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HD 518 teardown - with a shocking twist!

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 

I recently picked up some very lightly used HD 518s from one of our members in the classifieds section.  They sound good - really good.  So, of course, I figured I would spend a some time taking them apart to see if they could be modded to sound even better.

 

There aren't a lot of members here with HD 518s, though we see a lot of 558s and 598s.  Opinions vary; some who have heard them all think they're very similar, and others seem to think the 518 is crap.  There's a bit of a stigma around the 518, which probably comes from the 515/555/595 series.  The 555 and 595, as we know, share a driver.  The 515 has a lesser driver and isn't in the same league.  It's been assumed that that's true of the newer 5x8 lineup as well.

 

Because the 555 and 595 are so similar, it's possible with minimal effort to mod the 555 up a notch.  I was hoping the same might be true of the 558/598 series, and indeed Headphonia has an excellent review of the 558 and 598 here, where they find that they do share a driver:  http://www.headfonia.com/sennheisers-new-hd558-and-hd598/

 

But there's still not a lot of talk about the 518, and I hadn't seen a teardown online.  So I started gathering what information I could, including graphs from Headroom.  These in particular made me suspicious:

 

Frequency response:

graphCompare.php?graphType=0&graphID[]=573&graphID[]=2821&graphID[]=2861&graphID[]=2851

 

I included the HD600 because we know it doesn't use the same driver.  The breakup in the high frequency is completely different for that driver, but the other three all follow very similar curves.  The midrange behaves a bit differently, but given how close the 558 and 598 are, it's not hard to imagine the 518 could use the same driver with a similar degree of earcup tuning.  

 

These two are much harder to argue with:

 

graphCompare.php?graphType=3&graphID[]=573&graphID[]=2821&graphID[]=2861&graphID[]=2851

graphCompare.php?graphType=4&graphID[]=573&graphID[]=2821&graphID[]=2861&graphID[]=2851

 

They're almost superimposed on each other.  So I figured there was a good chance they used the same driver.  I finally got a chance to take mine apart, and I snapped a picture of the driver's part number:

IMG_2799s.jpg

 

Compare the part number (93481B) to the part in Headphonia's review.  Exactly the same!  That's pretty exciting.  So even if you assumed the HD 518 had a different driver like the HD 515, maybe don't tell people that as if it's a fact.  Just saying.  smile.gif

 

So what about modding potential?  Here's the inside of the earcup:

 

IMG_2802s.jpg

 

If you reference Headphonia's review you'll see that the inside of this enclosure looks more similar to the HD 598, but the outside is a closed plastic mesh.  And it certainly doesn't help the sound... they do sound a bit more muffled than I like, and there can be a bit of resonance, especially around certain vocal frequencies.  If it were possible to get a replacement grill from Sennheiser we'd be pretty close.

 

I called Sennheiser and it's possible to buy just the HD 558 earcup pieces for about $18 + shipping for both sides.  Unfortunately replacing the earcups isn't completely straightforward.  The cable running to the other driver through the band has to be desoldered from the PCB that the jack is mounted on, and you'd have to desolder the driver on the other side as well.  And then you'd end up with black earcups that probably look a little funny when connected to a black headband by beige arm.  Replacing just the grill isn't very easy either, as the clips holding it to the plastic shell (about 12 or so) all have a spot of hard glue on them.  That might be a little more worth it than the whole earcup, though.

 

Conclusion

 

Modding the 518s "up" to the 558 or the 598 isn't as straightforward as pulling some foam off the grill.  If you're planning on buying the HD 518 and replacing the grills with replacement HD 558 grills from Sennheiser, you're going to spend almost as much as you would for the 558 and go to a lot more trouble.  I really can't recommend that.

 

On the other hand, the HD 518s are *not* the dog the HD 515 apparently was.  They sound very good to my ears (I'm using a y2 DAC and a M^3 amp to drive them) and I don't think buying them is a poor choice in any respects, especially considering you're getting the same driver as its more expensive buddies.  I have my HD 580s as a point of comparison (also grill modded with HD 600 grills) and I feel like the 518s were very worth the price I paid.

 

Right now on Amazon:

HD 518: $130

HD 558: $180

HD 598: $250

As usual with audio, you're almost certainly not getting twice the headphone by getting the 598 over the 518.  The 558 might be worthwhile - I don't know, because I've never heard it. dt880smile.png

 

Thanks for reading!


Edited by johan851 - 10/31/12 at 2:31pm
post #2 of 50

Thanks for taking the initiative to do this. I always find it fascinating to tear things apart in the name of exploration. Best of luck on your modding journey. I look forward to seeing some progress reports on this.

post #3 of 50

Interesting--I have all three so will have to do some A/B/C listening comparisons just for fun.

post #4 of 50

I think i will eventually get the HD558 when i can find a good deal.  I have seen that headphone graph before and the HD558 and HD600 are almost exactly the same.

post #5 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by shaneotool View Post

I think i will eventually get the HD558 when i can find a good deal.  I have seen that headphone graph before and the HD558 and HD600 are almost exactly the same.

The HD 518 and HD 600 don't sound that similar, actually.  The drivers are different as well, and as you can see, the drivers perform rather differently in the graphs above.

post #6 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by johan851 View Post

The HD 518 and HD 600 don't sound that similar, actually.  The drivers are different as well, and as you can see, the drivers perform rather differently in the graphs above.


Yeah - I'm interested in the HD558.

It looks the most similar to the HD600 out of the 5x8 series..

post #7 of 50

What if I simply remove the grill of the 518 and be more "careful" when using them?

post #8 of 50
Thread Starter 

Well... it'll sound different.  I don't know how it will sound, though.  Removing the grill will probably be pretty difficult, as it's glued at multiple points.

post #9 of 50

Quick answer mate..

Anyway - I can "drill" additional holes with the soldering iron - I know it's rude and poisonous and suicidal, but what do you think? blink.gif

post #10 of 50
Thread Starter 

I wouldn't ruin a pair of headphones like that, personally.  They're designed to have some sort of grill, so removing it will change the way they sound quite a bit.  I don't know if you'll like that sound or not... I'm not going to melt a bunch of plastic on mine to find out.  :)

post #11 of 50

The ear pads also look a bit different than the HD598 (not just in color). Might contribute to a difference in sound.

post #12 of 50
Thread Starter 

Yeah, they're made out of a different material - seems to be cotton with stiffer pads instead of the usual Sennheiser velour stuff.  They're comfortable enough, but not as nice as the others.  I was considering getting the nicer pads from Sennheiser to see if they made a difference.

post #13 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by johan851 View Post

Yeah, they're made out of a different material - seems to be cotton with stiffer pads instead of the usual Sennheiser velour stuff.  They're comfortable enough, but not as nice as the others.  I was considering getting the nicer pads from Sennheiser to see if they made a difference.

 

That sounds like a fairly promising (and relatively harmless) idea.  I for one would be very interested in hearing your impressions of the difference, if you decide to go this route.

post #14 of 50
Don't go tearing down the Grado series...
post #15 of 50

Nice report here!

If you tight on budget wont get wrong purchasing HD518.

But intead of modding cups , desoldering & the risks of failure just buy HD558. 

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