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Sennheiser HD 560S review: Superb reference headphones

Edward Munn
30 Sep 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
170
inc VAT

If you’re looking for comfortable reference headphones that don’t break the bank, Sennheiser’s HD 560S should be on your shopping list

Pros 
Highly refined sound
Very comfortable
Spacious soundstage
Cons 
Neutral sound won’t appeal to everyone
Poor sound isolation
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Open-backed headphones represent a relatively small niche in the headphone market, and it’s not difficult to see why. Because of the way they’re designed, they have poor sound isolation, which means you can both hear what’s going on around you and be heard by others when listening to music.

The upside is that they usually deliver a more spacious, expansive soundstage than their closed-back counterparts. Sennheiser’s HD 560S are no exception and, thanks to their accessible price and neutral sound signature, they’re an excellent choice for audio enthusiasts seeking top sound quality without the expense.

Sennheiser HD 560S review: What do you get for the money?

Inside the box, you’ll find the headphones, which come with a 3m-long detachable cable, and a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter, so you can use portable devices such as your smartphone as well as hi-fi sources. Unfortunately, there’s no carry case, which is a shame, as it would be nice to have somewhere safe to keep all the bits together when not in use.

The good news is that the headphones have been designed with lengthy listening sessions – and therefore comfort – in mind. I found their large ear cups fitted over the top of my ears easily and, thanks to their soft velour earpads, they felt snug without ever clamping my large head too hard. The headband has a thick, soft pad too, which helps to distribute the HD 560S’s relatively lightweight build (240g) evenly across the top of the head.

Although Sennheiser claims the HD 560S have a sound that’s rooted in the DNA of the HD660S, it’s worth pointing out that they use an “all-new” 120-ohm driver. This, the company claims, helps the headphones to reproduce “deep, defined bass and brilliant treble”.

Another interesting design feature is that the drivers are angled to deliver a “triangular listening position”, as you’d find in recording studios and even your home hi-fi speaker arrangement. Along with their open-back design, the idea is that this helps to deliver a listening experience more akin to what you might expect from speakers than headphones.

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Sennheiser HD 560S review: What do we like?

There’s no doubt that the HD 560S deliver when it comes to sound reproduction. Their frequency response is incredibly flat, which makes them a great option for those who want to listen to recordings as they were intended. And along with this uncoloured sound, they offer a level of refinement you’ll struggle to find elsewhere at this price.

For starters, there’s oodles of clarity throughout the mid-range and treble frequencies. Instruments have excellent separation and the headphones’ open-back design certainly helps deliver a decent sense of space. The HD 560S deliver music with such poise that even other open-backed headphones such as Grado’s SR80e (among my favourite headphones) can sound a little crowded and raucous by comparison. Of course, Grado isn’t trying to produce a reference headphone with the SR80e, but it makes for a useful comparison nonetheless.

Comfort is top-notch, too. As I’ve already touched on, the HD 560S are designed in such a way as to make them well suited to lengthy listening sessions. If you ever find yourself having to rest your ears from that feeling of being crushed when wearing over-ear headphones, you’ll be pleased to hear that I experienced no such problems with the HD 560S.

Sennheiser HD 560S review: How could they be improved?

Aside from the fact that open-backed headphones aren’t for everyone (see my comments above regarding noise isolation), the main criticism I can throw at the HD 560S is that their neutral sound signature will leave some feeling a little underwhelmed.

With most over-ear headphones having slightly boosted lower frequencies, the HD 560S can feel somewhat lacking in this regard. My feeling is that your ears will usually adjust to subtle differences in sound signature over time but, if you like a healthy dose of bass and don’t want to have to EQ all your music to boost the lower registers, these probably aren’t the headphones for you.

Because of their relatively high 120-ohm impedance, you might also find that portable listening devices such as your smartphone struggle a little with driving the HD 560S. They sounded fine when tested with a Google Pixel 3a XL, but I normally had the volume within a notch or two of the maximum volume.

For the very best experience, you’ll want to pair the headphones with a good headphone amp or DAC and, even then, that neutral sound signature may force you to crank up the volume for a more engaging performance.

The only other problem with having such excellent-sounding headphones is that you may well find yourself spotting weaknesses in recordings that you didn’t before. That’s a good problem to have, you might argue, but I found that some productions simply lacked the level of refinement I’d grown to expect when listening to the HD 560S. If you’re looking for unadulterated fun from your headphones, again you might be better off with something else.

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Sennheiser HD 560S review: Should I buy them?

If you want to buy accurate reference headphones, either for professional use or critical listening, then look no further. These are among the best-value headphones you can buy when it comes to sheer sound quality. They deliver everything you could ask for, from affordability and comfort to detailed, spacious sound.

However, if you’re not sure you need the most neutral-sounding headphone on the market, there are plenty of other great wired options available for £170 or less. Audio Technica’s MTH-M40X is a superb-sounding closed-back model that will make a much better commute or office companion. Meanwhile, Grado’s SR80e will likely deliver a more dynamic, fun listen and leave you with £40 to spare.

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