Sennheiser launched three new HD headphone models in India a couple of months ago, of which the HD518 is the entry-level variant. These headphones hope to hold the door open for aspiring audiophiles to take a small step inside. Let’s see if they are a good option for such individuals.
In all their glory
Design and Build Quality
The HD518s are of the circumaural variety, i.e. they are worn around the ears. The cans are big enough to fit around big ears without bending them quite comfortably, and the way the cups are designed allow them to fit whatever head they’re placed on nicely because of their ability to change angles slightly.
It’s the small touches that really set the HD518s apart from others in terms of comfort. The material used for the cushions on the underside of the headband and the earcups are really comfortable to wear, as compared to the foam that most headphone manufacturers make the mistake of relying on. Adding to this are the ‘breathable’ ear pads that try to prevent sweating on the ear. That might not be very useful in the Indian summer but it’s better than nothing.
Build quality wise, the headphones are pretty lightweight but feel solidly built thanks to the matte finish/anthracite finish hybrid. The cans clasp around the ear pretty stiffly – which concerned me a little – but they seem to ease out after a while and hopefully won’t lead to any untoward incidents regarding breakages. The headband length adjustment mechanism also feels solid with no sign of flimsiness.
Overall, in the Design and Build Quality departments, the HD518 is a score.
Well designed and built
The HD518s by default have a 6.3mm jack. A 3.5mm converter is bundled with the headphones though, so you don’t have to worry about connectivity issues. I tested them out with a Yamaha YHT-292 home theatre in a box system for the 6.3mm jack, and for the converted 3.5mm jack; an iPod Touch, Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and my PC and consoles via the Tritton AX720 decoder box.
Considering these are supposed to be audiophile headphones, regardless of whether they’re entry-level or not, I was a bit surprised to feel muddiness in the audio quality. I would definitely recommend burning these in with EQ turned on, as the cans definitely sounded better after about 10 hours of burn-in.
Otherwise, the HD518s sound really good. The clarity and detail in the sound is excellent, and I picked up notes in my most frequently listened to songs that I couldn’t on other headphones or IEMs. The treble is a bit low for my taste, but then again I’m a fan of high treble. Spoken voice and vocals are crystal clear, but the bass has to be the best part of the HD518s. They’re extremely punchy without being overbearing, which is a hard balance to strike.
The 'breathable' cans
I have no complaints regarding the volume of these phones either – amplified or otherwise. What surprised me though was that the HD518s have a really high volume threshold, even after amplification. I went up to volume levels where an hour of listening on them would cause some kind of permanent damage to your ears, but the HD518s still refuse to crack under that pressure. Impressive.
Not so impressive though, are the noise isolation and the noise leak. I could hear construction noise – not very clearly, but they were audible enough – from outdoors and what’s more disappointing is that the HD518s leak sound like it were water through a net. People around me were able to clearly hear the music and even the lyrics of the songs I was listening to, and I was able to do the same when I let someone else use them.
All things said and done though, the HD518s are very easy to wear and listen to for long periods. Neither the design nor the sound tired me out and I very quickly found myself using these for hours on end. They make a great companion for use with, let’s say, a PC.
The Sennheiser HD518s are priced at Rs. 6,490, which I would say is a little on the steep side considering they need burning in to be rid of the muddiness. A thousand or two lower and these would be an absolutely fantastic buy – but I’d still recommend them to those who prioritize comfort when using headphones. And hey, they don’t sound half bad either.
In the end though, the HD518s end up being more of a luxury buy at that price rather than the entry-level audiophile headphones they were intended to be. They perform well enough to fit rather comfortably into either category though, so Sennheiser definitely have released a pretty good product.