Sennheiser is a name synonymous with luxury and functionality, and its HD 598 headphones live up to that reputation. Drawing inspiration from European luxury sedans, the headphones' unique design will definitely turn heads. However, it's the warm, spacious audio delivered by the company's proprietary E.A.R. technology that will get those same heads nodding to the beat. Audiophiles will find the HD 598s, priced at $186, to be an excellent value.
The Sennheiser HD 598s look like something you might find in Ron Burgundy's man cave. The majority of the headphones' plastic beige frame is wrapped in leatherette accented by a high-gloss wood burl. The earplates also incorporate the same shiny wood finish, using it to show off the open-ear design and Sennheiser emblem. A pair of large, chocolate velour earcups completes the retro-chic look.
Two plastic extenders, hidden in the 598s' frame, help create a comfortable fit. Sennheiser also added a small pivot to the base of each earcup so you can adjust them for different head shapes.
Since reference headphones aren't usually designed for travelling, the 598s lack the foldable hinges found on more road-friendly models such as the Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator headphones. You'll find only one port on the 598s, located on the left earplate: a silver, chrome-lined jack for the included audio cable.
Black mesh lines the insides of the earcups. A small, triangular transducer sits in the rear of each earcup. That placement is key to Sennheiser's Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement (E.A.R.) technology, which angles the transducer to the optimal listening position.
The HD 598s don't ship with a storage case, which is fine since they aren't made for use outdoors. However, it would be nice to have a place to store the included peripherals.
When we began wearing the circumaural (over-the-ear) HD 598s, it felt like laying on a set of luxurious pillows. Despite the plushness, we did feel a tiny bit of pressure along the bottom of the earcups. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it was definitely noticeable. By comparison, we hardly felt any pressure when we used the AKG Q 701 headphones. Still, we wore the 598s comfortably for approximately four hours.
Thanks to the plastic frame, the Sennheisers weigh a relatively light 9.52 ounces. However, the AKG Q 701 headphones are even lighter, at 8.25 ounces.
The Sennheiser HD 598s ship with a 10-foot-long audio cable that terminates with a 6.3mm audio plug, perfect for plugging into a headphone amp or a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The end of the cable that fits into the 598s' audio port has a twist-lock mechanism; this prevents the cord from accidently getting ripped out.
For those who aren't fancy enough to own a DAC or amp, Sennheiser made the wise decision to include a 3.5mm adapter. It's a bulky setup, however. And combined with the 10-foot cable, we wouldn't imagine anyone attempting to use the 598s on the road. Sennheiser does sell a shorter, 4.5-foot cable for only $12.95, however.
The Sennheiser HD 598s are reference headphones, which means air can seep in thanks to their open-ear design. This type of headphone lowers resonance for a more natural sound and better audio fidelity. Combined with the company's E.A.R. technology and 40mm neodynium drivers, the HD 598s deliver well-balanced audio.
The HD 598s consistently delivered louder volume and deeper bass than the competing AKG Q 710s throughout our testing. John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" on the HD 598s sounded warm and offered clear separation among the instruments. Thanks to the spacious soundscape, we had no problem shifting our attention from the bold saxophone to the soft, consistent brass of the cymbals. The same track on the Q 710's sounded a little flat compared to the 598s, but had better spatial quality, which made it sound like we were in the room with the band.
We saw similar results listening to Quincy Jones' "Moody's Mood for Love." The opening saxophone was lilting and sweet, as was After 7's harmony. Once again, the 598s offered warmer tones, particularly on the vocals. However, the Q 710s more effectively delivered finer details, such as the swelling violin in the background. The Q 710s also offered a more transparent soundscape compared to the denser presentation of the HD 598s.
Instead of pumping in artificial bass, reference headphones such as the HD 598s and Q 701s deliver a more natural sound, allowing listeners to hear the music as it was intended to be heard. To test out how the HD 598s handled lows, we played Erykah Badu's "The Healer." The bass was deep without being overwhelming, giving ample space for the zills and sitar. The Q 701s gave a crisper presentation on the lows, but the highs sounded somewhat distant.
The Sennheiser HD 598 headphones deliver audiophile-level performance for the price of a set of mid-level cans. For $186, music lovers get a stylish, retro-looking headphone with deep, rich sound. Listeners looking for a more modern design with tighter details will want to check out the $199 AKG Q 701s. Overall, the HD 598s make a great choice for audiophiles on a budget.