Headphones are the perfect embodyment of the individual audio experience. We watch our kids listening to music on their smartphones. The level of that experience is determined by the quality of the used earbuds or headphones. At best of high end we search for the ultimate. That’s the reason why we engaged in a duo-test of the Sennheiser HD800 and HD800S. Let’s put on the HD800 first and dig in.

The Sennheiser brand

The CEO’s of Sennheiser and Neumann are close friends since… When Neumann was struggling, things became personal. Sennheiser took over Neumann, because they didn’t want the legacy of such a tremendous brand to be lost. So, there it is: one of the finest line-up of microphones, monitors and headphones. The Sennheiser HD800 was developed as a statement product. All of their experience and technology went into this fine high end product, to offer headphones that would blow your mind.

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Getting to know the Sennheiser HD800

With a price tag of €1.299 (EU) we are definitely in the high end range. Sure, there are more expensive sets available on the market. If you drive a Porsche or a Ferrari, there’s always that Bugatti Veron in the rear mirror (more likely on the road in front of you). You get my point. The Sennheiser HD800 are crafted for perfection. As most of German products, they are very well build. The heaphones feel light, are very easy to use and offer excellent wearability. A closer look reveals the metal headband with inner damping, the hand crafted ear pads made of high-quality microfibre fabric. Sennheiser states that the HD800 performs at a new reference class in wired headphones. They describe them as an open, circum-aural dynamic stereo headphones. In the HD800 you’ll find the biggest transducers ever build for headphone purposes. The cable is specially tuned, symmetrical and impedance matched with low capacitance. High precision headphone connectors ensure excellent signal transmission. The overall design? You love it or you hate it. I think the design is breathtaking. But what about the sound it produces?

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Listening to the Sennheiser HD800

The wearing comfort of the Sennheiser HD800 strikes immediately. First up is Diana Krall. I really enjoy the intimacy of her (virtually) making love to the microphone when bringing ‘A case of you’. It’s just her voice and a Steinway model D. The HD 800 conveys the emotion an purity in her voice with the necessary delicacy to make you believe her. I get a good sense of the space that she performs in. The size of her voice and the Steinway sound realistic. Switching to Philips Catherine makes the transient response of the headphones stand out. Guitar and bass guitar notes are presented in a fast and dynamic way. Frances did a great ‘studio job’ with ‘Don’t worry about me’. The tripling of her voice is very well done and makes her sound as ‘one’, but with more persuasiveness. Low frequency performance is tight and above average, although we’re not in the basement yet. The open design of the HD800 often works distracting if you are not listening in a quiet living room. There’s the dog from the neighbours again, a passing car… Classical music to me is the ultimate evaluation tool. Rostropovich earned my respect with the way he interprets Bach. Maybe it’s because he’s an older musician, with more life experience and perseverance. I got a pretty good idea of the size of his cello. Maybe I would have expected the treble to be more transparent and a bit less grainy. Andreas and Barbara were well casted for the Decca Pergolesi album ‘Stabat Mater’. Their voices make a nice blend and offer a fair and emotional blend. The string section plays tuneful with enough separation. Listening to high resolution tracks on the VOX player led to an expansion of the sound stage, a hint of more realism and separation.

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Price

€1.299 (Eurozone) at the time of the review.

Technical specifications

  • Colour: silver
  • Style: headband
  • Frequencyrange: 14 – 44.100 Hz (-3dB)
  • THD: 0,02%
  • Connection type: Jack
  • Cable length: 3m
  • Weight: 300g (without cable)
  • Nominal impedance: 300 ohm

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Review setup

  • Sennheiser HD800 headphones
  • Sennheiser HD800S headphones
  • Sennheiser HDVD800 D/A transducer
  • AES/EBU USB interface
  • iMac
  • Spotify premium
  • VOX Premium Mac Music Player for Hi-Res music

Track list

  1. A case of you – Diana Krall [Live in Paris]
  2. Hello George – Philippe Catherine [New Folks]
  3. Don’t worry about me – Frances [Things I’ve never said]
  4. Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prelude – Mstislav Rostropovich [Le Violoncello du Siècle]
  5. Stabat Mater – Andreas Scholl & Barbara Bonney [Pergolesi: Stabat Mater]

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Sennheiser HD800 review
The Sennheiser HD800 are beautiful machined headphones that deliver. Go ahead and try different headphone amplifiers, even dedicated cables from reputed manufacturers. You will hear differences. Be a chef and season until you get the sound that you want to hear. The truth is that the HD800 really needs a high end amplifier to shine. With that in mind you end up investing €3.300 for the complete Sennheiser package. That would be a solid investment. Personally I would pay the extra €300 to buy the HD800S to get the 'best of high end'.
Performance [60]65%
Features | Functionality [20]80%
Design | Build Quality [10]90%
Price | Performance [10]60%
Positive points
  • Innovative technical approach
  • Eye-catching design
  • Performance that matches expectations
  • Wearing comfort
Negative points
  • Needs high end amplifier to shine
  • Ambient sound can be distracting
  • Pricy
70%Overall Score