Headphones and Earphones

Sennheiser HD 238 Precision High Resolution Stereo Headphones

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Since Sennheiser claims these headphones are optimized for portable audio use, I started with my MP3 player, which is a Motorola Q9 phone. I don’t generally expect great sound out of my phone when listening to music; it’s more utilitarian for me than anything else. When I first sat down to listen to the HD 238s, I happened to have Dire Straights’ “Sultans of Swing” greatest hits album loaded up as 192kbps MP3. The pure simplicity of guitars, bass, drums, cymbals, and Knopfler’s baritone make track 1, “Sultans of Swing” one of my favorite demo tracks. Listening with the HD 238s, to this track that has been a favorite of mine for almost as long as I can remember, I was taken aback. I know this is a phrase that is used a lot in audio/video reviews, but I heard things that I had not heard before, even with my humble little MP3-playing cell phone. I immediately wanted to listen to EVERY disc in my collection, on every piece of source equipment in my house. I didn’t get to every disc, but I did try some of my discs out on most of my sources.

The improvement over my old in-ear headphones I heard from my MP3 collection was obvious. I wanted to listen for finer details – those that the MP3 format would mask anyway. Moving away from MP3, I plugged the HD 238s directly into the headphones jack on my Sony DVP-S7700 reference DVD player, which is also a great CD transport. This was the shortest path from CD source to the Sennheiser headphones at my disposal.

My Telarc recording of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” performed by the Cincinnati Pops and Erich Kunzel was next. Many audiophiles love to demonstrate their system with pipe organ music. Personally, I’m a sucker for timpani, and Copland makes good use of this percussion instrument. If you’ve never messed around with some timpani first-hand, you owe it to yourself to do so. There are so many overtones from timpani that are often lost in many recordings. Much of the timbre of the drum can be heard if you just lightly tap the skin, and listen for the higher-frequency overtones. When struck for a forte or louder dynamic, the primary sound dissipates and if the timpanist doesn’t dampen the skin with his fingers, the overtones continue. Copland’s “Fanfare” opens with three sets of three timpani strikes, each one a softer dynamic than the last. In the final three strikes of the opening, you get to hear the overtones of the drum quite clearly, if the audience is quiet, and you’re near the front row (or on stage). The Telarc CD actually captures these overtones quite well, which I had forgotten – until I demoed the Sennheisers, that is. With my other headphones, and with my HT sound system, the overtones are there, and you can hear the drum passively diminuendo into silence. But you don’t hear ALL the overtones. It just doesn’t feel quite “right”. When I listened with the HD 238 headphones, I was transported to the stage. I could nearly feel the subtle vibrations of the big brass drum. I was sold.

I spent the rest of my time with the HD 238s listening to many of my favorite CD’s “again, for the first time.” I also spent time trying out different connectors and sources, just to see what kind of differences I could hear, and if I could make any improvements in the signal chain.