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Sennheiser HD558 impressions / review

post #1 of 110
Thread Starter 

 

So...I've had the HD558's for about 3 weeks now, and after about 100 or so hours of burning in, I think It's time to do a little review. I'm not an expert by any means, these are the most expensive headphones I've ever owned, so I wont use any technical data, I'm just gonna give an honest opinion.

 

First of all, a few words about my setup.  I only use my headphones at home (they're too big and clumsy to carry around anyway...), so PC is the only source. I have an Asus Xonar D2X sound card with ASIO drivers which I believe is more than good enough for HD558's.  The sound card has a more than decent headphone amp built in able to run these headphones to brain-melting volume levels , and its got some high quality components like for example Burr-Brown PCM1796 (123db, 24bit/192khz) DAC.

I use Winamp 5 Pro with Kernel Streaming plug-in to play only FLAC format music, mostly 16 bit /44khz, but I've got some 24/96's as well.

 

I mostly listen to 70's, 80's rock, 80's pop, jazz, instrumental and vocal music, sometimes rap / hip hop and trance when I'm in the mood.

 

Now about headphones, at the end of each category, I'm gonna give them a score from 1-10 , with score 10 being my expectation for this price, so if i give 10/10 to sound, it doesnt mean i think its perfect, it means i feel its best possible in this price range. Also I'm gonna compare them to my old Sennheiser HD212pro:

 

Looks and build quality:

- First of all, while these headphones look kind of cheap on pictures, they look really high-quality in person. Yes, they are made of plastic, but its seems like quality plastic, and that combined with soft velure-like ear cushions and shiny aluminum-look stripe around grill, makes them looks pretty upmarket.  Some people say that HD5x5's had problems with headband cracking, I dont see how that could happen.   I guess it would be nicer if some parts were made from metal, but you cant expect that for this price.

9/10

 

Comfort:

Out of the box, the HD558's were pretty stiff and uncomfortable. By uncomfortable I mean that they pressed my ears pretty hard, and also ear cushions which were pretty hard, pressed my neck a bit, so I felt my blood pulsing trough neck arteries, which was extremely annoying. After a few days, they became pretty loose and by now, they're almost too loose.  After the initial headband "burn in", they became pretty comfortable headphones, but they're pretty heavy, which overall makes them harder to keep on the head than Sennheiser HD212pro.

9/10

 

Sound:

The first thing I noticed when I first plugged them in was that they felt very loud compared to HD212's, thats probably because mids were pretty forward, however, I wasnt very impressed after a few hours of listening.  They felt like they were straining at high volumes. I though to my self, "they need to go trough burn-in period". After about 20 hour burn-in period, not much changed in sound... Then I remembered the reason why I bough the HD558's instead of Hd598's.

 

The mod:

I decided to take them apart and indeed, there were small (5 x 3 cm) pieces of very soft and dampening rubber material which covered about 60% of the mesh. I took that out, put them together, plugged them in, and I noticed the difference in the first 10 seconds. They sounded more airy , treble seemed more clear, mids seemed to be even more forward , but the biggest change was bass, and 558's low end now started sounding more like a 12 inch subwoofer than a 6" driver on high-quality monitor speakers.

I dont know whether the mod made them identcial to 598's, since I havent heard the 598's, but frankly, I dont even care, I'll get into reason for that a bit later.

 

Lows:

As I said, bass really woke up after mod. Using some frequency sweeps, its obvious that these headphones dont go as low as the specs say, meaning that you cant hear anything out of them until about 20 Hz, but thats ok, my favourite part of low end is 40 Hz anyway. :P

Bass might sound a bit loose and boomy on some tracks on very high volumes, like for example the beginning of MJ - Billy Jean, but as far as natural (instrumental) bass

goes, its nice and tight, and surprisingly punchy, although, It doesnt make my jaw rattle like HD212pro... HD558's clearly lag behind 212pro's in every aspect of low-frequency reproduction.

7/10

 

Mids:

I feel that this is an area where these headphones shine. Mids are very forward ,clear and natural. Voices, especially female ones, sound extremely pleasant and warm, while air and string instruments have a nice timbre, also sounding quite warm. However, I cant say the same for pianos. Piano tracks just dont sound as good as string / air instrument tracks. Piano reproduction is not loud enough, and every time the key is pressed, sounds seems to be unclear and muddy. Its not that bad, and certanly much better than Hd212pro, but you'd expect more after hearing a saxophone for example.  Its a minor "fault", no big deal, overall, I still feel this is the area where these headphones stand out and deliver.

9,5/10

 

Highs:

Nice and clear, not ear-piercing, but clear and detailed.... um.....I dont know what else to say here. :P 

As I said, im not an expert, so I dont know what to specifically look for in high frequency range. :P    To me, it sounds nice, and almost as good as the mids.

9/10

 

Soundstage:

These headphones give a really nice feeling of space, and separation between instruments in quite good, although not impressive in rock / hard-rock / orchestral tracks where there's loads of instruments fighting to stand out.

I perticulary like these headphones in games, with *dolby headphone* feature turned on in Asus Xonar driver menu.  558's sound really really detailed in games.

10/10

 

8,8/10

 

 

Listening experiance:

 

So, judging from these scores, you'd presume I love these headphones a lot. Well, you'd be quite wrong. I actually dont like them.  I want to like them, and i want to love them, but I dont, and I just cant make myself to like them.

 

I just cant explain why, because when i do some listening tests to find any obvious faults, I cant find any,  I'm always impressed with soundstage, detail, mids, highs...but when I just want to enjoy music, I cant enjoy it.   They just dont sound well while playing rock / pop,  they sound very nice with instrumental , vocal and classical, but again, they sound kind of uninspiring and boring.  They never make me tap my foot, and HD212's do in almost every song.

 

Yes, these headphones are detailed. Yes, they sound clear. Yes, mids and highs are great. Yes, the bass is punchy.  But overall,  when you put all these things together, I feel they sound boring and not very emotional or musical.

 

They make me listen to the sound, not the music.

6/10

 

Conclusion:

 

They're no doubt great headphones for the money, but they're not my cup of tea.  They're very natural, clear, soundstage is great, and they dont have any obvious faults in terms of sound, but they're not engaging, fun or musical. 

 

Would i buy them again? Probably not unless I couldnt find anything better for this price.

Would I recomend them? Yes If you like your music to sound as natural as possible, while not caring much about the emotional part of it.

 

I'm probably gonna sell them (since as days go by, they spend more and more time on the headphone stand, instead of being on my head) and get me some headphones that are more fun, even if they're worse in terms of audio quality.

 

Feel free to recommend fun headphones in 200-250$ range. :P

 

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Looks and quality: 9/10

Comfort : 9/10

Sound: 8,8/10

Soundstage: 10/10

Listening experience: 6/10

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Overall score:  7,2

 

 

 

------------------------------

UPDATE:  26/2/2011

------------------------------

 

I decided to keep the headphones for a little bit longer, and I have to admit I'm starting to like them. With over 200 hours of burn-in now, I think they're starting to sound pretty nice, and they're actually fun to listen to now.  I'm increasing my initial score of 6/10 for listening experience to 8/10.

 

But I have a new complaint.  When i wrote the review, i didnt really have the hd558's on the head for long periods of time, since i mostly just left them in the drawer to burn-in... now that i actually use them, i feel like comfort is an issue. Its not that they're uncomfortable, but they just dont stay on my head properly, and i have a nicely shaped head, average sized.  I cant find the perfect position on my ears, also, when playing the music loud, bass actually gets so strong the whole headphones vibrate, and i can feel the earcups slide towards the back of my head every time the bass hits. Also, they are pretty heavy (270g)... my neck gets tired after about 3-4 hours of wearing them.

 

 

 

-----------------------------

UPDATE: 15/8/2011

-----------------------------

 

 

Okay... I've had these headphones for 8 months now, and I have to say, I just LOVE them.   Everything about them that I didn't like is now gone, manly because I adjusted to them and paired them with Fiio E9 amp. I'd describe their sound as addictive .  Now I understand why some people kept their 595's for so many years, and 558's are even better in every aspect.  Comfort is perfect, I can wear them for 3-4 hours without ever noticing them (my neck got used to the weight), the ear pads adjusted to my head and its not an issue to wear glasses while I have headphones on the head.  Sound wise...I feel that they sound much "heavier", the amount of bass impact is greatly increased over the initial bass performance (even though it still only extends down to about 35-40 Hz, after that it gets lost, but thats ok, since the bass is more than powerful enough for any music, even hip hop.  Its also very tight and doesnt feel as loose as it felt at first.  Mids are still as great as they were, and highs got a little bit snappier, clearer.  The sound of these headphones now feels tight, and they're actually very very fun to listen, and if you ask me now "what would you change about the sound", I'd say "nothing.". Ok, maybe I'd a bit of bass, but these headphones arent made for hip-hop or similar music anyway.   I've heard many headphones since I got 558's,   including:

-HD595's (great but slightly worse than 558's in every aspect, especially bass) 

-HD598's  (which are exactly the same as modded HD558's, I challange someone to tell one from another in A-B blind tests, as its even hard to hear difference between stock 558's and 598's)

-HD650's (they made me realize that I prefer dark sounding headphones, and they also made me realize that they're not worth the extra money over 558's since they sound only slightly better, and only in certain songs.  And yes, they were connected to an amp, it was a Nuforce Icon 2 amp, and they were burned in)  

-Grado SR325 (they made me realize I absolutely hate bright sounding ear piercing headphones, I could not listen to a single song for more than a minute on these)

 

 

All in all, I love these headphones now, I don't know whether they got so good because of burn-in time or I just got adjusted to the sound, but I think I'll keep them for a very very long time.

 

 

PS:  They sound perticulary good with my new favorite sound demonstration record: Blue Coast E.S.E. Sessions, which sounds just amazing. Soundstage is amazing, it feels deep and wide, it sounds three dimensional. Hands down the best sounding record I've ever heard, and acording to some, the best record ever.  I highly recommend it.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Looks and quality: 9/10

Comfort : 9,5/10

Sound:9,5/10

Soundstage: 10/10

Listening experience: 9/10

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FINAL Overall score:  9,3


Edited by derbigpr - 8/18/11 at 5:55pm
post #2 of 110

I've found the HD 518s, after a bit of burn-in and some equalization, to be a *very* fun pair of headphones.  Excellent impact and very toe-tappy.

post #3 of 110

"They just dont sound well while playing rock / pop,  they sound very nice with instrumental , vocal and classical, "

 

I don't know how controversial this statement will be, but your comment strongly suggests that the 558 is relatively neutral and accurate (some of your other comments suggest that too). How you react to that of course depends on many things, not least what you're used to and your expectations, but you wouldn't be the first to reject a relatively neutral phone in favour of one far less so. Give yourself time, however, and if you still don't like them, consider blaming yourself rather than the phone.

 

Ten lashes should do it.  tongue.gif  

post #4 of 110

This is the most revealing review of the HD558 I've read to date! I've bought them too, and tested them thoroughly for 2 weeks, using every music genres possible, movies and games. I was impressed by their neutrality in all of my tests. From bass to mids to highs, everything about them is good. But, like you, I can't enjoy normal music listening with them. It's all flat and boring. It's like being detached from the music.

 

About one year ago, I bought the Shure SRH440, SRH840 and SRH750DJ, all at the same time to compare them and eventually keep the one I prefered. I tested them for 3 weeks, and the great winner for me was the SRH440. They have fantastic energy, liveliness and an incredible foot-taping personality. All of this right out of a little Sony MP3 player! And, honestly, I think they are more balanced and neutral than the two other Shures.

 

A few months later, I bought the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700. What a strange beast! I had to make a lot of mods just to make them fit my head. Once properly fitted, I really start to enjoyed... and hated them. Don't get me wrong, they are excellent headphones, with super detailed highs and an almost perfect midrange. They are fun and involving in their own way. The problem is the bass : althought very fast and clean, it's just not there. They require a good amp and adequate equalization to sound right, wich is not compatible with a portable MP3 player.

 

Recently, I bought the Sennheiser HD435 because they were at a very low price. So far, I am impressed by these little headphones. They are more fun sounding than the HD558. They really worth what I paid for.

 

But my prefered headphones among all these are, without a doubt, the Shure SRH440. They are very good with all music genres, including classical and jazz, and they are simply amazing with rock and pop.

 

So you want a recommendation for a fun headphone in the 200$ - 250$ range? Forget the price range and please try the Shure SRH440 (under 99$ on Amazon). I am very picky when it comes to headphones, and I can tell you that these were a revelation for me.

 

Here's my ratings for my headphones, on a scale from 1 to 10, focusing on the fun and musicality factor :

 

 

Sennheiser HD558 - 5/10

 

Sennheiser HD435 - 8/10

 

Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 - 8/10

 

Shure SRH440 - 9/10

 

Shure SRH840 - 7/10

 

Shure SRH750DJ - 6/10

 

Realistic PRO-30 - 8/10

 

Philips SHP2500 - 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

post #5 of 110

I don't understand, if music sounds dull and flat with neutral headphones then doesn't that mean thats how it sounds from the source? It sounds more like a music mastering, and mixing problem than it is with the headphones. Maybe my assumptions are wrong, but would neutral headphones just reproduce exactly what its given?

Or maybe its the audio equipment thats suspect. I know iPods sound terrible.


Edited by TJ Max - 3/19/11 at 8:31am
post #6 of 110
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TJ Max View Post

I don't understand, if music sounds dull and flat with neutral headphones then doesn't that mean thats how it sounds from the source? It sounds more like a music mastering, and mixing problem than it is with the headphones. Maybe my assumptions are wrong, but would neutral headphones just produce exactly what its given?

Or maybe its the audio equipment thats suspect. I know iPods sound terrible.



I'm not using crappy sources. I'm using Asus Xonar D2X sound card  + nuforce icon 2 headphone amplifier. Each of these components cost much more than the headphones themselves, so i dont think thats the problem.  As I said in my update, and im going to confirm that now, with over 400 hours of burn-in , the headphones sound very good now. Very musical, and not dull and boring at all, like they sounded when i first wrote the review.   

 

So - they need well over 200 hours of burn-in.   Up to about 150 hours, theres almost no difference, but close to 200 hours they start to sound really good.

post #7 of 110

Pictures, man!

post #8 of 110

Well made review!! i have been learning towards it, and it looks very interesting.

Will you upgrade your source on the future?  


Edited by winma - 3/19/11 at 5:34pm
post #9 of 110

"you cant hear anything out of them until about 20 Hz"

 

You do realize 20 Hz is the minimum frequency most humans can hear, and most electronics are filtered below this. The DAC itself might filter it.

post #10 of 110
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by winma View Post

Well made review!! i have been learning towards it, and it looks very interesting.

Will you upgrade your source on the future?  



Not really. Dont see the need for it. I really dont think I'll upgrade headphones either. After hearing HD650's few weeks back, i realized how absolutely small the difference in comparison to HD558 is, i realized that in order to get a significant improvement in the sound , i'd need to invest a lot of money into it. I'd reather buy speakers for 1500 dollars than a pair of headphones. :P

post #11 of 110
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wildstar View Post

"you cant hear anything out of them until about 20 Hz"

 

You do realize 20 Hz is the minimum frequency most humans can hear, and most electronics are filtered below this. The DAC itself might filter it.



Try this:    http://www.burninwave.com/download/freq20.wav

 

Cant hear it AT ALL on HD558.

 

Hd212 pro plugged into same source, can clearly head the bass rumbling.

post #12 of 110

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by derbigpr View Post

Try this:    http://www.burninwave.com/download/freq20.wav

 

Cant hear it AT ALL on HD558.

 

Hd212 pro plugged into same source, can clearly head the bass rumbling.


I can hear this 20Hz signal very well with Shure SRH440.
 

 

post #13 of 110

What you wrote could be understood as "I can't hear anything on them below 20 Hz", which would be normal.
 

Originally Posted by derbigpr View Post

Try this:    http://www.burninwave.com/download/freq20.wav

 

Cant hear it AT ALL on HD558.

 

Hd212 pro plugged into same source, can clearly head the bass rumbling.

 

Oh wow. Just tried it on a HD595. I can hear it, but only by turning the volume way up, almost 10dB higher than normal listening level. I'm starting to really hate these 'phones, I can't understand why everybody likes them so much. No bass or treble extension, and they reach the excursion limit surprisingly quickly. The only good thing are the mids.
 

 

post #14 of 110

Maybe its needs a 200 hour burnin.

 

post #15 of 110

558s with FiiO E7/E9 can hear the 20 Hz rumbling, feels like a low flying helicopter


Edited by joecinq03 - 3/21/11 at 10:02pm
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