Headphone Review: Sennheiser HD 280 Pro New Version
When I first saw the "New" Sennheiser HD 280 Pro a little over a year ago, I said "Oh, I guess they changed the headband pad? Well that's... something."
And then I put it out of my mind.
Turns out Sennheiser did a little bit more than that, and in the process, created a better version of this iconic headphone that was the first one I reviewed over on Medium.
I bought the new model two weeks ago and now I'm ready to talk about it.
The New Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is a $99 closed back headphone designed for pro monitoring applications. However, its reasonably flat frequency response, somewhat low 64 ohm impedance, and high sensitivity mean it's suited for a wide variety of listening tasks.
It has none of the frills of modern style or portable headphones, instead focusing entirely on sound performance, comfort, and build. It's a formula that's served this model well for years, and the only major changes here are to the headband.
So if you liked these before, you'll like these new ones a little bit more. And if you didn't like the old model...the core of the experience is similar enough to not change your mind.
In my old review, I fawned over the way these sound...and I stand by that assessment. The bass is clean and accurate without stomping over the rest of the mix, although it lacks the aggressive thump that bassheads would want. The mids are exceptionally clear and detailed, which is important since that's where the bulk of sound information lives in music. The highs have just enough shine to be suitable for monitoring, but without the harshness that's present in some other studio headphones.
I also really enjoy the sense of soundstage and imaging present here. It's not quite as wide-feeling as some other closed-back monitoring pairs, like the DT770 pro...but that's a hard target to reach. The center image is slightly forward and up in my head, and left/right separation is pleasantly natural and wide, with no hint of claustrophobia.
It feels like Sennheiser started with the diffuse field target response (that the DT770's are also tuned to) and then just kind of messed with it until they liked it. The result is a headphone with a nice, decently flat signature that's a real joy to listen to even over extended periods.
Put simply: The isolation here is among the best you can get out of a passive headphone. In my own personal non-scientific tests, these isolate just as well for my needs as the also-excellent DT770 Pro. With sound playing, the background of my favorite coffee shop goes almost completely away. I was able to sit in front of some folks having a loud meeting one day and it didn't bother me in the slightest.
They won't block out low droning noises as well as active noise cancellation headphones, but if you want a benchmark for how well passive isolation can work, this is it.
Does the new headband design result in a better fit? YES!
The plastic frame of the headband is a touch more sleek than in the older 280 Pro, and the padding now has a big cutout in the center to avoid creating a hotspot in the middle of your head. Also, the two pads flanking the cutout are larger than the old pad, and incredibly soft and squishy. They're using what feels like either a nice memory foam or an open cell foam with lots of room for air inside.
As a result, the headband is exceptionally comfortable, even after hours and hours of use.
The ear cups are only a notch below this level, with padding that's essentially unchanged from the older version, and openings that are nice and spacious in spite of the lack of angled drivers. The foam is thick and plush, and managed to seal well around my glasses.
My ears don't touch the inside of the cups at all. If your ears do touch, then Sennheiser's got you covered with a thick ring of foam that runs around the inside of the pad. One of these pieces of foam was a little ill-placed in my pair, but I fixed that by quickly popping the pad off and re-seating it.
The leatherette on the ear pads is hilariously cheap feeling, just like it always has been. Premium leatherette, this isn't, and it'll get a bit sweaty if you wear these for more than an hour.
Clamping force is quite strong to improve isolation, but mitigated very well by the padding. The headphones don't disappear on my head, but they don't hurt me at all, and I've had some all-day sessions with them over the last week and a half.
Aside from the slight ear warm-up and the too-strong-for-some-users clamp, there's not a comfort issue to be found here. The new headband padding is exceptionally cushy and awesome, and it looks like it's showing up on the upcoming HD300 Pro as well.
I didn't dislike the old headband at all, and the new one is better.
Do you like stylish things? Do you like headphones that sit close to your head and don't stick out and make you look a little strange in public?
Then these are not for you at all.
These still look like you're wearing an old telephone on your head, with a headband that shoots way out to the side before angling back in again.
This design helps Sennheiser achieve the clamping force necessary to make these work properly. The new headband is a tiny bit less weird-looking than the old one, with a slightly more subtle curve to the circles where the ear cups attach to it...but a fashion headphone, this is not.
The headphone is built entirely out of plastic, but most of it feels very sturdy and high-grade. The right joint on my pair occasionally emits a creak, and I found a small scratch on one side of the headband that seemed like it happened during manufacturing...but these are about as tank-like as plastic headphones can possibly be.
In addition to updating the look and padding of the headband, Sennheiser added their new logos to it...and removed most of the text on the sides of the ear cups. Gone are the Sennheiser branding and impedance rating, leaving only white HD 280 PRO lettering. The ear cups are finished in a matte coating that has just a touch of shine to it.
The cable is thick, heavy, robust, tipped with a unimatch plug to support 3.5 and 6.3mm use...and permanently attached. Well, kind of. You can fairly easily take these apart and detach the cable if you've got tools lying around, though Sennheiser no longer provides the schematic inside the box. Being a Pro headphone, every part of this headphone is user-replaceable if you're willing to do the work, still a nice touch in a world where Apple considers Beats to essentially be disposable.
If you touch the cable while wearing these, it will transfer a little noise into the left cup...but this isn't an issue during normal use.
In spite of the attached cable, these are still relatively easy to lug around and store. The ear cups fold flat, and they also collapse up into the headband, allowing you to either fold them traditionally or "football style." I've had no issues throwing them into my laptop bag, and they're robust enough and cheap enough that I don't mind their lack of included case.
WHO SHOULD BUY THESE?
If you're a creative professional looking to do audio work or field recording, these should definitely be on your shortlist. If you need to do work in a noisy coffee shop or office environment, these are also worth a look. They might not sound quite exciting enough for many gamers, though I enjoy gaming with them. The coiled cable might be a hassle if you're doing most of your listening out of a phone or other portable setup, so they're not really for walking around.
But any seated listener in just about any environment should consider them.
They got loud enough for my personal tastes regardless of source...even from the infernal PS4 controller headphone jack.
HOW DO THEY COMPARE TO OTHER SIMILAR CHOICES?
The HD280 Pro is more comfy than the M50X, and sounds a bit more natural and less fatiguing. The M50X is more aggressive in the lows and the upper mids, with that trademark Audio-Technica strident/airy quality. Some will interpret the M50X's as more detailed, but others will find them more harsh and unpleasant.
I'd personally take the HD 280 Pro over the M50X because they're cheaper and dramatically more comfy, particularly over longer sessions. I'm one of the few that doesn't think the M50X feels bad, but the HD280 Pro is an undeniable step up.
The M40X gains some ground back against its sibling for being cheaper and more flatly balanced...but I still find the thick ear cups and headband pad of the HD 280 Pro much more comfy and appealing, personally.
VS Sony MDR 7506
The HD280 Pro couldn't be more different from Sony's classic studio headphones. The Sony's have smaller ear pads that will absolutely touch your ear(by design), slightly thumpier bass, and dramatically more aggressive treble.
If you find the 7506 unpleasant to listen to due to their bristling highs and shallow wearing profile, you'll probably love the 280 Pro by comparison. I can appreciate strong treble sometimes, so I actually really like how the Sony's sound...but if I were picking a headphone for a multi-hour session, I'd go for the 280's. The 7506 is a fair bit better for picking out unwanted hiss and noise in your recordings, and a touch less versatile as a result.
The only actual complaint I can level at these is that they look a bit daft.
But that design is part of what allows them to feel comfy and isolate so well. Sennheiser knows audio, and if you end up disliking these it's down to personal tastes and not any major performance flaw in the headphones.
At one point, I intended for this to be my last headphone review. I thought it would be fun to close the loop by returning to the very first headphone I had "properly" reviewed. But now, I'm pleased to announce that I'm going to keep going, and you're going to see more headphone reviews right here on World Bolding. This expanded format is an attempt to answer some of the more common questions I get within the text of the review.
When I first reviewed these I got some crap for saying they look ridiculous. That doesn't mean I hate the way they look. Today's headphone audience is much more style-conscious than the audience of 2003, when the HD280 Pro first launched. These get recommended a lot as a good entry- level audiophile headphone, and they don't reveal how silly they can look until they're actually on a head. When you're just seeing them in pictures or you're holding them, they don't stick out nearly as far as they do while worn. So I mention it just so you're aware, and not to slag on them.
I'm excited to check out the 300 Pro before the end of the year and do a full comparison, and I'm happy that Sennheiser managed to improve the 280 Pro in this light redesign.