Review by Senior Member padam on 13 Nov 15 20:00
These are a great set of - sadly, discontinued - closed headphones that can give today's best ones a real run for their money.
Originally developed as high-end consumer headphones but studios soon adopted them for their detail-oriented and relatively accurate sound.
The construction is pretty simple but quite durable. The cable is replaceable as well, I had no trouble fitting the aftermarket HD600/HD650 cables.
The comfort is excellent thanks to the light weight and snug over-ear fit with little clamping force. And yet these still isolate much better than most circumaural headphones, if not as good as the HD25s. So they are not unusable on the go but clearly not designed for that purpose, they are a bit bulky.
The sound is fairly balanced with a slightly V-shaped sound signature which makes them suitable for lower level listening but not for the people who like the midrange to stand out this is more about hearing the whole performance. The cause of the slight dip in the mid is diffuse field equalization, a skewed frequency balance developed to make the sound presentation more like that created by loudspeakers.
The result is the best soundstage I heard from a closed headphone with isolation, when aided by and airy powerful amp it is outstanding - but it is not going to rival the best open headphones and sometimes it might feel a bit diffused but I enjoy the out of the head sounds I get sometimes.
Another highlight is the bass which is goes amazingly deep, 20 Hz is clearly audible, if you love deep bass you will love these (great for movies as well). However, the mid-bass is slightly boomy but still quite good compared to other closed rivals.
As far as treble is concerned it is also very good, very extended and weighty not veiled (like the HD6xx series which are also a bit slower) although quite revealing so it is a better pairing with a smooth source otherwise it can be grainy.
They are not the most efficient so it is highly recommended to drive them with a powerful (preferably warm, musical and punchy) amp to give better control of the bass which also results in increased clarity, balanced drive is also welcome.
Overall just a great set of headphones which should still be produced today (or in further developed form) and if you start to look for more information about them you will find other users wishing the same as well.
After speding some time with other top-tier headphones it is the midrange that seem to be the main weak point but based on how big a simple headphone cable change can bring at a certain level, I might just find one that can help with this issue. The people who like how the HD25 sounds will probably like these as well and it fits to the family of the Sennheiser headphones that have a laid back midrange.
Review by Member barun432 on 02 Jun 13 07:18
Introduced twice, firstly in the early 90s, then again in beginning of the 21st century, this is the 2nd headphone in the HD 250 series of headphones. The Sennheiser HD250 Linear II is a closed, circumaural, consumer grade, audiophile quality, dynamic stereo headphone. These cans have been discontinued for a while now so it is very difficult to get one anywhere. You might find it on eBay official or other eBay websites( e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Greece, UK etc.), but if they appear for sale it is gone in minutes and if it goes for a bid it can go up to $300 depending on the overall condition of the headphones. So basically, very few own it and most of them will not be willing to sell.
This was my 5th Sennheiser purchase after the PX100, CX300, CX550 and HD595. I have also heard the Sennheiser 6XX series prior to the purchase for a considerable amount of time before I decided to purchase these. At the time (Jan 2011) I had two wonderfully engineered headphones at my disposal, the Beyerdynamic T1( Now Sold) and the HiFiMAN HE5( Kept). I bought the HD250 Linear II prepensely because after owning a brilliant open and semi-Open headphone I wanted a closed headphone which could perform at approximately similar levels. In the closed category I found there were headphones like the Sony MDR R10, Audio Technica L3000 and Denon D5000/7000 to be the best amongst popular audiophiliac perception. The first two were out of my budget and they are impossible to get and the Denon line seemed like a bass/mids head paradise, which is not the kind of sound signature I’m into when it comes home/office use. So I stumbled upon this review written by a senior fellow head-fier who goes by the name ‘padam’. This was the only decent review about the HD250 Linear II I could find at that time and I got pretty excited about this headphone. It took about six weeks to find a listing on eBay. It was a bid listing but the seller removed the listing in a couple of days. I got in touch with him and bought the headphones from him. This was my first HD250 Linear II. Recently I bought another pair which arrived from Germany.
I’m writing this review to give an overall impression of the HD250 Linear II and at the same time talk about the few differences between both( Germany vs. Ireland) the headphones.
Design and Comfort
This is a headphone meant for private listening and it shares the same design pattern of the Sennheiser headphones manufactured in the late 80s and early 90s like the HD 250L/520/530/540/560 headphones. They are very comfortable for both prolonged and brief use although if you listen for a couple of hours you will feel a bit of pressure on the ears as it hugs on to your head unlike the AKG series headphones (Vintage). Linear II has headband adjusters at both sides which can be very useful for any type of head size. Overall, very comfortable headphones. Like all the other HD line headphones mentioned above these headphones have removable cable( 3m long, 3.5mm Jack) and they can also fit the HD6XX series headphone wires without any adjustment which increases the number of options when it comes to aftermarket cables. I myself have used the iBasso Sennheiser balanced wire compatible for HD650 for this headphone and used it with the iBasso Pb2. The original ear pads of the Linear II are very comfortable themselves, made of leather with a sponge interior wrapped around a white cloth. I had to purchase new ear pads from eBay for both the headphones as the original pads were heavily worn out. These are literally all black headphones.
Choice Of Music- On the basis of preference and variability to find out how the headphone performs when different genres of music are thrown at it, I have selected the following albums out of my collection.
Frank Zappa – Freak Out CD (1966)
Hot Rats 200Gr LP (Barking Pumpkin) (1969)
Roxy & Elsewhere LP (Discreet) (1974)
Joe’s Garage (LP) (Barking Pumpkin) (1979)
Jazz From Hell (CD) (1986)
The Yellow Shark (CD) (1992)
Civilization Phaze III (CD) (1993)
Omnibus Wind Ensemble - Music by Frank Zappa SACD
Sikth - The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild (CD) (2006)
Leo Ornstein - CDA67320 - Ornstein - Piano Music
Armin van Buuren- A State of Trance (CD) (2007)
Kongar-ol Ondar - Back Tuva Future (CD) (1999)
Denon Audio Technical CD (CD)
Freak Guitar- The Smorgasbord (CD) (2013)
Harrison - Concerto in Slendro - Concerto for Violin and Percussion - Labyrinth No.3 (CD)
Pink Floyd- The Wall (UK Vinyl) (1979)
Best Audiophile Voices “Selection” (24 Bit Re-mastering CD)
Ayreon - Universal Migrator II - Flight Of The Migrator (CD) (2000)
Bill Evans Trio- Sunday At The Village Vanguard (XRCD) (1997)
Igor Stravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps (1913), BSO, Tilson Thomas (LP) (1972)
The Aristocrats - The Aristocrats (CD) (2011)
Harry Partch- A Ritual of Dream and Delusion Ensemble of unique instruments (Stereo LP)
Conlon Nancarrow Studies For Player Piano (CD) [Wergo]
Dream Theater- Six Degrees Of Turbulence (CD) (2002)
John Coltrane - Ballads (CD) (1962)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Complete Cello Concertos (CD) (2003)
Die Teufel von Loudun (LP) [Philips]
Rage Against The Machine- Rage Against The Machine (LP) (1992)
Tool- 10,000 Days (CD) (2006)
Eric Clapton - 461 Ocean Boulevard (LP) (1974)
Anton Webern- The Complete Works Of Anton Webern Volume 1- Conducted By Pierre Boulez (LP)
Edgard Varese- Edgard Varese - Complete Works Vol.2 Kent Nagano (CD)
Edgard Varese- Maurice Abravanel Varese (Vanguard) (LP)
In a nutshell, Linear II is tonally a V shaped headphone. The mids in the (400hz-2KHz) region seem to be laid back compared to the higher and lower frequencies. When it comes to mid-centric AKG headphones like the AKG K141 (600ohms), compared to them Linear II has definitely a laid back mid-range. With proper equalization and amplification this improves enormously. Overall the headphone has a very neutral sound, not overemphasizing the bass and sounding boomy and the same time not possessing harsh highs. In case of specific albums and artists I like the un-equalized Linear II E.G. I like the tonality of the caparison applehorn guitars played by Mattias Eklundh in his various instrumental/non Instrumental albums because the overall tonality of the guitar is also V shaped, like the Linear II sound signature.
One of the staunch aspects of this headphone is the bass. If you love bass, this headphone will not disappoint you. It goes very low at different volume levels and you’ll be able to grasp a lot of information you thought never existed in certain tracks. These are power hungry headphones (300 ohms @ 94dB/mW) so if not properly amped, it tends to sound boomy at higher volume levels. Overall a very neutral bass which is very soothing in overall tonality at the same time can be very enjoyable to listen to even for the avid hip-hop/electronic listener.
Linear II excels in this department more than any closed headphone I’ve heard. The lowest audible frequencies (20Hz-50Hz) can be heard with grain-less clarity without any straining. The mid bass tends to sound a bit loose and boomy if not properly amped. I used to have an issue (when I used DR DAC DX2 as a solo amp/dac combo) in case of particular instruments like the grand piano/player piano in Beethoven, Nancarrow and Webern albums. After pairing Linear II with The EF6 this issue has been resolved.
Compared to the modern top of the line dynamic drivers out there the Linear II is not as punchy. Although, it has the capability of producing visceral impact when called upon. After listening to isolated drum tracks this becomes more apparent. Proper amplification is the key here as well, as you feel more air in the bass impact along with a feel of the player hitting(playing) the instrument using a certain amount of strength with a particular tool.
This is where the weakness lies. Linear II has a V shaped sound signature which becomes apparent when you listen to non-colored tracks without any EQ adjustment. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are people out there who might like/dislike this sound signature. LP recordings from the 50-60s era seem to suggest this more often compared to digital media formats.
Without proper amplification and source the Linear II s mid-range sounds very thin and laid back. The mid-range has a slight dip in the frequency response due to the diffuse field equalization. This is an alternative to free field equalization, developed in the 80s to produce loud speaker signals in headphones. This technology reproduces a flat frequency response in the diffuse sound field of the reverberation chamber when sound waves from all direction hit the transducer. This creates an advantage for the bass and treble as they become more transparent giving Linear II a very edgy sound with a little bit of warmth at the upper bass region. The overall tonality does not suffer due to the laid back mids as both the treble & bass are tuned to be neutral which gives Linear II a very balanced sound. Although it would be incorrect not to say that more attention gets drawn towards the highs and the lows.
Linear II un-equalized has a very edgy sound to it, which I personally enjoy, although I prefer it equalized in tracks where the mid-range is the real meat of the song. If you take music where use of an electric guitar is of utmost significance, the Linear II can do wonders if properly utilized. E.G Frank Zappa used Gibson SG, Gibson Les Paul and Yellow Strat (All Customized) during the years he was playing a lot of solo guitar improvisations on stage, now why are these guitars important. Frank had a honky and edgy mid-range tonality in his guitars which sounds stupendous when paired with the (EQ Adj) Linear II. Same goes for Guthrie Govan records.
Linear II shines in this area. Even when the equalizer is adjusted, I do not need to touch the higher frequency spectrum from 4 KHz onwards as they are very soothing at default tuning settings. In tracks with multiple arrangements being played on top of each other, the instruments which capture the space in the higher frequency register tend to be very detailed and transparent even when a lot of chaos is going on. In various pieces by Varese, Penderecki and Stravinsky this can be observed. Linear II challenges a lot of top of the line dynamic headphones today be it open or closed in the higher frequencies. In fact I prefer Linear II in the highs compared to the T1s, which is saying something. Linear II manages to be soothing and non-harsh even after having a less significant mid-range and impressive bass.
In comparison to the modern day flagship dynamic drivers the Linear II is not far behind when it comes to imaging. When it comes down to listening band performances consisting of 3-9 pieces, it is easy to make out which player/instrument is where and the space they occupy to play. Easiest way to confirm this accurately is to have the video performance of the audio source you have. I’ve confirmed this with at least 20 gigs where there are documented audio (CD) and video (DVD) source. What fascinates me about the Linear II is that when I listen to intricate arrangements by Varese, where 13 percussion instruments are being played at various volume levels, with different tonality and frequency parameters, they convey them with stunning accuracy every time with different media formats, even when I’ve used a 1950s EMS401 LP. Linear II is a genre master headphone in the imaging aspect as no-matter what is thrown at it whether it is a 120+ piece orchestra, or a metal fusion instrumental trio or a jazz big band; it always shows an accurate picture.
Linear II definitely has some similarity in sound signature with the Sennheiser family of headphones with laid back mids like the HD25, but it’s a completely different ballgame when it comes down to soundstage considering this is a closed circumaural headphone. For a closed headphone this is something which enthralled me when I first heard it and it still does, to this date. Massive sound stage for a closed headphone.
I had done an A-B test with both my high-end headphones T1 and HE5. The Linear II did phenomenally well, and exceeded my initial expectation. The sound stage is not as big as either due to its construction but they come pretty close. In-fact in some tracks the soundstage sounded pretty much similar to the T1s which is really something. The Linear II driver is well capable of rendering a hollow soundstage like many other modern day headphones. The only thing lacking here is that it does not have the angular positioned drivers like many of the top of the line headphones being manufactured today. (e.g. HD800, T1, LCD2/3) If Sennheiser could release the same headphones today with an angular drivers there will be a genuine interest amongst headphone enthusiasts.
Linear II has a very detailed presentation when it comes to both bad and audiophile recordings. It reveals the different layers in a recording with precision when fed by a powerful amplifier and source. I have tried it with both balanced and single ended wire and in case of portable use the difference was more apparent as the balanced wire iBasso Pb2 combo delivered lighting fast details for a portable rig. Yet to try a balanced wire with the HiFiMAN EF6, although the default wire set-up gets sufficient amount of voltage into these cans. With the Linear II I’ve rediscovered a lot of tracks which I was very familiar with but was unable to grasp all the minute details, instruments, several layers of rhythm within rhythm and harmony created out of rhythm. These details were re-discovered in most of Frank Zappa’s synclavier compositions spanning over a couple of albums.
This headphone can be used for various applications from home/office use to portable. I personally felt that Linear II needs a lot of power to be driven by a portable device. Amplification helps a lot to make the Linear II sound a lot louder. I bought the iBasso Pb2 amp along with HD650 balanced wires for this purpose and they had an incredible synergy. I have used a lot of portable headphones/IEMs for the last 8 years and to me this was the best portable rig I have ever used period. This combo enabled me to carry about 60% of the fully optimized Linear II sound on the go, which was a very engaging experience. The only issue which rose was managing the wire with a couple of silicon bands as the wire itself was very long. Proper arrangement of the wire is a must whenever someone is carrying a headphone with heavy, thick and lengthy wires.
Linear II is a closed circumaural headphone meant for private listening. It does a pretty good job of isolating the listener from the surrounding ambient noise. One can only hear outside noises/sound if the headphone is being heard at very low volume levels. Even in case of portable use this headphone does a pretty good job of isolation. At mid-high volume levels it is very difficult to hear any outside noise if properly amplified. The headphone does a robust job when it comes to blocking leakage as well, as it does not attract unnecessary attention of the surrounding individuals.
This headphone has an aluminum voice coil which needs a fair amount of electricity to drive them at decent volume levels. A headphone amp is a must for the Linear II as it has an impedance of 300 Ohms @ 94dB (sensitivity/1kHz). Linear II is not the most efficient headphone out there but as far as the modern day high end dynamic drivers go, they are not as demanding when it comes to electricity. Compared to the T1 (Now sold), HE5, K340, 141 they can be driven easily at lower voltages. I personally feel that the Linear II needs an airy, warm, powerful amp to sound at its peak. When I got my first Linear II (Ireland), I paired it with DR DAC DX2, and I was completely floored by the sound. This was a time when I was listening to the T1 and HE5 for several months. I immediately conducted an A-B test with the T1 which lasted for a couple of days and the Linear II was able to match it almost in every department.
After few months passed the Linear II sound got settled in my system and I was able to find out the few deficiencies the Linear II had compared to the T1. But there were very few. My perception about high end Sennheiser headphones changed again as I was not very satisfied with the previous full sized Sennheiser purchase/loaners (HD595/600/650). Presently I am using the Linear II with the HiFiMAN EF6 (as amp) along with the DR DAC DX2 (as DAC). The headphones have really opened up and sound marvelous. While listening to studio recordings you get a real feel of what is going on, how the tracks have been mixed, even In songs where I used to hear four themes going on simultaneously without paying much attention, now I can even hear more instruments being added to mix with the recurring theme and I am also able to recognize when that instrument is being introduced to the mix without concentrating too much. In case of live gigs the instruments sound very much like you are sitting in the front row, with all the extra dBs being thrown at you from the monitors. The EF6 does not go over 10 O’ clock even in low volume Webern recordings. 9 O’ clock for the DR DAC DX2. I use the ‘winamp’ player for audio listening and ‘VLC’/’WMP’ (K-Lite Codec) for video. As far I am concerned the Linear II, EF6 combo is very enjoyable to listen to for brief/prolonged period of time.
As mentioned earlier I have only been able to use the Linear II with the iBasso Pb2 Pelican amp, as it was the only portable amp powerful enough to drive them at loud volume levels. Powering the Linear II via the HD650 balanced wire was really an enjoyable experience. Most of my music listening takes place while I am mobile and I have listened to a lot of portable rigs in the last 8 years, and by far the Linear II, Pb2 combo is the best I’ve heard. Will be trying a DAC+AMP combo in the coming years to see whether it has any effect on the overall presentation.
Linear II Germany vs. Linear II Ireland
Both headphones are all black, similar shape and construction in every section except the outer ring of the headphone which holds the ear pads. The outer ring of the German version is made of metal whereas the Ireland version is made of ash colored plastic. In the German version one side of the headphone adjuster says “Made in Germany” while the opposite side says “Made in Ireland”, whereas in the Ireland version it is written Made in Ireland” on both sides. Why is it like this? I do not know. If anyone has an answer, please solve my query.
Interestingly enough, both the headphones do not have the exact sound signature. The German version has a fuller mid-range compared to the Ireland version. Linear II in general has a huge sound stage, although the German version is a bit wider. More or less they are the same and require same amount of power to run them.
Widows PC with a Creative Audigy sound card
Colorfly Music Tablet CT971
Crosely CR083 Stac ‘O’ Matic Turntable
Various Android & iOS based devices
DR DAC DX 2 DAC/Amp
HiFiMAN EF6 Headphone Amplifier
iBasso Pb2 Pelican Balanced Portable Amp
Diffuse Field Loudness Equalization
Quality Bass Rendering
Powerful Bass Impact
Deep Bass Extension
Precise Instrument Separation
Huge Choice of After Market Cables
Bass not as punchy as present day closed headphones
Not as lush and liquid in rendering compared to modern day drivers
Laid Back Mid-Range
Needs a punchy, warm, airy amp with lots of Power
Availability of Spare Parts