Sennheiser HD820 headphones / HDV820 headphone amplifier review


Sennheiser, the German manufacturer, is one of the most accomplished and widely known audio gear companies. The German company has been engaged in audio activities for 70 years and is still quite innovative. According to the manufacturer’s website, the turnover is €667,7 million (2017) and it employs around 3.000 people all around the World. For the most audiophiles, Sennheiser may seem to produce only headphones, amps, and earphones. However, the company also designs wired microphones, office headsets and speakerphones, monitoring systems, conference and information technology, and assistive systems. 

The main content of this article involves a review for two new HI-FI gears of the German manufacturer.

HD820 HEADPHONES


The HD820, a completely new design and the latest addition to the HD8XX series, is a closed-back headphone that utilizes a dynamic driver named ‘’ring radiator’’. Apart from the traditional closed-back designs, the German company has designed a new acoustic chamber by utilizing a visible glass that cover the dynamic transducers. Here is a short passage from the website about the new tech: 

‘’The breakthrough transparent performance of the HD 820 has been achieved through a special innovation: Their legendary Sennheiser Ring Radiator transducers are fitted with unique glass covers. Revealing the great look of the technical component within, this visually striking feature was actually developed wholly in service to the sound: The concave glass reflects the sound waves from the rear of the transducer to an absorber, which results in minimal resonance. Thus, the sound waves are effectively “gone” like they would be in open headphones.’’


According to the website, Sennheiser seems to be assertive about the new flagship’s transparency. Is it possible to get an impressively transparent presentation from a closed-back headphone? The answer can be found in the sound quality and music evaluation part below. 


Additionally, one of the most important points to consider for headphone lovers is a comfort of full-size cans. In general, people find the HD8XX series quite comfortable and durable. At the first look, the new flagship seems to have the same design as the HD800S. However, the ear pads are a little different considering their leather-foam mixed structure and the new flagship is slightly heavier with a bit bigger cups. In spite of the clamping force which is a bit higher than its predecessor, the HD820 preserves the comfort in long hours listening sessions. 


The HD820 comes with three cables: one 6,3 mm unbalanced cable, one XLR4 balanced cable, and one 4.4mm balanced stereo cable. The flagship is presented in a wooden style chic box including an instruction manual and a microfiber cloth for cleaning. 


HDV820 HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER


Recently, Sennheiser has released a new amplifier called ‘’HDV820’’ which can be also used as a DAC (digital to analog converter) and its powered by a Sabre chip. Like its predecessor HDV800, the HDV820 is designed to drive power-hungry headphones. Nevertheless, the HDV820 is presented as a complement to Sennheiser’s audio experience and is suggested to be used with the HD820 headphones. 


Unlike the HDV800, the new amplifier has no glass on the top and it is offered only in black color. It feels well built and solid. The volume potentiometer and the input selector maintains a good quality and the potentiometer has no channel unbalancing issue. 

Aforementioned above, The HDV820 contains an ESS Sabre32 digital to analog converter chip which supports playing DSD256 files up to 12,3 MHz. The new amplifier provides all popular and convenient headphone outputs including a pair of the trending 4.4mm Pentaconn socket. 


The HDV820 comes with a variety of inputs consisting of coaxial, optical, and USB digital inputs as well as balanced and unbalanced analog inputs. It can be also used as a preamplifier pursuant to a pair of the balanced analog output. The amplifier board maintains five levels of gain that is adjustable to 14 dB, 22 dB, 30 dB, 38 dB, and 46 dB. 

SOUND QUALITY AND THE MUSIC


Please note that the HD820 was connected to the HDV820 amplifier during the testing. Mostly, the evaluations were determined with 4 pin XLR headphone output. The source was the DIDIT DAC212SE.

The HD820 maintains a slightly dominant low-frequency presentation. The mid-bass is more prominent than the sub-bass notes and it adds a slight warmth to the overall spectrum. The sub-bass presentation is dynamic, but HD820 shouldn’t be classified as a bass-heavy headphone. The decay is tuned as a bit too extended, but that adds a smooth tone to the bass presentation. 

Cristiano Parato – Ostinato Bass from the Ostinato Bass album, is a good test track to evaluate low-frequency range. It is not a complex track but delivers a good amount of detail of bass guitar and drums like a typical fusion track. Cristiano Parato, an Italian bass player, recorded the album featuring guitarist Scott Henderson and drummer Lele Melotti. The HD820/HDV820 combo provides a dynamic bass presentation and articulates low-frequency details quite well. It successfully accomplishes the most difficult parts of the track, the bass guitar riffs of Cristiano Parato.  

The location of the midrange is slightly close to the listener; vocal lovers will enjoy that kind of presentation. I would like to draw attention that the intimacy arises from the HD820 rather than the amplifier. On the other hand, the combo’s vocal resolution is very good and there an impressive image depth as well as remarkable transparency. 

HD820 provides a more transparent and resolving midrange presentation than its predecessor, HD800S. This is a result of the more up-front and dynamic presentation style of the new flagship. HD800S sounds less vivid with a more technical tone when compared to HD820 that is more musical overall. 

Return to Forever – Romantic Warrior from the Romantic Warrior album is one of the best fusion jazz tracks that I have listened so far. Basically, Return to Forever is a fusion super-group founded and led by Chick Corea, but the band has many past members. At the time that the album was recorded, the legendary band was formed by Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clark, and Lenny White. An impressive team, isn’t it? Romantic Warrior, written by Corea, consists of some powerful melodies that need concentration while listening. To experience that track with the HD820/HDV820 is very enjoying. The combo provides a good level of transparency and vividness of instruments played in Romantic Warrior. The guitar of Al Di Meola and the synthesizer of Chick Corea sounds impressive and resolving!

Even if there is an intimate midrange presentation, HD820 recreates a remarkable layering as well as a very clean background. Instruments are quite precise and HD820 articulates lower harmonics very well. It releases thick and relatively weighty notes, but the presentation can become a little too thick when it comes closer to the mid-bass range, depending on mid-bass recording style in tracks. 

Al Di Meola & Paco de Lucia & John McLaughlin, the legendary Guitar Trio, consisting of some of the most humorous artists in the music world, released the track named Beyond the Mirage in 1996, which is an unforgettable piece of art. Beyond the Mirage delivers both emotional and technical notes at the same time. In terms of being technically/musically balanced, the combo articulates emotion of guitars and resolution of strings quite well. 

If you like vocal notes which rise to high octaves, HD820 would perform almost perfect even considering its transparent and intimate midrange. There is no sibilance problem and it provides good control over upper midrange notes. 

Dave Weckl & Jay Olivier – Apocalypso from the Convergence album reveals a good example of fusion jazz music. Without a shadow of the doubt, Dave Weckl is accepted by music critics as one of the most talented drummers ever. For my part, he is a cymbal and drum solo master. He has a very smooth hand feeling, but at the same time, he is able to play very fast. The combo provides a good timing in cymbal note releasing in the Apocalypso track and there is no serious congestion during solos. 

HD820’s treble notes are neither too prominent nor laid back. The treble presentation is detailed, balanced, fatigue-free, and musical in accordance with its slightly colored tonality. HD820 releases fast cymbal notes quite well and the separation level is high in the treble presentation.  

To understand what a headphone is capable to deliver when it comes to staging structure and separation, it is important to test them by listening to orchestral tracks. A coherent stage is a reason for preference not only in classical, but also it is necessary for other kinds such as Cuban music, which consists of many different instruments. Celia Cruz is a Cuban music superstar born in Havana. She has a unique dirty voice and the orchestra behind her is highly capable. La Vida es un carnaval is one of the most enjoyable songs rendered by Celia Cruz. Congas, bongos, timbales, trumpets, trombones... All those Cuban music instruments are very well positioned by the HDV820/HD820 combo and the separation deserves compliments.  

The HD820 has a spacious stage, but the focus is towards the depth than the width, which results in an impressive layering in accordance with the clean, stable, and black background. HD820 creates clear space between instruments and preserves the general coherence. The instrument separation is remarkable pursuant to the instrument positioning, the stage depth, and the impressive background performance.  

CONCLUSION 


Sennheiser seems to have upgraded the older brothers HDV800/HD800S and taken them to the next level. The HD820 represents the German brand’s new design approach and comparatively carries traces of a traditional closed-back headphone considering its bass reproduction and heat built-up pursuant to the cups covered by glass. On the other hand, the HD820 performs better than I expected in terms of its transparency and resolution levels. Herein, the HD820 seems to step forward among other closed-back full-size cans in the market. 


The HDV820 amplifier can be evaluated as an all-in-one amplifier: An amp, a digital to analog converter, and a preamplifier limited by XLR output only. It delivers enough power for full size-cans and the amplification board provides a smooth sound overall. The sound-stage is not the biggest one, but the amp sounds coherent. As mentioned at the beginning of the sound quality section, the 4 pin XLR output was used during tests. When I've switched it to Pentaconn socket, the stage became slightly bigger and instruments were more precise, with a little airier atmosphere. 


The DAC board of HDV820 is not disappointing; it maintains a mid-fi class sound with the advantage of the plenty of the digital input options. In addition, supported DSD replay, meets the requirements of both technological progress and consumers’ demands. 


As a sum, the combo consisting of the HD820 and the HDV820 is definitely worthwhile for giving a try! Well done Sennheiser!

Ates Berberoglu - Mono and Stereo contributing writer

Special thanks to Sennheiser Turkey / Bircom and Serkay Aydemir for loaning the gears. 

PRICE


- HD820: $2.399,95
- HDV820: $2.399,95

TECHNICAL


HD820

- Impedance: 300 Ohm
- Weight: 360 g without cable 
- Transducer: Dynamic, closed back
- Character: Musical, detailed, transparent

HDV820

- Dimensions: 224 x 44 x 306 mm
- Weight: 2,25 Kg
- Headphone Outputs: 6,3 mm, XLR4, Pentaconn
- Character: Natural, coherent

CONTACT

Sennheiser Global

Sennheiser Turkey