Sennheiser HD 800 S: Tweaked and Delightful...and a French DIY Response Page 2


Shortly after pictures of the HD 800 S began appearing, the enthusiast community was abuzz with speculation about what Sennheiser had done in that middle hole. Never have so many stared at a black dot so intently, but one Frenchman stared so hard it began to give him super powers...or so he thought.

The HD 800 S became available in Europe, and our hero—Sorrodje from SBAF and in France—whipped out his now super-powered wallet (or so he thought) and bought a set of new HD 800 S late last year. He quickly retired to his secret lair and, armed with baguettes and his super powered tool box (or so he thought), began to compare the new HD 800 S to his existing pair of HD 800 headphones.

He quickly notice the HD 800 S did indeed tame the dreaded and evil 6kHz peak that still remained in his not-yet-superpowered HD 800.

"Mon Dieu! La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin!"
(My God! Life's to short to drink bad wine!)

And he thus began his super-powered (or so he thought) attempts to modify his old HD 800. He flew, quite literally, to the local quincaillerie (hardware store) and in one grand sweeping moment grabbed a dozen or so raw materials and a box of hole cutters and returned to the check out counter...his feet never touched the ground.

Upon return, he laid out his tools and materials carefully on his work bench, turned on his ultra-wide-band inspection light (his super-powers allow him to see far into the ultra-violet and infra-red spectra...or so he thought), and stared deeply into his old HD 800.

"Cet écran est damné de la manière.
(This damned screen is in the way!)

Fortunately, France is filled with super-heros (or so they think) and he enlisted his buddy Agnostic1er (a denizen of who evidently had the super-power to remove the front screen of the HD 800 (this is actually true). Agnostic1er knew what was needed. He picked up the baguette and gently tapped Sorrodje on each shoulder and top of his head, incanting, "Vous avez maintenant l'écran supprimant super-pouvoirs!" And so it was done; the screen was removed to allow entry into the hole of glory.

Now the work began. Like Edison, Sorrodje took the empirical route: "Bah! Qui a besoin de mathématiques, je vais juste essayer tout!" (Who needs mathematics, I'll just try everything!) Round after round, Sorrodje built little widgets to stick in the central hole; he built his own measurement rig to see what changed at each iteration; slowly but surely he zeroed in on a winning combination. (Perhaps his real super-power is sublimely confident persistance.)

And so was born the SuperDupont Resonator.


Now this little nugget is quite a bit different than the resonator in the HD 800 S. It's not a high-Q Helmhotz-like resonator because it has material that will damp its action and spoil its resonant quality. But it does have a hole with a bottom and therefore will likely have some resonant properties even if they have a broader band of effect then the Sennheiser version. From the bottom up, there's a layer of paper, then a felt ring 5mm thick, and then a 2mm thick layer of closed cell foam (similar to Creatology foam) at the top. The whole thing is 14mm outside diameter with a 10mm hole, about 7mm top to bottom.


So I installed it in one of my old HD 800 headphones. Here's how:

Click here if you can't see the video.

The results? Pretty darn spectacular, I'd say.


The plot above shows four HD 800 headphones compared. As you can see, the HD 800 S (light green) has the lowest level of all four at 6kHz showing the Sennheiser resonator is doing a good job killing the 6kHz peak. The SuperDupont mod also does a good job diminishing the 6kHz peak, getting within 3dB of the HD 800 S performance. What's odd to me is the Anax mod I have appears to have made the problem worse. This may be due to variations between the particular models used in measurements, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is a bit worse than that.

The Anax mod uses natural wool felt and has been installed in these headphones for about four years now. That's enough time for the material to absorb moisture and sweat, and to age some. I wouldn't surprise me at all to find these materials change their acoustic properties substantially over time, diminishing or significantly changing their acoustic performance. A bit of a cautionary tail for enthusiasts—when you make a good mod, make two or three spares so you can swap them out over time.

This also points to the genius of Sennheiser's solution in the HD 800 S: Just a tiny bit more synthetic materials to make an empty, but effective, high-Q resonator. Enthusiasts, myself included, often lament the derth of damping materials in headphones. Speakers are stuffed with absorbant fluff, why don't they do that with headphones? Well, you don't wear your speakers on your sweaty head; putting fluff in headphones might not be a good idea if it changes over time. That's not to say manufacturers couldn't put synthetic foams (like Melamine) inside headphones to good effect, but I digress. Just note: Sennheiser's resonator will be long lived; the SuperDupont Resonator may have to be swapped out every few years for best performance over time.

Sound Quality of HD 800 S vs. HD 800 with SuperDupont Resonator
I'll start by saying both these headphones sound quite good and provide significantly more pleasurable listening than the stock HD 800 due to the lack of piercing treble at 6kHz. This is a spectacularly articulate headphone made more so by ridding it of this annoying issue.

The bass response is where things get tricky. On the whole, I slightly prefer the HD 800 S to the HD 800 SDRmod as it does provide a slightly warmer and more friendly presentation. On the other hand, the HD 800 S does suffer from a slightly less precise and more congested sounding bass—just slightly, but it's there. Picking between the two without using EQ would be difficult, the HD 800 SDRmod is still a bit too cool; the HD 800 S has better balance, but lack the bass precision of the HD 800. In the end I'd pick the HD 800 S when not using EQ.

Using EQ I'd tend toward the other direction and choose the HD 800 SDRmod; it is very nicely responsive to EQ, even in the bass, and the SuperDupont resonator cleans up the 6kHz peak without need for further EQ. In my EQed listening experience of the HD 800 SDRmod, I become entranced by the sublime purity. Everything, bottom to top, sings with a rarely heard before clarity. A sonic shower of pure, clean water.

The HD 800 S in comparison has retains the marvelous clarity in the upper registers that this headphone is famous for. But the slight murkiness of the bass breaks the spell, and, for me, it begins to loose it's luster as a headphone with super-powers in clarity. Don't get me wrong, the HD 800 S is a spectacularly good headphone and a solid incremental improvement over the stock HD 800 tonality. But it seems to me that it also has taken a somewhat sideways shift from being "I am the world's most articulate headphone and I'll cut you if you say otherwise" to "I'm not worried about perfection—it's really not achievable anyway—let's just have a really good love affair."

Yes, I do think Sennheiser made some solid choices in tuning the HD 800 S, and have changed the HD 800 from an analytical scalpel to beautifully musical walk on a bluebird spring day. A successful tweaking of engineering factors to provide greater music listening pleasure. But I find myself yearning for the clear expresion of scientific and engineering creativity that the HD 800 was when introduced. I enjoyed seeing the arrival of the new Orpheus—a magnificent feat of engineering—but I long for a new sub-$2000 audiophile headphone from Sennheiser, and this doesn't feel like it's it.

And what of our French heros...or so they thought? Yes, by golly, they are heroic! I spent a full couple of days measuring and evaluating their work, but Sorrodje spent months iterating one material after another; measuring, tweaking, measuring, tweaking, over and over. Thank you, sir. You've earned your baguette!

And what of you, dear reader, are you a hero too? Are you willing to potentially destroy your HD 800 in an attempt to install the SuperDupont resonator? Don't be afraid to say no, we're not all superheroes. It does make your choice simpler: Sell your old HD 800 to a DIYer who wants to give the SuperDupont Resonator a go, buy a new HD 800 S and enjoy! This is a great headphone, a worthy older brother to the HD 600.


You DIY Superheros out there (you know who you think you are), run, don't walk, over to Sorrodjes SuperDupont resonator thread and get to work. This is a really great mod and will bring new life to your beloved HD 800. Have fun!

The new Sennheiser HD 800 S adroitly adresses sonic issues long heard with the HD 800. It tames the piercing 6kHz treble peak, and it provide a nice warming of the bass, overall producing a much better behaved headphone and a more enjoyable listening experience. However, the warming of the bass seems to be done by adding a bit of second harmonic distortion, which in turn obscures a bit of bass clarity, having a slightly thick and congested sound relative to its predecessor...but just slightly.

For those willing to modify their existing headphones, the SuperDupont Resonator modification by Sorrodje (thread here at SBAF) is a worthy attempt to rid the HD 800 of the annoying spike at 6kHz, and comes quite close in effectiveness to the new HD 800 S in that regard. It also leaves the bass unchanged, allowing the listener to EQ the bass without distortion. This is a really nice mod.

The HD 800 S will knock its predecessor off the Wall of Fame. The old HD 800 is just too troublesome for owners—finding system synergy with headphone amplifiers and upstream gear has for too long been a struggle for owners. I'm also sick of telling people it's a great headphone but needs modification to be enjoyable. Having a headphone on the Wall of Fame with that kind of disclaimer does not really serve consumers well.

Fresh out of the box in stock form, the new HD 800 S provides a terrific listening experience; I don't think I've ever heard clarity expressed so musically before. Yes, the experienced listener may hear some slight loss of articulation in the bass due to increased distortion, but on the whole I do prefer the added warmth to the cooler presentation of the HD 800.

The HD 800 S adds musicality to the legendary precision of HD 800, strengthening its position as the world's finest dynamic headphone. Well done, Sennheiser, a masterful tweaking of this great headphone!

Click here if you can't see the video.

Sennheiser USA home page and HD 800 S product page.
SBAF: The HD800 & HD800S thread
SBAF: Sennheiser HD800S measurements (unsanctionned)
SBAF: HD800 "French Mod" aka "SuperDupont Resonator"
SBAF: Sennheiser HD800 w/ combined SBAF + Dupont mod
SBAF: Bill's HD800 mod thread (version 1.0 released!)
SBAF: SuperBAF HD800 mod (formerly BTAmod)
SBAF: SBAF HD800 Mod Impressions and Permutations
Head-Fi HD 800 S reviews and threads here and here.

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