In Pursuit of Aural Perfection
By Andy Sim & Kenny Yeo
The Sennheiser HD 650 and HD 600 have been the German company's flagship headphones for a couple of years now and fans of the esteemed headphones maker have been clamoring for something more. After years of waiting, it is finally here, the magnificent HD 800. Is it worth the wait?
From the Future
The mere sight of the Sennheiser HD 800 tells you that it is something special. It is big, of course, but it also looks stylish and downright futuristic. You might also notice that unlike flagship models of other headphones makers like Audio Technica, Denon and Grado, the HD 800's shell is not made of wood.
Instead, the shell of the HD 800 is made out of a special plastic called Leona. The decision to go with plastic is not due to cost-cutting, Sennheiser assures us. Rather, Sennheiser claims that Leona is extremely light and yet it is as rigid as titanium. This means it doesn't oscillate as much, resulting in a cleaner, clearer sound that is free from distortion.
Above and beyond the Leona shell, Sennheiser has also paid special attention to the headband, mountings and ear pads. The headband was designed to prevent oscillations from being transmitted to the mountings whereas the mountings and ear pads themselves were specially made so that the HD 800 was comfortable to wear.
Weighing in at approximately 330g, the HD 800 is not what you would call featherweight. And putting it on, we could not help but feel that it was clasping quite tightly around our heads. Still, it was comfortable enough for us to wear it for a couple of hours before calling it quits.
A Class Apart
The Sennheiser HD 800 is meant to be a show-stopping demonstration of what headphones are capable of, and as such, the HD 800 boasts a number of breakthrough technologies. First and foremost, the HD 800 boasts a 56mm wide transducer. What's special about it apart from the size is that it is built in the shape of a ring. This gives the HD 800 better overall control of the transducer, reducing unnecessary oscillations, and thus results in a clearer sound.
We put the Sennheiser HD 800 through its paces using a variety of tracks such as "Money for Nothing" from Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, Ottmar Liebert's "Passing Storm", as well as Connie Dover's "Cantus".
On "Money for Nothing", the highs were stellar and the instrument separation was excellent. We could make out every snitch of the high hat and bass vibrations were ample. Moving on, Dover's voice sounded three dimensional on "Cantus", clearly delivering on Sennheiser's promise on spatial sound.
And while the vocals were exceptionally clear, the downer was that the entire production sounded a tad too clean for our liking and lacked warmth. Lastly, we could pick out every pluck and pick on Liebert's "Passing Storm". Percussion and shakers sounded fantastic too, the shakers in particular had a satisfying bite to them.
Overall, the Sennheiser HD 800 is a wonderful pair of headphones. Aesthetically, it looks really modern and it was also comfortable to wear, allowing music lovers to enjoy their collection for hours on end. In terms of music reproduction, the HD 800 is faithful in its rendering and therein lies the problem.
The HD 800 is so perfect that it came across as clinical and sterile. But of course, sound signature is a subjective thing and we certainly cannot fault the HD 800 for that. At $2144, the HD 800 certainly isn't cheap. Furthermore, one needs a good headphone amplifier and source to bring the best out of it. A hefty investment indeed, but for sheer audio perfection, it's hard to come any closer than Sennheiser's new HD 800.