The Sennheiser HD-series headphones are highly-regarded in the audio community. Let’s be clear here (pun intended), there is no such thing as “the best headphones” for everyone. Each individual has his or her own listening preference, but at the very least, the headphones must be able to present the musical details very clearly. Then the rest is about frequency balancing – bass, midrange, treble.
It is possible to have your cake and eat it, but up to a certain extent, one of the frequency is going to overpower the rest and then you may lose some details. Then there is also the physical limitations of the transducer, or speaker drivers. How do you reproduce pompous bass and precise highs all at the same time?
With the Sennheiser HD 560S, the German audio company is offering a new “reference standard” in 2020, their 75th year in business. The great thing is that you do not need to pay an arm or leg for one. Rated 120 ohms with frequency response 6 – 38,000 Hz , it’s retailing in Singapore for S$299.
Sennheiser HD-series are not known for using over-the-top details or decorated materials (except the premium models), and what I really like about the HD 650/660S/6XX is that almost every part of the headphones can be replaced with after-market parts. The HD 560S feels like a pair of budget headphones, but comfort remains above everything else. The replaceable velour earpads offer long usage with generous room to prevent getting in contact with your ears. The headband pads appear to be glued on, but no doubt it is a matter of ripping it and sticking a fresh one when the time comes.
How does this new “reference” sound like? The first impression is that the HD 560S is bright-sounding and delivers clear smooth treble. The bass delivers clean impact without too pushy. Midrange is also naturally present, not too warm nor full. Overall, these headphones tilt towards the upper frequencies to deliver clarity and definition supported with grounded bass for overall balance. The open-back design prevents energy build-up, allowing intensive passages to dissipate with ease.
I find the HD 650 more warm-sounding, more bass extension, more generous with midrange, less forward treble, more smooth, more cozy sound staging, while the HD 560S sounded a little more clinical, sibilance and percussion are clearer on the HD 560S without needing to listen hard. The treble is actually not too thin, retaining body and substance.
The HD 660 S, if I recall, is a little more clearer than the HD 650 and a little more bass, while still retains the character of the HD 6-series. The HD 560S tries to leap towards the HD 800 S kind of sound balance, but the HD 800 S is way more superior in its treble precision, the bass definition, instrumental separation, and sound staging. At the recommended retail price, I cannot expect too much from HD 560S, but it definitely offers a lot more value.
All exceptional headphones need capable players and amplifiers. For my review, I used the Burson Playmate with V5 Opamps which delivered controlled detailed sound. Treble is presented with excellent dynamics and smooth sibilance, while bass achieves expressive and open texture.
Are the Sennheiser HD 560S worthy as the new reference? It goes back to my first paragraph: what is your listening preference? The HD 650 is one of the classic favourites by audio lovers but some felt it would be better if they sound a little more revealing at the upper frequencies. If you have the same desire, then the HD 560S would be a delight to listen to. If you need a little more bass and warmth, then the HD 660 S would be a better option, albeit at more than double the price.
Between the HD 650 and HD 560S, both offer different listening experiences which I am happy to accept. The HD 650 lets me listen to music at a louder volume, filling my ears with warmth and passion musical without feeling the highs discomfort. The HD 560S delivers a more lively performance with revealing instrumental character. In other words, both headphones can co-exist in any headphone collection.
This review unit has been professionally burned-in by Porta-Fi to eliminate the initial raw brightness prior to my assessment. It is recommended that you do the same for your mint unit to achieve a smoother response.