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Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones: Review

At $479, Sennheiser’s HD 490 Pro Plus are two headphones in one with interchangeable ear pads that dramatically alter the sound.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones with Carry Case and Accessories

Open-back headphones for music and creative professionals have suddenly found an audience with models ranging from the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X to the Audeze MM-500 at the upper end. It that seems many companies are either upgrading or introducing models specifically aimed at music production professionals and the HD 490 Pro is Sennheiser’s affordable option priced at only $399 USD.

Build Quality

The HD 490 Pro utilizes a new chassis and comes in two variations — the HD 490 Pro and HD 490 Pro Plus. The “Plus” model adds accessories for an additional $80, but otherwise the two models are identical. 

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones with Cloth Earpads
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones with Cloth Earpads

The base model includes the headphones, an extra set of pads, and a 1.8 meter cable terminated in 3.5mm (1/8-inch) with a screw on 6.3mm (1/4-inch) adapter. The “Plus” model adds a nice carrying case, an additional 3 meter cable (also 3.5mm terminated), and an extra cloth headband. Cables connect to the cups via a mini-XLR connector to either the right or left cup for convenience.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones fold flat showing mini-XLR connector on each ear cup.
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones fold flat showing mini-XLR connector on each ear cup. The left side plug is removable.
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones Inside Included Carrying Case
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones Inside Included Carrying Case

The hard-shell carrying case is quite large but well thought out. It’s got a carry handle for ease of transport and ample room to keep accessories safe and secure. The earcups rotate a full 180° so while the headphones don’t fold, they are fairly compact.

Two sets of earpads are included with both models. The Producer pads are made of velour, whilst the Mixing pads are cloth covered. Either pad snaps on/off by holding the earcup and pulling outward on the pad parallel to the gimbal attachments to release the locks. This exposes the driver covers, which are labeled L and R. So to be certain of proper reassembly, look for the 3 dots on the left gimbal.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Producer Earpads and Mixing Earpads
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Producer Earpads (left) and Mixing Earpads (right)
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Headphones with Earpads and cover removed.
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Headphones with Earpads and cover removed.

With the cloth covers removed, we get a glimpse of the 38mm angled driver from the front. This new driver has a sensitivity of 96dB/mW and a nominal impedance of 130 ohms. The driver uses a new low-frequency cylinder system for improved sub-bass performance, neodymium magnets for high flux, and an ultra-light voice coil for greater driver speed.

Comfort

Upon pulling the headphones out of the box, I was surprised by how lightweight they were. The HD 490 Pro weigh just over 260 grams (about 9.2 ounces) which makes them the lightest in the Pro range.  

Both sets of earpads are grooved, which is nice for those of us who wear glasses.  The grooves are hardly noticeable even by feel and most will probably never know that they are there, until you wear the HD 490 Pro with glasses on. Kudos to Sennheiser for getting this correct.

Between the weight, and ergonomic design features, the HD 490 Pro are the most comfortable Sennheiser headphones I have ever worn — even surpassing my original HD 800 in overall comfort and long wear. That’s really important in a professional headphone typically worn for hours.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones with Earpads showing the inside

Sound Notes

Before writing anything about the sound, I have to say that the earpads make a huge difference. I found the Producer pads more comfortable, but the Mixing pads were consistently better for overall sound quality. Others will certainly disagree, but the easiest solution is to try both and make a determination for yourself.

With the Producer pads, the sub-bass range is very much present with even greater extension than Sennheiser’s HD58x. But keep in mind that whilst the extension is there, the quantity is still neutral at best.

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There is some texture to the sub-bass, but it isn’t going to jump out at you. What does is the mid bass which is elevated and can be somewhat boomy depending on the track being played. Kick-drum varies from good to bloated and unfortunately the increase in mid bass information doesn’t make the HD 490 Pro sound more impactful — only warmer and a touch wooly. 

Switching to the Mixing pads improves the situation as the mid bass backs off to near neutral and is much cleaner sounding and not quite as warm. The downside to the cloth pads is that the sub-bass also takes that same step back and is now a bit below neutral in quantity.

The trade-off is an increase in texture which some might find more appealing. The Producer pads are for those who want additional bass impact, whilst the Mixing pads deliver a cleaner sounding range with greater texture and detail.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Producer Earpads and Mixing Earpads and Headband pads
Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Producer Earpads (left), headband pads (middle) and Mixing Earpads (right)

Does any of that change when moving from the bass range into the lower midrange?

The Producer pads have a similar impact on the midrange which some may prefer; I certainly did not.

The lower midrange comes across as slightly warm and thickened with the warmth giving way to a leaner sounding midrange overall; there is an uptick in emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble range, making it somewhat difficult to paint the midrange performance overall as “balanced” sounding.

Male vocals have good weight, but struggle to cut through the mix at times, whilst female vocals can be a bit fragile sounding and are more forward in the mix.

Switching to the Mixing pads thins out the lower midrange somewhat, but allows them to better cut through the mix which makes things a bit more coherent overall.

The uptick in the upper midrange and lower treble still exists, but it does not dominate in the same manner.

Even with the Mixing pads, there is a slight recess in the true midrange that prevents strings from being completely accurate sounding, but I have to remind myself this is an entry level headphone in the pro and audiophile space.

Keeping that in context, the Mixing pads are quite good for their primary use case and reminded me a lot of the Sennheiser HD 650 when it comes to guitar and vocals from a tonal perspective.

Moving to the treble, there is a marked elevation early that is somewhat grainy and noticeable with either set of pads; the Producer pads exacerbate this issue in a more noticeable way.

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Percussion snap is good, but cymbals have a bit too much at the low end and a bit too little at the top to sound natural.

There is good air at the top, but detail retrieval is somewhat limited as levels start to fall back above 7 kHz. It is a tuning that emphasises the lower treble, so those who are particularly sensitive in that range may find that the HD 490 Pro needs a bit of equalization in that range to match their listening preferences.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Headphones Outside Facing Down

Soundstage

The shallow design of the earpads has a rather audible impact on the overall soundstage performance; soundstage width is very good, but depth suffers overall.

When compared to models like the HD 800 mentioned earlier, the driver is nearly twice as close to the ear in the 490 Pro which limits the ability to create a diffuse stage. However, the Producer pads have a bit of an advantage as I do think the stage is a bit deeper and larger overall when using those pads.

The mixing pads expand the width, but are shallower by comparison.

Imaging, stereo separation and layering are all rather impressive, making the HD 490 Pro a pleasant headphone for ensemble pieces even if the perceived orchestra seating is a bit expanded left to right and somewhat shallow sounding front to back.    

Sennheiser has also included a coupon for the Dear Reality dearVR MIX-SE plugin (a $99 value). This allows users to tune the headphone to match the acoustics of various recording studios. Whilst not something most audiophiles will add to their Foobar player, it is a nice touch for the target market of studio musicians and production members. This allows mixing professionals to experiment with the plug-in to see what best matches their desired signature and what others might hear when listening to their recordings in other environments.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro Plus Studio Headphones Package with Carrying Case

Conclusion

I applaud Sennheiser for providing two tuning options via the pads and found that the Mixing pads were the clear winner for me. The Producer pads trade too much detail and clarity for warmth and an enlarged sounding soundstage.

Dekoni has a real opportunity here to create a new set of earpads that offer the best possible performance.

The difficulty for Sennheiser is that they’re likely their own greatest competitor with these headphones. Sennheiser’s HD 650 has already set a high benchmark while being slightly less expensive. However, those looking for more bass may prefer the HD 490 Pro.

Although both Sennheiser models are similar in tone, the HD 490 Pro is more comfortable for longer listening sessions and stays firmly in place. The HD 650 and other models in the series have always proven to be somewhat problematic for myself in that regard.

The weight of the HD 490 Pro concerned us at the very beginning for one reason; would these rather lightweight headphones prove to be durable; especially for those who would be using them in a studio environment.

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The evidence so far is that Sennheiser built these to last.

If you prefer to connect the headphone cable on the left side, the HD 490 Pro will accommodate that, and I had zero issue using my glasses on the go, or whilst in the office working.

I did like the extra accessories included with the HD 490 Pro Plus, and its travel case is one of the better designs I’ve seen. The Sennheiser HD 490 Pro makes a solid case for itself and deserves an audition for those looking for an open-back studio headphone.

Where to buy: $479 at Amazon

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ORT

    April 29, 2024 at 1:04 pm

    Hail and well met, Sir Stuart of Minions!

    Any thoughts on this Sennheiser and the Beyedynamic DT770 PRO X Limited Edition Headphones? I know the price of the Senn is double that of the DT770 PRO X LE but mayhap ’tis worth the extra outlay due to performance and build quality.

    Verily, they both do look cool and that is always a plus in my world. In all ways and for always, be well my friend.

    Thy faithful follower…

    Squire ORTling

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