Forget It, Jack, It’s Chinatown: Sennheiser HD598CS

Welcome to our newest feature: Forget It, Jack, It’s Chinatown. In this feature, we will be exposing products that are made in China despite carrying a non-Chinese brand and not advertising their Chinese provenance. With any luck, this will provide definite answers to people who Google “xxx made in China”. (I’m not the only person who does that. Right? Right?)

Today’s episode: the Sennheiser HD598CS.


Once upon a time, Sennheiser headphones were made in Germany. Many of the better ones still are. But over the past five years, the company has gradually redefined its notion of which models deserve European manufacturing. The HD280 Pro, judging by the two pairs I’ve bought in the past few years, is made in Ireland, presumably to save some money on assembly.

The HD598 headphones used to be considered “mid-fi” items at least. (The definition of “mid-fi”: Every piece of stereo equipment you have that costs less than what I spent on that same kind of equipment.) So when I saw Amazon had a killer $99 deal on them, I decided to grab a set. These “closed-back” models seemed tailor-made for long flights or long days in my Agile Seating Office Environment.

When they arrived, I checked the box to see if they were still German or if they’d been sent to Ireland. Imagine my surprise: The Sennheiser HD598CS is made in China. So if you’re wondering where the Sennheiser HD598CS is made, now you know. Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown.

I think I’ll return these to Amazon and get my money back.

46 Replies to “Forget It, Jack, It’s Chinatown: Sennheiser HD598CS”

  1. Ryan

    We need more transparency in sourcing goods to give a realistic picture of where something is made. I will generally pay more for a good made in the USA (or Europe)

  2. jz78817

    The HD280s we have at work were made in Ireland. I can’t find the outer packaging for our HD600s but I’d assume similar since they were bought at about the same time.

    • Mason

      HD600 and HD650 are both made in Ireland and have been their entire run and still are… even the $200 HD6XX Sennheiser did was Massdrop are made in Ireland. I honestly don’t know any consumer-focused products from Sennheiser that are made in Germany besides the HD800/S and the new $50K Orpheus. Maybe one of their high end IEMs was as well. The rest is their pro and industry products.

  3. Tomko

    This series is long overdue.

    The designed in California, America, etc. markings are telltale signs to find an alternative. Sadly I’ve yet to find one for Apple.

    The – no evidence whatsoever – on where an item is made casues an immediate autonomic reaction in me to throw the item back from whence it came.

  4. Yamahog

    Is China the problem? I’m not thrilled about chinese made stuff in general but the problem isn’t ‘Chinese made’ as much as it is ‘made with shortcuts’. I don’t want Sri Lankan or Zimbabwean made gear for the same reason.

    It seems like (at least for the people able to make use of it) it’d be nice to get the general manufacturing tolerances and MBTF of any product with a barcode. I’d like to know whether Koyo or SKF bearings are better in a given application and MBTF and the tolerences would at least clue me in.

    • link3721

      I’m with you. I’m not in the camp that foreign manufacturing is bad, I’m looking for quality (which US made stuff generally is). However I do agree with shying away from stuff made in countries with ethically questionable policies (humanitarian/economic/etc).

      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        My feeling on the subject is that the United States has a lot of law on the books to guarantee the health, safety, and living standards of the American worker, as well as plenty of law to protect the environment.

        When you buy something in China to save money over an American item, you are effectively nullifying all of that, plus you’re depriving your neighbor of a job. I’m always surprised when green/lefty types are willing to buy Chinese goods. Don’t they understand that China is one big environmental and human-rights Boschian nightmare?

        • digitaleopard

          You are assuming that they actually care about people as people, rather than as a symbol to be exploited. I’ve known a few old-style liberals who hewed to that, and others who actually volunteer for things like Doctors Without Borders. Them I respect. But living in Seattle I’m surrounded by modern ‘progressives’ and trust me – they don’t give a damn about people *except* as symbols.

    • jz78817

      you can get quality stuff out of low-cost regions. But the better the stuff is, it aint that much cheaper. plus, you have to watch them like hawks.

  5. Lucas Zaffuto

    I remember a TV program where they were interviewing a Chinese company about quality and they showed a series of like four alternators, forget which car they were for but they were all for the same one. They ranged in price between ~$100 and ~$600. The guy being interviewed made the point that they can make items of any quality the customer wants, but guess which alternator they sell tons of and which ones almost never sell.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I’ve been hearing the line that “China can produce any quality you want” since I was involved in the BMX-frame business back in 1992.

      My experience is that the Chinese have some sort of fundamental cultural bias against putting out a consistently top-quality product *and* doing their own trustworthy QA. And as has been mentioned before, the minute you stop looking things will go downhill in a hurry.

      • Lucas Zaffuto

        That explains a lot really. Do you think the cultural bias is inherent to everything they produce or just the stuff they produce for other people for export?

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          It’s a low-trust culture.

          Some Americans will take particular pride in making something for someone they’ve never met: “Trenton Makes And The World Takes”. But we have a culture that reinforces the idea that what you do to and with strangers matters. Non-Western cultures seem to have a premium on what you do in the context of family.

          I bet you that the alternator in the car belonging to the son of the Chinese alternator magnate is top-notch.

      • jz78817

        I think it’s more 1) lack of oversight combined with 2) they like money too. If you’re not closely monitoring them they’ve no hesitation to cut corners here and there and pocket the difference. Or “over-produce” your product and sell it out the back door. We even had one supplier in China just close up shop and disappear literally (LITERALLY) overnight.

  6. Apuleius

    Ten or so years ago I was in western China, near the border with Pakistan. While sitting at the bar in my hotel, a nicely-dressed Pakistani gentleman came up and asked if he could join for a drink. We started chatting and discovered common connections in the UK and Canada. As our conversation continued, he told me that he was the governor of a Pakistani state, visiting China on a trade mission. By this point a Pakistani army general in full uniform had walked over, and obviously knowing the man next to me very well, says “we’re here to find out why the goods they send us are such shit.”

    When Pakistan is outraged that your goods are crap, they must really be crap.

  7. kvndoom

    I bought my Senn HD600’s nearly 10 years ago. They were made in Ireland. Since they will likely last my lifetime, I doubt I’ll ever have to compare them to the Chinese ones.

    My first pair of KEF speakers were made in the UK. The others I have bought since, not so much. They seem to be the same quality in terms of materials.

    But for the most part when it comes to electronics, I don’t even look anymore.

  8. arbuckle7809

    They may not meet your particular needs, but I wear Grado SR225e headphones. They are made in New York and retail for $200.

    I think all the on-the-ear stuff from Grado is made in NY and ranges from $99 – $1000+.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I bought Danger Girl a set of 125es and the over-ear cups. My primary headphones for home are BT880 600-Ohm customs.

    • Mason

      Grado’s are under engineered, poorly constructed, and overpriced. They are the worst example of Made in the USA that comes to mind right now. Oh and the drives they use come from a Chinese supplier to top it off.

      I get some people love them but boy… they’re just not well made products. Sorry.

        • Mason

          I should clarify… Grado doesn’t disclose who supplies the drivers. What is known is their facility doesn’t have the appropriate equipment and that there are several drivers out of China that look and sound an awful lot like the one’s in Grado headphones. I do believe the old, old Grados were supplied by Primo out of Japan. They absolutely do use the same driver for everything though with different treatments on the diaphragm and tighter driver matching on the higher end models (along with some cup changes). I’m just sayin’… look at a $1000 Grado headphone and then compare to a Sennheiser HD800 or Focal Elear… one of those things will not fit in with the others.

      • arbuckle7809

        I’m married to the brand or anything, but what’s a good alternative for under $200 that’s made in the US?

        • Mason

          There are none, unfortunately. There are some great high-end options for headphones made in the US like Audeze, MrSpeakers, and ZMF Headphones. Also some great IEM options from companies like Campfire Audio and Noble Audio. But in the sub $200 option, made in the US, Grado is the only one out there. And as far as I’m aware these companies still source all the drivers from outside the US except for a few select, and very expensive, models.

      • niclas

        I love how they sound, but all my Grado’s have gone kaput in a few years. All have developed a bad connection and/or rattle at some point.. The SR325i lasted longer than the several pairs of SR60. I suppose they would last longer if you stored them on a velvet pillow with the lead gently coiled, but my not so great sounding Sennheiser HD555’s have soldiered on for god knows how long and they’ve literally been thrown around.

  9. fvfvsix

    With some items, I’ve just about given up on sourcing non-Chinese made examples. Audio equipment kinda falls in that category for me. I have five sets of headphones, and of those, only the ones I use for mixing (Beyerdynamic DT990 and AKG Q701) are made in Europe. The other two European brands I own (B&W and Sennheiser) are all made in China. Considering what they cost, they could have easily been manufactured profitably in London and Hanover.

    The best I’ve been able to do lately (outside of studio equipment, which is largely USA made) has been my Taiwan-manufactured Parasound Halo. I believe that Taiwanese culture gives its manufacturing capability a sense of craftsmanship. This is probably why cheap stuff isn’t sourced from there very often these days.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I have a Parasound pre-amp.

      Taiwan is so distant from China in terms of manufacturing. It’s odd.

      • yamahog

        Taiwan is like Japan’s Mexico – kinda. Taiwan does advanced manufacturing now (semiconductors, optics, ect.) but it was an industrial base for Imperial Japan and Japanese companies never really left. A good number of the parts used to assemble cars in Japan come from Taiwan.

        I think South Korea is becoming one of the best manufacturing countries in the world, but you’d have to be pretty good at the hard stuff if China (#1 at the easy stuff) is your neighbor. I know it’s not much, but my old Elantra was from South Korea and I couldn’t believe the quality of the metal they used in a compact, economy car. Really, really high grade, uniform steel. Shame the rest of the car wasn’t as comparatively good as the steel.

  10. PM Summer

    I think your first clue should have been “$99”.

    Happily still using my German-made Sennheiser HD-424 ‘phones I bought new for $99… in 1972.

    • Kvndoom

      The pro4aa are probably the most indestructible headphones on earth. Heavy as cinder blocks and can be played EXTREMELY loud nonstop. The ones I owned were indeed made in the US, but that was a very long time ago.

      What they lack in sound quality they gain in isolation and durability.

  11. Ronnie Schreiber

    I do custom embroidery for some judaica vendors and I’m starting to see things like prayer shawl bags marked with “Designed in Israel”. Plenty of judaica items like Chanukah menorahs and the like are made in China. I wonder what the Chinese workers think the stuff is for. So far the actual prayer shawls are still being made in Israel or New York – orthodox guys are pretty picky about what kind of Tallis they wear since they’re used so frequently.

    BTW, every consumer item targeted at the Jewish market that is made in China means some orthodox guy had to travel there and figure out how to find kosher food in a country of people that will eat anything that moves. My neighbor runs a leather apparel company (and yes, they still make stuff in Detroit) and when he goes to China he takes lots of tuna fish with him.

    • Jim

      Speaking of workers having no idea what their goods are used for, my last set of hockey breezers was made in Haiti….

  12. Frank Galvin

    Chinese quality and the lack thereof was the subject of one day’s lecture in my International Business law class. The professor was a recently naturalized German who had worked for one of mega-firms that facilitated the creation of joint companies within China. It was a while ago, but I remember the big takeaways: 1) you’re going to lose your IP one way or another 2) the concept of quality control is non-existent and will require the Western operations people to undergo cultural boot camp to learn to convey to the factory that a child’s bike cannot be a piece of crap that will rust and is full of steel burrs. The cultural mindset was that the bike, stereo, etc just had to work, nothing more, and sometimes less.

    I went into employment law.

  13. digitaleopard

    I just got my own set of Senns, the PC 360. Also made in China, which I found out only when I had the shipping box open. If I could find anything comparable made in the US I would send them back, but good headphones with a mic are virtually impossible to find. I honestly don’t think you can find any manufactured anywhere else at this time. I was thinking about getting the Audio Technica AD900x and using a Modmic, but the new version of the AD900 is also made in China.

  14. DirtRoads

    Thanks for this, Jack.

    I recently bought an American (JET Manufacturing) dust filter for my woodworking hobby. Designed in America, all else was China. Well, at least they recognize that people don’t like that, and they add on, “to Jet’s high standards” or some such.

    Most of the power tools you buy nowadays are made in China. I hope Snap-On hasn’t outsourced to there. Since I no longer make my living wrenching on machinery, I haven’t looked into it. But I buy American IF I can, even for a few more bucks.

  15. Ronnie Schreiber

    I needed a pair of cheap earbuds so I could use the Next Radio app on my phone (which uses the headphone wiring for an antenna). While in the electronics department at Meijer I noticed a brand of television sets I’d never heard of before, Element, with Made in USA prominently on some of their flat screen sets. They say they assemble television sets in Detroit and in South Carolina, but the Alliance for American Manufacturing filed a complaint with the FTC, claiming the Element doesn’t do enough value added work to qualify as Made in the USA. The company appears to be set up to exploit the patriotic feelings of shoppers at Walmart, Target and similar stores. User reviews online say they sell junk no matter where it’s made.

  16. jz78817

    In the comments for an article about the BMW G310s on Revzilla, someone said “check out CSC Motorcycles.” I took a look; a fully-faired sportbike for under $3000 new with free delivery and assembly? Yeah, no. I don’t want to know what kind of sweatshop in Tianjin is cranking those out, and sure won’t consider swinging a leg over one.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Many years ago, a mechanic at a motorcycle shop said to me, “When you’re on two wheels… it needs to be right.”

      That’s been a guiding principle of mine for a long time. And for that reason alone I’m not going to do 70mph on a Chinese-made bike. I worry enough about Danger Girl’s Yamaha R3, which is made by Yamaha in Indonesia.

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