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Sennheiser IE 600 review: A rare moment when $1,120 headphones are worth it

Quick verdict: Get your scalpels out, it’s time to trade a kidney for some incredible headphones.

Pros

  • They sound incredible
  • They’re made out of the same metal as the drill on the Mars rover
  • They’re repairable
Cons

  • More ear tip sizes would have been nice
  • A touch heavy for some people
  • They cost the same as a budget laptop

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Sennheiser IE 600 review

Image: Alice Clarke/Finder

I've said it before and I'll say it again: life is too short for mediocre audio quality. That being said, the definition of "good" headphones depends on the listener, and headphones can cost anywhere between $15–$150,000. There are also diminishing returns on audio quality after a certain dollar value.

That is, $15 headphones sound like garbage and every extra $50 you spend will generally get you a significantly better experience. But once you get above the $500 threshold, that's audiophile territory, so you need to have more than just Spotify and a good phone to truly appreciate the difference.

The new Sennheiser IE 600 in-ear headphones retail for $1,119.95. That's a lot of money, but they occupy the threshold of audiophile headphones where the price you pay goes towards better audio quality and fancier materials. We cannot confirm or deny whether they were also handcrafted by a virgin during the full moon and soaked in the blood of a sacrifice.

The IE 600 is positioned perfectly between the $479 IE 300 (mass produced, entry-level audiophile) and the $2,099 IE 900 (hand-crafted fanciness engineered within an inch of its life).

I've been using the IE 300 as my main in-ear headphones since last year. And the IE 80S with a headphone amp were my long-distance travel fancy listening headphones of choice for a long time. For context, I generally travel with at least 3 pairs of headphones because options.

Whether the IE 600 is worth $1,119.95 is extremely subjective. They sound better than any similar products I've ever listened to that are cheaper (and some that are more expensive). You can get "extremely good" headphones for less than half the price, but it's hard to put a dollar value on "transcendent".


Design

Sennheiser IE 600 review

Image: Alice Clarke/Finder

The genius of small, audiophile in-ear headphones is all in the design. There isn't a lot of room in something this small to fit multiple drivers or even large drivers (though the 7mm here is perhaps on the small side even for the form factor). To get around some of the limitations of the technology, Sennheiser has used 2 chambers in the IE 600 (as opposed to 3 in the IE 900) to boost the bass response. It's smart, simple, low-tech and works exactly as intended.

Aesthetically, I absolutely love the unusual, rougher finish on the metal, even if it is merely a by-product of the 3D printing process. The IE 900 is all smooth and shiny, while the IE 300 is black plastic. The IE 600 is the perfect middle-ground with a darker, rougher metal. At first I was a bit taken aback by it, but now I think it might be my favourite finish I've seen on in-ears. It's subtle and beautiful while not screaming "rob me", which I appreciate.

The cooler thing about the metal, though, is the variety: amorphous zirconium is exactly as over-the-top as you'd expect from a pair of headphones this expensive. I will admit to not being an expert in different types of metals, but from what I can tell, amorphous metals are a kind of metal glass, so they're less crystalline than regular metals, which makes them less prone to corrosion and a bit lighter.

That goes on top of the natural strength of zirconium, which has similar chemical and physical properties to titanium, is lighter than steel, and has a similar hardness to copper. It's also quite plentiful on both Earth and Mars, which is cool. According to Sennheiser, the other main application for amorphous zirconium is in aerospace, such as the drill on the Mars Rover. This also means that it's fancier than the boring aluminium on the much more expensive and bespoke IE 900, which is an interesting choice on Sennheiser's part.

One thing I really love about good, audiophile, headphones is how modular and repairable they are. The cable is removable, so you can switch between the included 3.5mm and 4.4mm cables, but that also means it's easy to replace the second most breakable part of the unit (the first being the ear tips, which are even more replaceable).

True wireless headphones, for example, aren't repairable at all and the short, roughly 2-year lifespan of the batteries mean they're future e-waste with an expiration date. It's another way of justifying the high price tag – it's not just another disposable piece of technology, but something that can be used for many years to come as long as you don't drop them too hard.

The 3 areas of design that irk me are:

  1. There should have been more ear tips included in the box. There's S, M, L in both foam and silicone flavours, but since other brands are including XS, S, M, L, XL, and these cost an arm and a leg, I think Sennheiser could have been more generous. Fit is so important for in-ear headphones.
  2. You can curve the cable near the ear tips to go around your ear for a more comfortable fit, but it's not wired to stay in place when you pose it, making it less comfortable than it could have been. This is likely to protect the OFC wire within, but I think they could have found ways to make it easier to pose while protecting the integrity of the copper.
  3. The case sucks. This is the same case used on the cheaper Sennheiser in-ears, and while it's almost forgivable to have something like this for them, it's ridiculous on a pair this premium.

Other than that, though, the design is excellent and frankly worthy of any awards coming to it. Everything (except that detestable case) just whispers luxury in the way the best things do.

Most cheaper headphones are designed to die eventually – cheaper wired headphones will have connections break in the cable and the whole thing will need to be replaced, and wireless Bluetooth headphones have a battery which can only be charged so many times. The benefit of expensive audiophile headphones is that they're designed to be used for a very long time, so you can replace the cable, change the cable to one of a different size, and repair the things most likely to break.


Sennheiser IE 600 review: Performance

Sennheiser IE 600 review

Image: Alice Clarke/Finder

The measure of a truly incredible pair of headphones is whether songs you've heard a million times can take your breath away. 'A Moment Apart' by Odesza is not only the start screen music in Forza Horizon 4, but it's also on my relaxing and travel playlists. So I'm not exaggerating when I say I've heard it roughly 1,000 times in the last 4+ years.

It's normally a song I hear and think "that is beautiful and relaxing". But the first time I heard it on the IE 600, I literally gasped at the build and had tears in my eyes at the end. It was like hearing it for the first time all over again with new emotions. That's why you spend more than $1,000 on headphones if you can afford it.

'Lucky Chops' by Full Heart Fancy is not just a technically brilliant song, but one full of emotion. It's what joy sounds like, and it's made entirely of tiny details that give it its magic. The little strains on the saxophone in the solo, the deep bass of the sousaphone (which can sometimes get washed out on headphones that are too bass heavy), the subtle flourishes on the hi-hats and ride cymbal, the spaces between the notes and the instruments as the song builds and more players join. All of this is gloriously present on the IE 600.

I've heard 'Falling or Flying' by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals lots of times. I love Grace Potter's music, but I never thought this was one of her stronger songs. But my goodness, does it have a certain kind of magic on the IE 600. The sizzle on the ride cymbal, the crisp click of the hi-hats, the liquid quality of her voice, the space and silences in which it's allowed to build. It becomes a brand-new song.

'Special Ones' by George includes all the little sounds from the fretboard and little breaths from Katie Noonan, sounding utterly gorgeous. On the IE 600, the bass guitar sounds totally grounded while still capturing the fullness of Katie Noonan's incredible voice and range.

George's 'Breathe in Now' is a song with so many spaces and delicate sounds, and it loses a lot of its power on regular headphones because they tend to emphasise the bass too much. This is a song that must be held like the most fragile flower, because the wrong emphasis can break its spell, only allowing the fuller bridge to shine. The IE 600 reproduces each note accurately, allowing them to hold as needed and then make room for the next. The feeling you get when you hear it just right is one I wish everyone knew, it's a kind of lightness and warmth in your chest, not because of any single detail, but because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

'I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God' by Halsey relies on so much underlying bass, that growing sense of foreboding, and I thought maybe it would sound a little empty on a pair of neutral headphones instead of something more bass heavy. Lol. No. It sounds amazing, but now the jangle of the hi-hats on the drum machine shine a bit more and the bass goes into the background, changing the dynamics of the song a bit.

Okay, so what about something a touch heavier that relies on bass and chaos, like 'MANTRA' by Bring Me The Horizon in the angry motivational genre? Also amazing. I didn't really notice any new details that I hadn't heard before, and it didn't make me cry, but I do now feel motivated to either start or dismantle a cult, so that's nice.

But hey, maybe those are just great songs? So, I went to 'Take a Hint' from the Victorious Soundtrack, which is admittedly a banger, but isn't exactly designed for audiophile listening. While this was less of a transcendent experience than the other more carefully crafted tracks, it still sounded bloody incredible. After this I think Elizabeth Gillies should have been the breakout music star from the show instead of Ariana Grande, the IE 600 perfectly showcases her little "growls" for emphasis (not the technical term, but you know what I mean).

These aren't your everyday headphones you throw into your bag, though they seem tough enough to be used that way. The true magic of the IE 600 is when you listen to them in a quiet room and allow music to punch you in the face with emotions. Music can be so many things, but the most important thing it can do is make you feel something, and it's that ineffable, unquantifiable quality that gets brought out on audiophile headphones.

These headphones have made songs I know will bring tears of happiness, sadness, fullness and unexplained feelings to my eyes in ways that are rare and beautiful. I keep trying to use these as my main headphones that I wear when I go about my day, but then a song like 'Modern Girl' by Sleater-Kinney will come on and I have to pause for a moment to appreciate its beauty in a way I hadn't considered before. That's how I know these are excellent.

They're not the best headphones I've ever heard, but that's only because I am fortunate enough to have listened to a wide variety of even fancier headphones in my time (the kind that cost 100 times more than these, so you'd hope they'd have a little more to offer). But I do think these might be the best in-ear headphones I've ever heard that cost less than $2,000.


Should you buy it?

  • Buy it if you want a transcendent audio experience and have the equipment to make the most of it.
  • Don't buy it if money is no object and you can get a $100,000 pair, or if you just want everyday headphones and money is an object.

The Sennheiser IE 600 are incredible headphones. I've heard and felt things with these on songs that I love that I've never experienced before. The manufacturing process and material use is extremely impressive, as is the engineering. But should you spend $1,120 on a pair of headphones? Are they worth that much? That's not really a question I can answer.

I think most people will be perfectly happy with a pair of headphones that cost less than half this amount, but that's like saying most people are perfectly happy with a Holden Cruze instead of a Mustang. Both cars will get you to the same place, but the experience isn't the same, just as a Mustang isn't the same as a Lamborghini.

The next level of in-ears cost almost double the price of the IE 600, but only offer a slight audible improvement, and in that way I think they're priced fairly (and are perhaps even good value). They're out of my budget, but if money wasn't too much of an object, these would be the ones I'd choose before graduating to the $2,599.95 Sennheiser HD 800 S.


Sennheiser IE 600 review: Pricing and availability


Specifications

Sennheiser IE 600

Build

Category
In-ear
Frequency Response
4 – 46,500 Hz
Impedance
18 ohms

Connectivity

Wired/Wireless
Wired
Bluetooth
No

Features

Foldable
No

How we tested

I listened to a lot of music on Apple Music (lossless) and Tidal through an iPhone 13 Pro Max, a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 with a Creative SXFI headphone amp, and a Mac Studio over a couple of months. I was sent the Sennheiser IE 600 by Sennheiser PR.

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