Review: Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference – The top model among Sennheiser’s open headphones, apart from the Orpheus HE-1, is the HD 800 S. The successor to the HD 800 from 2009 is available in both the regular version tested here in black and a limited to 750 copies, but technically identical Anniversary Edition available in fine matt gold – for the same price.
The open construction is based on dynamic so-called ring radiators, which, with a diameter of 56 mm, are larger than in all other Sennheiser headphones. The entire processing is explicitly of high quality and robust enough for daily use. The length-adjustable headband with laser engraving and damping element is made of metal and plastic and of course has interchangeable padding. The large ear cups have a small swivel range and are provided with a comfortable, exchangeable microfiber padding. The external insulation is comfortable and also reduces vibrations such as impact noise.
Other interesting details are also hidden in the supposedly straight construction. The stainless steel sound transducers in the auricles are slightly angled, which should bring advantages in spatial hearing and the naturalness of the reproduction. In-house absorption technology is also used, which is intended to reduce masking effects through low frequencies in the high-frequency range and thus improve the reproduction precision. At the same time, it should be noted that this component battle does not have a negative effect on the weight due to the modern choice of materials, because the HD 800 S weighs just 330 grams.
Compared to the successor to the equally outstanding HD 800, not only the housing color but also the technical design has been optimized. The particularly large transducers used are identical to the predecessor, but received additional damping silk for smoothing the upper frequency response and a Helmholtz resonator that also works in the high frequency range. The symmetrical Pentaconn cable is now also included in the scope of delivery, which is ultimately also reflected in a price increase for the HD 800 S. Like its predecessor, this is made entirely by hand in the factory in Wedemark, Lower Saxony, including an exact comparison of the drivers and strict quality control.
|10.7 x 5.7 x 13.8 inches
|Item model number
|HD 800 S
|1 Lithium ion batteries required.
These headphones have two explicit goals: outstanding sound reproduction for the audiophile music lover and the provision of a reliable tool for professional sound creators when assessing and working with audio material. As an open construction, however, the HD 800 S is neither designed for musicians for sound recording nor for mobile use, but has its preferred place on a high-quality headphone amplifier and the sound control room. In our case, the RME ADI-2 Pro FS (for the test) and the SPL Phonitor se (for the test) came into play, which in terms of sound quality really set themselves apart from the headphone amplifier of my Focusrite Clarett 4Pre audio interface.
The functionality is tailored exactly to the tasks mentioned. The HD 800 S works with a high quality 3 meter connection cable. This is led to the auricles on each side and is securely anchored there with locked plugs. The first of the two cables supplied is unbalanced and ends on a gold-plated 6.3 mm jack plug. The second cable is a symmetrical variant with a five-pole 4.4 mm jack plug (Pentaconn), which can be used with the in-house HDV 820. Optionally, you can also purchase a symmetrical cable with an XLR-4 plug, which costs 199 euros but not necessarily cheap.
The wearing comfort deserves a top rating, even during long listening sessions. The auricles enclose the ear over a large area and with only light pressure. The position is nevertheless safely maintained, whereby one can assume that the HD 800 S is usually carried in a stationary position, but that in the professional field, for example in front of a mixing console, one moves back and forth.
The HD 800 S should meet the highest demands, which one can of course also make in view of the sales price. The result is indeed remarkable and truly excellent in an audiophile sense. With an unbalanced connection, however, the headphones are not explicitly loud. As mentioned, the test device benefits from a high-quality headphone amplifier, which is why one can assume sufficient and distortion-free performance. Incidentally, if you use a balanced connection, the level doubles.
The HD 800 S offers a breathtaking detail resolution that encompasses the entire frequency spectrum, the dynamics, the stereo panorama and the surround sound itself. All aspects can be clearly heard and assessed, although the headphones tend to be more analytical than warm .
The innumerable detailed and transient information results in a very finely differentiated, stable and broad stereo panorama with precisely understandable animations. I found the finely resolved spatial representation to be even more remarkable for headphones, which reproduced the space and reverberation effects to a high degree – a property that is rarely found in this form in headphones. As expected, the loudspeaker-typical depth graduation is not achieved.
Equally exciting is the ability to fine-tune the time dimension: the HD 800 S is able to reveal the finest time gradations, such as those found with doubled chants.
In the height range, Sennheiser’s reference is wonderfully open and has a silvery airiness that is only found in upscale price ranges. At the same time, however, it is not only pleasing, but also accurately explores the critical transition to possible hardening of a mixture. The upper bite of a snare drum is not lost, but neither does the headphones overstate the target.
Speaking of voices: These are characterized by excellent intelligibility, making the HD 800 S an excellent choice for voice recordings and editing. In general, I would describe the middle area as slim and also open. Fabulous in terms of voices, the test device delivers intimacy but also physical abundance and pressure in rock productions that don’t sound too lean. With considerable depth I managed to analytically dive into the complex sound structures of a mix and even into the distortion itself, for example in Glenn Hughes’ “This is my town”. Basically, the HD 800 S is not restricted to any genre. Orchestral works or works that rely primarily on acoustic instruments are reproduced just as well as jazz, rock, pop and electronic music. The countless small details always come together as hoped to form a bigger whole that you can enjoy and listen to in equal measure. All too often you discover nuances of all kinds that remain hidden on simpler monitor systems. Never before have I noticed the uncanny purring of the low strings in Tori Amo’s “Star Whisperer” so concisely.
In the bass range, the HD 800 S is less spectacular than most of its competitors and rather sober or slim. At the same time, the bass reproduction reaches down to the lowest cellar in a defined, tight and secure manner in terms of tonality and dynamics. I classify the fact that this area does not come to the fore as a conscious vote in the sense of neutrality. Accordingly, I have to assume that the competition is usually too “thick” to compensate for the lack of structure-borne noise at low frequencies. In the audiophile sense, Sennheiser is taking the right approach here. From a sound engineering point of view, however, one can be divided on this: I would not use the bass range of the HD 800 S as the sole, generally valid basis for a mixture.
Finally, a short comparison within the product family. The predecessor was unfortunately not available to me for a test. According to the manufacturer, the current version sounds more spatial and natural than its predecessor. The sound of the HD 820 is quite similar, but is aimed at those customers who explicitly want a closed, audiophile system. In my opinion, the HD 800 S has slight advantages in terms of detail and resolution. It sounds airier, more defined in the bass and fuller in the midrange. Despite the price difference that results from the more complex manufacturing of the HD 820, I don’t find this unusual, because the HD 820 is a closed construction.
The second comparison headset was the Sennheiser HD 660 S. Compared to this, the HD 800 S plays in a noticeably higher class. The seat of the HD 600 S is tighter. It plays louder and quite convincing at the same time, but has noticeably less spatial depth and detail resolution, sounds less airy and much more superficial in the bass range.
Review: Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference – Conclusion
Anyone looking for a top-class sound experience should take a closer look at the HD 800 S. Its resolution deserves top marks in all disciplines, as does its comfort and workmanship. With these properties, the HD 800 S is not only an extremely fine tool for demanding music enjoyment, but also a magnifying glass for professional sound engineering work. In short: these headphones are a dream. Of course, you pay a price for this sound experience, but it seems to me to be quite reasonable in the context of the competition.
Positives of Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference
- Detailed and articulate sound
- Nicely balanced presentation
- Composed and refined
- Comfort and build
Pros of Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference
- You’ll need a good source and amplification to hear what they can really do