Sennheiser HD230 Headphones
In past issues of Home Studio Recording we've looked at a couple of headphone designs that enabled recordings to be monitored reasonably accurately without disturbing any disagreeable neighbours and without incurring much in the way of inappropriate expenditure. The Sennheiser HD230s reviewed this month fulfil the first criterion admirably but not the second, since their RRP of £69 odd theoretically makes them something of a dicey proposition for the home recordist on a tight budget. However, as I hope to prove, this additional expense can be justified if exceptional monitoring accuracy and high sound levels are high on your list of priorities when choosing a pair of 'phones.
The 230s are, of course, considerably more solidly constructed than most sub-£30 designs, making them far more suited to the everyday rigours of busy recording studios than sets whose primary function in life is to act as replacements for personal stereo users and abusers. More importantly, the added size and weight means that it's possible for the designers to incorporate more than one drive-unit per ear, instead of having to use one small one for the entire frequency range.
There are two immediate implications of this. The first is that the 230s are capable of handling excessive quantities of low-frequency transient information with the minimum of complaint, which comes as something of a relief if you've spent the last six months or so putting up with the sort of distortion smaller 'phones produce when asked to do a similar job. The second is that the speaker system as a whole can comfortably soak up what are - in headphone terms, at least - some very high sound levels indeed, quite sufficient, I should imagine, to provoke premature deafness within a month or two of continuous abuse. The 230s are doubtless helped in this area by their high sensitivity (94dB/mW). Admittedly this isn't quite as impressive as some of the figures quoted for very small designs (notably the Sony Fontopias tested in last month's HSR) but, then again, it doesn't need to be.
Unlike small headphones, where you can more or less take it as read that wearing them for an extended period of time still won't prove much of an ordeal to either ears or head, makers of larger models have often neglected the area of user-comfort, and I wish I had a pound for every set I've seen with ear-pinching pads or a headband that leaves the wearer wondering if his brain will survive intact when he's finished with them. Happily, I can report that the HD230s have been designed very much with the headsore user in mind, with some very soft black plastic cushioning around each speaker system and a headband that seems to have just the right combination of flexibility and rigidity. They also weigh substantially less (260g approx.) than many of their competitors, despite the high standard of construction mentioned above.
Yet it's their inherent sound quality which leaves the reviewer with the most favourable impression. For, in addition to being capable of soaking up high sound levels at most frequencies, the 230s are also extremely neutral-sounding, often introducing less colouration of their own than some monitor loudspeakers I could name. The signal you feed these 'phones is pretty much what you'll get out of them, with the possible exception of some mid-frequency sounds (rhythm guitar comes to mind) that occasionally get a little 'lost' in the soundscape. This neutrality is particularly useful when you're overdubbing vocals, say, and you need to hear the backing-track as accurately as possible.
Stereo imagery is also excellent, as is to be expected from an 'enclosed' design such as this, and there was little evidence of the sound degenerating into a series of frequency-dependent 'wadges' as so often happens with poorly executed two-way 'phones. At all times, output from the Sennheisers remained natural and well-integrated, so much so that it was possible at times to forget one was wearing headphones at all, and it's not often one can say that with any confidence.
One small point that was noticeable in a studio environment was that the 230s' neutrality sometimes extended into rendering every sound rather 'dry', with the result that artificial reverb was sometimes pushed to the back of the soundstage, particularly spring reverb. In most applications this consideration isn't likely to be a serious one, but if hearing reverb and echo accurately is an important criterion for you, I'd advise you to listen to one or two rival designs first before you commit yourself to the HD230s, though it must be said that if you do decide on another model, you'll almost certainly pay some sort of price in the form of decreased neutrality on 'dry' inputs. You win some, you lose some...
Summing up, the Sennheiser HD230s provide ample proof that investment in an above-average pair of headphones can pay rich rewards, even if your use for them is somewhat limited. Their robustness is particularly welcome at a time when many manufacturers seem to be reducing weight and rigidity in order to save cost (even more so if your studio set-up gets used by people rather more ham-fisted than yourself), while their sonic performance is good enough to make you think twice about the impossibility of wearing them every day with the personal stereo on the way in to work.
The Sennheiser HD230s carry an RRP of £69.95 including VAT, and the importers, Hayden Labs of (Contact Details) should be able to supply further ihformation.
Review by Dan Goldstein
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