Sennheiser HD25-1 II Review

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The HD25-1 has been my favorite (trans)portable headphone for quite a few months. I spend a few nights a week away from my home rig and the HD25 works wonders with my iBasso D10 and netbook. Hi-fi on the go has never been so rugged and simple. Best of all is their sonic versatility – though my backup portables, the AKG K181Dj, excel with certain genres and recordings, the Sennheisers perform more than adequately with anything I can throw at them.

MSRP: $249.95 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $200 from amazon.com

Build Quality (10/10): When it comes to build quality, Sennheiser’s flagship portables can do no wrong. The structure of the HD25 is painfully elementary. They are neither flat-folding nor collapsible, with very simple rotating joints and removable metal hardware. The rough black plastic is resistant to cracks and scratches. A thick and sturdy steel cable, terminated in a beefy L-plug, completes the picture. The headphones are also very light and not likely to get damaged from falls. Lastly, every single part of the headphones is user-replaceable. From the detachable cabling to the headband padding to the cups and joints, the HD25 can be disassembled completely in just a few minutes.

Comfort (8/10): The HD25 is surprisingly light compared to headphones such as the AKG K181 and M-Audio Q40. The adjustable dual headband exerts very little pressure – the majority of the force is applied by the supraaural coupling. Though clamping force is fairly strong in the HD25, the structure does a great job of distributing it over the entire surface of the pads. The cups have a good range of motion despite lacking any joints whatsoever and conform very well to the shape of one’s head. Vinyl pads come installed on stock HD25s but some versions include the optional velour pads as well. Even if that isn’t the case, at $7+shipping the velour pads are a worthy investment, providing a comfort improvement at the expense of a tiny bit of isolation. Overall comfort falls just behind the likes of the impossibly light Senn PX100s and the circumaural CAL!.

Isolation (9.5/10): Though portable headphones can never isolate as well as the IEMs, the HD25 can compete with certain shallow-insertion in-ears. While the vinyl pads isolate just a bit more than the velour ones, the tradeoff is unlikely to be worth it for most users. Even with the velour pads the isolation crown of the HD25-1 can be usurped only the hard-clamping AKGs and only if you’re lucky enough to get the AKGs to seal properly.

Sound (9/10): Upon first hearing the HD25-1 I was absolutely convinced that I would be giving them a 10/10 in sound quality. Having owned them for a while, however, I can’t help but notice that for $200 headphones they are just slightly lacking here and there. But the fact that I am still using them as my primary portables is certainly telling of the fact that they are a competitive product. They are well-balanced with a slight reduction in midrange emphasis, have good clarity and detail, and are quite transparent when it comes to sources. The bass is tight and accurate. It’s hard-hitting in character and more punchy than powerful as opposed to something like the K181Dj or M-Audio Q40. It has impressive extension, though it won’t keep up with the M-Audios down to the lowest reaches. It is also well-textured and does not bleed into the midrange. For a portable headphone the quantity of bass is just right – a bit more than what one would expect from an analytical headphone but far from AKG K81/K181 quantity.

The mids are neutral, clear, and detailed. Articulation is very good and sounds are well-separated. However, the HD25 is lacking noticeably in both soundstage width and depth, at least when compared to most full-size headphones. Most of the other closed portables I own don’t exactly shine in soundstaging either but I can’t help but be disappointed that the smaller and cheaper PX200-II has a more spacious sound. Sheer size aside, soundstage positioning is fairly precise and instrumental separation is excellent on all but the densest tracks. Towards the upper midrange the HD25-1 struggles to stay smooth and as a result is very unforgiving of sibilant tracks. The high end is quite present and reasonably extended but comes off a bit edgy and clinical at times. The overall sound, though, is quite pleasant and works particularly well for genres not dependent on soundstage size for the full experience. All of my quibbles aside, the HD25 is as good for use on the go as any portable headphone I have heard.

Value (8.5/10): The Sennheiser HD25-1 is on another level in terms of balance and detail compared to most other portable headphones. Compared, however, to full-size cans in the price range, as it sometimes is, the HD25 can come off as dull and rather compressed-sounding because of the narrow stage. The hard treble can also be a bit fatiguing for home use. But of course such comparisons are unfair precisely because I am not comfortable wearing my full-size cans outside while using the HD25 comes naturally. It is this versatility that makes the Sennheisers well-worth the $200 price tag and one of the easiest portable headphones to recommend.

Manufacturer Specs:
Frequency Response:16-22,000 Hz
Impedance:70 Ω
 Sensitivity:120 dB/1V
Cord:5ft (1.5m), single-sided; Angled Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism:N/A


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

30 Comments

  1. w.z on

    Great review! If there’s one quibble I have with these, it’s that they are somewhat sensitive and thus prone to hissing with my phone and Fiio M3 DAP. Just wondering if you would have any recommendations for a good (preferably budget/cheap) source to use these as portable headphones, as any sort of hiss drives me crazy! Thankfully my Fiio E10K is virtually silent, but can’t really use something like that on a portable basis.

  2. Bobby Jun on

    Is there a difference between the HD 25-1 II and the new HD 25’s?

    There seems to be two different versions on Amazon

    • ljokerl on

      No difference from what I understand other than packaging/accessories.

  3. Fabiano Azevedo on

    Hi LJOKERL, love your site. I come here often and I always recommend the site to friends… Do you recommend the HD25s for a drummer and bass instead of an iem set? We have a few drummers and bass players at the church and a personal iem piece for each guy wouldn’t make sense right now. I was just wondering if these or another set from the list would be a better option for these guys. Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      On-ears don’t seem to be too popular with drummers, I see a lot more full-size cans and in-ears. Isolation probably plays a factor. The Beyerdynamic DT770 pro-80 is solid for this sort of thing even though I don’t consider it a “portable” headphone.

  4. Michael on

    I bought a referb amperior for $90 used several months back and how good the build quality is i dont see the point of buying one new. The only Con i can find is that its pretty uncomfortable and kinda weird looking

    I hope my amperior last forever

    • ljokerl on

      Right? I don’t think you can tell my HD25-1 apart now from how it looked when I bought it in 2009. Only ever refreshed the pads with a new set from Sennheiser (was about $9, I think).

  5. Matt on

    OMG these are fun. I’ve never heard songs with such control and resolution. They seem to “pace” songs better than I’ve heard from any other headphone or IEM.

    Lovely smooth bass in all ranges. Bass heavy songs give that big sound you want but not at any detriment to other instruments or vocals.

    Sound stage is much better than I expected from reading reviews. Just wide enough to enjoy that effect.

    Much comfier than I expected too having read a lot of reviewers saying they can only wear them for short periods of time, I wore them for hours when i opened them up and still had no discomfort.

    I use my Topping AMP which IMO brings out the best in them. i found some songs on my Fiio X1 where a little quiet at 90% volume. Not that I’m being over critical, but the AMP made them sound way better.

    If you don’t mind me asking, do more expensive headphone AMPs make any difference… my Topping NX2 was £40 and does the trick… if i went say £100+, maybe buy a decent Fiio one, would I notice a difference? (I’m aware you haven’t got my ears!).

    • ljokerl on

      You’re correct, everyone’s ears are different – while some people swear by amps and upgrade cables in all situations, I think that it varies too much by headphone, listener, and situation to make a sweeping judgment. In the case of the HD25 I personally wouldn’t bother upgrading from a decent entry-level or mid-range amp & source combo if you’re planning to stick with the HD25 for now – it’s just not that revealing of a headphone.

      • Matt on

        Thanks, when you say “not that revealing of a headphone” what do you mean? Part of my purchase was based on the 9/10 score you gave them for sound… but that doesn’t sound like a comment that backs 9/10 up?

        • ljokerl on

          I meant the HD25 isn’t highly sensitive to what you’re plugging it into. There are headphones and earphones out there that may sound very different from source A and source B. The HD25 isn’t one of those. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing in this case.

          • Matt on

            Ahhh, sorry. Although I liked their sound and noise isolation, they still weren’t what i was looking for in terms of sound. After reviews i went open back and got the Grado sr80es which is getting even closer to what I’m looking for… just need to find ones with the clarity and mids of sr80es but with slightly more bass

  6. Eli Bermann on

    I bought the HD 25 in NYC about 20 years ago and it is still one of the best.

    • Rob on

      Same I’ve had mine for about 7 years, I throw them with no special care into my bag most days to listen on the train and they just keep coming back for more. Only thing in all that time i’ve replaced is the pads for the cool bright blue style which came on the adidas branded hd25’s.

      Love these headphones.

  7. EAyanlar on

    Hey joker, would these headphones be a improvement for yamaha eph-100?
    I mostly listen bass heavy music. Like Future House, EDM, Deep House. Would the bass be enough? How is the bass compared to EPH-100 ?
    Cheers.

    • ljokerl on

      Very different from the warm and smooth EPH-100 – the HD25 is more of a v-shaped headphones with enhanced bass and treble. It’s brighter and not very warm-sounding. However, I think the HD25 sound signature also works well for EDM and the bass on the HD25 is sufficient.

  8. Johnny Flores on

    Are the HD25’s still the favorite or have you moved on? I’m shopping for something with pretty good sound isolation but not in-ear.

    • ljokerl on

      Yep, still a favorite, especially when isolation is a factor.

  9. Ricard on

    Hey Joker! I love my HD25-1 II for its natural sound and “all genre” headphones. I also mix with them.
    Though I’m at the look out for some iem equivalents and maybe you could point me in the right direction?
    They would sound like the HD25s but preferrably with better soundstage. Thanks for your time!!
    Best /Ricard

      • Ricard on

        Thank you very much for the recommendation, I will definitely check them out!
        Great site btw. 🙂

        Best

        • ljokerl on

          Thank you, much appreciated :). New features coming soon!

  10. KC33 on

    Hiya Joker, I have a chance to pick up the Amperior for $110.00 shipped but they’re refurbished by the Sennheiser factory. I just don’t know if they’re worth a shot or not and I was wondering if you might have any idea or experience with Sennheiser refurbs. I know this question is probably a bit of a reach but if you have an opinion I’d love to hear it.

    • ljokerl on

      Actually I do – I have several refurbed Senn headphones including my beloved HD428s. I think I’ve only had one come in a less-than-excellent cosmetic condition (a few deep scratches) but even then it was something I could easily live with for the savings. I trust Senn refurbs.

      • KC33 on

        Awesome, I’m gonna order them. They have the blue ones for 99 bucks, seems to be a no brainer. 🙂

        Thanks so much!

      • KC33 on

        I got them today, they look brand new and sound fantastic. Thanks again! 🙂

  11. Johnny Flores on

    How do these compare to the newer v-moda XS and Beyerdynamic T51i? All in similar price range and all have great reviews. I see that the HD-25’s have been your favorite for a while and the Beyer 1350’s are close, but I haven’t seen your take on these other portables.

    Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I don’t have those two – just the older M-80 and 1350s.

  12. Tim on

    How do you think these compare to the sennheiser Amperior? Do you think a cable upgrade is worth it for these?
    Thanks

    • ljokerl on

      I’ve only tried the Amperior briefly and didn’t find it to be very different from these. There’s probably some differences between them but without A:Bing I couldn’t tell you what they are.

      If you can find a convenient upgrade cable that’s not too expensive, it’s probably worth it, but I wouldn’t spend more than $50 or so on an upgrade for $200 headphones. I had a stock H650 cable on them at one point, and later some fancy Toxic or Viper (can’t remember) cable, but they were too unwieldy so both times I ended up going back to stock. I’m genearally not big on fancy upgrade cables, so maybe not the best person to ask on this particular thing.

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