Sennheiser has revitalised its popular over-the-ears HD headphone range with the HD 518, HD 558 and HD 598, all destined to become some of the top-selling earphones of their respective classes. But is it simply the Sennheiser name that's propelling these headphones into the big time?
The Sennheiser HD 518 are the cheapest model in the manufacturer's audiophile range. Like Sennheiser's other HD-series sets, they're open-backed and designed to cover your ears completely. This marks these headphones as an at-home pair. They're not embarrassingly large like some over-the-ears sets, but they will leak sound and don't isolate from noise much.
Aside from the odd screw, every visible part of the HD 518 headphones' bodies is made of plastic. This ensures they don't feel heavy-duty, but build quality is nevertheless great. The plastics used seem to be identical to those seen in the more expensive HD 558, which is reassuring in a relatively "cheap" model. Common to all the new HD-series headphones, they exert a firm-but-comfortable grip on your noggin.
The feel of this set is familiar, then, but the padding is one place where budget compromises have been made. Where the HD 558 and HD 598 use velour earpads, the HD 518 feature a rougher, less soft material and a springier foam inner. In a direct A/B comparison with the HD 558, they feel less luxurious and put a little more pressure on your head but are still comfortable enough to wear for hours without discomfort. The open design and fabric pads don't heat your ears up too much either.
The speaker grille that covers the back of each cup doesn't weather through the comparison quite as well. Bearing a strange, arguably rather ugly pattern, they spoil the otherwise attractive, curvy design. The border of this grille is also shiny, which sticks out against the anodised finish used elsewhere in these headphones. To our eyes it is a completely unnecessary aesthetic mis-step, but a minor one and one you may completely disagree with.
Although a step down in comfort and attractiveness terms compared to Sennheiser's more expensive sets, they match them on practicality. The Sennheiser HD 518 use a 2.5mm removable cable, which plugs into the left cup with a turn-to-lock mechanism to keep the cable in place. The included cable is 3m long, and we found replacements for under £15 - very reasonable. This removable design lets you employ a custom cable very easily, but doing so with an £80 set is overdoing it a little in our book. The cable ends in a 6.3mm jack, once again reaffirming that these are hi-fi headphones, but Sennheiser also includes a 3.5mm converter.