Setting the Stage
The last time I visited the Sennheiser store was several months ago when I’d just gotten into the audio hobby. I honestly didn’t really know what to look out for or to expect, so I mainly came away confused but very happy with my demo of the HE-1. Cue today when I had some free time and decided to drive on down. It was a bit weird because they’d just re-opened and there were a bunch of safety procedures; I was pretty much the only customer in the shop the whole time I was there.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, I was unable to demo Sennheiser’s IEMs which I was really looking forward to. But I still got to try a bunch of their headphones and ended up spending about five hours in the shop just critical listening! I was just lookie looing, but to their credit the Sennheiser people were really understanding and let me do my thing. Anyways…at a certain point, my ears were pretty tired of listening, but here are some brief impressions of the ones I took note of.
This is the only headphone I really remember from my first visit because, well, it’s their $50K flagship! They even have a security guard standing outside when you demo it. The way it warms up and opens is all part of the experience. I really don’t have much to say here because they limit the time you’re allowed to listen – I only got about ten minutes each time. It’s just a very, very fast headphone in general with excellent technical performance. And yet, there’s really nothing that stands out about it; the tonality seems DF-like with a bit too much emphasis in the upper registers for my liking. At the end of the day, much of the headphone’s value is predicated on R&D rather than it’s sound (which is still pretty awesome).
This is the one I was most excited to try again. It was a bit difficult to listen in the store at times because they’re open-back, but I ended up spending around two hours with this headphone. The HD800S is a superb technical performer; detail retrieval and resolution are some of the best I’ve heard. The soundstage and imaging are to die for too. That being said, this isn’t a headphone I would personally purchase. The tonality is just sort of off, and it’s hard for me to put my finger on why. I think the midrange presentation is a little too in-your-face or comes from a weird place on the soundstage, and the treble is hot at times, thus making the HD800S more fatiguing than it should be. I noticed this most on my upper-frequency skewed K-pop songs, ie. “Into the New World” by Girl’s Generation. Either way, this is still the standout of the Sennheiser line-up.
It’s just way too dark for me. I dislike my HD6XX because I hear it as having a “veiled” quality to the timbre. Everything on the HD6XX sounds a little fuzzy in general, and the HD660S only exacerbates this trait. That being said, it’s still a solid headphone and I can see it appealing to some who prefer this type of tonality. I’d still posit that the HD6XX is the better all-arounder.
I think these were their entry-level audiophile headphones? Both are rather slow with poor micro dynamics which gives them a congested quality as a result. The bass is also boosted more than I’d like. Overall, nothing special but not outright bad for the price. They’re pretty OK as entry-tier headphones. Moving on to the real failures.
There’s going to be some trade-offs with an ANC headphone, but the PXC 550 II makes these deficiencies reeeaal clear. Just in general, it has extremely poor dynamics and comes off with a timbre quality not unlike the Bose QC35ii. The bass isn’t bloated, but it smears like nothing else, and there’s something spiking with the upper midrange. I noticed this on Taeyeon’s “Feel So Fine”. She drags out a note at 0:36, and it presents itself with a metallic-like screech on the PXC 550-II. That being said, the features on this headphone are pretty nifty – it turns itself on when you unfold the cups, and it’s got touch sensitive pads not unlike some Sony stuff!
Momentum 3 Wireless
Extreme, extreme V-shaped signature. I don’t think I’ve heard a headphone with as much bass as the Momentum Wireless, and that’s not in a good way. It’s almost all sub bass, and it absolutely pervades the rest of the frequency response. It was fun for some EDM stuff in the first couple minutes, but that wore off real fast. Definitely a hard-pass on this headphone unless you’re a real basshead. And even then it’s not good bass.
Wrong, wrong, wrong – this headphone is a meme for good reason. I literally couldn’t stop myself from silently laughing when I heard it, that’s how bad it is. The midrange presentation is nothing short of atrocious; vocals have a hollow, thin quality to them that makes them sound like they’re coming out of a telephone. Never have I heard Keith Urban’s voice or guitars so paper-thin, and the treble is a mess too. Looking at the graph, apparently it’s a V-shape tuning, but I couldn’t have told you that from listening to it. If there’s a saving grace here, it’s that it’s still sort-of technically competent and you can EQ the thing. But why would you buy it in the first place? I wouldn’t pay $200 for this much less $2000. Even the Sennheiser employee I was talking to said that most people would need to EQ it, and that it was a polarizing pair of cans to say the least!
Overall, it was a fun visit! I definitely liked some stuff, while others were laughably bad. I just wish there were more headphone stores in the area, not to mention ones carrying IEMs. It’s really a struggle demoing some of this stuff. That said, I’ve had my headphone fix for a while, and at least the Sennheiser store’s not too far away.