Sennheiser HD280 Pro Headphones
By Phil O'Keefe |
Marketed for DJs, these closed-back circumaural headphones are great in the studio too
By Phil O'Keefe
Headphones are one of the most personal items in all of pro audio. Like monitor speakers, the sound varies from model to model and everyone has their own preferences as far as that goes, but unlike speakers, there's also the element of comfort; after all, you wear headphones, so their size and weight and the way they fit and feel are important considerations. Another is the way the headphones are designed, and the intended use. Open-back headphones are often more accurate sounding while being less effective at blocking unwanted environmental sounds and keeping the outside world from being disturbed by whatever you're listening to than closed-back designs. This kind of isolation is not always desirable (or safe), but in some situations, such as when tracking in the studio or for a DJ cuing up the next track at the club, it's very useful - even crucial. Headphone cost is always a consideration for studios, as is durability. They're one of those items studios tend to purchase a lot of, so if they last a long time and cost less to begin with, that's a big plus.
Sennheiser is no stranger to the world of headphones, and some of their high-end models are considered among the best in the world… but with the exception of maybe one high-end pair for the engineer to use for critical listening and editing, most studios can't afford to spend high-end money on multiple pairs of headphones that will regularly be yanked, dropped, and generally knocked around in the studio. Because of that, studio cats are always looking for headphones that are reasonably affordable, durable, can be repaired in the field, and of course, that sound good too. How do the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones under review measure up? Let's dig in and take a look and listen.
What You Need To Know
- The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones are sealed-back, circumaural headphones that are designed for DJs, but are also very popular choice for studio recording. They'd also make an excellent pair of headphones for use by FOH and monitor engineers due to their outstanding isolation of outside sounds.
- The 3 meter (stretched) cable uses a rather cool straight / coiled / straight design. It's a coiled cable, but with straight sections of cable at both the plug (6") and headphone (18") ends. You get the advantages of a coiled cable while keeping the coiled section out of your way. It attaches to only a single ear cup - the left one. For musicians this is generally preferable to Y style cables that attach to both ear cups since it's easier to keep the cable out of your way while playing.
- Speaking of the cable, Sennheiser does offer a replacement, but replacing it requires disassembly and soldering - it's not equipped with a jack and plug, so it's not a simple swap that can be handled in a few seconds. You can also order replacement ear pads and headband pads, so the stuff that typically wears out the fastest on headphones can be replaced when necessary, keeping the headphones in service for longer than if such parts were not available.
- The HD280 features a molded 1/8" TRS stereo plug with built-in strain relief. A threaded, twist-on/off style 1/4" TRS stereo adapter is also included. This is the only included accessory.
- While these are fairly large and bulky looking cans that won't win any consumer awards for their all-business / recording studio fashion sense, they can be folded up for storage and transport. You can fold the ear cups flat when setting them on a desk, or collapse them inwards to make them compact enough to toss into a gig bag. Unfortunately, there is no storage bag or case included.
- Comfort is always a matter of subjective opinion, but with ear cups that pivot and rotate and an adjustable headband, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones are easy to adjust to a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. The headband as well as both ear cups are generously padded and quite comfortable. Yes, you can get a bit sweaty under the pads after wearing them non-stop for a few hours, but that's true of just about any headphones.
- While circumaural (around the outside of the ears) headphone designs are excellent for isolation, some people prefer the feel of supra-aural (on-ear) headphones. Personally I dislike many headphones that press directly on my pinnae (outer ears) and prefer designs like the HD 280 that surround my ears and rest on the head instead of the ears. Because of their design, I found the HD 280's very comfortable to wear, even for several hours at a time.
- The fit is firm and solid - they won't come off accidentally, even if you move around a lot as you play - but they don't make your head feel like it's in the middle of a vise either. Also, the ear cups are large enough that even if you have fairly large pinnae, they'll probably still fit comfortably within the ear cups.
- The moving-coil drivers feature neodymium magnets for greater efficiency. Sennheiser states the SPL is 102dB SPL per IEC 268-7.
- The impedance is rated at 64 Ohms.
- Sensitivity is pretty good, and you can easily drive these cans with your MP3 player, phone, tablet or laptop's headphone output without needing the help of an external headphone amp. They can get very loud when driven by a decent amp or headphone distribution system. With my iPad and iPhone the volume was plenty - certainly as loud as I'd want to listen to for extended periods - but if you want deafening levels, you may decide to opt for a bit of help from a headphone amp.
- The 500mW maximum power handling is decent, if not spectacular. The good news is that even when driven hard, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones don't easily distort or break up.
- The frequency response is rated as 8Hz to 25kHz. Overall response is fairly even across the frequency range. The bass seems a slight bit heavy at times, but not in an overly-hyped way like you'll find on some consumer oriented headphones. In fact for a closed-back, $100 pair of headphones, the sound is surprisingly good, with smooth, detailed highs, deep and articulate bass and smooth and accurate sounding mids.
- The construction is fairly robust. While plastic is used, it's stout, thick and sturdy looking, and has held up well to everyday studio use with no signs of cracking or wear.
- The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones carry Sennheiser's 2 year warranty.
- There's not a lot to complain about really - certainly not at this price. Sure, it would be nice if the cable terminated at a plug, with a matching jack on the ear cup for instant removal and replacement, and it would be cool if there was an optional shorter and lighter cable for those who may want to use these phones on the go with their personal audio playback devices, but those are relatively minor quibbles.
- Sonically, the only concerns are the slight tilting of the frequency response towards the bass end, and the 30dB+ of isolation; since they cut you off from nearly all outside sound, they're not the safest choice for wearing while out walking about in public, especially if you tend to get lost in the music and ignore what's going on around you.
I own many pairs of headphones from a variety of manufacturers and I'm a firm believer that no single pair of cans is ideal for everything... but some are closer than others. Sometimes closed-back headphones aren't the best choice due to size, weight or isolation, and other times, they're exactly what you need. For tracking use, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones are hard to beat, with no-excuses sound quality and exceptional isolation from outside sounds. In fact, the HD 280 Pro offers up to 32dB of isolation, which is outstanding performance. They're a great choice when working with someone who likes the click really loud in their headphones since the click is much less likely to be picked up by nearby microphones. With typical listening levels, headphone bleed is just not a problem with these cans. Drummers will also appreciate how they remain in place, even when moving around.
Durability is quite good, and although plastic is used to keep the weight (220 grams, without cable) and cost down, the design is generally sturdy and rugged enough to hold up to the demands of a busy studio, and even if the pads of cable wear out, you can replace them.
The Sennheiser HD280 Pro hits that ideal $100 or less "street" price point that makes them a very viable choice for your "everyday" studio headphones. In fact, for a home studio they just might be the ideal "all around" cans - they isolate great when tracking, sound accurate enough to serve as your mixing and editing headphones, are comfortable enough for extended use, and they're rugged enough that they'll probably still be rendering faithful service long after the warranty has expired. If you're looking for several pairs of tracking cans for your studio clients to use, or just a decent pair for your own use and don't want to break the bank, definitely audition a pair of HD 280 Pro headphones. I think you'll like what you see, hear and feel when you put a pair on.
B&H Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones online catalog page ($99.95 "street")
Sennheiser's HD 280 Pro product web page
Sennheiser introduction video