Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones

Among the problems of being a long-established stalwart of any industry is that you become risk averse and conservative. We don't have any insight into what occurs in the Sennheiser boardroom, needless to say, but as external observers it appears that this is what occurred to the business in the noughties. Back in 1968 Sennheiser recast everyone’s notion of the headphone when it introduced the groundbreaking HD 414, a layout that has been light and streamlined, sat on the ear rather than around it, was not closed - had coloured foam earpads and back.

35 years after the HD 850 was Sennheiser’s top of the range looks and headphone version, in hindsight, to have encapsulated the business’s torpor.

It was so clearly a clean-sheet design with a bold, modern look rather unlike anything we’d seen from Sennheiser. And its sound bolstered the awareness that its engineers were on a mission establish a fresh benchmark and to throw off old shackles.

The HD 800 still appears fresh and original even though it is old, and with the S form, Sennheiser is aiming to keep it at the top of the tree for sound quality too.

Just how different are the 800 and 800 S? Of the S’ capsules having a matt black rather than a silver finish metal parts for the exterior, although cosmetically nothing has changed. As before, engineering plastic feature and stainless steel gauze in the 56mm driver and the building remains, says Sennheiser: “The biggest ever used in dynamic headset”.

What has changed, if just slightly, is the frequency response - according to Sennheiser, the S has a little more output signal below 150Hz and a little less around 6kHz. Also new is the use of a revised absorptive material within the capsules, which is presumably responsible for the frequency response change in the treble. Plus Sennheiser supplies two connecting leads for the S, both featuring silver-plated OFC conductors and ‘para-aramid support’. At the headphone ending both split to form a Y cable that connects separately to each capsule via exactly the same push-fit connectors used in the 800.

Headband resonance is something Sennheiser took seriously from the outset with the HD 800, uniting metal with an ‘inner damping element’, and it effective. Relaxation is not low also despite the lean earpads, and sealing to the head is good regardless of the clamping force that is small.

Sound quality

Most of the listening is conducted using a Teac HA-501 headphone amplifier. But this offers merely connections that are unbalanced and we’re eager to evaluate what, if any, progress is through the use of the 800 S in balanced mode wrought, so Teac’s UD-503 can be pressed into service. This offers a balanced connection but via dual 6.35mm jack outlets, thus we've to solder up a short adapter lead. In this way the UD 503’s internal DAC is used, own applications player running on a Windows 7 desktop computer PC is ’sed by feeding signals via USB from Teac.

The HD 800’s stock in trade was preciseness, and the S isn't any different. But this is not the oddly dead preciseness of the old High Definition 850, for the HD 800 S, on the ending of ancillaries that are worthy, is full of life and engagement. And it has a tonal equilibrium that’s as close to unbiased as we heard from a headphone.

Let’s deal with the balanced versus unbalanced issue straight away. We start listening using the Teac UD-503 come away with a distinct taste for the unbalanced option, that will be clearer and more insightful and to compare the two links.

In memory of Keith Emerson we turn to Lucky Man, ripped from your remastered version of the first, eponymous ELP record. There’s a shortfall in resolution over the connection that is balanced and via the link that is unbalanced Greg Lake’s guitar contributions are clearer, and Emerson’s soars and famed synthesiser solo grumbles in a manner that is convincing.

This doesn’t mean that connection that is balanced won’t give a result that is first-class. In other conditions, it might, but having two amplifiers per channel constantly raises the possibility of sound quality being degraded rather than enhanced. For the remainder of the listening we revert from the HA-501.

We remember that the original HD 800 seemed better with the dust covers feel duty bound to try it with the S, and removed from inside the capsules We’re happy we do because the sound is significantly superior. The 800 S avoids harshness, but looks to sap a little of, with the dust covers in place

the insistent rhythmical energy in the bit. With the covers removed the sound opens up and the energy level increases, but harshness is still kept at bay. Other courses fly by in a flurry of expressive precision.


Sennheiser hasn’t done a whole lot to the HD 800 to turn it but when you curently have a product that is excellent it’s important to be careful to not over cook it. Sennheiser continues to be subtle and the result is that the HD 800 S readily earns a spot towards the top table alongside the best earphones on the market. It isn’t artfully euphonic, merely honest, capable and, above all, highly enjoyable.

Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones photo