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Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphone

We take an early look at the Sennheiser HD 800 S £1,000-plus headphones

The Sennheiser HD 800 S are a new version of the Sennheiser HD 800, one of only two pairs of headphones to which I’ve given a 10/10 score in my time reviewing at TrustedReviews – which at this point is just over five years.

With the HD 800 S, Sennheiser has addressed the one criticism levelled at the original – other than the price, that is. The Sennheiser HD 800 S use a new driver dampening system designed to take the edge off the legendary HD 800 treble.

At £1,199, they’re even more expensive than the first model, but for those who find the HD 800 a little sharp, they’re fantastic. I had the opportunity to try them out at the Bristol Sound Vision Show 2016.

Related: Best headphones 2016

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Sennheiser HD 800 S vs HD 800

From the outside, the Sennheiser HD 800 S look exactly like the HD 800, except that their darker in colour. Where the old version is largely silver, this one is largely black.

For those unfamiliar with the existing HD 800, these remain rather futuristic headphones, with a frame designed to be sonically inert, rather than add to the sound as would a wood-cup pair. They’re fairly large, with pads sizeable enough to encompass even the most elephantine ears.

Rather than trying to use obviously expensive, luxury materials such as high-grade wood and metal, the Sennheiser HD 800 S feel like headphones of science. Aside from some stainless steel, these headphones are made from mainly synthetic materials.

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The pads are topped with Alcantara, a superb suede-like fabric that’s water-resistant, pretty tough and dead comfy. The rest of the frame is made from “aerospace”-grade material, which also contributes to the HD 800 S’s outer part being so sonically inert.

These headphones are totally open, and so will prove entirely useless if you wish to use them outdoors, or in a noisy office.

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So far, the Sennheiser HD 800 S sound identical to the HD 800 except that they’re in a darker shade – but there is more to them.

First up, they come with a balanced cable. This ends in an XLR connection rather than the usual 6.3mm jack connector, making these an obvious pairing for the HDVD 800 amplifier.

This actually means the HD 800 S are a bit of a bargain, from one perspective at least. They cost just £100 more than the HD 800, but are available with both 6.3mm and balanced cables; the balance cable alone usually costs £250.

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Sennheiser HD 800 S – Sound Quality

The Sennheiser HD 800 S feature 56mm dynamic drivers, the same breed as much cheaper sets. The company is great at showing off the dynamic drivers’ capability, using them to great effect in both its expensive in-ear headphones such as the IE800 and full-sized units too.

Headphones such as the HD 800 S highlight that more exotic electrostatic and planar magnetic drivers aren’t actually needed to achieve real top-end sound.

Many of the classic HD 800 characteristics are in tact. The Sennheiser HD 800 S have a huge sound stage, one that makes almost all other sets seem piddly – even fantastic headphones such as the £1,100 Oppo PM-1. They sound epic.

Bass depth is terrific, the mids are natural and finely textured. It takes only a second to realise these are world-class headphones.

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Even on the noisy floor of the Bristol Sound Vision hi-fi show, the difference between the HD 800 and HD 800 S headphones was obvious. Sennheiser had both sets side-by-side, inviting A/B comparisons.

The new dampening system takes the hard edge off the Sennheiser HD 800 treble, making the HD 800 S’s treble far smoother. Back when I reviewed the HD 800 five years ago, I mentioned how some might not get on with the “laser”-defined sound. This set changes that character completely.

Although Sennheiser has made a much less challenging pair of headphones this time around, everyone will enjoy the HD 800 S: they’re smoother, with a softer finish that makes for a much more relaxed listen.

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As someone who loves the Sennheiser HD 800s, though, I can see why a company rep was describing the HD 800 S as a “different” option, rather than a flat-out better one.

By dampening the impact of the ultra-high-frequency treble, the HD 800 S naturally trade away some of that sense of “micro” detail that makes the HD 800 sound so unusual, so separate from the planar magnetic Audeze and Oppo headphones at that price.

It’s the HD 800’s incredibly insightful treble and huge sound stage that has kept them at the forefront of my mind over the past five years when trying out a new pair of high-end headphones.

I’ll admit that the impression I got of the HD 800 S was of a more natural-sounding set of headphones, although the crowded Bristol show floor wasn’t the best place to appreciate the ultra-fine detail the HD 800 offer.

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First Impressions

If you’ve tried or owned the Sennheiser HD 800s and love them aside from their hot treble, the Sennheiser HD 800 S will be a dream come true.

They calm the Sennheiser HD 800s into a pair that’s far more accessible. A side-effect is that they’re a little more ordinary-sounding too, lowering the level of micro-detail for a sound with a softer edge. As such, the HD 800 S may make a great alternative to the planar magnetic competition.

It’s another class act from Sennheiser, but I’d strongly recommend trying out both the HD 800 and HD 800 S for more than the three minutes of a pop song to determine whose sound you prefer best.

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