Straight­for­ward ca­bled head­phones with solid sound at a good price. Sing hal­lelu­jah, etc.

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T hings we like best in head­phones? — a rea­son­able price, and good fun­da­men­tal sound. So we thank Sennheiser for the HD 569, en­try model to the HD 5 se­ries which in­cludes the HD 579, HD 598 (in open- or closed-back vari­ants), and the open-back HD 599. Sennheiser’s at­tempts to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the per­for­mance through this range are en­ter­tain­ing — the HD 579s are de­scribed as “near au­dio­phile”, the HD 598 as “ex­cep­tional sound qual­ity”, the open-backed HD 599 back to “near au­dio­phile” plus “im­pres­sively nat­u­ral spa­tial per­for­mance”.

These HD 569 head­phones be­low these are, then, de­scribed merely as “a flex­i­ble op­tion to the Home en­ter­tain­ment space”. We reckon this is quite the un­der­state­ment — we loved them. Sure, they are plain Janes to look at... pretty much en­tirely with­out adorn­ment, pre­dom­i­nantly plas­tic with their closed outer cups cov­ered slightly strangely in velour to match the more prac­ti­cally em­ployed soft velour on the earpads and over the pad­ding of the solid ad­justable head­band. But the earcups are large, and the fit is com­fort­able, even if they can throt­tle you some­what when dropped around your neck. As with the rest of the range their 40mm driv­ers are “spe­cially po­si­tioned” to “chan­nel the au­dio sig­nal di­rectly into your ears”, which it’s hard to deny is in­deed a sen­si­ble idea for head­phones. Sennheiser gives this rad no­tion the tag of “Er­gonomic Acous­tic Re­fine­ment” ( E.A.R. — see what they did there?).

These are ca­bled head­phones, sup­plied with a 1.2-me­tre ca­ble for por­ta­ble use and a longer three- me­tre ca­ble for the home. The por­ta­ble ca­ble has a sin­gle in­line con­trol for play/pause and next/last track (no vol­ume con­trol) and to con­trol calls, for which a mi­cro­phone is also in­cluded.

And by keep­ing things on the comfy side of ba­sic, Sennheiser has kept the avail­able funds fo­cused on sound. There are no sonic ad­just­ments, no EQ op­tions, and they don’t need them, be­cause it’s a nat­u­ral bal­ance, full in the bass and lively in the midrange. The top end isn’t wide open sparkling stuff, de­spite a fre­quency re­sponse quoted to 28kHz, but we cer­tainly never felt any­thing was miss­ing — in­deed we en­joyed their glo­ri­ously mu­si­cal sound, keep­ing them to hand on the com­mute (a bit large, and non-fold­ing) and at home over an ex­tended pe­riod even when far costlier de­signs were avail­able for use.

They come to life par­tic­u­larly at higher vol­umes — a stop or two down from our iPhone’s max­i­mum out­put — where their dy­namic abil­i­ties are best ex­pressed. It was through the HD 569s that we dis­cov­ered the

joys of Mali-born gui­tar band Songhoy Blues — the won­der­fully clicky edges of the gui­tar parts and ir­re­sistible grooves of the track Bamako de­liv­ered with rhythm and pre­ci­sion through the HD 569s. Closer to home, the sound­scapes un­der­ly­ing Seth Sen­try’s

Play It Safe were de­li­ciously and spa­ciously spread across the sound­stage as a back­drop to his uniquely ironic vale­dic­to­rium rap — all clear and tight through this lus­ciously lay­ered and wide mix.

There’s the light­est of em­pha­sis in up­per bass lower mids here, which could slightly over­weight plummy male spo­ken word, but it never in­ter­fered with mu­si­cal per­for­mance, which reg­u­larly trans­ported us to realms of de­light, in­clud­ing a blissed-out ex­pe­ri­ence of the thor­oughly three-di­men­sional It’s A Beau­ti­ful World from the lat­est Noel Gal­lagher’s High Fly­ing Birds al­bum.

Of course there are no vari­a­tions of voic­ing across Blue­tooth or noise­can­celling use, be­cause there’s none of that here, although their tight fit and closed-back de­sign gives you a good dose of pas­sive iso­la­tion from the world out­side. There’s plenty of level avail­able — the

im­ped­ance is a phone-friendly 23 ohms, with Sennheiser quot­ing SPLs to 115dBSPL (@1kHz, 1V RMS). We’d note again that when used at lower lev­els they were some­what dy­nam­i­cally flat­ter sound­ing, in­evitably. But if you like liv­ing at the top end of your source’s level, sink­ing into the sounds and shapes and songs, then these Sen­nies can put you there.

En­joy­ing an ex­tended lis­ten­ing ses­sion one sunny Syd­ney af­ter­noon, the qual­ity of the HD 569s had us pon­der­ing the ever-ris­ing lev­els of head­phone pric­ing yet again. How much more do we need? This level of per­for­mance from a head­phone we’ve seen avail­able un­der $200 gives hope to all those who eye off $1000+ and $2000+ head­phone de­signs with hes­i­ta­tion, if not down­right sus­pi­cion.

We did find that their size and firm­ness re­li­ably messed up our hair dur­ing the daily com­mute in, which may be worth con­sid­er­ing if hair is im­por­tant to you. If mu­sic is more your thing, the sound of the HD 569s will not dis­ap­point at the price.

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