REVIEW: Sennheiser HD 300 PRO headphones

Are the HD 300 PROs from Sennheiser worth an upgrade from your current cans? Music technology lecturer and author Stephen Bennett delivers the Audio Media International verdict…

What is it?
The HD 300 PRO headphones are designed to meet the needs of studio. live and broadcast engineers who require ambient noise isolation.

Whats great?
Excellent acoustic isolation for their weight. Superb, detailed sound. Replaceable cable and other parts.

Whats not?
The cable is a tad short.

The bottom line:
The HD 300 PRO headphones from Sennheiser continue the company’s tradition of producing high-quality headphones for studio, live or broadcasting use.

Headphones used to be used mostly for recording or to check those little annoying noises that leak into even the most carefully treated studios. However, as engineers have fled these bespoke spaces for home-based environments, headphones have become important tools in both mixing and mastering, as well as becoming the preferred ‘listening environment’ for consumers. Sennheiser have a long and impressive history in headphone design and it’d be surprising to find a professional facility without a pair of venerable HD 650 ‘phones hanging off a microphone stand. While open backed headphones are usually more comfortable in use, when you’re working in less than desirable environments, you’ll need to suppress ambient noise— which is where something like the HD 300 PRO comes in.

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Build quality
As you might, expect, the HD 300 PRO ‘phones are extremely well built. I’ve had issues with headphones with captive cables in the past, so it’s great to see that the Sennheiser’s have a replaceable, albeit quite short, cable with a neat little coil near the earpiece which works well in supressing mechanical cable noise. Another issue that has plagued me is broken ‘Alice bands’— the part that stretches over the head and keeps the transducers in place. The HD 300 PRO feel extremely durable and should prove more than adequate for the applications they are designed for. Sennhesier say that the ‘phones feature ‘completely field replaceable’ components— which is excellent news as, once you find your ‘perfect’ pair of headphones, they’re likely to live with you for a long time! Sennheiser’s ‘circumaural—or ‘around the ears’—viscoelastic earpads’ fit nicely over the lugholes and do not feel too weighty—coming in at just a tad under 300g—compared with the 350g of my Beyer Dynamic closed-back DT100 and the 250g of my open-backed HD 650.

As expected, the HD 300 PRO sound, when used with my Metric Halo ULN-2 interface, was detailed with low distortion, even at high volumes. Of course, all headphones suffer from a lack of stereo crosstalk, but software tools such as Sonarworks’ Reference and Wave’s Abbey road are getting better and better at simulating the acoustic effects of studio monitors and work well here. The Sennheiser’s offer around 32dB of ambient noise attenuation (compared with @20dB for the DT100) which is impressive for their weight. The HD 300 PRO sound quite different to my HD 650s, but appear a lot more balanced across the frequency range. My Bayer DT100 again provide a different sonic character to the HD 300 PRO, but also make me feel more isolated from the surroundings without an appreciable difference in acoustic isolation.

Daily use
The HD 300 PRO ‘phones were a joy to use and fitted my head very well indeed. They don’t weigh on the ear like many closed-back phones but are just as likely to make you jump when someone taps you on the shoulder. I actually prefer these headphones to my go-to HD 650 and Beyer Dynamic DT990, as the suppression of ambient sounds allows me to focus in on the audio. I used them for some dialogue recording for a film and, in this application, the ambient noise suppression was extremely useful to help me understand what was being captured through the microphone and what might be leaking in from the set.

The verdict:
When you think of it, headphones are a bargain compared to studio monitors and a properly treated studio. In the past, they’ve been a kind of poor cousin, but with advances in both headphone design and new digital tools, it’s not impossible to find work that was recorded, mixed and mastered on something like the HD 300. Sennheiser also produce a version of these headphones— the HD 300 PROtect—with a switchable ‘Active Gard’ hearing protection feature that the company say satisfies international directives on industrial safety and noise control. If you spend long hours in the studio using headphones, a pair of these might just save your precious hearing.

HD 300 PRO:
Available now – £179, $242

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