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Sennheiser HD800s Headphones: Are They Still the King of Soundstage in 2023?

Today, we will look at an absolute legend in the world of headphones, the Sennheiser HD800s dynamic, open backs. This article will primarily discuss my impressions of the headphones regarding build quality, comfort, design, and sound quality. 

 Sennheiser HD800s: Build and Design Quality

Starting first with the build quality and design. The HD800s have an extremely open design, which does some incredible things for us as listeners regarding how open these headphones sound. Due to the open design, they also leak quite a bit of sound, which you will want to keep in mind if you are sharing office space or a listening area.

At the heart of the build of the HD800s is the 56mm Ring Radiator dynamic transducer system with a 40mm voice coil. The impedance of the headphones is 300 ohms which makes them a superb fit for us tube amp lovers.  

The headphones have a THD of .02%, an FR of 4-51,000 Hz, and an SPL of 102db, so a good amplifier pairing, both from a power perspective and an amplifier’s sound synergy perspective, should be taken into consideration when building a headphone audio system.

The HD800s are developed in Germany and precision built at Sennheiser in Ireland. The headband system is impressive, with a simple yet elegant design allowing the headphones to be easily adjusted for different-sized heads. The clamping force is exceptional, with no real pressure to discuss for the size and shape of my head, a significant departure from the 600 series of Sennheiser headphones.

Sennheiser HD800s: Comfort

The headband could have a bit more padding on the top to avoid potential hot spots for longer listening sessions; however, I also have a shaved head, so for those of you with hair, this may be a non-issue. The headphones weigh an impressively low 330 grams, making them one of the lightest high-performance headphones in this price range.

The pads are also very soft and comfortable, making the HD800s one of the most comfortable headphones I own. Many users would agree that wearing the headphones is almost like not wearing them at all, especially compared to other headphones in their collection.

I don’t have many complaints about the build or design of the HD800s other than wishing they had a bit more padding on the headband and that the proprietary connections from the included cables to the actual headphones weren’t so darn tight.  

Anytime I have switched cables from the included single-ended ¼” cable to the included balanced pentacon cable, I am worried I will pull out the entire connection from the chassis of the headphones as they are so locked in.

Value and Availability

So potential buyers and current owners should take great care when doing so, as I know a few people that have damaged their headphones in this way.  Other than that, at the $1799.95 asking price, the HD800s is one of the best-built, time-tested, and comfortable headphones around. 

In addition, they go on sale quite often throughout the year, making them an even better value. I picked up my pair from our store as a certified B-Stock pair with a full warranty for a crazy reasonable price, so keep an eye on our website as we are an authorized Sennheiser B-Stock dealer.

The HD800s is a set of headphones I think every serious headphone listener should consider having in their collection as a reference for what is possible regarding soundstage width, depth, imaging, detail retrieval, and resolution for under $2000. Honestly, their soundstage, while some may consider it exaggerated sounding, still bests other headphones more than double their asking price.

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Sound Quality and Performance

So let’s talk about how the HD800s sounds. Highly resolving, fast sounding with impeccable imaging especially considering they are dynamic driver headphones; I find their imaging to be on par with many high-end planar magnetic headphones costing more. As I mentioned earlier, one of the best soundstages of any headphone in the world.


Let’s peel the layers back on the soundstage a bit, as it is the number one reason, I would recommend the HD800s for a potential headphone buyer in this price range.  Not only is the stage wide sounding traveling far outside of the headphones, the depth of the stage and how holographic the images appear on the sound stage of the headphones are intoxicating to listen to.  

As a speaker-listener, of all my headphones in the house, the HD800s gets the closest to what speakers sound like when it comes to sound staging, but of course, in a more intimate way than what speakers can provide. If you cannot have speakers in your home or apartment but value sound stage performance above all else, then the HD800s should be top of your list.

HD800s for Gaming

Suppose you are a gamer, especially games that involve PVP or targeting enemies on a battlefield. In that case, the HD800s sound stage will give you a leg up on the competition who may be using inferior headphones. Even though the headphones have been around for quite some time now, they are arguably the best gaming headphones for this reason.

HD800s Weak Points?

So, we discussed one of my favorite qualities of the HD800s. Let’s now discuss the biggest weakness in my opinion of the headphones’ sound signature and how you can embrace it and address it to get the best listening experience possible with these headphones.

Neutral and Bright Sound Character

It is no secret that many listeners would consider the sound signature of the HD800s as neutral and bright in character, which I agree with. The midrange is reasonably neutral sounding with just a bit of mid-forwardness in the upper mids and not as warm and present sounding as the HD650 or 660s2. 

Midrange and Bass Performance

However, the bass region is mild and significantly pulled back in presentation, and along with a few peaks in the treble region and ample air and sparkle, without the proper amplifier pairing, tone control, and or the use of EQ, the headphones can present in a very fatiguing way for many listeners depending on your preferences as well as the caliber of your hearing. 

For example, you won’t catch me listening to my pair of HD800s directly out of my Chord Hugo TT2 or Hugo 2 as they are, in my opinion, much too analytical of a pairing for the HD800s.  The Chord Annie is a step in the right direction for the solid-state amps in my house, paired with my Lokius Tone Control which allows me to sprinkle on some additional bass and pull back a bit on the treble.

Things begin to sound very special when tube amplifiers are introduced into the mix, providing harmonic distortion along with filling out the bass and warming the midrange some, turning the fatiguing sound of the HD800s into a highly enjoyable headphone that I can listen to for hours.  

Recommended Tube Amplifiers

Now I wouldn’t say any tube amplifier, at least for my tastes, as every tube amplifier uses different tubes and a unique type of circuit design to create its unique sound. So, I would highly recommend warmer leaning tube amplifiers that can bring a fuller sounding lower end, a bit more punch and dynamics, and for some listeners, a very lush liquid-sounding presentation to balance the fast, resolving sound signature of the HD800s will be a match made in heaven.  

For a bit more punchy dynamic and midrange forward emphasized sound with the HD800s, the McIntosh MHA200 headphone tube amplifier is a sound many listeners highly enjoy with the headphones. 

For my personal preferences, I would personally pair the MHA200 with a warmer, less analytical sounding DAC like the Woo Audio Phantom Dac; then what I pair with the MHA200 in my room for the most optimized sound as the Chord TT2, especially on filter 2, can sound a bit analytical with the MHA200 and the HD800s.

One of the more popular amps for DIY lovers and HD800s headphone owners is the OTL design headphone tube amplifier, the Bottle Head Crack with or without Speed Ball, depending on your preferences.

The two amps that I have listened to recently that have excelled the most for my preferences with the HD800s are the Woo Audio WA8 Class A Single-Ended Triode headphone amplifier and DAC, which we recently published a video on. It is still one of my favorite pairings of these headphones.  

The next amp is also from Woo Audio that they sent me recently for review, which is an OTL Single-ended triode design with point-to-point wiring, the WA2.  This relatively affordable tube amp has quickly become one of my favorite tube amps I have heard for 300ohm Sennheiser headphones; stay tuned for a full video on that excellent tube amp.

I also enjoy the original iFi Pro-iCan, no longer in production, which is a dynamic warmer, sounding tube amp that has a nifty trick up its sleeve with its Xbass feature that, much like my analog Lokius, tone control steps up the bass performance of the HD800s allowing for a much better listening experience for my preferences.

I am not a massive fan of EQ and don’t use it much as I enjoy the hunt of system matching and finding synergistic pairings. However, there is nothing wrong if you enjoy EQ, and that can be the cheapest solution to getting the sound of the HD800s just the way you like it. In my experience, I have found better overall sound using tone control or synergistic tube amplifier pairings with the HD800s.

Best Music Genres for the HD800s

So let me wrap up with the genres of music I most prefer with the HD800s. Classical, Orchestral, Soundtracks, New Age, Acoustic, Ambient Electronic, Jazz Vocalists, Rock, and some Pop. Even with tube amps and or tone control, I would still lean towards a different set of headphones in my house for Bass heavy Electronic and Pop, Hard Rock, Metal, Alternative, and music in general that benefits from either a less analytical sound signature or more present sub-bass and mid-bass. 

Final Thoughts

So, while the HD800s is a spectacular headphone, it’s not perfect and has some interesting sonic characteristics in the bass and treble that will likely need to be addressed with one of the methods I have mentioned.  

However, if you are willing to have fun experimenting with some of these methods, whether it’s a tube amp and tube rolling, tone control, or EQ, the rewards you will reap in sound from the HD800s are worth it, in my opinion. 

I also have a few buddies that love to listen to the HD800s after a bit of whiskey, along with their tube amps doubling up on the distortion, if you know what I mean, and many of them can’t bring themselves to part ways with these headphones even when they own more expensive headphones.

Trade-up Program and Price Match

If you are interested in trading up your old headphones, amplifiers, or other gently used audio gear for a new set of headphones or speakers, check out our trade-up program, and don’t forget we will price match other authorized dealers!  

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Until next time friends, remember, let the music be your guide! 

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