As a longtime classically trained musician, there is something immensely emotional and visceral while enjoying live music. The intricate textures and harmonics reach our ears for our brain to decode it all. The one factor my body has become accustomed to is also the physical sense of music. That is, when live music is played the air vibrates and reaches not just my ears, but also vibrates my body as well. Anyone who has experimented with vibration reduction devices also understands this. While these vibrations may be detrimental to our music reproduction system, in my humble opinion it benefits our soul.
For me, the whole headphone issue has been a love, hate, hate, and love issue. While in the recording studio i was forced to wear these things. You know, the usual AKG jobbies so i could hear a click track and backing bass (or other tracks on the master tape). Like electrostatic/panel loudspeakers, the main drawback for me is the sheer lack of physical impact in this type of music reproduction. With decades of live music experience, my body and soul demand a matching of physical vibration to the sound being perceived by my brain. Regardless of this circumstance, it is hard to deny the benefits of enjoying music through headphones.
As the owner of a high resolution digital audio workstation (DAW), my Royal Reference 3A MM De Capo (see review here) and Linn Sizmik 10.25 self-powered subwoofer (reviewed here) make up the current playback monitors of choice. Then i can burn a "test" CD-R for playback on the main rig (custom digital front end with cj Premiere 17LS pre-amplifier, Wavelength Audio Cardinal X-1 single-ended 300B tube monoblock amplifiers, and Avantgarde Acoustic Duo hornspeakers). With all this gear one might feel that headphones are redundant. After all, both systems provide very high quality playback and monitoring. That assumption could not be further from the truth!
The benefit of headphones, for me, is mainly two-fold. Headphones provide good isolation from outside noises, thereby reducing the noise floor. The other benefit is in the ability to have the audio equivalent of a microscope into the sound of the recording. As a percussionist/drummer, small timing cues are extremely important! There is a difference between sounding like a perfectly timed drum machine, or "playing in the pocket". One may give perfect timing, while the other grooves. This is analogous to Kraftwerk versus George Clinton P-Funk/Funkadelic. As for myself, i prefer "the pocket" to drum machine timing. Since i am far from being Steve Gadd, Neil Peart, Buddy Rich, Carmine Appice... or the late great Jeff Porcaro, there are moments where my playing could use a bit of spicing up or overdubbing. Far be it for me to use such plug-ins as pitch correction, timing correction and other band aids as used in many pop recordings today.
As for the audiophile side of this, there are times when my neighbors might not enjoy Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Zappa, Zeppelin, Roger Waters, or Pink Floyd at 2 a.m. in the morning. Headphones are the natural choice when you may want to enjoy music while your spouse wants to watch TV. And with that out of the way, here is my assessment of the Sennheiser HD600 headphones with both the stock cable and Stefan AudioArt cables.
By now virtually every audio rag has reviewed these headphones, and for good reason. They are probably the single best units that provide great accuracy, harmonic richness, and subtly. In fact our very own Todd Warnke reviewed them in May 2002 during his headphone survey. While Todd chose the $119 Clou Cable Red Jaspis cable made in Sweden, my choice for cabling is the Stefan AudioArt Equinox made right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. While not having the ability to try the same cables Todd reviewed, there was quite a bit of great comments regarding the Stefan AudioArt and, hence, this review.
i will not cover the specifics on the Sennheiser HD600 so as not to bore you (see Todd Warnke's review of the HD 600 by clicking here). Odds are you have become familiar with these headphones from other reviews both here and in other publications. As for the Joseph AudioArt Equinox HD600 cable, it is compatible with both the HD600 and HD580 headphones. The cable construction itself employs four-conductor quad-braid field geometry high purity copper with individual strain isolation enclosed in a Teflon/Oxygen dielectric. The cable itself is protected with Techflex to reduce damage to the precious cable. Techflex is the same material i choose for Enjoy the Music.com™'s Max Rochlin Memorial Digital Audio/Video DIY cable. Naturally it is a well-established "known good" within the cable industry. Gold contacts for the headphones are used while the headphone jack can vary according to one's desires. The cable supplied for this reviewer were terminated with a 1/4" gold plated male stereo jack. All of the connectors are applied to the cable with Stefan AudioArt's "UltraSolder" process. A one year parts and labor warranty is included and the nine foot cable as supplied cost $189.
No Phony Sound, Please
So why would one seem to need an aftermarket cable when Sennheiser has long been known to make great headphones? Simply because the stock cable, in my humble opinion, leaves much to be desired. It limits the highs, muddles the bass, and lacks overall resolution. It also lacks durability with very thin conductors encased in a relatively thin flexible plastic covering. While being more flexible than the Joseph AudioArt Equinox HD600, the Equinox is far from those overly stiff "garden hose" loudspeaker cables. The picture below gives you a better idea how the system looks. Note the ten inches of exposed twisted pair of white cables for each channel near the headphones. This adds flexibility while allowing for many different head sizes and application flexibility. So what does it sound like?
The difference is not subtle. Those who claim all cables sound the same would be hard pressed to heard the difference and continue being "flat earthers". Both the highest and lowest of frequencies are more extended while overall transparency is greatly enhanced. In fact i began to wonder why Sennheiser would ship their critically acclaimed HD600 with such less than optimum cables that limit the overall sound to such a high degree. Of course costs factors may be one factor as there are obvious saving by using the same wire for much of their entire product line. If each and every headphone used a totally different cable, then additional costs and parts stocking expenses would add to the retail price of their products.
The enhanced sound with Joseph AudioArt's Equinox HD600 also pertains to small timing cues. Ah ha, now we know why drummer Steve loves these cables so much! À l'effet contraire mon ami! It is the overall improvement from top to bottom (and left to right as it were) of the reproduced music by the HD600s. With the Equinox in place the overall realism was enhanced while i was able to better decipher intricate musical passages both from my DAW to my home music reproduction system. In fact it is so good that Yours Truly, the guy who generally hates music reproduced through headphones due to the lacking of physical body vibrations, is now seeking a top-quality tubed headphone amplifier due to the power hungriness of the HD600s! So stay tuned because, as they say, the fat lady has yet to sing! Of course in the end what really matters is that you...
High-quality open metal mesh earpiece covers
Computer optimized magnet systems minimize harmonic and intermodulation distortion
Extremely lightweight aluminum voice coils
Neodymium ferrous magnet systems
Detachable, Kevlar reinforced, OFC copper cable
Stefan AudioArt Equinox HD600 Cable
Cable Geometry: oval variable-lay construction 8cm x 6cm
End Connectors: Gold plated Sennheiser spade connections, terminated with a professional-grade heavy-duty male headphone jack. Connectors are applied to the cable with Stefan AudioArt's exclusive UltraSolder process.
Weight: 90 grams / 2.9 ounces (nine foot without 3.5-mm/1/4" termination)
Warranty: One years parts and labor
Price: Nine foot length with standard 0.25 inch connector $189 (other lengths and connectors available)
Sennheiser Electronic Corporation
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