These are the most comfortable ultra-high-end headphones I’ve found. They also sound fantastic: given a good source, they are so profoundly extraordinary, with such an uncannily big sound stage, that they may shock you. Yet their 56mm dynamic drivers are fairly standard for this breed of device, demonstrating that fancy electrostatic and other newer-fangled drivers aren’t always necessary.
The HD800 S have, however, a few caveats. First, these are the type of headphones that are really just speakers clamped over your ears (and therefore only headphones in the sense that they live on your head). If you think you’re listening privately, you most certainly are not. Sound leaks out – and in – from the outside world. Secondly, though, they are exceptionally light for this calibre of headphones and much less contraption-like than similar super-cans – in fact, they almost float on your head. If you wear spectacles, you may find the large cups press on the arms. It doesn’t mean they’re unwearable, but you may want to take your glasses off.
Thirdly, the headphones, irritatingly, come with an unnecessarily thick and awkward 3m cable, terminated with full-sized headphone plug – and no adaptor for the more common 3.5mm. This is, I imagine, to send a polite message to non-audio nuts that they are meant to be plugged into a big, fat, hairy audiophile amplifier rather than a phone (although the audiophile brigade will probably be biased against them, anyhow, for their sublime comfort and beautiful German finish). But there are plenty of perfectly good sources that have a 3.5mm output. I listened to the HD800 S with a 3.5mm adaptor plugged into an Astell & Kern AK240 player, which didn’t blow my head off with power, but the sound was still mesmerising.
And so back to that ridiculously good sound: it’s not too dull or sombre. It’s sharp and exciting on a wonderfully recorded album like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms – the harsh reports of the drums on So Far Away have never sounded so stark and emotional to me. Same with the gentle melodiousness of Why Worry. Or the haunting beauty of the several-generations-younger band London Grammar.
With the HD800 S atop your ears, apart from the headband pressing down gently, you are basically there with the band – maybe not in a concert hall, but definitely in a recording studio.