I am an ardent follower of Sennheiser products, specially their audiophile headphone line. Starting out the CX-300 (as replacement for my iPod ear buds), HD448, PX100, HD600 and currently with the HD650, they have always impressed me with their products. Sennheiser has recently refreshed its audiophile range of with the HD518, 558 & 598 and the fabulous HD600 is almost out leaving just the HD650. This review takes a look at the mid-tier Sennheiser HD 558, which actually turned out to be the best value headphone in the current line-up.
The Sennheiser HD558 maintains the classic headphone look with good styling. I specially mention the “classic headphone” look because with the HD 598 Sennheiser has tried a new look/color which seems to have many complaining. Personally, the HD598 is a refreshing redesign and I have no complaints. Incase you are not the consumer who goes for the European sports car look (of the HD598) then its just one more reason to pickup the HD558. The new audiophile line also sports detachable cables, a welcome feature – as more often than not the cables are more susceptible to usage.The clean curves and bold looks and reasonably good plastic housing makes it worth the price. You can always look up the feature list on on the HD 558 product page, so let’s get on with things that matter more… (in my opinion).
The classic comfort that one expects from Sennheiser headphones is prominent the HD 558 and one feels it the moment the phones go on the head. The most obvious characteristic that you’ll notice with the 558 is the large soundstage and airy presentation (within this price category). Ofcourse one expects such a presentation from open-headphones in general, however I think that the 558s provide a good dimensional presentation for an entry-level audiophile headphone. I haven’t heard the Grados and Audio Technicas so I can’t compare them but I have heard the Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K550 and know a good presentation when I hear one! I tried out the 558s on both a Matrix Mstage followed by a Burson HA160 and the headphones stepped up their act with better resolution and dynamics.
The highs were initially a bit shiny for my tastes but with time they did settle down. In general the highs are crisp and clean (probably my Cambridge DAC Magic rubbed off some of its upper end shine).The mids are lovely and smooth, right there along with both highs and lows. If you enjoy jazz and vocals you’ll appreciate the tone of the mids greatly. It definitely stands up in comparison to my previous Sennheiser HD448 (and it should considering the price difference, and it definitely would be the recommended upgrade from the 448s). Bass is in sufficient quantity for non-bass heads, though it does get slightly boomy when extending further down, all-in-all quite good for the price and I did notice slight betterment with burn-in (I recommend atleast 50 hrs of burn-in). I have been recently listening to a HiFiman HE500 and a Sennheiser HD650, so its very much likely that I have been “spoiled” with regard to the quality of bass that I expect . That said, I would definitely rate the treble performance of the 558’s higher than its bass.The HD558 retains most of the laid-back style house sound of Sennheiser which goes very well with a lot of listeners but if you are a serious rock and electronica nut these may not provide that pace or “zing” that adds a great feeling to such tracks. Though I cannot exactly pin down the flavor in the HD558, I see it as a more “popular” deviation from the previous HD6xx line. The HD558 is not as laid back as the previous generation of Senns, and I don’t see that as a disadvantage – it probably reflects the fact that Sennheiser is updating it’s house style with a bit of popular music listening styles. Overall the HD558 can be described as a very pleasant and slightly colored listening experience. The coloring keeps the 558 from getting cold and yet not too warm. This nature keeps the HD558 suitable for most music genres though hip-hop listeners may notice the lack of strong bass.
Sennheiser mentions that the 558 plays well with most mp3 players and portable media players owing to its higher sensitivity. I found this to be the case as the everything from my iPod Classic, iPhone to the Sandisk Clip could drive the 558 easily to loud volumes, that said the 558 ships with a quarter-inch headphone pin and using the provided 3.5mm adapter is quite “dorky”! Though Sennheiser says the sensitive 50 ohm HD558 is compatible with most portable audio sources, frankly driving it from mp3 players and laptop audio output sources is not a great idea. These headphones are meant to be driven atleast from a home audio receiver but one can also opt for a much more wallet friendly and portable headphone amp like the Fiio E10 and enjoy better sound from the headphones.
The general pricing difference between the 3 models (HD518, 558 & 598) are roughly 30 bucks (HD518-100, HD558-130 & HD598-160).Remember that there is the HD518 which sits below the 558 coming in just at or under 100 bucks, my advice is to skip it! The price difference between the 518s & 558s is almost negligible…just hunt for good offers on the 558 (online) and you will definitely be coming away with a great value purchase for your money. The next step-up model HD598 is relatively pricier than the 558 in the real world, it goes without saying that if you are getting a good price on the 598s, don’t think twice!
The HD 518,558 & 598 all sport the same driver, Sennheiser has worked the difference in sound by adjusting just the shell, which is cool! Anyway, that also allows the possibility of users hacking the headphone for better performance (or not!). The popular mod for the HD558 brings it closer to the HD598 but not without setbacks, always something to try for the enthusiast. The mod itself is simple and worth a try (see this youtube video)!