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Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones

Rating:
4.54386/5,
  1. Windsor
    Sennheiser HD 800 - A King of Headphones
    Written by Windsor
    Published May 10, 2012
    5.0/5,
    Pros - extreme detail retrieval capabilities; vast soundstage; very comfortable.
    Cons - possibly the price; some may prefer a more coloured sounding headphone.
    Intro: my first encounter with the HD 800
     
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    A few months after discovering the world of high-end headphones I auditioned two of Sennheiser’s HD series, the HD 600 and the HD 800, side-by-side in a local hi-fi store. From the first moment I listened with the HD 800, I was amazed at how deeply I was able to peer into my favorite recordings and hear new details like never before. Though the HD 800 initially sounded a little bit bright to me in relation to what I would describe as ‘natural,’ I found its pristine sound reproduction to be a revelation, and for about an hour I listened in awe with the two HD series headphones.
     
    Following that initial listening session, I wasn’t completely sold on the HD 800. Yes, it sounded like a fantastic musical microscope, but I thought it seemed expensive and a bit too thin sounding and treble-centric for my preference of totally natural sounding instrumental timbres and decided to leave the HD 800 alone for a while…
     
    Reacquaintance with the HD 800
     
    Eighteen months after my first encounter with the HD 800 and with more listening experience - including time with some of the world’s finest headphones - I found myself having the Audez’e LCD-2 as my main headphone, meticulously EQ’d by me to a more neutral response that revealed more of the upper level details that the LCD-2 seemed to lack in stock format.
     
    As I continued to browse in the head-fi and related community, I discovered an article by Tyll Hertsens in which he rated the HD 800 as one the best headphones on the planet, and that the implementation of a simple mod alleviates the treble issues that many people experience with the HD 800 (more on that later). That was all I needed to see - my curiosity for the HD 800 was reactivated in that moment, and within a few days I had visited a hi-fi store in Germany (where I was on vacation at the time with family and friends) and given the HD 800 over an hour’s listening time. I really liked what I heard this time.
     
    When I got back from Germany, I A/B’d my custom EQ’d LCD-2 with an HD 800 and was so suitably impressed that I decided to buy a used, next-to-new condition HD 800, and I’m very glad I did.
     
    IMG_5227.jpg
     
    Equipment used during this review
     
    All listening tests referred to in this review were done using the HD 800 and – unless otherwise indicated – either 320 kbps MP3s, lossless audio files, or CDs, fed via a JPS Labs Optical Cable to the Lavry DA10 DAC/Amp. At various times I had a number of other headphones on hand for relative comparisons inc. the Audez’e LCD-2, the Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 25, another HD 800, and the Grado PS1000. I often switched between them but there were other times when I just listened with HD 800 for extended periods.
     
    Packaging and comfort
     
    The HD 800 comes stored inside a black cardboard storage box similar to those of Sennheiser’s HD 6x0 headphones, but the HD 800’s box is lined with black satin and feels much more luxurious. Reading the HD 800 manual gave me a much greater appreciation for the craftsmanship of the HD 800 and Sennheiser’s meticulous creation standards. Though I was impressed by what I read and felt reassured that the HD 800 is an exquisitely constructed product, it seemed obvious that the proof of the pudding would be in the listening with the HD 800.
     
    In terms of comfort, the HD 800 is probably the most comfortable headphone I have ever worn. It is light to wear and disappears from my awareness after a few minutes, revealing just the music/recording.
     
    IMG_5407.jpg
     
    HD 800 listening experiments
     
    Here are some of my findings about how listening with the HD 800 sounds to me:
     
    Being used to the Audez’e LCD-2, which is a slightly dark-sounding headphone with emphasized bass presentation by default, I found listening with the HD 800 being like lifting a veil from what I was used to hearing with the LCD-2. When it comes to detail retrieval, the HD 800 is simply unmatched by any other flagship headphone I’ve yet heard.
     
    On another note, when listening with the HD 800 since receiving it, I’ve often found myself audibly exclaiming the word ‘amazing’ quite a lot. It’s a welcome bonus and a ‘wow factor’ that I seem to experience relative to the clarity and precision of the HD 800, which to me is not the cold, soulless listen that many make it out to be. In my experience, when our thinking clears and we just listen, what we listen to always clearly speaks to us.
     
    IMG_5419.jpg
     
    Soundstage and instrumental definition
     
    No other headphone that I’ve heard has a soundstage as expansive as the HD 800’s - it’s wide, very deep (from back to front as well as from top to bottom), and very immersive for the listener. Every instrument on any recording I’ve played with the HD 800 sounds clearly positioned in the mix.
     
    Hearing so much sonic detail presented at once can be a lot of information to take in may be quite fatiguing for casual music listeners used to a less revealing headphone-based listening experience. But the extensive detail revealed by the HD 800 is very impressive.
     
    it’s clear to me why the HD 800 is considered a top choice for many audio professionals who work with open headphones: if it’s on the recording, the HD 800 will reveal it.
     
    When listening to a recording of a live session I participated in a few days ago, I initially reached for my stalwart LCD-2. Then, when some instrumental details on the recording seemed to elude me, I switched to the HD 800 and almost immediately, what was muddy and unclear on the recording with the LCD-2 became clear with the HD 800. There was no harsh brightness and no colourations, just what’s on the recording. It was a very welcome surprise.
     
    That realization confirmed for me that any excessively undesirable colourations that I’ve heard with the HD 800, such as overly bright and grating treble, must have been to an extent due to the recordings played. And it seems obvious that for an optimal listening experience with the HD 800, high quality recordings are a must.
     
    That said, I do not find the HD 800 to be colourless, it clearly sounds like is has a slightly brighter, treble-happy sound than what sounds ‘natural’ to me i.e. the sound I heard when a musician performs in front of me.
     
    IMG_5425.jpg
     
    Bass
     
    In terms of bass presentation, I initially thought the HD 800 sounded very anemic, but after some more listening it was clear that bass with the HD 800 is fully represented, ultra clear sounding, and extensive, and, due to the HD 800’s design, delivered in a less intense way than the LCD-2, which seemed to thrust the sound upon this listener’s ears with weightier sonic heft than the HD 800, which has a more delicate and articulate way of delivering sound.
     
    When A/Bing the HD 800 and LCD-2 it was clear to me that whilst the HD 800 is a less weighty-feeling/sounding listen than the LCD-2. The bass of the HD 800 is clearer than that of the LCD-2 in a very similar way to how the HD 600 has a clearer, more well-defined and less bloated bass presentation than the HD 650; the bass presentation sounded leaner with the HD 800 yet still very full.
     
    Another factor contributing to both the bass quality and quantity of the HD 800 is most definitely the recording fed to it, which is something I’ve already touched on briefly. When listening to the HD 800 in Germany and exploring a pile of CDs in the shop there, I noticed that the audio quality I was hearing changed greatly from disc to disc. At another time, when listening to the Steely Dan back catalogue, I noticed there was a huge difference between the sonic quality of Can’t Buy A Thrill (1973) and Two Against Nature (2000), with the latter sounding much larger, weightier, and clearer.
     
    Lastly, for those in doubt of the HD 800’s ability to deliver much bass, I recommend listening to a recording with plentiful bass in the recording, such as the track One More Time by Daft Punk. That’s all the proof I need to know that the HD 800 is capable of delivering very deep and satisfyingly full-sounding bass.
     
    Mids
     
    The midrange of the HD 800 is very clear and sounds more ‘etched’ than the LCD-2, which has a smoother and more liquid midrange presentation that’s also more intimate than the HD 800. When listening to Dave Grohl’s vocals on the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light album, his voice sounded smooth and rounded with the LCD-2, but more jagged, cold, and acerbic at times with the HD 800. To my ears the HD 800 don’t reproduce instrument sounds with as natural-sounding a tone as the LCD-2 do, but the HD 800 reveals many more of the sonic nuances of Dave’s vocals on the same track due to the HD 800’s ultra detailed, and prominent treble presentation.
     
    IMG_5424.jpg
     
    Treble
     
    I find this can be the strongest/weakest point of the HD 800 depending on how it is perceived. First, the HD 800’s treble is very fast and clear. To me it often seems as though it can extend upwards indefinitely, which to me seems partly due to the HD 800’s vast soundstage. On Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat album, the air/ambience around drummer Keith Carlock’s hi-hat playing on the opening track was clearly revealed by the HD 800; in fact, every articulation on every recording I listened to with the HD 800 is as clear as a blue sky on a cloudless sunny day. That’s quite an achievement from Sennheiser!
     
    However, such extreme clarity can have its drawbacks. First, since the HD 800 reveals everything on a recording, if there are flaws present in a recording you are listening to, the HD 800 will lay them bare. This could detract from listening enjoyment for some listeners, in which case a headphone more forgiving of low-quality recordings, such as the HD 600, HD 650 or the Audez’e LCD-2, may be a better option. But that said I have yet found that the HD 800 has prompted me towards appreciating quality recordings more, in harmony with the musical message being expressed.
     
    If recordings fed to the HD 800 are bright and edgy, bordering on harsh for artistic effect, such as on the Foo Fighter’s Wasting Light album, or, to a greater extent, Tool’s Lateralus album, listening with the HD 800 can be quite hard on your hearing. If you listen to a lot of recordings of the aforementioned nature or similar, the HD 800 may not be the right headphone for you, but that said, there are workarounds for the HD 800’s prominent treble, a few of which I’ll now discuss.
     
    Taming the HD 800's treble
     
    The HD 800’s treble has been the most frequently occurring issue that I have seen people express about the HD 800. So far I have found a few ways around it:
     
    Damping
     
    As soon as I read about the Anaxilus mod (nicely collated here) I wanted to try it, so I did. After applying it, I thought that the mod tamed the HD 800’s treble to the point where it is still very clear but not to the point of sounding as harsh as it did when the HD 800 was unmodded. I also saw that to be true when I A/B’d my modded HD 800 with an unmodded demo HD 800 - to me, the anaxilus mod has the effect of adding slight veil to the HD 800’s treble, resulting in less air round instruments in the upper treble region and a slightly thicker sounding bass presence.
     
    IMG_5415.jpg
     
    EQ
     
    Using a parametric EQ applied to my Mac’s system audio, I EQ’d the HD 800 to a more neutral response, in accordance with the headphone.com website’s suggestion of the ideal frequency response for headphones being a flat line descending from 1 kHz down 10 dB to 20 kHz. The result of such EQ with the HD 800 was like adding a veil to the sound of the standard HD 800. The overly bright treble was gone – and in synchrony with that the clearly etched definition of instruments was reduced – and listening to recordings with the EQ felt like a more casual and perhaps carefree experience, a bit like I recall listening to music with the HD 600.
     
    Cable
     
    I’ve heard from other head-fi members that using an aftermarket cable can tame the HD 800’s treble, and based on my own previous experiments with cables, I’m sure a cable could definitely soften the overall sound of the HD 800. I’ve not experienced that first hand, but I am due a loaner cable that is currently in the post to me from another head-fi member (thanks).
     
    Amp
     
    Using an amp that softens the sound of the HD 800, such as a tube amp, is the most commonly suggested solution I’ve seen to that, but I’ve mainly being using the Lavry DA10 which is a wire-with-gain type amp that is quite colourless and precise sounding. It doesn’t tame the HD 800 treble though.
     
    Cross-genre suitability of the HD 800
     
    IMG_5427.jpg
     
    I know that many people want the ultimate headphone, the ‘one set of cans to rule them all’ and have just one headphone. Depending on your preference the HD 800 may or may not fulfill that purpose.
     
    The HD 800 excels at accurately presenting the overall relative tonal balance of the recordings it is fed and in that case will work well with any recording on a technical level, provided the source doesn’t get in the way.
    Treble-lovers will be in heaven with the HD 800, and music such as classical, jazz, and acoustic-based forms will sound crystal clear, as clear as the recordings. Bassheads may be better offlooking elsewhere, unless their ideal definition of bass is clean, clear, deep, and articulate sounding, in which case the HD-800 could be a really interesting and welcome point of interest.
     
    Listeners of electronic music may simply want a headphone that has more bass weight for such styles of music, and I’m grateful that I still have the LCD-2, however I didn’t find the HD 800 to be lacking in bass as what’s on recordings is accurately represented, but given the choice I most probably prefer the HD 800 more if it presented bass frequencies with extra weight.
     
    With most pop/rock/metal music I fed it, the HD 800 sounded very clear but lacking in weight and true to life timbre whilst being slightly brighter than ‘natural.’ A more weighty-sounding headphone such as the LCD-2/3 or the Grado PS1000 may be a better choice for pop/rock/metal listeners.
     
    Summary
     
    The HD 800 is a landmark in headphone craftsmanship that, from the completely new design of the driver housing to the ring radiator drivers to the cable connectors, is a musical microscope that often reveals recordings with the utmost precision in a way that sounds slightly brighter than natural to me. (If timbre is your highest value in headphone election then you may be satisfied with the HD 800, but you may prefer something slightly darker sounding, relatively, like the LCD-2/3.)
     
    Due to the HD 800’s ability to retrieve the smallest details on a recording, its sound signature can be quite demanding for the listener and most probably won’t be to every listener’s preference as some listeners just want a headphone that is ‘fun’ and not overly analytical. But to those who enjoy the HD 800’s sonic footprint, it may be the only headphone you ever need.
     
    Those who appreciate the HD 800 in some ways and not others could sell it or keep it and supplement it with a different, perhaps warmer sounding headphone that’s still of decent quality such as the Stax 007, Audez’e LCD-2 or, Sennheiser HD 650.
     
    Overall, I truly recommend the HD 800 as a world-class headphone suitable for the most discerning of ears, and for those who want to go deeper into exploring the recordings they know thought they knew, and love.
     
     
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    1. View previous replies...
    2. lovleylady
      Nice review mate.
      Cheers!
      lovleylady, Aug 22, 2012
    3. YoengJyh
      I fully support your whole statement as mentioned above after i bought and listened to HD800.... WOW!
      YoengJyh, Sep 16, 2012
    4. starstern
      how in compare the dt 880 ?
      starstern, May 30, 2013
  2. ManAtWork
    Can any better than HD800 in future?
    Written by ManAtWork
    Published Apr 29, 2012
    5.0/5,
    I was addicted when I heard it from a audiophile show in Hong Kong, the sound was completely different with other headphones. It sounds gorgeous, easy, natural, same as the approach of high end audiophile equipment. It is pricey, although not the highest in market nowadays. But it worth every cent you paid, if you have a set of good equipment to pair with it.
    Many people complained its sound like lack of weight in bass, but my experience is due to not yet burnt in and the balance of whole the system.
    It took me around 12 months to burn in. Therefore, if anyone wants to go for it, you need to have sufficient knowledge, experience, suitable equipment and patience.
     
    1. XxDobermanxX
      Sennheiser FTW
      XxDobermanxX, Apr 30, 2012
  3. ENTJ
    Only the best
    Written by ENTJ
    Published Apr 10, 2012
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Flawless sound reproduction and very comfortable
    Cons - A bit pricey
    Worth every penny 
  4. Mambosenior
    HD-800 - A joy every time I put them on.
    Written by Mambosenior
    Published Jun 10, 2011
    5.0/5,
    Pros - World-class headphones.
    Cons - None
    After almost 2 years of having them, I am still thrilled with their sound reproduction. Does need a very good and powerful tube amp.
  5. GeirTj
    HD 800 with Cardas cabling
    Written by GeirTj
    Published Jun 10, 2011
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Open, detailed sound out of the head. Balanced mid and base
    Cons - Need custom cabling
    Love 'em:)
  6. macbob713
    Sensational Sennheiser HD800
    Written by macbob713
    Published Dec 26, 2010
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Wonderful, cohesive sound with great soundstage.
    Cons - none
    The HD800 is the finest headphone sound that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. I put over 100 hours on them before giving them a serious go. Over the past week I have listened to a wide variety of music on them, from jazz and classical to rock and country with a little blues thrown in when the mood struck. The Senns reward great recordings with terrific detail, sparkling treble, rich full mid-range and a solid bass foundation. They do not add or subtract anything from the recordings, they are very neutral and natural sounding. I have paired them with several amps, including the Schiit Vahalla and Asgard, but they shine with the Burson HA-160. 
    On good jazz recordings you can clearly hear each individual instrument. The acoustic bass sounds very deep and detailed. Pianos sound realistic with a profound sense of the body of the instrument on display. Drums kick hard and resonate. Guitars are stunning, both electric and acoustic. The high hats are clear but never harsh or in your face. On orchestral music, the sound captures the full sweep and beauty of the orchestra. Rock and country sound great, and a well recorded blues disc puts you there. In particular I was struck listening to the Beatles remastered discs, as well as several remastered Elvis Presley cd's from the 60's and 70's. Today I rocked hard with the latest cd from Tom Petty, MOJO, which had all the right stuff going on. Vocals, both male and female sound superb.
    In summing up the HD800, I only have the strongest praise for this marvelous piece of headphone engineering and would strongly recommend them to anyone considering them.
    I also paired my AKG 702's with the Burson and that combo was also stunning. But the Senns truly shine.
    1. HighFiguy
      how were the 702's with the asgard, iv'e heard some complaints that the asgard started to damage the reviewer's 702's by acting up with the driver. Did you find that same problem?
      HighFiguy, Mar 13, 2012
  7. .Sup
    HD800
    Written by .Sup
    Published Oct 22, 2010
    4.5/5,
     
    So finally some impressions from me heh
     
    For the past two weeks I'm listening to HD800 exclusively, I needed a month to adapt to the different sound signature of 800s. At first I was very annoyed about the lack of bass they have compared to HD600 (and some people say HD600 don't have enough bass already) but now I don't miss it, there's plenty now, its tight but not as deep as HD600. I understand why Sennheiser would want to reduce bass, in my opinion because everything else is now more forward sounding, more open, vocals wouldn't be as realistic as they are with more bass impact. 
    I have to repeat I don't miss any bass and I have tried them with variety of music. They work great even with bass heavy Trance and Electronica. R&B sound fantastic as well and my favourite Jazz is jaw dropping. 
     
    Some say HD800 are bright headphones but I disagree, they are however very detailed and certainly not veiled in anyway like the HD600. I have to admit vocals were never so close to reality before and soundstage is just amazing with HD800. Its like music is floating in my cans. 
     
    The first thing I noticed when I put them on my head is how much heavier they were compared to HD600 which are my reference cans. They aren't too heavy just heavier, noticeable. I used to say HD555s were the most comfy cans. Well I have a new reference when it comes to comfortability. These are huge and my ears don't even touch the cans. 
     
    The pads don't seem to be velour and are of much high quality and more skin friendly-they don't itch. Build quality is decent but in time the build flaws become apparent. The cable is very nicely build, don't know how many strands it has but its twisted and I don't see myself buying a new one unless I go balanced someday but that doesn't seem to happen any time soon since I enjoy them a lot with my current setup.
     
    My setup is as follows: ND-S1 dock (which is the most neutral transport I have ever heard besides my Yamaha S-1000 cd transport) then the setup continues in either DacMagic with RA PSU>Auditor or Audio GD Ref5>LD IV SE.
     
    I mostly use the 1st setup as its much more musical but the Ref5 has the detail. Interesting how some components just don't have synergy. LD IV with DM is grainy while REf5 and Auditor are harsh with HD800.
     
    HD800 need a nice stand as they are very fragile cans. What more can I say, people who listen to them are jaw-dropping and I, myself now enjoy these fully. Are they worth the money? No, hugely overpriced, HD600 offer much more value at 1/5 of its price (Europe) but I don't imagine my setup without them (HD800). :)
     
     
  8. sdotfire
    HD800's on the way (update when I receive)
    Written by sdotfire
    Published Sep 1, 2010
    5.0/5,
    Need to update when they arrive this friday, will have multiple sources to test them out on.
  9. poikkeus
    The classic Sennheiser
    Written by poikkeus
    Published Aug 28, 2010
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Detailed, balanced, powerful
    Cons - Somewhat heavy, warm, expensive
    I haven't had the chance to audition the new Audeze phones, but it would difficult to fault the sound and build quality of Senn's HD800 - a model that has been praised by some as the best dynamic headphone, ever. Given its reputation as top of Sennheiser line, and considering its price, it's a good idea to elevate expectations. This is a fine headphone - but there's a lot to expect. However, instead of regurgitating a fine review like Skylab - whose systematic evaluation covers the important points - it may be just as important to provide a more personal review of these phones.
     
    What I Didn't Like
     
    1. Weight. While I've owned heavier headphones (including all-wood designs), the HD800 is modestly heavy. Some of the wood/leather models compensate with a luxurious look and feel; that said, one can easily imagine wearing the HD800 for extended periods of time. Compared to the lightness of, say, an AKG-K701, which can be used alternately as ear-muffs, the HD800's heft leaves one feeling comfortable but truly comfortable.
     
    2. Comfort. There's no question, Sennheiser has done an impressive job balancing sound and comfort. The padded cups don't exert too much pressure - but don't expect the feather lightness of a DT880 or AKG-K701. Your ears might feel a little hot after an extended listening session.
     
    3. Cost. I don't intend to harp over the "value" issue; if you're paying a grand and a half for headphones, value probably isn't a paramount issue. That said, I believe you should at least sample the phones before making a decision. You might find that a dramatically cheaper phone would be more to your liking.
     
    What I Liked
     
    1. Detail. These phones emphasize quality bass and detailed mids, giving a convincing sense of accuracy. The more you spend on a pair of headphones, the more subtle the differences in sound; however, with the HD800, one comes away with the feeling that the music takes priority. It's detailed, but truly a generalist's headphone.
     
    2. Brightness. It's easy to fall into the trap that the HD800 is a lighter-sounding headphone - when in fact it's extremely accurate. Don't expect a boomy bass; the HD800 sounds remarkably like well-mastered studio recordings. 
     
    3. Build. As you'd expect, the HD-800 has a rock-solid build. To be honest, I'd prefer real metal over faux metal, but in terms of overall quality, these phones are reassuringly strong.
     
    Conclusions?
     
    There's probably no such thing as a "perfect" headphone, but the HD800 renders a variety of genres very well, indeed. 
  10. Deadmeat20
    The most accurate headphone result yet.
    Written by Deadmeat20
    Published Jul 30, 2010
    5.0/5,
    Pros - With modification: Extremley neutral and true
    Cons - Possibly price compared to materials. (more case)

    A way to Truly real sound.

     
    There has been many headphones over the year to come closer and closer to The "Non plus ultra" of headphones (terms ex: timing and power).
    This headphone has come so close to the most accurate results both technically and audibly wich will be explained below.
     

    The Initial impression

    At first this headphone was pretty extraordinary in Detail.Transparency.Attack.Stability.Comfort and overall close to all aspects of it. It was a few places even in this great headphone that could use a slight improvment though.
     
    Treble some people have reported problems with and what not. I myself found that compared to most other phones this was a pretty small problem. Since there was not much else to say besides that some might not like the massive soundstage, It was really only a slight bit of focus and treble "smoothing" that might have been necessary in order to achieve close to Total perfection.
     

    The second impression (Mod).

    A very detailed modification was done later to it that completely removed all of the troubles that had been found in the headphone before.
    It now had a much better focusing of the sound imagein all areas, together with a treble with 0 indication of +/- audible deviations or any hars sound.
    There was now also even greater detail and attack than before completed with a much more natural response overall in the frequency range. With this mod that was done to the custom built amplifier and a certain material that was put inside the earcup, (sadly not able to go into much more detail due to not enough info), The phone was now so natural and transparent, Nothing I have heard from neither headphone nor speaker came close no matter the price range. ( 138.11- 1381100 dollar).
     
    This truly is the most perfect audio I have ever experienced in my life in terms of neutrality and transparency.