Gadgets

SENNHEISER HD 640 VB HEADPHONES

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The top HD range from Sennheiser is the brand’s home audiophile range, but the pivotal word is ‘home’. Open backed designs that need good upstream amps and DACs to drive them, the HD 500, HD 600, and HD 800 series are not really models for travelling and commuting: I do know someone who travels with a Chord Hugo powering a pair of HD 800, but he uses that rig in the hotel room rather than in transit. The HD 630VB is the exception – it’s every bit a part of the HD range, but folds away, comes in a travel case, and even includes an in‑line microphone.

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The rounded, closed-back, over ear HD 630VBs are neatly finished in (mostly brushed) silver and dark blue-grey, with red contrasting cloth inside the ear-cups. The cups and headband are high-grade ‘pleather’, which is both hard-wearing and not aromatic. The overall look is one of sophistication and elegance, aided by the single gimbal headphone band connector. It’s not a heavy headphone either to carry or wear, although the large black cake-tin carry case does add bulk to the package. The HD 630VB has a captive lead (with in-line microphone) and a stereo 3.5mm TRS jack plug (a mini-jack to 6.3mm jack plug adaptor is supplied in the case).

The business end is all on the right ear cup. There is a little switch marked ‘I/G’ by the cable strain-relief, to switch between Apple iDevice and Google Android use. The centre of the right-hand ear-cup is given over to track and phone-handling options normally assigned to an in-line pod. This means volume adjustment, track handling, and call handling can be assigned bigger and more easy to use buttons than the tiny ones on a cable pod. It also allows listeners to access Siri and Assistant voice commands. The captive cable is mostly very good at eliminating conduction noise, although the cable around the microphone is itself slightly microphonic.

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The HD 630VB is based around a single transducer said to be able to deliver sounds from 10Hz to 42kHz. The headphone is rated at an impedance of 23Ω, which – coupled with a suggested 114dB sound pressure rating (measured at 1kHz and at 1Vrms) – means the Android/Apple implementation isn’t just for show and the headphones will comfortably work straight from a phone. The 50Hz bass end of the frequency response features a +5dB boost or a –5dB cut, thanks to the variable bass controller, on the rim of the right hand ear-cup. This is infinitely adjustable, although there are marks on the side of the ear-cup denoting 12 steps above or below ‘flat’.

I have to admit starting out with some puritanical bias against the Sennheiser HD 630VB, simply due to that suffix. “It can’t be as good as the fixed bass versions,” ran the prejudice, “simply because it doesn’t have fixed bass”. In fact, all that comes down to bias without any real-world basis. In outright performance terms, the HD 630VB sits somewhere closer to the HD 600 than it does the Momentum series. It really does live up to the ‘HD on the move’ concept.

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There are three ways of looking at the VB suffix of the HD 630VB, all good and all relevant. You can think of it as the perfect way of tailoring bass to suit the listener, the bass to suit the environment, or as a systematic desensitisation program for Beats users. The bass of the HD 600 series Sennheiser sometimes get criticism from both sides; some find it a little too ‘audiophile’ and bass light, yet paradoxically some audiophiles find it too bold and strong in the bass. The variable bass system allows listeners to adjust the bottom end to suit and, unless turned to the maximum setting, it never impacts further up the frequency range. This also helps tame some more bass-wayward recordings, although thinking of the VB system as a tone control isn’t that smart. I’ve found that in noisy environments (the London Underground, for example) bass is slightly more likely to be swamped than midrange or treble, because of the degree of isolation offered by the HD 630VB is so good. The VB system offers some compensation, allowing the listener to retain the good bass of the headphone in less than accommodating environments.

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Then there is the bass-heavy deprogramming option. Despite performance to the contrary, bass-oriented headphones remain popular with many listeners, but they are regularly sold more on looks than on sound, and some people who like good sound end up going down this big-bass sideline. The VB can be used to wean people off overpowering bass; start with the bass control at ‘Max’, then gradually reduce the setting to more accurate levels. After some slow, methodical bass reduction, try your older headphones, and discover just how awful they always sounded.

The great thing here though is the headphone’s bass is mostly subtle and well controlled. It is slightly more bass-oriented than its stay-at-home siblings, but bass is more of an accent than a feature, and best of all this bass system never impinges on the midrange and top, even at its most bass-heavy setting. As such, adjustment is more about balancing bass ‘texture’ to suit the surroundings and the listener. In fact, it’s more about bringing genuine HD 600 series performance to the open road, train carriage, or aircraft cabin. It’s not a closed back design that sounds like an open-backed headphone, but it gets surprisingly close.

There’s not a lot with which to find fault here. The use of a captive headphone lead seems a bit odd in today’s market. I’d prefer something more immediately replaceable, if only to prevent breakage. But that’s splitting hairs – when you think not only what the HD 630VB does, but also how effortlessly it does it, you can’t help but be impressed.

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The HD 630VB is a welcome addition to the Sennheiser line. The sound quality is somewhere between good Momentum and HD models, retaining the closed-back isolation of the former with much of the transparency of the latter, together with a (for the most part) limited and sophisticated bass tailoring, and the ease of driving that puts it on the end of iPhones, Androids, and DAPs. That makes it a high-end Sennheiser headphone that goes with you everywhere, and that is an easy headphone to recommend.

Technical Specifications

Type: Circumaural, dynamic, closed back headphones with variable bass control

Ear coupling: Circumaural

Transducer principle: Dynamic, closed

Frequency Response: 10–42,000 Hz

Impedance: 23Ω

Sound Pressure Level: 114dB (1 kHz / 1Vrm)

Total harmonic distortion: < 0.08% (1kHz, 100dB)

Bass Boost: +/– 5dB at 50 Hz

Contact pressure: 5.5 ~ 6.8N

Weight (headphones excluding cable): 400g

Accessories include: carry bag and 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter

Price: £399.95/$599.925

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