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Boston Audio Society The BAS Speaker Magazine

Four Headphones, Only Two Ears
Article By Peter V.K. Brown
Boston Audio Society Speaker
Volume 31 No. 1


  This is a review of four headphones: The Sennheiser HD-650, the Sennheiser HD-600, the AKG K-701, and the recent Sony MDR-V6 with CCAW diaphragm. These are necessarily subjective reviews, and I might like a headphone because it corrects for a subtle hearing deficiency, or mastering problems on the recordings.

All music was on CD, played through a Sony CDP-XA20ES — a low-end audiophile single-disc player from some years ago. I tried to keep the volume constant from headphone to headphone, but made no measurements. I built a low-impedance source with a resistor-divider on the player's 60Ω headphone output: 22Ω feeding 6.8Ω across the headphone. A headphone amp would have been better.


Evaluation Music
Massed Choral — Phillips 411-458-2, Bach, Magnificat — "Gloria Patri" (on period instruments, Monteverdi Choir). 

Flentrop Organ — Flentrop organ: CBS MK-42644, Bach, Great Organ Favorites — "Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV-565" (E. Power Biggs).

Spanish Organ — Spanish organ (reeds):

Alte Spanische Orgelmusik— "Entrada Grande En Dos Teclados" (Paul Bernard, organ; LP transferred to CD-R).

Soprano — Linda (soprano) (from recording using Shure SM94 electret condenser mike, Behringer IMP preamp, and Sony PCM-R300 DAT recorder, transferred to CD-R).

Synthesizer — Synthesizer: DGG 415 110-2, Bach Handel 300 — several tracks (Mandozzi, synthesizer).

Violins — Violins: Haydn, Violin Concertos — "Minuetto (allegro) of ‘Sunrise' Violin Concerto" (The Lindsay Quartet).

Rock — Virgin 7243-8-39782--2-9, The Rolling Stones,  Voodoo Lounge — "You got Me Rocking". Bluegrass — Epic EK-39616, Dan Fogelberg, High Country Snows — "Sutter's Mill". 1980s pop — EMI CDP-7-94435-2, Roxette, Joyride — "Fading Like a Rose."


Sennheiser HD-600 Vs. Sennheiser HD-650
Massed Choral: The HD-650 was better and sounded more real. Flentrop Organ: The HD-650 went much lower, probably to 32Hz, while the HD-600 ends at about 50Hz. The HD-650 muffled the chiff considerably — it sounded fake. Spanish Organ (reed stops): The HD-650 muffled the higher harmonics.

Soprano: The HD-600 delivered a more natural tone, due to better reproduction of the overtones.

Synthesizer: The HD-650 lacked edge; the HD-600 did better. Rock: The HD-650 was much better due to better low-frequency response.

Bluegrass: On banjos, the HD-650 sounded dull, not lifelike; the HD-600 was better.

1980s pop: The HD-650 muted the cymbals. The HD-600 is more impedance-sensitive than the HD-650. My choice: the Sennheiser HD-600. The HD-650 sounds like asouped-up HD-500.


Sennheiser HD-600 Vs. AKG K-701
Massed Choral: The K-701 was better on voices, but bad when the trumpets came in — they sounded like toys. However, the HD-600 was better overall.

Flentrop Organ: The HD-600 went lower, probably to 50Hz; the K-701 ends about 70Hz. The HD-600 delivered a more-realistic sound —I could hear in-tune overtones; the sound was brighter. The K-701 was close but not as good.

Spanish Organ (reed stops): The K-701 sounded better than the HD-600 on the higher harmonics and in revealing the different tone colors of the reed stops.

Soprano: The K-701 sounded as if she was standing next to me; the HD-600 sounded like a very good recording. Synthesizer: The K-701 and HD-600 were equal, with different colorations.

Violins: The K-701 delivered better violin tone, but a bit zippy; the cello sounded artificial. The HD-600 gave a good cello sound, but the violin wasn't right! Rock: The K-701 sounded wimpy; the HD-600 sounded fair. Bluegrass: Banjos sounded better on the K-701, while the male voice sounded better on the HD-600. 1980s pop: The K-701 sounded better on vocals a nd highs, but lows were missing; the HD-600 gave a more-balanced sound, but vocals and piano sounded less real than the K-701.

My choice: Both! The K-701 is breathtaking on some music, but the HD-600 low-frequency response is needed for other music. The K-701 is very uncomfortable on my head; I cannot wear it for more than ten minutes. Maybe added padding would help. The K-701 requires a low-impedance drive, or the bass is even weaker.


Sony MDR-V6 With "CCAW" Diaphragm Vs. The Others
The Sony MDR-V6 is available for about $55 — 1/6th or 1/10th the price of the other headphones. Hence, it is not a true competitor, but rather a recommended adjunct to your headphone collection. This headphone does everything fairly well, is comfortable to wear, and is very sensitive (106 dB/mW).

Massed Choral: The Sony sounded miserable compared to HD-600 or K-701.

Flentrop Organ: The Sony had too much bass on pedal notes; the high pipes all had the same character instead of being different. Spanish Organ (reed stops): The Sony made the reed voices indistinguishable from each other.

Soprano: The Sony made her voice sound good, but some important subtleties were lost. Synthesizer: The Sony had a balanced, but different, sound than the HD-600 or K-701. Violins: The cello and violin sounded fair, while the viola sounded good!

Rock: The Sony was outstanding, much better than HD-600 or K-701 — a good rock sound, with strong, tight bass, snarling guitars, and an in-your-face Mick Jagger.

Bluegrass: The Sony delivered a balanced sound, but the banjo and the vocalist were less real than with the HD-600 or K-701. 1980s pop: The Sony had a good, balanced sound, but the vocals and piano sounded generic. The emotion of the singing was masked. In contrast, the bass was much better.

This headphone has bass as good or better than the Sennheiser HD-650, but without the dulling of high frequencies. It has a moderately flat response without any obnoxious peaks. It does not deliver the sound that makes for the breathtaking realism I sometimes hear from the other headphones, but it is quite good. For example, Linda's voice (CD#4) has a different timbre from what is real, but she still sounds good — but not like she's next to me or on a high-quality studio recording.

I use these headphones for listening to pop music, country, oldies, and  classic rock. This is music where I don't necessarily want the utmost realism. I don't use them for classical, choral, jazz vocal, or organ music. For the price, these headphones are an excellent value.



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