“Crafted for perfection” – was the mission statement of the venerable Sennheiser HD800, so is there something left for HD800S or does the “S” stand for “same”? Read on to find out whether you, the engineer get something worthwhile for entering the realm of hi-end headphones.
- Type: Open, dynamic over-ear, with cable
- Impedance: 300 Ohm
- Total harmonic distortion: < 0.02%, measured at 1 kHz sine wave
- Frequency response: 10 Hz to 39.5 kHz
- Connector: 6.3 mm stereo jack
- Adapter: no adapter included
- Weight: 330 g (without cable)
Do they require a headphone amp? YES
- If the 300 Ohm impedance isn’t enough of an indication that portable devices and laptop headphone outputs are out of the question, then the 1500EUR price-tag should be! In all honesty, for medium SPL’s a laptop output should be okay, but a dedicated high-quality audio interface or DAC+amp combo is what you should be using to get the best of these headphones.
Build quality: 9/10
- The HD800S is built well and in my opinion, improves upon the space-age aesthetic of its predecessor. The original HD800 was plagued by paint flaking issues, which seem to be absent from the HD800S. Overall the build quality is solid without any glaring weaknesses, with that said one should probably babysit the HD800S a little, so they maintain their sharp looks for a longer time. The cable is removable and sturdy enough to not break under normal use. With that said, Sennheiser has opted for proprietary connectors on the headphone side, so crafting your own cable might not be that easy, as these connectors are pricy.
- Just like its predecessor the HD800S uses a 50mm dynamic driver. Unlike the majority of dynamic headphones, the HD800S uses a ring radiator which means that the middle of the driver doesn’t move as it’s suspended to a fixture piece. Sennheiser claims that this allows for the headphone to transmit soundwaves in a more correct manner. I can’t tell whether that’s what’s really happening, but the HD800S does sound special. In stock form, the tonal response is rather bright with upper mids and up being roughly 6dB louder than the rest of the spectrum. Around 14kHz there’s a pronounced spike in the tonal response, which adds unnatural sparkle to the sound. Now, despite using a 56mm driver, the low-end response isn’t better than found in most open back headphones with regular 40mm drivers. This is due to the fact that the stationary middle piece takes away moving area so the diameter doesn’t tell the whole story. Overall the exotic ring radiator offers impressive imaging, not found in other headphones, superb resolution, but excessive brightness remains the tar drop in the honey pot. The bright sound signature will exaggerate overtones and will keep you from getting that snare right.
- Sennheiser HD 800S feels like your wearing nothing. The headband is supremely comfortable and the giant earcups exert very little pressure. This is top-notch comfort and allows the HD800S to be worn for long periods of time. The earcups are well ventilated, so your ears won’t get too hot. One thing to keep in mind is that the light clamp will do little to keep the HD800S on your head, so head-banging should be done with care.
Channel balance: 9/10
- Sennheiser are experts in providing well-matched drivers for almost all of their headphones. The HD800S is no exception. There is a miniscule difference in the treble, but nothing to keep one up at night, as the difference is largely inaudible.
- It’s a 1400 euro headphone with a tonal response that’s worse than the one offered by the 250 euro HD650. Value is poor, but the HD800S offers resolution and imaging not found in the HD650. Value wise the greatest enemy of the HD800S is a well taken care of 2nd hand HD800 found for 600 euro.
How would we evaluate the Sennheiser HD800S out-of-the-box?
- Pros: Extremely high resolution, superb imaging for a headphone in a truly luxury feeling package
- Cons: Highs are super hyped, sub-bass roll-off not excusable in this price class
Overall: An impeccably built audio microscope, sadly with colored lenses
Our evaluation: 8/10
Some observations on how the Sennheiser HD880S performs after applying Sonarworks correction
- Total Harmonic Distortion: 8/10 As mentioned above, the 56mm driver isn’t a bass monster. Distortion is predominantly 2nd order, hence inoffensive and only creeps into audibility at around 60Hz.
- How accurate and consistent the correction effect is among different listeners?: 8/10 The ear-cups are positively enormous, so there’s a lot of wiggle space where one can park their ears. Luckily the frequency response doesn’t shift too much because of this, so high marks there.
- How much do they differ pair to pair in terms of frequency response?: 9/10 As it’s usual with Sennheiser, the consistency is exceptional. As seen in one factory tour video, Sennheiser proudly admit that they discard many drivers to get the HD800 right. Same is done for the newer HD800S and it shows.
Conclusion on calibrated Sennheiser HD 800: 9/10
Pros: the HD800S retains its superb resolution and imaging even after flattening its frequency response. Brightness is gone and sub-bass completes the picture.
Cons: sub-bass will distort at a higher volume, bass heads should look at orthos
Recommended for: just about anything, unless you require isolation
Alternatives: 2nd hand Sennheiser HD 800, AKG K812, Audeze LCD-2.
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