Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sennheiser HD439 Headphones Review

These things smell. What does this have to do with headphones? A lot.

Work is boring and I listen to music to stay awake and entertain myself. Up until about a year and a half ago, I used to use the atrocious single built-in speaker in my work computers. For some reason, I thought I actually turned it low enough that my neighbors couldn't hear it. Turns out I was completely wrong and one of my neighbors finally admitted that he could hear that I was repeating the same track all the time. He was nice enough to never comment on it. There was actually a really annoying rumbling from the outside, so I asked, "can you hear that?". He thought I was asking about the music I had going. And that was when I realized I needed an MP3 player. That ended up being an iPod Shuffle.

Sennheiser HD439 Headphones
What I Looked for in Headphones
The iPod Shuffle has been pretty good to me and I haven't been able to find a suitable replacement yet -- that or I'm too cheap to spend money on one. As a person who has a >$700 stereo system at home, quality music is important to me. I also like to block noise out so I don't have to jack up my earphones too much. This led me to getting over-ear headphones.

Sennheiser was the only brand that I considered due to good things that I've heard through word of mouth about them. With a >$700 stereo system, $100-$200 earphones were not that hard to justify. The only thing I was really looking for was a set that worked for both my soundcard and had a detachable cord -- in case the cord broke, I would only have to replace a really cheap cord. Long story short, the Sennheiser HD 439 Headphones were the winner.

Sennheiser HD439 Headphones Package
Sennheiser HD 439 Overview
These retail for about CAD$ 150 or US$ 100 on the respective Amazon websites. I got them when they went on sale for about CAD$ 95. The HD 429 was actually more expensive at the time, I believe.

The set that I received came with two detachable cords and an adapter so that the cords would fit larger sockets. According to the Sennheiser website, the HD 439 is a closed-back stereo headphone with a 2-year warranty, 32 ohm impedance, frequency response of 17-22,500 Hz, a 1.4m and 3m cable with 3.5mm plugs, and a 6.3mm adaptor plug.

If I remember right, subwoofers are usually set to kick in around 80 Hz and only the more expensive models have a good response below 20-30 hz. This means that the 17 Hz response should be pretty good.

Aside from the cables being two lengths, having two means that there's a backup set if one breaks. And they are detachable, which is what drew me to them -- aside from the price. Also, the reviews were mostly good.

Sennheiser HD439 Headphones Adapter

How Are They?
First things first: the 3.5mm cable fits my iPod Shuffle (newer, square model), and the 6.3mm adaptor fits my soundcard. Awesome.

When I first got them, I was ecstatic and tried them out for a few hours on my computer. There was a fairly strong smell coming from the ear cushions fresh out of the box, but I thought I'd just give them a shot first and let them air out overnight.

First thing I noticed was that the size adjustment mechanism wasn't that tight and it felt very easy to extend/retract the headband. As most of the weight appeared to be borne by the ear cushions and my hears, I don't think it's a big detail. The cable was a bit hard to remove from the headphone end too. Swapping shouldn't be needed too often, so, again, probably not a big detail. Overall, the ear cushions felt comfortable and did not feel too tight -- nothing like my headphones for hearing protection. I noticed that the cushions weren't made from real or faux leather either. They were actually fabric, which made them very pleasant to wear.

When I finally plugged them into my soundcard, I was very impressed with the sound. There was a noticeable bias towards mid and low frequencies. Base response was better than my hi-fi sound system, but that's more because of my subwoofer placement probably. Highs on the headphones were fine and overall, they produced a sound much better than the earphones included with my iPod Shuffle.

The HD 439s did not appear to block out much sound. Despite being over-ear headphones, they let in a lot of ambient sound. I could hear everything from my TV very clearly and just about everything else too. This may have something to do with the relatively loose headband, the size of my head, and/or the fabric ear cushions. In short, I don't think they are very noise isolating. I've heard that getting leather-ish ear cushions may help in this respect though. Real or faux leather should produce a better seal.

Mr. Google also suggests that the HD 439s sound much better after a few months of breaking them in, which merely involves playing sound with them.

The Smell
Unfortunately, I haven't used them much since. The smell did not go away after one night or a few months. It's not a weird smell, I know exactly what it is, which is what makes it so bad: off-gassing of chemicals. The insides of the cups smell like a new PVC shower curtain, brand new soft plastics fresh out of the packaging, or the interiors of new cars. It's not a healthy smell and having them right on my face, a few inches from my nose is very annoying. I have tried washing the removable ear cushions with water, de-smelling them with baking soda and newspaper strips for weeks, and blowing them with a fan for days -- nothing has worked. Honestly, the smell is weaker now, but it's still very noticeable. Maybe the summer heat will help.

Regardless, I've been trying to pawn them on Craigslist. It's only because of low ballers and flaky people that I still have them. I have thought about just keeping them and praying that the smell goes away recently.

Great if they didn't stink -- literally.

I'm currently looking at the much more expensive and fancier looking Sennheiser Momentum. It has real leather ear cushions, I believe, and a local store stocks them. This way, maybe I can test them out -- for sound and smell -- before buying them.