Sennheiser HD650 Headphones

Sennheiser HD650I bought a new pair of headphones. After an hour of skipping around to play my favorite songs, I finally realized all my songs are enchanted again.

I started with some standbys you’d expect in a test of new speakers or headphones. For Pop music, I started with the “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations” cuts from the Brian Wilson CD Smile, because that’s what I’d been listening to last night on my Koss PortaPros. With Sennheiser, The music suddenly sounded electrifying. The highs and midrange are crisp, distinct and unstrained. The bass rolls smooth and clean. There is no discernable “cutoff”, rumble or mush. Once again, you sound as if you are really there.

The Smile CD is well-engineered to begin with. I went back to the Koss PortaPros and replayed the selections. Good. But, not the same. Here, the bass goes indistinct. There, the PortaPro can’t the quite handle the complexity of the midrange. And then comes the passage where I’d feared my digital recording technology may have introduced distortion. Please do understand that the Koss PortaPros are deservedly rated head and shoulders above other portable headsets, such as those Pioneers that came with an old CD player and charmed us so much at the time. The Koss PortaPros are GOOD headsets, and make listening a pleasure. But I bought them for the iPod.

Back to the Sennheiser HD650’s, I compared again to make sure there was a real difference. It’s a huge difference. They go so far beyond “cleaning up” the above problem passages that I lack the vocabulary to explain it. The music itself says it best.

The difference is magnitudes of “unbelievable”.

I hopped up into my Bach folder and played a couple of cuts of Marie-Claire Alain on the organ: Allegro from Concerto in A Minor BWV593, and the old low-note standby, Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. (Claire excels at bringing out the beauty in the piece while making ‘Tocatta’ sound bright and fresh, not hackneyed). Awesome! Sennheiser handled highs and low pedals with equal ease. Tocatta and Fugue in D minor is the Achille’s heel of many surprisingly good sound systems, but the Sennheiser HD650’s hand it effortlessly.

There’s only one other place where I can hear my music like that: in the home in Phoenix, with my 30 year old Klipschorns — massive 6 cubic foot folded corner horns. Theater speakers. They are good enough that you don’t have to crank the volume way up to hear all the nuances, and can even hold a conversation with little effort.

No matter how good the speakers, you just can’t do that in an apartment. In particular, a pair of Klipschorns (if they would fit in an apartment, which they wouldn’t) make it easy to creep up to unacceptable levels: “I SAID, I think the neighbors are going to call the police!”

On Jazz, I tried out Jimmy Smith (“Beggar for the Blues”), Fleetwood (“Landslide”), and Neville Brothers (“Will The Circle Be Unbroken”). Herbie Mann’s haunting flute electrifies in “Man’s Hope” on his old classic album?Push Push. They all sound like I haven’t heard them in years. Keith Jarrett’s piano Koln Concert is ethereal.

Since I reviewed the Dale Warland Singers just the other day, of course I had to monitor the choral work again. Here, the voices are so crystal pure that the instrumentation is useful to remind us we’re listening to a live recording with real singers. I wish someone would lean back in a creaky old folding wooden chair once in a while, or just rustle some sheet music!

My digital recording project is almost a year old. I’ve recorded 2,426 “songs” on 93.74GB, on my own home-built PC, using only the native ASUS/RealTek audio controller. Using Apple iTunes software installed on my PC, I always feared there must be something wrong with something that’s so easy! My new Sennheisers quashed those fears and vindicated the whole project. The music is in every way the equal of the original CD’s. Even the old cuts home-recorded from vinyl to reel-to-reel to CD sound better, possibly, than ever before.

Gosh. I don’t mind that some of those songs still bring unbearably strong memories. I had to reach for the Kleenex a couple of times. If you’re going to feel sad listening to old favorites, best you do it with beautifully rendered old favorites. If you’re going to feel glad, well, I can’t recommend a better way to rediscover your favorites than a great pair of headsets.

I like my iPod but rarely use it at home. With all due respect to the new technology, if you’re really going to listen to music, and it’s flawlessly executed by artists who really know how to write and play timeless classics, why limit your listening experience with an iPod?

Sennheiser HD650’s are a lifetime investment. I felt guilty for buying them for all of about fifteen seconds. Shop around, and you’ll be surprised at the price spread. I saved about $100 at Amazon. I unequivocally recommend them.

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