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Over-Ear item created by , May 5, 2010
Pros - Good instrument separation, good efficiency
Cons - Harsh in 6kHz region, more pronounced bass than reference
With somewhat high expectations I auditioned a pair of original HD800 today for about 90 minutes (enough with correct test methodology).
Just when the first track started, an idea came to mind that those sound close to modded AKG K702. Supposedly though, some headfiers refer to HD800 as being in "different league" and thus incomparable to headphones costing magnitude lower. Actually it was a very close call.
I divided the listening test into 3 parts - listening without reference, headphone and source comparison.
In the "just listening" part, HD800 did somewhat well, managed to uncover this "micro detail" of musical performance (classical genre tested), however, concluded in comparison with AKG K240DF and K601 had the same level of detail, in specific cases, even higher than HD800.
Listening to HD800 becomes tiresome after just 20 minute session, the clamp force is okay, but ears become sweaty fairly quickly.
What I also noticed is how more efficient HD800 were compared to AKGs.
In spatialization aspect, they pretty much mimic K702, immensive width, shallow depth, thus poor mono performance (approx. 10% of the image). I prefer both K240DF and K601 in that aspect - circular "soundstage" not as wide, but with depth and good mono compatibility (20%).
Extreme quiet listening (45dBA) surprisingly retained most of the qualities of the headphone.
Bass (20-100Hz) is more pronounced compared to K601, but also less accurate. DFs are by design bass-light so no comparison there.
Mid range (100Hz-1kHz) retains same qualities compared to AKGs albeit being approximately 2dB quieter
Vocal range (1kHz-4kHz) this might be one of the stronger points of HD800, it's more neutral than AKGs
Highs (4kHz-18kHz) that 6kHz 4dB bell gets tiresome quick, but unmodded DFs are suffering from the same issue. Mod should remedy this in both cases, however get much more complicated with HD800.
In short, I enjoyed Music of the Spheres by M. Oldfield more on K601, where all parts of the spectrum played well with each other and still managed to extract all this "micro detail" same as with HD800.
Moving onto source comparison (this'll be real quick). I tested Fiio X5II and Sansa Clip+, both direct and fed through TLE2062-enabled Objective2. Regardless of where I plugged the HD800 they sounded always the same. I also verified this with switchbox, where switch times are no more than 2mS.
In conclusion, I wouldn't buy HD800 for the €1100 price tag. To me they seem to be worth €200 maybe €300. One could get similar sounding signature with modding K702's bass ports and K702 are nowhere near the MSRP for HD800.
Pros - Widest soundstage ever
Cons - Agressive treble. Unforgivable AT ALL. Forget about to listen bad and old records, bad mastering...etc.
I had many many headphones, I had two sony R10, I listened to the best headphones ever made (qualia 010, orpheus...) and they are all amazing and they have soul and are really stellar for emotions.
HD800 is unique.
The soundstage is the widest in the headphones history. It can be sometimes extraordinary, but sometimes it is a bad feeling because almost all the musicien will be too far from you. Especially with Rock/Pop, it can be a strange feeling. Don't expect to find intimate listening with it.
To say it fast: the HD800 is one of the most neutral, analytical, unforgivable headphones you can fin in the history. But they are usually not fun, especially if you are listening old music which are very often badly mixed (most of Bowie are too on the high frequencies)
In all the other cases, you HAVE to buy one and have one if you want to ear your records in a very special way. To me, the only one as detailed as the HD800 is the Qualia 010 and the LC4.
If you can have it around 800 USD or less, go for it, you'll not regret if you understand what it is. I would not pay the brand new price to have one, simply because it is NOT an everyday headphones except if you are listening only masterpieces amazingly produced or use an equalizer for all the others .
The treble is agressive, too much agressive unfortunately on most music...
Pros - Massive soundstage. Very high-resolution sound with low resonance. Very comfortable. Quality construction.
Cons - Not natural sounding; the tonality is bright with a lack of proper body and weight to the sound. Paint job fragile. Overpriced.
I purchased this headphone for full retail price a couple of years ago, and in the beginning, I felt very positive about it. But things change, and as I got to try many other high end offering by other manufacturers, as I got to try this headphone with different amps, sources, cables and so forth, I have come to the conclusion that this headphone is perhaps the most overhyped piece of audio gear in the head-fi industry. The truth hurts, but you learn from your mistakes.
As controversial as it may be, I felt the need to change my positive review and write what I feel about the HD 800s.
To start with the positive, build quality and ergonomics here are great. This is a very cool-looking, precisely designed headphone that makes a luxurious impression, especially when resting in the storage box. The headband adjustment mechanism feels very well constructed. The earpad/headband material attracts dirt and dust like crazy, but feels great to the touch and is very comfortable against the skin for extended listening sessions. The plastic doesn't feel as great as the aluminum on the STAX SR-009, but is really solid nonetheless. I'm a bit sceptical about the paint job though; the finish is fragile and will tear if you don't treat the headphone carefully.
The cable is very well made; thick, non-microphonic, with a really hefty, quality 6,3mm plug at the end.
Comfort is absolutely first rate. The headphone is a bit on the heavy side and after several hours, the headband starts to feel uncomfortable on top of my head, but that may just be me. The earcup pressure is just perfect and the headphone almost feels like it disappears from your head after a while. The large space inside the earcups coupled with the open design makes sure you never get hot or annoyed wearing them.
So far, everything is good.
Sound wise, this is a very clean sounding headphone. Sennheiser did a great job designing a headphone with minimal resonance factor and muffling of the audio. As a result, the HD 800 is very resolving and therefore picky about the source gear, and especially recording quality. Lesser recordings simply will not do this headphone justice. Of course, this resolving sound signature will allow for very crisp detail.
Those large, angled ring-drivers also provide a very large soundstage, with great sense of depth and layering. Room acoustics come through very naturally and the headphone is very good at separating dense, orchestral music.
BUT, the tonality just isn't realistic. The overall signature is a bit bright - especially in the 6khz area - which gives the impression of more details, but becomes tiresome to listen to after a while. Cymbals sound to splashy, violins sound to shiny, sibilant sounds are over-accentuated - things just *don't sound like real life*. (Granted, like most Sennheiser headphones the HD 800 is laid-back and quite smooth sounding, so it's not biting or piercing the way Ultrasone and Grado headphones tend to be.)
The same goes with the bass. I find the bass very tightly controlled, but neither well extended nor impactful. There isn't enough punch and weight to it, and there's not much warmth either. Drums sound pathetically weak for a headphone priced at $1500 and the midrange suffers from this lack of body.
Just try to listen to a live jazz band performing, and then go listen to the HD 800. It doesn't sound AT ALL alike. The string bass sounds present, full and thick in real life. It sounds thin and lifeless on the HD 800.
The midrange could've been so good if the frequency extremes were more natural, because the openness of the HD 800 really allows for a very airy, clear midrange. But instead, things sound dry. Even with great recordings, there's always a certain degree of thinness and brightness to the music, with some grain and sharpness to the upper midrange. You hear the guitar very clearly, with excellent crispness, but the sound of the box of the guitar is subdued. Female vocals, a particular weakness of mine, sound a bit articifical, if only slight. But at this price, "slight" turns to "significant".
With a Cardas cable, the sound gains a bit more body and slightly less glare to the treble, which is a good thing. But it still doesn't make the headphone entirely neutral, and let's face it; why in the name of god should you have to buy an aftermarket cable for hundreds of dollars to get the sound right with your $1500 high-end, flagship headphone from a large company like Sennheiser?
There is a lot of talk around the forums that the HD 800 really needs a great tube amp to sound it's best. And that's true. I've heard the HD 800 with the Leben CS300 and while the combo didn't win me over, it sounded very good. Much more body and no treble glare left to speak of. But my opinion is this: if you have to use a tube amp to *change* the sound of the headphone in order to make it sound good, then that ruins the idea a bit. A tube amp like the Leben colors the sound; it adds distortion, makes things different than what's originally intended. This goes against my idea of high-end hifi: a clean path through the entire audio chain. I think the source chain should be as neutral and as transparent as possible with minimal distortion, in order to make the headphones themselves shine through fully and display their respective strengths. This is the proper way of judging the sound of a headphone, isn't it?
If you have two really expensive cars, you should use a track that's optimal for them to achieve high performance. If both cars have their different weaknesses, no modifications should be enabled to each, and no changes should be made to the track to cover up those weaknesses. That would be cheating!
And that goes here as well, it's just that instead of two cars you have two different sounding headphones and instead of track you have your source chain. This is, of course, my opinion only. But I hope it's a reasonable explanation to why I don't think a tube amp should be used to judge a headphone. I feel you should judge the original, intended sound of the headphone.
And driven from a neutral system, the HD 800 fails to impress. My positive impression of it has gone colder and colder, and I have now sold it. The sad truth is that not only do I prefer pretty much every STAX headphone made, the Audeze LCD-2 and the Beyerdynamic T1 to the HD 800 - I even prefer many cheaper headphones to the HD 800, like Sennheiser's own HD600, HD650 and even the portable momentum, which is a fantastic sounding headphone and my only headphone at this time. No, the Momentum, HD 600, HD 650 and even the LCD-2 don't have the openness and crispness of the HD 800, but they are all more neutral, easier on the ears and more fun to listen to. The HD 800 just comes down dull and clinical compared to most.
It's a shame, but it's what I honestly feel. And no matter how many people who will hate me for saying it, I think the HD 800 is a failed, if ambitious, achievement by Sennheiser. The HD 700 made the sound fuller and warmer, but instead made the treble even brighter end quite edgy, so that one wasn't right either. If you want the best from Sennheiser, the HD 600/650 with a replacement cable and a great system is what you want.
If you want better options at this price, the Beyerdynamic T1, LCD-2 and the cheaper STAX offerings are recommended.
Cons - lispering
I totally agree with the review of Skylab; what a great and honest review!
The reason I'm not really happy with the HD 800 is because I bought it as a reference headphone.
After listening to the recording of my choir (professionally recorded) I noticed that all of the
consonants 'S' sung by the female voices didn't sound natural at all; they sound like they were 'lispering'. I really thought there was something wrong with my headphone; but after googling for a solution for this, I found this review by Skylab that explained the problem. I listened to another choir recording (the third part from the Gloria from John Rutter sung by the Cambridge singers) with this lyrics:
"quoniam tu solus sanctus tu solus altissimus, tu solus Dominus, Tu solus Altissimus Jesu Christe..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUoN27W6hQ4
It's a pain to listen to those 's' sung in this case by boys ...
I think this isn't acceptable for a reference headphone with this price ...
Pros - Comfortable, detailed, big soundstage
Cons - Artificial sounding, anemic in the bass, can be too bright, overpriced
I have listened to the HD800 twice, and I never really warmed up to it. And to clarify, they were not casual listening sessions--I took my time and did the listening under the following condition:
-In a controlled environment without distraction and noise
-Used high-end audio source and gears in the signal chain
-Had other flagship headphones there to do direct comparisons with
-Had ample time to do the listening tests, and took as long as I wanted
I should also clarify that I'm an audio professional (composer, songwriter, sound designer) that have worked in both high-end recording/mixing/mastering studios, as well as have built my own studio twice in two different countries (the first one was build completely from the ground up, with my own design in construction and acoustic treatment). I have extensive experience measuring, testing, assessing audio on a critical level, and when I say I "listened" to the HD800, what I mean is I actually tested it used audio test tones (sine wave tones at different frequencies, pink noise, log sweep) and a carefully selected playlist of musical material that I know like the back of my hands that spans many musical genres, and used them to assess specific capabilities of the headphone.
My overall impression of the HD800 was that Its clarity and resolution sounded artificial to me instead of natural (a spike in the upper mids region), and it had no authority in the sub-bass region. I'm one of those people who simply cannot consider a pair of headphones to be "amazing" or "the best of" if it's lacking neutrality in a chunk of the frequency range.
A amazing pair of headphones should sound like a full-range speaker system that reaches down to at least 30Hz and remains substantial and authoritative--anything less than that is not "amazing" to me. Now, pardon me for turning into a pig for a moment and fall back on the classic but eyebrow-raising comparison to a woman. It's sort of like if a girl is really hot with an awesome body, but her ass is flat, barely able to fill any pair of jeans--would that still be considered an amazing body? (This comparison is actually quite fitting in a humorous way, since low frequency in audio is often referred to as the "bottom-end.") Even the HD650 has more sub-bass extension and weight, and it costs far less than the flagship model.
I understand that there's a portion of people whose idea of neutral bass is in fact anemic bass to me, but most people have no idea what a neutral frequency range sounds like, because they have never heard true full-range sound before. Anyone who's ever heard a full-range speaker system that reaches down to 30Hz or lower while maintaining ± 3 dB, will know that neutral bass in in fact quite authoritative and substantial.
There are headphones out there that can reach down low and feel very authoritative--for example, the Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3, Stax 009, 007MKII, Denon AH-D7000, D5000, D2000, Audio-Technica ATH-M50, etc, so it's not like the HD800 is somehow limited by physics--it was a choice the engineers at Sennheiser made. (These days, more and more headphones on the market can reach down that low and sound authoritative in the sub-bass region, and it's now starting to become the standard. Flagship headphones that can't achieve a proper sense of weight in the sub-bass are now becoming more rare, and sticks out among all the other flagship headphones that could.)
If the lack of full sub-bass was the only issue, I'd have been fine with the HD800, but it is also overtly bright in the upper mid-range, which can be shrill/sibilant on some material, and that breaks my number one rule of audio: "First, do no harm." When any audio gear produces sound that is too bright, it becomes grating and it hurts your ears, and when that happens, it's a deal breaker for me.
Many defenders of this attribute of the HD800 will go to lengths to remedy the problem by buying stupidly expensive headphone amps or other unnecessary audio gadgets to tame that brightness, and they would proclaim that if one used a sufficiently high-end tube amp, the HD800 will sound much better. Really? It appears the marketing department of high-end audio gear companies are doing a damn fine job selling absurd diminishing returns. A pair of headphones is not supposed to have inherent problems that needs to be fixed with yet another piece of expensive gear in the first place. If someone tried to pull that in the professional audio world, they'd get laughed out of the marketplace. This isn't to say there aren't too-bright sounding professional monitor speakers, but at least they were designed with onboard EQ's and measuring mics to adjust according to the room acoustics. If you want to alter the sonic signature of any audio gear--use an actual EQ, not an expensive amp used like a single-preset EQ.
Some people say the HD800 is very revealing, like a sonic microscope. Well, so were the Yamahama NS10's--the legendary monitor speakers that's dominated the pro audio world for decades, but they were used only in the context of being a mixing/mastering tool, and only for troubleshooting potential problems. No one uses them for leisurely listening or a balanced overall presentation, because they were too bright and lacked authoritative sub-bass. If you're not using the HD800 in that way and are listening for pleasure, I think you can find aural bliss in another pair of high-end headphones that doesn't do as much harm and has a more full-range sound.
Pros - Similar speed and agility to stats
Cons - No soul
An expensive, technically proficient headphone that has no soul. Does mate well with the Luxman P-1 or P1-u, but at that point, why not go electrostatic, which is what these are trying to be in the first place. Kudos to Senn for innovation, but these are just too steely for my tastes.
Pros - Transparent, neutral, huge soundstage, realism, clear, sennheiser style sound, open, imaging, extension, almost perfect, build, looks
Cons - Unforgiving, way overpriced, etched and slightly artificial detail, vocals lack some smoothness, sibilance, HD600 is better imo
All in all I would say a pretty neutral sound with very good extension on either sides and very very good soundstage. Very trasparent. Sometimes still a bit hard on the ears and sibilant, definitely not as neutral as HD600. Pretty balanced sound signature but with a treble peak.
Sound is very good and clear but not good at all for the price. Bass has impact and extension, mids are very trasparent and realistic, higs have an annoying peak but otherwise are extended and balanced. Detail retrieval is very high but because of a peak in the treble it often feels artificial. Great impression of realism but sound is actually not very realistic. You always feel that peak. I preferred HD600s in the end, I found them to be superior in pretty much any area except soundstage width.
Comfort is great, they almost disappear and never touch the ears; build quality is very high too. Cable feels very very high quality. And they look really awesome.
Pros - High level of clarity, very comfortable
Cons - Lack of mid-range quantity to balance against treble
Originally published on September 6, 2010
Note: this review is an exact cross-post from post #1 of this thread on Head-Fi, which contains some user discussion on the review that may be relevant to read: http://www.head-fi.org/t/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800
- download a printable 8-page PDF version of this review
- download a printable 9-page PDF version of the notes that were written for this review. The notes contain much more detailed info broken down by individual CD tracks and will probably be worth reading for those seeking even more info to assist with a buying decision. The notes should be considered a supplement and not a replacement for this review (as the review is not straight from the notes) - I recommend reading this review first and then reading the notes.
Post-review amp comparison installments (comparing M3 vs SPL Auditor):
- T1: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/75#post_6928382
- K701: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/75#post_6943875
- HD800: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/105#post_6985524
As is typical of previous reviews I've written on Head-Fi, the review that follows below is a comparative one—because writing about only one headphone does not put anything into context and without context it's impossible for anyone to determine how a headphone might sound through inference. In fact, this review assumes that the reader has heard one of the headphones that were used as a comparative reference—be it the T1 or HD800 themselves, or the AKG K701, Audio-Technica AD2000, Grado HP1000/HP2, or Sony Qualia 010. But for those who have not heard one of those headphones, I have also tried to accommodate for that as well, drawing from my cumulative headphone experience gained since 2006 through either buying/selling or exposure at Head-Fi meets. (All gear I've heard is listed in my profile for reference.)
Reviewer Biases & Info
My view of a headphone system is "source first" followed by headphones and then amp. In other words, a source of highest quality possible (assuming recordings of high quality also) should be paired with the most preferential-sounding headphone(s), to be driven by the most technically-optimal amp. In my view, the most technically-optimal amp is the one that provides sufficient power for all headphones being used without inflecting its own sonic signature, or minimally at least.
Some portions of the review below refer to the sound of live instruments. As an FYI to put those references into the proper context, I'm a trained violinist (learned via the Suzuki method for 12 years starting at age 6, then quit lessons at 18 and have been playing on and off since, and I'm 29 now) and have had the opportunity several times to play in a symphony orchestra, and I've attended classical-music concerts as well.
- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (power cord: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference - directly into wall)
- RCA interconnects: BPT IC-SL
- Headphone amplifier: Rockhopper-built Balanced M3 (used in unbalanced mode)
- Other comparison headphones: AKG K701 (re-cabled with SAA Equinox), Audio-Technica AD2000 (re-cabled with APS V3), Grado HP1000/HP2 (re-cabled with APS V3), Sony Qualia 010 (re-cabled with Moon Audio Black Dragon)
Sennheiser HD800 vs AKG K701
Music used for this comparison:
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways - "A Living Prayer"
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite - "The Lucky One"
- Carlos Kleiber w/ Vienna - Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 & 7 - No. 5 - "Allegro con brio"
- Eva Cassidy - Live at Blues Alley - "Autumn Leaves"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - Concerto for 2 violins in D minor - "I. Vivace", "III. Allegro"
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine - "Teardrop"
- Pierre Boulez w/ Vienna - Mahler Symphony No. 6 - "I. Allegro energico"
- Porcupine Tree - In Absentia - "Blackest Eyes"
- Priscilla Ahn - A Good Day - "Dream"
- Radiohead - In Rainbows - "Reckoner"
- Zero 7 - When It Falls - "Home"
It could be said that female vocals are one of the K701's strengths, as they're typically very prominent on the headphone as a result of being pushed forward in the mix. This can work for certain female vocalists, like Eva Cassidy and the ones part of Zero 7's group, but not all, notably Alison Krauss. Having heard Alison Krauss on other headphones, including live (at a music festival earlier this year in Colorado), I would say that the K701 portrayed her completely wrong—Alison does not have a particularly "strong" or "powerful" voice and typically sings at lower volumes too, but to make up for it her voice is crystal clear with an extremely "radiant" quality. I found that the K701 unnecessarily added to her lower vocal range and made her sound more "sultry" than "angelic." This was not the case on the HD800, which made her voice sound more correct at a higher register and also maintained her clarity and radiance. The HD800 also made Priscilla Ahn sound more authentic too, retaining the youthful "little girl" quality to her voice, while the K701 tuned her voice away from that "little girl" to something a bit more lower-pitched.
It's been said by other people on Head-Fi that the HD800 is a better version of the K701, but in actual comparative listening between the two headphones, I did not find many similarities to be able to call the HD800 a version of the K701—in fact, I found more differences between them than similarities. Both headphones have a large soundstage, but I found the HD800 to have the bigger one, injecting more air and space into the music than the K701—or in other words, displacing instruments more and translating displacement as a sort of reverb-type effect, like a larger auditorium than the K701 with more acoustically-reflective surfaces. The HD800 also had better frequency extension than the K701, by a wide enough margin that I would call it better in that aspect. The K701 for example missed the second-half of the 3rd note of the heartbeat rhythm on Massive Attack's "Teardrop" but the HD800 was able to audibly resolve this note. The HD800's treble was also able to clearly highlight aspects like guitar plucks, sliding, & string vibrations, cymbal tizzes, and other percussive impacts, while these were largely blurred over by the K701. Granted, the HD800 had a higher degree of clarity throughout the entire spectrum but its treble also brought out the aforementioned details more.
It's probably easier to contrast the two headphones overall—the K701 projected a large soundstage and brought forward the female vocal range while displacing everything else, gently rolled off the treble and bass, and exerted a high degree of control over the entire bass range. The HD800 projected an even larger soundstage with a noticeable "whoosh" of air within it, sounding flatter and significantly clearer throughout the mid-range, with more treble and bass extension & quantity—on the HD800, bass actually boomed and thudded, if it was there on the recording. The K701 also typically sounded better louder, but the HD800 sounded good even at moderate volume and maintained sonic integrity at lower volumes too. The two headphones also reacted differently at very high volume—the K701 sounded "harder" and lost control over multiple concurrent layers (blurring them as a result) while the HD800 didn't break its character and simply just sounded louder. There was also a different style between them—the HD800 simply sounded passive more than anything else, lacking a "directness" to the sound, and sounded more like a headphone playing music for you to analyze by ear. The K701 had a passive sound too but hid behind it better due to its smaller soundstage and closer instrument positioning for a more personal type of sound—in contrast to the HD800, which came across more as away & detached.
There are also some really critical points I have to assess against the HD800 (and K701) for classical music. While everyone may have their own sonic preference, there are certain things that some people will want and others won't. For example, violin tonality—which honestly I've heard very few headphones get correct, and neither the K701 nor the HD800 made violins sound natural. The K701 was too "dark" on them and didn't bring out their treble "brilliance," but the HD800 was too "bright" on them and made them sound too wispy and glossy. The K701 also struggled to separate individual violins in the two sections, but this was easily pulled off by the HD800. The HD800 also had better "macrodynamics," giving more impact & power into sudden volume bursts than the K701. The HD800 also had a faster impulse response that allowed it to better resolve minor details like rolling timpani and pizzicato. Yet, for all these seeming advantages of the HD800, its expanded soundstage & air was actually distracting and key tonalities were off too—violins as already mentioned, but also brass which didn't sound very sonorous.
Sennheiser HD800 vs Grado HP1000/HP2 (flat pads)
Music used for this comparison:
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - Concerto for 2 violins in D minor - "III. Allegro"
- Zubin Mehta w/ Vienna - Mahler Symphony No. 2 - "III. In ruhig flieBender Bewegung"
There were just two musical selections for this comparison to answer just one question: would the venerable Grado HP1K make a stronger case for classical music? Answer: it depends on how you like your classical music to sound. The HD800 was vastly clearer-sounding with a lot more separation between the instruments—or in other words, the position of every instrument section was very discrete and widely spread out across the soundstage. The HP1000, on the other hand, had a compressed soundstage in comparison, almost 2D-like flat and not as wide. But then soundstage is not one of the HP1000's strengths, and neither is clarity, as any owner or fan of it could tell you.
The key strength of the HP1000 is what many of its fans call its "neutral" sound. I think "natural" is a better word for the HP1K, as it gave instruments the kind of sonic texture they need to sound authentic with a real presence, to transcend the headphone experience and make you think you're listening to real instruments (in terms of their sonic texture and body only, not necessarily because of anything else). "Musical" is a vague word but it's one of the words that came to mind listening to the HP1K versus the HD800, because with the HP1K it was easier to focus on the actual music—its concept, its style, its character. With the HD800, it was a lot less than that—it was easier to merely focus on listening to the instrument sections than the actual musical concept. Not that the HP1K's mid-range-focused sound had anything to do with this (whereas the HD800 could probably be considered treble-focused). No, it was completely in their contrasting presentations—the HD800's splitting/separation/diffusion (whatever you want to call it) versus the HP1K's cohesion and integration. The HD800 made it easier to follow the individual instrument sections as a result (sacrificing tonality and "musicality"), and the HP1K made it easier to follow the musical picture (sacrificing clarity and soundstage). To quantify this in a frequency sense, if one considers the HD800 to lack mid-range, then the HP1000 might be a polar opposite (and vice versa).
Sennheiser HD800 vs Beyerdynamic T1
Music used for this comparison:
- Anne Bisson - Blue Mind - "Camilio"
- Beyond Twilight - Section X - "The Path of Darkness"
- Global Communication - 76:14 - "4:02", "9:39"
- In Flames - The Jester Race - "Moonshield", "Artifacts of the Black Rain"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - Concerto for 2 violins in D minor - "III. Allegro"
- Katie Melua - Piece by Piece - "Shy Boy", "On the Road Again"
- Laika - Good Looking Blues - "Widows' Weed"
- Medeski Martin & Wood - Uninvisible - "Uninvisible", "Ten Dollar High"
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction [MFSL] - "Sweating Bullets"
- Meshuggah - Chaosphere - "New Millennium Cyanide Christ"
- Nightwish - Once - "Wish I Had An Angel", "Planet Hell"
- Orbital - The Middle of Nowhere - "Way Out"
- Pearl Jam - Ten - "Even Flow", "Alive"
- Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine - "Bombtrack", "Take The Power Back", "Know Your Enemy"
- Symphony X - Paradise Lost - "Oculus Ex Inferni", "Set the World on Fire", "The Walls of Babylon"
- The Crystal Method - Tweekend - "Murder", "Ten Miles Back"
- The Crystal Method - Vegas [Deluxe Edition] - "High Roller"
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land - "Smack My Bitch Up", "Breathe", "Diesel Power", "Fuel My Fire"
- Trifonic - Emergence - "Emergence", "Transgenic"
And finally for the real showdown, the so-called big guns. Which is the better headphone, the HD800 or T1? Well anyone reading this will probably expect my answer: it's not really that simple and both headphones have their strengths and weaknesses.
I'll start with the recurring subject of violin tonality in classical music, because personally it's a big issue for me as a violinist. My position is: if the violins don't sound real, forget it! And neither the HD800 or T1 delivered realistic violin tone—the HD800 was too bright and wispy and the T1 wasn't "light" enough. What does one do as a solution then? You get the right headphones—and in my case that usually means the Stax OII MKI amped by the HeadAmp BHSE, which achieves the perfect tone. No other headphones need apply. Bam, done. Can't afford the OII/BHSE? IMO the next best solution after that is the Grado HP1000, or if that one is too expensive also, then the Sennheiser HD600.
Next subject, electronica. For ambient electronica specifically, only the Sennheiser HD800 was remotely good enough to do it justice, while the T1 was not, primarily due to the HD800's superior overall clarity, treble tilt, and faster impulse response. Ambient electronica is often buried in lots of layers (more than the average song in any other music genre) and requires a very hi-fi transducer to reveal them all cleanly and clearly—and in the case of Global Communication, Laika, and Trifonic, only the HD800 had the right amount of "clean & clear" to make these artists sound good. The T1 didn't have the silent background required for this type of music and its lack of treble and clarity worked against the type of detail inherent to ambient electronica. Not that the HD800 was perfect though, it was just better at this—as there are other headphones that have even more "clean & clear" sounds, like the Sony SA5000 & Qualia 010. For more bass-driven electronica like The Crystal Method, The Prodigy, etc, the T1 is probably a better choice than the HD800, but not the best one there is. The T1 had more bass quantity in general and delivered a good amount of bass impact and its low extension nearly matched the Audio-Technica AD2000's too. But the T1 didn't deliver a particularly strong bass overall and its slow impulse response held it back from being ideal—the Audio-Technica AD2000 probably being a better choice for people who want a powerful low bass response that's also extremely fast.
Metal is a tricky genre for headphones to handle, as it goes in a lot of different directions. But if there's one commonality in most of metal, it's speed combined with aggression, and the HD800 was consistently too passive-sounding to really get into metal and give it that needed aggression. I will say simply that the HD800 was boring with metal, and who wants boring metal? The T1, on the other hand, was a much better choice for metal, primarily due to its fuller mid-range/mid-bass and smaller soundstage, allowing every band to sound closer and more personal. The T1 simply had a very good direct and assertive sound that made it work very well for a wide variety of metal. However, the T1 wasn't completely ideal for some types of metal, like thrash metal, as its impulse response couldn't quite keep up with some of the faster sequences. For that type of metal, another headphone would be recommended instead, and I've personally gotten better experiences for thrash metal with the Audio-Technica AD2000, JH Audio JH13, and Stax OII MKI.
And finally, jazzy or pop female vocals is one of the most pedestrian forms of music, as it's typically easy for almost any headphone to sound good with and the artists spun for this (Anne Bisson, Katie Melua) didn't really reveal much that wasn't already discovered before, other than perhaps that piano was more realistic sounding on the T1 with its generally richer tone.
Pros - Crisp, Clear, Detailed, Neutral, Amazing soundstage
Cons - Bass is light, Price
I recently spent about a month with a pair of HD800s. I was immediately more impressed with these upon my first listen than with any pair of headphones ever. The amound of detail these present is just unreal. The sound is VERY neutral, true to the recording, and because of this bass can seem a bit lacking. To be honest, even with bass-heavy music these are a bit lacking. However they have the fastest, most detailed response I have ever heard from a pair of headphones. Midrange and highs are the best I have ever heard on any headphone without a doubt. Soundstage is quite expansive, they sound very "open" and airy with outstanding clarity. They are hands down the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. My one complaint with the design is how easily the paint chips, as many have said before. They are expensive, and I while I feel that they beat my LCD-2's in every single way possible I still prefer my D7000s to these. I guess it just comes down to personal taste. If you like a robust bass response like I will admit I do, these won't be for you.
Pros - They look like something out of TRON
Sold me Edition 9's because of these because they deliver a bigger sound stage and all that compared to the Edition 9's. Maybe it's because the Edition 9's are closed headphones. Whatever they're my 2nd favourite headphone after the SR-009.