There is no beating around the bush. Anyone adept in the field of headphones knows that the Sennheiser HD800 is one of the alpha headphones in existence. 2009 was a big year for audio, it really started the race for flagship headphone dominance.
Yet, to this very day, the HD800 remains one of the Kings of the land. Sennheiser’s craftsmanship and years of research and development scored us a true sonic titan, one that has just recently been revised into the Drop HD 8XX variant. A new model, for the new era, with a twist or two that might surprise you.
Both the original and the new HD 8XX models share the same 56mm ring radiator driver design. However, this new model from Drop has a brand-new tuning system inside of it.
The sound of this new variant is different from the original. Hell, it is different from the HD800S variant, which has its own unique tuning that is similar to this, yet so very different at the same time.
Does size matter though? Well, haha. Yes. In this case, it does, the large design of the driver lends a massive wall of sound waves coming at your ear, regarded as one of the headphones with the best, if not THE BEST, soundstages in the entire headphone world.
Sennheiser had originally spent years in the lab trying to find the right dampening materials and physical design elements to minimize reflections. They developed what they call the Acoustic Absorber system, which is truly the reason why the HD800 sounds as lightning fast as it does.
The decay factor on these headphones is superbly low. And if you are a reference listening, that is what you want: a tonally quick, non-harmonic distortion and no ringing sensation anywhere in the spectrum. The company went through a real hell of R&D to get this right.
Well, there is no getting around it, the HD 8XX looks like a spaceship or something out of Star Wars. The new darker Drop paint job is something I have desired for many years, as I was always unfond of the metallic silver tones of the original.
Due to being an open back, the headphone leaks sound so this is not for you if you want a private listening experience near others. But then again, are you going to be using these headphones near others, to begin with? Probably not.
This headphone invokes a sense of style, unlike most others. It became a cultural icon in the headphone world and 13 years later, it is still stunning to look at. To me, it is like a retro Lamborghini from the ’80s that will always dazzle everyone that looks at it.
The HD800 variants are all made of the same plastic-like material, with some metal braces used in the headband area. What I love about the HD 8XX is that headband mechanism, it is the best there ever was. In my opinion, no other headphone has a better design in the headband area. This is a masterpiece-tier design in terms of comfort.
The earpads are very thin and offer very little support, but you don’t need it, because the clamp factor is very light and the headphone itself is so perfectly balanced that you don’t require extra padding on the underside of the headband. The headphone remains one of, if not the most comfortable flagship headphones ever made.
This headphone is an absolute pleasure to wear and there have been times where I actually have worn it for 16-hour trips in a car (as a passenger) to the other side of the country. And I thought nothing of it, and never got soar anywhere on my head or ears. The earcups are huge and totally envelop my ears.
The stock cable of the HD 8XX is similar to the HD800 cable, it is long and thick, covered in a nice fabric. It is too thick. It is too long, and the adapter head is too big to be used on the go. That is why I swapped to a 2.5mm custom balanced cable.
The earcup ports also use a custom proprietary style that is also used on the Dharma headphone as well from a few years ago. I highly suggest you get a spare shorter cable for on the go if you got the HD 8XX variant. Why? It meshes so nice with portable rigs now, that you’ll want to use it more often with a portable setup with a balanced cable for extra power.
The cable itself is 3m long and terminated in a ¼ cable. Spare cables from Sennheiser can run you over $250 for a standard replacement.
Packaging & Accessories
The Drop HD 8XX comes in the same dark and folding hard case box that the original HD800 came in. Inside, you have some foam cutouts for product protection.
It is a little disheartening to spend $1100 and not receive a proper travel case though. At the same time, I realize that this is not a headphone you should be using on the go anyway. But there are times when you travel and want to take a flagship with you, I do it often.
You don’t get any accessories with these headphones, just the earpads, and the stock cable. I am thankful for the box though, it feels sturdy. For $1100 though? A basic carrying case would have been appreciated.
The HD 8XX is warmer than the original HD800 series models. It has a raised bass, but the bass texture is also totally different. It is audibly thicker and offers more physicality.
But the midrange and treble are pretty much the same as the original in that physical tonality aspect of the listening experience. So, it feels a bit odd. I prefer musicality as my tone of choice, but as a reviewer, I regard either accurate or musical as equally valid.
In this case, I subjectively do not like and have never enjoyed the HD800 on most rigs. It is a nightmare for users like me to find a warm, fun, musical sound with the HD800 original.
But that journey for the HD 8XX takes 2 steps. Where the HD800 was me venturing out into a cosmic void to find the right rig in amp and DAC, the HD 8XX smacks me in the mouth with a great rig with whatever I pair with.
The HD 8XX was tuned with more bass than the stock version from Sennheiser back in 2009. This results in more bass bloom, more pronounced low end, more rumble, more density factor, better physical response. And by the physical response, I am referring to the ability to produce more tactile bass feeling.
The original lacks this entirely. Many other reviewers believe that the HD800 is a very accurate headphone but I am on the other side that says, “bass-heavy instruments and songs do not get portrayed even remotely close to accurate on the HD800, due to having weak bass response.”
This problem was fixed on this HD 8XX with a boosted low end but it comes at a price. The fidelity factor is audible inferior to the HD800. So, there is a tradeoff. And it will vary in value depending on your preference.
Do you like a very thin bass appeal? This isn’t for me, but I regard it still as musically more inclined than the original. It lacks physicality and depth, but is also tonality extremely clean and pure Do you prefer to sacrifice that purity for more fun factor, more bass depth, and a thicker appeal overall on the low end?
Skip the HD 8XX and buy the Original or the HD800S if you want more purity. Grab the HD 8XX if you want more bass and a darker sound signature.
The purity factor is just “good”, not great, as mentioned. For this price tiering, there is a hoard of other new models that compete these days with this HD 8XX in the quality department.
At nearly half the price Focal Clear had audibly superior bass purity than this HD 8XX. The HD 8XX is a one-note bass experience that does not have the ability to transmit bass inflection or various tone textures.
All bass sounds the same, and that was a problem on the original too. Now though, at least you can feel and get more quantity and make the experience something I would regard as “darker” and “more fun and more musical.” The term Musical and HD800 never went together until this headphone was made.
Drop/Sennheiser removed the classic tuning of the driver and dropped in a bass boost on the low end, and the effect scooped out the midrange presence to an already recessed headphone. But that is perceived, at least in my opinion, and not a midrange tuning choice.
There is nothing you can do to fix the recessive midrange of the HD800 series headphones, no amount of EQ will fix it, no source or amp will fix that or make it more engaging to the point it really would make a difference.
However, you can after the warmth factor on this model, as proven with amps like my XRK portable amp, which sounds stupidly great with the HD 8XX. Like it is sickening to me that this portable amp is in a candy tin and it’s the best sounding pair match for the HD 8XX I could ever hope for. And this amp did the same wonders for the original HD800 I had as well.
Yes, the low end and lower mids are affected by the extra boost in the low end, but it is still an HD800 after all and there aren’t many other $999 headphones that can tango with it in purity factor.
The problem with the HD800 series is the physicality factor, it just isn’t there and it never will be until Sennheiser begins to understand thy the planar Wave took over the dynamic driver models.
The physicality factor of the HD 8XX midrange feels thin, weak, there is lacking substance and density factor. Every HD800 model has this problem. If you swap to a Planar, a really good one, you will immediately hear that this raw physicality factor in the midrange is razor-thin and can get fatiguing fast.
Thankfully, the tuning did manage to reduce the hostile treble of the HD800 series models and I am so happy about it. Listen, what good is accuracy if you get fatigued by it? I don’t want to be subject to my own playlist. My playlist should be subject to ME.
I should not have to fear old and bad recordings that are painful and cause my eardrums pain and wince factor. You can dim down the snap factor of the treble in headphones, it can be done. And it has been done many other times in other models.
There are times when I want that accurate tone, and there are times when I want a musical and warmer experience. This HD 8XX is somewhere in the middle, it isn’t like the original, but it isn’t as good as the original in potential quality either.
The original HD800 on my same rig here can transmit such an absurdly great treble experience with the right setup, that I sometimes get shocked by how great it is. Soon as that DSD track or high-quality FLAC file is over and it switches to a not-so-good recording, my ears want to die.
I don’t get that ever with the HD 8XX. And the reason is that the fidelity cap was cut off vs the original on the top side. The new model here will not extend as far and it will tame that treble to cover more ground without sounding painful. And I love that.
If you already own something like the 007 or some other headphones with a focus on treble, you should grab the HD 8XX. It will complement that treble master headphone.
Everyone knows the HD800 series have the biggest soundstage in the world. No headphone since 2009 has achieved a more open and spacious sound.
The Stax models don’t compare. The Planar’s don’t have any models that do it as the HD 8XX does. Sennheiser is king and has remained on top of the throne since 2009 and there is no reason to assume that anyone will dethrone them.
But, without competition, they cannot strike back and don’t have a reason to innovate. They can relax and not have to worry. Nobody can do what they did and the King deserves his rest…but it’s been resting since 2009.
It is currently 2022 and it is time for Sennheiser to strive to innovate an even more spacious sounding model. I was really hoping for that in the HD 8XX, some type of newly learned trait or design element that someone at Sennheiser was fiddling with over the course of the last 13 years, but that sadly didn’t come to pass.
If you want the biggest stage and imaging in the headphone world, the HD 8XX is still just as good as the original HD800. So don’t worry, it’s crazy good. Nay, good is the wrong word. It’s the literal alpha and best imaging there is in terms of width and height fact. Now, there are some other headphones that sound deeper, and more realistic. Not many though.
The air factor of the HD 8XX is sublime. It is next to impossible to swap to another non HD800 variant. It is like going outside (HD800) and then putting some earmuffs on (not the HD800) when you swap from the HD800 to literally anything else. There is no comparison here between the HD 8XX and the Stax 007.
The HD800 is much bigger, but less realistic, less dense feeling, and far less deep in the stage-forward area of the void. The 007 is more coherent, like a Beyerdynamic T5 3rd Gen on steroids. The HD 8XX is just an open window to the outside world by comparison and tends to feel stretched to the brink too often…but that’s my favorite part. In this case, bigger is better, well sometimes.
Click on page 2 below for pairings and select comparisons