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Sennheiser HD 800

September 21, 2009 By Steve Guttenberg

The Sennheiser HD 800 is a stunningly beautiful, altogether modern headphone.

The precision quality of the metalwork and the Alcantara, suede-like, material-covered ear cushions leave no doubt: This is a very special design.

The 330-gram headphone perfectly distributed its weight on my head and ear pad pressure felt just right. The HD 800 is supremely comfortable.


Sennheiser HD 800


A friend of mine, a total headphone maven if there ever was one, couldn't contain himself after he heard the HD 800 for the first time. When he took it off his head he said, "If headphones sounded perfect, they'd sound like this."

The HD 800 is a radical advance over Sennheiser's previous flagship headphone, the HD 650. Sennheiser engineers started working on the HD 800 in 2002. The new model's sound is, well, I've never heard sound like this from any Sennheiser, that's for sure. The HD 800's clarity is in a class by itself. Bass, midrange and treble resolution are simply the best ever from a dynamic headphone.

The HD 800's patented ring-radiating transducer measures 56 mm, making it the largest used in a modern headphone. It's interesting to note that the vibrating part of the diaphragm is not its circular interior but its outer ring. This ring compresses and rarefies the entire air volume over the transducer.

The driver is mounted on a specially devised, perforated stainless steel earcup that directs the ring's sound waves to the ear at a slight angle to mimic the way sound from speakers is heard. The 9-foot, cloth-covered cable features silver plated, oxygen-free copper wiring.

The Sennheiser HD 800 has a 56-mm ring radiator driver, a 40-mm coil, and a 42-mm magnet. Frequency response is a claimed 8 Hz to 50,000 Hz."Intervention," from Arcade Fire's Neon Bible CD took my breath away. The tune opens with the majestic sounds of a thunderously powerful church organ, and when the band enters the fray the sense of hearing the music within a large acoustic space was astonishing in its clarity.

But, like all great audio designs, the HD 800's greatness lies in what it doesn't do. That is, it has less of a "head sound" than any headphone I've heard, so I feel like I'm hearing more of the recording. The HD 800's bass is exceptionally detailed, palpable and nuanced; it's absolutely superb.

Compared to almost every other headphone, the HD 800 sounds more spacious. The sound seems less in my head, as if the headphone drivers weren't close to my ears.

The "spaces" between the instruments and voices are more believable. Stereo imaging is beautifully focused—more in front and less to the sides than other headphones.

For the HD 800's home theater trials I used the Rolling Stones' Shine A Light concert Blu-ray. The band hasn't played this well in years, but the sound mix seems to miss a lot—over speakers. It's sometimes hard to hear the bass, horns and drums on "All Down the Line," but with the HD 800 the mix gelled perfectly. I could hear everything.

Downside: Depending on the recording, the HD 800's sound may seem too distant or spacious to some buyers. Those folks may prefer a more intimate headphone sound.

This article is part of our larger High End Headphones article. 

HD 800: $1,400

CONTACT: 860.434.9190, sennheiser.com




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