Philips SHP9600 Headphones Review
Better in almost every way
The Philips SHP9600 is the long-awaited followup to the SHP9500, a model that I and many others heralded many years ago as an excellent choice for both its performance and incredible value.
This new model fixes the small problems the original had…but that comes alongside a significant price increase. For years the classic 9500 has sold for well below its MSRP of $99, dropping as low as the ~$50 mark and most often hovering around $70. It provides an astounding value for that price and as of this writing, it is still on the market.
The SHP9600 has an MSRP of $129.99, and as it’s such a new pair, it hasn’t received any major discounts yet. That’s nearly double the common price of its predecessor, and although I’ll argue that it isn’t “double” the headphone in terms of raw performance, it is still an improvement in every way. The 9600 could even be considered aggressively priced in a hypothetical vacuum where the earlier pair never existed.
Philips’ official page for this new headphone is right here, and you can find it at a few retail partners as well. I bought mine from Amazon. In the box, you get the headphones, some basic instructions, and a 3 meter rubber-coated detachable cable that’s very springy and tangle prone. Fortunately, both ends use industry-standard non-proprietary 3.5mm plugs, so finding a replacement cable is incredibly easy if you decide the stock cable doesn’t serve your needs.
The only other included accessory is a very basic 6.3mm snap-on adapter plug with a rubber grip on it. In spite of the grip, the adapter is weirdly cheap-feeling compared to the nice logo-emblazoned plug it’s meant to attach to, so I think Philips is expecting you to use these with a 3.5mm connection. If they’d skipped the standard gold plate and gone with a silver or nickel coating on the adapter, it would elevate the aesthetic dramatically.
Sound-wise, the 9600 is a little bit better in every way than its predecessor, in my opinion, and you don’t need any kind of special amp to drive them. My biggest issues with the 9500 were that the treble and mid-range were both inconsistent in their response, and that the bass extension was lacking. The treble issues gave the older pair a grainy artificial sound on certain material, and the lacking bass thump made many songs sound too hollow or bright.
In contrast, the 9600 has an exceptionally neutral sound signature, with a more refined and even treble response and enough bass punch to accurately represent the original sound. It can still sound just a little sharp or sibilant at times, but it’s otherwise one of the better-sounding headphones I’ve used, especially under $200.
Bass is natural and precise, without any bleed or bloom into the mid-range. Vocals and acoustic instruments are pleasant and forward, with a natural timbre that I’d call accurate. The treble is the only place where you might still hear some undue “crinkle” or “grain,” which can give high-hats a bit of an unnatural edge, but it’s less noticeable than on the older model. Overall, this is a reasonably detailed and neutral headphone that bests the sound of its predecessor by a few steps.
The 9500’s were often recommended for gaming due to their competent soundstage and imaging performance, and I’d say the 9600 does those things just as well. I actually prefer it slightly for gaming thanks to the increased bass performance.
So far so good, and perhaps well on its way to earning that price increase. Unfortunately, the design and build aren’t that much improved. The aesthetic has been a bit modernized, dropping the large “L” and “R” emblazoned on the ear cup grills in favor of a bronze plastic ring and subtle overall look. The only branding is an unpainted Philips logo embossed into the top of the headband.
The ear cups are slightly taller and more oval-shaped than the originals, and the padding is just a hair thicker, but the overall design of the frame and padding mechanisms is essentially unchanged. The material covering the pads is a coarse coated fabric that might feel unpleasant on your skin, particularly if you have facial hair.
Fortunately, the headband still has plenty of adjustment room, and I only have to extend the cups about halfway down on my large head. The headband no longer has cutouts to show the numbers printed on the headband adjusters, but the numbers are still there, so it’s easy to make sure each side is adjusted evenly. The clamping force is about twenty percent tighter than the older pair, which is nice as I could practically shake the old ones off of my head straight out of the box.
Just like on the original model, the headband pad has denser foam in it than the ear pads. I wish the whole headphone used the padding from the headband. Still, this is a very comfortable pair that should fit just about anyone…but the same can be said of the half-priced original.
Build quality has no significant improvements. The only noticeable upgrade aside from the nice branded plug on the source end of the cable is that the adjustment sliders are even stiffer than they were before. They click in and out of the headband with remarkable authority to the point where I almost feel like I’m going to damage something adjusting them. I love a good strong headband mechanism, so this one small improvement is very welcome, and the frame has no creaks or squeaks after four days of constant use, but I’ll update this down the road if that changes.
The SHP9600 sounds noticeably better than its predecessor, with superior bass response and a more even mid-range and treble. It has a subtle new look and is more roomy around the ears. And it’s built very similarly. But none of that makes it worth double the price of the 9500. If you already own the earlier model and you decide to upgrade, you’ll probably be disappointed by how similar these two headphones are.
If you’re new to the Philips headphone range and don’t mind the sillier look and brighter sound, the 9500 is still a much better raw value and I’d never criticize you for saving a buck and adjusting the sound through EQ, especially right now.
The 9600 makes the most sense to me as a complete replacement of the 9500. If Philips had completely discontinued the older model, and priced the new one at a firm $100, they’d have total domination over the lower cost open-back headphone market. I greatly prefer the performance here compared to any Grado model, the DT990 (though I still think that’s a fun headphone), and most of the Sennheiser 500 series. The 58X is slightly better-sounding, but carries a larger $170 price tag.
I also prefer these to the 9500, but not enough to say you should rush out and spend double the money on them. I get that Philips realized they could charge more for such a popular model, especially in an industry where excited early adopters like myself will pay just about any price for a new shiny thing (I’m sorry!). If the 9500 ever does fall off the market, and the 9600’s price creeps down a few bucks, then this is an easy recommendation. Even at $130, the 9600 outperforms most of the field it’s up against, it just doesn’t offer that raw excitement of getting a shocking deal.