HD280 Review & Some Questions for Upgrades
Mar 28, 2006 at 12:16 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3


New Head-Fier
Feb 28, 2006
Hello everyone!

For my first Head-Fi thread I want to talk briefly about my first equipment purchase since joining the forum (I hope it will help other potential buyers) and kindly ask for some advice on mid-term upgrade plans.

Sennheiser HD280 Review:

In the past I’ve used a series of fairly cheap (<C$60) Jensen, JVC, Sony, etc. headphones and a variety of cheap earbuds and headsets. My first half-decent pair of headphones was purchased last year and came in the form of the now out-of-production Sennheiser HD-477. They proved to be a good step up from my previous purchases but I still felt I was missing out.

A month ago I decided to upgrade my PC source (bought a Creative Labs X-Fi sound card) and after quite a bit of research I decided to “risk” purchasing the Sennheiser HD280s. (Which I ended up importing from the US because I couldn’t find any Canadian dealer at a decent price online. The HD280s can be had new for less than $99 USD shipped from the right dealer, so I wouldn’t recommend paying more.)

I used the word “risk” because I read a lot of less than glowing reviews for the 280s. Many reviewers complained about their lack of bass, and “sterile” sound, as well as harshness. Additionally there were complaints about durability and comfort. I’ll try to address these issues.

A.Build Quality & Design

The HD280s are full sized circumaural phones so they are somewhat large, but by no means as monstrously huge as made out to be by some reviewers. Insofar as portability I have found them acceptably transportable, as they are able to fold in a variety of ways to reduce the space they take up. The biggest hurdle to portability comes in the form of the big, heavy, and coiled (1m coiled, 3m extended) cable that is an absolute pain insofar as home use goes. Aesthetically I have no qualms about them, and dispute some reviewers’ statements saying that they are displeasing or downright ugly. (I do recommend the black version over the silver however.) Build quality seems good, but I would refrain from using phrases such as “tank like”. ABS plastic can be very strong, but these do not look as if they could withstand too many shocks. The cups themselves rotate on plastic ball joints that do not appear particularly strong, and the headband contains a stiff metal part covered by a plastic shell that is said to be prone to breaking, though I have not experienced any issues with it.

The biggest concern in terms of design is comfort. Here is a huge caveat: Out of the box, the HD280s are incredibly uncomfortable. I am not exaggerating. I had a splitting headache after wearing them for the first 20 minutes and started immediately regretting my purchase. Please, please, resist the temptation to quickly bend them into a more forgiving position as the headband will more than likely break. That being said after about two weeks of wearing these for several hours a day they do loosen up by a huge amount. In fact, they become pretty comfortable insofar as pressure goes. I’m personally more used to supraaural designs so there is still a certain amount of adjustment I have to do to get used to a full sized circumaural pair, but I can wear them for many hours now without any major complaints, though they do get a bit hot (closed design).

The sound isolation is good (apparently pretty much as good as it gets on consumer level phones) but do not expect miracles. In airplanes they do quiet down the roar of the engines but you will still hear them quite clearly when not playing anything. Because of the closed design there are also some weird microphonic effects that occur with certain frequency sounds that I noticed on a flight. What these phones do excel at is isolating from sounds in the range of human voices / dialogue. I sat next to a loud kid for a trans-Atlantic flight without one bit of annoyance thanks to the 280s

That being said you may want to consider open phones if you have to clearly hear people talking to you, even at close proximity the voices will still be muffled.

B. Sound Quality & Characteristics

The issue of sound quality is probably the most controversial topic about the HD280s. I use them mainly with the Creative X-Fi card and a PA2V2 amplifier. Here are my observations, please note I have not had a chance to listen to other quality headphones for an extended period of time so take my thoughts at face value

First of all I am really unsure about the topic of “burn in”. As time progressed I have definitely come to be more used to (and pleased by) the sound qualities of the HD280s, whether this is a psychological effect or an actual physical one remains for you to decide.

The HD280s have very peculiar sounds characteristics. First thing I noticed was that the sound is very clear. (Especially as opposed to the unnaturally bassy, dark and less defined sound of the 477s.) I experienced none of the “harsh highs” some users reported. I think they have a respectable frequency response. Using a tone generator I can get some “feeling” down to about 12.5Hz, can hear actual bass down to about 18-20Hz and can hear highs up to about 16000Hz, albeit very faintly. Based on these results I think it is reasonable to say that the HD280s have very good bass extension.

The big complaint about bass seems to be the lack of impact. This lack of bass impact manifests itself only on some tracks. The bass impact/response does benefit from the PA2V2 or from my cheapo RCA home theater receiver. The X-Fi by itself can drive them to very high volumes but there is some additional lack of bass without the amp.
Basically, it is a bit hard for me to describe but I would be inclined to say the 280s replicate music as it was recorded, without that additional bass boost that many are used to. They DO respond very well to equalizers, but I found that using an EQ to bass-boost them causes for a very fatiguing sort of sound that I can only listen to for a few minutes at a time, so I decide to leave them as be. However, I can not say that the 280s lack bass, because it is very much present and quite pleasant on many tracks spanning many genres including metal, rock, folk. The bass seems to be a bit subdued but does indeed reach very low and plays a more subtle effect in the overall composition. I think it’s an effect that you either love or hate.


All things considered I would recommend these if you want closed phones, but I would strongly recommend listening to them first, because you may really hate (or love) the rather unique sound characteristics the HD280s have. I did get a brief chance to listen to a pair of HD580s, and while the overall sound clarity didn’t blow me away by comparison, the HUGE soundstage did. I would recommend giving open phones a try just for the soundstage if nothing else. If you do need closed phones the 280s are a very good pair, but please DO listen to them before buying.

Phew! That was a bit longer than I expected.

Now for my question, what sort of suggestions would you give me as a future headphone set to upgrade to?

I would like to try an open design for a change. I really did fall in love at first sight (sound?) with the HD580 sound stage, should I just run out and buy a pair? My max budget is about C$200 for a second pair. Size is not a concern as I will also use these with my PC.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
Mar 28, 2006 at 3:14 AM Post #3 of 3


500+ Head-Fier
Sep 5, 2005
Yes, buy the HD 580.

Users who are viewing this thread