Sennheiser HD598SE Review: A standard-setting open headphone that will bore some listeners

Sennheiser is known for open headphones. I recently reviewed their new closed-back HD 598Cs, a variant of their new closed-back HD569, and loved it.

Although I have previous experience with Sennheiser open-backs, I’d never heard much of the 598, long considered a mainstay/must-listen in the consumer market. With a recent product refresh pushing the regular price of the 598 down to around $140, I decided to take the plunge.

It’s a great headphone, but I’d bet most listeners would find it kind of…flat.

You can see here how the cushy headband makes these hover above my head a bit. Still stylish enough to wear in public…but the open-backed design means that you probably shouldn't.

Sound

The 598 has a neutral, inviting, lovely sound…that’s wholly unremarkable in its impressive accuracy. By that I mean that the bass won’t thrill you in your chest, the highs won’t make your spine shiver, the mids won’t make your hair stand up.

However, everything is rendered with excellent accuracy and smoothness. The sound is relatively uncolored-feeling, with a gentle warmth to its character. You could listen to them for hours, without fatigue, which is good! It’s a touch too pleasant and easy-going on poorly-recorded tracks for pro use, and too neutral to please hardcore bass or treble fans. But you’ll hear exactly what was produced.

That’s not to say these are without sonic positives. Far from it.

The 598's one big, in-your-face strength is the soundstage.

These headphones have a massive sense of soundstage. More than the 558’s I reviewed earlier this year. The experience is akin to listening to a nice pair of speakers in the room around you. It’s really impressive. It’s the widest-sounding headphone I’ve ever heard, with very little of the “in-head” effect that other headphones provide. You’ll hear sounds all around you, with perfect separation. If stereo imaging and openness are your favorite things, these are a wonderful choice.

The open design means these have exactly zero isolation. So they’re bad for outdoor/portable use.

Design/Comfort/Build

The 598SE has a nice matte black finish, and the classic Sennheiser design. Two big cups, two big pads, nicely adjustable headband…no folding mechanism whatsoever. The cable detaches with a twist-lock mechanism.

Padding on both the headband and ear cups is plush and impressive. The headband is a stitched leatherette affair with large cushy air pockets spread across its width. These air pockets make it sit a little higher off my head than the 598Cs. Clamping force is initially a touch strong, but once the foam settles you’re forget it entirely. Ear cups are velour, and the openings are very wide, so most people should be able to wear this for hours and hours without discomfort.

Like other 500 series models, the build is dominated by plastic, plastic, and an extra touch of plastic. It’s a robust plastic that doesn’t feel cheap, but there’s a bunch of it. The 598 uses metal grills. The non-SE version comes in invory and brown, as does the newer 599. I slightly prefer the black of the SE, but the ivory has a pleasant throwback quality to it.

Features/Extras

The regular 598 comes with one 6.3mm-tipped ten foot cable, and a 3.5mm adapter that’s huge and awful. Meh. The SE comes with a second four foot cable with a 3.5mm end. Thank goodness. Unless you really want the ivory color, the SE is a better buy.

No dedicated amp is necessary to power these, though I’ve found they respond surprisingly well to amplification. But don’t run out and buy one if you don’t have one already. A phone or computer will do just fine.

Sennheiser doesn’t include a bag. Oh well.

Final Thoughts

If you want to experience “audiophile” sound, the 598 is a great, affordable way to get there. It has a largely pleasant, uncolored sound, free of thumping bass or sharp highs.

In today’s “fashion headphone”- dominated market, sadly…most would find it unremarkable. I’d wager most typical audio consumers would be better served by the 598Cs. It’s more portable-friendly, it has slightly better bass, and slightly more pronounced upper mids. The 598Cs is a little more exciting overall, without sacrificing much audio quality.

But boy. If you want soundstage, and lots of it? This is your headphone! For that alone I will always keep one of these around.