Back in September, Sennheiser’s announcement that they were releasing a new budget friendly open back headphone, dubbed the HD 590S, piqued a few ears. As the selection for low cost open back headphones increases I wondered how the innovators of the open back concept would make their newest entry stand out from competitors from other manufacturers and from their own stable of headphones.
What You Get
Naturally, a pair of headphones aiming to find a niche in the budget market isn’t going to come packed with accessories. Besides the headphones themselves, you get a three meter detachable ¼ inch cable that has a single entry point into the left ear of the headphones. Not to leave smartphone and computer consumers in a bind, there is a ¼ inch to 3.5mm adapter.
Look and Feel
These are a no frills pair of headphones with a straightforward but comfortable construction. They may not feel luxurious but the hard plastic assembly sits nicely on the listener’s head, utilizing a foam pad to ensure a comfortable listen. The headband itself felt a little tight on my head, but I can’t claim to have a small skull. The velour earpads are sizable and after listening for about half an hour, I nearly forgot I was wearing them. Though made of plastic, Sennheiser has a good reputation for durability so I’m confident that their build quality is just fine, if simple and bare boned.
The HD560S sports a 38mm polymer dynamic driver that utilizes Sennheisers E.A.R. technology (Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement) that positions the transducers in a way that increases perception of room and space. This along with the open back design aims to create an immersive listening environment that should placate even die hard audiophiles.
The output impedance of the HD560S is 120 ohms, a somewhat uncommon rating for a pair of headphones. This allows them to be driven by both the output jack of your smartphone or by a headphone amplifier. I started out my listening session through my phone jack and progressed to a variety of iFi amplifier/DACs and while I noticed an improvement in sound detail and quality, it was not a drastic difference. The frequency range is 6Hz – 38kHz, clearly showing Sennheiser’s intent for a low cost open back with a strong performance in the low end.
Soundstage and Detail
Moving on to sound quality, it’s if the HD560S hits its mark as an affordable headphone with audiophile grade performance. I was very pleased with the detail, presence, and depth of my listening experience. Sennheiser touts the HD560S as suitable for reference and listening and it certainly meets these expectations. The soundstage was not the most expensive I’ve ever heard but it was enough for me to focus on any singular aspect of most arrangements. On the other hand, this lack of absolute separation between left and right elements wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The playful panning of Sydney Gish’s “Presumably Dead Arm” from her 617 Session was immediately apparent and I was able to enjoy the interplay between the multiple rhythm guitar layers while still experiencing a blending effect.
I spent some time listening to podcasts and I found the headphones to be suitable for the task. I put them to the film test with Bee and Puppycat, an acclaimed cartoon with wonderful sound design and a great soundtrack. Listening to the rich soundscape demonstrated the depth of the soundstage and it’s attention to detail, though once again I found that it was slightly lacking in the width that I would associate with a high quality open back headphone.
Sennheiser’s documentation really sells the low end of the HD560S and it really is one of it’s strong suites. When I put on Childish Gambino’s “This is America” the bass was big and boomy while never overpowering the mix. I followed it up with Pepe Deluxe’s swinging, stage musical inspired “Surrealist Woman” whose retro style demanded a more low mid focused and subdued bass sound. The HD560S delivered with no unnecessary boom or mud. Throughout my time on these headphones I always found the bass to be true to the song, with a sharp and snappy transient response.
The middle frequencies fare quite well through the HD560S as well. When listening to thick guitar driven music such as Freebee Honey by the famed Japanese rockers the Pillows, multiple guitar parts and bass lines would always find a happy balance without getting muddy and indiscernible.
While I found these headphones to perform well under most conditions, I did have a little trouble with their high end response. Vocal centric music usually fared well with the singer sitting strong above the mix, but as I turned to a variety of instrumental songs, I found higher end instruments could sometimes feel harsh. The noise synth of Merzbow’s “Promotion Man” was overbearing for me, and while I’m sure most people would agree with that assessment through any listening device, if you are into music that pushes the edges of the sonic landscape, tread carefully on the HD560S.
Sennhesier set out to create an accurate and versatile pair of open back headphones and they certainly hit their mark with the HD560S. It’s an extremely practical and versatile headphone. Though not flawless, it is certainly one of the better headphones I’ve listened to at this price point. It won’t always be my first recommendation for those with a more specific need from their headphones but these are certainly a workhorse pair that perform well under almost any setting.
Sennheiser HD560S is now available at Audio46
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