Table of Contents
For the longest time, Sennheiser’s HD500 series have been relegated as the “if you can’t afford the HD600 or HD650, get these instead” models of the open-backed lineup. And up till the release of the market-disrupting $220 HD6XX by Drop (Massdrop at the time), they were mainstay recommendations for newbies getting into the game.
But unfortunately the HD6XX does exist and so Sennheiser faces a very real problem: cannibalisation. Why buy a HD599 when the HD6XX exists? It’s just $20 extra and you get what is arguably a superior headphone in virtually every way. So when your $200 model risks being made completely irrelevant by a competing product from the same company, what is Sennheiser to do?
Why, make their $200 headphone just as good as the $220 cannibal of course. On paper, at least.
Sennheiser doesn’t quite claim that, but hype has been slowly building where the HD560S may be a viable replacement for the legendary HD6X0 headphones. My interest was piqued but now they have my attention. Is the HD560S all that’s cropped up to be?
Driver type: Dynamic
Signature & Tonality
The HD560S can be described as simply “neutral”. Some may argue that it’s closer to being “bright-neutral”, but in comparison to something like the HD800S it’s not as peaky.
Let’s put it to rest: the HD560S really is one of the best-tuned headphones you can get on the market today, price not even being a consideration. The midrange has no errant peaks or dips, the treble isn’t overly recessed nor boosted to the high heavens, and the bass extends nicely into the lowest octaves with just the mildest bump in the mid-bass for punchiness.
That means its tonality is flawless, right? What’s the catch?
The potential dealbreaker here is in the treble response. With its neutral lower midrange and relatively light note weight, its 5k-ishHz boost gets a little intense and harsh at times. Now you’ve probably already read some impressions on the HD560S and this peak; some say it’s completely benign and not worth the worry. Others claim it’s the worst thing in the world and will pierce your ears with the might of Zeus.
Me personally? I take a more moderate position. My initial listens with the HD560S had me noticing the more forward upper-midrange/lower-treble quite a bit, especially since I was comparing directly with the HD650 at the time. But as I compared with more and more headphones, it was far less egregious than other models which had far more destructive quirks handwaved off by the general populus. Make no mistake, the HD560S is no HD800. Or DT880. Or any other mainstream Beyerdynamic, really.
(Do note that unit variation may potentially be a thing here, some reviewers have gotten units that have quite a bit more treble than what I listened to.)
My litmus test for you is this: if you can handle the Hifiman Sundara, you can handle the HD560S.
Comparison courtesy of the Graph Comparison Tool
The closest thing in tuning to the HD560S within the Sennheiser lineup, in my opinion, would be the HD600. It’s far less warm than the HD650 and, while the upper-mid/treble emphasis does evoke a sense of “HD800ish-ness” due to its intensity and relative forwardness, I would say that the overall tonality is actually better done on the HD560S.
But still, going from the 560S to the 600 is like milk after a spicy curry. The HD600 still remains as one of my tonal benchmarks for headphones, and highlights the little quirks that would make me avoid the HD560S as a true daily driver.
So in reference to overall tonality (IMO, YMMV, audio is subjective and all that), here is my hierarchy for Sennheiser’s models:
HD600 > HD560S > HD650/HD6XX > HD800/S > HD660S > HD599/HD579 > HD559 > HD820
Tone grade: A+
Here’s where things can kind of see-saw-y for the HD560S.
Detail and resolution: decent. A hefty improvement from the HD599 but not quite to the level of the HD6X0. Most people would be satisfied with this level of resolving ability.
Bass: not great in terms of texturing and overall impact. The HD560S’ sub-bass is audible, but rather limp and not very realistic. It basically extends even more than a Clear on paper, but the difference in presentation is extremely stark. You would not be getting a HD560S for bass.
Soundstage: pretty dang wide and spacious. Would be top-tier for live tracks and gaming, if not for…
Imaging: a little weird. Vocals are up front and centre all the time and instruments tend to blend together despite the wide stage they are placed in.
Like for tonality, here is my personal hierarchy for the technical performance of Sennheiser’s headphones:
HD800/S > HD600 >= HD660S > HD650/HD6XX >= HD820 >= HD560S > HD599 > HD579 > HD559
Technical grade: B
If you can get the HD600 for a similar price to the HD560S, I’d say that the HD600 is still the overall superior headphone. The HD600 offers similar clarity with better detail retrieval, really only losing out on soundstage width. Nowadays the HD600 goes for about $250 to $300, so while it is the better headphone (IMO anyways), you’d also have to shell out a bit more cash for that extra performance.
With fresh pads, the HD650/HD6XX (at least, the 2020 production model) basically trade blows with the HD560S. I’m of the opinion that the HD600 is better than the HD650, so do take note of that context when I say this: I’d rather have the HD560S to the HD650. I’m personally not a fan of the warmth and congested staging of the HD650, the latter of which is some of the worst that I’ve heard in an open-backed headphone. The HD560S trades a bit of raw resolution for a far more pleasant and immersive staging experience.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t be too mad if Sennheiser named this the HD620 or something. Assuming of course that they beef up the construction materials because while it’s almost HD6X0-tier sound, the build quality still screams “yes, I’m a HD500 headphone”.
At $200… we may have a “default recommendation” contender here. The tuning is not too spicy so as to offend the sensibilities of the average newbie, it doesn’t have any complete dealbreaker flaws and I’d daresay provides a bit more excitement than the stone-cold AKG K612 Pro, which is a $200 anomaly by itself.
The HD560S exists in a price bracket where it doesn’t have much (if any) competition. Now all the market needs to do is catch up.
Value Rating: ★★
At its very worst, the HD560S is an evolution of the HD500 series that doesn’t really deserve to be in the same conversation as the HD599. At its very best, the HD560S trade blows with the HD6X0. As always, the truth is usually somewhere in middle; where exactly it is up to you to find out.
For this particular reviewer, the HD560S should be on the shortlist for anyone in the market for a sub-$200 neutral headphone. Now, if only Sennheiser can take a look at their aging HD800…