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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX Sold Me on Open-Back Headphones

The Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX plugged into a phone.
Michael Crider

Open-back headphones are a product still firmly planted in the audiophile niche. But if you’re looking to see what all the fuss is about with a set from a reliable brand that won’t break the bank, then Sennheiser’s HD 6XX is a perfect place to start.

Technically these headphones are a collaboration between Sennheiser and Drop (AKA Massdrop), which has a sizable catalog of audiophile offerings. A somewhat customized version of the HD 650, the HD 6XX rings up at $220, with optional upgrades for things like VELOUR EARCUPS. If you’re expecting frills, you’ll be disappointed: this is a wired set without extras like a single-side cord or travel-friendly rotating earcups.

But that’s okay, because the HD 6XX isn’t designed to replace conventional headphones. It’s a way to explore your high-quality music and movies in extra fidelity, without spending a ton of money or using a ton of space that a huge array of speakers would. And in that very specific capacity, it delivers.

What’s Different About Open Back?

If this is your time seeing an open-back or “backless” headphone design, check out this guide on How-To Geek. And if you want to ignore my suggestion and make me feel bad, I’ll explain it here: whereas the exterior housing of the earcups on conventional headphones are solid plastic or metal, open-back headphones use a grille or slot design that exposes the back of the driver and other components to the air.

The open back casing on the HD 6XX headphones
See how you can see the inside of the headphones? That’s the “open-back” part. Michael Crider

Why? It creates a more open, balanced sound experience. Whereas conventional headphones are all about isolation, closing you in with your music, open-back designs allow for a more natural sound profile, as if you’re listening to performers in a “real” space rather than inside your head. The difference is almost impossible to get across in text; the best way I can describe it is that they sound less like headphones and more like speakers that just happen to be sitting on the sides of your head.

There’s a downside to this sound profile: noise, both internal and external. Open-back headphones allow in more ambient noise from the environment, with almost zero noise cancellation effects. For example, even at a high volume, I can still hear my keyboard through the music in the headphones as I’m typing this. Open back headphones also allow much more noise out into the environment; if you’re listening to a podcast, someone else in a small room would probably be able to quote the host word-for-word.

the HD 6XX on a much better-looking man than me.

For both of these reasons, open back headphones are unsuitable for environments where you want to keep the music to yourself. Don’t bring them to a library, an airplane, or a Starbucks. Unless you’re a jerk, I guess. Then feel free to sing along while you gargle your Frappuccino.

Amazingly Natural Sound

Not being a “true audiophile” myself, the HD 6XX is my introduction to open-back headphones. But even given the limited utility of headphones that don’t travel well (and aren’t intended to do so), I have to say that the experience is pretty fantastic. On paper, the set’s 10Hz-40kHz range is amazing—almost certainly better than your natural hearing ability. In use, the sound is more dynamic than any set I’ve ever used before, with clearer mids and highs, and better differentiation of specific voices and instruments. The illusion of “space” instead of isolation is unlike anything else I’ve ever used.

The exposed drivers of the HD 6XX
Note that you can see the mesh exterior casing right through the driver. Michael Crider

The set won’t blow you away with pure volume without a dedicated amp, and the open nature of the cups means that it doesn’t preserve head-thumping bass like a conventional headphone design. If you like to rattle your fillings when the bass drops, these aren’t the headphones for you. And as previously discussed, noise cancellation and sound isolation are almost zero.

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  1. This will be one of the most amazing tracks I have ever listened to. Many thanks for sharing the data! We are waiting for the next piece to be released.

  2. I had Sennheiser headphones. I can say that these headphones are one of the best on market. I advise everybody to try them.

  3. I suppose that this company is one of the most reliable and trustworthy. You should not worry when buying their products!

  4. I don't know much about these kinds of headphones but if you really want to enjoy quality sound then i will recommend you to go for black pods. click here for the best black pods.