Wednesday, July 10, 2013

REVIEW: Sennheiser HD 25 Aluminium DJ Headphones



HD25 Aluminium – a cult object.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Sennheiser has given the HD 25 an exciting new look. The HD 25 ALUMINUM has all of the features which have made the legendary HD 25 the headphones of choice among DJs and sound professionals, but now they’ve taken the high quality electronics and encased them in a sturdy aluminum shell for maximum durability and a distinctive appearance just right for the world of EDM.

Introduction
 

Whenever a curious forum user asks a question along the lines of ” which DJ headphones should I buy?”, it’s a given that almost universally Sennheiser HD 25 will feature in the responses. Even if the stated choice is between brand X and brand Y, you can almost guarantee that someone will insist that the HD 25s are the only headphones worthy of any DJ’s ears. And with good reason.

Sennheiser isn’t a trendy brand per se. They certainly don’t come even remotely close to the lifestyle aspirations of Beats and V-MODA. They are however still cool, but their reputation however is built not on looks, but on quality. Indeed, despite the all-plastic construction and slightly clunky looks, they are as iconic in the DJ scene as Technics and CDJs. So the question arises about how Sennheiser can improve on what a solid slice of the DJ scene would class as unbeatable perfection. In the instance of the new HD 25 Aluminium, it’s not about improving the design, build or features as such, but more about giving users a higher quality option.
About this review — there’s little point in retreading old ground and duplicating effort. Check out the original HD 25 review I did back in skratchworx days. The HD 25 Aluminium are just about identical, and I feel that most people will be more interested in a comparison piece. So I’ll focus on the differences.

Comparisons
The HD 25 Aluminium headphones are an addition to the HD 25 range. Pulling in the key features of the short lived Amperior model, and adding a definite luxury quality to the venerable and confusingly named HD 25-1 IIs, the HD 25 Aluminium headphones are a mashup of both products, and a celebration of 25 years of HD 25s.


The first impression is one of quality. The packaging is a definite step-up, not that it matters, but shelf appeal is higher. And opening up the box, you’re confronted with quite a lot more than the basic HD 25s. The first obvious product improvement is the headphone case. The basic HD 25s come with no bag or spare ear pads, whereas the standard edition has a pretty flimsy fabric bag that does little more than keep dust away from your expensive purchase, as well as spare ear pads. The HD 25 Aluminium case is large and soft (no way round this as the HD 25s don’t fold), but does offer a better barrier between your new shiny cans and the hostile environment of your DJ bag. No spare ear pads though.

Looking at the HD 25s side by side, the difference are few but obvious:


Trim: The cups and hinge cover are smooth Aluminium. The cups are machined from a single block of Aluminium — a unibody cup if you will. According to my kitchen scales, this adds a barely perceptible 40 grams, which is effectively nothing on your head.


Cable
: The jack is straight on the HD 25 Aluminium cans, whereas it’s right-angled on my Adidas edition. I can’t find a hard and fast rule for this across editions, and you can buy both right-angled and straight spare cables from Sennheiser. You can even get coiled one too if you want.
Functionally speaking, the only difference I’ve found is that the cups are slightly looser on the arms. The ratchet click is softer and the slide is smoother. It’s something and nothing but worth mentioning, if only to show that the Aluminium does make a difference, but in actual use, little difference at all.





















The Sound Difference

It would be reasonable to expect that changing that cup material and construction might have an impact on sound quality. Quality is however the wrong word when it comes to Sennheiser — you can take it for granted that quality isn’t an issue. It does however potentially change the characteristics of the sound. I have no scientific data to conclusively show if the difference between plastic and metal will make a difference — that’s something that we’ll leave to our ears, and probably always will. Nor do I have pockets of the requisite depth to purchase gear to measure response graphs.
That said, Inner Fidelity did an excellent comparison between Amperiors and regular HD 25s, and dug into the science of sound, as well as wielding a screwdriver to pull apart the cups to show the differences. Forgive me — I like these headphones too much to potential break them.

For this section, me and my trusty sidekick/daughter/intern Hatty devised highly unscientific blind tests. We listened to a variety of music we knew through an iPod Classic and from my MacBook Air via a Focusrite Forte interface. We sat in chairs, eyes closed and had headphones placed on our heads for us, with no touching to adjust. And the results were conclusive — we both detected a small but perceptible richness in the bottom end, across different genres and different devices.
This could be the Aluminium cups, differences in run-in time, or subtle production variations in manufacturing of the drivers. We both agreed though that it was only perceptible through A-B listening, and in a noisy DJ environment probably wouldn’t make any difference. I do feel that from a day to day use perspective, I’m more likely to use the HD 25 Aluminiums over the regular ones.


Summing Up

It’s easy to understand how die-hard HD 25 fans would view the Aluminiums as the Emperor’s (or should that be Amperior’s?) new clothes. But that’s not really true at all. There really is a tangible lift in quality over the regular HD 25s, as well as a small but detectable improvement in sound quality too.
Other than for aesthetic considerations or fanboy desire to have another cool edition, I can’t really say for sure if this is enough to make anyone want to upgrade to the HD 25 Aluminiums. But if I were in the market for some HD 25s (or any DJ headphones for that matter), there is a strong chance that I’d find the extra £50-70 to get the subsequent uplift in quality, and to make a statement too.

Bottom Line

The Sennheiser HD 25 Aluminium DJ headphones are the iconic HD 25-1 IIs, but just that little bit better.