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Philips HP890 Full Review

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 
Philips HP890 Full Review


I received my pair of HP890s in about 14 business days from Germany. They were packed sufficiently(double boxed) and comes in an impressive heavy duty cardboard display box(575g). The presentation stand that came with it was a very nice touch(290g). The phones themselves weigh in at a hefty 330g, the cable 55g. The gold plated 1/4" stereo adapter is the screw-in type. The self-adjusting headband is comfortable although it took me a while to find the best position to place the headphones on my head. The sensation of the headphones falling off your head have been reported and is mostly just a sensation due to
the size of these beasts. The velvet earcushions are very large and completely surround my ears and look rather ridiculous in the mirror. They are, however, very soft and smooth. There is sufficient space that your ears do not make contact with the transducers. Definitely not a set of headphones to wear out in public due to its massive size. I was pleased with the overall construction and aesthetics that generally befits a headphone costing significantly more.
The headphone cable is almost the polar opposite(detachable, single sided) of the Grado SR60's rigid, heavy, dual sided cable. Although the cable is thick, it remains very light and flexible(probably not very abrasion resistant due to thin rubber insulator) and not thin and cheap like the one that came with the HD-570s. Whereas the SR60 cable was slightly microphonic, the HP890 does not show any hint of this effect, nor does the SR325 which has a similar cable to the SR60. The only thing noticeably missing are the instructions and warranty papers. Everything in the thin plastic mold that held the HP in the box was twist-tied down to the plastic mold, including the adapter, cables, and headphone -- it took a while to get everything untied ;(


Frequency Range: 5-30,000Hz
Sensitivity: 106 dB
Impedance: 32 Ohm
Cable: 3.0 m (9.8 ft) LC-OFC
Max.Input Power: 1500 mW
Drivers: neodymium magnet circuit and 50 mm mylar diaphragms

Sonic Characteristics

The HP890 was a bit of an enigma intially in terms of sound with seemingly contradictory initial and secondary impressions from more than one person. From prior reviews I expected them to be powerful and boomy right out of the box as their robust physical dimensions implied. However, this was definitely not the case with these headphones. Initially I found the sound of the HP890 rather disappointing as I could not detect any powerful signature sound from them from a short listening session. The mid-range appeared thin, the treble harsh and the bass very weak with the CD I listened to briefly. I quickly left them to burn-in by running a full range frequency sweep through them for a good 48hrs before I would listen to them again. After this extended break-in, I commenced on a more serious listening session for a couple of hours. I was again a little miffed that the improvement was not as great as I had expected. The treble had mellowed somewhat but the mid-range still appeared to be slightly recessed and distant sounding. Low frequency response had not improved noticeably from my initial listening impression. So I think to myself, "OK, maybe they require significantly longer break-in than even Grados for their sound to improve". After another 50hrs of bass heavy recordings I was ready for an extended listening session. I played disc after disc and was troubled by their consistently inconsistent performance. They could sound almost sublime at times on some recordings and then horribly inadequate on others. I was truly befuddled at this point and almost ready to call it quits. I considered the possibility that my expectations of them were too high to begin with(i.e. Jan needs to put down the crackpipe when doing reviews). In retrospect, I should have compared them in an A/B/C/D headphone comparison to begin with but I was so sure that I could immediately identify their strengths(signature sound) that I did not bother. I brought out a pair of Sennheiser 570s, Grado SR325s and SR60s to compare their known strengths vs. the HP890 in each category. Even as I began the comparison I realized that these are extremely neutral headphones throughout the frequency spectrum. One of the things I noticed early during comparisons was that they absolutely detest poorly recorded material. When I encountered a disc which sounded greatly recessed in the mid-range I would plug in the Grados to compare and find that even they do not do complete justice in rectifying crappy midrange recordings. The HD570 sounded even more distant than usual on these flawed recordings. Obviously the effect on the Grados are less pronounced as they add their mid-range flair to all recordings but a poor recording is still a poor recording and it shows.


The HP890 exhibited exceptional clarity in the upper-midrange and high end regions. Philips calls these the "clarity" drivers and I am inclined to agree with their choice of name. Flutes are faithfully produced with a sense of airiness typically attributed to high end Sennheisers. But whereas the HD570 is distant(but clear) sounding regardless of source material and the SR60 muffled with their comfy pads, the HP890 came across as lively and open with a good decay effect on notes. The SR325 with the bowl pads are equally solid and clear albeit a little less adept at handling decaying notes. If I had to rate the HP890 upper-mid and high on a scale I would say that they are just right of the middle of neutral(Left being muddy, Right Bright).


The mid-range is excellent and although it falls short of the Grado 325 in terms of detail it is not by much. However, it is not forward sounding nor does it offer you the aggression and impact that all Grados are famous for. Because their ultra mid-range detail the Grados excel at representing the timbre of string instruments like acoustic guitar and violin with extraordinary effect. Piano pieces are also very clear on the HP890 and compare well with the Grados but again less forward sounding. It is quite clear by now that the HP890s are more than competent(though not "the" best) at reproducing instruments that move a lot of air such as woodwinds, horns, bagpipes etc. These instruments are in my opinion some of the most difficult to reproduce accurately on modern day headphones. If you listen mainly to classical and jazz you would want something that can faithfully reproduce the nuances of these instruments. I attribute their difficulty in part to the space required to resonate within the air chamber as well as the headphone enclosure and of course the drivers themselves. I have never heard a small earphone that can come close to accomplishing this. The Sennheiser 570, 580, and 600 great in this field but all require some sort of quality amplification to achieve similar levels. Female Vocals on the other hand are sweet with great clarity and detail approaching that of Grado levels although not quite as masterful in portraying the last bits of subtle timbre in the voices that the 325s do with open ease and transparency that is unrivaled. Some people will feel that the Mid-range response is slightly recessed but I personally think it is more or less flat.


Low frequency extension is one of the highlights of this headphone. Whereas Grados have extremely tight, high definition bass and on the other end of the spectrum, the Sony V6/7506 has very powerful, boomy bass, the HP890 sits in middle between those two in terms of bass characteristics. The best way to describe the bass is to call it "musical" and commanding. It has a rich, deep quality that works well for music especially film scores where the bass needs to be well integrated and remain in the background. Boomy bass distorts the uniformality and ability to integrate well into music. Punchy bass has much of the same effect except it stands out too much and ruins the cohesion of the music by sticking out like a sore thumb. I really hate the former type of bass in almost everything but the latter does have its place for Electronica, Pop, Dance, and Techno. As I have mentioned, the HP890 appears to go very low. As a matter of fact I believe it exceeds the low frequency extension capabilities of the Grado 325. While the Grado appears to be able to reach just below 30Hz, the HP890 appears to actually hit slightly above 20Hz. In pieces of music with extremely low frequencies you experience a mild sensation of the impact although not a thump in your chest as with a 15" subwoofer. In terms of low frequency neutrality, I would place them just left of the middle (Left=Boomy, Right=Tight).

Putting it together

It is interesting to note that the drivers are placed on a slight angle. The angle of decline of the earcups begins in the front and levels off towards the rear, giving your ears significantly more room (18mm front vs. 32mm rear, of depth). The velvet padding is actually uniform in thickness throughout but fits flush with the back of your head for total closure due to the angled drivers. This design provides for even spacing of the drivers in relation to your ears throughout the inside of the earcups and improves the soundstage immensely. The imaging and separation in complex pieces of music are outstanding. Depth perception and ability to capture the nuances of music are above average as well if not quite up to par vs. a Grado. The soundstage of the Grado SR60 is rather narrow in comparison with the comfy pads. The SR325s improve upon this by about 50% with their bowl/newer donut pads at the expense of some forwardness in the sound. The HP890's soundstage is about 50% better than the SR325 and twice that of the SR60. I suppose the ideal would to to use the original flat pads with the Grado 325 for a more forward image and greater bass response while reducing the harshness and veil of the treble associated with the comfy pads of the SR60, especially if you do not listen to large orchestrals that benefit from the increased soundstage and imaging that the newer bowl/donut pads offer. I may attempt to modify some standard radio shack pads in order to accomplish this as I can not find those old flat pads no matter where I look. Back on topic -- I have a hunch that coupled with a high quality headphone amp the HP890 might eliminate any perceived weaknesses it currently has and further extend the admirable qualities it already possesses. The bottom line seems to be that what the HP890 lacks in terms of the Grado chutzpah, it makes up for in its infinite versatility over broad ranges of music.

Final Words

Think of the Koss KSC-35 for price/performance. Double or perhaps triple its performance in a full sized headphone and you have the Philips HP890. In short, it has all the strengths of high end Sennheisers without the distant sound, excels in low frequency extension and is easy to drive right out of a portable. In my humble opinion, taking current market pricing of headphones into account, I believe these headphones are worth at least $200USD(street) in equal amounts of performance vs. other available brands in this price range. Had Philips used some exotic alloy in its construction instead of plastic and put more class into its presentation, they could have easily charged upwards of $300USD for these puppies. I know there are a few headphones that play everything adequately and are considered good due to that element. As it stands, the HP890s are very well rounded headphones that can really play every genre of music exceptionally well and with panache if your recording allows for it. The best way to sum it up is that these headphones will not embellish, colour or take liberties with your music.

[Note: These are not my images]

post #2 of 47
Great review Blighty. Thanks for the pictures too.
I've seen these sold almost everywhere in Berlin at very attractive prices. Unfortunately, my main rig (HD600-XCanV2) is not with me at the moment for comparison. It would be interesting to know how these compare against the top end Senns and Beyers.
You didn't mention what equipment did you use for these auditions. Judging from what you say about their less than perfect midrange, it could be that partnering with a tube gear can make them even better.

Thanks once again.
post #3 of 47
Since getting the HP890s, I haven't spent a lot of time listening to my Beyers.

I agree 100% with the build quality comment - if only they'd made them out of higher grade materials.
I can easily imagine my Beyer 770pros lasting me 20 years, but not the HP890s - unless I really look after them. I could throw the 770pros around and not worry about breaking them.

As far as sound quality goes, I'd say the 890s have close to the bass of the 770pros, slightly better midrange than the 250s and a tad less harsh high end than the 831s.

They're fast approaching status of my favourite headphone.

BTW, I run my HP890s off my Xcans, sound quality is vastly improved IMHO.

The fact that they're so cheap here in Oz only adds to the pleasure, I just sit here thinking "I can't believe these only cost $120AU ($60US)"
post #4 of 47

post #5 of 47
Amazing review.... no, Tuberoller, the united Team Philips did NOT in any way contribute financially to this review!

Thank you for finally comparing these headphones to some interesting competitors, since I have no experience with expensive headphones (other than my HP890) I'm glad to see that I (and Buddha and RMSzero etc.) am not the only one enjoying these tremendously.

Snufkin, have they grown on you? If I remember correctly you originally said that the 250-80 Beyers were a bit better...

p.s. I can't stop loving the fact that they forgot to charge me for these cans
post #6 of 47
post #7 of 47
Yep, definately grown on me. But I still like the 250-80s a little bit better, and I -know- my 770pros will last longer.

buuut, my girlfriend uses the 250-80s, the hp890s are waaay to big for her

I think I'll end up getting rid of everything except my 250-80s, 770pros, HP890s and ksc-50s.
post #8 of 47
Originally posted by Mumrik
p.s. I can't stop loving the fact that they forgot to charge me for these cans

post #9 of 47
post #10 of 47
great review, Blighty! Your detailed comparison does the 890s justice and truly shows what to expect from buying them. I'll happily pick these up if given the chance to get 'em locally...Did you detect any differences in sound from stereo receiver jack use vs portables?
post #11 of 47

Nice review - thanks.

Did you compare the sound of the 890s directly out of the headphone jack of your equipment vs. the sound out of a headphone amp?

I realize the 890s are low impedance cans - however, I'm still curious as to whether or not a headphone amp. makes a noticable difference in their performance.
post #12 of 47
The interesting thing about these headphones is that the people who don't like them also think they are uncomfortable. Coincidence? I think not!

Right now they are sitting on my desk lonely though, since I have been using KSC-35s almost exclusively for the past few days. I don't have any good sources, y'see, plus I am trying to get my ears used to these little buggers by wearing them constantly. That should be rectified soon though and they'll be back on my head.
post #13 of 47
Originally posted by Milestones
I realize the 890s are low impedance cans - however, I'm still curious as to whether or not a headphone amp. makes a noticable difference in their performance.

Snufkin seems to think so, and I hope he's right. I am dreaming of building a tube amp for these (or that cheap chinese tube amp that nobody's listened to so far)..
post #14 of 47
Thread Starter 
Listening was primarily out of a portable Sony D-25S which sounded slightly better than straight out of the headphone jack of my receiver connected to my dvd player. I think I have already mentioned that I believe the HP890s will improve with the use of a dedicated headphone amp. My dilemma is that I can either save up and purchase a nice headphone amp

or try a pair of those Audio Technica wooden headphones everyone is so excited about.
post #15 of 47
Excellent review, Blighty. I was thinking of getting these based on Jan Meier's Crack-induced review of them, but your review comparing them to different types of headphones with different sound characteristics, ie: forward, detailed, laid-back, etc., showed me that these would not please my tastes of the new Sennheiser HD497 sound that I love-puts you in the music, yet gives you a wide soundstage, super-detailed treble, articulate mids, and a deep, punchy, well-defined bass that's not as loud as the MDR-V6 but goes as deep, and has gobs of musical energy to boot. Does anybody know of a other headphone that sounds like that but is better than the HD497, ie. in the same class as the Senn HD600?
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