Review: Sennheiser HD800s Are A Serious Bit Of HiFi Kit

Written by Matthew Lentini     22/11/2011 | 21:55 | Category name i.e.REAL HI FI

If your audio knows no budget, these cans will cocoon you in a sea of phonic bliss. The HD800s are some of the top Hi-Fi headphones around if you've got the quality tracks and components to run them.


Sennheiser has premium down-pat with this pair of hand-crafted, stainless steel headphones that subvert traditional design for something to transcend the typical. In an almost steampunk-inspired reworking of headphone design, the open-backed headphones show off their extra-large transducers in a grey and black finish. Across the top metal band sits a unique serial number to match your limited production unit

Tailor-made for the audiophile with a discerning ear for detail, the pair has a frequency response range of 6 - 51000 Hz with less than .02 percent harmonic distortion. You can pump these cans up to their max decibels without any noticeable gain or distortion from its components, instead delivering a realistic, unabridged reproduction of your audio source through the Teflon-insulated, Kevlar-strengthened cables.

The price is steep in the over $2000 class, but it isn't the only thing that's hefty on these 'phones - they also weigh 330 grams (before taking into account the thick, three metre cable). They don't feel so heavy though thanks to the comfortable, microfibre cushioning across the headband and cups as the swivelling build that wraps around the sides of your head for a snug fit.

These earcups are massive, but they have to be with the largest headphone transducer to date at 56mm, according to Sennheiser. The earcups swivel and tilt slightly to sit comfortably around the ears without actually touching them. From here you're greeted with an expansive soundscape that immerses you in whatever you're listening to. As the speakers fire sound at a slight angle toward your ear, you perceive the sound on a multidimensional level that replicates the real sound - and not in the 7.1 surround kind of way.

The sound you get out of these is uniquely three dimensional because of this, and coupled with the open back design, gives you the feeling of 'being there' more than most other headphones. Particularly true of symphony orchestras, the earphones effortlessly flood your senses with enrapturing sound that breathes through the headset. The downside to this is that everyone around you will get a loud taste of what you're listening to, but in the comfort of your own lounge you'll be swept away. Strings are clear and precise, while the heavier low-end notes resonate deeply. The mid-section is deftly articulated, with the minor and subtle details remaining constant regardless of how much competing audio it's running next to.

Live recordings at high bitrates of 24+ or analogue tracks will shine here, delivering tiny details hidden in the mid-section. In testing, studio recorded tracks of solo violinists would articulate the sound of the bow striking and vibrating against the strings on each stroke, and in quieter sections you could pick up on the breath of the violinist as though you were in the studio with them.

These are some of the most tonally neutral headphones you'll find, and as such aren't the best choices around for getting the most out of hard-hitting, bass-pumping tracks, though they'll run any genre thrown at them effortlessly. The twangy strings, screaming sax and smooth bass of jazz will all be complimented by the HD 800s' depth and clarity. Classical music is dynamic across the warm timbres of the low-end and the sharp exaltations of string sections. Vocals are dramatic when moving from the softer to louder scale, with a breathing room that makes the sound feel three dimensional. You won't get the same feel out of electronic music composed of flat, digital tones, but acoustic instruments will be enriched and livened by the HD 800s.

At 300 ohms, they don't suck as much power as some bigger studio units around, though you'll still want a high quality headphone amplifier to get the most out of these cans. As mentioned in the beginning, these are for listeners without budget constraints.  They don't come with any adapters for the quarter-inch jack to fit smaller sizes, but you wouldn't want to be feeding these headphones tracks from any smartphones or iPods anyway. You'd actually be doing yourself a disservice with these headphones with low quality tracks.

These headphones can be, I dare say it, too articulate under the pressure of poor quality tracks. While a shoddy quality audio rip from your computer might sound fine on a small pair of in-earphones from your mp3 player, the same track will be revealed for all its crackly, hiccupping, tonally imbalanced glory through these headphones. You get out what you put in, and that's especially true of these headphones.

The HD 800s boast clarity, and that's exactly what they deliver. While some high-price consumer headphones will give a 'value-add' in the form of sound enhancers that give particular genres an extra kick (like tipping a little head-strong into the bass end - Beats, we're looking at you), the HD 800s instead delivers intricate detail to lossless tracks without any tonal imbalance.

If you've got the HiFi rig to make the most out of them, the HD 800s are some of the best headphones you'll find to compliment your analogue or lossless digital library. They're a long term listening investment for the serious audiophile with a serious budget, but when adding up the price of the alternative full-room HiFi set up, they don't seem like that farfetched a purchase.

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Pros & Cons

Pros:

Great sound quality; Pushes to high volume without ever distorting

Cons:

Leaks sound very loudly; will only really get the premium taste out of Hi-Fi components and a dedicated headphone amplifier; steep price over $2000