In 2019, I reviewed the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX and it quickly became my recommendation for audiophile-grade open-back headphones under $200. Since then, it’s lived at my desk as my go-to editing headphone and those games when soundstage and accuracy matter above all else. This year, Sennheiser has released a challenger to that award-winning headphone with the HD 560S. Coming in at $199, it’s easily one of the most exciting headphones of the year and looks to offer all that the HD 6XX brings and more, making it an even better fit for gaming and critical listening.
Looking for new headphones? Let’s take a closer look and see whether the HD 560S has what it takes to unseat the HD 6XX as our recommended open-back headphone.
- Current Price: $199 (Sennheiser, Headphones)
- Impedance: 120 Ω
- Frequency response: 6 Hz to 38 kHz (-10 dB)
- Sound pressure level (SPL): 110 dB (1 kHz / 1 V RMS)
- THD, total harmonic distortion: < 0.05 % (1 kHz / 90 dB SPL)
- Jack plug: 6.35 mm with 3.5 mm adapter
- Transducer principle: dynamic, open
- Weight w/o cable: 240 g
- Ear pad material: Velour
Sennheiser has stirred up quite a buzz with the HD 560S. With this new headphone, the company has sought to challenge the entry-level audiophile market, delivering a “reference-grade” headphone that’s billed for “analytical listening sessions.” That in itself is nothing new for Sennheiser; I would expect most people reading this review will already be familiar with the company’s reputation as an industry stalwart. What’s striking is that it’s doing so at the $199 price point, putting it right in line with the HD 6XX and making it particularly well suited to gaming with an open-back design.
The HD 560S is the successor to the HD 569. Visually, the two are very similar, but I think the 560S definitely gets the nod in the style department thanks to its metal grilles. I also much prefer the stylish swoop of the yokes and narrow ear oval earcups over the HD 6XX. The 6XX looks right at home in a studio or home PC setting, but you could take the 560S on the go and fit right in with the Sony and Bose fashion headphones of the world while still enjoying the much improved sound they offer.
Taking the HD 560 S out of the box, the first thing I noticed is how light they are. At only 240 grams, they really don’t feel like much in the hand and don’t feel like much on the head either. In fact, they’ve proven to be some of the most comfortable headphones I own. Sennheiser has outfitted the HD 560S with velour ear cushions and a plush pad along the headband. I’ve been using these as my daily drivers at work and then bringing them home for gaming and even live performances with my church worship team. That translates to upwards of eight hours a day, but I’ve yet to experience any soreness on the top of my head or around my ears. The clamping force might feel a bit tight for some but is about perfect for my mid-sized head, keeping them secure without feeling like I’m being squeezed.
The downside to this, and one of the reasons why I believe Sennheiser was able to keep the cost low, is that the build is almost entirely plastic. The headphones don’t feel quite as resilient as the HD 6XX but don’t feel cheap either. Looking closely, I can also see some of the adhesive where the headband cushion is attached. You can tell that this is more of an entry-level audiophile headphone from these qualities, but the practical trade-off is definitely worth it. I’ll take a plastic headset I can wear all day versus a metal one that leaves me sore any day of the week. Still, it’s something to be aware of and you’ll obviously want to take care of them and avoid unnecessary drops.
While we’re talking build, the 560Ss come with a lengthy 3m cable that ends in a 6.3mm termination, as well as an adapter for a standard headphone 3.5mm jack. That’s honestly going to be too long for many people using these at a desk or taking them on the go but is nice if you need to route the cable and still want the latitude to move. It’s also detachable so you can easily replace it with something a bit shorter if you choose.
Improving on the HD 6XX
Finally, onto the bread and butter: how do they sound? Like the HD 6XX, these are a reference headphone. That implies a leave of neutrality and clarity: you shouldn’t go in expecting big bass like a gaming headset or pair of Beats. These headphones are meant to be revealing. You can take them into a match of Valorant or into your DAW of choice to master a home recording.
At the same time, being “reference” doesn’t mean these headphones are boring. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. To my ear, they have a very full sound but one that’s balanced, so no one piece overwhelms any other. The resolution on them is also very good, so even in the middle of a busy track, you can make out the texture of cymbals and snares, or the way an effect oscillates over a keyboard line or distorted guitar.
Thus far, all of this is true of the HD 6XX as well, but the HD 560S one-ups that headphone in two key ways. First, the bass on this headphone is much better thanks to a brand new dynamic driver. To my ear, it’s more present and full, especially when it comes to tighter, percussive notes. Big booms, thrumming bass pulses, kick drums, gunshots… there’s a tightness and definition here that feels more well defined and elevates the experience, whether you’re listening to music or playing your favorite game.
The other improvement comes in the form of the soundstage. The sense of space listening through these is broader, which lends realism to what you’re hearing. Like many Sennheiser headphones, the stereo imaging is also excellent, so picking out the direction of sounds is excellent. Combine a spatial audio solution like Dolby Atmos or Windows Sonic and you’ll wonder why you ever needed a 7.1 channel headset in the first place. During my testing with these headphones, I played a mix of shooters, MMOs, and action games. The detail and positionality are good enough that I never felt disadvantaged leaving my surround sound headset to the side.
I always test headphones with music and really enjoyed that bass extension. I’m not a bass head, but I like a solid low-end to complement the clarity and details in the mids and highs. I especially liked them for electronic music where the bass could provide a thrumming bed under the melody. The layering on Eminus’s Drifting was especially, with nice punch from the kick and the almost electrical texture of the synth overlaying the bass. At the same time, the HD 560S did a great job with acoustic tracks like Coheed and Cambria’s Mother Superior (acoustic version). The texture and chime-like quality of the guitars elevated the track in a realistic way.
The downside, however, is that these headphones will shine a spotlight on bad recordings. Dopamine by Angel Vivaldi didn’t sound anemic like it does on some headphones, but it did sound congested in its opening minutes. It opens up, but the HD 560S confirmed what I’d long suspected about one of my favorite songs - the mastering just isn’t up to that guitar god’s usual standard — even on the rest of the album.
In some ways, it’s clear that the Sennheiser HD 560S is an entry-level audiophile headphone, but it’s also just so good that it’s easy to look past things like its plastic build. This headphone has it where it matters most: it sounds great, can be worn comfortably for an entire workday, and offers much-improved bass response and soundstage over one of the previous open-back greats, the HD 6XX. Whether you’re gaming, listening to music, video conferencing, or all three, this is simply an outstanding headphone that is well worth the $199 cost of entry.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.