I bought a Massdrop (Drop) HD-58X. Here are my impressions, plus comparisons to headphones ranging from cheap to very expensive.
I’ve owned the HD-600 for a long time – they were my first serious headphones. I’ve used them with at least two dozen setups, and they vary from terrible to fantastic per the amp and DAC. They also improve with balanced setups, as they are prone to generating an awful lot of hissy noise on the wrong setup.
In contrast, the HD-58X is positioned as a cheaper and easier-to-drive product that isn’t as finicky, but also doesn’t scale like the Sennheiser 600 family. Yes, this is true. My findings aren’t different and won’t be surprising. However, the 58X has its own personality and fits different needs.
What I hear with the HD-58X
This is a mid-focused and largely neutral product that doesn’t generate deep bass, nor extreme highs. It always has a slight treble roughness or harmonic diffusion that takes away the details I hear with many other headphones. The crowd noise in one of my live-recording test tracks went away, as did known bass notes in other test tracks.
I thought of high quality mosaic art or even Lego art as I listened, for music acquires a faint binary roughness on the HD-58X. You hear everything the drivers can produce and every sound is distinct, but some known sounds result in hearing nothing at all. In contrast, the HD-600 presents more photo-like intermediates either as air and nuance – or with bad setups it transforms nuances into hissy and bright artifacts.
The HD-58X is not very sensitive to amps and DACs. I tried it with the iFI ZenDAC (V1) with on single-ended and balanced output, with the ZenDAC feeding the Loxjie P20, and with the Bifrost 2 and RebelAmp. The single-ended ZenDAC was notably thinner, and the HD-58X needed bass boost to bring back the lower end. All the other setups resulted in similar high quality mosaics.
Comparisons with low and high priced headphones
This is an odd comparison, and useful for curious people rather than any sane cross shopper. Here I extend my Focal Utopia review framework to the low end. Be warned that I haven’t listened to the Utopia for a long time, so those comments are from my old notes.
Overall, the Koss Porta Pro and HD-58X are squarely in the consumer electronics category while the HD-600, Focal Clear, and Focal Utopia are in the performance product category. The consumer products have obvious limitations, but are also safe (mid range focused) and not affected much by supporting equipment. The performance products require far more thought, planning, and attention. This distinction happens with many product categories beyond headphones, so I threw in some car analogies.
I see the HD-58X and HD-600 appealing to different buyers and different use cases. The 58X will keep casual listeners happy as music is distinct and easy to follow. It moves nuanced music in the direction of compressed pop (e.g., hearable over car noise or in a crowded restaurant). The HD-600 is for gear heads who want to build the perfect equipment chain, dwell on nuance, and spot Waldo in a crowd.
Sometimes I want what the HD-58X offers and sometimes I want what the HD-600 offers. The HD-58X surely requires less thought and planning to reach its destination.
||Koss Porta Pro
||Focal Clear (Original)
||$170 (or less)
||$4,000 (per SKU)
||None, thick lower mids
||Okay, not very deep
||Good with the right setup
||Mids are all there is
||Attention shifts to lows and highs
||None; piercing whines if unable to produce a tone
||Not much content in the highs
||Varies by setup: excellent to shrieking
||Controlled and “clear” but beware of technical amps
||Piercing treble common; beyond real sensitivity
||Pleasant except for generating whining artifacts instead of real bass or treble
||Binary or mosaic-like: sounds are either heard or ‘disappeared.’ Easy on the ears and safe
||Highly determined by the amp and DAC; performance ranges from awful to sublime
||Strong with most setups, and often more technical than studio equipment “Why do I need more?”
||Finds all sorts of minute details and creates an unreal space – plus random piercing treble needles
||Cheapest airport rental on the lot. Involves serious compromises.
||Good family sedan or crossover. Safe, reliable, easy to drive. “Not special.”
||Entry-level sports car or 4x4. It’ll take you almost anywhere with the right gear.
||Premium sports car that tolerates user errors. Has ABS and traction control.
||Finicky super car with $$$$$ tires and $$$$$ maintenance. “Watch your back.”