It might be hard to believe, given how complex they can seem, but high end audiophile headphones don’t usually have a lot of gimmicks. Oh sure, they’ll pack in magnetic planar diaphragms and nanofilament neodymium geegaws, but when it comes down to it, they’re just headphones. Expensive, very high quality headphones, but headphones nonetheless. The Sennheiser HD630VBs are different. They’ve got a gimmick that is so simple and so effective that we can’t understand why it hasn’t been done before. If you’re in the market for a pair of audiophile cans, you’re going to want to pay attention.
All In The Twist
To understand the gimmick (although we really shouldn’t be calling it that) you need to understand the headphones’ construction.
The HD630VBs are a sizeable pair of headphones, an aluminum-and-leather construction that prioritises comfort and sound quality over portability. The headband is soft and comfortable, and the circular over-ear-style cups fully enclose the ear. It’s easy to wear these things for hours without any problems, although we did find that wearing them with glasses was a little bit tricky.
The cups themselves are absolutely massive, and although Sennheiser says that you can quite comfortably take these headphones outdoors, we wouldn’t advise it. They might fold up, but they’re just too big.
The bit we want you to pay attention to is on the right earcup. The centre of the cup has a set of controls (volume, play-pause, call answer) that do their job simply and effectively. Around the outside is a dial, which can be adjusted in tiny increments. This dial controls the bass of whatever you’re listening to - hence the VB in the name, which stands for Variable Bass. It’s the HD630VBs’ killer feature, and it works unbelievably well.
Low End Theory
When we first unboxed these headphones (they come in a stylish, rugged zipper case, which is always a nice touch) we had the idea that the single twist of the VB dial would raise the bass to ear-shattering levels. We couldn’t have been more off the mark.
What quickly becomes apparent even a short listening session is that the headphones aren’t a sledgehammer. They’re a scalpel. Even adjusting very small amounts has a noticeable difference, and the very maximum level, the bass remains refined and clear. It’s so, so easy to get the exact level you want that we found ourselves playing with it more than we would have thought, experimenting with different levels to see which ones we liked. Outside of a first person shooter, we’ve never had so much precision control with so little effort.
This scalpel-like approach might not appeal to everyone. If you’re after pounding bass, the kind that rattles your stomach, you might want to look elsewhere. And we should say that we found our comfort zone right at the maximum level; at the opposite end of the dial, there was far too little bass, a necessary state of affairs given the concept, but still. In other words, if you’re thinking about buying these headphones, it’s worth being aware of how you like your music. Fans of Beats By Dre can definitely look elsewhere.
It’s a feature that would be wasted if the overall sound of the HD630VBs wasn’t up to scratch. It is. It most certainly is. While it could occasionally be a little bit too minimalist, the audio quality felt elegant, detailed and clear. Whether it was taking on a pounding metal anthem or an acoustic folk piece, the sound was crisp and natural. Essentially, what we’re saying is, you can throw in almost any positive adjective you like here and it would apply. Sennheiser clearly put the work in to deliver a superior product, and it shows.
It’s worth mentioning that buying these headphones gives you a six-month subscription to Tidal, the somewhat-beleaguered high-definition streaming service owned by Jay-Z. It’s a good way to get introduced to the world of high-def audio, and is a very nice bonus.
There are a couple of other bits worth mentioning.
The first is a tiny switch underneath the earcup. It’s so small that we didn’t know it was there until we glanced at the instruction manual, but what it does is lets you switch between iPhone and Android modes, to optimise the sound. It’s a nice touch, especially in a pair of headphones that doesn’t come with a companion app. When testing on both types, we didn’t pick up any major differences between the sound, but it’s still good to have.
The second, and we really can’t stress this enough, is that these headphones aren’t designed to be portable. You might not need an amp to get the best of them, but they are infinitely more suited to seated listening than they are to music on the go. That may or may not be a problem; for us, it was a nonfactor, but it’s worth pointing out.
The controls on the side of the earcup, in the middle of the VB dial, work really well, too. They sit almost flush with the cup, and although it takes a little bit of effort to press them, they still get the job done. We did sometimes find that the volume increase or decrease from each click was a little too granular, meaning that we either had to hold it down or click multiple times to get to the spot we wanted.
Beyond that, there’s a microphone on the 3’11” cable, and when we tested the headphones on a call, things went off without a hitch. The audio was crisp and clear, although frankly, we’d be surprised if it wasn’t.
We can’t recommend the HD630VBs enough. The VB wheel is a genuine revolution, something we wish other manufacturers did with this much ease and grace. A sceptic might say it’s just a crude equaliser, but we say that no equaliser has pulled off a trick that sounds quite this good. Whether you’re just getting into the world of audiophile headphones, or you’re an established geek looking for something new, you need to hear these.
Unique approach to bass, killer sound, comfort
Very definitely not portable
You want gimmicks? Parrot got gimmicks! From a built-in accelerometer to touch controls, these Bluetooth headphones offer a huge range of features. While the sound could be a little better, we still had an absolute blast using them.
Sennheiser may have invented the open-back headphone, but HIFIMAN have perfected it. Their HE400S headphones are a firm favourite of ours, as we think they deliver some of the best sound in this price range.
Breaking Down The Specs:
|Parrot Zik 3||$399||9.5oz||Unknown||40mm||N/A||N/A|