HD800 vs RS1i .... Battle of 'bright cans'
Jul 1, 2015 at 9:50 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1


Jun 28, 2014
Good day community,
I was recently asked by a fellow Head-Fi'er to do some comparative listening between RS1i I acquired from him, and my HD800. He may be interested in the latter but does not want quote 'Grados on steroids' ...totally understandable. Both cans have the repuation of being bright. We both listen to a lot of classical / jazz. I figured every good question deserve a well researched answer, so I asked him for a list of pieces he'd like compared, and went to work.
He strongly suggested I should post this to the community, and I have agreed. The thought is potentially this can be helpful for others. I claim absolutely no advanced sound training or golden ears, just some concentration and a pile of listening, and I suppose a musician's ear.
A note on equipment: we both use a Bryston BHA-1 amp, which removed one huge variable. We do however use different DAC's, though both of respectable quality (I have a Resonessence Concero, he uses a Bryston BDA-1 I believe). I used the stock cable for HD800 connected single ended, and RS1i are also stock. Also, my HD800 serial number is 29xxx.
Bruckner - Symphony No.4 - Scherzo
Recording: Berlin Philharmonic & Gunter Wand (1998)
There is no doubt that there's more treble with the RS1i. That does affect the sound especially when much of the orchestra is playing, and the trumpets do get a touch harsh, though you can always tell the difference between the horns and the trumpets. The difference in strings was more subtle in terms of timbre. Not surprisingly, by far the biggest difference is imaging. The HD800 have far more depth, the stage is wider; consequently that pays huge dividends with the amount of air around each instrument and the realism of the experience. With the Grados, the cellos were a bit too close to center, the HD800 had them properly on the right, and there was a bit more distance between horns and trumpets, makes a difference. You've been to several orchestral performances....you know how each instrument group sort of...hits you different physically? You get that a bit with HD800, you do not with RS1i (much more obvious it's a recording), and for me that's the deal breaker. The sound was also more defined (especially with pizzicato) and more natural with the Sennheisers, as the sum of all the aspects mentioned above. Add to this that the Grados sounded a bit grainy with the very complex sound of the full orchestra, the HD800 handled it magnificently. Dynamics were comparable, though because of the increased treble, it was harder to relax with the Grados during crescendos.
No one would be surprised that HD800 handles classical better than Grados, and the overall difference isn't subtle.
Beethoven - Symphony No.7 Movements 3/4
Recording: Vienna Philharmonic with Sir Simon Rattle (2003)
I want to start by saying this is my favorite Beethoven Symphony, so excellent choice. I saw it on Opening Night in Boston a few years ago with Itzhak Perlman conducting; great experience.
Well, more of the same really. The increased brightness of the Grados is more annoying with this one, likely because these two movements are so punchy and aggressive at times.  The whole thing (violins especially) was more lifeless, thin sounding. To focus my point on the naturalness of the sound from the Bruckner scherzo, you get much more of a sense of room acoustics with the HD800 with these two movements, which really helps the dynamic contrast that's so important with Beethoven. Both did brass well in terms of timbre; you can still tell the difference between instruments. Again here, the sound was again a tad grainy with RS1i.
The Grados are just generally much less refined sounding for classical. I'd pick up the HD800's 10 times out of 10, it's not even mood specific. It's the difference between hearing the music (and cringing a little) and feeling it.
Patricia Barber - Companion
Touch of Trash
Not surprisingly in my mind, the RS1i makes a comeback. Its grittier, more aggressive nature translates into more fun, the music is more visceral. The HD800 makes everything sound much softer, more velvet-like, and her voice is bit more recessed. If you want to relax I'd pick up the HD800, but if you really wanted to experience the tune I'd go RS1i. My impression is that the Grados suit the character of this tune better. Differences in imaging are effectively negligible to my ear; the Grados do not leave you wanting here.
Like JT
RS1i falls a tad short here. In the beginning, biggest differences are the piano and left side percussion; the Grados make the piano sound much less round and full (possibly due to brightness and/or imaging), and the percussion (sounds like a bongo maybe) just doesn't have nearly the same thump. With the HD800 the drum was very appealing and had much better impact, conversely with the Grados I had to make more of a point to notice it. The drum kit on the right side is decent with both. With the guitar that comes in the middle; I'm indifferent, could go either way. Towards the end when you have the drum kit on the left, guitar center sort of in the back, and some kind of treble percussion on the left, the HD800 is favourable here only because it place the drum kit more to the right making the guitar easier to listen to; RS1i moves it closer to center, almost in the same space, and it makes the guitar harder to appreciate.
Really, it's fairly close. I prefer HD800's higher resolution and percussion texture/impact, but if I had the RS1i on already I wouldn't necessarily switch.
Black Magic Woman
It's a toss up. In sections where you have just guitar with drums, with RS1i the guitar is a lot less recessed than with HD800, the latter more prominently sounding drums. The shakers sound better with the Sennheisers, Grados wash them out a little but that's a minor issue. With her voice both are decent, only subtle differences, both very satisfying.
Once again, The HD800 sound more refined overall (especially with percussion)  but really, it'd be down to mood. If you really want that guitar present though, I'd lean RS1i, and I think I would lean that way most times.... I mean, it is Black Magic Woman, after all.
Madeleine Peyroux - Don't Pick a Fight With a Poet
I had never heard this track and I really quite like it! Thanks for that...
Biggest gap is the way the vocals are treated; HD800 gives them a lot more air, more fullness. RS1i makes them sound thinner , more concentrated to a point, and it's less satisfying to my ear. This next point took my by surprise a bit, but both treat the guitar about the same, and it's just fine.  The increased resolution of HD800 makes the drums sound crisper, but I had to listen for awhile to make the remark. I likely wouldn't have noticed had I not just come from the other.
Because of the vocal quality, have to give it to HD800.
Jennifer Warnes- Ballad of the Runaway Horse
HD800 do in fact sound a bit warmer based on vocals, and the leading edge of the double bass notes are more clearly defined (you hear the snap of the string), it's nicer to listen too. That said RS1i is still a nice experience, though a tad brighter, still pleasant.
......Closing Comments:
There is no doubt, overall HD800 is more neutral (I won't say warmer) than the Grados. They sound most more real in the sense of detail, clarity (resolution) and definitely imaging with classical, though the net effect really depends on specific genres / tracks. With this list though? HD800 is my clear preference overall.
Grados on steroids? No, absolutely not. If the Grados are $900 CAD, and they are, the Sennheisers (which if you're patient can be acquired new for $1200 - $1300 CAD), worth every penny if this list is representative of most of your listening. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts when you do finally audition a pair.... and in your case, how they compare to HE-560.
Hope this was helpful!

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