The Sennheiser HD 598 are open-backed headphones, the speakers covered by a metal grille rather than solid plastic, metal or wood. Open headphones typically have a breezy and, perhaps predictably, more open sound than closed-backed equivalents, but often also offer less powerful bass.
These headphones have that open, airy sound but do not suffer from a lack of bass. The low-end has a lighter touch than the more expensive HD 650, but there's easily enough to satisfy all but the most incorrigible basshead. Even when powered by a humble iPod Classic, they do justice to a bass-heavy dance track like Sleep Deprivation by Simian Mobile Disco. They are open, articulate and detailed - and seemingly effortlessly so.
We plugged them into a DAC and full-size headphone amp to see if they benefit from further amplication, and found that high-end resolution improved significantly and bass extension and presence improved. The Sennheiser HD 598 do not absolutely need a headphone amp to shine though - at 50 Ohms impedance they're significantly easier to drive than the 300 Ohm HD 650s.
The now-comparably-priced AKG 701s offer a more analytical sound, with better high-end detail, but are also more clinical and cold-sounding than these fun cans. With a sound signature that doesn't have an obsessive infatuation with eking out every last sonic detail at the expense of bass and power, these headphones are extremely versatile.
While musical performance is decent then, though sans headphone amp the HD 598s can leave lighter Classical tracks like Mozart's 1776 Serenata Notturna sounding a little artificial, across broader types of listening they really excel. The meaty bass makes these headphones as good with movies, television and games as they are with music.
Whether in the latest dumb action blockbuster or an Xbox 360 shooter, explosions sound like they should with these headphones, with a proper bass rumble in-tow. This effect is further improved by the use of a headphone amp, and surpasses some more expensive, more refined cans.
If you're planning on using the Sennheiser HD 598s as your all-purpose set of headphones, it's important to also consider the issues that come with an open-back set. They leak sound significantly, so people around you will be able to hear what you're listening to almost as well as you can.
The noise of the outside world isn't blocked-out fully at all either, so unlike a closed-back pair of headphones or set of IEM earphones, you'll be able to hear people talking nearby and the rumble of passing traffic. These headphones are wholly unsuitable for use on public transport, and use within an office is borderline anti-social unless you keep the volume right down.
The £200 RRP of the Sennheiser HD 598s initially seems off-putting, when the HD 595s are now available for under a hundred pounds, but they are already available for just over £150 - making them an attractive alternative to the more expensive HD 600 and HD 650 sets.
Call us boring, but we're not sure we prefer the bold colour scheme of the Sennheiser HD 598 to the standard black and grey, but any qualms blew away once we donned these headphones. The open, powerful sound is extremely versatile and they're comfortable enough to wear from morning to night, every day.