27 July, 2010

Review: Sennheiser HD600 and 580 Earphones (as driven by Nagra PL-P)

Review: Sennheiser 600 and 580 Earphones (as driven by Nagra PL-P)

Normally I am not one to listen to headphone much. In NYC I use a pair of Audio Technica ATH-AD700 late at night. Since that article was written, my bedroom setup became the Linn Majik I, and its headphone output was excellent, whether playing CD from an old Proton CDP or LP from an Audio-Technica SP1200MkII/Benz Micro Silver.

Nagra Headphone Amplifier!
In HK I have not the need until recently, when I had a guest in my study and I needed to use a headphone in the early morning. Admittedly, part of this was prompted by my recent acquisition of a Nagra PLP. Most people are familiar with this preamp, but VERY few people have commented on, or even used its headphone section. This is a SERIOUS headphone amplifier! Two large transformers, several times larger than the MC step-up's and certainly costly, are dedicated to the headphone output. The transformers can be glimpsed in the Nagra brochure on line (download here). With tranformers, by serious professionals, one can be assured the headphones shall be driven well and there'd be few issues due to impedance mismatch. A switch on the front selects between preamp and earphono outputs. So the PLP can rightfully be viewed as a DEDICATED headphone amp with tube amplification, including MC-capable phono!! If you are a Nagra user, you MUST try it out.

Sennheiser, the older the better?
As stated in my previous post, I still have my first headphone, the Sennheiser 414, so the brand is familiar to me. For my current purpose, I started off borrowing a pair of old Sennheiser HD-580 from BenYC, who's knowledgeable on earphones, old and new ones alike. These are really old models and difficult to drive, but the sound on the Nagra PLP can only be described as absolutely correct. Full, yet not bloated; neutral, yet rich in timber; detailed, yet not etched. String music is just luxurious. And comfortable to boot. I wanted them.

A note on the sound, which was for sure superior to the make-shift setup I used in NYC, the AT-Majik combo, good as that was. There is little question the Sennheisers are more solid sounding and superior. Of course, the Nagra "headphone amp" here I am sure has contributed much. Perhaps one does need dedicated headphone amps afterall! :-)

Unfortunately, the HD580 has long been discontinued. Fortunately, its elder brother, the venerable, and perennial, HD600, is unbelievably still around, and still made in Ireland! This model has long been a high-end staple (Stereophile review). I went shopping in Mongkok. Almost all the shops in Yau Sing carry the 600, and I bought a pair for just over $2k. That's actually not much different from the price over 10 years ago. Not cheap, but a bargain for a classic, one deserving to be partnered with the Nagra! It's THAT good!

A note on the sound of the 600. I heard little difference between it and the 580. I actually prefer the more straightforward black of the 580 to the "marbled" 600. Nonetheless, wonderful!

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