Sennheiser HD 471 (G/i) Headphones Review
Budget Kings? Or Flops?
I first encountered Sennheiser’s newest refresh of their 400 series when I picked up the box for the 461's in my local Fry’s Electronics about a year and a half ago. The box felt like it was filled with emptiness and air…so I put it back down on the shelf and got on with life.
A while after that, one of my favorite Youtube Reviewers, Lachlan, said the 471 had a laid- back sound and a crappy build.
Case closed, I thought.
But then something interesting happened.
Tyll at Innerfidelity wrote this gushing review of the 471's. I’ve always respected Tyll’s opinions, so I put them on my list.
After I started the review process this week, Tyll put them very high on his Top 10 Headphones of the Year list.
Do they deserve that much recognition from one of the most prominent voices in the audio review community?
About two and a half years ago, Sennheiser overhauled their 400-series headphone lineup. The 400 series is a more-affordable closed back line, and the new series continued that tradition with the 451, 461, and 471.
The 451 has fabric padding, a bass-emphasized sound, and a removable cable. From what I can tell, this has always been limited to sale in certain regions.
The 461 keeps the same bass-heavy tuning and adds leatherette pads, a removable cable with smartphone remote, and still maintains a low price. It’s supposed to be $80, but right now it goes for around $45–50. I have one of these on the way to me for a future review.
The 471 is the “flagship.” It has an MSRP of around $100 but often goes for about $70. It comes with two cables, a carrying bag, silver accents in the styling, and has a flatter frequency response tuning.
If you look up the 461 or 471, you’ll notice them listed as either a “G” or an “i” variant. That letter indicates which type of smartphone cable is included in the box. The G version has an android- compatible volume control, and the i version has a volume control for iPhones/Apple devices. The base headphones are the same in either case.
I bought the G version, if you’re wondering.
Now, just to make things even more complicated…last year Sennheiser launched the HD 200 Pro. It’s a new entry in their professional studio monitoring series…and it’s based off this 400 series design. It has styling that mimics the 461, listed specs that don’t line up with any of the models, and a $70 price tag.
I have one of those on the way to review too, because I need to know if anything is different about their sound tuning or if they’re just a 400 series headphone in new clothing.
When I first listened to these, I didn’t like them much at all.
In my review process, I switch exclusively to whatever headphone I’m reviewing, use it until my brain adjusts to the sound, and then do about a day of listening tests on my favorite tracks, and some gaming as well.
With the 471, I had almost no idea how I felt after the first day of listening tests, so I kept going. I made lots of confused hemming and hawing noises at anyone who happened to be nearby.
Nothing jumps out right away about this headphone. At first I thought, oh no, it’s another boring headphone like the Pioneer SE-MS5T.
But then, these grew on me.
Let’s start with the bass like everyone always does for some reason. The bass is very well extended all the way down to the bottom of human hearing range. You can sit and rumble your brain with 20–30Hz test tones to your heart’s content. My glasses impact the seal of these pads just enough to change the bass, but not enough that it hurt my overall experience.
The extension is the most impressive thing about the bass. Other than that…it’s sort of just hanging out. It’s not aggressive or thumpy or prominent. It’s there, at more or less the original level it was mixed to.
For most listeners, the bass is going to sound a little lame.
The midrange is a touch warm. It’s not muddy. It’s not discolored or muffled by the bass. It’s just…again, it’s just kind of there. Vocals sound nice, but they don’t have the zing or zip that many other popular headphones have in the upper midrange.
This is a trademark characteristic of a lot of different Sennheiser headphones, which some folks call “The Sennheiser Veil”.
The treble is rolled off, again, helping accentuate the laid-back sound of these headphones. Cymbals and high end details still come through, but there’s no real air or sparkle.
Listening to these after something like a DT770 or an M50X is startling. They sound kind of wimpy and boring. But after some acclimation…they have a pleasant, neutral-feeling, eminently listenable sound.
They’re not a worse approach to sound than other popular headphones, in an objective sense…just a different one.
If you’d asked me right when I first heard them what I thought, these would have been an absolute NO.
But once I adjusted to their smoother character, I came to appreciate them. They won’t wow you in any real obvious way, but if you give them a chance, the 471 is a relaxed, pleasant listen for hours… with plenty of detail and bass extension.
It’s a little bit like if you had to take the Bose sound signature and make it more appealing to hardcore audiophiles.
Soundstage and imaging are both accurate and better than I’d expect given how thin and flat the ear capsules are. You could do just fine gaming with these unless you need a ton of boost in the footsteps region, and you could perhaps achieve that with EQ.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT AMPS/VOLUME: These are a little harder to drive to satisfying volume levels than I was expecting. Tyll mentioned this in his review, and he’s right.
They have a low 32 ohm impedance, and they’re rated at a decent efficiency/sensitivity…but in practice, don’t be surprised if you have to turn the volume up a bit higher than you’re used to. Their relaxed sound signature means you won’t kill your ears with treble while doing so.
The comfort is great, and the isolation is just fine.
These weigh nothing, as far as over-ear headphones go. The headband pad is nice, wide, and soft… and the clamping force and balance are just right to make these hug my head. I have several extra clicks of adjustment on each side, so these should fit most people.
The ear pads don’t use memory foam, but the regular foam inside is ample and dense. Shockingly dense in fact, to the point where it doesn’t compress as much as I was expecting. This is good for long term use, as they should hold up well. And you can replace the pads if needed…but they use a system where they pop in and out, so you’ll have to get genuine replacements rather than third-party pads.
I almost wish the foam were 20 percent softer, as then the seal wouldn’t be quite as impacted by my glasses.
The holes look like they’d be too compact, but they have plenty of room inside for your ears to sit. Also, the inside edges of the ear pads are made from a soft fabric instead of leatherette. This is comfy and helps prevent ear sweat build-up.
Isolation is just fine, about average for a closed-back pair of headphones. There aren’t any ports on the cups to leak audio out or in, and these did well in my typical “loud coffee shop” test. They don’t isolate quite as well as my DT770’s, but few headphones do.
The design of these is pretty normal…except for the weird seashell-textured plates on the backs of the ear cups.
On the 471, these are a shimmery silver color, whereas they’re black on the other models of this headphone. The silver color changes depending on how much light is hitting it, between a shimmering bright color and a dark gray. You’re either going to love or hate the way these cups look. I like them…but a simpler, matte black plastic would have been a safer/better choice.
Branding is minimal with shiny silver Sennheiser logos and their embossed name on the headband. The other models all have plainer logos in a black finish.
The cable is detachable…but it’s proprietary and inserts into the headphones sideways. This is good for strain relief, but bad for people who want to buy new cables from anyone other than Sennheiser.
It’s a little bit like the cable system on the HD380 Pro.
Build is okay for being entirely plastic. The plastics used feel rigid in the hands, and the matte finish seems fine. The edges are a little basic/rough in spots, but the materials still have the flavor of Sennheiser’s crazy materials research lab that finds the maximum quality parts for the price.
The rotation mechanism on each ear cup is well-damped and smooth-feeling…though it’d be cooler if these could fold or collapse in some way. These mechanisms don’t feel too cheap or light, and I have confidence the headphones won’t just snap at this rotation hinge.
There’s one thing I loathe about the build: the adjustment sliders. They feel like they’re going through soft mud. My right side is a touch looser than the left. Once they’re in place on your head they’re secure, but when you pull them in and out it just feels wrong and bad. Instead of a sharp secure click, it’s more like a click that’s… surrounded by pudding?
It’s unpleasant and I don’t like it at all.
I’m not sure if my muddy sliders are just a quirk of my pair or a flaw in the design. Tyll mentioned their friction felt wrong/strange, so I think this is just how it is.
A strange, prominent flaw in an otherwise fine build. Usually Sennheiser’s adjustments feel great no matter the price point, so these are disappointing.
I like that there are two cables included, and a 6.3mm adapter. The mobile cable is 1.4m long and the other one is 3m long. The mobile cable has an angled plug that’s made out of one piece of solid-feeling plastic.
The remote buttons feel good and are easy to identify without looking at them.
The included bag has a curved bottom which fits the headband of the headphones. It’s easy to put the headphones in the bag and have them fit just right.
Many of the included extras reek of cost-saving measures.
The mobile cable is one of the most tangle-prone, springy, lame cables I’ve ever seen on any pair of headphones. It’s kind of like the profoundly thin cable from the Monoprice 8323’s. The coating feels okay, but the wire is prone to kinks and memory. Ugh.
The longer cable is of a higher quality, thank goodness.
The microphone on the mobile cable sounds lifeless, a little muffled, and a little tinny. I recorded a mic test but it sounded so blah that I scrapped it. It’s fine for phone calls, bad for almost anything else.
As to the bag…it’s made of stretchy t-shirt-like material. It offers no protection at all, except for keeping away dust. Now to be fair, most basic headphone bags offer little protection…but this one offers less.
The bag has a Sennheiser logo printed near the drawstring…and once you close the bag the logo gets all scrunched up and is unreadable. That’s a…weird choice? The logo should be at the other end of the bag.
The Sennheiser HD 471 is a great-sounding pair of headphones with a decent collection of cheap extras. It’s obvious that most of the development money went into the drivers, with a bit left over for the parts of the build that aren’t the adjustment mechanisms.
The sound sits right at a perfect balance point between “accurate” and “relaxed,” but it’s going to lack a bit of oomph for most modern tastes. Once I warmed up to them, I liked them. This is a good level of sound performance for this price point.
Having decided I liked their sound…I ordered the 461’s to see if their pumped up bass will offer something a little more suited to average modern tastes. And then I ordered the HD 200 Pros so I can find out if they’re tuned for “Pro” use, or if they’re just a rebadge of one of the current models.
Stay tuned for those reviews next week!
Also, I’m hoping that one of those pairs will have a better-feeling set of adjustment sliders than my 471's.