Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Review (Old Model)
Chunky Design, Perfect Headphones
“It looks like you’re wearing an old telephone on your head.” -My Girlfriend
She’s absolutely right. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro looks a fair bit like an old telephone receiver on your head. (Telephones are things we used to use to talk vocally with each other). It doesn’t matter though, because everything else about these headphones is completely perfect.
Although the headband design means that these are the opposite of style cans, that’s okay, because they were originally designed for the studio. You’ll notice that the ample pad on the headband perfectly rests on the top of my head in the photo above. It’s super comfy. You’ll notice the giant pads on the earcups. They’re super comfy. The giant pads also provide these with excellent noise isolation, meaning you’ll hear everything cleanly, and the person next to you won’t. So, full marks for design then…even though it looks like an old telephone.
The build is incredibly solid. Tank-like. The Audio Technica ATH M50x’s are known for their durability. These have that, and then some. The HD280 is mostly built out of plastic, but it’s a thick meaty plastic. A satisfying plastic. A plastic that is really lightweight, but still feels tough. Plus, they have a 2 year warranty and many of the parts are user-replaceable.
Now then, with all of that out of the way, the sound. I’ve heard recordings of these. I’ve read reviews. I’ve seen them compared unfavorably to the Audio Technica M40X and the Sony MDR-7506 in the realm of “Flat” studio cans. So I was expecting not to like these.
When I first listened to them, I noticed that the highs were as crisp as they could possibly be without annoying me, and that the mids were solidly rendered. But overall it sounded a little tinny. A little lacking in low end. Then the song I was listening to got to its bassy part, and the low end came booming in at the perfect level. These weren’t lacking in low-end, they just render it exactly right, without it bleeding into other frequencies. I was so used to this bleed in many other headphones, it had become normal to me.
From there, I went on a listening odyssey. The more I listen to these, the more I love their clean, accurate, precise sound. And the soundstage! My god! These have an amazingly detailed and wide soundstage, especially for such closed, isolating headphones. They have soundstage performance you’d expect out of open cans. You’ll hear things placed accurately in the sound field. You’ll hear things in front of you, and behind you. You’ll hear every instrument with precision.
These are perfect-sounding headphones. If you’ve never heard an analytical, flat-tuned headphone before, they might take some time for you to adjust to, but then you’ll never want to go back. I thought my M40X’s were flat and the best-tuned I had ever personally heard, until I listened to these.
Sennheiser includes a nice, detailed manual complete with a frequency response graph, so you can see just how flat these are. On the low-end, they get all the way down to 8hz. That’s insane. Most headphones don’t go much below 20hz. And I guess they don’t really need to. But these bring thunderous, accurate bass to you…without it ever muddying the other frequencies.
After spending hours of listening time with these, I suddenly understood why so many people mix on them, and why they’ve been so popular for almost two decades.
Let’s talk a few things that some people might not like. They come with a fixed, coiled cable, made of a robust material. It terminates in a 3.5mm plug that’s gold plated and has nice strain relief. You might not like that it has a fixed cable, but it’s a really nice cable. They’re also pretty clampy on your head, by design. It helps to isolate you from outside noise, which is especially important for precise listening. These isolate almost as well as my Bose QC25 active noise cancelling set does, and they sound much better. But you might not like the clamp. All Sennheiser headphones are known for their clamp. But, to me, the cushions are so soft and nice that I hardly notice it, and I could sit comfortably wearing them for hours.
Now, a few more random positives, and a conclusion. They fold in a variety of ways, meaning you can easily store these on a shelf when not in use, or shove them into a bag for portable applications. They are 64 ohm headphones, around double the impedance of an average consumer headphone, but you should still be able to drive them with most modern devices, no amp necessary. I’ve done just fine with an iPhone 6 Plus, a chromebook, and an Amazon Fire HD 10. Did I mention the sound is really really amazingly accurate and good?
Oh and hey, they are only 99 bucks. 99 dollars. 99 smackers. That’s cheap. Stupidly cheap. For the amount of headphone you’re getting, they’re easily worth three times that. Heck, when they launched 15 years ago they were 199, and I would have paid that without hesitating.
So yes, these look like a silly telephone is eating your head when you wear them. But they’re my new favorite headphones. I’ve said “these are my new favorite” over the last year of buying too many headphones once or twice, and now I’ve said it again. The Sennheiser HD 280 is the perfect intersection of price and performance. It’ll now be what I judge all others against, particularly for sound. It’s the new bar. I was wrong to have ever doubted them.