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Over-Ear item created by , May 5, 2010
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.
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.
Pros - Sound Quality... everything.
Cons - Pinch on the jaw.
All I have to say is that their awesome pair of headphones. Great sound stage, vocals are a bit too strong, you can feel the bass other than hearing it, and great for movies. Comfort is 4.5 because there is a bit of a pinch on the end of the jaw part, but you get use to it so... yeah. Still, overall, 5.0 rating.
Pros - extreme detail retrieval capabilities; vast soundstage; very comfortable.
Cons - possibly the price; some may prefer a more coloured sounding headphone.
Intro: my first encounter with the HD 800
A few months after discovering the world of high-end headphones I auditioned two of Sennheiser’s HD series, the HD 600 and the HD 800, side-by-side in a local hi-fi store. From the first moment I listened with the HD 800, I was amazed at how deeply I was able to peer into my favorite recordings and hear new details like never before. Though the HD 800 initially sounded a little bit bright to me in relation to what I would describe as ‘natural,’ I found its pristine sound reproduction to be a revelation, and for about an hour I listened in awe with the two HD series headphones.
Following that initial listening session, I wasn’t completely sold on the HD 800. Yes, it sounded like a fantastic musical microscope, but I thought it seemed expensive and a bit too thin sounding and treble-centric for my preference of totally natural sounding instrumental timbres and decided to leave the HD 800 alone for a while…
Reacquaintance with the HD 800
Eighteen months after my first encounter with the HD 800 and with more listening experience - including time with some of the world’s finest headphones - I found myself having the Audez’e LCD-2 as my main headphone, meticulously EQ’d by me to a more neutral response that revealed more of the upper level details that the LCD-2 seemed to lack in stock format.
As I continued to browse in the head-fi and related community, I discovered an article by Tyll Hertsens in which he rated the HD 800 as one the best headphones on the planet, and that the implementation of a simple mod alleviates the treble issues that many people experience with the HD 800 (more on that later). That was all I needed to see - my curiosity for the HD 800 was reactivated in that moment, and within a few days I had visited a hi-fi store in Germany (where I was on vacation at the time with family and friends) and given the HD 800 over an hour’s listening time. I really liked what I heard this time.
When I got back from Germany, I A/B’d my custom EQ’d LCD-2 with an HD 800 and was so suitably impressed that I decided to buy a used, next-to-new condition HD 800, and I’m very glad I did.
Equipment used during this review
All listening tests referred to in this review were done using the HD 800 and – unless otherwise indicated – either 320 kbps MP3s, lossless audio files, or CDs, fed via a JPS Labs Optical Cable to the Lavry DA10 DAC/Amp. At various times I had a number of other headphones on hand for relative comparisons inc. the Audez’e LCD-2, the Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 25, another HD 800, and the Grado PS1000. I often switched between them but there were other times when I just listened with HD 800 for extended periods.
Packaging and comfort
The HD 800 comes stored inside a black cardboard storage box similar to those of Sennheiser’s HD 6x0 headphones, but the HD 800’s box is lined with black satin and feels much more luxurious. Reading the HD 800 manual gave me a much greater appreciation for the craftsmanship of the HD 800 and Sennheiser’s meticulous creation standards. Though I was impressed by what I read and felt reassured that the HD 800 is an exquisitely constructed product, it seemed obvious that the proof of the pudding would be in the listening with the HD 800.
In terms of comfort, the HD 800 is probably the most comfortable headphone I have ever worn. It is light to wear and disappears from my awareness after a few minutes, revealing just the music/recording.
HD 800 listening experiments
Here are some of my findings about how listening with the HD 800 sounds to me:
Being used to the Audez’e LCD-2, which is a slightly dark-sounding headphone with emphasized bass presentation by default, I found listening with the HD 800 being like lifting a veil from what I was used to hearing with the LCD-2. When it comes to detail retrieval, the HD 800 is simply unmatched by any other flagship headphone I’ve yet heard.
On another note, when listening with the HD 800 since receiving it, I’ve often found myself audibly exclaiming the word ‘amazing’ quite a lot. It’s a welcome bonus and a ‘wow factor’ that I seem to experience relative to the clarity and precision of the HD 800, which to me is not the cold, soulless listen that many make it out to be. In my experience, when our thinking clears and we just listen, what we listen to always clearly speaks to us.
Soundstage and instrumental definition
No other headphone that I’ve heard has a soundstage as expansive as the HD 800’s - it’s wide, very deep (from back to front as well as from top to bottom), and very immersive for the listener. Every instrument on any recording I’ve played with the HD 800 sounds clearly positioned in the mix.
Hearing so much sonic detail presented at once can be a lot of information to take in may be quite fatiguing for casual music listeners used to a less revealing headphone-based listening experience. But the extensive detail revealed by the HD 800 is very impressive.
it’s clear to me why the HD 800 is considered a top choice for many audio professionals who work with open headphones: if it’s on the recording, the HD 800 will reveal it.
When listening to a recording of a live session I participated in a few days ago, I initially reached for my stalwart LCD-2. Then, when some instrumental details on the recording seemed to elude me, I switched to the HD 800 and almost immediately, what was muddy and unclear on the recording with the LCD-2 became clear with the HD 800. There was no harsh brightness and no colourations, just what’s on the recording. It was a very welcome surprise.
That realization confirmed for me that any excessively undesirable colourations that I’ve heard with the HD 800, such as overly bright and grating treble, must have been to an extent due to the recordings played. And it seems obvious that for an optimal listening experience with the HD 800, high quality recordings are a must.
That said, I do not find the HD 800 to be colourless, it clearly sounds like is has a slightly brighter, treble-happy sound than what sounds ‘natural’ to me i.e. the sound I heard when a musician performs in front of me.
In terms of bass presentation, I initially thought the HD 800 sounded very anemic, but after some more listening it was clear that bass with the HD 800 is fully represented, ultra clear sounding, and extensive, and, due to the HD 800’s design, delivered in a less intense way than the LCD-2, which seemed to thrust the sound upon this listener’s ears with weightier sonic heft than the HD 800, which has a more delicate and articulate way of delivering sound.
When A/Bing the HD 800 and LCD-2 it was clear to me that whilst the HD 800 is a less weighty-feeling/sounding listen than the LCD-2. The bass of the HD 800 is clearer than that of the LCD-2 in a very similar way to how the HD 600 has a clearer, more well-defined and less bloated bass presentation than the HD 650; the bass presentation sounded leaner with the HD 800 yet still very full.
Another factor contributing to both the bass quality and quantity of the HD 800 is most definitely the recording fed to it, which is something I’ve already touched on briefly. When listening to the HD 800 in Germany and exploring a pile of CDs in the shop there, I noticed that the audio quality I was hearing changed greatly from disc to disc. At another time, when listening to the Steely Dan back catalogue, I noticed there was a huge difference between the sonic quality of Can’t Buy A Thrill (1973) and Two Against Nature (2000), with the latter sounding much larger, weightier, and clearer.
Lastly, for those in doubt of the HD 800’s ability to deliver much bass, I recommend listening to a recording with plentiful bass in the recording, such as the track One More Time by Daft Punk. That’s all the proof I need to know that the HD 800 is capable of delivering very deep and satisfyingly full-sounding bass.
The midrange of the HD 800 is very clear and sounds more ‘etched’ than the LCD-2, which has a smoother and more liquid midrange presentation that’s also more intimate than the HD 800. When listening to Dave Grohl’s vocals on the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light album, his voice sounded smooth and rounded with the LCD-2, but more jagged, cold, and acerbic at times with the HD 800. To my ears the HD 800 don’t reproduce instrument sounds with as natural-sounding a tone as the LCD-2 do, but the HD 800 reveals many more of the sonic nuances of Dave’s vocals on the same track due to the HD 800’s ultra detailed, and prominent treble presentation.
I find this can be the strongest/weakest point of the HD 800 depending on how it is perceived. First, the HD 800’s treble is very fast and clear. To me it often seems as though it can extend upwards indefinitely, which to me seems partly due to the HD 800’s vast soundstage. On Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat album, the air/ambience around drummer Keith Carlock’s hi-hat playing on the opening track was clearly revealed by the HD 800; in fact, every articulation on every recording I listened to with the HD 800 is as clear as a blue sky on a cloudless sunny day. That’s quite an achievement from Sennheiser!
However, such extreme clarity can have its drawbacks. First, since the HD 800 reveals everything on a recording, if there are flaws present in a recording you are listening to, the HD 800 will lay them bare. This could detract from listening enjoyment for some listeners, in which case a headphone more forgiving of low-quality recordings, such as the HD 600, HD 650 or the Audez’e LCD-2, may be a better option. But that said I have yet found that the HD 800 has prompted me towards appreciating quality recordings more, in harmony with the musical message being expressed.
If recordings fed to the HD 800 are bright and edgy, bordering on harsh for artistic effect, such as on the Foo Fighter’s Wasting Light album, or, to a greater extent, Tool’s Lateralus album, listening with the HD 800 can be quite hard on your hearing. If you listen to a lot of recordings of the aforementioned nature or similar, the HD 800 may not be the right headphone for you, but that said, there are workarounds for the HD 800’s prominent treble, a few of which I’ll now discuss.
Taming the HD 800's treble
The HD 800’s treble has been the most frequently occurring issue that I have seen people express about the HD 800. So far I have found a few ways around it:
As soon as I read about the Anaxilus mod (nicely collated here) I wanted to try it, so I did. After applying it, I thought that the mod tamed the HD 800’s treble to the point where it is still very clear but not to the point of sounding as harsh as it did when the HD 800 was unmodded. I also saw that to be true when I A/B’d my modded HD 800 with an unmodded demo HD 800 - to me, the anaxilus mod has the effect of adding slight veil to the HD 800’s treble, resulting in less air round instruments in the upper treble region and a slightly thicker sounding bass presence.
Using a parametric EQ applied to my Mac’s system audio, I EQ’d the HD 800 to a more neutral response, in accordance with the headphone.com website’s suggestion of the ideal frequency response for headphones being a flat line descending from 1 kHz down 10 dB to 20 kHz. The result of such EQ with the HD 800 was like adding a veil to the sound of the standard HD 800. The overly bright treble was gone – and in synchrony with that the clearly etched definition of instruments was reduced – and listening to recordings with the EQ felt like a more casual and perhaps carefree experience, a bit like I recall listening to music with the HD 600.
I’ve heard from other head-fi members that using an aftermarket cable can tame the HD 800’s treble, and based on my own previous experiments with cables, I’m sure a cable could definitely soften the overall sound of the HD 800. I’ve not experienced that first hand, but I am due a loaner cable that is currently in the post to me from another head-fi member (thanks).
Using an amp that softens the sound of the HD 800, such as a tube amp, is the most commonly suggested solution I’ve seen to that, but I’ve mainly being using the Lavry DA10 which is a wire-with-gain type amp that is quite colourless and precise sounding. It doesn’t tame the HD 800 treble though.
Cross-genre suitability of the HD 800
I know that many people want the ultimate headphone, the ‘one set of cans to rule them all’ and have just one headphone. Depending on your preference the HD 800 may or may not fulfill that purpose.
The HD 800 excels at accurately presenting the overall relative tonal balance of the recordings it is fed and in that case will work well with any recording on a technical level, provided the source doesn’t get in the way.
Treble-lovers will be in heaven with the HD 800, and music such as classical, jazz, and acoustic-based forms will sound crystal clear, as clear as the recordings. Bassheads may be better offlooking elsewhere, unless their ideal definition of bass is clean, clear, deep, and articulate sounding, in which case the HD-800 could be a really interesting and welcome point of interest.
Listeners of electronic music may simply want a headphone that has more bass weight for such styles of music, and I’m grateful that I still have the LCD-2, however I didn’t find the HD 800 to be lacking in bass as what’s on recordings is accurately represented, but given the choice I most probably prefer the HD 800 more if it presented bass frequencies with extra weight.
With most pop/rock/metal music I fed it, the HD 800 sounded very clear but lacking in weight and true to life timbre whilst being slightly brighter than ‘natural.’ A more weighty-sounding headphone such as the LCD-2/3 or the Grado PS1000 may be a better choice for pop/rock/metal listeners.
The HD 800 is a landmark in headphone craftsmanship that, from the completely new design of the driver housing to the ring radiator drivers to the cable connectors, is a musical microscope that often reveals recordings with the utmost precision in a way that sounds slightly brighter than natural to me. (If timbre is your highest value in headphone election then you may be satisfied with the HD 800, but you may prefer something slightly darker sounding, relatively, like the LCD-2/3.)
Due to the HD 800’s ability to retrieve the smallest details on a recording, its sound signature can be quite demanding for the listener and most probably won’t be to every listener’s preference as some listeners just want a headphone that is ‘fun’ and not overly analytical. But to those who enjoy the HD 800’s sonic footprint, it may be the only headphone you ever need.
Those who appreciate the HD 800 in some ways and not others could sell it or keep it and supplement it with a different, perhaps warmer sounding headphone that’s still of decent quality such as the Stax 007, Audez’e LCD-2 or, Sennheiser HD 650.
Overall, I truly recommend the HD 800 as a world-class headphone suitable for the most discerning of ears, and for those who want to go deeper into exploring the recordings they know thought they knew, and love.
I was addicted when I heard it from a audiophile show in Hong Kong, the sound was completely different with other headphones. It sounds gorgeous, easy, natural, same as the approach of high end audiophile equipment. It is pricey, although not the highest in market nowadays. But it worth every cent you paid, if you have a set of good equipment to pair with it.
Many people complained its sound like lack of weight in bass, but my experience is due to not yet burnt in and the balance of whole the system.
It took me around 12 months to burn in. Therefore, if anyone wants to go for it, you need to have sufficient knowledge, experience, suitable equipment and patience.
Pros - Flawless sound reproduction and very comfortable
Cons - A bit pricey
Worth every penny
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 ...
I’ve been a “headphone audiophile” for the better part of 5 years now, searching for the elusive holy grail of headphone systems. During that time I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning some of the best headphones from every significant manufacturer, including the AKG K701 and K1000, Beyerdynamic T1, Stax Omega 2, Sennheiser HD600/HD650 and HE60, Grado RS-1, PS-1 and GS-1000, Audio-Technica W5000, W11JPN, and L3000, Ultrasone Edition 9, and others. Some of these I’ve even owned myself for periods of time.
Audio nirvana is a very personal thing. What sounds magical to me and sends chills down my spine might well sound artificial and grating to another. That is the nature of this hobby. With almost every top-tier headphone system I have tried, something has been lacking. Sometimes this “something” could be quantifiable – overly harsh treble response, lack of bass impact, flat or unrealistic soundstaging, and so forth – but often it could not be. The headphone simply didn’t move me, didn’t connect with me emotionally throughout the gamut of diverse musical genres I listen to. The Sennheiser HD800 is one of the very few headphones that have done so.
I have very eclectic musical tastes, ranging from psytrance and electronica, to Celtic and new age, metal, pop, progressive rock, modern jazz, and even some blues and easy listening. Sting and The Corrs are frequently queued right alongside Tool and Shpongle on my playlist, for example. Any headphone that aspires to a long term place in my rig, therefore, needs to be first and foremost a capable all-rounder. One-trick ponies often have a big initial “wow” effect; “The bass on these is incredible!”, “I’ve never heard so much detail before!”, and so forth. This kind of focussed excellence is often found in high end headphones whose manufacturers are known for having a “house sound” that appeal to a niche market. Grados, for instance, tend to excel at rock. Their unique combination of lush, tonally rich midrange and fast, well-textured bass impact make them ideally suited to the genre. But you won’t often find a classical music lover relying on the RS-1 as their primary headphone. Grado have addressed this in their own way, with the GS-1000 being the soundstageous departure from their typical house sound, but such an approach doesn’t appeal to me personally. I’m not a headphone collector, and I don’t want to be reaching for a different headphone every time a new song starts on my playlist. Is a headphone that excels at everything and has no glaring weaknesses an unrealistic expectation? Not any longer.
Build quality and comfort
An aspect of high end headphone listening that’s often overlooked is comfort and build quality. To me, this area is every bit as important as how a headphone sounds. What good is it to find a headphone that sounds sublime, only to be prevented from losing yourself in it because your ears are being rubbed raw?
The HD800, thankfully, doesn’t suffer from this shortcoming. In fact, it’s one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. It might lack the luxuriance of leather padding found on some high end Ultrasones, or even the Denon imitation pleather, but it makes up for that with huge earcups that do not touch the ears at all. And despite the size of the headphone, the HD800 is remarkably lightweight, which contributes to the feeling of the headphones simply disappearing when one puts them on.
The stock headphone cable is also one of the very few that I’ve actually liked. It seems very resistant to kinking, is not microphonic at all, and is lightweight enough not to cause cable drag. A cable that gets out of the way and doesn’t remind you it’s there is a good cable.
It’s far too easy to simply forget about critical listening with the HD800 on, and just enjoy the music. However for the sake of this review I’ll bust out the reference tracks and see how the headphone performs when put under the microscope. The HD800 was burned in for at least 100hrs prior to critical listening, and run through the following system:
Foobar configured with WASAPI for bit-perfect output, playing FLAC > HeadAmp Pico DAC > Jaycar 80W pure class A discrete amplifier > HD800 with stock cable.
First up is Shpongle’s Dorset Perception, a complex electronica passage that excels at testing a headphone’s imaging abilities. Throughout the intro of this track the HD800 keeps up with the increasingly chaotic soundstage, isolating each musical image in its own space and minimising “bleed” between them. I was able to take in the whole picture, as well as isolate and listen to each individual instrument in the soundfield without much effort on my part.
Moving on to Porcupine Tree’s Heartattack In A Layby, a test of ambiance and midrange presence. There’s a deep reverberation present in this track that underlies the vocal, and the challenge for a headphone is to present this reverberation in such a way that it emphasises the vocal rather than swamps it. Again the HD800 performs admirably, Steven Wilson’s voice rendered faithfully amidst the layers of electric guitar. More importantly, the overall emotional message of the track is communicated, creating an eerie feeling of transposition out of oneself and into the story of the music.
Alright, let’s try something with some grit. Onto Metallica’s Enter Sandman, from their celebrated Black album. An unhealthy few decibels of increased volume later and I was out of my chair yelling “Eeeeexit light! Eeeeenter night!”, much to the annoyance of my neighbours I’m sure. The power metal of Hammerfall was likewise rendered with sufficient crash-of-rhinos impetus to get me head banging. Sure, the Denons and Grados can rock harder, let that never be questioned. But the HD800 CAN rock, and it can rock well.
Lastly, Loreena McKennitt’s The Highwayman to test the HD800’s capabilities with female vocals. Her sweet, effortless voice is rendered with such conviction on these headphones that this proved another moment of eerie transposition for me. The palpability of Loreena’s voice, combined with the wide, holographic soundstage of the HD800’s transport me to the lonely road in the moonlight, up to the old inn door... linked arm in arm with Loreena as she sings the story of the Highwayman. I do not feel the HD800 lacked anything in conveying the atmosphere of this track.
The HD800 is one of the best all-rounder high-end headphones I’ve heard. To my listening experience, it has 3 main competitors – the Stax Omega 2, the Sennheiser HE60, and the bass-heavy AKG K1000. All of them perform similarly (or even slightly better) than the HD800, but all cost considerably more, only one of them is still in production (the Omega 2), and they all demand very specialised systems to drive them. This is not to say the HD800 isn’t a picky beast to drive as well, because it certainly is. Sennheiser designed them to be as open a window into the music as possible, and that goal is what they have achieved. If anything is lacking in your connected equipment, you’re going to hear it.
Regardless, anyone who (like me) values a headphone which excels at many things rather than one, and has the ability to connect the listener to the emotional message of their music definitely owes it to themselves to try the HD800. I doubt you will be disappointed.
Pros - World-class headphones.
Cons - None
After almost 2 years of having them, I am still thrilled with their sound reproduction. Does need a very good and powerful tube amp.
Pros - Open, detailed sound out of the head. Balanced mid and base
Cons - Need custom cabling