Pros: Cheap, Light, Extremely Comfortable, Moderately Isolating, Balanced And Articulate
Cons: Thin Sound (unless EQed or DSPed), Minor Sound Leakage At High Volume, Skinny Three-Foot Cord
I found my HD 428s for $37 new on a NewEgg flash sale. I purchased them based on price (MSRP is around $100) and because I was curious about some of the positive reviews I'd read.
My early impressions were negative. I'd listened to a pair of them at a retail store after demoing several mid-high end closed headphones and found them to be thin (papery?) and too laid back to my ear. However, I after the requisite burn-in (only 30 hours, I still don't know if it works), they seemed to improve. The real trick has been pairing them with an appropriate source.
For instance, my Asus DG sound card, which has an HF amp, seemed to bring out the limitations. Only my better headphones sound rich and full from this source. My Zune HD also didn't do them any favors, perhaps for the same reason.
However, the HD 428s sound surprisingly good when paired with my smart phone (an HTC Trophy with a DSP software enhancement) and my work laptop (usually Spotify Premium paired with the Equalify plug-in, or DFX Audio Enhancer). My theory is that the HD 428 is more forgiving of mediocre sources, and is designed for them.
I realize that for an audiophile, this setup may be cringe worthy, but that’s what I’ve got to work with. I typically listen to streaming music at work with a pair of Sennheiser Amperiors or Shure e215 IEMs. The Amperiors are delightful, and noticeably more energetic, even from this source, but they hurt my ears after an hour or so and certainly do not benefit from DSP. The Shures are also decent, but they also bother my ears after a few hours.
By contrast, the HD 428s are extremely light and comfortable, even after several hours of use. The sound (from this source) is on par with the e215, and maybe 70-percent as good as the Amperior. The nearest comparison I can make is -- oddly enough -- the old PX100.
Although the PX-100 was a supra-aural and not a circumaural headphone, I barely noticed I was wearing them. And the sound -- while not supremely articulate or detailed -- was relatively balanced and clear when compared to many sub-$100 headphones. This is what the HD 428s sound like to me ... like an over-the-ear PX100 with all the advantages that larger drivers provide (better imaging, larger soundstage). Like the PX100, I can wear the HD 428 for several hours without tiring my ears, or my eardrums.
The HD 428 is not a "flat" headphone to my ear (for reference, I consider my old HD 598 Ovation-IIs to be "flat" or neutral), but it is "flatter" than my HD 238 or the Amperior. It is somewhat similar to the e215, in that the bass is accentuated somewhat and the mid-highs get a little crowded. I'm sure you can compare sound graphs if you'd like for an unbiased analysis, but this is my impression. [My typical listening day includes bands ranging from jazz (old Herbie Hancock) to death metal (Nile, Opeth)].
Rambling aside, here is my point: The HD 438 is a fantastic "compromise" headphone. It probably isn't worth $100, or even $75, but at less than $60, it is a great value. The build quality feels inexpensive, but not cheap, and my guess is that it will hold up, even after being thrown in a bag or drawer every day.
You will never confuse these with a premium headphone, but sometimes, a decent, cheap set of cans is the perfect thing. You don’t have to baby them. You don’t need to worship them. You just wear them. If they walk away one night when you’re not in the office -- no big deal – you can afford a replacement. In the meantime, though, you can have a very pleasant and painless listening experience. The 428s are that type of headphone.