Sennheiser HD800 Headphones HD 800 Audiophile Headphone
The HD800 is designed, constructed and assembled by hand in Wennebostel, Germany.
"Let me cut to the chase: This could be it. The Sennheiser HD800 could be it. Early impressions tell me I'm listening to one of the best headphones I've ever heard. Longer term listening will eventually tell the real story, but the first impressions are so strong, so positive--that I feel like I'm trying to mince declarative words just out of a sense of protocol, a sense of reasonableness--because one couldn't possibly make that kind of decision so soon, could he? So let me say this: I have no doubt in my mind that the Sennheiser HD 800 is, beyond any shadow of a doubt (even this early on) one of the finest dynamic headphones I've ever heard. And I am quite confident in saying that Sennheiser's new HD800 is (yes, again, even this early on) one of the best headphones I've heard of any type, period."
- New reference class in wired headphones
- Open, circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones
- Natural hearing experience - realistic and natural sound field with minimal resonance
- Biggest transducers ever used in headphones up to today - new innovative dynamic transducer design
- Uncovered earcups for acoustic and stylistic reasons
- Ear pads made of special high-quality Japanese Alcantara
- Metal headband with inner damping element
- Specially tuned symmetrical, impedance matching cable with low capacitance
- Special high precision headphone connectors
- 2 year warranty
HD800 Headphones Specifications:
- Impedance @ 1kHz: 300
- Characteristic sound pressure level (at 1KHz): 102 dB (1 Vrms)
- THD+N: 0.02 % (1kHz/1Vrms)
- Contact Pressure: Approx. 3.4 N (+/- 0.3 N)
- Ear Coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 260 grams without cable
- Cable: Symmetrical, shielded, Kevlar strengthened oxygen-free copper (OFC), straight Y
- Cord Length: 9.8 ft (3 meters)
- Detachable cables
- Transducer principle: Dynamic, Open
- HD800 Frequency Response: 6-51,000 Hz (-10 dB), 13-44,100 Hz (-3 dB)
- Frequency Characteristic of the HD 800: Diffuse field equalized
Summary of Customer Ratings & Reviews
Well before we get into the review I would like to introduce my setup. I used the HD800 with a Woo Audio 6 and with a Creek OBH-11 amp. The sourse was a Bel Canto DAC 2 coupled to a Sony Es changer. Cables used were transparent audios interlink series. The HD800 were tested with the stock cables. Music ranged from Sarah Brightman to Allan Taylor (blues), David Roth (jazz and blues) and Ray Charles. This review is broken up into three parts. Build quality, sound and tweaks. 1. The HD800 comes well packaged. It looks lovely in its black satin background. The headphone looks like it was built from space age materials. Attentio to detail is very good. The cables are very good as well - they are supple, easy to manipulate and add no sound whatsoever by cable motion. The Sound - Most of this was done with the Woo Audio 6. The first things that struck me was how clean and extended the sound was. The highs are airy, well defined and extend very well. It is exactly the difference between an SACD and a CD. The SACD just seems to have more presence in the highs and this is exactly what the HD800 does but this time I was using a regular CD not a SACD. Everything is well separated without instruments getting mixed together. It sounds heavenly with wind instruments specially since the added air and extension creates an image of the sound floating in the air. The mids - they are very clean but if I had to find one fault with this headphone this would be it. The mids are clean and sounds in this region do not get jumbled together but I feel that they have two downsides. They are a little too lean and they don't sound as natural as the Grado GS1000i. I attribute this to the space age materials that Sennheiser is using. Every material has a natural frequency to it. Metal tends to ring when hit (think a bell), polypropelene tends to have a thick sound like a bass line while paper has a very dead sound. When the driver moves, this natural freq of whatever material is used gets super imposed on whatever the driver is reproducing and hence different drivers have different characters like bright, boring, fat bass etc. In the HD800's case I feel that the mids are getting this character from the driver though I could be wrong. However while they are beautiful they are not as open and as direct as the GS1000i. On the GS1000i there are times when you feel as if the singer is singing directly to you. On the HD800 it feels like you are listening to the singer through a very good speaker. The bass - OMG - this headphone extends forever. The GS1000i cannot hold a candle to the HD800 here. I am not talking about sub woofer type bass. This is clean bass, with superb extension devoid of any added boominess. You can hear irtually any bass instrument cleanly without any blurring of instruments. What sounds as a blob on the GS1000i is portrayed cleanly extended with all the layers to the bass note on the HD800. This is by far the best bass that I have heard on a headphone. Clean clean clean with the highest resolution that I have heard on a headphone. Soundstage- While good and better than any other headphone that I have tested there are two points to note. 1. It is not as wide as people make it sound. Yes it does have a soundstage but it will not even come close to a $100 pair of speakers let alone speakers costing much more. You do get a small soundstage with some feel to it. 2. The singers sound like small nymphs singing to you. This could be a feature of the angled drivers. Other headphones that fire directly into the ear give an impression of a large voice but the Sennheiser portrays it as little people singing to you. It does not mean it does not sound good but it sounds like you have a small band of people singing to you (in terms of physical size). This was very apparent on Ray Charles Genius CD where there are a couple of singers moving about and a few instruments playing on either side. Tweaks - Remove the cloth pads that protect the drivers from dust. This makes the sound more open. When selecting an amp avoid bright equipment. Go with an amp that is lush and musical otherwise the headphone can get a little too lean (not bright but just too lean which can irritate you). The amp must be musical in the mids specially otherwise as said earlier the inherent sound of the HD800's mid will tend to make it sound a little sterile or boring and unnatural. Keep these two things in mind and you have a wonderful headphone. How does this compare to the other headphones out there? GS1000i - Does not extend at either frequency extreme as the HD800 and totally misses out on the low notes extension compared to the HD800. However the GS1000i has a very good tonal texture and a very beautiful and according to me natural mid range that the HD800 struggles with. Yes, the GS1000i is not able to separate the highs and lows the way the HD800 does but whatever it does (except the bass) it makes it sound very natural. The GS1000i does not have much of a soundstage but one should not expect that in a headphone. AKG 702 - this is the poor mans HD800. Too me the HD800 is the Mustang Cobra while the AKG702 is a plain jane mustang. I feel that the AKG702 comes closest to explaining what the HD800 is all about. The AKG extends at both extremes as well and has a slightly lean mid range. The HD800 of course adds tons of air to the sound, extends a lot more cleanly and basically outperforms the AKG everywhere but as said before the AKG reminds me a lot of the HD800's very basic character i.e. lean mid and good extension at the extremes. Comfort - the HD800 is very comfortable thought the GS1000i is better as it is lighter. Also on my ears - the HD800's cups are a little too big. Hence if I listen to them while I am sleeping the earcups of the HD800 tend to fall towards the back of my ear. This affects the sound and I have to place my hands behind my head to ensure that the headphones remain in place. The AKG702 is even worse here. Only the GS1000i stays more or less in place. Of course if you have large ears or are sitting and listening this doesnt apply. Ending it - if you want a headphone that will dazzle you with its extreme extension, airy sound and incredibly clean bass (once again not sub woofer - bass head will find it too lean) go for the HD800. Do not buy it because you want a large soundstage - yes it will be larger than the other headphones but it is far from even a $100 speaker. I personally use the GS1000i's a lot more as I find them having a very natural voice and most of my CD's are vocal based. Also my night listening habits prevent me from using the HD800's as they slip downwards. If you can afford it and want what either headphone offers (HD800 or GS1000i) go get them. Otherwise get the AKG702 and a VERY powerful and musical amp. Pros: Superb extension at both extremes but specially in the bass region. No headphone I know off can touch it here. Very airy sound. Cons: Lean mid range, slightly unnatural mid range compared to the GS1000i.
Let me first write about my experience with Headphone Solutions. I purchased HD800s from them. They were very friendly over the phone, the headphones arrived lightning fast and well packed. It was truly a great experience. I have nothing but praise for them... Back to HD800s now. Let me start with the verdict, so that we have the review a bit upside down and people, who are curious about it, can get a nice relief and leave if they want to: To my ears, HD800s have such a nice sound that they rank among the top headphones that I had the chance of owning and/or listening to. In fact, right now, I prefer HD800s over others... Of course, this does not say much, if I don't tell my musical preferences or my previous experiences with different sets of headphones. I usually listen to classical rock, jazz, blues, some pop, but I also have different tracks from hard rock, classical and folk genre in my bit perfect player. I love to hear details. They simply make me feel like I am "there". When I close my eyes, I like to be able to visualize what is going on. I pretty much tested all the current production headphones and most of the famous discontinued ones, as far as dynamic headphones go, so I have quite a bit of experience. HD800s are probably the most comfortable headphones among the others that I had or listened to. The cups won't make you sweat like leather cups commonly used with high-priced closed headphones. The band can be arranged very nicely to different lengths without modifying the orientation of the cups and believe me, having a big head makes this part important :) and the headphone itself sits very nicely without the feel of some weight pulling down on your head. Now the sound: The details are amazing. There is really a huge soundstage, the vocals are smooth, and instrument separation is great without affecting the full sound itself. The highs have great extension without being sibilant. My only complaint was that I felt they needed more lows, not in quality, but in quantity. Please also note that I am using past tense here. Let me go into a bit more details then: The problem with Sennheisers is that in order for them to really shine, they need a nice amp to drive them. I was using my HD800s with my DAC1 Pre when I first got them. This DAC has a built-in amp and is one of the nicest DACs you can find at that price range and also some above. The internal amp is compared to with other amps costing in the range of $300-$400. Not a very high quality one, but also not too shabby... In fact, Sennheiser demonstrated these headphones using a DAC1 Pre without any external amps. With this setup, the lows were kind of missing a bit and the presentation did not have much authority. Don't get me wrong with this audio freak talk :) and don't think it sounds bad, not at all, it does sound beautifully, but you feel like it needs a bit more push... However, after building my amp and listening to it for the first time, I was really shocked at the huge difference, although the caps still needed time for a burn-in. I literally had tears in my eyes. It was such an audio bliss. A similarly audio freak friend of mine was very eager to make the comparison and he was amazed too... Bad news, the amp cost me around $2000. Good news, HD800 already sounds better than all the current production headphones even when driven with a cheaper setup... If you are a headphile/audiophile then you already know how we mention things. "Huge" has a different meaning among audiophiles. It simply means that you can realize the difference very quickly :). But is the difference really "huge" with the real definition from Webster? Well, to me it is, if you know what I mean :) Things got only better after the caps burnt in. Now, while listening to HD800s, I just close my eyes and I am watching the performer on the stage. This experience is well worth the cost and to be frank with you, I could not get the same feeling from any other current production dynamic headphones. Highly recommended. Pros: The most comfortable headphones I tried. Great sound. Amazing detail. Huge soundstage. They open up nicely with the increasing quality of the components in the signal chain. Cons: Last pro can be a con as well. You may want a nice amp to drive it in order to make it show its true potential.
Introduction I've been a headphone audiophile for the better part of 5 years now, searching for the elusive holy grail of headphone systems. During that time I've had the pleasure of auditioning some of the best headphones from every significant manufacturer, including the AKG K701 and K1000, Beyerdynamic T1, Stax Omega 2, Sennheiser HD600, HD650 and HE60, Grado RS-1, PS-1 and GS-1000, Audio-Technica W5000, W11JPN, and L3000, Ultrasone Edition 9, Sony SA5000 and others. Some of these I've even owned myself for periods of time. Audio nirvana is a very personal thing. What sounds magical to me and sends chills down my spine might well sound artificial and grating to another. That is the nature of this hobby. With almost every top-tier headphone system I have tried, something has been lacking. Sometimes this "something" could be quantifiable - overly harsh treble response, lack of bass impact, flat or unrealistic soundstaging, and so forth - but often it could not be. The headphone simply didn't move me, didn't connect with me emotionally throughout the gamut of diverse musical genres I listen to. The Sennheiser HD800 is one of the very few headphones that have done so. I have very eclectic musical tastes, ranging from psytrance and electronica, to Celtic and new age, metal, pop, progressive rock, modern jazz, and even some blues and easy listening. Sting and The Corrs are frequently queued right alongside Tool and Shpongle on my playlist, for example. Any headphone that aspires to a long term place in my rig, therefore, needs to be first and foremost a capable all-rounder. One-trick ponies often have a big initial "wow" effect: "The bass on these is incredible!", "I've never heard so much detail before!", and so forth. This kind of focused excellence is often found in high end headphones whose manufacturers are known for having a "house sound" that appeal to a niche market. Grados, for instance, tend to excel at rock. Their unique combination of lush, tonally rich midrange and fast, well-textured bass impact make them ideally suited to the genre. But you won't often find a classical music lover relying on the RS-1 as their primary headphone. Grado have addressed this in their own way, with the GS-1000 being the soundstageous departure from their typical house sound, but such an approach doesn't appeal to me personally. I'm not a headphone collector, and I don't want to be reaching for a different headphone every time a new song starts on my playlist. Is a headphone that excels at everything and has no glaring weaknesses an unrealistic expectation? Not any longer. Build quality and comfort An aspect of high end headphone listening that's often overlooked is comfort and build quality. To me, this area is every bit as important as how a headphone sounds. What good is it to find a headphone that sounds sublime, only to be prevented from losing yourself in it because your ears are being rubbed raw? The HD800, thankfully, doesn't suffer from this shortcoming. In fact, it's one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. It might lack the luxuriance of leather padding found on some high end Ultrasones, or even the Denon imitation pleather, but it makes up for that with huge earcups that do not touch the ears at all. And despite the size of the headphone, the HD800 is remarkably lightweight, which contributes to the feeling of the headphones simply disappearing when one puts them on. The stock headphone cable is also one of the very few that I've actually liked. It seems very resistant to kinking, is not microphonic at all, and is lightweight enough not to cause cable drag. A cable that gets out of the way and doesn't remind you it's there is a good cable. Listening Impressions It's far too easy to simply forget about critical listening with the HD800 on, and just enjoy the music. However for the sake of this review I'll bust out the reference tracks and see how the headphone performs when put under the microscope. The HD800 was burned in for at least 100hrs prior to critical listening, and run through the following system: Foobar configured with WASAPI for bit-perfect output, playing FLAC - HeadAmp Pico DAC - Jaycar 80W pure class A discrete amplifier - HD800 with stock cable. First up is Shpongle's Dorset Perception, a complex electronica passage that excels at testing a headphone's imaging abilities. Throughout the intro of this track the HD800 keeps up with the increasingly chaotic soundstage, isolating each musical image in its own space and minimising "bleed" between them. I was able to take in the whole picture, as well as isolate and listen to each individual instrument in the soundfield without much effort on my part. Moving on to Porcupine Tree's Heartattack In A Layby, a test of ambiance and midrange presence. There's a deep reverberation present in this track that underlies the vocal, and the challenge for a headphone is to present this reverberation in such a way that it emphasises the vocal rather than swamps it. Again the HD800 performs admirably, Steven Wilson's voice rendered faithfully amidst the layers of electric guitar. More importantly, the overall emotional message of the track is communicated, creating an eerie feeling of transposition out of oneself and into the story of the music. Alright, let's try something with some grit. Onto Metallica's Enter Sandman, from their celebrated Black album. An unhealthy few decibels of increased volume later and I was out of my chair yelling "Eeeeexit light! Eeeeenter night!", much to the annoyance of my neighbours I'm sure. The power metal of Hammerfall was likewise rendered with sufficient crash-of-rhinos impetus to get me head banging. Sure, the Denons and Grados can rock harder, let that never be questioned. But the HD800 CAN rock, and it can rock well. Lastly, Loreena McKennitt's The Highwayman to test the HD800's capabilities with female vocals. Her sweet, effortless voice is rendered with such conviction on these headphones that this proved another moment of eerie transposition for me. The palpability of Loreena's voice, combined with the wide, holographic soundstage of the HD800's transport me to the lonely road in the moonlight, up to the old inn door... linked arm in arm with Loreena as she sings me the story of the Highwayman. I do not feel the HD800 lacked anything in conveying the atmosphere of this track. Conclusion The HD800 is one of the best all-rounder high-end headphones I've heard. To my listening experience, it has 3 main competitors: the Stax Omega 2, the Sennheiser HE60, and the bass-heavy AKG K1000. All of them perform similarly (or even slightly better) than the HD800, but all cost considerably more, only one of them is still in production (the Omega 2), and they all demand very specialised systems to drive them. This is not to say the HD800 isn't a picky beast to drive as well, because it certainly is. Sennheiser designed them to be as open a window into the music as possible, and that goal is what they have achieved. If anything is lacking in your connected equipment, you're going to hear it. Regardless, anyone who (like me) values a headphone which excels at many things rather than one, and has the ability to connect the listener to the emotional message of their music definitely owes it to themselves to try the HD800. I doubt you will be disappointed. Pros: Excellent all-rounder Large, 3-dimensional soundstage Very comfortable Balanced across the frequency spectrum Highly resolving of detail and texture Cons: Requires quality amplification to truly sing Will readily reveal any shortcomings in source or recording
With great anticipation I received my Sennheiser HD800 at the end of May at CanJam 2009 in LA, when they were first released. I wanted them so badly after pre-ordering them almost 5 months earlier that I convinced myself that I could afford to fly out to CanJam to pick them up. At CanJam I had the end of the stock cable cut off and a 4-pin XLR balanced plug installed, and the stock plug with it's 10" of cable had a 4-pin XLR jack installed, so the HD800 could be used with balanced amplifier or single ended amplifiers. So, with them in hand I got to spend time listening through some of the best amplifiers available, including the Eddie Current Zana Deux SE and Balancing Act, RSA B-52, TTVJ 307A, and Woo Audio WA22 and WA5 - and I was impressed. First impressions don't always match last impressions, but now that I have lived with the HD800 for 6 months my love for them has not diminished. When I returned from LA with the HD800 my main amplifier was a maxed Woo WA6 with pseudo dual power supply and Sophia Princess 274b/RCA 6DE7 tubes, plus I had a Single Power Square Wave XL balanced amp and an ALO Amphora coming in as a close second. I had a new Eddie Current Zana Deux Transformer amp on order from March that was due to ship in a month, but it was so new that there was only a "mock-up" available at CanJam but not one to listen to. I also have a large assortment of less expensive amplifiers, which kept me happy with the HD800 until the ZDT arrived. Many people were concerned that the HD800 would be difficult to drive, but even a $100 portable amp like an iBasso T3 can do the job if you were forced to use it - what is more important is system and amplifier synergy, where sound signatures and capabilities combine to give more than the sum of their parts. Still, they don't need a $5000 - $6000 amplifier like the Stax O2 Mk1 electrostatics do in order to get close to their best performance. I thought the HD800 were quite good via my maxed Woo WA6 and it compared well to my Stax O2 Mk1 via a maxed Woo GES amp, but they got even better with my Eddie Current ZDT amp. Only with the $5000 Woo WES (or RSA A-10 or Headamp Blue Hawaii SE) do the O2 Mk1 pass up the HD800 decisively. Yet, here I am typing this as I listen to the HD800 via a $399 HiFiMan EF5 tube hybrid (PS Audio DAC) and I am still enjoying Bob James "Dancing on the Water" contentedly. For most of my listening I used a Marantz CD5001 CD player or Macbook Pro with lossless music files as transport, feeding a digital coaxial signal into an Apogee mini-DAC or PS Audio Digital Link III DAC. The DAC's analog output was then fed into an amplifier, including the Eddie Current ZDT, maxed WA6, balanced Square Wave XL, ALO Amphora, HiFiMan EF2, HiFiMan EF5, SAC KH1000, balanced Cavalli EHHA, Meier 3MOVE, Headamp Pico, RSA P-51 and a few others. As a point of reference I compared the HD800 to my Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K1000 on the ZDT, as well as my Stax Omega 2 Mk1 and Sennheiser HE60 electrostatic headphones driven by a maxed Woo GES amplifier. Four months of my listening was done with the stock HD800 cable, and two months has been with the Warren Audio "Double-Helix" (not to be confused with Double-Helix cables). The first thing that strikes you when listening to the HD800 is that they have outstanding imaging and soundstage, unlike most of my other headphones. My only headphone that can match the soundstage of the HD800 are a pair of discontinued AKG K1000, which are more like mini-speakers strapped onto your hear that can rotated outward like wings. One would imagine that the K1000 when fully opened would give a speaker-like soundstage, with both speakers sitting ahead of the ears and open in their back so that they can offer some natural cross-feed. In reality I get a less cohesive center image when fully opened, and a big drop in deep bass which hurts the sense of ambience that you would normally hear in a recording from a big concert hall. For me the K1000 wings must be rotated inward to the "half-way out" or 1/3 out position to get a more cohesive soundstage, and at that point the HD800 seem to have little difficulty matching them. The next thing you notice is how vivid and clear the midrange sounds, almost calling it lush with my ZDT amp, with vocals sounding as if they were in the room with you. Then there is the exquisite detail available, where they practically reach out and grab you by the throat and say, "HEY, look at me, I'm so detailed you just gotta hear this, LISTEN!" That would put them in the slightly aggressive category, along with having good PRaT. I used to think my Grado RS-1 could approach the detail of my electrostatic headphones, but the HD800 take it another step closer. When I compared the HD800 to my well-loved Sennheiser HD600 with new pads and an ApureSound V3 cable, or re-cabled woodied Denon D2000, the HD600 and D2000 sound veiled and muffled in comparison. The HD800's upper mids are close to having a little bit of the "Stax Lambda etch", but it is not as severe as in the Lambda Signature (or SR-404), and closer to the milder version heard in the SR-404 LE (Limited Edition) or Lambda normal bias. When I compared my discontinued Sennheiser HE60 electrostatic headphones to the HD600 they were like brothers, but the HD800 is the one who goes to the gym and works out every day while the HE60 is the one who sits in a chair listening to headphones all day instead of becoming strong. The HE60's sound is more etherial and airy, and the HD800 is more grounded in space and time. The HD800 takes what is good about the HE60 (that keeps people coming back for more at $2000 a pop for a used pair), and adds a foundation of bass impact that the HE60 lack. While the HD800 bass may not have as much impact as the HD600 or HD650 on the same amp, the bass is not lacking and it is much more precise and detailed than it's predecessors. In addition, my HD600, O2 Mk1 and HE60 tend to roll off in the bass by 30Hz, and the HD800 still play strong to 20Hz. The Denon still beat that in the sense that you can play a loud 16 Hz note until you get queazy, and the HD800 wont do that. The HD800 treble is strong, but not excessively so. I would call the HD800 more of a neutral headphone and not bright (or warm), but there can be a slight treble tilt to the overall sound signature with some amps that makes some people compare them to the AKG K701. I could see where people might say that based on the description people give of the HD800, until you actually have them side by side and then there is no comparison. The HD800 on a $189 HiFiMan EF2 tube hybrid amp with the stock chinese tubes can sound a little bright, but swapping out the tubes with some nice Raytheon or Mullard 6AK5 tubes makes the sound much more balanced, although very slightly underpowered. I had the same issue with a loaner Grahm Slee Solo SRG in June, but had no way to rectify that without modding the amp. Thus, the HD800 benefit from a warm sounding and powerful amp, and the ZDT, WA6, EHHA or EF5 will do them better justice than an Apogee mini-DAC headphone out, ALO Amphora or Grahm Slee Solo SRG. While on the subject of brightness (or not), I don't find the HD800 to exacerbate sibilance, but if it is there in the recording the HD800 will not hide it from you. If you switch to the HD800 after listening to a slightly dark or treble-recessed headphone like the Denon D2000 or O2 Mk1, you may feel the HD800 are bright; but in fact after listening to many different headphones and then switching to the Denon or the O2 Mk1, you will usually be convinced that it is those which are dark and not the HD800 that are bright. When I want to listen to a sibilant recording I can simply swap back to the stock HD800 cable, change my Sylvania gold pin 5751 tube to a darker smoother sounding JAN GE black plate 5751, or drop the PS Audio up-sampling rate from 192 Khz to 96 Khz - and any of those changes will reduce the issue that stems from the recording (many Diana Krall recordings for example). I think the timbre and tone with the HD800 is very good, and I have no complaints. I also find the degree of transparency in the HD800 to be above average, and the drivers tend to disappear so that you don't feel like there are these tiny little speakers sitting right next to your ears. I can easily get involved in the musical performance without always thinking about what kind of headphone or speaker I am listening to. They just get out of the way. When I first got the HD800 and wrote about them on head-fi forums after CanJam, I said that I was mesmerized by the HD800 performance and could not stop listening. I said they were the first dynamic headphone to give my electrostatics a run for their money, and that they were the best dynamic headphone that I have owned next to my Westone ES3X 3-driver custom IEM. They still are. Only recently has a new non-electrostatic full-size headphone come to the market that I appreciate almost as much as the HD800, and that is the HiFiMan HE-5 orthodynamic (aka planar magnetic). Still, like the Stax O2 Mk1 the HE-5 cannot come close to the imaging and soundstage of the HD800 and the HE-5 remain in second place among my full-size dynamic headphones when listening to the music that I enjoy the most. I have been without my Woo GES electrostatic amp for 3 weeks after selling it to buy a more powerful Woo WES amp for my Stax O2 Mk1, and in that time I have been able to appreciate my HD800 even more, almost to the point of wondering why I am spending so much on electrostatic headphones - but that's what we do in that quest for that last 10%, isn't it? Pros: Soundstage and Imaging. Transparency and detail. Comfort. Cons: High Price. Slight upper midrange etch with the wrong amp setup. Requires amp that drives 300 ohms well.
I have been doing extensive testing of the HD800 for a local Hi-Fi shop, using a Rotel RCD/RA-1520 cd player/integrated amp combo. During the testing period, I have grown accustomed to the sound of the HD800 and I have evaluated their strong points and where, in my view, they fall short. Interestingly, some of their flaws are associated to what makes them "amazing". From a physical point of view, the headphones are very comfortable and, while looking "artificial" in pictures, they have a very well finished look when looking at them in person. The idea of an "handmade good" also extends to the cable. The HD800 are very comfortable, more so than the previous HD600 or HD650, the circumaural fit is tight, without the same uncomfortable pressure that, just like many other people, I felt with the HD650, HD600 and HD580. I carried out the listening test using orchestral works (my favourite being Mahler's 5th symphony), Jazz, Rock albumslike Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits. The headphone offers a sense of effortlessness, texture and bass depth that's amazing. The bass is extremely textured, to the point of having made me forget to have been listening to a dynamic headphone. That the HD800 have faster transients than HD600 or HD650 is not a surprise, but the thense of texture manages to be even more apparent than through electrostatics like Stax SR-404 and SR-007. In fact, I think that the HD800 are more prone of impress with such texturizing abilities, while the Stax Omega 2 are lower profile in doing so. Dynamic headphones like Sony CD3000, HD600/HD650, K340, all of which I have owned, simply don't compare to the sense of speed given by the HD800's bass rendition. The bass manages also to be very authoritative, at least with the Rotel demo unit. The reason for such sense of effortlessness is due to an upper bass raise that's very easy to notice. It can add up a lot as far in regards of musicality with certain songs (jazz, rock and especially classical, which sounds very dynamic and huge), or spoil the spirit of other tracks, especially when based on vocals: the HD800 have a tendency to make vocals a bit fat, dark and recessed, due to relative lower volume of the upper mids compared to the lower part of the range. Treble is very fast and helps the exceptional imaging, but also has excessive prominence in the middle treble. It's often sharp, sibilant. It's also very detailed, but vocals in poorly recorded tracks are spoiled with "lightning bolts" of sibilance and sharpness, requiring well thought system matching. In association to such tendency of the treble, there can occur a hiss sound or raspyness around certain notes, especially with strings in the orchestra, but also sometimes with vocals, less so with brass. Such problem was less noticeable with non orchestral music. The pair I tested was new, initially needing run in. The sibilance calms down a bit with more usage but is still a defining character of the headphone, requiring careful system matching. Treble, regardless of the prominence, shows no grain even with the transistor-based amp used, and in this regard has very good fluidity. The tonality of the HD800 is "colored" but effortless. The upper bass-based musicality helps making everything sound cohesive and the overall tone is very toe tapping, thanks to it and the treble rendition, but I feel that the tone of the HD800 is "super imposed" over the original spirit of the tracks. These headphones are like an active performer that will be inspired with some music, underlining what it was meant to express, and not care for other works. The headphones left me with the impression of interpreting better classical music, and in general music made with real instruments, than electronic music. Other than the exceptional transient response, the headphones are equally deserving spatial qualities: the HD800 have impressive spaciousness, the large open soundstage being paired with extremely precise instrument positioning, and very big images. I much prefer this approach to the Omega 2 with its "focused but small" sound; the other dynamics I mentioned earlier can't compare to to the HD800's abilities to portray space... not having heard the AKG K1000, this is first time I felt like I could stay with headphones like this forever, from a soundstaging point of view, not really desiring speakers anymore to really enjoy spatial information. Dynamics, with the Rotel integrated driving the HD800, are very powerful and lively, adding up to the overall sense of effortlessness. I plan to match the HD800 with my Museatex Bitstream, a DAC designed to produce an analogue-like tone since I bet that they would match very well, thanks to the source's warmth and vocal rendition, associated to some softness in the treble, and it's easy to understand why certain people dig the HD800 with vinyl. Pros: -Exceptional speed, texturing. -Large, precise soundstage with big images. -Powerful dynamics -Capable of remarking the message of certain music (can be also a weakness) Cons: -Sibilance, and other associated treble issues -Certain music won't sound "in tune" with the HD800's signature, thus not making for a great all-arounder.
I have had the HD800 since it came out. With all the initial hype, I was disappointed. Out of the box, it seemed to lack body and musicality. Yes, it did have the soundstage and details that was unequaled but it seemed too clinical and dry. But rather than giving up, I sold the corda symphony for a what I felt would better complement the headphone. I went tube and got the woo 6 (with upgrades) to give it the extra warmth and bass punch I felt i needed. With the woo 6 and what I felt was some much needed burn in (which brought out the bass), It has really taken on the characters that it initially lacked. The woo 6 and hd800 combo is magical. I still admit it does not have the bass impact that I sometimes wish but I'm so lost in the midrange bloom, the soundstage like I'm in a cathedral hall with details that explode like the fourth of july, I forget and forgive the little flaws of these headphones. Just listen to some folk (acoustic driven) songs and the sounds of the guitar strings being picked just explode all over like fire works in 3D holographic sounds that is to die for. Pros: soundstage detail midrange bloom Cons: bass is there but sometimes in the other room
These are by far the most valuable headphones I've had the pleasure of listening to and I am glad to say that they are most certainly the best. They don't really do any one thing particularly well and rather, they seem to present everything JUST as it should be. The soundstage is the most noticeably awesome thing; its wide and deep and EXTREMELY '3D', while still being realistic. Everything sounds open and airy. When going back to the HD650's, the soundstage seems compressed in comparison, as if everything is being jammed down a tube to your ears. This brings me to the instrument separation and detail. It is absolutely top-notch. Every instrument is fully realized and put into its own little space in the soundstage which appears to surround your head. You could easily pick an instrument and focus on it to listen to just that, a phenomenon which is quite rare in headphones. The treble and mids are also near perfect. When comparing them to the HD650, they HD800s are much brighter and sparklier. Gone is the 'veil'. The HD800s are crystal clear. The mids have a sweet tone which is almost Grado-like and the bass is punchy, tight, present but not overpoweringly so. The bass is not one of the strongest points but it is by no means bad. It feels like, while other headphones have to strain to present the music, the HD800's effortlessly present it to the listener. No longer are you listening to headphones, but the music itself. What more can I say? They are the closest thing to perfection I've ever heard. And to top it all off, they're one of the most comfortable too. They're like pillows on your head. And they look damn fine too. Pros: Soundstage is perfect Instrument Separation and detail are top-notch Mids and treble are fantastic Cons:
The Sennheiser HD800. I had the chance to audition these $1000 pounds beauties for an hour and it was the most amazing experience ever. The source was a $500-$700 pounds Naim SACD player which was connected to a Naim headphone amplifier (Unknown price, assuming to be around $300-$500 pounds) The tracks I used were CD's from the store. Michael Jackson, some Katie Melua, and some Jimi Hendrix are a few to name. Note: This is the first time I've heard a headphone over $500 pounds, so I don't have that much experience. As I picked them up and placed them on my head, the first thing I realized was the comfort. They were incredibly comfortable on my head. The Japanese Alcantara pads were soft and luxury, and there wasn't that much pressure compared to the HD600. I wear thick framed glasses and I can positively say, there weren't any comfort issues. The headband was rather unique. Sennheiser used this "Sandwich" design, and I assumed the headband moved freely (No notches or such), but it actually had notches on the top of the headband with lines in the metal telling you how much you've set it by. The cable was not microphonic at all, which was nice. The body of the headphone are made of a special polymer called Leona. At first when seeing the headphone, I thought the headphone was made out of metal but I was wrong. Sennheiser states that Leona is an: "An extremely stable, high-tech, plastic with top-notch damping properties ensures that vibrations are not felt on the headphone support." So now the part we all love, the sound. First thing I listened to was some Michael Jackson. The first thing that struck me was the midrange. It was so glorious to listen to. The transparency of the midrange was brilliant. It sounded neutral, it sound realistic. It was the best I've ever heard. Combined with the soundstage, it made the experience even better. The HD800 uses angled drivers (Which is rather new to me) It resulted in the best soundstage and imaging ever. The singers would actually be in front of me, rather than in my head all the time. From what I've heard in headphones, the soundstage tends to be wide on the side, but in your head anywhere else. For the HD800, the depth everywhere was brilliant. Instead of Jimi Hendrix's voice on the very right, I actually heard it diagonally in front of me from the right. It was easy to find out where the sound came from, instead of actually trying to find where it came from. Now the bass. The bass is somewhat bass light, but I found it was enough. The bass was of a superb quality, it went low and it was quick. The was no distortion when it came to electronic tracks, just quick, clean and deep bass. For the treble. I found the treble to be as transparent as the midrange+treble, but there was a slight colouration to it. It was slightly "hot". Sure it might have been the source or the amp, but I'm just not sure. It's a colouration, meaning that you'd either like it or don't. It wasn't fatiguing for the past hour, but it could, at times, be occasionally bright. Conclusion: Despite the slight problems in the treble, I love this headphone. It is a very neutral sound. Fun? Possibly. The bass was brilliant, the midrange was glorious, the soundstage, incredible. But the treble can only be classed as good or very good. Is it worth $1000 pounds? I think so. Pros: Deep, clean bass with no distortion. Beautiful midrange. Amazing soundstage. Transparent throughout. Comfortable. Cons: Hefty price. Slight colouration in the treble.
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