Before Dr Dre and Lady Gaga had their own signature headphone lines, quality headphones were dominated by German and Austrian companies: AKG, Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser. These companies had a number of things in common: their headphones were very well made, sounded amazing and many of the parts were user serviceable.
AKG designs haven’t changed that much (because they don’t need to), but the company has moved production from Austria to China since it is now part of the Harman conglomerate of audio equipment. The main difference that I have noticed is that the plastic formulations aren’t as good as the Austrians used to do.
Beyerdynamic is still a German family-owned business that keeps making technological progress but keeps on building headphones to the same high standard it always has done. The most recent headphones that I bought were a set of Beyerdynamic DT150s. They look crude, but are robust, well-made and sound divine.
Sennheiser like Beyerdynamic is still family-owned but taken a more fad-centric attitude to it’s headphone design. Whilst its HD 25 and 25-SP models hark back to HD 414 which was originally sold back in 1967, most of the rest of the designs take their cues from the Sony and Technics headphones from the late 1990s onwards. I have a set of HD 25 headphones but they aren’t my favourite Sennheiser set, I now tend to wear them when I am traveling as they are pretty space efficient.
By the time the early 1979 came around Sennheiser brought out a set of headphones with a modernist design called the HD 420, these were noticeable for their great comfortable headband, lightweight, great sound and value for money. The problem was that they were ‘open’ in design. That means that they allowed other people to hear your music and could easily hear ambient noise from your surroundings. Eventually they created a closed version of these headphones and tweaked them to come up with the HD 250 II Linear.
These headphones are big, but don’t look bulky. They are aesthetically pleasing which is more than you can say for their peers back in the day or even now. I have worn them all day without any discomfort or sweatiness. Pretty much every part is user replaceable making them ideal as a long term purchase (and environmentally friendly to boot).
I’ve worn most of the rival headphones to the HD250 II Linear. Sony’s MDR 7506 are loud and reliable which is why they are popular in APAC and amongst many people in video. The AKG K270 are comfortable and light, but sound less accurate than Beyerdynamic’s DT150. Beyerdynamic’s DT100 and DT150 are great headsets, but they feel bulky, particularly if you pull them down around your neck. The HD250 II Linear headphones sound a bit ‘spacier’ than Beyerdynamic’s DT150, more like a set of loudspeakers. They are also very accurate allowing you to hear flaws in digital sound sources: for instance iTunes on my Mac and my iPod sound clipped with a slight metallic quality and the base sounds thin; noticeably even when compared to CD (I use an old HHb CD-Recorder player based on the old Pioneer ‘turntable’ CD mechanism and a Technics SLZ-1200 as my primary CD players). Vinyl sounds warmer and more rounded. It does make me wonder how digital dance music can become without decent bass response but that’s a whole other debate.
There are some aspects of the Sennheiser that are an acquired taste from a design point-of-view. They have a straight cable rather than a coiled ‘telephone’ style cable. I prefer the coiled cable design but some people find that it pulls so its a matter of personal preference. The cabling design is a simple ‘Y’ design rather than running around inside the headphones like the HD 25. However this means that they are easy to service and there is less to go wrong.
Sennheiser, if you get to read this article please bring the HD250 II Linear model back, or at the very least keep making spare parts for them and keep the parts readily available to consumers.