Sennheiser's $69 (list price) HD497 headphones deliver extraordinarily well-balanced acoustics. Their silver-plastic construction feels sturdy, and like most Sennheiser designs, the 497s feature easily replaceable cables and ear pads. The headphones sounded great at home and on the go.
The cups are supra-aural, encircle-the-ear types, and their cushy pads are very comfortable. The 10-foot flexible cord has a 1/8-inch stereo minijack, and you get a standard 1/4-inch adapter for use with home equipment. Sennheiser provides a two-year warranty.
At first, we thought the 497s were a little big for portable use, but they're very light, so we went ahead and tried them with our 15GB iPod. The sound struck the perfect balance between smoothly detailed treble and powerfully defined bass. Led Zeppelin's bluesy thrash didn't disappoint, and Bob Dylan's early unplugged music sounded quite natural. The 497s' ear cups are open-backed, so they don't seal you off from your environment--definitely a plus when you're out in the world.
At home, plugged into a JVC RX-8030 receiver, the sound was even better. It was so clean that we didn't suffer from listening fatigue, even after checking out a few CDs in a row. That said, we're sure some listeners will prefer the more immediate and bass-heavy sound of Koss's Pro3AA Titanium.
We also demoed a few DVDs, starting with the awesome psycho thriller, The Ring. The film uses a range of eerie low- and high-frequency sounds to great effect. After the first few minutes, we forgot we were listening to the 497s. Voices came through as especially pure and natural; the 497s' sound was more open--in other words, a lot less canned or stuck inside our head. This quality was one of the more seductive advantages of the 497s over Koss's excellent Pro3AAs, which delivered a smaller sound that's more akin to what you'd expect from headphones as opposed to speakers.