Sennheiser HD 800 S - 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.
Pros: Details, clarity, accessories, bass, and of course, more details!!
Cons: For most people, the price will be a barrier
First, I would like to thank White Lotus and Sennheiser Australia for including me in the Australian review tour!
 
 
Background:
 
If you’re reading this review, I would imagine that you already know all about the Sennheiser HD-800S. The company’s new top-of-the-line production dynamic-driver headphone is an update of the veteran HD-800, which has long been considered the “king of clarity”.
 
While I only have limited experience demoing the original HD800 in the past, I have been using an HD-650 for many years. Other headphones I used for comparison was a modded Hifiman HE-500, and an Oppo PM-1. The HE-500 has been my personal favourite headphone for a number of years now, with the focus pads, headband padding and cable upgrades, this headphone has a winning combination of neutral sound signature with excellent dynamics. I personally prefer the HE-500 over a number of pricier headphones I had a chance to try, including the LCD-3.
 
The Oppo PM-1 was received at the same time as the HD-800S demo unit, and was provided another good reference to the comparison and general impressions. I have been using the PM-3 as a portable headphone, and I was so impressed with the PM-3’s performance I ended up getting its “big brother” for a try.
 
For this test, I used both tube and solid-state amplifiers. The tube amp is a Bottlehead Crack OTL with speedball, which goes very well with driving high-impedance headphones like the Sennheisers. The solid-state amp used is a Meier Audio Corda Concerto, a high-powered single-ended design that drives both high-impedance dynamics and lower-impedance planars with excellent clarity and authority. The source used is Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC, fed music files (both lossless and lossy) via an AK240, a Denon CD transport, or a computer.
 
Fit, comfort
 
First, some words about comfort. The HD-800S has absolutely huge earcups. They don’t so much cover the ear and completely engulf it, and then some. The comfort was very good, except for some pressure on the bones under the year which was mildly uncomfortable after some time. Compared to the other headphones, it feels much lighter than the HE-500 both in the hand and on the hand, however the PM-1 and the HD-650 are both a bit more comfortable than the HD-800S, as these two are shaped just right to cover the ear and feel gentle / pillow-like pressed against the head.
 
Accessories:
 
I must say this is a pet peeve of mine to see a tremendous headphone with an after-thought of a cable, as was the case with the HE-500 and the HD-650. Not so with the HD-800S. True to its TOTL status, the cables supplied seem to be of very high quality, made of soft materials that was just perfect for prolonged uses. This is how a cable in a TOTL headphone should feel. Top marks also the Oppo PM-1 for having very good quality cables supplied.
 
Sound:
 
In order to get a good evaluation of the sound, played a large number of tracks through all headphones, stopping on selected passages and switching back and forth between the headphones and the amplifiers. After a few days, some things became apparent to me:
 
  1. Clarity: The HD-800S didn’t lose a beat with its complete authority over the minute details in any recording you’ll throw at it. As others have commented on their reviews, the main difference with the HD-800S seems to be the fuller bottom end, which is very apparent. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact that these headphones are perhaps the most detailed I have ever tried – certainly more than its competitors here. To compare, I would say that the PM-1 were next in line, having surprisingly detailed sound. The HE-500 follows very closely, with the HD-650 slightly lagging behind.
 
  1. Bass: The HD-800S’ main improvement over the HD-800. While significantly dependent on the amp, out of the Bottlehead, the bass was clear, detailed, yet still punchy and very much present. It is more detailed than the bass of the HE-500, but perhaps not as dynamic. The PM-1’s bass is very detailed but slightly disappointing in its impact.
 
  1. Mids: Despite the superior detail retrieval of the HD-800S, I think it’s very hard to topple the HE-500 when it comes to fluent, musical mids. This is especially the case in rock, blues, and soul music. The HD-650 with the Bottlehead produces some excellent mids as well, but its performance in this instance is seriously overshadowed by the 800S.
 
  1. Highs: I feel that this is the category that most clearly distinguished between all 3 headphones. The HD-800S is clearly at the top, with clear and vivid details, accentuating nuances that I never heard before in some of my music. It makes the sound really crisp and airy. On the other end of this scale are the HD-650 and PM-1, both with more of a rolled-off treble. The PM-1 still has more clarity in the treble over the HD-650, but both headphones come across as very smooth, compared to the crisp HD-800S. Right in the middle between these extremes sit the HE-500. It definitely has more treble than the smooth headphones, giving it nice space and airiness, but it is not quite as dominant as in the HD-800S. Personally, I like this type of balance, even though the details are a couple of steps behind the HD-800S.
 
  1. Dynamics: The HD-800S comes across as very dynamic, the strong top-end creates a great sense of space, drums and percussions come across with a realist conviction, as well as pianos and acoustic guitars. The HE-500 is stronger than the other two in this category, and I felt it is the best of all 4 when it comes to reproducing wind instruments and electric guitars.
 
Conclusion
 
To conclude, I would say that the HD-800S deserves the accolades it has received, and is more than a worthy update to the HD-800. I enjoyed testing it thoroughly, and in particular the level of detail and the clarity of its sound should be heard to be believed. However, its tonal balance may not fit each and every musical preference – in particular, for rock music I would still prefer the tonality of the HE-500. But for acoustic and classical music, or any music with a large number of instruments and complex passages, the HD-800S is a real joy to the ears.
Nikorasu
Nikorasu
Why is the HD 800 better for classical over the S?
Sennheiser
Sennheiser
speedy2
speedy2
I have the 800 S and I need some advise as to what will pair well with the headphones.  I listen to vinyl and I have the 800 S interfacing with the Oppo HA-1 but I feel like I need some E.Q. which the HA-1 doesn't do.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Pros: Soundstage, Soundstage, Soundstage/End to end extension/Bass texture/Resolving mids/Clarity without fatigue/Amazing comfort/Build is great
Cons: Proprietary cable connectors/3M cable is a bit cumbersome even at home/Limited isolation/Require a solid source
Introduction –
For those who are just getting into audio or are not familiar with Sennheiser (you should be!), the HD800S are their flagship open back headphone that sit below their unobtainable Orpheus but above the vast majority of other headphones on the market. With an RRP of over $2500 AUD, they are very much a statement product, one that disregards all notions of value in favour of pure performance and excess.



But for those more familiar with audio, this review will be somewhat ironic; the Sennheiser HD800S needs no introduction nor do they really need another review, they are universally acclaimed (as they should be at this price). As someone who has never really owned a dedicated home headphone, I suppose you can take this as a more average listener’s subjective impressions of the audiophile lifestyle rather than a critical article; that is to say, what can the HD800S, a $2500 headphone, do for the average listener? While the Alessandro MS1’s that I recently reviewed mark the beginning of one’s entry into the audiophile lifestyle, the HD800S for many marks the end. Let’s see how the HD800S fairs in daily usage as an at-home headphone and whether they hold a notable performance advantage over other headphones in a similar class.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Sennheiser very much for providing me with a review unit of the HD800S and White Lotus for organising the Australian review tour. There is no monetary incentive for a positive review and I will be as objective as possible in my evaluation of the HD800S.

 

About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

Read More

 

Accessories –



The un-boxing is as sumptuous and extravagant as the price tag would suggest. The outer packaging is dark and subdued with low key renders of the headphones and the Sennheiser logo snaking along the bottom. The Hi-Resolution logo adorns the front denoting the headphone’s audio prowess, and I can assure you that it is very much deserved.



But within the cardboard exterior lies the true unboxing experience, a hard treasure chest like box that hinges open to reveal the headphones nested within a sea of dark velvet.



A soft pouch contains the 1/4inch cable and just below sits the balanced 4-pin XLR cable underneath some protective foam. Both cables are 3M in length and feature a strong braid with fabric sheathing on top. But apart from the cables, Sennheiser don’t include any other accessories. While it would be great to see some more inclusions, maybe a third shorter cable for desk usage, being a home headphone, the HD800S doesn’t really require a travel case and everything that is included feels built to last.

 

Design –



The HD800S have a very distinct look and feature a darker colour scheme than the original HD800 which looks befittingly subdued and premium, I definitely prefer the darker tones of grey to the silver HD800. The open-back design showcases the very space age looking drivers and the fabric interior similarly impresses with embossed Senheisser logos. The subtly ridged silver accents really complement the grey frame and the matte finish doesn’t mark up nearly as much as other matte finished headphones I’ve owned. The HD800S also isn’t particularly prone to oil marks and scuffing which is surprising given the finish of choice.



The HD800S have a level of design and finish that I haven’t seen on many, if any other headphones including those from Fostex and Oppo. Whilst they don’t quite match the feel of the wooden Fostex headphones and the fully metal Oppo’s, they are far more practical and comfortable in daily usage. They are also built to incredibly tight tolerances; everything from the headband adjustment slider to the spring loaded hangers just glide with perfect friction and tension. It’s hard to put it into words, but the build, while mostly a light polymer (doesn’t feel like plastic but is just as lightweight), is incredible; there’s not a creak nor feeling of hollowness despite the weight and construction of the headphone. In fact, the main points of contact and structure on the HD800S is actually a layered metal, the HD800S simply embody precision German engineering.



They are also surprisingly simple in construction despite their more space age looks. Notably, the HD800S is very light (330g), especially considering the size of the headphone. As a result, the HD800’s are extremely comfortable even after long listening sessions for which they were intended.



Part of this comfort stems from the wide, soft headband which is well shaped to make maximum contact with the top of your head, dispersing the weight force evenly to prevent hot spots. The headband also has a small notch in the centre which allows the headphones to rest on a stand/hangar without indents forming in the padding. It also helps to centre the headphones when placing them on the stand. I didn’t notice the indent during wearing, it did not affect the comfort at all.



The same impressions extend to the similarly finished microfiber earpads. Whilst headphones with more padded earpads do have a more immediate impression of comfort, they also get hotter over time and can feel somewhat clammy. The flatter but thicker earpads on the HD800 did feel a little strange when first changing over from the more snug portable headphones I’m used to, but perfectly considered clamp force in addition to the spring loaded hangers create a very comfortable fitment; they are more comfortable than my Sony MDR-1A’s but also don’t feel nearly as hot over time.



It should be noted that while these are home headphones, they have quite a stable fit on the head due to the large surface area of the pads and headband. Clamp force isn’t light but is on the lighter side and the HD800S will stay put when reclining in a chair or generally walking about, but lying down and more vigorous activities will cause them to shift, as expected. In addition, the earcups are absolutely huge, easily enveloping even the largest of ears. Mine don’t contact any part of the headphone’s inner surface which works wonders after a lengthy listening session.



The included cables are very long at 3M, but are well suited towards home use, they give you some slack to move about and recline. It’s dual entry, attaching to both earcups via two proprietary keyed connectors. The connectors are all metal with gold plated terminals, they feel very solid and snug when inserted. I didn’t notice any intermittency during my testing so I can affirm that Sennheiser’s choice of connector is sound. Strain relief is excellent with long tapered rubber that is firm but still flexible enough to absorb lateral displacement stresses.



The bulk of the cable is a thick fabric/kevlar sheathed design with a more conventional rubber cable above the Y-split. The cable is internally braided all the way through and remains about as supple as it could be considering its thickness. The cable terminates in a usual 1/4inch plug or XLR connector should you have a balanced source. Whichever cable you choose, the terminations is equally fortified as the cable itself and has almost excessive strain relief. I doubt the cable will run into any longevity issues at all but as far as usability goes, even for home usage, I find it somewhat cumbersome and the use of a proprietary connector does limit aftermarket options.



While the HD800S is an open back headphone, they are not open to the extent of Grado headphones due to smaller rear vents. As a result, they also don’t leak as much sound and provide just a hint of extra isolation which helps maintain a coherent low-end response. The Oppo PM1’s by contrast leak slightly more and also isolate just slightly less, which does make that last bit of difference as even the confines of our homes are not perfectly silent. The open back design in addition to the microfiber earpads enable long-term comfort without heating the ears. The clamp force is noticeably constant throughout its range, usually headphones clamp stronger the further they are bent out, but the Sennheisers comfortably accommodate larger head sizes.



So as you can see, the amount of thought that went into this design is simply phenomenal. Sennheiser went to extra lengths to ensure that the headphones would not only fit the vast majority of listeners, but also fit them with comfort and ergonomics (as seen by the earcups, headband tension and spring loaded hangers). Fit and finish is spot on and comfort is almost perfect, I’m glad Sennheiser stuck to their tried and tested design because it simply works exceptionally well.

 

Sound –



At this price you could find a really nice set of planar magnetics or even electrostatic headphones; both technologies that boast several inherent benefits over the traditional dynamic driver. So why is the HD800S, a headphones which uses a traditional 56mm dynamic driver, actually more expensive than headphones such as the Oppo PM1. Well, part of that comes down to the quality of the driver itself, even if it is more physically limited than a planar or electrostatic design, in addition to the meticulously thought out structures that surround it and allow its capabilities to shine. With the HD800S, much like the ie800, Sennheiser have implemented various technologies such as a Helmholtz resonator to dampen the 6KHz spike experienced within the ear canal that can mask higher frequency detail. While the effect isn’t quite pronounced as with the ie800, perhaps due to in-ears being especially prone to this phenomena, the HD800S does still have an incredibly resolving sound which reveals a similar amount of detail without fatigue. In fact, due to their vastly superior instrument separation, details retrieved by the HD800S are easier to discern even without being particularly forward, a very interesting characteristic. Ultimately, Sennheiser are masters of the dynamic driver and it was definitely a good idea on their part to stick with a technology they can draw absolute potential from. The HD800S is, to my ears, no less impressive than any of the planar magnetic headphones I’ve heard (though I haven’t heard any electro-static headphones yet).

 

Tonality –

Tonally the HD800S is quite balanced if not perfectly neutral; bass is a little punchier, the midrange is slightly brighter and the high end has an extra hint of crispness over more balanced headphones such as the Oppo PM3. But that’s not much of a surprise, good sounding headphones are always relatively balanced, rather it’s the way the HD800S retains Sennheiser’s house sound whilst also maintaining balance that sets them apart from other headphones that sound flatter but less engaging or more coloured but perhaps overly so, limiting versatility. Like the ie800, the HD800 pursues a slightly bright sound that emphasises clarity but retains a full-bodied low end that still never sounds even slightly muddy or boomy. Sub-bass sits behind the mid-bass but has surprising authority when called for, mid bass has slight emphasis and upper bass is similarly quite neutral. Mids are quite even for the most part, more so than the ie800 for sure, they are less bright and lower mids have more presence. Treble is interesting, it’s very crisp and very clean but not as emphasised as the ie800 or HD800 that came before it. I hear quite an organic, natural but resolving treble response that never encroaches upon fatigue or any semblance of harshness. The HD800S is slightly brighter than neutral overall but due to their very linear sculpting, I still wouldn’t consider them a bright headphone, especially with Grado and Alessandro headphones out there.

 

Drivability –



At 300 ohms, the HD800S is not easy to drive but is still more efficient than most of the planar magnetic headphones on the market. For instance, my HTC 10 will drive them to adequate volumes, if barely (and I’m a low volume listener). Of course, quality does suffer considerably from a smartphone, even a very good one, as opposed to a dedicated source, but anyone with enough economic bandwidth to invest $2500 in a set of headphones will no doubt have the budget to purchase a dedicated amplifier of some sort. For instance, my Oppo HA-2, an accomplished portable amplifier but one that doesn’t nearly meet the power output of a dedicated home amplifier, provides plenty of power to the HD800S with enough volume on high gain to become almost unbearable to me (I use around 2/5 on high gain, source at maximum volume). The HD800S also sounds much more dynamic, extended in either direction and the soundstage expands considerably when running out of the Oppo. I have no doubt that the HD800S will scale incredibly well with an even better source, but for now, this is best I can provide. That being said, even from my HTC, the headphones sound outstanding, it just goes to show that the headphones are fully equipped to take advantage of whatever you throw at them. Those with a good source will have a great time with these headphones and those with an even better source will have an even better experience.

 

Bass –

Bass is not particularly accentuated, which is a surprise coming from Sennheiser, but is very linear and really digs deep without any sort of roll off. The low end is closer to neutral (but not neutral), well balanced with the midrange and never draws absolute attention (you can take that as a positive). Sub-bass extension is fantastic as one would expect from a $2000 headphone but sub-bass has a softer character, it’s not as impactful as the closed B&W P9 for example. This is likely due to the open back design, and while plenty of closed headphones do have this same kind of diffuse bass response, similarly priced models such as the Fostex TH-900 do tend to sound more bottomless and full if at the expense of the unrelenting texture and resolution of the HD800S. To put it simply, the sub-bass on the HD800S sounds like a good set of 2.0 speakers but lacks the outright slam of a well integrated 2.1 system.

This does allow the listener to focus on the mid and upper bass frequencies and thankfully, these responses are impeccable in every regard. Bass response has immense amounts of texture and resolution. In addition, due to the exceptional soundstage, complex passages are reproduced with ease and refinement; the HD800S oozes that character of effortlessness that is often only glimpsed by lower end gear. Of course, sub-bass and bass overall are exceptional, but I do have to be a lot more critical when judging high budget flagship products. For my preferences, that little extra punchiness is spot on and bass can generate huge authority and rumble when called for in the track but similarly get out of the way during calmer passages.

 

Mids –

One aspect of the ie800 that has always impressed me is the lower midrange; it’s so delicately balanced between being full-bodied and clear, there’s a quality to male vocals that I rarely hear from other gear. That being said, I’ve always found the lower midrange on the ie800’s to be slightly recessed. The HD800S take that same quality and balance but also brings male vocals just a little more forward in the mix, perfect! The upper midrange tells a similar story. Female vocals have wonderful presence and clarity without becoming overbearing, there’s no sibilance but distortion from low bitrate files is quite prevalent. When fed with high-bitrate and lossless files however, the sound really is sublime. Clarity is boosted slightly, not to ie800 levels, but enough to dispel the veil in poorly mastered/older recordings without further hardening the brighter mastering techniques of more modern music. The HD800S really works with any genre of music, providing insight into the smallest nuances through immense separation and agility. Detailing is fantastic and micro-details are brought forward if not quite to the extent of the brighter high-end Grado headphones. Movies and games are both ideal as well due to the sheer resolving power of these headphones. Again, the enormous soundstage really does grand action scenes justice whilst slightly accentuated clarity illuminates quiet dialogue. So while the HD800S has the same kind of contrasted sound as the ie800 (that really draws attention to the extremities of its FR), the midrange performance is equally as impressive as the bass and treble. For my preferences, I wouldn’t even call the midrange recessed but it definitely sounds a little more sculpted than the Oppo PM3 even if quality is superior.

 

Treble –

Treble is quite natural overall, it has been toned down from the original HD800 through a similar Helmholtz resonator as used in the ie800 (ironic since the ie800 has quite a pronounced treble response) which is used to absorb certain frequencies; in this application the treble spike at 6KHz. While the treble doesn’t seem as immediately resolving as the more forward ie800 (an earphone that exaggerates the detail and clarity in music like the HD800S exaggerates soundstage space), overall detail retrieval is just as impressive and presented in a more natural manner; it’s up there with the best in terms of resolution. While I’m sure many will prefer the treble response on the ie800 and original HD800, the HD800S doesn’t exhibit that splashy character that affected the ie800 and, while still ever so slightly on the thinner side, treble remains far more consistent; it just takes a few hours of adjustment coming from brighter headphones/earphones and vice versa for darker gear.

Quality is impeccable as expected, cymbals are incredibly textured and shimmer without raspiness. The refinement of the HD800S’ treble response was particularly apparent to me when listening to Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, a song that is particularly revealing of a harsh or raspy treble response. The HD800S reproduced the various synthesised effects and atmospheric tone with great composition. Listening to Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon revealed similar findings. The HD800S did an exceptional job taming the honkiness of the trumpets and sibilance in the vocals whilst providing a truly toe-tapping sense of rhythm. Higher strings are similarly flattered, they are not overly forward in the mix and have a pleasing timbre and sense of dynamics; the HD800S is therefore a perfect companion for classical. The HD800S also does exceptionally well with higher volume listening, they are surprisingly unfatiguing despite their resolving nature and just as their comfort permits lengthy listening sessions, their marvellous sound is sure to prolong them.

 

Soundstage –

Soundstage is without a doubt the strongest aspect of the HD800’s sound; it’s the largest, most separated sounding headphones that I have ever heard. The Fostex TH-900 used to hold that crown for me, but the HD800 takes soundstage space to the next level. Another headphone with a standout soundstage around this price (that I’ve heard) includes the Bowers and Wilkins P9, but being closed back, it also doesn’t quite reach the scale of the sound produced by the HD800. In addition to having exceptional space, the soundstage is also very well rounded between width and depth making imaging razor sharp. Whereas with most headphones I feel that they detract more or less from the space already within the recordings of songs and especially live performances, the HD800’s are spacious to the point that they almost sound exaggerated. Studio recordings have the same amount of space as live recordings do on lesser gear and live performances are simply spectacular. Listening to a live recording of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and the amount of space portrayed was almost akin to being right there in the crowd.

While I had a hard time believing those comments on the internet comparing the HD800 to listening to a good set of bookshelf or home theatre speakers, in usage, the headphones exaggerated imaging and soundstage performance does these exaggerated comments justice. And I think the soundstage rounds the exceptional tonality off perfectly, this is their raison d’etre in the fierce market of established headphones utilising physically superior drivers and psychoacoustics.

 

Verdict –



It’s easy to see why so many like the HD800S so much; they are impeccably engineered and transparent but also remain natural and inviting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the HD800S is the ultimate headphone, Sennheiser themselves make the Orpheus, an even more extravagant headphone at an equally unobtainable price tag of $50,000. But the HD800S is honestly the most resolving headphone I’ve ever experienced and happens to be very comfortable to boot, something I prioritise very highly; so many high-end headphones are simply unlivable and this physical discomfort detracts from the listening experience.



I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in another review, but I believe that the hallmark of a great headphone is its soundstage. Any headphone can nail tonality, reproduce sound in great quality and look good doing it, the Oppo PM3 is a great example and it only costs $400 (comments on price are relative!). But ultimately, the soundstage is what puts the listener in the music, what immerses you in the performance. The HD800S nails all of these aspects and has a soundstage that is truly ethereal. Yes, I would like a fraction more sub-bass slam (likely would improve if I had a proper desktop amplifier) and maybe a tad more treble sparkle too. But at the end of the day, as human beings, we seek to be moved; moved by sound, by motion, by music and the HD800S provides a truly involving experience that puts the listener right in the audience. If that isn’t the ultimate happiness of an audiophile, I’m not sure what is. The HD800S from Sennheiser provides a resolving, engaging and immersive audio experience in a comfortable and practical form factor.

Accessories – 7/10, Great quality cables with fantastic strain-relief and connectors. Packaging is truly an experience, understandably, the headphones were not designed for transit so few accessories are included. Would have like a 1.8M cable for desktop usage as the 3M cable can become cumbersome.

Design – 9.5/10, Very aesthetically pleasing design, perfect build quality. No creeks, squeaks or feelings of hollowness despite light-weight. Adjustment mechanisms are perfectly weighted, the headband has very consistent pressure. Very breathable micro-fibre ear pads, wide, well-shaped headband. Extremely comfortable. Cables use proprietary connectors but are of great quality.

Bass – 9.75/10, Very extended, softer, more diffuse sub-bass tone. Nice rumble and texture down low, outstanding resolution and definition to the mid and upper bass responses. Slightly punchier than neutral but otherwise very well judged.

Mids – 9.75/10, Geat clarity, amazing detail and nice presence, does not sound recessed but in harmony with the rest of the spectrum. Male vocals very rarely sound recessed.

Treble – 9.75/10, For my preferences, the treble performance is essentially perfect. Resolution is spectacular, texturing and body is spot on. Harshness and sibilance are delicately avoided but intricacies are still brought to the fore.

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation – 10/10, I can’t imagine having more soundstage space, the HD800S is not even limited by the space recorded in the media you are listening to. Very well rounded, almost perfect imaging and class-leading separation. Although perfection does not exist (it is an inherently subjective term), I am not afraid to give the HD800S a perfect 10.

Overall – 10/10, Another perfect score of 10! I’ve only given one before and that was to the Envaya Mini. While one can comment on limited practicality and value, I would levy that at this price, such things are inconsequential. The HD800S is a statement product much like the Orpheus above it. It’s a headphone that employs cutting edge design and material through a culmination of engineering perfection and passion. At $2500 Sennheiser better deliver and fortunately, they do, very much so. The design is flawless and actualized through perfect manufacturing. Comfort is impeccable but the cable does get cumbersome at times. Sound is phenomenal, they do justify their lofty price tag with a clear advantage over $1500 headphones such as the B&W P9’s and Oppo PM1’s. Honestly, I do love the TH-900 from Fostex and the P9 from Bowers and Wilkins, but if I had to live with one headphone, the HD800S takes the cake. The HD800S turns sounds into music through character and resolution and provide the most uncompromised listening experience of all the headphones I’ve tested. For that, I feel some subjectivity and a score of 10 is warranted.

*Edit: Updated photos!

Thanks for reading! This review was taken from my website, please have a look for more articles just like this:

https://everydaylisteningblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/hd800s-review-this-is-it/ 

ryanjsoo
ryanjsoo
@thatonenoob Unfortunately I don't have any experience with those headphones, the only other open headphones I've tested for a moderate period of time were the HD650's and Fidelio X2, both of which are much cheaper. So those somewhat similarly priced headphones, even if they are closed, were the best comparison I could provide. On a more surface level, the HD800S is much more comfortable than any of the Audeze headphones. 
Rob80b
Rob80b
Thanks for the precise and well developed review.

Contentious issue when it comes to headphones but yes IMHO soundstaging is important, I wouldn’t just plop my speakers in front of me without making sure the distance and angles were correct and I applaud manufacturers who have made the extra effort in designing their ear cups.
The vast majority have just taken their drivers and plopped them to the sides of our heads and over our ears, think Grados, sure it’s intimate and creates an immediate unique aural experience and it is this presentation most expect and now desire from headphone listening.
No…it takes a lot of R&D to get it right…AKG, excluding the K1000 have lamely given us angled ear pads on the K701s and although the sound stage width was expanded, imaging definition and layering was vague at best.
Sennheise’s accomplishments in this area with the HD800 and 700, which I also really liked, are still not perfect but there are moments and I do greatly appreciate the out of head experience, therefore the elimination of the blob in the head or convex presentation, think HD600, which I believe many actually prefer.
The HD800s are technically pretty amazing phones, similiarly I’d love to see more sub base as on my ie800s but not sure owing to their less intimate nature if it would indeed be technically possible and maintain the current soundstage and layering.
Having seen this hobby grow immensely in the last decade and more I’m actually surprised that, outside binaural recordings, that even more has not been done to physically address the issue at recreating a real aural sounsdstage, again it’ll take a lot more R&D and hopefully Sennheiser and others continue in this area.
Again thanks for the review.
ryanjsoo
ryanjsoo
@Rob80b Thanks for the kind words, really appreciated, I'm actually looking into purchasing a set of HD700's soon! Really enjoyed my time with the HD800S, I know I don't have the most experience with open back headphones but I have enough to know that the HD800(S) is something special.
 
I can also see the popularisation of this hobby, people are definitely becoming more aware that a large portion of their entertainment comes from audio not simply visuals alone. With the advent of VR gaming and cinema, I'm hoping for similar advances in soundstage R&D. Still loving the ie800's!
Pros: Extremely natural sounding mids, clarity, detail, soundstage and imaging on another level, tight bass, very comfortable, accessories
Cons: still needs more bass, finishing prone to scratch, proprietary connectors, ear pads is a dust magnet
Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Sennheiser for making this awesome headphone, and also to @whitelotus for letting me in the tour.
Sorry for the photo quality, I'm still using iphone 4 and my photo taking skills are quite poor T_T
 
INTRODUCTION
I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, although, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM atm, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet >_<.
 
Starting from almost 2 years ago I've been really hooked by metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metalhead, I also listen to other genres occasionally.
 
I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Radiohead or something like it)
- Pop (90s stuff)
- EDM (Mostly trance)
- Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
- Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop, guitar used is mostly acoustic guitar, sounds natural and relaxing however, mastering of the song is usually poor, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
- KPOP
- JPOP and JROCK/ Visual Kei, whatever
 
I used the HD800S for 7 days not including transit times everyday at work and at home on weekend, I will also make some comparisons to Mrspeakers Ether Flow which has been my daily driver for about a month now, and maybe to the old HD800 to a certain extent(I auditioned this a lot of times but never come to like it).
 
PACKAGING
The box came in a classic sennheiser style slip on cover, and underneath the cover you will find a box containing the headphone, 1/4 inch single ended cable and also the balance cable.
The box is very nice and can be used as a presentation case other than for storing the headphone of course.
IMG_0768.jpg
 
IMG_0770.jpg
 
ACCESSORIES
In the box/presentation case, you will find:
HD800S headphone
1/4 Single ended Cable
4 pin XLR balanced cable (not included in hd800 purchese but it is there for the 800S, the price jump cover the cable as well)
pouch to store cable
 
 
IMG_0772.jpg
 
IMG_0773.jpg headphone and 2 cables
 
IMG_0781.jpg the dreaded proprietary connectors
 
 
The HD800S
The headphone itself is not much different from the HD800, the only difference here is the color, instead of all silver finish, we got a matte black/silver combo for the coloring.
Another difference is in the driver assembly, where you can find a little donut shaped rubbery thing covering the center hole.
Many have believed that this hole is the culprit of the treble spike which is a really famous problem of the old hd800, this modification is supposed to fix that problem, and I think it does.
 
IMG_0775.jpg the black finishing
 
IMG_0779.jpg
 
 
BUILD QUALITY
The Build Quality is good, with an excellent choice of materials for the earpads and headband. The earpads is very comfortable to the skin and is not hot however it is a dust magnet.
The Headphone itself is made from plastic I believe with some Aluminum kind of mesh covering the headphone for styling and providing more protection.
It has a matte black finish for the ribs and this is the downfall of the build in my opinion, The unit that I receive for review has a few scratch on the finish and you can see it quite easily, it seems like the paint is prone to scratch and won't last well if not protected.
Cable quality is also very good with good length and not microphonic.
The headphone is very light due to its excellent design and material choice and is very comfortable.
To summarize, the design is superb considering that they came up with it about 7 years ago, but the durability is a bit of a concern  
 
IMG_0774.jpg  Some dinks on the finishing on the top side of the ring
 
IMG_0777.jpg Look at the dust and all those foreign particles on it!
 
 
Fit, Comfort and ease of use
The fit and comfort of the HD800S is superb and dare I say that it is the most comfortable headphone I've worn, Sennheiser used this special kinds of synthetic foam for the headband and also the earpads, It feels good in the skin and never gets hot at all.
I find wearing the HD800s for hours an easy task, it is light and comfortable with just the right clamping force, no comfort issues occur after a long listening session.
Sennheiser really did an excellent job designing this headphone, the shape of the headphone when worn on the head provides even pressure and basically just conforms to your head.
I believe the key thing to this is the headband hinge design, you will find wearing this headphone comfortable even after hours of listening session.
IMG_0776.jpg
 
 
FIRST IMPRESSIONS
My first impression of The HD800S was excellent, I believe that the modification made to the driver tame that treble problem on the old HD800, Soundstage is noticably large compared to all full size open that I have ever used except for the old HD800, this is definitely the largest and is as close as it can be to the "out of the head experience" right now.
Comfort is also really good with ample openings for the ears, my ears never touch the pads and stays cool most of the time.
Bass is more than the HD800 but I still want more, some metal recording feels a little weird at first because of this.
The rumble of the sub-bass is also missing for this type of music.
 
SOUND ANALYSIS

 
The Signature
The sound signature in my opinion leans to the analytical side, bass is there and it is tight albeit a little anemic, mids is very realistic and natural sounding, Treble is detailed and airy.
 
If I have to compare the quantity of the signature, it will be like this: Treble > Mid > bass
 
the signature itself works very well with acoustic instrument, Porcupine tree sounds really clear and airy.
I find that it works very well for Jazz, Rock and classical music.
For modern musics though, this will not work well due to the bass being on the lean side.
 
The tonality of this headphone is not tuned to play well for all genres of music, however with the right music, it sounds excellent.
 
The Bass
The bass is tight with good extension, it is very fast but a little anemic, when I listen to "Forget Not" by Ne Obliviscaris, there is this part where the drum hits gets super fast, it will usually sound less distinct with other headphones and IEM, but The HD800s handle this with ease, every hit can be heard and distinguished easily.
It has the common mid-bass bump that Dynamic Driver often has, but the hits is really snappy and satisfying, so I don't mind this at all.
Sub-bass is a bit too rolled off due to open design, it is okay but, don't expect this to work nicely for rap and EDM.
It has a fast decay on the beat, however because of this it can sound thin at times depending on your music and needs a little more body for added musicality, but overall it is good.
 
The Mids
The mids is very clean with insane amount of clarity, very natural and detailed.
You can listen to many variety of vocal with this and it can only be great.
As a metal-head, I often listen to song where the singer use scream and growl for their vocals, this can be harsh on bright headphone sometimes, but I find it is fine and detailed on HD800S and is enjoyable.
I can hear a little sibillance here and there, I'm not sure if it is in the recording or not, but this a pretty detailed and analytical headphone we are talking about here, It will expose everything in the recording to you whether you like it or not.
 
I found both male and female vocals is being represented very well and there is no distinction where male vocals will sound better or vice versa.
Vocals sound very natural as if the person is right there singing for you, on top of that all the detailing of lip smacking, drawing breath, etc makes the whole experience even better!
 
Guitars sounds really good on this, the bite is present but never too harsh for me.
Many old metal recordings were not mastered very well, on this occasions the guitar can be harsh and shrilling, but with good recordings, the details just come out and it sounds really good and inviting, like you wanna hear everything in the recordings.
Overall Guitars both electric or acoustic, sounds excellent on this.
 
I really like the mid on The HD800s, especially due to its ability to portray vocals so clearly and naturally.
 
The Treble
Treble is very clean, and analytical. It is present in the music and is very airy.
It is sparkly but not to a fault like the HD800 where it can get too strident for my taste. It has an excellent extension exposing all the details as much as possible to the listener.
It sounds lively and energising, providing the engagement factor on each track that I played. 
Violin and guitar solos sounds good on this (again with good source), especially on progressive rock, the sound will get your attention to it straight away.
 
The Soundstage, Imaging and separations
The soundstage on this is the best in class, I've never heard a headphone with bigger soundstage than the HD800 and HD800S.
It truly is an experience to be had if you are a headphone enthusiast like me, It is super spacious and never get congested at all, like at all!!
Imaging is excellent with pin-point accuracy for each instrument placement, you can single out all the instrument very easily.
 
If you are a soundstage addict, this is the headphone to buy.
 
Pairing
I only test the HD800s using my destop set up which is:
Laptop -> Chord Mojo -> Cavalli Liquid Carbon -> HD800S
With this set up, I thinkthe warmness of The LC and mojo helps the bass a bit and add some body to the HD800S, The LC has a little bit of a laid back treble, and this is probably why I find the HD800S to be enjoyable for metal, as the synergy is very good and helps a lot in this scenario.
I strongly recommend warm source for the HD800S to make up for it's shortcomings (lean bass and sometimes too analytical, needs more musicality).
 
Comparisons
Mr Speakers Ether Flow

 

Comfort
About the same, for me The HD800S is a little more comfortable for me due to the bigger ear openings but pads is so cushy on the flow, it may vary from person to person.
 
Durability
Ether flow is just more robust IMO, with very flexible headband and better cosmetic finish IMO, but The HD800S is no slouch either.
 
Bass
Bass is more prominent with the flow with better sub-bass extension and excellent body to it while still being tight, HD800S is just a little too lean for my taste.
Both shows no sign of bass bleed into the mid to my ears and are very fast, they keep up easily to super fast blast-beat drum attack.
Dynamic are excellent, both has good dynamics however the mid-bass hits is snappier on The HD800S,  on The Flow, the sub bass rumble can be heard more and each attack is more meaty.
 
Mids
The Ether flow is a little U shaped in its signature, while the HD800S is more neutral along the treble.
I feel that the clarity is about the same however due to that signature on the Flow, I feel that the HD800S is a little clearer, could be because of the signature and lean bass of The HD800S .
Both sounds natural to me however the Flow's mids is lusher than the HD800S.
Details are very good for both, but I still give the nod to the HD800S as it is still more detailed to my ears but it can expose the weaknesses of the recording while the Flow is smoother and more forgiving between the two.
Sibilance is more exposed on the HD800S.
The Ether flow has more body to it's vocal and can be more emotional and musical while The HD800S is a little analytical and not as musical exposing details.
 
Treble
The Ether Flow's treble I feel is quite bright but not as harsh as the HD800S, HD800S is more detailed but can be harsh on some occasions.
Clarity is about the same, both are really clean and clear, But I think the Ether flow can sound more splashy at times.
The Ether flow has more spark than the the HD800S to my ears, but both are sparkly.
 
Soundstage
HD800S is just better in any way, It is wider, deeper and taller. The Ether Flow has good soundstage too, but nowhere as big as the HD800S, however this can provide a more intimate presentation if it is your thing.
 
Imaging
About the same, both are really accurate on it's placing, although I have to say that I think The Ether flow sounds more diffused than the HD800S.
 
Summary
The HD800S is a headphone design and tuned specifically on a certain goal. This is not the headphone to Use if you listen to Rap, Hip Hop and EDM, where bass performance is really important.
The main selling point of this headphone is it's ability to portray sound naturally and it's huge soundstage, the biggest I know.
This is an excellent headphone to buy if you are a soundstage fanatic and is always hungry for details.
 
Pricing is Okay for me, even though it is expensive, it kept up with pricier competition very well, with great comfort.
You also get 2 cables (Single Ended and Balanced), although I prefer to be able to chose which I want and save more money.
Arniesb
Arniesb
Good review, but prone to scratching part is intresting... Its, because you put HD800S on a hard table. Many headphones will scratch if i whould putt them on a hard table or something. I have it almost 2 months and i dont have even single micro scratch. Wholeheartedly agree that it need some warmth from a dac and or amp. Warm amps really adds more bass (High output impedance amp will add even more bass, but take away some details and clarity from the bass thou).
emptymt
emptymt
review unit bro, was like that when I got it, worth a mention anyway.
I always keep it in the box when not in use.
bobbyblack
bobbyblack
Hi,very nice and on point review,actually i find the HD800S to sound v.good on EDM music.Thanks!
Pros: Profoundly large soundstage. Accurate imaging. Fantastic comfort. Light weight. Easy to drive.
Cons: Stock cable is expensive and, IMO, degrades the sound. Ear pad and head pad materials are not very robust.
 
As the first truly new high-end dynamic-driver headphones to hit the market in quite a few years, when Sennheiser's HD800 was introduced at CES on the 8th of January 2009, they caused a massive storm. Since the last truly high-end pair of dynamic driver headphones at this level had been, arguably, Sony's R10s (the Qualia 010 is another matter altogether) and the only equally expensive headphones available at the time were Ultrasone's Edition 9s, it became something of a  re-awakening of the high-end headphone market, which subsequently exploded with Audeze and HiFiMan's planar headphones.
 
Not only is the design technically fantastic, but the large cups and light-weight design makes them highly pleasant to listen with, even for long periods of time (issues with the frequency response not withstanding). They copped some flak for the plastic used, even if it was intended to minimise vibration, and distortion. The head pad and ear pads are not the most robust and may require replacement after some years, which is thankfully not that costly, unlike the cable!
 
Seven years on and the only thing that had been added or changed with the HD800 was the introduction of an optional balanced cable to go along with Sennheiser's headphone amplifiers, the headphones themselves still highly competitive with everything out there, though arguably with careful amplifier and cable considerations, or possibly damping mods, depending who you ask. 
 
So it was at the 2016 Spring Fujiya Avic festival that was I heading into the building with Jude, who told me he had to drop something off to Axel Krell of Sennheiser. That "something" was a pair of HD800 S, prompting me to ask for a quick video. 
 
 
It wasn't until recently that I actually had a chance to sit down and have a proper listen with a pair, and only thanks to Anakchan offering to lend me his pair.  
 
The HD800 itself is quite unique in the world of headphones, including for Sennheiser. When an image was leaked, pre-announcement, nobody believed it, as the design looked more like something Sony would make. This makes the most sense if you've seen the Qualia 010. 
 
As it is, they are still the only pair of headphones to use a ring radiator driver, which is shaped like a donut on one side, rather than a disk, with a hole in the centre. That hole has been the centre of attention, pun very much intended, as it holds the secret to the difference between the HD800 and HD800 S. 
 
Before explaining more, it is worth re-visiting the original model and some of the good and arguably less good aspects of its design. 
 
The HD800 uses a ring radiator driver -- basically a shape that looks like one side of a donut with a hole in the middle. Being a fairly large diaphragm and the cups being large, the result is quite a large presentation of the music. Despite this, there is sufficient bass, though something of a drop-off towards the deep bass. 
 
Dynamic drivers typically have a drop-off in the deep bass to avoid distortion which increases rapidly at very low frequencies. This is, to a degree, why planar magnetic headphones have become popular, as they can avoid this. Regardless, the HD800 did better than average. 
 
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Sorrodje's measurements of the headphones from here. Note that they cannot be compared with anyone else's measurements. Note the drop in the HD800 S (blue) in the treble compared to the HD800.
 ​
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The mid-range is somewhat recessed, increasing the sense of space. However the treble is where things were somewhat unusual. Most headphones have a peak in the treble between 8-10 kHz, giving instruments, which usually top out much earlier, a sense of "air". Without this peak the music can sound muffled, such as with V-MODA's LP series which was designed without the peak for listening loudly to club music. 
 
The HD800 has a peak at 6.3 kHz, lower than most, and making them sound brighter than average. This became problematic with some music as, say, the Cowboy Junkies famous song Sweet Jane, becomes SCHWEEEEEEEET Jane, which is unpleasant to listen to.
 
This lead to people often pairing the HD800 with warmer-sounding tube amps, as well as re-cabling them to try and tame the peak. Eventually people such as Jazz Casual began sticking things inside the cups to see if the sound signature could be improved. 
 
Inside the cups, under the fancy two-layer dust cover there are plenty of surfaces which can reflect sound and potentially introduce harshness, such as the metal ring securing the driver, the metal back grill and the plastic surfaces. Covering these surfaces to varying degrees with felt, foam or perforated non-slip matting seems to improve things considerably, reducing the internal reflections. I tried this myself with non-slip matting I bought in my local hardware store.
 
However, not everyone likes the improvement, even if it does result in a more precise sound, and sometimes one with a bit more bass. The theory I have behind this relates quite a bit to live music, and how we listen to music in general. 
 
I recall, many years ago, when I first heard one of my favourite bands at the time, Massive Attack, played on a high-end system instead of from a radio or other cheap stereo. The clarity was unexpected, which while good in some ways, felt odd. Likewise, when most people hear live music it is at a concert or less than ideal venue, where the sound is reflected off everything. Even a classical music concert in a properly designed hall presents most of the music with carefully tuned reflections.
 
In contrast, I used to sing in a boys' choir, where our venue for practice was sometimes in the recording studio in the School of Music. That room had perf-board walls to damp sound, and we'd always enjoy the weird feeling of an over-damped room which, even upon entering, would mess with our voices. If you've ever been inside an anechoic chamber and had someone speak to you, it is freaky how their voice will come very directly from them, with no reflections at all. Most importantly, being inside these rooms feels unnatural to us, as we're used to hearing sound reflected around us. 
 
Similarly, some damping mods to the HD800 can have a similar effect, making the music sound too accurate. While it has been shown to improve them on a technical level, like an anechoic chamber, it can end up with something that sounds unnatural to us.
 
That leads us to the HD800 S.  The primary physical difference is that in the hole in the middle of the driver is what appears to be a Helmholtz resonator -- a device that is used to either reduce or emphasise selected frequencies. In the HD800 S, it has been shown in measurements to reduce the bothersome 6.3 kHz treble peak. Additionally, the drivers have been tuned to have more low bass, but with the consequence of more distortion. 
 
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The HD800 S cups, showing the small donut-shaped resonator in the centre hole.
 
This makes them more sonically pleasing for many people, especially those who like the HD800, but find it too bright. However when I first put them on and listened, the sensation of listening to the mid-range felt very odd, and it took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on. 
 
Listening to Macy Gray's latest album, recorded binaurally by Chesky Records, Macy herself appears dead centre, while the instruments of the band are quite strongly either on the left or the right. With the HD800, my mental image of the sound is of Macy's voice in the centre, tapering off sharply and then echos of her voice off the surrounding walls and objects, then the instruments sharply in focus in their respective positions. 
 
With the HD800 S, where the image is the same, the in-between echos of the surrounds of the building seem to be less prominent, increasing the contrast of the direction her voice is coming from and the direction the instruments come as well. It is as if the sound has been damped and the natural echo of the building reduced or removed to a significant degree. I believe it was that which made me feel that the sound was unnatural at first. 
 
However with a lot of music that sounds a bit too thin through the HD800, the S is more pleasant to listen with. Now we have a better balance between the huge spaciousness of the sound and the enjoyable warmth so many of us prefer and would compromise with via tube amps and re-cabling. 
 
Unfortunately, even to the point when people had convinced me it was impossible, I can't enjoy listening to either pair of headphones with the stock Sennheiser cable.  I've been through a bunch of cables, for which I have a dedicated thread, so I wont go further than to say that, for reasons I can't explain, even if it doesn't change their frequency response, I find that the stock cable does something I can't explain that makes even the HD800 S sound thin and unpleasant to me. 
 
As for gear, the cost of getting good listening from the HD800 S is a lot cheaper than it was when the HD800 was released. A Chord Mojo or even a Schiit Vali 2 (preferably with a better tube) are a couple of my favourite which have given me much listening pleasure, even if they don't bring out all the detail they are capable of retrieving. Likewise, ALO's Continental V5 makes for a fantastic booster for any DAP that doesn't quite get up the voltage swing to be ideal, such as Soundaware's M1. On the other end of the scale, Woo Audio's WA8 has the most syrupy delicious presentation, and my peak amp for both dynamics sounding pleasant is ALO Audio's Studio Six. Sometime I'll have to try them on Schiit Audio's Ragnarok and the new Cavalli amps, if not a Chord Dave.
 
In the end, the HD800 S, when combined with good equipment, can be an amazingly pleasant pair of headphones to listen with.   After I got over that initial period of weirdness, and started doing comparisons, I would pick it up over the HD800 to listen with, and that is where it really counts.
 
Sennhseier_HD800_S-5506-Edit-Edit.jpg
 ​
Thanks to Anakchan for the headphone loan, and to Kimber Cables for the cable.
 ​
 
wwmhf
wwmhf
I appreciate your review
hotteen
hotteen
Excellent review! And interesting point about the two different ways of tuning. I have to say that IMO it's the other way round: To me, HD800 is diffuse field equalized, which sounds different from free field equalized headphones like the Adeze's LCD series.
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Good job, @Currawong ! 

Hope you have lots of fun with them! 
Pros: Imaging, sound-stage, tonal balance, clarity, bass extension, versatility, build, comfort
Cons: Expensive (but IMO worth it), cable relatively heavy and prone to twisting
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For larger views of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images
INTRODUCTION

I can remember when I first joined Head-Fi, I started with some pretty cheap gear, and I remember looking at the signatures of some of the long-time posters, and marvelling at some of the gear they had available to them. Over the next few years, I bought, sold, and slowly worked my way through a lot of former flagships in order to find out what sort of signature moved me.

In that time, I got to hear and own the AKG K701/702, DT880, RS1, SRH1840, HD700 and HD600. Then things changed when I bought the Beyerdynamic T1, and all of a sudden it was time to thin down the number of headphones I owned, and concentrate on what I really liked. From that point – most of my listening was with either the T1 or HD600. This was mostly thanks to Head-Fi friendship with a fellow NZer (Rizki – I still owe you), when I finally got to hear the legendary HD800 and also AKG's new K812, and compare them with my set-up at the time. For anyone wanting to read about my findings then – try here and here.

After spending some good quality time with both headphones, I ended up keeping the T1 and HD600, and although I knew one day I'd probably end up with an HD800 – I really didn't feel the need to move onward and upward at the time. In fact this year, the T1 has had very little head time, and it has predominantly the HD600 which has stolen all my leisure listening time. The HD600 remains for me the one headphone I've consistently gone back to, and that never ceases to wow me. It has also slowly become my main headphone by default. Until now that is.

Cue Jensy (Head-Fi's “White Lotus”) sending me a PM asking if I'd like to take the new HD800S for a spin for a week, and write a review based on what I'd heard. Of course I jumped at the chance, keen to hear what changes Sennheiser had made, and what the initial fuss was all about.

So a week ago I received the HD800S, and since then I've been steadily putting them through their paces, and in that time they've made me completely change my idea of what my audio chain will look like in the long term. So if you don't mind accompanying me on a little journey, we'll take a look at the HD800S and why (for me) it has become end-game.

ABOUT SENNHEISER
I'm not going to go into too much detail in this section – because I'd imagine practically everyone must know who Sennheiser is. The company was formed in 1945 by Fritz Sennheiser and seven fellow engineers, and their first product was actually a voltmeter. In 1946 they built their first microphone, and by 1955 the company had grown to 250 employees. As the company grew, so did their product range, and in 1968 they have been credited with introducing the world's first open headphones. Sennheiser has been a pioneer in high end audio, always pushing the boundaries, and several of their products have reached legendary status over a number of years – especially the incomparable HD600 and HD650 (still popular almost 2 decades on), the HD800 (widely regarded as one of the World's best dynamic headphones, and of course the Orpheus (1 & 2) – statement electrostats built with no budget restraints and designed to be the best headphone the world has experienced.

Sennheiser now has more than 2700 employees globally and an annual turnover of almost 700m Euro. Not bad for a company that started from such small beginnings just 70 years ago. And the vision that drives the company is still as strong today:
We are shaping today the audio world of tomorrow - that is the ambition that we and our company live by from day to day. This vision statement describes what we are hoping to achieve together. The foundation for this is our history, our culture of innovation and our passion for excellence.

DISCLAIMER
I was provided with a tour review sample of the HD800S by Sennheiser and facilitated by Jensy for the purposes of review. I am not affiliated with Sennheiser in any way, nor do I make any financial gain, and this is my opinion of the HD800S after just over a week with them. The HD800S will be returned this week to the next tour recipient.

PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.
For the purposes of this review – I have used the HD800S out of many sources – including my iDSD (desktop), FiiO X7, L&P LP5, and utilised both solid state amplifiers (FiiO K5 + E17K, and iFi iDSD) and tube amplifiers (LD MKIV and Venture Electronics Enterprise. This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

THE REVIEW


PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
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Outer box - front cover

Outer box rear cover

Certificate of authenticity + diffuse field frequency response

The Sennheiser HD800S come in an unmistakably Sennheiser box, consisting of outer printed sleeve / box over an inner protective case. The outer box measures 273 x 350 x 150mm, is relatively thin cardboard, and is all black except for the distinctive Sennheiser blue logo on the lower front. The front also features in image of the left hand ear-cup, and the simple slogan “crafter for perfection”. There are some barcodes on the back and sides, along with logos for the Hi-Res Audio standard and their own 2 year warranty.

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Outer box

Inner box

Manual and cleaning cloth

Opening the outer box/sleeve reveals the inner case, which is essentially a well internally padded hinged lid hard case. Also revealed are the comprehensive manual, a cleaning cloth, and USB key which has an electronic copy of the authenticity certificate and frequency response, and also a full electronic copy of the manual. The manual also contains full specifications and other information (in multiple languages) about the HD800S – and I've quickly photographed the English section in case anyone is interested.

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Opening the case reveals the new look HD800S in all its glory, safely nestled in a form fitting foam enclosure covered with black satiny material. There is a balanced cable in another bag, and also the main single ended cable nestling in its own indentation (which is covered by its own foam cover – to keep everything snug and secure).

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First opening

Single ended cable exposed (balanced is in bag)

Cable bag - both cables and USB key

The overall package is simple yet elegant. Unfortunately I have no balanced amp which can utilise the balanced connection – but for some this will be an added bonus.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
(From Sennheiser)

RRP
Normally 1700 USD – currently at USD1579 (Amazon)
Type
Circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones
Driver
56mm ring radiator transducers
Frequency Range
10 to 44100 Hz (-3 dB), 4 to 51000 Hz (-10 dB)
Nominal Impedance
300 ohm
SPL at 1kHz
102dB (1 Vrms)
THD
< 0.02% (1 kHz, 1 Vrms)
Weight
330g (headphones only)
Cable Material
Silver plated OFC, balanced, shielded, para-aramid reinforced 3m
Cable - Termination
Two - 1 x 6.3mm gold plated SE and 1 x XLR 4 balanced

FREQUENCY GRAPH
Unfortunately I have no way of properly measuring the HD800S – my measuring system is only designed for IEMs, and I would not attempt to try for crude measurements on such a precision headphone. Lucky for me, Tyll (Innerfidelity) has already measured them, so I have included their graphs for both the HD800 and HD800s. For more on Tyll's methods of measuring, please visit the Innerfidelity website, which is an absolute wealth of information regarding measurements, what they are, and how to interpret them.

HD800Sgraph.pngHD800graph.png

HD800S graph courtesy of Innerfidelity

HD800 (original) graph courtesy of Innerfidelity

The graphs are provided merely as a point of discussion, and later in the review I've included comparisons to other headphones also using Tyll's graphs for similar reference.

What I’m hearing from the HD800S:

  1. Excellent sub-bass extension which has enough slam to clearly rumble, but is in perfect balance with the rest of the spectrum.
  2. Slightly elevated mid-bass with enough punch to be highly enjoyable, but not enough to dominate. Again the bass sounds perfectly natural to me – if maybe slightly elevated.
  3. Crystal clear mid-range which equally portrays amazing timbre and depth in both male and female vocals
  4. Mildly emphasised upper mid-range which gives a slightly euphonic and sweet air – particularly to female vocals. This adds some euphonic warmth, but does seem to overly colour the sound.
  5. The lower treble may be slightly elevated, particularly around 6 kHz but to me it is not overdone at all, and the clarity and extension of the treble overall is quite breathtaking.
  6. Overall the HD800S is a headphone which has amazing levels of vocal clarity, but also enough bottom end to sound completely natural, and maybe ever so slightly warm. And this is the strength of the HD800S – the clarity, speed, timbre and depth of the bass, yet the presence, air and clarity of the mid-range and lower treble – without any perceived masking at all.

BUILD QUALITY / DESIGN / TECHNOLOGY
The overall look of the Sennheiser HD800S (which is a continuation of the HD800 and to a lesser extent the HD700) could be described as futuristic, perhaps slightly sci-fi, but always distinctive. I know people who regard it as a bit pretentious, and others who love the unmistakable design. I fall very much in the latter camp – and the one thing I always liked about some of the Colour-ware HD800 mods was how good the black looked. Well this time The HD800S frame is primarily in black and to me it looks gorgeous.

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Stainless steel band with engraving

Headband padding thickness

Better view of padding

The build is really good too, and a lot of the things we don't see all ultimately deliver sonically. Starting with the headband assembly, it consists of a 22mm width of sprung stainless steel which has the serial number and model designation engraved in it. This sits atop a 45mm wide and 10mm high padded underside with microfibre covering. It is very soft and very comfortable, and for me has good weight distribution. What you don't see is the layered metal and plastic construction is especially designed to dampen or attenuate vibrations to the ear-cups – so that the drivers are completely isolated from unwanted distortion.

The extenders look at first glance to be plastic, but research into the construction reveals that they are actually a special polymer initially developed within the aerospace industry, with the sole purpose of contributing qualities of high strength and at the same time light weight. The yokes are made from the same material, and are hinged to allow the cups to swivel on 4 axis. I have no problem adjusting quickly and easily for a fantastic seal.

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HD800S side on

Extender looks like plastic but is in fact a high-tech polymer

Yoke assembly with 4 axis swivel

The cups themselves are D shaped, with the ear-pads well padded and covered by the same extremely comfortable micro-fibre outer. They measure externally 120mm high and 110mm wide at the outer pads. Internally the pads have 75mm of available height and 60mm of available cavity with a depth of approximately 25-30mm, so my ears never come close to touching either the edge of the pads or the protective mesh over the transducer.

The transducer itself is 56mm (which Sennheiser tells us is the largest to be used in a dynamic headphone), is a ring radiator design, and is encased in stainless steel for further dampening of unwanted vibration. Sennheiser also goes on to describe their new absorber technology innovation which is designed to absorb resonance so that bass will not mask higher frequencies, and also prevents any higher peaks in the lower treble. The inner cup is also designed so that sound waves will enter the ear on a slight angle to enhance the perception of spatial awareness, and create a more natural 3D sound.

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Interior of the cups

Right hand ear cup

Closer view of the driver enclosure

The outer cup is made of the same high grade polymer, with an inner fine silver mesh to protect the transducers and allow the headphone to breathe. And there is a final black honey comb mesh directly over the drivers for protection and ideal airflow.

Each of the yokes has a left and right designator printed in silver on the rear, and adjacent to this is the cable socket. These connectors are a barrel type which is unique to the HD800 and HD800S, and consists of a single male plug (on each side) with two recessed pins, which fits perfectly into a slotted receptacle socket on the HD800S. When mated, they fit extremely firmly together.

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Connector and connector socket

Single ended cable

Jack and connectors

The cable is 3m long (there are two of them), and both utilise silver plated copper wiring which is in balanced configuration (separate signal and ground for each side). The wires are then shielded and covered with a para-aramid outer sheath (so it is either Kevlar or Twaron fibres) which provides and exceptional strength to weight ratio. There is extremely good cable relief at both the earphone connectors and at the single-ended or XLR jack.

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Balanced cable

4 pin XLR connector

Close up of headphone male connector - "L" marking

The build on the HD800S is exceptional, and I can't see any flaws

FIT / COMFORT
I've already covered the cup dimensions and covering, and apart from one small issue, they are quite possible the most comfortable headphones I've worn. Unfortunately I wear glasses and the clamp force (while by no means excessive) is enough to force my glasses onto the bridge of my nose. If I take the glasses off, the comfort is quite simply amazing – good distribution of weight, really soft pads, and the sort of headphone I can quite literally wear for hours.

The answer to the glasses issue is of course to slightly bend the headband to relieve a little of the clamping pressure – but unfortunately for now (because it is a tour unit) I've had to persevere with the slight discomfort. Not Sennheisers fault, and very fixable if it was my own pair. Something to note anyway.

SOUND QUALITY
The following is what I hear from the HD800S. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my iFi iDSD both as DAC and amp.

For the record – on most tracks, during my listening evaluation the volume level on the HD800S measured at the ear was around 60-70dB A-weighted. The room was fairly quiet, and I simply had no reason to add more volume (there was enough clarity definition not to look for any more volume). Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

Relativities

  1. Sub-bass – well extended, and able to stretch to extremely low frequencies in a sine sweep. Slightly recessed comparative to mid-bass, but enough presence for rumble, and very good impact.
  2. Mid-bass – slightly elevated compared to sub-bass and lower mid-range, but a natural hump which doesn't sound too boomy or over done. No bleed into mid-range, and speed is amazing. Impact is very good. Adds some warmth to the overall signature – but again very natural sounding.
  3. Lower mid-range – sounds reasonably flat to me (which is good). Might be the slightest bit recessed compared to slightly elevated mid-bass but in perfect balance. Texture and tonality with vocals is incredible, as is clarity.
  4. Upper mid-range – elevated compared to lower mid-range, but utilising the natural rise which lends to great cohesion between upper and lower mid-range. Clarity and air carry incredible detail, and female vocalists in particular have a touch of euphony in their presentation. For me the mid-range on the HD800S is simply sublime.
  5. Lower treble – detailed, extended, maybe slightly on the bright and airy side, but not peaky at all, and in perfect harmony to the rest of the sonic signature. Cymbals especially are a joy to behold, with the decay from hits, or softer brush strokes (Jazz) sounding very alive, and definitely realistic.

Resolution / Detail / Clarity

  1. I have heard nothing with this level of clarity whilst maintaining a balanced overall signature.
  2. Cymbal hits and decay on cymbals have life-like presence, no early truncation on decay.
  3. Excellent portrayal of both texture and tone throughout the spectrum
  4. Micro details clearly presented – from the sounds of fingers sliding on strings through to singers drawing a breath. Life-like.

Sound-stage, Imaging

  1. Again I'm lost for superlatives here. I haven't heard anything which images quite like the HD800S (maybe the original HD800). The word which keeps coming to me is precision.
  2. Directional queues are stunning, and portrayed outside the periphery of my head space with binaural tracks – excellent width and depth. I should note here that I have heard headphones (AKG) which portray more width with Binaural tracks, but the actual impression is wrong because the instruments simply aren't as far away as portrayed. I use Amber Rubarth's binaural album Sessions from the 7th Ward, and I know from video footage how they've positioned the instruments. The HD800S manages incredible realism with Amber's tracks, and for me that is far more important than the illusion of width that isn't really there.
  3. Completely spherically presented stage with impressive width depth and height
  4. Holographic and compelling sense of immersion both with applause section of Loreena McKennit's live recording of “Dante's Prayer” (the HD800S has me sitting in the crowd with the applause washing around me), and also the very spatial “Let it Rain” from Amanda Marshall.

Other Strengths

  1. Tonality and timbre are incredible. The only other headphone I have heard which comes close to the overall tonality and timbre of the HD800S is Sennheiser's own HD600. My mother played both violin and piano, my brother and I both played guitar (he was actually in a band in his younger years), and I have grown up around live instruments and live performances my entire life.
  2. One of my mother and grandmother's favourites piano pieces was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I have Wilhelm Kempff's excellent performance, and what I'm hearing takes me back to my youth (just the player and the actual instrument are clearly superior).
  3. Likewise with guitar – as a self taught amateur, I am intimately familiar with how a real acoustic guitar sounds – and especially the realism of fingers on strings, the sharp edges of a picked string, and even the rap of fingers on the body. With Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live album, it is as though I am in the room with him – and it is completely realistic.
  4. Brilliant with both male and female vocals
  5. Excellent with dynamic music – especially if it has some bass slam (incredible with rock)
  6. Genre master – I enjoyed it with all genres tested – from classical, jazz and blues to electronic, grunge and pop. I haven't heard a better headphone with my favourite band (Pearl Jam). Eddie's voice has perfect timbre and texture, and the detail in the cymbals and acoustic guitar in “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter ...” is utterly addicting.
  7. My favourite though is female vocals – they have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, and it is this area which for me personally I have not heard any IEM or headphone portray more perfectly than the HD800S. It's really hard to describe simply how good the HD800S is – but for me when listening to an artist like Sarah Jarosz (if you haven't heard her before be sure to check out “Build Me Up From Bones”), the mix of realism and detail without the cost of pure tonality – for me it is end game.

Weaknesses

  1. Sonically I haven't been able to spot any in my week with this headphone. Perhaps I need more time.
  2. This is a question which may be asked so I'll pre-empt. The HD800S doesn't mask sibilance – it will portray it if it is in the recording. But that's all it does – portray honestly – neither enhancing or masking. I don't see this as a weakness of the headphone
  3. Apart from sonically – the only other weakness is the initial clamp force – which can be easily alleviated by adjustment of the headband.

SOURCE / AMPLIFICATION
The HD800 was always described by others as needing a synergistic source and amp combo to get the best out of them. And I have to admit when I originally spent time with the original HD800, I liked it best out of my LD MKIV OTL tube amp. Interestingly enough when I had it at a NZ Head-Fi Meet a couple of years ago, there were two sources at my table which proved very popular with the HD800 – the Little Dot, and also the L&P LP5 DAP. I tried various amplifiers (properly volume matching with an SPL meter and test tones), with the aim at seeing what level of amplification was required, and what (subjectively) I preferred with the HD800S.

Desktop
For a desktop solution, I tried Venture Electronic's $800 Enterprise tube amp, and also my LD MKIV. Both sounded incredible with the HD800S, a good sense of dynamics and detail, but both were also a little softer in presentation – almost relaxed compared to my initial testing with iFi's iDSD. Later during my comparisons with the T1 and HD600 it reinforced that I still prefer both with an OTL tube amp (especially the HD600 + Enterprise pairing), but with the HD800S I've been finding that consistently I'm preferring the SS iDSD's amplifier section over the use of tubes. The presentation of the iDSD is similar, but there seems to be slightly sharper and clearer definition, and for me the HD800S is perfect as it is without any extra smoothing. Swapping rapidly between the two was easy too – as I was simply using the DAC section of the iDSD for both, so once volume matched it was simply a matter of hot-swapping.

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HD800S and Little Dot Mark IV

HD800S and VE Enterprise

My next test as a desktop was to utilise FiiO's K5 – first with the E17K (real budget set-up), and then with the X7. The K5 + E17K was a revelation on how good the HD800S could sound on a relatively modest set-up, and is more a testament to the versatility of the HD800S. This time when switching between LD MKIV (or Enterprise) and the K5 + E17K there was very little noticeable difference. Both sounded very good, very clean, and slightly on the smooth side. However neither matched up to the overall definition and tonality of the iDSD. Keeping the K5 and switching to X7, and this time a little more depth and overall definition was present, but again fast switching with the OTLs yielded little significant advantage.

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Unlikely combo - HD800S + FiiOs K5 & E17K

My preference - HD800S and iFi iDSD

The tough part was trying to compare the iDSD to the K5 + E17k or X7 – it just took too much time to swap out the sources. But the one thing I kept coming back to was the overall tonality of the iDSD by itself. For my tastes it is a perfect pairing with the HD800S and one that I feel no need to look at upgrading. This suits me perfectly as it it the ultimate small form factor for a desk set-up which keeps clutter to a minimum. So my subjective desktop rankings from the gear tested – ranked from top to bottom would look like this:

  • iDSD + HD800S
  • iDSD + LD MKIV/VE Enterprise + HD800S
  • K5+X7 (with or without the OTLs) + HD800S
  • K5+E17K (with or without the OTLs) + HD800S

Edit 28 Sept - My own pair of HD800S arrived, and I spent a couple of hours with them and the Enterprise. If anyone wants an idea of how revealing the HD800S are, I finally noticed a low level bit of noise with the Enterprise and no music playing. Basically the amp is picking up some USB noise from the mouse. Spent the next 2 hours trouble shooting - including changing cables. Suddenly had a brainwave and removed the iPurifier 2 from the iDSD (I won one in a competition, and thought - why not?). Not sure if the iPurifier2 is faulty - but suddenly the distortion was gone, and everything is back to crystal clear again. Retried some of my comparisons, and now I'd put the HD800S + iDSD, and HD800 + iDSD + Enterprise on the same plane. They are both excellent - slight variations in tone - but both incredibly transparent. And in this scenario, the Enterprise pulls ahead of the Little Dot as well.

New order of preference (desktop)

  • iDSD + HD800S = iDSD + VE Enterprise + HD800S
  • iDSD + LD MKIV + HD800S
  • K5+X7 (with or without the OTLs) + HD800S
  • K5+E17K (with or without the OTLs) + HD800S

Portable Devices
You're kidding right Brooko? No actually – the HD800S is a pretty benign load if the player has a half decent amplification system, and one of the things I love doing is trying it with a reasonable portable source.

First up was the FiiO X7 – with the AM3 module – but running single ended. I realise the AM2A and AM5 modules are more powerful – but I just like the linearity of the AM3 module better and think it pairs far better with the HD800S. At a volume level of 70-75/120 on low gain I am getting my target SPL of 60-70 db A-weighted, with peaks around 75 dB. The sound is incredibly well layered and dynamic, and this set-up would be perfect for taking the HD800S to another room or outside on the deck during a quiet sunny day.

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Another surprising combo - X7 + AM3 and HD800S

HD800S and Luxury & Precision LP5 = sublime

Next was the Luxury & Precision L5 Pro. Approximately 40/60 on high gain (it still has another gain level to go) nets around the same volume as the X7 + AM3, and again this presentation is eminently listen-able and thoroughly enjoyable. Compared to the X7, the LP5 Pro is perhaps a little smoother overall, and maybe also a little more laid back. The dynamics and depth of presentation are alls till there – but for my tastes, it is just a little behind the X7 in terms of overall fidelity with the HD800S.

Lastly was the TOTL Luxury & Precision LP5. And it is with this DAP that the HD800S absolutely shines. I'd taken this DAP to a meet previously – and had a couple of HD800 owners tell me that it rivalled their home desktops systems. Unfortunately the pot doesn't have markings but I'd estimate I'm only at ¼ of the overall pot for similar volume levels. And I have to agree with the others who tried the original HD800 with the LP5 – it truly is fantastic sound, and when I eventually get my HD800S, this is the combo which I am likely to use often when I'm not at my desktop. The sense of depth and immersion is every bit as good as the iDSD – phenomenal performance for a transportable set-up.

OTHER USES
This is getting a little long, so I'll try and be a little more concise with this.

Gaming
Truly excellent – especially with FPS. The first thing you notice is the clarity, the second is the completely 3D imaging and positional awareness. But its the third factor which really drew me n, and that is the overall tonality. The bottom end of the HD800S is truly magnificent and very much immersive – but it does this without masking detail of what is happening around you. I also used the HD800S with Darin Fong's Out Of Your Head low latency gaming preset, and that simply further added to the overall sense of space. Thoroughly recommended, although it is clearly a expensive option for a TOTL gaming experience.


Movies
Again I combined the HD800S with the iDSD and Darin's OOYH and settled down to watch “Inception”. I love this move both for it's score, and also some of the dramatic and dynamic audio moments in the movie. With this set-up, the movie was totally immersive, and TBH I'd prefer utilising the HD800 than using our modest Sony speaker set-up at home. Again – recommended.

COMPARISONS
For this section I only really wanted to compare the HD800S to my two favourite open headphones – the legendary HD600 and the Beyerdynamic T1 (original).

All of these comparisons are very subjective – and influenced by my own preference, physiology and bias. Comparison was this time with the iDSD and also the LP5. All comparisons were volume matched with a 1 kHz tone and using a proper SPL meter first.

HD800S vs T1
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[size=inherit]BeyerT1graph.png[/size]


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HD800S and Beyerdynamic T1 graphs

The HD800S and Beyer T1

These two TOTL dynamic headphones both have impeccable build and overall comfort, although for subjective looks, I'd probably take the sleek black look of the HD800S if I had the choice. In terms of sonic ability, the T1 is slightly brighter and peakier overall – with the HD800S having no less clarity and resolution, but a more balanced signature overall. And that is where the HD800S strength lies for me – brilliance in overall resolution yet without the overall brightness which now seems a little unnatural with the T1. Bass is actually very similar, although the HD800S bass seems to have a little more body, and a litle more extension. In terms of imaging, they both perform incredibly well with very precise positional cues – but the HD800 has a slightly larger sound-stage in terms of width, depth and height. The other big difference comes down to price. If we look at the 2nd hand market, you can pick up a T1 nowadays for around $550-$600 USD, and an equivalent HD800S would be just under double that price.

So is the added fidelity and tonality worth the outlay? I guess that is a personal question for each of us. If you don't mind a brighter signature, and this is your first foray into the upper tiers of dynamic headphones, the T1 represents incredible value for money. I still very much enjoy what it brings to the table. But the HD800s for me brings those last illusive traits to the table – true tonality and timbre. And for me personally it does represent end-game, so it is with regret that the T1 will move on.

HD800S vs HD600
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[size=inherit]HD600graph.png[/size]

hd800s39.jpg

HD800S and HD600 graphs

The HD800S and legendary HD600

Hardly a fair fight I'd imagine a lot of people are thinking – yet I think in the retuned HD800S, Sennheiser has actually created a sonic signature very much akin to the HD600's overall tone, timbre and texture. If we look first at the two in terms of build and comfort, the HD800S is clearly the better built headphone, but you really can't fault the HD600 for its modularity, and also for its ability to withstand the test of time. Mine is probably more than 10 years old, and apart from changes in pads, headband padding, and one failed driver, it is still in incredible condition. For comfort overall, I rank a well broken in HD600 and HD800 pretty similar. The secret to both is relaxing the clamp. The HD600 is definitely lighter, and this may appeal to some.

In terms of tonality the two are very similar with the HD800S having more bass extension, better bass definition, and better impression of overall speed and precision. The mid-ranges are similar, yet also different – with both having similar tonality, but the HD600 appearing just a little hazy in comparison. And the mid-range is where the definition and clarity of the HD800S again shows its strengths – but it is the HD600 which appears brighter, and also appears slightly less natural (in the vocal presence area), and its the first time I think I've ever said that about the HD600. The HD800S just sounds more life-like. In terms of imaging and sound-stage, the HD800S again is more expansive, clearer, and more defined – but these are not massive differences. Finally again we look at price, and this time the difference is a gulf with the HD800S being 4-5 times the price of an HD600 on the used market.

So again, is it worth the outlay? Well considering I said last time (after my 3rd purchase of the HD600) that this time they were keepers, I now find myself eating my words. Someone else will end up getting a well loved but in great condition HD600, and I will move onto the HD800S. And although I will look back fondly on the HD600, and I still truly believe it is one of the greatest dynamic headphones Sennheiser has released, ultimately the HD800S moves me more. For my tastes it does everything perfectly.

SENNHEISER HD800S - SUMMARY


And here I am at the end of my time with the HD800S, and it hasn't been a “wow” experience over the last week, but instead a growing realisation that for my tastes, this headphone does very little (if anything) wrong, and everything (for my tastes) right.

From design and build through to fit and finish, the HD800S is definitely TOTL and one of the best dynamic circum-aural open headphones you can buy today.

Whilst we all know the previous strengths of imaging and sound-stage from the original HD800, the thing Sennheiser has addressed with this updated version centers more on tonality and balance. With added extension (particularly into the bass, a touch more warmth, and a reduction in the peak at 6 kHz, Sennheiser has addressed some of the perceived shortcomings of the earlier model. This feels like more of a music lovers headphone as a result, and for me personally seems more like a vastly improved HD600. Overall the balance, tonality and timbre are simply sublime, and all I could personally want in a headphone.

One of the best things about the HD800S is that its not particularly picky (IMO) regarding source or amplification. It sounds really good out of practically everything I've tried, and sublime out of the iDSD and also the LP5 – which really was a clincher. So for me, my time with tube amps is essentially over for now. There is a certain romanticism with tubes which I will miss, although I’m going to love having a little more space on my desk again.

I mentioned in my previous comparison of the T1 and HD600 vs the original HD800 that it was probably a headphone that I'd end up getting long term – but that it wasn't a priority issue at the time. The HD800S moved me in a way that the HD800 original failed to do – and as a result this afternoon I managed to find a nearly new HD800S locally, and have purchased it (waiting shipping advice now). All that is left for me to do now is sell my T1, HD600 and AKG K553 + likely the Little Dot, and whatever else I need to sell in order to get back on-side with my lovely wife again.

Its very hard to look at assigning a ranking for this review because it is a large sum of money to outlay, and because comparatively there are cheaper options out there which deliver a lot of what the HD800S represents. But value will be relative to individual perception, and as I stated in my title – these are end-game for me (essentially they tick every one of my boxes). I've heard many fine headphones in my time on Head-Fi – including the LCD2 and 3, top line Grados, and many others – particularly at our local meet. For me nothing has captured me like the HD800S has. It is very hard to find real faults with it. Yes it is expensive, but to me it is utterly worth the outlay.

I'd like to end by thanking Sennheiser for the chance to review the HD800S, and also Matt for making it possible.


HD800S. End Game. Definitely.

hd800s41.jpg
Eggtuary
Eggtuary
I may have spoken too soon! I remembered a number of folks on here talking about Sonarworks. Using that program, the HD800 and HD800S sound VERY similar now. There are still some differences, but neither is universally better. So now I'm thinking I may be smarter to stick with the HD800. Thoughts?
Brooko
Brooko
Well if you like the sound of the HD800S and need the HD800 + Sonarworks to get an equivalent - then personally I'd be just buying the HD800S. Otherwise you're always tied to Sonarworks. But that is just me .......
acguitar84
acguitar84
a little late to the ballgame here, but this is a great review! I have the HD800s showing up in a couple of days can't wait!!
Pros: Speed Clarity Imaging and finally bass!
Cons: You have to build a proper audio chain to unleash its full potential
Introduction
 
Everyone knows that the main purpose of any company is to sell as much as possible, in the most convenient manner, to the largest number of consumers. Therefore what does a product need to be successful? It should definitely be reliable, with high performance, at the best price and with an appealing aesthetic. Features in short, that are not only valid for any commercial proposal, but in particular for those that are part of the audio universe, whether consumer or professional.However, this world in particular can often lead us on to rough terrain, where supporters on one side or the other will always look at each other with distrust and suspicion deeming the views of the other party unreliable. Nevertheless, sometimes, however, there can be points of contact that can create an agreement between both audiophiles and audio professionals. We refer in particular to a product that created a bridge between both sectors, a headphone, or rather THE headphone against which all others must be measured and compared to. In short, we are talking about the Sennheiser HD 800 that for almost ten years has been the flagship of the German company, a model that has brought a real revolution in the universe of dynamic headphones and adopted by a large number of people, both for professional purposes and for pure entertainment. Around it were spent dozens of words, articles and reviews, with a commercial success that perhaps even Sennheiser never expected considering the quite challenging price of their flagship. But you know, progress moves faster, the market evolves and also the needs of customers. In this regard, we can safely say that, despite the high performance of the HD 800, it has always been a headset that only really unleashes its full potential if placed in certain conditions. According to our direct personal experience, the Sennheiser top of the range, may prove to a normal user, a tough headset to be correctly driven.At first glance in fact, the all too clear tone and some bass lightness, may turn up the noses of more than one user particularly when used with inadequate reproductive tools or connected to the headphone output of a normal iPod or DAP. This common problem has caused several manufacturers, including the same Sennheiser, to fill up the market with: dedicated headphone amplifiers, both tube and solid state; aftermarket headphone cables with generous section to try to emphasize the bass response, to the point of heavy tuning deployed by some American users. This last sequence of events in particular has sparked in various consumer forums and otherwise, the most diverse troubling threads even involving some influential journalists in the industry and making comparative graphs of the frequency response that the HD 800 offers before and after the changes spring up like mushrooms. Besides that, we know that the serious audio professional prefers to base his work on his own experience and the real practical value of the product used without listening in the slightest to audiophiles’ opinions or the empirical results of DIY. However, given either the logic of the market, or the evolution of the competing technologies, the manufacturers’ marketing policies have become more easily influenced and the actual sonic validity for these changes, must surely have reached the ears of Sennheiser. Everything has evolved from constant complaints over the years by many users in regards to a 6 kHz annoying peak and a modest fullness of low frequencies that make the response of the headphone a little unbalanced and highlights its difficulty to be used for some musical genres that are neither classical or jazz music. To overcome all of this and because, you know, the customer is always right, given the strong success of the 50,000 units sold, Sennheiser wanted to update the HD 800 project and give life to a new top of the range headphone that can be considered as its natural evolution i.e. the HD 800 S the object of our test.
 
 
Design
 
Aesthetically, the new HD 800 S doesn’t differ much from the previous one. It’s just more easily recognizable thanks to the outside black colour of the pavilions and the headband where there is always written HD 800 together with the serial number. The package supplied with the headset has written HD 800 S in silver at the center. The luxurious black case contains, in addition to the headset, two cables, 2.5 meters in length made of silver plated copper with a diameter of 36 AWG. While one of these is terminated with the classic 6.3 mm jack, and the other one is terminated with a 4-pole XLR balanced male connector to be used with balanced amplifiers. The instruction manual completes the package. The headphone pads are upholstered in Alcantara, a superb suede fabric, which is quite hard but it is very comfortable and water resistant. The rest of the headphone frame is made with aerospace approved materials, which contributes to make the HD 800 S acoustically inert. Being a fully open dynamic headset, it’s not recommended for outdoor use or in very noisy enviroments. The new top of the line adopts 56 mm drivers as did the previous one but the differences are not just aesthetic or monetary.The Sennheiser technicians were actually pretty uncooperative in giving us information about the differences between the two models, but much of the work done on HD 800 S derived from the test and the technologies implemented on the in-ear headphones IE800 on which a structure has been applied to reduce resonance and obtain a more balanced frequency response. The HD 800 S is referred as having a frequency response from 4 to 51,000 Hz (-10 dB) while the HD 800 is 6 to 51,000 Hz. Both with a nominal impedance of 300 ohms and a sensitivity of 102 dB. This difference in frequency, although it seems a minor detail on paper, as we will see, it’s rather the expression of an update that has greatly benefitted the product in terms of pure performance. The update uses an Helmholtz resonator to dilute the peak on the 6 kHz and adds a second harmonic at the bottom in order to make the yield of these frequencies more substantial and convincing. In essence, it has been usefully used a resonator with an anti-resonance function. It’s well known that the Helmholtz resonators can be used to amplify or cancel particular frequencies and this is the purpose of the small cylindrical resonator that has been placed within each of the headset drivers. It may seem very simple and even trivial, but as we have heard during our test it proved to be a very effective solution. The changes that at first have been developed and applied in an amateurish way by more savvy users, have been refined and applied ad hoc by the Germans in-house Sennheiser technicians. All of this has helped to ensure that the new top of the line has a well-defined sound character and a different one from the previous model.
 
 
Listening Test
 
As with every serious test carried out in our studio we left the headset to burn-in for a full week before doing any critical listening. We also wanted to use, for a comparison on equal terms, the previous HD 800 just to give an account of the actual differences between the two models. In addition to the cables supplied with the headphones, we wanted to use a couple of our balanced cables specifically built with military standard materials and of course we included the complete fleet of the amplifiers in our possession: the Lake People G-100, the iFi Audio iCAN SE, the Audio-GD Master 9 and the QES Labs HPBA-2 S that was specially built for this headphone according to our specifications. The peculiarity of the HPBA-2 S lies in the fact that besides being a dual-mono balanced current-driven amplifier, it has an output impedance that exactly follows and matches that of the HD 800/HD 800 S. This allows the Sennheiser flagship to express its full potential and make the most mainly as linearity in the upper part of the sound spectrum and as a transient response at low frequencies. We used ,as source, our DAW connected via USB and via S/PDIF to the two DACs in our studio, the Tobby by Firestone Audio and Stereo 96 by Mytek. As audio players we used JRiver with Fidelizer and Process Lasso Pro. All power and signal cables are custom design. The music used for the test included different genres with different resolutions and bit-depths. Starting from matching the G-100 with the HD 800 S with its unbalanced stock cable, we immediately noticed a greater depth and density of low frequencies combined with a higher linearity of the high frequencies. The annoying peak on 6 khz seems to have disappeared. The soundstage, which was one of the strengths of the old HD 800, remained unchanged. When moving on to use the iCAN SE with the stock unbalanced cable, the listening becomes more interesting as the higher output power of this amplifier shines thanks to its greater precision and focus when compared to the G-100. Everything becomes more appealing, more natural and the low frequencies acquire greater depth.These first hours of listening make us therefore understand that HD 800 S is definitely a big step forward compared to the previous model, and if we were to define this new headphone we would frankly say that this is a plug and play product. The HD 800 S gives us the impression of being more easily controllable and less picky in combinations with different amplifiers than the previous HD 800. Although to be honest, we are not particularly impressed by the performance of the enclosed cables; wires which in our opinion have a section that is too thin and can’t get a proper sound for the headset to express its fullest potential especially in the lower part of the sound spectrum. Also, in the same way as all the high-impedance headphones by Sennheiser such as the HD 600, HD 650 and HD 800 also the HD 800 S benefits from being driven in balanced mode thereby acquiring body, speed and accuracy during the sound reproduction when connected to a balanced amplifier with appropriate cables. In this regard, the balanced cables in our possession have sections of 18 AWG and 21 AWG that allow the HD 800 S to be more efficent at bass frequencies. However, the best is yet to come : we went even further by connecting the headset to our balanced amplifer the Master 9 by Audio-GD. If before we had only been able to guess the reproductive capacity of the new top of the line, thanks to the balanced connection and the more reproductive refinement, we were able to make the solid step forward that the new project called HD 800 S aimed to achieve. The new headset can be finally used to listen to various musical genres. The rock and electronic music records were faced and reproduced without any fear and without that sense of inadequacy that had characterized the previous HD 800. The basses are all there as well as the speed in the transient response, while the playback lets you enjoy no sound coloration of the entire sound message from the source in particular.Of course we can’t say the same about the impact on the lower part of the sound spectrum that distinguishes a headset like the Audeze LCD-X but we can safely place this HD 800 S, performance wise, with the HE-6 HIFIMAN detecting a greater sense of balance in timbre response compared to the latter, together with a greater ease of use. We shouldn’t define this new top of the line as a domesticated version of the previous HD 800, but we believe it’s more easily usable both by the audiophile and the more demanding professional. Regarding the professional use, we have been able to verify in the field that, in the same way as the previous model, also this new HD 800 S can be perfectly used in audio mastering sessions or critical listening tests. Especially if coupled with the HPBA-2 S balanced amplifier which is produced by the Italian company QES Labs according to our precise specifications and that drives the headphones in current mode. On more than one occasion we have recommended to other worldwide audio professionals, the pairing between the Sennheiser flagship and this amplifier and had always received thanks for this valuable advice. Also we have often used this combo for the mastering of different records with satisfactory results. Now with this new HD 800 S the circle can be defined as complete as this headphone has kept all the positive aspects of the previous one while filling up the gaps left by the old one. So we still see the main strengths, i.e. transparency, speed, soundstage, sound of voices, acoustic instruments, reproductive realism, but also the ability to detect problems such as saturation, silbilants, excessive compression and dynamic unbalance of the sound spectrum. If with the old HD 800 you had to, albeit with some difficulty, somehow calibrate your ears on the low yield, now everything becomes more immediate, more simple, especially if you are struggling with a recorded tune that has problems in the lower part of the sound spectrum. The balanced current driving of the HPBA-2 S and the impedance output curve which follows exactly the one expressed by the headphone, gives the HD 800 S the full potential of making us not regret the old top of the line at all while allowing us to be more confident in the process of audio mastering or critical listening of a song. It’s, according to our point of view, an important number of factors that push all audio professionals in favour of it, especially those who are looking for a reference system for their headphones listening chain where the HD 800 S, plays the main role offering great satisfaction in the configuration we used.
 
Final Thoughts
 
We are convinced that this new HD 800 S constitutes the perfect point of contact between the audiophile and the professional audio world. It’s a headset that doesn’t want to invade the territory of the best ortho-dynamics, but it’s definitely a product that, if put in a position to unleash its potential, can safely say it all. Like all the best products marketed by Sennheiser, the HD 800 S has a wide scalability in terms of performance especially if combined with the right amplifer. As we have heard during the long listening test, it completely undermines the old HD 800 from its throne of Queen of dynamic headphones going on to fill most of the gaps that the previous model had demonstrated. If we had to resort to a slogan to classify this new top of the line by Sennheiser, besides the aforementioned plug’n’play, we could say that listening pleasure meets precision. Of course for the price at which it’s sold maybe we can’t define it as a headphone for every pocket even considering the fact that, however, to play properly, it requires a reproductive sound chain of a certain level in terms of quality and money to be built around it. But sometimes in life you have to dare without fear and we put ourselves in the position to highly recommend it to both audiophiles and the most demanding professionals. Well done Sennheiser!
 
 
Personal Opinion
 
To be honest after purchasing the Audeze LCD-X and the Audio-GD Master 9 I stopped using the HD 800 and HPBA-2. In fact, I was working with a sound system that fully satisfied my business needs. However after the circulation of the first articles over the net about the changes of the HD 800, and especially after the official marketing notification by Sennheiser of a revised version of their flagship, I wanted to re-use what I had set aside for a while . So I did upgrade my HPBA-2 amp to the S version, and as soon as I got hold of HD 800 S I had to change my mind, falling completely in love at first listen because this new top of the line is really able to improve the performance in so many ways. The placement of the instruments and the amplitude within the soundstage is very precise as well as the neutrality of the sound message. The HD 800 S/HPBA-2 S combo is mind blowing for the performance it provides and frankly I think it’s hard to do better at least with regard to the use of a solid state balanced dual-mono amplifier combined with this new HD 800 S. Even a test with a Woo Audio WA5, a heavily modified tube amplifier, offered a very engaging and exciting listening thus confirming the quality of the product. That’s why I consider the HD 800 S a remarkable headphone, the best dynamic headphones that are currently sold on the market. Sure it does not guarantee the material impact of a LCD-X, in the bottom part of the spectrum or the fluidity of the LCD-3F on medium frequencies, but is definitely part of my set of tools for audio mastering and critical listening sessions, combining the pleasure of listening with precision. Two concepts that fully describe the characteristics of the HD 800 S and finally create a point of contact between the professional and the audiophile world.
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CRITICALSHOT
CRITICALSHOT
Great review! Send me the old HPBA-2 amp when you get a chance. Not joking...
Pros: Clear Premium sound/ come with additional 4 pin Balanced XLR cable /comfort/look/top end separation.
Cons: headphone side cable connectors are slightly wobble.(however I confirm with sennheiser technical support that it is normal)
Actually it is a premium headphone and sound quality is amazing.
If you are going to buy HD800S , you have to strictly think about what are the other components you have to couple it with because just out of the box and just connect to PC you cant get maximum potential of HD800S.
So rather doing review I take this opportunity to share my experience with you guys regarding this HD800S and other components and environment you have to think about.
I share it with you question and answer method to provide far better idea to you guys.
 
 
1).When we are talking about AMP everyone knows that it will amplify whatever signal which we input to it. But what actually physically feel us when we use AMP with HD800S?
 
Actually this is question in my mind before I buy HDVA600.And to answer this question is bit difficult because you have to experience it by yourself to get better idea. But I try my best to explain it to you. If you don’t have amp, you can experience it by doing below experiment. Connect your headphone to DAC or PC or i device (iphone /ipad…ect) and open whatever equalizer APP or softwear. Then increase every bars to 5~6dB or   if your app or software have PREAMP settings increase it 5~6dB.Then you will realize that sound dynamic range slightly increase (also you will begin to hear some small sounds you didn’t heard before) and also you realize that it is not the effect you feels when you increase your volume. Please keep in mind that this is very primary experiment and it doses not exactly replicate amplifier effect. Because very high quality AMP (HDVA600) will do this job very far better than that. And difference it Day vs Night.
Before I get my HDVA600, I use my HD800S, directly connect to MOJO and mojo is connect to my IPAD pro 9.7 and I use ONKYO player. And most of the times I feel that songs dynamic range is far below (vocals and some instruments sounds seems very low) even increase the volume of chord mojo. Then I use ONKYO player equalizer to enhance the gain of some frequency range. Then iam bit happy with the sound.
Then finally after I buy HDVA600 I fully realize that now I don’t want any kind of equalizer settings and sounds have FULL DYNAMIC range. Also after adding HDVA600 to my system I realize that how HUGE potential have my HD800S.As simply said adding HDVA600 , brings my HD800S to big step forward.
 
 
 
2) Is every AMP will provide better sound?
 
NO. Amp must be symmetrical and must have premium components (resisters/transistors…ect) with premium design.
 
NOTE:
Senhizer HDVA600 uses Alps RK 27 Quad components which ensures that the volume will have precise control all of the time. Besides having a great feel, the volume control can be adjusted in precise increments because of these components. When you look through the glass panel at the various electronic parts, you can see the cooling elements, audio relay and other components. Even the resistors are of the highest quality as they are MELF resistors. These are of superb construction. Every one of these components was put through rigorous testing before Senhizer decided to use them in the HDVA600.
Pls read below article carefully.
http://www.stereoadvantage.com/blog/rays-review-sennheiser-hdva-600/
I personaly, 100% agree with above article as a owner of HDVA600.
 
 
3).Is CHORD MOJO really enough to drive HD800S?.If you already Own CHORD MOJO what should be your next upgrade option, Either HUGO TT or high end AMP (Senn HDVA600)+CHORD MOJO? What is the BEST OPTION?
 
I can fearlessly say and confirm that CHORD MOJO really NOT enough to drive HD800S.When I connect HD800S directly to MOJO can realized that MOJO can provide enough volume to drive HD800S. But it is lack of dynamic range. Please again read my answer for question one(1). Then you will realize what iam said.
So actually before buying HDVA600 , I plan to buy CHORD HUGO TT as an upgrade for MOJO. And after doing so many research and technical studies I found that it is totally Waste of money. So optimum solution is connect very high end AMP (HDVA600) in between Mojo and HD800S, Since DAC wise CHORD MOJO is excellent enough. Also eventually you can get advantage of Balance XLR (because HDVA600 have two, 4 pin Balance XLR outputs.)
 
 
4).Is there any significant sound different between Single ended cable VS Balance cables for HD800S?
 
Yes. There is slight different. I have compare moon audio BLACK dragon premium single ended vs Sennhiser Balance cable. And found that Senn. Balance cable further improve dynamic range and provide very clear sound.
 
5).Some people said that after adding high quality USB cables to connect MOJO to PC (or i devises with Apple CCK) can get improved sound quality. Is that really true? What is the technical clarification for that?
 
YES!!..It is true. I also feel some difference (improvement in sound quality) when I replace default USB cable with Moon audio Blue dragon USB cable.
There's a common misconception that DACs and digital cables have an easy job- all they have to do is tell if a signal is a one or a zero, right? It's not that quite that simple. In wide-bandwidth data applications, the ones and zeroes have to be bundled up into packets, and these packets are passed at blindingly high frequencies through send/receive chipsets and across cabling. Every small impedance mismatch, and every bit of power supply noise,EMI, RF NOISE that travels along with the data… in our case, music, creates errors that can cause audible problems.
On the other hand I send email to CHORD MOJO technical support and ask them when sending data from MOJO via USB whether it use error correction or retransmission. And from email they confirm me that CHORD MOJO didn’t use error correction or retransmission when connect via USB.
So now I believe now you can clearly understand the reason for using high quality USB cables.
By the way ROB WATTS (the designer of MOJO) also mention that it better to use Ferrite chork for USB cable to eliminate RF noise come from host device.
 
 
6).If we use JRiver Media Center 22 what are the optimum parameter settings to get premium quality audio?
Please find below attached word document.
 
 
 
My final setup details can summarize as follows:
Windows 10 PC with JRiver Media Center 22-->Moon Audio Blue dragon USB A to USB micro B cable-->Chord Mojo--->Moon Audio Black Dragon Stereo to RCA Cable--> Senn HDVA600 amp -->Senn Balance Cable->Senn HD800S
 
As per my experience above setup is the TOP NOTCH you can reach if you own HD800S!!!!!!!!!
 
 
 
 
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naumaankhan
naumaankhan
I would definitely buy this setup. Only if I was a millionare :/
Pros: I prefer the HD800S to the HD800. This is on account of the marginal increase in perceived bass and the marginal decrease in energy in the 6k region.
Cons: If one is an orthohead, it’s possible that the HD800S’s sound – like practically all other dynamic headphones – will not be finally satisfying.
Thanks to @Todd for putting together the loaner tour and for including me. @Todd’s contributions to the community are considerable. I bought one of my first higher-end headphones from him – a Grado PS500 – when I got into the hobby.
 
For a while now I’ve been looking for a headphone that strikes a balance between the LCD-2.2’s bass resolution and the HD800’s treble resolution. Given that the natural, realistic bass timbre of the LCD-2.2 can be attributed – I take it – to the planar driver, it’s possible that a dynamic headphone may not be able to recreate that timbre. That’s reason enough to think there might not be a perfect headphone for me. Although the HD800S does seem to improve on the HD800 as far as bass is concerned, while taming in some measure the lower-treble glare, it’s not my perfect headphone. That said, it’s nonetheless a truly remarkable headphone.
 
Primarily, I used my UHA-6S.MKII and a friend’s Benchmark DAC1 to drive the HD800S. Occasionally I switched to my EF-6 to experiment with the balanced cable. I want to put the cable question to one side. Still, I preferred the HD800S out of the Leck. If I need to adduce a reason for this preference, I’ll say that the EF-6 seemed to impart a bit too much upper-mid/lower-treble energy, or that the transients became a bit too etchy. It’s something like that – whatever it is that explains my preference. I should also note that I used Spotify as my source and a GO450 as my DAC, and that I tend to listen in the 70dB to 85dB range.
 
Bass
My understanding is that Sennheiser has worked to increase the amount of perceived bass in the HD800S by boosting harmonic distortion. From what I can tell, they were successful. A friend of mine – who happens to own the HD800 – and I directly A/B-ed the HD800S and the HD800. In this case, we used his Benchmark DAC1 as amp and DAC. We both thought there was an increased perception of bass presence. The increase was marginal, however, and did not create the impression of listening to a pointedly different signature. To me – and perhaps to my friend – the impression was that of listening to refined signature. Because I generally prefer a forward bass presence, I lean toward the HD800S here (although I wouldn’t describe the HD800S as “bass forward”).
 
6k spike
The HD800S’s putative drop in lower-treble energy wasn’t immediately obvious in direct A/B testing against the HD800. Neither I nor my friend had much to comment on this point. The decrease in energy was perceptible across longer, non-A/B listening sessions. This is shown, I think, in the fact that I’m actually able to listen without fatigue to the HD800S for longer periods of time than the HD800. This conclusion is, of course, subjective as it’s grounded in my personal tolerances. But I tend to be a bit sensitive to a hot treble; the fact that I’m not particularly sensitive to the HD800S makes me think the treble has been successfully moderated. And because I generally prefer a relaxed treble presence, I lean toward the HD800S here (although, again, I wouldn’t describe the HD800S as having a “relaxed treble”).
 
HD800S vs HD800
I think the supposed improvements of the HD800S over the HD800 make for a marginally better headphone. I say “marginally” so as not to overstate the difference between these two headphones. The HD800S is still obviously the HD800. If you like the HD800, I would find it surprising that you don’t like the HD800S. On the other hand, if you don’t like the HD800, I wouldn’t find it surprising that you like HD800S – provided that your problems with the HD800’s signature aren’t profound.  
 
HD800S vs. LCD-2.2
While there are dynamic headphones that can recreate the tonality of planar bass, I have yet to find a dynamic headphone that can successfully recreates its timbre. At the same time, I’m not sure I’ve heard a planar headphone that successfully recreates the HD800S’s (or the HD800’s) treble timbre. It’s entirely possible that choosing between the two will engage one’s personal preferences. In my case, I prefer planar bass timbre to dynamic treble timbre. It seems in my experience that one might not be able to enjoy both in a single headphone. If this is the case, I will naturally tend to prefer planar to dynamic headphones. If this isn’t the case, one day I will perhaps find a headphone that is, ceteris paribus, perfectly suited to my taste.
 
As it happens, the HD800S isn’t perfectly suited to my taste. By that I mean it isn’t the perfect headphone for all of the music I like. (Of course, what headphone is?) It doesn’t excel with EDM-leaning electronic music, although it does excel with IDM-leaning electronic music. It’s possible that I could come to prefer the HD800S to the LCD-2.2 with respect to IDM. In that event, I would have a use for both headphones. It’s probable, however, that I would come to see the HD800S as simply an alternative to the LCD-2.2 with respect to IDM. The HD800S would allow me a better view, as it were, of the upper register of music I already enjoy with the LCD-2.2, albeit with a worse view of the lower register.
 
I would be remiss not to mention something about the respective comfort of these headphones. While I don’t find the LCD-2.2 to be an uncomfortable headphone, the HD800S is far and away more comfortable. My ears touch no part of the headphone; it weighs noticeably less; it better retains its position through calm head-bobbing.
 
Conclusion
I can say that I prefer the signature of the HD800S to the HD800. This is on account of the marginal increase in perceived bass and the marginal decrease in energy in the 6k region. If I were to pick one, I would certainly pick the HD800S. The HD800 has been, and remains, a headphone that is to me just barely bright and barely thin. I’ve been able to enjoy it in small doses, short listenings. The HD800S allowed me to listen for 2+ hour sessions without fatigue.
 
Considering the unparalleled imaging and the resolution of detail of the HD800S (and, for that matter, the HD800), the headphone strikes me as a very solid choice. Of course one should first listen to other potential endgame headphones. If one is an orthohead (like myself), it’s possible that the HD800S’s sound – like practically all other dynamic headphones – will not be finally satisfying. I couldn’t own the HD800S by itself; the LCD-2.2 would be a necessary accompaniment. At the same time, I could own the LCD-2.2 by itself.
 
Supplemental: Sample music
boerd, Dwaal
Reso, Ricochet
Scuba, Update
Sieren, Transients of Light
Submerse, Awake
Tsaik, Lemon
Pros: Clarity, detail, soundstage, imaging
Cons: A little bass shy, slightly recessed upper mids
I've only had these headphones for a few days, so these can be considered preliminary impressions.
 
Using Spotify Extreme with Equalify plugin -> Schiit Bifrost Multibit -> Violectric V200 -> HD800 S
 
Build quality seems as good as I would expect from Sennheiser for the price.  Comfort is very good, though the fit isn't quite as good as HD600.
 
I'd rather see them make the balanced cable optional if that would lower the price a bit.
 
Without EQ, I find the bass and upper mids both to be just a little lacking and prefer the sound I get from my HE-560.  
 
With EQ, the HD800 S sound is the best I have heard to date.  Brings together the best aspects of my HE-560 and HD600 while improving on soundstage and imaging.
 
Here are the EQ settings I'm using at the moment:
 
hd800seq.jpg
 
Bottom line for now: Top notch build, comfort, and sound.  Well worth the price IMO.
onsionsi
onsionsi
Dear Kon,
I would like to ask you about the program that you are using to make an EQ.
And is there a guide for how to make an EQ for headphone.
Thank you.
Kon Peki
Kon Peki
Hi @onsionsi
 
I am listening to music in Spotify Premium and use this program for EQ: http://www.equalify.me/
 
I don't have a guide.  I just started with the differences between the frequency response of these headphones:
 
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/SennheiserHD800SmeasurementB.pdf
 
Compared to a more ideal frequency response:
 
http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/headphone-measurements-explained-frequency-response-part-two#5QiQdbKh3BbuPPij.97
 
That was a starting point for the adjustments.  The rest was trial and error.
Pros: Detail, Clarity, Soundstage
Cons: Bass sometimes lacking, Price

 

Introduction:

I have had the chance to listen to the HD800 a few times at local Head-Fi meets. However, I have never got a good chance to listen to them, either the person who owned them didn’t have any music I could reference off of or the background noise was way to high at the meets.  However, in the time I did spend with the HD800 I found that I really liked it for some music, the HD800 had incredible clarity and soundstage.  When Todd posted the loaner program for the HD800S, I jumped at the chance to have an extended listen.  The HD800 has been on my short list for a while to get some solid head time to narrow down before my next upgrade.
 
Disclaimer:
 
I was sent the HD800S in exchange for my review by Todd The Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ).  I have no connection to TTVJ or Sennheiser other than receiving the HD800S for evaluation.  The HD800S went on to the next reviewer after my week.

About Me / My Listening Style / My Reviews:

I am not a critical listener; I don’t find enjoyment in listening to music and trying to listen for every last detail.  When I listen to music I generally am sitting in a comfy chair, or in bed, and relaxing and enjoying the music.  I appreciate detail and accurate reproduction but tend to lean towards a warmer more laid back sound.  In the past I have had a pair of DT880s which while very technically competent were just too bright and aggressive; I much prefer something like my ZMFs or the HD650. 

I don’t claim to be a golden ear and all the opinions I state in my reviews are just that.  I try to use songs that I have listened to on a number of setups in my reviews; both speaker and headphone based.  I know how I have heard a song in the past and how I think it should sound and that's what I base my opinions off of.


Hardware & Specifications:

 Packaging/accessories:

The HD800S come very nicely packaged.  There is an exterior retail box which covers a very nice box that holds the actual headphones.  The inner box is lined with a soft fabric and is cushioned to hold the headphones.  The HD800S comes with the boxes, headphones, a ¼ terminated cable, a balanced 4 pin cable, a manual, 8GB USB drive and a cleaning cloth.  There is a small bag to hold all of the accessories included.  The 8GB USB drive contains the manual and a print out of the measured response for your specific pair of headphones (added below under objective measurements)

If you want to see an unboxing here is a video that shows process from start to finish:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0AJaQ0TNuM


Technical Specifications (From Sennheiser website):

Impedance: 300 Ω

Frequency response: 4 - 51,000 Hz (-10 dB)

THD, total harmonic distortion 0.02 % (1 kHz 1 Vrms)

Cable length: 3m

Transducer principle: Dynamic Open

Weight w/o cable: 330 g

(http://en-us.sennheiser.com/high-resolution-headphones-3d-audio-hd-800-s)


Objective Measurements:

As I said above Sennheiser provides a copy of the headphone measurements from factory testing.  Note that the below graph only goes from 100 Hz to 12.5 kHz.  For full spectrum measurements see the link below.


For other objective measurements see the measurements from Innerfidelity:

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/SennheiserHD800SmeasurementB.pdf

Design & Build:

The HD800S looks almost exactly the same as the HD800 with the exception of the black colored frame.  They feel very solidly built and if given the proper care should last a very long time.  The frame and most of the headphone is plastic, given the choice I would take a plastic headphone at this weight class and build over a metal frame any day.  

The included cables are nice and have a satisfying click when you connect them to the headphones, however, my preference would be for something with a bit more flexibility and a slightly softer sleeving.  The cables are quite long also, which is nice and a bit cumbersome at the same time.  This is really a personal thing so make your own decision on a 3 meter cable. The cable does also not like to be coiled, if you try to roll it up it becomes a tangled mess.  Not an issue if you regularly keep your headphones out but if you put them away each time the cord will drive you nuts.

The HD800S like the HD800 is an open headphone.  There is basically zero isolation from outside noise.  Also, being open there is basically nothing keeping the music in the headphone, which means whatever you are listening to, everyone else in the room gets a listen also.  The isolation may be a point that would make me not end up getting a pair of these, I really like to zone out and listen; noises from outside sources can interfere with my listening experience easily.  I had to figure out what a noise was in a song at one point, turned out it was just my dog snoring away at my feet that was barely audible over the music.  This should be well known to anyone researching this headphone but is really something to think about depending on what environment you primarily listen in.

I found the HD800S very comfortable.  Occasionally I would need to adjust the pads on my head as I would get a pressure point but I found I could wear them for multiple hours without issue.  The pads are a bit stiff but with proper adjustment can be comfortable and don’t retain much, if any heat.  I would say that the DT800 remains the most comfortable headphone I’ve used to date.  My ZMFs with lambskin pads are very comfortable also and seemed plush compared to the HD800S when switching back and forth, however, the lambskin can get sweaty occasionally.  The opening for the ear is a nice size, I have large ears and my ears do not touch anything on the inside of the cup when listening.  

Overall you get what you would expect from flagship headphone.  Top tier construction and materials and good comfort.  The pads could be a bit softer but are comfortable for extended listening sessions.


How do they sound?

Todd of TTJV noted that he burned the HD800S in for around 100 hours before sending them out for review.   So they were brand new but had some time on them before my week long review.  

All music music used in this review was ripped from a CD in either ALAC or FLAC at 16/44.1, unless otherwise noted.  

Other gear used during this review:

[DAC] Parasound Zdac: http://www.parasound.com/vintage/zdac.php

[AMP 1] Parasound Zdac Internal Amp

[AMP 2] Schiit Lyr: http://schiit.com/products/lyr-2 (General Electric 6BZ7 tubes)

[Headphones] ZMF Master Model V1 (Fostex T50RP base): http://www.zmfheadphones.com/

[Source 1] Raspberry Pi running RuneAudio: http://www.head-fi.org/t/795895/a-70-bit-perfect-audio-player

[Source 2] Desktop PC via optical running Foobar/Wasapi.


Zdac Amp vs. Lyr 2:

The Innerfidelity review of the Zdac amplifier section notes that the Sennheiser HD600 was top of the list when voicing the Zdac during design. Based on this I thought the Zdac might be competent at driving the 300Ω HD800S as the HD600 is a slightly less sensitive headphone.  

Overall the Lyr is a bit smoother on the top end, the Zdac can easily drive the HD800S but I really prefer the sound of the Lyr.  On a song like Get Lucky from Daft Punk the fatter bottom end of the Lyr is noticeable also.  On songs with a lower recording level I was hitting the top end of the Zdac’s output, for very dynamic music it could be limiting.  I really prefer the Lyr so it was used for all the listening tests below.  I think the slightly rolled off treble pairs well with the bright HD800S and is something to think about when purchasing this headphone or another amp.  

Overall Sound Signature

The short version? Bass response is good but the HD800S will never be called bass heavy or even nearing that claim.  I think most will still consider the HD800S to be weighted towards the higher end of the frequency spectrum. Cymbals were the only instrument I had a issues with as they occasionally became very prominent. If you want to hear every flaw in your recordings and have a headphone to really evaluate gear with, I would put the HD800S at the top of your list.

When I put on the HD800S and queued up a song, my first thought was there was no bass, good mids and the upper frequencies are exaggerated.  This was helped somewhat when I moved the amplification duties to the Lyr, however, my overall thoughts were the same.  Then as I generally do for a review, I spent quite a while just listening to my entire music library on shuffle and letting a bit of brain burn in happen.  As I listened I noticed that with the exception of a few frequencies the HD800S is nicely balanced, the bass will never thump but the HD800S can dig very low.  When I say they can dig low, I am speaking to response and playing the notes not how impactful the bass is, the HD800S will never be a bass head set of cans.  

On the higher end of the spectrum, I think the HD800S will sound bright to most as it did to me in the beginning.  As I really concentrated on the highs I found they were never peaky or sibilant and never really took over the song.  The one exception to this is the cymbals on certain recordings, whatever frequency they reside at seems to come forward in a recording and be more prominent than it should to my ears.  Not all cymbals had this result, but it did show up a few times over my week long review.  

  

Frank Sinatra - Greatest Love Songs - Fly Me to The Moon (In other words)

The intro to this song has a great soundstage with the intro percussion off to the far left and the other percussion coming in later on the right channel.  Although some of my listening tests before this found the bass can be lacking I think on a song like this it is nicely balanced.  The horns later in the song are just a bit “shouty” but not enough to make me reach for the volume knob and turn it down.  This is a genre where the HD800S excels.  


Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Lonely Stranger

Really shining here, great soundstage and everything is nicely separated.  The one thing that really struck me as I listened to the HD800S though a number of songs is how two instruments can be playing from one side yet sound completely separated and not encroaching on the individual note generation of one another. Clapton’s voice is front and center and the guitar drums and percussion are playing individually on the left and right.  Not to say that every headphone cannot do this with this recording, but the definition and separation by the HD800 is really superior here.  I put my ZMFs on for a bit and listened back and forth.  Such a difference in the placement of everything and the soundstage.  The HD800S sounds much more open and “speaker like” than the ZMFs, which is to be expected given the open vs closed nature of the two headphones.  

Eric Clapton - Unplugged - Old Love

Same album and style of song and basically the same result as above.  However, I am noticing the cymbals are a bit more accentuated and coming forward a bit more than they should.  I went back to Lonely Stranger and the same cymbal is there but it isn’t as prominent.  I love the guitar and the rest of the song but those cymbals are just too prominent.  


Foo Fighters - St. Cecilia - Iron Rooster (24/192)

For reference you can download this free at 24/192 at: http://www.saintceciliaep.com/  A nice balance of the electric bass and acoustic guitar on the intro of the song.  However, once the electric guitar comes in I really have to turn it down as the upper registers are just to harsh.  I would listen to the acoustic sections all day long though.  

 

AC/DC - Back in Black - Shoot to Thrill

The HD800S is just out of its comfort zone here.  The drums are lacking any real kick and I really can turn it up and rock to this song.  The drum solo starting at 3:23 is all mids and sounds pretty dry and sterile.  I switched to the ZMFs to write this, toe tapping the whole time, this just isn’t what HD800S was made for I think.

 

Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - Hotel California

I know this is cliche as a review song but this was the first CD I ever bought and it has always been my song to reference for a new setup, I've heard it on everything from a Bowers & Wilkins 802 setup with Mcintosh amps to Apple earbuds; so I know it well and have heard it on a wide range of equipment.  

The guitar in the first 30 or so seconds is just fantastic, then comes the bass line and I am really let down.  Yes the full range is being hit but the HD800S is just to polite and it really could use some thump here, which it just cannot do.  Leaving that behind, the rest of the song is really fantastic, those that have seen this concert know there are a string of guitars lined up along the stage.  You can really get that sensation listening here.  Henley is front and center but I can pick out guitars on the far right, far left and on either side of center.  

I switched back to my ZMFs to make sure I wasn’t just putting that soundstage into my own head.  Ooooh that bassline is back, but really I can forgive HD800S for lacking on that end for the fantastic guitars and amazing soundstage.  The ZMFs give a nice distinct left and right side of the stage but the inbetween is muddy, I cannot clearly place anything on either side of where Henley's voice is positioned.  

Back to the HD800S (that beautiful bass line is gone) but the guitars are so good.  I revisited the intro one more time and the notes are there, the HD800S can dig deep, however, that first bassline has no impact, no weight to it, and I really think it should.  

Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - New York Minute

I listened to this song twice and afterwards realized I didn’t have any specifics to write as I just sat back and enjoyed it.  The HD800S is really in its element on a song like this.  The next song on the album, Pretty Maids All In A Row, really is the same way.  The low end is perfect for a song like these and the mids and highs just sing.  

 

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - All Blues

If the HD800S is out of its comfort zone playing AC/DC then with Miles Davis it is having fun and doing so with ease.  There are instruments all around your head and the horns sound nice and smooth, nothing is getting harsh.  The piano is off in a corner a bit and it feels like the drum set is wrapped around your head.  I don’t normally listen to this album much but sat and listened to it for awhile because it's just different on the HD800S, really enjoyable.

 

Steely Dan - Aja - Aja

I am able to turn this song up quite a bit without the treble becoming harsh and overall the balance is really nice.  The drums have a nice tone, however, the cymbals sound a bit off at times.  The speed and clarity during the drum solo is really nice, each hit is very clear.  

Steely Dan - Aja - Home At Last

The cymbals are nicely balanced here and aren’t sticking out to me as they were in Aja.  I can really sit back and enjoy this song.  If I were to be really picky I would like to see a touch of warmth in this song, its not cold or sterile but i've always heard this song a bit warmer than what I am hearing with the HD800S.  

 

Led Zeppelin - IV (Original CD Master/Pressing) - Stairway to Heaven

One thing I have noticed throughout this review is the HD800S will reveal any quality issues in the recordings you have.  On this song the hiss of the original recording is very noticeable during the first part of the song but becomes less noticeable as the song moves through each section and picks up volume.

The all acoustic first section of this song is really nice, the headphones are in there element. Move into the second section and everything is still as it should be.  Moving into the third section and the drums come in; I don’t think the drums have enough weight and the pickup in tempo just doesn’t have the same effect with the drums lacking.  The electric guitar at the beginning of the fourth section is right on and has my toe tapping, then the little drum riff at 6:20 comes and is totally bleh and ruins it.  I tried listening to this song off another master (Mothership and 1994 re-masters) and although slightly better it really still isn’t there for the drums and with the other parts of the song pushed up its not as pleasant to listen to as the original pressing.

Led Zeppelin - IV (Original CD Master/Pressing) - Going to California

Acoustic guitar mandolin and vocals, the HD800S says ahhhh and is back in its comfort zone.  This is pretty much how all the Zeppelin albums I listened to with the HD800S went, the acoustic/folk music was fantastic however, get to a more rock oriented song and either the bass guitar or drums really aren’t as they should be.  The one exception would be Whole Lotta Love where the rhythm is really supplied by the bass guitar and not drums and HD800S didn’t do to bad.  


Less Loss - Drums, Drums, Drums - Individual drum presentation -- drum set (24/96)

For reference, this track can be downloaded as a 24/96 WAV file for free at: http://www.lessloss.com/drums-drums-drums-p-203.html.   Listening to this track move through the drum set and the tone of everything is correct in my opinion.  The kick doesn’t really have any thump to it but it sounds very balanced with the rest of the set.  I chose to include this track in the review to see if the tone and response to each drum was off compared to one another and they sound balanced to me.  Some of the issues I am having with rock music may be the mastering and when given a flat response to a song that was possibly mastered to a expectation of a more V shaped typical consumer speaker/headphone the HD800S is sounding flat.  The alternative is that the HD800S is really revealing of poor mastering and compression of some albums.  


Engegardkvartetten - String Quartets: Haydn - Solberg - Grieg - Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5 - Finale - Presto (24/96)

For reference, the is track can be downloaded for free at: http://www.2l.no/hires/index.html?  This is just wonderful, the low end is perfect here and the high end of the violin notes are great to.  Even switching over to the Zdac amp doesn’t push the highs over the edge.  Very balanced and very enjoyable to listen to.  I guess that's why so many HD800 owners always have a lot of classical on their players at meets.

Conclusion:

If you read through all my listening notes you are likely catching on to the theme and what my conclusion will be.  What the HD800S does well, it does extremely well.  Give it acoustic guitar, jazz, or light rock and it will put a smile on your face.  The soundstage and clarity are fantastic and some of the best I have heard.

However, give it some rock and it really doesn’t produce.  The drivers can hit very low, but drums and heavy rhythm guitar just are not as they should be, there is no impact or weight to the bass.  The chief complaint you read on the HD800 (non S) is the treble and I think even with the re-tune in the HD800S treble still rears its head now and then.  The HD800S never really was sibilant or harsh to the point I needed to turn it way down or wanted to stop listening.  However, certain instruments, cymbals mostly, were too prominent is some songs and just sounded out of balance with the rest of the music.

I would love to have HD800S, but it could not be my only headphone.  My library of music contains way too much rock and some of my favorite songs just were not as they should be.  However, there are entire albums that I could put on and be totally happy with the HD800S.  As a reference headphone it is fantastic and really reveals recording deficiencies and the differences between equipment easily.  

At the time of this review the HD800S is going for $1700 and the used HD800 market is running around half that.  If I were looking to pick up a HD800 right now I would look long and hard at a used set of HD800 and the mods that can be done.  With a set of modded HD800 and $850 in my pocket I am left with a lot of options.  Either an amplifier/DAC upgrade or a ton of music to be purchased.  I haven’t had any real head time with a modded HD800 but would look long and hard at the differences before picking up a HD800S for twice the price.  


Other Reviews:

http://www.head-fi.org/products/sennheiser-hd-800-s

http://www.head-fi.org/t/805055/sennheiser-hd800s-loaner-program-ttvjaudio-com

Head-Fi HD800S thread:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/785577/sennheiser-hd800s-unveiled
 
 
Other Reviews From Me:
http://www.head-fi.org/users/365069/reviews
johnjen
johnjen
Oh yeah, on the Unplugged album, Walking Blues has some incredible bass with his foot stomping on the stage…
Just say'n is all.
 
JJ
LarryMagoo
LarryMagoo
I run my 800S with a Oppo HA-1 that has plenty of kick!   They are always talked about being bass shy, but IMO, when driven by a powerful amp and turned up they have plenty of bass.  If I want a touch more, I'll EQ them 4db @ 20Hz and they have all the thump they need ...for me!   Plus they still exhibit plenty of detail & nuance even EQ'ed...   I have almost 200 hours on my set and they continue to improve...!
LarryMagoo
LarryMagoo
One of the things that fails to get get mentioned is running them balanced.  My Oppo puts out 2X the power over the SE cable and I think that helps the bass with my Class A amp!...just my 2 cents
Pros: Balanced, Comfortable, Immersive, Detailed, End game headphone.
Cons: None
Decided to just scrap my initial and very brief comparison and replace it, by my overall not-too-technical impressions of the HD800S, after having used it for more than 6 months.
 
First my overall impression of the HD800 after having used it for two years:
 
I believe the HD800 is a great technical headphone, but without any mods, perfect recordings or careful and very expensive matching of gear, which only 5% of Head-Fi'ers can afford, it's sound signature is not going to be entirely balanced. Lacking bass and piercing highs are often mentioned by people who were not happy with their HD800. Some people will claim that through careful matching with gear, the sound signature can be flattened out and the headphones perfected. However, judging by all the impressions i've read and my own experiences, i've concluded that the headphone itself, does lean towards a more trebly presentation, which does mask the lows quite a bit. So, the headphone does have it's own sound signature, It's not all the dumb people that don't know how to run it properly.
 
Now for the HD800S:
 
First let me start by saying that when going from the HD800 to HD800S, you'll miss some "excitement" that was provided by the peaky treble of the HD800. This is noticeable in well recorded classical and orchestral music with a big group of performers. The HD800 might still have the edge here. It's the HD800 niche.

However, after having spent some time with the HD800S, you'll notice that when switching back to the HD800, that the sound takes on a slightly more metallic and thin tone with the treble more emphasized.
 
I even went as far as to leave them both for a while, and come back unbiased, with a fresh set of ears.
 
The conclusion was the same. The HD800S is the more neutral, more true to life, better balanced headphone.
 
I want to point out that the sound i'm hearing from the HD800S, is not the same as in my first quick comparison with the HD800, six months ago. The HD800S might have settled in, or i might have refined my taste through extended comparison with the HD800. Regardless, i feel that one must spend at least a 1-3 months with new gear, depending on use, to evaluate it properly.
 
The tweaks made to the HD800S are not minor and inconsequential in my opinion.
 
A few words from Sennheiser about the tweak:
 
"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."
 
In my experience, this is exactly what it does. WIth the HD800S i can enjoy the whole frequency range, without feeling that the emphasized treble is masking the bass. It's overall a better balanced headphone and much more enjoyable. 
 
It's what the HD800 should have been, when looking at it's predecessors, namely the HD600 and HD650. ​I have sold both my HD800 and HD650, as i feel the HD800S covers all needs by itself.
 
The HD800S provides an honest, and at the same time balanced sound signature, where everything can be heard and enjoyed equally.
 
5 stars. The HD800S is Sennheiser's true flagship headphone.
bosiemoncrieff
bosiemoncrieff
How would you compare the respective midranges? 
Pros: Tonally balance, more natural sounding, better timbre reproduction
Cons: Soundstage negatively affected, airiness reduced
Difference in terms of sound:
1) If you like the HD800 but somewhat struggling with the ringing treble, this will be perfect for you. Its still a bright sounding headphone, with very similar sound signature to the HD800, but with the peaks trimmed-off. The treble on the HD800S is smooth and very captivating.
2) Vocals sounded more natural, less chocked up. The HD800 sometimes gives me a feeling of the vocalist being strangled (exaggeration). Think it's something to do with the balance of high mids and high treble. They did a good job on the HD800 S.
3) Bass is less sterile than the HD800. More natural. The slight 'bloat' is perceivable, but gives more body to the bass.
4) For the soundstage, as many people worried, its slightly affected. The initial impression you will get is that the obviousness and airiness of the soundstage is reduced. The so-called 'infinite' soundstage width of the HD800 is reduced to some extend in exchange for some silky smooth treble.
5) Some vocals sounded unnaturally closer to my ears. Suspect that it might be due to the chemistry between a higher proportion high bass - low mids and a lower proportion high treble in relation to the overall frequency response curve.
 
Overall:
A more tonally balance and natural sounding HD800. Timbre reproduction is alot better as well. However, soundstage is negatively affected.
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Pros: Smoother more engaging sound experience
Cons: None!
HISTORY:
I tried the prior Sennheiser HD800 headphones previously and really wanted to love them but always found them too strident in the highs for my liking. The bass also seemed a bit lacking as well. While they were VERY comfortable to wear and they had excellent stereo separation/precision, and very good overall reference performance, in the end, they just were not that fun or engaging to listen too, a bit too cold and clinical sounding. Alas, I didn't end up keeping them.

My headphone of choice the last few years has been the Audeze LCD-3: great headphones with a smooth, laid back, slightly vocals/mids-forward type of sound yet not as an expansive sound stage as the Sennheisers, more of a closed in type of sound. Also, the LCD-3's are simply too heavy wearing on the head and after about an hour and a half, I would get some serious discomfort and have to take them off.

ENTER THE NEW HD800 S:
When Sennheiser announced that they improved upon the HD800 with the new HD800 S both in terms of a smoother treble and slightly increased bass response for a warmer overall sound, I preordered them.

Everything good about the HD800 has remained, including things like the great design and extreme long wearing comfort as well as the very open and expansive stereo separation and precision. Yet, the highs are not as strident, which means my ears get less listening fatigue. Definitely a smoother more lush sound, but do note, it's not a drastic transformation, more of a subtle tweak and tuning. Same thing on the bass response; the HD800 S does seem to have a bit better bass, but it's still a bit on the lean side. Make no mistake, these are in no way bass-head headphones. That said, with the right headphone amplifier and possibly a bit of EQ'ing in the bass region, these can get a very engaging bass going for you.

I had found that with the prior HD800, the sound was HIGHLY dependent on your headphone amplifier and this has not changed with the new HD800 S. With a good amp pairing, they can really be very engaging with smooth, tight sound throughout the entire range, including great clean bass (accurate and involving, but not overly accentuated). However, with a sub-standard headphone amp, they can certainly sound a bit less involving. Speaking of headphone amplifiers, you NEED a headphone amp to run these. Don't even think about purchasing these if you don't have one. Sure, you can get audio out of them without an amp, but it would not sound good and would really defeat the purpose of spending so much on these headphones in the first place.

I'm really glad these come stock with both a balanced 4-pin XLR cable in addition to a single ended cable because I only listen to headphones balanced (unless I'm on the go and just using my iPhone with some earbuds) and really recommend this. Why? You get up to 4 times the power and a lower noise floor running balanced, it makes a difference! You'll need a balanced headphone amp for this though. By the way, my current amp is the Schiit Moljnir 2 and I typically run tubes although this amp is capable of running solid state or tubes.

In terms of price, these are expensive headphones no doubt, but looking at some of the competition among near flagship headphones such as the Audeze LCD-4 ($3,500) and HiFi-Man HE1000 ($3,000), the HD800 S seems like a bargain given the price to performance ratio for sure.

One other difference is that this new version is matte Black in color instead of the Silver on the HD800. The Black looks very cool and stealthy and hopefully is a bit more durable because something I noticed with the Silver on the HD800 is that if you ding or nick it, it would actually be black color underneath and look marred quite easily. I think the matte Black is supposed to be a bit more durable.

CONCLUSION:
I can tell you these are definitely a worthy upgrade over the prior HD800 headphones. They are more fun to listen to, easier on the ears, more lush and warm sounding yet just as detailed and expansive in the sound stage. Just like with the HD800, I feel like I can locate each distinct instrument playing and the stereo separation (probably the best headphones for that I've heard) and overall comfort are really the strong points. Yet they are more fun and engaging to listen to and not as harsh on your ears over long listening sessions. You'll hear nuances in your music that you probably didn't even know were there before (frankly, to an AMAZING degree!). When I try to describe how these headphones sound I keep using the word clear, the clarity and detail of the sound is second to none yet it still manages to have a smoothness which is not at all shrill.

Kudos to Sennheiser, I think they have a winner here! This is one of the best headphones on the market at any price.
Mediahound
Mediahound
Sennheiser
Sennheiser
Mediahound
Pros: Sweet smooth sound
Cons: Expensive
First what you really want to know. Is the HD800S the HD800 with the hot peaky treble fixed? Yes. Sennheiser had the testing equipment and the engineers to take the “6 khz mod” and optimize it until they could really address the treble problems so well described by reviewers on Head-Fi and other sites. I am very sensitive to harsh sounding headphones and other gear, so I was on pins and needles waiting for the HD800S to arrive, wondering if I had blown two grand on a pair of headphones I would not enjoy listening to. After 50 hours or so of burn in, they smoothed out very nicely. I love listening to well recorded lossless and hi-res classical and jazz music, especially violin pieces. I absolutely love listening to these phones. Nuff said!
Sonic Defender
Sonic Defender
Ah, so for the sake of accuracy it has to be a no. I get that it is plausible they knew of the mod, but it is equally plausible the issue was solved in another manner altogether. Regardless, if there is doubt the reviewer should remove the reference to how the Sennheiser engineers achieved the treble fix as he has no idea about that, not directly anyway.
Thiry
Thiry
Expensive? I think cheap, compared to HE-1000, LCD-4
Aaaaa
Aaaaa
There was a 6kz problem. Anax mod tried to address this problem. Sennheiser also addressed this problem. Ergo Sennheiser optimized anax mod. QED.
Pros: look
Cons: soundstage, imaging, excitement of sounds
i was very excited to try the hd800s together with the Oppo HA-1 amp and dac. i thought that it is going to be a clear improvement over the legendary hd800. however...
 
look
i like the black matte look of this model more than the silver paint of the hd800. hopefully the quality is better as well: some of the used hd800 look ragged, the paint comes off.
 
comfort
i am one of those who find the hd800 uncomfortable. for some reason, the hd800s is more comfortable: at least it does not push too hard under my ears.
 
soundstage
one thing i really liked about the hd800 was it's very wide soundstage (although it is too wide, or in other words: unorganised). the new hd800s completely lost this feature. now the soundstage is much smaller on all the axis.
 
imaging
just as the soundstage, the imaging is way less powerful than on the hd800.
 
highs
my (and many others) problem with the hd800 was its overpowered highs. the new headphones are much more easy going with them. the highs are more in the background, more part of the whole. they are way less annoying, though they lost a lot in terms of excitement and detail.
 
mids
the same goes - though the difference here is not that big compared to the original hd800 - for the mids. they are more easy going, however, they lost a lot of excitement.
 
lows
this is probably the only point where i see some improvement over the hd800. the lows are more extended and detailed.
 
price
you have to pay 25 percent more for the new hd800s. for me, in terms of sound quality, it felt like a cheaper version of the hd800. the only extra over the hd800 that comes with the headphones is a balanced cable. go and try the Stax L700 with a Stax driver: for a similar price, you will get a way more superior sound quality.
pdameno66
pdameno66
I had the chance to try the Oppo with the HD800 and my conclusion was that the pairing was not the right one under many aspects: the HD800 sound was terribly dull and flat.
Now I own both the HD800 and HD800S and I must say that, with the right amp, the 800S are better in at least two parameters: bass impact and treble smoothness.
Best matches until now are:
HD800 with MicroZOTL 2
HD800S with BRYSTON BHA1
Imaging and micro detail still top notch with the older model, full bodied and more engaging sound with the new version.
pdameno66
pdameno66
Not an easy pick.......but I prefer the older version.
HPLobster
HPLobster
Great read and so true!
I A/B-ed the HD 800 and the HD 800 S today at a Hi-Fi Store for 4-5 hours on a Lehmann Linear SE and got to the EXACT SAME CONCLUSION. The owner was kind of confused that I liked the original HD 800 better for the exact same reasons you are describing: The HD 800 S has more bass but IMHO significantly less micro-details and less excitement in total, it sounds kind of like "mainstreamed" in comparison for better suit of multiple genres and not better than the original model at all. I honestly can not believe how on earth so many audiophiles are not hearing this and are claiming that the 800 S are "better".

 
BTW after finishing, I also got to listen the L500 and the L700 from STAX. While the 500 was meeeh and not grabbing me at all, the 700 showed me what all that Electrostats-enthusiasm is about...it blew the Sennheiser out of the water... however (combined with the driver) for 350% of the price...  
Pros: Sound quality, packaging, comfort, long listening pleasure, balanced cable
Cons: Price

Thiry
Thiry
How is the balanced cable? Or do you advice to buy an aftermarket one?
Thiry
Thiry
Not so expensive like the HE-1000 or LCD-4
Nikorasu
Nikorasu
How good are the HD 800S not just for music, but for movies and video games as well vs over the regular HD 800. I want to know because I'll be purchasing them in the next 2 weeks. My current DAC/AMP is the Sound Blaster X7. Also I'll be using them on my Casio Privia PX 160 digital piano.
Pros: Imaging, Inner Detail, Natural Decay and Instrumental Timbre, Comfort, Massive Soundstage, does all the cooking and cleaning
Cons: One more cable than most people need, a little pricey, hard to put down at the end of the evening when you really need to get some sleep
Since I received the HD800 S I have put in somewhere between 100 – 150 hours of listening mostly on two different amps (and a little on a 3rd). I also did a lot of comparisons with my up to now favorite current production headphone, its older brother the HD800.
 
Overall, I have found the HD800 S to be a worthy of consideration for anyone thinking of purchasing a TOTL headphone. It features a wide open sound stage, revealing with lots of inner detail perfectly extracted, very realistic rendering of timbre and decay for acoustic instruments and is very well extended at both ends of the spectrum. While an overall bright headphone, it doesn’t suffer from the peaky treble its older sibling—albeit at the expense of a little air and instrument separation and definition. It seems to handle any genre of music with aplomb and sounded good on both solid state and tubes. I think it is definitely the best dynamic headphone on the market and competitive, depending on your taste, with any current production headphone available.  Oh and it’s probably the most comfortably headphone I have ever used (which means the same as HD800).
 
When you buy it what do you get? A usb stick with your personal diffuse sound field graph, measured by Sennheiser on your pair that allegedly takes a whole bunch a time to produce. That’s certainly better than having to get Sennheiser to send you one like I had to with the HD800 (it took two tries for me). Probably one more cable than you really need (ie one single ended and one balanced) some promotional “blah blah what great purchase” material, the headphones (they are matte black), a flimsy outer box with pictures of the headphone on it and a much more sturdier box you will want to keep for storage or if you move or sell it.  You can look for pictures elsewhere.
 
I am one of those who tried the Anax mod and then undid it. So you can say I didn’t like it, but I do like the S one heck of a lot. I also should mention that a youth squandered on lots of rock ‘n roll at high volume probably means I am less sensitive to trebly phones than some.
 
What follows is a collection of impressions, which, in order to help people calibrate, are mostly in comparison to the HD800.
 
In general the differences between HD800 and the S aren't subtle, but they ain’t night and day. It's a lot like the differences between many TOTL headphones, the differences are slightly exaggerated when you try to express it writing. It is less subtle than trying to figure out the differences between two excellent amplifiers, you don’t need to switch back and forth a bunch of times to hear it, it is obvious from the start, but only after many hours and of listening was I able to begin to better understand the differences. In general we can say the Classic is brighter, the younger S is relatively warmer. Both are detail monsters with big sound stage. The classic maybe a little more so. But wait! There's more...
 
Rocking Out
I started by listening mostly to rock music, since that is where I found the classic HD800 sometimes problematic. In the beginning I mostly listened on my Lehman BCL because I can go back and forth between classic and youngster easily since it has two single-ended head-outs. I have also listened a little bit to my Icon Audio HP8 mkII amp with NOS Sylvania 6SN7 (70s) and a modern JJ gold pin ECC83, my current fave tubes so far.
 
I listened to a variety of stuff old and new. I will just pick two albums that pretty well exemplify what I discovered.
 
Listening to the hi-res, Stephen Wilson remix of Yes's Fragile, the classic HD800 sounds a little sibilant on Roundabout: "I'll SSSSpend the day your way". The youngster reveals no such emphasis. The album is musically amazing and but the recording quality, even after it's been Steven Wilsonified, is so-so. The youngster just sounds so much more right. The classic has a tendency to sound grainy on this recording. For example the South Side of the Sky sounds like the VU meters are way into the red when the sound it at a crescendo, ("seems like all eternity), well at least if you are listening to classic. But the young guy makes this sound, well, smoother—the grain is almost all gone.
 
However, the heightened treble of the original does give in some cases the sense of a little more air and details. As an example of this, I was listening to a hi-res version of David Gilmour's newest, Rattle that Lock. The song Dancing Right In Front of Me has a beautiful solo towards then end. Under the guitar are classic Floydish sounding background vocals. It sounds further down in the mix on the youngster and noticeably more up front on the classic. I have no idea which is more correct, but on this pristine recording the instrument definition, the air and the inner detail seems a little better on the classic. But, the slightly warmer tonality, and the way the cymbals splash seems more right somehow on the S.
 
In general, the youngster seems to be better suited to brightly recorded and poorly recorded material. I have heard Sennheiser is saying that the S is more extended at the bottom end the its classic older bro. On the rock tracks I played it was really hard to tell if this is indeed the case.
 
Dancing to Hip Hop and Electronica
So the next day, I tried some hip hop and electronica.
So who was bass king was harder to discern on the rock tracks from the day before,  but boy on hip hop it was so much easier. Kendrick Lamar's recent masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, just sounds overall better on the HD800 S. Other albums I played were the recent release by Colleen, Captain of None and Jamie XX, in color. I always liked the bass on the HD800, articulate and extended, but honestly it lacks a little in the slam department.
 
Kendrick Lamar's Wesley Theory, just hits harder and seems to go a little lower on the youngster. Maybe it is because the youngster sounds warmer than the classic all I can say is on Hip Hop, hands down I would grab the S every time.
 
On electronica it isn't as clear. For example on Colleen's I'm Kin. The sense of air around the singer’s voice is seductive and in general the track sounds slightly more open on the classic. But the thump of the bass is deeper and fatter on the youngster. Similarly on Jamie XX Gosh, the way the highly processed vocals jump out of the mix on the HD800 is totally cool. But again the track hits deeper and warmer in a good way on the youngster.
 
I think that the very nature of highly processed modern music makes it hard to say which headphone is more accurate. Unless you are the person who created it, I don't know how you can say for sure what it should sound like. On both headphones the presentation was excellent. On the more bassy tracks I would probably go for the youngster.
 
So far I would say things for me tilt slightly towards the youngster. On some tracks I felt like I could hear a little more deeply into the music with the classic, probably due to what some call the hotter treble energy. It was actually really nice on very well recorded music. But on older or less good recordings I would definitely give the nod to the youngster. Overall I prefer the tonality and bass response of the youngster over it's sometimes more revealing older brother. The soundstage on S was pretty much Sennheiser HD800 big. I like that, for some reason that I don’t get, some don’t. If you don’t, you won’t like the S.
 
Does it sound like a piano?
Next, I  wanted to try some classical stuff. There I wasn’t sure which way things will fall. First of all I think that up to now it was hard to think of a headphone that I like as much for chamber music, the SR 009 expensively amped maybe is equal.  I have an emotional bias towards the classic, it was hearing piano on the HD800 that originally seduced me. So I put the classic aside for day and only listened to the S to recalibrate my ears a little. For me this was going to be an important test: While acoustic albums often have almost as much studio wizardry and processing of the sound as their electric cousins, I have a much better idea what acoustic instruments are supposed to sound like, especially since I have guitars and a Steinway baby grand lying around the house.
 
Again I am just singling out a couple of recordings that exemplify what I think I heard.
Igor Levit's recent release in Hi-Res, Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski is not only amazing music but very well recorded. With this music I find the comparison a little more difficult. The classic gives a more lit up presentation, which makes certain nuances of the attack of hammer on the string really much easier to discern. That is really cool. There is an open airiness to the presentation with HD800 that is seductive. It also seems just a hair's breadth short of completely realistic. It comes closer to right than any headphone I have heard except maybe the Stax 009 for solo piano. But when I last ab'ed the star Staxen and HD800 side by side a year or so ago, they were really slight differences of the same general idea ( one a little more grainy at times the other more effortless at the high end but sometimes seemed to be a wee less authoritative at the low end). But both seemed just a teeny tiny bit tilted up which gave this really compelling you can hear every nuance thing that I like. Ok so how does the youngster sound?
 
The S sounds warmer, a little richer, it goes a little deeper when he hammers away on the left end of the ivories. The decay seems more like it sounds when I sit on the couch and someone plays the piano in the living room about 2 meters (6 feet) away. It is also little less clear and a little less airy than the classic. But on the classic there were a few places where Igor hit the tinkly keys on the right end of the piano pretty hard and the seeming air and clarity gave way to a slightly too sharp sound. It is lessened on the S for sure.  I actually ran over to the piano and started banging on it and then listened again to the recording. It’s not really the same piano and a different room etc. But it is always good to hear what the real thing sounds like. On richness, I gives it to the S. On detail, I gives it to the classic. On which is more natural? I thinks I gots to say the S, the timbre was just a little more right. But some will definitely like the classic better here. It is the more fun headphone on Igor Levit's recent recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. Did I just say the classic is the more fun headphone? No one ever says the HD800 is the more fun headphone on head-fi. But here I am saying it, on head-fi, in this particular case. On hip hop, funness is totally with the youngster, Does anyone who listens to classical piano care about funness? Maybe in this case. I dunno we are splitting hairs anyway, but that is a big part of the funness here at head-fi: Making a big deal out of small diffs.  
 
 
Dueling Violins
One thing I have discovered while living in France are all the small labels doing audiophile sound and dynamic performances of chamber music. The scholarship is sometimes astounding. Some of it is mixed on the HD800! I don't know how much of it makes it outside of France, I guess everyone has heard some of the Alpha label recordings. Checkout the stuff with Cafe Zimmermann doing Bach. But I digress. For this test I used a recent release by L'Aura Rilucente Handel & Haym: Trio Sonatas in hi-res. Haym is quite a discovery, apparently a contemporary/collaborator of Handel. His trio sonata in D was a revelation, with quite a thrilling Allegro for the finale.
 
On both headphones you can clearly make out the two lead violins furiously trading licks back and forth, with cello harp and organ underneath. The sense of air around the instruments is absolutely to die for with the HD800 and the instrument separation is fantastic. Every sound seems to suspended perfectly in space. This headphone was made for music like this. And yet, every now and again the lead violin is just a wee bit too strident or sharp. I suspect with my no longer young ears, this bothers me less than some.
 
The HD800 S on the other hand really nails the timbre and the decay of the instruments which sound a hair more natural. It seems to be just enough less strident on the higher registers than its more experienced sibling. This comes at the expense of air. The difference between the two is small, but very definitely there. It isn't like I have to go back and forth ten times and listen really closely to discern a difference.
 
At this point I decided to switch amps. I leave the Lehmann with its two SE outputs and go over to the more laborious to compare Icon Audio HP8 MK ii with its single output. The HD800 shines on this amp, more holographic sound and less strident than the Lehmann. It is why I bought it. Everything is right with the world once again. Until I switch over to the S, and once again I feel like the timbre is slightly more correct. The S doesn't sound as different on the tubes as its bro, but I still like it better on tubes. And while I have again given up a bit of air and definition around the instruments, in addition to the timbre and decay, I get a blacker background. It's a tradeoff. If you are happy with your HD800 as is, I would say you need to audition rather than buy an S on the blind.
 
A Trip to Symphony Hall
So next I try symphony. I am a bit of a freak about Mahler's ninth, especially the second movement. So for this, I chose Kubelik with Symphonieorchester des beyerischen Rundfunks from 1967.  I have heard it something like a hundred times and I decided to go for 101. Going back and forth between phones, this time sticking with the tubular goodness of the Icon, it is all becoming pretty clear now.
 
Tympani go a wee bit lower and hit a wee bit harder on the S. Experience counts though and in this case older bro has it for instrument separation & definition, especially on the complex crescendos. And again on the S the timbre sounds more natural, and less strident. The warmer sound generally works here—it sounds more natural— but it is still a pretty bright headphone. Just a little less so. And gosh those tympani thump soooooo satisfyingly.
 
Jazzing Things Up
Going back to the days with those black spinning things that got worse sounding every time they spun around, Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis was one of my reference points for evaluating a new component.  Using the 2013 high-res  stereo version and the Icon, I soldier on. One of the cool things about doing an eval is I get to lose myself in music for a bunch of hours and then a bunch more.
Here I start with the S. I don’t think I have ever heard opening track, So What, ever sound better on headphones (maybe on a SR007 mk1 on BHSEE, but that was a looong while ago).  The opening bass line hits deep and yet articulate, you hear all the inner detail and sub tones.  No mud being slung today. Then just to see if your system is up to snuff Miles starts slow then gently squeals. The new kid, HD800 S, just walks up to the line of too sharp but nails it. It seems perfect. Live Trumpet will be sharp and a bit piercing, and the S renders it pretty close to perfect. No detail is lost, the timbre is spot on, but I ain’t wincing.  
 
By contrast, the HD800 is just a little less convincing. Unlike on some tracks where it is hard to tell a difference, here the bass doesn’t go quite as low and doesn’t hit quite as hard. Still there is this really nice inner detail and if I hadn’t just heard the S, I would say the bass is pretty close to perfect. But when Miles Horn comes in, that is where the real differences are laid bare. On one hand I feel like I hear a little more of the breathiness of the Trumpet, but with it comes a kind of sibilant misbehavior, when Miles suddenly careens into the upper register of the instrument.  Later in the album, on places where Miles is more retrained (e.g. the opening bars of Freddie the Freeloader), the slightly extra bit of air gives a hair better sense of definition and detail, but still a little bit at the expense of tonality compared to younger bro.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Grateful Dead
I saved this for last because it is my personal fetish and some of you will just wanna skip to the conclusion, if anyone has even bothered to read this self-indulgent trope-fest to this point. In my sig I mention that aural bliss is Dark Star from Philadelphia in ’72. Dark Star is a psychedelic opus that represents everything that is great and sometimes bad about the tripped out improvisational style of the Grateful Dead. There are a couple of simple verses, the chords are few and easy to play, it becomes a holy modal stomping ground for group weirdness and no two version are alike, some are really, really not alike.
 
When I listen to this track from Dick’s Pick 36, I simply forget about which headphone is better. No matter which phone I use, the gear melts away and I am lost once again in Jerry-land. And at the end of the day that is what makes this hobby ( and both of these headphones) great.
 
In conclusion:
HD800 more air, sometimes better instrument separation/definition. HD800 S sometimes goes a little lower and slams a bit more, warmer, blacker background, less prone to piercing highs, even more natural timbre and decay. S better with rock, hip hop, poor recordings and maybe electronica. Classical music, it's harder to say— In general it’s the S but on some recordings the air and instrument separation of the classic is quite beguiling. Jazz is similar to chamber music, but because of the prominence of bass and drums I think the S takes the show. Both seem to scale with amplification, both like my tube amp best. (I have three amps around here to try). I suspect the S is less amp dependent, but someone with more different amps would be better off answering this.  It MIGHT mean that total cost of ownership is less, in that you might find with the S a more modest amp will be enough than is required for the classic. More research will be required and head-fi being what it is, in a six months we will likely know.  The S is certainly the best Dynamic driver headphone available today. It seems to work with every genre of music I threw at it, improving on an already great set of cans.
In this suddenly crazy world of Head-fi summit phone pricing, the HD800 S seems like it is priced well. If you sell the cable you don’t need you are only a couple of hundred bones above the classic, which is starting to look damn cheap. If I were really pressed for funds and could stretch, now is the time to get a used HD800. Otherwise try an S.
 
I predict that the S will be loved by the professional reviewer class. They mostly wanted to love the classic, but couldn’t even though they respect it. With the S they get their perfect lover and their perfect spouse in a single package.
 
Lots of people been asking about this compared to the HEK. I think no one can actually tell you which is better, they sound so different. Personally, I didn't like the more relaxed sound of the HEK as much as the HD800, I feel it gave up just a little too much detail to get there.  I did a side by side with the HD800 this summer. It may be more of an all-rounder than the HD800 but now the S changes that equation.I also don't like how heavy it is, my neck gets sore. And finally, I don't have the same confidence in the longevity of the Hifimann, yet. And even more finally, $3000 is even crazier money. Too crazy for me with all the other stuff I could buy, given the fact that I find it a side grade at best. If you heard the HEK, liked it and were thinking of getting it, I would recommend auditioning the HD800S. The slightly warmer more natural  sound then the classic while retaining most of the precision, makes me think a few of the people tilting to the HEK might tilt back.
 
Don’t ask me about LCDs, I don’t like’em and I could explain why ( heavy, quality control issues, sound), but who cares. For me, if it isn’t the S, I would go for a SR009 or if, as rumored, the new SR007s are really better than the early mkiis then they are worth a look. The new Stax SR L700 seems like it is worth a shot. But they all will come to even crazier money and you are locked into idiosyncratic amps.
 
I would recommend that anyone who has the HD800 try to demo before upgrading blindly. I can imagine some people not wanting to lose the little extra bit of airiness and precise definition between instruments for the more restrained charms of younger bro. For people who were scared away by the hot treble of the classic, now it’s time to give the new baby a look. As always on head-fi YMMV.
Nikorasu
Nikorasu
Is there a loss in sound stage over the HD 800? And if so is it super noticeable? I really can't decide on the HD 800 vs 800S. I know the HD 800S has better bass and the treble spike is gone but I don't want to sacrifice the sound stage if the difference is huge. I also don't want to take a chance with the treble spike if I get the regular HD 800. Please help me. How good are the HD 800S not just for music, but for movies and video games as well vs over the regular HD 800. I want to know because I'll be purchasing them in the next 2 weeks. My current DAC/AMP is the Sound Blaster X7. Also I'll be using them on my Casio Privia PX 160 digital piano. Alot of reviews say the HD 800S is better though. It has a lower frequency for better bass, the treble spike has also been fixed. The HD 800S should bring out the other frequencies more as well, in fact here's a quote from Sennheiser "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”. So if that's the case and what sennheiser says is true, why not just call it a day and say the HD 800S is better? There should be no loss in soundstage over the HD 800 right? But what is gained is a warmer overall sound with improved bass and no treble spike. Besides if the new HD 800S sounds better in music then the regular HD 800, shouldn't it be good at everything else as well?
jollybob
jollybob
Thanks for your great review! One thing I wish you'd done is contrast these with the Audeze LCD headphones. I know these aren't your cup of tea - but beyond the lack of comfort you find with the LCDs, it would be great to hear your sonic perspectives on the comparison. Thanks again!
HPLobster
HPLobster
Very enjoyable read and a masterful review, thank you!
I actually listened to the 800 and 800S for some hours in comparison earlier today before reading this and ultimately decided to go with the "Classics" because of the exact same reasons you are mentioning here. Your description/comparison and the wording is SPOT....ON....
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