“The Sennheiser HD 438 headphones aren't all that pretty, but certainly pack a punch.”
- comfortable fit; very good sound quality; has some noise-canceling qualities
- Fragile build; ugly design; no volume controls or other frills
Popular manufacturer Sennheiser just unleashed a trio of cushy cans under its HD headphone line. Designed for lounging around the house or for use on the go, the HD 428 focuses on lower frequencies and powerful bass, while the top-of-the-line HD 448 boasts the best details. We got our sweaty mitts on the middle-of-the-road offering, the HD 438, which the company says is all about a natural signature sound, with booming bass as well.
Features and Design
The HD 438 is fairly no-frills when it comes to packaging. There’s no case and very few extras. Inside the box, there’s a 6.3mm adapter plug and a 9.8-foot cable, in case the unit’s standard 4.5 feet doesn’t provide enough freedom. Either cable can be firmly connected on the left earphone. It’s actually such a tight fit that it took multiple tries to free the cable, along with a lot of fear that something would snap. That said, it’s refreshing to see a set where the cable doesn’t come free with every twist and turn.
The actual unit is also pretty barebones. It has the left and right earphones clearly marked, with no volume controls or other extras. The ear padding on the HD 438 fits nicely over your ears, snug as a bug. In fact, it’s so snug, it’s almost like having a pair of earmuffs that blast out music. It also gets a little warm, which makes the set not so great for portable use—unless you are walking around in arctic temperatures. According to Sennheiser’s website, other earpads should be available soon, in fabric or leatherette. Regardless, we can’t complain too much because the set feels very comfortable, even during long use.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: The headphones’ style. Sennheiser has pimped the HD 438, by giving it glossy metallic “wheel spokes” around both ear cups. They claim this design is “reminiscent of the alloy wheels on luxury sports cars.” That could be true—if Hot Wheels were a luxury line. Actually, these things don’t stand up to Mattel’s craftsmanship. They look a little cheap and feel just as slapdash.
At $129.95, however, the HD 438s lie somewhere in the middle of what’s considered cheap when it comes to decent headphones. They are certainly affordable, but no one wants to throw down a C-note to have a hunk of junk strapped to their head. Mind you, the HD 438 unit is a far cry from junk, but Sennheiser could have made the package a bit more sturdy in our opinion.
We tested out the HD 438 with a variety of source materials. Who knew we were missing out on so much from music all of these years? As much as we hate to admit it, a lot of headphones don’t deliver the full audio experience – thankfully, the HD 438 is not like a lot of headphones.
For the first time in a long time, we picked up a lot of interesting samples in Jay-Z songs, noticed a selection of different instruments when jazz tunes were played, and could almost feel the breath of Johnny Cash on our shoulder. Sure, our iPod music and video selections didn’t sound as great, but came across way better than what we’ve currently been working out with. Movies sounded even more interesting – during a DVD preview for the Disney/Pixar film Cars we actually heard a bee fly through one can into the other. Sweet!
One thing that needs to be noted: Sennheiser says that the closed circumaural headphone design should block outside noise, but these are not noise-canceling headphones, and should not be treated as such. While the unit may block some outside noise or even the humming of a fan or a typing tech reviewer, it could not shield some of our everyday room sounds, which included a very chatty three year-old.
The Sennheiser HD 438 headphones aren’t all that pretty, but certainly pack a punch. The design isn’t to taste at all, so we’d be interested to hear what the new and slightly better-looking HD 428 and HD 448 can produce. Also, if you’re looking for a set that can block all noises or adapt to your on-the-go listening needs, you’d better keep looking. For the occasional outing or lying around the house, though, the HD 438 headphones don’t prove too shabby, though—just slightly overpriced.
- Snug, comfortable fit
- Very good sound quality
- Has some noise-canceling qualities
- Fragile build
- Ugly design
- No volume controls or other frills
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