“Cheek to Cheek”, the opening track on Eva Cassidy’s fantastic Live at Blues Alley [Blix Street], tells you a lot about the HD 800s. First off, all the instruments from string bass to cymbals are well represented and in appropriate balance (a lot of headphones fail this test). Second, Eva’s voice via amplification has a very slight shrillness to it, which the HD800’s faithfully reproduce. That’s good in this case, because experience with this disc says that some shrillness is inherent to the recording. Headphones that soften the edges of the singer’s voice too much will typically sound foggy and drab on most material. But conversely, ‘phones that sharpen Eva’s voice too much and are likely to be unlistenable on the many bad recordings we get these days. Happily, the HD800’s find that “just right” balance point in the middle.
The other thing “Cheek to Cheek” shows is that the HD 800s, with their somewhat diffuse sound, don’t quite nail the rhythm of this track. When the band kicks in, you hear everything clearly, yet the drive of the rhythm section is slightly more reserved than would ideally be the case. Nonetheless there is a nice air around the instruments.
No two heads are alike, so your mileage may vary. I like circumaural headphones, and within this genre I thought the Sennheiser HD 800s were quite comfortable for long periods. The special alcantara material on the pads is very nice. The pressure is a little high, but the pads are so big this is well distributed.
A truly excellent headphone, the HD 800 will appeal to those who want a smooth and balanced sound with ample but not punishing clarity.