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Sennheiser HD238 Precision review: PX100 on Steroids?

post #1 of 90
Thread Starter 
Well, a few weeks ago at the Apple store, I was surprised to see the new Sennheiser HD238 out on the demo floor. And once I listened to them I was intrigued enough to give these an extensive try, and after getting my weeks paycheque today I decided to head over there and purchase the headphones. I recall these are relatively new but not fresh new, but there still haven't been that many reviews out there for these new offerings from Sennheiser (of course all the Sennheiser hype was rightfully on HD800). So here I offer my petty review for the benefit (hopefully...) of the Head-fi Community.

I'll state before the review that these are marketed and designed as portable headphones so I will review it as such, and compare it to the other portable headphones in the market in the price range such as Portapros (which I only have brief experience with I'm afraid...), KTXpro1 and Sennheiser's own PX100. I'll do a double perspective with it both unamped and amped (with my ibasso T4). BTW, my source here is Sony S639F, which does sound a bit coloured compared to some of the other DAP's, so keep that in mind.

Alright, here we go.


Design/Portability:


- These are supraaural open headphones, and clad in black with a touch of chrome trim on the cups (with Sennheiser S logo attached onto the middle of the grill). I am personally a fan of minimalist design so it wins in my book, but others may think that it looks a little too bland. They do look a bit Bose-ish...

- These do not fold like the PX100 does, but they are light. VERY light, in fact, just as light as the PX100. This really helps with the portability factor.

- They are entirely plastic, and don't look particularly durable, but I'm sure they will be fine unless you slam it to the ground or something.

- The left and right indicators are not well marked with the letters, but that is when you realize that these have a single ended cable, which obviously hangs down from the left side. The left side also has three bumps on the base of the band so that helps with the identification further.

- They lose points with the plug, however. It is a straight plug, which in my case with portable headphones is an automatic loss. It doesn't look particularly sturdy either, and they unplug VERY easily, even with a slight tug. I know all the companies are dying to appease the ipod/iphone owners, but really, L-plugs are much better for portability purposes. It's only a nickel plated plug and is not enforced too well in the part where it leads to the cord, to add to the fail.

- The cord is VERY thin, and it definitely worries me since they don't look like they'd take tugs too well. It's almost like the PX100 cord, which isn't a great thing IMO. On the plus side it's light, and doesn't add much to the already light weight of the headphone itself.



Comfort:


- These are nearly 10/10 in comfort IMO. As I've stated, they are incredibly light, and you can hardly feel it on your head. Furthermore, there is nearly zero clamping force from the cups. You can literally wear these for days without feeling any discomfort at all.

- Even though they clamp lightly, that doesn't mean that the fit isn't secure. They're very secure in fact, and even when you run or move around in exaggerated manner they don't move much at all. In that sense it's another plus point in portability too.

- The cups/pads have an interesting design. They are supraaural pads that have no holes or pits, mostly in velour/woolish material with soft bit of leather covering the inside portion (minus the round portion where the sound comes out from). If anyone knows how the Bose On-ear/quietcomfort cups look like, they're exactly that design. Anyway, they do get slightly warm after a prolonged period, but never overly hot that it is bothersome. And because of the leather portion on the inside of the cups they never feel scratchy like the velour pads sometimes do, either.


Isolation:

- Whaa, an isolation section for an open headphone? Yes, indeed. I wanted to point this out since I found that they actually isolated noise quite well for an open headphone. If anyone have tried headphones with the aforementioned pad design, you might have noticed that they do well in passively blocking noise. And even though the back of the cups are open ended here, the pads cover the entire ear very well (unlike PX100, which have smaller pads) and are decent at blocking low to medium volume external noise.

- You'll still hear outside noise, but it's not loud enough to distort the overall presentation of music, provided that they're loud enough. This makes them ideal as a street/mall type of headphone, which is of course what they were designed for. Overall, they strike a very fine balance of isolation here where you islolate enough to still enjoy your music yet have enough awareness of outside noise so that you're not too distracted.

- Now, they are still open, so they won't drown out major noises in buses or trains too well, but it's good for situations where you need to remain alert. On the minus side, they do leak a lot, but this is not too much an issue in streets/malls or whatever.


Sound:

Before I start, I will state that they have very minimal burn-in at the moment, and I will update this section as it burns in further. I'll divide this section up to highs/mids/lows section as well as instrument separation/soundstage section. I'll also write the differences I've experienced with my T4 (on high gain) for all the sections.

Highs:

They have Koss and Grado-like highs, in that they can be very sparkly and lively. There is much extension in this area compared to the PX100, which is a welcome change. This improves further when it is amped with my T4. So instruments like acoutic guitar and cymbals translates very well with this headphone. The problem, however, is that when the volume is cranked up, they do noticeably distort. You'll have to crank it up to fairly uncomfortable volume levels to have this happen, but I know many of you listen at loud levels, so it's something to keep in mind.

Mids:

They have laid back mids, that's for sure, in classic Sennheiser style. But it's still there and is clearly separated from rest of the frequency. It's definitely not recessed. But it won't definitely ever catch you with upfront mids or anything. If you are used to Sennheiser/Denon/Ultimate Ears headphones/IEM's, you'll feel right at home, but if you come from Shure/AKG/Grado and the like, you may find it lacking. Helped quite a bit with amping, though.

Lows:

I'll start off by saying that this probably has one of the best extensions of bass I've ever heard in a portable headphone thus far. They seriously extend down low, more than PX100 for sure, IMO at a equal level to HD650, which is quite a feat. As of now pre burn-in, they are slightly boomy, but I don't find that they bleed into the mids that much at all. What some people may not like is the midbass hump, which is HUGE with this headphone so far. They hit very, very hard, and with some of the bass-heavy music, they can easily overwhelm (like with certain bass heavy Green Day songs). Portapro like in this matter, though it extends much better. Hopefully this settles down over the burn-in period, but I have a feeling this is just part of the characteristic of this headphone. T4 does help with tightening it up a bit, but not that much (and obviously I did NOT use bass boost on my T4). Nonetheless, if you are a basshead, definitely do apply.

Instrument separation:

- Surprisingly good. There is good enough air between instruments, and this can only get better with burn in. It's surprisingly easy to position the instruments with this headphone, unless it is a bass heavy song in which case it can get a bit hectic. It won't be great for heavily complicated music or anything, but it's decent for a portable headphone. But it's better than PX100 in this regard, especially when amped.


Soundstage:

- Again, decent. It's open, and you'd expect the soundstage to be good, and it's definitely not claustophobic. I'd say it has a better 3-D soundstage rather than being necessarily wide (I wouldn't call it too wide), but compared to PX100 for example it's much more open.

Impedence/Sensitivity:


- They're not particularly sensitive/easy to drive for a portable headphone IMO, and it rates at 32 Ohms impedence, which is equivalent to Phonak Audeo PFE. If any owners of PFE are reading this, you'd know that PFE benefitted well with an amp, and I felt that HD238 did also, although not as much (but still definitely noticeable). Volume has to be fairly high if you want to play this unamped (around 80% on current-gen Nano, and about 20 on my Sony S639), but on the positive side they don't hiss and is almost black slient (meaning they're not overly sensitive).


Final words:

Overall, my verdict is that they are PX100 on steroids, which is already a winner in my book. I found PX100 to be way too laid back, and HD238 adds more extension to both ends and add a lot more "attack", which is what I was looking for. They're just as portable and comfortable IMO, too, with further benefits in soundstage and airiness. It's still got that overall Sennheiser sound, but closing in more towards the Denon/Koss sound signature IMO. I think they should perhaps be a tad cheaper ($120 CDN at that time of my purchase), and the midbass hump that this has unfortunately means that it's not for everyone, but Sennheiser IMO did make a gem of a portable headphone here.

I'll happily answer any questions that anyone may have here, so do shoot away. I'll also update this periodically as I notice changes with the burn in. Thanks, and I hope you were at least amused with my amateur review.
post #2 of 90
This review seems far from amateur, my friend. Pretty much perfect, in my opinion. Not much information seems available on these great-looking headphones, so I very much appreciate your writing.
post #3 of 90
Nice to read your views on the HD 238, I purchased a pair yesterday and I agree with your finding. I hope the boom gets less after some burn in. And they are better amped.

Look forward to your views after some run in time. Keep us posted.
post #4 of 90
Nice review. I may have to check these out. I was a little reluctant about this line because I had the hd228 for a bit, and it wasn't remarkable at all. The hd238 seem to be much better though based on your early assessments. I'm looking forward to updates
post #5 of 90
Nice review. By the way you describe them, ie decent separation, huge mid bass hump, deep bass and decent soundstage they certainly do sound like improved PX100s. Good to see the build quality is at least somewhat improved, the PX100s for all their portability are flimsy as hell.

Noticed headphonic gave them a good rep too by recommending them: Sennheiser: HD238 | Headphonic: Australian Headphone Specialists: Buy Etymotic, Alessandro, Audio Technica, Ultimate Ears, Talisman, Meier Audio and more

As did headroom: Sennheiser HD 238 @ HeadRoom
post #6 of 90
Got to try these at CanJam and for the price they are a rock solid winner. Light, comfy and portable with excellent sound.
post #7 of 90
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the kind comments everyone.

I think these headphones are at about 150-200 hour range burn-in now, and I'm pleased to report that most of the problem areas have settled down pretty well. One thing I neglected to mention for the Highs is the sibilance, which was noticeable with some songs pre-burn in. Now, they've rounded off well yet the highs have remained sparkly enough to be enjoyable. The bass has settled down well also, and the huge midbass hump has now been controlled to tolerable levels. Source is also key; with my S639F it remains on the bit heavy side for the bass, yet with a more flat source like an iphone 3G which I bought recently, it's more even. Because of those two factors, the mids seem bit more forward now as well (or maybe they came out on their own also), which is great.

These get my highest recommendations. It's by far the best portable headphones I've used (beats tar out of my SQ5 or my old PX100/KTXpro1 for sure... IMO it also beats my beloved D1001). Probably falls short of high-enders in this category like ESW9 and 10JPN, but I doubt these can be beaten at this price range in the portable category.
post #8 of 90
Thanks for this great review, it has helped me decide on a replacement for my Denon D1001's (which in some ways I like better than my K601's). I have one question for K_19: would you say that the HD238 has similar clarity in the midrange as the D1001 with the iPhone 3G? I'm using a 2nd gen. Touch with iPhone OS3, and the clarity in the midrange is what I like most about the Denon, it even beats the K601 on most amps I have in this regard, and is the area I find lacking on my current Sennheisers (the HD595's, which sound slightly murky in the midrange). Any thoughts you might have on the HD238 vs the D1001 would be appreciated. Anyways, thanks for your review again, it is very complete and insightful.

--Eric
post #9 of 90
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by violeta88 View Post
Thanks for this great review, it has helped me decide on a replacement for my Denon D1001's (which in some ways I like better than my K601's). I have one question for K_19: would you say that the HD238 has similar clarity in the midrange as the D1001 with the iPhone 3G? I'm using a 2nd gen. Touch with iPhone OS3, and the clarity in the midrange is what I like most about the Denon, it even beats the K601 on most amps I have in this regard, and is the area I find lacking on my current Sennheisers (the HD595's, which sound slightly murky in the midrange). Any thoughts you might have on the HD238 vs the D1001 would be appreciated. Anyways, thanks for your review again, it is very complete and insightful.

--Eric
Yes, I would definitely say that it has the similar amount of clarity in the midrange as D1001 yet a tad more forward. It initially started off sitting a bit back like the Denon mids, but after the burn in they presented itself bit more upfront. I would say my HD238 sounds a bit more dynamic and fun compared to the Denons; there's definitely more extension to the top end and the instrument separation is a tad better as well. The bass is similar but the 238's have more midbass punch while the Denons have more focus in lowbass, which can get a tad boomy at times. Since it's open backed unlike the D1001 it'll have better soundstage as well, and will sound less "stuffy" or "echo-y".

As I've stated before it is a Sennheiser headphone with PX100 base that has more of a Denon/Koss SQ flavour added to it. So coming from D1001 you will feel at home yet still enjoy the extra clarity, wideness and top end extension it brings.
post #10 of 90
Thanks K_19 for your very detailed reply. As my Denons finally died this weekend, it gives me even more of an excuse to upgrade to the Sennheiser HD238. I've been suffering with the horrible murky sound of the Sennheiser HD595's after the Denons broke, and with the boring presentation of my K601's. Thanks again.
post #11 of 90
Quote:
Originally Posted by K_19 View Post
I'll happily answer any questions that anyone may have here, so do shoot away. I'll also update this periodically as I notice changes with the burn in. Thanks, and I hope you were at least amused with my amateur review.
Thank you for the review. I was looking for an portable alternative this morning but by now I've improved the fit of my Zino.

Do you think you'll eventually get your hands on the Ultrasone to do a comparison? I'm a fan of supraaural headphones!
post #12 of 90
when you compared them to the PX100s - were your PX100s the original version or newer less warm version ?

just I have the newer PX100 - and I find it bright as it is - I wouldn't want brighter (so if the 228s are brighter that would worry me)
post #13 of 90
Thread Starter 
I had the PX100 for about 4 months last year; I couldn't tell you for sure if they were the older production model or the newer one, but it was probably newer stock. I never really loved it THAT much since I found it to be too tamed and laid back and prefered my KSC75 to it; the problem that the HD238 has fixed.
post #14 of 90
I received my pair of HD238's and was quite shocked at how much of an upgrade they were from my HD595 headphones (which are worth more than 2X as much as the HD238's). However, I am noticing that there is severe distortion in the bass notes of some music at levels over what I call moderately loud (70-80 percent of the way up on the volume slider) via the iPod Touch 2G and it only gets a little cleaner at those volumes with my Porta Corda III. However, I am noticing that over time the volume at which I can listen to the headphones cleanly is going up over time. So hopefully this problem will subside over the course of the break-in time. I would say however, at the volumes that they do sound clean on, the HD238's are clearer than even my K601's were and are significantly more detailed in the highs and mids than my HD595's and have better bass extension to boot. Not bad for a $110 headphone.
post #15 of 90
I had the same kind of issue with my HD600s when I got them. Bass tones, especially very low ones distorted massively. I left them running for maybe a day or two solidly with pink noise interlaced with bits of silence though and it went away completely.
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