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Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones

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Rated #3 in Over-Ear

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Posted

Pros: Comfortable, detailed, big soundstage

Cons: Artificial sounding, anemic in the bass, can be too bright, overpriced

I have listened to the HD800 twice, and I never really warmed up to it. And to clarify, they were not casual listening sessions--I took my time and did the listening under the following condition:

 

-In a controlled environment without distraction and noise

-Used high-end audio source and gears in the signal chain

-Had other flagship headphones there to do direct comparisons with

-Had ample time to do the listening tests, and took as long as I wanted

 

I should also clarify that I'm an audio professional (composer, songwriter, sound designer) that have worked in both high-end recording/mixing/mastering studios, as well as have built my own studio twice in two different countries (the first one was build completely from the ground up, with my own design in construction and acoustic treatment). I have extensive experience measuring, testing, assessing audio on a critical level, and when I say I "listened" to the HD800, what I mean is I actually tested it used audio test tones (sine wave tones at different frequencies, pink noise, log sweep) and a carefully selected playlist of musical material that I know like the back of my hands that spans many musical genres, and used them to assess specific capabilities of the headphone.

 

My overall impression of the HD800 was that Its clarity and resolution sounded artificial to me instead of natural (a spike in the upper mids region), and it had no authority in the sub-bass region. I'm one of those people who simply cannot consider a pair of headphones to be "amazing" or "the best of" if it's lacking neutrality in a chunk of the frequency range.

 

A amazing pair of headphones should sound like a full-range speaker system that reaches down to at least 30Hz and remains substantial and authoritative--anything less than that is not "amazing" to me. Now, pardon me for turning into a pig for a moment and fall back on the classic but eyebrow-raising comparison to a woman. It's sort of like if a girl is really hot with an awesome body, but her ass is flat, barely able to fill any pair of jeans--would that still be considered an amazing body? (This comparison is actually quite fitting in a humorous way, since low frequency in audio is often referred to as the "bottom-end.") Even the HD650 has more sub-bass extension and weight, and it costs far less than the flagship model.

 

I understand that there's a portion of people whose idea of neutral bass is in fact anemic bass to me, but most people have no idea what a neutral frequency range sounds like, because they have never heard true full-range sound before. Anyone who's ever heard a full-range speaker system that reaches down to 30Hz or lower while maintaining ± 3 dB, will know that neutral bass in in fact quite authoritative and substantial.

 

There are headphones out there that can reach down low and feel very authoritative--for example, the Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3, Stax 009, 007MKII, Denon AH-D7000, D5000, D2000, Audio-Technica ATH-M50, etc, so it's not like the HD800 is somehow limited by physics--it was a choice the engineers at Sennheiser made. (These days, more and more headphones on the market can reach down that low and sound authoritative in the sub-bass region, and it's now starting to become the standard. Flagship headphones that can't achieve a proper sense of weight in the sub-bass are now becoming more rare, and sticks out among all the other flagship headphones that could.)

 

If the lack of full sub-bass was the only issue, I'd have been fine with the HD800, but it is also overtly bright in the upper mid-range, which can be shrill/sibilant on some material, and that breaks my number one rule of audio: "First, do no harm." When any audio gear produces sound that is too bright, it becomes grating and it hurts your ears, and when that happens, it's a deal breaker for me.

 

Many defenders of this attribute of the HD800 will go to lengths to remedy the problem by buying stupidly expensive headphone amps or other unnecessary audio gadgets to tame that brightness, and they would proclaim that if one used a sufficiently high-end tube amp, the HD800 will sound much better. Really? It appears the marketing department of high-end audio gear companies are doing a damn fine job selling absurd diminishing returns. A pair of headphones is not supposed to have inherent problems that needs to be fixed with yet another piece of expensive gear in the first place. If someone tried to pull that in the professional audio world, they'd get laughed out of the marketplace. This isn't to say there aren't too-bright sounding professional monitor speakers, but at least they were designed with onboard EQ's and measuring mics to adjust according to the room acoustics. If you want to alter the sonic signature of any audio gear--use an actual EQ, not an expensive amp used like a single-preset EQ. 

 

Some people say the HD800 is very revealing, like a sonic microscope. Well, so were the Yamahama NS10's--the legendary monitor speakers that's dominated the pro audio world for decades, but they were used only in the context of being a mixing/mastering tool, and only for troubleshooting potential problems. No one uses them for leisurely listening or a balanced overall presentation, because they were too bright and lacked authoritative sub-bass. If you're not using the HD800 in that way and are listening for pleasure, I think you can find aural bliss in another pair of high-end headphones that doesn't do as much harm and has a more full-range sound.

Posted

Pros: Perhaps the world's most transparent headphone. Incredible details, extension and precision. Unmatched spacial presentation.

Cons: Extremely sensitive to what's down the line, requires meticulous setup. Hopeless to demo, needs extensive listening to judge.

I've owned the HD800's for the better part of two years, by now I have hundreds and hundreds of hours of listening time behind me. It is never easy to review a flagship product but the HD800 is harder still, it is not a random thing that I've held off doing this review for so long.

 

The first time I demoed the HD800 I was of course incredibly exited to try Sennheiser latest and greatest headphone, who wouldn't be? I was impressed by the build quality, the "all-day-long-disappear-on-your-head" comfort, the attention to detail, the very German "rightness" of it all. As I listened to some of my favorite demo tracks in the hi-fi store I was amazed by the details, spacial presentation and precision. But at the end of it all I also came away more than a little perplexed, and there was no instant buy that day. Some of my favorite recordings had sounded a bit dry, hollow and sterile. Almost as if they had been stripped of emotion.

 

So at the time I simply concluded that the HD800 was competent, but that it wasn't for me. And no great loss since I carried on with my HD650's, a pair of headphones which I to this day still hold in very high regard.

 

But after a year or so I started thinking about the HD800's again, I guess curiosity is the only way I can describe it. Was I sure there really wasn't anything special with the HD800? This was Sennheiser we were talking about, could Sennheiser really be wrong? So I started reading about the HD800's, and how divided the opinions on them were. This didn't seem to be a "normal" pair of headphones which you could just demo for an hour or so. These headphones required you to actually buy them, install them in your system, set them up the way you want them, let the headphones break in and then let your ears acclimatize themselves.

 

But even armed with this knowledge I still wasn't completely sold on buying them, it's a lot of money to put down on the table when you're not sure if you're going to like something or not. But one day I spotted a mint second hand pair from a professional reseller at a price that was just too good to pass on. So I decided just to go for it -  "heck for that price I can probably sell them for the same again if I don't like them" I said to myself.

 

And away from the pressure of the demo room I slowly began to warm to the HD800's and appreciate what's so special about them. This isn't really a headphone that's built to be a headphone, this is a set of headphones that's supposed to sound like a pair of speakers standing in front of you.

 

I have never before or since had a pair of headphones that image so well, it is simply uncanny and something that has to be experienced. Since they are so transparent they also respond extremely well to tweaking. If you change a cable, change the source or give them a +2 dB bass boost you can really hear the difference. This is both good and bad; it is good because they respond very well to changes down the line. It is bad because they are extremely demanding; if you have unclean power in your home, a low quality DAC, a humming amp or a low quality recording you will hear it.

 

And in this regard the HD800's are extremely unflattering, they will show absolutely no mercy towards bad recordings. On the other hand; if you give them top-notch components and a good recording they will blow almost everything else out of the water. This is why I like to think of the HD800's as a highly strung F1 car. They can be a pair of demanding son-of-a-somethings, but if you get them set up right... boy do they perform.

 

As such I highly recommend the HD800's, I've derived tons of listening pleasure from mine. It is a headphone that I like to think can do things which no other headphone can. But it is also a headphone that's best purchased when you've already owned a couple of other headphones, and you already have a very competent DAC and AMP setup. Even then it might not be a pair of headphones that you want to use all the time, or for all your recordings. But with the right setup, and the right recordings, you can experience "moments of greatness" which few other headphones can match.

Posted

Pros: Transparent, neutral, huge soundstage, realism, clear, sennheiser style sound, open, imaging, extension, almost perfect

Cons: Unforgiving, price

I write this review after having owned these headphones for about 10 months. I currently amp them with an O2 and use an Odac as source, but I intend to upgrade the amp to something like the LP G109.

I previously owned the HD600, but I sold them because I didn't use them anymore. I also own a pair of Amperiors.

First of all, these cans are not basslight or bright like many say. I find them just neutral. Bass is deep and hits hard when it needs to. In comparison, I found HD600 a little rough on  treble and a little too much on the warm side of neutral. HD800s are very detailed, they project a huge and immersive soundstage, and they make the sound FEEL like real. Imaging is very precise and they have exceptional transparency.I feel mids to be very natural but not emphatised like on LCD2 or HE500, they are clear but not aggressive. Mids felt much more natural and transparent than HD600s. Highs are well extended and balanced in my opinion, maintaining part of the caracteristic SEnn house sound but with improved clarity and , most of all, no more forgiveness. After extensive comparisons, I didn't feel them to be harsh or aggressive, just reproducing the content of the track. HD600s exposed pronounced sibilance sometimes, but with HD800s it was not the case.Some people may not like them because they have not an euphoric sound (HD600s do), but personally I love them. If you love absolute neutrality and transparency and have spare money, these are the best. If you love euphoric tube sound or warmth or a fun signature or overemphatised bass and treble , these are not for you.

 

ADDED:

I want to add other impressions about their sound. About the bass, it's so good, so clear but still so deep, giving you a proper sense of presence. Perfect. About the sound signature, i think Sennheiser definitely nailed it. The particular treble response is the fruit of years of work and careful adjustment in my opinion, because it makes the sound so damn real, it adds another dimension to music, wich becomes vivid with a new and clear depth. The sound is so supremely textured and detailed, involving. Definitely not an usual headphone experience, and in fact some people don't like it. Definitely not a colored or stereo sounding headphone. The sound is not direct : it's multidimensional. If you don't understand this, you won't enjoy their full potential.

Posted

Pros: Huge soundstage, high speed, great with all types of music. Very comfortable.

Cons: Very picky about source and amp. Cable is arguably poor, so overall expensive to get the best results from. The painted plastic frame is a bit tacky.

I'm going to borrow a quote from jpelg who sumed them up nicer than I can in one of the meet threads:

 

Quote:
After finally hearing the HD800's (both balanced & SE), I can understand the varied impressions that resulted from these this past year. They are quite the chameleon, sharing qualities with the venerable HD650, as well as electrostats. Again, the reference quality is clearly evident, and they are very sensitive to changes in associated gear. I'd even go as far to say that they are a bit finicky, because one errant piece of gear, or even recording, can cause them to lack a certain cohesiveness. Still, they are top cans, and worthy of spending time & money building your system around.

Posted

Pros: Similar speed and agility to stats

Cons: No soul

An expensive, technically proficient headphone that has no soul.  Does mate well with the Luxman P-1 or P1-u, but at that point, why not go electrostatic, which is what these are trying to be in the first place.  Kudos to Senn for innovation, but these are just too steely for my tastes.

Posted

Pros: Accuracy Comfort

Cons: Price- First hours of listening were a little worrying

Hi there,
This review is based on my honest impressions of the HD800. I have no technical background little technical knowledge but I listen to music an awful lot. This comes from the heart and I in no way intend to cause any personal offence to any of the gear anyone else has. I simply wish to put on record what my personal findings have been on this set of phones and the reader can compare to other reviews out there.
First of all, I have to say it has not been possible to find a way to give you an unbiased comparison of these headphones against any others on the market. This is because double blind testing only works when you are using ancillary equipment.
If you know your existing headphones then you know how they feel on your head so this immediately destroys any chance of knowing what the true differences are. Leaving aside all the tricks your ears can and will play on you....
This is a good and a bad thing. On the one hand it gives reviews like this an added importance to the prospective buyer and on the other hand theee is no esy of proving whether any of this is correct.
The closest one might get to a really good comparison would be those people lucky enough to have a sound card dac or headphone amplifier that had 2 headphone outputs. Switching between headphones could therefore be done faster and the memory of the sound characteristics of each arguably clearer in one's mind. I believe jude has a benchmark dac that has this facility. The added complication is that every headphone has a slightly different sensitivity so volume matching is arguably needed. I have not got these facilities they are more suited to the regular reviewers out there.
I have had the hd800s since early December 2012 so have listened to them for several hundred hours. I have owned denon ahd2000's westone um2s shure ecl5s ue triple fi 10s monster gratitudes klipsch x10is srx mk3 pros and audeze lcd2's during this time. A comparison between these headphones is all I can do. There might be headphones out yhere that blow the hd800s out of the water for the type of sound quality I like but that's the mystique of our hobby- we will never truly know what the best out there is. David Mahler must be getting there with the number of top end phones he has I guess. But for mere mortals....
The hd800s are my favourite headphones. Whatever I plug them into whatever music I listen to. When it is practical to listen through them (they leak a huge amount of sound) they're amazing. The music is reproduced in a way I never believed was possible until I heard them. The audeze lcd2's are renowned for the live feel and the bass they produce and their beautiful finish. All of this I believe to be true from the time I owned them. My ears much preferred the sound of the hd800s and I will try to explain why.
There is something about the precision of the mix of the music the wideness of the sound that I have not experienced with any other headphone in the same way. The hd800s to my ears excel in this aspect. You will read numerous articles which will make you think twice about spending so much money on these phones. I have read they need hugely expensive headphone amplifiers , dacs, cabling, modding, 100s of hours of burn in time, special recordings, special ears probably. The list is endless. Who knows maybe some of that stuff is right especially for those who have pursued those paths to the nth degree.
Some of these paths are expensive toll roads, from my viewpoint I think I'll catch the bus biggrin.gif
I am therefore not going to describe the hd800s as having shortcomings of needing any of the above because my ears are telling me they don't. Which is surely good news if youve just spent $1500.
Other criticism I've read is that they sound harsh or the treble has too much 'sparkle'. Not to my 46 year old ears they don't. Not one bit. The higher frequency stuff sounds just great. Another criticism levelled is that they lack bass. Again, I have found this to be untrue. All instrumemts are presented accurately so if there's metallica softly tapping way at the drums on enter sandman or the orchestra limbering up on jeff waynes the eve of the war it's worth taking some time out to hear it if you haven't before.
The only detrimental thing I can say beyond the obvious that they leak sound is that when I first listened to them out of the box they sounded very thin and strained like a cheap pair of iems. This was quite worrying to me. They started to improve after a few minutes and certainly gave me a sigh of relief after 30 minutes when I realised my new phones werent broken. Whether this phenomenon was what is described as burn in or whether it was down to the headphones being cold having been stored in a box for a long time I could not tell you. I left the phones connected to an ipod night and day for a week listening to them when I had a chance. This was just as much to make absolutely sure there wasn't a manufacturer fault than it was to burn them in and it did the phones no harm at all in the process. In hindsight I had nothing to fear but for those of you buying new I would advise it for the peace of mind that you haven't got a broken pair
I find most of the headfiers out there are on a budget. Am I right? If I had a budget of $1500 and I wanted to get the best sound quality I could I would buy a pair of these 2nd hand and spend the rest on wine, women (your loved ones deserve a treat for letting you get these), and song.
I hope I have not trodden on anyone's toes or caused anyone any upset in writing this. It was a simple impulsive wish to share some of the pleasure I have had in owning this amazing set of headphones. smily_headphones1.gif

Posted

Get a different cable. One fault is the stock cable of the hd800, it's 36AWG, perhaps the bottleneck you are finding with this headphone. Get a different cable because the anemic bass and the hot treble on this is mainly due to this fault in engineering, using 18awg will make it a lot better

Posted

Pros: Bass, Mids, Highs, Soundstage, Solid Construction, Supreme Comfort

Cons: Needs better cable to excel, paint job a little fragile

P1050650.jpg
 
What is there to say about the new flagship Sennheiser that hasn't already been said over the past year.  With that in mind, I will give my impressions about this headphone and why I believe that most people that don't like it haven't listened to it properly amped and for long enough time.  This is a headphone that easily wows for the first few minutes you try it on....often blowing away any other headphones you've heard before.  However after that initial honeymoon is over, many are very bothered by the highs, lack of bass, large soundstage on certain kinds of music, and being overly analytical.  To me, the HD800 is very much of a Chameleon, like the Stax SR-007 Omega, meaning that even though they are easily amped, they are extremely revealing of the power, source, cables, amp, etc. and will drastically change in sound signature depending on what equipment you have them hooked up to.
 
As other have said, these are probably the biggest and most comfortable headphones you'll try on.  They are so airy that you don't feel that your ears are enclosed inside the cup of a headphone.  The construction is impeccable with perfect weight distribution and styling to match.  The cable / connectors are very well designed for a stock cable and reeks of quality.  I upgraded mine eventually and found there to be positive benefits.  Otherwise, the paint can get slightly dinged up over time, but that is nitpicking.
 
These headphones are ruthless (much like the Stax O2) and have caused me to upgrade my source to a Perfectwave DAC and my amp to a Woo Audio 5.  Even then I wasn't content and had to roll in a bunch of tubes until I found the ones that had the best definition, bass, and impact.  Because of the difficult nature of these, I've had a love hate relationship with them but believe that I've recently built my system such that I'm extremely happy with them with almost all music I listen to.   I have tried the HD650, Denon D7000, Beyerdynamic T1, Hifiman HE-5, and Stax Omega 2 hoping that they will displace my HD800s, but at the end none of those were good enough in my eyes to keep.
 
For people that own HD650s, you will be in for quite a change of sound.  Gone is the Sennheiser veil and the enclosed soundstage, but the mids in my eyes are pretty close to the signature Sennheiser sound.  When not amped properly, these will sound thin, sibilant, with too much instrument separation.  When properly amped with an amp that has enough power and has a sound signature that will complement the HD800s, they will have the deepest bass you will hear (if the song is meant to have bass), wonderful instrument separation and soundstage, and beautiful highs without being sibilant or shrill.  Because they have such an amazing dynamic range, songs are rendered beautifully, with good timbre, and with a ton of impact.  Songs that have acoustic passages like jazz or guitars are the best I've ever experienced by far.  Granted they are not bassy like the D7000s, but in my eyes those are overly bassy even on songs / passages that aren't meant to be.  On a good system play "Hyper-Ballad" by Bjork and you will be amazed by how deep these headphone can go, its astonishing!
 
With all of this said, I highly recommend these headphones only if you are willing to invest in the rest of your system to make these shine.  There are easier headphones out there such as the T1, but in my book the HD800 rewards extremely well as your system progresses up.  I also suggest that you don't look into too many people's impressions of these based of a few hours of listening because they require a whole lot more time to adjust to and fully appreciate.  As for price, based on the recent trend of headphone flagship pricing (Audeze LCD-2, Stax O2, AKG K1000, Beyer T1, W5000) I think they are very appropriately priced for their amazing technical proficiency that I find unrivaled, especially in the dynamic headphone arena.  Good job Sennheiser!! Its pretty obvious that you have spend countless years of R&D to make these headphones just right!!
Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones
Description:

There has always been a debate between electronic reproduction and natural sound. The Sennheiser HD-800 is the headphone that has been specifically engineered in replicating the basic acoustic conditions of natural hearing. This level of performance has yet to be matched by any competitor. The HD-800 is the ultimate headphone to deliver nature. More than 60 years of ingenious headphone engineering has been applied into the new HD 800. Incorporating Sennheiser's most advanced driver technology, these open, circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones redefine what reference-level audio is all about. You will form an altogether new height of sonic perspective as you experience a high-fidelity natural hearing experience. Premium parts have gone into their production - the transducer is encased by a precision material made of stainless steel; ear pads are made of special high-quality Japanese Alcantara; while the headband and headphone mounting utilizes the most advanced development from the aerospace industry. In terms of connectivity, these headphones utilize specially designed, four-wire, high-performance connections with Teflon insulation. These headphones have been developed to provide the closest match to "being there" than any other available headphone. The Sennheiser HD-800 is for the discriminating audiophile seeking the best and most natural sound available. From rich bass lows to definitive highs, the Sennheiser HD-800 headphones deliver the exclusive sound that nature had intended. Frequency Response - 14 - 44,100 Hz (- 3 dB) Nominal Impedance - 300 Ohms Contact Pressure - 3.4 N (+- 0.3 N) approx. Transducer Principle - Dynamic, open Thd - =0.02 % (1kHz/1Vrms) Characteristic Spl - 102 dB (1kHz/1Vrms) Cable Length - 9.84 feet (3m) Oxygen Free Cable Adapter - 1/4 (6.3 mm) stereo jack Sennheiser 2 year warranty

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandSennheiser
EAN4044156002354
FeatureSpecially tuned symmetrical, impedance matching cable with low capacitance
LabelSennheiser
List Price$1,399.95
ManufacturerSennheiser
ModelHD800
MPNHD800
Package Quantity4
Product GroupCE
Product Type NameHEADPHONES
PublisherSennheiser
StudioSennheiser
TitleSennheiser HD800 Premier Headphone
UPC615104102958
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC

Related Media/Links:

Sennheiser HD800 Reference Class Headphone from Sennheiser USA

 

Product video from SennheiserUSA.com: http://www.sennheiserusa.com/product-video-HD800

 

Sennheiser HD 800 Review from Digital Trends

 

 

Technical Data

Cable length 9.8 ft. (3 m)
Contact pressure 3.4 N (± 0.3 N) approx.
Ear coupling Around-the-ear
Frequency response (headphones) 6 – 51,000 Hz (- 10 dB), 14 - 44,100 Hz (- 3 dB)
Jack plug ¼” (6.3 mm) stereo jack
Nominal impedance 300 Ω
Sound pressure level (SPL) 102 dB (1kHz/1Vrms)
Total harmonic distortion (THD) ≤0.02% (1kHz/1Vrms)
Transducer principle Dynamic, open
Weight w/o cable 9.2 oz. (260 g)

 

 

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