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Sennheiser HD 560S review: Audiophile sound on a budget

Sennheiser HD 560S over-ear headphones are built for budget-conscious audiophiles that take listening seriously

Sennheiser headphones on white background
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Professional but not po-faced, the Sennheiser HD 560S strike a clever balance between analysis and enjoyment.

Pros

  • +

    Open and airy soundstage

  • +

    Light and comfortable

  • +

    Meticulous and insightful sound

Cons

  • -

    Old-school hard-wired configuration

  • -

    Won’t indulge poor recordings

  • -

    Open-back design means everyone can hear what you're listening to

Sennheiser HD 560S: Specifications

Color: Black
Headphone type: Open-back, wired over-ear
Driver type: Dynamic (size not specified)
Wireless: No
Cable length: 10 feet
Adapter: 2.5 inch to 0.14 inch
Size: 7.8 x 4.4 x 12 inches
Weight: 0.62 pounds

For consumers and commercial customers alike, Sennheiser has something for everybody. So naturally enough, it’s found room for an affordable, open-backed, hard-wired pair of headphones-cum-monitors in its catalog called the HD 560S. 

As a tool for analyzing recordings, for discerning the variations in different mixes of the same recording, for finding the finest and/or most transient details in a recording, they’re extremely gifted. And yet they manage to combine these fearsome powers of examination with a fairly easygoing, reasonably engaging overall presentation. Many headphones of a similarly rigorous nature can be rather dry and unengaging to just passively listen to — but that’s not the case here. 

To find out more and whether they make the grade to join the ranks of our best audiophile headphones, read on.

Sennheiser HD 560S review: Price and availability 

The Sennheiser HD 560S available in black and currently retail at $199 / £149 / AU$319, but are available for an eye-catching $180 via the Sennheiser website (opens in new tab) as well as online retailer Best Buy (opens in new tab). Meanwhile, Amazon is currently offering the HD 560S at $150 (opens in new tab).

The list of over-ear headphones that sell at this sort of money is as long as your arm, but when you’re talking about hard-wired, open-backed headphones the list quickly gets much shorter. But we reckon the appeal of the HD 560S is not so much ‘limited’ as ‘specialist’.

Sennheiser HD 560S with Chord Hugo DAC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Sennheiser HD 560S review: Design

There’s nothing flash about the way the HD 560S look, feel or are specified. They’re about as functional a pair of headphones as it’s possible to imagine — comfortable, sturdily made, supplied with a cable of extravagant length, and open-backed for the most spacious sound (on the inside). 

The open-back designs means you should expect a fair bit of sound leakage (on the outside) to accompany what should be a spacious audio presentation. And just in case the configuration isn’t enough to tip you off, the HD 560S packaging refers to their suitability for “analytical listening sessions” — which is a euphemism for “use them when alone” if ever we heard one. Sometimes listening to music should be fun, it’s true — but sometimes it’s a very serious business indeed. The HD 560S, we’re confident, are designed for the latter circumstances.  

And just in case any further confirmation were needed, the detachable cable (which clicks into the left earcup) is a full 10 feet (around 3 meters) long and terminates in a very businesslike 1/4-inch (6.3mm) jack plug. There’s a 1/4-inch to 0.14-inch (6.3mm to 3.5mm) adapter for those with headphone amps/DACs or hi-fi components that don't support larger jacks.

Sennheiser HD 560S worn by man outside

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Sennheiser HD 560S review: Comfort and fit 

Just because they’re relatively affordable as well as being intended for solitary listening, though, that doesn’t mean the Sennheiser HD 560S are not entirely up to snuff where materials, build quality of comfort are concerned.

Yes, they’re almost entirely plastic — and, what’s more, plastic of the fairly shiny and hard variety. But the fit and finish of each component is solidly reassuring, and well up to the standard Sennheiser has long since set for itself. A cable-free weight of just 0.53 pounds (around 240g) may seem to suggest a slight lack of substance — but in actuality it simply means the HD 560S are no kind of burden to wear, even if your “analytical listening session” goes on for several hours.

The earpads are velour-covered and comfortable — and, unlike any number of alternative designs, they resist absorbing and returning body-heat for quite some time. A little more padded velour is deployed across the contact area of the headband, so for all the use of prosaic plastics in the bulk of the construction here, where they touch your head and ears the Sennheisers actually feel quite indulgent.

Sennheiser headphones with Chord Hugo 2 DAC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Sennheiser HD 560S review: Sound quality 

Ready for an analytical listening session, then, are we? Sounds like quite an earnest enterprise, doesn’t it? 

Fortunately, though, the balance Sennheiser has struck with the HD 560S is very pleasing indeed. Of course, they’re primarily intended for listeners who are wearing them for purposes beyond simple ‘enjoyment’ and instead want them for monitoring, for mastering, for mixing or what-have-you. Yes, they have the relatively flat response that makes comparing sound ‘A’ to sound ‘B’ pretty straightforward, and are detailed and insightful enough to make even minor variations in mixes of the same recording sound fairly obvious.

But don’t go thinking they’re in any way workmanlike or tedious. No, they’re never off duty — and so will serve up previously unnoticed details in even the most familiar recordings. But at the same time, they’re an easygoing and pretty naturalistic listen. Sennheiser is claiming a frequency response of 12Hz to 38kHz, and while both of those figures seem ambitious there’s no denying the wide frequency response of the HD 560S. No part of the frequency range they produce is underplayed or overstated, no area is rolled off or sticks out — instead, music of each and every genre is presented with confidence and positivity. 

Sennheiser headphones in office

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

‘Detailed’ is a word we could return to time and again in the course of this review. Music is absolutely freighted with information when it’s dealt with by the Sennheisers — and no detail is too fleeting, too minor or buried too deep in the mix to escape attention. The lowest frequencies are deep, clean and straight-edged, with no overhanging and consequently no impact on the midrange above. The midrange itself is, given the right content to work with (such as Jennifer Warnes' "Ballad of the Runaway Horse"), absolutely engrossing — every inhalation, every palate noise and every quirk of a singer’s technique is offered up for your consideration. And at the top of the frequency range, the HD 560S stop just short of brittleness, instead alighting on ‘bright’, ‘crisp’ and, yes, ‘detailed’ as its foremost characteristics.

This borderline-fanatical level of analysis isn’t an entirely positive characteristic, mind you. If you insist on listening to low-bitrate, high-compressing digital audio files the HD 560S can sound overtly dissatisfied — deficiencies, whether they originate in the recording itself or during the compression it has undergone, are pounced on and spotlit rather cruelly. If you decide to plug straight into a laptop rather than, say, a headphone amp or digital audio player, the Sennheiser will make their dissatisfaction pretty apparent. 

But this is par for the course with what are, effectively, near-field monitoring headphones — and most alternatives don’t have anything like the potential for enjoyment as the HD 560S, no matter the asking price. As a balance between being a tool and being a source of listening pleasure, these Sennhiesers are very well judged indeed.

Sennheiser HD 560S review: Verdict

Like we said at the top, the Sennheiser HD560S are of specialist appeal — and that specialism is forensic levels of insight into a recording, for better or worse. But unlike a lot of headphones with this talent/superpower, the HD 560S aren’t about to put you to sleep with the sound they make. Other headphones at this sort of money are more out-and-out entertaining, of course — but none of them can peer so deeply into a mix as the Sennheisers. 

For properly examining a recording without sucking all the joy out of it, the Sennheiser HD 560S headphones constitute money very well spent. Which makes them an outstanding option for the kind of listeners we have in mind.

Simon is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Given time, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.