Sennheiser has won CNET UK awards for its most recent £250 IE 8 earphones, and its previous flagship hi-fi headphone -- the HD 650 -- are not only a reference pair we use in-house, but are recognised as one of the best pairs of audiophile headphones available. And now they've got a successor.
The open-backed HD 800s will cost £1,000. That's £200 more than our highest-rated and most beloved of all headphones, the Denon AH-D7000s. They use new technology in the driver system that aims to reduce problems even the most highly regarded pairs of headphones suffer from, namely low-end distortion.
Senn hopes to achieve this by using an unconventional diaphragm -- the part of the headphone that vibrates to produce sound -- that features a doughnut-like shape with a hole in the middle, contrary to existing designs that use a solid surface. At 56mm it's also slightly larger than other diaphragms, such as the aforementioned D7000 model, which uses 50mm diaphragms.
This is important because a headphone is essentially just a speaker, and the larger a speaker's driver, the more air it can move, and the more detailed a sound it can produce. By making headphone drivers more akin to this, you should, theoretically at least, get a more detailed, more refined sound.
When it comes to audio, we don't take anything for granted, and we won't put our mark of approval on these until we've heard them ourselves, with our equipment, in our listening rooms. But we'll say this much: if anyone was going to claim to make the best headphones in the world, Sennheiser would be one of the only companies we'd believe. And that's exactly the claim Sennheiser is making.
Other specifications include Teflon-insulated oxygen-free cabling, a frequency response of 6Hz-51kHz, rated impedance of 300 Ohms and a low total harmonic distortion of less than 0.02 per cent at 1kHz/100dB. They'll come with a two-year guarantee and cost £1,000 from around February.
This was taken in person at CES -- the HD 800s look as good in real life as they do in the Sennheiser-produced PR photographs.
A busy show floor full of shouting company executives and hundreds of bustling journalists and buyers is not a good place to test a pair of open-backed headphones, so we're not going talk about performance until we get them in-house.
A close-up of the right-hand earcup.
Here's an illustration to show how the new 'ring' diaphragm is designed, and how this design influences air flow.