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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. SHAMuuu
    Let me put it this way, i was facing an auction which seemed to countdown too fast, and had to make a decision between a 560 ovation II and a ref 1 (Made in Germany) 540. Both in new condition.
    I read Axell Grell in some interview mention 560 and dt831 as two cans he respected highly that he wasn;t a part of in creating.

    Trust me it was no easy decision going for an Ireland version atm.

    So with 250 I and Ovation II, well i guess i know i'll have to add the 540 sooner or later.

    I feel a bit sick skipping on the "Made in Germany" which sold quickly after but seems there are more 540 than 560 listed usually so i'm sure i won't be troubled too much to score one.

    Which 540 is KING? Ref I or II?

    My reference is dt48/480
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
  2. jon parker

    I think he was confused - its the HD 580 that you need to find a 'Made in Germany' version NOT the HD 540
    To my ears the Ref 1 is MUCH better than the Ref II. I have owned 2 Ref II's and quickly sold them. Similar to the HD 560 - Tuned to be more on the fun side than the reference side

    I own a DT 931 which is said to be one the best [dynamic?] headphones made, in terms of detail retrieval. I would have to agree. They are amazing in that regard
    The DT48 is a very good but like the DT831 I would say they are good because of some specific qualities.

    The HD 540 is just superb in EVERY way. I don't think there is any other headphone that makes music sound so natural and true to life. The different pads can change the sound signature
    but that's often the case
  3. SHAMuuu
    Thanks for the tips friend. Yeah I was swayed left , right, up, and down like a ragdoll with each post and fan of each model. One guy who posted a lot on this particular thread loved the ref II and i think had like 9!

    This particular post also influenced (grr) and a youtube video on the 560 Ovation II.


    Well now I know what to do. :D

    Eventually score one of them 540 Ref I KINGS No way I can score em all (the different versions).
  4. jon parker
    Ive owned that exact same pair of Ovations as well ! He said it well when he said they were 'musical' - That's why i put them well below the 540. Not because they are worse than the 540
    They are still very good but when you put them up against the 540 the 540 outshines them BUT to be fair, the 540 is a REFERENCE headphone and if that is what you are looking for
    then the 540's are essential to own
    ALL the headphones we have discussed are worthy of buying :D I guess it just depends on what you want right now..more musical..to enjoy the music OR more reference to enjoy the audio qualities !!
    Either way you are very lucky to be looking in this specific area of headphones as they some of the best ever made!
    Good luck on your bidding buddy
  5. Greendriver
    Sorry for the ignorance but how can you identify the different versions of the 540?

    I want to check my 2 sets later...
  6. myusernameislove

    I compared most of pads that I own now with my HD540 Reference 1 600 Ohm headphones.
    I recommend pads no. 2 (enhanced), 6 (enhanced) and 1 (stock pads).

    For no. 1 I had to use regular thin foam inserts to reduce spikiness of highs. For all other pads I chose very thin cloth inserts from ebay user messihinmessiher to keep as much highs in sound as possible or no foam inserts at all..

    +++ = best (heavenly)
    ++ = good (heaven entrance)
    + = with flaws (may suit some genres)

    ++++ (above heaven)

    Reserved for modified pads and tuning them close to original stock experience (fabric pads with pleather top ring). Also stock HD560 velour pads were not tested (at least one user prefers them to everything else).


    2 (enhanced) - insert 0.5cm wide foam ring into the bottom part of pad no 2 to increase height and seal for a better space and tighter bass and to undo weird quality of mids od pads no. 2. The result is more bassy than that of enhanced pad no. 6. Excellent pairing with brighter and cleaner amps. I use pads no.2 (enhanced) on my HD250 Linear 1 and pads no.6 (enhanced) on HD540.

    6 (enhanced) - glue a 0.5cm wide foam ring with a small amount of a textil glue to the bottom part of pad no. 6 to increase height and seal for a MUCH higher amount of bass than with original pad no. 6 and to achieve a bit better quality space while still keeping the tonality a bit brighter and the sound less bassy then the sound with enhaced pads no. 2. The result has more highs (but also less body) and the sound is very close to reference neutrality ideal. Excellent pairing with warmer and darker amps. After while: space still is not ideal - a bit less precise placement of instruments or slightly distorted highs I would call it. Very enjoyable listen though.

    1, stock HD540 Reference 1 pads with exchanged filling (taken from cheap Hifiman pads) and stitched back together (fabric, tall profile, without pleather top ring, but with ) - even more clear than wang_yifei's pleather pads. Spikier highs, very neutral sound (some of you may actually prefer little warmer sound of no.2 and no.3 pads). Space is exceptional and imaging is precise. Exceptional tonality and technical mastery. Although tonality is perfect, and bass is not missing in the sound, it's bass is not as easily identified as with all of the other pads (no.2, 3, 4, 5) and therefore I take one star down in bass quality.. Quality of highs ++++ (yes, here it shines), amount of highs +++, quality of mids +++, quality of bass ++, amount of bass ++, quality of space +++, technical excellence (ability to display texture of notes - you need very clean sound and good quality bass for this to work, amount of aftersounds, sweetness of sound) +++.


    2, replacement pleather pads from ebay user wang_yifei (soft pleather, flat profile) - almost perfect, better (tight) bass than no.1. Unfortunately its middle frequencies sound weird in comparison to stock pads (no.1), but if you do not have those for comparison, you may not even notice it. Space is as exceptional and imaging as precise as no.1. Sound is a little warmer and also more sharp than no.1. Quality of highs +++, amount of highs +++, quality of mids ++ /a little too tin can sounding/, quality of bass +++, amount of bass ++, quality of space +++, technical excellence +++.

    8, replacement AKG pleather pads from Amazon by FeiYen (thick pleather, memory foam, low profile) - less highs than both 2 (enhanced) and 6 (enhanced), less clear in highs, but more robust body and more bassy tonality-wise. Better in that department of increased bass than less clear sounding Brainwavz pads no.4. They sound pretty mellow, and therefore are still very enjoyable, but contrary to them they lack their crystal clear highs. Quality of highs ++ (soft), amount of highs ++, quality of mids +++ (very mellow), quality of bass ++ (softer), amount of bass +++ , quality of space ++, technical excellence ++ (less clear, much less real window into music - they take HD540 to the fun V shape level of sound that usually HD560 excels in, but gone is the crystal clear and neutral sounding open window into the music).

    3, replacement Sennheiser HD560 Ovation / Ovation II Earpads (Black) from Audio Sanctuary (velour) - softer sounding, near to perfection. One could argue that timbre is better with this softer kind of sound. Definitelly more relaxed and less sharp. Quality of highs ++, amount of highs ++, quality of mids +++, quality of bass ++ (softer), amount of bass +++, quality of space ++, technical excellence ++ (softness takes half of this perfection away, but there is still enough of it for you to enjoy).


    4, replacement Brainwavz memory foam pads. Oval. (thick pleather, tall profile) - more bass, too much (it muddens the sound). Main problem of it is, that it does not have that natural sound that most of us love with HD540. Space and imaging is also broken (mediocre). Could be good choice for modern music. Quality of highs ++, amount of highs ++, quality of mids ++, quality of bass ++, amount of bass ++++, quality of space +. technical excellence ++ (hidden).

    5, stock pads from HD250 linear II - (soft pleather, tall profile) - natural sound, but too dull for my taste. Space and imaging is mediocre, hint of dullness muddens space and timbre. If you like a little more bass and also want a little compromise in natural sound character, this could be your choice. But it sounds too dull to me. Quality of highs ++, amount of highs ++, quality of mids +++, quality of bass ++, amount of bass +++, quality of space ++. technical excellence + (dullness kills most of it).

    6, replacement Sennheiser HD430 ear pads. Colour: Black. (soft pleather, medium to flat profile) - very clean, almost bright as it lacks bass, but otherwise sound is perfect. Space and imaging is a tiny bit behind that of wang_yifei's pleather pads. Too bass light. Quality of highs +++, amount of highs +++, quality of mids +++, quality of bass +++, amount of bass +, quality of space ++, technical excellence + (it is clean, but because it lacks bass it cannot show muscles).


    reserved for mediocre pads

    1 (destroyed), glue bit of pleather to the front part of the pad. The glue kills it. Before it was glued and only placed on the front, it sounded well - maybe better than original. High amount of glue made it sound too bright. If you want to try this mode, stitch the pleather ring to the pad instead. And do not use too wide ring. Use as narrow ring as it was originally narrow.


    7, (added 3.1. 2019) Brainwavz hybrid pads (thick pleather on sides and velour top, tall profile) - their tonality is even bassier then Brainwavz memory foam pads (4), and at the same time their sound is muddier than any pads in the test so far (from no. 1 to no.6). They just destroy everything that these headphones do well. Quality of highs -, amount of highs +, quality of mids +, quality of bass - (soft and muddy), amount of bass ++++, quality of space ++, technical excellence - (muddy).


    reserved for worst ever pads
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
  7. dakanao
    Thank you for this detailed comparison. A few questions:

    1. What do you mean by ''bass is not as easily identified as the other pads'', with the stock foam filled HD 540 pads? Do you mean like the bass does't have as much presence (quantity), or that the texture is lacking (quality)?

    2. So even though the wang_yifei pleather pads have less highs emphasis than the stock foam filled pads, the highs are less controlled/more shrill, do I have that correct?

    3. These HD 560 seem interesting to me with their soft sound, how do you find they compare in vocal forwardness, highs quantity and quality, and bass emphasis to the wang_yifei thin pleathers?

    Your answers would be greatly appreciated.
  8. myusernameislove
    I still do not know how those hd560 velour pads compare to wang_f.'s velour pads from ebay. I guess I need to try it.

    1, I think it is the fabric thing. It does not keep the bass tight. I mean it is not having thin bright tonality as HD430 pads, it sounds similar in bass amount to 2 and 3, just slifhtly less. And the bass does not have edges. It is mixed to other higher freqs. It is just sublime addition to the sound. It is lower in amount slightly, but it lacks slam, it escapes the fabric and it does not catch attention, it just supports the tonality, which is equally bassy as no 2 and 3.

    2, the sound is more clear and so neutral with stock pads, so the highs can excel in quality and even more with good cable. You hear the addition of sound of cable more in the neutral sound presentation. Even mids sound more clear. With pads no2. the tightness of bass and sharper sound gets some of your attention. And mids are a bit weird. But you may still prefer sound of no. 2. It is more catchy.

    + all that was said is valid for R2R11 which is darker sounding amp. I did some comparison of HD540 on Chord Mojo vs R2R11, and R2R11 is better with these. Mojo only adds clarity to already clear sound, while R2R11 adds temperature and timbre and texture and feeling. . I definitely prefer this kind of tubish sound with them. They show beauty of notes more with fuller and warmer aparature.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
  9. dakanao
    No I was talking about the wang_y thin pleathers (not velour) vs HD 560 velour replacement pads.

    I'm using a Chord Mojo indeed, and I love a soft, smooth sound but with rich forward vocals, and neutral impactful bass, so that's why I'm wondering how they compare in vocal forwardness, highs quantity and quality, and bass emphasis, relative to the thin pleathers..
  10. myusernameislove
    I am cuious to try one more interesting pads. This time it is fabric pads from ebay. May they be a good replacement for stock HD540 Reference 1 earpads? Just search for "AKG K701 fabric pads" on ebay. 3 users sell same pads. 106cm diameter should fit exactly. Even the leather ones could be interesting to try, but I chose only the fabric ones.

    wang_y thin pleathers sound better than HD560 velour pads in my opinion. Velour pads, as you know, are soft sounding. It is the same difference as with wooden and iron sword. Velour is wood, pleather is iron. And fabric is glass. :)

    I know Mojo si on the warm side of clear, but R2R11 is bassier and has more body. It gives body and texture to the sound. Mojo, on the other hand, is very good with bassier headphones, like my Hifiman HE-400i with MrSpeaker pads (thick leather pads). It tightness and clears the sound. HD540 is already super clear. Mojo can not add too much to it. It only adds sparkle and finesse, not body and, well, lower frequencies. I think some Sony DAPs (warmer, more musical) may be better choice for HD540, as well as tube amps, and of course, various multibit amps, especially R2R ones from AudioGD. Those are super liquidish. But it comes at cost - with R2R11 you need to pay additional bucks for good cables (power, usb), possibly USB card or some additional hardware that enhances USB connection (and you can easily go wrong in there - cheap sollution advertise positive change in sound yet they make sound worse), power source, etc. Everything becomes weak link in nonportable solution. With portable solution it is only your dap and headphone cable.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
  11. myusernameislove
    I still did not hear HD540 II, but I did others (HD250 I,II, 560 I, II, HD540 I). In my opinion all 2nd revisions sound closer to each other then first revisions. HD250 I for example is very bright. So is HD560 I - but in different way. HD250 1 is very cold sounding headphone, and bright at the same time. Unique combination. 2nd revision of HD250? V shaped and fun sound with plenty of bass.. HD560 1 is bright and pleasantly musical, HD560 2 is more V shaped. Does it mean 1st revisions are worse? Nope. 1st revisions are so unique sounding, while 2nd revisions are revised to sound close to each other, to one universal ideal sound signature. 1st revisions have unrepeatable sounds, and of course the biggest flaw - they lack bass. This may be true for HD540 as well as far as I understand, but there is one exception from what I read here, and that is the earliest HD540 from all - the 600 Ohm version of HD540. That is the king, both unique and with the right amount of bass. But if you can not identify one (there are some pages in this super long thread that distinguines them from each other) from the photos on ebay, then choose Reference 2 instead. Users say, that that is your safe bet. More bass, closer to ideal. It, in theory, could sound close to Ref 1 600 Ohm, but also to HD250 Linear 2 and HD560 II. Also, I think that all 2nd revisions sound kinda V shape and have more bass and are more in your face (aggresive) than more linear and neutral sounding first revisions. I will have to buy Reference 2. It is last piece of this wonderful Mosaic.

    ps these pages will help you distinguish 600 Ohm Reference 1:



    From what I read here (oldest to newest revisions):

    HD540 Reference 1 600 Ohm Early production /EP/ - more bass and impact
    HD540 Reference 1 600 Ohm Midlle production /MP/ - less bass
    HD540 Reference 1 600 Ohm Late production /LP/- balanced
    HD540 Reference 1 300 Ohm - ?
    HD540 Reference 2 300 Ohm - more bass... + character of 2nd revision

    How to distinguish HD560 Ovation 1 versions:


    How to distinguish HD560 Ovation 2 versions? No idea.

    How to distinguish HD250s? Search HD250 thread for an answer.

    HD250 Linear 1 600 Ohm
    HD250 Linear 1 300 Ohm
    HD 250 Linear 2 300 Ohm
    HD 250 Linear 2 600 Ohm (grey rings)

    And my preference?

    Hd250 Linear 1 600 Ohm is way better headphone then HD250 Linear 2 600 Ohm. So much more true and natural and effortless and relaxed = much better overal timbre. But it desperately needs ebay wang’s pleather pads that give it so much needed bass and remove the brightness. It sounds so good from Shanling M0.. Cannot praise it high enough. And it leaks 0 sound, so it could be THE best closed headphone noone really knows about. You will stop working and start listening if you put it on in workspace :). That good that timbre and effortless the sound is. Oh no, that is not just my idea. I have read here on HeadFi from Sennheiser engineer that was working on HD250 production that hifists preferred Linear 1 to linear 2. And that he personally does value it so high as a headphone that can not be replaced by anything else. go get it. In a way its effortless sound and feel is above the mastery of HD540. And it is close to Hd540 even in that department.

    I may compare HD560 1 to HD560 2 soon.
    HD540s in a month or two.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
    Narayan23 likes this.
  12. dakanao
    I see you gave 2 stars for quality for the highs of the 560 velour pads, and 3 stars for the thin pleathers.

    Why is that, if the highs are sharper on the thin pleather pads?
  13. myusernameislove
    Hi, velour soft sound makes the highs sound a little muddier, while Hd430 pads sound very crisp.
  14. sennsay
    Our sources make a big difference, as can some connecting cables (or not, for you, if you believe otherwise). With Wang's eBay pleathers, as stated before, only smoothly extended highs are present in my system .. unless there are recording anomalies such as gross compression or hot recordings, in which case they are shown as present, while maintaining the beauty of the humanity behind them. It's easy to tell that an alive human voice (complete with physical mass, bone and flesh) was manipulated during recording. This is as it should be for a 'reference' headphone. Considering I use pure silver ICs between the Mimby and Magni 3 (if using that system) and still have no edgy transistorised vocals (other than for the reasons just stated) and an utter lack of any grain to highlight edge and sharpness, I can only assume that different sources and connecting cables and amplifiers/DACs etc, may require the need to play the field for pads for balance.
    I consider myself very fortunate to have found close to perfection for my own 600 ohm Senn HD540 Ref1s, the Mogami cable being the final straw for completion. My next task for this system is to buy some Mogami interconnect cable and make up a couple of sets and see how they compare to the reference Slinkylinks silver ICs.
  15. dakanao
    Btw I tried the wang velour pads on the 540, didn't like them. Made the highs too uncontrolled.

    Also tried the DT 880 cheap replacement velours on them, lacked bass and the highs still were not as controlled/smooth as the thin pleathers from wang. That's why I was asking for the relative comparison between the HD 560 Ovation velour in the vocals and bass emphasis, and smoothness of highs.

    Because for me I have no problem with the sound of the thin pleathers, but I want deeper pads, and if the HD 560 velours are like the thin pleathers in vocals and bass but with even softer highs, I'm all for it.
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