I am a contented IEM (in-ear monitor) user and the HD 448 was an impulse buy which turned out to be AMAZING! So you now know what to expect further into the review. The Sennheiser HD 448 is a closed-back full size headphone that performs admirably well in the pool of headphones that it competes with.
I have been listening on the Sennheiser HD448s for almost 3 months, if over-the-ear headphones are you’re thing then there just isn’t anything (in this class) under the $100 or 100€ mark that will best this beauty. Now that earlier statement may not hold true for long since there are always price cuts!
The HD448 fall into the over-the-ear class of full size headphones. These envelop the complete ear lobe (the over-the-ear) and the ear-cups are designed with sufficient space to do the job.They also fall into the closed design class which means they do not leak sound and offer some isolation (more on the isolation later). The HD 448 was designed for use with portable music players (as Sennheiser says) and their size is quite reasonable. and generally does provoke stares from people around (oh, I should say that if you do get some looks it’s probably the styling on the ear-cups ;-)).
The biggest advantage that the 448 offers is the clarity/resolution that just blows away anything I’ve heard before. Clarity of sound is something that I’m not sure that I would be able to explain satisfactorily, but let me try. Every chord or beat or frequency is so clear – the best way to experience this is the first time you put on the 448 after using your regular headphone. Now if you go back to your older headphone you’ll definitely notice the muddy spectrum of sounds. An example that strikes me is with photography, you’ve shot with point & shoots and then switched to a SLR with a fast prime lens – now you suddenly notice how you’re primary subject is so sharp! That’s exactly what I’m talking about in terms of sound.If you’re a bass lover, stay clear of the 448s – there are other cans out there which will satisfy you more. Though the bass on the 448 is decent but it’s nowhere close to the oomph that even a cheap pair of in-ears (though the bass is going to be muddy!) can deliver (Check the frequency response of the Sennheiser CX-300s in the image below). My earlier statement should not be misconstrued as “no bass”, the bass response is clean but not very deep nor is there much “attack”. If you like balanced or neutral sound then the 448s are definitely the way to go.The HD448s were designed for midrange beauty or vocals and that’s where it shines. Its not easy switching to neutral listening styles, I started out with the CX300 and have been moving down/up ever since (Koss porta pro and the Shure SE 210). Initially, I felt that the bass was too faint but I gradually settled into the levels within a few days (though not without withdrawal effects ;-)). I can’t stress enough that these headphones are tuned for midrange response – and it really does that very well.The vocals on most pop and Indian music is fantastic and very musical. Soundstage is good after the initial burn-in period though initially it was a bit constricted (guess I am making an unfair comparison with my semi-open headphones!).
For more detailed technical test data check out Inner fidelity headphone data sheet.
Wearing comfort is a primary concern when going for a full-size can, the Sennheisers are just masters at making the best fit. The longest I’ve managed to wear my 448 was about 5hrs and after which I actually fell asleep with my cans on..I had totally forgotten that they were there in the first place! The clamping force is gentle, yet the fit is firm – which provides decent noise isolation. The isolation can ofcourse not be compared to in-ears but the seal is decent enough to get you through busy streets and on flights. The isolation may not be sufficient in really noisy environments such as underground transport stations.
To amp or not to amp?
Sennheiser suggests the HD448 as a great accompaniment to portable music players, which it definitely is – but does it really flex the muscles of this headphone? Unfortunately the answer is no! A 32 ohm impedance rating on this headphones suggests that it should play very well with most of the portable music players. The reality is though the HD448 does a good job with most portable music players including mobile phones, it just seems to lack that shine which is very prominent when an amplifier is introduced. I’ve listened to the HD448 on an iPod Nano, iPod Classic and the iPhone as well and always noticed that… something was just lacking!. Throwing in a Fiio E7 or an iBasso T3 just made the HD448 outshine itself. The tonality and the attack on the base notes and the timbral response definitely seem to be enhanced by introducing an amplifier. Ofcourse that could just be a personal subjective opinion, but I would earnestly ask you to give it a try and see if your experience is the same.
I have no second thoughts about recommending the HD448 as a worthy buy for the discerning music listener. Remember that most music lovers are inevitably addicted to inordinate amounts of Bass (with a capital B), though the HD448 has a “decent” amount of well textured low-end it might not be enough for everyone and I would therefore recommend that you try the headphone before buying it! The headphone definitely gets better with burn-in (around 20 hrs) and the bass as well gets a little better. The HD448 is on the Headroom’s Top 10 list which adds to my opinions about its value, that said if you love bass and strong bass – look elsewhere!
Sennheiser has recently come out with the follow-up to the HD448, you guessed it right! HD449 – which looks equally cool and from the specifications online seems pretty much the same. But, it’s never a good idea to judge a headphones by its looks and specification so if you’re looking into the HD448s check out the HD449 as well – unless you get a good deal on the HD448 ;-). I’ll post a review of the HD449 when I get a chance to test it out.
- Do I need/should get a headphone amp if I already have powered desktop speakers that have a headphone jack? (ask.metafilter.com)
- How to Choose the Perfect Pair of Headphones [Buying Guide] (lifehacker.com)
- Your Guide to In-ear’s (Canalphone) (balachandar.in)