Sennheiser HD 201 headphones
Can these budget cans revive your record collection?
The string section is also crisp and sharp. Sennheiser's PC 150 headset range manages some more subtlety when the tracks are solely comprised of strings without percussion, but then they're twice the price. For the Ave Maria on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, in spite of simply listening to it as the DVD end credits were playing, the soprano wasn't lost in the naturally bass-heavy background which deepened, nor was it as sibilant as older, even cheaper headphone sets. Its handling of classical music and film soundtracks is better than you have any right to expect for less than 20 quid.
The good news doesn't stop there. Switching to rock and pop, the age-old problem of singles with louder recording levels than the same tracks on an album was tested with the U2's song Discotheque.. The album version was given enough of a bass boost that I was able to put the single on the shelf and stick with the whole Pop album.
The same improvement occurred with music from tape, which we had transferred to CD, although the production quality of Massive Attack's Safe From Harm should be easy for any half-decent headphones to handle. We also updated our over-produced modern pop category with Don't Cha by the Pussycat Dolls, and the ensemble of voices on the chorus was weighted and accurate, and the bouncing bass richer and deeper than expected.
Nothing is perfect though, and if you're looking for a tangible flaw, it's that bass is all that the HD 201s will lend to your skinny weakling MP3s. We were listening on a Marantz CD Player, which could supply enough bass through its headphone socket to make it worthwhile. Without proper amplification you'd need to crank up the level of your recordings in a package like Goldwave to get the best out of the headphones - another reason to keep the HD 201s at home. Through a 900-series Sony MiniDisc Walkman, the sound was good but quiet without some digital trickery to crank up the volume of recordings before transferring to MD.
The cable measures 3m and there's no take-up spool so the HD 201s are best for home use - if you want proper portability but with flexibility, the existing HD 202s also have a 3m cable and a tidy to wind round the lengths of lead you don't want bulging out of your pocket.
For making you fall in love with your record collection again, these Sennheisers are a remarkable feat and the IF design award is by no means excessive hype or marketing flannel - they really are that comfortable.
Then you see the price of around £17 and that seals it. As always, more money buys better, and these aren't the best cans for out-and-about usage, but these are great if you want to work with music on or you have neighbours to keep happy but you don't want to compromise on your hi-fi listening.
Treat them with the same care Sennheiser took with the design and they won't let you down.