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CES 2009: Sennheiser Redefines Sound Quality

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Sennheiser chose to launch its new top-of-the-range headphones at CES, the HD 800s. Just looking at the HD 800s, it's clear that they're something special, with a completely new ear-cup design. Not only are these new ear-cups very large, in order to create a comfortable over-the-ear fit, but they're also designed to deliver the sound at a slight angle, giving the music a more spatial feel, similar to the effect created by a pair of stereo speakers.

The standout component in the HD800s is a 56mm sound transducer - currently the largest available in dynamic headphones. Sennheiser has also made the vibrating part of the diaphragm a ring, rather than a circular surface, in order to eliminate unwanted distortion at the high end that can occur with a large surface area transducer. The transducer is also mounted in a stainless steel gauze to avoid any partial vibrations.

The HD 800s definitely look the part, with the bare steel construction and completely open back design. The ear-cups also sit incredibly lightly over the ears, and there are no problems with your ears getting hot, or your skin sweating - in fact it's easy to forget that you're even wearing the HD 800s once you close your eyes and immerse yourself in the music.

And you'll be able to immerse yourself like never before, because the sound produced by the HD 800s can only be described as heavenly! I spent some time in Sennheiser's listening booth auditioning the HD 800s, and to say that I was impressed would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. The level of detail that these headphones produce is like nothing I've ever heard, and even at modest volumes the slightest, most subtle effects can be clearly discerned.

Even though the show floor at CES is hardly the best environment for auditioning high-end, open back headphones it was clear that Sennheiser has created something truly wonderful with the HD 800s. In fact I had to fight the urge to just bed down on Sennheiser's sofa and spend the whole afternoon listening, they really do sound that good.

Obviously nothing this good comes cheap and in the US Sennheiser will be charging around $1,400 for the HD 800s. What that will equate to in the UK remains to be seen, but I'll be chasing up UK availability and pricing when I return home. That said, after spending only a short time listening to the HD 800s, whatever the UK price, I'm tempted to think that it will be worth every penny.

Update: UK pricing has been confirmed at £999, which is pretty much in line with current exchange rates - well done Sennheiser.

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