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Sennheiser HD800S Review (Headphone)

John_M

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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.

This is another big statement in the context of what we're told on this site... is it generally accepted that "EQ... inevitably brings all sorts of distortions"? We are told that EQ is the way to go. :)

I think someone else asked for this but it would be interesting to see some pre- and post- EQ distortion measurements.
 

Jimbob54

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This is another big statement in the context of what we're told on this site... is it generally accepted that "EQ... inevitably brings all sorts of distortions"? We are told that EQ is the way to go. :)

I think someone else asked for this but it would be interesting to see some pre- and post- EQ distortion measurements.
I will no doubt be horribly misquoting him but I believe Amir's response to such a request was to look at the distortion line above the level you currently listen at for the impact of boosting frequencies in a specific range. For most 'phones that means a (visually) significant rise in distortion in the lower freqs the audibility of which is less certain.

The chatter I've seen on here seems to suggest any potential downsides of EQ are limited if you keep the slope and amplitude of FR changes low. Which makes logical sense even if not proof of anything.

That said, I too would be interested in pre and post EQ charts for FR and distortion for some of the next suite of headphone measurements, even if just in one case (as Amir says its a pain to do).

Most of this is somewhat academic as I know myself and many others prefer their HP with some EQ- for most its more a question of what FR adjustments to make/ target to aim for than it is whether to do it at all.
 

acbarn

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I think I'll just stick to 'less is more' when it comes to 'improving' good phones ...
This is probably a good approach. The issue is that measuring headphones is, by nature, imprecise. And even if we had precise measurements (which we don’t), each person’s unique HRTF is essentially unknowable. This makes complex EQ adjustments that slavishly adhere to a target curve a good approach in theory only. In my experience, gentler adjustments are often more successful in practice.
 
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John_M

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I will no doubt be horribly misquoting him but I believe Amir's response to such a request was to look at the distortion line above the level you currently listen at for the impact of boosting frequencies in a specific range. For most 'phones that means a (visually) significant rise in distortion in the lower freqs the audibility of which is less certain.
That makes sense and I think that would hopefully be fine with electrostatic headphones as (I think) they don't have much bass distortion even at high volumes, unlike dynamic phones.
 
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This is probably a good approach. The issue is that measuring headphones is, by nature, imprecise. And even if we had precise measurements (which we don’t), each person’s unique HRTF is essentially unknowable. This makes complex EQ adjustments that slavishly adhere to a target curve a good approach in theory only. In my experience, gentler adjustments are often more successful in practice.

Yeah I was thinking the same earlier, but after a buch of A/B testing EQ curves and tinkering with REW, I was found out that precise autogenerated ones sounds much better for my ears. I.e. vocals sounds more natural, no harshness, no mudiness, better than oratory1990 curve. Idk may be I just got lucky with my ears or with measurements, but what I am using now is basically reverse crinacle 800S raw measurements to harman target, and I have never heard any better SQ with any headphones.
 

acbarn

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Yeah I was thinking the same earlier, but after a buch of A/B testing EQ curves and tinkering with REW, I was found out that precise autogenerated ones sounds much better for my ears. I.e. vocals sounds more natural, no harshness, no mudiness, better than oratory1990 curve. Idk may be I just got lucky with my ears or with measurements, but what I am using now is basically reverse crinacle 800S raw measurements to harman target, and I have never heard any better SQ with any headphones.
Interesting. I’ll have to give this a try with my 800S. So far my best result has been a +4db shelf at 105 Hz with a -3.5db dip at 5.5 kHz. To my ear, Oratory's full 10-band EQ made the soundstage noticeably collapse and hollowed out the lower mids making the overall sound a little boxy.
 

JamesRF

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I feel I should add a couple of points here. My comments about avoiding EQ are directed towards the best, most highly engineered phones that appeal to the listener out of the box - even if they're not perfect. In those cases, I think the 'magic' on offer is an extremely complex balance of factors which, in my experience, is quickly overwhelmed by even the most sophisticated EQ (and much EQ is not very sophisticated ...). The 'distortion' I'm talking about is not just the noise from power supplies, cables and additional processing, it's the skewing of the balance that's been painstakingly engineered in the phones. I think phones, unlike loudspeakers, are really all about the tiny factors that cohere to produce a singular effect. That said, I accept we all 'EQ' our phones to some extent: we choose particular amps, cables, etc. For instance, I always liked the Sennheiser HDV820 amp with my HD800S phones - partly, I think, because it has a 40 ohm output impedance which tilts the spectral balance in favour of lower frequencies - I think it can 'improve' the sound of the HD800S. I also prefer analogue crossfeed. That was one of the reasons I chose my current amp - Moon 430HA. I always use crossfeed because I think all phones sound better with it - even my Stax SR-009S phones (I add an iFi Pro iESL energiser to the Moon to drive them). This is obviously a very subjective account, but I've never managed successfully to change the basic character of any of the phones I've owned. I'm interested in classical music, so I prefer phones which reference a diffuse-field frequency response curve - like the HD800S. If I was interested in electronic music, I might be interested in phones which reference the Harman curve - more like the Empyrean. They're very different beasts. I feel I get the best results by finding phones that are close to what I'm looking for, rather than trying to re-engineer phones that really aren't.
 

garbulky

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I feel I should add a couple of points here. My comments about avoiding EQ are directed towards the best, most highly engineered phones that appeal to the listener out of the box - even if they're not perfect. In those cases, I think the 'magic' on offer is an extremely complex balance of factors which, in my experience, is quickly overwhelmed by even the most sophisticated EQ (and much EQ is not very sophisticated ...). The 'distortion' I'm talking about is not just the noise from power supplies, cables and additional processing, it's the skewing of the balance that's been painstakingly engineered in the phones. I think phones, unlike loudspeakers, are really all about the tiny factors that cohere to produce a singular effect. That said, I accept we all 'EQ' our phones to some extent: we choose particular amps, cables, etc. For instance, I always liked the Sennheiser HDV820 amp with my HD800S phones - partly, I think, because it has a 40 ohm output impedance which tilts the spectral balance in favour of lower frequencies - I think it can 'improve' the sound of the HD800S. I also prefer analogue crossfeed. That was one of the reasons I chose my current amp - Moon 430HA. I always use crossfeed because I think all phones sound better with it - even my Stax SR-009S phones (I add an iFi Pro iESL energiser to the Moon to drive them). This is obviously a very subjective account, but I've never managed successfully to change the basic character of any of the phones I've owned. I'm interested in classical music, so I prefer phones which reference a diffuse-field frequency response curve - like the HD800S. If I was interested in electronic music, I might be interested in phones which reference the Harman curve - more like the Empyrean. They're very different beasts. I feel I get the best results by finding phones that are close to what I'm looking for, rather than trying to re-engineer phones that really aren't.
My two eq's chained to my HD800S disagree with you. :D
 

jhaider

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... maybe you should try some phones you can use without chains ...

That’s HD580/600/650, AKG 371, NAD HP50, and?

Full range single driver speakers are just as a rule not good. They’re bad to runaway-from-the-room terrrible. Most headphones are full range single driver speakers. The good news with headphones is that the issues of directivity and breakup etc that ruin the sound quality of in room single driver speakers are less important. The physical compromises between spectral fidelity, output, etc are still present. But spectral fidelity can be electronically corrected. That’s where EQ comes in. So

HD800/S is perhaps the best example. Clearly spectral fidelity took a back seat to other things. So they’re, in native form, not very good. Correct the spectral fidelity and they transform into something arguably worth the high price.
 

acbarn

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Yeah I was thinking the same earlier, but after a buch of A/B testing EQ curves and tinkering with REW, I was found out that precise autogenerated ones sounds much better for my ears. I.e. vocals sounds more natural, no harshness, no mudiness, better than oratory1990 curve. Idk may be I just got lucky with my ears or with measurements, but what I am using now is basically reverse crinacle 800S raw measurements to harman target, and I have never heard any better SQ with any headphones.
OK, I tried the AutoEQ curve derived from Crinacle’s Gras measurements of the 800S. It sounds very similar to Oratory’s Harman, though a touch brighter and more sibilant. Neither sound as good to me as a simple 105 Hz bass shelf and small correction for the 5.5 kHz peak, which to my ears maintains more of the characteristics that make the 800S unique.
 
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JamesRF

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That’s HD580/600/650, AKG 371, NAD HP50, and?

Full range single driver speakers are just as a rule not good. They’re bad to runaway-from-the-room terrrible. Most headphones are full range single driver speakers. The good news with headphones is that the issues of directivity and breakup etc that ruin the sound quality of in room single driver speakers are less important. The physical compromises between spectral fidelity, output, etc are still present. But spectral fidelity can be electronically corrected. That’s where EQ comes in. So

HD800/S is perhaps the best example. Clearly spectral fidelity took a back seat to other things. So they’re, in native form, not very good. Correct the spectral fidelity and they transform into something arguably worth the high price.
Hmmm ... not sure I follow that ... but I would certainly defend your right to avoid the HD800S if you don't like it.
 

jhaider

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Hmmm ... not sure I follow that ... but I would certainly defend your right to avoid the HD800S if you don't like it.

Who said anything about avoiding? I wrote they’re bad - unless you fix what’s wrong with them, after which they transform into excellence. That fix is easy to apply with EQ, because their problem is poor spectral fidelity. That’s what I do with my own HD800.

I realize there are people who haven’t caught up with modern approaches. This place is a great educator in that regard.
 

Robbo99999

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I feel I should add a couple of points here. My comments about avoiding EQ are directed towards the best, most highly engineered phones that appeal to the listener out of the box - even if they're not perfect. In those cases, I think the 'magic' on offer is an extremely complex balance of factors which, in my experience, is quickly overwhelmed by even the most sophisticated EQ (and much EQ is not very sophisticated ...). The 'distortion' I'm talking about is not just the noise from power supplies, cables and additional processing, it's the skewing of the balance that's been painstakingly engineered in the phones. I think phones, unlike loudspeakers, are really all about the tiny factors that cohere to produce a singular effect. That said, I accept we all 'EQ' our phones to some extent: we choose particular amps, cables, etc. For instance, I always liked the Sennheiser HDV820 amp with my HD800S phones - partly, I think, because it has a 40 ohm output impedance which tilts the spectral balance in favour of lower frequencies - I think it can 'improve' the sound of the HD800S. I also prefer analogue crossfeed. That was one of the reasons I chose my current amp - Moon 430HA. I always use crossfeed because I think all phones sound better with it - even my Stax SR-009S phones (I add an iFi Pro iESL energiser to the Moon to drive them). This is obviously a very subjective account, but I've never managed successfully to change the basic character of any of the phones I've owned. I'm interested in classical music, so I prefer phones which reference a diffuse-field frequency response curve - like the HD800S. If I was interested in electronic music, I might be interested in phones which reference the Harman curve - more like the Empyrean. They're very different beasts. I feel I get the best results by finding phones that are close to what I'm looking for, rather than trying to re-engineer phones that really aren't.
(There's quite a lot of rubbish in there apart from maybe the crossfeed, sorry!)
 
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amirm

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I think someone else asked for this but it would be interesting to see some pre- and post- EQ distortion measurements.
I early days I measured it once. It showed exactly what you predict. That where I show rising distortion, if you boost, you step that up non-linearly.
I always test for that subjectively as I develop the EQ. The biggest problem isn't that level of distortion but reaching the limits of the driver. This causes massive distortion such as I experienced in Focal Clear.
 
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amirm

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n those cases, I think the 'magic' on offer is an extremely complex balance of factors which, in my experience, is quickly overwhelmed by even the most sophisticated EQ (and much EQ is not very sophisticated ...).
Balance? I doubt that poorly measuring headphones have been subjected to such at all. They are likely someone's idea of good sound with who knows what training, what test protocol, etc.

I find headphones infinitely easier to EQ than speakers. They can stand massive boosts in bass for example that would literally damage a speaker. Not using it based on some faith in a designer makes no sense to me.

Now, if said designers produced some proper controlled listening tests that showed efficacy of design, that would be one thing. But none that produce such deficient headphones do.

We don't avoid salt and pepper in our foods. I am not sure why we would have some theoretical objection to EQ in our headphones.
 

JamesRF

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Well, I don't seem to have generated much love! It hadn't been my intention to raise anything quite so controversial!! To summarise, I thought there might be some interest in a perspective which, as a newcomer, I hadn't seen raised on this site. It's simply that some of the best equipment seems to me quite exceptional in its balance of subtle factors, and I've found that it's easy to lose the 'magic' (there's that word again) through heavy EQ. My own experience is that I've lost the special coherence of some phones when trying to modify their basic character, and I have had happier experiences starting with phones closer to my aim (thus avoiding EQ to the extent possible). The other point I thought worth making in a discussion about the HD800S was that the diffuse-field reference and the Harman reference are quite different - and the HD800S reference is diffuse-field (which I happen to prefer). It's abundantly clear, however, that this is not a topic that's likely to generate much friendly interest!!! This isn't an idea that seems to cause such controversy elsewhere - certainly, I wouldn't claim to be the first to raise it. Nevertheless, I'm sorry to have raised it here, and won't trouble you with further contributions. All the best.
 

Robbo99999

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Well, I don't seem to have generated much love! It hadn't been my intention to raise anything quite so controversial!! To summarise, I thought there might be some interest in a perspective which, as a newcomer, I hadn't seen raised on this site. It's simply that some of the best equipment seems to me quite exceptional in its balance of subtle factors, and I've found that it's easy to lose the 'magic' (there's that word again) through heavy EQ. My own experience is that I've lost the special coherence of some phones when trying to modify their basic character, and I have had happier experiences starting with phones closer to my aim (thus avoiding EQ to the extent possible). The other point I thought worth making in a discussion about the HD800S was that the diffuse-field reference and the Harman reference are quite different - and the HD800S reference is diffuse-field (which I happen to prefer). It's abundantly clear, however, that this is not a topic that's likely to generate much friendly interest!!! This isn't an idea that seems to cause such controversy elsewhere - certainly, I wouldn't claim to be the first to raise it. Nevertheless, I'm sorry to have raised it here, and won't trouble you with further contributions. All the best.
You were speaking a lot of classical hoodoo as part of the stereotypical old-fashioned audiophile vein which is why you got jumped upon. You're right to use the target curves that make most sense to you and there's nothing wrong with choosing a headphone that comes closest to that target before you EQ. But talking lots of hoodoo and being a bit unbalanced about EQ means you got jumped on.....stick around if you like, but we don't like people wasting their money on hoodoo, large focus of this site is to avoid the hoodoo & avoid emptying wallets unnecessarily, but of course there is more hoodoo in headphones due to their various variabilities associated with people's differing anatomies (HRTF's) and the fact that they're unnaturally strapped to the side of your head vs speakers.
 

John_M

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Just thinking about this... a claim frequently made in the electrostat community is that very powerful third party amps are needed to drive the bass properly on many electrostatic headphones (especially the SR-007).

If this is correct, and who knows whether it is or not, would the problem be exacerbated by EQ-ing electrostatic headphones to increase the bass?
 
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