I am not an audiophile. Let me start there. I like music and I like gaming, and for music it was loud external speakers - gaming was some Logitech USB flashy light nonsense. Virtual 7.1 and a that. Holy sh!t I didn't know what I've been missing. I mean that literally, sounds are now present that absolutely were not before - in music and more importantly in games.
Open back is weird. I like it, living alone, I could hear the front door open if someone walked in, I can hear the pizza guy knock while shooting full auto.
The difference in sound is hard to explain, I'm sure you'll find much better reviews on the technical reasons, but everything is just crystal clear. Sounds are exactly where they "are". I know for sure there's a guy walking with leather boots on grass at exactly 165 degrees behind me and which way he's going while playing Rust. Sometimes it's spooky, especially with music, as you'll hear someone behind you and your brain believes it. Just give them a shot, I think it will change what you wear forever. I just bought some HD58x to wear because I like to use a boom mic - the mic on these is good for clarity, but if it's not at the exact right position you might cut out. In practice it becomes second nature - but it also blocks my snacking.
If you have a boom mic you like, get the 58x Jubilees, they're going to be a better choice for audio only. If you need a mic or just like the style, these are worth every single penny.
Review of the PC38x headset:
‘Not THAT yellow in real life’
The PC38x is an open back headset that offers great sound for either music (velour pads) or gaming (fabric pads). Sound-wise, it beats many headphones (gaming or not) with clean and extended bass, great details and an amazing soundstage for the price. If you are ready to look past the cheap looking plastic and yellow hints you will find the PC38x to be extremely comfortable thanks to its angled drivers and light weight (thanks plastic!). The mic is ok for game chat and calls but not more. The integrated volume wheel and flip-to-mute mic are one of those old-but-gold features that enhance the full package experience you get with this headset.
This headset made big waves upon its release with lots of ‘pro’ reviews. I wanted to do more of a real-life-user type of review as I know ordering from drop.com can feel like a commitment due to shipping delay and inability to try on the headset first. As a disclaimer, I bought all my audio products with my own money and all thoughts or opinions are my own. I have owned many Sennheiser products (Game Zero, HD 598, 58x, 6xx) and enjoy their sound signature. Therefore, this review is targeted to those deciding which to get and having already tried and enjoyed a Sennheiser product.
First impressions / Fit:
The first surprise I got with the 38x and something that no other reviews mention is how ‘small’ the headset is overall. I own a few other headphones and the first main difference is definitely the size. The plastic is matte black all around (great) but feels cheap. However, if Sennheiser has proved anything over the years, it’s that they know how to build durable headphones even with cheap looking plastic (5xx series). I’ve had mine for 3 months and never had a problem except from a couple of scuff marks at the top from keeping them under my desk (my fault). The yellow hints are not as bright as some photos show but still: it’s yellow. Questionable choice of color especially if you plan on using it for streaming or video calls but personally I don’t mind. The PC 38x also comes with two sets of cables: 1 long with a splitter for best desktop usage and 1 short with TRRS end perfect either laptops or console controllers which is nice.
‘HD 6xx; Bose QC II; PC38x and HD 598 size comparison’
Despite its size, the angled driver makes the earcups deeper at the back which is great if you have large ears.
The dimensions of the earcups are as follow:
Height (edges of pad/inside) : 11,6 / 7 cm ; (4,3 / 2,75 in.)
Width (edges of pad /inside) : 8,5 / 3,5 cm; (3,26 / 1,37 in.)
Depth from outside of pad to driver wall (front / back): 1,8 / 2,5 cm; (0,39 in / 0,98 in.)
If you have ears that stick out like I do you then you know that finding a fitting headphone can be a (literal) pain. I remember going to the local store years ago, ready to be amazed by the Sony XM2 and ending up buying the Bose QC II instead JUST because of its angled drivers.
Back to the PC38x, despite the relatively ‘narrow’ internal cup dimensions, the fit is great as the pads recess quickly. That recess creates a little cavity for your ears with just enough space for them not to make contact with the driver wall which is a brilliant over-ear design for me. Also important to notice, this headphone lets your ears breath due to open back nature. This might be a detail for some but if you are sensitive to heat it can make a big difference. Speaking of the pads and comfort, the 38x come with 2 sets of either fabric or velour pads which offer different sound profiles (more on that later). The fabric pads remind me of the ones found on the steelseries arctis lineup and this is a great thing as they are light, breathable and soft to the touch without lint invading it like velour.
‘Where the light cannot reach’: angled vs flat driver designs: PC 38x vs HD 6xx (and 58x)
In terms of clamp force, it was a little high out of the box but using said box to extend it a little bit overnight for a few days did the trick and I have never experienced any pressure points.
The classic: ‘trust me I use them all!’
This is one area where personal preferences go a long way and I’ll do my best to describe it as accurately as I can. First off, this is an open-back design so if you want to game and block outside sounds this is NOT it as it will let sounds in and out. However, if you can game in a quiet environment, I recommend choosing open back headphones for the superior soundstage (depth of the sound) and clarity. Speaking of soundstage, the PC38x is nothing short of class-leading at this price point. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it in terms of how wide and ‘deep’ the sound can feel. Games become instantly more immersive and even too realistic at times (Battlefield 1 trenches are SCARY with those). The directionality of the sound is also great and will prove to be a trusted ally in multiplayer games (trust me, you don’t need that 7.1 artificial surround). The sound quality is great as well, with lots of detail and separation of the instruments (more than the HD 598 but still a little less than the 6xx, close to the 58x in my opinion).
‘Ears cool, great sound: Open back driver of the PC38x’
The bass is deep, extended and clean with the fabric pads and will impress for an open back headphone. The bass can be reduced slightly using the velour pads to perfect music listening levels for my taste. From my experience, that bass is the best Sennheiser as produced in its open back headphones (I also own the Game Zero, HD 598, 58x, 6xx).
Mids are Sennheiser's trademark and the 38x delivers very well there too (similar to the 598 and 58x but inferior than the 6xx).
Highs are defined and powerful with the fabric pads which makes it great for gaming accuracy without ever being too aggressive. Similar to the bass, the highs can be ‘tamed’ a little when swapping to the velour pads for a better music experience. In my opinion, the highs are better than the 598, similar than the 58x and 6xx.
Timber (the realistic reproduction of the sounds) is very good here too. It’s better than the 598, slightly inferior to the 58x and inferior than the 6xx which are both music listening headphones.
Finally, these headphones are great with or without good amplification as opposed to the 58x and more so the 6xx. They ‘scale’ pretty well (how better a headphone can sound with better signal/DAC/amp) but don’t NEED the additional power to deliver great sound. Plugging them directly into your motherboard audio port will deliver great results making this product perfect for everybody in my opinion. Audiophiles will rejoice that they can squeeze the maximum performance with their DACs/amps while everyone else will still be amazed at how good they sound out of the box.
From my personal experience, I got around 80% of the PC38x performance with my motherboard sound card (Asrock B450 Gaming ITX), 90% with a decent budget DAC/amp (Fiio E10k) and 100% with a higher tier DAC/amp (ifi Zen). In comparison, those numbers would be more like 50%, 70% and 100% for the 6xx which are more amp dependent and 70%, 90% and 100% with the 598 and 58x.
Since we are comparing, I prefer the PC 38x to the HD 598 and even the 58x which are its direct competition for music and gaming in terms of price and availability. For me, the 58x wins in sound timber and separation but the superior comfort and soundstage of the angled drivers of the PC 38x makes it the better choice for gamers (plus you get a mic). However, the 58x is far from being just ok and is still better than the 6xx for gaming (poorer soundstage). In short, if you game and need a mic, get the PC 38x, if you listen to music only without a solid amp/dac, get the HD 58x and if you have a good DAC/amp and listen to music only get the 6xx. Personally I ended up selling my 58x and kept my PC 38x for gaming and 6xx for music.
The mic is similar to lots of other analog mics, the background noise reduction is ok (won’t hear your keyboard when gaming) and the voice is clear without being deep or detailed. In short, it’s plenty enough for gaming chat and voice calls but not on the level of an external usb mic. I would recommend looking at other reviews with mic sound tests to make your own opinion on that.
In Summary, the pc38x is a great choice for gaming as well as music listening. Yes the price is higher than most other gaming headset but the audio and comfort experience you get with this headset might be worth the extra dollars. I also love the fact that they ship with different pads that tweak the sound profile for a more dynamic/V-shape immersive experience (fabric) or a more neutral approach (velour) perfect for music listening. Regardless of your preferences, you get a choice and that is great for you, the end-user.
If I had to choose a word for the PC 38x it would be ‘easy’. This headset is easy to use, easy to drive/amp, easy to wear for long sessions and easy to like with great sound for the price. Depending on where you live it might not be easy to get or easy on the wallet though!
I've been using mine since early November 2020 and so far they are holding up fine. However, I do not abuse them and have never dropped them. I typically use them every night after work for about 2-4 hours while playing games and hang them on a headphone hanger when not in use. I have removed and swapped out the earpads numerous times while I was trying out different 3rd party earpads and there have been no problems with the stock earpads or the cups that the earpads attach to.
Overall, I'd say that the headset does NOT have a premium feel to it because it feels like it's all plastic, but it also has no issues, cracks or broken parts either. What it does have is great positional sound and soundstage for the games I play so I can recommend it based on that. Just be careful with them and don't abuse them - like any plasticky product they may have issues if pushed too far. :-) Good luck.
QUICK UPDATE 5/25/21: It's been over 6 months since I started using them and everything is still all good. Works well, no issues.
ANOTHER UPDATE 9/25/21: Still going strong after almost a year. Still sound great, and no issues.