Pros: Exceptional vocal clarity, ethereal open-back soundstage PLUS critically damped closed-back bass Very comfy :)
Cons: Not a perfect fit for my friends with small heads, Rising HF response does not play well with some (inferior) recordings
Very, very nice headphones; my favorite cans in the 500 to 1500 USD range.
- Owned for 6 months, would buy again immediately if I lost them
- I design 100k+ speaker systems for a living, and my ears work good
- Best sound I have enjoyed from headphones PERIOD
Exceptional Vocal Clarity
Ethereal Open-Back Soundstage (from a proprietary balanced armature) with Critically Damped Closed-Back Bass
Very comfortable with B-type cushions
Not a perfect fit for my friends with small heads
Rising HF response does not play well with some (inferior) recordings
I ordered these directly from Michael Brown of US FAD operations, because I wanted the old "Pandora Hope VI" logo and name. I had heard good things from a friend, and I needed a pair of over-ear cans. My previous go-to headphones were the JH Audio Layla headphones. Unfortunately, the CIEMs caused me to get a severe fungal/bacterial infection that ended up rupturing my eardrums and developing a mild brain infection. So the in-ears had to go. To make this transition, I considered the best from Sennheiser, Grado, Sony, Hifiman, the LCD 3s, etc. I wasn't interested in spending an inordinate amount of money on Stax headphones or something that required special amplification beyond what my AK380 can provide. Because I design speakers for a living, I figured I would just design my own headphones before going down too long a rabbit trail. Out of all I had tried, the HD800s had the most realistic reproduction of music in the air around my head, which might even overcome my dislike of openback headphones' characteristic environmental noise bleed. None of the planar headphones I had tried carried the bass properly without bloating around 150-200hz or fizzling below 100hz. All of the closed back designs I had tried left me with something very different than a soundstage... more like a sensation that I had not done the toe-in properly for a set of floorstanding speakers.
Unfortunately, to my ears the HD800 has an unreal amount of painfully audible distortion from 5-9kHz that bleeds into the upper transients. In my experience, this is usually due to asymmetrical voice coil loading (the HD800s have a tonality that is so eerily reminiscent of an overdriven BMR from cotswold sound systems). This issue is exacerbated, I believe, by the fact that the HD800s are completely open back. THAT BEING SAID, I know plenty of people who love the sound of the HD800s, and would never part with theirs... but I am a purist, and I want soundstage without cannibalizing the nonlinear characteristics of the headphones. I know from my experience building speakers that odd order harmonics in the fraunhofer region collect to form gradient side nodes that dramatically increase the sensation of a soundstage. This is because sounds which are panned farther to the right or left actually get a small volume boost, while at the same time their origin moves from the farthest edge of the speaker to some place between the edge of the speaker and the gradient side nodes. I would imagine that this same principle dictates that transients in the HF range would receive the most distortion that are panned the most. Since non-linear distortions of compression drivers increase exponentially with respect to the input voltage, the HD800s are able to spread out the sound better across the listening field. If only such a soundstage could be achieved by some mechanism besides distortion...
I ordered from Michael, and he said if I wasn't thrilled, I could return them, and that suited me just fine. He did instruct me that his headphones only migrate a maximum of 3% during breaking in for 48 hours, and then less that 1% over the next 3000 hours. From this, I expected the headphones to perform perfectly out of the box. When the arrived, I immediately put on some of my favorite Dream Theater songs... as I was listening, I really got lost in the sound. Immersed that way I have only really experienced with sound systems over 50 grand (on the exceptional low end). When I hit the song "Regression", the headphones just blew me away; I actually took them off to make sure I wasn't hearing in-room reflections. The portrayal of the music was clinical, but not harsh, aggressive, but not unbalanced. After burn-in, I had no complaints, but even before then, the headphones were keepers. For a two-way headphone, FAD sure did their work right. After some listening, I called up Michael and told him what I thought. He answered some of my questions, and was a generally awesome guy. If I have any issues with my headphones, I am confident he will be on my side.
Burn-in is a must. After 2 days of burn-in, the headphones sounded much better. While the headphones were wonderful out of the box, they were a major step down from my JH Laylas, maybe even my JH Roxxanes. The soundstage and LF reach did not change over the break-in period, but the speed of the impulse response in the bass end benefited greatly from the . The high-frequencies got much more aligned to the total tonal character of the headphones. I don't know if there is a simple crossover in the headphones, but I would not be surprised - the headphones reacted to burn in the same way floorstanding speakers do. As we all know, the majority of burn-in has to do with the crossover, whether in the integration of a new driver or cables with their new damping factors. For headphones, balanced armatures do need mechanical burn-in to bring the compliance of the mechanics to an ideal level that matches sensitivity parameters used to model the crossover networks. I am not sure whether the quoted 3% value refers to drivers that FAD has already mounted or whether that includes the crossover network. Burn-in is a measurable necessity. Skip only if you enjoy experiencing the shift in headphone characteristics in person.
The ear-pieces swivel a bit, and since the balanced armature is mounted on the inside front of the cup, ear-piece positioning has a significant impact on the perception of the soundstage width, height, and depth. I typically hear headphones as if the frequencies panned the right and left are both lower (vertically) than those panned to the middle. However, if I swivel both cups so that the headphone cable connections are pointing farther forward, the soundstage takes an equal vertical position through the whole listening width. In this orientation, full-orchestrata recordings typically create the illusion of depth away from me as equally moving downwards vertically.