Sennheiser HD 558 Review - Audiophilia on a Budget
For a long time, my go-to solution for music listening both at home and on the go have been earphones or in-ear monitors. They were (at the time for me) pretty affordable, offered great sound for the price, and were easy to tuck in a bag or pocket to have with me at all times. But as much as I loved and still love the sound and convenience of IEMs when I'm out and about or traveling, I soon realized that there's just something more distinguished and refined to owning and using a quality pair of over-ear headphones. And thus my search began. A search that would span several years and several hundred Euros worth of investments to this day.
The first set of headphones I discovered for myself were a pretty basic pair of closed-back headphones from Philips, which served me well for more than two years. After they had died eventually, I looked to replace them, but never found something that would serve all my needs. I tried a variety of products ranging from open- to closed back, from HiFi-grade to DJ headphones, all from a wide range of manufacturers. None of them quite lived up to what I was looking for.
Fast forward roughly three years, I decided to give the entire problem another shot. I had previously bought a fresh pair of Sennheiser IEMs, which were great, but kind of left me hungry for more. So I checked out - casually at first - what Sennheiser had to offer for over-ear headphones in the 100-150 € range. Unsurprisingly, the HD 500 series (consisting of the HD 518, HD 558 and HD 598) quickly caught my attention. I tried out the HD 518 and HD 558 in detail, since the 598 were just outside of my budget, and quickly settled for the HD 558 due to their clean, non-flashy look, great comfort and outstanding sound clarity and definition. The cashier then scraped 130€ off of my debit card and I officially owned my first pair of somewhat audiophile-grade headphones.
The HD 558 are marketed by Sennheiser as entry-level Hi-Res headphones, and they live up to that without a doubt. They feature Sennheiser's E.A.R. technology, which means the drivers inside the ear cups are angled in order to better focus the sound into the listener's ear canal, as well as a frequency response ranging from 15 Hz to 28.000 Hz, a 50 ohm impedance and they blast 112 dB at 1 kHz/1 Vrms. Taking a closer outside look at the headphones, you'll find velours padding on the inside of the ear cups and inside the head band that is comfortably soft, yet does in no way feel flimsy. On the outside of the ear cups, over where the drivers are located, Sennheiser put protective plastic covers with holes in them, which are covered again by a layer of black fabric. A black and silver Sennheiser logo can also be found centered on the outside of each ear cup. On the bottom of the left ear cup, a 2.5 mm (1/10") jack is located where you can plug in either the 3 m (9 ft.) oxygen-free detachable cable that terminates in a 6.3 mm (1/4") plug and is included in the box, as well as the optional 1.2 m (4 ft.) cable with a 3.5 mm (1/8") plug that is available from Sennheiser's online store. However, there is also a 6.3 mm (1/4") to 3.5 mm (1/8") adapter included with the HD 558, so you can still use them with your PC, laptop, iPod, phone, etc. right out of the box. The headband features a plastic mechanism for size adjustment, and both ear cups swivel enough to comfortably fit on pretty much any size and shape of head. Combine that with the velours padding and the 260 g (9.2 oz.) weight the HD 558 pack, and you got a rock solid pair of cans that's easy to wear for a prolonged period of time, yet does not feel clunky on your head at all.
But of course, it is the audio quality and listening experience that form the heart and soul of a headphone, so let's get to that. In a word: the HD 558 blew my listening mind. From the lowest bass notes to the highest overtones and sizzles in a song, the clarity and amount of detail these headphones recreate music with is staggering. In tradition to Sennheiser's typical sound signature, the extreme highs are not quite as sharp as the mids and lower highs, but that does not impact the experience the slightest. In fact, I do quite like this aspect of their sound, because it makes listening to music at higher volumes a whole lot more comfortable if the highs don't feel as piercing to your ears if you crank a track up. The excellent clarity in the highs and mids is also contrasted and complemented by saturated (but not oversaturated) lows, giving especially low guitar notes, bass guitar and drums a favorable spice.
Since the HD 558 are open-backed headphones, the sound stage is naturally pretty large. I personally first really got what that is all about while listening to U2's 360° live album, where when I closed my eyes, I would actually get the sensation of the band sounding like it was playing in front of me, and even being able to hear different instruments being located in different places around and at different distances from me.
So, in conclusion: The build quality is superb, in spite of the plastic construction. No complaints here. The sound is clear, rich and focused, and listening to music on the HD 558 is just a pure pleasure. The design of the headphones as well as the packaging feels professional and does not promise anything it can't live up to. One small thing I would have liked to be included in the box, however, and be it at a 5€ or so increase in price: the 3 m (9 ft.) cable that's included is way overkill for me. I use the HD 558 with my iPod and laptop 90% of the time, and a 1.2 m (4 ft.) cable terminating in a 3.5 mm (1/4") plug like the one you can buy from Sennheiser's website would have been a nice thing.
Bottom line thoughts:
Overall, I would whole-heartedly recommend the Sennheiser HD 558 open-back headphones any time. But please be aware of what they are and don't demand else from them. For instance, don't expect them to have pounding bass, or be quite as focused as IEMs or closed-back headphones. But if you are looking for headphones that offer a clear, detailed sound signature and great overall construction, then do give them a try if you get the chance.