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Sennheiser HD 800S review: Open-back greatness

Christopher Minasians
18 Dec 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,400
inc VAT

The HD800S are an incredible set of open-back headphones that’ll delight audiophiles

Pros 
Expansive soundstage
Sonically brilliant
Comfortable
Cons 
Expensive
Need to be paired with the right amp
Lack that mid-bass punch
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The Sennheiser HD 800 are known by many enthusiasts as one of the best open-back set of headphones money can buy. However, these legendary headphones required a bit of tinkering to make them truly remarkable. Step forward a new set – the HD 800S – which aim to rectify its predecessor’s few shortcomings.

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Sennheiser HD 800S review: What you need to know

The Sennheiser HD 800S are a set of open-back headphones with a sound that’s smoother and easier on the ears than that of their predecessors. They might come in at a slight premium over the older model, but their refined sonic capabilities and the inclusion of a balanced XLR 4-pin cable within the package help justify the markup. Even if you were hesitant about buying a pair of HD 800s, you’ll struggle to pass up the new version.

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Sennheiser HD 800S review: Price and competition

The HD 800S aren't cheap. They cost £1,400, which is a cool £300 more than their predecessor, the HD 800. Elsewhere, there are a few flagship headphones worth considering, namely the Sony MDR-Z1R at £1,650, which some consider to be the best open-back, dynamic headphones you can buy. If you want more meaty options, Audeze’s LCD-XC at £1,600 and the LCD-3 at £1,600 are excellent choices.

If you value isolation and a stronger bass presence, it’s worth considering Sennheiser’s closed-back alternative, the HD 820 at an eye-watering £2,000. Then there’s also my personal favourite, the Fostex TH900 MkII at £1,150.

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Sennheiser HD 800S review: Build quality, comfort and isolation

The HD 800S inherits the same comfortable design as its predecessor, except this time around, we have an all-black design. As with the older model, the 56mm drivers are exposed on either side and the headphone’s external diaphragm is on display.

As a result, these headphones don’t isolate well – if you were planning on using them in a noisy environment or in and around the office, you’ll need to reconsider your options as these will leak sound.

The headphones are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. The clamp force is relatively weak, the microfibre fabric pads are soft and, as you’d expect, the part of the headband that sits on your head is padded. It’ll cater for all shapes and sizes, too, as it can be adjusted, while the drivers themselves have a degree of wiggle room.

As for connectivity, the package includes two removable cables that plug into their respective proprietary connectors: an unbalanced 6.3mm cable and a balanced XLR 4-pin cable – both 3m long. Providing you have the right amp, such as Sennheiser’s HDV 820, the latter is the better option. The XLR cable provides a cleaner, more refined sound over the 6.3mm alternative.

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Sennheiser HD 800S review: Sound quality

As with most high-end audio gear, I’d suggest pairing the HS800S with the right amp. Much like their older siblings, the set works superbly well with Sennheiser’s HDV 820 amplifier. True, the combination will cost you a small fortune, but that’s what it takes to get the best out of these magnificent headphones.

Compared to the original sound, the output of the HD 800S is more refined and the tone less sibilant. Cranking up Mariah Carey’s voice in We Belong Together is somewhat unbearable with the HD 800, whereas the HD 800S make for better listening. That’s not to say they roll off at the top-end – they have fewer peaks between 10 and 20kHz.

The mids are remarkably good. Expect a flat, yet forward and accurate, sound. No matter if you enjoy hearing Ashanti’s chorus in Fat Joe – What's Luv? or want to get lost in Yeol Eum Son’s live performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major, the HD 800S will take your breath away.

As for bass, Sennheiser headphones are renowned for their mid-bass quality, rather than their heart-pounding quantity. As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the company’s flagship open-back headphones push for excellent control and precision over a strong mid-bass slam. Closed-back headphones such as Fostex’s TH900 MkII or more meaty sounding open-back headphones such as Audeze’s LCD-3 will excite you more when you’re bobbing your head to Sage The Gemini’s It Ain't My Fault.

When it comes to sub-bass rumble, the HD 800S extend lower than their predecessors, meaning you’ll appreciate Slim’s So Fly sub-50Hz range a little more.

Now we come to these headphones’ most impressive trait: the soundstage. Thanks to the open-back design, the HD 800S have an incredible sense of space and width; instrument separation is unbelievably good, too. From the guitar strums in Charlie Puth’s We Don't Talk Anymore to the electro vibes in ATB's Ecstasy (Morten Granau Remix), the HD 800S excels. Tout simplement magnifique.

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Sennheiser HD 800S review: Verdict

Sennheiser has a knack for open-back headphones and, given the success of its former flagship, the HD 800, the newer HD 800S are the new king of the castle. These cans are among the best, if not, the best open-back dynamic driver headphones money can buy.

Buy now from Hifiheadphones

They provide unparalleled quality throughout the frequency range, can be worn for hours on end without discomfort and are built to last a decade. Just make sure you pair them with the right amp, and you're in for one of high-end audio’s biggest treats.

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