perfect imaging, no smearing, spreading, or lack of distinction whatsoever, laser sharp throughout.
    • 8 - 9: Strong imaging but with occasional small amounts of smearing.
    • 4 - 7: Fair imaging, generally lots of smearing, image somewhat indistinct, may appear to spread out or move around on certain tones.
    • 0 - 3: Poor imaging very indistinct and unstable.
    • Formula applied: (IM.very.hf + IM.hf + (2 x IM.general)) / 4, rounded to the nearest 1/10th. For headphones with weak highs, the formula is modified to:
      (IM.hf + (2 x IM.general)) / 3
    • Overall Weighting: x2



Soundstage

One of the potential stumbling blocks for headphone listening is that the soundstage tends to be located inside the listener's head. The brain perceptually tries to move it back outside of the head and in front of the listener, because that is where the brain thinks sounds like that should be coming from. This psycho-acoustical effect occurs quite naturally for some listeners and not at all for others. Imaging for headphones will not sound the same as imaging can from loudspeakers. Speakers can deliver a very wide and deep two-dimensional soundstage, since the listeners' ears each hear sounds from both speakers. Headphones are generally limited to giving a one-dimensional soundstage, which can seem very wide but will usually have no depth other than the illusion of depth resulting from different volume levels for different sounds.

The key here is the perception of how natural the soundstage feels. With some headphones, the soundstage feels tense or uncomfortable or somehow false. Better headphones deliver a soundstage that is easy to imagine as open, natural, and real.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Ode To A Butterfly, Nickel Creek - The soundstage for this track should be wide and natural, may actually seem to have voids between the instruments.
    • Fanfare/You Know It, Tower of Power, Direct Plus - The big Funk band should appear evenly spread across a wide, natural soundstage.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Soundstage tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect soundstage, wide, natural, convincingly real, totally comfortable.
    • 8 - 9: Good soundstage, but not quite convincing or natural for certain types of music.
    • 4 - 7: Fair soundstage, generally feels somewhat unnatural, difficult to place instruments and voices.
    • 0 - 3: Poor soundstage, very uncomfortable and unnatural.
    • Formula applied: SS = (SS1 + SS2) / 2, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2



Clarity

Clarity relates most closely to distortion. Harmonic distortion is fairly easy to measure in the lab and is commonly stated by the manufacturer, but under listening conditions discerning clarity can be more difficult. Instruments with complex harmonics can be useful, especially on tracks with a lot of other things going on. My favorites are loud rock tracks with well recorded cymbals. Some of these tests have to be cranked up quite loud to be effective. Never dangerously loud, but well into the 90 dB listening range, only for a minute or two at a time.
  • My reference headphone: Sony MDR-V6
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Bland Street Bloom, SikTh - cymbals, loud track - The complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct. With poor clarity, the cymbals will sound like shaped noise with no distinct harmonics.
    • Bland Street Bloom, SikTh - bass, loud track - The bass should be very clear, not distorted.
    • Disruptr and Heaven Send, Devin Townsend - cymbals, quiet track - During the quiet passages, the complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct.
    • Disruptr and Heaven Send, Devin Townsend - cymbals, loud track - During the loud passages, the complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct. Poor clarity here will leave the cymbals sounding like shaped noise with no sign of distinct harmonics. With good clarity, those harmonics might almost sound out of place in the midst of the other loud, distorted instruments.
    • Beethoven, 7th Symphony, Second Movement, Chicago Symphony, F. Reiner conducting - strings, loud track - When the movement reaches its loudest point, the strings should remain clear and natural sounding, no edge or impression of there being "something else" going on there.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Clarity tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect clarity, bass is always smooth and distinct, complex cymbal harmonics are always clear and easily discernible, strings always smooth and natural, none of these ever distorted, no edge or impression that something is not quite right about it.
    • 8 - 9: Good clarity, but occasionally a bit messy or slightly distorted, not quite perfect.
    • 4 - 7: Fair clarity, generally somewhat messy sounding, often distorted during louder passages.
    • 0 - 3: Poor clarity, very messy sounding, quite distorted most of the time.
    • Formula applied: CL = (CL.cymbal.1.loud + CL.bass.1.loud + CL.cymbal.2.quiet + CL.cymbal.2.loud + CL.strings.loud) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2



Speed

Speed defines the ability for head phones to handle tones with the fast or sharp attack time. "Fast" headphones handle the onset of those sounds cleanly keeping them feeling crisp and tightly defined, getting a sense of impact to each note. Sometimes you will hear the word "punchy" used in this context. Slower headphones give an impression of looseness or mushiness at the beginnings of those sounds.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Beyond The Blue, Beth Nielsen Chapman - deep bass - Focus: deep pulsing drumbeat.
    • Good Stuff, the B-52's - lows - Focus: bass guitar.
    • Inchworm, Battles - mids - Focus: drums, especially toms.
    • Pulse, Todd Rundgren - upper mids - Focus: xylophone.
    • Healing Part I, Todd Rundgren - highs - Focus: triangle.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Speed tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect speed, every test example is delivered with crisp, tight impact.
    • 8 - 9: Good speed, but occasional instances that are delivered slightly soft or mushy, not quite perfect.
    • 4 - 7: Fair clarity, generally somewhat soft, mushy delivery of sounds that should have an impact.
    • 0 - 3: Poor clarity, very soft and mushy delivery.
    • Formula applied: SP = (SP.deep.bass + SP.lows + SP.mids + SP.upper.mids + SP.highs) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2



Frequency Response

Frequency response is probably the single most important quality contributing to headphone performance. That said, it is somewhat difficult to score because there is no one type of frequency response that all listeners accept as the ideal. My own preference is for a fairly flat frequency response, but it would be unfair to score all headphones based on that one narrowminded requirement.

We will work with four frequency response profiles which hopefully cover in a reasonably unbiased way the different voicings given to headphones today. They are:
  • Frequency Response Profiles:
    • Flat - Preferred by many listeners and especially by those who use headphones as part of an engineering, mixing, or mastering process. This profile allows for small amounts of low frequencies or high-frequency boost.
    • Tilted - A fairly flat but tilted response curve, downward in the high-frequency direction. This is a more laid-back profile which is often preferred for general listening as it can be less fatiguing for long listening sessions. This profile often includes a certain amount of "scooping" as described next.
    • Scooped - A region of the frequency spectrum, usually in the upper midrange, is pulled back, or "scooped" out of the curve. If not too extreme, the ear doesn't miss those frequencies since they are in a region where the hearing is more sensitive anyway, and the result is a laid-back sound without loss of the highest frequency range, containing the "detail" for many sounds.
    • Bass-Emphasized - This profile is often preferred for popular music listening, with low frequencies highly emphasized, sometimes 20 dB or more.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701 (Flat Profile), Sennheiser HD 600 (Tilted Profile)
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Revolution Earth, the B-52's - This track has all ranges quite equally represented. It should sound bright and lively, not harsh, with solid bass tones, but not overly strong.
    • Glory Bound, Wailin' Jennys - This track contains deep standup bass tones which should give a strong, deep thump without being overbearing.
    • Fanfare/You Know It, Tower of Power, Direct Plus - All of the instruments and voices in this direct-to-master recording from the early 80s were given minimal treatment, kept sounding as simple and natural as possible. Pay special attention to the horn section. Headphones with an overly-aggressive "scoop" out of the upper mids may sound fine for many instruments, even for male and female vocals, but will sound fakey or downright bad with saxophones or other horns.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Frequency Response tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10. Over-emphasis of a frequency range stands out more to the ear than under-emphasis, and therefore is scored more negatively.
    • Each of the following frequency ranges is evaluated while listening to each track:
      • Deep bass
      • Lows
      • Mids
      • Upper mids
      • Highs
    • When evaluating frequency response, there has to be a reference band. This will usually be the Mids, but with some headphones it may seem more natural to use another frequency band. Whichever band is chosen as the reference band always gets a score of 10. The other frequency bands are scored relative to the reference frequency band.
    • If a frequency band sounds perfect for all the test tracks it gets a 10. If it sounds off, over- or under-emphasized on any of those tracks, it gets the lowest of the possible scores for all the tracks as defined below. For example, if the "highs" sound slightly emphasized on two tracks, and emphasized on another track, the emphasized score of 4 would be given for the "highs" frequency range for that headphone.
      • Highly emphasized: 0
      • Emphasized: 4
      • Slightly emphasized: 8
      • Just right: 10
      • Laid back: 9
      • Weak: 7
      • Very weak: 3
      [*]Formula applied: FR = (FR.deep.bass + FR.lows + FR.mids + FR.upper.mids + FR.highs) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
      [*]Overall Weighting: x4




Overall Listening Experience

The Overall Listening Experience is a result of impressions during all the previous listening tests plus those from any other desired listening time.
  • No test tracks are specified. Use impressions from all previous listening tests plus from listening to any other tracks you choose.
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Delightful. "I got chills, several times."
    • 9: Very good. "They are really nice."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "I like them."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "They are OK, nothing special."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "Forget about it."
  • Formula applied: OLE = n
  • Overall Weighting: x4



Comfort

Pay attention both to initial impressions and to impressions formed after an hour or more. How do they feel on/around the ears, over the top of the head? If there is ear contact, how much pressure is there, how effective is the padding? Are the materials comfortable? Does the cable rub or cause discomfort? Do your ears get hot after I while?
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Excellent. "I could wear these all day."
    • 9: Very good. "Very comfortable, an occasional minor annoyance."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "Comfortable, but there are limits."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "I can put up with them if I have to."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "Forget about it."
  • Formula applied: CO = n
  • Overall Weighting: x1



Design

Appearance, build quality, durability, form follows function, usability and portability features, cabling, accessories, special packaging.
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Excellent. "Wow, this is so cool in every way."
    • 9: Very good. "Great design, only a minor annoyance or two."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "Nicely done, but there are some flaws that are hard to overlook."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "OK, but some major problems."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "How could they get it so wrong?"
  • Formula applied: DE = n
  • Overall Weighting: x1



Non-Factored Scores

Several additional factors are considered which are NOT part of the overall scoring.
  • $100 reference headphone: Yes or No. I have a dream of identifying a $100 reference headphone with extremely flat frequency response and high scores in the other categories.
  • Drivability with portable media devices: Yes or No. Is this headphone sensitive enough to easily be driven to strong listening levels using a smart phone or portable listening device?
  • Usability without equalization: Yes or No. Is the frequency response good enough that I would be comfortable listening with it as is, without wanting to tweak it with available equalization?
  • Isolation (if Closed design): For closed headphones, how good is the isolation from outside sounds, and privacy going the other way? An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.



The Overall Performance Score

And finally we get to the Overall Performance Score. The Overall Performance Score is a weighted average, using the weightings defined for each category above. Here is the formula:

OPS = (((2 * IM) + (2 * SS) + (2 * CL) + (2 * SP) + (4 * FR) + (4 * OLE) + CO + DE) / 18)


Headphone Roundup Scorecard

And here is the scorecard. As each new headphone model is evaluated, it scores will be added here so they can be compared directly.


In Summary

There are a lot of headphones out there, and a lot of headphone reviewers. The purpose of all this is to give you a somewhat different kind of tool to help you decide, based on these objective-subjective scores, which headphones you might like and want to buy. Yes that is an ambitious goal. Please let me know how well it works for you. Also remember, I gave this my best shot, based on my experience and my best judgments, but your own ears will be your own best judge. I welcome your constructive feedback, but alas, of course I cannot guarantee satisfaction based on the scores - short of joining you in a Venetian mind meld. That would cost extra. I do sincerely wish you the best in your headphone listening and purchasing decisions.

May your headphone listening sessions be many and awesome!

Wayne Myers
username AudiocRaver


Excel Spreadsheet Link

Coming soon. Check back for a link, you will be able to download the scoring spreadsheet and scrutinize it.


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Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers


Introduction

The Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphones have been around for quite a while, and, if you count all the reviews posted by individuals in various places on the web, have been reviewed a gazillion times. That is just an approximation, of course.

Why review them again? Because they are still, after close to 20 years, one of the best sets of headphones you can buy, and are a good reference point for comparison. As we launch the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup, the HD 600s present a good anchor point for this upcoming series of headphone reviews.

Features

The HD 600s are an open-backed, around-the-ear design. At introductions, they were Sennheiser's finest headphone offering, and their accurate yet easy-going sound made them a favorite among serious listeners and among recording and mastering engineers and musicians. All too often, standby products like the HD 600s get upgraded or replaced, but with the 600s Sennheiser has wisely stood by their design. That design is durable and highly modular - almost any part can be easily replaced, yet they rarely need to be.

Features

  • Extremely lightweight aluminium voice coils ensure excellent transient response
  • Computer-optimised magnet systems minimize harmonic and intermodulation distortion
  • Neodymium ferrous magnets for optimum sensitivity and wide dynamic range
  • Detachable OFC copper cable, Kevlar-reinforced, with very low handling noise
  • Diaphragm optimized using laser interferometry, no standing waves; undesirable diaphragm distortions are virtually non-existant
  • Excellent wearing comfort due to the elliptical shape of the earpads
  • MSRP: $399.95
  • Street price: $300


Specifications

Sennheiser states the frequency response of HD 600s as being flat. It turns out that there are different techniques for measuring headphone frequency response. The two curves below, the first from Sennheiser and the second from an online review source, illustrate the differences that can arise. Sennheiser's "diffuse field measurement" is admirably flat. The second curve shows the slight downward high-frequency tilt that most listeners report.

Measurement Graphs

Sennheiser's published frequency response curve for the HD 600s.



Frequency response for the HD 600s as measured by an online reviewer.


Also worth noting is the impedance for the 600s. Nominally 300 ohms, it peaks at well over 500 ohms at the resonant frequency of 100 Hz. The 600s, as is usually the case with high-end headphones, really need a good headphone amplifier to sound their best, one with a specified near-zero output impedance (under 1 ohm) to fully tame that resonance point.

I got a kick out of the pictorials that Sennheiser used to portray the HD 600's specs in one of their publications. You can see it in the drop-down area below, along with a more conventional spec list.

Specifications

Sennheiser's published specifications for the HD 600s - the new fun way.



Sennheiser's published specifications for the HD 600s - the old boring way.
  • Frequency response: 16 - 30,000 Hz, -3 dB; 12 - 39,000 Hz, -10 dB
  • Frequency characteristics: diffuse field equalized
  • Ear coupling: around the ear
  • Transducer: dynamic, open
  • Impedance: 300 ohm nominal
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB at 1 mW
  • Power handling: 0.2 W
  • Distortion: less than 0.1%
  • Cable length: 3 m, straight, Y with L & R connections
  • Connector: 3.5 mm with 6.3 mm adapter
  • Weight without cable: 260 g


General Impressions

Sennheiser headphones definitely have their own look, and the HD 600s, with their black and gray mottled finish, stand out as unique. To me it is a very elegant, attractive look that says they are something special, and probably expensive. Which, of course, they are. Being fairly durable, you can read online about people using them as their "knock-around" headphones, but that would not be my choice. They remain stay-at-home cans for relaxed listening in the comfy chair or for duty as reference phones.

Their fit is a little tight, but the ear pads are comfortable enough that I am able to forget about the pressure after a few minutes. The effectiveness of the headband padding helps.

Their sound is as smooth as a baby's bottom. They are smoooooth-sounding headphones. The frequency response tilt is just enough to give a laid back-impression, to make them easy to listen to for long periods, and yet retains all the high-frequency detail you could wish for. They sound good soft and they sound good loud. They sound good with any kind of music you can throw at them.

Comparative Listening and Scoring Tests

The measurement criteria for these tests are described in detail in the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup Summary.

Imaging
Scores: 9, 8, 10
Weighted average: 9.3
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Comments: Solid imaging, no smearing, just a little roundness on certain high-frequency content, only noticeable during the most critical listening tests, still very good.

Soundstage
Scores: 8, 10
Average: 9.0
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Comments: Slightly compressed, a bit crowded on an up-close instrumental track, very natural on a big funk band track.

Clarity
Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10, 9
Average: 9.8
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Comments: Slightly strained on loud symphonic strings, excellent handling of heavy bass and cymbals soft and loud.

Speed
Scores: 8, 8, 10, 9, 10
Average: 9.0
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Comments: Certain bass instruments felt a bit mushy, lacking impact.

Frequency Response
Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
Average: 10.0
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4
Comments: Extremely well-balanced, never a noticeable deficiency or overemphasis on any range for any track.

Overall Listening Experience
Score: 10
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4
Comments: Delightful handling of voices and percussion. Well-rounded delivery for a variety of genres.

Comfort
Score: 9
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x1
Comments: The initial impression of tightness against the sides of the head wears off quickly. Ear-surround and headband padding are very good. Nothing touches the ears.

Design
Score: 10
Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x1
Comments: Nicely made, rugged feel, elegant look. Build quality is solid. Modular design is a big plus. The cable seems lightweight, but it is Kevlar-reinforced, and I have had no issues with wear in two years of moderate use. Left and right ground wires do not tie together until the 3.5 mm plug, a 4-wire design, minimizing channel interaction.

See the Overall Performance Score at the end of the review.

Non-Factored Scores
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivability with portable media devices: Yes
  • Usability without equalization: Yes
  • Isolation (if Closed design): n.a.


Track Hopping

Back to the Beethoven Symphony, just because it sounded so nice, a bit of edge to the strings but only at very high volume.

Porcupine Tree's Deadwing, so well-balanced, loving the way the cymbals are handled again, love those complex harmonics.

Joni Mitchell's voice on her Blue album, especially on A Case Of You, very warm, very intimate.

The Gorillaz, Rhinestone Eyes, again I'm loving the way vocals, male and female, are handled by these headphones.

Dillinger Escape Plan, Sunshine The Werewolf, recorded just a bit harsh, and the downward high-frequency tilt of the HD 600s is just right for it.

Pink Floyd's Hey You, that big fat snare drum right in your face, as real as can be, and more nicely-recorded cymbals with their harmonics.

Conclusions

Okay, so they are not perfect. In some of these categories, where you really start picking at details, the HD 600s do not stand up to the scrutiny that some newer high-end headphones do. But for overall listening likability, they still stand very tall. And in NO category would you call them significantly weak or deficient.

The Sennheiser HD 600s are an excellent set of reference headphones, and are a top pick for critical or relaxed listening sessions.

The Pros:
  • Smooth, laid-back sound, non-fatiguing, plenty of detail
  • Solid performer in all tested categories
    [+]Well-accepted music industry standard
  • Elegant appearance
  • Durable
  • Modular design, replaceable cable
The Cons:
  • Some might find them to be a tight fit

Performance Summary and Overall Performance Score: 9.6 out of 10
  • Imaging: 9.3
  • Soundstage: 9.0
  • Clarity: 9.8
  • Speed: 9.0
  • Frequency Response: 10.0
  • Overall Listening Experience: 10
  • Comfort: 9
  • Design: 10
  • MSRP: $399.95
  • Street Price: $300
  • Overall Performance Score (weighted average): 9.6
  • Would I buy or recommend them? Absolutely.

Refer to the Headphone Roundup Scorecard for scoring and comparison details.

Wayne Myers
username AudiocRaver


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Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers


Introduction

The Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphones have been around for quite a while, and, if you count all the reviews posted by individuals in various places on the web, have been reviewed a gazillion times. That is just an approximation, of course.

Why review them again? Because they are still, after close to 20 years, one of the best sets of headphones you can buy, and are a good reference point for comparison. As we launch the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup, the HD 600s present a good anchor point for this upcoming series of headphone reviews.

[READ MORE]
 

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Very thorough and appears it will be extremely detailed once finished.

I see a few typo's that I think you will find if you proof it a couple of times. I have got to hit the sack for tonight and it will be tomorrow afternoon late before I will be back. You don't have to rush it. I can probably critique things a little closer tomorrow evening once you have added everything else.
 

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Amazing piece of work. It's obvious you're well versed in the topic, and quite passionate about it as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Major, major editing has been completed. Now it is down to final detailed editing. No big changes remain, just typos and little word changes. Suggestions welcome.

I took out the "value score" section, was having a hard time seeing it be anything other than confusing. Still considering it, though.
 

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Very thorough.

You are planning on breaking out the first review from the Overview and Methodologies, right?

I think both combined might be too much info to read at once.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
The word is out, I'm a bit of a perfectionist when working on this stuff. Or maybe OCD is more accurate. Good thing I'm being paid by the job, not by the hour, right Sonnie? Oh well, I'm having fun, so we'll leave it at that.

The first part of the Overview, down to the "Notes" section, is a major rewrite with the help of my wife, the English professor, Editor Extraordinaire. There are little changes from there on down. Let's say it's 99% done. Dragon Naturally Speaking has been a big help getting thoughts into text, but likes to throw in some quirky little hard-to-catch zingers once in a while. We think we caught all of those. There should be no typos left, so if you see any, please let me know. If I make any further tweaks, I will post them separately so you can see exactly what has changed. Barring requests for major revision, it should be finished Thursday PM.

The Value Score idea is out, value is just too personal a thing to put into a formula.

Is my assumption correct that it is okay to use images from the manufacturer's site or literature to include in a review of their gear?

You are planning on breaking out the first review from the Overview and Methodologies, right?

I think both combined might be too much info to read at once.
Yes, we talked about posting the Sennheiser review and having the Overview writeup posted as a sticky in the headphone/headgear forum. Let me see if I have this straight:
  • The complete (long version) Sennheiser HD 600 review goes into its own closed thread in the Reviews forum.
  • Links from that review to a discussion thread and back.
  • Intro (short version) to the Sennheiser HD 600 review goes on the homepage, with link to the complete review.
  • Headphone Roundup Overview/Summary goes as a sticky thread in the headphone/headgear forum. Perhaps this should also be a closed thread with links to/from a discussion thread for the overview/methods.
  • The Overview has links to/from the complete HD 600 review, and to/from each additional headphone review as it is posted.
At least that's the way I thought we discussed it. Did you mean break them out in terms of posting on different days? You know best. We can add the links later, correct?

Comments and suggestions appreciated.

Wayne
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
In a moment, right after this post, I will post an alternative version of the Headphone Roundup Overview, with some corrections, see below, but mainly with the deep technical stuff sucked up into a soon-to-be-named Measurement Methods box, maybe more readable this way. Let me know what you think. It hurts just a little to think that not everyone on the planet wants to read my deep technical ravings, but perhaps this will be better for the general populace. All smiles, of course.:eek:lddude: See what you think.

======================

Here are the additional changes that were made, a few minor ones plus a little text to make the Measurement Methods box approach flow little better.


"and two non-listening categories" added in Details of the Approach section:

As you will see below, six listening categories and two non-listening categories have been identified.

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The following was added to the Categories for Evaluation and Scoring section, then all the rest of the section was put in a spoiler box, to be changed to Measurement Methods. Maybe getting the deep detail out of the way will make the article more interesting to the less-technical reader. Comments?

Eight evaluation categories are used in this objective-subjective approach, all feeding into a single Overall Performance Score. The first six categories are listening categories. Under the Measurement Methods button below you will find detailed descriptions of what to listen for and how to score a set of headphones in each of these categories:

  • Imaging - The apparent ability for the listener to precisely locate the sound of a voice or instrument in space.
  • Soundstage - The ability for headphones to create the illusion that the instruments and voices in the music are stretched across an imaginary stage in front of the listener.
  • Clarity - Freedom from distortion.
  • Speed - The ability to handle tones with a fast or sharp attack time.
  • Frequency Response - The evenness of tonal balance.
  • Overall Listening Experience - How the headphones sound in general, how enjoyable they are to use.
Two additional criteria are also scored:

  • Comfort
  • Design

A great deal of thought went into defining these criteria so the results would be useful and repeatable, and have some value to you, the listener and consumer and - hopefully - fellow headphone lover! Click on the Measurement Methods button for all the details. Or, if you prefer, skip straight to the Headphone Roundup Scorecard to see the final results.

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Sentence added to the Soundstage section:

Soundstage describes the ability for headphones to create the illusion that the instruments and voices in the music are stretched across an imaginary stage in front of the listener.

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Clarity section, the words "freedom from" added:

Clarity relates most closely to freedom from distortion.

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Speed section, made "head phones" into one word, changed "the" to "a":

Speed defines the ability for headphones to handle tones with a fast or sharp attack time.

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Spelling fix in the Scorecard section, "its":

And here is the Scorecard. As each new headphone model is evaluated, its scores will be added here so they can be compared directly.

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Links added before the Notes section and after the Scorecard:

Links to complete Reviews for the models included on the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup:
  • Sennheiser HD 600 - Dec. 2012
The list will be growing, so check back regularly.

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After the Introduction and at the end of the Sennheiser HD 600 review:

Go to the Headphone Roundup Scorecard for scoring and comparison details.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
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this is the overview and methodologies post for the Headphone Roundup
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Headphone Roundup - Overview, Methodologies, and Scorecard

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver


Introduction - Two Facts About Headphones

Our first challenge is to convince you that the world needs another collection of headphone reviews. Consider two basic facts:

Fact number one: Headphones and headphone listening preferences tend to get very personal. They fit on your head and cover your ears. The music you hear is all inside your head. They separate you from your surroundings, allow you to enjoy your chosen tunes without bothering others at home, in the car, on subways, buses, airplanes, at work. This personal, inside-the-head experience is hard to share, leaves us searching for words, and the ones we come up with can end up sounding downright ridiculous.

Fact number two: Headphone characteristics are hard to measure. How do you measure what is going on inside a person's ear, way down at the end of the ear canal, at the eardrum? How do you put numbers on it? Headphone measurements involve expensive calibrated heads and ears with special microphones and special measurement transfer functions. Most reviewers have no choice but to work in the realm of the subjective.

These two facts make the headphone a somewhat unique animal in the world of audio, where there are already plenty of reasons to disagree about what sounds good and what does not. As luck would have it, they also present us with an opportunity.

The Goal - A Different Kind of Headphone Review

This project was born during the summer of 2012 when I was visiting a fellow audiophile family member who had several sets of nice headphones I was not familiar with. In no time I was listening, comparing, taking notes, and before I knew it the idea for a quantifiable comparison method was being born. The approach centered on the following idea: Why not take subjective listening tests and feed their results into an objective scoring system for comparing headphones?

Subjective listening tests can be performed by anyone, and the only standardization for the results ends up being, "I trust her or his opinion," much like the way we end up trusting a particular movie reviewer. So why not develop a system with very specific listening tests, right down to the test track and what to listen for, taking the mystery out of the testing and giving direct comparisons between different headphone models?

The Objective-Subjective Headphone Review - Details of the Approach

A spreadsheet was quickly born, test tracks were chosen, along with test criteria, and I was well on the way to having an objective–subjective test method which anyone could apply. When the opportunity presented itself here at the Home Theater Shack to give this project a home, I jumped at the chance.

I decided early on to put headphones across a spectrum of designs on an equal footing. Rather than dividing them by price range and then comparing qualities within those ranges, the approach here is to compare all models directly, regardless of price. Why? Sometimes there are surprise models that defy their price range. If a $100 headphone manages to sound as good as a $300 headphone - I have not seen it yet, but there are those that come close - then they should be allowed to compete directly. Each of the various listening tests, then, results in a score, weighting factors are applied, numbers get crunched and combined, and a final performance score is arrived at for each model of headphone.

As you will see below, six listening categories and two non-listening categories have been identified. Test tracks have been specified, listening criteria have been detailed, and a scoring method is outlined for each. There is a formula for combining scores to come up with a category score, and finally the grand Overall Performance Score pops out at the end. The scores are all entered into a comparison matrix, the Headphone Roundup Scorecard, which makes it easy to directly compare the listening characteristics of different models.

Links to complete reviews:
  • Sennheiser HD 600 - Dec. 2012
This list will be growing, so check back regularly.


Notes
  • These tests are all comparative in nature. Reference headphones for each category are compared, often switching back and forth several times, in determining which scores to assign.
  • The test tracks mentioned are personal favorites. In the case of the two chosen for high-frequency imaging tests, they are by far the best I have found for the task; nothing else comes close. In all other cases, there are many possible candidates. The formulas are set up to work with any suitable test tracks.
  • For the Imaging, Clarity, and Speed tests, it can take some time to catch just the right details necessary to make the evaluations. There is no need to rush this process. For the Soundstage and Frequency Response tests, the ear acclimatizes to whatever it is hearing after a minute or two, so these evaluations should be made fairly quickly, in a minute or less.
  • Additional descriptors often used in headphone reviews include words like "detail," and "resolution," and numerous others. It is my opinion that the categories included cover the headphone characteristics that matter the most, and include the characteristics that these other descriptors try to address.
  • A good quality headphone amplifier is a must. The Firestone Audio Cute Beyond Headphone Amplifier with Class A output stage and the FiiO E10 USB DAC Headphone Amplifier were used for these tests. (It is highly recommended that you use a headphone amplifier with near-zero (under one ohm) output impedance. Both of the amplifiers used meet this requirement. Many headphones do not need this to sound their best, but SOME DO.)
  • Test tracks should be lossless or highest-quality MP3 files (320 Kb/s). The high-frequency imaging and clarity tests must be done with lossless files.
  • All headphones were either used or burned in for 100 hours or more before evaluation.
  • A tip of the hat to Tyll Hertsens, the man behind a good part of the useful headphone measurement data available on the web.


Categories for Evaluation and Scoring

Eight evaluation categories are used in this objective-subjective approach, all feeding into a single Overall Performance Score. The first six categories are listening categories. Under the Measurement Methods button below you will find detailed descriptions of what to listen for and how to score a set of headphones in each of these categories:

  • Imaging - The apparent ability for the listener to precisely locate the sound of a voice or instrument in space.
  • Soundstage - The ability for headphones to create the illusion that the instruments and voices in the music are stretched across an imaginary stage in front of the listener.
  • Clarity - Freedom from distortion.
  • Speed - The ability to handle tones with a fast or sharp attack time.
  • Frequency Response - The evenness of tonal balance. Four general types of voicing, or frequency-response profiles, are defined.
  • Overall Listening Experience - How the headphones sound in general, how enjoyable they are to use.
Two additional criteria are also scored:

  • Comfort
  • Design
A great deal of thought went into defining these criteria so the results would be useful and repeatable, and have some value to you, the listener and consumer and - hopefully - fellow headphone lover! Click on the Measurement Methods button for all the details. Or, if you prefer, skip straight to the Headphone Roundup Scorecard to see the final results.

Measurement Methods

Imaging:

Imaging is the apparent ability for the listener to precisely locate the sound of a voice or instrument in space. Tight imaging, especially with a wide soundstage, can lead to the impression of voids between other well-localized sounds. This effect can take some getting used to. However, tight imaging can also be a transcendent quality of headphones in making a voice or instrument or sound seem in-the-room real.
  • My reference headphone: Sony MDR-V6
  • Test track and what to listen for:
    • Note: Small amounts of individual high-frequency hearing loss in one ear or the other can cause apparent image smearing on either of the high-frequency test tracks.
    • Ain't It A Shame, the B-52's - very high-frequency imaging - Cindy's vocals have a glossiness to them which shows up in the octave between 7 kHz and 14 kHz. All aspects of the sounds of her voice should remain precisely centered. Especially listen for smearing on the "S" sounds, the sibilants. With headphones that do not image well parts of the S's will appear to smear left or right, or will be all over the place, difficult to locate precisely. The harmonica tones also contain complex harmonics which will seem hard to localize precisely if imaging is weak. Precise imaging keeps all these sounds perfectly together, no smearing or imprecision. Some headphones do not have a high enough frequency response for that glossiness to be heard. In that case, they are not penalized since the imaging is not degraded, and the formula is modified to leave out that one factor.
    • Reasons Why, Nickel Creek - high-frequency imaging - Sara's lead vocals contain strong sibilants, falling in a slightly lower frequency band than with the previous track. They will remain precisely centered with no sign of smearing on headphones that image well.
    • Ode To A Butterfly, Nickel Creek - general imaging - With precise imaging, it is as though you can precisely locate in space the point where pick meets string for the mandolin and guitar throughout this piece. The fiddle appears rounder and wider because of the way it was recorded. With the standup bass, listen for the string buzz near the end of the song, it should also be laser sharp.
  • Scoring:
    • The result of each of the three Imaging tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10. I settled on assigning integer evaluation scores so I wouldn't spend forever splitting hairs with fractional scores. All calculations thereafter are rounded to the nearest 1/10.
    • 10: Perfect imaging, no smearing, spreading, or lack of distinction whatsoever, laser sharp throughout.
    • 8 - 9: Strong imaging but with occasional small amounts of smearing.
    • 4 - 7: Fair imaging, generally lots of smearing, image somewhat indistinct, may appear to spread out or move around on certain tones.
    • 0 - 3: Poor imaging very indistinct and unstable.
    • Formula applied: (IM.very.hf + IM.hf + (2 x IM.general)) / 4, rounded to the nearest 1/10th. For headphones with weak highs, the formula is modified to:
      (IM.hf + (2 x IM.general)) / 3
    • Overall Weighting: x2




Soundstage:

Soundstage describes the ability for headphones to create the illusion that the instruments and voices in the music are stretched across an imaginary stage in front of the listener.

One of the potential stumbling blocks for headphone listening is that the soundstage tends to be located inside the listener's head. The brain perceptually tries to move it back outside of the head and in front of the listener, because that is where the brain thinks sounds like that should be coming from. This psycho-acoustical effect occurs quite naturally for some listeners and not at all for others. Imaging for headphones will not sound the same as imaging can from loudspeakers. Speakers can deliver a very wide and deep two-dimensional soundstage, since the listeners' ears each hear sounds from both speakers. Headphones are generally limited to giving a one-dimensional soundstage, which can seem very wide but will usually have no depth other than the illusion of depth resulting from different volume levels for different sounds.

The key here is the perception of how natural the soundstage feels. With some headphones, the soundstage feels tense or uncomfortable or somehow false. Better headphones deliver a soundstage that is easy to imagine as open, natural, and real.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Ode To A Butterfly, Nickel Creek - The soundstage for this Bluegrass track should be wide and natural, may actually seem to have voids between the instruments.
    • Fanfare/You Know It, Tower of Power, Direct Plus - The big Funk band should appear evenly spread across a wide, natural soundstage.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Soundstage tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect soundstage, wide, natural, convincingly real, totally comfortable.
    • 8 - 9: Good soundstage, but not quite convincing or natural for certain types of music.
    • 4 - 7: Fair soundstage, generally feels somewhat unnatural, difficult to place instruments and voices.
    • 0 - 3: Poor soundstage, very uncomfortable and unnatural.
    • Formula applied: SS = (SS1 + SS2) / 2, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2




Clarity:

Clarity relates most closely to freedom from distortion. Harmonic distortion is fairly easy to measure in the lab and is commonly stated by the manufacturer, but under listening conditions discerning clarity can be more difficult. Instruments with complex harmonics can be useful, especially on tracks with a lot of other things going on. My favorites are loud rock tracks with well recorded cymbals. Some of these tests have to be cranked up quite loud to be effective. Never dangerously loud, but well into the 90 dB listening range, only for a minute or two at a time.
  • My reference headphone: Sony MDR-V6
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Bland Street Bloom, SikTh - cymbals, loud track - The complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct. With poor clarity, the cymbals will sound like shaped noise with no distinct harmonics.
    • Bland Street Bloom, SikTh - bass, loud track - The bass should be very clear, not distorted.
    • Disruptr and Heaven Send, Devin Townsend - cymbals, quiet track - During the quiet passages, the complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct.
    • Disruptr and Heaven Send, Devin Townsend - cymbals, loud track - During the loud passages, the complex harmonics of these cymbals should be very clear and distinct. Poor clarity here will leave the cymbals sounding like shaped noise with no sign of distinct harmonics. With good clarity, those harmonics might almost sound out of place in the midst of the other loud, distorted instruments.
    • Beethoven, 7th Symphony, Second Movement, Chicago Symphony, F. Reiner conducting - strings, loud track - When the movement reaches its loudest point, the strings should remain clear and natural sounding, no edge or impression of there being "something else" going on there.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Clarity tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect clarity, bass is always smooth and distinct, complex cymbal harmonics are always clear and easily discernible, strings always smooth and natural, none of these ever distorted, no edge or impression that something is not quite right about it.
    • 8 - 9: Good clarity, but occasionally a bit messy or slightly distorted, not quite perfect.
    • 4 - 7: Fair clarity, generally somewhat messy sounding, often distorted during louder passages.
    • 0 - 3: Poor clarity, very messy sounding, quite distorted most of the time.
    • Formula applied: CL = (CL.cymbal.1.loud + CL.bass.1.loud + CL.cymbal.2.quiet + CL.cymbal.2.loud + CL.strings.loud) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2




Speed:

Speed defines the ability for headphones to handle tones with a fast or sharp attack time. "Fast" headphones handle the onset of those sounds cleanly keeping them feeling crisp and tightly defined, getting a sense of impact to each note. Sometimes you will hear the word "punchy" used in this context. Slower headphones give an impression of looseness or mushiness at the beginnings of those sounds.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Beyond The Blue, Beth Nielsen Chapman - deep bass - Focus: deep pulsing drumbeat.
    • Good Stuff, the B-52's - lows - Focus: bass guitar.
    • Inchworm, Battles - mids - Focus: drums, especially toms.
    • Pulse, Todd Rundgren - upper mids - Focus: xylophone.
    • Healing Part I, Todd Rundgren - highs - Focus: triangle.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Speed tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10.
    • 10: Perfect speed, every test example is delivered with crisp, tight impact.
    • 8 - 9: Good speed, but occasional instances that are delivered slightly soft or mushy, not quite perfect.
    • 4 - 7: Fair speed, generally somewhat soft, mushy delivery of sounds that should have an impact.
    • 0 - 3: Poor speed, very soft and mushy delivery.
    • Formula applied: SP = (SP.deep.bass + SP.lows + SP.mids + SP.upper.mids + SP.highs) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
    • Overall Weighting: x2




Frequency Response:

Frequency response is probably the single most important quality contributing to headphone performance. That said, it is somewhat difficult to score because there is no one type of frequency response that all listeners accept as the ideal. My own preference is for a fairly flat frequency response, but it would be unfair to score all headphones based on that one narrow-minded requirement.

We will work with four frequency response profiles which hopefully cover in a reasonably unbiased way the different voicings given to headphones today. They are:
  • Frequency Response Profiles:
    • Flat - Preferred by many listeners and especially by those who use headphones as part of an engineering, mixing, or mastering process. This profile allows for small amounts of low frequencies or high-frequency boost.
    • Tilted - A fairly flat but tilted response curve, downward in the high-frequency direction. This is a more laid-back profile which is often preferred for general listening as it can be less fatiguing for long listening sessions. This profile often includes a certain amount of "scooping" as described next.
    • Scooped - A region of the frequency spectrum, usually in the upper midrange, is pulled back, or "scooped" out of the curve. If not too extreme, the ear doesn't miss those frequencies since they are in a region where the hearing is more sensitive anyway, and the result is a laid-back sound without loss of the highest frequency range, containing the "detail" for many sounds.
    • Bass-Emphasized - This profile is often preferred for popular music listening, with low frequencies highly emphasized, sometimes 20 dB or more.
  • My reference headphone: AKG K701 (Flat Profile), Sennheiser HD 600 (Tilted Profile)
  • Test tracks and what to listen for:
    • Revolution Earth, the B-52's - This track has all ranges quite equally represented. It should sound bright and lively, not harsh, with solid bass tones, but not overly strong.
    • Glory Bound, Wailin' Jennys - This track contains deep standup bass tones which should give a strong, deep thump without being overbearing.
    • Fanfare/You Know It, Tower of Power, Direct Plus - All of the instruments and voices in this direct-to-master recording from the early 80s were given minimal treatment, kept sounding as simple and natural as possible. Pay special attention to the horn section. Headphones with an overly-aggressive "scoop" out of the upper mids may sound fine for many instruments, even for male and female vocals, but will sound fakey or downright bad with saxophones or other horns.
  • Scoring
    • The result of each of the Frequency Response tests is given an integer score between 0 and 10. Over-emphasis of a frequency range stands out more to the ear than under-emphasis, and therefore is scored more negatively.
    • Each of the following frequency ranges is evaluated while listening to each track:
      • Deep bass
      • Lows
      • Mids
      • Upper mids
      • Highs
    • When evaluating frequency response, there has to be a reference band. This will usually be the Mids, but with some headphones it may seem more natural to use another frequency band. Whichever band is chosen as the reference band always gets a score of 10. The other frequency bands are scored relative to the reference frequency band.
    • If a frequency band sounds perfect for all the test tracks it gets a 10. If it sounds off, over- or under-emphasized on any of those tracks, it gets the lowest of the possible scores for all the tracks as defined below. For example, if the "highs" sound slightly emphasized on two tracks, and emphasized on another track, the emphasized score of 4 would be given for the "highs" frequency range for that headphone.
      • Highly emphasized: 0
      • Emphasized: 4
      • Slightly emphasized: 8
      • Just right: 10
      • Laid back: 9
      • Weak: 7
      • Very weak: 3
      [*]Formula applied: FR = (FR.deep.bass + FR.lows + FR.mids + FR.upper.mids + FR.highs) / 5, rounded to the nearest 1/10th.
      [*]Overall Weighting: x4





Overall Listening Experience:

The Overall Listening Experience is a result of impressions during all the previous listening tests plus those from any other desired listening time.
  • No test tracks are specified. Use impressions from all previous listening tests plus from listening to any other tracks you choose.
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Delightful. "I got chills, several times."
    • 9: Very good. "They are really nice."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "I like them."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "They are OK, nothing special."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "Forget about it."
  • Formula applied: OLE = n
  • Overall Weighting: x4




Comfort:

Pay attention both to initial impressions and to impressions formed after an hour or more. How do they feel on/around the ears, over the top of the head? If there is ear contact, how much pressure is there, how effective is the padding? Are the materials comfortable? Does the cable rub or cause discomfort? Do your ears get hot after awhile?
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Excellent. "I could wear these all day."
    • 9: Very good. "Very comfortable, an occasional minor annoyance."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "Comfortable, but there are limits."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "I can put up with them if I have to."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "Forget about it."
  • Formula applied: CO = n
  • Overall Weighting: x1




Design:

Appearance, build quality, durability, form follows function, usability and portability features, cabling, accessories, packaging.
  • Scoring
    • An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.
    • 10: Excellent. "Wow, this is so cool in every way."
    • 9: Very good. "Great design, only a minor annoyance or two."
    • 7 - 8: Good. "Nicely done, but there are some flaws that are hard to overlook."
    • 4 - 6: Fair. "OK, but some major problems."
    • 0 - 3: Poor. "How could they get it so wrong?"
  • Formula applied: DE = n
  • Overall Weighting: x1




The Overall Performance Score:

And here is the Overall Performance Score. The Overall Performance Score is a weighted average, using the weightings defined for each category above:

OPS = (((2 * IM) + (2 * SS) + (2 * CL) + (2 * SP) + (4 * FR) + (4 * OLE) + CO + DE) / 18)




Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score:

Several additional factors are considered which are not part of the overall scoring.
  • $100 reference headphone: Yes or No. I have a dream of identifying a $100 reference headphone with extremely flat frequency response and high scores in the other categories.
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes or No. Is this headphone sensitive enough to easily be driven to strong listening levels using a smart phone or portable listening device?
  • Usable without equalization: Yes or No. Is the frequency response good enough that I would be comfortable listening with it as is, without wanting to tweak it with available equalization?
  • Isolation (if closed design): For closed headphones, how good is the isolation from outside sounds, and privacy going the other way? An integer score between 0 and 10 is assigned.







Headphone Roundup Scorecard

And here is the Scorecard. As each new headphone model is evaluated, its scores will be added here so they can be compared directly.


Links to complete reviews:
  • Sennheiser HD 600 - Dec. 2012
This list will be growing, so check back regularly.

In Summary

There are a lot of headphones out there, and a lot of headphone reviewers. The purpose of all this is to give you a somewhat different kind of tool to help you decide, based on these objective-subjective scores, which headphones you might like and want to buy. Yes that is an ambitious goal. Please let me know how well it works for you. Also remember, I gave this my best shot, based on my experience and my best judgments, but your own ears will be your own best judge. I welcome your constructive feedback, but alas, of course I cannot guarantee satisfaction based on the scores - short of joining you in a Venetian mind meld. That would cost extra. I do sincerely wish you the best in your headphone listening and purchasing decisions.

May your headphone listening sessions be many and awesome!

Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver


Excel Spreadsheet Link

Coming soon. Check back for a link, you will be able to download the scoring spreadsheet and scrutinize it.



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Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver


Introduction

The Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphones have been around for quite a while, and, if you count all the reviews posted by individuals in various places on the web, have been reviewed a gazillion times. That is just an approximation, of course.

Why review them again? Because they are still, after close to 20 years, one of the best sets of headphones you can buy, and are a good reference point for comparison. As we launch the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup, the HD 600s present a good anchor point for this upcoming series of headphone reviews.

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Features

The HD 600s are an open-backed, around-the-ear design. At introduction, they were Sennheiser's finest headphone offering, and their accurate yet easy-going sound made them a favorite among serious listeners and recording and mastering engineers and musicians. All too often, standby products like the HD 600s get upgraded or replaced, but with the 600s Sennheiser has wisely stood by their design. That design is durable and highly modular - almost any part can be easily replaced, yet they rarely need to be.

Features

  • Extremely lightweight aluminium voice coils ensure excellent transient response
  • Computer-optimized magnet systems minimize harmonic and inter-modulation distortion
  • Neodymium ferrous magnets for optimum sensitivity and wide dynamic range
  • Detachable OFC copper cable, Kevlar-reinforced, with very low handling noise
  • Diaphragm optimized using laser interferometry, no standing waves; undesirable diaphragm distortions are virtually non-existent
  • Excellent wearing comfort due to the elliptical shape of the ear pads
  • MSRP: $399.95
  • Street price: $399

Here is a link to the Sennheiser website.




Specifications

Sennheiser states the frequency response of HD 600s as being flat. It turns out that there are different techniques for measuring headphone frequency response. The two curves below, the first from Sennheiser and the second from an online review source, illustrate the differences that can arise. Sennheiser's "diffuse field measurement" is admirably flat. The second curve shows the slight downward high-frequency tilt that most listeners report.

Measurement Graphs

Sennheiser's published frequency response curve for the HD 600s.



Frequency response for the HD 600s as measured by an online reviewer.


Also worth noting is the impedance for the 600s. Nominally 300 ohms, it peaks at well over 500 ohms at the resonant frequency of 100 Hz. The 600s, as is usually the case with high-end headphones, really need a good headphone amplifier to sound their best, one with a specified near-zero output impedance (under 1 ohm) to fully tame that resonance point.

I got a kick out of the pictorials that Sennheiser used to portray the HD 600's specs in one of their publications. You can see it in the drop-down area below, along with a more conventional spec list.

Specifications

Sennheiser's published specifications for the HD 600s - the new fun way.



Sennheiser's published specifications for the HD 600s - the old boring way.
  • Frequency response: 16 - 30,000 Hz, -3 dB; 12 - 39,000 Hz, -10 dB
  • Frequency characteristics: diffuse field equalized
  • Ear coupling: around the ear
  • Transducer: dynamic, open
  • Impedance: 300 ohm nominal
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB at 1 mW
  • Power handling: 0.2 W
  • Distortion: less than 0.1%
  • Cable length: 3 m, straight, Y with L & R connections
  • Connector: 3.5 mm with 6.3 mm adapter
  • Weight without cable: 260 g


General Impressions

Sennheiser headphones definitely have their own look, and the HD 600s, with their black and gray mottled finish, stand out as unique. To me it is a very elegant, attractive look that says they are something special, and probably expensive. Which, of course, they are. Being fairly durable, you can read online about people using them as their "knock-around" headphones, but that would not be my choice. They remain stay-at-home cans for relaxed listening in the comfy chair or for duty as reference phones.

Their fit is a little tight, but the ear pads are comfortable enough that I am able to forget about the pressure after a few minutes. The effectiveness of the headband padding helps.

Their sound is as smooth as a baby's bottom. They are smoooooth-sounding headphones. The frequency response tilt is just enough to give a laid back-impression, to make them easy to listen to for long periods, and yet retains all the high-frequency detail you could wish for. They sound good soft and they sound good loud. They sound good with any kind of music you can throw at them.

Individual Test Scores

Measurement Methods

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Imaging
  • Test Scores
    • Very-High-Frequency: 9
    • High-Frequency: 8
    • General: 10
  • Weighted average (x1, x1, x2): 9.3
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Soundstage
  • Test Scores
    • Bluegrass track: 8
    • Funk Band track: 10
  • Average: 9.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Clarity
  • Clarity Test Scores
    • Cymbal, loud track: 10
    • Bass, loud track: 10
    • Cymbal, quiet track: 10
    • Cymbal, loud track: 10
    • Strings, loud track: 9
  • Average: 9.8
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Speed
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 8
    • Lows track: 8
    • Mids track: 10
    • Upper-mids track: 9
    • Highs track: 10
  • Average: 9.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Frequency Response
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 10
    • Lows track: 10
    • Mids track: 10
    • Upper-mids track: 10
    • Highs track: 10
  • Average: 10.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4
Overall Listening Experience
  • Score: 10
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4

Listening Tests

Imaging: 9.3 - The HD 600s have solid imaging, no smearing that I could ever hear, just a little roundness on certain sounds. And it was only noticeable during the most critical listening tests, so the 600s get high marks here.

Soundstage: 9.0 - The soundstage felt slightly compressed, perhaps even just a bit crowded on an up-close instrumental track, but very natural on a big Funk band track.

Clarity: 9.8 - The only time the 600s sounded slightly strained was on loud symphonic strings, where they came across just a bit shrill. The 600s did an excellent job handling heavy bass and the complex harmonics of cymbals together at soft and loud volumes.

Speed: 9.0 - Certain bass instruments felt a bit mushy, lacking impact. Other instruments recorded with sharp attack times, like snare drums and toms in the midrange, xylophones and triangles in the higher ranges, were delivered with a crisp sense of impact.

Frequency Response: 10.0 - Frequency response seemed extremely well-balanced, never a noticeable deficiency or overemphasis on any range for any track.

Track Hopping

Back to the Beethoven Symphony, just because it sounds so nice. That edginess on the strings only appears at a fairly high volume level. The 600s handle the dynamics of most music very well.

Porcupine Tree's Deadwing, so well-balanced, I am loving the way Gavin Harrison's up-front cymbals are handled, love those complex harmonics.

Joni Mitchell's voice on her Blue album, especially on A Case Of You, is very warm, very intimate. The downward-tilted frequency response profile of the HD 600s goes well with male and female voices.

The Gorillaz, Rhinestone Eyes, again I'm loving the way vocals, male and female, are handled by these headphones.

Dillinger Escape Plan, Sunshine the Werewolf. A lot of metal music is recorded to sound just a bit harsh, with weak kick drum and bass, something I have never quite understood. But the voicing of the HD 600s is just right for it, seems to even out the tonal balance. It is doubtful that the Sennheiser engineers made listening to heavy metal a high priority for the HD 600s, but these headphones handle it just fine.

Pink Floyd's Hey You, that big fat snare drum right in your face, as real as can be, and more nicely-recorded cymbals with their harmonics.​

Overall Listening Experience: 10 - Delightful handling of voices and percussion. Well-rounded delivery for a variety of genres.
Non-Listening Scores

Comfort: 9 - The initial impression of tightness against the sides of the head wears off quickly. Ear-surround and headband padding are very good. Nothing touches the ears.

Design: 10 - Nicely made, rugged feel, elegant look. Build quality is solid. Modular design is a big plus. The cable seems lightweight, but it is Kevlar-reinforced, and I have had no issues with wear in two years of moderate use. Left and right ground wires do not tie together until the 3.5 mm plug, a 4-wire design, minimizing channel interaction.

Overall Performance Score: 9.6 out of 10
Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes
  • Usable without equalization: Yes
  • Isolation (if closed design): n.a.


Conclusions

Okay, so they are not perfect. In some of these categories, where you really start picking at details, the HD 600s do not stand up to the scrutiny that some newer high-end headphones do. But for overall listening likability, they still stand very tall. And in NO category would you call them significantly weak or deficient.

The Sennheiser HD 600s are an excellent set of reference headphones, and are a top pick for critical or relaxed listening sessions.

The Pros:
  • Smooth, laid-back sound, non-fatiguing, plenty of detail
  • Solid performer in all tested categories
    [+]Well-accepted music industry standard
  • Elegant appearance
  • Durable
  • Modular design, replaceable cable
The Cons:
  • Some might find them to be a tight fit

Performance Summary and Overall Performance Score
  • Imaging: 9.3
  • Soundstage: 9.0
  • Clarity: 9.8
  • Speed: 9.0
  • Frequency Response: 10.0
  • Overall Listening Experience: 10
  • Comfort: 9
  • Design: 10
  • MSRP: $399.95
  • Street Price: $399 - Carried by Amazon and Newegg.
  • Would I buy or recommend them? Absolutely.
  • Overall Performance Score: 9.6 out of 10

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver



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this is the summary for the first post in the comments thread
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Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver


Introduction

The Sennheiser HD 600 Audiophile Headphones have been around for quite a while, and, if you count all the reviews posted by individuals in various places on the web, have been reviewed a gazillion times. That is just an approximation, of course.

Why review them again? Because they are still, after close to 20 years, one of the best sets of headphones you can buy, and are a good reference point for comparison. As we launch the Home Theater Shack Headphone Roundup, the HD 600s present a good anchor point for this upcoming series of headphone reviews.

[READ MORE]
 

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Banned
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Is my assumption correct that it is okay to use images from the manufacturer's site or literature to include in a review of their gear?
Yes... they have no problem with this at all.


Yes, we talked about posting the Sennheiser review and having the Overview writeup posted as a sticky in the headphone/headgear forum. Let me see if I have this straight:
  • The complete (long version) Sennheiser HD 600 review goes into its own closed thread in the Reviews forum.
  • Links from that review to a discussion thread and back.
  • Intro (short version) to the Sennheiser HD 600 review goes on the homepage, with link to the complete review.
  • Headphone Roundup Overview/Summary goes as a sticky thread in the headphone/headgear forum. Perhaps this should also be a closed thread with links to/from a discussion thread for the overview/methods.
  • The Overview has links to/from the complete HD 600 review, and to/from each additional headphone review as it is posted.
Close... the part: Intro (short version) to the Sennheiser HD 600 review goes on the homepage, with link to the complete review.

The Intro (short version) is actually the Discussion Thread in the Headphone Gear forum.

The closed Full Review thread in the Reviews forum will cycle through the home page featured threads, but those threads are cut off by the system at I think 2,000 characters or something like that... which is why you always see a short version of the reviews on the home page... and you have the [Read More] link.

So yeah... I think we would have three threads...
  • Headphone Roundup Overview sticky thread in the Headphone Gear forum with links to the full reviews and discussion threads. I would probably leave this one open but at the end place a notice in there that this thread is for the discussion of the overview/scoring etc and questions or comments about individual reviews and/or headphones should be posted in their respective discussion threads.
  • Full Review thread (closed) in the Reviews forum with links to the discussion thread and the roundup overview.
  • Discussion thread with short conclusion/summary and maybe a small image with links back to the full review and roundup overview.
Is this something like a three ring circus. :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
It needed more than just a few tweaks. The flow seems much nicer now, with the more technical sections closed up in the spoiler type boxes. I added text to fill out what remains visible, and I think/hope the result is more readable. With this all done, the remaining reviews will be fill-in-the-blank using this as a template, so thanks for your patience in letting me get this "right" so it can serve as that template in the future.

The professor is taking one last look at this edit. Only tiny fixes are expected after this, I will post them separately so you can see what changed. Final suggestions are still welcome.

Wayne
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Final tweaks:

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changed from

Do your ears get hot after I while?

to

Do your ears get hot after awhile?

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updated score card image, corrected street price, changed description of HD 600s

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from

Closed

to

closed

2 places

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removed 2nd "among", from

At introduction, they were Sennheiser's finest headphone offering, and their accurate yet easy-going sound made them a favorite among serious listeners and among recording and mastering engineers and musicians.

to

At introduction, they were Sennheiser's finest headphone offering, and their accurate yet easy-going sound made them a favorite among serious listeners and recording and mastering engineers and musicians.

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from

Sunshine The Werewolf

to

Sunshine the Werewolf
 
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