Sennheiser HD 800 S: Tweaked and Delightful...and a French DIY Response Page 2

Sennheiser_HD800S_Photo_Superdupont

Shortly after pictures of the HD 800 S began appearing, the enthusiast community was abuzz with speculation about what Sennheiser had done in that middle hole. Never have so many stared at a black dot so intently, but one Frenchman stared so hard it began to give him super powers...or so he thought.

The HD 800 S became available in Europe, and our hero—Sorrodje from SBAF and tellementnomade.org in France—whipped out his now super-powered wallet (or so he thought) and bought a set of new HD 800 S late last year. He quickly retired to his secret lair and, armed with baguettes and his super powered tool box (or so he thought), began to compare the new HD 800 S to his existing pair of HD 800 headphones.

He quickly notice the HD 800 S did indeed tame the dreaded and evil 6kHz peak that still remained in his not-yet-superpowered HD 800.

"Mon Dieu! La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin!"
(My God! Life's to short to drink bad wine!)

And he thus began his super-powered (or so he thought) attempts to modify his old HD 800. He flew, quite literally, to the local quincaillerie (hardware store) and in one grand sweeping moment grabbed a dozen or so raw materials and a box of hole cutters and returned to the check out counter...his feet never touched the ground.

Upon return, he laid out his tools and materials carefully on his work bench, turned on his ultra-wide-band inspection light (his super-powers allow him to see far into the ultra-violet and infra-red spectra...or so he thought), and stared deeply into his old HD 800.

"Cet écran est damné de la manière.
(This damned screen is in the way!)

Fortunately, France is filled with super-heros (or so they think) and he enlisted his buddy Agnostic1er (a denizen of homecinema-fr.com) who evidently had the super-power to remove the front screen of the HD 800 (this is actually true). Agnostic1er knew what was needed. He picked up the baguette and gently tapped Sorrodje on each shoulder and top of his head, incanting, "Vous avez maintenant l'écran supprimant super-pouvoirs!" And so it was done; the screen was removed to allow entry into the hole of glory.

Now the work began. Like Edison, Sorrodje took the empirical route: "Bah! Qui a besoin de mathématiques, je vais juste essayer tout!" (Who needs mathematics, I'll just try everything!) Round after round, Sorrodje built little widgets to stick in the central hole; he built his own measurement rig to see what changed at each iteration; slowly but surely he zeroed in on a winning combination. (Perhaps his real super-power is sublimely confident persistance.)

And so was born the SuperDupont Resonator.

Sennheiser_HD800S_Photo_SuperDupontAbsorber

Now this little nugget is quite a bit different than the resonator in the HD 800 S. It's not a high-Q Helmhotz-like resonator because it has material that will damp its action and spoil its resonant quality. But it does have a hole with a bottom and therefore will likely have some resonant properties even if they have a broader band of effect then the Sennheiser version. From the bottom up, there's a layer of paper, then a felt ring 5mm thick, and then a 2mm thick layer of closed cell foam (similar to Creatology foam) at the top. The whole thing is 14mm outside diameter with a 10mm hole, about 7mm top to bottom.

Sennheiser_HD800S_Photo_InstallingSDA

So I installed it in one of my old HD 800 headphones. Here's how:

Click here if you can't see the video.

The results? Pretty darn spectacular, I'd say.

Sennheiser_HD800S_Plots_CompareWithDIY

The plot above shows four HD 800 headphones compared. As you can see, the HD 800 S (light green) has the lowest level of all four at 6kHz showing the Sennheiser resonator is doing a good job killing the 6kHz peak. The SuperDupont mod also does a good job diminishing the 6kHz peak, getting within 3dB of the HD 800 S performance. What's odd to me is the Anax mod I have appears to have made the problem worse. This may be due to variations between the particular models used in measurements, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is a bit worse than that.

The Anax mod uses natural wool felt and has been installed in these headphones for about four years now. That's enough time for the material to absorb moisture and sweat, and to age some. I wouldn't surprise me at all to find these materials change their acoustic properties substantially over time, diminishing or significantly changing their acoustic performance. A bit of a cautionary tail for enthusiasts—when you make a good mod, make two or three spares so you can swap them out over time.

This also points to the genius of Sennheiser's solution in the HD 800 S: Just a tiny bit more synthetic materials to make an empty, but effective, high-Q resonator. Enthusiasts, myself included, often lament the derth of damping materials in headphones. Speakers are stuffed with absorbant fluff, why don't they do that with headphones? Well, you don't wear your speakers on your sweaty head; putting fluff in headphones might not be a good idea if it changes over time. That's not to say manufacturers couldn't put synthetic foams (like Melamine) inside headphones to good effect, but I digress. Just note: Sennheiser's resonator will be long lived; the SuperDupont Resonator may have to be swapped out every few years for best performance over time.

Sound Quality of HD 800 S vs. HD 800 with SuperDupont Resonator
I'll start by saying both these headphones sound quite good and provide significantly more pleasurable listening than the stock HD 800 due to the lack of piercing treble at 6kHz. This is a spectacularly articulate headphone made more so by ridding it of this annoying issue.

The bass response is where things get tricky. On the whole, I slightly prefer the HD 800 S to the HD 800 SDRmod as it does provide a slightly warmer and more friendly presentation. On the other hand, the HD 800 S does suffer from a slightly less precise and more congested sounding bass—just slightly, but it's there. Picking between the two without using EQ would be difficult, the HD 800 SDRmod is still a bit too cool; the HD 800 S has better balance, but lack the bass precision of the HD 800. In the end I'd pick the HD 800 S when not using EQ.

Using EQ I'd tend toward the other direction and choose the HD 800 SDRmod; it is very nicely responsive to EQ, even in the bass, and the SuperDupont resonator cleans up the 6kHz peak without need for further EQ. In my EQed listening experience of the HD 800 SDRmod, I become entranced by the sublime purity. Everything, bottom to top, sings with a rarely heard before clarity. A sonic shower of pure, clean water.

The HD 800 S in comparison has retains the marvelous clarity in the upper registers that this headphone is famous for. But the slight murkiness of the bass breaks the spell, and, for me, it begins to loose it's luster as a headphone with super-powers in clarity. Don't get me wrong, the HD 800 S is a spectacularly good headphone and a solid incremental improvement over the stock HD 800 tonality. But it seems to me that it also has taken a somewhat sideways shift from being "I am the world's most articulate headphone and I'll cut you if you say otherwise" to "I'm not worried about perfection—it's really not achievable anyway—let's just have a really good love affair."

Yes, I do think Sennheiser made some solid choices in tuning the HD 800 S, and have changed the HD 800 from an analytical scalpel to beautifully musical walk on a bluebird spring day. A successful tweaking of engineering factors to provide greater music listening pleasure. But I find myself yearning for the clear expresion of scientific and engineering creativity that the HD 800 was when introduced. I enjoyed seeing the arrival of the new Orpheus—a magnificent feat of engineering—but I long for a new sub-$2000 audiophile headphone from Sennheiser, and this doesn't feel like it's it.

And what of our French heros...or so they thought? Yes, by golly, they are heroic! I spent a full couple of days measuring and evaluating their work, but Sorrodje spent months iterating one material after another; measuring, tweaking, measuring, tweaking, over and over. Thank you, sir. You've earned your baguette!

And what of you, dear reader, are you a hero too? Are you willing to potentially destroy your HD 800 in an attempt to install the SuperDupont resonator? Don't be afraid to say no, we're not all superheroes. It does make your choice simpler: Sell your old HD 800 to a DIYer who wants to give the SuperDupont Resonator a go, buy a new HD 800 S and enjoy! This is a great headphone, a worthy older brother to the HD 600.

But!

You DIY Superheros out there (you know who you think you are), run, don't walk, over to Sorrodjes superbestaudiofriend.org SuperDupont resonator thread and get to work. This is a really great mod and will bring new life to your beloved HD 800. Have fun!

Summary
The new Sennheiser HD 800 S adroitly adresses sonic issues long heard with the HD 800. It tames the piercing 6kHz treble peak, and it provide a nice warming of the bass, overall producing a much better behaved headphone and a more enjoyable listening experience. However, the warming of the bass seems to be done by adding a bit of second harmonic distortion, which in turn obscures a bit of bass clarity, having a slightly thick and congested sound relative to its predecessor...but just slightly.

For those willing to modify their existing headphones, the SuperDupont Resonator modification by Sorrodje (thread here at SBAF) is a worthy attempt to rid the HD 800 of the annoying spike at 6kHz, and comes quite close in effectiveness to the new HD 800 S in that regard. It also leaves the bass unchanged, allowing the listener to EQ the bass without distortion. This is a really nice mod.

The HD 800 S will knock its predecessor off the Wall of Fame. The old HD 800 is just too troublesome for owners—finding system synergy with headphone amplifiers and upstream gear has for too long been a struggle for owners. I'm also sick of telling people it's a great headphone but needs modification to be enjoyable. Having a headphone on the Wall of Fame with that kind of disclaimer does not really serve consumers well.

Fresh out of the box in stock form, the new HD 800 S provides a terrific listening experience; I don't think I've ever heard clarity expressed so musically before. Yes, the experienced listener may hear some slight loss of articulation in the bass due to increased distortion, but on the whole I do prefer the added warmth to the cooler presentation of the HD 800.

The HD 800 S adds musicality to the legendary precision of HD 800, strengthening its position as the world's finest dynamic headphone. Well done, Sennheiser, a masterful tweaking of this great headphone!

Video
Click here if you can't see the video.

Resources
Sennheiser USA home page and HD 800 S product page.
SBAF: The HD800 & HD800S thread
SBAF: Sennheiser HD800S measurements (unsanctionned)
SBAF: HD800 "French Mod" aka "SuperDupont Resonator"
SBAF: Sennheiser HD800 w/ combined SBAF + Dupont mod
SBAF: Bill's HD800 mod thread (version 1.0 released!)
SBAF: SuperBAF HD800 mod (formerly BTAmod)
SBAF: SBAF HD800 Mod Impressions and Permutations
Head-Fi HD 800 S reviews and threads here and here.

COMPANY INFO
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Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 434-9190
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Chiumeister's picture

Thanks Tyll for the report. Which amp type works best with the 800S in your findings. Was there a particular amp that you enjoyed the most the updated Sennheiser?

gevorg's picture

Very informative review with multiple measurements, EQ settings, and DIY/mod options. Thank you!

I would choose HD800 over HD800S only if I was mostly listening to well recorded classical music, but since my music collection has all kinds of genres, the HD800S is more enjoyable (relatively to HD800, the HD800S can still be overwhelming with some albums/mastering quality).

Something I found with HD800 vs HD800S is that there is some difference in imaging/soundstage between the two. The HD800S is not as wide and expansive as the original HD800, nothing major, but noticeable when you have two side-by-side and can quickly switch. Is this a side-effect of taming the 6K spike by the resonator? Or maybe I heard this difference due to the more worn pads on my older HD800.

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks for the thorough and forensic investigation Tyll. So Sennheiser has traded some of the HD800's precision for musicality and an increase in distortion is the by-product. It is interesting that the HD800S, which seemingly editorialises more than the HD800, has also succeeded in knocking it off the wall of fame. I don't have a problem with that - I like Grados after all, but it should ignite heated arguments over whether the modified HD800S is as worthy of being described as a high fidelity headphone as its predecessor. Kudos to Sennheiser for recognising that audiophiles really "can't handle the truth" and offering a more palatable alternative. ;)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Where's the "like" button around here?
zobel's picture

I don't want you using it though Tyll!

Beagle's picture

Remember when you were a kid, those little puzzle games, where there was an empty space and you had to slide the plastic number pieces around to put them in order? Us headphone fanatics are looking for what goes in the empty space.

tiger's picture

I have been waiting for this review for so long Tyll! Was wondering why it took so long :)

The Boss's picture

Tyll, thanks for your review on the HD800S. I also picked up an HD800S recently and whoelheartedly agree with your findings. What I'm curious about is, what can you tell me about HD800S + SuperBAF Mod in comparison to stock HD800S, both in terms of objective measurement and subjective impressions?

In your article you first mentioned the SuperBAF mod and how it tames the sound of a stock HD800. Then you moved on to discussions on resonators and compared the HD800S with HD800SDR(HD800 + SuperDupont resonator). This is great and all, but I've read in SBAF that HD800 should be modded with both SuperDupont resonator and SuperBAF absorber for the best effect. In that vein, since HD800S is in a way a variation of the HD800SDR (or should it be the other way around), wouldn't it make sense to apply the SuperBAF mod to HD800S as well to further tame the sound?

What do you think? Does applying the SuperBAF mod to HD800S helps further and makes the sound more enjoyable overall, or is it somewhat overkill with HD800S (and HD800SDR for that matter) and results in an overdampened, perhaps relatively congested sound?

On a side note, I would like to know whether it is more preferable SQ-wise to leave the dust cover on or off when using the SuperBAF aborober mod.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
....this is exactly the kind of stuff that has to be hashed out in the forums. I can only intermittently interrupt with a cogent comment.
zobel's picture

Some bed rest and plenty of fluids should help clear that up.

inventionlws's picture

Hi, Tyll, thanks for a very helpful review. One thing I noticed that might be a typo: the upple-treble being withdrawn that causes the human voice to be distant...I think you meant upper-midrange.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Excellent catch and exactly right. Fixed and thanks again.
zobel's picture

That was a fun read! I play a djembe and an udu, so I knew about Helmholtz resonators, but that was an ingenious use of one to tame that peak! Very nice review, thanks.

johnjen's picture

Excellent work there Tyll!
Its good to get a direct comparison between these 2 not so different HP's.

And being another one of them tweakers myself, I use a different method to gain access to the innerds of the 800.

I found that the spring was tedious, so I use the method of pulling off the ear cushion and then unscrewing the 2) 8mm torx screws that hold the earcup assembly to the attachment arm.

WAY less fiddly and also opens up the earcup cavity for greater access.
Just a small change in a to way fuss with these remarkable headphones.

Good job and the humor was a great source of laughter for both of us.

JJ :thumb

zobel's picture

AKG was able to increase the bass in the open K7XX by 3dB without increasing the harmonic distortion? Does anyone who has tried both think the HD800S is worth 8X the price of the AKG K7XX? If so why? They measure very similarly.

It looks like the HD800S will fit around even large ears? Are they comfortable?

Torq's picture

The longer I'm involved in this hobby the more I see that measurements don't tell the whole story.

As to whether the HD800S are worth 8x the price of the K7XX ... that's always going to be a personal call. For me it's simply down to enjoying the music more with the HD800S - every aspect of it is improved - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but I can't think of anything that's better on the K7XX.

I keep things like the K7XX, Q701 and HD650 around mostly for use with my alternate systems (e.g. my much simpler, smaller, lower powered bed-side rig), and for comparisons.

Are the HD800S "8x better"? No ... but that's the law of diminishing returns for you.

I suspect the bass increase in the K7XX was accomplished by making the pads thinner than those on the Q701/K702.

The HD800/HD800S are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. Can barely tell they're there. Very little in the way of clamping pressure and they're pretty light.

zobel's picture

That what I was looking for, a testimonial on the value of the HD800S, and a comparison to something I have. I wasn't serious about 8X better because I realize the actual value is subjective, and relative to ones willingness to invest in incrementally smaller improvements in overall quality. It sounds (no pun) like these HD800S compete very well with costlier cans, Sounds like (again - no pun) I have myself convinced to save up for a pair. I guess after new furniture and floors, these will first on the list. Yep, married. I had heard that pad modification might have improved the bass of the K7XX, and it makes sense that it would without changing the THD in those cans. I also have read that the HD800S are uber comfortable. I lust for them, much more than furniture or flooring. If you are still available, what amp do you like with the Senns?
Thanks again, zobel

Torq's picture

My primary headphone amplifier currently is a Schiit Ragnarok. That wouldn't be my choice for a stock HD800, but with the HD800S it pairs up very nicely.

I also use a Woo WA6, which drives the HD800S fine and sounds very musical, but isn't the last word in authority with those particular cans. Now and again my Chord Mojo has driven the Senns, and that fits quite well also - this is one that I use with the HD800S in some scenarios because I have the Mojo for portable use with other headphones - I wouldn't buy one just to drive the Sennheisers.

I've heard the Decware Taboo Mk III with the HD800 and think that would be a fantastic pairing with the HD800S also.

I have a WA5LE on order ... I'm excited to see how that pairs with the new HD800S.

It's worth noting that I'm a multiple-headphone kind of person. I have the Abyss for some types of listening, the HD800S for others and I nearly bought an HE-1000 a week or so ago (though that's more likely to be an Edition X now).

I could be very happy with any of those headphones as my ONLY pair if I had to be. My choice to have multiple is about genre optimization and even then the differences are signature and stylistic preferences more than good/bad matches.

zobel's picture

Let us know what you think of the WA5LE pushing those HD800DS when you have had a chance to check it out here, please. The only amp of any quality I own is the O2. It pairs well I think with the HD600s, and has plenty of guts to drive my AKG K7XX, but I'm not sure it does those any favors, since they both seem pretty analytical at times (a little on the dry side on top). Straight from any player w/o amp, I like the sealed Sennheiser HD380 Pro, and the Noontec Zoro HD II for on the go. In still get some mileage out of the Senn PX 100 II - with some parametric EQ from my PCDP. (Sony D-NE300). Don't laugh... I can lower the upper bass 4dB, the lower mids 2dB, and bring up the mid treble 2dB, and get good sound from them. Whatever works right? The HD 380 Pro doesn't need or benefit at all from any EQ, IMO.
I'm sure I'm not the only one here who appreciates your reports on the gear you are up with!

Franc's picture

"By selectively adding 2nd harmonic overtones to the low notes, overall bass energy is increased—albeit at a higher frequency than the original tone—and your perception will be a euphonic warming of the bass. "

This is very interesting but I have no clue how to do this. Say you have a sound system that lacks deep bass how do I lift lower frequencies? Do I use some sort of device or software?

Torq's picture

The easiest way to do what you're asking is with an Equalizer. That can be a hardware device, or if you're using a computer as your source (or many Digital Audio Players) it can be done in software. Many software players have Equalization (usually abbreviated to "EQ") capabilities built-in.

Basic hardware EQ is often of the "Graphic Equalizer" variety. You put the box between your source (DAC) and your amplifier, and then move little sliders (potentiometers - variable resistors) up and down to provide a "graphic" (visual) representation of the boost or cut (increase or decrease) for each of the represented frequencies bands. 5-band EQ is common and you can often find more.

Parametric EQ is more powerful and a bit more involved on the hardware side. Software Parametric EQ is incredibly powerful and that's what you'll see in the articles that Tyll and Bob Katz post (they're using DMG's Equilibrium, which works with various audio-player applications). Things like J-River Media Center have parametric EQ capabilities built-in.

Franc's picture

Awesome, thank you for replying. I will have to do some digging to find a standalone equalizer that works on Windows. VST's I do have.

Sorrodje's picture

Hi,

First of all, let me tell you that I'm super proud to be mentionned on Innerfidely. Actually, even for french community, you're the Godfather of personal audio so such a mention for my work is the best reward i can think of.

Actually the story you related is almost 100% true and I had a good laugh when I saw the way you related it. I worked on the mod during a month and my measurements rig was made before the whole adventure though ;)

Happy to see that you share basically the same opinion I wrote about the HD800S I wrote on Head-fi and Tellementnomade.org. To be honest, I didn't hear that much difference in the bass and I definitely think the tamed 6khz is the more noticeable (and welcome) effect. IMO, less 6 khz means we hear more of the whole other frenquencies bass included. Super Interesting thoughts about distorsion though. Very well put.

To be honest, the fact I liked the HD800S so much was the starting point of the "SuperDupont Resonator" and I'm glad you appreciated the result I reached. I let go my HD800S now and I'm perfectly Happy with My HD800SD.

Please just notice that SD Resonator specs are 7mm thick from top to bottom. The felt ring is 5mm thick. Such a...ahum...Big 14mm Resonator wouldn't fit in the 7mm "Hole of Glory".. ahum.... lol.

jussy1254's picture

I own the HD800 and cannot stand the shrill metallic sound. I've actually given up listening to headphones because of this and cannot be bothered to fork out more money for a different pair as I also invested in a hideously expensive 5m cable to go with the HD800. Can anyone please offer me some advice on improving the sound? This is not something I would want to attempt myself so would adore any info/recommendations on a company offering a modding/tuning service. Many thanks

Humbi2's picture

After this article about the HD800S I thought: "Wow. This guy has really trained ears. I could never hear distortion in headphones this good."
So what do you think about the K702. What are its strenghts and weaknesses. Do they have much distortion and a annoying peak in any frequencies. And aren't they way to good for 180€

Dadracer's picture

Hi Tyll
Comprehensive, informative, humorous and insightful. Thank you.
I just wondered if I missed which amp you did your listening tests with please and did you use the headphones balanced?

tony's picture

I loved these 800s the first time I heard them, still do. I wondered what the Germans could do to refine them as I feel them to be the finest Audio transducers (dynamic) in existence.
Sennheiser have never offered up-grade "kits" for any of their products. Leave it up to "our" Tyll to pull back the curtains for us, thank you, who else dared even try?
The HD800 sells for $800 to $1,000 on Ebay, about 10 per month. None of the 800S models have been sold, yet.
Nice video quality : the first one came in a 1080P while the Standard Review version remained at 720P. Color seems very good, frames per second looks higher with depth of field significantly improved, nice work, you're turing into a "Pro".

Tony in MIchigan

evanft's picture

I used your EQ with my lightly modified HD800 (foam ring and trapezoid) and it had a very pleasing effect.

echoplex's picture

Hello Kyle,

Many thanks for your continued work/exploration of headphones, their tweaks, and the recent series of articles on the Harmon Target Response curve. Those of use who work in pro-audio/mastering know Bob Katz's work well, and it was interesting to read about his take/tweaks. With regard to the HD800S, would you mind posting a full screen shot of your EQ settings with DMG Equilibrium? I have/use that plugin, and I would like to compare your DMG EQ settings to the curve of the Sonarworks plugin settings for the HD800. While sonarworks has gotten good reviews, (see http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may15/articles/sonarworks-reference.htm), my experience is that for the HD800, the Sonarworks HD800 setting only seems to sound acceptable with a wet/dry mix of approximately 50%. Users in other forums have posted similar remarks. You might also want to check out the new Waves virtual room plugin, (a free demo for 14 days is available), http://www.waves.com/plugins/nx#introducing-nx-virtual-mix-room
This tries to simulate various rooms in software, and some people think that the combination of an EQ'd headphone curve - together with a room simulation - could give you a better out of head experience with headphones, i.e., like listening in a well calibrated monitoring suite/studio. Keep in mind that Sonarworks does nothing (thus far) with HRTF's - it just does frequency response. And convesely, Waves NX does psychoacoustics together with HRTF (you need to enter your head dimensions for it to work), but nothing with frequency response. Thus in combination, they may complement each other. This begs the question - is a good sounding room the reference (including the listeners HRTF), or simply a more abstract listening environment "in the head" headphones. Happy experimenting.

echoplex's picture

Sorry - I meant to ask you to post a full screen shot of the DMG Equilibrium settings for the HD800 (the HD800s is all there I believe).

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