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Drop + Sennheiser collaborations aren’t exactly a new concept, but this time it’s different.
At this point, everyone in the audiophile community knows of the HD6XX. It’s not a controversial statement to say that it’s one of the default recommendations in the $200 price bracket, and the general HD6X0 lineup have been widely regarded as a “must have” in any serious audiophile’s collection, if anything as a neutral/balanced reference. At over 130,000 units sold the HD6XX is one of the very few audiophile-centric headphones that broke into mainstream consciousness, with even the HD58X coming in at about half that amount.
And yet with the overwhelming success of the HD6XX, there’s one other classic headphone in Sennheiser’s lineup that remains untouched by Drop: the legendary HD800 (S or otherwise).
Four years ago there was even a meme on the then-fabled HD8XX (with an entire saga between said memer and Massdrop thereafter), and years after that the masses continued clamouring on and on for the HD6XX-equivalent to the HD800. For years the community heard nothing… right up to the beginning of 2021.
The announcement of the HD8XX in February was met with massive fanfare, with the community ready for their new kilobuck king. But as the measurements started rolling out, the community got a little worried. It’s clear that the HD8XX would not be the same kind of headphone as the HD6XX, which was simply a cheaper HD650 for the most part. Drop was going to add their own spices into the mix to make the HD8XX the “logical conclusion of the HD800 series“, and with one more tuning revision since the initial measurements by Head-Fi the HD8XX is now truly finalised and ready for customer use.
I’m thankful to be one of the very first to have the final production units in hand, and as a HD800 fanboy myself this is certainly one of the more exciting releases in my book. But I’m sure you’re all tired of the expositions so let’s just cut to the chase.
How good is the HD8XX actually?
Product page: https://drop.com/buy/drop-sennheiser-hd-8xx-headphones
Driver type: Dynamic
This HD8XX was kindly provided by Sennheiser.
My unboxing posts are pretty much the only times I’ll ever talk about build quality, accessories and the like. I’m not really the person to ask about these things as I don’t really care about them that much.
- 1/4″ single-ended cable
Cable: the same as the HD800/S.
Connection: proprietary connector
Build: nothing out of the ordinary; if you’ve handled a HD800/S before, the HD8XX isn’t much different (if at all).
The “Drop blue” ring on the cups is pretty subtle though. From a distance the HD8XX could be easily mistaken for a HD800S.
Fit: deep cups make the HD8XX one of the most comfortable headphones on my head. Again, if you’ve handled the HD800/S before this is nothing new.
Isolation: open-backed, no need to say more.
One of my main problems with the HD800/S is a mild centre-midrange recession, which messes with the timbre of many instruments.
- The HD8XX takes this recession and makes it far worse.
- No sugarcoating; this makes the HD8XX go from “somewhat off” in the HD800/S to what I’d consider plain wrong.
- Lower frequencies are also noticeably boosted over the HD800/S, but it’s not a clean boost.
- This wide-band bass boost creates a bloomy muddiness that over-emphasised lower harmonics of instruments, which (among other things) causes weird stuff like over-huskiness in female vocals.
- The treble sharpness in the HD800/S is largely eliminated, but in the context of the HD8XX’s other problems this seems analogous to cutting off a limb to lose weight.
For those with a HD800/S, I have provided an EQ profile in the next section so that you can have a taste of the HD8XX’s tuning.
HD800S to HD8XX EQ profile
Blue: HD8XX, Black: predicted HD800S response after EQ
Low shelf: 40Hz +5.0dB
Peak: 350Hz +3.0dB, 0.2Q
Peak: 700Hz +2.0dB, 1.0Q
Peak: 1,550Hz -7.3dB, 0.8Q
Peak: 5,800Hz -3.5dB, 10.0Q