Pros: Detailed, balanced, powerful
Cons: Somewhat heavy, warm, expensive
I haven't had the chance to audition the new Audeze phones, but it would difficult to fault the sound and build quality of Senn's HD800 - a model that has been praised by some as the best dynamic headphone, ever. Given its vintage as top of Sennheiser line, and considering its price, it's necessary to elevate expectations. This is a fine headphone - but there's a lot to expect. However, instead of regurgitating a fine review like Skylab - whose systematic evaluation covers the important points - it may be just as important to provide a more personal review of these phones.
What I Didn't Like
1. Weight. While I've owned heavier headphones (including all-wood designs), the HD800 is fairly heavy. Some of the wood/leather models compensate with a pleasing balance; one can easily imagine wearing them for extended periods of time. Compared to the lightness of, say, an AKG-K701, which can be used alternately as ear-muffs, the HD800's heft leaves one feeling that it should be used for less extended listening.
2. Comfort. There's no question, Sennheiser has done an impressive job balancing sound and comfort. The padded cups don't exert too much pressure - though my basic objection to weight remains. Compare this to, say, the airy, soft DT-880 and you'll see where Senn has fallen short. If anything, the HD-800 is closer to a musical instrument than a standard headphone.
3. Cost. I don't intend to use a term like "value" - if you're paying over a grand for headphones, value isn't a paramount issue. But the release of other top headphones (like the highly regarded Audeze and Tesla models) has put Sennheiser in a delicate position. Senn steadfastly holds to its $1399 price, despite the fact that its cost should be closer to $1100.
What I Liked
1. Detail. These phones emphasize quality bass and detailed mids, giving a convincing sense of accuracy. The more you spend on a pair of headphones, the more subtle the differences in sound; however, with the HD-800, one comes away with the feeling that the music takes priority. I'd have to say that a K701 will excel with classical or chamber music, but less intimate music is served well by Senn's approach.
2. Brightness. There's no question, the HD-800 sound errs closer to a brighter sound - but that happens to work to my advantage. I've always disliked the Senn HD-650 - with its finicky bass; the HD-800 seems brighter, clearer, and (important) closer to the true sound of a recording. Trebly? Indeed, but it seems right. You rarely feel the power of music viscerally, but it's all there. over a wide range of genres.
3. Build. As you'd expect, the HD-800 has a rock-solid build. To be honest, I'd prefer real metal over faux metal, but in terms of overall quality, these phones are reassuringly strong. One small issue - springs might flex from time to time - hasn't emerged as a problem at all.
There's probably no such thing as a "perfect" headphone, but it's still advice to remain true to your musical tastes. I'll continue to use the AKG-K701 for classical, and I admit that I'd want more overall excitement in my tunes, but accuracy and quality is hard to fault.