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Sennheiser HD 238 review: Sennheiser HD 238

Sennheiser HD 238

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

Recently, I reviewed Sennheiser's HD 238i headphones and thought they were a great deal because they sounded very good and were selling online for $60 online. Well, as soon as I said they were a great deal, a bunch of people went out and bought them on Amazon and the vendors promptly raised the price on them, making them less of a bargain.

Sennheiser HD238 Open Aire Stereo Headphone

Sennheiser HD 238

The Good

The <b>Sennheiser HD 238 on-ear headphones</b> are comfortable and affordable, and sound good for the money.

The Bad

The headphones fold flat but lack a compact design like the Bose OE2 headphones; there's no integrated microphone for cell phones (like the step-up 238i); this is a discontinued model that will disappear from stores quickly.

The Bottom Line

Priced less than the Bose OE2s, the comparable Sennheiser 238 headphones deliver good bang for your buck.

The HD 238 model reviewed here is the same headphone, except that it's missing the integrated microphone for making cell phone calls. That may be a big omission for some folks, but if you don't care about that, these are a good deal at less than $70. Get closer to $100 (or more), and they become just a comfortable, solid set of on-ear headphones that are priced better than their Bose counterparts, the OE2s, which retail for $149.

The Sennheiser HD 238 headphones are lightweight and comfortable. Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as design goes, these headphones are slightly bigger than the Bose OE2s and the earpads aren't quite as plush, but they're decently light and almost as comfortable as the Bose headphones over long periods of wear.

The build quality feels solid to the touch as well, and while these guys do fold flat for storage (a simple canvas carrying case is included), they don't fold into a more compact form factor like the Bose set or Sennheiser's own PX 100-II.

The headphone cord terminates in a straight plug. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're comparing this with the PX100-II, this model has bigger earcups with more padding -- the PX 100-II headphones feature simple foam pads like you'd find on a generic model. Also the PX 100-II has an open-back design that tends to leak more sound than this model, which features a closed supra-aural design.

It's also worth noting that like the PX100 II, this model's 4-foot wire terminates in a vertical plug -- I prefer an L-shaped plug since it usually lasts longer because you're not constantly pulling directly on the cord connection point. Unlike the Bose OE2s, the cord of the HD 238 isn't detachable from the earcup, and it's arguably a tad thin.

A simple canvas carrying case is included. Sarah Tew/CNET

While the HD 238 headphones don't isolate noise as well as over-the-ear models, they do well to muffle outside noises -- this is called passive noise cancellation, in contrast to the active noise cancellation of some headphones that requires an internal battery to work.

In reviewing the Bose OE2, I noted that they sound more natural and don't suffer from "Bose bloat," a term coined for its obtrusive bass boost. These Sennheisers exhibit similarly detailed sound and ample but not "bloated" bass. These are a touch on the warm side and will appeal to listeners who prefer more-laid-back, less-aggressive headphones with edgier treble.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't expect the same kind of sound from these Sennheisers as you would with higher-end models that cost well over $200. The point here is that the while the 238s don't offer great sound, they do deliver very solid performance for their price.

The Sennheiser HD 238 headphones actually carry a list price of $139.95, $10 less than the Bose headphones' list price. Bose headphones are very infrequently discounted, however, and a quick CNET Shopping search finds these Sennheisers for less than $75.

The problem is, that deal is unlikely to last. These headphones have been discontinued, presumably replaced by the Sennheiser HD 239s (list price $120). (Sennheiser also makes the HD 229 headphones, which sell for between $60 and $80.) That means retailers are clearing out their inventory, and the deals on the HD 238s are likely to be fleeting -- especially based on what happened when I reviewed the step-up 238i headphones. So get these while you can at less than $80, since they're far less of a bargain once the price jumps over $100.

Sennheiser HD238 Open Aire Stereo Headphone

Sennheiser HD 238

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7