Sennheiser recently released the HD 820 headphones and also dropped the accompanying HDV 820 amplifier. The HDV 820 is one hell of a versatile headphone amplifier on its own regardless of your choice of cans though. Both the headphone and amp are German-made and are available for $2,400 USD each (or $3500 and $3000 respectively in AUD). For more variety of applications, take a look at our best studio pre-amp reviews.
Who is the HDV 820 for?
The HDV 820 is a big piece of kit at 30cm x 22cm (L x W), so it’s not for those looking for a compact headphone amp. Included in the headphone amplifier is a high quality digital-analog converter (DAC) and a preamp with balanced XLR-3 outputs. With this varied functionality, it may end up saving you space despite the size. There’s also plenty of connectivity options, which we’ll cover in more detail further down.
Huge frequency response
The frequency response is an incredibly broad <10 Hz to >100 kHz. In practical terms, the difference between the Sennheiser HDV 820 and lower quality amps is in the clarity and bass response. On the Sennheiser you’ll hear the little details in a mix pop out at you. Guitar or vocal layers that are almost inaudible on other set-ups can be heard more clearly.
The low end is hugely satisfying and detailed. My favourite part of using the HDV 820 is hearing bass guitar parts that are normally buried. The great thing is that it doesn’t push the other layers out to enhance the bass – it just clearly presents each element in the mix. Like the HD 820 headphones, the amp is tuned for hardcore audiophiles. It’s a subtle, refined sound rather than the brash, hyped sound that is currently very trendy in audio.
Digital-analog converter specs
The Sennheiser HDV 820 features an ESS Sabre32 digital-analog converter with 32 bit resolution and a sampling rate up to 384kHz. The resolution is an upgrade on the previous Sennheiser generation and the sampling rate automatically adjusts from 44.1kHz to 384kHz. The amplifier can also play DSD256 files of up to 12.3 MHz.
No shortage of output options
The headphone amplifier can run up to four dynamic headphones at once, and it does so without signal degradation. There are three balanced headphone sockets (2 x 4.4mm Pentaconn sockets and 1 x XLR-4 socket). Sennheiser have also included a single jack output which can accept both XLR-3 and 1/4″ for use with unbalanced headphones. The preamp utilises a pair of level-adjustable XLR-3 analog outputs, designed for use with active loudspeakers or a power amplifier.
You can connect several input sources for the Sennheiser HDV 820 and use the rotary switch on the front to pick between them. The digital options are USB, optical and coaxial. The analog options are dual RCA inputs and dual XRL-3 inputs. The connectivity layout is straight-forward and switching between the options is also nice and simple.
Appearance and durability
With its brushed black metal coating, the Sennheiser HDV 820 has a very classy appearance. The interface and connections are all made to a high level of quality and durability. While the metal covering looks great, it would be very easy to scratch up, so I wouldn’t be leaving your headphones on it.
The HDV 820 verdict
Sennheiser are really onto something with the HDV 820 headphone amplifier. It would be a great addition to the home of any serious audiophile. The high price tag and large size is a result of the extensive I/O options and high quality DAC and preamp functionality. If you intend to use the full feature set of the device then you’ll be getting your money’s worth on the investment.
Dimensions Approx. 224 x 44 x 306 mm
Frequency response < 10 Hz to > 100 kHz
THD, total harmonic distortion < 0.001 %
Weight Approx. 2.25 kg
Power consumption Nominal 12 W
(2 x 300 Ω headphones connected to the 4.4 mm outputs)
Gain UNBAL input/XLR-4 output:
Adjustable 14 dB, 22 dB, 30 dB, 38 dB, 46 dB
BAL input/XLR-4 output: 16 dB
Operating voltage (mains) 100 – 240 V ~, 50 – 60 Hz