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Sennheiser HD800S Review (Headphone)

solderdude

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All this talk of EQ must be for gamers and computer geeks.

Nope, any phone, tablet, PC etc. can do this and you can still use a high quality headphone amp as well, even using a phone as source.
Of course the real question remains... who's EQ, how was that obtained and how will it sound to you.
 

Tachyon88

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Agreed. Most serious audiophiles won't touch EQ. Plus, that's not even possible using a quality headphone amplifier unless, egads...you hook up a separate equalizer to it. Shades of 1975.

All this talk of EQ must be for gamers and computer geeks.

SMH, what an arrogant comment, that is totally a philosophical mental barrier. Its also the other way around, most people I see with the HD800series use EQ and there is literally nothing wrong with it.
 

Carlo2AC

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Agreed. Most serious audiophiles won't touch EQ. Plus, that's not even possible using a quality headphone amplifier unless, egads...you hook up a separate equalizer to it. Shades of 1975.

All this talk of EQ must be for gamers and computer geeks.
"Most serious audiophiles won't touch EQ" where did you get that from? i have so far not heard a headphone that could not be made better with EQ or physical modifications
 

JamesRF

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Hi Amirm,

I think I should add more detail on myself to make my comments

I tried with lound level on a pair of HE-500 hifiman and the HD800, I can't hear bass below 40hz, and that with the default setting both the HE500 (which is similar to HE6 in tyll's measurement in bass) and the HD800 sounds already bassy to me, any higher would sound like extra bass boost to make it bass heavy, similar to the balance on the 8030C without EQ or using switches and placed very close to rear wall getting the 6db boost.

and from what I read from the Harman curve it's more or less a preference curve by individuals and the default curve are mostly young guys, which from experience tend to prefer some very bass heavy pub music? in that sense it seems to me the curve is actually deviates from bass neutral in a well treated studio setup.

Thus my question to the measurement is that the harman curve while makes the preference for most ppl, is not what we target for a perceivable neutral tuning?
I'm interested in classical music, and the Harman curve has always seemed exaggerated to me. The HD800S and the Stax SR-009S come closest in my experience to natural presentation (no EQ). I'm not sure about the Stax, but the HD800S isn't intended to achieve the Harman curve - the Sennheiser reference is a diffuse-field frequency response curve, which is much flatter.
 

John_M

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I would need more time to analyze what is going on. As I noted though, my current hypothesis is exaggeration of certain frequencies above 5 kHz combined with the larger caps and maybe even driver design. If it is the latter aspects then measuring their effect is beyond our reach right now.
This seems a pretty fundamental point - not just to this review but to all the ASR reviews.

Surely the point of the reviews is to inform readers' purchasing decisions.

If I compare the frequency response and the distortion of the HD800S to that of the HD650, the conclusion must be that I should buy the HD650. It measures better and costs significantly less.

However, the review states that there may be other aspects to the headphone which aren't showing up in the frequency response and distortion measurements. This would be music to a subjectivist's ear. :)

If this is right, we shouldn't base our purchasing decisions on the measurements alone. However, how are we supposed to know how (if at all) to factor in these (currently unmeasurable) other qualities?
 

Robbo99999

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This seems a pretty fundamental point - not just to this review but to all the ASR reviews.

Surely the point of the reviews is to inform readers' purchasing decisions.

If I compare the frequency response and the distortion of the HD800S to that of the HD650, the conclusion must be that I should buy the HD650. It measures better and costs significantly less.

However, the review states that there may be other aspects to the headphone which aren't showing up in the frequency response and distortion measurements. This would be music to a subjectivist's ear. :)

If this is right, we shouldn't base our purchasing decisions on the measurements alone. However, how are we supposed to know how (if at all) to factor in these (currently unmeasurable) other qualities?
That's the problem with headphones, they have qualities like "soundstage" which cannot be captured by measurements, yet it surely exists when you listen to a headphone in subjective listening, so it's folly to only take into account the measurements....you're better served by taking in the measurements and also the subjective listening reports of Amir & users & other reviews when it comes to subjective evaluation of things like "soundstage". To me though, there's only the measurements & soundstage, for me there aren't any other nebulous qualities in headphones.
 

John_M

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To me though, there's only the measurements & soundstage, for me there aren't any other nebulous qualities in headphones.

The problem is that there are lots of different opinions on this. Look at what Amir's written:

"I would need more time to analyze what is going on. As I noted though, my current hypothesis is exaggeration of certain frequencies above 5 kHz combined with the larger caps and maybe even driver design. If it is the latter aspects then measuring their effect is beyond our reach right now."

No doubt you could find another 10 guys from Head-Fi to give another 10 opinions. It leaves the poor uneducated buyer like me in the dark about what to do! The amplifiers seem to be more straightforward.
 

acbarn

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The problem is that there are lots of different opinions on this. Look at what Amir's written:

"I would need more time to analyze what is going on. As I noted though, my current hypothesis is exaggeration of certain frequencies above 5 kHz combined with the larger caps and maybe even driver design. If it is the latter aspects then measuring their effect is beyond our reach right now."

No doubt you could find another 10 guys from Head-Fi to give another 10 opinions. It leaves the poor uneducated buyer like me in the dark about what to do! The amplifiers seem to be more straightforward.
It's confusing, and it can be very expensive. I went all up and down the headphone price range and ended up learning that sound quality and price have little to no correlation. I think measurements are useful for weeding out the real stinkers, subjective reviews--when taken as a large group--can provide some insight into unmeasurable qualities such as soundstage and "slam", and yet ultimately you will still have to try out each headphone personally to see how they feel and sound to you. When it comes to headphones, generous return policies are your best friend.
 
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Jimbob54

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It's confusing, and it can be very expensive. I went all up and down the headphone price range and ended up learning that sound quality and price have little to no correlation. I think measurements are useful for weeding out the real stinkers, subjective reviews--when taken as a large group--can provide some insight into unmeasurable qualities such as soundstage and "slam", and yet ultimately you will still have to try out each headphone personally to see how they feel and sound to you. When it comes to headphones, generous return policies are your best friend.
Exactly this. Everyone loves a bad automobile analogy so here is mine.

I reckon electronics and even speakers are like cars in that the specs and measurements combined with visuals in magazines etc could get you a car purchase you'd be happy with.

Headphones are like motorbikes. Far more personal for fit, feel and overall, err, handling.

See, told you it was bad!
 

acbarn

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Exactly this. Everyone loves a bad automobile analogy so here is mine.

I reckon electronics and even speakers are like cars in that the specs and measurements combined with visuals in magazines etc could get you a car purchase you'd be happy with.

Headphones are like motorbikes. Far more personal for fit, feel and overall, err, handling.

See, told you it was bad!
I like it! :)
 

John_M

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It would be interesting to see some of the suggestions in this review explored further. In particular, it is stated that the HD800S achieves better instrument separation than the HD650 (query whether this is something different from soundstage?) It is then suggested that the cause of this is "maybe even driver design" - some other quality besides frequency response and distortion?

This reminds me of the thread on "The science behind Stax's magic". See e.g. the post below where the ability of some headphones to handle complex music where others fall apart was attributed to low IMD (another poster subsequently disagreed):

 

Robbo99999

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It would be interesting to see some of the suggestions in this review explored further. In particular, it is stated that the HD800S achieves better instrument separation than the HD650 (query whether this is something different from soundstage?) It is then suggested that the cause of this is "maybe even driver design" - some other quality besides frequency response and distortion?

This reminds me of the thread on "The science behind Stax's magic". See e.g. the post below where the ability of some headphones to handle complex music where others fall apart was attributed to low IMD (another poster subsequently disagreed):

Soundstage is more the spatial positioning of the music as you listen to it, most often referred to in wide or narrow. HD600 would be an example of a headphone that is narrow, as in feels the music is presented in small physical space if you were to imagine where all the different sounds were coming from. On the other side of the scale (in terms of the headphones I own) there would be K702 where physical space where sounds are located feels wide, I would say outside of my head and wider than my head whereas the HD600 is in a narrow arc in my head. I don't really see that as the same thing as "instrumentation seperation" that you quoted from Amir. I see "instrument seperation" under the banner of overall clarity, and I probably should have mentioned in my previous post that for me overall clarity is not totally described by the measurements either, although it's a massive part of the measured frequency response and to a lesser degree the measured distortion (for me especially in bass with regards to measured distortion), but I've noticed differences in overall clarity between my different headphones even when they're EQ'd to the same target curve which is trying to take measured frequency response out of the equation as much as possible - there's still differences in frequency response at your eardrum with different headphones even when EQ'd to the same target curve due to unit to unit variation and the fact that different models of headphone react slightly differently to your own anatomy vs the GRAS headphone measurement device, so overall clarity is also affected by this phenomenon. For me after EQ my K702/HD560s & HD600 are all pretty close in what I call overall clarity (some might call it resolution) with HE4XX and NAD HP50 falling behind. Then in terms of soundstage of I have K702 / HD560s / HE4XX / NAD HP50 / HD600 in terms of from widest to narrrowest. Therefore for me I've worked out that my K702 & HD560s are my joint favourite headphones. Either way to make sure you're getting your best headphone means trying out different headphones & also EQ'ing them - the measurements serve as a basis for all of that process as well as other people's subjective reviews to help create shortlists of headphones to buy. If you're serious about it & got some time to dedicate to it, and don't want to end up with a collection of headphones, then buy maybe 5 different headphones on your shortlist, EQ them all to the same target curve (eg for instance you might have already worked out you like the Harman Curve with half the bass level or maybe the full level) and listen to them all on your most well-known tracks at roughly the same loudness (difficult but we do what we can) and decide which ones are better - see if you can narrow it down to one headphone to keep & send the others back.

EDIT: I also think close channel matching through the frequency range aids in overall clarity, based on my channel matching EQ's I've done of my K702 headphone after Oratory measured the 2 channels, so I think it pays to buy a headphone that has good channel matching too.
 
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Carlo2AC

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Soundstage is more the spatial positioning of the music as you listen to it, most often referred to in wide or narrow. HD600 would be an example of a headphone that is narrow, as in feels the music is presented in small physical space if you were to imagine where all the different sounds were coming from. On the other side of the scale (in terms of the headphones I own) there would be K702 where physical space where sounds are located feels wide, I would say outside of my head and wider than my head whereas the HD600 is in a narrow arc in my head. I don't really see that as the same thing as "instrumentation seperation" that you quoted from Amir. I see "instrument seperation" under the banner of overall clarity, and I probably should have mentioned in my previous post that for me overall clarity is not totally described by the measurements either, although it's a massive part of the measured frequency response and to a lesser degree the measured distortion (for me especially in bass with regards to measured distortion), but I've noticed differences in overall clarity between my different headphones even when they're EQ'd to the same target curve which is trying to take measured frequency response out of the equation as much as possible - there's still differences in frequency response at your eardrum with different headphones even when EQ'd to the same target curve due to unit to unit variation and the fact that different models of headphone react slightly differently to your own anatomy vs the GRAS headphone measurement device, so overall clarity is also affected by this phenomenon. For me after EQ my K702/HD560s & HD600 are all pretty close in what I call overall clarity (some might call it resolution) with HE4XX and NAD HP50 falling behind. Then in terms of soundstage of I have K702 / HD560s / HE4XX / NAD HP50 / HD600 in terms of from widest to narrrowest. Therefore for me I've worked out that my K702 & HD560s are my joint favourite headphones. Either way to make sure you're getting your best headphone means trying out different headphones & also EQ'ing them - the measurements serve as a basis for all of that process as well as other people's subjective reviews to help create shortlists of headphones to buy. If you're serious about it & got some time to dedicate to it, and don't want to end up with a collection of headphones, then buy maybe 5 different headphones on your shortlist, EQ them all to the same target curve (eg for instance you might have already worked out you like the Harman Curve with half the bass level or maybe the full level) and listen to them all on your most well-known tracks at roughly the same loudness (difficult but we do what we can) and decide which ones are better - see if you can narrow it down to one headphone to keep & send the others back.

EDIT: I also think close channel matching through the frequency range aids in overall clarity, based on my channel matching EQ's I've done of my K702 headphone after Oratory measured the 2 channels, so I think it pays to buy a headphone that has good channel matching too.

Although verbosy your post was wonderful to read sir! did you really found the HE4XX lagging behind on "clarity"? when you tested where they all volume matched?

Your point on trying different headphones is spot on! only issue is if you live in a third world country like me and the audiophile hobby isn't well diffused, so relying on reviews, measurements and opinions like yours is what we have to do
 

Robbo99999

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Although verbosy your post was wonderful to read sir! did you really found the HE4XX lagging behind on "clarity"? when you tested where they all volume matched?

Your point on trying different headphones is spot on! only issue is if you live in a third world country like me and the audiophile hobby isn't well diffused, so relying on reviews, measurements and opinions like yours is what we have to do
Ha, well I wanted to relay all my experience to you so you could find the best way of finding your best headphone! No, my headphones weren't properly volume matched, just turned up to subjectively what I deem my normal listening level to be on a track I use as a benchmark. When I did some theoretical calculations to work out my max listening levels I interestingly found that I listen to my HE4XX louder than all my other headphones, at the following link is where I show how I worked it out (https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-measured-by-oratory.22992/page-2#post-767745 ), but anyway even though I tend to listen louder on my HE4XX I do still find it to be lagging behind in overall clarity in relation to my K702 / HD560s / HD600. (all EQ'd to same curve)
 

JamesRF

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"Most serious audiophiles won't touch EQ" where did you get that from? i have so far not heard a headphone that could not be made better with EQ or physical modifications
In the interests of putting another view, I should say I've always preferred living with the inherent limitations of my headphones. EQ, in my experience, is never simply a matter of tweaking the odd frequency extreme. I find it inevitably brings all sorts of distortions and foibles, whether digital or analogue. I'm often told by those who champion DSP that the devil is in the analogue mire, and vice versa. But my experience is that the subtle differences which the best headphones can offer are invariably smothered by EQ.
 

Robbo99999

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In the interests of putting another view, I should say I've always preferred living with the inherent limitations of my headphones. EQ, in my experience, is never simply a matter of tweaking the odd frequency extreme. I find it inevitably brings all sorts of distortions and foibles, whether digital or analogue. I'm often told by those who champion DSP that the devil is in the analogue mire, and vice versa. But my experience is that the subtle differences which the best headphones can offer are invariably smothered by EQ.
Ha, c'mon, you know you should use a negative preamp right! :D
 

JamesRF

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I think I'll just stick to 'less is more' when it comes to 'improving' good phones ...
 
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