Pros: Good sound, comfortable, well built, good value
Cons: Thin cable, poor bass and treble extension, feel a bit closed
This review was first published on 09/02/2014 and lasted edited on 09/02/2014 (DD/MM/YYYY)
Edit 1 (09/02/2014): Added photos
Everything written below is my opinion, and nothing else. You may completely disagree with everything I say. You can assume that if I’m writing a review I have spent a good amount of time with the headphones and I’ve bought them with my own money. While I have a specific set of test tracks used for reviewing, it’s safe to say that I have listened to far more than these tracks with these headphones. Overall I look for an accurate and neutral sound - I'm not a basshead.
I have had the HD429 for over 2 years (at the time of writing this review) and have probably spent 2 hours a day on average listening to them. By my maths that's well over 1400 hours.
If you don't have time to read the full review, read the conclusion at the end.
Equipment used for testing
Sources will include:
Comfort, fit, isolation and build quality
These headphones are very comfy. They're large enough (just) to be considered over-ear, but there's not a large amount of space in the cups/pads. The one downside is that they could be considered too loose, they aren't suitable in my opinion as portable headphones as they could quite easily come off due to lack of clamp. They're nice and light too, without feeling poorly made.
This loose fit also negatively impacts sound. The fit is too loose to get a good seal which reduces bass noticeably. Pushing the cups against my head improved sound quality (mainly bass) so it's safe to say the fit isn't perfect.
Build quality is generally good. They're all plastic but they feel well made and the finish is good. The only bad thing is the cable which feels too thin. For a large proportion of my two years with them they were put in a backpack and taken to school. A previous pair of headphones lasted two months of this before breaking. These managed my remaining 1.5 years and still work perfectly.
Isolation is average for a closed back design. The loose fit again causes issues here, but leak is minimal so they're unlikely to disturb others. They're not suitable for blocking loud noises though - as a drummer they weren't usable behind the kit. They'd probably be fine for monitoring vocals or quieter instruments however.
These headphones have a fairly balanced signature overall and are suitable for mixing/recording work on a budget. Extension (both lows and highs) isn't great but they are relatively accurate.
Overall sub-bass is lacking but that's really the only issue I had with the bass. It's fairly flat with no obvious peaks or dips aside from the roll-off (mainly due to the poor seal). These are not basshead cans.
Mids are fairly good. Reasonably flat with no large peaks or dips. The word I'd use is average - they're not particularly forward or hidden.
Highs are generally ok. Extension is lacking (as any measurement chart will show) - There's a strong drop off at about 10k. It's not quite as noticeable as you'd expect though since it's fairly smooth and it's common for closed back headphones to lack air and space in the highs.
Soundstage is ok. Wider than IEMs and most portables, but obviously miles away from open back cans. Overall it isn't disappointing and it's what you'd expect from reasonably priced closed back headphones.
At 32ohms with high sensitivity, they're not hard to drive. However, bass can be improved with an amp - especially if you're using a portable player or phone. The Xonar DG was a small but noticeable improvement over onboard sound, but that may be due to the better DAC as much as the better amp, for portable use I found my Fiio E6 more than enough. Overall amping won't change them, but it can help get that little extra. Volume will be fine without amping from pretty much any source.
These are tracks I know well and each one tests a variety of aspects of audio performance.
Brian Tyler – Further
From the Far Cry 3 soundtrack, this track gives a good test of everything. The HD429 handled it fairly well. The mids from the string instruments sounded good, but as usual some extension in the highs was lacking - not enough sparkle. The soundstage was adequate for this track. Mid-bass was lacking in the cello and lower frequency string instruments. Sub-bass was also not good enough for this track, but bass impact was acceptable. Drums sounded good but the cymbals really needed some more air and sparkle. In the exciting dynamic sections the bass was unclear. Overall they were ok with this demanding track, but it clearly highlighted their shortcomings.
Cipher Prime Studios – Eremial
Another track from a video game soundtrack (Splice). This is a solo piano track and is fairly demanding - piano is often a difficult instrument to get right. The track uses the full range of the piano, so bass was handled ok (pianos don't really have sub-bass). The mids weren't great, they didn't sound particularly accurate or natural. Highs were ok, soundstage was lacking, but I would say that's more the fault of the track itself. Overall, if you're after accurate piano I wouldn't recommend the HD429.
Dire Straits - Private Investigations
This track has large dynamic range and some interesting reverb with a variety of sounds and instruments. Through these headphones it sounded good, with a nice clean guitar and 'snappy' high mids (you'll understand if you know the track). Vocals sound good - accurate and clear. The vibraphone has a nice tone - warm but accurate. The reverb is never hidden and comes through clearly and accurately without 'smearing' the sound at all. Separation of instruments is fairly good. Acoustic bass and drums sound good too with crisp hi-hats. The only downside (a clear weakness of these 'phones) is once again the sub-bass. Overall they handled the details of this track well.
Dream Theater - Space Dye Vest
This is a very intimate track with some impressive reverbs. It has a variety of instruments and it certainly isn't easy to get right. Immediately, as before, piano just doesn't work on these headphones. The intro has emphasised upper-mids which are fairly fatiguing in these headphones, but that's down to the track. The reverb comes though fairly well but the soundstage is slightly lacking. Separation of instruments is ok though. As usual, mid-bass if fine but sub-bass is lacking. Vocals come through nicely, with some slight sibilance but again I think that's the track and reverb. It sounds detailed, but I think that's just due to the emphasised highs rather than these headphones. Extension is the highs is ok but could be better, at about 3:40 in this track there's a tone at 16kHz and I noticed it every time, but only just. Distorted electric guitar comes out nicely - these cans can handle most 'rock' sounds fine. Bass impact is good, the panning drum fills sound exciting and impressive. These also show fairly good imaging. The reverb adds extra air which helps cymbals, but again that's the track rather than the headphones. I guess it shows that EQ could help if needed. Overall they work well with this very demanding track, but only most of the time.
I think I will remove this track from my test tracks in future since it's an odd mix that makes it hard to tell what's the headphones and what isn't.
Fleetwood Mac - Go your own way
This track is deceptively simple - there's nowhere to hide if something isn't perfect. Soundstage is fairly good - wide enough without seeming artificial or creating 'gaps'. Vocals sound ok, they're a bit dull but the track was never exciting to start with. The drums are similar, nothing really wrong just a bit boring. On reflection I guess it shows that these headphones are fairly neutral. The shaker once again shows the need for better extension in the highs, there's just not enough air. Impact from the drums is ok, and once again the distorted guitar comes through well. The bass and lower mids are a bit muddy. Overall they don't work well with this track, but I never really liked it anyway!
Hans Zimmer - Dream is collapsing
This track is essentially the search for bass, both sub-bass and impact in the mid-bass. And it shows that these headphones can do bass if you ask them hard enough! There's finally some sub-bass rumble. The high strings show the upper mids are still lacking some clarity and presence, but the brass instruments come out well and realistically. The lower/mid strings sound fairly accurate too. Overall this track was handled fairly well and proved that they can handle bass, even if it was lacking some impact.
Howard Shore - Concerning Hobbits
A guilty pleasure of mine, this track tests strings and woodwind nicely with some hidden details and clean reverb. The strings in the lower mids came through well, and the flute sounded surprisingly nice. The quite, almost hidden, drum to the left was only just noticeable, but that's what the track intended so these headphones can show detail fairly well. Separation and imaging was fairly good too. There was a good amount of warmth - never unclear. When the drums come back slightly louder there is some impact in the bass too. As usual the highs are fairly good, just lacking some extension and air. The woodwind and reverb comes through nicely. Overall the track works well through these headphones.
Massive Attack – Teardrop
This trip-hop track is a good test for bass but also features some unusual sounds, like a harpsichord. As usual, sub-bass is lacking, but not terribly. Bass impact is still lacking. The upper-mids of the harpsichord sound good and accurate without being unpleasant. Again, piano isn't quite right but it certainly sounds better in this track than the previous ones. Vocals sound good, natural and there's even some air! There is some sibilance, but this is again due to the track. The soundstage and imaging is good enough for this track - all parts can clearly be heard and located at all times. Overall the track sounds good, but with slightly fatiguing upper-mids.
Mozart 40th G Minor - 1st movement allegro
I don't tend to listen to classical, but lots of people do and it can be a good test of equipment due to the variety of instruments and large dynamic range. This track is mainly strings, so it's a good way to test mids. The HD429 handle this piece fairly well, all parts sound good and accurate. The soundstage is wide enough and imaging is good, but not perfect. Since there aren't any truly high frequencies the lack of extension isn't an issue here. The only downside is the closed back design, which I feel doesn't really work for a large classical performance.
Noriyuki Iwadare - The fragrance of dark coffee
As with classical, I don't tend to listen to jazz but decided I should test it anyway. This track is once again from a video game soundtrack, but the soundtrack is surprisingly good! As usual, piano is handled fairly poorly. The double bass comes out well enough despite the usual lack of sub-bass. The brass instruments have a good tone and texture, sounding realistic. The hi-hat sounds crisp, but almost fatiguing, although this is partly down to the track. The highs and upper-mids are handled well enough, but the rest of the mids are slightly congested and unclear despite the soundstage being ok. Overall the track is slightly fatiguing, and I wouldn't really recommend these headphones for laid back jazz.
Pink Floyd - Speak to me
Another bass test. As before, the sub-bass can arrive if you try hard enough. There's even some impact again. Imaging and separation are ok, and vocals are clear. Small details like the sound effects sound good and nothing is masked or hidden. The soundstage is fairly wide here to.
Pink Floyd – Money
This track has all sorts of unusual sound effects and a variety of panning techniques. The soundstage comes out nice and wide. The bass guitar riff in the intro is nice and clear and doesn't mask the other guitar. Imaging and separation are good. The cymbals seem to have just enough air here, and the highs are generally fine. The drums have some impact, but not quite enough. The mids are good with some nice texture to the vocals and brass. The sound remains clear during the busy parts and the low mids sound realistic with no muddiness. As usual the sub-bass is still lacking though. This track works much better with speakers or open headphones, but these still handled it well.
Porcupine Tree - Collapse the light into earth
Uh oh, another track with a piano. I won't talk about that, you've got the idea. The vocals and reverb are good, the slight sibilance is once again due to the reverb on the vocals. The soundstage isn't too bad but feels a bit closed-in. The mids are slightly congested occasionally masking the strings, but this is partly due to the long reverb time. The piano is fatiguing by the end. Overall they don't work well with this track, but many of the issues are partly due to the mixing/mastering of the track itself.
The Who - Who are you
Finally, some classic rock. As usual, electric guitars are handled well. The bass guitar also comes through well here for a change. The claps are bright and clear and the hi-hats are nice a smooth. The drums have some impact, but it isn't enough for this track. The soundstage is wide enough and separation is fine. Later on when things get busier the bass guitar is sometimes lost, but this track is generally lacking in lows so it's not just the cans. Overall these headphones do well with most rock tracks.
Ratings (Out of 5)
Sound (ignoring price): 3
Being closed back they're never going to match open back cans in terms of soundstage and treble response, but the sound isn't bad. There's nothing offensive there. Extension isn't great either side, but roll-off is fairly smooth so you don't notice a sudden disappearance or anything particularly uneven.
Build is plastic, but what I'd call good plastic. They are tougher than they feel, as proven by them surviving many journeys crammed in a backpack. Comfort was good enough in my case to wear for ours thanks to the lightweight design and decent padding.
I got these for Just under £70, but they now sell for closer to £50. I think that's a fair price for what you get. At £70 I'd probably give them 3/5, since there's a lot more competition, but I don't think there's much better out there for £50.
A comfy and good sounding pair of headphones that won't upset anyone. They're not life changing but for many people they're all you'd need or want.
I appreciate any feedback and will try my best to answer any questions. Please bear in mind that I no longer own these headphones so answers will be based on my memory from 2 years of ownership.
Top cable is the short cable from my Amperiors, it's noticeably thicker. Next cable is the extension from the amperiors, it's similar in diameter to the HD429 cable below. 1/4" jack for scale.
Comparison with smaller, more portable Amperiors. (Amperiors are the same size and design as the HD25).