Link: Sennheiser | Price: $390/€268/£249 | Spec: Sennheiser
I believe the best investment I have made as a DJ has been my HD25-IIs. They have survived quite a bit of abuse, been kicked around a booth, stepped on, stuffed into bags that were just a little too small, been broken and fixed a number of times, and they keep on going. When I’ve needed something replaced, well, I can find it and I don’t need to buy a whole new part of headphones. For a few too many years, Sennheiser’s DJ headphone offerings were pretty quiet, though, until they announced their new line of cans, the HD6, HD7 and HD8. Due to some great kindness I was able to get my hand on a pair of Sennheiser HD8 right before some long flights and gigs.
We can spend a lot of time having very heated arguments about what the best mixer is, what the best turntables, or CD decks or controllers, etc. Each of us, though, has different needs from that kind of gear. I do believe we all need mostly similar things regarding headphones, though. They need to isolate, they need to be able to get loud but still stay crisp, they need to be comfortable, and they need to stay on your head. After all of these years using the HD25s it was definitely a change of pace to switch to the Sennheiser HD8s, but let’s take a deeper look into their design and how they stand up.
Looks and Feel
I hate to admit it, because it’s something that really bothers me, but DJs really care about how headphones look. Since I’ve been pushing HD25-IIs as the best DJ headphones I’ve ever used I keep getting comments from friends that they don’t “look” like DJ headphones. Well, they don’t. And the Sennheiser HD8’s don’t either. They have dealt with the common point of failure, the pivot point for the ear cup, but using a solid metal bar that pivots back and forth just slightly. You certainly get the necessary range of motion, but it is a different way to do it. I definitely feel more secure with this bar that it won’t let me down than most DJ headphones.
The ear cups themselves rotate around approximately 270 degrees, locking in place under the head band and coming all the way back around, sitting off-center from the headband. The turning mechanism for the ear cups has three distinct positions for comfort, and I found the most solid at the extreme. It makes the headphones look weird, since the angles are very different, but they give me the best seal around my ears. The faux leather ear pads are comfortable for short periods, but they feel a lot better for long term use. It took me a while to get the correct position on my head, and get them to sit comfortably, but once I did they were great. I used them on a 6 hour flight and the leather caused some pain after a while, but the felt pads were a whole lot more comfortable.
The metal band is surrounded by a thick plastic housing. I don’t know what is holding the headband together inside the plastic but I know I can bend this in really painful looking ways and it just pops right back into place. I got as far as bending the headband in half and pulling the ear cups as close to each other as the space would allow, and the headphones popped right back into place. Things like this make me feel a lot more secure about traveling with headphones, since they can take abuse.
The included hard case was useful, but getting the headphones to fit wasn’t the most intuitive. I much prefer the cases provided with Beats headphones. Fitting the cable back in was a pain as well. I am on this kick, trying to treat my gear a little nicer than usual so it lasts, and trying to use the case was kind of an exercise in frustration. The detachable cable was a great touch, though, and being able to attach it to either ear cup is useful when each night you might be in a different booth with a slightly different setup. Or, at that, moving from my DJ rig in my office to my desk, since my audio interfaces are on different sides depending on where I am.
They look a lot more like DJ headphones than my older HD25s, but they still don’t resemble the standard big round ear headphones that the other guys put out. This is far from a critique. I actually really like these designs. I wouldn’t call these on-ear, though. The older Sennheisers are definitely on ear, these surround my ear. They aren’t as massive as the competition, but they definitely don’t sit on my ears, and I don’t have small ears. This isn’t a critique, but I know there are people out there who have differing opinions regarding on-ear cans. I like these a lot, but I still prefer on-ear.
We are talking about headphones, after all, and more important to design is sound, obviously. The Sennheiser HD8s sound great. Well, they sound great as long as you can get them to sit comfortably on your head. It was a little difficult for me to get the placement correct, and once I did they sounded fantastic. I did have issues, though, keeping them in position as I took them on and off of my head. If you prefer to use one earcup on and listen to a monitor, I wouldn’t recommend resting these on your neck. Keep them on your head fully, just move one earcup off. When they say correctly, the bass was crisp and clear, the highs weren’t piercing and the mids sat comfortably in the mix. If they drifted off at any point the bass disappeared very quickly, though the highs and mids still sounded crisp. I would never use these to master anything, but for listening and DJing they are great.
The isolation was pretty solid. They wrap a good seal around your ears and I didn’t get a lot of bleed in the real world when I had some friends try them on. In the booth they isolated well, not as consistently as my HD25s. They held up well to the various tests in my office, blasting loud music through my speakers while cueing up other songs. I felt the music vibrating the floor before I heard too much of it. In the booth it was just as solid. I had a monitor blasting, and I wasn’t exactly isolated from the floor speakers, but with the headphones on I was able to hear it clearly before I needed to turn them up too loud for long-term safety.
Wandering the streets was slightly different, though the isolation and sound were still great. The included coiled cable is just really heavy. It’s ideal for use in a booth or at a desk for obvious reasons: it isn’t in the way when you’re close to your rig, but it allows you to reach far away objects like CDs and vinyl, as if people use those. On the street, however, the length and weight can be a bit of a hindrance. I would have liked a straight cable for outside use, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world, and can always be tucked away.
The locking mechanism for the cable is solid. A few years ago I managed to destroy my HD25 cable when it got wrapped around a subway turnstyle, but that would never be an issue with the Sennheiser HD8s. I did what I could to get it to disconnect, short of using weights to pull it out, but it held fast. And thankfully so, since I hope to continue using these things for a while.
Headphones are a sensitive subject for a lot of DJs. Some buy them for looks, others for how they sound, and some try to find a happy middle ground between the two. I lean toward function over form almost 100% of the time, and these headphones easily live up to my expectations. While they are pricey compared to a lot of other cans on the market, I genuinely believe they will last just as well as Sennheisers previous professional offerings (my HD25s have lasted 8 years at this point and show no real signs of wear). And after seeing a friend’s pair (not Sennheisers) literally fall apart on him at a gig last night, that quality is even more important in my mind.
I’m planning on carrying these headphones around with me for a while. My current headphones are really showing their age, and that coiled cable is really useful in a live setting. The individual parts feel like they will last a lot longer than most standard DJ headphones, and the heavy duty coiled cable is great in a booth. The headband is durable and extremely flexible, the ear cups are very solid and their rotation mechanism feels extremely safe and secure. There are very few headphones on the market that I have tried that are better than the Sennheiser HD8.