Sennheiser HD8-DJ Stereo Headphone review

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

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone5 with PA2V2/FiiO E07k/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using the Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the HD8DJ are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M80 and M100, the Beyerdynamic T90 and T1, the FAD Pandora IV and VI, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the T90 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    When I first heard the HD8DJ, my impression was of a warm and slightly bassy sound, with a strong recess in the mid-treble or 'presence' area. That treble is recessed about 8 db at 5 khz and thereabouts, compared to the average non-bright hi-fi headphone. In spite of this, the HD8DJ's tonality seems very good and with a slight boost in the 'presence' region around 5 khz, the sound comes alive with a satisfactory soundstage. Even after applying a mid-treble boost, and in spite of the fact that I like bass that's a bit North of neutral, the HD8DJ bass was still too strong between ~50 and ~125 hz, so to get the best sound I trimmed that down a little too. This critique of the bass does not apply when I use the headphone outdoors, on public transport, or in any noisy environment such as restaurants, bars, and clubs. The treble critique does apply though, because more detail is needed in noisy environments, since the HD8DJ does not have a noise-canceling feature.

    Final note on the bass: I've been playing the HD8DJ for several hours now with 4.5 db of bass reduction, from 55 through 125 hz, and the bass still has a heavier impact than I'm used to with the majority of my headphones. This is a strong bass, but fortunately it's not a bloated or muddy bass, although some music may sound a little boomy at times.

    The HD8DJ doesn't remind me of any other headphone I've had, since the click stops where the earcups connect to the headband put the headband way forward or way to the back of my head, and nowhere in-between. I can't judge the qualities based on DJ use, but I presume most purchasers of the HD8DJ will be using it in non-DJ applications anyway. The earcups go completely around my average-sized ears, but they're very snug (almost claustrophobic) and they can get very warm, especially in warm environments. Two cables are supplied - a long 10-12 foot straight cable and a partly-coiled cable that's about 6 feet long when relaxed. The earcup ends are Sennheiser's 2.5 mm stereo plugs with their proprietary locking connector, and the other ends are standard 3.5 mm miniplugs that are threaded for the supplied screw-on 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) adapter. The earpads** are covered in a soft comfortable squishy pleather, but the headband clamp is pretty strong. The cables attach to either earcup.

    **The HD8DJ package includes an extra set of earpads which are covered with a type of fabric - could be velour, but feels smoother and thinner than velour.

    While the HD8DJ's mostly-metal build quality seems very good, the headphone squeaks very noticeably when it's picked up, placed on the head, and whenever any adjustments are made to either earcup. The earcups and headband adjust smaller by about 5/4 inch and larger by the same amount from where I wear the headphone, so it should accomodate all possible head sizes. The earcups can be pulled down and the headphone worn around the neck for hours when not listening, and the earcups don't bump my chin like some headphones do, so the HD8DJ can serve as a good walk-around portable. The earcups don't fold flat (which I think is OK), and the headphone doesn't look unusually bulky when wearing it, so that's all good for portable use.

    The HD8DJ comes with a stiff zippered carry case for protection, but that case is 8.5 x 7.75 x 3.75 inches thick, which I think is too big for an airline carry-on suitcase. You'd be better off stuffing a couple of socks into the earcups and then the headphone into the suitcase with no further protection. Isolation is above average for closed headphones, and leakage is so low that when using in a quiet office next to other workers (unless playing music very loudly), nobody is likely to hear it. The music tracks below have been listed in a number of prior reviews, and are a selection of my most revealing tracks for headphone testing. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres and were selected from my tests of very different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the HD8DJ with this music. I'd suggest that instead of reading each comment below as an absolute, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and see how the HD8DJ compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Senn HD8-DJ review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a significant weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The HD8DJ 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 perfectly by the HD8DJ.

    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 HD8DJ.

    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 HD8DJ 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 extremely well by the HD8DJ.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The HD8DJ plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is almost no 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 HD8DJ reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    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 HD8DJ renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The HD8DJ plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not overly sharp or edgy.

    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 as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The HD8DJ reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    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 HD8DJ 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 HD8DJ plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has very good detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The HD8DJ plays this track perfectly.

    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 HD8DJ. 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.

    Human League - Keep Feeling Fascination (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's bass line is very detailed, but the somewhat forward voices don't have quite the "you are there" quality of the Heaven 17 track noted above.

    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 HD8DJ provides excellent 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 HD8DJ does those exceptionally 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 HD8DJ reproduces the fundamental tone with significant weight, but it sounds a little muddy.

    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 HD8DJ is an excellent 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 impressive with the HD8DJ.

    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 HD8DJ reproduces those sounds perfectly.

    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 HD8DJ conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a stereo 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, and the HD8DJ renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The HD8DJ delivers the impacts with good weight and excellent detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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