Sennheiser HD 560S

Aimed squarely at the audio enthusiast, Sennheiser’s HD 560S isn’t exactly awash with modern features – there’s no Bluetooth or noise cancellation, no smartphone app or microphone for taking calls. The earpieces can be adjusted to get a good fit, but they don’t fold flat for travelling and you don’t even get a carry case. In fact, the only accessories included are a 3m cable with a 2.5mm connector for attaching to the left earpiece and 6.3mm for an amp along with a 3.5mm adaptor for other audio devices.

Sennheiser gets the basics right, however. The large, padded earpieces fit right around the ears, with the adjustable headband providing a firm but comfortable fit. The earpieces house a pair of 38mm drivers, and while the design of the HD 560S is subdued to the point of anonymity, the headphone does stand out in one respect. Models at this price generally provide a standard frequency response of 20Hz-20kHZ, but the HD 560S boasts an impressive 6Hz-38kHz, with Sennheiser promising strong, defined bass performance. Who needs fancy features, anyway?

Sound quality
Curious about that claim, we kick off with the mournful depths of Górecki’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs, performed by Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio orchestra. The HD 560S immediately captures the mood of the piece, with the double bass and cello in the introduction sounding monumentally world weary, like an ancient giant stirring from its sleep. There’s an ominous sense of restraint as the rest of the strings slowly join in, as though wary of the sadness to come. It’s a precise, well-balanced performance too, with the headphone producing a striking contrast between the deeper strings and the sharper cry of the violins. Then, as the strings pause, the tremulous tones of former Portishead singer Gibbons pierce the air with their sense of utter heartbreak.

We’re impressed, but also worn out after 25 minutes (and that’s just the first movement), so we next turn to the more uplifting Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis, performed by Pro Cantione Antiqua. This is where the open-back headphone really shows its sense of space, as the multi-layered chorale takes flight, with each set of voices rendered clearly and precisely. But rather than settling for mere tastefulness, the HD 560S is ready to roll up its sleeves and deliver the vast crescendo at the halfway mark with a muscular sense of scale that makes the HFC listening room feel more like Canterbury Cathedral.

Next up Prime Evil by The Orb, where the deeper frequencies add impact, as the electronic keyboards create a creeping sense of menace. There’s a taut, sinuous quality to the rumbling melody that often escapes lesser headphones, and a nervous edge to the jangling percussion. To finish on something a little more calming, the HD 560S delivers a relaxed, comfortable sound on The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice. The strumming of the acoustic guitar is soft but insistent, driving Rice’s hesitant vocals forward as he repeats the refrain: “Can’t take my eyes off of you” over and over. The open soundstage that the headphone is able to effortlessly create feels like a laid-back live performance, and there’s a genuinely haunting quality to the violin that captures the song’s sense of lingering regret.

The inevitable sound leakage of open-back headphones means that the HD 560S may not be ideal for all listening situations. However, the Sennheiser provides more than enough insight and precision to really get inside the music, combined with the impressive performance in the lower frequencies this makes it hard to beat at this price point. CJ    

Product: Sennheiser HD 560S
Type: Open-back headphone

Read the full review in  Issue 472