Recording - January 2013 - 62
B Y M I K E M E T L AY
Sennheiser HD800 Headphones
The headphone equivalent of borrowing the keys to the Bugatti for the weekend
Along with the good solid entry-level gear we recommend to beginning recording musicians, and the exceptional mid-tohigh-level gear that helps our readers step up to new levels of quality, every once in a while we are privileged to try out something really special. Its price tag may be a jolt, but it delivers results in the upper stratosphere of what we do, and that may be justification enough for some buyers. While I’ve reviewed headphones ranging from ‘affordable and surprisingly good and utilitarian’ to ‘spendy but of very high audio quality’, I don’t often get to listen to phones like the Sennheiser HD800. As a closer to this issue on monitoring, here’s a quick spin around the block with a set of phones best described as ‘mind-blowing’. The HD 800 on paper The HD800 is an open-backed circumaural dynamic headphone that features some pretty impressive specs. It places Sennheiser’s “most advanced drivers to date” in a package that floats effortlessly on the head and weighs only 330 grams without cable. The frequency response (3 dB down) is an impressive 14 Hz to 44.1 kHz and total harmonic distortion comes in under 0.02% (1 kHz/1 V rms). The headphone’s 300-ohm impedance is a much higher number than you tend to see even in high-end phones these days. That means it demands a headphone amplifier with real power, and won’t behave to spec if fed from a cheap headphone amp in a portable listening device or inexpensive interface or mixer. The headband is steel with a luxurious velvet-covered pad, and the unusually-shaped earpads hug the head snugly and comfortably; the cable attaches to both ears and is a four-wire affair with Teflon insulation, 3 meters long and ending in a gold-plated 1 /4" TRS plug. No mini jack adapters here, kids... this headphone sneers at iPods. The HD800 on the ears My first listening tests were with highbitrate MP3 files over conventional (but good-quality) USB and FireWire interfaces and amplifiers, and the HD800 sounded
RECORDING January 2013
excellent but not amazing. I wasn’t that impressed, until I started using them with the best audio chain I could put together: 24-bit FLACs played by the Decibel application (sbooth.org) through the Grace Design m903 headphone amp/DAC (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). And then, to quote Darwin Grosse: “Oh. My. Gosh.” Listening to a 24-bit/96 kHz FLAC of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was stunning from end to end. From the almost subsonic thump of the opening heartbeat, the tiniest details of the incidental vocal effects were clear and present in a way I’d never heard them before, the basses and synthesizers carried immense power and authority without sacrificing clarity, and the guitar tones and saxophone solos were exquisite. The Beatles’ Rubber Soul in 24-bit/44.1 kHz was the best I’d ever heard it, with beautiful soundstaging and incredible nuance, from the sitar of “Norwegian Wood” to the vocal harmonies of “Girl” and “What Goes On” (who’d have thought Ringo could sound so fantastic?). The guitars and drums were so intricate that I found myself listening to the same passages over and over, just to pick out things I’d never heard before. Listening to Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, I was overwhelmed by the immediacy and intimacy of the vocals and the thundering power of the rhythm section in tracks like “Gone Gone Gone” and “Polly Come Home.” Classical music was astounding as well. From TheClassicalShop.net, I downloaded a 24/96 FLAC of a lovely solo piano piece from Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”; it had a depth and richness I’m not used to hearing on any headphones regardless of cost. The massed brasses of the Gothenburg Symphony’s recording of Weinberg’s Symphony No. 3 blew me out of my chair with their clarity, power and emotion. But the best was the second movement of Debussy’s “La Mer”, courtesy of eClassical.com, with its playful strings and winds interplaying with exceptionally clear and balanced percussion. Oh, my! My own music became absorbing in a way I hadn’t expected. On the one hand, I heard timbral nuances of guitars, keys, and
percussion that I don’t think I heard when I originally tracked the material! But on the other hand, I found myself unable to get away from even tiny fluctuations in noise floor or source distortion... a very mixed blessing. Conclusions Taking the HD800 out for a spin was thought-provoking in a lot of ways. Is this level of clarity and detail absolutely necessary for every recording musician to have on hand to pick apart tracks and mixes? I would say not; it’s possible to create great music without these headphones, in much the same way that many hit records have been made without a Neumann U 47 on the lead vocal or a Millennia Media preamp on every input. I would argue, and I somehow doubt Sennheiser would disagree, that these headphones aren’t for everyone; the company’s own HD650 is far less expensive and an incredibly versatile and honest headphone for critical listening and mixing. But... wow, were they fun to listen to, given the right headphone amp and the right material! Everyone should experience what might be the very best of its kind at least once in a while; if there are headphones out there that speak with more sheer beauty than the HD800, I don’t think my heart could take it. Price: $1499.95 More from: Sennheiser, sennheiserusa.com
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - January 2013
Recording - January 2013
Table of Contents
2012 AES Convention Report.
Universal Audio Apollo.
ADAM Audio F5 and F7 Monitors.
Earthworks ZDT 1022 Mic Preamp.
Trident HG3 Close Field Monitoring System.
AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition Headphones.
Grace Design m903 Reference Headphone Amplifier.
Monitors & Monitoring.
Lauten Atlantis FC-387 Condenser Microphone.
Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 13: Monitors Part 2.
PreSonus BlueTube DP V2.
Getting Into Your Head.
Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones.
iOS Music Tools: Last-Minute Audio Gifts!
Sennheiser HD800 Headphones.
2012 Annual Index.
Recording - January 2013 - Recording - January 2013
Recording - January 2013 - Cover2
Recording - January 2013 - 1
Recording - January 2013 - 2
Recording - January 2013 - 3
Recording - January 2013 - Fade In.
Recording - January 2013 - 5
Recording - January 2013 - Table of Contents
Recording - January 2013 - 7
Recording - January 2013 - Talkback.
Recording - January 2013 - 9
Recording - January 2013 - 2012 AES Convention Report.
Recording - January 2013 - 11
Recording - January 2013 - 12
Recording - January 2013 - 13
Recording - January 2013 - 14
Recording - January 2013 - 15
Recording - January 2013 - 16
Recording - January 2013 - 17
Recording - January 2013 - 18
Recording - January 2013 - 19
Recording - January 2013 - Universal Audio Apollo.
Recording - January 2013 - 21
Recording - January 2013 - 22
Recording - January 2013 - 23
Recording - January 2013 - ADAM Audio F5 and F7 Monitors.
Recording - January 2013 - 25
Recording - January 2013 - Earthworks ZDT 1022 Mic Preamp.
Recording - January 2013 - 27
Recording - January 2013 - Trident HG3 Close Field Monitoring System.
Recording - January 2013 - 29
Recording - January 2013 - AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition Headphones.
Recording - January 2013 - 31
Recording - January 2013 - 32
Recording - January 2013 - 33
Recording - January 2013 - Grace Design m903 Reference Headphone Amplifier.
Recording - January 2013 - 35
Recording - January 2013 - Monitors & Monitoring.
Recording - January 2013 - 37
Recording - January 2013 - 38
Recording - January 2013 - 39
Recording - January 2013 - Lauten Atlantis FC-387 Condenser Microphone.
Recording - January 2013 - 41
Recording - January 2013 - Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 13: Monitors Part 2.
Recording - January 2013 - 43
Recording - January 2013 - PreSonus BlueTube DP V2.
Recording - January 2013 - 45
Recording - January 2013 - Getting Into Your Head.
Recording - January 2013 - 47
Recording - January 2013 - 48
Recording - January 2013 - 49
Recording - January 2013 - Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones.
Recording - January 2013 - 51
Recording - January 2013 - 52
Recording - January 2013 - 53
Recording - January 2013 - 54
Recording - January 2013 - 55
Recording - January 2013 - Readers’ Tapes.
Recording - January 2013 - 57
Recording - January 2013 - iOS Music Tools: Last-Minute Audio Gifts!
Recording - January 2013 - 59
Recording - January 2013 - 60
Recording - January 2013 - 61
Recording - January 2013 - Sennheiser HD800 Headphones.
Recording - January 2013 - Advertiser Index.
Recording - January 2013 - 64
Recording - January 2013 - 65
Recording - January 2013 - 66
Recording - January 2013 - 67
Recording - January 2013 - 68
Recording - January 2013 - 69
Recording - January 2013 - 2012 Annual Index.
Recording - January 2013 - 71
Recording - January 2013 - Fade Out.
Recording - January 2013 - Cover3
Recording - January 2013 - Cover4