We live in a society that favors the visual. With the election in our rearview (kind of), this fact is constantly reinforced everywhere. Images sell or persuade, and in doing so they change the way that we experience the space around us. For audiophiles, the chance to sit down with an aperitif, dim the lights, and drop the needle is a way for us to escape the creeping intrusion of this public world of images. It’s just us and the music and it feels damn good. Edgar Allan Poe once stated, “the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception.” To make this escape into the indefinite (how does Bernstein make Mahler sound that good?) we tweak the position of our speakers to isolate that sweet spot, we pop in that new cartridge to clean up the sound, we turn it up. And we let go.
Words by Nan Pincus
But no matter how deep the sound is, this feeling of reprieve is just an illusion. We still sit in the same world, and when the record ends all those images rush back in to claim the headspace so recently filled with the sensations of music. This, however, is a problem that we bring upon ourselves. What if we took our refuge and extended it into the world around us? What if we gave those indefinite sensations of the audio realm a beachhead on the world of vision? How would what we hear affect the space around us? Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone (website), introduced to the market in 2019. It took me some time to dig into the qualities that led to these existential musings, but I ultimately came around to appreciate this excellent set of headphones.
Heinz Electrodynamic Designs was founded in 2015 by a father/son duo in Berlin, and though it seems like a new company its expertise has deep roots. The elder, Klaus Heinz, is the soul of the company. He has spent over forty years in the business of physics and sound. He began with the development of tweeters based upon the folded elastic diaphragms of Oskar Heil. In the nineties he founded his first company, ADAM Audio, to design loudspeakers for music production and professional mastering. Founding HEDD with his son, Dr. Frederik Knop, a professional musicologist, he is moving his professional expertise into the world of home HiFi.
Feel the HEDDphone
When I first unboxed the Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone, I was nonplussed. At 718g they feel big and heavy. Perhaps this is because their headband doesn’t distribute this weight evenly, so they press more on the crown of your head. But perhaps it is because they ARE big and heavy! I couldn’t find any other planar headphones that came in over 650 grams, much less 700. Though the materials don’t have that luxe feeling of other high-end headphones, they mold nicely around the ears. Being so big, however, they take up most of your head, making me feel like a clunky Princess Leia. Along with the majority of reviews on their website coming from mastering engineers, their size and lack of carrying case clearly suggest that they are meant to have a permanent home close to your system and listening space. You are supposed to lean back and enjoy these in a sedentary fashion, concentrating on the music.
They come with a single, two meter-long cable that attaches to the HEDDphone by mini-XLR inputs and to your amp of choice with a quarter-inch input. They don’t require any burn-in period, so I plugged them into my Cambridge Audio integrated amp for a quick listen with the Rega Planar 3 turntable before switching over to the Focal Arche for a more in-depth listening experience.
It was a bit disconcerting putting on the Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone for the first time; as you adjust the cans against your head there is a distinct crinkling sound. This is a side effect of air pressing out from the folded diaphragm that makes up the Air Motion Transformer technology so indicative of HEDD products. These transducers, seen most notably in the center of the company’s Tower Mains, are the technological calling-card of HEDD and have been redesigned and somewhat compacted to fit into these headphones. They reproduce sound from 10hz to 40,000hz, providing a capable frequency response that goes far beyond the scope of human hearing.
And they deliver! The sound is rich, deep, and translucent. With the Cambridge Audio integrated amp, I listened to Voilaaa’s On Te L’Avait Dit, whose big horn lines and heavy percussion thumped but didn’t overshadow the delicate rhythm-guitar licks of the afro-disco Frenchmen. The tracks on this record come at you in layers, beginning with percussion, adding bass, bringing in rhythm, dropping in horn lines, and finally adding several layers of vocals. As these ingredients are added, it provides an excellent opportunity to judge if and how headphones will muddy the sound. The Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone took it in stride, leaving the whole beautifully crisp and balanced.
Then I shifted over to the Focal Arche (in high gain mode) and listened to the new Who Are You? by Joel Ross. The HEDDphone really shone when paired with this controlled amp/DAC built for similarly high-end headphones. I could hear the shimmering of every sustained note on the vibraphones. Then, appropriately enough, I turned to the Halloween classic, Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. From the leathery spoken word introduction by Orson Welles to the final, synthy harmonies, the recording crackles with tensions heretofore unheard by your humble listener. In all these recordings what stood out was balance. I kept trying to pick out what range or instrument was privileged, but couldn’t do it. I always wish for more bass, and there were instances where this could have absolutely been brought up (the funky Voilaaa demands it on the title track), but the reputation for precision in German manufacturing is absolutely earned through balance of sound in the Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone.
It was right during Parson’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” that I came aware of another effect of the AMT diaphragm. My dog Winter barked. At this point, I had listened to the HEDDs in a quiet space, setting myself up for the kind of isolated listening experience I described earlier. But the benefit of the diaphragm in this technology is the increased airflow and, perhaps for this reason and the planar technology, the earpads are open and but backed with a perforated lattice. The result, therefore, is a lack of noise isolation. I found that I could hear most of what was going on in the space around me, despite the crystal-clear audio in the foreground. And this makes sense for these headphones. If you were trying to listen closely in a public space or even occasionally in a house like my own with an open floorplan, outside noise can sometimes be distracting. However, these cans were not built for that. In a recording studio or mastering facility, where the space itself is soundproofed, there is no need for active noise isolation. The Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone would thrive in such a space. Even in an enclosed and dedicated room, I could see this as a non-issue considering the quality of sound produced by the HEDDs.
I was bemused and confused. I was supposed to be in that zone reserved for music and listening, but instead, I was experiencing the integration of high-quality sound to the space around me. In this way, the HEDDphone got me thinking about the questions of audio’s place in our lives. No, they didn’t transport me out of the world of images, but they did challenge its primacy, and in doing so, brought into focus the power of music to shape our world.
Bottom line is that the Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone are some super headphones. They aren’t the best looking, or the most comfortable, but their sound is rich and delightful (if I could imagine eating the sound, it would be a perfect chocolate mousse). They have all the qualities and drawbacks of being built for professional spaces, but if you have a dedicated place to enjoy the quality of sound they produce, they can reveal beauty in the way they balance music in your ears. At times, I wish they excelled in a wider diversity of spaces like the Focal Stellias, but regarding the purpose for which they were designed, the Heinz Electrodynamic Designs HEDDphone are an amazing earful.
Retail: $1,899 USD
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 40kHz
Efficiency: 87dB SPL for 1mW
Impedance: 42 Ω
Cable Headphone Termination: Mini XLR
Cable Amp-side Termination: ¼”