updated 09:35 pm EST, Mon January 12, 2009
Sennheiser HD 800
Electronista at CES had a chance to try out Sennheiser's new HD 800, the company's latest flagship headphones geared for audiophiles. At first glance, the housing is clearly more modern and technologically-inspired than the relatively drab exterior of the predecessor products, the HD 600 and HD 650. More importantly, the company developed entirely new 56mm ring-shaped transducers that boast an incredible frequency response of 6 Hz to 51,000 Hz. The annular design is said to vibrate the entire air volume over the transducer to create a full-bodied sound with clarity at the low end, but without causing the high-frequency distortion found with large drivers.
Many companies spend a significant amount of development effort merely refining old designs to create a marginal gain in performance. Instead of releasing new HD models year-after-year based on the 600, the company remained dormant in the high-end headphone category while it created a completely redesigned product.
My first judgment of the HD 800 was fairly critical, hoping the company did not follow the bad habits of its peers by releasing a new shiny product with cool looks but without significant performance gain. The transition from the HD 600 to 650 was lackluster, so my expectations were not high at CES. That attitude changed very quickly, however, as soon I took a seat in the listening room and fired up the new cans.
The sound clarity and distinction of the HD 800 was nothing short of amazing, while the transparency truly raises the bar for headphones. The music came alive with astonishing resolution and transient response, making the HD 650 sound muddled in comparison, but without seeming overtly bright or harsh. The sonic characteristics should be well-liked by a wide range of listeners, providing wonderful definition across the whole frequency spectrum.
Sennheiser's new headphones are absolutely the best that I have ever had a chance try, even among flagship products from other top-notch companies such as Grado, AKG and Audio Technica. The soundstage was also clearly improved from the 600 series, with a new ear cup design that sends sound waves into the ear at an angle to replicate conditions that the brain processes to interpret spatial localization.
Sennheiser kept everyone waiting for a few years before releasing an answer to the HD 650, but the wait seems well worth the revolutionary sound provided by the HD 800. The headphones are not for everyone, especially with the $1400 price tag. Anyone looking for the best of the best, however, should probably take a listen. Although the HD 800 will ship beginning this spring, the headphones are handmade in Germany with limited production speed.