There’s an old Chinese proverb, attributed to zen master Hsi-Tang Chih Tsang in 800AD, that reads: “Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obstructs your vision.” Back then, he wouldn't have had access to the Sennheiser HD 560S open-back headphones, but his summation reminds us that items deemed highly desirable can produce the greatest disdain, should we find them disappointing.
In hi-fi circles, any product boldly claiming to have been “crafted for the analytical audio enthusiast” but carrying a price tag of less than £200 ($200) will probably either turn out to be exceptionally good value or a huge disappointment. So, has Sennheiser struck a rich seam of gold with the HD 560S, or is it about to rub the dust in our eye?
Sonically, Sennheiser is pushing these cans as the closest option to its thrice-the-price HD 660S, but in terms of comfort the company likens them to the reputable HD 599.
Thanks to the velour earpads and ample padding on the headband, they are really rather comfortable. And at 240g without the cable, their relative lightness belies the size of those large earcups, which really do fit around the ear.
Although Sennheiser’s claimed ‘barely there’ feel is optimistic – the clamping force of the plastic headband is stronger than the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Grado SR325e, for example – they’re an easy wear thanks to the padding, light design and slightly forward-angled earcups. Owing to their open-back design, the HD 560S feel ventilated and cool to wear, too.
Type Open-back, over-ear
Frequency response 6Hz - 38kHz
Output 6.3mm jack (with 3.5mm adapter)
Cable length 3m
The headband is plastic and the sliding mechanism clicks when adjusting them to fit, but it isn’t noisy during use. The earcups are anchored low enough to permit just enough movement, in or out from the headband itself, for an optimal fit. The cups are also designed to swivel just enough to ensure they will cover your ear properly.
These wired headphones come with a rubberised and relatively slender 3m cable, with the 6.3mm plug designed to connect to hi-fi sources, such as headphone amps and audio interfaces, bearing that connection. The bundled 3.5mm adaptor, meanwhile, will hook you up to digital audio players, tablets and smartphones that have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Sennheiser HD 560S' cable is detachable and connected to the left earcup only.
Under the hood, Sennheiser’s all-new 120ohm drive unit with a specialised polymer-blend diaphragm and high-strength magnet aims to reproduce deep bass notes and treble with both clarity and control.
Sennheiser says its Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement (EAR) angled driver alignment recreates the optimal triangular listening position you’d find in hi-fi loudspeaker setups and high-end recording studios, too.
Although this is an open-back headphone and susceptible to ‘leaking’ sound by design, we find the Sennheisers actually bleed audio far less loudly than the aforementioned Grado SR325e. That said, if you’re conscious of not upsetting your housemates with your musical choices, take heed.
We cue up Sean Paul’s reggae/dancehall classic, Dutty Rock, and the Tidal Master album comes through with an unusually healthy dollop of spaciousness at this level. The initial chord intro to I’m Still In Love With You snakes between our left and right ears with a greater analytical accuracy than through most competing headphones at this level.
Sasha’s vocal is well handled through the easy treble next to Paul’s deeper registers within a cohesive and layered mix. Instruments such as horns, which can often feel muddied in this track, are celebrated with a good amount of three-dimensional brassiness through the midrange, too.
As the album continues to Bubble, the presentation is even, clear and spacious. The bass is agile, although there is a little extra bass weight available in the pricier Grado SR325e. Roughly struck key chords through the treble are also marginally more impactful and edgier through the Grados, but even accounting for the price difference we feel the Sennheisers don’t convey the full degree of verve and zeal which we know to be part of the recording.
We switch to Melissa Etheridge’s Come To My Window and a shaker is beautifully placed at the top of our right ear. Etheridge’s rhythm guitar joins a cohesive mix where every passage is noteworthy and musically pleasing, alongside an unusually detailed vocal for the category. Our playlist continues to Angels Would Fall and, again, there’s separation and layering, from the initial riff in our left ear to the eventual central, textured vocal.
Over the course of our testing, we find much to celebrate when listening to classical music – stream Ravel’s Jeux d’eaux played by Monique Haas, and the keys are emotive, clear and refined – but we find ourselves wanting just a little bit more energy, punch and excitement from the HD 560S when listening to our heavier, funkier reference tracks.
Sennheiser’s extensive back-catalogue of five-star and Award-winning headphones spans more than five decades. This wired set of open-back over-ears is a valid addition, offering a perfectly acceptable and sonically detailed budget-conscious option.
Those looking for audiophile-grade sound quality – as is the company’s claim – will, however, find them just a shade undercooked for punch, zeal and enthusiasm.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best over-ear headphones
Read our Grado SR325e review