Sennheiser's all-new £1,000 flagship headphone, the HD 800, is the company's most significant launch in its 63-year history. It sits at the top of the renowned German manufacturer's comprehensive product portfolio and, most significantly, approaches the astonishing performance levels offered by the company's legendary £10,000 Orpheus headphone system, albeit at a fraction of the price.
TechRadar was invited to the HD 800's launch at Sennheiser's headquarters just outside Hannover to see the product being made by hand in the factory. Fittingly, for a £1,000 headphone, the HD 800 is the only model in the range to be made by hand in Germany. The process takes around 45 minutes to complete.
The most important step in the HD 800's manufacture happens at the first workstation, where the transducer is formed. This is the key to the headphone's performance; the new 56mm ring radiator transducer is the largest of its kind in the market and is integral to its sonic performance.
Work starts at 05:00am, where during a process called tempering, the transducer's ring membrane is first created. The membrane is formed from sheet material using air pressure and is then heated, before being rapidly cooled.
The ring shape of the finished transducer is critical to the HD 800's performance, as it's said to offer greater control across a wide frequency range and suffer less from the distortions that plague conventional designs.
With the membrane complete, the second task involves spinning the voice coil wire. This is precision-wound by machine and the finished coil is then hand-assembled to the back of the membrane.
A precision magnet, which Sennheiser has made nearby, is then carefully positioned behind the completed membrane before the assembly is carefully sandwiched by the main chassis (forming the ear-cup) at one end and the protector (which sits near the ear) at the opposite ends.
Stage two involves carefully inserting the completed transducer into Sennheiser's new high-precision stainless steel gauze body, which forms the completed ear cup. A 'microfibre' fabric then provides the cushioning against the ear.
In addition to the ring radiator transducer, a second key element of the HD 800's performance lies in how the ear cups are positioned. These are placed at a slight angle to the ear, which Sennheiser's research has shown to give a more speaker-like spatial sound, due to the way in which perceived sound reflects around the outer ear.
The final stages
With the ear cup assembly complete, it is attached to the main headphone body and headband at stage three.
Unsurprisingly, the body is no ordinary material. It's formed from a new type of aerospace-grade plastic, so important it even has it's own name – Leona. Said to be ultra-light, ultra-rigid, and as hard as titanium, the finished body is supplied to the factory from an outside plastics specialist, as the material is notoriously tricky to deal with.
With the headphone nearing completion, the final stages of assembly include careful checks and cable installation. Not being a cable manufacturer, Sennheiser has also outsourced this task to a local cable expert to its own specification: high-performance, twin-core and Teflon-insulated.
Swiss-made, gold-plated jacks add the final touch of luxury. The finished drool-worthy headphone is then comprehensively tested before being packaged in an appropriately high-end box.