UPDATE: A few months after I bought these, the headband glue on my pair failed. :/ I’m not sure if it was due to my large head, or the weather, but it was a bummer. Fortunately, Sennheiser makes other 500 series models that use a leatherette stitched headband instead of some padding glued to plastic. Maybe check out the 579, 598, 598SE, 598Cs, or 599 instead of these!
I don’t usually like open headphones.
I’ve owned three pairs of them in my life:
- Sennheiser HD 555: This was an internet darling years ago. I bought them, expecting to be blown away…and I wasn’t. They were fine. Good, even. But no better than the Bose TriPorts I had used and loved for years. I wasn’t a very critical listener then, but to my untrained ears, they were decidedly average. I gave them to my dad. They’re still cooking along, all these years later, which is impressive.
- Audio-Technica AD700X: Another popular headphone. The highs were really great. The rest of the frequency response was average. They didn’t have the big wide sound I was expecting. The cable was stupid. Really really stupid.
- Sennheiser HD 558: Now this is more like it.
The HD 558 is the first open headphone I’ve unequivocally enjoyed. Let’s get a couple negatives out of the way, then I’ll proceed to gush all over these headphones.
The Cable: The included cable is 10 feet long. It terminates in a large quarter-inch plug, with a 3.5mm mini adapter included. Since 99 percent of consumer devices use a mini jack, you’ll need the adapter on there…which makes the plug a hilarious heavy giant thing. It’s stupid. The material of the cable is quite nice, but everything else is baffling.
However! It’s detachable and replaceable! It uses the exact same twist-and-lock mechanism that the Audio-Technica M50X headphones use, but with a thinner plug end. The M50X cables won’t fit. Sennheiser offers an official 3.5mm-ended replacement, and there are plenty of nice third-party ones online as well. They all sell for around 15 bucks. I ordered one about an hour after I started using the headphones.
Maybe I’ll review the cable when it gets here next week. That would be good and dumb.
Isolation: Since these are open headphones, they offer zero isolation. That’s why I don’t normally like open headphones, as I often use headphones when I’m out and about and want to shut out the world. Sound from the outside will come in, and sound from the 558’s will leak out, although not extremely loudly. You could probably use these in a room next to someone without bothering them too badly unless you really crank them up.
Storage: These don’t fold down at all, and are somewhat girth-y due to their sizable ear cups. They’re not meant to be portable at all, and they won’t slide easily into a bag. You’ll need some kind of shelf or headphone hook to stow them on when you’re not using them.
Every other thing about these headphones is fantastic.
Build/Design: For being all-plastic, the 558 is impressively solid and stylish. They feel premium in the hand. The lines are nice and smooth. The locking cable mechanism is just as solid and satisfying as the identical one on the M50X. The logo branding is subtle and the shiny accents aren’t garish.
Comfort: These will totally disappear on your head. The headband padding is among the most comfy I’ve ever felt. The ear cups are huuuuuge and nicely padded, and fit effortlessly around my ears and glasses. The headband has 18 clicks of adjustment on each side. I can’t believe how much the arms extend. I expected them to stop and they just kept going. These fit my large head better than any other headphone, and because they’re so adjustable, they’ll easily fit smaller heads too.
Clamping force is on the strong side of average, but weirdly nice. It’s the clampiest headphone that will still disappear on your head. The ear cups swivel adequately and the pads shouldn’t touch your ears at all, unless you have the world’s largest ears.
Sound: Soundstage! Soundstage soundstage soundstage! I just wrote a blog, not that long ago, about how soundstage is stupid and not real.
Turns out I am the one that is stupid!
These have amazing sense of depth, width, and separation. It’s unreal. Instruments come from all directions, rendered with lovely clarity and precision.
Sennheiser has some analog acoustic trickery going on to achieve all this. The first is their special angled driver, part of what they call Eargonomic Acoustic Refinement (cringe), and the second is what they call a “Surround Reflector.” That’s basically some damping material that helps reflect sound.
It all works perfectly.
These have a wonderful tonality to them. The box says they have “Outstanding bass and vocal projection,” and they’re absolutely right. The mids are lovely, and the highs are present without being fatiguing. These also have the best bass I’ve ever heard on an open headphone. It’s really hard for open headphones to have bass since they don’t seal around your ear, but the 558s deliver exceptional sound across the whole frequency range.
They sound just like headphones should. Their stereo effects are really really cool.
These are phenomenal headphones, with a brilliant sense of imaging, depth, and clarity. If you can deal with the stupid cable and the fact that they’re open, you’ll have a great time. They retail for $180 bucks, but they frequently go on sale for way way less. Like, 50 percent off. I got them for $98 bucks and you might even beat that if you’re lucky.
The HD 558 is the middle model of the “5x8” family. Do you want something cheaper and more bass-heavy? Then go for the 518. Its pads are weirdly textured and not as comfy, but they’re a tremendous value especially if you’re a basshead. Want a brighter headphone and nicer materials? Go with the HD 598. It’s a little more expensive. Also, if you’re going for the 598, I’d recommend the 598SE as it includes a second shorter, non-stupid cable in the box.
You can’t go wrong with the Sennheiser HD 558. It’s maybe the best headphone you could buy for home listening? It’s certainly my favorite so far. It’s lovely. It made me a big fan of open headphones overnight. I finally understand.
What a cool thing!