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Tom's Holiday Buyer's Guide 2008, Part 1

Sennheiser HD515 G4ME Headphones
By: Chris Angelini

You spend big money on processors and even bigger money on graphics, so why would you go cheap when it comes to audio? Well, it’d be easy if you didn’t know any better—once upon a time I was perfectly content with AC’97 and bundled 2.1-channel speakers. But then I was introduced to Sennheiser. First, I owned the company’s HD580s. Then, I upgraded to the HD600s. Both audiophile-quality cans, I was talked into picking up a headphone amplifier from HeadRoom and was quickly sold for life.

The HD600s cost more than $300 though, and they’re arguably more headphone than what the average PCs audio subsystem really needs. Hoping to find something a little more apropos to computing, we revisited Sennheiser’s headphone lineup and came across the HD 515 G4MEs. Most obviously, these are over-the-ear headphones designed for comfort. I’ve yet to find a set of earbuds that’d last for more than 15 minutes without extreme discomfort, and supra-aural on-ear headphones can be fatiguing as well. The HD515s fit around the ear, distributing 255 grams of total weight across a well-padded headband and the velvety ear pads.

Sennheiser’s quality carries over from the comfort-enhancing padding to the 1.8” (3.5 mm) stereo jack especially suited to sound cards (many high-end headphones employ 1.4” plugs). And whereas you’d likely expect multimedia headphones to tether you down with a few feet of cord, the Sennheiser setup includes a nine-foot detachable single-sided OFC (oxygen-free, which lasts longer without becoming brittle) copper cable.

The HD515’s open ear cups aren’t meant to save everyone else from hearing whatever you’re playing. Rather, they’re designed with sound quality in mind, letting sound waves propagate freely away from the transducer. A frequency range between 14 Hz and 26 kHz straddles both ends of the spectrum for what a human can hear. And while we’ve fielded ambitious claims from speaker vendors before that just didn’t sound plausible after a lengthy audition, Sennheiser’s audio reproduction is truly impressive.

Although the HD515 G4MEs are marketed toward the gaming enthusiast, these things work well for any audio application on the PC, from gaming to music creation to video playback. There is a price to pay for Sennheiser’s premium headphones, but when you compare them to the price of a multi-channel speaker system, the difference shouldn’t be as jarring.