Sennheiser HD 800S Review: Unveiling Audiophile Brilliance - Indranil Mitra's Take

 

Disclaimer:

The following review has been thoughtfully crafted by Mr. Indranil Mitra from Kolkata, a cherished supporter, customer, and friend of The Audio Store. We express our gratitude to Mr. Indranil for generously sharing his personal insights into the Sennheiser HD 800s Headphones. It is important to note that this review is entirely unbiased, reflecting Mr.Indranil's genuine experiences and preferences. No benefits or exchanges have influenced the content of this review. His valuable contributions significantly enhance our blog, and we sincerely appreciate his unwavering dedication to the audio enthusiast community.

Before anything, I would like to thank Pritam Ji and his team at The Audio Store and Sennheiser India for arranging the HD800s for review purposes at such short notice. This gesture means a lot to me, and I feel very honored.

This headphone needs no introduction; it is legendary in its true sense. So it was a big deal for me personally as this was my first time hearing it. It's a pleasure to hear it at your own home with your gear in peace. I usually gloss over the build portion of Sennheiser headphones because we know their tried and tested design for the 5xx and 6xx series. But the 800s is a vast departure from that design; it's also outlandish to look at and feel in the hands. It's brilliantly engineered: light yet feels like a tank. It uses plastic for the most part and yet feels very robust. The plastic Sennheiser uses is of really good quality (across all their headphones). Also, the 800s use a bigger driver than the usual 38mm found in most of their headphones! You get two cables (one SE, one BAL), and they're quite long and premium in quality. But they are prone to tangling a bit. But that's just a nitpick. The cables' quality reflects the headphone's asking price, so all is good. The fit of the 800s is like resting your head on a pillow. There is minimal clamping force, and needless to say, it is extremely comfortable. But be wary, don't shake your head vigorously as the headphones will slide right off!

I will preface the sound portion by saying that one needs to hear the 800s in a certain way, in a certain chain. Because the 800s is not a "generalist" but a specialist. They have made the 800s for a specific subset of people with a specific taste. It is not a headphone that will suit the vast majority of people like the HD 600/650/660S2. The 800s is built for one thing only: to critically analyze the music. It is the epitome of an analytical sounding headphone. So then, why the precautionary steps to listen to music on a headphone, which is ultimately a tool? Simply because it's worth it in the end, and the end result is indeed quite special and one of a kind.

Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones Review: Indranil Mitra's Take

Firstly, these headphones are not meant to be heard tremendously loud, so don't do it. But that's fine as you will never even feel the need to turn this up because the 800s are hands down the most resolving headphone I have heard yet. It is true what they say about the 800s' resolution- it's really hard to beat. Very recently I heard the Arya Stealth and the ZMF Auteur, and the 800s are more resolving than both. And I'm not only talking about raw detail projection but the scalpel-like precision when it comes to imaging as well. It's no joke when you can hear the drummer hit the snare drum twice, and the hits are at slightly different places beside each other, AND THE DRUMMER IS IN THE BACKGROUND IN THE MIX! The 800s are like a katana; it can and will cut through anything like butter, no matter how complex the music is. It is more effortless, tight, and precise sounding than both the Arya Stealth and Auteur.

What about the soundstage? 800s is touted to have the widest soundstage of any headphone out there. Well, coming from a speaker guy, I had to take that statement with a pinch of salt. Audiophiles tend to say anything on the internet. Soundstage doesn't exist in earphones and headphones. They only exist in speakers, as simple as that. Yes, the 800s are very spacious all the time, but no- it's not like listening to a pair of nearfield monitors in a room, as some say. The sound is still around your head- just that it is very well separated with great space between each instrument. But yes, it is indeed the most spacious headphones I have heard, but honestly, I did expect more, given the hype of the soundstage. But oh well, I will hold the general audiophile mass accountable for this.

Coming to the overall tone of the headphones and to answer the elephant in the room: are the HD800s as bright as the sun? For me personally, not at all. Yes, the lower treble area is a bit boosted, but it is really not that much. I am much more sensitive to boosted upper treble, and I perceive that as much brighter. So for example, The Arya Stealth, Edition XS sound much brighter to me than the HD800s. But the stand-out feature of the treble is just how CLEAN it is. I will never use the term "clarity" lightly anymore. The headphones which I have heard till now all sound muddy when compared to a good speaker- especially in the treble. But the 800s are the first exception I have come across. It is almost as clean and airy as my speakers (Indiq Audio Signature Mishra V2), just in miniature form. Both the Arya Stealth and Auteur sound veiled and unclear in comparison, especially the Auteur. The mids are slightly recessed compared to the HD600/HD650/HD660S2, but the resolution as expected is better on the 800S. Even though the mids are slightly pushed back (in comparison only), they are extremely natural sounding. I also simply do not agree that the 800s have poor bass. Yes, the modern planners have better bass extension, but when it comes to slam and impact, the 800s are far better than I had expected it to be. In many tracks, I was getting the better impact of kick drums and snare hits than the Arya Stealth even. This, in general, is the caveat of planar headphones: great bass extension but the impact is lackluster in all but a few of them. Submit to the greatness of the good old dynamic driver.

The second precaution is the chain. You really do need to tailor the sound of your chain to get the most out of this headphone. Bright and thin-sounding amps are out of the question. So are bright and thin-sounding DACs. You need amps and DACs that are thicker sounding and those that take the edge off the treble. For this review, my DAC was the E1DA 9038D, and I tested the 800s on two amps: Topping A30 Pro and Anode Acoustics #2. The A30 pro is neutral and uncolored while #2 is thicker and slightly warmer. Needless to say, the pairing was better on the #2 for sure, but it wasn't bad on the A30 Pro either. It wasn't bright or fatiguing- just that in the long run, I craved something more. The added thickness and slight softness in the treble of #2 paired beautifully well with the 800s. Do note that the ideal pairing for the 800s would be a tube amp, and one does indeed need to go through the rabbit hole of amps to "synergize" with the 800S. I do not have a tube amp currently, so I don't care about it. Modern tube amps can sound clean and tight (of course depending on the choice of the tube), and even then one needs to be careful about which amp they choose. But yes, tube amps almost always have a tendency to make the sound wider and deeper, stretching it out while also zooming into the music, making the sound thicker and adding a ton of air up top. When tailored to the 800s, the end result will truly be something special. 

Sennheiser HD800s VS HD 660S2 

Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones Review: Indranil Mitra's Take

HD800s VS HD 660S2 Well, this isn't really a fair comparison at first glance but hear me out: the HD 660S2 simply cannot keep up with the 800s when it comes to the technical chops (to no one's surprise) but indeed it does have a more natural tone as a whole due to its more natural response in the treble. In fact, it is much more forgiving of poor recordings, smoothening out the rough edges in harsh recordings. The midrange on the HD 660S2 is more forward and more "lush" sounding. The two headphones seem to be made for two different purposes altogether. Which one is better? Well, like most things in audiophilia, there is rarely anything better or worse: just different. With time, one can get accustomed to any kind of sound signature. But in the end, I would still prefer to stick with the HD660S2 over HD 800s due to its versatility. But with the right chain, 800s can be made to sound just as lush and smooth with its one-of-a-kind technical abilities; just that I am not looking forward to tailoring my chain for it at the moment.

To conclude, in my opinion, if anyone can follow the precautionary steps and tailor a chain to the HD 800s, it is really hard to beat. I thought I heard some nice headphones in the 1500 USD price point, but the 800s tops them out. Kudos to Sennheiser, as always.

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