Despite the relatively large number of headphones Sennheiser has out on the market at any given time, the German audio company manages to maintain an impressive standard of quality. The HD 429s, at $89.95 (direct), can be considered a budget headphone option in Sennheiser’s deep lineup. Its volume control-free remote, dearth of accessories, and inability to fold down or collapse for easy storage and packing are not ideal, but it’s easy to forget when these lightweight, comfortable headphones are playing your favorite music. Simply put, they sound excellent for this price range. The HD 429s is a pair that can afford to skimp on extras because it sounds so good for the price, bringing rich bass and clear highs to the sub-$100 range.
The HD 429s’s design is reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD 558, with large earcups featuring a small Sennheiser logo in the center—and not much else. The material on the edge of the cups and the headband is matte black plastic, with padding that is comfortable despite not feeling very plush to the touch. There’s a bit of flexibility to the angle of the earcups, too, that helps the comfort factor, but the primary reason for the comfort: The HD 429s is an extremely lightweight headphone pair.
The thin black audio cable descends from the left earcup and ends around the upper chest where it can either be plugged into a player that is clipped onto or sitting in a pocket, or plugged into a longer cable that has a built-in microphone and remote. The compartment housing the remote also has a shirt clip on it, and all the cables terminate in 3.5mm—there’s an adapter for Nokia-style headphone jacks.
Other than that, the HD 429s has no included accessories, which is a bit surprising even in the sub-$100 price category. There’s no carrying pouch or case, nor do the headphones fold down flat, so stowing them for travel might prove to be a bit of a hassle.
Call clarity through the inline mic is about what you should expect—your call partner will hear you just fine and understand you, but it will still sound like a low-fidelity cell phone call. The single-button remote controls playback and track navigation (depending on how many taps you give it), but there is, disappointingly, no volume control, which should be a given in this price range. Of course, the lack of volume control ensures compatibility with a wider range of phones, but you could always include multiple cables or options to buy different cables on the same headphone pair—none of which are options here.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the HD 429s delivers serious deep bass without going overboard. At maximum, unwise listening levels, the HD 249s doesn’t distort on tracks like this, although the earcups vibrate so much, it feels as though it’s teetering on the edge. At normal listening levels, the headphones still produce plenty of low frequency rumble, but they do so without going overboard, and the balance with the highs is ideal.
A better insight to the HD 429s’s sound signature is gained when listening to Bill Callahan’s “Drover.” Often, a headphone pair with deep bass response achieves it by boosting the lows too much, almost across the board, so that the sub-bass frequencies get boosted as much as, say, the low-mids in a male baritone voice. This is rarely a good thing, and the HD 429s avoids it—instead of delivering Callahan’s vocals in an bass-heavy manner, with dulled edges, we get the crisp high-mid response that keeps his vocals in the forefront of the mix. There’s plenty of depth to his baritone voice, but it doesn’t overwhelm the mix, and the drums on this track sound natural, rather than bogged down with too much bass. There’s low-end here, but there are crisp high-mids and highs to match it.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets the right amount of attention in the high-mids. Nothing is boosted so much that the attack sounds too sharp or harsh, but it has a nice crunch to it that’s complimented by the low-end presence of the kick’s sustain. The sub-bass synth hits that dance around the drum loop are delivered with a richness that does them justice—bass fiends will find them lacking, and purists may feel they’re a bit boosted. For those of us who like a little bit of bass with our crisp highs—without everything turning to a lopsided, muddy mess—the HD 429s delivers.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” often seem to naturally cede the spotlight to the instruments in the high-mid to high frequency range, like higher register strings and brass, when played through pairs that are not bass-heavy and unbalanced. The HD 429s falls into this category—much of its bass presence serves the sub-bass realm, where many classical tracks have little content aside from some percussion hits and lower strings and brass at their lowest. The lower register instruments in this piece get a bit of added richness, but the focus is squarely on the mids-to-highs here. So, on classical tracks, the HD 429s feels fairly close to a flat response pair, whereas it packs a little more oomph on modern mixes that boost the bass. And that’s probably the best way to think of it: These headphones give you the deep bass when it’s in the mix, and don’t invent it when it’s not.
If big bass, a bit beyond what the HD 429s brings, is what you’re after, consider the Skullcandy Navigator. For the price, it won’t disappoint you and doesn’t distort, but you sacrifice overall balance. If you have more room in your budget and like the idea of a balanced pair that can reproduce deep lows when called upon, both the Logitech UE 4000 and the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro are fine options. And if all of these are more expensive than what you’re looking for, the Skullcandy Hesh 2 offers decent balance and solid bass response for far less money.
At $90, the Sennheiser HD 429s is a solid deal—it delivers excellent audio performance in a comfortable fit. It’s lacking in the extras department, and the remote and un-foldable design aren’t the most user-friendly decisions. But if you want a fantastic-sounding headphone pair and couldn’t care less about the extras, the HD 429s will not disappoint.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc