Not just for DJs!
Sennheiser HD8 DJ headphones: $499
They’re “engineered for pro use”, and the Sennheiser HD8 DJs come with long cables, one curly, one straight, unadorned by any inline iPhone controls or call-answering microphones. These headphones are thoroughly purposeful.
Should that prevent you wearing them out in public? No, not at all. For starters you may get some admiring comments as you adjust the stainless steel pivot ring and rotate the earcups to select your preferred angle as they click firmly between the three available positions. These are super-sturdy headphones, from the thick steel expandable headband and metal reinforcement parts to the Kevlar-coated cables which fix to your choice of left or right headshell with a bayonet twist (the non-curly cable proved slightly microphonic, though not at a level to interfere with music). The HD8 DJs are clearly built to survive everyday use, and even abuse.
The oval earcups seal around your ears with impressive passive noise isolation — this would clearly be an essential in a noisy club environment, but is equally effective on the daily commute to give your music a quiet background in which to play — and to prevent spill to your neighbours (should you care about such things). Sennheiser even includes a second set of earpads in the sturdy carrycase provided — they arrived decked in pads of luxurious leatherette, but the alternative is a soft velour finish. Whether you choose to switch regularly for preference or comfort’s sake, or just several years down the track after wear and tear, this is a great bonus.
But even admiration for build and fit-out is thoroughly overwhelmed by the marvellously musical performance. Sennheiser says they were “inspired by the sound signature of the legendary HD 25”, but we don’t remember quite such a solid bass as delivered here; these are rhythmic masters, pumping a fast and taut bass, mildly emphasised when heard in a quiet environment, grippingly powerful and capable of going impressively loud even from a portable player, let alone a decent mixer monitor (for which the 95-ohm impedance is ideal) or dedicated headphone amp. Depth is also impressive — the gated bass drone under the opening of ‘The Selfish Giant’ from Damon Albarn’s new album went right down deep, while the room-rattling low-end of Neil Young’s ‘Walk With Me’ set up a thrilling head-throbbing experience.
Bass is not everything, of course, and Sennheiser has delivered a rich balance that seemed flawlessly fine whether listening at home, on the move, in a studio environment or, as primarily intended, while cueing up decks for the delight of the crowd. The only detractor for use as commuter headphones is the longer-than-usual three-metre cables and their lack of inline controls.
Not so many years ago the $499 price here would have marked the closed-back HD8 DJs as a professional-level product. But no longer — the closed over-ear headphone market has realigned around prices of this order, and a product of this quality deserves to dump 12 kinds of ordure over the likes of those more regularly in the news for their share price than their sonic performance.
They’re also an antidote to Sennheiser’s own Momentums, being business-like and solid in build, fast, detailed, punchy, with a flat response that does wonderful things with bass. If you want your headphones to kick some arse rather than parade some style, you should most definitely get your head under a pair of HD8 DJs. Jez Ford
Product page with specifications: Sennheiser HD8 DJ