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Another Sennheiser HD800 First Impression

post #1 of 150
Thread Starter 
Yesterday evening (Wednesday 1/7) I saw but did not get to hear the Sennheiser HD800 phones before the CES show opened. I posted a few comments about them in Jude’s huge thread. After the show opened today (Thursday 1/8) I got to hear them. I have started a new thread to keep my listening impressions from getting lost in the hundreds of posts in the other thread.

Before I get to my sonic impressions, here’s what I wrote yesterday before I actually got to hear the HD800:

Originally Posted by Bostonears View Post
I too am out at CES in Las Vegas, where it is now after midnight. (I work in the video side of the consumer electronics business.) Purely by chance, I happened to see a Sennheiser HD800 on static display this evening. The Sennheiser rep declined to let me listen to them before the trade show opens on Thursday. However, I can add a few comments.

These are clearly 21st century headphones. They look quite slick in person, and the build quality appears to be excellent.

The Sennheiser rep told me that the engineers specifically chose not to use metal for the frame because of undesirable reverberations. The Leona plastic they chose is supposedly much better in that regard.

I was briefly able to try the HD800 on my head (not hooked up to any source). I thought the headband comfort was fantastic, but I wasn’t too keen on the earpads. (Of course, other users might feel differently.)

The physical size of the ear space is noticeably larger than the HD580/600/650. If you felt suffocated wearing those, the HD800 should be welcome relief.

The HD800 was amazingly transparent to outside sound. That is, with no source hooked up, it sounded almost like I wasn’t wearing any headphones at all.

The cable appears to be higher quality than the old HD600 series cable, and is said to be silver-plated copper. The cable connectors are definitely non-standard. They use two small pins recessed within round metal surrounds, rather than protruding from plastic as in the old design. The connectors seem much sturdier than the old style, and it might be a while before third party cable makers duplicate them.

I don't expect street prices to get below full MSRP until the HD800 supply exceeds demand. If Sennheiser really is hand making them in Germany, that could be a long wait.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear the HD800 at the show.
On the show floor at CES, Sennheiser had a glass enclosed listening room dedicated to the HD800. The room was decently isolated, but some background noise from the show floor still got through. In it were an EMMlabs CD transport, connected via AES/XLR digital output to a Benchmark DAC1 (original version). Plugged into the DAC1 were both the HD800 and the HD650 for comparison. I own a Benchmark DAC1 Pre and the HD650, so I had a good reference point to what was in the booth. And, among the case full of demo CDs that Sennheiser had in the booth were two that I personally own and am very familiar with. I got to listen to those CDs and another that was already in the transport for five or ten minutes, switching back and forth between the HD800 and the HD650. In general, the sound signature between the two was quite similar, but the HD800 had a dramatically larger soundstage (and I mean dramatically larger). Indeed the only headphone I’ve ever heard with a larger soundstage than the HD800 was the AKG K1000 I used to own. Other sonic differences between the HD650 and the HD800 were fairly subtle. The HD800 highs and lows were more extended, but of the same character as the HD650. In the short time that I listened in that environment, I couldn’t really distinguish much more than that. The other obvious difference between the two phones was comfort. For those who have endured the dreaded HD600/650 head clamp, the HD800 is incredibly comfortable. I would prefer that the HD800 earpads be a little thicker, but they were acceptable. And as I mentioned in my prior comments, the physical space for the ears is much larger in the HD800, which relieves that suffocating presence of the HD650s. I expect that the HD800 would be well suited to long listening sessions with minimal fatigue.

The big question, of course, is whether the HD800 is worth the $1399 price. Each Head-Fi person will have to decide that for him or herself. The current favorite headphone that I own is a lowly Denon AH-D2000 which was heavily modified with a variant of the “Markl mods”, as well as the Lawton Audio mahogany wood replacement cups and a DIY cable upgrade. I prefer it easily over the HD650. (That comparison, which I did in the leisure of my own home over a couple of weeks was no contest.) Given that I wasn’t able to compare the HD800 directly to my D2000, you can take my following comments with a grain of salt. I prefer the bass of my modded D2000 over that of the HD800. The open air design of the HD800 just can’t match the closed design of the Denons in the low end, particularly with the Markl mods keeping the D2000 bass well under control. The Lawton wood cups for the D2000 are somewhat larger than the stock cups, and they create a larger soundstage, but the HD800 soundstage was larger still. The HD800 wins there. I can’t really assess the midrange and treble, or many other sonic characteristics, of the HD800 vs. the modded D2000 without hearing them side by side. My Denon D2000 cost me about $550 including all the mods, and with the Lawton cups, they sound mighty sweet. I almost hate to say this because I really do like the HD800, but with the new Sennheiser priced at well over double what I paid for the modded D2000, I’m going to stick with the Denon. If, however, I were specifically looking to get new open phones, I would have to consider the HD800 as the front runner.
post #2 of 150
Man, thanks for the ground-breaking news on an earthquaking(hopefully, cuz that's what people - 38,000+ views of people on a thread in a few measly hours - are hoping for) headphone from the very respected Sennheiser.

What am I getting at?

Were these headphones burnt-in?

post #3 of 150
dam, $1400?! thats more the UE-11's
post #4 of 150
The hype needed to be knocked back a few notches. It was already getting way passed the point of unrealistic expecations.

Thanks for the [still positive] review.
post #5 of 150
Awesome review! Not much difference to the HD650 sonically-wise?
post #6 of 150
I'd definitely like to see how these headphones play out over the next couple of years or so when people are 'comfortable' with them. When new phones come out, they usually are always surrounded by hype... $1400 is a ton of money, so I'll have to see how these things play out over the long term.
post #7 of 150
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by denl82 View Post
Were these headphones burnt in?
I assume that they had some burn in time, but I don't know how much.

Originally Posted by HeadFi Fanatic View Post
Not much difference to the HD650 sonically-wise?
I wouldn't quite put it that way. The sound stage difference alone was HUGE.
post #8 of 150
thx for the review. The sennheiser HD800 sounds very good from the benchmark DAC1, which is just an OK source, from your impression. Therefore, I will expect It will sound fantastic from better source.
post #9 of 150
really thanks for all this review. i really do not know how can this price be acceptable to market? or SEN have further product with more friendly price. it is said that sen have three edition of HD800.
post #10 of 150
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by d_rayman View Post
thx for the review. The sennheiser HD800 sounds very good from the benchmark DAC1, which is just an OK source, from your impression. Therefore, I will expect It will sound fantastic from better source.
I find the DAC1 PRE to be an excellent headphone amp, and it's a killer good DAC. (Its headphone section should be better than the original DAC1.) It is extremely neutral, which works particularly well with woodies that add some euphonic distortion of their own. Open cans like Senns might sound better with amps that do the euphonic distortion.
post #11 of 150
Thanks a lot for the first impressions!
...and nice to see that they stand out (above) the HD650, which sort of is expected.
post #12 of 150
Two things should be considered in the comparison IMO:
1.Has HD800 fully burnt in?
2.Is HD800 fully drived? In fact there wasn't a good-enough headphone amp to drive HD800 in CES2009. DAC1 is just a audio source, not a good amp. So you haven't heard the full power of HD800 yet, Bostonears.
post #13 of 150
Thanks for the mini review and good to know that you've managed to keep your wallet in your pants! It will be interesting as more impressions start to flow in.
post #14 of 150
Thank's for the impressions! Really good to dampen the hype a bit.

The HD580 was also incredibly head-crushingly clampy at first, but with a bit of gentle unclamping around some books, it became very comfortable. So I suppose that comfort could be less of an advantage than said here. (Note that the headband will break if one tries to bend it too much)
post #15 of 150
Did you check out its cable termination ?
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