“Crafted for perfection” – was the mission statement of the venerable Sennheiser HD 800, so is there something left for HD 800 S or does the “S” stand for “same”? Read on to find out whether you, the engineer get something worthwhile for entering the realm of hi-end headphones.

Pros
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Superb imaging for a headphone in a truly luxury feeling package

Pros list with Sonarworks Reference calibration

  • The HD 800 S retains its superb resolution and imaging even after flattening its frequency response
  • Brightness is gone
  • Sub-bass completes the picture
Cons
  • Highs are super hyped
  • Sub-bass roll-off not excusable in this price class
  • Sub-bass will distort at a higher volume
  • Bass heads should look at orthos
Use cases Recommended music genres:
Rock
Best use case:
Just about anything, unless you require isolation
Tech specs Type
Open back, Over-ear
Impedance
300 Ohm
Distortion
< 0.02%, measured at 1 kHz sine wave
Frequency response
10 Hz to 39.5 kHz
Connector
6.3 mm stereo jack
Adapter
no adapter included
Weight
300 g (without cable)
Require headphone amp
Yes
Headphone amp

If the 300 Ohm impedance isn’t enough of an indication that portable devices and laptop headphone outputs are out of the question, then the 1500EUR price-tag should be! In all honesty, for medium SPL’s a laptop output should be okay, but a dedicated high-quality audio interface or DAC+amp combo is what you should be using to get the best of these headphones.

Build quality

The HD 800 S is built well and in my opinion, improves upon the space-age aesthetic of its predecessor. The original HD 800 was plagued by paint flaking issues, which seem to be absent from the HD 800 S. Overall the build quality is solid without any glaring weaknesses, with that said one should probably babysit the HD 800 S a little, so they maintain their sharp looks for a longer time. The cable is removable and sturdy enough to not break under normal use. With that said, Sennheiser has opted for proprietary connectors on the headphone side, so crafting your own cable might not be that easy, as these connectors are pricy.

Sound

Sennheiser HD800S
Just like its predecessor the HD 800 S uses a 56mm dynamic driver. Unlike the majority of dynamic headphones, the HD 800 S uses a ring radiator which means that the middle of the driver doesn’t move as it’s suspended to a fixture piece. Sennheiser claims that this allows for the headphone to transmit soundwaves in a more correct manner. I can’t tell whether that’s what’s really happening, but the HD 800 S does sound special. In stock form, the tonal response is rather bright with upper mids and up being roughly 6dB louder than the rest of the spectrum. Around 14kHz there’s a pronounced spike in the tonal response, which adds unnatural sparkle to the sound. Now, despite using a 56mm driver, the low-end response isn’t better than found in most open back headphones with regular 40mm drivers. This is due to the fact that the stationary middle piece takes away moving area so the diameter doesn’t tell the whole story. Overall the exotic ring radiator offers impressive imaging, not found in other headphones, superb resolution, but excessive brightness remains the tar drop in the honey pot. The bright sound signature will exaggerate overtones and will keep you from getting that snare right.
HD800s

Channel balance

Sennheiser are experts in providing well-matched drivers for almost all of their headphones. The HD 800 S is no exception. There is a miniscule difference in the treble, but nothing to keep one up at night, as the difference is largely inaudible.

Comfort

Sennheiser HD 800 S feels like your wearing nothing. The headband is supremely comfortable and the giant earcups exert very little pressure. This is top-notch comfort and allows the HD 800 S to be worn for long periods of time. The earcups are well ventilated, so your ears won’t get too hot. One thing to keep in mind is that the light clamp will do little to keep the HD 800 S on your head, so head-banging should be done with care.

Value

It’s a 1400 euro headphone with a tonal response that’s worse than the one offered by the 250 euro HD 650. Value is poor, but the HD 800 S offers resolution and imaging not found in the HD 650. Value wise the greatest enemy of the HD 800 S is a well taken care of 2nd hand HD 800 found for 600 euro.

Observations on how headphones perform after applying Sonarworks Reference calibration Total Harmonic Distortion

As mentioned above, the 56mm driver isn’t a bass monster. Distortion is predominantly 2nd order, hence inoffensive and only creeps into audibility at around 60Hz.

How accurate and consistent is the correction effect among different listeners?

The ear-cups are positively enormous, so there’s a lot of wiggle space where one can park their ears. Luckily the frequency response doesn’t shift too much because of this, so high marks there.

How much do they differ pair to pair in terms of frequency response?

As it’s usual with Sennheiser, the consistency is exceptional. As seen in one factory tour video, Sennheiser proudly admit that they discard many drivers to get the HD 800 right. Same is done for the newer HD 800 S and it shows.

Rating

7.2 / 8.7 / 8.9

Sound rating is a weighted average of Frequency Response, Adaptiveness, Harmonic Distortion and Channel Balance scores, with Frequency Response and Adaptiveness having the greatest influence.

5.5 / 9 / 10

The flatter the frequency response – the higher the score. When evaluating the frequency response score with the Average calibration profile, the pair to pair consistency of the given model is taken into account – if we have measured a considerable frequency response inconsistency among multiple pairs of the given model, the score drops, as the profile loses accuracy. Individual calibration will grant perfectly flat frequency response.

8

Adaptiveness shows how capable these headphones are at delivering the same perceived frequency response to any listener. Headphones with high score will sound nearly identical to everyone.

6

Harmonic distortion – the lower the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) figure, the higher the score. Headphones with prominent 3rd harmonic distortion above 100 Hz will score lower.

9.5 / 10

Channel balance – the closer to identical the frequency response of both channels, the higher the score. Individual calibration delivers perfect channel balance.

10

Comfort – shows if headphones can be used for long listening sessions comfortably. Every model is tested by at least a few individuals.

9

Build – evaluates how well the headphones are put together, the materials used and indicates the expected longevity. Easily replaceable (and easily available) parts will boost the score. We don’t do any stress tests and very few models are used for longer than a couple of days, so this is a fairly subjective score.

6

Value – indicates the price-performance ratio of the given headphones and how they stack up against the competition. High score means that you won’t find more neutral sounding alternatives for the price.

Conclusion

The HD 800 S retains its superb resolution and imaging even after flattening its frequency response. Brightness is gone and sub-bass completes the picture. Sub-bass will distort at a higher volume, bass heads should look at orthos.

Final Rating

8.7
With Sonarworks Reference 4
Calibration Enabled
7.3
Without Sonarworks
Calibration

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headphones with Reference 4

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