HD800 Journal: Part 3

Summing up what I’ve written previously on Part 1 and Part 2 of the HD800 Journal, I felt that the HD800 is an exceptional dynamic headphone, and the better the component upstream is, the better the HD800 gets. This is great news for people with a high end source and a high end amplifier, as finally, the bottleneck on the transducer has been removed and they can really hear every little drop of sound coming out of their high end source. At the same time, there has been a lot of frustration among other HD800 buyers, as it doesn’t seem to give them the $1400, ultimate-dynamic-cans sound that would end their headphone journey once and for all.

I can’t pretend to know what the unhappy buyers are hearing, but if I can make an educated guess, I think it’s the lack of coloration on the HD800. It has been said many times that the HD800 is very neutral headphone, free from any coloration. Well, it turns out that neutrality is a double edged sword. Despite all the talk about neutrality being the pinnacle of Hi-Fi, the reality is, a lot of us love our audio gears precisely for their coloration. Think about some of the most loved headphones, and you will notice that they each have quite a distinct coloration: the Grado RS1, the Sennheiser HD650, the Denon D7000, and you’ll notice that none them have been described as neutral.

We have been living in a sweet, colored world throughout our Hi-Fi life. Then suddenly, Sennheiser released a dead neutral HD800. As a consequence, we find expressions such as “the HD800 has great speed and imaging, but I find it to lack soul”, or “as much as the HD800 is a great phone, I find myself reaching for the Denon more” and so on.

Don’t think of “neutral” as something that you would immediately appreciate. If you’re listening to the HD650 and you’re loving its laid back and dark sound, realize that on the HD800, though a lot of things will be improved, you’ll lose that laid back and dark HD650 sound. Is that a trade off that you’re willing to take? Of course, the same thing applies for a lot of other headphones out there, each with their own house sound.

For me, I enjoy either a colored sound or a neutral one. I highly enjoyed the HD650, but I thoroughly enjoy the HD800 too. Although to me, the HD800 is far more enjoyable than the HD650, both technically and musically. What’s funny, is when we read into the Sennheiser HD650’s manual, it actually indicated that the engineers were moving away from a precise sound reproduction to a more fun and colored sound. As quoted from the Sennheiser HD650 manual:

“With the HD 650, Sennheiser has followed the changes in the listening habits of music-lovers and the way in which they experience sound. In spite of all purism and the highest demands on precise sound reproduction, a slight change in listening behaviour is detectable. Today many music-lovers want to feel the sound more instead of plainly analysing it. The HD 650 now captivates your senses where you used to be a mere observer. It allows total submersion into an ocean of music and lets you completely forget the surroundings.”

So it seems that people have been moving back and fourth between a pursuit of neutrality and a pursuit of a fun sound. Would this make the next generation of the Sennheiser flagship, a colored headphone?

There were also talk about the HD800 being overpriced or not living up to the hype. In my opinion, the hype surrounding the HD800 is certainly well justified, as it has opened a door to a musicality that I never before experience, even with the Grado HP1000. What about pricing? Having owned the $999 Grado GS1000i, for instance, I think the extra $400 upgrade to the HD800 is quite justified for the upgrade that you get. Other flagship headphones that were recently released, like the Grado PS1000 and the Ultrasone Edition 8, certainly haven’t achieved the technical achievements that the HD800 has, though they all retail for more than the HD800.

When you compare the HD800 to the discontinued legends of the past, the HD800 really becomes a great bang-for-the-buck product. For instance, the legendary Grado HP1000 is one of the best headphones out there, but it doesn’t have the speed and the imaging capability that the HD800 has. This makes the $1399 HD800 quite a bargain, seeing how 2nd hand HP1000s often approach the $2000 range. Also, the HD800 is often compared with headphones costing a few times more, as if a few thousand dollars of difference doesn’t seem to matter. If you notice that the Sony MDR-R10 sells for ~$6000, and the Sennheiser Orpheus, or HE90, sells for ~$9000, and these are the headphones that people say to be better than the HD800 (they better be, for that price), then you begin to really appreciate the bang-of-the-buck factor of the HD800.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

20 Comments

  • Reply April 2, 2010

    Jose

    What I love about headphones in general (high end headphones I mean) is that usually there is a lot of value in them when you compare them with a set of speakers of the same or even higher price, i.e, I have a set of MB Quart Aera and I absolutely find my HE-5 better on some occasions. Also I have read in someplace, can't remember where exactly, they compare the HD800 to a $20000 dollar speaker system.

    • Reply June 5, 2014

      Peter

      I saw the other day that one of my favorite audiophile albums, After Silence, by the master Trumpet player Andre Heuvelman, is mixed and mastered with the HD800.

      I have been listening to the album for month and enjoying it tremendously, unknowingly that mixing was done partly on the HD800.

      No wonder it sounds so good on my pair.

      Also says a lot about the quality of the HD800 that a top audiophile boutique label as Sound Liaison actually mix on the Sennheisers.

      The album is available as 24/96 studio master download here;

      [url]http://www.soundliaison.com/products-from-our-studio-masters/135-andre-heuvelman-flac[/url]

      and there, on the site they describe in detail how the album was made, very interesting recording philosophy.
      from the Sound Liaison site;
      [quote
      ]Microphones:
      Main system: Schoeps MK5 AB
      Spot mic’s: Neumann KM84, Neumann TLM170, Neumann U47, Van Medevoort C1000
      Micpre’s: RME Micstacy (Analog > MADI)
      Microphone cables: Grimm Audio TPR
      Master clock: Grimm Audio CC1

      Mixing headphones: Sennheiser HD800
      Mixing speakers: Grimm Audio LS1

      Recording and mixing – Frans de Rond[/qoute]

  • Reply May 29, 2010

    Bram

    Hi mike, it's really enjoyable reading your HD800 journal. you've picturesque HD800's sound quite well that I could imagine how the hd800 sounds like. But honestly I think it would be lovely if you could extend this journal especially about the balancing part. Because I've been wondering (I think many people did) how good this HD800 actually is driven balance? What are the improvements you'll find by driving HD800 in balanced way? Especially I see that you got beta22 as one of the best SS amplifier to drive the HD800.

    Can't wait for the next profound review!

    • Reply May 29, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying the journal. I will try to write some more about the HD800 if the time permits.

    • Reply May 29, 2010

      Mike

      About balanced amplifications, the HD800 improves in the soundstage width (wider soundstage), bottom end presence (a fuller bodied bottom end). Ambiance, instrument bodies, attack and decay is also much real on balanced, but I think those are heavily attributed to the superb Beta22 as well as the CEC TL51XZ.

  • Reply November 13, 2010

    J

    Gone my HD650 and HD800 stay, and firm. For truly faulted or anemic audio recording “aural restauration” πŸ˜‰ i use Denon AH-D5000 or AKG K701 (for real editing, sure i use HD800) .

    • Reply November 15, 2010

      Mike

      I don't quite get your comment there, other than you have the HD650, HD800, D5000, and K701. πŸ™‚

  • Reply December 10, 2010

    dani

    hi – my husband has the hd800s and I am after an amp/dac for him for his pc that will do them justice.but don't want to break the bank and also don't have a clue wot I'm doing πŸ™‚

    I looked at the headroom one at 699 or so but read it needed lots of accs that would take the price up drastically.
    Would nuforce be ok either the cheaper dac 2 or the more dollars hd?

    thanks for any advice… I need it…

    • Reply December 10, 2010

      Mike

      Sounds like a very cool husband/wife team…

      Sounds like your budget is around $700? You can get a good amp for that price, or a good DAC at that price, but none of both. We're talking HD800 standard here.

      The Nuforce uDAC 2 is good, but not quite up to the HD800 level. I've never heard the HD, so I can't say.

      The HD800 can be quite a different headphone depending on amp/DAC combinations, and there are so many flavors out there. Do you want tube-romantic sound, or do you want something with more impact and authority, or something highly transparent?

      • Reply December 10, 2010

        dani

        thanks for responding – my husband listens to a lot of dance and but also loves some classics like floyd, so I'm thinking more transparent.

        The team ain't so hot… 'cos I'd like to get away with less than 700 if I can πŸ™‚ He's using the HD800s at home on his stereo getting great sound but wants to listen at work while working too… would the nuforce stuff just murder the qualiy?

        thanks again….

        • Reply December 10, 2010

          Mike

          Hi Dani, if you have your eyes set on the Nuforce, just go ahead with it. But get him the nicer HDP model and not the cheaper uDAC model. πŸ™‚ It should be quite a good set up. πŸ™‚

          • Reply December 11, 2010

            dani

            thanks.. I'll go with the hdp and let you know how he thinks it sounds.. if he thinks it's terrible, I'll tell him it's because I failed to listen to good advice and I'm a cheap skate! πŸ™‚

            • Reply December 11, 2010

              Mike

              You cheap skate. Just kidding. πŸ™‚

              I think your husband should be happy with the HDP. πŸ™‚

  • Reply February 17, 2012

    Calle

    Hi Mike, nice review (yes, I know it’s old now but internet never dies!).
    I agree with you totally but have two comments, first (about some not so happy users), my experience is that HD800 need about 200hrs burn in. My pair sounded terrible in the treble at first, I could easily been one of those dissatisfied users and I wanted my HD650 back, but all that metalic and hard sound have now dissapeared.

    Second I think they work great even with portable equipment. I’ve used them directly with my iPhone 4, my MacBook Pro and even an old Philips portable cd-player. No problem, as long you keep the volume moderate. I don’t think I do better with any cheaper, more easy driven and less demanding headphone even in this cases.
    This is my experience with other “hig end” headphones also so it’s a shame many of them don’t even have a 3.5mm plug. Had to buy a separate adapter to my HD800 which don’t make the already long and heavy cable moreΒ manageable…

    Of course you don’t get the most out of them, but it’s not as they don’t work well at all.
    Similar experience with HD650, T1 and Ultrasone PRO 2900, all can be driven by an iPod as long as you keep the volume normal.

  • Reply December 2, 2012

    vick_85

    @e4ab8be641d689f3ba23e91a94a56a05:disqus

    Why are there no reviews of any grado headphones on the site??
    Have you ever had a chance to listen to the GS1000i or PS1000??

    Thanks
    Vick

    • Reply December 3, 2012

      Julius

      Any specific model you are interested in reading about, Vick? I might be able to get my hands on one of the higher end Grado models soon.

    • Reply December 3, 2012

      Mike

      HI Vick,
      Yes I owned the GS1000i for a while. Nice big spacious sound, good bass impact. Bright and lacking mid range body.

      The PS1000 I’ve listened to it on several occassion. Big sound like the GS1000i but with fuller mids. Somehow, it just didn’t work for me the way the MS-Pro and RS1, or PS500 are.

      You can go to the bottom of the page where the TAGs are and click on Grado to find Grado reviews.

      • Reply December 3, 2012

        vick_85

        @headfonia:disqus

        Thanks for the quick reply.

        I own an HD650 & Denon Ahd 7000 and want an even better can so would you say HD 800 is the way to go??
        I listen to everything from Beethoven to motley crue and I know 1 headphone can’t do all genre’s justice but would the HD800 be a good compromise?

        Audeze LCD2/3 maybe??

        • Reply December 3, 2012

          Mike

          The HD800 won’t be a good all rounder headphone and is a difficult headphone to get right. The LCD-2 would be a better all rounder.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.