Sennheiser HD800S Headphones review


Author: Igor Tikhonov

I decided to write a short review of Sennheiser HD 800s headphones after 1 year of owning them.

Opinions about them are extremely polar, ranging from "the best headphones in the world" to "don’t buy it, ever".

I want to note, that I'm not an "audiophile" and consider headphones as a tool for certain tasks in my work with sound.

For a long time, I was using Sennheiser HD 650. It's not a secret that their frequency response, right out of the box, without any equalization, is very close to the so-called “Harman curve” (a psychoacoustic model based on studies of headphones sound preferences), which partly explains their popularity.

HD 650 are great, but, in my case, there were several problems: I work in headphones for a long period of time and HD 650 rubbed the top of my head from the very beginning, and also their clamping force was a bit too high (although they developed over time and the pressure decreased). At some point, I just got used to it and stopped paying attention to their discomfort. The second problem of HD 650 is a certain "narrowness" of stereo image, as if sounds are playing in the middle of my head. As a result, I came to the conclusion that it’s the time to replace my headphones with something more comfortable and, most important, better in terms of sound quality.

The choice of headphones is a very subjective thing, everyone should choose them personally, but there are certain guidelines from which you can start to research. The US brand Audeze is very popular among professionals: for example, famous sound designer Richard Devine is using LCD-X model.

Also, preferences include Focal Clear and Beyerdynamic DT 1990 among many, many others.

As for the Sennheiser HD 800s/820, they are used by Richard Devine and many other famous sound engineers.

I really liked the sound of both AUDEZE models (LCD-X and LCD-2C), but, unfortunately, they did not fit in terms of comfort/weight and I did not want other headphones with any signs of discomfort.

Sennheiser HD 800s seat on my head just perfectly and seemed to dissolve on it. Cups are huge, ear pads and headband are very pleasant to touch. I can say that these are the most comfortable headphones I ever used.

The quality of materials is a bit on controversial side, headphones are mainly made of plastic. HD 800s are very lightweight, but their reliability raises certain questions. There are also some complaints about proprietary cable connectors, which can be torn out when being disconnected with excessive force. Some batches of previous model (HD 800) suffered from problems with silver paint, which literally fell off in flakes and any careless action led to scratches.

I’ve heard a lot of enthusiastic reviews about the sound of HD 800s and those are partly true. Their most important feature is an incredible sense of stereo space and separation of instruments. You can endlessly listen to your favorite tracks and constantly find something new in them. I have never heard anything like this in any headphones.

In terms of frequency response, everything is not so smooth, but nothing too bad. My humble opinion is that these headphones need equalization. It seemed to me that, out of the box, HD 800s have a bit bright mid-highs and lack of bottom end (from 80 Hz and below). They also inherited a small resonance peak in 5-6 kHz and a small dip in 1-3 kHz area. The main difference from the HD 650 is presence of a sub-bass, which becomes much more noticeable if boosted with a low-shelf filter.

You should be careful with EQ correction of their low end, because Sennheiser engineers deliberately added second harmonic distortion to "warm up" HD 800s bass. If you will heavily boost sub-bass, then harmonic distortion may appear with effect like Waves MaxxBass plugin, which can add some excitement when listening to music, but not when working critically with sound.

If you are using headphones correction plugins, such as Dsoniq Realphones or Sonarworks, this will resolve most of HD 800s problems. There is an excellent and inexpensive plugin called Morphit from Toneboosters, it has a preset for HD 800s, which significantly improves their sound.

As a result, I think that HD 800s are one of the best headphones on the market; their strong sides include incredible details, instruments separation, an amazing stereo image and great sense of space. They are also incredibly comfortable and very lightweight. The disadvantages are just a small flaw in frequency response, which, fortunately, could be corrected with equalizer.