Review: Sennheiser HD580 Precision Headphones Tweak
What can I say? This is the best $179 I ever spent on hi-fi. I tried quite a few pairs of ‘phones before I got to these, though.
I only recently started listening to headphones. After moving into an apartment, I found that sound—even from my little ProAc monitors—travels far farther up the walls than I ever imagined. So to keep the neighbors happy, I reached for the Grado SR60s I had bought a few years back but never used much. They were terribly uncomfortable, and to my ear, not all they’re cracked up to be. Open-sounding and with a nice midrange, but just plain un-involving.
I took a listen to a pair of Grado SR80s out of loyalty, but they were even more uncomfortable thanks to the hard-as-Styrofoam earcups. The only advantage I heard over the SR60s was a bit more bass.
I called up Music Direct and ordered a pair of Sony MDRV-300s for only $50. Much more comfortable, and with so much deep bass, it was scary. They were also very easy to drive at less than 30 ohms. But the closed-ear design and creaky, el cheapo build quality helped make them screechy and shrill except when listening to electronic or other bass-heavy music.
Finally, I got serious. Music Direct was selling B-stock Sennheiser HD535 ‘phones for half the normal retail, $79.95. These are a STEAL! Amazing comfort, beautiful styling, easy to drive with nearly any source—my Rotel preamp had no trouble with this, and my Phillips portable even worked okay with the “bass boost” on, which surprisingly had only a moderately negative effect on the tonal balance. The HD535 is so much better than the Grado SR60 and SR80, it was crazy. They were even more airy and open sounding, with outstanding detail but a surprisingly non-fatiguing sound. I listened for hours—to LPs and CDs and even DVD movies.
But there were a few shortcomings with the HD535. Even though the bass extension improved after about 48 hours of break-in (I left them playing while at work to speed things up), it never got to a point where I felt happy. Also, with certain solo piano recordings (Keith Jarrett, George Winston, etc.) and acoustic recordings (Allison Krauss + Union Station, Michael Hedges), the notes and the decay were a bit icy, cold and mechanical.
So I ordered up a pair of HD580s from Music Direct for only $179—great price! Not as good a price as some I’ve seen on Audiogon and Ebay, but worth the few extra bucks for the excellent service and sound advice. Now, I’m very pleased. So pleased, in fact, I have no desire to listen to the HD600s. I’m even pretty confident I can go it without a headphone amp—the jack on my preamp is damn fine, and even the op-amp on my Sony SACD player is very good, except for rock music and large orchestral pieces, when things the instruments get a bit crowded. (Don’t even try driving the HD580s with a portable unless you have a headphone amp.)
The HD580s are even MORE comfortable then the HD535, if that’s possible. Though they exert a bit more pressure around the ears, it’s no so much as to be annoying. I forget I’m wearing them, thanks in large part to the velvet earpads (as opposed to the vinyl pads on the HD535s and the Marquis de Sade-designed pads on the Grados.) Once adjusted, they stay adjusted for good.
Driven through the Rotel, the HD580s are stunning as far as the level of detail they provide. It’s spooky when you hear people way in the back row of an orchestra cough or turn the page on their sheet music. But, just like the HD535, somehow Sennheiser manages to make the overall presentation very smooth and friendly and non-fatiguing. The sound is not very hi-fi in the audiophile sense; which is to say, it’s not clinically perfect and unmoving (my apologies to those who disagree, but that’s how I hear it.) The HD580s are real smoothies which ingratiate themselves over time. I even find myself listening to them at lower and lower volume.
Best of all, vinyl shines through these buggers. Listening to my Rega P2/Denon DL-160 via the moving coil card in my Rotel preamp, surface noise and imperfections are way in the deep background. The music is front and center. I was never able to listen to vinyl on any headphones I’ve tried except the Senns, because they exaggerated and exacerbated every glitch.
I have to also admit that the HD580s trounce my speakers. Sure, there’s no soundstage in the traditional sense. But I’ve gotten used to headphones now, and since I’ll have to live with them until I find a house, I’ve adjusted to life without precise imaging.
At this point—after talking to a few very frank salespeople and some fellow music lovers—I have no plans to buy a headphone amp. Borrow, maybe, if I can find a willing donor. But the most I would currently spend on an amp is $200 or less, and I’ve heard from owners of the Creek OBH-11 and Headroom AirHead that they heard no difference at all when compared to the jacks on their preamps or integrateds. I’m sure there’s a difference when you move up to $1000 or so, and I wonder how the $300 Musical Fidelity X-Can V2 would warm up my CDs with it tubes, but not enough to take the plunge just yet.
I’m enjoying the hell out of the HD580s right out of the box.
Rega P2 turntable
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Rotel RC-980 preamplifier with MM/MC phono stage
Rotel RA-970 amplifier
Rotel RQ-970BX phono stage
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player
Phillips AM/FM tuner
Realistic laserdisc player
RCA DVD player
Apex Digital 27” TV
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Paradigm speaker stands
Kimber 4PR speaker cables
Various Audioquest/VampireWire/Kimber/Monster interconnects
Monster Power HTS 2500 Power Center
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine/Disc Doctor record brushes
StudioTech HF series racks
Audioquest MC cartridge demagnetizer
Sennheiser HD580 headphones
Sennheiser HD535 headphones
Grado 15’ headphone extension cable
Sennheiser HD535; Sony MDR-V300; Grado SR60 and SR80; various others over the years from Sony, Koss and Phillips