This review originally appeared in Sound+Image magazine, one of What Hi-Fi?’s Australian sister publications. Click here for more information on Sound+Image, including digital editions and details on how you can subscribe.
As we’ve just awarded this design our Home Headphone of the Year under $1000 in our 2021 Sound+Image Awards, it’s clear that we rate them highly. They also provide a complete contrast to the likes of Sennheiser’s wireless HD 450BTs. The price is similar, but all the street features are stripped away: no Bluetooth, no noise-cancelling, no voice prompts, no app. Instead you have an open-backed design (meaning the headshells allow music out, as well as external noise in) which connects via a cable that terminates in a full-sized quarter-inch stereo jack, but with an adaptor cable provided for minijack sockets.
They proved a reminder of the headstart to performance that is granted by cable over Bluetooth, and by open designs over closed. And they demonstrate what Sennheiser does best – natural and high-value shining sound.
Driven by laptop or portable device via the headphone adaptor cable you’ll get 90% of their performance, but give them a good headphone socket on a hi-fi amp or standalone headphone driver and their dynamics improve further still. Listen thus to the new live Roger Waters set ‘Us+Them’, and the clocks of Time slam and tinkle before the kick drum’s worthily strong and tight thumps; the synths fizz in all the right places, with monumental levels (not advised, natch) available without any sign of distress.
Their impeccable linearity of sonic balance portrays acoustic instruments with accuracy and nuance, suiting classical and jazz tracks beautifully. The 120-ohm transducer within is new for Sennheiser – a polymer construction, but one which improves sonic sparkle over 10kHz, says the company. The open design assists that further, of course, and a sweep showed them to be remarkably linear through the frequency range, which is stated as a slightly ridiculous 6Hz to 38kHz, though that’s allowing a -10dB tail-off.
Type: Open-backed over-ear
Driver: not stated
Cable: 3-metre, 6.3mm jack with minijack adaptor
Impedance: 120 ohms
Quoted distortion: <0.05% THD (1kHz @ 90dB SPL)
You can use them with portable devices, and indeed they become our heapdhone of choice for sitting on the deck, playing from an iPad Pro. the sound was fine, but this did require quite the concatenation of cables, with first a Apple USB-C to minijack converter cable, then Sennheiser's supplied minijack-to-quarter-inch converter cable, before we could plug in the quarter-inch plug which terminates the cable from the headphones.
Note that they are very open indeed in terms of letting sound in as well as out: when we first checked them for fit and comfort, we were astounded at how little they curtailed the sound of music then arriving from our hi-fi speakers.
They similarly spill sound outward and will annoy anyone nearby! These are not designs which will double up for the commute, especially with the cable converters you'd need to do so.
Comfortable they certainly proved – Sennheiser says that while the sound “is rooted in the reference-level DNA of the beloved HD 660S”, the physical design is derived more from the ultralight HD 599, and they were a delight to wear – firm but not clamped, encouraging long listening sessions.
They also have velour earcups and headband, rather than the common pleather which deteriorates far faster in our challenging Australian climate.
You can have your Bluetooth, your noise cancelling – when you’re at home, indulging in some evening entertainment, there’s no substitute for plugging a pair of open, wired headphones into a decent headphone amp and letting the music flow. Sennheiser's HD 560S headphones deliver sensationally musical sound at the price, if open-backed headphones are suitable for your purposes.