Since I’ve gotten serious about reviewing headphones, I’ve been surprised by how big the differences can be between different sets. Of course, open-back or closed-back makes a significant difference in soundstage, but even the more subtle things, like the materials of the cups or pads, can affect the sound, and how the headband fits or the cups fold up can be almost as important as the sound for how much you like any given pair.
So, when Massdrop sent me a preview pair of their new HD 58X headphones, the next step in their partnership with Sennheiser, I was at something of a loss, because they’re so similar to another pair of headphones that I know and love. If you look at the siderail of GeekDad right now, you’ll see the ad for “GeekDad Ken’s favorite headphones!” the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX. And if you compare those headphones to this new pair, just at the visual level, it’s hard to tell them apart.
HD 58X Fit & Finish
It’s amazing to think that these are a design that has existed for almost 25 years, and they still look great and sound great. The original Sennheiser HD 580 headphones were released to widespread acclaim in 1993, and much like the signature look of Porsche sports cars, Sennheiser has kept the design substantially the same in this family of products, with a few cosmetic and technological changes over the years. If you look closely, you can see subtle differences in the headband padding and the coloration of both the framework at the grilles. But, effectively, these are nearly the same headphones on the outside (importantly, there is–like with sports cars–a thriving modification community for this family of headphones, and any of the existing mods should work with this new version just fine).
I will note that the first day I wore these, I felt some differences. The headband was actually a bit tighter, and the padding material in the ear pads was firmer. As with really good shoes, I had to do a bit of “breaking in” with them; working the metal headband a little to relax them, and rolling the ear pads a bit to soften them up. It didn’t take much to make them fit like a comfortable pair of slippers, and after a few days, it was hard to tell the difference between them and my HD 6XXs.
Otherwise, all the basics are very similar to the HD 6XX. These are over-the-ear headphones, and they’re open-backed. They have some kind of cloth-covered memory foam in the headband and ear pads that makes them very comfortable. They come with a proprietary 6′ detachable cable that’s very strong and durable. Indeed, the entire headset feels rugged, but comes in under 10oz., making them some of the lightest headphones you’ll try at this size.
HD 58X Sound
The Sennheiser HD 650s (and the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XXs that are their clones) are loved by a lot of people. They are very neutral (not favoring heavy bass, nor too lively on the high ends, with excellent clarity), while still having a warm quality to them. That’s why they are so popular and are a benchmark for headphones in the $200+ price category. So, how do these new cans compare?
Pretty damn well. If you go just by the testing charts, you’d see that the variance in frequency response is almost negligible save for one peak at the very high end. For the days that I’ve been wearing them, and comparing them to my HD 6XXs, I’ve found only the subtlest differences, which probably have more to do with the ear pad material than anything else. The biggest technical difference is that the newer drivers in these headphones have half the impedance of the older pair, meaning they’re easier to drive without an amp, directly from a laptop or phone. Of course, an amp will open them up even more, but being able to enjoy these without the additional gear is definitely an important factor in your buying decision.
As I write this review, I’ve been listening to The Protomen’s Act II: The Father of Death, which I love for headphones, and I keep pausing to listen when I hear stuff that normally gets lost on lesser cans. These really hold up and compare well to their older siblings. And if you want a second opinion, acclaimed audiophile reviewer Steve Guttenberg has already put up a quick take on these that’s very positive:
HD 58X Value
There has been a line in the sand for a long time at the $200 price point for headphones that fall into the audiophile category. The HD 6XXs have sat on that line for a while now, which is why they’re considered one of the best value propositions out there.
Well, the HD 58Xs have just moved that line. At their introductory price of $150, they’ve just set a new standard for entry-level audiophile headphones, and considering that you don’t need an amp to drive them, Massdrop and Sennheiser have just brought great-sounding audio down to a level where a lot more people can afford to hear what they’ve been missing.