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Sennheiser HD 380 – great office headphones

Sennheiser HD 380 image (c) by Sennheiser

Sturdy companions

The short

The Sennheiser HD 380 are sturdy, versatile headphones with good sound quality for the price. Apart from their intended studio use, they are also well suited for office environments.
 

The long

The Sennheiser HD 380 cost around 110 € at the time of writing.
 
They are closed studio headphones. As such, sound isolation and durability are central aspects of their construction.
 
Sound isolation from outside noise could be better, but they still go a long way to enabling you to work through other people’s phone conversations and other distractions in the office. On the upside: you are still reachable to the world, i.e. you get enough feedback from outside to be able to for example distinguish your name if it is spoken (quite) loudly. As for sound leakage: You need to turn these up really loud before others around you get the least inkling of what you are listening to, and ridiculously loud before anybody complains.
 
The HD 380 are really durable. I have not consciously tortured them, but they have survived 7 years in an office with me. This includes at least multiple dozens of drops to a hard floor as well as me running over the cable with the wheels of my office chair more times than I can count. The only fix necessary during that time was the replacement of the ear pads, where the fake leather surface was flaking off. Spare parts here are easy to get and priced pretty reasonably.
 
The headphones are generally comfortable. Sennheiser intended these to sit tight, and that they do, but it is only after hours of wearing them non-stop that I start noticing the pressure.
 
For my purpose looks are relevant only in as far a the headphones should not make me look utterly ridiculous to my co-workers. With their simple lines and being fully black, the HD 380 easily fulfill this. Since these will likely be used for years to come, it’s also nice to know that there is nothing about them that will badly date them. For use outside or in any fashion-conscious context there are more stylish looking choices our there.
 
With the coiled, long and somewhat heavy cable, they are clearly restricted to home/office listening. Alternative cables are available, but I’ve never found any at a price that would make getting them attractive. Anyway, for me these stay at the office, and I use in-ears when I’m on the go.
 
Sound-wise they are mostly well-balanced. They work equally well with any kind of music that I’ve thrown at them. There’s really nothing there that sticks out. Bass extension is actually quite good, but they are neutral to bass-shy. If you want bass and can use an EQ on your playback equipment, then they should be able to satisfy your inner basshead as well (2.5 dB @ 50 Hz and 1.5 dB @ 100 Hz do wonders on my work desktop). Being a light construction, they do have a somewhat boxy sound, i.e. I have the feeling that resonance from the cups is blurring things a bit. They are easy to drive, and I’ve not heard huge benefits when driving them from my headphone amp over using the headphone out of my desktop PC.
 
For me the main purpose of my HD 380 is to play background music for sound isolation from the office – which they do admirably. Their overall simple, no-nonsense presentation allows the music to stay in the background when I’m actively working, but they provide enough detail and are coherent enough to reward the occassional bit of more intensive listening. Turn them up a bit more and you can easily get into foot-tapping (and sometimes fist-pumping) territory.

Summary

I like the HD 380. I especially like them for the price and for what I’m using them for.
 
For anybody not interested in looks and portability, they are a good entry-level universal headphone. They are cheap enough that they don’t burn much of a hole into your pockets, good enough that you can keep them as you main headphones if you find you don’t have an interest in delving further into the world of hi-fi audio, and sturdy enough that this will then be your only purchase for a long time.
 

What do you gain if you spend more?

A couple of points of comparison, though both of these are in-ears and thus do not fit the same use case as the HD 380 (my headphone collection is small):
 
Sennheise IE-80: Around double the price. More musical, better rhythmic flow, much more bass. They paint a pretty picture, and if the music fits with this, they’re gorgeous. For digging out details and analytical listening I’d prefer the HD 380 though.
 
Shure SE535: Around four times the price. Completely outclass the HD 380 on every count (at several times the price). With that comes a need to pay attention, though. The SE535 are my choice when I really want to listen – for background music their presentation is much to involving, and the HD 380 fit the bill better.
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Review: Fiio A1

The A1 is a simple product with a clearly defined but limited purpose: It takes the too low (but ideally clean) audio output from a mobile device and adds a bit of oomph and control to it.

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In the case of my current phone, a Sony Z3 Compact, this is much needed for most headphones. I’m talking real life IEMs and on-ears here, not even exotic hard to drive ones. While this is an especially bad example, headphone outputs overall have gotten worse in regard to what they can put out in recent years generally.

With the A1, something not wildly efficient like the Sound magic E10 becomes usable. Somewhat to my surprise they’re even enjoyable. I can turn them up to a level where the resolution becomes decent, and they benefit from better control over the bass.

Apart from the oomph, the output also stays clean better under load. The Z3 can drive my Shure SE535, which are exceptionally sensitive, to more than decent volumes, but with the A1 a bit of coarseness in the treble is gone, and the bass control and extension improves. I generally find it more enjoyable to listen to music and get lost in a track much easier when I use the A1.

So: If your mobile headphone output is somewhat lacking in volume with your headphones, the A1 is well worth a try. If you’re content with the volume, but wonder what you can do to improve the playback quality on some good, but not really hard to drive heaphones then the A1 makes so much more sense than getting into other areas such as the ridiculousness of cable upgrades.

Disclaimer: I bought any products mentioned here myself.

 

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