Pros: Accuracy Comfort(moddable with 30 minutes fully reversible work)-revision Nov 2015-rev 2016 Bass lifted treble spike toned down
Cons: Price- First hours of listening were a little worrying-(treble may eventually grate)Revision Nov 2015 new rev Nov 2016 grating treble all but gone
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
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.
I thought I would tell you of what life is like after a few years of use. I have dropped these phones a few times and had to repair the stock cables at the termination, they have been taken around with me during my journey to and from the various places I live so they show signs of wear.
The HD800s still live up to their initial impressions, I have bought and sold many other phones; LCD2.2, T1, Stax Sigma Pro, IE800, X11i, Alpha Dog, Encore Pro Studio, Stance S1,T20 etc. I have listened to many other phones including the SR009, Orpheus, K1000, Abyss, GS1000i, PS1000, Ultrasone, Noble, LCD3,W1000,HE560 and HE1000. Whilst some of these have been better sounding to me (SR009,K1000,HE1000,Orpheus,Abyss,HE560) I have not been tempted to spend those sorts of sums on replacement.
Some 2 months ago I decided to mod the HD800 using the Anaxilus Mod. I was really disappointed with the results, to me they sounded muffled, lost too much of their soundstage and were too prominent in the bass. Rather than discarding all the research and damping material I decided to tone down the effect of the mod. I put wool felt over the metal rings of the driver reducing the thickness of the original mod by a factor of two thirds.
The cutting is crude, the felt doesn't 100% cover the surface of the ring. It doesn't even stick hard and fast the surface. Yet the felt does what it needs to do.
This has made a noticeable difference in bass response and ringing around the upper treble region, although a word of warning ; the upper mids and treble region is where I believe the magic of the illusion of the huge soundstage is created. Of course the size and angle of the drivers plays a part in the soundstage too , the mod does pull it in. The soundstage is further refined and pulled in with an EQ I have set up on my Audivarna Plus music player.
I am reaping the fruit of my labours with these phones, in spite of the HD800S launch. The S Model is intended to rectify some of the perceived shortcomings of the 800 Model, I have to say I have changed the stock sound of mine using damping and eq to the point where I have no interest in replacing them with the S Model.
There has been one recent major purchase; this is the HE6 and a huge speaker amp based on the First Watt F6, @dill3000 diy built "The Mini Beast". More on that in another review. The HE-6 is a different tone and the soundstage is altogether different. The HD800 is still with me and enjoying a new lease of life despite the HE-6.
Revision Nov 2016
The half felt half lambswool has now been replaced with a full lambswool layer to the ring around the drivers of my HD800.
Listening to the S model made me realise there was still more that should be done with these phones. My friend @dill3000 pointed out to me @Sorrodje had another layer of sophistication to add to the mods already done out there.Dillan got some resonators and I set to work on the drivers. 10 minutes later and I was finished. They work! Wonderful work @Sorrodje. Thank you. You have made the great even greater.
The HD800 , at £1099 , is looking at ever more of a bargain. Although , even with the mods , I would put my money on the S model for the extra £100. the soundstage is not quite so wide and the imaging perhaps not quite so pin sharp, but I think the tonality still just edges it.