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Sennheiser HD800 S Impressions Thread (read first post for summary)

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by shabta, Jan 19, 2016.
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  1. Biscuitboy
    What are your thoughts on comfort compared to the stock Sennheiser pads?
  2. Amberlamps
    They are much more comfortable compared to the stock sennheiser pads. They give a better seal and are very comfortable to wear, the stock pads in my opinion are crap compared to the misodiko's. Plus they are easily cleaned.

    In my honest opinion, these should of been the stock pads, instead of those fabric things.
    111MilesToGo likes this.
  3. Inoculator
    I originally planned for the HD 800s to be my first TOTL headphone, but ended up picking up some used Oxidized Padauk Auteurs from a kind member on here, and fell in love with them and the ZMF sound. I recently found myself still wondering about the HD 800s, so picked some up...and was initially very underwhelmed. I decided to stick it out though and spend some time with the 800s, and then recently spent the better part of a day just listening to random tracks and A-B testing the two cans.

    I have seen a lot of impressions of the Auteur that seem to imply they make the HD 800s redundant, so I figured it would be worthwhile to really analyze noticeable differences between these two titans. Rather than spend a ton of time about each individual can, I try to focus on comparisons between the two, first as the Autuer compared to the HD 800s, then the HD 800s compared to the Autuer. These are just some stream of thought impressions during my A-B listening sessions, I am certainly still a novice at talking about this stuff so please excuse less than precise language at times.

    Chain for testing:

    • Schiit Eitr/Mimby -> Pro-ject Pre Box RS -> Cavalli Liquid Platinum with NOS early 60’s Telefunkens (Balanced) -> HD 800s with Norne Draug 3/ZMF Auteur with custom quad braid canare OCC cable

    ZMF Auteur vs HD 800s:
    • Soundstage can’t come close to competing, but it isn’t trying to. The Auteur is intimate, while the 800s is like being in a concert hall. The air to the soundstage of the 800s does certainly bring something to the presentation that is missed when swapping back and forth between cans, but isn’t particularly noticeable if you are not switching back and forth every 5 minutes. Can certainly notice some slight congestion with the Auteurs when swapping though
    • Mids significantly more forward but are organic, lush and captivating.
    • Bass is much slower and less clean/precise, but is more present and visceral.
    • Sub-bass/bass impact from the Auteur is a whole different league. Cliché track, but in “Hotel California” at 3:51 the drum fill sounds polite and accurately represented on HD 800s, but with the Auteur you feel like you are Don Henly himself pounding out that fill.
    • Pretty comparable instrument separation despite the soundstage difference.
    • Longer decay/echo. Feels slow and drippy by comparison. It is really noticeable during “The End of Love” by Florence and the Machine, it feels like the difference of the notes ringing out in a perfect sound damped concert hall (800s) vs a converted barn/church venue (Autuer).
    • Dynamics is the linchpin of the Auteur over the 800s. It has the ability to really convey the emotion in large dynamic shifts in a passage of music. 800s is certainly accurate, the Auteur is emotive. During the big swell in Mariah Carey “Hero” 3:04…oh my holy, practically brought to tears with the Auteur.
    • Pop music especially feels more alive and fun from the Auteur. I am not a pophead by any means but the Auteur just makes it so darn fun to listen to. One of the first tracks I fired up with the 800s that led to my initial disappointment was “Want you in my Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen. It was like all the life had been sucked out of the track compared to my numerous listens with the Auteur since that album released.
    HD 800s vs ZMF Auteur:
    • Very fast, precise, clean bass…but bass quantity/impact is severely disappointing
    • Mids a bit thin and lifeless, and at times feel kind of artificial to me. I am a mids guy and this feels like the potential deal-breaker for me. The trade-off is an aggressive treble that doesn’t fatigue or overstay its welcome.
    • Great center of head feel to the soundstage. Whole head feels engulfed, it is much less apparent what is left channel and right channel. Really creates a speaker-like listening experience.
    • The treble can sometimes feel uneven, I notice a not natural sort of vibrato effect during sustained notes. Kind of like I am hearing the resonator work but not being able to keep up. I realize this is probably not what is actually happening, but I noticed it pop up a few times.
    • HD 800s wins for cymbals and other auxiliary percussion. I could listen to the high hat on “Hotel California” all day. Shimmery decay on cymbals is scary accurate.
    • Detail retrieval is pretty comparable, but the presentation can be different. Looking again at “End of Love”, at 1:05 Florence takes a breath that is well represented by the Auteur, but 800s makes it feel like Florence is right there with you, like you can feel the wind of the strong inhale.
    • Live music is bonkers on these. If you listen to a bunch of live music, and are finding you have less and less time to go brave the crowds, these are the way to go.
    • I find myself missing the intimacy of the Auteur. The downside of the soundstage is some time it feels like every part of the track drops too far away. Like all the background musicians are just politely jamming in the background.
    Closing Thoughts:

    I bought these cans hoping I would find a clear winner and sell the loser, but unfortunately, it did not end up being that simple. Both are absolutely phenomenal at what they are trying to accomplish, but they really have different purposes/missions. The Auteur is intimate, organic, and visceral while remaining incredibly detailed and not overemphasizing any one particular area. The 800s is a detail/soundstage freak of nature that demands your attention when listening and really puts you in a space outside your headphones. Both of them have a quality that you have a hard time imagining living without once you hear it. That being said, I think if you already own the 800s and are looking to add a ZMF you may want to consider one of Zach’s offerings that has a more significantly different sound signature. I personally am going to get my hands on an Aeolus and see what I think!

    Bonus Impression-Comfort:

    It is no secret that the ZMF suspension system is magic, the Auteurs are supremely comfortable despite their weight. I do sometimes still get some fatigue from leather pads/weight though, so I thought the 800s would immediately win me over with being significantly lighter and having fabric pads (After all I love the HD 600/650 comfort)...it was not that simple though. I hated the fit of the 800s initially, loose clamp, odd-shaped pads, I really did not get it. After getting used to them though they are very comfortable, I would just ding them for the headband having some hot spots for me and I still don’t really approve of the lack of seal on the odd-shaped pads. They are just different comfort philosophies. The ZMF is like a plush, luxurious leather recliner and the 800s is a sleek, modern, minimalist chair. Both comfortable in their own ways, just comes down to situation and user preference.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
    dbturbo2, Deftone, billerb1 and 5 others like this.
  4. Whazzzup
    Up here it’s all preferences, budget, goals or objectives. While 800s isn’t perfect it will muddy the ground and take a winner away. Course la900 bass is so unique yet tight, the only compliment I have found.
  5. Biscuitboy
    First off, those Auteurs are BEAUTIFUL. Thank you for the in depth comparison. I currently have the 800s and I was looking for my next pair of headphones and the Auteurs were the next pair I've been eyeing. I love the resolution and soundstage of the 800s, but am missing some intimacy in certain songs.I think this comparison sealed the deal. Do you think it's worth waiting for a cheaper wood to pop up and pick them up new, or snag a pair of them used. Also, which pads are you using on them?
    Inoculator likes this.
  6. Hifiearspeakers
    Fantastic write up!!!
    Inoculator likes this.
  7. Inoculator
    Thanks! I feel so fortunate to have gotten my hands on these Auteurs. They were an early prototype and Zach was kind enough to rebuild them to current specs for me. I don't think you can go wrong buying used or new when it comes to ZMF products, Zach sticks by his craftsmanship, so just comes down to what wood you are looking for and your price range.

    I am using the perforated Auteur pads. I did find the Eikon pads really enjoyable, but they sucked even more air out of the soundstage and dialed back the detail. While I didn't put them on for this comparison, I am sure the soundstage/detail differences would have been more pronounced. I also like the bigger opening in the Auteur pads. While they are not spacious like the HD 800s, they do leave your ear mostly untouched.
    Biscuitboy likes this.
  8. dmdm
    I love the 800 and the S, and if I'm looking for intimate I throw on my Nightowls. ZMF might be something down the road once my wife has had time to forget that I've just bought the 800 and S.
  9. x7007
  10. exdmd
    The only headphone on the market that is tempting me away from my HD800S is the $3500 RAAL-requisite SR1a. They can be driven with a single Schiit Vidar. There is a thread here on HF and another one at Torq's site.

    Torq's experience with trying different amps with the SR1a's is documented in the thread at his site. He feels a single Vidar gets you 90% of the way there and is a great entry amp, two Vidars in mono-block configuration is a step up. Two Vidars is still inexpensive compared to other amps being recommended for the SR1a's.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
    Inoculator and Biscuitboy like this.
  11. manzano804
  12. dmdm
  13. Rchandra
    Anybodys hd800S feel like it's lacking just a tiny bit on the left channel? I'm using these with my sony wm1a Walkman.. Sometimes it feels like the vocals (not symbols) lack a bit for me on the left channel
  14. Deftone
    I actually hear vocals slightly to the left in most songs, sometimes in the center and sometimes on the right. I hear this on all headphones and iems, I don't know if it's my ears or the actual mix. It can be annoying though I'd just prefer the vocals to always be center.
  15. gefski

    Depends, of course, on the mix of any particular piece of music. Easy check of channel balance and phase, by ear, with this:
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
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