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Wow! Sennheiser HD 540 Reference are so good.

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by hairspray, Jun 29, 2013.
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  1. Hairspray
    The HD 540 Reference is the Sennheiser flagship of the mid-eighties.
    Those headphones have a sublime neutral sonic signature, with amazing mids, magical timbre and fantastic imaging.
    They can easily compete with today's Senns.
    But the pads and foam discs of my HD 540 were totally worn out and -- because of the almost inexistent sealing -- the bass was really weak.
    Last week, I ordered remplacement pads (the HD-250 Linear II pads fit perfectly) and original HD-540 Reference Gold inner foam discs still available at Thomann :smile:.

    And the result is... wow!
    Take for example a K240 -- well known for being neutral and smooth -- add 20% bass quantity and 30% bass quality (texture), a much-much wider 3D-like soundstage (HD 540 are fully open) with unmatched imaging, a lot of clarity, air and separation and a front row presentation, with intimate vocals.
    And l can't think of a more linear headphone.
    Hardcore neutrality.

    EDIT: "Luckily, I purchased the rare 600 ohms version.
    Needless to say: a juicy amp is mandatory.
    But the consensus seems to be that the 600 ohms version plays in another league than the 300 ohms version."

    At first listen, I wasn't impressed, nothing demonstrative (some would say thin, lifeless, cold...). But 3 minutes later, I understood why a guy on a german forum said the 540 are one of the best Sennheiser ever made.
    Such neutrality, clarity and smoothness are candy for the ears.
    It's like the HD 540 have no personality, they impose nothing but their linearity, which is the mark of a great headphone. Plus, they are a surprisingly good all-rounder.
    The KRK slogan "For educated ears" is kinda pretentious and arrogant but IMO it applies here... Musicality and realism, not dynamite.

    Once you get used to the HD 540, you will notice how amazing the timbre is.
    Vocals are transcendently good.
    Soundstage and imaging are fantastic.
    Comfort is unmatched, even better than the K240 since the pads are deeper and the HD 540 are sooo light.

    This post may sound like naive initial enthusiasm but I doubt it because -- when listening to Eric Burdon's "27 Forever" -- I suddenly realized how old those HPs are... yes, I bought them 27 years ago. I guess, I was too immature to really appreciate them at that time. Would a kid appreciate a rare Bordeaux?
    Anyone else loves their HD-540? [​IMG]
    BTW, 540 Reference and 540 Reference Gold are basically the same (the latter having hand-matched drivers though and cosmetic tweaks), but I'm not sure about the differences between the Reference and Reference II?

    Last edited: Apr 24, 2019
    scotvl, slankoe and rocksteady65 like this.
  2. Hairspray
    Nobody has those? [​IMG]
  3. ev13wt
    Not I. But from your description I need to get some! :)
  4. vid
    I have the HD 530 which, depending on who you ask, are either the same as the HD 540 or somewhat better. I like the sound, definitely worth the 30 € or so they go for used. Compared to a K 701, I found the 530 to be about on par if a bit less detailed - though my 530 are modded to open-backed which improved the sound for me.
    As for other old Sennheisers, the Unipolar 2000 from the '70s are decidedly better than the 530 when properly modded, giving more smoothness, neutrality, speed, etc.
  5. holden4th
    I have the HD540s - Reference Gold model. Like you the pads on mine are worn out so I don't use them any more. When I bought them they were Senns flagship model and driven through a good amp they sounded really good. Maybe I need to relisten?
  6. GREQ
    Your description reminded me of my old Senn HD450 (1989) that I gave away last year. 
    I think these 80's sennheisers look a helluva lot better than a lot of their newer designs too [​IMG]
  7. CJG888
    I actually threw my HD540s out many years ago when the pads rotted :frowning2:
    I wonder how they would have sounded on the end of a proper amp with a better cable....
  8. nongrata
    I do own the HD540II reference (from1990). I also own the HD540 (from 1983). Last week I also bought a pair of HD600. I expected an improvement but it was a disappointment. Yes these are great cans and they indeed sound good but when I compared them with the 
    HD540II reference they could not compete. The HD540II has a much better soundstage and sounds more realistic. They are also
    much more comfortable to wear (very light). I compared the HD540II and HD600 on several amplifiers and headphone amplifiers and with several kinds of music.
    When you play rock or dance the HD-600 sounds nice but as soon if you listen to more sophisticate music that is less electrical then the HD-540II blows the HD-600 completely out of the water. Examples are Alison Krauss New - Favorite, Woodface - Crowded House, Heart - The Road Home or Jewel - This way. The HD540II gives you the idea you are there (also due to it's wider soundstage).
    Voices are very realistic.
    I must say the older HD540 does not sound that good, it is a little bit more dull. But the HD540II has great bass (you hear bass when they play a bass, the sound is not mudded all the time like for instance the Beats headphones) , has superb mid and high. I asked some friends that visited to listen to the HD540II and HD600 (just guys, no audiophiles) and most preferred the sound quality of the HD540II however some said it looked cheap.  
    The HD540II wins on soundscape and there seems to be more room between the instruments and has more a 3D like sound with excellent detail.
    You can listen for hours, your hearing is not getting tired. 
    I also have the AKG K242. This one is beaten by all the Sennheisers. If you compare them you hear that the Senns are much more realistic, if you do not compare it is however less obvious what you miss and they are still an enjoyable headphone. 
    I am Dutch and googled for some opinions of the HD540II and stumbled on this page and had to register and let you know I also 
    agree 100% with the poster hairspray.
    I listen most of the time with a (hybrid) tube headphone amp so this could influence my review. 
    It is a strange thing but more then 20 years have passed but the HD540II is still a great headphone that to me sounds much more life like then many (much more expensive) new high models from today that I heard. 
    braaam and o0CosmoMemory0o like this.
  9. GREQ
    This isn't exactly a big surprise though. [​IMG]
  10. nongrata
    Well considering the advance in technology you might think the AKG K242 would at least come near. Computers and software and measuring equipment have improved drastically in those 25 years. 
    Also the production techniques and materials they can use have progressed a lot. So you would think that engineers could be able to produce headphones that are a lot better then 25 years ago and probably for a much lower price. In 1990 I could never have imagined that we would have a device like an iPhone 15 years later but technology enabled us to have this device you could call with, make pictures and film and play the music that is stored on it (more then most people had on CD's in their house in 1990). But when it comes to headphones there was hardly any advance. 
  11. GREQ
    I would agree with you if AKG wasn't owned by Harman. 
    Since the new ownership AKG have brought out so much disappointment. The K242 just feels like plastic crap beside ANY historical incarnation of the K240. 
  12. vid
    I can say that the Senn HD 530 (a slight upgrade to the earlier HD 540, but from the '80s nonetheless) sound more realistic than the HD 600, as well. Somewhere along the road Sennheiser went wrong.
  13. GREQ
    If we're talking about realism, then HD700 and HD800 don't quite hit the mark either.
    I'm in the camp that can't really get my head around the Hyper-realistic sound.
    Sort of like a photograph that's been digitally saturated and sharpened..... twice. 
    Essence STX and Claritas like this.
  14. vid
    The HD 530 I have sound brighter than the HD 600, which is something I don't quite like. Yet they manage to sound more realistic - I'm not sure why, but it's something other than the treble, I'd think.
  15. GREQ
    Well I think I'd better keep an eye out for one then. Realism is one of my highest sound priorities. 
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