Spec table from nuforce.comWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
- Driver Size: 40mm
- Impedance: 32 +/- 15% Ohm
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Rated Power: 20 mW
- Max. Input Power: 30 mW
- Sensitivity: 91 +/- 4 dB
- Included Accessories: One carrying bag, one 3.5mm plug cable, one 6.3mm plug cable
The box for these headphones is really quite pretty. And big. Slide off the outer box and you'll find... another box! Open that one up and you'll find your headphones inside tied down to a plasticky shell. Underneath the shell is... another box! This happens to be a fiendish triangular puzzle box taped up at every side imaginable (I don't know what it is with Nuforce and tape. If you've ever opened up one of their iems you'll note they are taped up the wazoo as well). Once you've figured out how to open it, you'll find your two cords and soft bag inside.
The bag is just a simple drawstring bag. Nothing much to say there.
The two cords are simple. One is skinny and rubber, the other longer and cloth covered. Actually the cloth one is quite nice and has enough stiffness to it to resist kinking.
The headphone itself feels reasonably well built. The cups are actually aluminum, but have are a matte feel to them that is almost “soft” to the touch. The cups have a gold Nuforce plate stamped in the middle (covered in removeable plastic to protect from scuffing during shipment; a nice touch). At the top of the cups are four small holes acting as bass vents. Apart from the cups, everything else is plastic.
The bottom of the left earcup has a small 1/8” jack for the cables. Just a simple plug and play, no threaded or proprietary mechanisms here. I both like and dislike this. Locking plugs are generally sturdier and able to withstand more abuse, but then also harder to change out. The plug'n'play ones are easy to change, but then risk being accidentally yanked out (though sometimes this is a nice safety) and are also more fragile as any force applied laterally (such as by dropping) might actually break the jack inside the cup. Yeah it's not very likely, but I've seen it happen.
The headband is reminiscent of AKG designs with the suspension design. It creaks a bit and I would not want to flex it too much, but it feels like it could handle a reasonable amount of handling, though I would hesitate to toss it into a bag where it could get banged around. The overarching support seems to be just a plastic frame.
The suspension band is a somewhat sticky rubber. It is flexible and conforms well to my rather flat head, distributing the weight evenly across the top. The stickiness could be a plus or negative (it doesn't move around which is good for steadiness, but it has that rubbery “sticky” feeling that bugs me as it kinda grabs the hairs on my head). It is relatively soft, and has a fairly large degree of extension. I have a wide but medium sized head, and I would estimate the headband is only about 20% extended when on my head. The elastic mechanism appears to be contained within the rubber headband itself, and as far as I can tell is also composed of plastic.
There is no extension at the hinges, and only a small degree of rotation on the vertical axis just enough to conform to your head. The adjustment is still somewhat stiff though, so manually adjusting it to fit your head for proper seal is likely required. The cup hinge also allows a small degree of rotation along the horizontal axis, again just enough to fit your jawline. If you carefully pull at the fork, you can pop the cups off. Do note however that the wires connecting the cups runs through the forks, so be careful if you do.
A note on portability... not gonna happen. These are big, do not collapse or fold in any way, and the cups are far to large to wear around your neck.
The pads are a leatherish material (feels tougher than pleather) and are filled with memory foam, making for a very comfortable fit. They are large and soft, but the inner diameter is also somewhat small. I have medium sized ears and my ears just barely fit inside. Those with larger ears may find that these will probably sit on your ears rather than around. The pads are fairly deep though; I was in no risk of bottoming out and having my ears touch the inner grill.
pad outer/inner diameters: 105/42mm (about 4 1/8” and 1 5/8)
pad depth: 22mm (7/8”)
Pulling off the pads, you'll note four baffle vents surrounding the driver. The pad itself also has a clear plastic ring beneath it and above the dust guard. Strangely, this plastic ring is glued into the pad so it can't be removed short of cutting the dust guard off.
Inside the cups... is nothing! I had emailed Nuforce about whether they had experimenting with any damping. They said they did, but did not find any improvement from it.
In terms of isolation, the HP-800 is average for a close can. The bass vents do let in some sound, and the cup chamber does seem to amplify some midrange stuff which is typical of any closed headphone. It's fine for casual, but don't expect it to compete with the strong isolators like the Sennheiser HD280 or Beyerdynamic DT770.
Regarding comfort, I would give these a solid B+. It loses two notches for a slightly small earpad openings and the annoying stickiness of the headband (I would have preferred either a different rubber texture or something like their earpad material). Clamp is moderate, but not enough to cause undue pressure on your head, and is so spread out there is no risk of jaw-ache from the pads.
So enough jibber jabber, let's get to the meat of the matter. If I had to describe the HP-800 in a word, it would be... uh, hmm, I can't do it in a word. Guess we'll have to do this the long way.
The Nuforce literature props these up as studio grade. I would call that a generous assessment. The sound upon first listen is very obviously bassy. but not obnoxiously so. In fact, the bass is quite clean overall, save for some distortion (not clipping) at the highest volumes which is going to be bad for your ears anways. What amazes me is the depth of the bass extension. These exceed my HE-6 for bottom reaching potential. Yeah you heard me. I've got a series of sweeps and tones that I use for testing, and the HP-800 goes down to 16Hz and still feels like sound, whereas other headphones are just making noise or rattling in their baffles. Response is very solid at 30Hz, and I swear it might even bump up just a tad at 50Hz which is ridiculous. Most headphones start rolling off at that point, if they even made it that far down.
The bass levels stay flat from the very bottom and up into the lower midrange. It avoids the typical midbass hump of close headphones, which gives it a much cleaner sound. Rumble is present for that visceral presence, but not overly so. At high volumes that rumble starts to become a bit much for my tastes, but those who enjoy their gut shaking will be fully satisfied. Some headphones rumble; these positively growl at you.
Into the midrange, well here something funny happens. The midrange is flat, the bass is flat, but that transition is a doozy. There is a rather pronounced dip around 400Hz, but after that it comes up a bit and slowly arcs into the treble. Listening to a frequency sweep will leave you scratching your head. That said, with music this isn't as bad as I make it out to be. In my experience, wobbly frequency response makes for odd sounds that stick out like a sore thumb. The shelf like change in response of the HP-800 does affect sound, but is not as noticeable. Vocals and strings tend to sound a bit more distant. Coming right off another headphone with a more even response in that midrange transition, you'll pick up on the differences. Something will seem a bit off, but then your ears quickly adjust to it and that difference melts away. I was quite surprised how quickly it happened. When I put these on for the first time (just after I had been listening to the HE-6) I absolutely hated it and felt there was something horribly wrong. The next day I put them on for a song, and by the second track I had forgotten all about it. Very strange.
Beyond that, the midrange levels are smooth and nicely presented, gradually sloping up into the treble. There's a soft peak at roughly 3kHz and a sharper one around 6kHz which does add a bit of glare, most notably with the upper ranges of strings and cymbals. Feels like there's a decay ridge there, or it might be entirely the peak but I can't be certain without measurements. There's a third peak up there and the educated guess tells me it's around 12kHz, but this one is milder than the 6kHz and seems more benign. Of significant note however is that there do not appear to be deep valleys between those peaks. Headphones that do that come across as shouty and piercing to me, and thankfully the HP-800 avoids that.
In terms of soundstage, well it's about typical for a closed can. Shallow depth and exaggerated width. Sounds that pan from side to side seem to jump into the centre and back out rather than transition smoothly. Not so critical for music since that will just give you a big stage, but perhaps not so good for competitive gamers who need that pinpoint accuracy (unless you want that L/R twitch). The effect is a bit odd listening to some binaural tracks, like there's a wall behind me and the reflections are throwing me off.
Layering and instrumental separation is actually pretty good. I imagine this is due to the flat midrange and those treble peak. It makes the sound a bit tizzy at times, but also helps separate those instruments and make each one stand out. Perhaps not in the most natural way, but sometimes that extra edge gives music that so-called liveliness.
Overall, the HP-800 presents a lopsided Vshape to the sound. However, it seems to do so without falling into the pit-trap of typical “DJ” headphones which are mostly thump and shine with nothing in between. The Nuforce manages to sneak in some good fidelity while maintaining enough bass and treble energy to satisfy the average consumer level market.
For me, these cans sound best at low levels. The enhanced bass and treble make them sound very even (compensating for the loudness contour). At high volumes I find the sound a bit overwhelming, with too much energy coming at me from the bass shaking my head and the treble that gets too hot.
A note on clipping/distortion: The HP-800 have a rather low power rating. With a sensitivity of 91 db/mW and an impedance of 32 ohms, it needs about 0.18V to reach 91dB. At the rated power of 20mW, which is at 0.8V, it will be 104 dB. It will reach it's maximum rated output (30mW) at about 0.98V and produce 105 dB, so hardly any difference there. The unfortunate thing however is that distortion is audible at high volumes.
For Nuforce's first entry into full sized headphones, this is a very impressive start. Consumer friendly sound, but enough refinement and balance to satisfy your typical head-fier. I do not feel that they are neutral enough to be used for studio level mixing, but to be fair I don't think most closed headphones are up to that task to begin with. The $150 price tag puts it into the ring with a lot of competition. I've actually done a comparative review in the past of the usual contenders like the Audio Technica M50 and Shure 840. I feel the HP-800 certainly holds its own against them, and can see where many people would in fact prefer it over the others.
Edited by Armaegis - 2/5/13 at 11:46pm