Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Incrementalist

In a world that doesn't include HD 600 or 650, I might actually take HD 490 Pro over most of the other stuff in its price range. While it's not as good as I had hoped, I still found myself using it without EQ for extended periods of time without glaring comfort or sound issues... and frankly, I’m not sure I could do that with most of the other headphones at its price.

Sennheiser HD 490 Pro: Incrementalist

Sennheiser’s first big announcement this year was not the HD 490 Pro. Instead it came from CES 2024, where they showed off their new consumer wireless options—their new Momentum 4 True Wireless IEM, Accentum Pro Plus, and Momentum SportBuds.

Many of us audiophiles were a little perplexed that they saw fit to post on Head-Fi about this announcement, given none of these products are particularly relevant to audiophiles. Now that Sennheiser is owned by Sonova and the consumer and professional catalogs are kept entirely separate, it seems Sennheiser might be a little confused about which products may or may not be relevant to which consumer base.

With the HD 490 Pro, we saw another example of how this split between Sennheiser’s branches may affect the way their products are marketed going forward. Even though the HD 490 Pro—Sennheiser’s newest offering in the scarcely-mentioned 4 series—is arguably more relevant to audiophiles as an open-back dynamic driver headphone, few if any audiophile reviewers were sent an HD 490 Pro for review ahead of release. This meant the announcement of this headphone totally blindsided basically everyone in the audiophile realm—including us here at—and most reviewers had to wait longer for Sennheiser to send a unit for evaluation.

Thankfully, Sennheiser were actually gracious enough to send us two units (one to me, and one to DMS) which means we can evaluate the headphones separately and simultaneously come to our independent conclusions as soon as possible. As always, I’ve not been paid to say anything in particular about the headphone, and all thoughts and opinions are my own (and they may well deviate from DMS’s review once that comes out).

There's a lot to talk about with this headphone; plenty of good, plenty of bad, so let's dive in.

Design & Ergonomics

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this release is that this is the first time we've seen a brand new chassis from Sennheiser in what feels like a very long time.

I actually quite like the approach to visual design they took with this. They’ve blended elements of the modern 6 series with design cues from the more consumer-oriented Momentum series. It looks cool, but not ostentatious, and on the head it doesn’t jut out obtrusively like many audiophile headphones do.

It also happens to be the most comfortable design they’ve released since the original HD 800. HD 490 Pro is very light overall, weighing a modest 260g, but also feels rather sturdy in the hand. The main headband piece is made of metal, and the headband arm-length adjustments click up and down very satisfyingly, in a way that reminds me of the Austrian Audio headphones. The ear cups swivel a full 180°, and they conform to the natural angle of the temple/side of the head rather easily.

I’ve still got some comfort nitpicks though, my first being the depth of the ear cup. The drivers are oriented at an angle such that they interact with the ear on a more parallel plane, which is a good step towards making sure the rear part of the ear doesn’t touch the dust cover (like mine does with the HD 6 series headphones). However, a little bit more cup depth and height would have gone a long way towards making it more comfortable for me. With the Mixing pads in particular, my ears start to touch the dust cover in front of the driver slightly, and it bothers me. It’s especially annoying because the Producer pads—which I don’t prefer, sonically—don’t have this issue, and are… insanely nice.

Note to readers: only the Plus series of the HD 490 Pro comes with the transport case and extra headband pad shown, in addition to an extra 3m cable.

Whatever fabric they used for the Producer pad is the softest, most luxurious I’ve ever felt on a headphone pad. I want every ear pad to feel like this. These pads are also the quickest to get hot, causing my ears to get a bit too warm with extended listens, but it’s still very comfortable overall. The Mixing pads by contrast are made of a backpack-like material, which is less soft to the touch, but much more open—and therefore cooler. I much prefer the feeling of the Producer pads, but as we’ll get into, I prefer the sound of the Mixing pads.

My main gripe with this design in terms of comfort would probably be the lack of suspension strap. After all these years, I remain surprised that Sennheiser isn’t interested in exploring one. But here we get a slightly different take on the “two nugget” headband padding that you find on the HD 5 series, and we get two versions (in the Plus version of this headphone) of the headband pad included in the box. They’re both soft for sure, but a little bit too thin overall—both in thickness and in width. They’re just comfortable enough to allow someone to use the headphone for an hour or two (but not much longer) without getting a hotspot.

In its current state the HD 490 Pro is probably about a 7 in terms of comfort, which is still pretty great compared to most headphones, but if it had a suspension strap and a smidge more room for the ear, it would be an easy 9 for me. Comfort is where I had the highest hopes for this design, and while it didn’t necessarily blow me away, I gotta give credit where credit is due: it’s a pretty comfortable headphone, certainly more so than the prior HD 5 or HD 6 series chassis.

Frequency Response and Tonality

With the HD 490 Pro, we get two pairs of pads, and the differences between them are such that both options are actually valid choices, while being overall rather different presentations.


The Producer pads end up outdoing many of Hifiman's less expensive planars like the Sundara or HE400SE in terms of raw bass extension. However, it’s not exactly heard as having “huge bass,” in fact I’d say the opposite is true—if I had a word to sum up the sound with these pads, it would be “thin”.

It’s definitely warmer than most open back headphones I’m familiar with, but it doesn’t sound correspondingly “thick” or “heavy.” Bass guitars and kick drums are a bit too tubby in tone, but the extra meat on their bones doesn’t result in them feeling dense or impactful. I often find this to be the case when there’s too much bass: the “slow” frequencies overtake the rest of the spectral balance, and transient definition suffers.

Indeed, this is where the Mixing pads do a better job of balancing the overall presentation, as they get rid of a lot of the excess warmth and bloom from the bass elevation and opt for something more linear. This helps bass guitars sound significantly less wooly and bloated, and makes drums and male voices sound less cloudy and softened. Additionally, the Mixing pads still keep the bass extension very respectable for an open back dynamic driver headphone.

When it comes to bass, the Producer pads may win in sheer quantity, but the Mixing pads serve to better integrate the bass with the midrange and treble, and allow for more transient definition and textural resolve, which makes the latter the clear choice for anyone wanting a more neutral sound. The Mixing pads’ reduced bass helps the midrange become the focus of the headphone, which ends up being a very good thing for me.


The Producer pads suffer from the common warm midrange tilt that frankly most audiophile headphones in recent years have had—being woefully similar to that of the Meze 109 Pro, Sony MDR-MV1, and Hifiman HE400se. Unfortunately this means the issues I have with those headphones largely apply here as well. The upper midrange scoop, paired with a sharp 3-4 kHz rise and a decisively warm tilt under 1 kHz means the midrange overall is rather blurry, distant, and incoherent. Vocals are the biggest issue, as it seems they’re almost always pushed out of the spotlight in favor of the excess bass and treble.

This choice was likely made in an effort to satiate the seemingly endless wave of consumers and professionals asking for “soundstage” in their headphones. Sennheiser’s goals in this regard are made even more clear by them packaging speaker emulation software with the HD 490 Pro. But generally if I’m recommending a headphone, I’ll basically never choose one that compromises the naturalness of midrange timbre for the modicum of perceived externalization possible for headphones listening to stereo content.

However, I’m happy to report that the Mixing pads go a long way to fixing this aspect of the sound. I’d actually go as far as saying the HD 490 Pro with Mixing pads might be my favorite midrange presentation from Sennheiser behind the HD 600 and HD 650.

While it still retains a bit of recession in the 2 kHz area, the 1 kHz area is actually slightly forward. This, in addition to the lack of bloom in the lower midrange, means that instead of bordering on cloyingly warm, the midrange just comes across as “neutral.” There is a slight “pinched” quality to certain transients that helps them feel really tight and nimble, but the 2 kHz dip means it’s still easy to listen to. I especially like that the 3-4 kHz emphasis is meaningfully reduced relative to the Producer pads, so that the Mixing pads are both less warm and less gritty sounding. Vocals and guitars sound rather pleasant to me under 5 kHz on basically anything I threw at it—which is high praise considering most headphones that aren’t Sennheiser’s 6 series almost always fumble this aspect.

One thing I thought was interesting was that I could listen to music way louder on the HD 490 Pro with Mixing pads than I usually do with any other headphone. I assume the 2 kHz scoop and relatively less 3-4 kHz has something to do with this. I’ll warn listeners now; make sure you don’t listen too loudly to these, because the tuning is palatable enough at high volumes that you may turn it up louder than usual without realizing.

Overall, high marks for Sennheiser here with the Mixing pads… and not so much with the Producer pads. With the former, they’ve done what other brands are trying to do—offer a warm, palatable, unobjectionable midrange tuning—but with more refinement than any of them have managed to do in this price range thus far. If only this is where the analysis stopped…


While of course, it’s hard to say that definitively any reader or listener will have the same issues I had with them, I really don’t see a scenario where the treble tuning on either of these pad choices was a good idea. This is especially sad because the HD 490 Pro doesn’t err too greatly in the area I’m most sensitive in—around 10-12 kHz—but instead fumbles another area pretty badly.

The main issue is that the lower treble elevations around 4 and 6 kHz in particular are crunchy, glarey, and off-putting enough to make HD 490 Pro sound like a headphone that costs a quarter its price at times. This low-treble glare is perceived worse on the Producer pads, as the distance between the midrange and treble is wider, so the treble is more apparent on them overall, but it’s still rather problematic on the Mixing pads.

Honestly, it’s more upsetting for the Mixing pads, because if the treble wasn’t so elevated, I would recommend the HD 490 Pro with Mixing pads as a well-tuned—but imperfect—headphone for anyone who wants a more comfy and relaxed take on the Sennheiser sound.

But unfortunately, regardless of pad choice, the HD 490 Pro is a coarse, rough sounding headphone. I couldn’t spend much time listening without noticing how papery snare drums sounded or how clenched and breathy vocalists sounded. It didn’t ruin the headphone for me, as I’m much more tolerant of low-treble elevations than mid-treble elevations, but I still think most people will notice an issue here and have problems with this headphone being, in a word, grainy.

Subjective Analysis

Unfortunately the frequency response is actually better on paper than my subjective experience was, and I really don’t think HD 490 Pro excels in any area when it comes to subjective qualities like dynamics, soundstage, etc.

Dynamically, it’s pretty soft and feathery on kick drum or percussion/horn hits when using the Producer pads, such that it’s roughly in-step with the rest of the headphones tuned like this (being closest to the performance of the Meze 109 Pro). With the Mixing pads, I find the relative midrange emphasis to help in aiding kick and snare drums to sound a little more full and resolute, such that they contribute more to the feeling of “propulsion” in the music as a whole and sound more individually “punchy”. That being said, they’re still not excellent, but they’re not quite as bad as the similarly-tuned offerings from Hifiman or Meze.

In terms of soundstage, I don’t think HD 490 Pro is much different from its little brothers in the Sennheiser 5 series. Especially since the tuning has excess treble across the board with both pads, almost everything seems artificially close and intimate in the way most headphones do. The midrange recession they voiced to aid in perceived externalization just seems to ruin any coherence that the imaging may have otherwise had, forcing the upper midrange—which is responsible for intelligibility and coherence—farther away, while the splash and crash of the cymbals, sibilance of vocals, and wiry air of acoustic guitars gets pushed much too close. The Producer pads are more guilty of these issues than the Mixing pads, but I fear both options have quirks in their frequency response that meaningfully hamper my ability to be immersed in any spatial illusion the music may offer.

Regarding detail, resolution, texture, all of that, I find the Producer pads to be pretty poorly-performing across the board. The issues in the bass and treble—especially the treble—end up masking the midrange causing most things to sound rather occluded and textureless. Continuing the trend, the Mixing pads are significantly better for this, being slightly above its little brother HD 400 Pro (HD 560S), having adequate intensity and complexity when it comes to reproducing the upper harmonics of a piano or guitar, while not being harsh or overly-lean like HD 560S.


So after all of that I think it should be clear, I prefer the Mixing pads. For all comparisons going forward, I’m going to be using the Mixing pads, as they are the option I prefer sonically.

HD 490 Pro vs. HD 400 Pro (HD 560S)

I’m really not a huge fan of the HD 560S, and I never have been. It’s bright and rather thin, and it’s nothing special in terms of how it subjectively impresses upon me either. While the HD 490 Pro is also these things, I still can’t help but prefer it over the HD 560S.

HD 490 Pro is similarly bright to HD 560S, but is meaningfully more relaxed in the upper midrange (especially around 4 kHz where the 560S has a peak), and this difference alone makes it much more palatable than HD 560S’s overall lean and bright presentation. HD 560S’s bass is particularly unimpressive, but the upper midrange recession of the HD 490 Pro makes the bass’s contributions to its overall signature much more noticeable and engaging. On the Mixing pads at least, the HD 490 Pro sounds slightly more dynamic and tonally-dense than the HD 560S.

In terms of the other subjective stuff, I actually think these two are closer than I’d hoped relative to the price difference between them. Really the main difference is that the HD 490 Pro feels and sounds meaningfully more open, but that doesn’t really translate to a larger soundstage or bigger images or anything. It’s just a bit more open. Otherwise I don’t think the HD 490 Pro has any standout traits or wow factor relative to HD 560S, which is a bit of a shame, but also not unexpected.

HD 490 Pro vs. HD 660S2

While I do prefer the 660S2 to the HD 560S, this is a rare occasion where I actually prefer the brighter headphone—the HD 490 Pro—over the HD 660S2.

My biggest gripe with the midrange of the HD 58X, HD 660S, and HD 660S2 is that they have a pretty big suckout in the upper midrange/treble transition area around 4-5 kHz that really makes them come across as disjointed, muddy, and unfocused, especially because it still has low-midrange bloom typical of the 6 series headphones.

The HD 490 Pro with Mixing pads fixes both of these things, having less low-midrange bloom and no longer having the upper midrange dip that the HD 660S2 has. I think the excess lower treble on the HD 490 Pro might also be helping take focus off of my sensitive spot around 10-12 kHz, compared to HD 660S2 which bothers me in this area. While the 490 Pro is still definitely too bright for me, the 660S2 is too far in the other direction, bordering on textureless.

I don’t think there’s much of a “subjective qualia” story here, but I would actually say the HD 490 Pro feels more put together in terms of transient attack on drums and plucked basses, making it a bit more dynamic. Both are rather open designs, but still neither really blows my hair back for things like soundstage or immersiveness here.

HD 490 Pro vs. HD 600 & HD 650

We are currently in the process of redoing these measurements of the HD 600 and 650 with multiple brand-new units in order to eliminate the issues of unit variation and revisions across the 6-series headphones as best as possible, because these issues can muddy the waters with individual comparisons like this.

I mean, we know that this is not a fair fight. Sennheiser simply set the bar too high and now we all have to live with the fact that most headphones—including HD 490 Pro—simply don’t hold a candle to the well-balanced value offering that the HD 600 and HD 650 provide.

So, in case it wasn’t obvious… yeah, HD 600 is a better headphone than this, HD 650 is a much better headphone than this. HD 490 Pro just lacks the midrange and treble refinement that the 6 series continues to offer at a price that makes the entire rest of the market—even Sennheiser themselves— look really bad. HD 600 and 650 have better dynamics and texture across the board and make the 490 Pro sound incredibly thin and insubstantial by comparison.

But that being said, I think HD 490 Pro—more than the HD 660S2, and more than the HD 560S—deserves a place in Sennheiser’s lineup behind HD 600 and 650. It fixes the issues I had with HD 560S being too anemic sounding, and is more engaging, textured, and impactful than the HD 660S2. I would go as far as saying this is the first time Sennheiser has offered a viable alternative midrange tuning to the 6 series, even if it’s only with the Mixing pads. It has more bass extension than any of the options listed, too.

If I had to choose a headphone under $400 MSRP and couldn’t choose the 600 or 650, I would— albeit reluctantly—take the HD 490 Pro over the Hifiman HE400se or Sundara, Meze 99 Classic or 109 Pro, Beyerdynamic DT 770, 880, 990, 700 and 900 Pro X, or AKG K612, K701 and 702 because HD 490 Pro is comfortable, and the stock sound with the Mixing pads is more palatable than any of them on my head.

Even pondering that hypothetical scenario just now makes me upset about the state of mid-priced headphones, though. Thank goodness for HD 600 and 650. If they didn’t exist the state of headphones as a market would be a lot less easy for people shopping in the lower price ranges.

Should You Use Them for Making Music?

I don't think I would recommend the HD 490 Pro— or any headphone— for the task of mixing music without doing most of the heavy-lifting on speakers. There are simply too many obstacles to account for in dealing with how the response on your head will differ from the response listening to speakers.

Without the software, the HD 490 Pro does poorly at what I'd consider principally-important aspects of a ”mixing headphone” anyway; the smoothness of treble response and speaker-like midrange are lacking here, by my estimation.

However—and this still needs to be confirmed with more measurements of this headphone—I think the HD 490 Pro (with the Mixing pads) might be more invariant between heads than other headphones in its price class, such that it might serve as an excellent EQ platform. If this ends up being the case, there’s actually an argument to be made that if someone’s going to mix on any headphone, it should be one that they can efficiently personalize.


I rather enjoyed the HD 490 Pro with Mixing pads after some simple EQ. I got better results with manual EQ than with the DearReality virtual mix room software, which did help but—similarly to Audeze’s Reveal presets—didn’t help nearly enough.

Preamp: -5.0 dB

Filter 1: ON PK Fc 20 Hz Gain 5.0 dB Q 0.300

Filter 2: ON PK Fc 1400 Hz Gain -1.5 dB Q 1.000

Filter 3: ON PK Fc 3000 Hz Gain 7.5 dB Q 0.800

Filter 4: ON PK Fc 5200 Hz Gain -7.5 dB Q 0.500


What we have with the HD 490 Pro is a headphone that’s probably a bit too expensive, doesn’t really sound as good as the HD 600 and 650, and isn’t really exceptional for any one aspect of its performance. While yes, that describes a lot of headphones, I think HD 490 Pro is still unique and has a right to exist in Sennheiser’s lineup.

If we pretend that the HD 600 and 650 don't exist for a second, I might actually take HD 490 Pro over most of the other stuff in its price range. While yes, HD 490 Pro has bothersome low-treble, and the comfort—while good—isn't as good as I had hoped it was, I still found myself using it without EQ for extended periods of time without glaring issues. I’m not sure I could do that with an ATH-R70x or an MM-100, and I definitely couldn’t do it with a Meze 109 Pro or any of the Hifiman planars.

The problem is… HD 600 and 650 do exist. And they’re made by the same company, and sold for meaningfully less money (especially on the used market).

Sennheiser should not be let off the hook for continuing to release headphones that sound meaningfully worse than the HD 650 twenty years after the HD 650 was released. The sonic compromises that Sennheiser elected to take in moving to the new SYS driver platform have been demonstrated multiple times to not have been worth it to me, and it is unfortunately demonstrated again here with HD 490 Pro.

That being said, we also have to remember that this shouldn’t be seen as an upgrade to the HD 600 or 650, but as an upgrade to the HD 560S. After all, the “HD 4x0 Pro” series consists solely of the HD 560S (in the form of the HD 400 Pro) and now the HD 490 Pro… and the latter is certainly an upgrade over the former, at least with the Mixing pads.

I think, at best, HD 490 Pro is an incremental upgrade from a headphone I never really liked. It’s comfier than most of their headphones, has better bass extension, and comes with two sets of pads. But unfortunately I still just don’t really like it. Since I think most audiophiles will have similar issues, if someone shopping in this range wants the best-sounding headphone Sennheiser makes in this price range, I am yet again obligated to say they should buy an HD 650 or an HD 600.

After twenty years, I don’t think many of us want an incremental upgrade from a mediocre headphone, what we really want is a better version of a great headphone. Until Sennheiser delivers, their products will continue to live in the shadow of the bar they themselves set, and I will continue to be honest about how disappointed I am in their modern headphones, despite HD 490 Pro being one of the better releases of the recent bunch.

If you have any questions about this article, feel free to start a discussion here on the forums, or ping me in our Discord channel, which is where me and a bunch of other headphone and IEM enthusiasts hang out to talk about stuff like this. Thanks for reading, until next time!

Support more content like this by shopping on

Banner Ad with the logo and text: The Best Place to Buy Headphones and Home Audio on the Whole Internet. 365 day returns, Free shipping over $100, Insanely good customer service.
Back to blog