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Sennheiser HD 800 Review

Pros

  • Incredible breadth to sound
  • Excellent build quality
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • The look... not subtle is it?

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £995.00
  • Removable cable
  • 6.3mm jack
  • Open back design

Sennheiser’s HD range of headphones is full of superstars, from the classic HD 650 to the new budget HD 518. But all the open-back models look a little bit too similar for our liking. Apart from the majestic £1000 HD 800 that is. These emperors of the range look like they’ve been transported from a sci-fi future envisioned in 1982, with a sound so precise it could have been crafted with lasers.

Can paying a grand for a pair of headphones ever be worth it? Call us loons in the comments if you like, but the Sennheiser HD 800 prove to us that it can be.

Sennheiser HD 800 1

These are Sennheiser’s top-end headphones, and it has gone all-out on the design to prove it. One model down, the HD 650 may be big – engulfing even granddad-sized ears – but they offer a sensible, simple look that doesn’t cry out for attention. The same can’t be said about the HD 800. These silver and black beauties sit atop your ears like a prop from a sci-fi movie, as if they’re about to create a wormhole between your ears.

Functionally, the design is traditional enough, with a black grille protecting these otherwise open-back headphones, but in style terms they’re rather unusual. Where most other high-end manufacturers opt for a fairly “classic” look for their top-end models – Grado and Ultrasone clad their £1000 in wood to do just that – Sennheiser seems to want to make the HD 800 look technologically advanced. In a way that conjures memories of films like Blade Runner and The Fifth Element – sure to put off some.

Sennheiser HD 800 5
For all its silvery trappings, it’s surprising that much of the HD800 is still plastic. The arms that connect the ear cups to the headband? Plastic. The rim that surrounds the pads? Also plastic. This is standard for the HD range, and the materials used are of excellent quality – but plastic nevertheless lacks that “ooh” inducing quality that a metal-plated (or wood for that matter) gadget can often summon.

There is a huge benefit to the use of plastic here, and that’s reduced weight. Although they’re huge, the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are fairly light at 330g (without cable). Thanks to perfect distribution of this burden, helped along by the gigantic, head-hugging fabric ear pads, they are supremely comfortable to wear. The wooden Grado GS1000i are lighter still, but the design of the Sennheisers edges them for comfort – especially if you know and love the feel of the HD series ‘phones, which is present and correct here.

Befitting headphones of this high grade, the Sennheiser HD 800 come with a very thick, mesh-covered detachable cable. Like all over-the-ears HD-series models, this cable is detachable. Unlike other HD-series models though, a replacement is not particularly affordable. A new one will cost you around £180, testament to the ultra-high quality of each element of this package. The cable’s 3m long, so be careful if you have pets or are a fan of whizzing around on wheeled office chairs.

The cable ends in a gold plated 6.3mm jack, protected by a long metal sleeve. No 3.5mm converter is included, but if you’re planning on skipping about town with these cans plugged into your iPod, you have got it wrong on a number of levels.

Sennheiser HD 800 3

Firstly, the 300 Ohm impedance is a clear signpost that these headphones are intended for use with a headphone amp. Second, the open-back design means they’re only suitable for indoors use, preferably in a quiet environment that will let the HD 800 do their thing undisturbed.

Open-backed headphones do not shield you from the noises of the outside world, and also broadcast whatever’s being played through them to any folks nearby. Listen to the Sennheiser HD 800 from the comfort of your living room, not the comfort of a seat on the train, for all our sakes.

Sennheiser HD 800 4

These headphones effectively come with no accessories, but the box itself is something to behold. Lined with silk and opening up like a presentation box for a gigantic necklace, there’s no small amount of ceremony to saying hello to these headphones for the first time. And given you’ll have just spent around £1,000 for the privilege, we don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Of course, if Sennheiser thinks it can dupe us into thinking the HD 800 are dead good with a mere fancy box and esoteric design, it has another thing coming…

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.

Sennheiser HD 800 2

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.Sennheiser HD 800

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?

Verdict

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?

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 7
  • Design & Features 8
  • Sound Quality 10

Features

Type Open Air (Circumaural)
Wireless No
Noise Cancelling No
Microphone No
Inline Volume No
Modular Cabling Yes
Remote Control No
Frequency Range 8-50,000Hz

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