Sennheiser HD414

The Sennheiser HD414 was a game changer in 1968. In those days hi-fi headphones were all big and bulky, closed-back designs, and the compact HD414 was the industry’s first “open aire,” on-ear (supra-aural) headphone. It looked, felt and sounded like nothing else and forecast the future direction of headphone sound.

The first generation white HD414s didn’t light my fire, but the black ones with brilliant canary yellow earpads were something else again. The sound and comfort more than lived up to the jazzy good looks. In 1970 I bought a pair of HD414s to replace my Pioneer closed-back phones, and moving up to the Sennheisers was a revelation. A lot of people felt the same way, and Sennheiser sold more than 10,000,000 HD414s, making it the best-selling quality headphone of all time. Although it was designed as a consumer model, the HD414 was very popular with broadcast industry professionals.

The sound was smooth and clear, a marked contrast to my old Pioneer headphones’ canned sonic signature. The HD414 liberated the sound that was up to that point stuck inside my head. Incredibly enough, it weighed just 74 grams, one quarter the weight of most full-size 2012 headphones. Best of all, the HD414 wasn’t an über-class audiophile design, priced out of reach of the average audiophile. If I recall correctly, I paid around $30 for my HD414s.

The earliest models had a very high, 2,000-ohm impedance, and a few years later the impedance was reduced to 600 ohms. In 1995, the company’s 50th Anniversary Edition HD414 was a 52-ohm model, suitable for use with portable players. The company licensed Open-Aire technology to Sony for its first-generation Walkman headphones. Sennheiser ceased HD414 production years ago and no longer manufactures replacement drivers but still stocks earpads and cables.

* Thanks go out to Eric Palonen of Sennheiser for his help with this report.

nethead's picture

The reason why us broadcast engineers (the people that actually ordered them for radio stations) loved the 414s was the stainless steel cable and the jack on each earpiece. Jocks could trip over them and the worst that would happen is the jack on the cup would pull out. These things were near indestructible and had a great sound. I can't remember a pair getting so bad that they couldn't be used. Sure, some of the pads needed replacing, but the mechanicals or electricals never failed. One can still find some in use even 30 years later at some stations.

They also came in a 600 ohm model that was perfect for tapping on to feeds without dampening them, though this was more of a special order set and used by engineers.

Hell, if I could find a NOS pair I'd buy them.