The Sennheiser HD800S is the ‘new & improved’ version of the original HD800, a sound revelation which revolutionized headphone audio when released in early 2009.
Now over six years later comes the updated HD 800S touting improvements in bass response, along with a hip black color scheme and an XLR-4 cord for use with balanced-drive headphone amps. So is the HD 800S an improvement over the original HD800?
For listeners seeking to experience the reference HD800 sound for the first time, going with the new 800S is a no-brainer.
The HD800S offers all the sonic and acoustic performance advancements of the original but with a touch more low-end presence, which makes it sound slightly smoother overall and more musically cohesive to our Headphone.com reviewers. The perfect focus and deep soundstage of this headphone still amazes us and is hard to beat at this price.
And although the HD-800S low-end response still leaves something to be desired for bass lovers and misses a tactile sense of authority (especially for funky soul or rock), given the choice we would all go with the HD800S over the HD800.
Most of us also preferred the coolly understated new black color scheme over the somewhat austere look of the original aluminum-framed HD800. The excellent form, fit and comfortable ergonomics remain identical in both models.
Of course, you can save a few bucks by choosing the original HD800 which can be found at a relatively nice discount these days.
But given the nominal difference in price at this rarefied high-end level, it only makes sense to go with the new ‘S’ edition if you are seeking the best sound quality performance your money can buy. The ‘S’ model also provides an XLR 4-pin headphone cable in the box allowing the cans to be used from either standard or balanced-drive headphone amps via the detachable cord system.
We have received questions asking whether the HD800 will stay in Sennheiser’s line-up now that the HD 800S is here, but it’s too soon to tell. Sennheiser has a reputation for keeping some of its traditional products in its line for decades (e.g. HD600) while others seem to fall away quickly. Our guess is that Sennheiser will keep the original HD800 around for a while but, we’re not sure why anyone would want it now that the HD800S is available.
Of course, if you already own the older HD-800 that’s another story. In our opinion, we don't think current Sennheiser HD800 owners necessarily need to shell out for the "S' edition given the incremental nature of the changes in the new edition.
If you already have an original HD800 - or if saving a significant chunk of change on a 'new' first-gen HD800 stokes the penny-pinching angel on your shoulder - there are many free custom mods out in HiFi headphone land that will mimic the bass improvements of the HD 800S and effectively close the performance gap between the two models. The mod process is perhaps not for the faint of heart, but you can check headphone forums websites like HeadFi to see what constitutes these HD800 modifications which, in theory, should get you to around 90%-95% of where the new HD800S currently sits.