Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Review

Sennheiser HD 280 Pros
The Sennheiser HD 280 Pros are tried and true professional studio monitor headphones designed for intensive sound production and monitoring applications. They feature a basic but practical design and high grade durable components (such as the extremely thick gauge coiled cable, beefed up headphone joints and high grade durable plastic construction) that results in a rugged and durable headphone that is designed with longevity in mind even through extensive daily use.  It is readily apparent upon holding the 280 Pros for the first time, that Sennheiser took extra time ensuring that the 280 Pro's can withstand many years of heavy use.  In this fashion, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's compete with other tried and true, durable studio monitor headphones such as the Sony MDR-7506's, Sony MDR-V6's, Shure SRH-440's and even the Audio Technica ATH-M50's.  From my perspective, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's are one of the most commonly used headphones in the professional studio community, right behind the Sony MDR-7506's and V6's.  While the HD 280 Pro's do happen to be less analytical than other comparable studio monitor headphones (such as the 7506's) they are headphones that are designed on the basis of a balanced and relatively analytical sound signature. In other words, these are not extra bass or overly colored headphones at all (although they do maintain a ever so slightly colored sound signature).  They are, for the most part, a balanced headset.

The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's come in a relatively standard box, but I am pleased to announce that its a box that is actually reusable.  Most of Sennheisers lower to medium price tiered products come in annoying disposable packaging.  The HD 280 Pro's deliver very little in the way of accessories.  Included in the box is the headphones themselves and a 6.3mm screw-on adapter that screws on to the pre-existing 3.5mm plug on the headphones themselves to allow connections to amps and other professional grade audio equipment that require the use of the bigger connector.  The HD 280 Pros do not come with any form of carrying case; pouch or hard case.  I found this to be a bit disappointing seeing both the ATH-M50's and the Sony MDR-7506's are are in the same price bracket and both supply carrying pouches with their headphones.

The first thing one will notice when removing the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros from the box is that they are a fairly hefty pair of headphones.  They are not necessarily designed to be the next big thing in headphone comfort (more on that later).  For those interested in technical specifications, the HD 280 Pros sport an over ear (circumaural) design for minimal sound leakage in or out. Because of the professional studio nature of these headphones, they are extremely adept at keeping outside sound from entering the headphone and keeping sounds inside the headphones from leaking out.  They have a 64Ohm impedance (can be powered by your portable device but amping them helps sound and volume level significantly) an 8-25,000Hz frequency response, 102dB sound pressure level, 40mm dynamic type driver with neodymium magnets and a max power rating of 500mW.  These headphones are not really designed for use with portable devices.  They can of course be used with portable devices, but without and amplifier they really do not achieve their maximum sound quality potential.

HD 280 Pros in ball configuration
In terms of build quality it is obvious that the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros are designed to withstand years of heavy use.  The ruggedness of the headphones themselves is a testament to this idea.  Every single thing about these headphones is big.  The long, coiled cable is constructed of a very thick gauge wire with plenty of insulation which also results in zero cable noise.  The connections were the wire connects to the jack and were the wire goes into the ear cup are reinforced with rubber and plastic that prevents the cable from flexing too much.  This is done in order to ensure that the connections don't wear out from constant flexing and result in a broken connection (the first component to go out in headphones is typically the cable, either where it connects to the plug or were it enters the ear cup) because the cable on the HD 280 Pros is not detachable, this is an important feature that will ensure longevity.  The joints that allows the ear cups to swivel as well as fold flat are constructed to be extremely durable.  The HD 280 Pro's are 100% plastic, but the plastic is a high grade plastic and is relatively dense as well. I was personally surprised at the weight of the headphones despite them being of plastic construction. There have been some reports by online reviewers that the HD 280 Pro headband is prone to cracking after a few years.  However, I have also read that this issue was not present in all HD 280 Pro models to begin with and that it has since been corrected. Sennheiser has an amazing warranty program that I have experienced first hand.  If your HD 280 Pro's were to break for any reason under normal use, I am positive that Sennheiser would send you a replacement very quickly.  So far, I have not experienced any build quality issues with my 280 Pros and I think that it is safe to say that they are extremely durable headphones.  One last important thing to note, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro comes in the standard black color scheme, bit a silver scheme is also available for purchase.  Obviously, the HD 280 Pros are not headphones designed to be aesthetically flashy, so I just bought the regular black set.  Most people don't wear studio monitor headphones in public as they are not necessarily designed for use with portable devices, nor are they very lightweight or super portable (although the HD 280 Pro's do fold up into a handy little ball for traveling).

Comfort is my biggest issue with the HD 280 Pro's.  I happen to have been graced with a relatively large head.  The HD 280 Pro's happened to be manufactured with a vice grip like clamping force.  The result is headphones that, to me aren't comfortable in the slightest.  I can get a maximum of an hour listening session with the 280 Pros before I start to become uncomfortable.  They really do apply a massive amount of force.  This is due to the HD 280 Pro's being professional studio monitors.  In order to allow minimal sound in and let minimal sound out, the HD 280 Pro's have to sit on your head with a certain degree of clamping force.  If they were loose, sound would leak in and out much more readily.  All studio monitors have more clamping force than traditional consumer headphones like Bose headsets or even my Sennheiser HD 439's.  However, the HD 280 Pros have, by far, the most excessive clamping force out of any of the studio monitors I have listened to or owned.  They are entirely impossible to wear with glasses on as well as the mash the metal frame of your glasses into your head.  I was able to lesson the clamping force a little bit by stretching the HD 280 Pros out over a soccer ball for a few days.  I suppose it worked, but the clamping force is still too much for my tastes.  If you have a smaller head, perhaps the the clamping force wont be an issue, but for those of us with big melons I would honestly suggest looking elsewhere.  It really is that bad.

Sennheiser HD 439's (left) Sennheiser HD 280 Pros (right)
Sound quality. Oh how I love the sound signature.  If not for the clamping issue, I would probably listen to the 280 Pro's much more than I do currently. I found that the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's produce a relatively warm sound signature for studio monitor headphones.  The sound is a lot more neutral than my Sennheiser HD 439's, but compared to the coldly analytical sound signature of my Sony MDR-7506's, these do give off a certain essence of warmth.  The sound is only ever so slightly colored.  People who claim that the HD 280 Pro's don't have any bass depth must have had their hearing impaired, or they have only ever listened to the 280 Pro's from some crappy portable device's line out.  The low frequencies that these headphones can expand into are far deeper than what many of my other headphones can achieve.  If I had one gripe about the bass response on these headphones, it would be that it lacks some tangible impact.  The bass response is overall good, yes but if you are looking for thumping bass and impressive bass impact, look elsewhere.  There isn't much to say about the mid range other than the fact that its just at the level that I like it at (at the same relative presence and level as the bass) and that its tight and controlled. The upper range is one of my favorite parts about this headphone.  It lacks sibilance and harshness that many other studio monitor headphones in this range (such as the 7506's) produce.  I often found myself cringing at the amount of sibilance produced from my Sony MDR-7506's while listening to rock albums that had lots of symbol crashes.  Not with the HD 280 Pros.  The headphones reproduce treble in a delicate and non overbearing manner.

HD 280 Pro Sliver
I love the overall sound quality of the HD 280 Pro's simply because there doesn't seem to be one specific type of music that its not good at reproducing.  I suppose that other headphones might suit bass heavy music better than the HD 280 Pro's simply because of their lack of bass impact.  Other than that, the HD 280 Pros reproduce anything from classical to metal, jazz to trance with surprising aptitude.  With the exception of the Audio Technica ATH-M50's, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's sound surprisingly lively for being a pair of analytical studio monitor headphones.  Additionally, because these headphones are designed for the studio, they respond incredibly well to equalization meaning you can tailor the sound signature of your music to however you like it with ease.  One unfortunate drawback to the HD 280 Pro's in terms of sound however is a slight but perceptible resonance that occurs.  I have noticed that a variety of lower to mid range closed back Sennheiser headphone have this resonance characteristic.  I believe that this issue is caused simply by the plastic construction of the ear cups and a non sufficient amount of sound absorbing material inside the ear cups themselves.  There is a DIY mod called "the blutack mod" that can be performed to rid of this issue and also increase bass response.  I have done it myself, but wont go into it here (I will most likely post about it at a later date). Besides this minor issue, the overall sound of the HD 280 Pro's is commendable.

While I love the sound quality of the HD 280 Pro's, the comfort has always been an issue for me.  If you have a large head such as myself, you may want to consider looking at some other headphone options.  I always recommend auditioning and trying on a pair of headphones if possible before purchase to ensure that their sound signature fits your liking and that the comfort level is acceptable.  Otherwise, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's are a demonstration of rugged build quality, longevity and commendable sound quality.

CLICK HERE for Sennheiser HD 280 Pro product page

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