Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones

descloud

100+ Head-Fier
HD800 - Still iconic?
Pros: + Head stage is definitely impressive as many would say
+ Imaging for well recorded live tracks has been excellent
+ Detail retrieval and resolution is top notch
+ Can be EQ'd to your heart's content without losing other technicalities
+ Very comfortable to my average head shape and ear size given the cup size
+ Personally like the aesthetics despite it being released in 2009
+ Great pair that can be had in the used market under $800
Cons: - Treble peak at 6khz is the biggest flaw in stock tuning
- Stage and Imaging are also negatives yes, for other tracks that don't really have such a stage ( a lot of pop songs), it creates an artificial stage for it
- Dynamics is a slight step below what I preferred (i.e. Focal Clear)
- Silver paint coating is easily dented/scratched - so durability of the paint is subpar in my books
Preface

A legendary headphone from one of (if not) the most popular headphone nerd’s brand - Sennheiser. It was (or may still be for some) claimed as the best performing headphone around. For others, it has qualities no other headphone has matched yet - soundstage and “raw detail” as some would say. I will go in-depth with my own findings after owning this headphone for a while.


Comfort
  • Clamp force is less than moderate, at the cost of being easily moved when your head makes quick turns or jerking motion
  • I don’t experience any weight build up at top of my head
  • Ear pads may be the largest and most spacious I’ve had, beating out the HD600/HD650 - except for uncommon ears who stick more outward
  • Overall very comfortable for my average head

Aesthetics and Packaging
I’m in the camp of finding the design of these iconic.

Not much to say, but pretty good and what you should expect from a kilobuck priced headphone.


Sound

Having bought this used, the pads are a little bit worn compared to a brand new one. I’m not sure how much of an effect these pads are for the HD800 considering they’re a lot less dense than the HD6X0 pads. If anyone can link a difference in measurements between a worn vs fresh HD800 pads on an HD800, I would appreciate the link to it.

Listening volume is ~60dB - 75 dB for reference. Measurement reference as to how I hear it is similar to Crinacle’s (which appears to be very similar to Tyll’s measurements upon quick search despite the different equipment used).

Amplification

I find these aren’t that difficult to be driven. Both solid state amps I have only needed up to 9:00 on the volume dial to sound their stock tuning. Adding in EQ and you still have plenty of headroom. That said, I find these can be played from mobile DAPs or something like an iPod classic just fine, but given these are open-back with a cable meant for stationary listening, the question should be why would you? Do yourself a favour and only get these cans if you have the intention of setting up a listening station such as in front of your computer for example along with a good performing dac/amp setup.

Now, there are those that state HD800 *needs* a warm sounding amp or a specific tube amp to sound their best. That is their opinion and I will give them that, despite my disagreement with the use of the word *need* for a particular type of amplification. If you are adventurous, go ahead and spend money finding the amp that you find best produces sound out of the HD800 for you. I'll stick to using the amps I have and applying EQ as it already gives me the maximum pleasure out of my headphones.

Additionally, there are those that claim the HD800 needs proper pairing as it is “revealing of your source gear”. I’ll let you be the judge of that, but my take on it is that differences between my amps when doing a quick and dirty A/B sighted testing reveals very little differences, which I can’t even point to using the HD800. Maybe a proper blind test can help me distinguish those minute differences better, or help me determine there is no difference - but I’m not invested enough to do such an experiment since the headphone is the part of the audio chain with the most noticeable difference. EQ is an available tool for me so amp pairing is a non-concern.


Stock Sound Signature

Bright neutral seems to be appropriate for this one. That 6kHz peak is ever so present above what I consider neutral. The effect of this treble peak isn’t as large as the 8kHz peak the DT1990 with A pads have (which causes over-sharpened treble that renders timbre incorrect mostly), but it’s still very audible nonetheless, especially at my normal listening volumes.

Other than that, the tonality between bass and midrange sounds relatively even and linear to my ears, I can’t hear any flaws in these areas. Sub-bass lacks impact compared to my preference, while treble extension is excellent with great tonality for the most part, minus the 6kHz peak.

One thing to note about sound signature for these, there are changes depending on placement to your ears. Put the cups too forward and the treble peaks are subdued, making them sound slightly warmer. Put your ears around the middle of the ear cups and it’s the stock tuning I describe above. Put your ears more forward and it’s more similar to having your ears in the middle, but with a very slight treble smoothing. I believe this has been mentioned by those who took measurements like Tyll and oratory at different forums but their take might be different from mine.

With all that said, I think the stock tuning is listenable to my ears. Some may not like the treble peak at 6kHz, and that is understandable, especially if you listen to higher decibel levels. Others find it *perfect*, and I say good for them despite me questioning a bit their hearing abilities. For my personal listening setup, the stock tuning is passable and addictive for a good number of songs in the 70s to 90s with how they’re mastered. The funny thing is, once I’ve listened to a few songs, the peak normalizes to my auditory system and I don’t find it especially grating, but at stock tuning I usually listen at lower volumes.

Slight EQ tweaks make them even better sounding, especially for the other genres I listen to.

Bass
  • Tight, well-controlled and articulate - while lacking slam compared to something like the DT1990 and Focal Clear, but slaps more than the HD600 to my ears
  • Extension is good (audible as low as ~50Hz at my preferred listening level)
  • Bass quantity is just right for anything not using synthesized bass notes (which modern pop tracks usually have)
  • I think is the most realistic representation of bass guitar notes out of all headphones I’ve tried with the texture and decay present for well recorded songs (similar to Aornic’s findings on his review)
Midrange
  • Male vocals have decent weight and texture so long as the vocals don’t reach beyond 1kHz range
  • Female vocals reaching higher than 1kHz tend to have a somewhat raspy quality in their notes - great for some singers while not so much for others. Lower than that, they’re great and hard to complain
  • At the same time, female vocals tend to have a thinner weight compared to male vocals, likely because of the 6kHz treble peak
  • Piano notes and violin have great texture and harmonics in the lower midrange region. For upper octave notes, I find it slightly lacking in body to sound very realistic, but it’s an excellent representation nonetheless
  • Not as smooth in vocal/instrument transition as the DT1990 (EQ'd), HD600 or HE-500
  • Vocals and instrument pieces tend to sound further away, which I think is likely caused by the low dip between 2kHz - 3.5kHz
Treble
  • The 6kHz peak can be noticeable for instruments/vocals reaching this region - rendering them as slightly raspy and a bit unnatural for most recordings with singers that have full and clean vocals
  • That same peak can be harsh for others sensitive in this region - fortunately for me, it did not match with another peak somewhere in the 9kHz region that makes consonant ranges too sharp to my ears, unlike the Focal Clear
  • For modern genres, treble is mixed very hotly in that I can hear some ringing or resonance. For 90s or 80s classic rocks, the resonance or ringing is less present
  • Cymbal crashes and hi hats are very realistic sounding with quick impact and proper decay for certain tracks
  • Extension in the 10kHz region is great, giving a lot of air and space in recordings

Detail Retrieval (Resolution) and Dynamics

This section I think is already known by those who’ve heard it. But for those who don’t, they have excellent detail retrieval and resolution. I hear every detail somehow being present in its own space and not always blending in harmony with the music being played - which can either be a good or bad thing depending on how you want to hear your track. That mild upper-mid dip may contribute to main vocals in tracks not taking center stage of the song, thereby giving room for other instruments to be easily picked out (even without intentionally focusing on them).

Dynamics are great for the treble - but it sounds to my ears that midrange dynamics (vocals + guitars + piano tones in this region) appear to be all equal in volume at their transients. Not sure if this is the trade-off with having such a head stage placement (which we’ll get to soon). Bass dynamics is good, but just lacking in first attack impact. Speed (which is not a definitive section so I’m combining it here), is almost planar like.


Head stage and imaging

The best party trick the HD800 is known for - head stage (soundstage). I will have to break it down so people can understand my findings of these as it’s mostly superlatives I’ve been reading around forums. As noted in the first few paragraphs of this section, the cup placement affects the sound signature, and that applies to the stage and imaging as well. For this review, I’ve mainly had my ears placed around the center of the cup for reference, as I find it the most natural placement on my head.

First off, let’s start with the stage width - meaning pure perceived horizontal measurement from my left shoulder to my right shoulder. I find it beating my open-grilled HE-500 by an inch or two, meaning it’s above average in terms of stage width for me.

Next off, stage shape and volume size - how is the stage perceived? Almost all of the headphones I’ve tried generally have a stage that’s semi-circular in shape, where my head is the central point, which I tried best representing with the image below with my head being the green circle, and the music area being the grey area.

1606001535469.png

Now, I feel with how large the HD800 cups are, combined with how far it is from my ears and measurements showing a dip starting at 2kHz to 3.5khz, the stage appears more like covering 270 degrees around my head than just 180 degrees. It is large, compared to most of what I’ve tried. To that end, I can agree with people using that description. Given how large it sounds, it presents details a bit differently than what I’ve heard from previous cans I’ve heard - which goes to the imaging section.

But one thing the reader has to note is that, there are factors that prevent these (or any headphone for that matter) from having the perception of being speaker-like, which is the physical sensation of feeling something surrounding your ears. Speakers are placed away from you and don’t intrude your head, so when others comment superlatives of “speaker-like”, it might be useful to have context. Compared to the majority of headphones I’ve tried, the sensation of my ears not touching the inner foam covers or padding mixed with how the stage is perceived on these (save for the HE-500 with Audeze pads setup) is akin to being speaker-like, although not quite speaker-like if you know what I mean. In terms of relativity, it’s besting the headphone space, meaning it is closer to the speaker-like realm, but still far from being actually speaker-like. So if one doesn’t have context, such descriptions sound like an exaggeration and can tamper with someone’s expectations. With that out of the way, let’s move on.

For imaging, this gets a little bit more interesting. The HD800 gives the illusion of pushing all details away from me instead of being up close and intimate like the HD6X0 series or even the Focal Clear. Further, I find it impressive that instruments seem to have a finite space in the stage. It’s as if the instruments at times are not as cohesive, well blended or integrated to a song, akin to listening to a live performance than to a playback recording. Instruments have their own space and are audible. They don’t come at you at random spots (i.e. Focal Clear), but they’re defined to a space in the stage. In that sense, I can give image precision as ‘great’ - with Hotel California 1994 MTV performance being my sole test track for this technical capability.

On the cons side, there are tracks that don’t really have well defined stage presentation (some modern electronic tracks) and the HD800 tends to make a weird stage layout on them. It also tends to place pieces of a song in places I'm not familiar with. Just something I took note of.

In a live performance of bands, oftentimes I can distinguish the different instruments because the less precise audio input levels mixed with the room acoustics (i.e. sound reflections between the crowd and the room) affect the perception of the different instruments being played out. I find the stage and imaging oftentimes similar to a live concert in a large, closed venue based on my previous experience, but some recordings don’t have this presentation so it’s track dependent a bit. I think the cup size helps a lot in this perception.

To reiterate, this may seem like an exaggeration, because it is in a way. Don't expect these to realisticaly sound like having speaker-like stage, because it doesn't. Tamper your expectations my friend.


Timbre

For the most part, instruments sound as they should, especially drum kits and bass guitars. Acoustic and electric guitars are also well represented. Piano tones, male and female vocals for the midrange to lower midrange I say have good texture, but higher tones are leaning towards the ‘dry’ or slightly edgy texture. Same goes for vocals that reach near the 6khz region. It tends to make vocals near that section sound slightly ‘rough’ or ‘raspy’ for lack of a better term. In stock tuning, they sound speaker-like for some tracks, and that is excellent in my books as I value timbre quite a lot in headphones.

I find for modern genres, given how they master the treble section, is a bit too bright on these. 90s and older classics I find are a pleasure on the HD800. I don’t listen to a lot of symphonies or classical, but I would assume given most feedback out there, those genres are well represented.


EQ

I think it is well known that these headphones are very open to equalization without much distortion from what I’ve gathered. For some, the HD800 sound great as they are and prefer them that way. For others, EQ is needed for these to be listenable or to sound ‘correct’ to their hearing. I would agree to the latter notion to some extent. To my ears, these don’t need as much EQ as the DT1990 to be correct sounding and/or pleasing sounding.

For those that want my EQ profile, here you go:

Filter 1: ON PK Fc 59 Hz Gain 2.2dB Q 2.70
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 5774 Hz Gain -3.9dB Q 3.15
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 9155 Hz Gain -3.2 dB Q 6.61
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 11444 Hz Gain 1.8 dB Q 1.36
Filter 5: ON PK Fc 19734 Hz Gain -5.0 dB Q 0.39

This makes them sound warmer relative to the stock tuning (which is normal upon quick A/B switching). Once you adjust the volumes to your normal listening volume, your auditory system will normalize and it’s not too warm sounding (although it seems my preference is having a touch warmth overall). To my ears, this is lowering the effects of the 6kHz peak (ringing, edginess, splashiness of drum kits) that is present on a lot of songs I listen to. At the same time, cymbals and hi hats sound less realistic with this EQ profile to my ears, but renders the rest of the pieces more correct sounding. Further, it does not affect the stage in any way.

I think most would want more bass than stock HD800, so you can play around with oratory’s EQ in the bass region. I personally just use the bass boost from the iFi Micro BL and find it enjoyable.

Do note that using the Harman target curve does affect the treble quality of the HD800 a bit too much to my ears, so it’s not something I’d recommend blindly. I’ve seen a mix of people liking and disliking their HD800 EQ’d to match the Harman curve using something like oratory’s EQ preset. I say play around with the values provided by measurements - they’re abundant out there.


Comparisons

Vs HD600 and HD650/HD6XX

If you’re after a more agreeable tonality, I think the HD6X0 series have proven to be enjoyed by the majority. Just a note, my experience may not be a fair nor correct assessment given the difference in pads when I evaluated each - whereas it is slightly worn for HD600 and very worn for the HD650. To cut to the point, the HD600 is my pick as being the more neutral over the HD650 as the warmer/darker sounding headphone to compare to the HD800 with.

It’s a bit of a no contest that the HD800 has the better technicalities, at the expense of an easier tonality to listen to when brought up against the HD600. As such, if one is looking at finding an improved HD600, the HD800 is not it UNLESS you are open to using EQ with it. The HD800 is in a different sound signature category (and technicalities category). Go for the HD800 if you are looking for better technicalities and don’t mind the change in sound signature.

The HD800 don’t have the ‘sweet’ sounding vocals of the HD600 by default, but they can be had if you know how to EQ these properly (to which I haven’t found that yet I would say).


Vs Focal Clear

I don’t have the Clear anymore, so you can take this comparison with as much salt as you want. I made detailed notes about it to remind me of my perception of the Clear’s sound signature and technicalities to the best of my memory.

With that out of the way, I would give the better stock tonality to the Focal Clear by a small step, not an enormous one. Additionally, the Clear has the better bass impact and overall dynamics while not affecting timbre with its own peaks. However, what really triggers my senses with the Focal Clear are the consonant range being sharper or edgier than even the HD800 - which eventually led me to selling it despite it’s excellent tonality and technicalities.

Detail retrieval and head stage I would have to give the clear nod to the HD800. While the Clear has great detail retrieval, it makes the tiniest details jump out at you during a song, which I think Resolve from the headphone show explains better on his Focal Clear review. The Focal Clear doesn’t present such micro-details in a cohesive manner, nor is the center stage as well-defined to my ears. For the center stage, I find there seems to be narrow holes in the center stage that annoyed my perception for some reason with the Clear (which seems to be only me with that finding).

So, if you were to ask me which would I recommend between the two? I’ll tell you this, I cannot give you a straight answer. Once you are in the kilobuck range with these models, personal enjoyment and the type of music you listen to will be a larger factor in determining what’s right for you. And how would you know what’s right for you? Trial and error essentially - listen to them and make sense of the measurements available.

On a personal note, I already found the Focal Clear triggering my sensitivities in its stock tuning, so it’s not something I kept with me, clearly. But, the Clear I find is the more enjoyable listen if you listen to a lot of modern genres or upbeat songs. The stock tuning is something I can recommend to majority of people. With the HD800, I need to play around with EQ to achieve that. This is not to say that no one will like the HD800 stock tuning, because there are those who do. However, I still think the HD800’s flaws in the treble spikes that cause harshness, some ringing and rough quality on a good number of tracks prevents it from being an outright recommendation for those who only want a plug and play type of headphone.

For that matter, my default recommendation is the Clear if no EQ, and HD800 if you’re open to EQ. Reminder that this is only factoring in sound quality, not maintenance cost nor other associated tangibles with it.


Vs DT1990

For those that find Beyer’s treble sibilant and triggering your sensitivities, you can skip this comparison as this may not be useful for you.

In stock tuning of HD800 vs stock A-pads of the DT1990, I would give the clear nod of better tonality to the HD800. Stock HD800 vs stock B-pads of the DT1990, it’s a bit of a toss up depending on what you listen to, but I would still prefer the bright neutral HD800 over the warmer/V-shape signature of the DT1990 with B-pads.

Comparing the stock tuning of the HD800 with my EQ’d DT1990 using A-pads (which I personally use) that removes the masking effect of the treble region, I would say they are close in detail retrieval but presents it in slightly different ways. Let me explain a bit further.

For the DT1990 (A-pads), it presents the tiniest of details/instruments in a song in a manner such that it is audible but blends just nicely with the rest of the track. It doesn’t jump at you (Focal Clear) nor does it have an audibly defined space in the stage, which the HD800 has. It simply presents micro-detail in a very synchronized and harmonic manner with respect to the song being played - apologies for the lack of better descriptor here. I guess you could put it this way, I find the DT1990’s detail presentation better integrated to the enjoyment of the song. This is the best I can describe it unfortunately.

Additionally, the DT1990 has the more enjoyable bass impact than the stock HD800 and center stage pieces are more intimate sounding - preference to this is dependent on the listener.

With my EQ’d HD800 against an EQ’d DT1990? To me they sound close in tonality, with the biggest differentiator being the head stage and detail presentation as mentioned above. To be honest, I find this a close match up. The DT1990 if you are on the cost-effective side, HD800 if you want the better potential from what I can tell. I'm leaning towards the HD800 at this point.


Vs HE-500 (modded)

Since I don’t have the default setting for the HE-500 anymore, the stock tuning would be how mine is currently modded - back screen off with Audeze Elite Velour pads installed. I don’t use EQ on it anyway so this is how the two will be compared. Stock tonality - the HE-500 takes my pick here 10/10.

Head stage and detail retrieval goes exclusively to the HD800. The HE-500 presents detail in a manner that plays along with the rest of the track, not in a manner that each instrument shows itself in its own space with almost equal volume with the rest of the mix. Bass and midrange quality, I’ll give the nod to the HE-500. The HD800 can sound thin when compared to these, especially when doing quick A/B comparisons.

EQ'd HD800 vs HE-500 modded? I haven't done this comparison yet as I'm mainly using the HD800 and DT1990 recently. Comfort and weight definitely goes to the HD800, as well as aesthetics.


Conclusion

This has been one of my longest write-ups recently. I must say, I like to dive deep into the controversies of discontinued headphones in more detail. So without further ado, let’s finish this write-up.

Is the HD800 something I can blindly recommend to someone who is looking for a good sounding higher-end headphone?

Not really. Once you are nearing the kilobuck range, personal target curves and enjoyments vary and matter more per dollar. The HD800 IMO does not have a tuning majority of people would find agreeable. A lot of words thrown to describe the HD800 are 'sterile', 'analytical', 'lifeless', or whatever 'non-musical' terms people often like to use.

If you’re someone who uses EQ anyway, then this can be considered among my blind recommendations.

Is the HD800 a good upgrade from the HD600/HD650/HD6XX lineup?

Yes IF, you are looking for better technicalities and not similar in tonality.

No IF, you are looking for similar tonality and ‘midrange magic’ that some gush over.

Is the HD800 still relevant in 2020?

In my opinion, yes. It has a trait that I find is still impressive, especially with how much you can get a used HD800 nowadays with its discontinuation and replacement of HD800S.

Is the HD800S the same as the HD800?

Some claim the HD800S has very little difference with the HD800. Others claim adding the SDR mod to the HD800 is essentially the HD800S. I haven’t heard it, so I can’t give you a reliable answer. Take other opinions that had both as better input.

If I don’t want to mess with EQ, is the HD800 something I’ll enjoy still?

Depends if you like bright-neutral sound signatures. Genres these are known to sound great with are classical or orchestral music.

Are there cheaper alternatives for getting the HD800 sound qualities?

Maybe an EQ’d DT1990? An AKG K702/K712? I don't know. But to be honest, the HD800’s biggest trait of spatial presentation isn’t quite captured even with a DT1990 EQ’d. The DT1990 has the more fun bass sound between the two though to my ears.

If I personally rank these in different categories out of 10 (with 10 being the highest):

Stock tonality: 7.8/10
EQ’d tonality: 9/10
Sound technicalities: 9.5/10
Comfort: 9/10

**Update: SDR mod applied

With this mod, it alleviates the 6kHz peak from stock tuning by a noticeable margin - which to my ears makes them more tolerable and listenable for longer periods. It makes the tonality less bright, but likely for most still noticeable bright than if they consider the HD600 their neutral reference.

The treble region is still a bit sharper than what I would consider correct sounding though - but I found that applying EQ to this setup results in less resonance from the 6khz and gives me a better balance in the treble region. The stock HD800 even with EQ for some reason, seems to be still showing a lingering 6kHz resonance that I can't remove without completely making the treble sound too dark. The SDR mod gives me the fix that I was looking for post-EQ.

In summary, the SDR mod I found doesn't affect the rest of the frequency range too much, nor does it affect technicalities when I did a quick A/B. That said, I can highly recommend applying SDR mod to the HD800 if possible.
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491838

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: God tier clarity (especially for the price)
Bright sound signature can be fixed with EQ
Wide stage
Cons: Lean bass
Slightly sharp timbre
Mixed bag in terms of comfort
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The Sennheiser HD800 - God tier clarity. Is this an "affordable" end-game headphone 11 years after its release?

The short answer is pretty much yes but it depends on your sound signature preference and whether or not you’re willing to use EQ. See, the HD800 is a fairly controversial headphone, which is seemingly either hated for its bright sound or adored for its benchmark levels of clarity and detail for the price. Seeing how cheap it is on the used market, these are undoubtedly the best bang for your buck, especially if you’re willing to EQ them. With this mini-review I’m attempting to dispel some of the myths surrounding this headphone and to perhaps give more evidence (anecdotal/subjective nonetheless) of its strengths. I am going to start with the most important aspect which is sound.

The HD800’s stock sound signature is actually fairly balanced save for two main flaws, namely the infamous 6K(ish) peak and the slow build up to the 3K ear resonance peak, which give this headphone a somewhat sibilant sound with mids that are a bit withdrawn compared to most headphone targets. The sound target that I prefer is the Harman over-ear response, albeit with a less extreme bass shelf and a bit more upper treble above 10K. The oratory1990 EQ profile for this headphone provides that with some minor tweaks (my personal EQ profile that’s based on oratory’s will be attached to this post) and I also like how it doesn’t touch the upper treble because I think that’s the hardest part to EQ and it’s probably best left untouched on this headphone even though the treble at 10K and above is likely the source of some additional sharpness but also great levels of detail.

It’s worth noting that plenty of people enjoy this headphone without EQ and I honestly expected it to sound a lot harsher than it does based on most people’s impressions but perhaps I’m not as treble sensitive as I thought. However, I strongly recommend trying the oratory EQ, perhaps tweaking it to your liking, to make this headphone sound even better. Much better. This is one of the best headphones to use with EQ seeing as the unit to unit variation of the HD800 is very minor (in terms of frequency response) and there is no “detail loss” or “distortion” increase caused by the careful tweaking performed by this particular EQ profile (just don’t overdo the bass shelf and lower the gain to appropriate levels to avoid clipping). High end headphones like the HD800 respond very well to EQ and the difference between my profile and the stock sound is quite noticeable. The thin bright highs are mostly gone and the mids and upper mids have the proper levels now and render vocals and acoustic instruments with impeccable clarity. I am now going to give a more in-depth description of the sound properties of this headphone and my impressions are mostly based on my usage of this headphone with EQ, so bear in mind that the perception of detail can improve quite a bit when a headphone is tweaked to have a more agreeable frequency response.

One of the first things that struck me about the sound of this headphone the moment I put them on was the impressive clarity that they provide. It’s a bit difficult to describe but they have this seemingly unique ability to render instruments and voices (especially post EQ) in an unadulterated way. I noticed this a lot even when watching YouTube and listening to random people talk into high quality microphones. It feels like their voices are physically there and nothing else is “added” to them. No warmth or other artifacts that are FR related. Just pure sound. My other similarly priced headphone purchase was the Audeze LCD-2 Fazor, which will be the main point of comparison for this review, but the clarity on those with oratory’s EQ, which attempts to bring all headphones to a common sound target (i.e. the Harman OE target), was nowhere near as good. I think Audeze headphones have this inherent warmth to them that’s impossible to EQ out which prevents them from sounding as clear as the HD800 even though they might have similar detail capabilities (or better even). I’m guessing it has something to do with the big leather pads. The HD800 earpads are much much thinner and are made of some type of microfiber as opposed to leather and they probably influence the sound a lot less as a result. It probably also helps that the HD800 driver enclosure is a big open space but the metal mesh inside is credited as the culprit of the treble resonances that this headphone has.

Funnily enough, the $300 Etymotic ER4 is the closest thing in my collection to the HD800 in terms of clarity, but it achieves this because it is a deep insertion in-ear headphone with a highly neutral frequency response, albeit slightly on the dark side of neutral with treble that is not as “airy” as most open-backs. In my estimation, the ER4 achieves about 50-60% of the clarity and detail of the HD800, which is very impressive considering that the former is about 1/3rd to 1/5th (based on the original $1500 HD800 price) of the price of the latter. The LCD-2, while it was more detailed than the ER4 by a significant margin, had a warm/muddy sound that I couldn’t adequately fix with EQ and perhaps no one could. It’s quite bizarre to listen to a headphone that’s clearly very detailed but also lacks clarity at the same time. It had in fact significantly worse clarity than the much cheaper ER4, especially in the upper treble, hence why I decided to sell them and look for something else. My attention was naturally directed towards the HD800 next since it is in a similar price range to the LCD-2 and whilst I’ve never personally heard another Sennheiser other than the HD600, I decided to buy a used HD800 on a whim to see if they are as good as people say or perhaps as bad as others say. The truth is bound to be somewhere in the middle.

The bass response and bass detail of the HD800 are actually surprisingly good for a dynamic driver headphone, especially an open-back one. It extends about as deep as your Audeze planars but it rolls off a bit in the lowest range. For that reason, I use a conservative 3 dB bass shelf at 100 Hz to elevate the sub bass a little. The oratory EQ recommends a slight removal of upper bass (above 150 Hz) to get that flat response that’s more common on planars. Dynamic drivers typically have some kind of “hump” in that region that gives them a bit of extra warmth that you may or may not like. I didn’t find the stock HD800 upper bass to be as warm as the HD600 and the detail and distortion characteristics (at least as far as they are audible) are rather excellent. In fact I’m not even sure if the LCD-2 had better bass in any sense of that word. It had flatter bass, sure, and it was also thicker/bigger sounding but was it more detailed than the HD800’s bass? I’m not sure but I would have to compare them side by side to have a better idea (my LCD-2 has left a while ago to meet its new owner). I do, however, remember the LCD-2 bass sounding a bit weird. Like the rest of the LCD-2 range, the bass seemed to lack a bit of clarity and oratory pointed out to me in my short chats with him that the strange Audeze mids might have contributed to this thick bass timbre that I don’t experience on the HD800 even with some bass boost. The HD800 bass sounds significantly clearer (especially when it comes to bass drums) and more “directional” as opposed to the big “ball” of bass on the LCD-2. In measurements, you can see that the LCD-2 and other planars have significantly lower distortion (0.1%) than the HD800 but it’s hard to assess how that translates into perceived bass quality. Perhaps with the flat tuning and low THD on the Audeze you get bass that is a bit more transparent (i.e. true to the source) but the timbre thickness added on top of that kinda negates that advantage seeing as the clarity of the HD800 is insanely high, from top to bottom. In terms of bass impact, I’ve had conflicting views on the two. On some songs that leverage the sub bass extension of the LCD-2, the Audezes seem to have more impact but on less bassy songs, I find that kick drum impact in particular is more evident on the HD800. So which one has more dynamic impact? I would lean towards the HD800 honestly. Don’t let that rolled-off bass fool you. These still have a good amount of bass presence even in stock form (i.e. no EQ) and I can still hear the deepest bass on movie soundtracks for instance. Funnily enough, it seems that while sine sweeping in the bass I could hear the very low bass better on the HD800 (below 30 Hz) than on the LCD-2. Perhaps the increased distortion on the HD800 enhances the bass a little but its superior clarity is also responsible for it.

The mids and treble of the HD800 are a bit more contentious but they can be relatively easily fixed with EQ in my opinion and the results are stunning. The levels of clarity that the HD800 drivers provide are completely insane. I’ve found myself really enjoying 80s heavy metal for instance with these. Once you correct the response of this headphone with EQ, the mids and highs really shine on well recorded acoustic and heavy metal music. The clarity of guitars, electric guitars, cymbals, and yes, voices, is incredible. You really can’t help but bang your head to the music. As far as detail is concerned, things get a bit more confusing. I think the LCD-2 had smoother sounding mids and treble which translated to softer sounding vocals and cymbals/hi-hats, but the HD800 has its own flavor of smoothness that is occasionally disturbed by its unrelenting sense of clarity and peeping upper treble sharpness.

The LCD-2, with its significantly subdued mids and treble, provided a softer less offensive sound at the cost of ultimate clarity. Yes, even with EQ, the LCD-2 didn’t fully recover from its warm/dark stock sound so its more forgiving presentation led some people to believe that it was more detailed as a result (rather paradoxically). Hence why people describe the LCD-2 drivers as having better “decay”. It seems to me that this sense of speed or decay is largely influenced by a headphone’s stock frequency response. The LCD-2 appears “quicker” precisely due to its holes in the treble that can’t be completely filled in with EQ. It’s weird that people describe them that way because the HD800 sounds snappier to me due to their clarity and essentially zero holes in the treble with its stock response that’s more easily fixed with EQ while preserving clarity. Cymbals and snare drums in particular sound very precise and articulate on the HD800 as a result and have more impact and presence than the darker sounding EQ-ed LCD-2. Although, as I mentioned before, the HD800 retains a bit of its sharpness even post EQ, but too much EQ would undoubtedly be detrimental to the clarity of this headphone, so I prefer not to EQ the upper treble.

I think in reality the LCD-2 would have been closer to my preference with EQ (I prefer a warmer neutral sound) had it not been for its glaring flaws, namely the 0.9-1K resonance that most Audezes share (probably due to the thick leather pads) and the “fuzzy” sounding upper treble that provided less clarity than my much cheaper ER4 IEMs. I just couldn’t get along with them because they sounded too muddy for the price and resonant in the mids (even post EQ), which made them annoying to listen to even on good recordings. I am much more willing to accept the slight sharpness of the HD800 since its clarity and upper treble detail is so much better. I think that the LCD-2 drivers had a lot more potential, perhaps there was more detail lurking behind that dark/warm sound signature, but it was ultimately spoiled by the weird tuning. So the HD800 is effectively more detailed because it has such superior clarity overall. My $1K (or below) headphone recommendation for its sound with EQ goes to the HD800 as a result even if its bass might be a little weaker than planar bass in terms of extension. I also believe that the HD800 timbre with EQ is only slightly sharper than the stock HD600. I didn’t like the HD600 too much on modern music due to its brighter and “grainier” upper treble but they had OK detail capabilities for $300 (less than the darker sounding ER4 in my opinion).

In terms of soundstage and imaging, the HD800 is definitely superior to most things though from memory, I would say it only sounds about 20-30% wider than the LCD-2 on recordings that really leverage that width. On most other recordings, it’s actually harder to grasp how wide they are. In fact the LCD-2 was in some sense more immersive with its bigger images that are likely the result of a bigger driver. For image/instrument separation, things are again a little weird. The HD800 has separation that’s more comparable to speakers. It doesn’t necessarily have the same kind of separation that planars have (perhaps because the LCD-2 enhanced its separation abilities with the holes in the treble) but you can hear every instrument very clearly and they are well defined within the soundstage. Depth is quite a bit better than the LCD-2 as well, no doubt the result of the superior upper treble detail and clarity. The HD800 has a much better ability to project a coherent soundstage in front of your face (or more often, right in front of your forehead), especially on songs that have a lot of echoes and reverb in them (things that enhance the cues about the location of sounds in space). The claims about this headphone having a “holographic” sound are a bit exaggerated in my experience but they do actually work really well with binaural recordings. I didn’t think they sounded diffuse or anything like that. There is a limit to how well a headphone can image and these headphones are not far from that limit I think. All in all, these get a high recommendation from me for soundstage, imaging, and depth. They are very immersive as a gaming headphone and that constitutes at least 50% of the reason why I bought them haha but there are aspects that I wish could have been improved in terms of comfort.

I actually quite like the design of this headphone overall. It kinda has an early 2000s futuristic look to it that I enjoy (because it reminds me of that time period) but it is a bit more fragile than the LCD-2 in terms of build. The metal parts can scratch quite easily and the headband is still made of plastic. The pads also wear out fairly quickly (I’d say they probably need to be replaced every 2 years with moderate usage) like most Sennheiser pads do, but it shares spare parts with the HD800S so you won’t have any issues finding some, at least for a few more years if you buy a used HD800 (they’re not made anymore). The cable is annoyingly long and heavy and it is a bit of a chore to use as a result. Anything above 1.9-2m is too long for me but perhaps people in 2009 didn’t sit at a desk like I do now and they needed the extra length.

The comfort is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The pads are very large and will accommodate ears of any size essentially but they do sit a bit awkwardly on your face, like someone is gently cupping their hands over your ears. They don’t get as sweaty as the LCD-2 but the headband is where my real problem with the comfort of this headphone begins. I don’t know what it is about Sennheiser headbands but they seem to have a tendency to KILL the top of my head after 30-60 minutes of usage. The weight distribution seems to be concentrated mostly on the top part of my head which makes them quite painful to use (for me) for extended periods of time. The HD800 comfort is bad enough that it occasionally even makes me nauseous if I also happen to have a bit of a headache prior to wearing them. Moving the headband back and forth does little to alleviate this issue. So if you’re thinking of buying a pair bear in mind that the comfort may not be the best. I found the twice as heavy LCD-2 much more comfortable overall because it had a better headband (the 2017 one) that evenly distributed the weight thus avoiding any problematic hot spots on top. However, given how much I like the way the HD800 sounds I am still trying to adjust to the comfort problems and perhaps taking them off periodically to avoid the pain is not such a bad thing.

As for power requirements, these are not especially hard to drive in my experience. They are slightly easier to drive (it seems) than the LCD-2 despite the 300 ohm impedance and also easier to drive than the HD600. So you COULD essentially power them off of a phone but you probably shouldn’t. I would recommend getting something like the JDS Atom amp and DAC stack at the very least to get the most out of these headphones. They likely benefit from an amp in the bass and (perceived) dynamic range in particular though I didn’t find their sound to change drastically from a solid state source to another like some people are suggesting. Instead of chasing the perfect source I would much rather use EQ where things can DRASTICALLY improve if it’s done properly.

In conclusion I would say that these are terrific value for the money under $1K used but mostly if you use EQ, otherwise you might have to audition them first (its stock bright sound isn’t for everyone). The clarity and detail of this headphone has definitely stood the test of time and they still compare favorably to other much more expensive headphones and thus they have earned their permanent spot in my headphone collection. I will at some point hopefully have the chance to compare them against other flagships like the LCD-4 or the STAX 007 but until then these are more than satisfying for me in most regards.


FR and tweaked oratory EQ profile.

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novisnick

New Head-Fier
Pros: Fast, revealing and accurate!
Should be in your HP stable
Cons: Treble may be a bit much for some, bass isn’t always present
Sennheiser should do better
47447914-1FCD-449B-808D-1C5710FC76A1.jpeg 86C4F40F-4C74-4F4E-90A4-81B130A4D95D.jpeg 23F49D95-1DAE-4313-835B-0221F441F416.jpeg Sennheiser HD 800 review by novisnick


A very kind benefactor has been so generous to loan me his HD800 so I could determine whether or not they are right for me and to write this review. Thanks you kind sir!


Shipped to me in their original packaging but with an upgraded cable with the Venus Audio branded name in which I’m not familiar with. This is to be expected as I’m pretty new to quality HP’s and their accessories. I’ve spent most of my 40 years of audio with speakers of assorted manufacturers.

The cables are very light and seem to be of very high quality. They appear to be four cables of twisted copper as viewed through the clear plastic covering which is also twisted about themselves. They are terminated with a balanced four pin connector.


The headphones themselves are of a silver color and look rather futuristic in appearance, very stylish to me. Lightweight and comfortable upon my head yet at times the ear pads have caused some discomfort in longer listening sessions. The construction had made it difficult at first to determine how best to put on and take off these HPs as they have limited hard spots in which to grasp. The drivers are exposed somewhat and the soft outer area appears to be easily damaged. I took extreme care in how I handled these HPs. In all other aspects these HP's seem very well constructed. Eventually I determined the best places to put my fingers was at the top slider of each ear and the hard spot next to the cable plugs into which they are attached. Easy enough now that I've found the safest way to handle the HD 800s.


I think it’s important that you know what gear I’m using for this review. I’m from a speaker background so it’s important that I be able to easily switch between speakers and HP use. This is mostly accomplished via my Brooklyn DAC/preamp which pushes 4 watts of solid state power out of a balanced connection for HPs. Enough to drive the most demanding HPs IMHO.

I’ve incorporated a SOtM sms-200 Ultra se, a NAA (network audio adapter)

to serve my digital library and Tidal streaming service.


A note of clarification before I start my listening review, I am not, repeat, NOT versed in the standard definitions of the words most often used to to describe the sounds of music by most reviewers. Please bare with me. I'll try to use them as I can, I do have a glossary of the words but I'm learning. Hence my handle being novisnick,as I am a novice in so many ways.



The Sound


My first listing session I found a very different type of HP then I've ever experienced. Detailed and harsh with glare were my first impressions and I was ready to box them up and call it a review. This wouldn't be fair to my friend, Sennheiser, my readers or myself so I retired for the evening after a few hours of varied music. From Eric Clapton's Unplugged to Dave Brubeck's Take Five along with Norah Jones and Diana Krall. Just wasn't feeling any joy at all. I bid them good night. To settle myself for an evening of slumber I donned my ZMF Cocobolo Auteurs and then my Focal Clears and listened to the same tracks to cleanse my mind and soul. Much better for my taste, tomorrow will bring a renewed enthusiasm to try again.


I renewed myself and cued up a random mix of music, from Hugh Laurie to Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful Life. The Beegie Adair Trio followed by Vince Guaraldi Trio's, A Charlie Brown Christmas. My brains started grasping what the HD 800s were revealing from the music. Something very new and different then I'd experienced before. This was much more enjoyable then my first evening with them and I'm very glad I didn't box them up and give up on them. Piano as well as the double bass was starting to talk to me in a rather different tone then other sets of cans. I had stated how sterile they were to me at first! No life or body in the music but they're more refined than at first glance. Maybe I'm trying to say, an acquired taste for these HP's. They are faster than most any cans I've ever heard too.


Tonight was some electronic music mostly from the Digital Empire: Electronica's Best recording from my HDD. I think these cans excel with this type of music. Take California by The Propellerheads is an example of the tonality the 800s prefer to produce. Clear and refined in presentation and scope. Stage isn't huge but listening to Symphony No. 6: IV. Finale, just swapped from 800 to Clear. 800s have more treble and a little less midrange but clarity is just a little more defined... more commanding sound and horns are a bit better with the Clears. Flute isn't lacking with either HP.


I've heard more than once that the HD 800s aren't lacking in bass but they are, in the midbass to bass I've not found them resolving. Their bass is well defined but it doesn't show up at the right htz for me. Not soon enough, so it's being missed in tonality for me. The Clears have an advantage IMO here. See below about tubing with 800s.


Auteurs just bitch slapped the HD 800 and Clear HP's. What's the technical word for that? The instruments sound like they should with their full body tone and presentation.


Theme from Somewhere in Time by John Barry, one of my very favorite songs I know. Horn into harp followed by a body of violins to piano follower by flute. Almost the full gambit of sound. And then a single piano. Fluid in sound and tone. Beautiful love song.


Comparing the three Headphones


The Auteurs are rich and add some color? Toning down of the sharp treble would be a better description. Transitions are smooth and enjoyable. These seem to grasp the mood of the music and convey it accurately. The Clears had bigger sound? Not necessarily a bigger soundstage though. Better highs with the mid-bass a little more narrow. Bass is right on, just like the Auteurs. The HD 800s are showing what a true beauty they are But, the treble is a little too much for me, almost uncomfortable at a few points but other then that they shine very well. Mid-bass was smooth and extends too deep as to rob the bass of this region. Bass is there but I don't think the tuning targeted this area for accuracy as they did with the treble and upper mid-bass. Don't get me wrong, bass is well defined just starts too low for me. Maybe its the transition from mid-bass to bass that has me befuddled.


My wife and I are both audio and video enthusiast as well. Her thoughts agree with mine on this trio of headphones, mostly . We spent hours with multiple types of music and have placed them in our order of which we would keep as our favorite to our least favorite amongst these.


All three HP exhibit fast speed and attack of the music.


First to be sold would be the Focal Clear according to the Mrs. as for me the HD 800 are out the door first for the same reason the Mrs preferred them, the treble., a most enjoyable and comfortable sets of headphones but one set had to go first.


The winner by a long shot and with the best sound in our opinions is the Auteurs. We again agree that the ZMF offering is the best headphone we've ever heard, hands down.


I'd like to add at this point that Mrs. Novis has no idea how much any of these HP's cost, so there's no bias from that point of view.


With Tubes


The lack of linearity in the bass response is just as bad as the inability of Sennheiser to not fix the treble spike after ten years. Just a real shame, the HD 800 could have been the ultimate end game for so many more!


Enter my beloved McIntosh C220 tube preamp. What I'm hearing from the HP's are different degrees change in each set. The Auteurs just seem to climb to the top of my end game list! Without a doubt, what they do with the Brooklyn SS and 6 watts is extenuated with the tubes. More of everything the Auteurs do right.


The Focal Clears were more themselves though. Didn't really feel a greater joy from them as I remember.


Sennheiser HD 800s just became a favorite HP to me,Almost, and my Mrs fell deeper in love with them and the Mallard tubes flavor / drive! The refined clarity of these headphones is not lost but they gain so much when matched with the C220. Some claim that the McIntosh brings its own coloration to sound but I've found it to be minimal. The HD 800s spring to life in the mids and bass! Full bodied bass, that to me was missing. Good defined slam in some of the music that asked for it. Mouth agape, I listened as a very nice smile grew on my face. Still had its faults in responsiveness but all and all I believe the 800s should be matched to tubes, at least this preamp.


Conclusion


I’ve tried to convey my thoughts and opinions of these three HP’s with an emphasis on the HD 800s. I hope you've made it to this point and haven’t been bored to tears. I’m sure you've heard all or part of this before as this model Sennheiser HP has been on the market forever and has just pretty recently been replaced by the HD 800 S and HD820. I sure hope Sennheiser addresses the shortcomings of the 800s and produces a headphone for the ages, somehow I doubt it as they've failed to do it with the 800s for ten years.


When most everybody praises a product there is little to motivate change.


If you've reached this point please don’t hesitate to critique, add or disagree with my opinion as its just that, my opinion. I’m learning daily the terminology to address this community so please bare with me.


Gear involved in this review


Mac Mini with 4T HDD

Roon & Tidal server

NETGEAR ROUTER 6300

SOtM sms-200 Ultra se

SOtM SMPS-500 SMPS

Mytek Brooklyn

McIntosh C220 w Mallard tubes

Sbooster MK II LPS

Sennheiser HD 800

Focal Clear

ZMF Auteurs,Cocobolo
volly
volly
A great read and firm comparisons and opinions! Sounds like you have a very interesting collection of headphones, always a good thing! :wink:

Sayed2020

Member of the Trade: Zellous Audio
Pros: Imaging, sound stage, expansive, revealing, precision, separation, detail, accuracy, highs, treble, clarity, definition, mids (generally), deep bass, musical, captivating, comfortable, build quality, replaceable parts, many reference attributes
Cons: Sometimes recessed mids, lows not as meaty and weighty as other cans, fragile steel mesh/lining, sometimes sounds congested, some negative resonance and sibilance, picky and too bright for some
My audio set up & connective trail:
16 & 24-Bit WAV lossless files,
Foobar2000 with WASAPI event output,
Cambridge Audio DIG300 digital optical toslink cable,
iFi iPower 12 volt 1.8 amp power supply,
Fostex HP-A4BL balanced DAC and amplifier,
Sennheiser CS 800 S balanced 4 pin XLR cable.

Where do I begin with these cans?
So much has been written about them, the "great and legendary" HD 800. So much contrasting views, opinions, reviews and articles.
I might keep this one short...
I think the question you must ask yourself before hearing them is: how much information and data can I handle sonically?
These cans are like nothing else I've heard, they create otherworldly sounds.
The sound stage and imaging are without question the best I have ever heard, they create such an arena for your ears that it's almost like wearing closed back cans with gigantic ear cups.
It's just so expansive and revealing, oh my Lord is it addictive!
The separation, the detail, the precision, the accuracy... It's truly world class.
I promised myself that I would not change my audio set up for a headphone, I said no. My set up is pretty good, so a great headphone should sound good. And the HD 800 sure did, really.
I read so many people saying that these cans are extremely revealing and demanding of source, gear, equipment and cables. People have built expensive audio rigs around this headphone, to get the best out of them.
Personally I wanted a balanced sound set up to hear the cans at their best, so annoyingly I changed my set up and tested a few amps and DACs (check out my profile for previous gear).
I settled for the Fostex HP-A4BL DAC & amp and I'm really enjoying it, especially with the iFi iPower upgrade : )
The HD 800 has great, deep rumbly bass when called upon.
The mids are rarely recessed but are fantastic overall.
The highs are the best I've ever heard, EVER! Outstanding with crystal clear definition.
The HD 800 are musical, captivating and technically brilliant.
They may not be as light as the Grado GS1000 but the weight is distributed well and they are extremely comfortable, no fatigue whatsoever. They are also very well made but the soft steel mesh/lining is not practical and a bit fragile. People have pressed in on them when handling.
Almost forgot, I listen to my HD 800 without the fabric dust protectors installed inside. I prefer nothing getting in the way between my ears and the drivers, maybe a few people will call me crazy ; )
I really like the fact that the ear pads, headband and cable are replaceable.
For me, these are the most amazing and astonishing cans I have but I still just prefer my Grado's, they never get overwhelmed or congested and I prefer their weighty and meaty bass response. They also never have negative resonance and sibilance.
I would recommend anybody with ears to hear them if they get the chance, it sure is a wonderful experience. And that's what it's all about right? To enjoy high end sound, listening to well known songs in ways you've not heard before and in turn, creating great memories...

Update 1.

I have to be fair to my other reviews so I'll adjust this one.
Over time I have gained even more experience with more headphones.
I have to deduct half a star off the rating because it is pretty bright, too bright for some.
This is one of the most picky and demanding headphones there is, but there is a reason why so many people build and create setups around it.
I recently heard it with a single ended Graham Slee Solo headphone amplifier with PSU1.
I believe it has many reference qualities, I will try to list them:
detail,
precision,
definition,
clarity,
imaging,
sound stage,
separation,
resolution,
accuracy,
maybe airiness and spaciousness.
The bass is pretty deep with good extension and texture but it is not as present as other cans, it lacks a little impact and slam.
The vocal sound powerful and stunning and the mids are just brilliant.

Feed this legend a warm DAC and/or a warm headphone amplifier and use copper cables and this combination will be very difficult to beat.
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CT007
CT007
" I listen to my HD 800 without the fabric dust protectors installed inside. I prefer nothing getting in the way between my ears and the drivers, maybe a few people will call me crazy"

That mesh is supposed to improve the sound, by filtering out resonance, IIRC, but maybe you had still removed them with that knowledge. Nice review. Did you test them with games..?
Sayed2020
Sayed2020
Hey CT007, thanks for that. I didn't test them for gaming but many have said they are probably the best headphone for gaming because of it's fantastic sound stage, imaging and separation qualities.
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asymcon

100+ Head-Fier
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.
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Redcarmoose
Redcarmoose
Read Stuart1927's post. We are really saying much of the same.
I totally agree, still the higher end stuff is also incremental, it's just not all of a sudden $$$. Absolutely his words have merit and maybe even more so with-in a special equipment level. Maybe my most amusement comes with how the AKG k701 and k702 signatures are compared today to the HD800. In 2009-2010 there was a level of understanding which due to price and reputation didn't allow side by side comparison. When in reality looking back the signatures do seem closer to the same.
DoctaCosmos
DoctaCosmos
I couldn't agree more!!!!! That 90 minutes is enough to test with correct test methodology.......when your methodology actually is correct. Listening to hd800 through those two setups however is 100% a waste of 90mins.
PETEBULL
PETEBULL
A greedy guy like me would rate every over 150$ headphones crap. Just because not worth it in any case.

Nawin Sapchinda

New Head-Fier
Pros: Sound Quality comfort easy use
Cons: too havy
I am us this for Gaming and Movie is awesome
branislav
branislav
hd800 too heavy?
smial1966
smial1966
Most succinct review ever?!? 

Aornic

Member of the Trade: Acorn Audio
Pros: Analytical and detailed sound, vast soundstage for supreme instrument separation, light and comfortable, aesthetics, dynamic clarity
Cons: Harsh treble (although recording dependent), not an all-rounder, thin sound due to lack of low-end and bass
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Background
 
I would like to start this off by stating that this is not a review of the Sennheiser HD800, but rather a review of “possibilities.” Yes, this is not the stock HD800 I am going to be discussing, but rather one with the Superdupont Resonator mod installed. In short, the mod helps to tame a well-documented treble peak in the headphones that can put off many listeners.
 
When I started in the headphones game, with my Beyerdynamic DT990 in 2012, it seemed that the HD800 was the most coveted headphones that I saw on internet forums amongst the mid-fi crowd. Due to Sennheiser’s place in the industry, it seems that there are three headphones that they have produced that have been in enthusiasts’ journey at one point or another: the HD600, the HD650 and the HD800. What is most interesting to me about this transition is that the HD800 could not be further from the 6XX series. Gone is the veil I heard when I had my HD600. Also, gone is the warmth and traditional design – for the HD800 is one of the most unique looking cans out there.
 
Specifications of the Stock HD800
 
Frequency response (headphones) 14 – 44100 Hz (- 3 dB)
 
Frequency response 6 – 51000 Hz (- 10 dB)
 
THD, total harmonic distortion 0.02 % (1 kHz 1 Vrms)
 
Contact pressure ~ 3,4 N (± 0,3 N)
 
Jack plug Jack stereo ¼” (6,3 mm)
 
Cable length 3 m
 
Weight Without cable: 330 g
 
Nominal impedance 300 Ω
 
Build, Design & Comfort
 
I know people who would not ever think of upgrading from their Apple Earpods who have told me that the HD800 looks “cool.” It does indeed, incorporating a simultaneous industrial and futuristic design that showcases a large diaphragm surrounded by black and silver. Looking at it, I see it as an alien in the design that Sennheiser have gone for in everything from their basic models up to the Orpheus. The HD800 is like Roger from American Dad, obviously the outsider but one that demands all the attention of the audience.
 
The comfort is absolutely stellar. I feel like I’ve been in a semi-abusive relationship with some headphones this year, or rather a love-hate relationship. I love, love the sound they emit but I hate how they fit and the comfort issues. The relatively low (compared to the others) weight is another big plus in my book, as I found the 330g weight a breeze compared to the likes of the Hifiman HE-500 in its full-metal glory. The earcup design is another innovative factor, as it is abundantly large and ear-shaped – due to which the HD800 simply disappears on my head. The headband does not have a high amount of padding, but it does not need it either. It does not slip or fall off my head either if I position them at an angle. Simply put, you can pull these on and not have to worry about them till your listening session is done.
 
The trade-off of such comfort is the build quality. It is not flimsy by any means, but the low-weight was achieved by a design that could very well be damaged if you are not careful. I met a fellow at the London Can Jam who, like me, had brought his HD800 along in his backpack to try with the various amps. Sadly, it had knocked on something while it was in there and one of the soft areas on the diaphragm (in the area behind the ear) had dented inwards. Apparently he had recently bought it too, bad luck. I was already careful with mine, but that made me slightly paranoid going forward.
I do not know where I had read that the HD800 earpad-removal was problematic because it just was not when I needed to give them a good scrub down. As they are so distinct, I cannot imagine mounting any other earpads (Alpha pads, ZMF pads, FocusA pads etc.) on the HD800. I am sure it has been done, but it does not seem all that viable and might be a detriment to the sound – as the padding is quite thin.
 
Overall, a beautiful to look at and comfortable-to-wear pair of headphones and one that I can confidently say is one of the frontrunners in the audio community in this. However, that is not the reason this has been so well-sought for so many years.
 
Sound
 
Well, damn.
 
The HD800 are nowhere near my sound signature preference, but they do so much so well that it is hard not to nod and appreciate the audio characteristics of these headphones. I generally prefer a denser sound, with a rich and warm midrange – something I glean from both the ZMF Omni and Hifiman HE-500. However, the HD800 had a leaner and cleaner sound to it – for better or worse depending on how you like your music.
 
Before I dive into the subsections of sound, I want to state that this headphone is really sonically dependent on what you use as an amplifier, something I will address further down in the “Amping” section.
 
The bass on the HD800 is both easy yet complicated to describe. If someone simply asks you “does the HD800 have a lot of bass?” you can just reply in the negative. If you strip away the layers behind that “no,” you’ll find an answer that goes far beyond a yes/no question. You won’t be listening to EDM on this, that is for sure, but I found the bass to be a superior listening experience than some other headphones with deeper reach and more body – with some genres only. Take classic rock, my “classic” example in my reviews, and stuff like Pink Floyd. I have not owned a headphone that can present Pink Floyd as incredibly as the HD800 for several reasons, but what I want to call attention to is the bass in those recordings.
 
You see, if we talk about the instrument known as the “bass guitar” then the HD800 does a stupendously good job at reproducing the tones needed for a good listen. Not once have I listened to a rock song and thought that the bass guitar was too thin or low in the mix. Far from it, it sounded simply realistic. There is a sharpness to the sound of bass guitars with the HD800 that I have not heard yet in other headphones that I have personally owned – it just feels so tight and controlled. However, I did listen to the HD800S for a bit at CanJam and noticed that they have bumped up the bass to a level where it sounded more “musical” and bloomy – ever so slightly. However, that bump alone, while it may be ideal for more musical genre pairings, made the tight ship that the HD800 was running edge out of its seams a bit.
 
If you throw synthetic genres, and I in no way say this in an elitist manner because I enjoy such music too, at the HD800 – you’re going to have a bad time. This goes beyond just the lack of sub-bass extension and into the territory of top-heavy analytical listening. You won’t feel the rush of the low-end in songs in such genres, so I would really not recommend it for them.
 
The midrange of the HD800 is stellar in a way that is starkly different from how the midrange of the Omni and HE-500 are stellar. While it does not sounded forwarded or, the word I used to describe the HE-500’s midrange in my review, “syrupy” – it holds its own in a manner expected of a top-of-the-line headphone. As with the bass, the mids are leaner yet so much more controlled and accurate than many headphones out there. What really impresses me is how the separation finds different degrees to point directional audio in than what I’ve heard before – for the soundstage is simply vast and the imaging is everything you have heard about them. There is no lower-mids bloom that gives a realistic touch to instruments like acoustic guitars or male vocals, but there is clean reproduction among both instruments and vocals across the board. The transients are quick and relatively accurate, not laid back nor startling like electrostatic headphones.  
 
Guitars and vocals shine so brightly on the HD800. A track I return to often, one I even did so for my recent time slot with the Sennheiser Orpheus, is the third chorus and beyond of Prince’s When Doves Cry. The vocal stacking is brought out so beautifully by the HD800 due to its penchant for detail, pulling out vocal harmonies that would otherwise be drowned out in headphones that push for more musicality over analytics. Following the chorus is a guitar solo that is panned slightly to the left of where I thought it was for so, so long. It stands out in the mix but does not overpower anything else, leaving Prince free to adlib all over the place.
 
However, as nice as I find the presentation of this Prince song, it is helped by the fact that the vocal production is warm. As with the bass example above, your enjoyment of the vocals in songs depends heavily on if they have a natural tint or over-processed and digitised production and mastering. In the latter, it can downright hurt – even with the Superdupont Resonator mod helping to tame some of it. In songs with such mastering, even “ssss” sung will be felt harshly and, for your own sake, volume should be reduced.
 
The treble range also puts it beyond other headphones I own currently. With the mod taming the 6k peak, the listen is far more enjoyable and you can really appreciate what it is exactly that the HD800 does in the top range. While there is the occasional sibilance, especially in the over-processed genres and recordings I mentioned earlier, a boatload of detail is brought forth due to the treble.
The Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00, that I reviewed a few months ago, had some annoying treble peaks to my ears that would get fatiguing after a while. When I briefly demoed the Fostex TH900 at CanJam, I was hit over the head with what sounded like one consistent treble spike. What both lack, especially the TH-X00, is the trade-off – there simply is no immense detail up there that would make me take it in stride due to what it brought to the listening table.
 
I have no doubt that it is the treble extension that is one of the primary reasons that the HD800 sounds as resolving and detailed as it does. Cymbals I never took notice of before in songs are suddenly at the front, and while it can get a bit jarring at times (especially if they sound sibilant), I appreciate that a more complete package of the song I’m listening to is presented. That being said, it almost feels too emphasized. I’ll be honest, there are times where I wonder if the people in the mixing room themselves wanted the cymbals to sound as front-and-centre as they do on some tracks – leading to a slight sense of artificiality.
 
But if that is what it takes for this headphone to sound how it does, then I really can’t fault it. Yes, it sounds thin compared to the likes of the Omni, HE-500, Focal Elear and so many other headphones in this price range – but it offers something they don’t along with the control and analytics that even the HD800S toned down slightly to appeal to the wider market/more musical genres.
 
The soundstage, as mentioned before, is just so vast…man. While I can’t put it in numbers accurately, I’ll just wing it and say that it scores a good ten percent lead over anything else I’ve reviewed yet. This is a level of soundstage that I did not hear in the Elear, the Focal Utopia or even the Orpheus. With so much shift going on in the electrodynamic headphone market currently, it’s safe to say that the HD800 still holds one crown at least – of soundstage and imaging. Best headphone I have heard yet for gaming, although not the most cost-efficient for such usage alone. You might have to turn it down lower than usual because those gunshots can hurt sometimes.
 
Amping
 
I roamed around CanJam London 2016 with my HD800 in my backpack. Why? Because I wanted to try different amplifiers and see how they paired. That is the reputation of the HD800. Literally everything you just read above was with the HD800 being run out of my Schiit Gungnir into my Cavalli Liquid Carbon - from which I have it connected with a copper balanced cable. While I personally really like this setup, it is not the best I have heard – but it sure as hell is better than me plugging it into my Magni 2 which just takes the harshly detailed nature of the Gungnir and pushes it at me. The Liquid Carbon, while being solid-state, has a warmth to it that pairs really well with the HD800. I wish I still had my Schiit Asgard 2 to try it with, for that too was warm and would have made for an interesting listen.
 
The best pairing that I’ve heard yet would be how it sounded from the prototype of the Cavalli Liquid Tungsten, hands down. I would not say that it transformed the HD800 completely, but I did let out an audible “whoa” when I first plugged in. It added some body to the sound while maintaining its clarity, detail and precision. I was very impressed. I also had a really nice sound, with the top end a bit smoothed over, from the Vioelectric amps at their booth. Interestingly, they had a stock HD800 that sounded quite comfortable too so kudos to them for such an achievement.
I don’t want to say that colouration is the name of the game, but it is something I have seen in some owners of the HD800 – that they seem to prefer tube amps to add some warmth and a bit of that coveted musical distortion. A linear amping experience, like the Magni 2 or the Rupert Neve amp I tried at Can Jam, will leave the treble unchecked and make certain genres just that much harder to listen to.
 
As for volume, at 300 ohms it does require a good amount of power to get loud enough. However, I was most surprised by how it sounded out of my Venture Electronics RunAbout Plus – where it not only got loud enough but had a tinge of warmth to the mids. Where the portable amp falls short of the Liquid Carbon, however, is in the bass control.
 
Comparison with the ZMF Omni and Hifiman HE-500
 
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Conclusion
 
I really, really hope the day does not come around where I have to give up the HD800. A little backstory on me, I rarely am in the same place for longer than a year and this nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult to accumulate possessions. I recently moved and it was such a pain because I tend to break the rule of common sense and get a bunch of headphones that I switch between. I envy some of you who have wall hangars covered in headphones and a long line of headphone stands to pick and choose from. That being said, I do need to keep others in my possession (currently the ZMF Omni and HE-500 in the over-ear department) because I simply cannot get a well-rounded experience, for my library with its vast array of genres, from the HD800 alone.
 
This headphone has its strengths, but I would not classify it as an all-rounder unless you only listen to a small number of musical genres with more “organic” recording methods in their presentation. I also notice that some HD800 owners were getting annoyed at the hype around the Focal Elear and Utopia being unveiled recently, with reviews saying that the Utopia provides incredible detail without the trade-offs of a thin and treble-heavy sound that the HD800 and HD800S provide. While that is quite true, it is $3999 and has a smaller soundstage than the HD800. The HD800 can be found for as low as $899 on Amazon US these days so, while I would not call it economical still for a majority of headphone users, it provides a great price-to-performance ratio for detail and an analytical sound. Simply put, these headphones all do different things – with the similarly priced Focal Elear said to sound like a “HD650 on steroids.”
 
Definitely a keeper for me, barring unforeseen circumstances.
 
Comparisons
 
Bass Quantity: TH-X00 > Classic 99 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > HD600 > HD800
 
Mids: HE-500 > HD800 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > Classic 99 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > K7XX > TH-X00 > DT990
 
Treble Quantity: DT990 > HD800 > HE400i > TH-X00 > K7XX > Classic 99 > HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I
 
Soundstage: HD800 > K7XX > DT990 > HE-500 > ZMF Omni > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > Classic 99 > TH-X00
 
Comfort: DT990 > HD800 > K7XX > TH-X00 > HE400i > HD600 > ZMF Omni > Classic 99 > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE-500
 
Aesthetics: HD800 > Classic 99 > TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > HD600
 
Lightness: HD800 > Classic 99 > K7XX > DT990 > TH-X00 > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > ZMF Omni > HE-500
 
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Jeremypsp

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Sound quality, comfort, build quality
Cons: Expensive(but great value when compared to other top-ends), paint chips off easily, requires good amplification to sound good
BRIEF SUMMARY
 
The HD800 has always been my goal ever since I started on my audio journey 5 years ago, but I was into portable audio back then and the price of the HD800 were fairly expensive so it was not something within my reach. But now 5 years later, I've gotten an UM miracle and thought I would concentrate on some home non-portable audio and the HD800 came back to me. I saw a fairly good deal, SGD$1250 used on carousell but were only about 2 months old then and in immaculate condition, and I'm in a better position to afford these than back then, so I thought to myself, why not?
 
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SOURCE
 
As a general consensus, it is known that the HD800 does not run at close to full potential without an amplifier, and this rings quite true when I plugged them out of my iPad or computer with just an 1/4" to 3.5mm converter as it does indeed sound somewhat underwhelming. Not bad, but underwhelming. So what was the obvious step to do next? Right, buy an amp and a DAC and hope for the best. I was originally considering either the grace m9xx due to good pairing with the HD800 but since the transportable factor isn't going to do anything for me, I went with the Schiit Valhalla 2(due to rave reviews on pairing with HD800) + Modi 2U combo which costs about the same after shipping. 
 
COMFORT
 
Self explanatory, they are, I feel one of the only headphones out there that can feel like they disappear when on your head, yes they're that good, in my opinion of course.
 
BUILD
 
Although they're built quite well for a high-end headphone, while still being very light, it should be noted that the paint scraps off fairly easily, and it shouldn't really come as a shock if you do see some scratches after a while. 
 
SOUND
 
Sound, so how do they sound? Well as I do not have a disposable income I can only listen to them through the Schiit Valhalla 2 + modi 2 combo even though it is noted that these can sound very different through different amplifiers, so my review will be mainly based on this combo.
 
 
Treble, ahh these are definitely where they shine, it extends really well and has a fairly huge amount of sparkle, any treblehead out there would probably be satisfied at the amount that these produce, as for those who hate treble, well too bad. That's not to say these are harsh as it does depend on your music and since they sound fairly true to source, they can sound harsh if it's intended to be harsh. 
 
Mids wise you can hear the details really well. Vocals, especially female ones do shine and male vocals do not lack either. But after listening to a multitude of songs, I would say acoustic guitars sounds amazing on these, the amount of details outputted is just simply breathtaking and euphoric. While not being warm or musical, they are definitely good for those that want to get as many details out from their music as possible.
 
As for the low end, don't expect much if you're a basshead, but these provide one of the most detailed, punchy and tight bass out there and simply is hard to beat and while not having lots of bass, they can still output it if that's what the song wants.
 
So overall, they sound airy(not surprising for open-back, but still.), with an outstanding soundstage and effortless detail outputting and being very true to the source, if the source sounds bad it most probably sounds bad on these, and so on. While they're not the most euphoric headphones around, they do let you hear things easily that other high-end headphones have trouble showing, and that is in itself a bit feat. Also to note that 320kbps is the minimum required to not let your music sound underwhelming, while FLAC or ALAC is highly recommended. 
 
CONCLUSION
 
These headphones are very true to the source and absolutely a technological marvel as many would agree. They sound good enough on my Valhalla 2 + modi 2U combo and I have no plans on upgrading my source for years to come. While these are not for everyone like bassheads or people who think that beats are the best in the world, for everyone else they can be good enough to make a change in your life, as they did for mine. 

Luric

New Head-Fier
Pros: Sharp, Clean, Quite Neutral, Wide Imaging
Cons: This is a Machine not an instrument, I think.
After I bought HDVD 800, it felt like I should change my control headphone. Sure, I was in love with AKG K812 for a long time. But, if using HDVD 800 as a main headphone amplifier and DAC, HD800 made me feel right. So I bought CH800S cables, too. (Oh, that was 'uselessly' expensive.)
 
HD800 sounds really nothing with balanced connection. I mean, Nothing is Nothing. In my personal and subjective view, Highs too dry, Lows too simple. But why? It makes sense all the time. When I'm reviewing headphones, HD800 acts as a control with high satisfaction. This headphone tells you what is different and what is a character in other headphones.

techboy

500+ Head-Fier
Pros: fast, clear, excellent transients, huge soundstage, very real
Cons: fatiguing and extreme treble, not as lush as HD 650
Sennheiser's HD 800 - You nailed it Sennheiser!
 
I'd like to clear a few things before you read the review.
 
1. Sennheiser India was kind enough to lend me their HD 800 for a home demo, for an undetermined length of time. Knowing fully well that I won't be buying them. As I can't afford them at this point in time. So I'd like to thank you Sennheiser India for this kind gesture. 
 
2. The demo unit is a piece from 2009. One of the first 250 HD 800 headphones that Sennheiser built. So it is the old version. And doesn't need more burn in either. 
 
3. You'll be disappointed to know that most of the review was done with the Sonarworks Headphone Plugin. SW is a VST plugin that corrects the headphone's frequency curve to bring it as close to neutral as possible. I also enabled the Linear Phase option in SW alongside. 
 
4. The reason for doing this was because in its stock form, the HD 800 was way too bright. And coming from the HD 650 I was unable to adjust. Nevertheless, the HD 800's sound fantastic even with SW enabled. 
 
The Test Setup
 
Headphones - HD 800 (old), HD 650 (2013 - silver), HD 700 - All burned in heavily due to their age.
 
Amplifier - Project Ember Hybrid Tube Amp by Garage1217.com (with supercharger) -> Sylvania 6SN7WGT
 
DAC - Asus Essence One Muses Edition
 
Software - JRiver with Sonarworks for HD 800, HD 650 and HD 700 (HD 800 setting)
 
Music - Recent Bollywood
 
Now. 
 
You should get ready to read the review. :)   
 
REVIEW
 
Long story short, you'll be delighted to know the HD 800 blows away both the HD 650 and HD 700. 
 
The HD 800 is clearer, cleaner, faster, more detailed, has much less distortion and just better all around. 
 
In comparison, the HD 650 sounds ***led and distorted. It almost seems like a toy compared to the HD 800. Now. You may not like to hear this. But this is indeed the truth. 
 
The only advantage the HD 650 has over the HD 800 is that it is a touch more musical and lusher. But the HD 800 is plain and simple better. And so much better than you'll never touch the HD 650 if you buy the HD 800 once. 
 
After hearing the HD 800 for a few days, I'm finding it really hard to go back to the HD 650. 
 
You name it. Breaking through congested passages. A larger soundstage. Better sound isolation. The HD 800 nails it nearly every time. 
 
Even with SW, the HD 800 is a bit brighter than the HD 650. But no big deal. Without Sonarworks, yes, you'll find it hard to listen to the HD 800 if you're not used to a bright sound. 
 
But that too has perhaps been fixed in the 2013 revision of the HD 800, perhaps. 
 
Anyway, both headphones were used with Sonarworks. 
 
And there isn't much of a contest. 
 
You should take the HD 800 over the HD 650 for anything and everything. For all types of music. 
 
Comfort
 
HD 700 >= HD 800 >> HD 650
 
Both the HD 700 and HD 800 are very comfortable. The HD 650 isn't in the same league. Although it is pretty comfortable on its own. 
 
Mids
 
HD 800 is cleaner and clearer. HD 650 is lusher. But HD 800 is in a different league altogether due to its lower distortion. 
 
Treble
 
HD 650 has recessed treble. 

HD 800 has forward treble. 

With Sonarworks, I prefer the HD 650's treble over the HD 800's treble. But only because the HD 800 is still brighter. It is still better in every other way. 
 
Bass
 
Again, HD 800 has less bass. But better bass. You know that!
 
Soundstage
 
The HD 800 feels like it has a 50-100% bigger SS as compared to the HD 650. 
 
Everything else
 
The HD 800 is clearly a big step up. 
 
To wrap it up
 
I'd even say if they could take care of the bright treble of the old HD 800, it would be perfect. 
 
The HD 800 deserves to be priced 3-5x the HD 650. IMO. Your mileage may vary. 
 
And the above impression hasn't been formed over 10 minutes. Initially, I was a bit disappointed. But having heard the HD 800 for a while, going back to the 650 was shocking. 
 
There is a big difference!
 
I recommend the HD 800 wholeheartedly. To everyone. 
 
P.S. HD 700 vs HD 650 review- 
http://akshaytalwar.blogspot.in/2016/03/sennheiser-hd-700-sennheisers-queen-in.html
 
Source:
http://akshaytalwar.blogspot.in/2016/04/sennheisers-hd-800-you-nailed-it.html

Modwright01

Member of the Trade: Hifi-Portable
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. Maybe the most unique headphone ever created with the Qualia 010.

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 but it is the best simulation of a hifi speaker listening.

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...

EDIT : Just equalize it at 6khz with -6.5db and the HD800 is transformed into a perfect headphone :)
pbui44
pbui44
Of all the HD800 reviews I read, I have to agree most with yours with a few (costly) caveats: basically, you might have to spend some serious cash to make David Bowie recordings sound good on the HD800. A year ago I tried the HD800 with balanced cable (stock, I think) hooked up to a Ragnarok and Yggdrasil (or Ragy/Yggy) Schiit stack (control center, really) and MacBook Pro (~2013?) via USB cable (probably mono price).

Listening to "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell, I could hear a very faint hiss in the background and very faint hum from the synthesizer they were playing, even on high noted samples. It seems pretty obvious that the band was using their own mic and synth for the recording, but I also heard both of the guys feeling much more comfortable playing thoughout the song. This would probably sound obvious with any HD800, but with the Ragy/Yggy stack, I could hear very technical stuff that only they could do, like the synth string during the "yearning, yearning" part and head movements from the vocalist from the "baby, baby" part. The song presentation was still rather bright, but I feel the Ragy/Yggy stack made the presentation made the the technical stuff more smooth, as I also heard this from the LCD-X.

So because I feel that the HD800 is best as a critical listener's can, you can make it musical, just as long as you have some deep pockets.
Hal X
Hal X
Having had these headphones for a year, I actually have to say that i don't agree on the "Truth" statement. I actually found the bass to be very well balanced, not lacking at all. What really I could not digest on the long run was the exaggerated sibilance and the glare that the treble had wich spoiled vocals and made the tone of some instruments artificial. On the other hand, build quality, soundstage , distortion properties, impulse response were all great but I just couldn't stand the peak at 6-7 khz.
Peti

uncopy87

Head-Fier
Pros: clear
Cons: expensive
Im not good at reviewing, but its the best sounding headphone i have! I must say that although not all my friends think these are worth it, everyone can tell that its better than my hd598
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dreamwhisper

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Imaging, soundstage, neutrality
Cons: For casual listening the large soundstage is a little bewildering
Me and my non-head-fi friend spent an evening listening to the HD800.
 
We've both spent a lot of time with the HD650, but I had the SR-007 and HD800 available that we took turns listening to.
The HD800 was powered by a Headamp GS-1 and Assemblage 3.1.
 
Here are some notes:
The HD650 has a 2-blob soundstage, which the HD800 don't have, and that makes the soundstage larger, and can be a little bewildering to listen to if you're trying to pick out detail and passages.
 
Stax 007 provides details with greater ease. But it's really apples and oranges, the Stax and HD800 couldn't be more different.
Since the HD800 is so critical and detailed it helps to take a step back and try to hear the music as it comes, without being hyper vigilant as you listen to it.
This involves a new methodology of listening where you consciously focus on absorbing the information.
This is why me and my friend decided it was best to use random music choices to keep us interested.
 
In general, I agree with what someone else said about having other gear that you can enjoy before you acquire the HD800 for casual music listening.
Because it's nice to take breaks from focusing on absorbing the HD800's musical information.
If you don't have any other headphones, or simply can't enjoy music without hyper vigilance the HD800 likely isn't for you.
In this way it follows logically that it would be helpful to have some experience with other headphones in the hobby before approaching the HD800.
Compared to the 007, the HD800's detail and resolution power don't seem to match as well with a soundstage so big. There's so much information, but it isn't always possible to process it all meaningfully.
This is something I commonly experience on other dynamic headphones. My friend has only really heard an HD650 and some low range AKG's so he couldn't comment.
 
But even he was able to respect the HD800 for what it can do in analytical applications, where it's imaging can really shine, music production, movies, and turning up loudly to simulate being at a music festival.
 
I've decided that the HD800, if personified, would be symbolized by a person with a sort of refined sensibility, who subscribes to moral standards and etiquette.
They like to be 'understood' and not just 'listened to'. They like to be 'felt' as well as 'heard'.
 
Is this some sort of poetic expression for the meaning of life?
And the 8 in 800 an upright expression of infinity. Are the two 0's side-by-side really a symbol of infinity.
"HD8∞." It's an interesting proposition.
If I had an infinite amount of disposable money I wouldn't be surprised if I could discover new ways of appreciating the HD800 with IC upgrades, new cables, tube amps, etc.
But I wouldn't be surprised if really all I was doing just that, discovering new ways of appreciating it.
There's so much information to absorb. So much to experience and take in. d(*-*)b
That said, if I turn up the volume to a higher-than-usual level it sounds like my favorite electronic music festival, so a little drum and bass now and then doesn't seem to offend the HD800's puritanical pursuit of truth and justice in the universe.

EDIT: These headphones with a Dynahi is jaw-dropping. A little bit fatiguing, but it gives me most awe of any headphone setup I've heard. This shows imo that the headphones can scale well with equipment upgrades.
dreamwhisper
dreamwhisper
Not sure what you mean.
I mean 'feel' as in physically sense the impact and vibration of the headphones. I'll edit that haha.
Jeff Y
Jeff Y
*cough*jk*cough* :)
jk47
jk47
i wonder how much your experience is determined by the dac and amp.  i have a metrum hex to a metrum aurix amp and don't experience the hd800 at all in the way you described.  it's just beautiful, beautiful music.

smitty1110

500+ Head-Fier
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
Music -
    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.
 
9.8/10

Hal X

100+ Head-Fier
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.
 
Sound: 9.0
Value: 4
Comfort: 10-
TwoEars
TwoEars
Your finding are very similar to mine, and I especially echo what you're saying about the bass. HD800's have fantastic bass, perhaps not the biggest quantity of it but it's extremely precise, textured and dry. Real high-end stuff.

neilsberman

New Head-Fier
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.

gevorg

1000+ Head-Fier
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.
Sweden
Sweden
I suggest trying out another soundstage DSP with the HD800, TB Isone.
Redline have nothing on this one. It actually makes the HD800 sound like a speaker rig. 
gevorg
gevorg
I have both. TB Isone is great but it has a steep learning curve and needs occasional adjustment from one genre/album to another. For someone who is new to DSPs, I think a well designed crossfeed is a good start to test the waters (plus Redline a little more than a crossfeed).

ag8908

500+ Head-Fier
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.
nigeljames
nigeljames
I agree totally with your comments. I put off buying the HD800's for ages because people had said they were not good for rock/metal or for fast music.
Now I just wonder what those people were smoking!! 
whitedragem
whitedragem
Keep enjoying the low fidelity sources you seem to prefer.
 
Glad the headphones you have decided to keep offer you a sense of superiority, (I had to read your review based on the smack talk you put on other members review')
 
 
Based on what mistafuntasitco had to say regarding the same headset, basedon a year of use..
 
Your limited real time, especially given you seem to be figuring out basic stuff like how to run a headphone amp from your laptop.. surely makes your experience definative.
 
 
 
Whilst I have never been one to wish to bash, I just find the immaturity you bring to this forum kinda amazing. Ten drivers worth of amazing (in a well setup surround setup, speakers cease to have actual physical locations, and sound just extends seamlessly from the front plane around the room as programmed to do.
 
There is no doubt that Jacksons music sounds phenominal.
 
In fact many gold manufactured discs, oweing I believe to their higher reflectivity/ease to read, give phenominal,bass (the really long soundwave that errors in recreating will quite quickly diminish the integrity of).
 
I hope that some time at headfi digesting some of the other passionate takes of similar hobbyists might widen your understanding significantly.
 
Oh and I have little issue with compressed music (by file size) for some genres, as the playback has lost very little.
 
I have no time, however, for mass market compressed (make the music louder to stand out equally well from the radio in the background) styles of music.
 
headphones (great and small) benefit from great sources, being the file, the equipment and the user knowledge to match the right genres/recording with the right equipment.
 
long time forum goers here, as well as people who have lived through the last four decades of format demise keep several setups to meet the needs of differing song requirements for enjoyable playback.
 
Anyhow, I just hope you can chill out a little on a need to burn other people who's opinion differs to yours, no matter your level of expertise, cause even the 'lambs' need some helpful steering/honest answers to their quite often overwhelmed new experience and hobby.
 
Outside of this forum some people just don't get that spending more than,$30 has any real worth to the audio. May the song remain the same...

TwoEars

500+ Head-Fier
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.
TwoEars
TwoEars
Thanks guys.
Shape77
Shape77
Thank You for Your review!
saalboy
saalboy
Great review, thank you. I'm using HD800 paired in balanced mode with Pono Player. It's probably not the best combination but worth of considering. Have to say that I can't go back to my long time favorite HD600, the difference between HD800 and latter is immense, not only in price.
With Anaxilus mod (2mm narrow felt) my HD800 have the same characteristics we love about HD600 but with super wide soundstage, tight base and crisp clear highs which take the music to all new level. My ears are in heaven, especially with acoustic music. All sampled and electronic sounds which we find mostly in pop music have a little dirty effect to it no matter the source.

Asr

Headphoneus Supremus
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

Intro

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.

Equipment Setup

- 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.
WNBC
WNBC
A very thorough and well-organized review.  
 
Would you say that the best or natural tone of violins from headphones goes HP1000 > HD600 > HD800?  Timbre and tone are important to me, but unlike your trained ear my characterization of timbre and tone for strings is probably a preference rather than true accuracy. 
Asr
Asr
Yes, I'd agree with how you ordered those 3 headphones for natural violin tone, but I consider the HD800 quite a ways off from the HD600 and would probably put it this way instead: HD600 >>>> HD800.
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