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The HD 800s are the latest $1400 hype-machines to stir up the headphone industry.

The HD 800s are a lot less imposing in person.


The HD 800s have semi-open backs, which create an open soundstage. See the light grey part in between the black plastic bits? The one that's catching the most light? That's actually a soft, mesh-like material. Bet you didn't know that (if you did, email us to claim your reward from this foolhardy bet).

The cups can also twist around very slightly.

The ear cups are huge, even for a set of over-ears.

The HD 800s' band is made of metal and features a good deal of padding on its underside. The band is extendible.

Before reading this caption, were you aware the above image

looks kind of like a smiling Sanrio frog?

The HD 800s feature a removeable cable, which plugs into the undersides of the headphones.

This is where you plug the cable in.


The cable is about 11 feet long, and ends in a 1/4-inch jack that's really a lot longer than it needs to be.




Below is proof we love playing dressup with our testing robot, HATS. This is what the headphones will look like on your head. Literally. The headphones look so futuristic they will actually transform you into a sophisticated robot, stripping you of virtually all semblance of humanity.

These headphones look like proximity mines, but do not behave like them.


In The Box

There isn't much in the HD 800s' macabre sepulchre except for the headphones themselves and a strong sense of foreboding. We would've expected them to come with a 1/4-to-1/8-inch adapter or a Dracula, but they sadly come with neither.

What a terrible night to have a curse.


**Durability**     (*9.03**)*

The HD 800s seem to be a sturdy set of headphones. Their cable and cup padding are removeable, which is nice, since those are the two parts that break down the fastest. The semi-open backs might let some dust in, but it's probably nothing a little canned air can't fix.


**Aesthetics**     (8*.0**)*

Although we're going to make fun of the HD 800s throughout this review for looking kind of faux-futuristic, we don't necessarily think they look bad. They look like you spent $1400 on the latest, greatest headphones. They have a clean design and look incredibly cool just sitting by themselves. Once you put them on, they might make you look a bit silly to laypeople, but rest assured: even though your friends will think you look like a space marine, nobody who knows headphones will make the same mistake.


About our testing:**

Our testing rig uses the same hardware and software that headphone manufacturers use. Our hardware is a head and torso simulator, known as HATS to his friends. Our software is an electroacoustics analysis program called SoundCheck, from Listen, Inc. For more information on our tests, read this article.

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**Frequency Response**     (*7.45**)*

What we found:

The Sennheiser HD 800s had a near-perfect frequency response from our testing's standpoint. They stay within the limits and don'y exhibit any erratic behavior. They have a good emphasis on the bass without overdoing it, drop off a bit as they approach the high end, and give a slight boost around 7kHz. There's really nothing to complain about here.

How the Sennheiser HD 800 compares:

What is frequency response?

The term 'frequency response' describes the emphasis the headphones put on various frequency. Some headphones try will try to play the sound exactly as instructed, and some tweak levels to give a unique sound. For more, read the write-up at this link.

How the test works:

This test requires the headphones, HATS, and SoundCheck. We put the headphones on HATS, then play back a frequency sweep using SoundCheck. The audio comes out of the headphones and blasts into HATS's robot ears. HATS records the levels it hears and ships the data back to SoundCheck, which compares the original soundwave to the soundwave that made it to HATS. If you love learning or just hate this description, you can read more here.

**Distortion**     (*11.20**)*

What we found:

Nothing, at least in the way of distortion. In our experience, Sennheiser headphones all tend to have very, very little distortion. The MM 50 iPs didn't have a problem with this test and neither did the HD 800s.

How the Sennheiser HD 800 compares:

**What is distortion?

*Distortion refers to changes to the way your music is supposed to sound. This isn't just the headphones tweaking decibel levels, it involves changes to the actual sound you hear. Punkers and metal heads should be fine with a bit of distortion, but those who listen to acoustic music might notice something sounds off. For more on distortion, feel free to visit your local public library or the following link.

How the test works:

Our distortion test involves a frequency sweep being played through the headphones. We then factor in any decibel shifts the headphones cause and compare the orignal soundwave to what HATS heard. If you want to read a longer explanation, this link will be happy to oblige.

**Tracking**     (8.77)


What we found:

Another great score from the HD 800s. There was hardly any fluctuation in their tracking result. It appears the $1400 headphones aren't grossly unbalanced.

How the Sennheiser HD 800 compares:

**What is tracking?

*Tracking describes the balance between the left and right channel. They should always be playing back the same volume. If they're only a few decibels off in a given direction, or the shift is very slow, you probably won't notice the tracking issue. For more on tracking, please consult this link.

How the test works:

For this test, the headphones go on HATS and a frequency sweep goes through the headphones. HATS records the decibel output of each channel, which SoundCheck then compares. In the graph above, the line should ideally run along the zero line, meaning neither channel is louder than the other. If the line veers above or below that zero mark, it means the left channel or right channel is louder. You can read more on this exciting procedure here.

**Maximum Usable Volume**     (10.00)

What we found:

We found that, providing you have enough juice to drive these things, they're capable of far exceeding 120dB of distortion-free playback. Our test only goes up to 120dB reliably, so we can't say just how loud the HD 800s are capable of going before they blow out, but really, you shouldn't be listening to playback that loud in the first place. What would your mother say?

**What is maximum usable volume?

*Most headphones are capable of a very high volume output, but sometines that output sounds like garbage. This is because an increase in volume can often increase distortion. The level of distortion we look for is 3%, which is when your music will start sounding ugly.

How the test works:

This test is a series of our distortion tests run at various decibel levels. We keep bumping up the volume until we hit 3% distortion or 120dB (for which we award maximum points: 10). The reason we don't keep awarding points past 120dB is because we love you and don't want you to hurt your precious little ears. If you would like to read more about this or our other tests: link.

**Isolation**     (*1.03**)*

What we found:

As expected, the HD 800s don't have great isolation. They have semi-open backs, which allows sound to permeate in and out of the ear cups. While this means they're not ideal for listening to music on the subway, it gives them a more open, airy soundstage than a set of closed-back headphones.

How the Sennheiser HD 800 compares:

**What is isolation?

*Isolation is what stops external noise from ruining your music. Headphones can isolate you from the outside world either by physically blocking out sound, or by using fancy technology to actually cancel out incoming soundwaves. If you wish to learn more on this topic, this is the link for you!

How the test works:

For our isolation test, we shoot a bunch of noise at HATS, both with and without the headphones. HATS records the amount of noise it hears during both phases of the test. We then compare the recorded noise levels of the two trials, allowing us to see what difference the headphones make. If you would like to know more about this test, feel free to browse through this link.

**Leakage**     (*4.46**)*

What we found:

The HD 800s don't leak as much as a set of truly open-backed headphones, but they certainly leak a lot more than a set of closed-back cans. We certainly wouldn't recommend using the HD 800s in a quiet, public place, but chances are you weren't anyway. These should be fine for private listening.

What is leakage?

In the world of headphones, leakage describes the degree to which your playback will be audible to those around you. If a set of headphones has open backs, playback will seem about as loud to those around you as it does to you. While this is a not-so-subtle way to impress those around you with your impeccible taste in music, it's also inappropriate at most times. If you're in the office, for example, you probably don't want headphones with high leakage.

How the test works:

To test leakage, we put the headphones on HATS and play some noise back through them. There's a microphone set up a small distance away that records any and all noise that's audible. From there we toss that data into a very complicated formula and (huzzah!) we have our score.

**Short-Term Use**     (9.50)

The Sennheiser HD 650s might not have the softest velour or sheepskin padding, but the headphones themselves are pretty comfortable to wear. The headphones are very light and don't put a lot of pressure on the head, either on the top or on the sides. After an hour we had no real complaints.

This padding will keep your head comfortable and safe.

**Extended Use**     (9.50*)*

Even after 6+ hours we didn't change our opinions. Typically the band will start to feel heavy, or some other discomfort will settle in. Not with the HD 800s, however.

**Customizability**     (*2.50**)*

There really isn't a lot of customization available for the HD 650s. You can tilt and swivel the ear cups slightly and the band can extend. There aren't any additional add-ons or optional accessories included in the box.


**Cable Connectivity**     (12.93*)*


 The HD 800s' cable is just a bit shy of 11 feet in length. This is a great length for home use, because it's long enough to reach an audio setup that's clear across a reasonably-sized room. Those with rooms larger than

what's reasonable will just have to scootch their chair closer.


The cable is also detatchable, so if you run over the cord one too many times in a rolly chair, you can always buy a new one without dropping another $1400.


The HD 800s have a 1/4-inch plug and don't come with an 1/8-inch adaptor. This is a bit annoying, because it seems like Sennheiser could have sprung for some accessories for the $1400 you're shelling out. We're it's because the HD 800s would never stoop to connect to something as lowly as an iPod.



**Portability**     (*0.14**)*


The HD 800s aren't portable. They're gigantic in size, have an 11-foot cord. Their case is a giant, hard-cover box that takes up 80% of the interior of a backpack. You could bring them loose, but then you're just gambling with $1400 for the sake of convenience. Leave these at home, safely locked in your anechoic listening chamber.


**Maintenance**     (*3.00**)*


There's not an awful lot you can do to maintain your HD 800s. They do have a removeable cord and cup padding, but don't really disassemble past that. If you're amathaphobic, these arent' the semi-open headphones for you.

**Other Features**     (*5.00**)*

Battery Dependency

The HD 800s don't technically require batteries, but they might require an amp. While we thought they still offered excellent audio quality without one, we'd probably recommend making the additional investment. After all, you've already dropped $1400, so the rest should be cake.

In any case, since they don't require batteries, we gave the HD 800s some points. Huzzah.


This is kind of a tough comparison, because both headphones look silly in different ways. The HD 650s look like beehives with their honeycomb matrix backs, and the HD 800s look like part of Cerebro. The HD 800s do have more of that 'oh my, *those *are fancy' look, however, so we'll give them the pageant crown.

**Sound Quality**

Both headphones have a very similar frequency response, which isn't surprising considering Sennheiser made both. The HD 800s didn't veer outside the limits to the extent the HD 650s did, however, giving them the gold.

Neither set of headphones had any distortion worth discussing.

The HD 800s had near-perfect tracking. The HD 650s were great, but they flipped out towards the high-end.


Neither set of headphones excelled at isolation. This is by design: they're both open-backed headphones. If you want isolation, you should look at closed-back headphones.


We thought the HD 800s were very, very comfortable. The HD 650s weren't exactly uncomfortable, but their pads were stiff and scratchy.


The Sennheiser HD 650s are a good set of headphones, but they just pale in comparison to the HD 800s. If you're on a budget, do yourself a favor and just don't listen to the HD 800s. Seriously. Half of our office is considering taking out a loan to afford the dumb things.

Price points aside, the HD 650s offer a much more open soundstage, but they aren't nearly as clear as the HD 800s. The HD 650s aren't bad, but they're definitely a step down.


Most high-end headphones have silly designs, and these two headphones are no excpetion. The HD 800s come from a future in which machines rule the world, and the ATH-W5000s come from some steampunk alternate reality, with their wooden backs and orbital headband. Both feature solid construction, so well leave this up to the eye of the beholder.

**Sound Quality**

The ATH-W5000s have a unique frequency response. They almost seem like an inverse of what most headphones try to do, by downplaying the bass and high-end and giving a boost to the middle.

The ATH-W5000s have some minimal distortion, but it's not anything you'd notice.

Something to note: the ATH-W5000s use our old tracking graph, where we left some junk data stapled on the right and left. While these indicate a trend, they aren't accurate. Overall, the two headphones are both fairly even. The ATH-W5000s warble slightly more than the HD 800s, but not so much you'd notice.


If you're looking for isolation, you'd best look elsewhere.


We thought the HD 800s were far more comfortable than the ATH-W5000s. Although some people around the office complained that the HD 800s felt too big, just about everyone thought the ATH-W5000s felt enormous. It's because those little head grabbers didn't have strong enough springs, which allowed the heavy cans to sink lower than they should have.


While we'll say the ATH-W5000s had an interesting sound to them, the HD 800s were the better pair of headphones. They were more comfortable and, both according to our tests and the people that used them, had better audio quality. The ATH-W5000s didn't have terrible audio quality, but they weren't nearly as crisp-sounding as the HD 800s.


The AH-NC732s definitely have a more reserved aesthetic. Wearing the AH-NC732s will make you look like someone who is wearing headphones and not necessarily operating the com station on a starship. Seriously, though, the AH-NC732s look a bit goofy on the head too; check out our HATS picture below. The band really arcs that far away from the noggin. It looks like you were a prize in a crane game that managed to sever the gripping appendage of your mechanical oppressor, but couldn't dislodge it from your skull.

Neither set of headphones had any durability issues. The main decision here is if you prefer being the sentient toy from our convolluted narrative above, or if you'd rather open all hailing frequencies in your 30th century auraltronic spacephones.

**Sound Quality**

The AH-NC732s' weakest performance was on our frequency response test. They tend to get very erratic towards the high end.

Neither set of headphones had any distortion worth writing two sentences about.

The AH-NC732 had strangely erratic tracking. The only noticeable shift from 50Hz to 70kHz occurs towards the highest end, where the left channel gets loud.


If you're looking for isolation, the AH-NC732s have it, thanks to their wonderful active-cancellation technology and closed backs.


The on-ear design isn't the most comfortable one, but the AH-NC732s pull it off well. The HD 800s are far more comfortable, however.


This match-up is more about portability than any other factor. When the AH-NC732s' active-cancellation feature is switched off, they offer some decent audio quality. When you need it on, you get significantly less, but they also help isolate you better than many closed-back headphones.


The DT 990 PROs don't have much of a design flair, but we like that about them. They look like nice headphones without yelling, 'I AM A NICE PAIR OF HEADPHONES' directly into the faces of astonished onlookers. The message the HD 800s convey is, 'My time machine has broken down and I am stranded in this, a most distant past.'

**Sound Quality**

Apparently there's an agreed-upon ideal for excellent frequency response, because both Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic have produced very similar-sounding headphones here.

Again, no one will notice any distortion here.

If you apply our new tracking test limits to the Beyerdynamic's graph, you'll find the two headphones have very similar results.


Neither have good isolation. Use them in a private listening environment.


Both headphones are very, very comfortable. The problem with the DT 990 PROs, however, is the band doesn't have the best padding. After a few hours, it started to hurt our soft skulls. We didn't find this was as much an issue with the HD 800s.


This match-up is basically a personal challeng to you, as an audiophile. The DT 990 PROs are significantly less expensive and offer much the same audio quality. People who aren't really into headphones will notice virtually no difference between these two. Those that are will find the HD 800s offer superior clarity as well as a host of other subtle qualities.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer


Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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