The Sennheiser HD 518 are cheap for a pair that Sennheiser has had the stones to label as "audiophile", rubbing shoulders with the classic HD 650 - which cost roughly three times the price. However, the sound remains impressively compromise-free.
Rich, detailed and balanced, the Sennheiser HD 518 make for an excellent all-round home headphone. They're more measured and less bassy than the popular Monster Beats range, but still provide a full-bodied and warm sound that's remarkably versatile - suiting music and movies alike. If you need an all-purpose headphone to take on duties once the sun goes down and housemates/parents/partners start to nod off to sleep, you can't go wrong here.
When picking a pair of Sennheiser headphones though, a key question is whether it's worth spending the extra on the model above. The HD 558 aren't light years ahead of this pair, but they do offer increased clarity and high-end detail. The HD 518 have a slightly darker tone that sounds ever-so-slightly veiled in direct comparison, but it's as much an observation of tonality as detail expressed. Clarity is excellent, separation is good - although less so than the HD 558 - and the open-backed design affords this set an easy-going, airy and sibilance-free sound.
These are lovely earphones, and Sennheiser has every right to put them in the same league as its biggest hitters. They do benefit significantly from a headphone amplifier, the sound gaining low-end power and a little space when matched with our test valve amp, but performance when directly plugged-into a source's headphone jack is still great. With a 30 Ohm impedance, these headphones are not hard to drive compared to the 300 Ohm HD 600, 650 and 800. Sennheiser knows that buyers at this level may not be willing to spend the same amount again on an amp. That's sensible thinking.
Available at the time of writing for as little as £79.99, there's no arguing with the value of these over-the-ears headphones. The slightly cheaper Cresyn C720H offer comparable quality, but the Sennheiser HD 518 boast a smoother sound and a more attractive design. Predictably, higher fidelity is available from Sennheiser's own alternatives elsewhere in the range, but for the next model up you're looking at an additional £50. That may not sound like a lot to some of you, but when it represents more than half of the cost of these headphones we can't help but conclude that these are simply stunning value. Although our ears have been spoiled by having listened to headphones much more expensive than these, we'd be more than happy taking these on as our everyday headphone other-half.
Boasting true high-end audio quality at a price that won't make your wife leave you or necessitate cancelling your kids' Christmas for a year, the Sennheiser HD 518 are an absolute bargain. They sound warm, detailed and easy-going, and should please even the most critical of ears.
We're not in love with the design specifics of this particular model and better sound can be found further up the range but these represent a superb entry point to the world of high-end headphones.