Sennheiser launches new flagship headphones, the HD 800 S, and moves into the 3D-audio space with Ambeo

The new cans are all about refinements, while the new focus on immersive audio signals a strategic shift for the company.

Sennheiser HD 800 S
Credit: Sennheiser

Sennheiser announced today the replacement for its award-winning HD 800 headphones and unveiled Ambeo 3D, a new immersive, 3D-audio technology. The all-new HD 800 S headphones represent an evolutionary step forward, while Sennheiser is positioning Ambeo as a next-generation content creation and listening experience.

Renewed focus on refining the listening experience

The new HD 800 S headphones build upon the success and design of the original HD 800 model. The HD 800 S headphones keep the transducer technology and earcup design hallmarks of the original, but incorporate additional refinements that Sennheiser says improves performance—especially in certain areas.

One of the acoustic refinements is a further optimized sound image in the medium and low frequency range. The new model now includes a symmetrical XLR4 cable, so that the HD 800 S can take better advantage of audio sources with a symmetrical output, such as Sennheiser’s own HDVD 800 digital headphone amplifier. Aesthetically, the earcups of have been changed to a premium matte-black finish that distinguish the new model from the old. The HD 800 S retains the same 4- to 51,000 Hz frequency response of its predecessor.

Sennheiser HD 800 S Sennheiser

Sennheiser's all-new HD 800 S headphones feature innovations in design and materials. 

Sennheiser is quick to highlight the various high quality materials used in HD 800 S. The transducer is embedded in a specially manufactured stainless steel gauze. The headband consists of several layers of sound-attenuating plastic and stainless steel. Connector contacts are gold-plated. Earcups are made of high-quality, high-attenuation plastic that Sennheiser says is used in aviation engineering as a substitute for metal.

At 56mm, the HD 800 S’s transducer is among the largest currently found in a set of dynamic headphones. Even with such a large-sized transducer, the company points out that its patented diaphragm and ring design minimizes any distortion that might occur, especially at higher frequencies. Sennheiser says measured total harmonic distortion is less than 0.02 percent.

Unlike most headphones, which direct sound at a 90-degree angle to your ears, the earcups in the HD 800 S are specifically designed to direct sound at a slight angle. In other words, this design more closely mimics how we experience sound coming from speakers. Sennheiser says this approach ensures spacial and natural sound perception.

The new refinements come with a $100 price increase. The HD 800 S will retail for $1699.95. For such a premium price, Sennheiser gives the HD 800 S the white-glove treatment. The new phones are hand-crafted at the company’s headquarters in Wedemark, Germany. Shipping is scheduled for early January.

Sennheiser HD 800 S Sennheiser

Sennheiser's HD 800 S feature very large 56mm transducers. 

Ambeo: Do we really need another 3D-audio format?

While Sennheiser is arguably best known for their headphones, the company made a significant announcement today about its technology future. The company said that it will be undertaking a new strategic focus on 3D immersive audio. The new technology, dubbed Ambeo 3D, is an end-to-end solution from audio capture to reproduction. Sennheiser’s co-CEOs, Daniel Sennheiser and Dr. Andreas Sennheiser made the announcement.

“3D audio is the new frontier of excellence, set to transform the listening experience for users across a broad range of applications, from virtual reality gaming to audio recording and broadcasting,” the co-CEOs said. “We have been active in this area for some time with 9.1 mixing and recording and the audio design for high-profile exhibitions. We are now increasing our efforts considerably to introduce this amazing sound quality into new products and applications, enabling users to experience and shape the future of audio.”

Ambeo Sennheiser

Like previously announced immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Ambeo 3D will feature an upmixer that will take native two-channel content and upmix it to an immersive presentation. While those other 3D audio formats are focused on home theater, it appears as though Sennheiser’s 3D audio format will be targeting music, gaming, and augmented reality simulations. The exact speaker layout supported by Ambeo 3D remains to be seen. However, we do know that Ambeo 3D will be built around 9.1-channel setups.

Easy 3D Recording and Modeling

Sennheiser realizes that content is king and that for any new technology to gain traction, it must be easy to develop in. Sennheiser is therefore looking to help content creators take advantage of their 3D audio platform with easy-to-use recording and modeling tools.

On the capture front, Sennheiser will feature a virtual-reality microphone. Unlike traditional microphone designs, the new mic will capture high-quality audio in four quadrants. Sennheiser says the mic was designed in coordination with VR content producers. The VR mic is scheduled to launch in the third quarter of 2016. In 2017, Sennheiser will ship a software plug-in that will be bundled with the same mic for VR content post-production.

A potentially unique aspect of Ambeo 3D is its ability to do venue modeling. Sennheiser thinks that their venue-modeling technology will become the new way to do virtual room acoustic replication. At CES, Sennheiser will be demonstrating its Venue Modeling software, which can supposedly take the room characteristics of several clubs, such as Mighty in San Francisco, and the Rex Club in Paris, and recreate it so that DJs, PA artists, and EM producers can experience their sets as though they were in the middle of their audience.

The Venue Modeling software tool, which will help artists tailor audio to any desired room atmosphere, will be a standard VST plug-in . That’s great news for professional content creators who want to use their current software tools and workflows. A growing database of venues connected to the plug-in will offer DJs and other artists a unique way to prepare for their shows. The VST plug-in will is slated for mid-2016 availability.

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