First, a bit of context:
In addition to the headphones reviewed here (and not counting portables), I own or have owned ATH-AD700, ATH-AD900, and HD595.
I have also had the opportunity to audition (at length) HD650, K701, DT770, ATH-M50, HD280, DT150, MDR-V6, and D5000.
(I hope that this will help to put things in their proper perspective when I say that the HD380s are my favorite ‘phones , bar none!)
All of my listening is done through the headphone jack of a ‘90s Sony (stationary) CD player with excellent specs.
Now for the review:
The first time that I wore these, I thought that comfort was going to be an issue. Stretching the headband over a pillow for 12 hours took care of the excessive tightness, however, and the pads are softening with use. The combination of extremely light weight (220 grams!) and slip-free fit make these very comfy once properly adjusted. I can now listen for hours and virtually forget I am wearing them.
These have almost perfectly linear frequency response within the audible range, and extend more than a full octave beyond the audible range on both ends. The lack of emphasis or deemphasis on any part of the spectrum means that nothing is ever masked and the most subtle sounds are easily distinguished.
The bass reaches into truly subterranean realms without any boominesss or distortion, and does so with all of the texture intact. Strong sub-bass (such as Massive Attack) can be felt in the upper spine, while acoustic bass sounds totally natural.
Midrange is crystal clear, and the highs, while not as “sparkling” as some, provide extreme detail without sibilance.
This took a bit of getting used to, but I now consider it one of the 380s greatest strengths.
In effect, they have no “native” soundstage of their own. Instead, they flawlessly reproduce whatever is in the recording. If it is a great recording, the soundstage can be almost surreal. (If not, it can be less satisfying, but one cannot blame the headphones for that.)
One particularly interesting thing is that the angled drivers make centrally imaged sounds (particularly vocals) appear to be coming from slightly in front of the listener, rather than from the middle of one’s head. This effectively removes one of the major objections that some people have to headphone listening in general. (They also completely lack the "boxiness" that is a shortcoming of many closed cans. In fact, they sound every bit as airy as any of the open models I have heard.)
Good, but certainly not the best I have heard. If these have a shortcoming, this is it.
Clarity and detail:
This is where the HD380s truly stand out from the crowd. I have never heard this level of clarity and detail anywhere else. Think of laser-etched metal, and you will get the idea. Little nuances that I have tried for years to make out on lesser transducers are every bit as easy to follow as the featured soloist.
With the HD 380, Sennheiser has managed the difficult trick of combining true audiophile sound with isolation in a very comfortable package at a reasonable price.
As mentioned in the introduction, these are my absolute favorites of the many headphones I have heard.