Review #18: Sennheiser HD 598 SE

I assume that like most of my generation, the musical journey in the early years comprised of using the headphones that came with the Walkman, Discman and subsequently the Nokia phones. It's only in the past few years that I have taken to indulging myself in music at a perceived higher level. It has always been a conscious decision of mine to slowly move up the ladder. Hence, my progression has gone as follows:

Earphones: JVC Marshmallow -> Brainwavz M1 -> Sennheiser MX580 -> Sony MH1C -> Mi Pistons 2 -> Sennheiser Momentum IEM

Headphones: Sennheiser HD203 -> Sennheiser PX100-II -> Sennheiser HD598SE

My experience has subjectively gotten better with time, the Mi Pistons being the only regression (and perhaps the MX580 to a lesser extent). The thing with purchasing earphones/headphones online is that you never purchase it based on experience but rather than perception. There was a time when you could lust the headphones attached to a listening booth in a music store, but that is not an option anymore. So, you only have the words and videos of users and reviewers to go by for the most part, unless you happen to experience nirvana at an acquaintance's.

The thing with moving up the price ladder is that you are more or less assured of better music quality unless you are misled by marketing. Hence, knowing the price band and the desired aural experience, the only real contenders were Audio Technica M50x and the Sennheiser HD598 SE. I did consider the Bose Quiet Comfort 15 for a short time but realized from the user reviews that sound quality is not its forte. It may have the best active noise cancellation and is thereby a good choice to tune out whilst on public transport. However, no one's to blame but you, should the battery die out at the wrong time. Also, the noise cancellation effect is certainly not to everyone's comfort.

Both the M50x and HD598SE fulfilled my requirements for a neutral and natural sound as they hold some weight as reference headphones. I tend to have pretty long hearing sessions when gaming, playing music or videos and the M50x isn't touted as being the most comfortable to wear for extended periods. However, I can certainly attest to the comfort of the 598SE. It is light, well cushioned, has slightly tilting cups and covers the ear perfectly. The open back design ensures that the ears don't heat up which has been a concern for me from the time I used the HD203. Even the click of the jack on insertion is pretty satisfying. Also, the Amazon sale had the 598SE at an effective price of 7.2k as against 8.1k for the M50x, so my decision was made rather quickly, albeit judiciously. The special edition doesn't look quite as luxurious as the beige tainted normal edition but it comes with a more practical 1.2m 3.5mm cable with a twist mechanism that ensures a good lock.

I won't feign being an audiophile, but one thing I can attest to is that it is the best set of cans/earphones I have purchased to date for it beats the Sennheiser Momentum IEM that I use while on the move. I guess that was a given but experiencing the satisfaction personally matters a lot. It doesn't place emphasis on bass which is for the better as I am not accustomed to the genre of music that does and I have a sub-woofer system to quell that need, should it arise. The mids are well laid out and the treble holds well to Adele. What stands out is the soundstage because of the ease with which you can discern between the various instruments. The box itself describes this headphone best - "Natural Spatial Sound Experience". However, this comes at the expense of sound leakage and pretty much no isolation as a consequence of the open back design. This is only meant for places where you can be in control of your ambient noise, so it is firmly a stay-at-home affair.

The bottom line is that if your ears are pleasantly surprised after putting on a new set of headphones, then you know you have made the right decision, critics be damned.

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