Sells for $129Review (Click to show)
I'd like to thank Wolfgang, NuForce's social marketing specialist for contacting me, and giving me the opportunity to test and review the Nuforce HP-800. Very much appreciated.
Okay, so the Nuforce HP-800. Prior to Nuforce contacting me, I must admit, I knew absolutely nothing about the HP-800. All I have known about Nuforce has been what I've read about the quite popular UDAC, UDAC2, Icon, and HDP dac/amps. I certainly had no idea that Nuforce had jumped into the headphone game. The HP-800 is Nuforce's first entry into full-sized headphones.
So the question is: How was Nuforce's first foray into full-sized headphones?
Before I get into the aspects of it's design, I'd like to address one thing: I believe the HP-800 may have been designed with portable use in mind, yet the HP-800 is not portable by any conventional means. It's large, and doesn't fold up in any shape or form. This betrays it's incredibly minimal power requirements. The design will easily place the HP-800 as a home or studio headphone, not a portable one. Quite some large head bling here. The HP-800 does fit well as a transportable headphone, like office or library use with a laptop.
The HP-800 is a fully closed-back headphone which is made up almost entirely of very sturdy and solid feeling plastic in a full black matte finish. That means fingerprint resistant, which is always a good thing. I grow tired of high gloss plastic that looks good as long as you have psychic powers and never physically touch the headphones. The design of the HP-800 is quite minimalistic, which would feel at home next to typical studio headphones you can purchase from the musical instrument section of any major electronics stores like Best Buy. It is almost entirely black, with the only contrasts being the driver covers being red/orange, and a golden metallic 'NU' logo on the center of each outer ear cup.
The headband is of the auto-adjusting, tension/suspension type, similar to the popular AKG K70x line, as well as the recent Philips Fidelio X1. The headband portion that rests on your head is made up of a very rubbery material that has quite a grip. This is the first time I have seen such a material being used, and I'm not sure it was the best choice. I find that this rubbery material is prone to picking up dust and dirt from the air, and is not exactly easy to wipe off.
The top portion that holds the wires that sends audio to the right driver is all plastic, and as such, I wouldn't recommend bending it if you feel like the HP-800 doesn't have enough extension, in fear of possibly snapping the plastic. This makes the HP-800 a possible problem for bigger heads, as you can't really bend the HP-800 in any way, unlike the Fidelio X1 which has a metal band that is easily bent for more extension.
The pads are synthetic leather/pleather. They're quite large, and very soft. Personally (as you may all know by now), I have a strong aversion for pleather pads, so I'm not exactly thrilled by the abundance of it on the HP-800. The pads, while big, don't have the largest openings, and they compress quite easily, so those with larger ears may find their ears pressing up against the driver covers, and inner walls of the pads.
The HP-800's left ear cup comes with a standard 3.5mm input, no locking mechanism, so cable replacement is a breeze. Speaking of the cables, the HP-800 comes with two cables: A cloth-covered long cable that terminates into a 3.5mm plug, with an attached 6.3mm adapter which screws on/off. One of the better stock cables I've ever come across. The shorter, thinner cable doesn't inspire much confidence in it's build quality, and unlike the lengthier cable, lacks proper strain reliefs. I'd stick with the longer cable, or buy a more durable short cable for portable use.
The comfort will be a hit or miss. The HP-800 may be problematic for larger heads, in that there may not be enough clearance, due to the lack of extension. My head fits, but the strong tension causes the cups to want to ride up my ears ever so slightly. This could've been mitigated with a longer extension. As it stands, it is a bit problematic for me personally, as the feeling of the drivers want to slide upwards never ceases.
The headband portion that rests on the top of the head is covered in very rubbery material which can and will grip onto your scalp or hair, so any small adjustments will yank a bit. This is only an issue if you're constantly shifting and readjusting.
The pads are quite soft and plentiful. Being synthetic leather (which I'm not a fan of on ANY headphone), they will heat up and get a little sticky. As mentioned before, the openings aren't the largest in diameter, so larger ears may have to struggle between pressing up to the driver covers and pinching up against the inner pad walls.
The HP-800 is quite lightweight, so they shouldn't pose much of an issue for those with neck problems. All in all, the HP-800 will cater to smaller heads and ears. Everyone else should try and demo these first.
The HP-800 doesn't exude much clamping force, and the little it does have will keep the HP-800 from sliding off the head. Needless to say, the HP-800 has an ideal amount of clamp to my ears without being too loose, or too clampy.
In terms of comfort, the HP-800 is among the better pleather-padded headphones I have reviewed on this guide. That means, that if you don't have a particular distaste for pleather, you may find the HP-800 to be relatively comfortable overall, assuming you have smaller ears. Personally, I find them okay in comfort, and mostly inoffensive, my main issue being the pad material, and the diameter of the openings. If Nuforce manages to update the pads with a bigger diameter, and possibly just a bit larger/deeper, they'd have a solid headphone in terms of comfort overall.
- Not particularly suited for portable use due to a very large frame, despite it's minimal amping requirements.
- Rubbery headband padding may grip onto the scalp/hair, potentially causing discomfort with every minor adjustment. Also picks up dirt/dust easily (the top side of the rubbery headband).
- Pleather pads, while soft, build up heat in a hurry, and will stick to the skin. They also do not have the biggest openings, so those with large ears, take note.
- Lack of extension for larger heads will cause the cups to pull and rise up towards the headband.
The HP-800 comes with:
- One long, durable, cloth-braided cable w/3.5mm plug with an attached screwed on 6.3mm adapter.
- One short, thin cable w/3.5mm plug
- Carrying pouch
The HP-800 as a fully closed-back headphone does incredibly well at keeping it's sound from escaping out into the world. This means that you can blast the HP-800 loudly, and very little will actually leak out, making it an ideal headphone for late night use when you're trying to keep your significant other in the same room from waking up. It's been quite some time since I've heard a headphone control noise leak as well as the HP-800, the last one being the Mad Dogs.
The HP-800 however isn't exactly great at keep external noise from leaking in, so it's not the best at passive noise-cancelling. It's not bad, but not the best.
The HP-800 is unlike anything I've ever heard upon first listen. It's quite warm/dark most of the time, yet spacious, which I usually find to be quite a contradiction. Very much so. Coming off more neutral and brighter offerings, the HP-800 will sound stuffy and muted (it even makes the well known Creative Aurvana Live! sound bright in comparison). In fact, prior to hearing the Sennheiser HD650, my perception of it's sound just based on impressions I've read online (which didn't turn out to be true), I would've thought it'd sound something like how the HP-800 actually sounds like. Dark, creamy, and smooth, if a bit veiled. The only difference being that the HD650 is known for it's stellar and intimate mids, which the HP-800 just does not have.
Quite bassy (okay, VERY bassy), with fairly distant sounding mids, and mellow treble that sounds pretty up to par with the mids. For a closed, dark, mellow sounding headphone, I feel the soundstage to be quite spacious, more than likely due to how distant the mids sound. To be quite honest, I was thrown off by it's sound signature. However, given some time, I adapted to it's tonal characteristics, and found it to have a charm I'd say is all it's own, even though it's still a bit polarizing.
It isn't the most detailed headphone by a stretch, but it is relatively enjoyable, pleasant, and fatigue free. I feel it's best suited for hip hop, and general club music with most importance in the pulse of the rhythm. For this reason, I find the HP-800 to be very genre specific.
All of that being said, the HP-800 is almost a completely different beast for virtual surround gaming use. Even though the headphone is dark and mellow, the linearity between the mids and treble makes it easy to maintain a good mix for gaming purposes. Because bass is situational in gaming and not overly dominant, you can raise volume levels to put the mids and treble into better focus (not overly so), making the HP-800 a competent, fun oriented, gaming headphone.
Huge, dominating, impressive, and ferocious bass. It will be the first thing you immediately notice when listening to the HP-800. However, what sets itself apart, is that the bass is fairly linear (though quite emphasized from the mids and treble ranges). The sub bass is actually quite decent, and the mid bass is proficient in fullness, presence, and control. The bass is on the slower side, but doesn't creep into the mids. I expected this soft, yet full bass to swallow the mids, but the HP-800's control is pretty apparent.
The mids are a paradox on it's own. The HP-800's bass doesn't swallow up the mids, and the treble isn't by any means bright or emphasized over the mids, yet the mids are a bit recessed to my ears. Almost undoubtedly so. The mids are warm and full-bodied, yet...distant. I'm at odds with the HP-800 because of this. It takes time to get used to.
I'm not entirely against recessed mids on a headphone (I do generally like a mild v-shaped sound signature), yet when a headphone is clearly NOT v-shaped, you'd expect mids to be either in tune with the rest of the sound, or up front and center. The HP-800's mids are a little off putting at first. Not a gaping void, but noticeably pushed back.
The treble range is more or less in line with the mids in emphasis, meaning that they aren't in the spotlight, and are just a tad laid back, but not more so than the mids. They are in the comfortable range of being smooth, and sibilance free. Treble in instruments isn't exactly the sharpest, nor the clearest, ultimately making the HP-800 lack just a bit detail.
A bit glossed over, but completely inoffensive to the ears. I find the treble to be a strength when you play the HP-800 at a moderately loud volume, as it never gets harsh. Comparing the treble to the Creative Aurvana Live, I found the HP-800 to sound less detailed, but smoother, and less fatiguing.
The soundstage is a surprisingly good thing in the HP-800. It's wide for a closed headphone, and thought not excelling in depth, there is decent amount of virtual space. I'll touch more on this in the next section.
Positional cues are good. Not great but good. The HP-800 has a pretty good soundstage in width, but not necessarily the best in depth. Also, positional cues in certain angles sound a bit diffused. The HP-800's positional cues take up a bit more virtual space, and aren't as precise. In the end, the HP-800 gets the job done, but there are better, and cheaper in this regard.
Clarity isn't exactly a strong suit in the HP-800. I do find it to be objectively clearer for gaming purposes in virtual surround gaming than it is for stereo/music use (or any non-virtual surround uses for that matter). Due to the fact that the HP-800 is pretty closely even in mids and treble, nothing is lost in between, so within a certain amount of volume, the HP-800 makes a pretty decent gaming headphone, and mitigates the overall darkness somewhat.
You do have to somewhat tune out the abundant amount of bass that leads the mix, though because the bass doesn't smother other details, it isn't that arduous a task. All in all, not the clearest headphone, but relatively stable.
While the HP-800 isn't the most sensitive full-sized headphone I've tested, it truly demands very little amping with a maximum input power of only 30MW. This means that practically any device you hook up the HP-800 up to will drive them loudly, and with authority. As always, clean power is the best power, so while the effect may be subtle, a decent portable amp will benefit the HP-800 especially in controlling it's dominant, and somewhat slow bass. For gaming use, I found the Mixamp alone to be just fine for the HP-800. The HP-800 is already full bodied as is, even unamped.
The MSRP of the HP-800 is $129. In it's price range, it fills it's own niche, and for that reason competes well with others in it's price range, if you're looking into a somewhat unique sound signature, even amongst other dark/warm headphones. Bassheads in particular should take note.
I feel the HP-800 is a solid (though polarizing) headphone for those who'd like a closed back, pleasant, fatigue-free, warm headphone, with big bass, and solid noise leak control. I feel the HP-800 is a fairly competent closed headphone for virtual surround gaming, fun-oriented gaming in particular. Just remember, the HP-800 is bass first, everything else second. So unless you value a substantial amount of bass presence above everything else in a headphone's sound, you may want to do your homework before taking the plunge.
Fun: 7.5 (Very Good. It's a basshead can, in every sense of the word. Paired with a surprisingly good soundstage, makes the HP-800 a fun, bass driven headphone.)
Competitive: 7 (Good. Despite it's softer/veiled sound signature)
Comfort: 6.75/10 (Quite Decent. With a bigger diameter and deeper pads, the HP-800 could become a much more comfortable headphone. Could also use more extension to fit bigger heads, as well as a different material of the headband, instead of the rubber-like material used)