Sennheiser HD 800 S

General Information

A modern classic, Sennheiser’s reference class HD 800 headphones deliver sound that is as natural as possible and true in every detail. Improving on a seemingly perfect formula is not a task undertaken lightly, but Sennheiser’s engineers have succeeded in enhancing still further the sound reproduction in the open, circumaural HD 800 S.

The striking industrial design combines form and function seamlessly, the layered metal and plastic headband construction attenuating vibrations to the earcups while the handmade microfiber earpads offer exceptional comfort for even long periods of listening enjoyment.

Crafted for perfection, the HD 800 and the HD 800 S are precision-built in Germany from only the finest materials and components. The transducer is encased by stainless steel, while the headband and headphone mounting utilises the most advanced materials developed in the aerospace industry for high strength with minimal weight.

The new HD 800 S offers even better high precision connectivity options and is now supplied with two connection leads, a 6.3mm connector and a XLR-4 balanced cable to offer even better quality sound from sources with balanced outputs such as the Sennheiser HDVD 800 headphones amplifier.

Absorber technology of the HD 800 S
The enhanced sound reproduction of the HD 800 S is achieved through the addition of the innovative absorber technology that was pioneered in the Sennheiser IE 800 – a breakthrough that preserved the audibility of very high frequency sounds by eliminating a phenomenon known as the “masking effect”, where the human hear struggles to hear frequencies of sound when lower frequencies of a higher volume occur at the same time. By absorbing the energy of the resonance, Sennheiser’s patented absorber technology prevents any unwanted peaks and allows all frequency components – even the finest nuances – in the music material to become audible. This innovation was a key element in making the IE 800 the world’s best sounding in ear headphone, and in the HD 800 S it helps to bring even greater purity and precision.

Such enhancements build on the formidable achievements of the classic, with the 56mm sound transducer – the largest ever used in dynamic headphones. The unique ear cup design directs sound waves to the ear at a slight angle to create an impressively natural and spatial listening experience.

While much appears the same, the enhanced performance within is revealed by a distinctive new look, with the silver finish of the 2009 classic HD 800 making way for high-class matt black for the HD 800 S.

Features

Further optimised reference class in wired headphones

Open, circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones

Enhanced sound reproduction achieved through absorber technology

Additional cable with balanced XLR4 connector

High-class matt black metal parts

Natural hearing experience - realistic and natural sound field with minimal resonance

Biggest transducers ever used in headphones including new innovative dynamic transducer design

Uncovered earcups for enhanced acoustics

Handcrafted ear pads, made of high-quality microfiber fabric

Metal headband with an inner damping element

Specially tuned balanced, impedance matching cable with low capacitance

Special high precision headphone connectors

2 year warranty

Latest reviews

Pros: Exceptional build aesthetics, pinpoint accuracy and imaging, detail, bass quality and punch, clarity, weight, texturing, perfect for Diana Krall
Cons: Balanced cable is too long, treble is hot, lacks midrange warmth, unforgiving, bright side of neutral
The Sennheiser HD800 is a legendary headphone, even 11 years after its release. It's long been considered the last word about imaging and detail and the quality of an amp can be judged by how well it handles the HD800. It certainly had issues: the treble at 6k is sinfully hot, it's exceptionally amp-picky and the presentation is clinical and brighter than neutral.

The HD800S was released around 2016 with a tweaked black aesthetic, more Vader than USS Enterprise. More importantly, it came with a Helmholtz resonator in the driver enclosure to tame that 6k (There's a DIY mod - the Super Dupont Resonator - which attempts to address the issue, but as Tyll points out it's made of foam and may deteriorate with sweat) and a balanced cable.

I bought my own used pair about three weeks ago, and I've spent quite a bit of time with them since then.

Build Quality and Presentation
They're exceptionally built and feel like a very precisely designed headphone. It's light and made ofplastic but doesn't feel cheap in the slightest. Movement of the D-shaped cups is very smooth and tight, and once you have them placed they don't move. The connectors are a little lower than the center of the drivers, which relieves stress on the cable when they're hanging and reduces the footprint a little. Headband adjustment is smooth and sure. Position marks and "Sennheiser HD800 S/N XXXXXX Made In Germany" are etched on the metal. An extremely minor gripe is the balanced cable: it's way longer than necessary unless you need to walk across the room without taking off your headphones. Further, the mesh covering just makes plugging it into a locked XLR port harder.

Comfort and Isolation
Comfort is a little tricky on the HD800S: they're much, much lighter than the LCD-3 and have little clamp force, but the velour pads are harder and the effective headband area is smaller. If placed slightly off, the headband creates hot spots and the pads are uncomfortable. Once properly placed, however, the HD800S is superior in comfort to the LCD-3. Maybe someday we'll get Denon D7000 comfort in a TOTL can, but not here.

Sound
The HD800S has an analytical, bright-side-of-neutral signature. As with the LCD-3, I've been using the Audio-GD D27 as my amp/source which has a very neutral and flat response. A warm tube amp might make them a little more euphonic, but I don't believe in equipment or EQ that 'fixes' a headphone. The HD800S may be a tweaked version of the HD800, but from others' impressions of the latter it's not fixed. It doesn't have the romantic, laid-back character of the LCD-3 but it has the unique ability to make every piece of music sound unique. As if the headphone sounds like the music, rather than the music sounds like the headphone.

Soundstage and Imaging
Wide, expansive, realistic soundstaging and highly precise imaging are the biggest draw of this headphone. No matter the quality of the recording or the genre, instruments are astonishing in how precisely they're placed. String music is somewhat lacking in body compared to the LCD-3, as if the cello is a clear white line rather than an off-white line with resonating dust. Percussion is really something special because it has such clear body and place in every track, so much so that focusing on drums can immediately clarify chaotic music. Jazz music is my favorite genre with the HD800S; the soundstage has just enough width and separation to transform the experience. Diana Krall's 'Night and Day' is perfect. The LCD-3 handles Coltrane and powerful heavy metal much better, but nobody can touch the HD800S for Diana Krall.

Bass
The HD800S doesn't have the sub-bass energy or body of the LCD-3, but it has tightness and quality in the mid-to-upper bass region in spades. Slam can provide a euphonic character and I prefer the Audeze bass presentation, but the HD800S flavor makes classical music and more intimate vocal music balanced across the spectrum. Bass-heavy music is still fun due to their speed and punchiness even though it lacks a little in quantity. Case in point: Morbid Angel's album Illud Divinum Insanus has a lot of groovy bass rhythms that can get lost in the a powerful bass presentation.

Mids
The mids are accurate and have excellent clarity but don't have the body or naturalness of the LCD-3. Planars have better mids than regular dynamics in my experience, but the clarity and imaging of the HD800S makes them a close second. Vocals are balanced and clear but could stand to be more intimate on vocal tracks. This doesn't detract from their quality, however; it's a matter of unity between technical performance and sonic character. Classical music, especially with heavy cello presence, opens up quite a lot in the mids region. Opeth has an airy, ethereal quality that I appreciate very much.

Treble
Hot treble is never pleasant and it's certainly more emphasized in this headphone than Audeze, but the HD800S doesn't necessarily artificially enhance high notes. Heaven Shall Burn's album Iconoclast Part III is sinfully bright. On the Grado SR-80 and AKG Q701 it's just shy of a mess and may even be grating on even slightly bright sources, but the HD800S stays on the side of honest. The LCD-3, by comparison, is somewhat shelved down in the treble region which may explain its romantic character. With the additional clarity and imaging of the HD800S, saxophone and higher guitar notes aren't competing against a bass-heavy signature. I dislike bright headphones but find these a great complement to the LCD-3.

Conclusion
The HD800S is airy, revealing, detailed, fast, and very nimble. It pairs well with a dead-neutral amp like the D27, is built fantastically and provides an excellent complement to warmer or more intimate headphones. I haven't heard the HD800, but its tweaked younger brother embodies much of what I hoped it would. Comfort is iffy and the presentation (especially the mids) lacks warmth and romance, but the soundstage, imaging, and clarity are absolutely top notch. I recommend them very highly for someone who enjoys jazz and classical music, and even moreso to someone who enjoyed the Q701.
mthaynes
mthaynes
great review and spot on sir. These pair very well with the Bryston BHA-1 very well. Adding shorter cables with individual one for right and one for left balanced connectors increases the sound stage. Adding a Transparent Audio Powerbank 2 also adds a bit more bass. modern pop music songs very good, but if the music lacks significant bass it does show as you discussed.
Evshrug
Evshrug
Nice review! I’ll have to look up that Diana Krull song.
Cables are that long so they can reach from a HiFi setup (in America we have the home theater, in Germany they have dedicated listening rooms) to a couch. Personally, I bought a nice short (4 foot!) cable for use at my computer desk.
The Super DuPont mod works, but there is enough variance in materials and hand-cutting them that no two mods will sound alike, while the resonator does a great job of achieving the desired result without causing additional masking. I have an HD 800, but I would have an S model if I could. And if working from home has taught me anything, I could really go for the HD 820! (I live in a strip of townhouses, no basement).
Pros: Phenomenal and balanced non-fatiguing sound, super comfortable, very light, great unboxing experience
Cons: Materials could've been much more befitting of the premium price, cables causes worry when detaching.

Arguably one of the most legendary headphone in audiophilia. A stable that’s practically a part of every single conversation when high end headphones are mentioned. And now we’ve the supposed “successor.” The HD800 S coming at us in a IMO tacky all black look and a new dampener that is claimed to fix treble spike which is considered to be the only fault of the original 800. So after many, and let me stress MANY months of saving and gear selling I was finally able to buy this endgame headphone…..off a total whim. Yup, I bought this $1800 behemoth before ever getting the opportunity to hear it, and even over my dream Oppo PM-1 headphone. Let’s talk about it.

A little about me
I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even YouTube's “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.
I'm a 26 year old firefighter, for the City of Concord, North Carolina as well as the U.S. Army, North Carolina National Guard. The cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.
My interests/hobbies are fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/reviewer feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.
Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.
My ideal signature is that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.
Equipment used at least some point during the review
-Amp.
-Sennheiser HDVD800
-D.A.C.
-PS Audio Digital Link III w/ Cullen Stage 4 Upgrade
-Sources
-LG V20
-Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various lossless, FLAC, etc... music
-Misc. Equipment
-Source cleaner
-iFi Nano iUSB3.0
Disclaimer
I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. I purchased this headphone with my own, hard earned, money to be used for my personal use.
The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.


The Opening Experience

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Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience
Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.
As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’
This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?

The “consumer” flagship of the Sennheiser brand. To say I had EXTREMELY high hopes of this headphone is an understatement. Thankfully, I can say that Sennheiser delivered a truly beautiful experience that I still remember. The HD800 S comes in a amazingly simplistic packaging with the only words are the branding. This screamed try me try me, and honestly even gave me chill bumps to plug them in and experience them. This level of simplism gave me, the buyer, full confidence that I bought a product that will let its ability speak more than useless jargon on a box. As I opened the container I’m now greeted with a beautiful, but sadly cheap, cardboard box that is NOT small by any nature. On top of the box (somehow it fit) is the user manual and startup guide and warranty booklet, that interestingly enough, shows both the original and new 800’s on the cover.

As I opened the substantial box I’m immediately greeted with a new headphone smell and the visual prowess of a beautiful (and again all black) silky like material that gives a soft caress of the HD800 S headphones that lay cozy inside its embrace. Below the massive legendary headphones you’ve now 2 cables that are extremely premium looking AND feeling. Pre-connected is the single ended (SE) jack and next to it is the balanced connection (which I used entirely). Also, there’s a very fancy looking USB drive that already has my PERSONAL headphones frequency graph. Oh no, not a check one in every 1,000 headphone and print off that chart, this is my personal, serial#10029, HD800 S frequency graph. That, to me, is such a cool aspect and one that REALLY makes me feel like I have a top of the line, top shelf, best of the best, product. As a firefighter, I don’t make a great salary. So when I finally save up to be able to buy something nice like this, it’s really a great feeling to know that the company respects me to include what’s honestly a very easy thing for them but it goes miles for me.

So needless to say, I was extremely happy and pleased and happy with the handshake Sennheiser gave me. I feel like I’m valued and appreciated as a consumer and though I personally don’t like the all black look, they delivered a beautiful product that shows their level of competency.

Construction

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To be honest, I kinda don’t know how I feel about its construction. At the price point of $1,800 I expected it to be much better made with much more premium materials than mostly plastic (high grade [feeling] plastic albeit but plastic nonetheless). They say that this was the material the gave them the best auditory results but I personally don’t really buy that. Granted, the HD800 S doesn’t feel flimsy in my hands but at the same time I do feel I need to baby this product.

The headband is a aluminum plate with the HD800 (not HD800 S logo interestingly enough) and serial # etched into it (which is a really cool feature). The ear cups move on a glide on top of the headband vs inside of it which I’m most accustomed to. The cups themselves are extremely large and easily fit over my above average ear size. My first worry comes from the aluminum backs surrounding the driver. They look beautiful but I find myself always worrying about something hitting them or my finger touching them when I take the HD800 S off my head and them breaking through. Now, I’m well aware that I’m likely being silly but it’s a something I do think so I make sure to hold the headphone by the cans outer edge when taking them on/off. The inside of the cups have a Sennheiser branded dust cover to help keep dust, hair, etc… from getting inside the drive units. Moving down you have the very proprietary BUT REPLACEABLE cables that fit VERY securely into the headphones. So securely in fact you really have to give it some force to disconnect them (and I’m not understating that). The cables themselves are quite thick and braided to help keep interference out of the signal and to preserve their life span.

Like I said at the start of this section, I really don’t know what to think about the build quality of the HD800 S. It’s not badly built but I don’t feel that these are $1,800 headphones either. Though yes, using plastic over aluminum drastically cut back on the weight it also, to me, drastically cuts back on the premium factor. So if I had to pick a side of the fence, I’d side with the being disappointed side.

Comfort

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So we’ve a spectacular unboxing experience and a meh construction. So how comfortable are they? Pretty darned comfy if I do say so myself. They don’t massage my head or anything like that but they actually hardly sit on my head. And what I mean by that is I can hardly even feel them, so the headphone just disappears into the music. The padding is pretty thin but surprisingly I have no issue with them, so whatever combination of padding materials they used, they hit it spot on. For better or worse I’ve worn the HD800 S EASILY for more than 5 hours at a time, several times; mostly with heavy Destiny gaming sessions but I hit music pretty hard too. The ONLY irritation I have is if my head isn’t straight, or the headphones aren’t being supported by a pillow etc…, they’ll quickly start sliding off my head so I have to continuously adjust them, which does get old. But other than that small set back, I really love the feathery (light) feel of the HD800 S.


Sound

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Alright, now onto the super important factor and one I’ve been really excited to talk about. Now, to disclaim, I have, and may at some points continue to, compare the 800 S to the original 800 however let me say upfront that my experience with the original 800 is very limited to the few minutes I’ve had a few times at the 2 audio meets I’ve been to. But with that being said I love the change they did to the S model. Though I found the original HD800 to be incredibly revealing, to me, it was just too bright and grew to be fatiguing, even after only the few minutes I’ve had with them (again personal experience). The new HD800 S is, to me, much more neutral and easy to listen to but that’s as far as I feel comfortable comparing the 2 in terms of sound due to my very limited time with the HD800. Another disclaim is that I’m using the HDVD800 amplifier sometimes with and sometimes without it’s built in dac as the source for the HD800 S. This amp. and headphone were literally made for each other so their may be some bias in the pairings.

The soundstage on the HD800 S in incredible. There’s so much air and space present that listening to, well recorded, live music is phenomenal. The ability to envelop the listener into what they’re listening to is better than anything I’ve ever heard to date (doesn’t blow out the Hifiman Edition X but still, to me, betters it). Add in the ridiculous amount of detail retrieval the HD800 S can do and prepare yourself for even the most replayed song you can think you’ve heard you’ll still likely hear something new. A great example that I can personally give is the song “Time 2” by Ewan Dobson. I’ve heard this song so many times google pretty much auto places it on my lists for me, but never, until listening through the HD800 S, have I heard what appears to be a door opening and closing a couple times in the background. It’s so faint but through the HD800 S is clearly recognizable.

I probably already made this point clear but the HD800 S sounds amazingly realistic. To my ears I can’t personally tell any bias in the frequency response at all. It, to me, sounds completely flat and neutral. This and the massive soundstage mentioned earlier gives the HD800 S beautiful imaging. As I’m writing this paragraph I’m listening to the piece “Shadow of Doubt” from the Escaflowne anime/movie (dunno the artist), and the cellos and violins sound so lifelike and musical that I can easily visualize each musician’s pluck and draw of the sting as well as where they’re located in relation to their counterparts. It’s an experience to no other headphone has ever given me and one that leaves me not just coming back for more, but staying and relishing in it for several hours at a time.

It goes without saying but the HD800 S is a phenomenal sounding headphone that these mere words I’m writing won’t come even close to doing justice. The HD800 S truly needs to be experienced to fully enjoy and explain what I’m trying to. But in hopes of explaining it, please allow me to talk about my personal thoughts and findings about the individual areas of music.

Treble

The eyes of the music. To me treble gives the listener a look into what the music is going to be like and heightens the ensembles presentation. When listening through the HD800 S, every note, every chime is like stars shimmering in the new moon sky. Absolutely stunning. One of my favorite instruments to listen to is the violin. So much energy can be portrayed with this instrument but at the same time an artist can show calmness and ease through one as well. A song I came across recently that’s quickly became one for reference is “A Moon Filled Sky” artist unknown. This piece gives me a sense of calm and relaxation and when listening through the HD800 S I can fully appreciate this sentiment. Not once throughout my listening experience has the HD800 S became anything remotely to sharp of sibilant. Every note played up to the highest of my ability to hear is played controlled and realistic.

The incredible treble extension present in the HD800 S enables it to reveal every spec of detail that may be present, rather good or bad, in the audio file. That does bring up a potential negative as well. If your files are not well rendered or recorded the HD800 S will put a shining beacon on that buzz or hiss that most other headphones would cover up. But when recorded/mastered competently, the results are all but guaranteed to give the listener chill bumps.

Mids

Though the mids are second in this list I find myself actually having to talk about them first. Right now I’m listening to the song “Rain” by Simply Three, and I’ll likely use this song again as reference in the treble section but section I’m listening to now just has so much realism in the cello that I’m almost physically feeling the vibrations in the strings. As I hear cars driving by in the background the cellist is playing his instrument so beautifully and through the HD800 S I am truly able to enjoy this stunning piece. I make no withdrawl about my bias towards headphones with a more forward sounding mid range for if you read/watched any of my reviews you know how important the mids are to me (for to me their the soul of the music) and though the HD800 S is extremely neutral the mids are still able to come alive and breath their fullest emotion to me the listener.

On the note of emotion, I’m a huge fan of watching animated music videos (or AMV’s for short), when taken pride in and matched to the music being played they do a great job of portraying the emotion the artist (in this particular case the content creator) was wanting to portray to the listener. What’s unfortunate is that through “normal” headphone or popular, overly bassy, headphones I just can’t ever get anywhere near the emotional connection to the video. Two examples I’d like to touch on are “Hello, Sasuke My Old Friend” (Sound of Silence by Disturbed), and “Naruto And Hinata Fight Song” (fight song by Rachel Platten). These two AMV’s I’ve listened to and watched countless times but it’s only through headphones like the HD800 S that I can truly experience the emotion present in the singers, then amplified by the video really envelops me into the experience. The artist's voice come through so clean, even on the rather poor YouTube compression, that I feel that I’m having a performance given to me alone.

Having the HD800 S has actually taught me that you don’t necessarily need to have forward mids to truly enjoy the presence of the artist's voice or draw of an acoustic instruments string. So long as the headphone is in general flat and neutral you can relish in the emotion without the mids being overshadowed by the bass or treble. And the HD800 S does a truly impeccable job in showing this.

Bass

The heartbeat of music. I actually laughed a little because that statement is so true but has become diluted over the popularity of super bass products. The heart needs to be in harmony with the body or else things just don’t feel right, and this is the same with music. If the bass is too heavy is just doesn’t quite feel right with the music. If it’s too light it feels empty and maybe even stale. When I was able to A/B the HD800 S with my other dream endgame headphones, Oppo PM-1, the HD800 S almost seems to be bass light and distant but when really listening to it the HD800 S, to me, shows true tranquility with the rest of the music being performed. If you’ve ever been to a concert you know how the entire ensemble sounds as one cohesive unit and that’s exactly what the HD800 S is.

The bass is by far the most controlled I’ve EVER heard on a dynamic driver headphone. There’s a sense of presence with each bass hit that, though light and not too impactful, doesn’t leave me feeling longing. It’s quite fascinating actually. The HD800 S CAN produce bass that you can feel but they don’t impact you like headphones with powerful bass can. Check out this remix of the song “Animals” (originally by Martin Garrix) by RAZON35. Admittedly it’s a rather bad rendition (personal opinion) but it gets my goal of describing the bass.

The HD800 S is by far not the headphone that people who like super heavy bass should even remotely have in their radar. The HD800 S is a symphonic (I think that’s a word) headphone that presents its much pure and undiluted.

Conclusion

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I’ve had the Sennheiser HD800 S for a few months and I continue to fall in love with them like it was my first day. The sense of realism and musical space and depth is just unmatched. I purchased these on a complete 100% whim that they would live up to their claims of fixing the treble spike and I proudly say they’ve accomplished that. Though I’ll also be upfront and say they’ll always be the complementary headphone to my sometime will own dream Oppo PM-1’s (just fills my personal tastes in music). Make NO mistake however and I cannot stress this enough. The HD800 S is a truly phenomenal headphone that after owning one I can fully understand how these have become a staple in the end game audiophile market. The performance they CONSISTENTLY put out is just ridiculous for their respective cost. I do with they used more premium materials that the plastic used but the audio quality is just so, amazingly, clean and pure I can honestly say that I love this headphone with every fiber of my being.




Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.
adydula
adydula
I had a set of these in house for two days and returned them...the build quality for a $1800 headphone in my opinion is not that great....they also were very thin sounding to me and I have the HD600's which I really do like. I prefer the 600's over the 800s. What a price differential....I was expecting so much more from these headphones and was very much disappointed.
adydula
adydula
Finding more often than not, just because stuff costs more doesnt make them better that other lower priced stuff...
Army-Firedawg
Army-Firedawg
Pros: Sound, Soundstage, Treble, Bass, Clarity, Vividness, Details, Speed, Micro Details, Instrument separation, Tone, Comfort
Cons: Price, Cables, Open, Very hard to drive, Complicated to carry around,












Introduction

Sennheiser HD800S is the successor to HD800 - one of the greatest headphones ever made. HD800 was the first headphone to actually WOW me hard with their soundscape kind of soundstage and crystal clear sound so I set my bars very high when I started to analyse HD800S. Those are true TOTL Eng - Game headphones, you either like HD800S's signature or not - but they do reproduce music in best of manners I ever heard. HD800 doesn't know what chill or relax is, they will recover every last bit of information that was in the song and they are going to bring it to your face.

Being presented with this level of details is shocking at first - but after you know that something can sound this way, it's really hard to return to lower end signatures. Listening to HD800S for a few hours can take a lot of the fun away from using chea(er) headphones and I found myself wishing for more of HD800S's sound. Like a very infectious disease.

(Also, sorry for your wallet)


About me

My name is George and I enjoy music. I listen music while working, listen to music for enjoyment and listen to music while I'm gaming. Music is a thing that is everywhere around me, be it classical, pop, rap, metal, jazz or electronica. I also like to prepare long playlists to enjoy while working on my company's games. You can check out more on our pages here https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/ and here https://twitter.com/7heartstudios . My love for music has had some impact on our games as we hold the music close to our hearts and we are committed to only use ogg -q10 as the encoding format for our music since it offers the best space to sound quality ratio.

I have a pretty good hearing and the higher treble means quite a lot to me (8-18kHz area). Since I am not that old, the original HD800 was a bit bright at times.



First Impression

The first time I heard an HD800 was when AVstore was still in their old headquarters. They had an HD800 connected to a WA22, but I was able to easily switch the connection to FiiO E12, Matrix M-Stage and Chord Hugo.

My very first impression was that they are spikey. This lasted for half a minute after which I adapted to the signature. The original HD800 was pretty bass light and the spike in the upper registers made it slightly hard to listen. The torment and endless vortex of details that followed left me speechless for a while. Considering the low level of details that many headphones had before I tested HD800, to hear this all at once might be weird at first.

Fast forward to future, I heard that AVstore received a HD800S in their showroom. I knew that I had to listen to them and find out if they improved or how do they sound. HD800S sounded like a HD800 that improved in the exact areas that were problematic, without loosing any of the magic found in their original. That same level of details, same soundstage, fast transients and everything, but without that spiky treble and with a tad more bass made HD800S my new favorite headphone in less than five minutes (I've been an HD800 fan for a while now).


Packaging

HD800S comes in a really luxurious package and you do get a pair of HD800 and two cables. There is a manual and a cleaning cloth. To be honest, the box alone looks like it would cost at least a hundred $ to buy, and the XLR cable is placed in a pouch - very refined selection of both materials and presentation. The inner material is a silk / satin like material. There is a USB stick in the box, but no spare pads nor any other spare parts. I would probably liked to have a pair of pads, say if something were to happen, but the box is nice and presents the headphones well.

The USB key includes a frequency response analysis, a copy of the authenticity certificate, and an electronic copy of the manual, nothing needed to actually run or use the headphones, but I appreciate the FR being included in the box.

I would had appreciated if the scale used for Frequency Response would had been finer (if the whole graph would had been between -10 and +10 dB), so it would had been easier to read it.

Technical Specifications

Impedance300 ohm
Connector6.3mm/ XLR
Frequency Response4 Hz - 51.000Hz (-10 dB)
Frequency Response 210 Hz - 44100Hz (-3dB)
Max Sound Pressure (SPL)102dB (1Vrms)
Ear couplingCircum-Aural
Cable length3m Straight Cable
Transducer typeDynamic transducer, open back type
Power (load rating)500mW
Weight without cable330g
Passive noise attenuationZero
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)<0.03% (1kHz, 1Vrms)
Contact pressure3.4 N approx.


Build Quality/Aesthetics

HD800S is one of the nicest looking headphones I had the please of laying my hands on. In fact, at first I thought that they look a bit alien and like a Sci-fi product of the future, but even in person they look well. The color black is much better than silver was on HD800 - I find it elegant, giving a sensation of luxury and high quality.

The adjusting mechanism is not overly smooth, but it's really well secured and it will remain in the position you place it. The headband padding and pads themselves are covered in a very high quality material, they feel nice on the skin and won't cause sweating or irritation, even after a few good hours of usage.

I would say that even though you won't get out of the house using HD800S, they seriously look like something you would feel good wearing outside. My personal definition of fashion might be obtuse, but I am content with their looks. I really like the details and writing on HD800S, and their build quality, but it looks quite frail and unfortunately I would have a hard time taking it out of the house and I consider it's transportation to be a problem as well. They are big and their case is even bigger, and quite thick. I can't just shove the whole box in my backpack like I would do with my daily drivers - Ultrasone Dj One Pro.

Where I had to add that HD650 plastic didn't feel that top notch, I actually feel that HD800S's plastic is top notch and has a secure feeling to it. The metal insertion in the headband adds to the style and feeling of a well built headphone as well. The cups don't move a lot and I would recommend not forcing the cups as I don't know how resistant to force is the mechanism, but they held pretty well on my head and moved just enough for me to adjust and feel them comfortable. Since the size of the cups was so big, I felt really comfortable without having to play around with the fit too much.


Comfort / Isolation

There is no question about this; HD800S is the most comfortable headphone I had ever tested in my entire life. Like the absolute most comfortable headphone I had the honor of placing on my head. I have big ears and the cops are large and deep enough to allow for my ears to sit entirely into the cups - really really nice. The material on both pads and headband is comfortable as well, very fine texture, doesn't get hot and feels like something you can spend hours with.

The weight is not too high nor too low, due to the weight distribution system working really well you won't feel any fatigue from wearing HD800S albeit they weight a hefty 330 grams. I didn't experience any neck strain or fatigue even after hours of wearing HD800S.

Isolation is absolutely Zero. There is absolutely no attenuation from the outside noise; if you don't have any music playing on while wearing them, you're going to hear things almost as if you're not wearing them at all. This means that to fully enjoy HD800S you need both a very silent room / background and to be alone. Writing on the keyboard is slightly heard while wearing my Dj One Pro (well isolating) is on but music off, and writing on keyboard is inaudible while music is on. With HD800S, you either need to get an entirely silent keyboard or have the volume high enough for keyboard to not make a problem. The bright side is that if you buy HD800S and use it, you're probably not going to be writing at the same time - but this is good to keep in mind with entirely open headphones in general.

Besides them being open back, there isn't much to actually say - they feel like wearing a few feathers on your head - their clamping force is not that high so you're probably not going to move too much with them on, but they stay pretty secured for walking and normal movements (won't fall from your heard with normal movements). HD800 has the largest ear cups / pads that I ever seen. This alone gets them to fit me very well and gets them to be very comfortable. Sony XB-1000 also has some of the biggest pads in the world, but they are not as comfortable as HD800S for me, thought XB1000 is pretty comfortable as well. Even XB700 is quite comfortable if we're talking about comfort alone. Audioquest NightHawk was similar to HD800 in comfort, but I spent far too little time with NightHawk to make a clear assessment of them in any way.


SOUND QUALITY

HD800S has a clear, vivid, bright, neutral, natural, tight, solid, fast, precise, well separated, large sound. The tonality on HD800S is pretty much flat and neutral, with a smidgen of bass and a sprinkle of treble to it - but still not colored nor bass heavy nor necessarily bright. HD800S is extended well in both sides, having an incredible bass extension and treble extension. Their midrange is (shockingly) only slightly recessed and the whole tonality would probably be very mid forward if it weren't for the open design that gives the mids a place more in the back, the whole construct leading to an amazing soundstage that I would even name a soundscape.

The FR as measured by Inner Fidelity, using their own equipment:

Whole measurements made by inner fidelity on http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/SennheiserHD800Ssn01067.pdf

HD800S.png




Channel imbalance
Many analysis of the Frequency response made by professionals show channel imbalances in many headphones by I honestly never hear it or at least not on the model I have in my hands, so I will just say that there is not channel imbalance on my HD800S


Bass
Bass is solid and deep; It goes as low as 20Hz and it is not overpowered nor enhanced. It is a conservative but deep bass that covers the whole human hearing spectrum. The bass is so solid that it is going to reveal any kind of textures that are hidden within your music and it's decay is so short that you're going to have a hard time finding a faster and a tighter bass. HD800 is not made for bassheads and will not be for you if you're looking for explosions or for rumble, but it is going to be there and with some equalization it is going to be more than enough. Nevertheless, the bass didn't really distort even when heavily enhanced, but to get the best bass and control over it you need a good amp pairing for HD800S. Bass guitars have a faster transient sound and reveal far more details in the bass than I was used to hear with most headphones (ie800 actually recovers the same level of bass detail, but with more bass in quantity). The bass is so fast and tight that it is unbelievable at first since most other headphones have a natural decay. Without testing a similar headphone before, HD800S will sound strange at first, almost as if the bass has a whole new concept for resolution and detail. The clear transients of HD800S (best I heard to date) will make the bass an unforgettable experience that will actually change the meaning of music for anyone who hears it once.

While there is a slight mid bass hump and an ever so slightly enhancement of the bass, coming from ie800 makes HD800S sound linear and balanced. When compared to HD800, HD800S has ever so slightly more bass giving it a slightly fuller sound with a slightly stronger impact.

Midrange
The Midrange of HD800S is clear and vivid. It is a bit distant and shockingly the midrange is not diffused nor dispersed albeit it has the largest soundstage from everything I had tested. In fact, HD800S is my benchmark reference for soundstage and transients; Every single detail that exists in the music is brought forward, almost like extracted out of the background position, while the foreground is moved just a bit back leading to a well composed and well presented sound. When listening to Sonata Arctica, the violins for which I had to focus before, were upfront this time and really well expressed. The micro and macro details in the electronic and aggressive music of Mindless Self Indulgence were presented in all their might. While on this band in particular has a lot of details hidden in their tracks that can be heard much better with better headphones, HD800S is on an entirely new level, you are able to hear clear textures and dents in the waves. Mindless Self Indulgence combines certain saw sines and square sines to obtain their sound and while I don't know how those were mastered, they show only on revealing headphones, HD800 being at the top of the chain when it comes to this. Sennheiser's own ie800 does a very similar thing, being able to extract the last bits of details out of the same songs, in an in-ear model.

Female voices have a certain sweetness to them, air, and they come off as natural. After countless live performances, it's easy to tell that HD800S revives the experience of a live female voice down to the finest details. The balanced mid - treble - bass ratio gives a lifelike feeling to the voices, female voices being not too weighty neither too weightless. Male voices come with the texture presented in a live performance and HD800S was able to recover the correct weight to each octave type of male voice - which is amazing for any headphone - given how easily it is to overshot a bass male voice or how often a tenor sounds sibilant or weightless. The most impressive part is the detail that there is to it. I didn't know before that certain tracks had certain details. For example, there is a sound of more than one violin that builds the tension in certain Sonata Arctica songs and on most setups you barely hear one. There is a while going on with multiple guitar notes in Dance Gavin Dance and La Dispute compositions that otherwise come as a single guitar or a masked fuzzy sound. HD800 is amazing at recovering those details

If I would take the live experience of hearing a well balanced complex rock song, record that in perfect play conditions and playback through my Ultrasone Dj One Pro, it would sound live. Well, HD800S manages to playback even a normal track as vivid as a live track sounds on my Dj One Pro, and Dj One Pro is already the most detailed headphone in its class. Ie800 is about on the same level with HD800S when it comes to vividness, details and transients, but it is less expansive in it's soundstage size.

The midrange of H800S is absolutely free of color and HD800S is the most transparent headphone I tried to date. ie800 is more colored albeit I do like it's coloration of sound, but HD800 feels like the idea benchmark for a perfect colorless and transparent sound.

Treble
Treble is a true pleasure to listen to. When I listen to HD800S I hear the treble as the one of ie800, a well extended treble that goes as much as it should go, touches that point, then goes above. The treble doesn't have any hiss nor harshness to it, and it's exactly as much as it should be. Many (many) headphones are way too smooth and convey too little treble, especially the lower and upper treble, leading to a lifeless sound and while certain headphones can be equalized to solve the problem, not all can be and it is generally a gamble to find the headphone that can be equalized enough to get all the treble where it is supposed to be. With HD800S, the cymbals sound alive and any drummer who hears HD800S will tell you next second that this is how a cymbal should sound. This is the exact sound of a live cymbal. Depending on the song, it might need a little bit of equalization, but that is a problem with the song master, not with the HD800S itself.

If there is a badly recorded or badly mastered track, HD800S, like ie800, will expose that in a second, and without a second thought - so many recordings will sound off at first. After enough listening, it becomes far more apparent who invested more time and effort in their mastering or who wanted to get a certain type of sound since HD800S picks ever detail that is present in the track.

While many headphones might be forgiving about this, the combination of HD800S's perfect treble, air and details and my (still) young hearing results in a larger amount if information being kept revealed in the upper registers, enough to actually shock at first as without prior experience HD800S will feel bright. Especially when coming from smooth or rolled off headphones (many headphones out there are rolled off or smooth)

To wipe off any confusion, HD800S is not harsh, sibilant or bright at all. IT is exactly how it should be, like ie800. This is what a natural treble sounds like when recorded and HD800S will render exactly what is in the recording. Nothing else, nothing more.

Soundstage
The soundstage of HD800 is my personal soundstage benchmark. It expands over the horizon and encompasses you in a sphere of music, it's width id a perfect 360 circle and it's weight forms a perfect 360 circle as well, encompassing you in the music. There is no blind spot or space left unfilled with sound with HD800 and the depth is just as good. You will hear music coming from where it was placed relative to the microphone or where it was placed in the mix just as if you were there during the performance. The best part of this is an orchestra song, or music with soundscapes that expand further than they do with any other headphones. It's shocking when some songs that weren't that special become a true masterpiece when played back through HD800S and this effect works incredibly well with any type of music. I loved metal with HD800S as its given more life and a vividness to the guitars and to drums, HD800S has given raw energy to the voices and a lot attention to the details. I never knew how much was going on in the background of Protest the hero songs or in the background of even pop songs. Soundstage of HD800S is expansive, separation is good, the soundstage is vivid and detailed, depth, height and width are all incredible for a headphone. The whole soundstage is better than it is on most midrange speakers and only a high end speaker can truly compete with HD800S


Drive factor

HD800S is picky about it's amps and is hard to drive. I have used HD800S together with FiiO X5ii as a DAC or transport and E12, ifi iDSD, Chord Hugo, Wa22, and all my usual arsenal of amps. HD800S did sound best with Matrix M-Stage, ifi iDSD and Hugo. I think that HD800 sounded good with FiiO K5 as well. I won't really comment on Wa22 or tube amps as I didn't experiment enough with them to be sure of how I feel about them.

I would say that driving HD800S from Matrix M-Stage felt well enough for the price and HDVD8000 was probably my favorite amp to drive HD800S, somewhere on the level with Chord Hugo. I would love to get a Hugo 2 and see how the combination works out, but Hugo and HDVD800 were both great with HD800S


I tried driving HD800S from FiiO E12 and FiiO X5ii and while it was possible and it sounded pretty good, FiiO E12 was better due to more power, but I think that the new FiiO K5 would do an even better job given it's better power.


Comparisons

Ie800 - HD800S and ie800 are similar in many aspects, similar levels of vividness, clarity , depth of soundstage. Ie800 is a smidgen better at instrument separation and has a softer / thinner treble while HD800S has a more matured tone and a larger soundstage. I use ie800 as my daily driver and it makes a perfect in-ear HD800. Ie800 has considerably more bass and the final sound is slightly thicker bit it's very agile and you won't miss any transient with ie800, though HD800 being even faster will provide even better details and transients. Both ie800 and HD800S are high end when in their entirety and both are end-game TOTL pieces of equipment.

Dj One Pro - HD800S has a considerably larger soundstage, the sound is considerably faster in the bass area and mids are more detailed. I'm amazed what a good job Dj One Pro does considering their price difference, but HD800 wins in many aspects. Dj One Pro has more bass albeit a slower bass and less treble. HD800S has a clearer and more vivid sound than Dj One Pro in general, and Dj One Pro can sound veiled in comparation, but Dj One Pro makes many of it's direct competitors sound veiled.


LCD2 / LCD4 / HD650 - All of three have a smoother sound with some treble roll off when compared to HD800S. All three have a smidgen more bass when compared to HD800S, but to my ears HD800S is vivider and clearer - especially due to the better and more linear extension in the upper top end. Soundstage is considerably larger in all 3 axis on HD800S as well.


Value

HD800S costs a hefty amount, about 1700$, but it is the last bechmark headphone you will need. Together with HDVD800 which is another 1700$, you get an end game setup after which there isn't that much more space left to explore. Their price is very high - ridiculously so - but so is their audio quality, so you're going to chose there.


Conclusion

HD800S is probably the last headphone you'll need after you get one - especially if you're able to use open back headphones. I would love to get one for myself but I can only listen to an open back headphone at limited times of the day and HD800S requires quite a strong amplification to be driven well. This being said, HD800S has became my favorite headphone and my benchmark for testing headphones and will probably stay as such for a long time. Using it's in-ear version, ie8000, is a delight and I'm sure that anyone who owns both understands what I mean. For the answer to the question "What is the best headphone?", HD800S is probably the answer at this momment in time and space, considering their technical abilities and sound alone. They cost a lot to get them up and running, but there's not much more to get after you have a pair. I recommend using an amp with them, like FiiO E12, FiiO A5, FiiO K5, Matrix M-Stage ifi iDSD, Hugo, or HDVD800. All of those amps can drive HD800 well, but the sound will improve with better amps.

Its transients are really fast, bass is clean and balanced, treble is clean and balanced, mids are clear and balanced as well. the sound is clear, vivid, lively, bright, fast, solid, precise; The soundstage is amazing, and instrument separation good. The only significant drawbacks are that they're open and some folks can't use an open back headphone and the price. The sound is better than I can express in words and it's something to look out for. Even if you aren't going to buy a pair, you can always take a listen as it'll be eye opening.
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
@SeraphimZ  Thank you! 

@PanzerIV I think that the price is caused by many of the components using rare metals and hand work - the drivers are matched so that there are very few differences between left and right driver. Given their performance and that HD800S and ie800 are the general TOTL / End Game setups for many many of us, I can't say anything else but that they're totally worth investing in if you spend great amounts of time listening to music! 

There  are things about them that are not visible at first listening, but that come out when you play a song that you know very well with them. Totally a headphone that will bring out every detail in your music and give you a detail shower. 

I will recommend everyone who's curious about them to try a stronger AMP with them, something like ifi iDSD Micro or Matrix M-Stage thingies at lowest. From FiiO, K5 should be able to drive HD800 well. They are very power hungry! 
CRITICALSHOT
CRITICALSHOT
Cmon man, a "smidgen more bass" when compared to the LCD2 / LCD4 / HD650? More like; better texture and more detailed. I love the 800S, but that is VERY misleading.
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
@CRITICALSHOT More like an understatement I'd say :) It really depends on the track, some tracks work better with HD800S, while some better with LCD-4. Also depends on the mood and such, but all 3 do have more bass than HD800S, yet all 3 are still open backs, it isn't quite like comparing a bass heavy headphone with a really strong bass like a closed-back Ultrasone or a Meze 99C to a HD800S.

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