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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. dakanao
    Btw, with my pair atleast, the HD 650 is clearly superior in the mids and highs definition and realism, no question. With these pads, the sound signature has become closer to that of the HD 650, except with less bass emphasis and tighter bass, clearly better soundstage and imaging as well.

    But the quality of the mids and highs of the HD 650 are definitely superior in every way. Doesn't mean I'm going to get rid of my HD 540's, since the fit is just so relaxing. With the HD 650, I get a bit of ear canal fatigue due to the seal it gives me.

    But if the others users reported that they ''killed'' the HD 650 in sound, their pair must sound dramatically different. The only thing HD 540 ''kills'' (still too big of a word, but a clear difference nonetheless) the HD 650 in imo, is soundstage and imaging, and bass tightness (but that maybe because the bass is way less emphasized, giving the illusion of tighter bass), but otherwise the HD 650 is the clear winner.

    Maybe I'm going to upgrade to the HD 540 Gold if I ever come across one in great condition, since they are said to be smoother than the regular HD 540 reference.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
    WilliamLeonhart likes this.
  2. sennsay
    I agree entirely, I've used a number of types in various shapes and only these pleather pads bring the best out of the Ref1s. By far the finest balance and linearity from top to bottom for my gear. Others may prefer a different perspective though with other pad types.
  3. sennsay
    Again, this is exactly why I love these pads, they seem a perfect match and I can wear them for hours. No matter how much I might like certain aspects of other cans, I always just relax and melt into the music when I have my Ref1s on my head. At. least as good as wearing the proverbial comfy slippers! :)
    I sold my HD6xx and don't miss them one bit. Whatever small improvements in certain aspects of specific frequencies they had, overall they are not a patch on the Ref1s and I could almost never find myself really happy with them. Even though the HD430s miss out on the low bass - they will only go so far and then overload, Lorde's Pure Heroine almost sent them into meltdown! - as an overall listening experience, they are still better balanced than the HD6xx and more transparent.
  4. sennsay
    Yes, with some material the HD6xx outperform the HD540s in the areas you mentioned - particularly with Neil Young's Sleeps With Angels, surprisingly and this was the only album as a whole I preferred them with - yet with so much other music I was just so disappointed with them, their frequency balance is all over the place, the Ref1s going deeper into the bass (with my systems and as they are set up here) with much greater linearity and seemingly continuing that experience right up into as high as they will go. They also do NOT have that truly annoying shouty upper mid/lower treble, where they would project those energies forward, this is something I can no longer tolerate. The Ref1s never do that, even while telling me that there is a mid forward balance on a particular recording, they will do it without edge or shoutiness. I adore them for that.
    I too would love to hear a pair of good HD540 Ref Golds :)
    It's also worth remembering that even an inner foam change inside the capsules will alter the sound balance, hence my great preference for the DT880 inner foams and not the double thickness versions that come with the pleather pads. Since I also now use the same pleather pads with the HD430s, I also need more of the thinner inner foams that come with the DT880 replacement pads and so I have ordered another set of those pads and they will be well on their way now.
    I just need another new headband for the HD250s ... still .... as I want to be able to keep my HD430s fully assembled, rather than swapping headbands between the two. My HD430s have turned out to be rather amazing in their own right.

    PS I have realised that I have repeated myself re the shouty nature of the HD6xx, which the Mogami cable ameliorated to some degree but could not simply remove the inherent nature of the beast. Apologies for the repetition :) Obviously it really bothered me and I don't always remember that I'd already written that as such days or weeks ago.

    PSS I also discovered that the Ref1s sounded very fine through the Magni 3 when the signal came from the DAC of the Audio-gd R2R-11, solid, earthy and punchy. I used the same top quality Slinkylinks silver cables as ICs. The R2R has an excellent DAC, no better in my book than the Mimby, just a different sig. The Mimby is less earthy in it's bass - that doesn't mean it won't go as deep, it certainly does - yet is more 3D with a lighter seemingly more transparent space between instruments and musicians, a touch more ethereal and effortlessly open.
    Both are inherently musical, very tuneful and do not in any way slug rhythmic integrity, something I abhor in any bit of kit. The R2R's headphone amp can darken things a bit .... except with the HD430s!

    PSSS For those newer to these pages, when I refer to my Ref1s, I mean 600 ohm HD540 Reference headphone from 1989 (I've owned them since new) and they are version two of the first series, ie they are without the headband ridge of the very first models.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
    WilliamLeonhart likes this.
  5. WilliamLeonhart
    I like both the HD540 and the HD6xx, but to me they don’t seem like siblings... The HD6 series traces its roots back to the HD580, and among all the models in that series, I think the HD600 are closest in sound to the HD540. But even then the HD6 series still have somewhat of a distinct “house sound” that I’ve never found on the HD540. I do feel like the HD540 is more “neutral”
    sennsay likes this.
  6. sennsay
    Having a ball tonight with a new (to me) album by a popular local Sunshine Coast group called OKA, a disc called Milk & Honey. A mix of natural instruments, synth and didjeridu, this album is almost dance/trance mixed with punchy drum n bass rhythms and a warm coastal dance vibe - they're famous for it. The R2R-11 well warmed up and the HD540 Ref1s jacked in and I said goodbye to the HE400S here pretty quickly, they simply don't have the deeper bass and open, relaxed yet dynamic mix of instruments and vocals. The Ref1s as always bring a big open space in height, width and depth that the other cans just can't match. I'm still entranced by the way they just vanish, leaving instruments so alive and organic suspended in their own space and never blurring with other sounds, it's just so easy to follow any instrument no matter where it is because it's so obviously located in it's own ambience, while always rhythmically connected and never disjointed. The R2R has loads of power and drive and never runs out of steam, the Ref1s just taking it in, full and deep, warm and alive. Amp set to high gain and the volume on 1PM. Fabulous. Effortless. No edge, no forward shoutiness, I can both relax yet want to move and dance and sing at the same time, they are still a world apart from any other headphones for a complete and balanced package. Drive and bass depth have shocked me a couple of times tonight. I can truly listen to the music with an open window. Easily the most satisfying headphones I've ever heard by far, so much so that any micro-detailing they may miss out on is inconsequential to the whole. I'm still astonished at how well they maintain this vanishing act - soundstage-wise - with both systems, only becoming even more open and spacious with the 2Ms and a little darker and earthier with the R2R. Both are rhythmically superb. I'm very happy with the versatile a-gd R2R-11!
    I've loaded this album into the QP1R now, so I will play this music through the Mimby/Magni 3 system a little later.
    myusernameislove likes this.
  7. swagadelic
    trying again to ask if AKG k712 pro is a good upgrade from these (300 ohm HD540 ref1), or a waste of money, kindly
  8. jon parker
    I already answered above
    In essence - No - For one thing, they are 'Pro' meaning AKG tunes them for professional use. Meaning they can be fairly neutral, certainly not exciting or enjoyable for music
    They are not a bad headphone but they are worth about $150 less than their retail. Compared to the qualities of the HD 540 they are nothing special at all
    I used mine for work for which they were reliable sonically speaking . . but I never used them for music :/

    Put it this way, The HD540 in many (not all) ways can parallel if not exceed Sennheiser's modern flagship the HD 800s
    They do need the right pads and a good synergy with source + amplification is important
    The HD540 is one of the top headphones ever made. Im not sure what an upgrade headphone would be. I think it would definitely fall into preference of personal sound
    as oppose to being just 'better'
    There are 'better' headphones out there
    but to beat the quality of the HD540 and the beautiful naturalness that they posses would be very difficult
    Also, i think to deeply appreciate what the HD 540 gives having had the opportunity to hear many different headphones really brings it home
    how good they are :)
    Narayan23 and sennsay like this.
  9. swagadelic

    oh wow thank you, i see now your reply above and i get it. It is as i feared.

    But I have some concerns i hope you can set me straight. My current Hd540 lacks the acoustic foam inside the pads. The driver is completely visible as all the foam has vanished.

    I seem to feel as if though one driver is a couple more db louder than the other. Is this something that will get fixed if i replace the acoustic foam and pads?

    they are from 1985 afterall.

    but im sad to see you claim that k712 pro is not an upgrade. and i get it. the hd540 sound gorgeous, and they are absolutely the most beautiful headphone i ever listened to. but i think i really do want to upgrade, and perhaps the k712 will serve as a decent flagholder as the hd540 i own die gracefully. (meaning; instead of spending money getting new acoustic foam and cloth earpads as mine have - id rather buy a brand new set)

    but of course i do not wish to get the k712 just to be like "omg , my hd540 is so much better". that would be pointless.

    even still, im pretty sure im just gonna sell mine for like 50 bucks and get the k712.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2018
  10. sennsay
    Then you will never know how great your HD540s can sound! I thought the HD6xx might be a good companion for my Ref1s. Wrong. Sold them and don't miss them a bit. My HifiMAN HE400S? Fantastic with the Questyle QP1R, not a patch on the Ref1s with anything else and I mean no contest. 'Technically' an upgrade ... maybe ... but as an overall musical performer, no way, the vanishing act and sheer organic naturalness the Ref1s do so easily is not repeated with any other headphone I've ever used. Period. Others may be ultimately more detailed, but detail is not a guide to equal musical ability in itself, not by a long way.
    I think you may be using 'upgrade' in the incorrect tense :) What you mean, maybe, is 'newer', but in my expanding experience of recent months and years, none of my 'newer and technically advanced headphones, planar HE400S included, have come close to the sheer musical joy of the Ref1s. Still, as you desire to, I have experimented with other models, fortunately always keeping my HD540 Ref1s as a reference, upgrading them as I go. They are still unbeatable overall.
    I would really like to hear a set of Focal Clear, but again from what I've been reading about them, they are well balanced and stunningly detailed, with very fine image focus and yet with that all that, the reviewers I've seen with them have spoken of how 'small' the soundstage is with that ultra-fine focus. It's like a magnified view from well off stage. I much prefer to be ON stage with the life and soul of the musicians ... maybe someone has just eaten a banana and left the skin on an amplifier case, THAT's a performance for me, the Ref1s take me there every time. Life and soul. Drum sticks have weight on real skin, I can hear the effort to swing the sticks, voices are flesh and blood three dimensional in shape in space, bass notes have air that doesn't just stop at a line across my chin, but plummet lower and fill the air, they all have their own ambience ....... The Ref1s don't do a 'letterbox' soundstage (unlike the HE400S, which is a flattened hemisphere, lacking image height and some depth and has a metallic peak in the upper mids/lower treble that I can hear instantly when it's provoked, they are still excellent with the QP1R though), heck, even the HD250 Linear 1s do a soundstage better than both the HE400S and the HD6xx.
    However, I respect your desire to explore what's out there! If you lived closer to me I'd buy up your HD540s in a heartbeat.
    .............. you sure you don't want to upgrade your HD540s and keep them as a reference while also exploring other options?
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2018
    quimbo likes this.
  11. swagadelic
    thanks for the reply. yeah, i might miss them but considering i had to get new foam and new pads, and i also thought the imaging was a bit off on them; one driver seemed to be louder than the other - i dont think ill miss them...just now waiting on my k712 pro to arrive. just hope my UR22 mk2 interface can drive them fully. buying an additional headphone amp beside getting an audio interface seems completely silly....so i do pray thats not gonna have to happen
  12. lantian
    Only true upgrade for hd 540 referecnce I/II is the hd 540 reference gold. For me it is the perfect headphone. In my opinion anything modern will only be a sidegrade to the hd 540 reference until you get to 1000 dollar mark.
    sennsay and jon parker like this.
  13. dakanao
    How does the Gold compare to the Ref 1 300 ohm soundwise, and smoothness of instruments/vocals?
  14. jon parker
    I think you can say they are 'better' . . . but, for me in the following ways. They are more refined, more 'careful' more precise. They have a more professional sound meaning they are a tad smoother on top, all round more balanced and 'tame' than the HD540's Ref 1's
    They are truer to the sound but I think that for some people will come across as not as fun.
    They certainly sound another tier above the regular 540's but for that reason i think they would suit a more 'seasoned' ear. A bit like a vintage Bordeaux wine. Unless you have some experience and a few years experience drinking quality wine the qualities it possess may not be immediately obvious!!
    I dont reach for them as much as I do than the regular 540's
    Admittedly I haven't found quite the perfect pad / amp synergy yet although i know its there
    It is no doubt a top tier headphone. If the HD540 ref1 is an S class Mercedes the HD 540 Gold is a Bentley!
    lantian likes this.
  15. lantian
    I would say they are better in every possible way, everything sounds more nuanced/detailed imaging is correct, vocals are far better. They can handle every type of music every type of instrument and do that with amazing precision. Amazing 3d soundstage, goes pretty good in all directions. Could not say enough about them.
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