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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. Malfunkt
    Yes, I've found my holy grail. Well, it's on its way. The Etymotic ER4SR.

    I friend traded me an Etymotic HF5 for a Shure SE215. This little single balanced armature has left me in awe. I've had the opportunity to compare it HD600, HD540, HD800, and Focal Utopia.

    In some ways it is a bit in between the HD600 and HD540. It has some of the HD600 weight. Both 540 and 600 have an incredible natural mid-range and the Etymotic follows suit.

    The HF5, on binaural tracks, sounds almost completely realistic. I've listened to nature recordings, where for the first time, I felt completely encapsulated with the HF5, completely immersed in a 3D soundfield. Detail is incredible with the HF5. I've read the term microdetail banded around, and I will say the HF5 has that in spades. The HD540 is overall a bit more (macro)dynamic in the sense that it appears to have a larger headroom, in larger part to being an open back dynamic driver. My HD800 also sounds more immense in the macrodynamic respect, but the HF5 can still be huge, it just seems to be a bit more compressed in overall dynamics. This may just be a psychoacoustic effect though of listening to IEMs vs over-ear.

    Still, I would be very very happy having the HF5 as a daily driver. At the price they go for used or new old-stock (including the HF3 model) it is one of the best values for reference sound - not just for IEMs, but for headphones and speakers of any kind.

    Take a look at the graphs on Golden Ears, you will see that both HF5 and HD540 have near identical signatures, and come close (aside from the sub bass) to matching Golden Ears diffuse-field reference target - which makes sense given that Sennheiser and Etymotic are pioneers of DF.


    Etymotic ER4S (an older model to the new SR but very similar in presentation)

    The HF5 confirmed that the diffuse-field clicks with me. Classical, ambient, jazz, electronic, and especially for binaural. I laugh looking at the Rtings review of the HF5, as it couldn't be further from the truth. The new Harman curve that some people are measuring against, seems to be one of popular opinion - but that doesn't make it necessarily the right curve. Just averaging people preference for sound doesn't mean you are getting accurate sound.

    I've played the HD540 for some and the response I get back is "where is the bass". This is a common thread among Etymotic ER4 discussion as well. Some fans are ardent supporters of the original tuning that is decades old, while others want more bass. Even the Golden Ears target will show that both the 540 and ER4 roll off.

    I'll say, once you get used to the sound, even the amount of bass seems right. Sure it won't give you a tactile or visceral impact that might simulate how you feel bass performance, but for a lot of listening it is accurate in what bass is heard. Generally, classical, jazz, soul, funk, acoustic, all will sound stellar on 540 and HF5. More thumping modern pop type music, perhaps less so.

    I enjoy bassier headphones as well, so I hold my final opinion. Perhaps if I heard a headphone that could nail the response curve of the ER4 and add bass - I might just deem that the best headphone in the world.

    Actually, there is one that comes very very very close to being said headphone and that is the Focal Utopia. The 540 actually had a bit more air than the Utopia which seemed better for classical reference recordings. The HF5 really does deliver though. Within a month of ownership, I purchased the ER4SR. I'm enjoy the HF5 so much, i'm almost a bit scared that the ER4SR won't be as good... but I think I'm going to be pleasantly surprised.

    It has actually ruined things - in a good way - even more so than the HD540 did. Both are low cost. Both are so musical. I've considered pairing my setup down to HD540 for open / convenience, ER4SR for true accuracy, and XBA-Z5 (or 7550) for bass / sumptuous tonality. But as such, I'm inundated by cool and unusual headphones.

    If you go the Etymotic route, be sure to check out the thread. Give them time, make sure you properly insert them, they will get more comfortable over time. Also, the HF5 is an old model, still worth tracking down, but a more up-to-date model is available in the ER3SE. Really, Etymotic is committed to this sound. I would avoid the ER3XR as it is tilted down in the high-frequencies as tilted up in the lower range. The ER4XR has the same curve as the ER4SR but elevated bass that may bleed into the mids a bit. The ER4XR may be perfect, but I really want to hear the ER4 signature first. ER4P is closer to the HF5 signature, and a bit warmer overall.

    Anyhow, listening to them now. Took me over a decade to finally get into Etymotic, and what I had read was true all these years and will likely remain so.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2018
    trellus likes this.
  2. dakanao
    The Ostry KC06, in tonal balance perhaps. It's very natural, balanced and clear sounding like the HD 540, but has neutral bass (more than the HD 540 with velours). My ears can't stand IEMs anymore unfortanetly, otherwise I'd still be using them
  3. dakanao
    I must say though, the HD 540 Gold almost has the same amount of lower mid presence as the regular HD 540 w/ pleather pads, while still having velour pads on them..

    The bass on the Golds w/ velour is also clearly more presently neutral than the regular HD 540 with cloth pads on.

    I want the sound of the pleather pads, but I want more eardepth than they offer
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2018
  4. lantian
    Has anyone compared the hd 540's to ie800/800s, how do ie800 fair?
  5. dakanao
    Ostry KC06 w/ medium large JVC Spiral Dots are amazing, regardless of their very cheap price of $50
  6. dakanao
  7. lantian
    I would say the second is definitely better, the first one looks like sennheiser stock cable, I have not heard a cable that would be worse for the hd540, than that one. Whatever you do do not buy it. Best and cheape4st solution would be to build your own, otherwise if you want original sennheiser cable the stock cable for 650 sounds far far better(some rubber cutting required to make it fit), still could never call it good or high quality. More like acceptable.
  8. dakanao
    They're both custom made actually. The first one is shorter, and is terminated in a 3.5mm plug instead of the original HD 540 cable, which was 3m long and had a 6.3mm plug. It looks the most flexible definitely.

    I don't know if the second one would be flexible enough. Do you perhaps know any short (1.2m) long cable that you find good, and that is very light and flexible?
  9. sennsay
    I have made both a 3M length terminated in a 6mm jack and a 1.5M to 2M length with a 3.5mm jack and neither of them cause my Ref1s to slide of my head with the weight. I used the Mogami 2893 mini quad cable, not the slightly heavier version, whose model number I've forgotten now. Never had a problem with it and it is by far the superior cable than many other and most certainly the stock cable! The stock HD650 cable is certainly better than the original, but no great shakes at all compared to the Mogami.
    It may be purely head size and shape that is the issue, it's a "thing" you know :) The left capsule of my Ref1s doesn't sit quite as perfectly as the right, although it still seals fine and I'm more aware of it with the pleather pads than some others, including other more tightly fitting cans. Ear height is marginally different.
    I've just re-made the capsule ends of my longer cables, with the individual channel cables covered now in some much softer parachute cable outer sheath. Nice. I used 3mm parachute cable and removed the inner core, for those who are interested.
  10. dakanao
    I hope the thinner cable won't be that much worse sound wise than the Mogami and Canare ones.. But I think the lightweight of the cable will be worth it for an easy fit.

    The HD 540 Gold is definitely one realistic and neutral headphone, and that is with velour pads.. The regular HD 540 Ref 1 300 ohm didn't sound like this with the cloth pads, they were brigher, less refined and bass light, and the pleather pads definitely make them more neutral.

    But they just don't match the natural soundstage placement of the HD 540 Gold. I myself like to have intimate vocals all the time, and the HD 540 Gold is 100% recording based in that aspect, with the velour pads, so in that sense I know I would like the signature of the pleather pads more. Dead neutral with the soundstage placement.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  11. Narayan23
    Hello dakanao, Forza Audio Works do make cables for the HD 540/560/580/600/650, the color series seems like a good option and it won´t break the bank:

  12. sennsay
    Hmm, shame about losing the Mogami cable. Is your's the version that we've mentioned here before? Sorry, I forget the name of the guys now, Adam's Audio, maybe? The same cable for the Sony MDR-1R's is also brilliant, transformed them by increasing transparency without heightening their tendency to forwardness in the mids, it's still there to an extend (just the way they are designed) and has if anything improved on the already fine rhythmic abilities, currently my No2 headphones. Superb clarity and the trademark naturalness that seems to evade many other cables, some highly regarded. Still hanging out to hear this cable with the HE400S! I made the cable up beautifully ... only to discover some minutes into a session that the lovely little quality plugs - they're slightly smaller than the 3.5mm versions - seem to click into the socket but don't go quite far enough, the base is just a teeny bit too wide. Damn! I will have to hunt out some thinner plugs. The cable was showing great promise, despite being brand new.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2018
  13. myusernameislove
    I'll tell you secret, HD560 (I) sounds better than HD540 (I - 600 Ohm). I know, technically HD540 is better, but musically, no way guys, HD560 takes the cake. It is unbelievable what 100USD can buy.
    My arsenal grew up lately
    HD540 I 600 Early production
    HD560 I Mid-Late production aka little Orpheus
    HD560 II (soon) aka possible HD560I challenger. We will see who will win the "Best headphone under 2 grand costing 100 usd" award.
    HD250 I 600 (closed) - also excellent clarity, but very cold sound. A little brighter tonality. Amazing for live concerts. A little less detail.
    HD430 - predecessor of HD560 and HD540 - similar to HD560 in terms of musicality just does it all less well - mediocre detail retrieval, but timbre is good, just the clarity of HD560 is missing. Also its tonality is in lower frequencies than that of HD540 and HD560.
    moving to next generation
    HD565 - completely different and inferior sound to HD560, HD565 is very soft and very warm also a tonality is a lot lower and sound is bassier. Downgrade.
    HD265 (closed - soon)
    moving to akg
    AKG K240 Sextett Mid production - I know new pads would make it very good all rounder, but those old and bad condition pads makes it incredibly rough for metal so I will keep it that way.
    AKG K240 DF Late production - think of HD560 but tak away the increased clarity and add more neutrality and relaxed sound signature and you will get DF. They are my go to headphones for relaxed musical session. HD560 are just better for pure musical enjoyment.
    HE-400i - ok, Ill keep these for movies and computer games :L3000:
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2018
    trellus likes this.
  14. dakanao
    How does the HD 540 Ref 1 compare to the HD 560 Ref 1 in the bass, mids and treble?
  15. jon parker
    It depends what you want. There is no way the HD 560 Ovation is superior to the HD 540. They tuned the HD 540 for reference and the HD 560 for fun...more for general release to main stream listeners.
    I can believe some would enjoy listening to the HD 560 more.
    Ive owned a few Ovations. they are very very good 'Hi-Fi' headphones, a lot more fun sounding than the HD 540 BUT if you get a HD 540 with the right pads and the best source they will be very hard to equal never mind beat
    lantian likes this.
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