Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Audiophile-friendly Pro gear? by Triveni Prasad Nanda

Disclosure: The unit was provided to me as part of a review tour organised by TheAudioStore (India) with no expectation of the review’s outcome. I (Triveni Prasad Nanda) do not own this unit.

Introduction:

The spanking new Sennys are here. Are these designed exclusively for pros in studios, can enthusiasts enjoy them on their desktop gear, can they be driven by your phone/laptop and be a clear upgrade to the loved entrant HD 560S? Let’s explore.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Audiophile-friendly Pro gear? by Triveni Prasad Nanda

Sources and comparison:

Primary Set-up

Local lossless files stored in HDD >> Rpi 4 running MoOde OS >>Soncoz LA-QXD1 (as DDC) >> Phi Deca DAC (Ultimate Version) >> Multiple amps

1. Anode Acoustics No. 1 (Pentode/Triode Tube Amp)

2. Anode Acoustics No. 2 (Solid State Amp)

Secondary Set-up

Apple Music Lossless>> iFi Zen Air DAC >> NITSCH x Schiit Magni Piety (SS Amp)

Portable Set-up

Apple Music Lossless on iPhone>> Shanling UA4 DAC/Amp

Local Files>> Shanling M3 Ultra DAP

Compared to three Sennheisers I have/had: HD600, HD650 and HD560S (only from memory, I sold them recently)

This sounded the best on my Primary set-up with AA No. 1 tube amps. So the whole review is based on this listening experience, unless stated otherwise, and elaborated in the sound quality section.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Audiophile-friendly Pro gear? by Triveni Prasad Nanda

Build and Accessories:

These have fantastic built quality, a clear departure from the plastic builds of the 6-series andresemble the 800/800S more than even the more expensive 660S/660S2.The Plus version also gets you a carrying box and a separate set of pads (producer pads).The build quality is miles ahead of the 560S and must have been designed to endure hours of “professional” abuse in the studios. If the 600/650s have lasted decades with those god-awful plastic builds then the 490 Pros can surely become family heirlooms to be passed down generations.

They are deceptively light with minimal clamp force, again a clear departure from the vice-like grip of any of the 6-series and more reminiscent of the 800S. This is ironic given that the 660S/S2 are more expensive than the going price of these headphones.

The fabric pads (mixing pads) do not cause as much sweating as the velour pads (producer pads) but they do have subtle differences in how they sound, where the velours tend to smoothen the sound, causing roll-offs on both ends, and the fabric pads result in a faster and more tactile bass, with minimal roll-off at the top end. It’s a trade-off between comfort and sound, that the user must deliberate upon. I like to look at it as a tuning option.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Audiophile-friendly Pro gear? by Triveni Prasad Nanda

Sound impressions:

Although the numbers suggest that these can be driven with portable gear (with 105dBSPL of sensitivity at 1 Vrms and 130ohms of impedance at 1 kHz), these need considerable amounts of juice to open up and sound to their fullest.

Track Name: Sweet Home Alabama

Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd

The instantly recognisable guitar intro is a good test of the vibrancy of strings and transients. They sound lively and zesty, sans the lovely note weight that the 650/600 have. The plucks had a beautiful sparkle on the 490 Pros, more so with the fabric pads, and not so much with the velour pads.

Track Name: Liberian Girl

Artist: Michael Jackson

I use this to listen to Michael’s signature style of ‘breathy’ singing and the speed of the bongo and the drums. The 490 Pros did not disappoint. What wows you the most is the sense of width, unlike the famous/infamous intimate staging of the 6-series.

Track Name: Cannonball

Artist: Damien Rice

A beautiful track with heartfelt lyrics accompanied by Damien Rice’s husky voice. 490 Pros again had that superb width which most users will enjoy, but again lost to the intimate warmth of the 650 and 600. I’d disagree with most reviews that stated that the mids are recessed in 490 Pro, they are just more prominent in 650/600.

Track Name: Deseperado

Artist: Diana Krall

This is my absolute favourite track to listen to on my 650. Diana’s voice just caresses and envelopes you with the backing piano pulling a blanket over. This was not the experience with the 490 Pros, at all. These will grab your attention and won’t let it go. Whether that is desirable or not is for the user to decide. I’d rather fall asleep in the embrace of Diana’s heavenly voice than be shaken out of my sweet slumber.

Track Name: G.O.A.T

Artist: Polyphia

This is my go-to track to check the decay of bass guitars. This track has never sounded good on the 6-series, as good as it sounds on something like a Sundara or Final E3000. But to my surprise, it was really enjoyable on the 490 Pros with those bright guitar plucks with almost planar-level speed and decay, a must for such tracks. As expected, this track sounded the best when paired with solid-state amps.

Track Name: Gypsy Faerie Queen

Artist: Marianne Faithful

A soulful track to reminisce old memories; recorded beautifully and mastered well. The vocals of the ageing singer were well articulated on the 490 Pro. But I yearned for the velvety comfort of my 650. I’m just too used to it now. The 490 Pro accentuated the raspiness in Marianne’s voice and added flair to the accompanying acoustic guitars and the string section.

Track Name: Brother in Arms

Artist: Club for Five

A superb acapella track with deep baritones to test male vocal texture and layering of multiple singers in a mix. As I have come to expect from the 490 Pros, the mix sounded more layered than the 600 and the vocals sounded crisp. Not the intended sound I prefer. At least not for an audiophile used to the thick and cosy vocals of the legendary HD600. I unplugged the 490 Pro and switched to my trusted 600 and just smiled ear to ear. This is where my critical listening ended and I realised why I had spent 5 times more than the headphones and built my entire desktop setup around the HD600.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Audiophile-friendly Pro gear? by Triveni Prasad Nanda

Conclusion:

The HD490 Pros are super fun and sound phenomenal for the price. The added comfort provided by the swivelling cups and the lightweight frame make them some of the best candidates for use in studios to be used for hours to mix and master.

Will I buy them? The simple and uncomplicated answer is, no. I’d rather get planar headphones paired with solid-state amps for the fast bass and the unassuming and unaccentuated FR across the spectrum. These are unforgiving to poorly mastered tracks, not what is expected from the typical ‘Sennheiser’ house sound which audiophiles have come to love and adore for decades. 

However, this does get my vote as a no-brainer for those who are looking for solidly built mid-fi gear, produced by a trusted brand, to be driven with mid-fi amps and for those who do not want to test the waters of the planar world and go down the rabbit hole of getting complementary amps.

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