Model changes at the higher end of Sennheiser’s headphone line don’t happen frequently. The prior flagship–the still available HD 650s–were introduced in 2003, and stay in the line. Their predecessor, the HD 600s, arrived greater than a decade ago, and so are still favored by audiophiles. I’ve reviewed both, and they are both excellent headphones. However the HD 800s are another thing again. They feature an all-new design that one-ups previous Sennheiser headphones. But that exclusivity will cost you a mint: the HD 800s retail for $1,400.

Features and design
The HD 800s’ striking design sets them aside from almost every other headphone model available. But it’s not simply a styling exercise; the large earcups were made to place the drivers farther away and slightly to leading of the listeners’ ears than was possible in smaller designs. The precision quality of the earcups’ plastic, metalwork, and the microfiber ear cushions certainly feels luxurious. The HD 800s correctly distributed their 330-gram weight on my head, and ear pad pressure felt perfectly. The headphones are supremely comfortable.

The HD 800s’ patented doughnut-shaped transducer measures 56 millimeters across; Sennheiser claims it is the greatest used in today’s headphone. It’s interesting to notice that the vibrating portion of the diaphragm isn’t its circular interior but its outer ring. The look is thought to produce less distortion than conventional drivers.

The driver is mounted on a especially devised perforated stainless support on the earcup at an angle to mimic just how sound from speakers is heard. The support is mounted on a particular kind of plastic frame, selected because of its acoustic properties.

Each driver is tested, measured, and given its unique identifier. If you ever have to replace an HD 800 driver later on, Sennheiser claims it’ll be able to offer an precise match.

The 10-foot, cloth-covered Y-cable (one cord to each earcup) features silver-plated, oxygen-free copper wiring. It’s reinforced with Kevlar to improve durability. The cable is removable from the headphone and features new patented and proprietary connectors. The bottom of the 6.3-millimeter phono plug is a nicely finished, solid metal piece. (You will have to provide your own adapter if you wish to use an music source with a typical 3.5-millimeter headphone jack.)

The HD 800s come packed in a lovely storage case. Each couple of headphones is hand-assembled and tested in Germany.

Performance
Please recognize that great headphones aren’t nearly “more”–more bass, more detail/resolution, or whatever. The most effective types give a finely tuned sonic balance. That’s what truly distinguishes the HD 800s; they “disappear” a lot more than any other dynamic (nonelectrostatic) headphones we’ve used. With the HD 800s, you are feeling like you’re getting a primary link with the music.

The HD 800s sound a lttle bit less like headphones and similar to high-end speakers than any headphones we’ve heard because the long-gone and incredibly expensive AKG K1000s. The HD 800s’ sound seems to come from in the front instead of to the sides, weighed against other headphones.

The HD 800s’ open quality certainly increases their sense of space and depth weighed against almost every other headphones. The downside compared to that is, according to the recording, the HD 800s’ sound may seem to be too distant or spacious for some buyers. We liked it, though–a lot.

That open quality was definitely an advantage for our home entertainment auditions where in fact the sound almost seemed to result from the screen. We watched the dramatic “State of Play,” and the HD 800s put us inside newsroom with ringing telephones, the clatter of keyboards, and voices of other reporters filling an enormous space. We soon forgot that people were wearing headphones and lost ourselves in the film. The HD 800s have a particular affinity for movie dialog; it had been the easiest we’ve have you ever heard from a dynamic (nonelectrostatic) headphone.

Moving to action, the “King Kong” DVD’s ample dynamics were very good, but lacking the impact we heard from the Grado PS1000 headphones. Through the scene with the rampaging dinosaurs, we’re able to almost feel each thump on the floor with the PS1000s. In comparison, the HD 800s softened the blows.

Up up to now we paid attention to the headphones exclusively over our Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver. For CDs, we switched to our Woo Audio WA6 Special Edition headphone amplifier, which substantially improved the HD 800s’ overall sound quality, especially in the dynamics and resolution of details.

With CDs, the HD 800s sounded clear but laid-back weighed against the Grado PS1000s and Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones. Those latter two had much brighter treble and more bass oomph compared to the HD 800s. So that it was much easier to follow your guitar lines when rocking out with the Rolling Stones’ remastered “Sticky Fingers” CD. The bass and drums were more “live” sounding with the Grado PS1000s, and a smaller extent, the Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones.

Honestly, we think those two are less “accurate” compared to the HD 800s, and in the event that’s your top priority, choose the HD 800s. But also for our tastes, the Grado PS1000s were more exciting and engaging. The Grado will be the one we’d buy.

To complete up we played the HD 800s over an iPod. The sound was spectacular atlanta divorce attorneys way but one: it couldn’t play very loud. It had been loud enough for all of us, but if you enjoy to crank your tunes, the HD 800s will not be an excellent match with an Music player. The Ultrasone and Grado were better for the reason that regard.

The Sennheiser HD 800s are in the most notable tier of ultra-high-end headphones. If you are searching for superluxury ($1,000-plus) ‘phones, they should be on your own list–if not towards the top of it.