Which over-ear headphones should I choose? This is the question that worries those who have yet to select their headphones. If the purchase budget has clear limitations, then the selection process becomes a little easier, because a significant part of the expensive range automatically falls off. And what if the budget allows you to look at the top models of different manufacturers? Here everything becomes much more interesting, because top models, as a rule, include all the most advanced developments of the brand.
Good headphones should be able to cope perfectly with different music genres, without showing visible genre preferences. After all, they must justify so much investment in their purchase. In order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the sound, a pervasive list of tracks in different genres was chosen. For experimental purposes, not only tracks recorded in high resolution (FLAC 24/192) but also much simpler MP3 files with 320 kbps resolution were used for listening.
Sennheiser HD 800 S is without exaggeration, a legendary model. Perhaps it is one of the most recognizable open headphones not only of the Sennheiser brand and this design in general. At the time of writing, the model’s average market value fluctuates in different directions from the amount of $1500. As is believed to be such an expensive product, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is sold in a huge package of thick and hard cardboard, the opening which you can find the cherished headphones lying in the “silk”.
2. Design & Ergonomy
The Sennheiser HD 800 S has a very bright and unique design which is noticed immediately after unpacking. So what is this headphone made of? For those who often deal with premium models of headphones, it’s no secret that manufacturers usually try to use materials such as aluminum, steel, wood, and leather. Still, in the HD 800 S case, this rule seems to have lost its force. As you are not looking for, here you will not be able to find either wood or leather, and steel elements are found in very limited quantities, everywhere inferior to the quality to the touch, but still plastic.
2.1 Construction Quality
The manufacturer’s website says the following verbatim about the materials used: “The headband made of multilayer metal and plastic minimizes vibration. The microfibre ear cushions provide exceptional comfort even with long listening times. The HD 800 and HD 800 S are manufactured in Germany using the best materials and components. The headphone converters are encased in a precision stainless steel case, while the headband and headband mounts are made from aerospace materials to ensure high strength with minimal weight.
This description sounds very lovely and trustworthy, but let’s take a little more specific and personal example, it’s good to twist the headphones in your hands and see everything in detail. The headband is really multi-layered and consists of two layers of metal tape that are fastened together and have a total thickness of about 1 mm (no ruler to climb up or measure accurately). The promised plastic is present in its entirety. It should be noted that only the central part of the headband is made of metal tape, and the moving parts “crawling” on the central part while adjusting the size of the head, on which the headphones are actually fixed, are completely made of plastic.
Wait, what kind of plastic, ask you to remember that the manufacturer’s website in black and white says: “headphone converters are encased in precision, made of stainless steel housing”. Believe me, I have also wondered this question and realized that by “precision stainless steel cases”, we mean the silver elements that can be seen on the sides of the cups. They are really made of metal, but their thickness is so insignificant that it is worth talking not about the full metal, but about thick foil with perforation (in fact, it’s a fine mesh), which can easily bend at the slightest touch of a finger without any significant effort. Thus, careless handling and excessive user curiosity can result in a very unpleasant external defect. It’s fair to say that if the HD 800 S is not mocked and appropriately handled, its integrity is not threatened. In general, the design is quite reliable, though not without complaints.
2.2 No transmision of structure-borne noise
According to the manufacturer, the sandwich construction is designed to minimize vibrations. To be honest, I do not recall any case when the headband in any headphones created or conducted through itself any significant vibrations that interfered with the listener. In my opinion, it’s much simpler here. A solid 1mm thick steel band can be too resilient and put too much pressure on the head around the ears, and a single thin band is too weak. Therefore, a multilayer solution seems quite logical, and a smart marketing move to combat vibrations.
“Microfibre ear cushions provide exceptional comfort even with long listening times” – I would probably agree with this statement. Although we have been carefully taught that leather is the best material inexpensive model, personally, I have nothing against alternative materials. In Sennheiser HD 800 S, the “rag” ear cushions showed their best side.
The ear cups’ main body is made of plastic without a hint of metal, and the low weight of the model indirectly confirms this. The plastic in the cups is very thick and durable, so there are no concerns about the design’s reliability. Nevertheless, it is necessary to admit that having spent $1500 would be pleasant to see a little more metal and a little less plastic, but this is my personal opinion, which you may not share.
“The headband and headphone mounts are made of materials used in the aerospace industry to provide high strength with minimal weight” – nothing wrong with that statement in our test.
Finishing the prelude, dedicated to appearance and materials, we would like to remind you that the most important thing is how headphones sound and appearance and materials are, although pleasant, but still a secondary point. Also, given the impedance of 300 ohms, Sennheiser HD 800 S is designed specifically for home use, where there is simply no one to brag about premium materials and space design. The headphones have a detachable cable with solid metal two-pin connectors. The pins mentioned above seem very thin and fragile and may seem to bend or break if the cable is misconnected, but they are not. The cable has a “foolproof” slot on the headphone jack and a correspondingly shaped protruding slot on the cable side’s connector. Thus, you can only plug in the cable incorrectly and damage the contacts if you are very persistent.
Few people think about it, but the important thing when choosing an earphone is the sound and how comfortable it is to wear and listen for a long time. How can headphones please you if after 30-40 minutes you dream of taking them off and catching your breath? For me, as a person who listens to music all the time, the comfort aspect is one of the most important and sound.
The first fitting of the Sennheiser HD 800 S usually leaves a very mixed feeling. It’s a very unusual fit, and can’t immediately overcome the feeling that the headphones are a little bit large. The small weight for this size, only 330 grams, makes the Sennheiser HD 800 S almost weightless, and the low force of the ear cushions pressed to the head does not get rid of the idea that the headphones are not very secure. Partly the feeling is correct. When listening to rock or metal is not worth shaking your head rhythmically – rest assured, an expensive purchase will undoubtedly try to leave your ears, flying forward or backward.
Separately, it is worth noting the unusually large diameter of cups that seek to capture the ears and a significant part of the head with a partial crawl on his cheeks. It would seem that this and all the above makes the Sennheiser HD 800 S very uncomfortable, but believe me, it is absolutely not. You just have to be patient and spend 15-20 minutes listening to music, and the picture changes completely. After that time, you just forget about the headphones and no longer feel them on your head and ears, it’s like they dissolve. Still, the low weight and weak pressure strength do their job.
At first glance, it seems to be a peculiar disadvantage, eventually becoming a significant advantage, especially if you spend a lot of time in the headphones. I don’t remember the last time I could spend 3.5 hours in headphones in a row without feeling tired or uncomfortable in the ear area or where the headband comes into contact with my head. As a matter of fact, the review itself was written directly to the music sounding in my Sennheiser HD 800 S. In total, I managed to spend 5 days with the model under test.
Drivers 56 mm in diameter are directly responsible for music playback in Sennheiser HD 800 S. The company, justifiably claims that these are the biggest drivers ever installed in a dynamic headphone, and they really are. The cups are designed, so that sound waves reach your ears at a small angle. This is intended to provide a “spatial and natural sound picture”. Besides, the branded Innovative Absorber Technology application is announced, which is designed to prevent the so-called “masking effect”, when at peak loads low frequencies partially suppress high frequencies. The task of the technology is to allow the listener to enjoy the full range of frequencies at any volume level. Running a bit ahead, I would like to note that the developers have succeeded.
4. Sound Quality
From the very first notes, we would like to characterize the sound of Sennheiser HD 800 S as relaxing and melodic as possible. Harmonious tonal balance does not allow you to nag to any particular part of it. However, fans of loud bass may not be pleased as the headphones don’t have enough pressure. In fact, this is quite expected from open, dynamic headphones. Note that I am intentionally mentioning that we are talking about dynamic models. The open planar Audeze LCD-3 has surprised me very much in its own way, but about this in the next thematic review.
As for the reproduction of the lower end of the spectrum, the Sennheiser HD 800 S, it can be noted that it is correct and balanced. Precise and moderately elastic bass doesn’t put pressure on your ears. This allows the HD 800 S to listen for a long time with virtually no fatigue.
Of particular note is the ability of the HD 800 S to sound genuinely three-dimensional. The feeling of listening to tracks, which were created with specific attention to the scene’s spatial characteristics, is tough to convey in words, the sound is fascinating. Particularly appealing are the quiet, minimalistic, and well-recorded tracks, the detail, airiness, and nuance conveyed in an incredibly natural and correct way. Vocals are incomparable, and it is merely impossible to stop listening to them. Such sensations didn’t leave me when listening to tracks by.
4.1 Music Genres
Can I listen to club electronics with great bass parts in HD 800 S? Of course, you can, but it’s worth getting ready for the headphones to discover familiar remixes in a completely different way. While it was the lower case and powerful rhythm that previously attracted the listener’s attention, the HD 800 S stabilizes the situation and restores the equality of all parts of the frequency range, allowing the middle and high frequencies to reveal the melody utterly different way. The bass will cease to dominate and become more melodic and versatile if the music material itself allows it. This is the moment where it is difficult to attribute a particular sound to the advantages or disadvantages. Personally, it’s dignity, but fans of explosive and powerful bottoms can feel a bit deprived. The lack of dominance and emphasis on the lower range positively affects the topography of low-frequency playback and the detail of the overall reproduction.
In contrast to electronic club music (designed to get the listener on the dance floor), which is not played so basically than its fans used to listen to, calm and melodic electronic works are performed really magically. This is especially true for relaxing and melodic genres like Chillout or New Age. The HD 800 S ability to sound as relaxed and transparent as possible, surrounded and airy, takes the experience of listening to such music to a whole new, higher level.
Whether it’s a quartet or a large symphony orchestra, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is more than worthy of reproducing classics. The instruments do not mix in a single mass and sound quite independently.
From band to band, track to track, Sennheiser HD 800 S showed themselves to be very skillful performers, not allowing themselves to get confused in the music very full of guitar riffs. Most of all, when listening to rock, I’m afraid of mixing all the sounds into one indecipherable mess, but Sennheiser HD 800 S skillfully coped with the task of dividing the instruments. However, even when playing such expressive music, the HD 800 S remained true to its character. The same melodic and relaxing sound that was mentioned earlier also applies to heavier music. The improved clarity of the sound is sacrificed with some of the power and assertiveness.
Sennheiser HD 800 S is sure to be one of the most balanced headphones available. Not having any apparent genre preferences, they nevertheless interpret club electronics and rock music a little bit in their own way, making it less assertive and more intelligible and versatile. The incredible ability to sound as voluminous, airy, detailed, and transparent as possible will be a real gift for lovers of all other musical genres. You need to convey not so much power and pressure, but the melody, its drive, expression, and emotionality.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is a real discovery that allows you to enjoy your favorite music for hours without the slightest hint of fatigue. Although the manufacturer has saved on materials and design reliability, the musical merits are more than offset by design flaws.