(Updated 8-1-09) Sennheiser is a bit like its German compatriots BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Sennheiser doesn’t produce the largest number of headphones or the most exotic designs, but the headphones it makes consistently start with a strong engineering foundation. When such a company ventures into the top level of headphone pricing (in this case $1399), it draws attention.
Sennheiser’s attack on the “best headphones possible” category is called the HD 800. That bland nomenclature belies the effort Sennheiser has put into the design of the HD 800. This isn’t just a slightly better HD 650 (their previous top of the line and a reference for many reviewers). No, the HD 800 is a new concept of how a headphone should work.
With the HD 800, Sennheiser reexamined the way it makes headphones. The first fundamental change was shifting to a much larger driver in each earcup. A larger driver makes it possible to deliver low bass with less distortion. But Sennheiser’s design is aimed at reducing distortion across the frequency spectrum, quoted as 14hz – 44khz (-3dB) or 6hz – 51khz (-10dB).
The second major innovation is the orientation of the drivers vis-à-vis your ears. Since your ears detect the sense of space through timing differences as sound waves strike your ear from the front, Sennheiser has angled the HD 800 drivers to enhance the sense of space that the headphones provide.
Sennheiser has also paid attention to comfort by using special ear pad materials and by employing new light but very hard plastics. All in all this is an aggressive attempt to deliver the best.
Consider this headphone if: you like a smooth, neutral sound that is clear but not aggressive. These will be a good choice if you have previously owned high-end Sennheiser’s and like them but wish for more extension at the frequency extremes.
Look elsewhere if: you prefer a vivid sound with either rich bass or the ultimate in transparency.
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced headphones)