The Sennheiser HD 800 S are excellent sounding headphones for critical listening. They're comfortable and have a sturdy, durable build quality but like most open back critical listening models, they're not very versatile. They're not designed for outdoors or to use casually, but plugged into an amp, they deliver an exceptional listening experience.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S are well-crafted, comfortable critical listening headphones. They have a sturdy build quality that makes use of a lot of metal and premium materials in their design. The large, open ear cups are coated with a suede-like padding that feels good on the skin and promotes long listening sessions. However, they're not casual headphones. They're bulky, heavy and not designed to use outdoors or while doing any physical activity.
The Sennheiser HD 800S are critical-listening-focused headphones, and it shows in their design. The massive open-back ear cups and headband are reinforced with metal and high-grade plastic. They're also both padded with a suede-like material which makes these headphones look and feel premium. They're bulkier than most of the other critical listening headphones we've tested like the Hifiman Sundara or the HD 700, which may work for some but maybe a bit too cumbersome for others.
The Sennheiser HD800S deliver a comfortable listening experience. They have large, spacious ear cups, they're not too tight on the head and they're well padded with a suede-like material that feels good on the skin. Unfortunately, they are a little on the heavy side and ear cups are so big that they may not be comfortable for all listeners, especially on smaller heads.
The Sennheiser HD 800S do not have any buttons or controls.
The Sennheiser HD800S are big and bulky headphones that do not fold into a more compact format for transport. They're not designed to be portable and will take up a lot of space in a backpack and would barely fit in a regular handbag. The box they come in can be used as a substitute for a case. Unfortunately, it's far too large and cumbersome for regular use.
These headphones do not come with a case. You can use the box that they are packaged in as a case. Unfortunately, it's more than double the size of the headphones and not practical to carry around unless you have a dedicated bag or suitcase. Also, the pouch that comes included in the box is for the cables and not the headphones.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S have good, premium build quality. They have a sturdy metal frame and a high-grade plastic blend that strengthens the headband. The large ear cups are decently dense, and the padding materials feel high-end. However, the hinges/yokes are not the most durable. The pin that keeps the joints of the ear cups in place can sometimes come loose, and overall they have a lot more plastic in their build quality than their price range would suggest.
These headphones are not designed for use during sports or any physical activities. They easily slide off your ears when running or jumping. The ear cups have a large enough surface area that they will maintain their position during casual listening sessions even when tilting your head. The cable is also detachable but takes a lot of force and may damage the headphones if violently removed, which slightly reduces their stability score.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is a great sounding pair of open-back over-ear headphones. These headphones have a very good, punchy, and consistent bass, a great and even mid-range, and an excellent and even treble. They also have an excellent imaging performance and one of the largest and most spacious soundstages we have measured so far. This makes them a great choice for a wide variety of genres including bass-heavy ones, but especially classical, jazz, and vocal-centric music. However, they are a little shy on thump and sub-bass, and they tend to sound a bit muddy and thick in the upper bass/lower mid-range region. Their treble is also slightly on the bright side, which will be more noticeable on overly bright tracks.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S have a very good bass. LFE (low-frequency extension) is at 47Hz, and low-bass is lacking by 3.5dB. This means that these headphones will be a bit light on the thump and rumble that is common to bass-heavy genres like EDM and Hip-hop. Mid-bass, responsible for the body of bass guitars and the punch of kick drums is under our neutral target by 1dB. However, high-bass, responsible for warmth, is over our neutral target by 2dB, which adds a bit of muddiness to the overall sound.
The mid-range is great. The response throughout the range is very even and virtually flat. This results is a well-balanced production of vocals and lead instruments. However, because low-mid and mid-mid are over our neutral target by about 2dB, music and especially vocals will sound a bit thick and cluttered.
The treble is very good. Low-treble and mid-treble are quite flat and within 1dB of our neutral target. This ensures a well-balanced reproduction of vocals, leads and cymbals. However, the 5dB bump around 6.5KHz could make vocals a bit sharp and bright sounding on S and Ts, especially on overly bright tracks.
The frequency response consistency of the HD 800 S is great. In the bass range, the maximum amount of deviation at 20Hz is about 3dB. This is subtle but noticeable. However, the bass delivery above 40Hz is very consistent. In the treble range, there's barely any deviation below 10KHz, which is great.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S have excellent imaging. Weighted group delay is at 0.15, which is within very good limits. The GD graph also shows that the group delay response is almost entirely below the audibility threshold. This results in a tight bass and a transparent treble reproduction. Additionally, the L/R drivers of our test unit were exceptionally well-matched in frequency, amplitude, and phase response, ensuring an accurate placement and localization of objects (voices, instruments, video game effects) in the stereo field.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S have a great soundstage. The PRTF graph shows a high amount of interaction between the pinna and the headphones, and the activation is also very accurate except for the 6KHz region. The 10KHz notch present is very deep, but also upshifted in frequency a bit, which probably gives the impression that the sound source is elevated (in-front and slightly above). Overall, due to the good PRTF response, and open-back design, the soundstage will be perceived as large, natural, and spacious. But it won't quite be as externalized as a loudspeaker setup, partly due to the lack of correlated crosstalk.
The harmonic distortion performance is very good. The amount of THD produced in the upper bass/lower mid-range is a bit elevated, but still within good limits. The sharp peak in THD around 4KHz could make the sound of that region a bit harsh and brittle.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S headphones are not meant to isolate listeners. The open-back ear cups encourages leakage, to improve sound quality. Unfortunately, this means they are not studio recording or casual headphones, and they will disturb anyone around you, with their loud, unobstructed leakage. They also don't block any noise, which makes them practically unusable outside of a well-isolated room.
The HD 800 S have poor isolation. These open-back headphones don't achieve any isolation in the bass range, where the rumble of airplane and bus engines sits. In the mid-range, important for blocking out speech, they don't isolate either. In the treble range, occupied by sharp S and Ts, they achieve about 10dB of isolation which is inadequate.
The leakage performance is poor. Due to the open-back design and large drivers, these headphones are one of the loudest and leakiest we have measured so far. The significant portion of their leakage is spread between 200Hz and 20KHz, which is a very broad range. The overall level of the leakage is very loud too. With the music at 100dB SPL, the leakage at 1 foot away averages at 67dB SPL, and peaks at 82dB SPL. This is a lot louder than the noise floor of most offices.
These headphones do not have a microphone so the recording quality has not been tested.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S does not have a microphone so the noise handling has not been tested.
The Sennheiser HD800S have no active features and therefore do not require a battery. They also do not have a dedicated app or software support for added customization options.
These headphones do not have any active components and do not require a battery.
These headphones do not come with an app or software for added customization options.
The Sennheiser HD 800S have a simple 1/4"TRS audio cable with no in-line remote. They will provide audio when connected to your console or PC if you have a 1/4' to 1/8' adapter and have practically no latency since they are wired. However, this also means that they will not have the range and convenience of wireless headphones although they do come with a longer than average audio cable.
These headphones are wired and do not have a Bluetooth connection. If you want a good-sounding wireless headset, then consider the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
They have a simple 1/4'TRS audio cable with no in-line remote/microphone, so they will only provide audio when connected to your PS4, Xbox One or PC.
The Sennheiser HD 800S do not have a dock. If you need a headset with a dock that also has a wired connection for gaming or watching movies, then consider the SteelSeries Arctis 7.
These headphones do not have a wireless range since they only connect via a regular audio cable with an in-line remote.
The wired connection of these headphones has negligible latency which is suitable for gaming and home-theater use.
The Sennheiser HD800S have an outstanding, reference-quality audio reproduction but are not designed for everyday use. They have a great, evenly balanced sound that caters well to most tracks and music genres. They're well built, comfortable and feel durable. However, their open-back design leaks a lot and will disturb the people around you. They are one of the best sounding headphones we've measured with excellent soundstage and stereo image reproduction but they're also considerably pricier than most of the competing headphones below which may not be worth it depending on your use case.
The HiFiMan Edition X are also one of the best sounding critical listening headphones that we've tested so far. They have an expertly balanced sound and a slightly better bass performance than the HD 800 S. They're also comfortable with large and roomy open ear cups that help create a spacious soundstage. Unfortunately, the build quality of their hinges/yokes is not as durable as that of the Sennheiser's. If you're going to spend that much on a headphone, then go with the 800S they will last much longer than the Hifiman.
The Hifiman Sundara are great-sounding headphones with a comfortable but slightly tight fit. They're an excellent choice for critical listening, thanks to their open design and planar magnetic drivers that help deliver a good soundstage, imaging and frequency response. They do not sound quite as balanced as the HD800s although they have a bit more bass. They also cannot produce a soundstage as spacious as the Sennheiser but they slightly more durable thanks to their all-metal build which is a definite improvement over the HE-400i and even the Edition X. The Sundara are like the budget H800s; if you want the best of the best, then go for the more expensive Sennheisers but if you're on a tight budget, then the Hifimans are a great, and much cheaper alternative.
The Sennheiser HD 650 are good sounding critical listening headphones but have a mediocre-at-best soundstage. Their sound quality is not as immersive as the HD 800s, and they can sound a bit too forward with instruments and vocals. Unfortunately, their build quality also doesn't feel as premium, and their treble response can be a bit inconsistent at times. On the upside, they are a lot cheaper so if you are on a budget, the HD 650 could be a more affordable alternative, but for purely critical listening, the HD800S are significantly better.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are sturdy critical listening headphones. They deliver a good audio reproduction that has a bit more bass than the Sennheiser HD 800s but also sounds a lot sharper on brighter tracks. They're also not as comfortable since they can be a bit tight on the head out-of-the-box. On the upside, they are a fraction of the price of the Sennheiser, which makes them a good and affordable entry into critical listening. Unfortunately, you won't get the same soundstage experience that the HD800s does so well. If you have the budget, then get the HD 800s or the Hifiman Sundaras, but the Beyerdynamics are also a good choice especially considering their price.