There’s always something that picks at your brain. Quite recently, apropos of nothing, it’s this article from Nate Lanxon of Wired UK. A little bit of legacy later and I have a new pair of headphones around my neck replacing the Sennheiser HD-490s I’d had for some seven or eight years previously. The Denon AH-D600s are, quite literally, a different level, sonically and price-wise. They’re £500 RRP but can be had for substantially less if you search around.
Funnily enough, that white-out box in the bottom right says the headphones are iPhone and iPad compatible. Quite why you’d walk down the street with an iPod wearing high-end headphones is unclear, but under the phones themselves in their satin-lined box are two sturdy wrapped cables, one of which has an iPod\iPad remote built-in. The other one – a straight 2m cord – will get the greater use in all likelihood.
What’s true if you are going to use it with an iPod is that you are not going to get true value for money out of this headgear. The D600s' 25-ohm impedance means phones and MP3 players can easily get a good noise out of them. However, if you haven’t got a full hi-fi to push them, a good USB DAC or Headphone Amp for your laptop, such as the Audioquest Dragonfly or, in my case, the one in my MM-1s are definitely required along with a preferably lossless set of music files for you to hear. This isn’t the place to argue about whether you can really hear the difference between 128kbps MP3s and 96kHz/24-bit FLAC files. The simple answer is yes. Although these cans are probably tweaked slightly in favour of Rock-y music rather than lighter fare, there is no place to hide for shaky recordings or low-rate lossy files. Upgrade to Spotify Premium for the higher-rate streaming etc for better effect. Like hi-fi speakers as well, the 50mm drivers inside the extremely comfy over-ear cups need a little warming up. Plug them in, throw them a day-or-two long playlist and come back on Thursday.
What you’ll hear is stunning. Put on a multi-layered track like Tool’s Vicarious and the extra definition brings a greater sense of space to the music. The individual strands of the intro are no less complex but more understandable. Something I’d miss on my Sennheisers. The ability to deal with different styles of heavy, low-end sounds is also impressive. Strapping Young Lad’s City is presented as a clean, almost clinical, dense barrage of noise, Meshuggah’s Alive seethes and lurches rather than crunches and never loses the audience noise even midway through a song, and Earth’s Omens and Portents is slow, oppressive and arid.
Spinning up the other end of the aural spectrum and the D600s sense of space allows far quieter, more minimal tracks to shine. Seasick Steve’s Treasures is melancholic with the banjo/violin duet more obviously pitched to the far left and right of the centre acoustic guitar while retaining a full character for each instrument. Gorecki’s Totus Tuus requires its choir to sing from forte down to molto pianissimo. That line of diminuendo gets flattened a little by the D600s belying its bassier tendencies but still fares better than my earlier Sennheisers that lose the distinction far quicker in order to keep something audible.
If there’s a tiny cloud in the otherwise blue audio sky, it’s when dealing with electronica creating full spectrum pink noise (cf. William Fowler Collins “Perdition Hill Radio” or drone (Nadja “Now I Am Become Death”) when the mid-range feels neglected for the treble and bass. It’s only a small neglect though – the D600s still do far more good for the music than ill.
£500 is, frankly, a huge investment for a pair of headphones. But, just as a chair is the best investment a desk jockey can make, so too are headphones the best investment a music loving desk jockey can make too. And cheaper than a chair. I’m going to love these headphones and don’t regret buying them for a minute.