Sennheiser HD 800

Supremely versatile Sennheiser headphones that are comfortable, powerful and have fantastic sound quality

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Sennheiser HD 800
  • Sennheiser HD 800
  • Sennheiser HD 800
  • Sennheiser HD 800
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Incredible sound quality, comfortable

Cons

  • Incredible price, require amplification

Bottom Line

Despite the price we were very impressed with the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. They consistently handled every bass and treble note we threw at them, and the build quality is exceptional.

Would you buy this?

The Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are a symphony of exacting build quality, new-age technology and great specifications. These headphones sound better than any others we have used, but the privilege comes at a hefty price.

The Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are impressive to behold. Their styling is unlike any other Sennheiser headphones we have encountered; it seems to be a triumph of function over form. That is not to say that the HD 800s are ugly, though — they have the same industrial appeal as Toshiba’s SD-P91SKY portable DVD player. They are heavier than most other headphones at 260 grams, but this does not present a problem for long-term listening thanks to the good headband and ear-cup design. They never become uncomfortable if properly adjusted and positioned, in part thanks to the alcantara padding, which cushions the ear-cups well and also dissipates heat.

These dynamic headphones are manufactured with exceptional precision. The materials used are high-quality plastics and stainless steel, and we found them sturdy and damage-resistant — we think these headphones will stand up to the tests of time very well. The ear-cups are attached to the headband with a single pivot point, which allows them to sit as comfortably as possible. A Y-style, Kevlar-jacketed 3m cable runs from each ear-cup and terminates in a 6.3mm stereo jack for connection to a dedicated headphone amplifier.

On the top of the headband a serial number will tell you which pair of HD 800s — from Sennheiser's limited production run — you own. While this seems like just a pleasant gimmick initially, Sennheiser has records of the exact frequency response for each individual speaker driver; if there is ever a fault with the HD 800 headphones, near-identical parts can be swapped in to maintain the unique aural signature you have come to expect from your particular pair of headphones. It is after-sales commitment like this that makes these headphones a serious investment rather than just an expensive toy. The only other headphones from the company that have a similar commitment are the legendary Sennheiser HE 90 Orpheus, with a retail price of over $15,000.

The Sennheiser HD 800s are no slouch when it comes to specifications. A sound pressure level of 102dB and a frequency response of 6-51,000Hz are an incredible base to start with, while a total harmonic distortion level of less than 0.02% means there is no alteration of frequency response even at the highest reasonable volume level. Putting this in perspective, a regular audio CD has a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz and a healthy, keen-eared human can perceive a frequency range roughly equal to that. Having an even frequency response outside these borders is overkill for most users, but is useful for those with Super Audio CD setups that can use these frequencies.

You will have to team the Sennheiser HD 800s up with a dedicated headphone amplifier — their rated impedance of 300 Ohms means they will not be easily powered by an MP3 player or computer sound card. We used the Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear, while our sources were an Apple iPod touch and a PC running lossless audio files through a Trends Audio USB digital audio converter .

Put simply, the HD 800s are the best headphones this reviewer has ever heard. They are an open design so a lot of ambient noise is audible, but in a quiet listening environment they are a pleasure to listen to. Once a high-quality track is started it is easy to notice the headphones' pedigree — audio sounds very ‘alive’ and there is an extremely wide sound-stage, giving music a very encompassing quality. The HD 800 headphones are designed to perfectly mimic human hearing response — essentially they are designed to flawlessly transmit every sound that you would hear if you were present at a live concert.

Bass notes are reproduced with a powerful punch but the Sennheiser HD 800s never struggle or distort — they always seem as though they have plenty of volume and power left to give. Treble is sweet and detailed and there is no artificial cut-off of high notes. This makes high vocals especially clear and defined, adding to the live-music sound of the HD800s. Mid-range is balanced as well.

As usual, one problem is that the headphones are too good. They were able to expose all the compression artefacts in our test MP3 music and Internet radio stations, and made listening a downright uncomfortable experience in the case of some YouTube audio clips. If you purchase the HD 800 headphones you will need an equally high-quality amplifier, source and listening material.

If you can afford the painfully high price, you will be impressed with Sennheiser’s HD 800 dynamic headphones.

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