Headphones and Earphones

Sennheiser HD-800 Headphones

ARTICLE INDEX

Sound

Like some of the best audio components in the world, the HD-800s are not flashy. They don’t grab your attention immediately with any specific area of their performance. After a few minutes of listening, it became abundantly clear that these were the most clear, accurate and precise audio transducers I had ever heard. The ability to retrieve detail was astounding, but not in your face. Many hyper detailed audio components draw attention to themselves, especially with bad recordings. The Sennheisers did no favors to bad recordings, but didn’t magnify their shortcomings, either. When listening to good recordings, like the 24/96 Chesky recording of John Faddis’ Remembrances, every last detail and every last instrumental texture was laid bare. This was particularly clear with the simply recorded acoustical instruments of this album. The bass in particular had a wonderful, natural wooden timbre that was not as clearly presented with other headphones or loudspeakers I’ve heard, even my great Denon AH-D7000s.

Lots of albums have “wood” sound in their acoustic bass, but many sound kind of artificial and exaggerated. Not so with this Chesky album, but it did take the HD-800s to really hear all of it. This album was also a great way to hear the HUGE soundstage presented by the HD-800s. A good 50% bigger than even the D7000s, the Sennheisers completely disappeared. There was basically no relation to the things hanging on your head and the sound filling a 1m diameter sphere around your head. Even on produced pop recordings like Jem’s eponymous album and Imogen Heap’s “Speak for Yourself”, the soundstage was just gigantic, with more air and space than I could imagine could come out of a pop recording. There was absolutely no trace of hardness, grain or boom anywhere; just spectacular frequency extension in both directions. The midrange liquidity, particularly with male and female voices, was scary. Listening to one of my old favorites, Tori Amos’ “Unde the Pink”, I got involuntary chills up my back when listening to both “Icicle” and “Yes, Anistasia”, where Amos’ voice was not processed or covered up in any way. It was the closest yet I’ve heard to “real.” And let me remind you that was with a system with a full MSRP of $3000, not including the computer that was the source. Even though that’s expensive for a headphone system, it’s bargain-basement cheap for the performance delivered. The bass was the only place I could find a bone to pick with the HD-800s. They have much better low frequency extension that the bass-champ AH-D7000s, and are guaranteed more accurate in the bass. But the price to pay for their accuracy is that the weight and impact provided by the AH-D7000s was reduced. The Denons provide this quality by delivering a slightly exaggerated bass presentation to make up for the fact that you don’t “feel” bass with headphones. As will be shown in the measurements section, the HD-800s are definitely more accurate.

My tendency towards electronica biases me to the less technically accurate but more pleasing (to me anyway) bass presentation of the Denons. Even though I know they’re not giving me as accurate bass response, the added weight makes the bass sound more realistic (i.e. more like listening to loudspeakers with flat to 20 Hz bass in a listening room). An example of this is Daft Punk’s “Human After All”. With the Denons, I got the same visceral bass sock to the chest (or in this case, the head), I get with my Gallo Reference 3.1s at home. The HD-800s played even deeper, with equally good bass texture, but did not have the same transient impact or power.