Headphone Showdown: Sennheiser HD598Cs vs Sennheiser HD598 (SE)

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for the Headphone Showdown!

You’d think that these two models from Sennheiser would be nigh-identical because they have similar names…but they’re quite different!

But which one is “better?”

Today’s Contenders

Sennheiser HD598Cs(Retail $249, usually around $100, Amazon Exclusive) — Sennheiser unleashed this Amazon-exclusive closed-back pair as part of their 500 series refresh a few months ago. It has more in common with the new 500 models than it does the original 598. It is frequently on sale for extreme discounts, which is excellent.

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The 598Cs comes in Black, and also Black. It’s available from Amazon.

Sennheiser HD598(Retail $249, often on sale for around $140) — Until a few months ago, this open-backed model was the nicest headphone that Sennheiser produced for the general consumer market. And no, I’m not considering the Momentum here; that’s a style headphone, with a sound signature to match. It first released about five years ago. The 598 was just recently succeeded by the 579 and 599 models, and there’s much speculation as to how much of an improvement those truly provide. I’m not sure whether or not Sennheiser will totally phase out this older headphone, but in the meantime it’s a near-reference headphone at a great price.

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The 598 is available in ivory, and this “Special Edition” black color. The SE also comes with an additional short cable.

Sound

The 598Cs has prominent bass extension and crisp upper mids that sound a touch bright and in-your-face. The 598 has a very smooth, natural response, that comes within a few percentage points of the well-loved neutral response of the more expensive audiophile and pro-focused HD 600.

Do you want an exciting sound or a smoother, more accurate sound? That’s what the choice comes down to here, sound-wise. Both provide good bass, mids, and highs, and sound generally like what was originally recorded. The bass and upper mids are stronger on the 598Cs, but not to the point where the sound is overly-colored or distorted. Neither will appeal to hardcore bass heads, or those who live for the sound of Beats products.

This would be a tie…if not for soundstage. And it’s a little unfair. The 598Cs has a thinner soundstage, unsurprising given the closed-back design. Also, the original 598 is well-known for having one of the widest, most well-presented soundstages on the market. If you’re tired of reading about soundstage in reviews and not really knowing what it means, try and audition some 598s. They have an exceptional three-dimensional effect. It’s like listening to speakers in the room.

The 598Cs still has a good sense of width and depth…much better than other popular headphones in the price range like the Audio-Technica M50X and the Sony MDR-V6. Also, its bass and upper mid emphasis makes it a better portable headphone, which is what it’s designed for.

The soundstage and neutral balance of the 598 give it the win, for me personally. Only just.

Winner: 598

Design

If you just went by the names, you’d expect these two models to have the same exact design. But they don’t! The 598 uses velour ear pads, has polished wood accents in its ivory model, and has a leatherette headband with little individual air-filled cushions. It has metal grills on the outside, with a subtle Sennheiser logo underneath. It uses a driver with a 50 Ohm impedance rating, that responds decently well to a dedicated amp.

The 598Cs is a weird mish-mash of design elements from other models in the new 500 series refresh. It has a lower profile leatherette headband with a basic pad that resembles the headband from the new 579/599. It has suede-like ear pads with softer foam than the 598 pads. It has a driver with a 23 Ohm impedance that does not need any kind of amplification…unless you want to blow up your ears. It runs just fine off any standard output, like a phone. The driver and ear pads both seem to come straight from the 569. The backs of the cups have a cloth covering and a basic Sennheiser logo printed on them.

Why would Sennheiser slam together parts from the 569 and 579 into a new model with the 598 name and sell it for cheaper than either of its two inspiring pairs on Amazon? I have no idea. But it sees like that’s what they’ve done. I won’t know for sure until I get my hands on the 569 and 579, but it seems pretty obvious.

I slightly prefer the sleeker, lower-profile design of the 598Cs. It sits a little bit closer to my head, and looks a bit more stylish in public.

Winner: 598Cs

Build

Thank goodness neither of these use a glued-on headband pad. I don’t like the glued-on pads of some Sennheiser models.

Both have a durable, all-plastic build(save for the metal grills on the 598). The plastic used feels like a strong composite, and both have a solid feel in the hand. Adjustment clicks are firm and satisfying. Adjustment arms are plastic, but thick. The cable locking mechanism is the same solid-feeling one used on the Audio-Technica M50X.

Unless you really want some metal in your headband (And honestly, that’s not a terrible wish to have), then these are built well. I don’t feel scared putting them in a bag. Keep in mind I don’t do crazy bend tests or drop tests. But I like the way they feel…and Sennheiser provides a two-year warranty.

The plastic helps keep these both super light, which is important for comfort.

Winner: Tie. They’re built nigh-identically.

Comfort

Both headphones are quite comfy. The ear cup arms provide eighteen clicks of adjustment, plenty for basically any head. In fact, on my big head, I have more extra room for adjustment with these two pairs than any other headphones I’ve ever used. Thank you Sennheiser for providing this level of adjustment.

Both pairs are light. Both feel a bit clampy at first, but after a few minutes of wear they’ll disappear on your head. Both have effective headband systems that don’t cause any hot spots on the head.

Honestly, this is too close to call. You might personally prefer one ear cup material over the other. You might prefer the lower-profile headband pad of the 598Cs, or the cushy nature of the larger 598 pad. But both headphones are more than comfy enough for lengthy multi-hour sessions. We’re talking Bose levels of comfort here. Impressive!

Winner: Tie. Like the Build, they’re very similar.

Isolation

The 598 doesn’t isolate at all. It’s a super open headphone. It sounds like you’re not wearing anything over your ears at all when it’s not playing music.

Sennheiser didn’t make closed headphones in the 500 series until this year. The 598Cs is quite impressive on the isolation front. It blocks out a good amount of outside noise, and is perfect for loud environment listening. Are there better-isolating passive headphones on the market? Yes. But these are more than up to the task.

Winner: 598Cs. Kind of unfair!

Features/Extras

Neither headphone folds down, or flat.

Yay?

You’re stuck storing these in their full size format. It’s the one thing I don’t really like about these pairs. I know it would have added bulk and worsened the sleek designs to include folding hinges…but neither is ideal if you want something super small.

The 598Cs includes a four foot 3.5mm cable with an inline mic/remote, and a ten foot 6.3mm cable. The 598 includes a ten foot 6.3mm cable with an awkward 3.5mm adapter…and the SE version also includes a four foot 3.5mm cable with no mic and remote.

Neither includes a bag.

I guess I have to give this to the 598Cs because of that mic/remote.

Winner: HD598Cs

Final Winner: HD 598Cs

This outcome doesn’t totally sit well with me. I think the 598 sounds better, and everything else is nigh-identical. But the 598Cs, with its more versatile closed-back design and slightly more “exciting” sound signature, is probably the better choice for most people and most use cases. And so it wins.

Both are exceptional values for the price, and both present high-quality, high-grade sound. It’s clear with both models that sound quality and comfort were the top priorities, and that’s exactly as it should be. You might find them both just a touch boring if you’re coming from boomier, consumer-oriented headphones…but once you get adjusted to this level of sound you’ll never go back. You can’t go wrong with either one. Get the closed-back if you want isolation.

I have plans to check out the newly-refreshed Sennheiser models sometime in the new year, and I hope that the near-reference level 598 sticks around. Unless the new models are objectively better in which case throw the 598 in the garbage! ;)

Read My Full 598Cs Review

Read My Full 598SE Review

Thank you for reading this far! Happy New Year!

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