The Philips SHP9600 is an open-back, dynamic driver headphone, and it was introduced just over a month ago as the successor to the wildly popular SHP9500; a headphone which from audiophile listening to gaming, garnered a lot of praise for the level of performance it offered at the very reasonable price of around $80(varied depending where you looked). So, with an MSRP of $129.99–a price tag that nearly doubles that of the SHP9500–does the SHP9600 deliver any notable improvements? And can it present the same level of value as its predecessor?
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
What’s in the Box?
Inside the box you’ll find the SHP9600, some paperwork, and a fairly long, single-sided, 3.5mm to 3.5mm 3m cable with a ¼” adapter–that’s it. It was very clear to me when unboxing the SHP9600 that the bulk of what you pay here goes to the headphone, but hey, I think that’s a good thing; and you get everything you really need to get going.
Power requirements? None.
The SHP9600, like its predecessor, is extremely efficient. At an impedance of 32ohms and a sensitivity of level 101dB/mw, I found myself being able to drive these with virtually everything I powered them with. Whether I listened to the SHP9600 directly plugged into my PC’s motherboard’s on-board audio or powered them with a discrete headphone amplifier like the JDS Labs Element II, I thought they sounded great and never felt like they showcased any of the issues I would find when underpowering a headphone; which makes them a great option for those don’t currently own a headphone amplifier.
Build and Comfort
The SHP9600 sports a new, slicker look than its predecessor. The somewhat-tacky Left/Right white text indicators on the cup grills are gone and they have been replaced with an all-black design that features a very thin, bronze ring around the grill’s perimeter. Aside from those aesthetic changes, the build and structural design remain largely unchanged from that of the SHP9500.
As is to be expected from a headphone in this price bracket, the build is composed almost entirely out of plastic, but with a steel-reinforced headband. For the most part, this design feels very stable and well put together, with my only complaint being that the cups do have a slight rattle to them. Aside from that, I really doubt that these will give users any issues during regular usage.
Comfort, I think, was one of the SHP9500’s best features, and thankfully the same can be said for the SHP9600. The SHP9600 is extremely light weight (330g), and low clamp force makes it one of the easiest headphones to wear in day-long listening sessions. The earcups on the SHP9600 are quite large, and the pads, although a little shallow, do allow plenty of room for your ears to fit in. The headband’s comfort strap has ample padding, and I find that it distributes the headphone’s weight very evenly without creating any sore spots or pressure points. The one comment I will make on comfort is that the sports-clothing-like mesh that the pads are wrapped in may cause some slight discomfort or itching for some users; particularly those with facial hair.
In brief, I would personally describe the SHP9600 as having a slightly coloured, energetic sound to it, with a bit of a bass emphasis, as well as some accentuation in the treble. Also, this probably won’t come as a surprise, but the SHP9600 is very reminiscent of the SHP9500. Both headphones share very similar tonal characteristics, but as we will discuss shortly, the SHP9600 brings about some fairly noticeable tuning changes–and, for the most part, I think that they are for the better.
For this sound section, I will be sharing my experience with the SHP9600 whilst drawing comparisons to the SHP9500, as well as some of the competitors it faces in its price range, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro, the DROP X Sennheiser HD 58X.
For an open-back headphone in the sub $150 range, I find the bass to be very good on the SHP9600. They have surprisingly good bass extension, and whilst they still see quite a bit of roll-off under 60hz, it’s a more gradual decline than that of the DT 990 Pro, HD 58X, and the SHP 9500; all which experience much more drastic roll-off, and are more lacking in subbass depth as a result. Additionally, the SHP9600’s bass has a pretty good level of detail. I don’t think it’s quite as articulate in the lows as the DT 990 Pro, which feels quite a bit more controlled, but I do think that it is a little tighter in this region of the Frequency response than the HD 58X.
Now, the bass response’s tuning I personally find to be a little odd on the SHP9600, as to me it sounds as though it has a fairly large bump at around 130hz; and whilst that definitely gave the bass an enjoyable level or presence, it did occasionally make the bass in certain tracks come across as swollen, or one-note-sounding. Nonetheless, that midbass boost was very narrow, so thankfully there was still a clean transition from the upper-bass into the lower mids, and the bass overall did not feel overly aggressive in relation to the rest of the frequency response.
The SHP9600’s midrange is nearly identical to that of the SHP9500, and they both remind me quite a bit of the midrange tonality on the HD 600. I would say that the mids on the SHP9600 have a very balanced, natural sound that only really felt like it deviated very slightly at two different spots. To me, it felt as though the mids could use a little more energy and bite at around 2K, as it did feel just a little bit dipped in that area by 1dB-2dB. I also found the upper midrange, at around 3K, to be just a little bit forward or shouty to me, although not quite as much as on other headphones, like the HD 58X, HD 600, or HD 650. Still, these really are very minor nitpicks, and I think that for the most part Philips got a pretty good tonality and timbre for the SHP9600’s midrange.
Midrange resolution, however, is where I find that the SHP9600 can be a little lacking. Compared to the DT 990 Pro, as well as the HD 58X, the SHP9600 comes across as a fair bit grainer to me in the midrange, and I don’t feel as though there is much of an upgrade compared to the SHP9500–which is a bit disappointing given the $50 upcharge.
One of the issues I had with the original SHP9500 was that treble could occasionally be a little uneven, with peaks that could make treble tones present themselves as a strident and, at least for me, disagreeable. The SHP9600 seems to share the same treble peaks as the SHP9600, but they seem to have been greatly subdued. The main elevation in the treble sounded to me as though it was centered at 6K, which introduced some noticeable glare, a bit of sibilance, and made cymbal crashes in particular come through with just a little added grit and harshness to them. For me, there also seemed to be the tiniest bit of extra presence at 8.5K, but it was hardly noticeable, and at worst would only add the slightest edge to consonant sounds. I will reiterate, though, that these peaks have been greatly reduced when compared to the SHP9500, and they don’t make the SHP9600 sound as unnaturally brightened as its predecessor; I would just be cautious if you are treble-sensitive, as these could become a little fatiguing in prolonged listening sessions if you don’t use some sort of EQ.
Lastly, I wanted to discuss the SHP9600’s treble resolution, which is actually really good for its $129 price tag. Particularly after using EQ, I find that the treble on the SHP9600 is very well-textured, and it delivers a very clean image of the tonal nuances in the highs. In this regard it sees a pretty decent upgrade over the SHP9500, and I think it’s actually about on-par with the HD 58X and DT 990 Pro.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Layering
The soundstage on the SHP9600 doesn’t sound to me like it’s necessarily wider than that of headphones like the HD 58X or HD 600, but I did find it to feel a little more spacious. I think that this is a result of both its imaging and layering, which are two categories where I think the SHP9600 performs really well. For imaging, I find that the SHP9600 is very capable when it comes to conveying a sense of positioning and directionality.
They may not be quite as pinpoint accurate as the DT 990 Pro, but I never struggled in discerning the direction from which sounds originated, or locating crucial sound cues like footsteps when playing games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). Then, for instrument separation the SHP9600 really impressed me, as all the different elements that composed the music I listened to were exceptionally well-defined and distinguished within the soundscape. I really did not expect the SHP9600 to achieve such a level of image distinction, and the HiFiMan Sundara is the only headphone I’ve listened to under $500 that does it better.
Like the SHP9500 before it, I find that the SHP9600 possesses pretty good dynamics for a headphone under $200. Low notes have an enjoyable sense of punch slam that hits with authority and delivers a satisfying physical impact in low notes. Top-end tones carry a nicely weighted snap behind them, which conveys a sense of tension behind string instruments as well as percussive strikes. I really do find that the SHP9600 has great dynamics, and it makes for a very engaging listening experience.
EQ settings in Peace GUI and EQ curve applied
For the most part, I really don’t feel like the SHP9600 is a headphone that requires EQ. However, for me personally, the treble was just a bit on the strident side so in my EQ profile for it, my main focus was to further tame the treble peaks as well as bring down that midbass bump. If you would like to try my EQ profile for the SHP9600, these are the settings I used:
- Low Shelf at 85hz, +2dB Q of 0.7
- Peak at 130hz, -5dB Q of 1.41
- Peak at 2000hz, 2dB Q of 1.41
- Peak at 3000hz, -1.5dB Q of 2
- Peak at 6000hz, -4.5dB Q of 3
- Peak at 8500hz, -2dB Q of 3
So there are a few different conclusions for me after listening to the SHP 9600.The first thing is that the SHP9600 by and large feels more like a refinement over the SHP9500, rather than a complementary headphone or a generational upgrade. That being said, I feel like Philips really nailed it with this “refinement” of the SHP9500, as it mostly addresses the issues I had with the original’s tonality whilst also improving comfort.
Whether or not the SHP9600 is worth the additional $50 over the SHP9500 is really not for me to say, as we all value things differently. Personally, though, I think that if you already own the SHP9500, there isn’t really any major incentive for which to upgrade to the SHP9600, as they really are very similar–especially if you use EQ. On the other hand, if you don’t already own a SHP9500 and are looking to get a taste of Philips’ headphone line-up or are looking for a an entry-level open-back headphone, then I think that the SHP9600 is a very solid option, as it has minimal power requirements, is extremely comfortable, and has an enjoyable tonality if you are not particularly treble sensitive.
PS. One last thing I would like to note is that, although I think that the DT 990 Pro is still the stronger option for games (especially FPS ones), the SHP9600 with a ModMic does make make for a good contender, as I feel like its imaging is able to keep up with the requirements for competitive online games and its significantly higher efficiency makes it compatible amongst a wider array of set-ups and systems.
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