HD800 Journal: Part 2

After more listening with the Sennheiser HD800, I’ve concluded that the HD800 is so good, that if your bank account permits, you might want to start doing some source rolling. Yes, the HD800 is transparent and it will reveal any defects in your source, but other high end phones can do that too. What makes me start thinking of doing some source rolling, is that the HD800 has so much potential that I’d really like to hook it up to some $100k CDP+Transport system, and see what kind of magic comes out!

But seriously, how good is the HD800? I am sure that most people don’t doubt that the HD800 exceeds the HD650’s technical performance. But there were questions if the $1400 tag is worth the money, if the HD800 really belongs to the level of legendary phones like the AKG K1000 and the Sony MDR-R10s. Now let me try to answer those questions.

Is the Sennheiser HD800 a great headphone?

So the HD800 is really good, and the hype is not just another marketing phenomenon?
No. The HD800 is really good.

Just how good is the HD800 then?
The HD800 is a headphone with a lot of potential, yet at the same time it is a hard headphone to please. If you feed good signal into it, it will spit out one of the best sound you’ll ever get from a headphone. That’s why I was talking about source rolling, because I am confident that even a $100k source will not go to waste on the HD800. My CEC TL51XZ CDP falls on the really low spectrum of what’s considered a high-end source, but even then, the CEC combined with the Balanced Beta22 really brings a three dimensional music into my ears. With superb recordings, the sound this system give is scary real. For instance, with the HD800, the instruments separation is not on the level of “every instrument can be hear distinctly and are not mixed”, but rather, “every instrument seems to have their own islands with small channels separating one island from another” kind of level.

Is the HD800 worth every cents of the $1400?
Yes, it has that much potential that makes it worth every penny of the $1400. I’d consider it even better bang-for-the buck than the Grado HP1000. Now don’t start taking out your credit cards yet, because I also said that the HD800 is a hard headphone to please. As you start to move down the ladder from a great system to good systems, so will you lessen the sparkle of the HD800. Driven single ended from the Grace M902 amplifier on the same CEC source, for example, you start to feel that the star that was shining so brightly on the previous system is now starting to lose its light. Though the Grace M902 is a superb amplifier by itself, and it is more than capable of giving enough power to both a HD800 and HD650 through its two headphone outlets, I now feel that the HD800 is starting to lose the magic that I heard from the Balanced Beta22.

I happen to have a WooAudio 6 amplifier with the PDPS upgrade on loaner, and with the WooAudio 6, I also feel that the magic is not there. Although the WooAudio 6 did inject some good body and thickness into the HD800, I’d still feel that better musicality is achieved by the HD650 on the WooAudio6.

See the picture? In short, the answer to the $1400 question depends on if the rest of your system can give the reference level signal that the HD800 needs.

5/5 - (1 vote)


  • Reply October 24, 2010

    David Keppel

    I haven't tried the HD 800 but I did want to note that Skylab on HeadFi says that the HD 800 sounds as good with the Elekit TU-882A ($445) as with any of the amps he's tried. He also says that the Woo Audio 6 is better with low impedance headphones. See his tube amplifier ranking on HeadFi.

    • Reply October 24, 2010


      David, that article was written around the time when I just received the HD800. I had only use it with a few amps then, including the WA6.

      Roughly a year after that, I've used the HD800 in so many different amplifier and source set ups, each with their own strength and weaknesses. Depending on the music and recording you listen to, one amp will sound better than the other, and vica versa. Even I can't say that my Zana Deux ($2200) is the best HD800 amp, nor the balanced Beta22, both amps considered the top tube and solid state headphone amplifier.

      Actually, this is the case with almost every headphone, there is no such thing as the "best" pairing. Factors like music genre, recording, and personal preference is very important. This is why I don't create rankings for amplifiers or headphones.

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