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Better Than Speakers?.
Sennheiser HD 580 Headphones
Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music University of Hawaii, Leeward
The earpads of my Sony MDR-7506 (the headphones you see on the Howard Stern Show) started disintegrating after two years of light use. Every time I used them I ended up with black chunks of plastic clinging to my head. Thus, I persuaded myself to replace my shedding Sony 'phones with the Sennheiser HD 580. The Sennheiser turned out to be the best sounding and most comfortable cans I have used.
Sennheiser HD580 & DSP Pro
The HD 580 is currently (2/2001) on closeout at audio dealers across the net. It originally retailed for $350 but is now bundled with the DSP Pro (Pro Logic decoder/headphone amp) for $200 or less. I found the HD 580 alone selling for $350 at a local audio dealer in Honolulu.
These cans sport triple-wound aluminum voice coils; neodymium ferrous magnets; a three meter Kevlar reinforced OFC copper cable; large, velvet covered elliptical earcups; metal headband with velvet covered padding; and gray plastic body. The earpads and cable are detachable and replaceable.
The Sennheiser DSP Pro has a Dolby ProLogic decoder, a Toltec virtual surround processor, two memory presets (for favorite settings) and outputs for two pairs of headphones. There are surround modes to simulate the ambiance of a theater, concert hall, center speaker and night club. Of course, bass, balance, volume, delay and mute controls are included. The mute button is an extremely important feature if you use the DSP Pro for TV watching. The gray metal case is plain looking but sports red LEDs for late night adjustments.
The DSP Pro tricks you into thinking you're listening to surround sound on a pair of headphones. The Toltec system takes the DSP Pro's 5-channel ProLogic signal and computes the time delays and differences in loudness for each of the five speakers of a surround system, then feeds a virtual surround stereo signal to its two-channel output. It's great for late night movie watching or catching the X-Files in surround sound.
These headphones are large, reasonably solid, but are plasticky. The fit and finish are of good quality, and is handsome if you like the gray plastic look. Although these cans are big, they are the most comfortable headphones I have owned. I can wear them for hours. In contrast, my Sony MDR-7506 makes my ears hurt in about an hour.
The DSP Pro is also reasonably well made: gray metal case, blue rubber buttons, red LEDs, and a wallwart. She's reasonably compact at 20cm long, 8cm wide and 2cm deep--about the size of a remote control. Don't lose the cable or else the three-lead, six-pin DIN connector will be a special order from Sennheiser. The DSP Pro gets rather warm after a few hours of use.
The only weakness in the HD 580 is the detachable cable: it becomes detached with a light tug or snag. I am a careful person and have only experienced this mishap twice during the last year. You merely push the cable back in and all is well. I prefer a standard stereo phone jack over Sennheiser's connector. A stereo jack is more robust and makes for easier replacements or upgrades (try finding a dealer that stocks Sennheiser replacement cables). Unfortunately, Senniheiser's jack is too delicate for use in a recording studio or listening lab where heavy handling will surely lead to problems.
The cans are manufactured in Ireland while the DSP Pro is USA made.
The sound quality of these headphones is nothing short of fantastic: smooth, detailed, and neutral across the audible frequencies. Sennheiser claims a frequency response of 16-30,000 Hz (-3dB). I can't comment about the doggie and whale frequencies but the audible ones are better than most speakers I have heard. I listened to the HD 580s through a variety of sources: Mackie and Tascam mixers, Tascam DAT and cassette decks, Sony cassette decks, Sony Walkman and Discman, Denon and Tascam CD decks, Harman Kardon receivers, DSP Pro, Musical Fidelity X-Cans headphone amp, etc. I believe my impression of smoothness comes from Sennheiser's frequency tuning: a slight midrange "hump," slightly rolled off lower highs and delicate and airy highs. The neutral character of these headphones is noticeable as I jacked into different sources, i.e., the audio character of the source was faithfully reproduced by the HD 580. For example, the headphone amp in the Mackie mixer is bright and dynamic whereas the Harman Kardon is slightly rolled off and flat sounding. The the HD 580 sounded the worst with the Walkman and Discman as there is not enough gain to power the drivers properly. To really do justice to the ability of the HD 580 you need a quality headphone amp, and, indeed, it sounded incredible jacked into my X-Can headphone preamp.
A few words about bass. I mainly listen to and play classical and jazz music and, thus, found these cans to have a perfectly balanced tonal response. I like the bass full and taut but natural sounding. If you like huge, booming, kick 'em in the chest bass, these are not the cans for you. However, Sennheiser designed the HD 500 cans especially for bass-challenged types.
Unfortunately, the DSP Pro isn't a very good headphone amp for music listening. In fact, all of the built-in headphone amps on my receivers, CD decks, mixers, etc., sound better. However, the DSP Pro does what it is meant to do: hookup to your TV or computer for late night viewing in surround sound. Cable TV and VHS fidelity isn't very high so it sounds as good as this medium gets.
The HD 580 has a two-year warranty but, fortunately, I have not needed to test Sennheiser's customer or warranty repair service.
This is one pair of fine sounding and comfortable cans at a bargain price. However, they're not for everyone. If you like to dance with headphones on, pass this one up (the cable will fall out). You need a quality headphone amp with plenty of gain so you won't be jogging with a Rio/HD 580 combo. It doesn't crank out chest-crackin' bass that will satisfy Rap or Hip-Hop lovers. However, it does deliver a sound that is smooth, detailed, and fairly neutral across the audible frequencies. That's all I want and need. Even without the DSP Pro this would be a fine deal for $200.
Information and Where to Buy
Audio Advisor 4717A Broadmoor SE Kentwood MI 49512 $200
©Copyright 2001 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved
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