Table of Contents
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.
Signature & Tonality
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The signature of the HD8XX can be described as… warm? V-shaped? Mid-recessed?
It’s hard to nail down the right classification for these headphones because they’re technically all of the above. Yes, the HD8XX comes off as fairly warm due to the contrast between the lower and upper mids; yes, the HD8XX is technically “V”-shaped due to its mids being less emphasised than its bass and treble; and yes, all of these characterisations basically revolve around a distinct centre-midrange “hole”.
All this results in two big observations:
- The bass tends to be rather bloomy and interferes with the melodic frequencies.
- There is a distinct “cut” in the middle harmonics for most instruments, making things sound off.
These attributes cause vocals to sound muffled and strained, also resulting in female vocals taking on an overly-husky timbre. Plucked strings like guitars sound like they’re severely lacking snap, and bowed strings sound like a heavy cloth has been draped over them.
There are more examples, of course, but at the end of the day there is very little to argue in favour of the HD8XX’s tonal balance. It has the Hifiman centre-mid dip taken to an almost caricatural level that I’ve never heard in another headphone before, so while meaner fellows like I would brand the HD8XX as a terrible, no-good, very-bad headphone, the nicer amongst you may perhaps call it “unique-sounding”.
But make no mistake, a wonky tuning cannot and must not be handwaved off as being simply unique. The HD8XX is, in terms of tonal balance, definitely up there in terms of Sennheiser’s strangest. If we were to use the HD6X0 as the reference for “correctness” (not saying that it is, just as an example due to the HD6XX being the prime comparison point in this situation), you can see how a 10dB(!) recession at 2kHz can be a… cause for concern.
I’ll call it how I hear it: the HD8XX is tonally wrong. Plain and simple.
Tone grade: D-
If you’ve heard the HD800/S then you should have a pretty good idea on how the HD8XX performs technically. Top-class resolution with some of the widest (some say the widest) soundstage in a headphone are the prime reasons why the HD800 series still remain relevant more than 10 years since their release in 2009.
But alas, the HD8XX has its imaging capabilities unfortunately compromised by its tuning.
A common criticism of the original HD800/S’s imaging capabilties is that instruments tend to presented in an “overly-diffuse” manner, that is to say that instruments tend to be spaced too far back in their huge soundstage. It is a valid criticism, albeit one I do not find wholly a negative as I quite enjoy the out-of-your-head experience that few other headphones can provide. So while the HD8XX still retains the HD800/S’s staging width, the biggest difference between the two is in instrumental positioning.
The HD8XX has what I would call the “corridor effect”, wherein the instruments seem to be placed in a (you guessed it) corridor. Now the HD8XX renders instruments in a long corridor (wide staging and all), but a corridor nonetheless. I’d hazard a guess to say that this is more due to the tuning changes as the housing and internal structure isn’t radically altered, but regardless the end result is this sort of this weird echoing effect with nasty resonances and an overly-forward bassline mimicking low-frequency reflections.
Either that or the “in-the-other-room effect” which is very self-explanatory. You know, that muffled bass-forward character whenever you hear music playing in a different room. This one is easier to correlate with its mangled tuning.
Regardless of what your interpretation may be, the end result is that the HD8XX sounds a lot weirder in imaging compared to the HD800/S, and that I have to dock points for.
Technical grade: A+
The original HD800/S would not get any value stars under IEF metrics, but it does have a niche: it is one of (if not the) cheapest headphones you can get with top-tier resolution and some of the widest soundstage in a headphone. That’s the reason why I myself purchased one for personal use, to be used alongside a little EQ.
So if the HD8XX were simply the “HD800S but cheaper” like how the HD6XX was the “HD650 but cheaper”, then it would have that niche on lock. $1,100 isn’t chump change, but one would have to go up to about $2,000+ in today’s market to get to similar levels of technical performance so it would still be very much “worth the price” in that regard.
But a worse HD800/S instead? You’d be better off scouring the classifieds for a second hand HD800/S which would (hopefully) be cheaper. Else, EQ is double-extra mandatory on the HD8XX, and you’d still need to put in extra filters to fix that midrange hole first before thinking about doing anything else.
Value Rating: N/A
HD8XX versus HD800/S
Yes, the obvious comparison.
It’s fairly easy to visualise the differences between the two on FR, considering that both headphones have the same housing and drivers just with tweaked tuning.
And for those who already own a HD800S, here’s an EQ profile for you to “taste test” the HD8XX:
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
What I’ve said in my initial impressions still hold true now; yes, the changes made to the HD8XX does cut the treble peakiness of the HD800/S significantly, but introduces a slew of other even more troubling issues that completely overshadow that fix. Again, seems analogous to cutting off an entire limb in response to being asked to lose weight.
And for those who have trouble visualising, I have also provided a sound demo to demonstrate the differences between the HD8XX and the HD800/S. Per what I’ve written at the start of the demo, sound demos are to be used for comparative purposes only.
Nothing new to add that the rest of this review didn’t already cover.
Drop has claimed the HD8XX to be (or at least, aims to be) the “logical conclusion of the HD800 series”, but this seems more like a spit in the face to its legacy.
If the goal was to simply fix the HD800’s 6kHz peak, I think Drop would’ve gotten something on the same level of near-universal acclaim as their legendary HD6XX. But with so many new oddities and outright mistakes that the HD8XX currently has in the name of artistic liberty, I cannot recommend it except maybe to the most diehard of Sennheiser collectors.
Awarded grades are in reference to the Ranking List.
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36 thoughts on “Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX Review: Illogical Conclusion”
I dodged a bullet, thanks Crinacle for the honest review.
You and Mr. Crinacle will hear from our lawyers. This is defamation.
Truth is a defense to a claim of defamation. Just sayin’.
Great review and video comparison! Thank you and keep up the good work!
Thabk you for this review
I dont understand Drop as a company. They surely can tune (massdrop plus is in hindshight a good etymotic evo, also 3 times cheaper), but at the same time they worsened hd800 (probably they were bot directed to tune like this). There is something going on that we dont know. Maybe they might’ve liked empire ears zeus, so afterwards all of their tunings will be different kinds of midrange holes. Hope my joke is wrong thought
My question is if this is the final revision unit?
I have the same question/concern.
FTA: “I’m thankful to be one of the very first to have the final production units in hand,”
Here is my compensation file those who wish to try out with their HD800S. One simulates the HD8XX and one to Harman 2018 OE. Both generates using AutoEQ by jaakkopasanen. Read the readme.
I am in no way saying this review is wrong. I have yet to hear the 8XX or any version of the HD 800. However, this review is in stark contrast to every other impressions/preview I’ve read or watched, which is very odd and makes me wonder if reviewers are getting different variations/revisions…
no, reviewers are usually not as objective and critical as crin. here’s that
Gotcha. Thanks for the input.
You mean no other review does have Crinacles personal taste?
Crinacle also likes the Dusk which is one of the worst IEM that was ever made. I have not met a single person that likes the Dusk in real life. Everyone just says the treble is so painful, they rather not listen to music.
Crinacle is also the most honest, that is true, but still its his personal taste. He for example (and that is clear from his reviews) doesn’t care at all if instruments sound authentic or if the soundstage is “right”.
If the clapping and screaming of people is placed at completely different places in the soundstage, he is totally okay with that if this is the price for the piercing treble he likes.
Instruments in real life sound warm in general and have impact. Checking a few of his reviews he seems to not like warm sounds so he pretty much dislikes every earphone/headphone that can authentically reproduce the sound of instruments.
That does not mean that his review of the HD8XX is wrong or off by any means, maybe it sounds like crap all the way, i don’t know. But its just one persons opinion, nothing more, nothing less.
> the Dusk which is one of the worst IEM that was ever made
I’m quoting this as proof that your problem with me seems to be more personal than objective, else you wouldn’t have mentioned this irrelevant point at all.
> He for example (and that is clear from his reviews) doesn’t care at all if instruments sound authentic or if the soundstage is “right”.
> If the clapping and screaming of people is placed at completely different places in the soundstage, he is totally okay with that if this is the price for the piercing treble he likes.
> he pretty much dislikes every earphone/headphone that can authentically reproduce the sound of instruments.
> That does not mean that his review of the HD8XX is wrong or off by any means
This is absolutely what you were implying and you know it.
Having listened to numerous iems at, above, and below the dusk’s price range, I have to say I find your take completely ridiculous. You’re either prone to complete exaggeration, have a strange vendetta, or have ears made of stone. The only issue I had with the dusk is the slightly large fit. You need to examine your place in this hobby. Cheers.
His review is pretty much the same as mine which I posted on Drop and my site.
The only difference is I was less negative overall as with some basic EQ and you really only need to EQ the giant hole, it’s pretty darn good. The bloom isn’t as much of an issue once the hole is fixed, as it’s made worse by the contrast of the hole.
The stock tuning is kind of trash, but at $1200 with EQ (or tape removal) you get equal performance to the HD800s.
Worse stock headphone vs the HD800s but once you EQ or mod it, it’s pretty much the same thing for cheaper. IF you are willing to buy used that is better.
Hi LLC: what do you mean by “ tape removal ?” Where is that tape located, and how much difference it makes in the tonality. Are you able to post FR graph, after tape removal?. Thanks
Can you tell me the exact eq parameters you have to use?
To make more like a 800s
Yeah he kinda goes back and forth about EQ things. In one of his videos he said “dont buy (i dont remember if it was headphone or iem) just for the EQ”
DMS has in essence a similar take as Crin. Check out his review on YouTube. Between these two, I think that covers the tastes of about 70% of the market.
That is very helpful. Thank you! I have wanted a pair of 800s and saw the 8XX as a way to get them at a price I could finally afford. It does look like I have some thinking to do.
You can get the 800s brand new from many authorized Senn dealers for $1,399 usd (at least in the U.S) Places like Best Buy, B&H Photo and I think even Sennheiser, has been advertising them on their website for that same price. Many places will price match as well. The $1,100 isn’t such an astounding price or anything compared to where the MSRP has settled for 800s. I would say before you buy the 8XX, mod them and maybe void the warranty try your best to come up with that extra $200. I own the 800s and just tried the 8XX yesterday, I listened to two albums and enjoyed them but truthfully, the thought at the forefront of my mind was “I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about dealing with this tuning”. Cheers!
Crin, what EQ are you using for hd800s?
It would be helpful to know what amplifiers were used in your evaluation, and any music references.
The 700-800 series are very picky about sources and amps. If the amp doesn’t have the guts to drive them properly they sound average or worse.
loooool. The perfect response to that comment tho.
Sure the amp is to blame as usual…
Says a dumdum like oluv who tries to power hd800 with an amp that can’t even come close to giving these HPs what they need. Oluv is an genuine embarrassment to the HP community.
Ya gotta watch the video man. Crin went into specific detail about his exact methodology, equipment, approach and even referred to the people that were unavoidably going to leave comments like this….”ifff it makes you SATISFIIIED” lol.
If I’m reading an article, I don’t want to have to watch a video for the article to make sense.
You don’t have to watch the video. The comment was directed at another person… not you! I mean if you didn’t understand the article’s content, then I think the discussion should be shifted from headphones to something else more personal related to you.
agree, 8xx is gabage
I heard these at a show and kind of want to hear that corridor sound, anything come to mind that has this staging and isn’t a ridiculous amount of money??
Nostalgia! This review is a year old. I miss reviews.