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Compared: PX200-II, HD238, HD448 and HD595

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 
NOTE: I have made some edits to the original post as I have discovered that I was wearing the HD595s in a suboptimal position.

Sennheiser has come out with a huge amount of new models of headphones in the last year. This review will cover Sennheiser’s new PX200-II, HD238 and HD448 models, and will include comparisons with Sennheiser’s older, fairly popular HD595 model. I was initially going to include comparisons with the HD580 as well, but my HD580 has developed some issues with one of its drivers, which I will not likely be fixing, thus most of my comments on the HD580 will not be included. This review will be broken down into sections concerning 1) physical/build quality attributes and comfort, 2) sound quality unamped, 3) sound quality amped, and 4) conclusions.

I will be listening to the headphones unamped through my iPod touch 2nd generation’s headphone out and amped through the touch’s line out via a SendStation PocketDock, through a 1/8” to RCA plug adaptor connecting the PocketDock to AudioQuest ICA-1 interconnects going into a custom JMT built MINT headphone amplifier with AD8620 opamp. All music files are either 256Kbps AAC or Apple Lossless. As usual, these are my impressions through my ears and equipment, so depending on your preferences you may disagree with what I have to say. EDIT: I have been listening to various genres with all of the headphones including Pop, Rock, Jazz, Classical, R&B, Rap, and Country, Trip-Hop and Electronic/Dance).

Additionally, I must thank head-fi member and Sennheiser representative TheDeliveryMan for giving me the opportunity to evaluate the PX200-II along with my own HD238, HD448 and HD595 models.

Build Quality/Comfort:

PX200-II: This model, unlike the older PX series, is impressively well-built and sturdy. Additionally, sennheiser has done a great job making a cord that is thin yet appears to be very sturdy at the same time (I wish the cord on my HD238 was as durable). Comfort is also very good and while the earcups are tiny, their earpads do a good job of providing a good seal, which was one of the areas people had issues with on the older model PX200. They are still fiddly with placement, but once the proper position is reached, you are greeted with a very nice quality sound, more on that later.

HD238: The headband on this model is very sturdy and the earpads are very comfortable, but the cord is thin and made out of a rubber that is too soft in my opinion. My own pair experienced a snag in the outer rubber coating that didn’t affect the wiring, but makes me wonder about long-term durability of the cord. The PX200-II is much better in terms of cord durability.

HD448: This model, while very lightweight also feels very sturdy and seems able to last through tough usage. The cord has a tough, durable rubber outer coating and is thicker than the HD238 and PX200-II by a good margin. The pleather earpads are less comfortable than the HD238, but since they are replaceable by ordering the velour HD438 earpads from Sennheiser, I have found a way around the comfort issue. More info on the HD438 earpad upgrade coming up in the sound quality section.

HD595: I have to admit that I am horribly dissatisfied with the build quality of the HD595. The headband broke 6 months after I purchased them and is being held together by tape currently. Unfortunately they are now out of warranty, but as will become apparent in the sound quality section, you will know why I have never gotten them fixed. The problem lies with the single sided coupling of the headband to the earcup that uses very brittle plastic. I had a pair of HD555’s that cracked in the same place as the HD595’s, so I have a feeling it is more of a design flaw than anything that happened on my part.


Sound Quality unamped:

PX200-II: The PX200-II has a great soundstage for such a small headphone. While it isn’t the most detailed headphone in this review, it still manages to sound very clear and doesn’t appear to compress dynamics (unlike the HD580 can sometimes do), and it has the best quality bass of the headphones in this review. The bass is very punchy while being full without sounding boomy. The highs seem a bit rolled off, but not to a large degree and the midrange is clear and decently detailed (think HD595 minus a bit of detail and all of the graininess and you have the PX200’s mids). Soundstaging is reasonably deep and wide, and while they are not as immediately impressive as the HD595 in this regard, they do very well for a very small closed headphone.

HD238: The main differences between the PX200-II and the HD238 lie in terms of a greater amount of treble detail present in the HD238 and a more muffled, boomy, and somewhat distorted bass present in the HD238 that the PX200-II does not exhibit. Tonally the PX200 is superior in every way, as the HD238 is clearly more muffled in the midrange and looser in the bass. 11/17 Major Edit: I discovered two causes for the distortion I was hearing. First some of my music has some clipped portions (especially bass notes). On music that is very well recorded the Hd238 sounds phenomenal. Additionally, I have found that the PX200 loves being driven by an amp, not my iPod. The iPod simply does not have enough current to drive the HD238 (It drives the HD448 better because the distortion in the bass notes at high volume on the iPod is less prevalent due to the HD448's lean bass response). With well-recorded material, the HD238 is more detailed and has a more open soundstage compared to the HD448.

HD448: The thing about the HD448 that stands out first is the clarity and forwardness of its midrange. It manages to be warm, forward, very detailed, and smooth at the same time. There is no sense of fatigue when listening to well-recorded source material. Additionally, while the highs are a bit recessed compared to the HD595 they are equally detailed compared with the HD595, and are more detailed in the midrange without the nasty graininess that is sometimes present in the upper midrange in the HD595. The bass is recessed compared to the HD595, but it is still there and possesses a nice, tight sound quality. One note though, the stock pleather earpads make the soundstage sound a bit closed in at times and make the bass sound a bit undefined and “bloomy”. A nice fix to this is to install the HD438’s velour earpads onto the HD448. Sennheiser’s Part Number for the velour earpads is 534440 and they are around $10 plus shipping direct from Sennheiser. The velour earpads open up the soundstage and at the same time make the bass more solid and much less ill-defined. Additionally, the soundstage becomes more natural with the velour earpads, though the headphones do not isolate as well with the velour pads and leak sound a bit more. EDIT: While initially the velour earpads sounded fuller in the bass to my ears, I have noticed switching back to the pleather pads that the bass was looser on the velour pads and switching back to the pleather pads brings back a sense of punchiness that was missing from the pleather pads. Also, the soundstage is deeper with the pleather pads. I'm going to be keeping the pleather pads on after all.

HD595: The strong points of these headphones are the very detailed highs and nice, relatively tight bass and deep soundstage. However, I prefer the HD448 (slightly) over the HD595 in terms of overall value due to the HD448’s superior build quality and the HD448’s nice improvement when amped. (Not to mention the HD448 is half the price and offers a similar overall level of sound quality.)


Changes when amped:

The PX200-II becomes cleaner with tighter bass when amped, but sounds much like it did when unamped. The HD238 improves significantly in terms of power handling when amped with a high current headphone amplifier also improve in detail, though the bass still tends to distort at higher volume levels. The HD448 becomes even clearer and has much better power handling when amped with a high current headphone amplifier, and is clearer in the midrange than the HD595 especially when both are amped. The HD595 does sound clearer when amped versus when it is unamped, but I still prefer the HD448 over it in terms of midrange clarity--albeit slightly. EDIT: I discovered I was wearing the HD595's too high, and thus the differences between the HD448 and HD595 are subtle at best. The HD595 does have a cleaner bass response with more depth however, so it is more of a toss-up between the two in which I prefer. 11/17 EDIT: While the HD238 doesn't improve greatly in maximum volume with a high current amplifier like my MINT, it does improve in bass control and overall distortion in that it makes the bass tighter and there is less distortion present overall throughout the frequency range.


Final Thoughts:

11/17 Edit: The HD238 is the overall winner in terms of detail and sound quality, but only on well-recorded music. With poorly recorded music, it reveals all the flaws, especially bass distortion/clipping.

There are three standouts in this review in terms of build and sound quality: the HD448, HD238 and the PX200-II. Both are portable-friendly, relatively inexpensive for their level of performance, and improve nicely when amped with high current capability headphone amps. The HD238 is a very detailed headphone that happens to be very warm at the same time. On the HD238, the bass is not as tight as the PX200-II, but overall it is the most detailed headphone in the review, beating out the HD448 and HD595. The HD448 is smoother than the HD238, but it doesn't pack the bass punch that I would have liked it to. After hearing the HD448 and HD238, I would not have purchased the HD595. Again, these are my preferences and all four are good headphones, I just tend to like clean, clear sound with tons of detail. I discovered I have been wearing the HD595's at a suboptimal position (too high on my ears) and the differences in the midrange between the HD448 and HD595 are very subtle, but the differences between the HD238 and HD595 are significant in that the HD238 is more detailed than the HD595 with clearer midrange and highs, but are also less forgiving and do not play nearly as loud as the HD595, especially out of an iPod. Overall I prefer the HD238 over the HD595 by a large degree and over the HD448 to a smaller degree. The PX200-II while a very nice headphone in its category sounds more like an older Sennheiser in terms of fine detail than the HD448 and HD238 (both of which are considerably more detailed). The PX200-II is the best though with badly mastered music, followed by the HD595, though the PX200-II still manages to sound more forward in the midrange while being more forgiving than the HD595.

If anyone has any questions or thinks of something I may have not touched upon that they would like to see addressed, please let me know. I will add pictures in a couple of days.

--Eric
post #2 of 37
Eric - you've not mentioned what genre of music you've been listening to, for the comparisons to work.

It doesn't surprise me that unamped headphones are more flexible and generally good head tools.

The subtle distinctions in sound-staging and separation of instruments between the HD448 and the HD595 is probably ... too subtle for most of us although for portable sources, headphones like the PX200-II and HD25MkIIs are very very hard to beat for the price. I like both as well as the so called 'audiophile' amp-requiring headphones but like their previously highly touted HD280Pros (well, that was back in 2004...), I find that the sound quality is barely as fantastic as everyone seems to say it is, making me wondering if I'm overdeaf or something. Their main problem is that the bass only seems to work well with a complete ear seal to generate sufficient bass - with amp. I can barely enjoy anything with HD280Pros unamped: the same is true for the HD595s. Besides, the HD280pro and similar Sennheisers of that closed back design achieve better bass response by compressing the headphones closer to the head and turning the volume down slightly, but what a way to get sound quality?!

Thanks for your write up...
post #3 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Head_case View Post
Eric - you've not mentioned what genre of music you've been listening to, for the comparisons to work.

It doesn't surprise me that unamped headphones are more flexible and generally good head tools.

The subtle distinctions in sound-staging and separation of instruments between the HD448 and the HD595 is probably ... too subtle for most of us although for portable sources, headphones like the PX200-II and HD25MkIIs are very very hard to beat for the price. I like both as well as the so called 'audiophile' amp-requiring headphones but like their previously highly touted HD280Pros (well, that was back in 2004...), I find that the sound quality is barely as fantastic as everyone seems to say it is, making me wondering if I'm overdeaf or something. Their main problem is that the bass only seems to work well with a complete ear seal to generate sufficient bass - with amp. I can barely enjoy anything with HD280Pros unamped: the same is true for the HD595s. Besides, the HD280pro and similar Sennheisers of that closed back design achieve better bass response by compressing the headphones closer to the head and turning the volume down slightly, but what a way to get sound quality?!

Thanks for your write up...
Look for the "EDIT:" portion of the intro statement to find the genres I was listening to (I have listened to a huge range of music with all of the headphones), and with all of the well-recorded music I have listened to, the HD448 with the velour earpads sounds best. With not so well recorded music, the PX 200-II is more forgiving and sounds better, along with the HD595 (as the cloudiness in the midrange masks bad recordings to a degree). The worst with bad recordings is the HD238, as they distort with any hint of clipping in the recording. The difference between the HD448 and the HD595 in the midrange is not so subtle, as the HD448 is both more detailed and forward and less grainy to boot than the HD595. EDIT: The HD448's also exhibit the bass "problem" that you find with the HD280, the reason why the bass is better with the velour pads is probably because they seal better on my head than the pleather pads.
post #4 of 37
Thanks for the write up.
post #5 of 37
nice. Juz wondering how it is when comparing d px100 with px200-ii/100-ii.
post #6 of 37
Thank you for the useful, concise, well-written comparison. Nice to hear another positive review of the PX 200-II. I'm very interested in trying those one day.
post #7 of 37
Question: what sort of classical music did you use these phones with? Can you name any specific recordings?
post #8 of 37
Thread Starter 
yugiyao: I don't have either the old px100 or the new px100-II to compare them with, but I hated the old px100 IIRC, because they were too dark and didn't have a good sense of soundstaging. However, I've heard the new PX100-II has been improved greatly.

pp312: I used these two recordings for most of my "classical" listening.
Martin: Cello Concerto, Ballade for Cello and Piano, 8 Preludes on the BIS label and Corigliano: Symphony No. 3 "Circus Maximus" & Gazebo Dances for Wind Ensemble on the Naxos label. Also I listened to E.S. Posthumous' Cartographer which is more New Age. I have to admit I don't have a huge amount of classical in my library but I do like the few albums I do have, especially Corigliano's Symphony No. 3.

applaudio: Thanks for the compliment. I'm sure I'll have to elaborate on some areas further as I usually have to do, but it is nice to hear that my review wasn't useless garbage .
post #9 of 37
Thanks Eric ~ it's far from garbage!

It's very useful sharing your breadth of comparison with a range of headphones. I tend to be 'headphone' conservative and stick to one solitary set (the Sennheiser HD25 MkII) and won't budge for years, partly because it's not so easy to demo or share others headphones (OCD and antiseptic neurotic things and all that ).

I didn't know the HD280Pros could have velour pads - what you've said about the sound seal makes perfect sense. I can hold the phones close for one song, but it tiring; I shouldn't have to do that. Would love to upgrade them to the HD448s now
post #10 of 37
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Head_case View Post
Thanks Eric ~ it's far from garbage!

It's very useful sharing your breadth of comparison with a range of headphones. I tend to be 'headphone' conservative and stick to one solitary set (the Sennheiser HD25 MkII) and won't budge for years, partly because it's not so easy to demo or share others headphones (OCD and antiseptic neurotic things and all that ).

I didn't know the HD280Pros could have velour pads - what you've said about the sound seal makes perfect sense. I can hold the phones close for one song, but it tiring; I shouldn't have to do that. Would love to upgrade them to the HD448s now
I don't think that the HD280 Pros have an option for velour pads. I was talking about the HD438 pads fitting on the HD448. However, if you find the bass lacking on the HD280 pro, you may not like the HD448 as they are lean sounding even when amped. The HD438 may be a better choice for you as it has a bass response curve similar to the HD595, yet its midrange and high end response curve is more like the HD448.
post #11 of 37
Thanks for the terrific review, Eric. Very informative. I have all of these headphones other than the PX 200-II, which I have on backorder from Amazon. I am looking forward to getting it, but I think I know how it will hit me, given that your reviews of the other three are pretty much right on to my ears. I have not listened to the HD 448 enough amped -- I generally use it around the house with my ipod nano -- but I would add that the bass seems to get slightly better definition and presence when amped. It's still pretty lean comparatively though. But since I'm not a basshead, I don't miss it. I'll have to think about the velour pads. Looking forward to any updates. Would you say you prefer the PX 200-II or HD 448 overall?

-David
post #12 of 37
Thread Starter 
By far I prefer the HD448. The PX200-II is very nice, but it doesn't have the hyper-detailed mids and highs of the HD448, nor does it have as immersive of a soundstage as the HD448. That being said, the PX200-II is a very fun headphone to listen to and it does a good job of presenting soundstage (for its size), but it isn't an HD448.
post #13 of 37
Do the pads sit on the ear or around the ear for the HD448 like the HD595?
post #14 of 37
Thread Starter 
The earpads sit around the ear on the HD448, but the earcups are smaller and are not as roomy as the HD595. Also the stock earpads are pleather on the HD448 vs the velour on the HD595, and thus the stock earpads on the HD448 are not as comfortable as the HD595.
post #15 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by violeta88 View Post
By far I prefer the HD448. The PX200-II is very nice, but it doesn't have the hyper-detailed mids and highs of the HD448, nor does it have as immersive of a soundstage as the HD448. That being said, the PX200-II is a very fun headphone to listen to and it does a good job of presenting soundstage (for its size), but it isn't an HD448.
Interesting. I personally love the HD 448 and consider it a first-class headphone in its category, which I've come to see as "full-size portable." The only clue that Sennheiser sees it the same way is the short primary cord and the flashy metal stripe.
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