Sennheiser HD 598se Open Back Headphones – REVIEW

If you’re looking for a super unique sound and feel, Sennheiser’s open-back HD598se’s are the most comfortable, airy headphones I’ve tried to date.

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Hey everyone.  Jimmy with JimsReviewRoom. Sennheiser has always been known for making some exceptional products for consumers.  I’ve reviewed some of their studio and DJ headphones, to their more mainstream Urbanite and Momentum line of products, all with their own characteristics with pros and cons.  Sennheiser was very nice to send me a review unit to test: their Open-Back HD 598 Special Edition headphones that are currently priced at $250 retail. They will sometimes go on sale for $200 on Amazon – I’ll put my affiliate link above, be sure to click those links for the most prices in real time.

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These headphones have been a pleasure to work with.  The headband up top offers supple leather when touched, with the fine details of being stitched on the sides.  Underneath features very plush padding for comfort which I’ll get into detail shortly.  Going down the sides, matte black is offered with a subtle amount of glossy black accents.

Regarding adjustability, the headband arms are very stiff in holding their position and give nice feedback when ratcheting in and out.  The one thing that I would make sure you’re aware of, is that these are not meant to be portable headphones, so the earcups don’t fold in, nor do the earcups swivel 180 degrees.  Stowing these away will have to be in it’s full open size as you see above.

But moving down to the back of the earcups, I think these look spectacular.  Behind the very durable grill is the Sennheiser logo and surrounding the opening is not chrome, but it’s painted on silver.  Looking at the very bottom of the left earcup is a 2.5mm port with Sennheiser’s own locking mechanism which works perfectly fine – you can’t accidently or intentionally pull the wire out.   Regarding the supplied wires, there’s a 1.2 meter, or 4 feet long cord, which is very much standard for mainstream consumers, but a second, longer wire is also provided.  And what these headphones were more designed for, is for connecting this to an amp or a home-theater receiver.  The longer cord has a length of 3 meters, or close to 10ft for your reference.

Further illustration, the 3 meter cable features a quarter inch, or 6.3 mm plug, typically used for receivers and amps.  And for some out there that may only have a 3.5mm port, Sennheiser does offer an adapter to convert the sizes.  Granted this will protrude a bit from your device, but it’s a relief to see this offered and you can at least start listening to them right away.  The shorter cable only has the 3.5mm jack which is more appropriate with your phone or sitting at the computer.

But last, going back to the earcups, these features velour earpads which are super soft and smooth to the ears, and surprisingly didn’t cause any sweating or discomfort from wearing these for 4 hours straight.  I do however wish a second pair of earpads were offered as some may prefer the leather.

Leading into comfort, these are super lightweight, putting this on my trusty tried and true scale, I’m measuring them at 244 grams, one of the lightest headphones I’ve personally tested.  The plush padding on top prevent any wearing fatigue at the crown of my head, and the clamping force is on the subtle side.  The jawline where I would notice wearing fatigue was perfectly fine.  Because of the huge opening inside and I’m sure due to the open-back design, the ears always remained cool and breathable to me, instead of enclosed and confined.  Wearing these in general has felt very airy with minimal to no effort.

And really quickly here, regarding build quality, these do feel top-notch.  No chatter, no squeaks, nothing compromised from what I can tell when I put this through the extensive stress test that I do on all my headphones.

As I’ve just mentioned Open-Back several times, some may not be too familiar with this concept since most headphones are designed with a closed back.  With the latter, sound is confined in the earcup, with minimal to no sound escaping to your environment.   With many closed-back reviews, you want minimal sound leaking as much as possible, so folks around you can’t hear what you’re listening to.  As for an Open-Back, which is what these are here, sound-leaking will be completely obvious and while wearing headphones, there’s minimal to no noise isolation at all.  You can hear what is going around you as well.  The trade-off, because the sound is naturally not confined into the ear-cup and sound is able to be pushed out in a sense, the sound signature is intended to significantly offer much more of an open sound stage, as if you were at the concert hall.  These headphones are intended to be used in the comfort of your own home, away from any noise sources to be fully enjoyed.  Not to be worn to the train station and not to escape your kids.

So this brings me to my sound test.  In the beginning, I quickly stuck them into my phone and gave it a go just to get some initial impressions.  I’ll be honest, they didn’t provide the wow factor for me, unlike the first time I used the Sennheiser HD8 DJ’s.  The following day, I gave these a proper burn-in just to be sure, and after I plugged this thing into my Pioneer receiver – wow – what a true difference.  An Amp or a digital-to-audio converter (DAC), although not technically needed does make these cans really shine.  When I tested music using FLAC files – essentially lossless uncompressed audio files – they provided much fidelity and clarity in the mids and highs.  Those listening to rock, country, and classical I think will be absolutely pleased.  The details with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and AC/DC brings new life to their music.

Minor details are heard almost effortlessly from the singer’s vocals, to minor cymbal crashes and guitar licks.  The resolution on these headphones is truly impressive.  As for pop and hiphop listeners, although bass is there to fulfill the average consumer, most audiophiles would need just a tad bit more sub-bass to make those genre’s that much more enjoyable.  Now, you can always add in a little bass boost with an equalizer to help in this situation, but again, listening to the powerful voice of Adele, the piano work of Alicia Keys and John Legend, to one of the hottest artists on the billboards right now, Taylor Swift, they’re all did very well.  The spacial sound is very much there offering distinct directional sound offering not only left and right audio separation, but varied distances in front and behind you.  I wished there was just a little bit more, but clearly, the HD598’s are not their flagship, but at this price range, these are absolutely stellar.

Regarding how loud these can get, in my opinion, they’re loud enough, but I did tend to listen at 70 and at times 80% volume.  Typically with loud headphones, I’m averaging around 60 to 70% instead.  And listening at higher volumes, I didn’t notice any distortion on the high notes to cause any kind of listening fatigue.

And besides music at home, I gave movies a shot and tested a good variety from action movies like Heat with Val Kilmer and Robert De Niro.  I played their famous scene in downtown LA after their bank heist, and typically, I always considered this scene to really prove what headphones can do.  The bullets being shot are usually very high-pitched and sharp – overtime, causing listening fatigue to those listening at higher volumes.  For the HD 598’s, didn’t notice this at all.  Trying animated movies, which usually have amazing sound quality, for the first time, I noticed when the were balloons being released, they made that rubbing, bumping squeak, like in real life in the movie Up.  Regarding spacial sound, I’ll admit, I wished there was a bit more in movies.  Testing this with Transformers, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Iron Man did have the more apparent scenes and areas with spacial sound, but I was honestly hoping for just a bit more considering the background and praise on these headphones.

And last, I am fully aware this is not a gaming headset, there’s no microphone on it… but if you don’t socialize, meaning you don’t need a mic while playing, I think it’s fine.

But, the spacial sound was indeed good in music and movies, but for gaming, these were – holy cow – impeccable.  Playing story driven games like Phantom Pain or the Last of Us was great, but Call of Duty and Battlefield, I can hear areas when I’m stepping on glass that I haven’t noticed before in multiplayer.  I have such a huge advantage over hearing the enemy walking by that I can play more strategically – I pause more often that I normally do, anticipating someone walking around the corner.  And yes, for me personally, I found them to give me a pretty good advantage over the in-ear earbuds I’ve been using.  Again, thoroughly impressed.

To conclude, for the average consumer, who listens to music through Pandora, Slacker Radio and maybe Youtube videos, which I 100% admit to doing frequently for casual convenience, these headphones will really sound tame and just not fun in my opinion because of the low bit-rate – the lower quality the stream or audio files will have.  I don’t consider this a true negative or con, but I would highly recommend spending some more money in getting an AMP or DAC and start using FLAC files for your music.  I would think this somewhat goes above what an Average Consumer would purchase, but this does introduce you somewhat into the audiophile world, so maybe it’s a positive.  As my channel again tailors to the average consumer, the mainstream market does prefer a bit more bass.  The bass here I would consider as being more neutral – which isn’t bad, but it’s a matter of preference.  Last, I wished there was a case so I could stow these away when I’m not using them, and offering a port on the right earcup to listen to audio would have been nice too.  But on the positive side, there’s are natural, easy to listen to, the sound stage is absolutely great for the price, comfort, lush mids, and being detailed are some of the few things I can say.  If you can get them at retail prices, I would still recommend so.  If you can get them on sale for $200, it’s a seriously worth a consideration.

So I hope this review helped you in some way.  Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  Again, I’m Jimmy with Jim’s Review Room, here to help you make a purchase decision.  You guys take care, I’ll see you on the next one.