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Over-Ear item created by , May 5, 2010
Pros - Detail , Soundstage, imaging, tonal balance
Cons - They lay bare all the flaws of a recording, there is no isolation whatsoever
Audio setup -
FLAC files in Media Monkey -> Amazon Basics TOSLINK cable -> Schiit Bifrost w/Uber upgrade -> Knukoncept Shielded RCAs -> Project Ember with new Tesla ECC802S
Nabucco, Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, 1965
Why So Serious, Hans Zimmer, the Dark Knight OST
I got these barely used off of the classified forums, and I even got two Norne cables to go with them as part of the deal. For the purposes of this review I used the single-ended stock cable, but I plan on fooling around with the other cables in the near future, and probably giving them a write-up. I've been listening to them on and off for a few weeks now, so they're nice and broken in. Also, these are picky headphones. Looking around, you'll find how people talk about the huge amount of effort that went into assembling a system that really sounded well with them. I got lucky, things worked out really well with the stuff I had on hand, so keep that in mind. You will probably have to work a bit to get the most out of these cans. Now, on with the review!
Listening to Nabucco with these was a very interesting experience, even though I thought I knew the recording by heart. The tonality of the headphones is extremely neutral, but with the Project ember and most of my tubes it sounded a bit too bright. Since this is a bit of a well-known issue, I used my Tesla to roll off the highs and make it easier to listen to. This did the trick, and the cans sound more neutral than anything else I have. They also passed the bass test with flying colors, which is nice because my HD558's really struggle with that bass extension. Listening to the funeral march with these headphones was similar to listening to it with my GS-1000's, a very wide and undistorted soundstage, but it also improved on the GS-1000 in that the soundstage had much more depth. Instrument placement is well preserved, and you can feel how some thing are further away than others. The other thing that's important to mention with respect to soundstage is that the presentation is not too intimate, but not really distant. It's like sitting 5-7 rows back at a concert, intimate but not in your face. The detail of the headphones is also great, you can really get a sense of things like the room reflections that the mics are picking up, and you feel like you're literally there. This also makes the imaging amazing because you get great instrument separation, especially with instruments like French horns where it's possible to even pick out individual instruments from within the group. Also, the detail was really a hit at a meet a few weeks ago, where people (myself included) were proven wrong about power cables making a difference with sound quality. That honestly freaked a few of us out. This is the major downside sonically, they're too good at revealing things in the music. A piece can sound great on every other set of headphones I have, but this will reveal mastering problems that
Now for build quality and fit and finish on these phones are very nice. The Headband might have a lot of plastic, but it's very study. The steel added a nice touch, especially the laser engraved serial number. The headband and the supports on the cups really just feel solid, and you very quickly learn that you don't have to baby them. The earcups are also spectacular, and are the largest I've ever seen on headphones. They also don't grip too tightly, and the headphone's relatively light weight makes them very comfortable for long listening sessions, like listening to an entire opera. The only real complaints are that the membranes that make up the earcup look nice but still make me worry about keeping them intact, and the connectors for the cable. The membranes are fine, but there's always the paranoia in the back of my mind that makes me be very careful about gripping the cups. For the cable connectors, I love that the cable is detachable, but I don't like that a custom connector was uses. Mini XLRs would have been better, but since there really isn't a standard in this space. I would prefer to be able to use a cable with multiple brands to make comparisons easier, but that's probably a pipedream.
In the end these are great headphones, probably the best for critical listening I have, but they're just too picky to get a perfect score. It takes a lot of effort to tweak your system to make the most of them, so just consider that before buying a pair. Once you do get some synergy going, it's totally worth it.
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 - Best overall sound quality ever. Period.
Cons - Expensive, open on the sides, and a tad thin in the middle ranges in my opinion.
Let me say I am a serious regular music listener, not a techie. The earphones are worth it if you can afford them. The solution to the thinness was to pair it with a TEAC NP H750 headphone DAC and a Marantz 2285B amp, where you can boast the mid ranges independantly. If you listen to what I listen to, which is 1965 to 1980 basicly, it sounds amazing.
Pros - natural, revealing, holographic, neutral, lightweight, comfortable
Cons - fussy with amps, mediocre stock cable
Contrary to a common complaint, HD800's are not bright and do not *need* a tube amp/coloration. In most cases, the cause is the recording quality, which can be "tamed" by EQ.
Although HD800 has an expansive soundstage, you can bring it to another level by using a crossfeed like Redline Monitor. Overall presentation will be even more natural and easier to listen to.
Pros - Outstanding in every way, sound, comfort
Cons - Nothing other than price
Will fill this in later but based on the fact that it absolutely kills every single song and genre of music that I've throw at it, the final rating is clear.
Edit 1: After listening to this and the Aude'ze LCD XC for four days, I've reached a point where I will never grab for the LCD XC if the HD800 are available. The HD800 simply sound more natural (all of the other headphones I have sound "synthetic," like they almost auto-tune or digitize the sounds very slightly if that makes any sense. With the HD800 it sounds like the band is singing and playing right in front of you.). The imaging on the HD800 is also incredible. It's like there are 10 speakers spaced all around your ears, each firing off in turn. Therefore, I called Aude'ze and the retailer and asked if I could please return them. The Aude'ze person said I would have to pay a 15% ($300) restocking fee, which I mention here only because it shows Sennheiser's superiority (they don't charge a restocking fee if you return the item within their 30 day money back guaranty period). Sennheiser is first class all the way.
Edit 2: OK I found a design flaw. On the outside of the headphones, around the drivers, there is this very thin aluminum foil type cover/enclosure that I keep accidentally touching with my fingers when taking the headhones on and off, and which seems like a weak material that will eventually tear as a result of this touching.
Edit3: To give you an example of the auditory magic performed by the HD800, open "the way you make me feel" by michael jackson, bad 25th ann. album, on spotify at 320 kbps. The whole song sounds great but focus especially on the drum that kicks in every 10 seconds or so. You hear this particular drum beat in the first four seconds of the song, at about 11 seconds, at 20 seconds, at 27 seconds. . . . The HD800 reproduces it amazingly, even providing that special and very faint echo that is produced by a real drum. If you can find a headphone that produces that drum beat better, please post it in the comments. The reason I like the HD800 is that it can make well recorded music like this shine like no other headphone.
Edit4: On the other hand, with the HD800 you'll find yourself opening your favorite song from the past, hoping for the magic described above, only to discover that the song was poorly recorded. In these cases you need the right amp to mellow things down. Perhaps a tube; for me my Yamaha stereo receiver's output jack works well. But I am not going to ding the HD800 for making bad recordings sound bad, because I think it's solely the fault of the recording engineer but it's a complaint you'll hear from many HD800 users. Fortunately, there are enough very well recorded songs out there for me to enjoy the HD800.
Edit5: I just discovered a great use for its super long wire, using it to listen to TV and movies! More outstanding sound.
Edit6: One other advantage of this headphone is that, because its drivers are so far from your ears, there is less risk noise induced hearing loss.They are more like speakers in that sense.
Edit7: Out of curiosity, I took the time to set up my stereo receiver properly in 5.1 surround mode. I used its microphone to perfectly calibrate each of the speakers, placed all around me, left/right rear each 3 feet away, and the others 10 feet in front, all perfectly calibrated so that no one sounds louder than the other. There is also a subwoofer in this mix. What did I learn? That this setup (which costs about $1,000 total including the receiver) beats the HD800 in every song. The HD800's benefit is that it sounds more "natural" and realistic than other headphones, but if that's what you want you should just stick with speakers, which offer better detail (and details are presented in proportion, not like headphones which make details sound louder than they should), better spatials, better sound -- just better. My conclusion from this is that although the HD800 are the best headphones I've ever tried, they can't beat a proper speaker system, which makes sense because no amount of magic engineering could turn a 1-2" driver into something that can compete with perfectly placed full sized speakers. I include this so that no one, who has the room and privacy to enjoy speakers, wastes their money on an HD800. Headphones are for people in apartments, people with families and people on the move. If you have the room, go with speakers.
Pros - Perhaps the world's most transparent headphone. Incredible details, extension and precision. Unmatched spacial presentation.
Cons - Extremely sensitive to what's down the line, requires meticulous setup. Hopeless to demo, needs extensive listening to judge.
I've owned the HD800's for the better part of two years, by now I have hundreds and hundreds of hours of listening time behind me. It is never easy to review a flagship product but the HD800 is harder still, it is not a random thing that I've held off doing this review for so long.
The first time I demoed the HD800 I was of course incredibly exited to try Sennheiser latest and greatest headphone, who wouldn't be? I was impressed by the build quality, the "all-day-long-disappear-on-your-head" comfort, the attention to detail, the very German "rightness" of it all. As I listened to some of my favorite demo tracks in the hi-fi store I was amazed by the details, spacial presentation and precision. But at the end of it all I also came away more than a little perplexed, and there was no instant buy that day. Some of my favorite recordings had sounded a bit dry, hollow and sterile. Almost as if they had been stripped of emotion.
So at the time I simply concluded that the HD800 was competent, but that it wasn't for me. And no great loss since I carried on with my HD650's, a pair of headphones which I to this day still hold in very high regard.
But after a year or so I started thinking about the HD800's again, I guess curiosity is the only way I can describe it. Was I sure there really wasn't anything special with the HD800? This was Sennheiser we were talking about, could Sennheiser really be wrong? So I started reading about the HD800's, and how divided the opinions on them were. This didn't seem to be a "normal" pair of headphones which you could just demo for an hour or so. These headphones required you to actually buy them, install them in your system, set them up the way you want them, let the headphones break in and then let your ears acclimatize themselves.
But even armed with this knowledge I still wasn't completely sold on buying them, it's a lot of money to put down on the table when you're not sure if you're going to like something or not. But one day I spotted a mint second hand pair from a professional reseller at a price that was just too good to pass on. So I decided just to go for it - "heck for that price I can probably sell them for the same again if I don't like them" I said to myself.
And away from the pressure of the demo room I slowly began to warm to the HD800's and appreciate what's so special about them. This isn't really a headphone that's built to be a headphone, this is a set of headphones that's supposed to sound like a pair of speakers standing in front of you.
I have never before or since had a pair of headphones that image so well, it is simply uncanny and something that has to be experienced. Since they are so transparent they also respond extremely well to tweaking. If you change a cable, change the source or give them a +2 dB bass boost you can really hear the difference. This is both good and bad; it is good because they respond very well to changes down the line. It is bad because they are extremely demanding; if you have unclean power in your home, a low quality DAC, a humming amp or a low quality recording you will hear it.
And in this regard the HD800's are extremely unflattering, they will show absolutely no mercy towards bad recordings. On the other hand; if you give them top-notch components and a good recording they will blow almost everything else out of the water. This is why I like to think of the HD800's as a highly strung F1 car. They can be a pair of demanding son-of-a-somethings, but if you get them set up right... boy do they perform.
As such I highly recommend the HD800's, I've derived tons of listening pleasure from mine. It is a headphone that I like to think can do things which no other headphone can. But it is also a headphone that's best purchased when you've already owned a couple of other headphones, and you already have a very competent DAC and AMP setup. Even then it might not be a pair of headphones that you want to use all the time, or for all your recordings. But with the right setup, and the right recordings, you can experience "moments of greatness" which few other headphones can match.
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 - The DH800s have a great ability to show how good your upstream components can be.
Cons - You MUST use aftermarket cables to make them sound their best!
It took two months of burning in and finding the right aftermarket cables to make these my desert island cans! My system is made of an old Rotel cd player(9 + years) for digital out put and my pc with JRiver Media Center for flac files of my cd and vinyl recordings and high res audio files. I have had my Melos SHA-1 tubed headphone amp/preamp for almost 20 years! Transparent Audio Super cables for interconnects and Ultimates for speaker cables. From my PC to Pangea USB to my M-Audio Fast Track to Tara Labs RSC digital into my Bryston BDA-1 to said Melos SHA-1 headphone amp. I have HD600s, 650s as well as the 800s for ear pleasure. Recommended Moon Audio cables are use with all my 'phones. Audio Prism mkII power conditioner and Tara Labs, PS Audio and Cardas cables for power cords. I use Mapleshade Isoblock equipment stands. Speakers by Eggleston Isadoras and power amplification by Balanced Audio Technology's VK100. I've been a sound head for 30 years. I always have played with cables to get my sound as full and accurate as possible.
The music I listen to goes from David Sylvian, Brian Eno to Coltrane and Shostakovitch...
After my DH800s broke in with their stock cables I figured it was time to see if I could get them to sound fuller and less over bright. I shopped around until I found Drew Baird's website moon-audio.com, man was I impressed. Not only are his cables made of impressive materials but the terminations and construction quality are the absolute first class. I think I could use these cables for many, many years to come! With his Black Dragon cables sourced for the HD800s I was able to get very rich, warm and accurate sound from these cans! The highs were put into place with liquid highs and warm linear mids to full bodied bass(maybe not the end all bass but...). Image separation is amazing and the depth presented is unbelievable!
So it's happy ending for me. Don't wanna know 'bout the latest plannar Magnetic cans out there. I'm done,,,,, for now!
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.
Pros - Fantastic Curves & Design, Amazing Clarity, Perfect
Cons - The price for sure. Cant carry them everywhere!
Well Gents! I finally took the plunge after buying quite a few headphones! And at 1500 $ I must confess it is a pretty deep one!
I am still gasping for breath as it is the most expensive headphone that I ever bought!
The HD800 is surely not one that you would carry on a bus or train or plane. I was told that it is strictly for home use unless one spends most of his/her time in the office.
Unfortunately I am yet to inform my wife of this rather big purchase and so using it at home is out of the question!! I am into marketing and so don't spend too much time at the office. I do spend a lot of my time driving and so I have been listening to my amazing HD800 in the car during extended lunch breaks and late evening marketing meets (!!??!!)
I do use my other headphones but I cannot but admit that the HD800 is the best of the best! The bass rich, closed Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro, the lovely and true faithful Audio Technica ATH M50, the stylish VModa Crossfade M-100 and last but not the least the Bose QC 15 are all wonderful headphones and have given me a lot of pleasure over a period of time and will do in the future as well. But the HD800 reigns supreme over all of them, without any doubt whatsoever!!! Now to take another plunge! I will soon be looking to the forums to find information to buy a steeply priced (seems inevitable) headphone amplifier! The one that I currently use is not bad. Its a FiiO E12 which I bought for my Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro 250 ohms.
I am afraid that I am now very slowly moving into the "not so desirable 'audiophile' world"!!
I am now so much in love with the 800 that I miss them badly if I am not able to hear them at least once in a day! God Bless Sennheiser!
Am sure I would be sharing more eventually!