With Sennheiser’s HD 490 Pro, mixing on headphones has never been better
Sennheiser’s new flagship reference headphones can pick every last detail out of your mixes and even let you test them in different environments without leaving your chair.
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Image: Sennheiser.
⊕ Respond well to any genre of music br>
⊕ Lightweight and comfortable br>
⊕ dearVR plugin allows testing of mixes in virtual spaces br>
⊕ Wide frequency response br>
⊖ Changing pads makes indiscernible difference to the sound br>
HD 490 Pro: £349 / €399
Plus version: £419 / €479
A big change in the way we listen to music over the last decade or two has been the explosion in the number of people listening on headphones. Powered first by the iPod and then by smartphones, this trend means it’s more important than ever for producers to mix and master for personal listening and for speakers.
Producers can now also conduct more professional work using laptops, often away from their full studio setup. And on top of these factors, it’s still crucial to test mixes in different environments since this can have a profound effect on how a track sounds. So how are you supposed to tick all these boxes without spending a fortune on gear?
Sennheiser’s solution is its new HD 490 Pro reference headphones. As you’d expect, they have been engineered for extremely accurate sound reproduction and supreme comfort, but there’s also a Plus option that comes with a code for the dearVR Mix SE plugin. This plugin virtualises different listening environments, allowing you to check your mix in different spaces without ever leaving your chair. Before we come to that, though, let’s explore the cans themselves.
How does the Sennheiser HD 490 Pro feel?
Nestling at the top end of Sennheiser’s HD range, the 490s are very lightweight at just 260g without the cable, yet still feel professionally built. The weight is kept down by using mostly high quality plastic, though the headband is made of metal as are the earcup covers, with soft pads on the underside of the band.
They’re extremely comfortable to wear for long periods and, despite the adjustable band fitting the head in a snug fashion, they never feel particularly warm or restrictive.
Sennheiser’s headphones come with two sets of ear pads, one velvet and one fabric, which Sennheiser says are suited to producing and mixing respectively since they have slightly different finishes. While we’re not entirely clear how ‘producing’ is a different process to mixing rather than a catch-all term, we find both sets perfectly suited to whatever kind of listening we’re doing, not worrying too much about which set we’re using. It goes so far as having separate presets in the dearVR plugin for each set of ear pads, so you can go along with this if you want to.
The cable can be connected to either side of the headphones — a nice touch since it offers you more freedom based on your particular setup. You get two cables in the box — one cable coiled and one straight — as well as a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adapter thrown in.
The cups swivel flat when not being worn so the headphones are easier to place flat on a surface, though they don’t otherwise fold down like some models do.
How does the Sennheiser HD 490 Pro sound?
Nice though the 490s feel, it’s how they sound that will matter most to creators.
As an open-backed design, they have been tuned to be very open and neutral since honesty is what you’re looking for when mixing and mastering. There’s none of the boxy bass that can result from closed back models — as gratifying as it can seem on your commute, it’s not a true picture of what’s going on with the audio spectrum. Here, the focus is on absolute accuracy.
The soundstage is remarkable; an absolutely superb balance of frequencies that gives a first-rate picture of a mix. That’s partly thanks to the astonishing frequency response provided by the 38mm dynamic transducers, from a low of just 5Hz all the way up to a sparkling 36.1kHz.
Consider that the range for a prized pair of consumer headphones is generally around 20Hz – 20kHz and you’ll see how much lower and higher the Sennheisers can go. They also have an impressive sensitivity of 105dB and a maximum SPL of 128dBSPL so they can handle mixing loud, even though that’s not how people usually tend to mix — at least not for very long.
Listening to reference material is a revelation, particularly with acoustic tracks. Robbie Robertson’s score for Killers Of The Flower Moon bristles with power and energy, while Bob Marley’s remastered classic Exodus reveals every percussive detail.
At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, classic Prodigy tracks crackle with life, their low end firm and balanced without ever becoming overwhelming.
What is included with the Sennheiser HD 490 Plus?
The Plus version of the headphones has one difference: they come with an unlock code for the dearVR Mix SE plugin.
This plugin, which does have a 14-day trial option, can be strapped across the master bus of your DAW and used to virtualise different physical environments. The idea is essentially that you don’t have to keep taking your mix down to places like your car, or other rooms, to see how it will translate onto different systems. We reviewed the original version in 2021.
The 490s are directly supported so you can select them from inside the plugin while switching between different spaces and speaker placements. It’s an interesting and worthwhile endeavour, and genuinely does help you to tweak a mix or master, especially the low end which can be the hardest to predict, for different environments.
Can you use Sennheiser’s HD 490 Pro for spatial audio mixing?
Sennheiser makes mention of the fact that the headphones have been designed to allow for precise localisation of sound, which refers to identifying or placing elements in the stereo sound field or indeed, in a spatial field. And in this they succeed, with solid separation and sense of position even in a regular stereo mix.
On this point, it’s worth a quick comparison with the Sony MDR MV1s that we reviewed – both have superlative sound but the Sennheisers are around £70 cheaper and have replaceable earpads. The Sonys have been explicitly designed to work with 360-degree audio and, although the Sennheisers can do this to a reliable standard too, the Sony pair has the edge for absolute separation and placement when working with spatial tracks.
Should you buy the Sennheiser HD 490 Pro?
Mixing and mastering on headphones is an essential part of any producer’s skill set these days. Partly because your target audience will so often be using them too, and also because you might need to work on the move, away from your studio monitors but still with the greatest possible accuracy.
The HD 490 Pros more than get the job done, with a brilliantly balanced, neutral sound, comfortable fit for long sessions and optionally, the room simulation plugin should you want to use it. Considering the quality of the results they can help you achieve, they’re arguably even a bit of a bargain too.
- Open-backed, circumaural design
- 38mm dynamic drivers
- 5 Hz – 36 kHz frequency range
- 130 Ohms impedance
- 2 detachable cables
- 2 sets of washable ear pads
- Optional room simulation plugin
- 300 mW power rating
- 260g weight
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