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Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones

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Rated #5 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, build, looks

Cons: Unforgiving, way overpriced, etched and slightly artificial detail, vocals lack some smoothness, sibilance, HD600 is better imo

All in all I would say a pretty neutral sound with very good extension on either sides and very very good soundstage. Very trasparent. Sometimes still a bit hard on the ears and sibilant, definitely not as neutral as HD600. Pretty balanced sound signature but with a treble peak.

Sound is very good and clear but not good at all for the price. Bass has impact and extension, mids are very trasparent and realistic, higs have an annoying peak but otherwise are extended and balanced. Detail retrieval is very high but because of a peak in the treble it often feels artificial. Great impression of realism but sound is actually not very realistic. You always feel that peak. I preferred HD600s in the end, I found them to be superior in pretty much any area except soundstage width.

Comfort is great, they almost disappear and never touch the ears; build quality is very high too. Cable feels very very high quality. And they look really awesome.

 

Sound: 9.0

Value: 4

Comfort: 10-

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: Massive soundstage. Very high-resolution sound with low resonance. Very comfortable. Quality construction.

Cons: Not natural sounding; the tonality is bright with a lack of proper body and weight to the sound. Paint job fragile. Overpriced.

1000

 

I purchased this headphone for full retail price a couple of years ago, and in the beginning, I felt very positive about it. But things change, and as I got to try many other high end offering by other manufacturers, as I got to try this headphone with different amps, sources, cables and so forth, I have come to the conclusion that this headphone is perhaps the most overhyped piece of audio gear in the head-fi industry. The truth hurts, but you learn from your mistakes. 

 

As controversial as it may be, I felt the need to change my positive review and write what I feel about the HD 800s.

 

To start with the positive, build quality and ergonomics here are great. This is a very cool-looking, precisely designed headphone that makes a luxurious impression, especially when resting in the storage box. The headband adjustment mechanism feels very well constructed. The earpad/headband material attracts dirt and dust like crazy, but feels great to the touch and is very comfortable against the skin for extended listening sessions. The plastic doesn't feel as great as the aluminum on the STAX SR-009, but is really solid nonetheless. I'm a bit sceptical about the paint job though; the finish is fragile and will tear if you don't treat the headphone carefully. 

 

The cable is very well made; thick, non-microphonic, with a really hefty, quality 6,3mm plug at the end. 

 

Comfort is absolutely first rate. The headphone is a bit on the heavy side and after several hours, the headband starts to feel uncomfortable on top of my head, but that may just be me. The earcup pressure is just perfect and the headphone almost feels like it disappears from your head after a while. The large space inside the earcups coupled with the open design makes sure you never get hot or annoyed wearing them.

 

So far, everything is good.

 

Sound wise, this is a very clean sounding headphone. Sennheiser did a great job designing a headphone with minimal resonance factor and muffling of the audio. As a result, the HD 800 is very resolving and therefore picky about the source gear, and especially recording quality. Lesser recordings simply will not do this headphone justice. Of course, this resolving sound signature will allow for very crisp detail. 

 

Those large, angled ring-drivers also provide a very large soundstage, with great sense of depth and layering. Room acoustics come through very naturally and the headphone is very good at separating dense, orchestral music. 

 

BUT, the tonality just isn't realistic. The overall signature is a bit bright - especially in the 6khz area - which gives the impression of more details, but becomes tiresome to listen to after a while. Cymbals sound to splashy, violins sound to shiny, sibilant sounds are over-accentuated - things just *don't sound like real life*. (Granted, like most Sennheiser headphones the HD 800 is laid-back and quite smooth sounding, so it's not biting or piercing the way Ultrasone and Grado headphones tend to be.)

The same goes with the bass. I find the bass very tightly controlled, but neither well extended nor impactful. There isn't enough punch and weight to it, and there's not much warmth either. Drums sound pathetically weak for a headphone priced at $1500 and the midrange suffers from this lack of body. 

Just try to listen to a live jazz band performing, and then go listen to the HD 800. It doesn't sound AT ALL alike. The string bass sounds present, full and thick in real life. It sounds thin and lifeless on the HD 800. 

 

The midrange could've been so good if the frequency extremes were more natural, because the openness of the HD 800 really allows for a very airy, clear midrange. But instead, things sound dry. Even with great recordings, there's always a certain degree of thinness and brightness to the music, with some grain and sharpness to the upper midrange. You hear the guitar very clearly, with excellent crispness, but the sound of the box of the guitar is subdued. Female vocals, a particular weakness of mine, sound a bit articifical, if only slight. But at this price, "slight" turns to "significant". 

With a Cardas cable, the sound gains a bit more body and slightly less glare to the treble, which is a good thing. But it still doesn't make the headphone entirely neutral, and let's face it; why in the name of god should you have to buy an aftermarket cable for hundreds of dollars to get the sound right with your $1500 high-end, flagship headphone from a large company like Sennheiser? 

 

There is a lot of talk around the forums that the HD 800 really needs a great tube amp to sound it's best. And that's true. I've heard the HD 800 with the Leben CS300 and while the combo didn't win me over, it sounded very good. Much more body and no treble glare left to speak of. But my opinion is this: if you have to use a tube amp to *change* the sound of the headphone in order to make it sound good, then that ruins the idea a bit. A tube amp like the Leben colors the sound; it adds distortion, makes things different than what's originally intended. This goes against my idea of high-end hifi: a clean path through the entire audio chain. I think the source chain should be as neutral and as transparent as possible with minimal distortion, in order to make the headphones themselves shine through fully and display their respective strengths. This is the proper way of judging the sound of a headphone, isn't it? 

If you have two really expensive cars, you should use a track that's optimal for them to achieve high performance. If both cars have their different weaknesses, no modifications should be enabled to each, and no changes should be made to the track to cover up those weaknesses. That would be cheating! 

And that goes here as well, it's just that instead of two cars you have two different sounding headphones and instead of track you have your source chain. This is, of course, my opinion only. But I hope it's a reasonable explanation to why I don't think a tube amp should be used to judge a headphone. I feel you should judge the original, intended sound of the headphone. 

 

And driven from a neutral system, the HD 800 fails to impress. My positive impression of it has gone colder and colder, and I have now sold it. The sad truth is that not only do I prefer pretty much every STAX headphone made, the Audeze LCD-2 and the Beyerdynamic T1 to the HD 800 - I even prefer many cheaper headphones to the HD 800, like Sennheiser's own HD600, HD650 and even the portable momentum, which is a fantastic sounding headphone and my only headphone at this time. No, the Momentum, HD 600, HD 650 and even the LCD-2 don't have the openness and crispness of the HD 800, but they are all more neutral, easier on the ears and more fun to listen to. The HD 800 just comes down dull and clinical compared to most. 

 

It's a shame, but it's what I honestly feel. And no matter how many people who will hate me for saying it, I think the HD 800 is a failed, if ambitious, achievement by Sennheiser. The HD 700 made the sound fuller and warmer, but instead made the treble even brighter end quite edgy, so that one wasn't right either. If you want the best from Sennheiser, the HD 600/650 with a replacement cable and a great system is what you want. 

 

If you want better options at this price, the Beyerdynamic T1, LCD-2 and the cheaper STAX offerings are recommended. 

 

 

 

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

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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