Review: Sennheiser HD800S – The New Kid In town

Disclaimer: The Sennheiser HD800S was sent to us by Sennheiser Belgium directly. There is no financial gain to Headfonia for publishing this review. The sample will be returned to Sennheiser after publication of this review.

Sennheiser HD800

The famous Sennheiser HD800 is one of the most written about headphones in the world and it incorporates Sennheiser’s most advanced driver technology. Mike did a diary like series of articles on it a few years ago but we never really officially reviewed the HD800 at Headfonia, except for that comparison with the T1. Shame on us!

Sennheiser’s Marketing team states: “These open, circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones redefine what reference-level audio is all about. Matching these headphones’ reference-grade audio performance is their striking and visually effective industrial design. Premium parts have gone into their production – the transducer is encased by a precision material made of stainless steel. The ear pads are handcrafted from a high-quality microfiber fabric. The headband and headphone mounting utilizes the most advanced development from the aerospace industry. In terms of connectivity, these headphones utilize specially-designed, four-wire, high-performance connections.”

Frequency response (headphones) :    14 – 44100 Hz (- 3 dB)

Frequency response:                                   6 – 51000 Hz (- 10 dB)

THD, total harmonic distortion:            0.02 % (1 kHz 1 Vrms)

Contact pressure:                                          ~ 3,4 N (± 0,3 N)

Price:                                                                   € 1299,00

It took me quite a few years to get used to the HD800’s sound signature but the more listening experience and better equipment I got over the years, the better the HD800 started sounding. The week the new HD800 was announced, I finally decided to buy the original and almost everyone said I was crazy and that I made the wrong choice. I just had to get the original before Sennheiser decided to stop making them (they won’t but it’s an excuse, right?) and as the online prices dropped because of the HD800S being newer, I had no other choice. Right now I absolutely love the HD800 and together with the Hifiman HE-1000 it is my favorite Top Of The Line headphone for personal, non-review listening.

Did I make a mistake by getting the original and not the new “S”? I was about to find out.

Sennheiser HD800S

Why?

Why change an already iconic headphone? Sennheiser tries to explain:

“A modern classic, Sennheiser’s reference class HD 800 headphones deliver sound that is as natural as possible and true in every detail. Improving on a seemingly perfect formula is not a task undertaken lightly, but Sennheiser’s engineers have succeeded in enhancing still further the sound reproduction in the open, circumaural HD 800 S. The enhanced sound reproduction of the HD 800 S is achieved through the addition of the innovative absorber technology that was pioneered in the Sennheiser IE 800 – a breakthrough that preserved the audibility of very high frequency sounds by eliminating a phenomenon known as the “masking effect”, where the human hear struggles to hear frequencies of sound when lower frequencies of a higher volume occur at the same time.

Sennheiser HD800 S

By absorbing the energy of the resonance, Sennheiser’s patented absorber technology prevents any unwanted peaks and allows all frequency components – even the finest nuances – in the music material to become audible. This innovation was a key element in making the IE 800 the world’s best sounding in ear headphone, and in the HD 800 S it helps to bring even greater purity and precision”.

I truly believe that Sennheiser wanted to make the original HD800 even better but I personally also believe that they wanted to make the HD800(S) loved by a bigger group of people. While the HD800 is a sublime headphone, you really have to like its sound. A lot of people adore it but an equally big part just can’t get used to its highs and the more analytical character. Another often heard point is that the HD800 doesn’t have enough bass body or bass punch. While this last point strongly depends on the amplifier used, I personally can’t really agree with that comment. The HD800 to me has great bass with superb layering, speed and detail. It just needs a good amplifier, and exactly that is one of the other weaknesses. People nowadays however seem to want more of everything (except treble) and so the HD800S was tuned with more body to the lower mids and bass itself, and softer treble.

The story continues after the click HERE or below, on Page Two

Review: Sennheiser HD800S – The New Kid In town
4.4 (87.69%) 26 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

32 Comments

  • Reply August 2, 2016

    Barun C

    Great article Lieven. It is still good to see that experienced players like Sennheiser are still able to offer great sound at a relatively decent prices in todays economy. It is kind of a pattern I guess, as other European manufacturers also like Beyerdynamic, AKG still offer good sound, excellent build and long term memory products at decent prices, in todays Headphone world, where every other manufacturer are making new TOTL headphone almost in every couple of years.

    Sennheiser HD800S, I believe will be here to stay, as at $1699 it is the headphone to beat. I haven’t heard the Elear yet but at $999 I think the Beyer T1 (v2) is the actual contender ($1099).

    • Reply August 3, 2016

      Lieven

      Thank ou Barun. I enjoyed writing it. Not a lot of new interesting headphones have seen the light this past year and I’m very glad Sennheiser came to the rescue 😉

      You’re right, the T1 is the contender but I don’t like it one bit, pretty much the only Beyer I don’t connect with. That’s also why I am hoping the Elear will be able to compete with both of these. From the first things I’ve read, it seems they can.

    • Reply August 26, 2016

      Michael

      This is one of the better reviews of both the HD800 and HD800s I’ve read.

      You’ve hit upon what I’ve been saying for years– The HD800 is a world class headphone– if you provide it with world class amplification. I can’t think of another headphone as picky about the source and amplification. Get it wrong, and the headphone sounds rather ordinary. Get it right, and you’re in for sonic perfection.

  • Reply August 2, 2016

    NightPhotographer

    As usual, another great review.
    I found a good deal on the original HD800 and couldn’t resist. Many people in head-fi.org believe that any DAC which is not SABER is good enough for the HD800 so I guess Meridian Director could be a good option. Now, I am looking for an inexpensive amp ( I know it sounds ridiculous to go for such an expensive headphone, then, look for a cheap amp but as I said I couldn’t resist the deal, lol). I read your review on Corda Quickstep and, apparently, you fond it a good match for the HD800. Is it truly a good amp for the HD800 or it is a good portable amp for it? I do not need the amp to be portable so I am just trying to find a good match under 500$. Now, I am looking at Quickstep, G109s, Crack, Beyerdynamic A20 and 339. The reason why I went for this crazy expensive headphone (at least, it is expensive for me) is its huge sound stage that every body talks about. I do not want to end up with an amp which shrinks the sound sage width and depth. Will you give me an amp suggestion please?

    • Reply August 3, 2016

      Lieven

      Thank you. I agree it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy a cheap amp for this kind of headphone but the definition if “cheap” is different for everyone.

      While the HD800 sounded good on the Quickstep, I do advice to go for the Corda Classic with the FF technology, it was the amp that made me buy the HD800!

      http://www.meier-audio.homepage.t-online.de/amplifiers.htm

      outside EU: €620,- / USD 710,-
      inside EU: €720,-

      The G109 would be a good match but I suggest going for the slightly warmer V200. I wouldn’t go to the A20 as it would limit the headphone and make it more bassy and warm. Tube wise the Crack of course is THE to to go amp, but the 339 is a better OTL amp with more possibilities, more power and it does ALL type of headphones.

      So SS = V200 or the Classic FF. tube is Crack or 339

      Good luck!

      • Reply August 3, 2016

        NightPhotographer

        Thanks for the information. Since Corda Classic and 339 are in the same price range, I’d like to know what their advantages and disadvantages are compared to each other when paired with the HD800. By the way, is the sound signature of 339 currently sold the same as the one you got your hands on? I think, recently, they made some design changes.
        I would also really appreciate it if you could tell me what tubes are best (with the HD800 in mind) for 339 and Crack.

        Thanks

        • Reply August 3, 2016

          Lieven

          CC and 339 are opposites: fast solid state versus tube warmth. Detail vs emotion and dynamics. Crack is in between.

          The 339 I have is the one with the 6SJ7 input tubes, it’s still available. just some resistor changes.

          Crack: 12AU7 rca clear top and a 6080WA Chatham or RCA 6AS7G or 5998 TS or 6080WB graphite plate

          • Reply August 29, 2016

            NightPhotographer

            Lieven, based on your recommendation, I’m going to get Crack for my HD800. Since I am living in Europe, I’m better off ordering whatever I need altogether. Do I also need to place an order for Speedball? Does it make it better or worse for the HD800? Bye the way, have you ever heard the Icon Audio HP8? John Grandberg from Innerfidelity believes that it’s a good match for the HD800 but I feel the review is not complete since it doesn’t say anything about the sound stage etc.

            Thanks

            • Reply August 29, 2016

              Lieven

              I would order it with speedball but construct the crack first without it so you can hear it yourself.

              I haven’t heard that amp, sorry. another famous HD800 amp is the Zana Deux

              • Reply August 29, 2016

                NightPhotographer

                Zana Deux is out of reach. Crack suits me better. So I’d place an order for Speedball as well. What about the volume pot? Is it good enough? I read some buyers complaining about channel imbalance. Do you think the stock pot is good enough or I need to get a better stereo pot or two mono pots perhaps?

                • Reply August 29, 2016

                  Lieven

                  Get the upgrade. I have a stock one with imbalance at low volumes. Doable but not fun. Also get an rca or chatham 6as7g and 12au7 rca clear top

                  • Reply August 30, 2016

                    NightPhotographer

                    Thanks for the information. Do you happen to know of a good volume pot that doesn’t require the chassis modification. I do not have equipment to modify the chassis. If there is no good volume pot that can be directly mounted on the Crack chassis, do you think if I can solve the imbalance issue at low volumes by using some inline RCA attenuators (12 dB) instead of upgrading the volume pot?

  • Reply August 2, 2016

    Berkhan

    Very nice one and a joy to read. Thanks buddy. Hopefully I can also try the new HD800S some time.

    • Reply August 3, 2016

      Lieven

      Thank you B. I’m sure you will, they’re still fairly new 🙂

  • Reply August 2, 2016

    dale thorn

    I have yet to hear a headphone that resolves upper treble harmonic detail as well as the HD800, which I purchased in June 2009. My ultimate test track is David Chesky and Wonjung Kim’s Girl From Guatemala, available from HDTracks in high-res as a single download. The explosion of high-treble sounds starts at 3:00.

    • Reply August 3, 2016

      Lieven

      Have you heard the S?

      • Reply August 3, 2016

        dale thorn

        No, and I don’t know at this point what’s the best bet in amps that aren’t ridiculous in price. It seems with a softer high end the ‘S’ might not be suited to a tube amp, or it might reveal less detail on solid state – all unknowns at this point. If you have both, comparing with that Chesky track might help.

  • Reply August 3, 2016

    Chung

    I am currently using both HD800 & HD800S. I did try to compare them but it is obviously a step up in bass quality from the HD800S. So how I feel the HD800S lost a tinny bit of clarify or special feel.
    Can you also suggest a good matching cable for these two headphones. I am currently using ALO salt and pepper.
    Thanks

    • Reply August 3, 2016

      Lieven

      I recommend a hybrid based cable, check out the offerings of C3Audio, Effect audio and PlusSound, they all have some great options. Tell them I said Hi 😉

  • Reply August 5, 2016

    Fiddyowns

    Awesome Article! Can’t wait to get my hand on these!!

  • Reply August 5, 2016

    Robert

    Thanks for the review Lieven

    Posted my favorable comments on your review of the HD700s http://www.headfonia.com/ls-take-on-the-sennheiser-hd700/2/ and they continued to be my main phones, augmented with a pair of Audeze LCD2.2s for the last few years.
    The original HD800s came and went.. as when it came to chilling out and long term musical enjoyment the 700s won out… that was until picking up the 800S back in May.
    All my phones get to run balanced off the solid state Bryston BHA-1 and in fact I have not even removed the ”S” single ended cable from the box so not even sure how the 800S perform unbalanced, maybe I’ll try them off the Fiio X3 II DAP, although they would not be conspicuous by their absence as are the ie800s. Needless to say the HD700s were eventually let go, the LCD2.2 do still come in handy once in a while but the 800S are really a wonderful phone and fill most if not all my prerequisites for good sound and musical enjoyment…hard to stop listening.

  • Reply August 15, 2016

    Magoo

    I have the 800 S and drive them with the Oppo HA-1 which has plenty of power when used with the balanced Cable. I made my own 20 footer and it works great with going Balanced ’cause you get 2X power over the SE version. If I am in a mood to hear some more bass i use a 4db bump at 20Hz which gives them plenty of thump. I listen to Pure Music on my MAC mini/HA-1 combo from a SSD.

    • Reply August 16, 2016

      Lieven

      It’s all about the bass 😉

  • Reply August 21, 2016

    Vick85

    Hi

    Can anyone tell me how does the T1.2 fare aginst the 800S if both are being powered by a V281 in full balanced mode?

    Is the 800S significantly better at detail retrieval and transparency, timbre, bass punch and enjoyment(subjective, I know but still..)

    The 2 genres I listen to most are rock and metal. I also enjoy pop, r&b, rap, hip-hop edm etc but mostly I listen to rock and metal.

    Thank You

  • Reply September 13, 2016

    Norsemenxx

    Another great review to read Lieven!

    So the question is if use new hd800s in balanced mode in my solid state amp i won’t lose any detail and soundstage width/depth of older hd800(s)?

  • Reply October 31, 2016

    Jorelle Marquez

    Have you tried pairing the
    HD800s to the Liquid Carbon? Would like to know your impressions. Thanks!

  • Reply November 21, 2016

    Juan

    How would u compare the hd800s with the Beyerdynamic T1 2nd generation?

  • Reply March 27, 2017

    jupitreas

    Thanks for the informative article Lieven. I’m curious if the difference between the 800 and 800S is analogous to the difference between the HD600 and HD650. They kinda did a similar thing with those two headphones, with the 600 being more analytical and the 650 more ‘pleasurable’, while using fundamentally the same technology.

  • Reply June 29, 2017

    James

    Thanks for the review. I’m looking for an amp that will go well with the HD 800S. I am looking at the BH Mainline. Have you heard this combination and do you think it’s top quality? Also, what do you mean by balanced setup? Thanks.

    • Reply June 29, 2017

      Lieven

      I’ve not heard it, sorry.
      Balanced setup = balanced from source to headphone / L/R separation from dac to amp to Headphone

    • Reply August 4, 2017

      Ali

      I’ve tried BH Mainline with my HD 800 and didn’t like the match and even my old Lehmannaudio BCL has a superior sound in my opinion. Best match that I’ve ever came cross is Sennheiser HDVD 800/600. Great combination.

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