Sennheiser HD598

WHEN I FIRST SAW the Sennheiser HD598’s beige-and-brown color scheme, woodgrain accents, and air-cushioned headband, images of all sorts of 1970s products fl ooded through my head: Kustom guitar amps with “tuck and roll” covering, lacquered driftwood furniture, waterbeds, Roger Dean posters. Surely the unique look of the HD598 will attract some and repel others, but kudos to Sennheiser for daring to be different.

Cosmetics excepted, the HD598 illustrates Sennheiser’s decades of experience in building high-class headphones. The oval-shaped earcups easily accommodate almost anyone’s ears. The pressure applied by the headband is fi rm enough to keep the earcups in place but light enough that you could wear the HD598 all day. No panelist voiced even the slightest complaint about the HD598’s comfort. When a modestly priced model like this can achieve ergonomic perfection, I have to wonder why so many headphones are so uncomfortable.

The HD598’s sonic performance is no less impressive. “Five out of fi ve on sound and comfort,” Will raved, although he still ranked it second to the Beyerdynamic DT-990. I tied the HD598 for fi rst place with the Audio-Technica ATH-AD990, while Howard and Joe both ranked it second. We all felt the HD598’s neutral tonal balance made it a great choice for any type of music. I found the sound incredibly lush and involving when I played audiophile stuff like the 96/24 download of “Short and Sweet,” from Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society. Only Geoff put the HD598 in the middle of the pack, complaining that it lent a bit of sibilance to Radka Toneff’s vocal on “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” from Burmester’s Art for the Ear demo CD.

The frequency response of the HD598 appears to be slightly low in the bass, but fairly well balanced overall. Impedance averages 60 ohms but increases to a very high 253 ohms at 97 Hz; this radical swing produces a larger-than-average bass bump of 3.3 dB at 97 Hz with a 75-ohm output impedance. Isolation is typical for an open-back headphone; ambient noise is cut by 3 to 16 dB above 2 kHz. Distortion is very low at 80 dB. At 100 dB, it’s a little high below 200 Hz, but max THD of 15.6% at 20 Hz is about average. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179-volt RMS signal is 102.2 dB.

The Sennheiser HD598 is another headphone that we can recommend to practically anyone, for practically any taste. At $249, it’s a steal. With the HD598, a $100 D/A converter/ headphone amp, and your laptop computer, you can achieve incontestably great sound for less than the price of a good subwoofer.