Sennheiser want to break new ground with the release of the HD 820. The German-made headphones feature a glass transducer cover and are marketed as the most transparent closed-back headphones in the world. At $2,400 ($3,500 AUD), you’d certainly want to be something special. Sennheiser also released a matching headphone amp, the HDV 820 for the same price. We had a look at them to see if they’re worth the cash.
Who is the Sennheiser HD 820 for?
Sennheiser are aiming the HD 820 at hardcore audiophiles, and the size of the headphones lends them mostly to home use. You could use them as professional headphones (i.e. mixing and mastering tasks), and the clarity would certainly be useful. However, you could do an excellent mix using headphones a quarter of the price of the HD 820. What you can’t get from cheaper models though is the level of detail that Sennheiser offer here. The headphones also feature a very broad frequency response of 12 – 43800 Hz (-3 dB) / 6 – 48000 Hz (-10 dB).
Gloriously detailed sound
The Sennheiser HD 820 sounds huge and gloriously detailed. It’ll give you goose bumps. The first thing I notice is that the bass has a clarity that I haven’t heard on other headphones. I loved re-listening to my favourite albums and nerding out over the bass parts that are normally buried in the mix. You can even hear a touch of bass guitar on Metallica’s famously tinny 1988 effort …And Justice for All.
It’s also a great headphone to hear how mixes are constructed overall. You can pinpoint all the different layers in a mix and hear how they’ve been positioned in terms of panning. For example, listening to Midnight Oil’s classic Forgotten Years, I could hear vocal overdubs I’ve never picked up on previously.
Some professional headphones with a lot of clarity can end up sounding harsh. The HD 820 is definitely a different listen compared to most Sennheiser headphones but it still retains a pleasant glue that brings the mix together as a whole. Note I tested out the headphones primarily on the matching HDV 820 headphone amp.
Top notch build, but beware of glass
The HD 820 has top notch construction, with all the cables and accessories made to professional specs. The transducers feature concave external glass covers, which are included to reduce resonance and improve performance. They look beautiful but their inclusion means you will always have to be more careful than usual with the headphones. The matching HDV 820 headphone amplifier is made with a brushed metal coating that could scratch up pretty easily, so it’s also something you have to look out for.
No shortage of accessories
Included with the Sennheiser HD 820 is a classy wooden box with internal padding, three headphone cables (XLR, 1/4″ and 4.4 mm), cleaning cloth, manual and a USB stick with additional information on it. A separate, smaller carry case would have been nice as the large wooden box isn’t very practical for moving the headphones around. The cables are built well although they are a bit bulky and can tangle up.
On the heavy side
Sennheiser have produced a pretty bulky headphone with the HD 820. It’s not something I’d like to use outside the home as a result. At 360g it’s also on the heavier side. It’s fine for a few hours but if you want to wear it all day the weight does start to add up.
The earcups are very roomy and well-padded. Most closed over-ear designs heat up after a bit of use, but the extra room in the earcups minimises this effect for the HD 820. The padded earcups block out a fair amount of ambient noise. It’s enough to deaden the background noise of a house but don’t expect it to block out the noise of busy office or anything.
The HD 820 verdict
Sennheiser have produced an excellent headphone with the HD 820. As an audiophile I really enjoyed using the headphones. The level of clarity and low-end punch that opens up using them makes you want to go back and listen to all your favourite albums again. Due to their size and weight, it would be difficult to use them outside of the house though. The glass transducer covers also mean you’ll have to be careful whenever you use the headphones.
Stay tuned later this week for our follow-up review of Sennheiser’s matching headphone amp, the HDV 820.
Impedance 300 Ohms
Frequency response (Headphones) 12 – 43800 Hz (-3 dB)