In 1976, Yamaha released the very first Planar Magnetic headphone that achieved commercial viability—the HP-1. I purchased a pair for $95 back in the late 70s as a teenager, this being the first headphone I owned. With fond memories of listening to my favorite music, usually Neil Young, I kept the HP-1 for many years.
Why am I beginning my review on the D8000 ($3,799)—final's first Planar Magnetic headphone—with the HP-1? In my research on the development of the D8000, I read the final design team consulted with Yamaha and drew inspiration from the HP-1. When I learned of this, my interest in the D8000 was piqued no doubt due to the legacy I was part of.
From my understanding, final's D Series of products yet to be released will all employ planar technology drivers since there are some inherent advantages over dynamic driver designs. With ultralight membranes driven with uniform excursion, distortion is kept to a minimum. The feather light driver material also is able to reproduce micro detail that gives the sound a level of transparency that engages a listener with the emotionality of an artist's music.
I've owned other Planar Magnetic headphones besides the HP-1, the Audeze LCD-2 and the LCD-XC, both very different sounding from each other, in my view. Ultimately I opted to go back to dynamic driver designs which culminated with my purchase of the Focal Utopia. Having owned these for over a year now, I expected this was going to be my end game headphone since it pulled me into the music better than any other I had heard.
Then came my recent purchase of the D8000 ...
My source gear for this review is an Astell&Kern AK240 Stainless Steel ($3,000) connected to an iFi xDSD DAC/Amp ($399). I used hi res files in my listening sessions from a selection of genres. Initially, I tried the D8000 straight off the AK240SS, but I found myself maxing the volume, especially with older recordings mastered before the loudness wars that began in the early 90s.
In my review, I did not use the XBass or 3D features on the xDSD, nor did I use the EQ on the AK240SS. Additionally, I have about 250 hours on the D8000.
Neil Young / American Stars 'n Bars / Like a Hurricane (24/192)
This song just rages throughout highlighted by Neil's guitar solo. I chose this song because I wanted to see how well the D8000 handled the dynamics, and all I could do is bop my head back and forth mesmerized by the music. Macro dynamics were portrayed very well with no sense of a dynamic ceiling; it just gets louder and louder, the way this song is meant to be heard. Neil's guitar solo screeches along with his finger movements, and the D8000 did not get hard sounding as it does on the Utopia. Cymbals are portrayed with a shimmering sheen and the decay is clearly delineated. Finally, the bass performance on the D8000 shows itself with the kick drum, cleanly reproduced with a solid whack.
Massive Attack / Blue Lines / Blue Lines (24/96)
This seminal trip hop album shows off the bass performance of the D8000, clean and deep with good punch. There isn't much overhang, the bass sounding tight and not coloring the lower midrange, in my view. This song is nicely recorded, and the separation within the soundstage is readily apparent. There are three male vocalists on this track, clearly occupying their own space, width and depth wise.
Anita Baker / Rapture / Mystery (24/192)
Female vocalists are sometimes the hardest to reproduce accurately, but the D8000 does a beautiful job on this song. Anita Baker's voice is portrayed vividly, and the pronounced bass line that accompanies her singing does not intrude on its clarity. The resolving power of the D8000 is on full display here: there are certain points in the song where one can hear the faintest amount of a gravely nature to her voice. This song is very atmospheric, and the soundstage just blossoms outward.
B.B. King / Live at the Regal / Sweet Little Angel (24/96)
Perhaps the best Blues album ever recorded. Certainly my favorite. This song really shows off the soundstage capabilities of the D8000. No, not to the level of an HD 800, but not far from it. All three dimensions are clearly portrayed here—width, depth, and height. When B.B. sings and the audience goes wild, the dimensionality is fantastic, and I get drawn into the music, and into the event.
Bob Marley / Legend / Waiting in Vain (24/96)
Another song that shows off a spacious sound with especially good depth. The soundstage envelopes one's head with great separation of instruments. This only comes due to the resolving power of the D8000, its ability to express the subtleties that exist within a song, and doing so with good micro dynamics so there isn't any blurring of softer passages. The bass is very nicely reproduced on this song, both dynamic and defined.
Talk Talk / The Colour of Spring / I Don't Believe in You (24/96)
My favorite band from the 80s. Towards the beginning of this song, there is a plucking of guitar strings that sent shivers up me, they seemed so realistic. Continuing on with this common theme, a very atmospheric portrayal of both Mark Hollis' voice and the accompanying instruments. The sound is so airy, floating around in my head and way outside it. Simply beautiful ...
The Sisters of Mercy / Floodland / Flood II (24/96)
Big atmospheric sound with great bass drive. This song is meant to play LOUD, and the D8000 does so with aplomb. It is with music like this that one will need an amp that puts out some juice. Although the D8000 is rated at 60 ohms with a 98dB/mW sensitivity, like most high end headphones, having a powerful amp maximizes the potential. This song also makes me realize that I need to do further amp shopping in the near future. LA CanJam here I come!
Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade / The Sea and Sinbad's Ship (24/88)
It is with this album compared to the others listed that I come to what is the most demanding music to reproduce. The dynamics are intense. The subtleties sublime. When the violins come in towards the beginning, I almost want to cry. The D8000 captures the extremes of this album with such emotion that words cannot express how I feel. This is what high end audio is about; this is why the D8000 is, in my mind, beyond explanation. It simply must be heard to appreciate all that it does. Go listen.
I have written several reviews on Head-Fi, but never one that deserved 5 stars. The D8000 is an extraordinary headphone that, in my view, has little fault. With that said, it may not be your cup of tea: if you like a highly detailed top end, the D8000 will sound dark to you; if an ultra wide soundstage is important, the D8000 will sound confined; if you're looking for subterranean bass, the D8000 will not get you there (I may change my mind on this when I buy a commensurate amplifier). What the D8000 will give you is a well balanced, meticulously built headphone dressed up in spartan attire; this headphone oozes understated style, which I like a lot.
I would have loved to see a case included for a $3,800 headphone. One is offered by final, but it sells for $120. Yes, a solid aluminum stand is supplied, but I want to go out in the world and listen—and share—the beauty the D8000 brings to the listener.
That is my only quibble.