As I removed the Sennheiser HD800 from my head, I took one last look at the headphone. It will soon be meeting its new owner silversurfer616 in New Zealand, alongside his Audio-GD Phoenix – an amp far more fitting of driving the HD800 than my Schitt Asgard. The music vanished into the German-handcrafted earspeakers I now hold in my hands as silence loomed over me. Once again, I am reminded how wonderful it is to simply be able to step into a realm where vocalists are singing and instrumentalists are playing in a invisible, mesmerising space. I instinctively try to put the HD800 back on my head, but the clock is ticking away. The post shop will be closing in 30 minutes, and I had promised to ship it out as soon as I received the money. The truth is, I had already received the money more than three hours ago – I just can’t accept the fact that I will be parting with the device that changed my musical life.
I was first introduced to the HD800 by my friend David Yu, who mockingly told me that “$1,500 headphones exist” when I said that I didn’t want to pay more $30 for IEMs to replace my Apple earbuds. Eventually I settled for the $50 Klipsch Image S4 (which had David’s utmost praise for being “the best IEM you can get for under $99”), which was still over my budget. I was still displeased with myself having just spent $50 on earphones as I inserted them into my ear canal (with some difficulty). However, as soon as the music started playing, I was amazed by the difference. David proceeded to lending me his Sennheiser HD555 which solidified my new-found obsession towards quality sound reproduction. From that very moment on, I was an “Audiophile”. That was many years ago while I was still in high school.
Fast forward a few years from then, and I was in University. One day as I was wearing my own HD555 and casually scrolling through Head-Fi, a listing suddenly caught my eye. It was a very aggressively priced used HD800. Truth be told, I had heard plenty about the HD800 since David initially mentioned it. After all, it was the magnum opus of dynamic headphones! No self-respecting audiophile in the World wouldn’t know about it. As I looked at the listing again, it took a long time to consider whether a full-time university student such as myself truly had the means to afford such a system. One can even describe it as the famous final destination of a regular audiophile’s journey, with a Stax SR-009 or Sennheiser Orpheus system out of the question. As I checked my bank account and stared at the asking price again, I told myself that at this price, even if I resell it there was no way I’d lose money. With the intent of selling it right away after I’ve heard it, I contacted the seller. With one click of a button on PayPal, two thirds of my personal savings were immediately gone. I felt a chill down my spine. For the few days afterwards as I waited for a big box to arrive at my doorstep, I repeatedly asked myself: “What have you gotten yourself into?”.
Finally, the day arrived. As I opened the postage box, I was immediately greeted with a huge monotone box with the words “Sennheiser” printed at the front. Still uncomfortable about just how much money I had spent on them, I hesitantly opened the lid. Without warning, my eyes were captured by the headphone which lay in front of me. I couldn’t look away. All other thoughts had vanished, replaced with the dominating presence of the best dynamic headphone ever made in my very bedroom. From the elephant sized 56mm dynamic transducers to the handcrafted Alcantar earpads; from the polished stainless-steel mesh to the laser carved “Made In Germany” on the headband – every millimeter of the headphone was a physical manifestation of “quality”, the truest sense of the word. Slightly trembling, I lifted the headphone from its silk-cushioned box. It was so light that I thought I might drop it.
I wasted no time in plugging it in, and the music started to flow into my ear canal. The technical side of my head immediately got to work. At first, I listened for the tonal balance. It is a very neutral headphone, expectedly with tremendous extension on both highs and lows. Starting with the bass, it actually lacks the slam of the bass of my Sennheiser IE8 with the tuning-dial turned up to highest, but still has unparalleled extension unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It is very detailed, tight and defined – not muddy in the slightest and crystal clear. The midrange is even more impressive, being incredibly transparent and natural. I had heard some minor complaints about the treble being “too” bright and edgy and I can certainly understand what they mean. However, I wasn’t bothered by the small peak. The treble was still incredibly clear and coming from a HD555, the extension itself was more than impressive to hear.
I then turned to the soundstaging, and my gosh, what a soundstage it is. People have raved about the HD800’s soundstage as the ultimate reason to pick it over a LCD2, and they were right. The depth and width is just phenomenal. The details in the imaging is pretty convincing, it-
Suddenly, I stopped thinking. What was that I just heard? I rewinded a few seconds and I heard it again – Hirano Aya taking a quick breath during the song “Lost My Music” just as the song moved into the chorus. I removed the HD800 quickly and plugged the HD555 back in and played the same seconds five times. I could not hear it. Plugging in the HD800, I heard it again, as clear as day. Taking a deep breath, I scrolled to the first song in my iTunes library, hit the play button and closed my eyes. I had thrown all desire to listen analytically to write a review out the window. I was listening to the music alone without any distracting thoughts.
Hours flew by before I opened my eyes again.
I was dreaming the music.
Music is one of my greatest forms of entertainment, yet I could not believe that for all these years, I had been missing out on so much from almost all of my music. For the first time ever since I listened to recorded music through a cassette player, the full, undistorted range of the audio spectrum was being pumped into my eardrums. There is simply more detail there. It’s almost impossible to describe in words, but that was the first time in my life I realised that microphones were recording so much more information than what normal transducers, be it speakers or headphones can convey. The HD800 was the headphone that made me fully aware of this fact. In a metaphoric sense, it’s almost like the microphone doing the recording was wired right into my brain. It was then when I asked myself – are there even more details I’m missing out on? It occurred to me then that finally, I had found the essence of being an audiophile and a lover of music was. I wanted to spend more time with, listening through all of my music again and catching all the missing details but night was upon me.
That night, I couldn’t sleep at all. The music was still in my head. Kalafina’s vocals so realistic they make me shiver, Kajiura Yuki’s instrumentals so intense they bring tears to my eyes.
The HD800 is an expensive headphone, but it retains its value. Throughout the 2012, thoughts of selling it off to get the money back come quite often to haunt a University student who has no real income and a drained personal bank account. However, every time I put on any headphone again, the thought would dissipate. Every time I put on any other headphone, be it the IE80 as I walk down the streets, or the ATH-M50 while studying at the library, something was missing. Each and every track I hear seem to be missing something. Was it the almost silent breathing that I know is there, but now not audible through these lesser-headphones? Was it that one individual clicking noise that the producers forgot to edit out cleanly, and only audible on the HD800? After hearing every single piece of music in my collection through an HD800, listening to them again on any other headphone I owned in my inventory yielded the same result.
In the end though, I am still a student studying only because of financial support from my parents. I am not in a financial position to justify keeping these headphones even if I had spent my own money to acquire them. Almost a year had gone by, and I still held onto them. I was torn between keeping them for the music, or selling them to keep my bank account looking a bit better. The final straw came when I decided to transfer from Melbourne to Sydney just a few days ago. Lugging the HD800 onto a plane’s checked baggage would be a blasphemy, and I’d have to call a specialised mover if I were to move it. This is a sum of money that I simply cannot afford to spend. Confronted by reality, I had to put it up on Head-Fi forums – the very place I found them almost a year ago. I kept the same price I bought them for, including shipping.
Within 12 hours of me putting up the listing, they were sold. silversurfer616 paid me immediately. That was three hours ago. The moment came faster than I could have prepared for.
I look down at these beauty I hold in my hands. 20 minutes until the post office closes. I know I can’t hold onto them for much longer.
This farewell is not a depressing moment. In fact, it is a new source of strength and motivation. I put the HD800 back into its luxurious silky padding for the final time. Yes, I have to leave my music nirvana behind, but I have every intention of reaching it again. All I need to do is to be able afford this headphone again, right? One day, I will graduate. One day, I will have a job. Whether that job pays enough for me to afford these headphones will depend on my very academic performance now. I smile as I start my journey to the post office, knowing that I have just added another source of motivation to do my very best. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to afford a SR-009 one day.
Thank you, Audiophilia, for giving me a purpose to endeavour in my seemingly meaningless studies.
Thank you, Mr. Sennheiser, for showing me what a person with a goal can achieve.
Thank you, HD800, for letting me dream the music up to now.
And one day, I will dream the music again.