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One of the better headphones for all genres

A Review On: Sennheiser HD 449 Headphones

Sennheiser HD 449 Headphones

Rated # 196 in Over-Ear
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First, I should note that I auditioned these both straight out of the box, without any break-in time and then later after 53 hours of break-in. Recent scientific studies have shown definite differences between new headphones and used headphones in frequency response; of course, "better" is a subjective impression outside the realm of science, but the studies confirm that reviewers are not imagining things. I heard no significant sound difference in this case, other than perhaps a little overall smoothness (so these are not phones that require major break-in to sound their best - unlike some others).

My overall impression is that the HD449's are a very versatile and enjoyable product, especially in this price range.


* Excellent midrange response - the timbre reproduction of the instruments is very good (meaning that the instruments sound close to their real life sound, if the recording is good). Not reference quality, but excellent for this price range.

* Excellent balance of bass/midrange/treble. You never get the sense that there is too much of any particular frequency, in other words, it never seems overly bright, or recessed, or overly bassy - unless, of course, the actual recording is that way.

* Classic Sennheiser easy, smooth sound, but without the "veil" often associated with that (evidently they have been working on tweaking this).

* Very good "pace" and "rhythm". A compelling dance track will get your toe tapping.

* Very good stereo imaging - especially for closed back headphones. Instruments are placed accurately from left to right, and from front to back. Depth (front to back) is not very deep, but that is typical of closed back headphones, and also hard to find in affordable ones.

* Excellent for a wide range of music types. As you can see from the tracks listed at the end, I verified that these have good sound quality with any music style.

* Relatively portable. Sennheiser seems to have this as a major design goal for this product, since it is relatively lightweight and compact for a full size audiophile headphone. It also has a single sided, short cord for use with ipod, phone or tablet (with the standard smaller plug for those), and then includes a nice 5 foot extension and 1/4" adapter for use with audio receivers. This is a much better solution that the HD202 which includes a massively long two-sided cord that is always in the way.

* Includes a cloth drawstring bag for protecting and carrying the headphones.


* Sennheiser seems to reserve the really nice earpads for the price range just above this model. These come with a practical and durable soft fake-leather material backed with a good - but not great - foam. If you wear glasses, this will be a little more apparent, since these pads don't give as well as the better quality ones found in the HD558 or RS180, and so glasses make the pads fit more poorly. Also, the better pads are more comfortable if you are listening for extended multiple hour periods. While these pads are probably standard in this price range, I would be remiss if I did not mention this factor.

* These headphones are probably unique in that they work well with any music style, but conversely, they are not outstanding with any, either. Many professional headphone reviewers advise people to get different headphones for different types of music, i.e. rock phones, hip-hop phones, classical phones, etc. So, if you only listen to one genre, then you might prefer headphones that are particularly suited to that genre. For example, while these do not skimp on the bass in hip-hop tracks, they also do not reproduce bass in the sort of quantity and impact that hip-hop lovers have grown to expect.

* The main difference that I found between these and more expensive models is a coloration of the overall sound that adds a "plastic" quality to everything. This is more subtle than what the words might indicate, and is only noticeable to someone who has heard audiophlie speakers or headphones (because most under $100 speakers or headphones have the same quality). And, of course, there is a level of detail in more expensive models that you do not get in these or other more affordable products (with the exception of a few pro products like the AKG K240 that have exceptional detail, with some other tradeoffs that make it unsatisfying for everyday enjoyment.)

Album/tracks used in evaluation:

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane (hdtracks)
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue SACD
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (MFSL CD)
N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (20th Anniversary)
Mozart - Violin Concertos (Marianne Thorsen) (hdtracks)
Galactic - Crazyhorse Mongoose
Mozart - Sinfonia concertante (Julia Fischer) (hdtracks)
Lil Jon - "Outta Your Mind"
Andreas Vollenweider - White Winds
Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (hdtracks)
Buena Vista Social Club - Buena Vista Social Club (hdtracks)
Opus 3 Test Record "Depth of Image"

Previous headphones owned (not used in this review): Sennheiser HD590, HD518, HD424x, RS180, CX300II, Shure SE215, AKG K240DF

Equipment used: Custom built home theater PC using cPlay audiophile music player and HRT MusicStreamer II asynchronous DAC (an excellent product and outstanding value) into an Onkyo home theater receiver.


I see youve owned the HD 518; how do they compare when it comes to pure SQ, detail and value?
It is hard to tell, since I have never owned both at the same time.
My guess is that the 518 has better soundstage/imaging, and better timbre/tonality - my last item in the "con" list for the 449 does not apply as much to the 518. The 518 are probably less even in response from bass to treble - they have the classic Senn "veil" and are very easy to listen to for hours at a time, partially due to a treble rolloff that prevents the typical screechy treble response of many modern recordings from becoming tiring.
Thank you very much for the response! Headroom states that the 518 has much and much more treble (above 10KHz), is that also the truth outside the Headroom studio? I mean, is the difference really big?
I love the extra details you can hear in songs, for instance those ''faults'' in the records which are in the treble frequencies. Also I listen to soft music only (classical, Leonard Cohen, Il Divo etc.), but I like the extra bass my HD 205 II gives me (like the extra punch of a drumkit or the bass of a string in an orchestra). Will use it only with an amp though, maybe with the Sansa Clip + sometimes.
Does this all mean the 518 is better suited for me than the 449?
From memory, the 518 has an emphasis on lower mids which means that the treble is less emphasized relatively. To the ear, this means they are less emphasized. But the drivers are good quality and reproduce the high frequencies.
Remember also that the 518 is open and the 449 is closed. With the 518, you will hear noise around you, and others in the room will hear your music. The 449 will isolate you from sound around you, and others in the room will not hear your music.
Also, trying searching this site for "518 449" to see if anyone has compared them. Also, read the Amazon customer reviews on both.
I think that both Amazon and Headroom allow people to buy two different headphones and then return one (if done within the return period). Check their policies.
Lastly, I have not heard them, but the 558 are very popular, and include the better quality earpads.
Thanks for the excellent, impartial and thorough review. From your comments, these should be great for acoustic jazz, Coltrane et al., and classical. I've seen some negative reviews on the 449 though; I suppose those reviewers were trying to be controversial and/or noticed. Is the 449 worth the cost over the 439? I'm mostly interested in neutrality, and want nothing to do with bloated/booming disco noise.
Thanks for the excellent, impartial and thorough review. From your comments, these should be great for acoustic jazz, Coltrane et al., and classical. I've seen some negative reviews on the 449 though; I suppose those reviewers were trying to be controversial and/or noticed. Is the 449 worth the cost over the 439? I'm mostly interested in neutrality, and want nothing to do with bloated/booming disco noise.
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