It’s always a tricky move when manufacturers introduce a new flagship. Whenever an updated version of a top-level product gets released into the market, previous owners may perhaps think, “Gee, if this one is ‘new & improved’, does that make mine 'old and lousy'?”
Well, fear not audiophiles, for while the updates heard in the HD 800S are certainly noteworthy, the audible differences are not revelatory nor do they absolutely demand that you throw your current HD800 headphones into the flaming trash heap of history.
In fact, the Sennheiser HD 800S retains an almost an identical overall presentation as the original but with a fractional bump up in bass presence due to new anti-resonator dampers within the driver assembly that serve to mellow the 6,000 kHz peak previously noted in the midranges. Sennheiser states the attenuation of these potentially prickly resonances addresses the ‘masking effect’ phenomenon where the human ear struggles to hear certain sound frequencies when louder lower frequencies occur simultaneously.
The near-elimination of these unwelcome mid/upper frequency reflections - and the resulting improvements in tonal balance - creates the sonic impression of a fuller sound in the lows while also smoothing the treble ranges. So although the HD800S bass response does not exhibit a huge increase in low-octave heft or in actual low-end extension over the HD 800, the overall musical presentation sounds slightly warmer and fuller given the rounding down of that errant mid-treble spike.
Fortunately, all the really good things heard in the original HD800 remain completely intact in the HD800S. The massive 56mm dynamic transducers deliver expansive imaging and a spatiality that is still second to none. Its nearly microscopic level of analytical detail resolution power also remains wonderfully unaffected. The HD800S main calling card is its thrilling '3-D' widescreen soundstage that spreads out before your ears as deep and dimensional as always with a world-class transient quickness and clear dynamic grasp that’s hard to beat by any other headphone.
We think the prudent bass tweaks of the Sennheiser HD800S do present a deeper color in the low-end and this improved sense of tonal balance makes it a more engaging and musical headphone to enjoy your listening than the slightly colder, more clinical sound of the original HD800. Its a slightly more emotionally welcoming sound with smoother leading edges and an easier sense of engagement versus the first iteration.
In terms of fit ergonomics, nothing has changed between the two models.The wearing comfort of the HD800S remains a big strength and folks of all sizes and head shapes can easily wear this headphone for extended periods without suffering from neck fatigue. The proprietary extra-soft microfabric earpads are comfortable and typically less warm on the ears than leather pads.
The HD800S includes two individual 9.5ft cords, one with a standard ¼” stereo plug termination, the other a balanced cord for use with XLR/balanced-drive headphone amplifiers. As before, the HD800S low sensitivity, high 300 Ohm impedance and open-back earcup construction renders it largely unsuitable for portable applications. .
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