That open quality was definitely a plus in our home-theatre auditions, in which the sound appeared to almost come from the screen. We watched State of Play, and the 800s put us right inside the newsroom, with ringing telephones, the clatter of keyboards and voices of other reporters filling a huge space. We soon forgot that we were wearing headphones and lost ourselves in the film. The 800s have a special affinity for movie dialogue -- it was the most natural we've ever heard from a dynamic headphone.
Moving to action films, the King Kong DVD's ample dynamics were very good, but lacked the impact we heard from the Grado PS1000 headphones. During the scene with the rampaging dinosaurs, we could almost feel each thump on the ground with the PS1000s. By comparison, the 800s softened the blows.
Up to this point we listened to the headphones exclusively over our Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver. For CDs, we switched over to our Woo Audio WA6 Special Edition headphone amplifier, which significantly improved the 800s' overall sound quality, most notably in the dynamics and resolution of fine detail.
With CDs, the 800s sounded clear but laid-back compared with the PS1000s and Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones. The latter two had much brighter treble and more bass oomph than the 800s, so it was easier to follow the guitar lines when rocking out with the Rolling Stones' remastered Sticky Fingers CD. The bass and drums were more 'live' sounding with the PS1000s, and to a lesser extent, the Edition 8 headphones.
We think those two headphones are less accurate than the 800s, though. If accuracy is your top priority, go for the 800s. For our tastes, the PS1000s were more exciting and engaging. The Grado headphones would be the ones we'd buy.
To finish up, we played the 800s over an iPod. The sound was spectacular in every way but one: it couldn't play very loud. It was loud enough for us, but, if you really like to crank up your tunes, the 800s won't be a good match with an MP3 player. The Ultrasone and Grado headphones were better in that regard.
The Sennheiser HD 800s are in the top tier of ultra-high-end headphones. If you're in the market for super-luxurious 'phones, they should definitely be on your list, if not at the very top of it.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet