Review: Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones offer exceptional quality for audiophiles

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Could these stylish wired earbuds justify the eye-watering cost? Photo credit: Newshub

The more headphones and earbuds I've reviewed, the more joy I've found in listening to my favourite music.

I come from the generation where the Walkman was brand new and the hiss of poor-quality audio as you listened to your tapes on the go was expected.

How things change. With lossless audio more affordable than ever I was keen to hear how Sennheiser's new wired earphones could add to that experience.

They look great and come from a brand with an excellent reputation - but could they justify the enormous price of $1200?

I've been using Sennheiser's IE 600 wired earbuds for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

For as long as I've been buying my own headphones, I've been aware of Sennheiser and purchased a few different models from the brand over the years - but always from its lower cost range.

The IE 600 are intended for "sophisticated audiophiles", according to the company.

When I read that I considered whether I should continue, because I'm not sure either of those words have ever been used to describe me and it indicated they would be beyond my budget. I'm glad I did, though - using them is truly an experience I'm not sure I'll recover from any time soon.

For a start, they're so comfortable that it's easy to forget you're wearing them.

They come with two different styles of earbud tips, silicone and memory foam, with three different sizes of each to ensure a neat fit.

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Photo credit: Supplied / Sennheiser

That combines with flexible ear hooks that are easily adjusted to the shape of your ear.

It meant I was able to wear them for extended periods of time without suffering from any discomfort issues. However, those forced to listen to my electronic drum kit thumping while I was wearing them for hours at a time weren't quite so lucky.

It's when I moved to using them with my home audio system, though, that the IE 600 shone in a way I'd never experienced before.

Over the years I've built up a decent collection of both vinyl and lossless digital audio files that I get to listen to through my home setup, which includes a Digital Analogue Converter (DAC) and decent amp.

The quality I heard through these earphones was quite simply unprecedented in my music listening experiences.

I went through a wide variety of different styles to try and ensure I covered as big a range as possible.

I started with an old favourite, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. From the less clean sounds of Mickey & Sylvia's 'Love Is Strange' to Patrick Swayze himself serenading me with 'She's Like The Wind', I was transported back to Kellerman's in the 1950s and dreamed of meeting Baby.

That changed to some Lorde and The Swell Season before hitting another album I hadn't listened to in a couple of decades, the brilliant Songs From The Rain by Hothouse Flowers.

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

Liam Ó Maonlai's voice during 'This Is It (Your Soul)' sent shivers down my spine and, despite knowing all the words still, it felt like I was hearing a new song thanks to just how good the experience was.

Acoustically I could find no fault. I was able to concentrate on the different instruments and then allow myself to be enveloped in the whole sound. Nothing felt distorted or out of place.

It was clean, brilliant and so detailed I swear I heard fingers moving from one guitar chord to another.

A test wouldn't be complete without some real noise. Thanks to Iron Maiden's Live After Death on vinyl and digital lossless copies of both Metallica's S&M2 and Mad Season's Sonic Evolution with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra I thrashed my eardrums like never before.

Critics of heavy rock and metal have told me it's just noise. I defy anyone to listen to any of those albums with a decent set of headphones on and not be blown away not just by the experience, but by the talented musicians playing.

Sennheiser tells you this is all achieved via its TrueResponse transducer, a single 7 mm driver responsible for the extra-wide frequency range and ultra-low distortion of the earphones.

Apparently the acoustic back volume has also been tuned for a tonally neutral, intimate and emotional sound.

If you're not quite sure exactly what that means (and who is?) then know this - they sounded amazing with everything I threw at them.

While the IE 600s are very simple - there's no active noise cancelling, smart assistants, multi-touch tapping to pause tracks on these old-fashioned bad boys - that doesn't mean they're not ridiculously stylish.

And, as it turns out, futuristic too.

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

The dimpled silver housing has been created through a 3D printing process using amorphous zirconium, "a metal with a glass-like atomic structure that gives it triple the hardness and bend resistance of high-performance steel".

If that wasn't impressive enough, it turns out that one of the only other places the ZR01 zirconium is used is on NASA's Mars Rover, where toughness is needed in extreme conditions.

That means even if I continue my unenviable record of tripping and hurting myself on my morning jaunts (five times in the last two years) the IE 600s are going to come off way better than my knees will.

As well as the different types and sizes of earbud tips, you also get a handy carry case and two cables, one with a 4.4mm jack and the other with a 3.5mm one to ensure you're covered whatever you want to use to play music.

As a technophile, it's easy to anthropomorphise your gadgets so you can attach feelings to them.

I've done the same again here, with the thoroughly impressive IE 600s becoming the Kirsty MacColl of my headphone range. Believe me, there's no higher honour.

The bad

There's also no getting over the fact the asking price of $1199 is going to put many people off. I get that.

These simply aren't headphones for those who like to throw on a podcast on their phone or listen to a streaming playlist from Spotify.

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

They require a dedication that most people simply don't have, need or want to be truly worthwhile.

That aside, I really couldn't find that many faults with the IE 600s.

The biggest issue for me was simply the length of the cable.

While the output was more than worthwhile staying so close to my home audio setup, it meant I was limited in my movements. That's a pain if you're an air guitar legend like me.

If you have a comfy chair beside your home audio setup then this might not be an issue for you - I just felt unduly constrained by them.

I was also left wishing I had the tech to listen to my lossless audio files on the go - which is way harder given the top end mobile phones no longer have audio jacks.

The verdict

The Sennheiser IE 600 earphones are a joy to use.

I'm not sure how many different pairs I've tried over the years but I'm struggling to recall a set so comfortable and brilliant at what they do.

Of course, that comes at a price. And not just the fact a set will cost you north of a thousand dollars.

To get the full value of your purchase there's no point in using them to listen to MP3s or low quality streaming platforms.

No, these require a setup that only those who take their music very seriously indeed have.

Sennheiser's IE 600 earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

So are they worth the cost? Undoubtedly. But only to those who really need and want them and, I expect, that makes the audience in Aotearoa for them quite small indeed.

It is no coincidence, however, that I've since searched for mobile media players that handle lossless codecs. Or at least a USB-C to 3.5mm converter with built in DAC so I can plug the headphones into my phone for use on the go with downloaded tracks.

I'm afraid I've opened a Pandora's Box and I think it's too late for me to be saved.

If you intend to join me in that adventure, then the IE 600s really are a formidable companion.

Newshub was supplied with a set of Sennheiser IE 600 wired earphones for this review.