Best Wired Headphones: 2016 Edition
This article is late. Oops!
I had some internal struggle over this. Should this be the wired headphones I like the most presently? Or should it be the best new wired headphones that released in 2016?
Then I realized that a case could be made for one product that answered both questions:
Sennheiser HD 598Cs
Sennheiser refreshed their lauded 500 series headphones last year, for the first time in several years. The 518 got dropped. The 558 became the 559 and got a cosmetic upgrade. The 598 became the 599 and got a cosmetic upgrade and a tuning tweak. The 579 was introduced…and it’s more or less the 599 in a different color.
For the first time, Sennheiser also created a closed-back 500 series headphone. They took the headband from the 559, and added new drivers and ear pads to make the 569.
This is where it gets weird. They also made a different closed-back 500 series headphone, but based on the branding of their most iconic older model: the 598Cs. This headphone takes the nicer 579/599 headband and pairs it with the same drivers and ear pads from the 569. It has almost nothing in common with the original 598, except for the name and the removable cable.
The kicker is that the 598Cs regularly sells for much cheaper than the 569, in spite of providing an identical audio experience with a nicer headband. Sennheiser launched the 598Cs with Amazon in the US, and it often hovers down near the $100 mark.
It’s a brilliant pair of headphones. (Click that to see my full review).
They might be a better starter pair of headphones than the Sony MDR-V6 I’m so fond of recommending. They have characteristics of much more expensive headphones. They’re extremely comfy for long listening sessions. Isolation is exceptional. The pseudo-suede ear pads don’t get nearly as sweaty as leatherette, but provide great isolation and bass response, somehow. They’re as magical as Beyerdynamic’s infamous ear pads.
Sound is luscious and dynamic, with a signature that’s just slightly tweaked beyond “neutral.” You’ll get some extra emphasis in the upper mids, which is great for vocals and detail.
The 598Cs have a low impedance of 24 ohms, so they can be driven loudly by just about anything. Sennheiser includes two cables, and the shorter cable features a remote/mic combo.
I could only lob two complaints at the 598Cs, and they’re small. First, they don’t fold down at all. So, you’re going to have to have some extra space to store them. They’ll still small enough to fit into my bag, but they’re not as compact as most other portable headphones on the market. Second, they don’t use any metal in their construction. The plastics used are quite solid, and this does help to keep the headphones light. I imagine it helps with the cost as well. But if you’re absolutely into having the most tank-like headphones, you might be a little skeptical of the build. They don’t feel the slightest bit cheap…but they aren’t crazy tanks like say, anything from V-moda.
The 598Cs is good enough to be your only headphone, and cheap enough to be a great place to start. I can’t recommend it enough.