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Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones

  1. MickeyVee
    HD800 - An Emotional View
    Written by MickeyVee
    Published Oct 22, 2013
    Pros - Soundstage, Detail, Layering, FR Response
    Cons - Unreleting Accuracy
    There are so many review of the HD800 and for my review, I wanted to take a different approach, a more personal, emotional view.. YMMV.. here we go..

    First, let me address my POV on some of the key points of other reviews/comments/forum posts:
    1. Sibilance/ 6Khz peak:  I simply don't hear it.  I came from the HD700 and definitely heard the treble peaks there.  The HD800 seems pretty flat to me across the spectrum. I'm definitely going to try the Anaxilus 2.0 mod, but I'm in no real hurry.
    2. Source/Amp Dependant:  Oh Yes.. maybe thats the magic behind the HD800.. they definitely scale up.  They're listenable through something as simple as the AudioQuest DragonFly and scale way, way up form there.  Give that, my thoughts are based on the HD800 and Woo Audio WA7 combination.  This is as much a review/thoughts on the WA7 delivers as it is specifically to the HD800. 
    3. MythBuster: You don't have to have TOTL source/DAC/Amp to enjoy the HD800! I won't recommend a FiiO E10 with them but in the $1K range, you can start to hear the potential. Choose carefully and you will be rewarded.
    4. Cables: Although I have the fabulous Q silk cable, I decided to conduct this review with the stock cable.  This provides a better baseline. USB cable is the NuForce USB and that's about it.
    5. (Update) Source: 2012 MacMini with Audirvana Plus on top of iTunes.
    There are two district areas of my home office. The main setup is my desk with my MacMini, Woo WA7 and HD800 where I generally hang out listening to music while surfing, working or processing pictures in LightRoom and the other side where I have my recliner and immerse myself in the music with the lights out and the room lit by a single candle and the glow of the WA7 fireflies.  In my office chair, I can get analytical and pick apart my system and in my recliner I can just sit back with a dram of Single Malt and just enjoy.  This review is about the latter.
    My HeadFi journey has been relatively short compared to others and I feel like I'm reaching my end state. Not quite there yet, but I feel like I'm getting there. For me, the HD800 is about the music, it's layers, depth, air, detail and how the music was recorded along with the artists individuality. The only way I can explain this  is by my reflections of some of my favourite songs.  So, here it goes..
    The Longest Road, Deadmou5 ReMix by Morgan Page (iTues download).  The song start with a brilliant baseline centre stage and brings in keyboards escalating and surrounding it in multiple dimensions.  The vocalist, Lisse, is dead centre stage during the main parts of the song and moves off to both sides for the chorus.  Her voice is haunting and I can imagine see her face and expressions throughout the track. The music, it's dimensionality and simple layers takes me beyond the music into another world.  I can feel and almost see her passion and know that she's having fun with this.  Yes, its an iTunes download and I wish the bass was smoother and more solid but there's more to it than the technicalities.
    Somewhere Down the Crazy River, Robbie Roberstson (CD rip to Apple Lossless).  Robbie's voice is deep and passionate taking me down deep into the souther states somewhere down the crazy river right into Nick's Cafe. He tells the story and I'm right there.  The music is dimensional all around me while with the voice and lyrics paints a realistic visual picture for me.
    Adele 21 (CD rip to Apple Lossless).. what can I say.  This lady has been hurt bad and is reflected in her voice and music.  Simply Brilliant.
    Eva Cassidy  (CD rip to Apple Lossless)... simplicity, brilliance and one of the greatest voices I have ever heard.  Her voice music is dreamy and suck me right in. Could listen to her forever.
    Black Magic Woman, Patricia Barber (SA/CD rip to Apple Lossless).  This has to be one of the best recorded tacks I have ever heard.  Sexy and sultry voice with a band that is as incredible as she is.  I'm not a musician and don't know instruments very well but when I listen to the track, I can envision the bass player, the organist and guitarist, hear/see their fingers as they finesse their instruments all in harmony making great music.
    The Girl From Ipanema, Frank Sinatra (CD to Apple Lossless).  Wow!  I had no idea that recording were that good in the 50's.  Frank has to have one of the greatest and smoothest voices ever recored.  The guitar, piano and string are simple in structure but definitely realistic and enveloping. I can listen to each individually or bring my self back to hear the entire ensemble. 
    One More Night, Cutmore Club Mix, Maroon 5 (iTunes download).  Ok, I just want to crank it, get up and dance when this track is on.  Not a great recording but the bass is powerful and the passion comes through in the lyrics.; probably because I can relate.  Who gives a cr@p about the technicalities, this is just fun! Absolutely love it!!
    Fleurs Du Mal, Sarah Brightman (CD to Apple Lossless): As much as I love her voice and the symphonic rock melody of this track, the recording just sucks.  What a pity!  This could be a reference track for the HD800 but the poor recording/mixing is evident. The HD800 brings out every poor detail and that can be said of most poorly recorded tracks. Congested and distorted. The HD800 lays out the simple truth.
    I could go on and on with other examples with some of my favourites being Dire Straits, Enigma, Moodswings, Supertramp, Loreena McKennitt, Michael Buble and more. 
    For me, the HD800 is about the emotion it brings it like no other headphone I have owned.  I love to hear and listen to the different layers in complex music as well as appreciate simple compositions.  I love the ability to pick out and place voices and instruments in 3D space and then move back and hear/see how they come together in a great song. I could listen to a single track and get something new out of it each time I hear it be it 10 times or 300 times. 
    Sometimes is just about listening beyond the technicalities. For example, I probably have similar comments with the HiFiMAN HE500 which is a brilliant headphone but somehow comes across dry and unemotional.  The music is there, it's good but just sounds like a good recording.. something is missing for me.
     Is the HD800 perfect, not really.  I find it lifelike and deeply immersive with the right type of music.  The air, detail, layering and soundstage all contribute but taken as a whole, there is something special there.  This is the first headphone that I have owned where I can listen at low volumes and hear everything or just crank it and have fun without fatigue.
    At times, I'd like to get the feeling like I was in a club back into the 80's dancing to When I Rome (The Promise), Frankie goes to Hollywood (Relax), Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys.. or just losing myself in Deadmou5 or Lindsey Stirling… you get it. The HD800 does not do that (so much) for me so I'll be looking for a compliment to them. Maybe different source/amp or another pair of complimentary headphones depending on my budget.  For everything else, they're definitely a keeper for me. If you've got the budget to tailor your source/amp to your liking, this could be pretty much an end game.
      theheadfier likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Takeanidea
      Am glad you mentioned about the HD800 at low volumes being so good. That's something that I always noticed but don't think it's raved about enough.
      Takeanidea, Oct 24, 2013
    3. Takeanidea
      Am glad you mentioned about the HD800 at low volumes being so good. That's something that I always noticed but don't think it's raved about enough.
      Takeanidea, Oct 24, 2013
    4. Dionysus
      Knowing that you come from the HD700 and moving up to the 800 gives me an excellent insight to the upgrade. I am currently giving the 800 a lot of consideration, your review is again insightful thanks.
      Dionysus, Feb 8, 2014
  2. dan.gheorghe
    The best headphone I have heard to date
    Written by dan.gheorghe
    Published Apr 14, 2013
    Pros - Amazing soundstage & instrument separation, detail monster, awesome PRAT and bass, top notch mids
    Cons - Sometimes sibilant, very fragile
    Hey guys,

    The last time  I listened to HD800 impressed me so much that I had to buy a pair for myself:


    Since then, the HD800 have grown on me even more. These headphones are absolutely spectacular on the right gear, in my case the Burson Conductor .

    These headphones deserve  post of their own. I almost feel responsible doing this, as I feel that I haven’t done them justice in my first post and I have to make up for it.

    Lets take this from the start.

    In my opinion they look quite nice and I really enjoy their futuristic design.
    Every time I put them on I feel like this:

    How I actually look like:

    However, they seem really fragile to me. I have touched the silver grill by mistake and left a print there. My hands were clean, but still managed to do that. I couldn’t remove it so it is still there and it bugs me . Audeze LCD2 feel like a tank compared the senns.

    I liked the stock cable from HD800. The build quality seems to be very good and it looks nicer than the usual stock cable ( LCD2 for example ). One thing I don’t like about it: the splitter seems to be made from cheap plastic and the cables that go from the splitter to the cups don’t look like high quality to me. Actually, I know a friend that had some problems with that portion of the cable, meaning that in time it opened up. This seemed to have happened to more owners.


    I feel I really must be extra careful and treat them with more care. Don’t put them  directly on your desk as the paint may chip off. I always put them on something more cushy and not directly on a hard surface.


    On the comfort side, I don’t think I have ever wore a more comfortable headphone. I really forget they are on my head after a while.

    So let’s get to the most important part, the sound. So many things to say and so few words to express all I would like to say about these headphones.

    I will tell you my impressions on a few songs.

    ACDC – You Shook Me All Night Long

    The first thing that struck me was the bass and the guitars. The bass is not at all shy. It is very present with a  very nice punch and tightness. Of course the sound was multi layered and very airy. The PRAT was awesome and toe tapping. One thing I had to do while listening to the song was to lower the volume as the treble got a little too tiresome.  The fact that I lowered the volume was not quite a bad move as I really got to enjoy the song like this with no problems. Yeah you heard me, I like rock on HD800. It is a little bright sometimes but lowering the volume solved the problem. It was quite ok as I can really enjoy music at even lower volumes with HD800 .

    Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon – Time

    Damn… The bells at the beginning were absolutely awesome. Every bell was so clear and so well defined in its place. The sounds came from all directions and you could easily concentrate on each and get it’s original location. The sound was pouring effortless and the dynamics were incredible. The soundstage is exceptional and you forget you are listening to headphones.

    Infected Mushrooms – IM The Supervisor – Noon

    Dat bass… Yes you heard me… Who said HD800 hasn’t got bass, clearly didn’t hear it on proper setup. The bass is so punchy, so deep and so damn fast. The PRAT on this song was awesome. The instruments were very detailed, excellent placed in space and very present throughout the song. The sound came effortless and HD800 handled it with extreme ease.

    Tristania – Illumination (symphonic gothic metal)

    One word. Excellent! The bass is superb. It really hits you with force and real impact. It is so punchy and so present. The sound was very opened and all the instruments were so well separated and well placed. The sound is multi-layered and not one instrument blended in with another. The voice could use a more natural tone but overall I really loved the song on HD800.

    Andre Rieu (Dreaming) – Air (J.S. Bach)

    The sound-stage is amazing. The sound is so opened that if you close your eyes you forget you are listening to headphones and that you are at home. You can see yourself in the concert hall, you can see the orchestra and pinpoint every instrument there. The details are amazing and the dynamics are the best I have ever heard in a headphone.

    Leonard Cohen – The Traitor

    The instruments in the beginning of the song are awesome. The details really tickle your ears. Again the instrument separation is absolutely beautiful. There is so much air between the instruments. You can hear everything and you can easily concentrate on the furthest instrument and still hear it clearly. The voice is quite nicely reproduced and has an excellent texture. It is not as natural as on LCD2, but the reproduction was still awesome.


    These headphones are the best headphones I have heard to date.   The soundstage and openess of the sound is exemplary on them. I sometimes really forget I am listening to headphones.  The sound is so multi-layered that on the the most crowded songs I have listened to, never did I found, not even once, that two instruments blended in the same layer.

    The imaging and sound positioning is excellent and you can really pinpoint the location of any sound with great ease.

    They truly are detail monsters. The get all out of that recording. I expected to be annoyed by lower resolution files, but I enjoyed them greatly even on some mp3s I had listened to. Sometimes I got scared, as I thought some sounds came from my room and I was preparing for battle if any intruder had broken in my secret audiophile lair:


    Ok, the bass…These headphones DO NOT lack bass! I repeat…they DO NOT lack any bass! Their bass is awesome, actually. It goes very very deep, it is very punchy, very fast and knows how to jam.

    The mids are top notch too. The instruments and voices have a wonderfully detailed texture.

    The voices are well reproduced but they could use more body and a more natural tone.

    I did not find the HD800 to be bright headphones. They are very neutral to me. The times I thought them to be bright I realized the song was at fault being a bright recording. When something was bright on HD800 was even bright on LCD2. Be careful as  there are many bright recordings out there. So the treble is very very well defined  and is very sparkly when it is needed to. Unfortunately the sound is a slight sibilant but usually when it got too sibilant it was the recordings fault as well.

    The dynamics & micro-dynamics on these headphones are excellent . I can really listen to lower volumes with HD800 and still be fully satisfied.

    I have used it on some movies as well. They excelled here as well. In crowded open spaces you really feel that you are in that place. It is quite incredible.

    I am going to give you a little advice: Don’t use them on a HD horror movie if you have heart problems!


      Pidgeon likes this.
    1. Pidgeon
      Good review, thank you! :)
      Pidgeon, Apr 14, 2013
    2. dan.gheorghe
      Thank you, glad I could help!
      dan.gheorghe, Apr 15, 2013
    3. Arniesb
      Wow man, really good and entertaining review!
      Arniesb, Feb 14, 2016
  3. YoengJyh
    HD800 is my DieHard Headphone for now
    Written by YoengJyh
    Published Mar 3, 2013
    Pros - It makes my LCD2.2 leave in dust
    Cons - It keeps me away from other flagship headphones for certain period
    But why i give 4.5 stars?
    Because Stax009 is better to my ears.
      jtinto likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. XxDobermanxX
      XxDobermanxX, Mar 7, 2013
    3. interpolate
      This is not Facebook. Geez it reminds me of the iVerge forum. 
      interpolate, Jun 20, 2015
    4. YoengJyh
      I have been using my HD800 more than 3 years now. HD800 is the only headphone on my head at all times. Thanks Sennheiser!!
      YoengJyh, Jul 25, 2015
  4. reeltime
    Expensive Cans Enjoy Expensive Power
    Written by reeltime
    Published Dec 29, 2012
    Pros - 21st Century Design. Detail Kings. Soundstage Kings. Comfort Kings.
    Cons - Price. Needs Expensive Amplification.
    Not that there haven't been a hundred thousand things written on this most-controversial headphone-- but what the heck are we here for if not to give our opinion, right?  So sit back with a cup of coffee, while I'll tell the story of my HD 800 experience.
    It's funny-- there's a growing Apple-Microsoft type environment growing in the Head-Fi community.  It's between HD 800 owners and fans, and Audeze owners and fans.  If you read any forum with the omni-present headline "Which Headphone Should I Buy?" the two sides make themselves known in subtle ways.  "Well if you're looking for comfort, you can't go wrong with the HD 800," writes one post.  "Way more comfortable than the LCD-2."  Next post: "What?  You're crazy!  I've had my LCD's cranked on my head for like 10 hours today.  Look!  There's still on my head and I didn't know it!"  "Well Sennheiser has been around for seven hundred years.  You know they'll be here after the world explodes and you need new earpads after the firestorm scorches them."  "At Audeze, they hand craft every single component and skip Valentine's Day because the love goes into their products."  And on and on the debate goes. 
    Point is-- Everyone is going to be predisposed to one type of headphone or another.  I haven't owned an Audeze headphone yet.  I will in the next year or two.  Right now I'm still finding the edge of the envelope for the HD 800, and it's getting interesting.
    I started my Head-Fi journey in the shallow end.   I needed wanted a custom in-ear headphone which really blocked out sound, so I stumbled across Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors and went through the process of acquiring a pair.  Amazed by the fidelity, I started looking for opinions and found Head-Fi and Headfonia-- which led me to the Slim Pico Amp.  Impressed, I thought I'd try an open ear set of cans for home-- so I bought the HD 650.  Then I thought-- let's put some power down-- so I bought a Burson 160D.  Great, but lots of treble-- let's find a smooth tube amp!  Enter the Woo WA6.  Then I rolled a thousand+ dollars in tubes into it-- and bought the HD 800.  You can already see-- this story isn't going to end well. 
    The HD 800 out of the Burson and the WA6 were a subtle upgrade over the HD 650.  The bass was certainly tighter, the soundstage wider, but honestly-- the change between the two wasn't all that remarkable.  Still, I kept the HD 800 figuring I can scale them up if I wish, and they were more comfortable on my head than the HD 650-- so the HD 650 were sold so my wife wouldn't murder me.
    Sure, there were other headphone purchases-- Audio Technica ATH-50s (those still live at work), Grado SR225, Beats (yes, Beats-- wanting to see what the fuss was about-- that's another review), and some in-ears-- Shure SE425 (still for sale), Klipsch, HifiMan, among others.  But the main focus now was my home rig and bringing the best out of my HD 800.
    The WA6 tube rolling experiments got all the way to a NOS 1957 GZ34 rectifier with a metal base, which cost around the price of the amp-- The HD 800 responded every step of the way.  The bass deepened as the headphone broke in, I upgraded the cable to Toxic silver (exciting another debate over whether pure copper is a better match for the HD 800).  Things were improving but the knock still was that the sub bass wasn't kicking, and the highs out of the Burson made that combo particularly bright to my ears-- damn near to the point of sibilance.  
    In October, one Head-Fier suggested-- maybe you should think about more power for the HD 800, suggesting a move to the WA6-SE.  I started an eBay search.  This wasn't going to be pretty.
    After losing a few auctions-- something really bad happened.  A Woo WA5LE appeared-- and no one was bidding.  Yep.  That was the winner.  $1800 dollars later I started looking for FedEx trucks everywhere I went.  
    This was a major change in the HD 800.  The full range of the audio spectrum was now pumping through my skull.  It was like getting a much-needed pair of glasses after years of squinting.  I never realized how power hungry this headphone really was.  Sure, I can drive the HD 800 with a Fiio E17, they are efficient headphones, but to bring this set of cans to life, it wants pure, clean power, as much-- and as clean-- as you can muster.  
    I'm not talking about a marginal improvement anymore.  Here's my best analogy:  Say I purchased a Ferrari.  I get behind the wheel and take it for a spin.  Well, it's a Ferrari, so I'm going to be impressed.  What I didn't know-- is that the car came only with a four-cylinder engine.  And while I thought I was getting this good performance, when I dropped a (edit) Prat & Whitney jet engine in, suddenly you are holding on for dear life.  Everything about the car's characteristics changed.  The car can move with the four-banger, but it was really made to handle a lot of power.  Same goes with the HD 800.
    Now here's another problem with this new system-- every musical flaw is up front.  Putting MP3 files through it-- you hear every artifact and dropout.  It's brought the worst out of the Burson's DAC stage.  So much so-- I'm now selling the Burson for a cleaner DAC.  
    Stepping back for a second-- you have to wonder-- what was wrong with the HD 650 and the WA6?  Nothing.  I'm crazy.  I admit it.  
    But for folks who complain that the HD 800 lacks sub-bass, my first question from now on is going to be-- What are you using to drive it?  Because with the right power, you understand why this is a $1500 dollar headphone.  It's the closest thing I've ever heard to sonic perfection-- yet I'm still rolling thousands of dollars in tubes through the WA5LE, to see where the edge of the envelope is with the HD 800.
      zellous likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. TheKillerPiglet
      I still have to get used to the idea of 6SN7's as power tubes, they have been pre-amp tubes in my mind for so long. There's a certain appeal to a head amp that burns these You see, I have another "world may explode" stash of American 6SN7's. Somewhere. Not sure where. Somewhere.
      That's the danger with tubes: you have to be careful what you listen to. Once one comes across a set that just lights up in particular circuit, it is hard to pull away. I have a couple of Cuban cigar boxes full of European e88/6922 types. Sadly, I only have two spare sets of 60's Siemen's CCa's and one pair of Telefunken <> (<> is not an emoticon). Last totally silent set of grey plate CCa's went into the AN DAC last year along with one of the Bendix rectifiers. Ten years use on the Bendix, 8 on the CCa's before one got a little noisy, power on 24/7.
      Would it be possible to live with the Amparex's, Valvos, Mullards? Well, unless I have horribly miscalculated and/or there is a substantial increase in life expectancy during, well, during my lifetime I may never find out.
      TheKillerPiglet, Dec 30, 2012
    3. TheKillerPiglet
      Ah... see what you have done?
      I just dragged the big Audio Note off the music room rack, cleared my desk, move my monitors. Nothing fancy: feeding it SPIDF RCA from motherboard, going the the V200, HE500's... but this, this is the "why" of tubes...
      ....this story isn't going to end well...
      TheKillerPiglet, Dec 30, 2012
    4. Night Crawler
      reeltime, you certainly weren't kidding. I received my first ever HD800's today, and came to the very same conclusion. The HD800 is very source dependent! Most of my amps left me completely underwhelmed, save for two in particular. The first is my DACmini PX, which has served as my all time favorite amp for notably the LCD2 and HD650 (among a few other cans I own). Suffice to say, the HD800 sounds simply incredible with the PX. The second amp will take many by surprise, and while I'm sure there are a 100 better, much more powerful alternatives out there (for which I care not at this point in time, lol), the Headstage Arrow 3G has never once ceased to impress me. In fact, before the PX, it was my most preferred go to amp for the HE-300, HE-400, HE-500, and HD650, and to this day it remains one of my absolute favorites. Reason being, the Arrow not only packs enormous power (considering it's size), it also features one of the cleanest bass boosts I've encountered, period. That's inclusive of the Zo (both the original and second generation), I might add. In any case, the Arrow serves as merely a portable solution, whilst the PX is my official at home, go to amp for the HD800. In either case, I'm very content with how the HD800 sounds. Now, my only other concern is which of the three (HD650, HD700, HD800) I intend to keep. :p
      Night Crawler, Jan 2, 2013
  5. Covenant
    Sennheiser HD800 Review
    Written by Covenant
    Published Aug 2, 2011
    I’ve been a “headphone audiophile” for the better part of 5 years now, searching for the elusive holy grail of headphone systems. During that time I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning some of the best headphones from every significant manufacturer, including the AKG K701 and K1000, Beyerdynamic T1, Stax Omega 2, Sennheiser HD600/HD650 and HE60, Grado RS-1, PS-1 and GS-1000, Audio-Technica W5000, W11JPN, and L3000, Ultrasone Edition 9, and others. Some of these I’ve even owned myself for periods of time.

    Audio nirvana is a very personal thing. What sounds magical to me and sends chills down my spine might well sound artificial and grating to another. That is the nature of this hobby. With almost every top-tier headphone system I have tried, something has been lacking. Sometimes this “something” could be quantifiable – overly harsh treble response, lack of bass impact, flat or unrealistic soundstaging, and so forth – but often it could not be. The headphone simply didn’t move me, didn’t connect with me emotionally throughout the gamut of diverse musical genres I listen to. The Sennheiser HD800 is one of the very few headphones that have done so.

    I have very eclectic musical tastes, ranging from psytrance and electronica, to Celtic and new age, metal, pop, progressive rock, modern jazz, and even some blues and easy listening. Sting and The Corrs are frequently queued right alongside Tool and Shpongle on my playlist, for example. Any headphone that aspires to a long term place in my rig, therefore, needs to be first and foremost a capable all-rounder. One-trick ponies often have a big initial “wow” effect; “The bass on these is incredible!”, “I’ve never heard so much detail before!”, and so forth. This kind of focussed excellence is often found in high end headphones whose manufacturers are known for having a “house sound” that appeal to a niche market. Grados, for instance, tend to excel at rock. Their unique combination of lush, tonally rich midrange and fast, well-textured bass impact make them ideally suited to the genre. But you won’t often find a classical music lover relying on the RS-1 as their primary headphone. Grado have addressed this in their own way, with the GS-1000 being the soundstageous departure from their typical house sound, but such an approach doesn’t appeal to me personally. I’m not a headphone collector, and I don’t want to be reaching for a different headphone every time a new song starts on my playlist. Is a headphone that excels at everything and has no glaring weaknesses an unrealistic expectation? Not any longer.

    Build quality and comfort
    An aspect of high end headphone listening that’s often overlooked is comfort and build quality. To me, this area is every bit as important as how a headphone sounds. What good is it to find a headphone that sounds sublime, only to be prevented from losing yourself in it because your ears are being rubbed raw?

    The HD800, thankfully, doesn’t suffer from this shortcoming. In fact, it’s one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. It might lack the luxuriance of leather padding found on some high end Ultrasones, or even the Denon imitation pleather, but it makes up for that with huge earcups that do not touch the ears at all. And despite the size of the headphone, the HD800 is remarkably lightweight, which contributes to the feeling of the headphones simply disappearing when one puts them on.

    The stock headphone cable is also one of the very few that I’ve actually liked. It seems very resistant to kinking, is not microphonic at all, and is lightweight enough not to cause cable drag. A cable that gets out of the way and doesn’t remind you it’s there is a good cable.


    Listening Impressions
    It’s far too easy to simply forget about critical listening with the HD800 on, and just enjoy the music. However for the sake of this review I’ll bust out the reference tracks and see how the headphone performs when put under the microscope. The HD800 was burned in for at least 100hrs prior to critical listening, and run through the following system:

    Foobar configured with WASAPI for bit-perfect output, playing FLAC > HeadAmp Pico DAC > Jaycar 80W pure class A discrete amplifier > HD800 with stock cable.

    First up is Shpongle’s Dorset Perception, a complex electronica passage that excels at testing a headphone’s imaging abilities. Throughout the intro of this track the HD800 keeps up with the increasingly chaotic soundstage, isolating each musical image in its own space and minimising “bleed” between them. I was able to take in the whole picture, as well as isolate and listen to each individual instrument in the soundfield without much effort on my part.


    Moving on to Porcupine Tree’s Heartattack In A Layby, a test of ambiance and midrange presence. There’s a deep reverberation present in this track that underlies the vocal, and the challenge for a headphone is to present this reverberation in such a way that it emphasises the vocal rather than swamps it. Again the HD800 performs admirably, Steven Wilson’s voice rendered faithfully amidst the layers of electric guitar. More importantly, the overall emotional message of the track is communicated, creating an eerie feeling of transposition out of oneself and into the story of the music.


    Alright, let’s try something with some grit. Onto Metallica’s Enter Sandman, from their celebrated Black album. An unhealthy few decibels of increased volume later and I was out of my chair yelling “Eeeeexit light! Eeeeenter night!”, much to the annoyance of my neighbours I’m sure. The power metal of Hammerfall was likewise rendered with sufficient crash-of-rhinos impetus to get me head banging. Sure, the Denons and Grados can rock harder, let that never be questioned. But the HD800 CAN rock, and it can rock well.


    Lastly, Loreena McKennitt’s The Highwayman to test the HD800’s capabilities with female vocals. Her sweet, effortless voice is rendered with such conviction on these headphones that this proved another moment of eerie transposition for me. The palpability of Loreena’s voice, combined with the wide, holographic soundstage of the HD800’s transport me to the lonely road in the moonlight, up to the old inn door... linked arm in arm with Loreena as she sings the story of the Highwayman. I do not feel the HD800 lacked anything in conveying the atmosphere of this track.


    The HD800 is one of the best all-rounder high-end headphones I’ve heard. To my listening experience, it has 3 main competitors – the Stax Omega 2, the Sennheiser HE60, and the bass-heavy AKG K1000. All of them perform similarly (or even slightly better) than the HD800, but all cost considerably more, only one of them is still in production (the Omega 2), and they all demand very specialised systems to drive them. This is not to say the HD800 isn’t a picky beast to drive as well, because it certainly is. Sennheiser designed them to be as open a window into the music as possible, and that goal is what they have achieved. If anything is lacking in your connected equipment, you’re going to hear it.

    Regardless, anyone who (like me) values a headphone which excels at many things rather than one, and has the ability to connect the listener to the emotional message of their music definitely owes it to themselves to try the HD800. I doubt you will be disappointed.
      DavidMatlab likes this.
    1. treebug
      How did they sound with your Soloist Covenant?
      treebug, Sep 23, 2012
    2. Covenant
      Hi treebug, I do not actually own the HD800; the pair used for the above review was a loaner.
      Covenant, Sep 23, 2012
  6. novisnick
    Our Review of the HD 800
    Written by novisnick
    Published Jan 5, 2019
    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.


    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


    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 and baseonmars like this.
    1. volly
      A great read and firm comparisons and opinions! Sounds like you have a very interesting collection of headphones, always a good thing! :wink:
      volly, Jan 6, 2019
  7. DirkDK
    Not completely satisfied
    Written by DirkDK
    Published Aug 5, 2011
    Cons - lispering
    I totally agree with the review of Skylab; what a great and honest review!
    The reason I'm not really happy with the HD 800 is because I bought it as a reference headphone.
    After listening to the recording of my choir (professionally recorded) I noticed that all of the
    consonants 'S' sung by the female voices didn't sound natural at all; they sound like they were 'lispering'. I really thought there was something wrong with my headphone; but after googling for a solution for this, I found this review by Skylab that explained the problem. I listened to another choir recording (the third part from the Gloria from John Rutter sung by the Cambridge singers) with this lyrics:  
    "quoniam tu solus sanctus tu  solus altissimus, tu solus Dominus, Tu solus Altissimus Jesu Christe..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUoN27W6hQ4
    It's a pain to listen to those 's' sung in this case by boys ...
    I think this isn't acceptable for a reference headphone with this price ...
      Syros and Kon Peki like this.
    1. vinnievidi
      Interesting. I sold my HD800 because I had trouble listening to Natalie Dessay (my favorite soprano) recordings with them. It seemed disembodied and unnatural, and the sung S's were just odd.
      vinnievidi, Aug 6, 2011
  8. The Monkey
    So Close
    Written by The Monkey
    Published May 7, 2010
    Pros - Similar speed and agility to stats
    Cons - No soul
    An expensive, technically proficient headphone that has no soul.  Does mate well with the Luxman P-1 or P1-u, but at that point, why not go electrostatic, which is what these are trying to be in the first place.  Kudos to Senn for innovation, but these are just too steely for my tastes.
      quantx, Kon Peki and Pokemonn like this.
  9. Currawong
    One of the best, but also one of the most picky headphones.
    Written by Currawong
    Published May 6, 2010
    Pros - Huge soundstage, high speed, great with all types of music. Very comfortable.
    Cons - Very picky about source and amp. Cable is arguably poor, so overall expensive to get the best results from. The painted plastic frame is a bit tacky.
    I'm going to borrow a quote from jpelg who sumed them up nicer than I can in one of the meet threads:
      gevorg, quantx and Pokemonn like this.
  10. pabbi1
    Right amp required
    Written by pabbi1
    Published May 30, 2010
    Pros - Best dynamic available
    Cons - VERY picky about the amp and cable
    Let's start with my long love for all things Senn, from my first hd545, to hd600, not so much the hd650, but back again with the he60 (electrostat) and now the hd800.
    The search for amps started with a balanced Bijou, where I thought a tube amp would be just the ticket with a SS source (Cambridge 840c), but, not quite. I also tried them balanced with a Little Dot Mark IV... just wasn't quite there.
    Keeping with a SS source, I then looked at push-pull amps, where the jury is out, mainly by not having the amp fully functional for a long enough time.
    So, I completely switched gears, through an odd congruence of events. First, I upgraded my source significantly, and changed topology to tube from SS. This, combined with a bjt SS amp (a commercial prototype) has given me the answer. With this combination, the hd800 is on par with the he60 (driven with eXStatA, that has better synergy with the he60 than does the BH), but with FAR better bass. Not that the he60, properly driven, is at all bass shy, but the hd800 really makes bass happen. True bass heads will now actually seek out the hd800 with an amp such as this (or KG's dynafet) because this is bass you feel, not just hear.
    In fact, I (as a life long bass player) assert the hd800 has BETTER bass (quality and quantity) than the L3000, with FAR better control. Want to hear the timbre of a Fender Precision, or the sharpness of a Jazz, then contrast with an Alembic? This is the headphone for you.
    Midrange is the patented Senn sound - nothing better for guitar and piano.
    Now, where the discussion will be the most intense is around the higher frequencies - my bias is far away from that region, almost to the enxtent of dismissing it entirely, so I'll leave that for others.
    PRaT is dead on, whether it's DEVO, Radiohead, Rhianna, or AC/DC. For the longest while I thought I'd have to get some HE-5 (or whatever the latest flavor) to really make headphones boogie again. Nope, the hd800 is up to the task, with the right supporting cast.
    This will be available for listen at CanJam. See for yourself.
    No mods per se, but I do have an APS v3 cable, balanced.
    The strongest possible recommendation I can give the hd800 is that it would make me find the he60 idle and extraneous, and, I am ALMOST there.