Philips SHP-9500 Around-Ear Open-Back Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 19, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with v-moda Verza/Portaphile Micro/Decware Zen Head amps, various computers using HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyer A200p DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Philips SHP9500 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the SHP9500 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    I reviewed a few previous Philips headphones (the Stretch, ~$100; the L1, $300, and the M1, $250), and 2 of the 3 were good performers, including the simple all-plastic Stretch. All 3 of those saw drastic price reductions after awhile, but given the $60 price I paid for this SHP9500 via Massdrop recently, I don't expect any further price reductions for this headphone. But that's not a negative, since the SHP9500 is beautifully made and sounds great, and the value is exceptional in the under-$100 price tier -- "street price", that is. If you check the chart linked above or on my dalethorn website under Photos and Audioforge, you'll see that I boosted the deep bass around 40 hz by 6 db. It's a very clean bass, so whether you play it flat or give it a boost, you'll have a bass with decent impact and good detail. The one significant coloration I found, where the treble has a recess around 6 khz, won't bother most users, but I list it in case it's used in a critical application.

    The SHP9500 is an open-back design, so there's no isolation for outdoor use in noisy environments, and the leakage is such that it won't be accepted in most public libraries or very quiet offices unless the volume is kept extremely low. I've included 25 music tracks below that I used to test the different sound qualities of the SHP9500, but I want to make a special mention of a new SACD I got in the post a few days ago - Anton Bruckner, Symphony No.8, Remy Ballot and the Upper Austrian Youth Symphony Orchestra. The recorded quality is fantastic on my better/pricier headphones and amps, but the SHP9500 performs like the best of them on this music, which should be terrific news for potential customers - of the SHP9500 and this SACD. Certainly the open-back design of this headphone provides a more spacious sound than closed-back headphones, on average anyway, yet I've had a number of low-priced open headphones and they were nowhere near as good as the SHP9500.

    The SHP9500 is full size, but feels a bit lighter than average, due no doubt to the use of high-tech plastics, right down to the laminated headband that has a thin metal outer piece and a thicker plastic inner part. The fully circumaural cloth-covered earpads are very soft and the headband clamp is light, making the SHP9500 extremely comfortable. The padding under the headband is generous, but for users who are bothered by even moderate headband pressure, I'd suggest moving the earcups down an extra 1/4 inch to carry more of the modest weight with the earpads. Although the SHP9500 is an open-back design that's not ideal for portable use, it nonetheless can be pulled off the head when not in use and worn around the neck with no discomfort. There is no carry case or other accessory supplied. The range of adjustment is good - 1.5 inches on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is single-entry, detachable, 10 ft long, with generic miniplugs on each end.

    My final judgement of the sound is that the SHP9500 can be played without any EQ or tone controls for a full-fidelity experience, given only the minor caveats noted above. The soundstage is among the best I've experienced with a headphone. That's an outstanding result for the normal $120 USD price, but since I paid only $60 all the more so. Perhaps the 50 mm drivers make all the difference. In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the SHP9500 compares with each individual track. The comments below apply to using the SHP9500 with the sources noted above, playing 44 to 96 khz WAV tracks, with no EQ or tone controls enabled.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Philips SHP-9500 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The SHP9500 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the SHP9500.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel a little of the weight they carry with the SHP9500.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The SHP9500 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled perfectly by the SHP9500.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The SHP9500 reproduces the space and detail extremely well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the SHP9500 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The SHP9500 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - amazingly musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The SHP9500 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the SHP9500 - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The SHP9500 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and while the bass tones beginning around 0:45 should have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response, the SHP9500's deep bass is recessed somewhat. Overall, the SHP9500 plays this music very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce lightly with the SHP9500. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The SHP9500 reproduction is as perfect as I've heard. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail. I want to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the SHP9500 does these exceptionally well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The SHP9500 plays this with a light weight but excellent detail, such that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second analog "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the SHP9500 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are delineated nicely, and the bass line especially is clear and detailed. This sounds pretty good with most headphones, but it's a special treat with the SHP9500.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is very subtle with the SHP9500.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the SHP9500 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The SHP9500 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound fairly well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The SHP9500 conveys only a little of that experience given the deep bass rolloff, but the tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the SHP9500 renders the tones and transients clearly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The SHP9500's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The mid-upper bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The SHP9500 delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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