Pros: Soundstage, Detail, Layering, FR Response
Cons: Unreleting Accuracy
There are so many review of the HD800 and for my review, I wanted to take a different approach, a more personal, emotional view.. YMMV.. here we go..
First, let me address my POV on some of the key points of other reviews/comments/forum posts:
- Sibilance/ 6Khz peak: I simply don't hear it. I came from the HD700 and definitely heard the treble peaks there. The HD800 seems pretty flat to me across the spectrum. I'm definitely going to try the Anaxilus 2.0 mod, but I'm in no real hurry.
- Source/Amp Dependant: Oh Yes.. maybe thats the magic behind the HD800.. they definitely scale up. They're listenable through something as simple as the AudioQuest DragonFly and scale way, way up form there. Give that, my thoughts are based on the HD800 and Woo Audio WA7 combination. This is as much a review/thoughts on the WA7 delivers as it is specifically to the HD800.
- MythBuster: You don't have to have TOTL source/DAC/Amp to enjoy the HD800! I won't recommend a FiiO E10 with them but in the $1K range, you can start to hear the potential. Choose carefully and you will be rewarded.
- Cables: Although I have the fabulous Q silk cable, I decided to conduct this review with the stock cable. This provides a better baseline. USB cable is the NuForce USB and that's about it.
- (Update) Source: 2012 MacMini with Audirvana Plus on top of iTunes.
There are two district areas of my home office. The main setup is my desk with my MacMini, Woo WA7 and HD800 where I generally hang out listening to music while surfing, working or processing pictures in LightRoom and the other side where I have my recliner and immerse myself in the music with the lights out and the room lit by a single candle and the glow of the WA7 fireflies. In my office chair, I can get analytical and pick apart my system and in my recliner I can just sit back with a dram of Single Malt and just enjoy. This review is about the latter.
My HeadFi journey has been relatively short compared to others and I feel like I'm reaching my end state. Not quite there yet, but I feel like I'm getting there. For me, the HD800 is about the music, it's layers, depth, air, detail and how the music was recorded along with the artists individuality. The only way I can explain this is by my reflections of some of my favourite songs. So, here it goes..
The Longest Road, Deadmou5 ReMix by Morgan Page (iTues download). The song start with a brilliant baseline centre stage and brings in keyboards escalating and surrounding it in multiple dimensions. The vocalist, Lisse, is dead centre stage during the main parts of the song and moves off to both sides for the chorus. Her voice is haunting and I can imagine see her face and expressions throughout the track. The music, it's dimensionality and simple layers takes me beyond the music into another world. I can feel and almost see her passion and know that she's having fun with this. Yes, its an iTunes download and I wish the bass was smoother and more solid but there's more to it than the technicalities.
Somewhere Down the Crazy River, Robbie Roberstson (CD rip to Apple Lossless). Robbie's voice is deep and passionate taking me down deep into the souther states somewhere down the crazy river right into Nick's Cafe. He tells the story and I'm right there. The music is dimensional all around me while with the voice and lyrics paints a realistic visual picture for me.
Adele 21 (CD rip to Apple Lossless).. what can I say. This lady has been hurt bad and is reflected in her voice and music. Simply Brilliant.
Eva Cassidy (CD rip to Apple Lossless)... simplicity, brilliance and one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. Her voice music is dreamy and suck me right in. Could listen to her forever.
Black Magic Woman, Patricia Barber (SA/CD rip to Apple Lossless). This has to be one of the best recorded tacks I have ever heard. Sexy and sultry voice with a band that is as incredible as she is. I'm not a musician and don't know instruments very well but when I listen to the track, I can envision the bass player, the organist and guitarist, hear/see their fingers as they finesse their instruments all in harmony making great music.
The Girl From Ipanema, Frank Sinatra (CD to Apple Lossless). Wow! I had no idea that recording were that good in the 50's. Frank has to have one of the greatest and smoothest voices ever recored. The guitar, piano and string are simple in structure but definitely realistic and enveloping. I can listen to each individually or bring my self back to hear the entire ensemble.
One More Night, Cutmore Club Mix, Maroon 5 (iTunes download). Ok, I just want to crank it, get up and dance when this track is on. Not a great recording but the bass is powerful and the passion comes through in the lyrics.; probably because I can relate. Who gives a cr@p about the technicalities, this is just fun! Absolutely love it!!
Fleurs Du Mal, Sarah Brightman (CD to Apple Lossless): As much as I love her voice and the symphonic rock melody of this track, the recording just sucks. What a pity! This could be a reference track for the HD800 but the poor recording/mixing is evident. The HD800 brings out every poor detail and that can be said of most poorly recorded tracks. Congested and distorted. The HD800 lays out the simple truth.
I could go on and on with other examples with some of my favourites being Dire Straits, Enigma, Moodswings, Supertramp, Loreena McKennitt, Michael Buble and more.
For me, the HD800 is about the emotion it brings it like no other headphone I have owned. I love to hear and listen to the different layers in complex music as well as appreciate simple compositions. I love the ability to pick out and place voices and instruments in 3D space and then move back and hear/see how they come together in a great song. I could listen to a single track and get something new out of it each time I hear it be it 10 times or 300 times.
Sometimes is just about listening beyond the technicalities. For example, I probably have similar comments with the HiFiMAN HE500 which is a brilliant headphone but somehow comes across dry and unemotional. The music is there, it's good but just sounds like a good recording.. something is missing for me.
Is the HD800 perfect, not really. I find it lifelike and deeply immersive with the right type of music. The air, detail, layering and soundstage all contribute but taken as a whole, there is something special there. This is the first headphone that I have owned where I can listen at low volumes and hear everything or just crank it and have fun without fatigue.
At times, I'd like to get the feeling like I was in a club back into the 80's dancing to When I Rome (The Promise), Frankie goes to Hollywood (Relax), Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys.. or just losing myself in Deadmou5 or Lindsey Stirling… you get it. The HD800 does not do that (so much) for me so I'll be looking for a compliment to them. Maybe different source/amp or another pair of complimentary headphones depending on my budget. For everything else, they're definitely a keeper for me. If you've got the budget to tailor your source/amp to your liking, this could be pretty much an end game.