The Best Sennheiser Headphones – November 2018
You don’t need to be a hardcore audiophile to appreciate a truly great pair of headphones. Whether you’re more of a casual listener who likes to distract yourself at the gym, or a more sonically-inclined music fanatic who won’t settle for the notably lesser audio quality of earbuds, having a great pair of headphones is a must for most of us.
For years, Sennheiser has carved out a reputation among those who are serious about sonics as being one of the most reliable and admirable headphone companies on Earth. Their phones are consistently used in some of the world’s most expensive and prominent recording studios, and producers use some of their more high-end models to mix best-selling records on a regular basis.
So whether you’re an aspiring record producer or simply someone who wants to enjoy your music the way it was meant to be heard, we highly recommend checking out these truly incredible Sennheiser headphones, each of which has slightly different characteristics that are beneficial for different types of listening.
Crafting these types of lists is inherently difficult, since the overall quality of audio gear (especially headphones) is largely subjective instead of objective. Depending on what they’ll be used for and the buyer’s budget, one pair may be far more suitable than another for a particular project.
With that in mind, we decided to award our number-one spot to these Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphones, which act as the go-to monitoring device for producers who want a truly transparent and uncolored sound.
While we wouldn’t recommend these phones to more casual listeners who want to enjoy their tracks in public (since the open-back design was in no way built for audio isolation), these phones are a sound mixer’s dream come true.
Their lightweight aluminum voice coils ensure a truly excellent transient response, and neodymium ferrous magnets maintain optimum sensitivity and excellent dynamics. These phones also feature extremely comfortable metal-mesh earpiece covers that come very much in handy when you’re mixing a long session.
And since producers and mixing engineers treasure transparency and natural sound above virtually all else, these headphones have become an industry favorite—thanks to high-resolution optimization and their impressive dynamic response.
Although even the best open-back headphones in the world could never truly replace a great set of near-field monitors, these Sennheiser HD 600s come surprisingly close.
Claiming the runner-up spot are these HD 558s, which are slightly more affordable than the 600s and offer a sound that’s more than proficient for a wide range of studio tasks.
They feature a twist-and-lock, single-sided cable that eliminates those horrible tangles that all too many engineers are familiar with, and their field-strengthened neodymium ferrous magnet system is highly optimized for HD sound reproduction.
These phones also feature a unique internal sound reflector that immerses the listener in rich, dynamic audio—all without muddying the mid to high frequencies. There are also state-of-the-art Duofol diaphragms that reduce unwanted resonances, and the comfortable ear pads are great for extended listening sessions.
As far as we could tell, the only reason for the price difference between these open-back phones and the 600s that claimed our number-one spot was a slight lack of bass definition and clarity at low volumes (a common pitfall for even the most advanced open-back studio headphones). We don’t anticipate this being a problem for most listeners who keep their phones at a medium volume, but for those who like to listen back to their tracks on the quiet side, you may find your low-end frequencies lacking.
Switching gears to far more ubiquitous closed headphone models, we find the Sennheiser 380s—a true studio workhorse model that’s relied upon every day by some of the industry’s most respected engineers.
Unlike open-back headphones that are ideal for mixing and mastering but horrible for tacking, these phones offer extended isolation that makes them ideal for recording everything from vocals and guitars to piano and drums.
They eliminate ambient noise by a whopping 32 dB (making them ideal for musicians who want to hear their backing tracks and virtually nothing else), and their extraordinarily low harmonic distortion rating means that you can crank them up without experiencing any major sonic loss.
These phones also feature an extended frequency response that delivers a truly accurate and reliable sound reproduction, and we found the low-end frequencies to be pronounced and detailed even at relatively low volumes.
The 380s also come with ergonomic Duofol earpieces, which are easily replaceable if one day you find that they’ve endured perhaps one too many rambunctious studio sessions.
Where would a truly great gear list be without an incredibly expensive item that’s probably far outside the average buyer’s budget? As one would expect, these Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference headphones offer truly stunning clarity and sound reproduction, but they cost a pretty penny.
Used by only the most avid audiophiles and studio engineers who demand nothing short of true audio transparency, these phones give even the most advanced near-field monitors a solid run for their money in terms of accuracy.
These headphones feature an open-back, cirrus-aural design and 56mm ring radiator transducers, which are the largest drivers ever to be used in a pair of dynamic headphones. They also feature innovative absorber technology that reduces unwanted frequencies and peaks while allowing even the most subtle nuances in sound to shine through the mix.
These phones also boast a unique cup design that makes it seem as though the music is “outside” your head instead of being channelled directly into your ears, which leads to a far more authentic and accurate soundscape.
And although it may sound secondary to sonic quality (and in many ways it is), these were perhaps the most comfortable headphones we tested for this list, which is incredibly important if you’re going to drop such an exorbitant amount of money of a single pair of go-to studio phones.
Coming back down to a slightly more reasonable price point, we find these HD 660s, which we believe embody an ideal middle ground between signature Sennheiser quality and affordability.
Featuring new and improved transducers that deliver remarkably low harmonic distortion (even at high volumes), these phones provide impressive accuracy across the frequency spectrum, and their 150-ohm nominal impedance allows direct connection to home and mobile Hires audio devices.
These phones also come with para-aramid reinforced, detachable cables employ high conductivity OFC copper to insure signal integrity with very low handling noise, and you’ll be able to choose between the included 6.35 mm stereo plug or the 4.4 mm Pentaconn balanced stereo plug.
And even though these are fully open-back headphones, we were impressed with the relative lack of bleed even at higher volumes, which is beneficial for engineers and producers who want to enjoy an authentic open-back experience without perhaps disrupting their fellow studio workers or musicians.
Rounding out our list is another pair of exceptional closed-back headphones that have become ubiquitous in some of the world’s most celebrated recording studios. These phones are powered by the latest 38mm, 23-ohm transducers, and feature a soft yet reliable tone that’s great for long tracking sessions in which you don’t want your ears to become fatigued.
These phones are extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and feature impressive noise isolation technology that makes them a fantastic choice for vocalists.
They also come with two cable options, and even feature an in-line, one-button remote with a microphone that can be used to take calls on the go.