The Brilliant Sennheiser HD 800

The Sennheiser HD 800 ($1499)
I had the good fortune of a factory visit to Sennheiser's campus in Wennebostel, Germany sometime in 2005--four years before the HD 800 made its appearance at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, the HD 800 was already heavily under development. We'll never know, of course, but I reckon these headphones have more R&D hours invested in them than any other on the planet. The engineers at Sennheiser were given a "clean slate" to develop the world's best dynamic headphone. At the time of my visit, the dialog mostly centered on developing large diaphragm drivers for dynamic headphones that would deliver a flatter wave-front as it approached the ear and that wouldn't suffer "cone break-up." It was obvious to me they were also having the time of their lives with the whole variety of issues surrounding headphone design, and were up to their necks in all manner of design ideas and visions. Interestingly, the final product was very unlike what I saw on computer screens that day in 2005--the sound, however, is not unlike what I had imagined: simply spectacular.

The Sennheiser HD 800 is a full-size, open headphone with rather large earpieces, which fully, easily, and very comfortably encompass the ears. The ear cushions are a micro-fiber material that is cool and comfortable. An easily removable and hand-washable cloth protector covers the inside of the earpieces. A permanently installed synthetic mesh material covers and protects the driver from dirt and hair. The main earpiece housings are a framework cast of Leona plastic--a 60% glass fiber filled, high stiffness specialized plastic. A very fine acoustically transparent stainless steel mesh is supported by the framework, as well. A bail/gimbal assembly attaches the headband to the rear of each earpiece, and has two pivot points that allow adequate freedom for the earpiece to tilt and swivel to align with the side of the head for a proper fit. The headband has a middle section that includes a comfortable pad made from the same material as the earpads. Sennheiser claims the headband has features that provide a significant amount of vibrational damping. The cable's conductors are OFC (oxygen free copper) in a "Y" configuration, and are attached to each earpiece with some very nice connectors. A large and very nice custom 1/4" stereo headphone plug is at the other end of the cable. There is no 1/4" to 1/8" adapter for use with portable players and the like.

Ring Radiator Driver
sennheiser_HD800_Photo_driverexplodeddiagramThe major technological advance in the Sennheiser HD 800 is the "ring radiator" driver. This driver delivers a couple of advantages: it reduces "cone breakup," which causes distortion at high frequencies; and it provides better imaging by being angled back towards the ears from a slightly forward position thereby emitting a rather more planar wave front than a normal headphones driver.

A regular driver diaphragm has a dome in the middle; the voice coil about half way to the edge; and a surround or suspension outside the voice coil that has a fixed attachment to the driver housing around its outside edge. The problem with this type of driver is that at very high frequencies it may stop acting like a pure piston moving only straight in and out, and may take on additional vibration modes so that the surface is wobbling or twisting as it moves in and out. This is called "cone break-up" in speakers.

The traditional approach to solving this problem is to make the speaker cone, or driver diaphragm in this case, stiffer so it is less likely to begin vibrating on its own. This is where you find folks making aluminum speaker cones, or cones with ridges and various features to make it more rigid. Sennheiser developed its Duofoil diaphragm material (used in many of its high-performance headphones) to combat this problem. Unfortunately this often leads to a heavier cone that is more difficult to accelerate, and therefore lowers the slew rate (transient response) of the driver.

sennheiser_HD800_Photo_wavefrontRecently, another approach appeared commercially, called a "ring radiator." Both Scan-Speak and Vifa produce a version of this type of tweeter. In this case, the driver is not a simple circular driver, but a ring shaped driver which is attached both at its outer circumference and at its inner edge. The diaphragm is driven by the voice coil which is attached behind the "V"-shaped groove halfway between its inner and outer edge. This configuration dramatically increases the amount of structural support for the surface area of the driver, and reduces to amount of surface area that can begin to take on its own vibrations.

Because the new driver could become larger without breaking up, we also get two other sonic benefits: tighter bass and better imaging. A larger driver allows the diaphragm to displace more air for any given unit distance moved compared to a smaller driver. Moving more air means the driver can achieve better bass extension before it runs out of voice coil travel. It's pretty obvious when listening to these cans, they really have an astonishing sense of ease and control in the lows.

sennheiser_HD800_Photo_stereowaveThe second advantage the new ring radiator has in the HD 800 is improved imaging, a better sense of coherence. Normally, sound arriving at your head from a source some distance away is essentially a flat wavefront. With typical dome driver headphones, the sound source is very close to your ears, and the wavefront is still fairly spherical when it hits you outer ear. It is argued, in headphone engineering circles, that the outer ear focuses the two wavefront geometries differently into the ear canal; and that the more curved wavefront of typical headphones causes psycho-acoustic problems resulting in poorer imaging.

With normal speaker listening, the wavefront is hitting the side of your head and ears at an angle. To mimic this geometry, Sennheiser mounts the HD 800 drivers slightly forward of your ears, and slightly angled back towards them. The larger diameter and angled geometry of the HD 800 driver produces a wavefront that arrives at the ears in a more natural way than with traditional headphones and allows more of the normal reflections at the outer ear to occur, which allows the brain to understand and localize the sound it's hearing significantly better. The result is significantly improved imaging.

So, how do they sound?

COMPANY INFO
Sennheiser USA
1 Enterprise Drive
Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 434-9190
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
inarc's picture

Good review except for your endorsement of recabling snake oil, in my opinion.

Brod's picture

"Good review except for your endorsement of recabling snake oil, in my opinion."

Agreed. Without favourable double blind test results, any assertion that changing cables makes an audible difference is entirely worthless and should be disregarded. It also casts doubt on the rest of the review from an objective POV.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm going to do a review, on onf these days, comparing the stock cable to the Cardas Clear and something from Moon Audio. I'll measure them on the cans ... and it will no doubt show nothing. Then I'll listen subjectively, not blinded, and I'll report my fuzzy, gooie, findings, confirmation bias notwithstanding. Then you ABX guys can rant to your hearts content. I've heard differences in headphone cabling for years; I really think you guys are underestimating the subtlety of human perception.
Graywould's picture

Don't let these schmucks bully your opinion. If he heard a difference in the cable, SO WHAT!!! The truth is not greater because one picks and choose what you awesome is true.. After all, it is his experience. Most likely you have an opinion without any experience, which is the Schmucker kind.
I support his opinion because I have experience. Frankly these headphones weren't that desirable to me untill acurate cabling and power cords were used.. By the way they were not Cardas.

Limp's picture

"Recabling with one of the Cardas headphone cables will provide a slightly smoother experience as well."

Surely you do not expect us to accept such lofty claims without you substantiating them?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks, I appreciate your comments ... but that's my experience.

I wouldn't characterize "slightly smoother experience" as a lofty claim.

svyr's picture

>I wouldn't characterize "slightly smoother experience" as a lofty claim.

a lot of your audience are measurement believers and remember the ye ole cable tests between copper, silver, xN OFC, and there not seeming to be much difference measurement wise ;) (or at least nothing remotely audible) (from memory those were AES studies, or some thesis papers or something). So we all eagerly await the results to verify it's indeed not placebo in favour of the prettier looking cable in the form of whatever magical properties one thinks it should possess or is perhaps told by the seller it should possess.

drblank's picture

if AES had the proper testing methodology, equipment and/or software to actually test for quality of sound in a cable?

Go talk to Bob Ludwig. Does he hear a difference in audio cables in his mastering studio? He says he does. Am I going to argue with Mr. Ludwig on that subject? NO. I'm not that stupid. He's a member of AES, he's highly regarded as one of the top mastering engineers in the audio world, and he rewired his entire studio with expensive cable because he heard a difference and the difference was enough for him to rip out all of the old cable and to rewire it. Same with SkyWalker Sound, they rewired their studio many years ago with expensive cable as well. There are many other top end recording studios and mastering studios that have bought into the high cable products. Why? Because they heard a difference. They didn't get free cables, they paid cash money (and lots of it) to rewire their studios and these are NOT the type of people that spend gobs of money on expensive cabling just for the heck of it.

I would argue that the AES measurements were probably not the right measurements to begin with.

There is a LOT more to what makes one cable different than just what type of metal is used. That's only one teeny tiny aspect.

You have cable geometry, windings and level of precision of the windings, dielectric used, insulation, termination, etc. etc. and there are some companies that have custom software and/or hardware to measure things most people don't even know about.

You have to look at the harmonic structure of complex wave forms, rise time, sustain, decay of various audio signals throughout the band width, you have to consider time alignment, phase alignment, articulation, etc. etc.

I don't know what specific tests you are referring to, but I've read some thesis paper that was simply a joke, the person didn't even compare any of the more expensive cables on the market. He was comparing only a bunch of relatively cheap cables that probably sound similar enough. When people do ABX tests, some don't even know how to do those. It's almost impossible to set up a proper listening scenario with a switch box where cables are concerned, so ABX tests are almost worthless in comparing cables.

So, either you hear a difference or you don't. if you do and you are willing to spend the money, than that's that person's preference and it's valid to ONLY them. If you don't, then that's your preference. Both are valid only to the specific people making the decision.

So, to you, you think cables are snake oil, where to others it isn't. I've run into audio engineers that also thought NS-10 were uncolored reference speakers, and then I run into experienced mastering engineers that think that NS-10's are worthless garbage. Who would you listen to in that comparison? Are NS-10's junk? Everyone has their own opinion based on their own listening.

Bottom line, if you think cable difference is a myth, go right ahead, there are top recording and mastering engineers that have probably done more top rated albums than you have and THEY say THEY hear a difference enough to spend GOBS of money rewiring their studios. So, I would kind of listen to THEM, rather than some foolish attempt to debunk cables.

I've probably read that same thesis paper you are referring to. To me, it was a joke of a thesis paper and didn't really convince me that there is no difference in sound quality of cables. I've heard differences in cables myself over the years and depending on the situation, it's either VERY noticeable or it isn't. There are simply a lot of factors that will dictate if you hear the differences or not and over what period of time.

Graywould's picture

Microphone DROP!

Limp's picture

It is a lofty claim in that it, as svyr mentions, flies in the face of all research on the subject.
That is unless either of the two cables have electric anomalies severe enough to affect the frequency response of the amplifier/headphone system. If that is the case, why not save a few hundred dollars and spend a minute or two equalizing, say down a bit in the 5-8kHz area, as sibilance seems to be among the biggest complaints?

I guess my question is really: yes, you experience a slightly smoother experience with the Cardas cable, but why is that?

After all, you only have yourself to blame for us to expect some rigour in your testing ;)

svyr's picture

pretty much. the burden of proof of anything beyond 'it looks pretty and durable' (it must sound smoother - my wallet and the insulation layer on the cable definitely feel smoother!) should be heavily on the manufacturer and reflected in objective measurements.

luckily conspiracy theories about bias aside Tyll's just the guy to do it.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You guys are just going to have to get used to the idea that, while I rely heavily on measurements for some things, I also believe that the human experience can not be fully characterized with objective metrics. I believe my work here is to express my experiences, and that will include opining on product outside of an objective framework.

Yes, I believe there are things we can experience that can't be measured objectively. How many pounds of Joy did you experience yesterday?

Limp's picture

Well, colour me surprised, I never had you down as mystic. Or mysterian, as Owen Flanegan would say.

Ever since I first encountered you on the web, nearly a decade ago, I figured you were of a genuinely enquiring nature. I guess I shouldn't expect too much.

Oh well, enjoy your cables :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
"Ever since I first encountered you on the web, nearly a decade ago, I figured you were of a genuinely enquiring nature."

Indeed I am. Perhaps you are the one not open minded enough along some lines to be "genuinely enquiring."

A purely deterministic worldview died with a bunch of Viennese physicists a long time ago. What makes you think the full majesty of human's experiencing being is so easily measure with our crude instruments of today?

There's plenty we don't know.

Sennoquitur's picture

Couple items not mentioned elsewhere (and with due respect):

I know I trust Sennheiser's engineers designed and built what they determined to be exactly the right cable for their flagship cans. Why lavish so much attention on the headband and ear cups only to skimp on the cable? Why deliver signal to drivers spent nearly a decade in development over a coat hanger?

I know that no matter how many different cables you hook into the connectors, the signal still travels over that same soldered wire segment running from the connector barrel to the driver. That last few millimeters of wire never changes. Unless you remove the connector barrels and hard solder, all cables connect through them. How can you possibly hear any cable difference passing through that same last wire segment?

I know the stock cable is the perfect length, lightweight, and non-microphonic. For me, that last bit alone dispels any need to try anything else.

mward's picture

Things don't have to be unmeasurable, full stop, to be unmeasurable using current techniques.

Scientifically, I'm totally skeptical of cables. But I've read enough of Tyll's reviews to know that he can hear some things that I can't—and perhaps, that includes differences due to cables.

svyr's picture

meh. never pegged you for a romantic of that sort. Guess curiosity and objectivity have to stop somewhere I suppose. For me not at cognitive biases and placebo relating to audio :)

>Yes, I believe there are things we can experience that can't be measured objectively. How many pounds of Joy did you experience yesterday?

as much joy as oxy, serotonin and dopamine levels have alloted combined with my experiences. Neuroscience approves.

inarc's picture

The sensation of emotions is not some neurotransmitters just as the sensation of colours is not some electromagnetic radiation. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia

While I don't doubt that Tyll perceives cables as making an audible difference, I am strongly convinced, given the current scientific evidence, that this is a psychic phenomenon without a physical basis (i.e., placebo effect).

svyr's picture

> this is a psychic phenomenon without a physical basis (i.e., placebo effect).

which is what we've been saying it is for the past x posts :D...

burnspbesq's picture

You measurement fanatics crack me up.

Subjective impressions are every bit as real to the person experiencing them as anything that y'all can measure with your crude tools.

If I hear a difference in the performance of the HD 800 with the Cardas cable vs. the stock cable, then there is a difference. Period, full stop. God gave me one set of ears, and I choose to trust them because there is no alternative that doesn't come with a side order of silly.

Feel free to continue arguing about meaningless trivia. I'll be over in the corner enjoying my music.

PredatorZ's picture

Preaching to the choir brother. Ill meet you in the listeners corner, enjoying my music !

svyr's picture

>The sensation of emotions is not some neurotransmitters just as the sensation of colours is not some electromagnetic radiation

Well, the process for both is quite well understood from the neurosci point of view - just open any intro psych or neurosi text (especially light perception and transformation/processing). I'm sure placebo can be fitted there as an internal 'stimulus' by virtue of expectation or self-delusion if you wish that either act as stimulus or affect the processing.

Bottom line I wouldn't phrase it like that and point people to a semi-philo long piece on wiki. That seems defensive and obfuscatory to a point.

inarc's picture

Well, no, data processing may be reasonably well understood, but how that data turns into a subjective conscious quality is not. For example, how would you describe the subjective quality of seeing the colour blue to someone who is and was born blind? You could talk all day about wavelengths, receptors, transmitters and neurons, but you would still not have described how seeing blue is and why it is not equal to seeing another colour.
One could even begin on a much more fundamental level, such as consciousness itself (i.e., how it is to be conscious), for which there are currently no clear neural correlates.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I need a "like" button for this post.
svyr's picture

you seem to want to mix philosophy into neuroscience, I'm not sure it's appropriate :)

inarc's picture

you seem to have a naive understanding of neuroscience, especially cognitive neuroscience :)

svyr's picture

I'm not convinced and suggest you read the corresponding chapter of say Feldman's intro to psychology, and the section relating to senses and in particular the several pages explaining vision and the related sensory and processing attributes.

inarc's picture

Hopping from neuroscience to psychology, but philosophy must be left out as it is, you know, entirely unrelated (philosophy of mind, neurophilosophy, etc.)? :D
I must say, though, that "Essentials of Understanding Psychology" (9th Edition) contains many pretty pictures.

svyr's picture

read the book. or any other source. The biological bits related to receiving the external stimulus and up to the start of the cognitive processing stage are obviously sourced from appropriate neurosci journals and bio related books. (despite being dumbed down for 1st year psy students :D )

That said, the em stimulus signal, up to the start of processing are well understood but you're right, it looks like interpreting the information (visual and associative cortex) doesn't seem to be all that well. (they sorta skim over it saying intepretation of the raw data ultimately involves larger number of brain parts, depends on past experiences, associations, state of mind, and just about everything else incl structural side effects of the areas responsible for the interpretation)

It looks to be a similar story with hearing/processing of audio. (ok, except for some bits in hearing with the two competing theories it describes for hearing different frequencies relating to how sound is converted in the basilar membrane)

That said, the physics behind sound and light, measurement of the stimulus and the physical conversion to electrical signal in from sensory organs look to be well understood. Especially stimulus measurement.

While it's nice to know that you can indeed 'hear delicious placebo' effects and study them through more neuroscience, that's a completely separate issue from there being an actual difference in measurements to the sound produced and as mentioned above. If there's no difference and the manufacturer claims there to be one, that's deceptive and misleading advertising in my book.

KikassAssassin's picture

Have you tried doing a double blind ABX test with different cables? I'd be curious to see if you could tell a difference between them in a properly performed listening test.

Measurements may not be accurate enough to pick up all the differences we can hear, but there are ways of doing objective scientific comparisons that don't involve measurements.

svyr's picture

there's a public double blind test for power cords (both cables are thoroughly disguised and sent 'around the block
), not sure if there are for source or hp cables.

People have performed blind tests (some one else swapping the cables and the person listening being (hopefully and allegedly) unaware) of what the cable used is, and I don't think they did well at telling those apart, suggesting the difference is indeed all placebo over shiny and expensive.

In most industries effects due placebo are considered as misleading and deceptive advertising and are banned by regulators/oversight or industry bodies, I don't think audio should be any different.

PredatorZ's picture

Random statements with no reference really have no use. " In most industries effects due placebo are considered as misleading and deceptive advertising and are banned by regulators/oversight or industry bodies, I don't think audio should be any different.".... who are these regulators you speak of, specifics please, and what industry deals with placebo effects with they're products, again, be specific, no generalities please.

Bigmule1972's picture

Yes, we NEED more regulation in this world. Big brother has all the answers. No reason to have an opinion. Cable debates, analog vs digital....why are people so compelled to modify anothers belief....insecurity maybe...?

If I buy a product and obtain value from that product for the price I paid...there is no issue. If I do not perceive value, I return the product.

Double blind tests prove nothing more than opinions.

YOU don't hear a difference with cables, then YOU don't....why do I care how your brain perceives sound?

The alarming issue I have with your type is why do you care so much about what my brain perceives???

Maybe now we should start a debate over which color is better? Or which fruit is the best? ORANGE wins !!!!

Graywould's picture

Yes, with these cans I could identify the differences in cords, (blindfolded while friend changed them out.) With other headphones I can as well, but my choices were less accurate. A lot of it has to do with memory. Maybe we should call Stan Lee maybe I have a superhuman ability?

Phos's picture

That kind of talking sounds like you didn't measure any difference. One idea I had to measure this kind of thing would be to perform a test similar to the square wave test but with a repeating harmonic similar to something that might show up in actual audio. If you can hear a difference, you should be able to measure a difference.

PredatorZ's picture

I find it interesting there is a very vocal group that is anti anything to do with cables, but seriously loves to EQ everything.

drblank's picture

are none adjustable filters? If one cable doesn't produce the sound you are looking for, then you have to test other cables to find one that does what you want.

If one doesn't understand and accept that concept, then there really is nothing more to discuss because the simplest of concepts in terms of cables is not understood by all parties involved in the argument.

drblank's picture

hate using equalizers to FIX a problem with equipment. Why not just get better equipment? Then you don't have to carry around the equalizer constantly having to FIX a problem that could have been fixed with a cable swap.

Nothing worse than a FIX IT IN THE MIX attitude. Audiophiles don't like using EQs on their home system. Some don't mind, but using an EQ isn't always the best answer unless you have a really good one. And how much does a high end 5 band mastering EQ cost? $6000 for a GML? That's more than the headphones, Cardas cables combined by a factor of 3. Plus you now have more crap in the audio food chain.

drblank's picture

Great article/review. I welcome your listening experience because you actually perform measurements in addition to subjective listening tests.

With regards to cabling. I've talked to a variety of cable designers and they've all mentioned that cables sometimes have a break in period due to the design and materials used (dialectic mainly), and was wondering how much time you had with both cables before you heard a difference. In my experience some cables sound noticeably different right out of the box, but many times it takes a while for them to break in. With these headphones you are reviewing, I can understand that you might hear a difference in cables due to the fact that these headphones are super precise and articulate and don't cover much up. I was just wondering if you experienced any time in break in of the headphones and the cables before you did you listening tests and measurements. I know speaker drivers can take a long time before the materials used relax and become more flexible, was well as the capacitance of the cables to settle.

Rubyc's picture

I may believe you experienced a differencie, but, believe me, it was just autosuggestion. You just need to do a blind test to confirm it.
Any cable hasvery low impedance, and against a 300 ohm impedance headphone cannot surely make any perceibable difference in any person, even with golden ears.
Giving this money to charity gives more pleasure than Investing it in a more expensive cable.

MacedonianHero's picture

Great write up Tyll. :)

FWIW, my experiences with regards to the "slightly smoother experience" with my balanced Cardas aftermarket cables mirror your comments completely.

The HD800s are a completely open window into the recording and your upstream gear. Sometimes to a fault if something is lacking, but they do reward you when you get things "just right".

And as I mentioned to you earlier...I love those headphone stands. Slick!

Thanks again.

Jazz Casual's picture

Well done Tyll. I've auditioned the HD800 a couple of times but this makes me want to give it another try. My memory of it was that the treble had a "tizzy" quality and acoustic instruments lacked some body or tonal weight. You've heard most of the TOTL headphones on the market including the Stax SR-009, SR-007, Audeze LCD-3 and Beyerdynamic T1. How does it compare to them in this area?

marksig's picture

Yes! I too would be interested in a comparison with the T1, which has a sort-of half-way ring-radiator and is what I have on my head right now. Sold the HD800 a few das ago before receiving my O2 amp because they were making me want to take them off after a while, despite their clear technical superiority to the T1. I always subconciously went for the latter so I figured I liked them better ;) Took me a few months to get used to them, though...

Tyll Hertsens's picture
This article compares all but the T1.

I think the T1 is a surprisingly good sounding fail. The treble sounds out of control to me. See leading edge of the 300Hz square wave and impulse response here to see. I think they sound spacy, they image poorly.

misformatt's picture

The two T1s you have tested have surprisingly different measurements.

There has been a lot of speculation about Beyerdynamic tweaking the T1 mid-product cycle, and your measurements certainly reflect that.

Judging by ear, my SN51xx T1 seem to be more inline with your SN3964 than the earlier pair. I think its tonal balance is just about perfect. That said, if my pair had a 9khz peak that was +7db over the mid/bass curve (seen in first T1 tested) I would probably have sold them long ago.

As it stands, I find my T1 to have better bass impact and less sibilance than my HD800. This gives the T1 a slightly warmer presentation to my ears. It may be worth noting that my HD800 was one of the first 150 or so built, and more recent models seem to reflect a few more decibels in their gentle 100hz bump.

Were you able to spend much time with the SN3964 T1 you tested, or are your impressions mostly limited to the earlier production T1? I'd guess the variance in models is probably at the root of much of the polarization of opinions regarding the T1.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I reckon you're probably right on the money.

I did listen to the later T1, and I decided I wasn't going to review it.

johnjen's picture

Having lived with 800's for some time now I think I can safely opine that they are quite surgical and provide resolution that enables you to hear deeply into the music. But in stock form they aren't truly engaging nor are they definitively compelling in the sense of sucking you into the music. That isn't to say they are lacking in any enjoyable musical sense.

They are an incredible instrument for hearing so much of the audible information that is available.

In short they present precisely what is there to be heard but that isn't the same as being sucked INTO the music.

But they can be better, WAY better and not in some small subtle way. And these differences are startling. As in getting a whole new musical library kind of way, different.

These differences are only possible because these headphones are capable of delivering this level of performance and resolution and involvement with the music in the first place.

And like any of the best of the best they WILL sound like the entire audio chain that feeds them. So if the music itself or the DAC or ANY of the audio chain contributes it's own sonic 'thumbprint' you'll hear that too. And conversely if any component impedes the delivery of ALL of the available resolution, this too can 'get in the way', albeit in a much more benign way (how can you miss something that you don't hear?).

I like them, a lot, and I don't feel ANY need to want to replace them. Indeed my experiments thus far just keep opening them up more and more, with a wider and deeper and more involving and more revealing experience of the music.

A tweakers paradise indeed.

JJ :thumb :thumb

John Grandberg's picture

You nailed it Tyll! The HD800 is an amazing sonic tool. Is it the best headphone for musical enjoyment? Not always. People aren't always looking for the type of brutal honesty that the HD800 delivers, which is totally understandable. Love it or hate it for day-to-day use, few would argue that the HD800 deserves a spot on the Wall.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the HD700. I think Sennheiser did a great job of adapting the strengths of the HD800 into a slightly more palatable form, without watering things down too much. It still isn't perfect, but might be just the thing for people who "almost" loved the HD800.

Shahrose's picture

Great review Tyll...had to sign up to say you nailed it. The cable experience matches mine as well.

alexandrov's picture

When the scientists unpuzzle the human brain completely then they can ask the engineers to make the ultimate driver/speaker. Untill then the engineering approach must be corrected finally by the mysterious human perceptions.
NO ONE here (or anywhere on the web) tells that the HD800s are perfect headphones for enjoying and listening to the music. What are they then? John Grandberg labels them "sonic tool". So why must I give 1,5K for a tool that won't work for what it's designed for (enjoying the music)?
Obviously the strict engineering doesn't work with the human brain. And that's valid for any audio component. Sad but true.

P.S. I've listened to HD800 for about a week with my gear. No lows. No joy. No music.

burnspbesq's picture

Everyone's hearing is different, and everyone's listening priorities are different. That said, "no bass" seems way off the mark as a description of the HD 800.

For me, in the range that I care about (down to 41 Hz, the open E string on a string bass) the 800 delivers whatever information is in the recording, and delivers it with near-flawless accuracy. Badly-recorded, overdriven electric bass sounds awful, as it should. Well-recorded acoustic bass sounds properly woody. Trombones and baritone saxes just sound exactly right.

The track that I primarily use to evaluate bass response in headphones is "From Ankara to Izmir," from the Jerry Douglas/Russ Barenberg/Edgar Meyer record "Skip Hop & Wobble?" give that a listen, and see if it doesn't change your mind about the 800's bass abilities.

John Grandberg's picture

I do find the larger discussion to be fascinating - there is a clear divergence between high-end pro audio tools (expensive studio monitors for example) and "audiophile" listening equipment. People will go out and buy an expensive tube pre-amp, monoblocks, and some massive audiophile-approved speakers, when they could likely get closer to the original mix by just getting a pair of Klein + Hummel 0 300D monitors, some room treatments, and the best DAC they can afford.

I think we have a similar situation with the HD800. I can certainly identify with the person who says "I respect it but just can't listen to it for very long." Even Tyll called it a "Love/Hate" relationship in his big flagship headphone comparison.

donunus's picture

To the guys skeptical about cables making a difference, try listening for yourselves first before making judgement calls. Science and measurements cannot explain everything in audio yet. It just sounds to me like the cable believers are people that believe that the world is round while the nonbelievers still think the world is flat hehehe. I think I better put on a flamesuit now :D

MayaTlab's picture

Let's not make that an article about cables :D. From a purely economical perspective, it's very easy to comprehend that the opportunity cost of purchasing a $500 cable for a $500 HD650 basically is... for example, a HD700, and I'm pretty sure most people would agree that there is likely to be more differences between both headphones than between the stock and the updated cables. On the other hand buying a new cable for a HD800 makes perfect economical sense as long as the upgrade is at least equivalent to the improvement one may get buy buying something else. So without taking sides about cable improvements, one can already determine if it makes sense or not from a purely economical perspective. Wait, have I just talked about cables ? Huh. Dismiss all that paragraph, I want to read about the HD800. Thanks Tyll for your review, it was an interesting read. Although I felt you seemed a little tired in the video.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Ha! Funny you picked up on that ... I didn't sleep a wink the night before.
inarc's picture

Science cannot explain everything, therefore my placebo-induced delusion must be physical in nature, "hehehe"!

DT48's picture

Heilbronn? Freudian slip?

jherbert's picture

...for the felt pads?

DT48's picture

Sennheiser factory is in Wennebostel, Beyerdynamics in Heilbronn.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
See, there's that tired thing. I'll go fix it. (I actually did visit Beyer in Heilbron and AKG in Vienna on that same trip.)
Captfantastic's picture

Thanks for the great review on the HD 800s. This website started out with great promise and has delivered since day one. In fact the site just keeps improving and is a fantastic resource. Tyll thanks for all the hours and hard work. We can see how you are in the zone and doing what you love. It matters. It matters to lots of us who are trying to stop and smell the (rare and most valuable) roses where they can be found. I'm looking forward to a HD 700 review too. Bravo Innerfidelity!

Viennophile's picture

Nice read.

The HD800 are my favourite headphones, because I'm a great lover of Classical ("Wagnerian") music and Jazz. I've listened to many other headphones and still I've got some other relatively good cans (HD650, K701, DT880 (2003), L1, HFI-580, HD600, HD590, T50p, etc.) flying around here at home, but they don't get much attention because of the HD800. They are truly my no.1. :)

This weekend though, I've ordered a pair of beyerdynamic T1s.

I really like it very much, how the T1 is able to let shine violins giving them a kind of silky sounding (that's what I would call it).

Maybe I'll keep both T1 and HD800, even if I know/remember from the last time comparing both, that I like the HD800 a tad more.

Now I've got two questions:

1. How do you like the T1 compared to the HD800?
2. Have you ever been able to compare the L3000 with the LCD-2/LCD-3 and what was the result?

Greetings from GER,
Frank

PS: Glad, you've changed "Heilbron" (which is btw. Heilbronn with two "n") to Wennebostel. We've already made jokes about it on the German "hifi-forum.de"... ;)

PPS: And thanks for the useful compilation of headphone measurements in one single .pdf-file!

:)

DT48's picture

Interesting reading as usual. Have one question though.

"A ring shaped driver which is attached both at its outer circumference and at its inner edge."

Is the inner edge of the membrane fixed to the centre part of the driver? Thought it was moving freely.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It's clamped between the central cylindrical post on the rear housing and a similar post on the rear of the front grill.

DaveBSC's picture

Tyll,

The idea that you "can't" use the SR-009 without a WES or BHSE is simply wrong, and it does a huge disservice to your readers who might consider a pair but will be put off by the "required" $10K total investment.

The actual truth is that the $900 SRM-323S can drive the SR-009 perfectly well. It can also drive the more difficult Omega 2. So can the $2,000 SRM-727II. These amps are built to a price and they won't necessarily get you every last ounce of performance that the SR-009 is capable of, but neither will a cheap dynamic amp get you everything out of your $1400 HD-800 investment.

You wouldn't say that you "MUST" buy a Pinnacle or a Manley to use the HD-800 would you? So why the continued fallacy that the SR-009 "doesn't work" without one of the very best electrostatic amps behind it?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... but if I had the kind of money that let me buy an SR-009, I sure as heck wouldn't skimp on the amp.
hydrocarbon's picture

Exactly, it's disappointing to see consumer scams like exotic cables, and "high-end" fundamentally compromised designs (tube amps) being taken seriously on this site, when there is otherwise a lot of good content.

Fortunately for the cable companies (and unfortunately for the credibility of the audio industry), cognitive bias still exists, so certain people will honestly believe that they are hearing something different with their magic cables, despite it being disproven over and over.

With all the resources at a company like Sennheiser, do you honestly believe they would include wires that are somehow deficient? Do you have any idea how badly designed a cable would have to be to have an effect on the audio signal over three meters? There are no audible differences between cables, period.

DaveBSC's picture

but certainly not all of them. Many folks are using Stax's best headphones with affordable amps like the 323S, 727II, 007TII, the Woo GES, or even a transformer box like the Woo WEE and a speaker amp.

When it was still available, the $2K-ish Headamp KGSS was also a perfectly fine amp to drive both the O2 and the SR-009. The upcoming Eddie Current Electra should also be able to do the job.

I would argue that the Hifiman HE-6 is much more picky about amplification than the SR-009 is.

13mh13's picture


The graphic of the "more planar wavefront" emanating from the 800's ring-rad. transducer is interesting but I'd like to SEE them compared to the wavefronts of other headphone transducer species.

Anyone ... ?

BTW ... ring rads go way back ... and even *kinda/sorta* have been used in ESes (e.g., Quad ESL: "...splitting the stators into eight concentric rings, each fed with a slight time delay compared to the ring immediately inwards, thereby attempting to simulate a point source.")...

Now, Stax, maybe your next revolutionary design might be a ... uh ... ringer ? ;)

arjrluap's picture

Hi Tyll, great reviews as always. Sorry to hi-jack the thread but do u have any updates on the HD 650? Pretty excited to hear your point of view for this headphone. Thanks!

indrel's picture

I saw this comment from the Sound Liaison people 

About a 1/2 year ago when we had just finished the mix of the audiophile recording ''Torn" by Carmen Gomes inc.,I took a copy of the mix with me to the RAF high end store here in Amsterdam.

They had the HD700 and the HD800 on display.I was curious as to how the mix,done on the Grimm LS 1 speakers,would translate to high end Headphones.

I must say that I was impressed!

At Sound Liaison we like a a clear placement of the instruments,really trying to make the band almost visual,and with a lot of depth and spaciousness in the sound stage.

Of the difference of the two...

I found the HD 800 absolutely fantastic for the quiet tunes,i.e.''Love in Vain'' and the version of ''Let´s go get Stoned'' with the beautiful double bass introduction.
But the last 2 tunes of the album,the louder tunes,Tom Waits "Train song'' with a slightly distorted slide guitar solo,and the version of B.B.Kings ''the Thrill is Gone ''´with the laid back 2nd line drum groove I really liked the HD 700,maybe even preferring it to the HD800.

But if I had to choose, I would go for the HD800.It really gives me the same sense of space and depth that I hear on our High End Grimm speakers,translate the sound we had in mind really well.

But maybe If you listen mostly to music with a heavy back beat,the 700 will do a great job.
But all in all fantastic Headphones.

koptelefoon's picture

It was a lovely read, it even made me looking up these hd 800 for cheap prices while i'm still enjoying my hd 700.

ps : Nothing wrong with your selfmade product-pictures, you might wanne use a fun setting or greenscreen in the very future. Would probably look truely awesome. Just my 2cents in the jar!

vale25's picture

HI Tyll, did you never think to measure a model with a s/n around 20000?

looking at sennheiser graph they have a very different frequency response from other model (no idea of the reason)

http://www.head-fi.org/t/433059/lightbox/

Baconator's picture

Hmmm. I'm having trouble reconciling this observation from Tyll 2.0:

"I think the T1 is a surprisingly good sounding fail. The treble sounds out of control to me. See leading edge of the 300Hz square wave and impulse response here to see. I think they sound spacy, they image poorly."

 

...with this review of the Beyerdynamic T1 from Tyll 1.0 during his Headroom days where he says the treble is "grain-free and liquid", and then goes on to stamp it as one of the best dynamics in existence:

 

http://www.headphone.com/rightbetweenyourears/?p=1411

 

He also mentions it has superb imaging. 

 

Was close to buying these until I read his comments in this thread and discovered the measurements over at changstar .com. So, what gives?  How did he get from liquid treble and superb imaging to a train wreck that images poorly? 

 

Anybody have an experience with these cans that mirror's his original review? Or was that just a sales pitch for a new and expensive set of cans?

Ardent's picture

I was wondering as I couldn't find them on here, but what are your opinions on the sennheiser hd700 and beyerdynamic T1.

manoob's picture

I heard mix things about them. some say they aren't that good or the price. some like them....

manoob's picture

Hi tyler two questions I have from here in uk :) but before that thanks for your reviews been enjoying reading them.
first one is hd 800 is there away to test compression of sound done by headphones and if so what would that be on hd800( someone ei know told me they sound too over compressed for pro use mixdown. all headphones do compress sound ,some more than others that could be a great add on to the reviews to see which headphone gives the most natural dynamic of the tracks.

2, will you by any chance do a review battle of pro headphone for sound engineers music producers. that is a hot topic for us and there really have never been a scintfic reviews like yours about them. that could be first of its kind.!!! thanks again Manoo

indrel's picture

The audiophile label Sound Liaison is using the HD800 for mixing, it says so in the liner notes to the the ''After Silence'' download
and the Batik album ''The old Man and the Sea''.
If the Sound Liaison people use them I do not think you have to look any further as I do think that the sound of their studio master downloads are among the best sounding music to be had.
After Silence, Sound Liason

emlong's picture

As much as I love my early model HD800's a major gripe is that the replacement pads being currently offered bu Senn are impossible to mount on my phones. This a well known and highly irritating issue for us all. Sennheiser has essentially "quit supporting" accessories for the earliest models

Graywould's picture

Great review! Love the comment about the cable, because it is true that we are not auditioning any one piece of gear. Everything changes our impression. By the way if you like Cardas? The prototype cables that I tried were significantly more dimensional and balanced.. With DEEPER BASS!

X