A while back, I posted a Sennheiser HD 559 review. I left a little bit… cold. They felt muffled. I was disappointed with them, to say the least. But now we're back. We've raised the stakes by a couple model numbers and a few dollars for a sort of rematch. We're looking at the open-back, over-ear Sennheiser 599s. The sticker on these is $199 – about double that of the 559s. The 559s (much like the 599s) are loaners, so I don't have the 559s to compare against directly, so I want to evaluate them on their own merits as much as I can, while keeping in mind what it was about the 559s that bugged me.
Build, Style, and Features
The first thing you'll notice as you scroll through our gallery is that these aren't your standard black-and-silver headphones. Instead, Sennheiser has gone with an off-white "cream" sort of color with brown accents on the headband and earcups. The grills are still the usual black and silver, and the detachable cord itself is just black rubber. That's not a bad thing, just know that the cosmetic flair doesn't extend down past the bottom of the earcups.
I actually dig this color because it's different enough to stand out without also screaming "look, here, these are headphones, look at them" to everyone around you.
The satin-textured earcups are super comfortable, assisted by the open-back nature of the headphones. Open-back headphones are going to be a huge turn-off for some listeners because that means everyone around you hears what you're listening to, but if you listen to music primarily at home (or just want an at-home pair of headphones), they're going to be way more comfortable. As I write this we're coming up on the tail end of summer. Here in Minnesota, closed-back headphones are just plain uncomfortable for about two months straight. They trap heat and air, compromising comfort in favor of ratcheting up the bass response.
Much like with my AKG K240 MKII headphones, I can wear these for hours and hours at a time without even a hint of discomfort. But I can also hear my mechanical keyboard clicking away as I type, so, keep that in mind.
One way the 599 improves on the 559 is that, while it still defaults to a 1/4-inch audio jack, it at least comes with a 3.5-mm adapter in the box this time. I still don't understand Sennheiser's need to default to the bigger jack, though. Other high-end audio gear companies like Grado have 3.5-mm jacks that match modern audio consumption habits, and I wish Sennheiser would go along. As it is, the jack and adapter end up being a 4-inch plug in total. The perfect thing to bump and damage the expensive headphones or audio equipment with.
But unlike last time, where the headphones didn't sound great and the huge jack was just another bad thing on top of other crud, I'm giving it a pass this time, because these headphones sound really, really nice.
The first thing I noticed is that the 599s definitely lean on the bass. I can pick it out immediately when I put on Miles Davis' "Blue in Green." I don't think it stifles the lows and mids necessarily. After throwing Miles at it, I switched to 90s Stoner Rock band Kyuss, a band that I can rely on to help me push the limits of bass on audio equipment with tracks like "Space Cadet" and "Freedom Run." The 599s handled Kyuss' butt-shaking bass admirably even at high volumes. Bass-heavy rap tracks like Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E." and Aesop Rock's "Dorks" perform well on these headphones as well.
Meanwhile, it does fine with mids, and highs were present without being overly bright – they never hurt to listen to unless I'd already cranked the volume up too high anyway.
The 599s are a little quieter than some other headphones I've tried recently, but they also never distorted in my experience, either, so that doesn't seem like a bad thing.
With the Sennheiser HD 599s, you're paying a premium, but you're getting really good headphones that don't overly sweeten the sound while still giving it plenty of oomph, and are comfortable to wear for as long as you can keep them on. I wish Sennheiser would deal with the whole audio jack issue, but it's not a dealbreaker when the headphones sound as good as these do.
Disclaimer: We spent a week with the Sennheiser 599 HDs before writing this review.
Thank you to Audio46.com for supplying the headphones for this review.