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A Review On: Sennheiser HD448 Around the Ear Headphones

Sennheiser HD448 Around the Ear Headphones

Rated # 296 in Headphones
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $99.00
R-Audiohead
Posted · 772 Views · 18 Comments

Pros: Flat, Natural SQ. Lightwieght, Multi-purpose, Super Comfy

Cons: Accurate, yet weak lows. Amping helped more than intuition suggested.

As a young audio enthusiast with most of my knowledge base centering around car audio, I found my appreciation for sound begin translate across into the home.  Audio nuts run in the family, so between knowledge obtained from relatives and my own satisfaction of curiosity, I have come to learn much about the extremely complex niche of home loudspeakers.  Being a college student makes living situations far from ideal to venture (as a consumer) into the large, lovely loudspeaker market.  Naturally, the right avenue to achieve beautiful sound seemed to be headphone Ave.  While not related to the product I am reviewing, I feel as though to really deliver accurate information to the reader - and essentially give you, the reader, what you're looking for - I should give you a background to better understand my role in the sound community.  With this understanding, it will be easier for you to judge the accuracy of my writing and the validity pertaining to your needs or wants.  I hope to deliver useful, indicative information to you - not to necessarily persuade a purchase.

 

With all the background aside, let's focus on these phones.  These Sennheiser HD 448s are a closed circumaural headphone, with an impedance hanging around 32 Ohms , SPL ~114dB and a frequency response from 16 -24000Hz. 

 

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Comfort:  Technicals aside, these are a super comfortable phone. The earcup is large enough to indeed be circumaural, although those with over-sized ears may find this a tight fit.  These aren't the smallest cups I've seen on a circumaural headphone, but they're smaller than the pictures show initially.  The photo below (even though a bit is cut off) shows the cups to be around 3.5 inches on the outside but only about 2.5 for the ear itself.  My ears are of average size, and I have no problem fitting into them for a seal.  Pads are mildly stiff to create a seal, but the pressure on the head is barely noticeable. The headband rests nicely with an additional pad included to reduce pressure.  It is easy to forget these cans are on your head.  This is barely worth mentioning, but hours of listening does lead to a pair of warm ears.  With headphones that have any isolation at all, this is to be expected.   The comfort and weight give a distinct advantage for traveling.  The included bag is pretty standard (black, cloth, subtle Senn logo with drawstrings) but is nice for packing around a portable device in addition to the phones.  All in all, these give a comfortable, semi-loose fit on head - isolating quite well despite the low clamping force.  I will say if you prefer a secure, tighter fit as opposed to a more loose pillow like fit you may find these to not be as secure.

 

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Durability:  This is where the 448s are probably the weakest.  To be honest though, anything that isn't fragile can be taken care of with just a little conscious effort.  For a 100 dollar headphone, they're about what you would expect - adjustable plastic headband and exterior with above average padding, and a small cable (diameter) w/permanent one sided connectivity.  I do like the jointing system included here for limited swiveling and rotation, but improper care might render these plastic joints a weak point.  Bottom line: I think with some care these should be durable enough.  I've had them for over a year now with no issues and have taken them on numerous trips.. planes, trains, automobiles.

 

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Sound Quality:  I'm quite picky when it comes to sound, so I may tend to err of the harsher side (although not always).  I will do my best to offer a perspective here with my experienced ears outside of headphones.  When I started my consumer research with the goal of obtaining my first set of solid headphones without destroying my wallet, I ran through some options hovering in the $150 range.  While I found some nice options, I absolutely made the right choice by backing off price-wise to obtain these HD448 (ehm, ATH-M50 - greatly prefer the 448).

 

     I'll start with the highs:  I'd say for ~$100 you're getting more than what you paid for.  Symbols are present, yet not harsh.  Higher frequency female vocals sound controlled and accurate with no distortion.  The presence of the highs is significant enough in that you won't need to seek them out, but do lack the excitement to raise the hair on the back of your neck.  I would describe the highs as natural, and very relaxing.  Some may accuse the highs to be a bit boring, and if they did I wouldn't be able to tell them they're wrong.  I do thoroughly enjoy the emphasis on how organic the highs are in these cans however, almost like a sense of refreshment.  While the highs lack the excitement you might find in a Grado, I promise these headphones won't generate the listener's fatigue you'll find in brighter setups.  In fact, even against much nicer headphones, I could argue that these are one of the least fatiguing in sound signature.  The overall dark presentation could be considered favorable for long plane rides.  The highs are well controlled here, without hiding too much.

 

     The Mids:  I tend to enjoy this part of the spectrum more than the high or lows, and I feel a good mid-frequency is what separates the nice from the poor.  Mids are absolutely underrated in the untrained ear.  That being said, mids add an unrealized dimension to those who have been listening to less than ideal sonics.  The mid-range frequencies produced in these are absolutely unmatched for headphones I've heard in this price range.  The mids alone in the 448s make a Bose price tag look like even more of a joke than it already is.  The vocals are wonderful, and way beyond what I expected for this tier of can.  Guitar string recoil is refined and separation from the vocals is definitive.  Piano mid-notes are true.  The foundation of the sound can tangibly be associated in this range of the spectrum. The quality mids add a body to the music that compliments the neutral highs quite nicely, avoiding an airy, empty sound which strands the highs as sound lacking mid-range does.  These cans avoid the mudding together of mid-notes, which is more common than it should be for a lot of audio equipment.  The aforementioned makes these headphones ideal for vocal and acoustic based sound.  Sennheiser outdid themselves with the mids here in this price range - I was impressed.

 

The Lows:  Overall, I would have to say quite disappointing at first, and still lacking a bit.  Running these 3.5mm and no amplification really causes the 448s to draw a blank here.  They lack the enjoyable thump in fast paced rock and certainly don't have the balls for any hip-hop oriented music.  These seem to have trouble with a specific mid-bass note, it almost comes out "fuzzy" at times.  This could be my picky ear speaking, but after logging hours on another (more expensive) headphone I really notice it.  However, this isn't to say they can't hit the lows.  These Senns reproduce them quite accurately in fact, just in a muted fashion.  Mid-bass percussion and bass guitar strumming sound articulate, just muted.  This is where a better sound source or amp can drastically improve these cans.  I ended up amping them (FiiO e7), and while I did notice a mild positive difference in the highs and mids, the assistance in the lows introduced a substantial improvement.  I was able to get some thump out of them with some bass-boost assist on the amplifier (low setting on FiiO e7).  Generally, I try and steer clear of bass boost, given that I am far from a basshead and it usually just skews the spectrum - but here it really was necessary.  To be honest, I found these headphones a surprisingly difficult 32 ohms to drive.  I know impedance isn't tell-all when talking about ease of drive, and the HD 448 are an example of that.  They sound just fine unamped, but amping them helped quite a bit - even more so than amping a set of 32 ohm Beyerdynamic DT 770 in my opinion.... surprising, right?  I guess the take home message here is this: don't expect much of anything from the lows (below mid-bass) unless you're listening for it, but know you can improve these later on with amplification if you're tight on money at the moment.

 

Additional Notes:  Just like any headphone worth owning, it will require some burn in time.  Out of the box these sound quite harsh with noticeable crackling.  I recommend at least 30 hours of burn-in, and wouldn't be surprised if more was needed.  Don't be fooled by their sound out of the box!

 

Also, these isolate quite well as a closed can - making these even more ideal for traveling.  They have no problem reducing background chatter, but do not completely block outside noise (not active noise canceling).  They leak very subtly despite sounding quite loud off the head.

 

As with most closed cans, imaging is inferior.  The sound quality is great, but the soundstage is limited by the closed back design of the headphone.  That being said, it isn't all that narrow... just not as favorable as some of the open models I've experienced.

 

I would also consider these cans aesthetically pleasing, if this is of significance of you.

 

 

In a Nutshell: these cans are a steal for the money.  I had no hesitation giving these 5 stars in the value department.  I am happy I went with these over some more expensive models I was initially eying.  Highs are fine, mids are glorious and lows are disappointing (unamped).  A ton of sound for 100 bucks, and operate fairly well right off a portable device.  These still represent one of the best "values" I know of.  I find myself recommending them to many people who are on a tight budget and appreciate a natural response that isn't necessarily bass dominant.  If you don't plan on amping these right away, I suggest you do so in the future.  Most headphones of higher quality than these will require amplification anyways - these flirt with the line of amplifier necessity.

 

If you have any questions about the Sennheiser HD448s, reply with a post and I would be glad to answer!

18 Comments:

hi guys.Just ordered a pair of HD 448's, my first expensive pair of headphones. I'm pretty excited. I'm glad I found this forum, because i am an audio noob who thought $30 Sony's were the best thing since sliced bread.any suggestions for a first song?? I can't wait for them to ship in.
Make sure you give them some time to burn in! It will be good to hear your impressions. Any track that is a little more laid back and sits well with a warm/dark sound signature should sound superb
Spot on review, imo. While the bass on HD448 extends quite well, they severely lack that bass impact so don't be fooled by Sennheiser's box description. In response to audionik, I really like listening to acoustic songs on Sennheiser's trademark warm/dark sound. Try Nirvana's The Man Who Sold The World.
Would a Fiio E5 make the lows better?
You could get a Digizoid ZO2. Never used one, but it's for boosting bass. Good reviews so far.
It'd be interesting to hear the results. I'm not convinced the e5 would help the lows out at all. The bass is just a little growly and bloated. What it really needs is improvement in texture before it even thinks about impact improvements, and I'm just not sure an amp can provide too much fixing to that problem. Do I find an improvement when I amp the hell of out it with the e9? Yes, but even that improvement doesn't change the inherent character of the drivers, it just adds a little more punch. It still carries that bit of a growl with it, and still isn't defined marvelously.
If the lows were impactful and textured, you'd be looking at close to a 300 dollar headphone in my book. I like the soft treble and dark, rich midranges just that much in this headphone, and that combo isn't even my ideal sound. I tend to prefer a little flatter, and more importantly, quick decay. I'm a bit of a detail head.
Still loving my HD448 years later
I just purchased my first decent headphones, being the HD448's. As for burning in, is it fine to use my music or should I use "pink noise"?
Listen to them as you burn them in.
I have been, I can already notice a change from when I first started listening :)
I feel like some of the bass is muffled or crackly or something. It sounds broken up and fragmented and just bad. When I heard these in the store I didn't have my mp3 player on me so I had to listen to some unsuitable music, although it was handling the bass just fine. It's definitely not all the bass. It can play songs just fine, but it doesn't seem to be able to handle some other songs (that aren't even bass "heavy", though the song itself does rely on the bass as much as any other instrument if not more) Does this improve with time? Does amping it stop/improve this or just improve the rest of the lower frequencies?
Does this happen on all songs? Does it only sound like that when you increase the volume? If yes, then it could be the amp in your source (MP3 player) distorting. That's funny though. They're rated at either 24 or 32 ohms (on Sennheiser datasheet it's 24 ohms) so your MP3 player should be able to handle it just fine. Try it with another source like your PC/Mac and report back with results.
Not all songs, no. It does seem to get worse if the volume is increased, but I don't think it's caused from high volume. I've been using my computer, and I've been fiddling with the iTunes EQ and I think it's the 64 or 125 or both bands. The box that came with mine says 32 ohms. Thanks for your replies Blue Boat.
I can't help any further since I don't have the HD448 (I have the HD438). For what it's worth, I didn't hear any distortion when I auditioned the two on my Sansa Clip+ media player. You should return them just to be safe.
I'm unsure. If I turn off the EQ, and put up the volume, the bass is fine, but if I put the EQ on with the lower bands raised, I get the distortion. I think it may be the EQ?
Oh. Interesting. I suppose it could be the EQ. Set it to 0 and slowly move up the bar. If you hear the sound gradually "distorting" as you turn it up, then it's most definitely the EQ.
I think it must be the iTunes EQ. I tried playing the same song on my Sansa Clip Zip, turning up the lower 2 bands on the OF EQ (rockbox isn't stable yet) and there was no distortion, yet when I tried playing it using iTunes with the EQ on it was distorted. Glad I've cleared that up, I might look into a new music player for my pc. Thanks again for the replies.
No problem. Btw, Foobar2000 is a great music player. Doesn't consume much processing power, lots of DSPs and plugins to try. I've been using the Electri-Q plugin and it works great in making my Senns sound brighter.
Thanks for that, I'm checking it out now.
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