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In addition to the HD800 and WA22, I used a Marantz SA7-S1 CD/SACD player as source. The SA7-S1 weighs in at 45 pounds. It was modified by RAM Audio with upgraded caps, wire, digital clock and power supplies. The SA7-S1 supports RedBook and SACD playback and balanced and unbalanced outputs.

I am using Warren Audio Intercept balanced cable for the HD800. One fantastic feature of the Sennheisers is that you can easily replace the stock harness and experiment with many aftermarket cables both balanced and unbalanced. The HD800 uses cable connectors that are apparently easy to acquire and utilize by modifiers. Because of these connectors, hardwire connections are not required. There might still be advantages for those but I will save that for another review. Balanced cable options for the HD800 seem to be rolling out on a daily basis. As most audiophiles agree, different cables can provide a profound sonic difference. I hope to be comparing a few of these in a possible part II.

I used TG Audio high-purity balanced and unbalanced interconnects between SA7-S1 and WA22 and  TG Audio Silver cords on all components. All components and cable were burned in for over 1000 hours. This system is fully balanced front to back.

Benchmarks: There are many premier headphones, integrated amps, sources and cable that deserve comparison to my current HD800/WA22 headphone system. Today I will focus on only two benchmarks from my own personal experience:
  1. My current stand alone two channel system.*
  2. A yearlong experience with AKG K1000 headphones and a pair of Pass Labs Aleph 2 monoblocks. Several HeadFi members recommended the K1000 and various Aleph amps as extremely synergistic. The Alephs provided one of the best options for K1000 performance and quality. 
I used a Hovland HP200 tube preamp between SA-7S1 and Aleph 2s and stock tubes for the HP200. TG Audio Silver balanced interconnects ran between HP200 and Alephs, TG Audio Silver unbalanced interconnects between HP200 and SA-7S1. The HP200 has no balanced inputs, hence this system was not fully balanced. A TG Audio Silver power cord connected to the HP200 whilst the original K1000 headphone cable remained in place for this comparison. This cable terminated directly to the speaker terminals on the Aleph 2s via spades.  This direct-to-amp termination is typically recommended due to the Ks' challenging low sensitivity. I never had a chance to upgrade this cable.  Many after-market wire harnesses are available. It is not clear what a fully balanced system and headphone cable might provide for the K1000.  Unlike with the HD800, a hard-wired cable would be required.  There are mixed opinions on HeadFi about this.


*Sources: VPI Industries Aries 2 extended turntable w/HRX upgrades, VPI Industries synchronous drive system (SDS) AC filter, VPI Industries JWM 12.6 tone arm, Van den Hul Frog high-output cartridge, Goldmund Mimesis 39DA CD player, Marantz SA-7S1 SACD/CD player (RAM Modified), Sansui TU-919 tuner (modified), Magnum Dynalab ST-2 antenna  
Preamp: Hovland HP-200 preamp
Amplifiers: Pass Labs X350.5, Joule Electra Rites Of Spring monos
Speakers: Sonus Faber Stradivari , Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario, REL Acoustics Studio III subwoofers (2) 
Racks: Rix Rax Hoodoo 
Cables: TG Audio Lab HSR interconnects and speaker cable, TG Audio Lab Silver power cords

Comparisons: Both the K1000/Aleph and HD800/WA22 systems provided fantastic sound. Both passed the goose bump test on a daily basis. Most of my comments will be about the entire systems, not individual parts. Many consider these configurations some of the best available to demonstrate these two headphones at their best. This is all subjective of course so don’t get excited if you prefer transistors to tubes for example. I am only considering two data points today and my comments should be considered with the proper perspective.

Treble: Both systems had extended high frequencies with plenty of speed, detail and dynamics. The treble was as good or better than any speaker system I have heard which is quite something. Cymbals had slightly more shimmer with the K1000/Aleph. The HD800/WA22 was slightly softer. When listening through the HD800/WA22, one might describe the difference as hearing more of the body or metal sound of the cymbal than the decay. I had similar listening notes on strings. You could easily tell the difference between violins and violas with either system but I heard more of the string shimmer with the K1000 and more wooden body with the HD800. Neither is absolutely correct.

Midrange: Both systems have a wonderful midrange each with impressive warmth and detail. This however is where the HD800/WA22 really excelled. For midrange quality, the HD800/WA22 can compare to any speaker system I'm familiar with. Male and female voices were as good it gets. I found vocals to be extremely warm and creamy but with no chesty overhang. Bloom was nice on the K1000/Aleph but slightly thin. I preferred the weight and bloom of the HD800/WA22. Both could provide the illusion of the singer standing right before you but the HD800 seemed more lifelike to my ears. Reeds sounded thick, woody and nasty in a good way on both but to my ears, saxophones and clarinets had more proper timbre and balance through the HD800/WA22.

Some might argue that such warmth, bloom and detail are due to the WA22 being a tube design when compared to the solid-state Alephs. They might be right. However the transistor Aleph is known for its superb midrange and ability to combine the best of solid state and tubes, perhaps even leaning more towards the rounded warmth of tubes.  All I know is that the HD800/WA22 combination provided an amazingly realistic and addictive sound from a midrange perspective and a notch better than the K1000/Aleph.