The PC38X has been lauded for its strict adherence to the Harman headphone target. As a disclaimer, I would like to elucidate that this does not indicate perfect balance and timbre. The target is designed, in some capacity, to find what is universally appealing rather than technically correct. In addition, bass and treble roll-off is apparent, in turn, the headphone comes across as slightly n-shaped with a slight midrange focus. Despite this, the PC38X demonstrates a superbly linear and naturally voiced response. While it isn’t an engaging headphone nor technically outstanding by any means, this gives it a huge advantage over similarly affordable models – not to mention, excellent genre and use case versatility. The smoother top end isn’t ideal for highlighting directional cues, but it is suitable for reducing listening fatigue during long listening/gaming sessions, especially at higher volumes. If you are looking for an especially clean tonality and honest midrange voicing, the PC38X hangs with the best.
The PC38X comes with two pairs of earpads out of the box, which is a great addition, especially for such an affordable headphone. It means you can swap between the two to alter the sound to your liking or simply keep one spare for when the first set wears out. The pre-installed pads have a synthetic mesh-knit material, they feel smoother and more breathable. The second set is velour similar to what you’ll see on the HD6XX headphones. They have a slightly softer feel and a plusher padding that gives them a bit more width and a slightly stronger seal. Those with wide ears that contact the drivers may want to use these pads due to this.
Sonically, the two are not remarkably different, but the velour pads do provide a slightly warmer and fuller sound. Bass extends slightly better and has greater fullness and punch in the mid-bass especially. The midrange is a touch more laid-back and assumes a warmer, fuller voicing as well. Treble sounded fairly similar to me but, like the midrange, takes one step back relative to the bass. It wasn’t recessed or overly dark in this configuration, but the stock pads will suit those wanting the cleanest sound and were my preference. These pads offer a more separated sound and, to my ears, slightly better sound staging which aligns better with the headphone’s intended use cases. I will use the stock pads during evaluation below.
The PC38X has a pleasantly linear low-end with a moderate sub-bass roll-off that is acceptable for an open-back design. This means you don’t get a heap of rumble, power and weight but a very honest and clean mid-bass representation. This works much to the benefit of separation which provides the impression of a well-defined and organised bass even with fairly limited driver quality. There is a slight uptick of fullness in the mid and upper-bass that imbues a hint of additional fullness and warmth, albeit, not a huge amount. Though not anaemic to my ears, the impression of bass fullness will depend on your point of reference. Most listeners accustomed to consumer gear or other gaming headsets will likely find these to be on the leaner side with the midrange occupying more presence.
As aforementioned, driver quality is nothing to write home about but ample to provide an engaging listen. The tuning helps greatly with regards to texture and separation, as notes are almost neutrally sized and the tone is only lightly warm. Accordingly, though the PC38X has a slightly longer attack and decay to its notes meaning they are softer around the edges, it still retrieves a decent amount of texture. Definition, responsiveness and dynamics are all mediocre, but the well separated tuning means this wasn’t really a huge issue for me during listening. At face value, bass sounds relatively tight and articulate. It’s never muddy nor does it drone. It is easy to find a much more discerning bass, but such a well-tuned one isn’t so easy to come by even well above its asking price.
Returning to this impression, as both bass and treble are slightly reserved, though the midrange traces the Harman headphone target with great strictness, the presentation does still sound slightly mid-focused. This is not a bad thing at all as Sennheiser and Epos have done a sensational job on the tuning here. The PC38X has a superbly even-handed midrange portrayal with only subtle colouration from the surrounding frequencies. That means vocals are naturally voiced and both male and female sit in parity. Instruments are similarly well represented though do take a slight backseat to vocals due to the slightly diminished bass power on display. This does also mean note weight in the midrange itself is on the lighter side though never to the extent of coolness or dryness.
In all respects, the midrange sounds natural and balanced, hugely impressive for an audio-focused headphone and far exceeding expectations for a gaming headset. This is aided by the slightly smoother articulation and uptick of density around 4 kHz which means vocals remain well-structured and aren’t overly sharp in addition to sensitivity to sibilance being reduced. The midrange also enjoys being less dependent on driver quality than the bass in many respects. Indeed, note presentation is smooth but this does aid a more forgiving voicing despite note definition and fine detail retrieval being, like the bass, middling. The tonality remains clean, separation is high and overall intelligibility performs at a high level. This is a crucial aspect of this headphone’s performance responsible for its versatility and cements it as an outlier in the gaming headset space.
I have less positive things to say about the top-end where the limitations of the driver is felt most. While nothing stands out as appalling or overtly bad, again owing to an excellent sound signature, so too are details rather obscure. I do feel treble is positioned in good taste. Many gaming headsets are either bright in order to highlight small details or treble-crushed entirely. The PC38X does have a relatively linear treble that sits in parity with the bass, just behind the midrange. Its less defined notes that lack a lot of bite in their leading edge contribute to this impression, granting the PC38X a clearly smooth character. At the same time, as treble isn’t recessed per say, instrumentation and details are presented clearly with good presence and timbre.
However, if one were to scrutinise the technical performance or even compare the headphone to a similarly priced IEM, you will notice just how much fine detail and texture is missing. At a superficial level and when factoring in what you receive for the asking price, this headphone cannot really be faulted. I do also believe they are tuned in good taste for its intended uses. The lack of hard edge, bite and glare in the treble means they are almost entirely absent of fatigue. You can listen for hours without tiring and they tolerate high volumes well, though the drivers do start to break up if you really push them. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this simply for your long term hearing health. I think the recurring trend here is clear, the PC38X is sensationally well-tuned, it just isn’t very detailed.
Despite all of this, the PC38X provides a very convincing soundstage experience. Not all open-back headphones have a huge stage, but the PC38X is at the very least average for an open-back design. It is able to stretch beyond the head with ease in width especially while depth is a little more intimate due to its vocal-forward nature. Imaging is quite good, a bit diffuse and without the same defined localisation as a higher end headphone, but aided greatly by the balanced and honest tuning. While directional cues aren’t highlighted, they are clear. The balanced tuning means you get a more accurate representation of distance and the individual positioning of each element in the mix. Separation also performs at a high level. Again, individual notes aren’t especially well-defined, but they are neutrally sized and well-spaced, so the stage never becomes congested or smeared. This does aid the perception of the detail that is there, as they are never overshadowed by surrounding elements.
The PC38X has a lower 28 ohm impedance and a high 109dB sensitivity that makes it efficient and easy to drive from even portable sources like a smartphone. It does have a non-linear impedance curve but, like many Sennheiser headphones, picks up colouration in an almost desirable manner that I will touch on below.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
The PC38X has a non-linear impedance curve with a peak at 75Hz and a steady elevation through the treble but is, otherwise, flat. This means from high impedance sources, you will get a warmer bass and a slightly more open-treble. I confirmed this to be true when pairing this with the TA-26, an OTL tube amp with a high output impedance. The PC38X sounded warmer, punchier and more open. If you do not have this luxury, a or so 25ohm impedance adaptor will provide a similar impression out of a low impedance source for just a few dollars.
The PC38X does not require much power in any regard, either to be driven to its potential or to achieve high volumes. They even sounded balanced and punchy from my Xperia 5 II’s headphone jack and my laptop’s integrated output. As aforementioned, you will notice some colouration if the output impedance is high. However, from a sheer power point of view, the PC38X is not demanding and doesn’t scale much with high-end sources so long as your output isn’t obviously bad. Switching over to my desktop stack from my PC’s integrated audio provided a larger stage with sharper imaging, but minimal jump in resolution overall which appears limited by the headphones themselves.
Suggested Pair Ups
The PC38X is easy to drive and doesn’t demand much from the connected source in general. A smartphone or integrated audio solution is sufficient to extract a balanced and nicely controlled sound. This is congruent with its positioning as a low-cost all-purpose headset and it means the buyer doesn’t have the budget in a dedicated source in order to drive these headphones well. A note on impedance is important as this is a very real phenomenon. Depending on your preferences and uses, impedance adaptors are a quick and easy way to change between a slightly more euphonic, musical sound and a clean and accurate one, I would highly recommend experimenting with this. Do note, that this will lower the volume output of your source, so this may require the use of a dedicated amplifier.