We live in a retail world with options – arguably too many. While the capitalism purists (oxymoron?) would say that “too many options” doesn’t exist, it gets overwhelming and complicated for most consumers.
Well such is the landscape for purchasing headphones, and I had my eyes set on some very nice Sennheiser HD555s. Now my experience with Sennheiser products has been terrible, but I think I’ve been messing around in their lower product ranges, so I thought I’d give them another look. As it turns out the HD555s are pretty nice ‘phones, which get quite a bit of good press from the audiophile media. Additionally, Headroom is running a nice sale on them that backs them off about fifty bucks from retail – not bad.
Headroom has frequency response tests, unique product reviews, friendly support and service, and I’ve purchased from them quite successfully before. Overall, they’re a great company, so I’m not out to knock them. However, stats and reviews aside, the only way to truly know how something sounds is to put ’em on with your favorite source and listen for yourself. Unfortunately, that’s something no internet company can ever really give you.
And so I found a local shop in Cambridge called The Audio Lab, which has been around since 1965 and serves mainly the audiophile crowd, that carried these hard-to-find Sennheisers. I made my way up there and was treated to a great little shop where the primary shopkeeper and his buddy were just hanging around, talking music and gear.
I brought my iPod along, setting up a diverse playlist with the specific intent of testing the range of the phones. For the curious, I started with “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” performed by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones from Steal Away. It was picked for Haden’s bass, which is deep, rich, and a great metric on how speakers, headphones, and codecs deal with isolated low frequency sounds. It’s been a standard piece on my equipment test for many years, as has selections from one of my top five albums, Money Jungle.
Anyway, I spent a good 30 minutes with these particular cans, though I was immediately turned off by their awful piano reproduction. It was boomy and distant and most importantly, not accurate to the timbre of the piano. A deal breaker. However, I was still in the market for some headphones, and so I decided to try some of my tried and true Grados, a pair of which I had recently sold due to lack of use. Yet my circumstance had changed once again, and I found myself falling back in love with the sweet midrange and small soundstage of the Grados once again.
The shop was very kind to let me hang around, ask tons of questions, and demo gear. I’ve said it once, and I’ve said it again, let your ears be your judge. No magazine review or recommendation can be a worthy substitute. Find a shop that will treat you well, cares about the music, and has stellar service, and you’ll be appreciating the human quality about music in a unique way, all over again.