Sennheiser HD 238i headphones review

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPad, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod, iPod Accessories, iPod Headphones and Earbuds, iPod touch, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Peripherals, Reviews, Speakers and Headphones

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Provides: Over-ear audio reproduction with in-line smart remote and microphone
Developer: Sennheiser
Minimum Requirements: 1/8″ audio output, iPhone for mic functionality
Price: $169.95
Availability: Now

There are various reasons why headphones—quality headphones—have become more important to me. Used to be I only needed them when out for a walk or taking the train to work. But in my current job, I have them on for pretty much half the work day. I use them at home when playing the DSi so I don’t bother the family. I use them on airplanes for the ever-increasing number of business trips I make each year.

Now that I’m not stuck with tape hiss from the Walkman or 128 kbps MP3 files, audio reproduction has become more important. Now that I’m wearing them for longer periods of time, comfort has become more important. Now that my portable audio player of choice does more than just play audio, functionality has become more important. And when it comes to adequately handling all three, the Sennheiser HD 238i headphones are amongst the best I’ve used.

Sennheiser HD 238i headphonesFirst, there’s comfort. The over-padded speaker cushions sit at the end of easily articulated hinges that help them rest against your ears, not press against them. You can wear these for hours at a time and not find them uncomfortable. In fact, the headband padding, although soft, will bother you before the ear cushions will.

The functionality comes from the iPhone microphone and controls built into the cable. The mic falls just an inch or two below the chin, so I found I only had to hold it to my mouth in order for the caller to hear me in areas of extreme outside noise.

As with the Sennheiser MM 70 iP headphones I recently reviewed, the + and – volume buttons are a bit too small for my thumb. However, they’re also raised for easier location (it’s difficult to see the controls when you have the headphones on). The button between the volume controls allows you to pause, fast skip and backtrack between songs, depending upon how many times you hit it. If a call comes in while you’re listening to music, you can click once to accept it or click and hold to reject.

The audio quality, of course, is great. You can pack more speaker in over-the-ear headphones than you can in in-ear headphones, so it’s easier to achieve a fuller sound. As such, you get numbers like this:

  • Frequency response: 16 – 23,000 Hz
  • Sound pressure level (SPL): 114 dB
  • Impedance: 32 Ω
  • Total harmonic distortion (THD): < 0.5%

That full range of sound will help your audio come through clear with great separation. I expected that, since it’s hard to pay this much for headphones and not get great sound…with music. What I wasn’t expecting was for them to deliver such powerful reproduction with games. Testing them on the DSi or with games and movies on the iPhone, there wasn’t a point where I felt the HD 238i failed to deliver.

But there is one problem. The cord is only 1.2m. Whether that’s an issue will depend upon your use. It didn’t bother me when I was playing DS in bed or out for a walk with my iPhone providing music. But it was too short to reach the headphone jack in the back of my iMac at my computer desk.

Plus, I’m not fully convinced that over-the-ear headphones with an iPhone mic make a lot of sense. You can’t wear these while working out or jogging; they’ll fall right off your head. So, it’s rare that you would need to interrupt your music to take a call. In my few weeks of testing, I never once got a call while wearing the headphones that I didn’t initiate for testing purposes. Perhaps this is why Sennheiser offers the HD 238 Precision headphones, which are basically the same thing without the iPhone controls, and which are $30 cheaper (and have a longer cable).

Still, if you want to be able to take calls through your headphones, and if you prefer to avoid in-ear headphones like I do, the Sennheiser HD 238i is a great place to start your search. Try to find them on sale, though. Amazon currently has them listed for $130, and that’s obviously much easier to justify than the list price.

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HD 238i review

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