NuForce HP-800 Closed-back Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Aug 19, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the HP800 headphone are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the HP800 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: I find the HP800 sound very upper-bass emphasized, with a fair amount of boom that varies according to the particular track it's playing. My closest compare headphone is the Soundmagic HP150, whose MSRP is a little higher than the HP800, however the HP800's street price has fallen to less than $80 USD of late, which correlates better with its sound quality relative to the HP150 and other similar closed-back headphones. I equalize my test headphones, partly to get the best possible sound out of them, but an equally important reason is to show graphically what they sound like in actual comparisons to other well-known headphones. In the case of the HP800, the lower treble has a +/- variation of 4.5 db which is quite good, but the upper bass emphasis intrudes on the midrange quite a bit, masking a lot of sonic detail. If a user can correct that bass emphasis to some degree, they may find the HP800 to be a very good performer.

    Soundstage gets a lot of mention in headphone reviews, but rarely does anyone comment on how much frequency response affects soundstage. In the case of the HP800 quite a lot, but with the corrections I've done (see the above chart or the one on my dalethorn site under Photos and Audioforge) the soundstage is excellent, especially for a closed headphone. Isolation is average or better, and the leakage is very low, such that you may be able to play the HP800 in a very quiet office or public library at near-audiophile volume levels without disturbing people nearby. The HP800's build quality is spartan but very good, with aluminum earcups and a fabric-covered detachable cable that looks rugged. The earpads are soft and squishy and comfortable, but some users may have a problem with the partially around-ear design, where the round earpad openings are only 45 mm in diameter. My ears nearly fit into the openings, and yet I find it comfortable by making a few adjustments after putting the headphone on for listening.

    The HP800's sensitivity is OK for use with iPhones and similar music players, but several of my lower-volume tracks require the volume to be at maximum. Like most decent headphones, the HP800 will sound much better with a good headphone amp, although the overall response or signature won't change to a significant degree just by adding amplification. While the overall sound quality does improve with a decent amp, the biggest gain will be with low-volume tracks, since playing those tracks at maximum volume on a phone will likely produce greater distortion and clipping than playing medium-volume tracks with the volume control backed off of maximum.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the HP800 plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the HP800 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    NuForce HP-800 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The HP800 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the HP800.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the HP800.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The HP800 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the HP800.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The HP800 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is little added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The HP800 reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the HP800 softens the deliberate instrumental distortions and renders them eminently listenable.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The HP800 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The HP800 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance, but the wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics aren't as extended and detailed as with most of the headphones I've had.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The HP800 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the HP800 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The HP800 plays this track very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the HP800. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The HP800 provides reasonable detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the HP800 does those pretty well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The HP800 reproduces the fundamental tone with good weight but less than perfect detail.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the HP800 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but impressive with the HP800.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the HP800 renders this music with less "bash and crunch" than with most other headphones I've had.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The HP800 reproduces that sound effect faithfully.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The HP800 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a typical full-size headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, but the HP800 renders the tones and transients somewhat softly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The HP800's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are very strong and work well with the horns and other instruments. The HP800 delivers the impacts with great weight and reasonable detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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