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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Solid build quality
Sleek, professional design
Tight, clamping fit
Hyper-specific use case
High price tag
The Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are great for audiophiles and professional producers because of their amazing frequency response and high-quality build, but they may be priced too high for the average consumer.
The Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are meant for audiophiles and professional music producers. There’s really no getting around that fact—if you want to pick up a pair of HD 650s, you have to consider just how specialized they are, and just how their performance can be under-utilized or, at worst, completely misaligned. At their core, they prioritize sound quality above all else, putting most of their money into the construction of the drivers and the open-back design. They aren’t flimsy, that’s to be sure, but if you’re looking for flashy bells and whistles and extra features commonly found on consumer-grade headphones, you should look elsewhere.
It’s for these reasons that we give the HD 650 a solid thumbs up, but with the caveat that you need to know what you’re using them for, and when. We’ll dig in further about the different applications below, so read on.
Most of Sennheiser’s high-end headphones look roughly the same. They have giant earcups that measure almost 4.5 inches at their longest point and are essentially just squashed ovals. Sennheiser tilts them backward on each ear to give a more natural look and a more standard fit. The unit we tested came in a slightly sparkly, dark gray gunmetal plastic. The ear cups are a slightly darker shade of gray, allowing for a bit of contrast.
On the outside of each cup, there’s a metal mesh cage that both protects and shows off the intricate driver construction inside. This also allows for the open-back soundstage that helps the sound quality, but we’ll get to that in the later section.
The Sennheiser logo is screen-printed along the top of the headband, and the HD 650 model number is etched in a matching light gray rectangle above each ear cup. This design is nice because it has enough physical touches to show that Sennheiser has put some effort into appearance, without too many flashy colors to take away from the professionalism of the headphones.
At the end of the day, these are very simple and effectively designed, compared with the speckled blue of the Sennheiser 600, and we find the look to be really tasteful. Whether you’re using these for daily music listening or you’re having clients over for a mixing session, they won’t distract from their main purpose—delivering rich, beautiful, and detailed sound.
As for setup, there’s really none to speak of. Take the headphones out of the box and they’re essentially plug and play, provided you have a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amplifier capable of supporting them. More on that later.
Outside of sound quality, comfort is one of the most important features of a pair of audiophile or producer headphones, That’s because, whether you’re digging into some high-resolution listening, or you’re spending hours working on a new track, your headphones need to provide a good degree of comfort. The Sennheiser HD 650 are among the most comfortable studio headphones we’ve tested.
Most headphones on the market that consumers are familiar with what’s called “closed back”, which means that they form a solid seal around your ears to help isolate sound and prevent background noise from leaking into your listening experience. Headphones like the HD 650 are open back, meaning the earcups are not domes of plastic, but rather create a larger, breathable space around your ears. This works very much to the HD 650’s advantage because it allows for air to flow, meaning your ears won’t get hot during extended listening sessions. This also creates a really nice, natural sound stage, but again, we’ll get to that in the sound quality section.
We noticed no wear and tear in the week we used these headphones. In a home or studio setting, we expect the HD 650 to last for years.
The earpads themselves are made of a very soft, velvety material that provides a nice touch around your ears. This is much better than the smoother, pleather material used by most headphones. One drawback of the pads is that the foam used inside of them is firm and springy, not nearly as plush as the memory foam inserts used for consumer models. On the one hand, this creates a nice, stable fit that clings well and easily stays on your head, but it can become uncomfortable over long term use.
It’s important to note that the tightness of the fit will differ from person to person, depending on how big your head is. Again, the open-back cups allow for air flow to your ears, but the tight-fitting velvet, though it’s soft, can stifle airflow under that specific area. As with most headphones, the fit is about personal preference, so take all of this with a grain of salt.
Like many other headphones at this end of the price spectrum, the focus was on sound quality. As such, a lot of attention in material detail was done in the sound-producing areas. The neodymium drivers appear to be high quality, but Sennheiser has even included something they’re calling “specially designed acoustic silk” to help dampen artifacts and keep the harmonic distortion low. These materials are both premium (as shown by the price tag) and beneficial to playback, as evidenced by the sound quality you can get.
On the outside, the construction is mostly the same story. We already mentioned that we think the design is befitting of a premium set of headphones, but we also think the HD 650 feels more sturdy in the hand, even when compared to the HD 600. The headband is covered in plastic, mostly to help achieve 0.57-pound weight, but it’s sturdy and rigid, so we’re confident you won’t get much cracking from average use. Inside the headband is the guiding metal band that has slightly less give than the HD 600 we tested. This gave us more assurance that the size-adjustment mechanism will last a good deal of time.
You have a headphone that really is designed for listening to pristine audio in a studio or in an audiophile application.
The cable here is also much sturdier than you’ll find on the HD 600 and other competitors. It’s good that Sennheiser chose the cable as one of the premium upgrades (alongside that silk we mentioned above) because the cable is a common breakpoint for headphones. Plus the wires detach from their individual ear cups so if the cable fails you’ll be able to simply replace the wire, rather than the entire unit.
Finally, the velvet-covered foam on the earcups and the microfiber-covered foam along the inside of the headband also feels premium. We noticed no wear and tear in the week we used these headphones. In a home or studio setting, we expect the HD 650 to last for years.
Sound quality with headphones at this caliber is a mixed bag, one that’s difficult to parse, especially if you aren’t super savvy about specs. The easiest to understand here is the frequency response. These headphones will cover everything from 10 Hz to 39.5 kHz. The range of human hearing is theoretically 20 Hz to 20 kHz, though most of us hear a much narrower range due to subtle damage over the average lifetime. What this means is the Sennheiser provides a little extra below the 20 Hz range to ensure all bass (even sub-harmonic frequencies) are presented to you.
They’ve also provided a good deal of range above the theoretical limits. This means that the range you can get here doesn’t occupy the headphones’ outer limits and is therefore not as at risk of distorting. Put simply, you won’t hear more than what is possible, but what you do hear is more accurate.
The high ohm count will also mean that you’ll be leaving a lot of volume and detail on the table unless you use a proper headphone amp, DAC, or audio interface.
And that accuracy is the key point here. These headphones are designed as studio monitors with a flat response. That means you won’t have any bass accentuation as you would with consumer headphones, nor will you have cutting highs like you would in earbuds and telephone headsets. Instead, you’ll hear the information exactly as it’s being presented in the mix, or pretty close to it. Pair that with the super-high impedance of the HD 650 (300 ohms, a measure of the power it takes to drive them), and you have a pair of headphones that are designed for listening to pristine audio in a studio or audiophile application. The high ohm count will also mean that you’ll be leaving a lot of volume and detail on the table unless you use a proper headphone amp, DAC, or audio interface.
Finally, with the open-back design, though it won’t isolate you from outside noise as well as a closed-back, you’ll get a refreshingly realistic sound stage. In our tests, these headphones were accurate, amazingly so, because we caught a lot of rough edges in the mixes we listened to during testing. If accuracy and detail are your goals, you can’t do much better than these.
The HD 650 is expensive an expensive pair of headphones, costing $499 at full retail price if you get them directly from Sennheiser. But one peculiar fact here is that on Amazon usually $100 less, putting them almost at the same price as the HD 600. The difference between the two pair of headphones is marginal. The HD 650 has slightly better build quality, less harmonic distortion thanks to the acoustic silk, and slightly larger frequency response. If these things are important to you, then go for the HD 650. If you want to save money, there are several other options.
Sennheiser HD 600: As we mentioned, you can get a slightly better deal with the HD 600, but you’ll have to sacrifice a little bit of build quality and a negligible amount of harmonic distortion.
Sennheiser 280 Pro: Sennheiser’s most popular closed back monitor is a good deal cheaper, but also doesn’t offer quite the response or detail as you’ll get with open-back designs. But the 280 Pro is a great backup studio monitor.
Beyerdynamic 990: Beyerdynamic feels very similar in comfort and build to the HD 650, and you’ll save a few bucks, as long as you don’t need the response and detail afforded by the HD 650.
Costly, but unbeatable detail.
Even for the premium price tag, we can’t find a lot of fault with the HD 650. They do exactly what they’re supposed to, providing impeccable detail, with plenty of headroom on both ends of the frequency spectrum. And they do it with a comfortable elegance you won’t find from a lot of brands. If you’re a professional or an audiophile, you can‘t do much better than the Sennheiser HD 650.