As frequent readers of this forum may be aware, TheDeliveryMan at Sennheiser recently lent out several pairs of Sennheiser's HD 215 headphones for some Head-Fi'ers to evaluate. A few very thorough reviews have already been posted.
Please take a look at bowei006's review here:
In addition, please click on warrenpchi's review here:
And also, roadcykler's post here:
Since these fellow Head-Fi'ers have done such a thorough job of discussing and photographing the Sennheiser HD 215, it has made my job much easier. From their reviews, I think any reader can get an excellent idea what the Sennheiser HD 215's are all about.
In order for me to add something to the discussion that hasn't already been said, I have decided to do a limited comparison of the Sennheiser HD 215 to the Audio-Technica ATH-M50. My reasoning for this is really three-fold:
1. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 is my go-to headphone and is one of the most popular headphones on Head-Fi.
2. The Sennheiser HD 215 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 strike me as quite similar products targeted at the same general portion of the marketplace.
3. My hope is that the comparison angle will add something new to the discussion.
Review Gear And Methodology:
I tried both of these headphones with my portable source, which is a Sansa Clip Zip 8GB .mp3 player with a 32GB microSDHC card installed. Both headphones performed well with my portable player. In general, I think most users would be quite pleased with the performance of these headphones when driven un-amplified by a portable player and both will play at very loud levels with my portable.
However, for this review, I have decided to focus solely on my use of these headphones for listening at home in a desktop environment. I made this decision because this is how I really prefer to use headphones of this type. Although both models work quite well as portables, I don't frequently use headphones of this size when I'm out and about. Perhaps it is because I live in Arizona where it is hot. I just find either headphone to be quite large, heavy, and hot to be used outside frequently.
I did the rest of my testing using my Toshiba Satellite A215 notebook computer running Windows Vista. I played music using foobar2000 as my music player and also listened to streamed music using Spotify. No matter what I listened to, I always used my FiiO E17 DAC/headphone amplifier connected to my computer via USB to drive the headphones. Although both sets of headphones were obviously designed to work well with any player without additional amplification, in my opinion, the use of a headphone amplifier dramatically improves their performance. They may work well without an amp, but I just can't see any reason to use them without the additional power when I have it available. I amped them for all of my testing at home, and I would recommend amping either one to make them really shine.
I listened to 96/24 FLAC files, 88/24 FLAC files, 44.1/24 FLAC files, 44.1/16 FLAC files, 320 kbps .mp3 files, 256 kbps .mp3 files, Spotify, YouTube videos, etc; all processed through the FiiO E17 DAC / amp via USB.
Construction & Comfort:
The Sennheiser HD 215 and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 share a lot of similarities. Both are large, over-the-ear, closed designs that allow one ear cup to be placed on the side of the head, but not on the ear, DJ-style. Both have coiled cords with 3.5mm gold-plated tips and 6.3mm screw-on adapters that are approximately 4' long but will stretch to approximately 9'. The HD 215 cable is detachable, which is a nice feature, while the ATH-M50's cable is not detachable. In either case, I really like this type of cord. It is short enough to stay out-of-the-way when the headphones are used as portables or on the desktop, but it will stretch when needed if one wants to walk across the room a bit. Both headphones come with very similar vinyl carrying bags that I found to be about equal.
In general construction, I found the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 to be superior. Between these two, there is just no matching it's "built like a tank" construction. The plastic used is of a very high quality and just seems a little thicker and harder than the plastic of the Sennheisers. In addition, the slides that adjust the headphones for fit are metal on the ATH-M50 while they are plastic on the HD 215. The ear cup cushions also seem a little thicker on the ATH-M50 and seem to be made of a slightly superior pleather material. The coiled cord is also thicker on the ATH-M50. The ATH-M50 has true "hinges" on each side that allow either ear cup to be placed upwards against the side of the head. In contrast, only the right ear cup of the HD 215s pivots forward or backwards. The left ear cup slides for adjustment, but it is not truly hinged. It just has a bit of flexibility and play where it is attached to the head band.
In practice, I found it was actually easier to pivot the ear cup forward on the HD 215 while still wearing the headphones. To accomplish folding the ear cup upward on the ATH-M50's required removal of the headphones, but I still preferred its' design.
As far as comfort, the ATH-M50 pays a price for it's tank-like construction as it weighs at least an ounce more than the HD 215. The HD 215 ear cups are a little larger and round, while the ATH-M50 ear cups are more oval-shaped. I found general comfort levels and clamping force to be quite similar. Despite the better padding and materials of the ATH-M50 ear cups, I rate the HD 215's as slightly more comfortable because of the ear cups round shape and the headphones lighter weight. I was able to notice the weight difference when wearing the headphones for long periods or when lying in bed on my back.
In summary, both headphones feel very sturdy and I wasn't worried about the construction of either one, but I found the ATH-M50's to be even sturdier than the HD 215's while sacrificing a slight amount of comfort mainly because of weight. Nevertheless, I found both 'phones to be comfortable.
Now for the most important category. Let me say first say that I found both pairs of headphones to be enjoyable and would be happy to listen to either one. However, there is a major difference, and that is in the bass response. The ATH-M50's just have a much more robust bass response. I don't consider myself to be a basshead, but maybe I am. I listen to some hip-hop, reggae, and electronica; but also plenty of classic rock, indie rock, alt-country, outlaw country, Americana, some jazz, etc. Regardless of what I listened to, I enjoyed the bass response of the ATH-M50's more. I know the ATH-M50's are generally regarded as having a bass emphasis compared with many headphones. They do have a great bass response, and perhaps because I usually always amp them, I don't find the bass to be too bloated or muddy for me. It seems pretty well-controlled. This superior bass response was the biggest difference I found between the two headphones and the biggest advantage for the ATH-M50's.
There were times when I thought the HD 215's might have a slightly superior midrange and better treble characteristics than the ATH-M50's. Occasionally, I thought I could hear just slightly better instrument separation with the HD 215's and slightly clearer vocals. I can see where they might sound better to some folks with purely vocal or acoustic music. I didn't really try them with classical music because I don't listen to much of it and I don't have enough experience with classical music to really judge.
To my ears, the ATH-M50's just have more power and punch and a fuller sound. When listening back-to-back, I preferred the ATH-M50's with all types of music that are part of my normal listening. When switching from the ATH-M50's to the HD 215's, I always found myself having to turn the volume up slightly to get a similar sound from the HD 215's, but I still preferred the characteristics of the ATH-M50's at equivalent levels. Even when I tried equalizing the HD 215's to emphasize the bass response, I still wasn't able to get a full range of sound that I enjoyed quite as much as the ATH-M50's.
Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find any strange characteristics in the bass of the HD 215's. I actually thought their bass was of high quality, but just lacking in sheer quantity and force.
I didn't keep a list of music I listened to over the last month or so, but here is just a small sample of some of it:
I would like to thank Eric, TheDeliveryMan at Sennheiser, for letting me borrow the Sennheiser HD 215 headphones. I found them to be a high-quality, well-made, good-sounding headphone; and a worthy competitor to the Audio-Technica ATH-M50's I currently own. I went into the comparison ready to like them better than my ATH-M50's, but in the end, I still prefer the Audio-Technicas. I found the HD 215's to be enjoyable, and particularly for someone looking for a headphone with less bass emphasis than the ATH-M50's, they may be the perfect choice in this category. I really enjoyed their mid-range and treble characteristics, their relatively light weight, and their performance with more vocal and acoustic-oriented music. I found them to be slightly more comfortable than the ATH-M50's, and at the right price, they could be quite a bargain. I think any headphone enthusiast would enjoy them.