Sennheiser’s HD800 did a lot of things right but was regarded by some, myself included, as being too treble forward. Now with the release of the HD800S the treble has been softened and the sound slightly warmed up. These changes have resulted in a near perfect incarnation of a dynamic driver.
Pros: Huge soundstage, balanced sound, amazing detail and clarity
Cons: Comfort level is not ideal
Sennhieser HD800 s Headphone Build Quality
The box containing the HD800s is lined with luxurious black satin as if the headphones need to be pampered. No need to worry though as the build is very sturdy as the HD800S constructed of matte black painted metal and plastic. The earpads are made of an ultra-soft microfiber fabric that you can barely feel is there but are a bit too thin on the padding for longer listening sessions. A thick detachable cable has a 1/4in TRS jack and another cable provides the option of a female XLR4 connector.
Audio Quality of The HD800 s
With an impedance of 300 ohms the HD800S require a bit more energy to drive than other headphones. Once suitably powered up the audio quality is nothing short of exceptional. The HD800S is able to sound good with any kind of music. Responding to the criticism of the HD800 being too treble forward the HD800S has made the high end a much more soothing experience without trading detail or clarity. The bass is tight and punchy, the mids are crisp and strong, and the highs are still energetic. Clarity across the frequency spectrum is fantastic and opens up both effects heavy tracks and very subtle production elements. The very slight delay on the piano chords in Craig Armstrong’s “Green Light” (Feat. The XX) was clearly distinguishable for the first time. Also unlike many closed back headphones the soundstage layers feel very naturally spread. Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” feels like I’m on an expansive stage with the band instead of hearing a digital studio recording.
HD800 s Design & Look
The headphones look like a styling derived from a science fiction film. Star Wars was the first thing I thought of when I saw them with the circular silver cans and their geometric cut-outs. Given that the headphones are open-backed it is unlikely you would choose to use them in many public areas with their sound leakage. That is kind of a shame since they look so sleek and futuristic and I’d have no reservations about showing them off.
The HD800S is a true over-ear headphone with the earpad not even touching the ear. This is great because it makes the headphones seem like they are not even there for a while. Since the cans are so large they reached down to my jaw and started feeling a little pressured after long listening sessions. The thinness of the headband also did start to pressure the top of my head slightly after a listening session of 2 hours.
Soundstage: Huge. The HD800S has one of the largest soundstages I’ve heard. For listeners coming from closed back headphones they will immediately notice the airiness and width provided by the open back design. The track Bermuda by Fluke makes me feel like I’m in a cavern, as the synth swells round out the cave’s far walls as the percussion bounces around the middle and the bass pulses at the center. Electronic music such as trance benefits tremendously from this huge space. Chicane’s “Saltwater” floats airy wet vocals and massive synth pads reaching out into the distance that demonstrate just how wide the HD800S can go.
I also watched Mad Max: Fury Road with the HD800S and was blown away by how clear the dialogue was even during the most intensely loud and explosive action scenes. Directionality was pinpoint and multiple times I started to feel like I was actually in the middle of the scene as the spatiality of the headphones was that good. Tiny details like cloth and metallic bits clanging were all audible beneath the roar of engines and driving drums and strings of the movie’s score. I feel like I’ve experienced the peak of what the movie could possibly sound like without involving a massive subwoofer.
Highs: A frequency response chart on a provided USB drive shows how the 3k – 5k range has been scooped by a few decibels from the average level across the spectrum. On a jazz track like Ryo Fukui’s “Scenery” the pleasant effect of the treble damping is very noticeable in how smooth the piano rolls into the ears. On Calvin Harris’ “Under Control” the high synth stabs and effects were all individually distinguishable amid the reverse vocal reverb and delay effects while never becoming fatiguing.
Mids: Strong and defined. Vocals are especially well handled and I was clearly understanding lyrics that I’d never quite so easily picked out before. On a track like Grimes’ “Artangels” some of the sound effects were a bit too aggressive in how fast the HD800S could push transients. On the orchestral “Nerv” by Shiro Sagisu I was noticing French horn lines that had been buried in the mix previously and demonstrated how well symphonic pieces are handled.
Lows: The HD800S captures bass guitar perfectly in all its deep twangy, grungy goodness. Listening to “YYZ” by Rush I was struck by how powerful and driving the bassline was while still maintaining the guitar and percussion. In other tracks like Ishii Yasushi’s “I.B.C.J. Siege Rope” the bassline is imbued by the HD800S with a mischievous, lurking character. In more orchestral settings the tails on timpani drum hits resound long and clear. The chugging chords of Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” had a tendency to get muddied in a smaller soundstage but the definition of the HD800S makes them pound hard and crisp.
Should I Buy the Sennheiser HD800 S?
I can’t recommend the HD800S enough. It is extremely detailed and accurate in its sound without scrubbing away the joy of listening. The soundstage is huge and really is a game changer for anyone coming from closed back headphones. The sound signature of the HD800S also seems to have a bit more bass than other open backed headphones in a similar price range and a bit more comfort.
The only downside to the HD800S is their hefty price tag, but for the quality they put out they are worth saving up for if you want the best sound quality possible. The Sennheiser HD800 S is truly endgame gear. You won’t have to worry about upgrading your headphones again.