Review: The Sennheiser HD 215
(The HD 205's Bigger Brother)
These days, it seems that every headphone manufacturer and their mothers have at least one pair of DJ cans out in the market.
As a result, Sennheiser might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of DJ cans. But they do make them. Several in fact. And it just so happens that I own such a pair myself (namely the HD 205). Somehow though, I never got around to picking up an HD 215 the first time it was released back in '05. And before I knew it, they had discontinued it.
But a few weeks ago, TheDeliveryMan (Eric @ Sennheiser) announced that they would be re-releasing the HD 215 shortly: "we are re-launching this clean & natural sounding, comfortable DJ headphone into the US. In our opinion it reverses the trend that DJ headphones that are perceived as having too-muddy-of-a-bass-response-for-Hi Fi-use and uncomfortable with poor spatial imaging."
Since this is a viewpoint that I share wholeheartedly, I was understandably intrigued. IMO, a pair of muddy basshead cans does NOT make a good pair of DJ headphones - and I'll have words with anyone that thinks otherwise.
In reading on, I learned that Sennheiser USA was lending out a limited number of these to Head-Fiers for our impressions. Having spent quite a bit of ear time with the HD 215's little brother, the HD 205, I was naturally curious on several fronts. So of course, I jumped at the chance (you know, as you do) to spend some decent ear time with these as well.
And just like that, it was here.
Would it be a disappointment and wind up being nothing more than just a marginal improvement? Or is it a worthwhile upgrade and thus totally deserving of it's place on Sennheiser's totem? Let's find out.
Pretty much everything you'd want to know - that I could tell you - is at http://en-de.sennheiser.com/hd-215
Build Quality (incl. Fit & Finish)
As one would expect, Sennheiser's typical quality standards were apparent right out of the box. For the most part, the unit is constructed of a matte-textured plastic. Exceptions to this are the metallic hinge caps, the epoxy model badges, and the glossy parts of the ear cups.
Despite being mostly plastic, the HD 215 exhibits excellent flex and torsion characteristics (see pic below). This may not mean a whole lot to audiophiles, but working DJs will appreciate this level of resilency in their gear. We still reap the benefits though, so a bonus for us.
The HD 215's headband extenders have a fair bit of give for just the right amount of wiggle. Likewise, the ear cups' swivel joints are fluid and have a good blend of play and stiffness. In both cases, they are looser than the HD 205's corresponding parts. I have a theory that this was done on purpose to increase comfort - but I'll cover that in more detail in Ergonomics & Comfort below.
Appearance-wise, the HD 215 shares many design elements with the HD 205 and the familial resemblance is hard to miss.
The main difference is in the shape and design of the ear cups. The HD 215 sports a spoked-wheel design motif with alternating matte and glossy black surfaces. If Darth Vader (or Emperor Palpatine for that matter) were in the market for cans, these would be the ones they'd choose.
Accessory-wise, the detachable spiral-wound cable is terminated with gold-plated plugs, and is reasonably thick and resilient. There were some tough kinks in the cable straight out of the box, but they worked themselves out within a day and the cable has been relatively memory-free since then.
The included drawstring sack is of a thicker and better-textured variety of pleather than most that I've seen, and features some quality stitching to boot. And finally, the gold-plated 1/8"-to-1/4" is a standard gold-plated screw-on.
Overall, I had no problem rocking these in public throughout Southern California in the middle of summer when all the pretty people are out and about. It's not clear whether the double takes were due to my dashing good looks (kidding!) or the HD 215. But double takes that end in smiles are a good thing any day of the week - and twice on Sunday.
Ergonomics & Comfort
Let's get one thing straight right away: the HD 215's comfort is leaps and bounds better than the HD 205 in every perceivable way. Here's how (and possibly why)...
First of all, the fact that they're circumaural makes a HUGE difference. Whereas the HD 205 paired supraaural ear coupling with considerable clamping force, the HD 215 combines circumaural ear cups with a more relaxed headband angle for a more laid back fit.
Now before you think that the HD 215 is somehow looser or less secure when worn, let me dispel that notion right away by saying that the HD 215 showed no signs of slippage. I won't reveal the song that was playing at the moment (for fear of jeopardizing any audiophile credibility I may one day have). But let's just say that a certain bubble gum pop track induced a rather profound amount of head bopping and beat nodding. No slippage whatsoever, not even that worrying sensation of impending slippage.
And remember that bit about the headband extenders having both give and stiffness? I am pretty sure those differences were wholly intended. Despite the fact that they share identical functions, the headband extenders in the HD 215 utilize an entirely different mechanism from the HD 205's in order to achieve that same function. Since engineering man-hours are precious, I highly doubt that this was an unintended alteration.
NOTE: I would have liked to include photographs illustrating these differences, but I am afraid my camera simply wasn't up to task.
As for padding, both the HD 205 and the HD 215 seem to have them same amount. The entire top portion of the headband is almost fully lined with padding that's uniformly 3/8" thick. The ear cup padding is a torus that is easily over 1/2" thick. And while these padding thicknesses seem exactly the same as its little brother, the HD 215's padding is covered with a nicer (less paper-like) pleatherette fabric.
In an open comparison, I would say that the HD 215 is among the most comfortable DJ cans I've worn. I personally reached over 3.5 hours of wear - on more than one occasion - without removal due to discomfort.
To facilitate DJ usage, the HD 215 features a swing-away right ear cup for one-eared monitoring/cueing. This is essentially the same swing-away mechanism that the HD 205 employed. However, this time around Sennheiser made it much better (and a little worse).
Whereas the HD 205's right ear cup could only swing forward/aft by 60 degrees, the HD 215's right ear cup has over 90 degrees of swing from the center detent! This is a HUGE improvement because a 60-degree swing is not enough to clear most ears (including mine). As a result, using the HD 215 in a one-eared configuration for extended periods is far more comfortable than the HD 205 ever was.
However, Sennheiser did forget about one little detail here (actually two little details). Both the HD 215 and the HD 205 have a center detent that locks the right ear cup into its original position. In addition to that center detent, the HD 205 also has two more detents - one fully forward, and one fully aft. The HD 215 does not have those two additional detents. You can imagine the problem here.
Because it does not lock into place, the right ear cup has the potential to swing back towards center on its own. This isn't so much a problem when the cans are new because the swing-away joint itself is somewhat stiff. But over time - and with repeated usage - all joints loosen. And someday in the future, it may just be a problem.
One unexpected bonus here is the quality of the spiral-wound cable. I know, it's just a stock cable, but it's pretty decent. It expands with ease so you never feel like you're elastically tethered to your gear. But it also exhibits a good amount of spring return so as not to stay unwound permanently. Typically, stock cables don't get any praise. But then again, stock cables typically aren't this good.
The one DJ-can feature missing from the HD 215 is a mono switch. It's not a complete deal breaker, but working DJs would both appreciate and benefit from such a switch. Perhaps Sennheiser will one day offer an HD 215 Pro (or HD 215-II, or HD 215-1, or HD 215-1-II, or whatever unholy union of Roman and binary numerals strike their fancy) that incorporates a mono switch... and add some more locking detents to the right ear cup while they're at it. Actually now that I think about it, a mute switch wouldn't exactly be a crime either.
Right then, onto the main event!
All testing was done with using my Zune 30 in an un-amped configuration. In this case, the output of the Zune was more than enough for my tastes, so no amp was necessary. Environments and surroundings include home, work (a quiet office), a commuter train, and public streets throughout Southern California.
Tracks consist entirely of 320kbit/s WMAs, with the exception of two 256kbit/s MP3 tracks. Genres tested include: Trance, Ambient, Chillout, Dubstep, Brostep, EDM, Euro Disco, Pop, Pop Rock, Hip Hop, R&B, World, Jazz, NuJazz, Bossa Nova, Alternative, BritPop, Rock, Lo-Fi, Country, and Classical. Sorry guys, no Metal as it's just not my thing (though in retrospect the HD 215 would probably do well with Metal). I've listed a few sample tracks below to help illustrate my impressions.
Total listening time (as time of this write up) is ~60 hours. I should also note that I began listening straight out of the box with no burn-in applied.
by Skrillex from Bangarang
Yeah I know what you're thinking... "lol, it's Brosteppy EDM, what extension?" No seriously. there is some ridiculously-low sub-bass output in this track, right from the first hit and leading into the bassdrop at 0:08. Not many cans reproduce it well, and even basshead cans like my Sony MDR-XB500 have trouble doing so.
by Aphex Twin from Selected Ambient Works 85-92
While Ageispolis doesn't feature super deep bass as its party piece, decent sub-bass output radically enhances my enjoyment of this track. It's an audible subtlety, and you may not notice the sub-bass when you hear/feel it, but you'll definitely notice it when you don't.
Unfortunately, this is one of two areas where the HD 215 makes a poor showing for me. In most of the tracks where I expect to hear a significant amount of sub-bass, the HD 215 was barely able to output the slightest hint of such. Even then, I was wasn't completely certain that it wasn't my imagination wanting to hear what wasn't there. Either way, the sub-bass response was not adequate enough for me to enjoy.
Not wanting to be less than thorough, I fired up the old tone generator to give it a good listening to. Running a standard sine wave showed sub-bass levels dropping off significantly starting at ~45Hz. By the time I got down to 32Hz, there was negligible auditory and vibratory output. Yeah, I know I'm a bit of a freak for listening to tone generators, but don't we all do that from time to time?
Of course, all of this is hardly surprising. HD 215s have never been known as bassy cans, nor does Sennheiser market them as such. So in this case, it appears that all our bass are NOT belong to us. Having said that, I do feel that if Sennheiser were able to extend the HD 215's bass response - and boost its general bass output - the HD 215 would be one formidable set of "fun" mid-fi cans.
NOTE: If you're one of those people that just needs a sh*t ton of bass, and the sheer quantity of bass determines your level of enjoyment, you can stop reading this right now. HD 215s are not basshead cans, and they ain't never gonna be. Never ever? Never ever. But if you care about the detail, precision and tonal quality of bass notes in your music, then you owe it to yourself to read on.
by Information Society from Walking Away Maxi-Single
Remember when drum-machined kicks blended with synth bass and well-timed orchestra hits to rock the ever loving crap out of you? Well this track brings it all back - with relatively mild compression to boot - especially at 5:22 in.
by Mono from Formica Blues
Wow, who would've thought that a minor UK would inadvertently release one of the most bass-laden tracks ever? Cans with crappy LF characteristics will turn the entire richly-textured bassline into one interminable drone. In contrast, fast and precise cans will render the distinct notes with aplomb.
Ooh, there's nothing quite like some reverse bass to stress a pair of drivers. Admittedly, this stresses speaker drivers better than headphone drivers, but the principle is the same. Handled poorly, its a fizzy, fuzzy bit of indistiguishable noise. Handled properly, it sucks your brains out (or at least sounds like it does).
For me, the HD 215's bass response is a rather refreshing break from the current crop of bassy DJ-type headphones. Because the HD 215 is a fairly balanced and even set of cans without a significant mid-bass hump, I am fairly sure that most listeners will tag it as having anemic bass. Yet in my listening sessions, I have found that the HD 215 renders bass beautifully and smoothly without exagerration - and I like that.
You see, I am a big fan of tight, fast, punchy bass. Bass that leaves you shuddering from the first hit, and then escapes like a bandit before you can react. I do NOT like warm, fuzzy, lazy-ass, boomy, wooly, loosie-goosie, overblown, ghetto-car-audio-that-just-rattles-license-plate-frames bass that can't decide whether it's coming or going. So along those lines, I just want to say that the HD 215 exhibits some of the best bass characteristics that I've come across in a long time.
What you'll hear is fast, punchy, tight, controlled, precise, and even bass. In other words, the HD 215's bass is very German.
Bass hits rendered by the HD 215 hit fast, fade quickly, and never linger longer than they have to. In addition to sounding darn exciting, this does quite a bit to augment a song's PRaT. Likewise, bass notes from the HD 215 have well-defined beginnings and endings. As a result, they punctuate and accentuate musical passages rather than drowning them with one-note bass.
As for the HD 215's rendering of subtle bass timbres, I found a noteworthy degree of depth and detail. For me, even singular and sustained bass notes were presented with subtle changes in timbre. These often resolved into larger tonal swing patterns over time, complementing and enhancing the overall rhythmic groove of certain tracks. And of course, being typically German, these tonal changes were output with speed, precision and consistency.
by Paul Oakenfold for BBC Radio 1
This 1:13:38 mix is my go-to track for zoning out and getting work done. As such, I've heard it an ungodly number of times, and memorized it to great detail. One of Oakey's more masterful live mixes, this track is a study in the consistency of rhythm via live cueing/mixing.
And as it turns out, these bass characteristics might have a practical purpose as well. I theorized that the HD 215 was engineered to handle bass in precisely this manner so as to serve as a useful pair of DJ cans. It makes logical sense, faster and tighter bass response should result in better timing for DJs when they're cueing/mixing tracks. To confirm this, I consulted my partner-in-crime, HiFiGuy528 (formerly known as DJAmTrax). And he did indeed confirm that - as a working DJ - he would have preferred fast and punchy bass during the mixing process.
So exactly how has the HD 215's bass gone all pear-shaped? Simply put, there isn't quite enough of it to suit prevailing musical tastes of the day. While I found the HD 215's bass to be quite adequate and even pleasing to my ears, I can easily understand how the unit would take a bashing in the hands of average consumers when posting wonky Amazon reviews. Admittedly, this is not so much a fault of the unit as it's just part of this unit's sound signature. But consumers will have a hard time making that distiction nonetheless.
FWIW, I would like to point out that the HD 215 seems very receptive to EQing. Simply cycling through the stock EQ settings on my Zune, I was able to coax forth a rather profound increase in LF response. And surprsingly, the HD 215 rendered increased bass levels with the same controlled tightness as before. So for everyone that wants more bass from their HD 215, it can easily be had with minimal effort. It's just too bad that "minimal effort" is a foreign concept to typical consumers.
by Michael Bublé (featuring Nelly Furtado) from It's Time
This is my current track for evaluating mid-bass for two reasons: (A) The pizzicato contrabass - and its harmonics - more or less covers all the mid-bass frequencies I'm generally concerned with; and (B) I like Nelly Furtado.
For the most part, the HD 215 maintains a smooth transition in levels from lows-to-mids. There didn't seem to be any annoying drop-outs or break-ups in the various organ and cello passages that I tested with. And again, while the HD 215 doesn't have a pronounced mid-bass hump, I nonetheless found the mid-bass to be both adequate and agreeable for most genres - with overproduced poppy pseudo R&B being the exception.
However, I did hear what sounded like a sharp tonal transition in the upper mid-bass region - right at the point where mid-bass tends to transition into mids in a lot of modern music. I believe that bowei006 touched on this in his review, and I'd like to add my impression here.
It seems that, as the HD 215 transitions from bass to mids, speed and tightness drop-off and give way to a more relaxed rendering. Because this seems to happen - not gradually - but rather suddenly somewhere in the upper mid-bass region, instances of this are easily noticable if you're listening closely. Think of it this way: imagine someone playing a Hammond organ on a particularly good roll. Then, as he reaches the mid-range, he abruptly switches over to a synth organ. And then, he switches back to the Hammond as he dips back down into the mid-bass. Of course, this all happens without missing a beat. Because that sudden tonal change also results in a subtle but sudden loss of sharpness and detail - but NOT a drop in levels - the lower mids (or upper mid-bass) sound as if they got a little louder (and yes, a little muddier) without warning.
I wouldn't call it a glaring or outstanding flaw though, it's more like a curious sensation. As long as you intend to use the HD 215 for casual listening, your ears may easily gloss over it on a fairly consistent basis. And if you're a DJ in a working environment, I seriously doubt this will ever get in your way, so you needn't even pay attention to what I just said. But if you're looking to use these for critical listening, be advised that it is noticeable enough as to warrant a pointing out.
Like many of it's Sennheiser bretheren (and unlike many V-shaped DJ cans available today) the HD 215 offers a favorable mid-range presentation.
The mids aren't very forward, but they do achieve a well-defined presence, and are rendered with both clarity and detail so as to not sound muddy or recessed. In addition, they exhibit just a touch of delicate smoothness so as not to be to cold or sterile.
And while I would not describe the sound as warm or rich, I wouldn't exactly label it as being clinical either. It's very much middle-of-the-road, neither truly flattering, nor giving offense. And it is precisely because of this balance that the HD 215's mids are unexpectedly pleasant on multiple levels.
Vocals are neutral sounding and relatively free of coloration. Instrumental accompaniment is served up with enough clarity as to not be overshadowed by vocals. And with little to no variation in texture or levels, both voices and instruments extend smoothly and naturally into the upper mids for a consistent presentation of breathy and airy details.
Definition was also excellent for a can of this class and price point. In listening to Collide (see above), I was easily able to recognize the jangly mandolin as such (as opposed to a weird sounding guitar) without having to listen for it. Encouraged by these initial listening results, I decided to try out a specific track that has traditionally been just God awful on anything less than hi-fi (or upper mid-fi) cans...
by Teenage Fanclub from Bandwagonesque
Featuring overdone guitar effects, and a general rawness, this track has proven difficult to resolve without decent cans. While I love this song (partially due to specific emotional attachments), it has not made it onto any of my playlists in years due to the sonic headache it usually brings.
Guess what? The HD 215 resolved the distortion into detail with a deftness and aplomb I had not expected. It sounded as good as the first time I heard it. Welcome back Teenage Fanclub, nice to hear you again.
Overall, I enjoyed the HD 215's mid-range capabilities. This might just be the first pair of "DJ" cans I've heard that doesn't make a complete hash of intimate live recordings and acoustic recordings. And if you've sampled a variety of DJ cans in your time, you'll be able to appreciate the weight of a statement like that.
Move along people, nothing to see here. No really, the HD 215's mids extend all the way into the highs with little-to-no variation or deficiencies.
It's always nice to come across a pair of DJ cans that follow-up a proper mid-range with sweet and sensible highs. And by "sensible", I mean not too sparse or thin.
The HD 215's highs are detailed and almost robust (bet that's a word you don't use to describe highs very often). Cymbals have that multi-timbral thickness to them. Hats have a more full-bodied sound to them. Steel-stringed acoustic guitars sound like steel-stringed acoustic guitars. And upper harmonics tend to become that much more tangible.
Of course, this also means that the highs are not particularly clear - or clean. In fact, if there were any portion of the HD 215's range that I would describe as being a little warm, it would be the highs.
The HD 215's highs are also sufficiently bright for everyday casual listening, but you should know that there isn't any of that magical sparkle (sonic fairy dust) at the very top. These are closed DJ cans after all, so that's not a demerit, just an observation.
But here's the elephant in the room that I've been trying not to stare at. And by "elephant in the room", I mean a nasty little treble peak (probably hiding out there in the 8kHz region).
by Owl City from All Things Bright And Beautiful
This is my go-to track when testing for sibilance. There's just something about Breanne Duren's voice and the HORRIBLE way this track was mastered that conjures up sibilance in spades - particularly in cans that are prone to sibilance.
That's right, the HD 215 can be sibilant at times. It almost pained me to say that - especially since I've been most impressed with the HD 215 thus far. But I'd be completely remiss if I didn't mention it. It's not ear-stabbingly sibilant. Nor is the sibilance constant as it's heavily track-dependent. But when it's there, it is unmistakably and undeniably there. So if you have a sensitivity to sibilance, you're probably going to want to pass on the HD 215. At the very least, you're going to want to EQ the top end to account for it. And for the record, 40+ hours of listening (burn-in) didn't tame it very much.
Aside from that dingleberry, the HD 215's high-frequency output was a good ending to my little journey through Hertzlandia.
Overall Signature (8.5/10.0)
In a nutshell:
- The HD 215 is even-tempered, well-balanced, and (dare I say it?) flat with little coloration, leaning just a tad towards the bright side.
- While the bass is not as copious as some would like, the HD 215's low-frequency response does offer speed, precision, punch, and control for a mostly accurate low end.
- Mids are squarely neutral but smooth - are neither irritatingly forward nor disappointingly recessed - and extend nicely and consistently into the highs.
- Highs are textured with a certain amount of body and weight as to not be too thin. Only the tendency towards sibilance scores it a markdown here.
- The HD 215's speed, precision, and excellent PRaT are welcome and noteworthy attributes that contribute to the HD 215's usefulness as a working DJs tool.
- In terms of sound quality, the HD 215 is clearly a superior and more sophisiticated unit compared to its little brother, the HD 205.
Soundstage & Imaging (7.5/10.0)
The HD 215's soundstage is neither wide nor deep. Oddly enough, it's also not particularly close or intimate. Again, there's a very middle-of-the-road (or room) approach applied here.
I guess the best descriptor that I can apply here is "limited". At no time do I feel like I'm anywhere but in a 50' x 50' x 20' box. Sometimes I'm in the center, sometimes I'm in the back, but I'm never that far - or that close - to the action. Even in concert hall and stadium recordings, I feel like they're all being held in that 50' x 50' x 20' box, and that I'm flanked by a crowd of miniature people.
Curiously, the HD 215 seems to excel at placing sounds along the Y-axis better than it does along the X-axis. I'm not sure what this is about. Maybe some strategically applied crossfeed will compensate for it, but it is a bit irregular.
Unsurprisingly, the HD 215 again bests the HD 205 rather easily in this area. The HD 205 had a habit of being right up in my business, all the time. With the HD 215, I can breathe again.
Isolation & Leakage
The HD 215 isolates well for what it is. Like all closed circumaurals, it does a reasonable job attenuating most external sounds. However, both low frequency machinery hum and co-workers' mid-range pencil tapping still found their way in. They were muted to be sure, but I wasn't about to pretend that I didn't hear them as I gave them that scornful stare.
And in case HD 205 owners are curious, the HD 215's isolation is noticeably superior. Combined with a quantum leap in comfort, that makes the HD 215 the clear winner in this contest.
Maybe in a future revision (like the aforementioned HD 215 Pro, or HD 215-II, or HD 215-1, or HD 215-1-II, or whatever Sennheiser is going to call it), they can apply some rubberization on the ear cups' external surfaces. That might be worth a few more dBs in isolation. Just a thought.
As for leakage, it passed the "leg" test. I could easily hear that music was playing through the HD 215, but it wasn't immediately clear what track was playing without invading my leg's personal space.
vs. Sennheiser HD 205:
The HD 205 and HD 215 can be considered "brothers" in Sennheiser's DJ line-up in more ways than one. They share the same basic design. They have somewhat similar sound signatures. And they are relatively close in terms of pricing (at least when compared to HD 25s).
So there's a fair chance that if you're considering one as a possible purchase, you're may be considering the other as well. Or you may already have an HD 205, and you're considering an upgrade to an HD 215. Either way, I'll be covering the differences between these two units in more detail than the rest so that you can make a more informed decision about what you want to audition or purchase.
*Most of the differences in function, usability and comfort have already been covered in the main review above (where the HD 215 won hands down), so this comparison will concentrate largely on SQ.
In simplisitic terms, the HD 205 is going to sound like it has more bass. But the devil is in the details here...
The HD 215 has slightly better bass extension, so you're going to hear lower frequencies with the HD 215 as it digs a little deeper. The HD 215's bass response is also tighter and better-controlled, so generally-speaking you're going to hear clearer and cleaner bass with the HD 215.
However, the HD 205 has been measured to have (and sounds like it has) a nice little hump going between the 100Hz~250Hz region. As a result, it sounds pretty darn "fun" and carries more excitement than the HD 215. So depending on the type of bass you prefer, you may or may not like the HD 215.
There is very little variation between the HD 205 and the HD 215 in their mid-range presentations. Both have smooth, clear, and slightly-forward mids, though the HD 205's sounded slightly warmer IMO.
Highs are noticeably sharper, crisper and brighter in the HD 215. This is not to suggest that the HD 205 is muffled or closed-in, but the HD 215 clearly reproduces more of the top end since the HD 205 rolls-off sooner.
The flip side to this is that the HD 215 can also be somewhat strident at the top end. So of you're sensitive to sibilance or treble peaks, you might want to stay away from the HD 215 (or at least be prepared to EQ it during casual listening).
PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing)
Owing to it's speed and precision, the HD 215 exhibits much better PRaT than the HD 205. In fact, the HD 215's surprisingly good PRaT is some of the best I've heard for it's price point in quite some time.
If your goal is to find a good pair of headphones for DJing, you're going to want to take this into consideration: good PRaT will allow you to monitor and mix tracks with better precision and greater ease. But if you're looking for listening enjoyment, follow your personal preferences. If you prefer a more relaxed sound, the HD 205 will serve you better. If you tend to favor precision and accuracy, you'll like the HD 215 more.
The HD 215 has a much wider and more spacious soundstage than the HD 205. With the HD 205, it always seemed like the action was happening right next to me (or pretty darn close to me). And while I don't consider the HD 215 to have a particularly cavernous soundstage, it is nonetheless noticably wider and deeper than the HD 205 will ever be.
However, keep in mind that this is not always a good thing. If your intention is to pick up a pair of DJ headphones for the sole purpose of DJing, the HD 205's closer soundstage might help you to better monitor and mix your tracks. But if you're looking for a pair of general purpose headphones (that you can also use for DJing or mixing), the HD 215 will provide you with a much more engaging and enjoyable listening experience.
vs. Sennheiser HD 212 Pro:
In many ways, the HD 215 is the antithesis to the HD 212 Pro. Eschewing minor details for the sake of brevity, here are the top three contrasts that can be drawn:
- Whereas the HD 212 Pro gives you an abundance of warm and boomy bass; the HD 215 offers you a balanced low end with fast, tight, and controlled bass.
- Whereas the HD 212 Pro's mids are dark, recessed, and somewhat muddy - the HD 215's mids are smooth and even with good presence and clarity.
- And whereas the HD 212 Pro has muted highs; the HD 215 has a much brighter top end - even going as far as to be borderline sibilant.
Overall, the HD 212 Pro has a much bassier and darker presentation vs. the HD 215's even-tempered and balanced presentation. So if you prefer the HD 212 Pro's sound signature, you probably won't like the HD 215 very much.
vs. Sennheiser HD 428:
This is a much tougher comparison because the HD 215 and the HD 428 actually sound similar in many ways. The main differences between them both deal with extension at the two ends of the spectrum:
- Whereas the HD 428 lacks bass extension (it starts to roll-off @ ~100Hz), the HD 215's low frequency response extends much lower for a fuller and deeper bass.
- And whereas the HD 428's lush highs tend to drop out and roll-off sooner, the HD 215's top end is much brighter and extends higher (albeit exhibiting sibilance on occasion).
So if you've always liked the HD 428's sound signature, but wished that it had deeper bass and brighter highs, then the HD 215 might just be what you've been looking for. It's not as comfortable as the HD 428, but hey we can't have everything we want.
vs. Sennheiser HD 25-1 II -or- HD 25-SP II
Though I hope to pick up one or both of these soon, I don't have them just yet. So unfortunately, I can't give you my impressions of them right now. Sorry for being a tease. But I'll be sure to come back and update this review when they arrive.
However, if you are considering the HD 215 (especially as a pair of DJ headphones), you may want to look into these models as well (and in advance of my impressions). Sennheiser recommends both of these headphones for DJ applications.
Between these two models, the HD 25-1 II seems to have more of a following here on Head-Fi. If you're interested in either of these, do a thread search or ask around. I'm sure you'll get a number of responses that should answer most if not all of your questions.
If you would like to know my impressions of the HD 215 vs. something else in my inventory, just ask. =D
Pro & Cons
- Fairly neutral and balanced signature w/even output of frequencies from bass ~ mid-highs
- Tightly-controlled and punchy bass without an extreme mid-bass hump
- Fast and precise drivers deliver good PRaT
- Good resolution of details with above-average clarity
- Useful DJ-minded feature set
- Prone to sibilance
- Poor bass extension on the low end
- Just a few features shy of DJ-headphone greatness (Lack of securing detents for the swing-away ear cup)
If you are a basshead, don't bother with the HD 215.
If you are a DJ with a pair of HD 205s, and you're considering upgrading to the HD 215, I would wholeheartedly recommend doing so. While it does fall short of DJ-headphone greatness, it is light-years ahead of the HD 205 in comfort, features & sound quality.
If you are a DJ, and you are currently in the market for a pair of headphones, I would recommend adding these to your short list (which will depend on your budget). It may not be as feature-packed as some other DJ-headphone heavyweights (e.g. Pioneer HDJ-2000), but you could do worse than to pick up a pair of these.
If you are an audiophile in the market for a pair of closed circumaurals for casual listening on-the-go, that can take a beating and sound alright doing it, I would consider these a viable option.
If you've got more than enough headphones and are merely curious, look for these to pop up in The Deal Thread and pull the trigger then.
And finally, if you're a noob and don't know what to get, ask around here for help, advice, and recommendations. If this might be the right model for you, then someone will mention it.
As always, all recommendations above are IMO. Audition for yourselves whenever possible. =D
Special thanks to TheDeliveryMan and Sennheiser USA for being cool enough to lend out the review sample, and for being patient.
Also, if you haven't read it already, be sure to check out bowei006's review of the same unit (http://www.head-fi.org/t/621257/sennheiser-hd-215-dj-studio-headphone-review) for a somewhat different perspective.
BTW, this happens to be the first full review I've ever posted to Head-Fi. If I've been a clot and made a complete hash of it, please feel free to let me know, along with your suggestions for improvement(s). Thanks to HiFiGuy528, bowei006, deadlylover, JK1, ZorgDK, GL1TCH3D, and Akabeth for the excellent advice and kind words of encouragement.
And finally, I would love for this to serve not so much as a review, but as focal point for our shared evaluations of the HD 215. Feel free to post your impressions – along with test track suggestions illustrating your impressions - so we can all listen along.