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Headphones for the 1 percent: Sennheiser’s ultra-premium IE 800 headphones and HDVD amp solidify snob status

If you read our headphone reviews, then you already know we’ve grown weary of what passes for a high-quality headphone these days. At the risk of sounding really stuck up, we’re going to put it all out there and proclaim that the land of headphones has become a much less respectable place. It used to be that $400 would get you some genuinely top-quality cans; now all it gets you is a celebrity signature on some really mediocre-sounding  headgear. Who’s down for some “Beats by Oprah”?

This trend has put the squeeze on companies which focus exclusively on audio reproduction. What’s a high-end headphone maker to do these days? Well, if you’re Sennheiser, you innovate the living daylights out of some earphones, throw down a headphone amp with some out-of-this-world specs and price both of them well out of reach for the average consumer. 

The IE 800 earphones take the idea of an in-ear headphone to a whole new level. It would seem Sennheiser left nothing on the table when it designed these ‘buds. A proprietary 7mm driver is mounted in a ceramic housing which is outfitted with specifically placed magnet vents to promise nearly distortion free sound with an outrageous frequency response of 5 – 46,500 Hz (which, by the way, extends well below and above the limits of human hearing). Price of admission to this sonic soiree: about $800.

The HDVD 800 amp (pictured above) fits in with all of Sennheiser’s audiophile offerings, including the HD 800, HD 700, HD 650, HD 600 and now, the IE 800; though we have little doubt it would make an excellent companion for any high-quality headphone. Sennheiser claims it scrutinized every minute detail, right down to each one of its myriad of resistors, to create the ultimate headphone amp. The chassis and controls are all aluminum while a clear pane of glass shows off the amp’s classy guts which include a 150mm long volume control shaft and top-notch 24 bit/ 192kHz  Burr Brown D/A converters.  Digital connections include both optical and coaxial S/PDIF jacks as well as an AES/UBU input and a USB 2.0 input (which allows for high resolution formats like FLAC). Want one? Yeah, we do too, but it’s going to cost about $2000.