One of the most well regarded headphones of recent years has been the Sennheiser HD800. Within audio communities there exist wild discussions on how and why headphone A is better compared to headphone B and C. In short the main consensus is if one is looking for bassy/warm sound you are best off with one of the Audeze LCD series, depending on your budget. On the other hand, if you like more analytical, neutral sound the HD800 or the HD800s from Sennheiser is tough to beat. I tend to prefer more neutral headphones, since I rather enjoy my Sennheiser HD600. Therefore it was natural for me to look into the HD800.
My research let me know that buying a pair of high end headphones such as the HD800 is not simple. Preferably you need to make sure you are able to demo the headphones somewhere with the right kind of DAC and amplification fitting for the efficiency of the headphone. It became rather clear based on my research you need to find a well fitting amplifier since the HD800 is very picky. Bottom line: The HD800 itself is on the bright side with a 6kHz peak according to measurements from innerfidelity.com, thus it is unwise to use a brighter amp. Tube amps are known to provide a more laid back sound and combine nicely with the HD800, which is nice since I have been using the Schiit Vali2 tube hybrid for a while now.
After seeing a rather compelling offer of €800 for a used pair via a Dutch webshop I bit the bullet and ordered a pair.
How does the HD800 present details?
Compared to the HD600, They both are extremely resolving and pick up micro detail very well. In my opinion the HD800 separated those sounds better and resulted into a more defined sound. All details heard on the HD800 you will hear on the HD600 as well but they will stand out on certain areas.
How did I like the bass?
The HD800 does texture the bass better and also holds up in the extremes very well for a fully open dynamic headphone. Simply put, very good quality even though a bit lacking in quantity in the low end.
How are the middle frequencies?
If I had to describe the HD800 mids, I would say they are clean, as if there’s nothing around the vocals and they appear to come out of nowhere. The HD800 has a slight upper mid dip but instead of sounding recessed as in my Fidelio X2 it creates a spacious sound instead.
How are the higher frequencies?
There it is, the controversial topic: the highs in the HD800. Many audiophiles describe the 6kHz peak as uncomfortable and fatiguing. As a result the headphone can be considered amp picky, since tube amps tend to smooth out these kind of treble peaks better compared to solid state amps. Not all of them of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Now back to the sound:
The HD800 present the highs in a clean and extend further compared to the HD600. The treble has a airy and detailed presence. I noticed the 6k Hz peak, but it did not bother me during my listening sessions.
How is the soundstage and imaging?
The soundstage of the HD800 is so massive, I still have difficulty getting used to it. The HD600 has a much more narrow and intimate sound in comparison. Imaging on the HD800 is open and clear.
Is the HD800 a worthwhile upgrade over the HD600?
While I still consider the HD600 to be the headphone king, considering its’ price per performance. However after having bought the HD800 in October 2016, I understand why someone would consider a HD800 as an upgrade over the HD600. This I mainly because of the soundstage, imaging and detail retrieval, with the HD800 you feel as being in the middle of the orchestra, while the HD600 would offer a more intimate and narrow presentation, as if you are on the first row.
I have researched on the topic of “HD600 vs HD800 and is it worth it?” and I discovered the opinions vary wildly. The one day I would be advised it is not worth it, since diminishing returns and all, the other day you would hear it is totally worth it.
My opinion: I do believe the HD800 is worth it, since it better fits my personal preferences. I like how it effortlessly presents details in the music I would otherwise have to focus on with effort with the HD600. It is not like the details are not there with the HD600, although you need more focus and effort to retrieve them.
First mod: Superdupont Resonator aka “French mod”
In september of 2015, Sennheiser released the new and improved HD800S, which offered a ‘fix’ for the 6KHz peak the HD800 model has. Although at first I was not bothered by this treble peak, once you know it is there you start noticing it in songs that suffer from it. The HD800 treble peak can be described as sharp and edgy.
After multiple suggestions to look into the Superdupont Resonator mod for the HD800, I went on a research spree. My conclusions: for €20 you can make the HD800 appoach the sound signature of its’ predecessor, the HD800S. And, the mod is completely reversible, so if I would not like it for whatever reason, I can undo it.
Since I have modded headphones in the past, I decided to go for it. Within two weeks after ordering the package with the SDR mod arrived, and the same evening after work I went for it.
What steps are necessary?
- Remove the cable, earcups and inner sleeving
- lightly press onto the mesh covering the plastic structure around the driver until you are able to peel it off, as far as you can reach the open space in the middle. The glue used here works as such that you can put the mesh back without doing any damage.
- Insert the SDR mod into the open space in the middle of the driver.
- Reseat the mesh as you found it.
- Put back the earpads and the inner sleeving.
After removing the earpads and the inner sleeving of the cups of the HD800 it looks like this:
When the mod is inserted it looks like this:
The HD800 sounds more approachable and less sharp in the treble. Still I have not given the headphone enough listening time to truly appreciate the mod just yet, I have listened to the mod for maybe 2 hours tops. When I have given the mod more listening time I will come back to this post and add in more information. Still, if you can somehow reduce the 6kHz peak sharpness, you at least look into it in my opinion.