Pros: Audiophile-grade portable headphone with excellent clarity and bass impact; luxurious-yet-rugged and stylish construction
Cons: Clamping pressure may be too much for some listeners; a more open, laid-back sounding headphone may be preferred
Long before I heard of Head-fi.org, one of the first headphones I ever bought was the Sennheiser HD 25-1. In 2004 I was on tour as the drummer for the internationally renowned singer Fish (ex-Marillion) and wanted an excellent headphone to enhance my music-listening experience both on and off the stage. When browsing in a European department store, I found and bought a discounted HD 25-1 for around £150 and used it for the rest of my touring time with Fish, much preferring its sound instead of the budget in-ear monitors I was issued at the start of the tour. After the tour I stored the HD 25 in one of my boxes where it lay dormant for a few years.
Fast forward to around 2010 and it was a time that I wasn't listening to much music nor was I interested in headphones. I then began to feel inspired to find a great headphone to enjoy music with, and that search led me to head-fi.org, other headphone sites, and many beautiful human beings. Along the way I resurrected my HD 25 and began to appreciate just how great a headphone it still is in my humble (and obviously subjective) opinion.
For those of you reading this who don’t know about the Sennheiser HD 25, for many years it has been an industry standard headphone for professional audio applications and is still frequently used by cameramen, DJs, and other music professionals. In addition to its prowess in those areas, the HD 25 is a popular choice of headphone for many non-professional music-lovers and headphone enthusiasts (it's currently #5 of all headphones on head-fi's official headphone ranking page) and has recently gained popularity and press with the release of an Adidas themed version that only differs cosmetically from the HD 25-II.
I think the HD 25 is an excellent headphone for personal use that is particularly suited to music such as pop/rock music and other musical styles where rhythm is important such as some electronic music, reggae, and R&B. And in my quest for a headphone that revealed music as I would hear a live performance if I were present in person at the performance and hearing it with my own ears, or listening to high-quality studio monitor playback in a high-end studio, the HD 25, with its prominently bassy-yet-neutral sound and clear transients wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was very impressive and enjoyable.
Introducing the Amperior
At the start of this year, I saw this video of the Amperior posted on head-fi, followed by glowing reviews by Tyll Hertsens of Innerfidelity. I also began to get very excited about the Amperior and bought one from a local Apple store as soon as I knew it was available. When I got it back home and tried it (yes I waited :-) I liked what I heard. A lot.
As will most probably be obvious to you now if you watched the above video, the Amperior is basically the same design as the HD 25 but with a few changes:
- The swivel caps and plastic earcups of the HD 25 have been replaced with anodized aluminium in a choice of either blue or silver.
- The headband padding and earpads have been replaced with a more luxurious material similar to that used with Sennheiser’s current flagship headphone, the HD 800, and also the HD 700.
- Instead of the HD 25’s one cable, the Amperior comes fitted with a short cable, extending 0.3 metres from the right ear cup, and also included in the package are two extension cables, a standard 0.85 metre cable and a 0.96 metre cable with a remote control and integrated microphone, specifically designed for use with iDevices.
- The iDevices the Amperior was designed for have a lower output level in comparison with the higher output level of standalone amplifiers, and to enable the Amperior to be driven sufficiently it has been given an impedence of 18 ohms, compared with the 70 ohm impedence of the HD 25; basically, at the same volume setting on an iDevice, the Amperior will sound significantly louder than the HD 25.
The Amperior's stylish box that is a very functional way to store the headphone and its cables when not in use. The box is hinged and closes securely due to the tension between the boxes’ outer and inner lip.
The incredibly robust headband of the HD 25 seems mostly unchanged with the Amperior. Before selling my HD 25, I had used it extensively and casually stored it in my bags and cases when on the move, and after 10 years of wear-and-tear – not always in the most delicate way – the HD 25’s headband remained unscarred and in remarkably fresh-looking condition. The only criticism I have with the Amperior’s headband is that the headphone cable sometimes comes loose from the groove in the headband it runs through. This is a minor issue but one I would prefer not to deal with.
One feature about the Amperior and Sennheiser headphones in general for which I am incredibly grateful is that parts for all Sennheiser headphones are available for purchase. To me this is very reassuring as it pretty much guarantees a lifetime of use for any Sennheiser headphone as long as they continue to manufacture and supply spare parts.
Though essentially the same design as the HD 25, I find the Amperior to be much more comfortable due to the upgraded pads. It feels very pleasurable to put the Amperior on and take it off and it also feels more expensive than the HD 25, which to me feels less luxurious and more of a standard item.
The Amperior is a supra-aural (on-ear) headphone and clamps firmly on my head, providing effective isolation from outside noise. Like with the HD 25, I find the Amperior's clamping pressure gets uncomfortable after wearing it for an hour or two, but if I take it off and give my ears a rest for a few minutes, they feel fine again when I put the Amperior back on.
The sound of the Amperior is very similar to the HD 25-1 I had, but I find the sound quality of the Amperior to be a definite step-up and more cohesive sounding overall. Some say that the HD 25-II is a sonic improvement over the HD 25-1, but I can’t yet comment on that from actual listening experience. Since I sold my HD 25 soon after buying an Amperior, I won’t be A/B’ing the Amperior and HD 25, but some of my comparisons between them can be found in this thread.
Again like the HD 25, the Amperior is an excellent detail retrieval tool that will no doubt assist many listeners in hearing details they never knew existed in their favourite recordings. The Amperior is still nowhere near as revealing of musical details as current flagship headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 800 and the Audez’e LCD-3, but for a supra-aural headphone that costs a fraction of their price and is designed for portable use, the Amperior is truly excellent in this regard.
When listening to recordings with the Amperior, the instrumental tones are slightly thinner than natural i.e. what I would hear if I was present listening to a live concert performance at the venue, and in terms of overall sound balance the Amperior is very neutral with a slight emphasis on the bass region.
One of the Amperior’s most prominent features is its ability to deliver impactful bass that facilitates a fun toe-tapping factor (known as PRaT in the world of headphones). Listening to the drum and bass track Seven Samurai by Photek, the sub bass extends low to such an extent that I can feel it vibrating in my chest. With some tracks the Amperior’s bass at times sounds a bit boomy but when I listen more closely, even on tracks such as All My Life by the Foo Fighters where there’s a lot of activity in the bass region, I can still hear details such as the pointed attack of the bass drum beater above the bass guitar.
The Amperior reveals what’s on recordings with clarity that is there in spades but due to its closed-in sound, which could be described as intense, the listener may have to concentrate more to hear specific instrumental details than they would with a more open-sounding headphone. I’m not at all saying this is a ‘bad’ thing about the Amperior, but merely that the Amperior has a specific-sounding presentation that is different than some other types of headphones. I can see that many people who listen to music with a strong rhythmic emphasis could easily prefer the Amperior over less forward-sounding high-end headphones. I personally recommend giving the Amperior a listen if you get the opportunity.
I find that there is a slight sibilance in the Amperior's treble region which is evident when listening to cymbals, such as on the song White Limo and Dear Rosemary from the Foo Fighters Album Wasting Light, but for me such sibilance in no way affects my enjoyment of the music. Everything sounds clear and impactful.
The Amperior’s soundstage may be considered its weakest area as it isn’t as wide and expansive as other headphones and can relatively sound a little bit congested, but I still find its soundstage more than enjoyable for most recordings.
When it comes to instrumental definition, or separation as it's often referred to, the Amperior smoothly delineates each instrument on recordings in a way that cohesively, and with an intense intimacy, presents the whole musical picture. If you are looking for a spacious-sounding headphone that portrays instrumental details and texture with both the utmost definition and separation (useful qualities when listening to recordings featuring many instruments and subtly detailed orchestration e.g. classical music), the Amperior may not be the headphone for you, but it has clearly presented every instrument on most of the wide range of recordings I have so far fed it. (Since getting the Amperior, I’ve listened to many recordings with it; my current total listening time with the Amperior is about a few hundred hours.)
Value for Money
At the time of writing this, the Amperior is available from Apple stores for just under £260, which is around £100 more than the HD 25-II or HD 25 Adidas Originals versions. I think that £100 is a lot to pay for a headphone that is designed to sound the same as its predecessors, but I do much prefer the sound of the Amperior to other portable headphones that cost more than it.
When I recently compared the Amperior to the Bose Quiet Comfort 3 portable headphone (RRP approx. £300), I clearly preferred the Amperior and thought it sounded more natural and full-sounding, making the Bose sound thin and tinny by comparison, and a few years ago, I A/B’d my HD 25-1 with the B&W P5 (RRP approx. £240) and much preferred the clarity of the HD 25, so it makes sense that I’d also prefer the Amperior over the P5.
The Amperior’s earcups are made from machined aluminium, which most probably adds to the cost of construction materials and the manufacturing process over-and-above what it costs to manufacture the HD 25, and they also add sparkle to the HD 25's aesthetic, so considering the Amperior’s excellent sound quality and fashionable, modern looks, I think the Amperior is great value for money relative to other headphones on the market. But again that is obviously subjective i.e. my opinion.
Outro / In Summary
The Amperior is a stylish-looking, lively-sounding, and robustly-constructed headphone that presents music to the listener with an abundance of sonic impact. It sounds good with all styles/genres of music (it particularly shines with pop/rock and other music that thrives on visceral impact such as some electronic styles, reggae, and R&B) and it is excellent for both personal and professional audio applications. The Amperior is also an ideal choice for people who frequently travel or find themselves on-the-go and want an audiophile quality headphone to take with them.
The Amperior is another world-class product from Sennheiser and the finest supra-aural portable headphone I've yet heard.