Predictably though, the Sennheiser HD 800 sound absolutely fantastic. These are some of the very best headphones money can buy.
They’re incredibly accurate, as if their sound is carved out of a solid block of marble with lasers – by those robotic arms you see in car adverts. This may lead to the criticism among some listeners that they are a little cold and clinical-sounding, but the Sennheiser HD 800 don’t suffer from the sonic deficiency usually associated with that kind of headphone – meagre bass.
The clarity and that impeccable cut-glass edge is more a feature than in the rival Grado GS1000i, but when a powerful low end is required, the HD 800 can supply it. During a typical explosion scene in a movie, the bass response of these headphones is alarming, partly because it’s so unexpected. There’s no excess warmth here to speak of, but bass extension is superb – right down to those spine-tingling sub-bass levels.
What’s most clearly evident when the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are placed in direct comparison with rivals though, like the Grado GS1000i and HiFiMAN’s HE-series headphones, is the incredibly wide soundstage. This gives a very speaker-like sound, far removed from the “in your head” headphone sound you may be used to.
Many open backed headphones have had their sound signatures described as “open”, by us too, but the Sennheiser HD 800 are on another level in this respect. Their breadth is at times breathtaking. Few headphones can render the sound of an orchestra, in its complex, interweaving glory, anywhere near as well as the Sennheiser HD 800. Other sets just don’t have the space for separation that this pair does.
If a review was an exam, we’d have to give the Sennheiser HD 800 full marks, but as the point of our reviews is – when we get down to the brass tacks – to tell you whether you should buy something or not, we do need to at least try and account for peoples’ varying tastes. And some may find the HD 800’s lack of bombast disappointing.
The Grado PS1000 are masters at making music sound larger than life, with an energetic, bassier sound that captures excitement and the vivid colour of music wherever it wanders. The Sennheiser HD 800, by contrast, give a close 1:1 representation of what’s going on in those 1s and 0s (or those grooves, if you’re listening to vinyl). They’re sonic truth tellers, and some ears will be more completely satisfied by sets willing to weave a fantasy or two out of whatever you pump into them. Can your ears handle the truth?
Scientists of the headphone scene, the Sennheiser HD 800 are startlingly accurate and insightful. With a gigantic sound stage, they can make music sound as if it is coming out of speakers nearby more than almost any other set we’ve heard.
They’re immensely comfortable too, and unless you take against their “futuristic” silvery look entirely, that they’re giant and eye-catching needn’t be a downer as they should only be used indoors anyway. Better get saving, eh?