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There are a lot of different headphones choices at right around $200. So many, in fact, that it can feel a bit crippling going in. While there’s a lot of bad options, our two choices today match wits in terms of their comfort and sound.
The Sennheiser HD 598s and Audio Technica ATHM50Xs are two over-ear headphones that fit in a sweet spot of value, offering great amounts of performance at not too high a cost. For around $200, these two pairs perform great.
We’ll run down which makes each good on its own and compare the two to see which is a better fit for you. Read to see which edges out the other.
|Sennheiser HD 598||Audio Technica ATHM50X|
|Frequency Response||12Hz – 38.5kHz||15Hz – 28kHz|
|Sound pressure level (SPL)||112 dB (1 kHz/1 Vrms)||99 dB (1 kHz/1 Vrms)|
|Impedance||50 Ω||38 Ω|
Sennheiser HD 598
Off the bat, the HD 598s are the more expensive option, but at the gain of a much more stylish look and classic Sennheiser sound. While the extra cost is there, it may be worth it.
Design and Build
These headphones are the more unique-looking pair, sporting an ivory color scheme in the default configuration. Sennheiser does off a limited editor black version, but it’s just that: limited.
Even so, I really like the way the ivory looks on these headphones. It’s a soft color that doesn’t throw off too many alarms, beautifully accented with brown velour ear pads. While it’s a different look, I can appreciate Sennheiser going out on a limb for it.
The headphone is ivory as well, with covered in leatherette with soft plush on the top. Sennheiser says they were inspired by European sports sedans for the look, and it shows. These headphones are beautiful looking.
While the headphones are over-ear, they are open-back as well, allowing some ambient noise to channel in for a more natural listening experience. Sennheiser pioneered this design in 1968 with the HD 414s and it’s still just as good today.
The look of the HD 598s is different, but that’s not a bad thing. The beautiful design lends itself to a unique appearance that still maintains beauty without being run of the mill. This is an excellent design and Sennheiser should be commended for that.
The headphones are feature-light simply because there doesn’t need to be anything going on in order to make them good. They’re no-frills and that’s not a bad thing.
You get detachable ear cups and cable, which is a nice addition in case either bite the dust at some point. Both are of high enough quality that it likely won’t be an issue, but the option is there in case you need it.
The ear cups use Sennheiser’s E.A.R. technology to channel sound more directly into your ear. It stands for Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement and uses the open-back design to channel sound into your ears in a more natural way.
And, that’s about it for the HD 598s. There isn’t much to the feature set, but there really doesn’t need to be. These headphones stand on their own with a beautiful design and exceptional sound quality.
Which leads nicely into what really matters with these and all headphones. The sound on the HD 598s is great, with a natural soundscape, great imaging, and a keen clarity in the midrange.
The open-back design really helps a lot. While you lose out on some isolation, you gain a much more natural sound. Ambient noise that falls in opens up the soundscape quite a bit and it goes a long way in creating a sense that you’re in the room where the sound is playing.
This has disadvantages as well, though. Using the HD 598s is a bit of an issue when in a crowded setting. While the noise that comes in isn’t on the same level as Apple earbuds, it’s still not ideal.
This design helps the soundscape, yes, but these headphones sound great regardless. The audio is very natural, with no dips or spikes in the midrange. This is an area that many other pairs of headphones get wrong so it’s nice to see Sennheiser get it right.
You’re missing out on a bit of bass, though. Because Sennheiser focuses so much on getting everything else right, you’re not getting tons of low-end. For me, I like it as the sound doesn’t mask everything going on. However, if you’re a bass head, you may be disappointed.
Even so, the sound of the HD 598s is fantastic. Sennheiser has really crafted a headphone that sounds exceptional in nearly every way. While you’re missing out on some isolation, these cans still sound great.
Sennheiser HD 598 Overall
The HD 598s are great in almost every way. The design and build are top-notch with beautiful inspiration that follows through. The sound sits backseat, and that’s saying a lot as the cans sound amazing.
Audio Technica ATHM50X
The Audio Technica ATHM50Xs are about $100 cheaper than the HD 598s but still hold their own when put into the ring. While not on the same level, the ATHM50Xs are still a great pair of headphones.
Design and Build
The differences in price can mainly be seen in the design and build of the headphones. No European-inspired design here, you’re getting a plain pair of black headphones with little in the way of “beauty”.
The plain black body is made entirely of plastic. While this isn’t any different than the HD 598s, it doesn’t feel as nice with such a barren design. The headphones look cheap, and that’s not something you want north of $100.
However, you do get some metal underneath it all. Audio Technica has a thin piece of steel to hold the whole thing together and adjust the ear cups up and down.
And, that’s really the strongest area of the ATHM50Xs: adjustability. The ear cups swivel, collapse, do backflips, just about everything. That’s something that the HD 598s don’t do, and it’s nice to see the flexibility (literally and figuratively) here.
Even so, it’s hard for me to recommend the build and design on these headphones when compared to the Sennheiser pair. They’re way behind, and that extra $100 shows how. If you like the look, great, but it’s not for me.
Again, you’re not getting many features here either. No Bluetooth or wireless listening is included which is a shame, but there are still a couple of things that are extra on the headphones.
The first is how much you can adjust the headphones. The ear cups swivel a full 90 degrees, flip up and down, and completely fold in on themselves. This is great for those on the go who want to carry their headphones around and don’t have space for a full pair.
You also get three different cables with the cans. A 1.2m, a 3m, and a coiled cable round out the low, all that can easily be plugged into either of the earcups. There’s a microfiber cloth as well to hold the headphones and cables.
While both headphones lack features, the inclusion of Bluetooth would go a long way on this pair. Since the look is a bit lousy, it’s difficult for the ATHM50Xs to edge out the Sennheisers without it.
However, the sound is quite good especially considering the price. It’s a completely different signature as the Sennheisers, but still good. While I wouldn’t recommend them for any audio work, these headphones are still great to listen to.
They adopt much more of a V shape in terms of frequency response. The mids are scooped out quite a bit in favor of a much more bombastic low-end and more shrill highs. While neither area is horrible, they can be a bit much.
Especially the bass. It’s a bit overpowering and can provide a very skewed image of the audio presented to it. While it’s not horrible, it’s hard to say that they sound better than the HD 598s when they don’t sound as natural.
Largely, that’s up t a personal reference, though. If you’d like a more exaggerated top and low-end, then these headphones are for you. However, if you prefer a more natural and open sound, you may need to look elsewhere.
Audio Technica ATHM50X Overall
The ATHM50Xs is a much more inexpensive pair of headphones, but you’re losing a lot. The build and design are far behind their competitors and the sound, while not bad, doesn’t line up with my personal tastes.
It’s difficult to recommend the ATHM50Xs over the HD 598s when all things are considered. The Sennheiser pairs are far about the Audio Technicas in terms of design and sound, with a beautiful look and feel and a wide-open soundscape.
They are more expensive, though, and that may be too much for some at almost twice the cost. In that case, the later are more than suitable and still provide a great sound on their own.
What pair are you going to get? Let us know in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading.