So what's our verdict? They're amazing. Really. They're one of the best pairs of headphones we've reviewed.
The one sticking point, however, is their $1400 price tag. Check out our test results and graphs and whatnot; hopefully they'll help you decide if an investment in the HD 800s is an investment in your aural future.
The HD 800s are the latest $1400 hype-machines to stir up the headphone industry.
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 HD 800s' band is made of metal and features a good deal of padding on its underside. The band is extendable.
The HD 800s feature a removable cable, which plugs into the undersides of the headphones.
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.
The HD 800s feature a removable cable, which plugs into the undersides of the headphones.
There isn't much in the HD 800s' macabre sepulcher 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.
The HD 800s seem to be a sturdy set of headphones. Their cable and cup padding are removable, 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.
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.
The Sennheiser HD 800s had a near-perfect frequency response from a testing standpoint. They stay within the limits and don't 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.
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.
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.
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 detachable, so if you run over the cord one too many times in a rolling 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 adapter. 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 guessing it's because the HD 800s would never stoop to connect to something as lowly as an iPod.
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.
There's not an awful lot you can do to maintain your HD 800s. They do have a removable cord and cup padding, but don't really disassemble past that. If you're amathaphobic, these aren't the semi-open headphones for you.
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.
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 exception. 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.
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 convoluted narrative above, or if you'd rather open all hailing frequencies in your 30th century auraltronic spacephones.
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.'
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 challenge 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.
Since the HD 800s are so expensive, it's obvious budget is going to be a factor here for most people. Chances are, though, if you're seriously considering a purchase, you've already decided your budget can take the hit.
If that's the case, there isn't a lot we can do to dissuade you from buying these headphones. Other than maybe looking a bit silly, we really didn't find any issues. They had excellent audio performance, are well-built, and are very comfortable. They also had amazing clarity, which is a quality we can't currently test for. If you're looking for a gigantic soundstage, the HD 650s or 555s might be better choices; the HD 800s are really only semi-open.
The HD 800s are some of the best headphones we've reviewed to date. We're not sure if any headphones are worth spending $1400 on, but the HD 800s certainly make a good case for themselves.
Meet the tester
Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
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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.Shoot us an email