Audiophile alert! When Sennheiser adds a new model to its legendary HD800 range, HiFi aficionados take notice. The Sennheiser HD820 continues from the company’s flagship critical listening headphones, the HD800, but with a couple of major design changes brought to the table.
The HD800 is an open-back design, which is the norm for audiophile dedicated headphones. With the HD820, Sennheiser opted for an innovative closed-back design. It’s an unexpected choice, but the company says they have been getting requests for closed-back, audiophile-level headphones for years, so here they are.
Sennheiser promises an “unparalleled, reference-grade audiophile listening experience in a closed headphone.” Have they managed to deliver on this promise, and are they worth the eye-watering price-tag they come attached with? You’ll get the answer to these questions and more in our in-depth Sennheiser HD820 review…
Design and Build Quality
The Sennheiser HD800 series has always been aesthetically stunning headphones, and the HD820 faithfully follows that tradition. They are essentially a more refined version of the 800 with a few stylistic tweaks that give them a slicker look. These are visually delightful headphones, about as striking a set of cans as it’s possible to see.
The first thing you notice is the 820 looks like an open-back design, but the back of the cup is covered by curved transparent Gorilla glass. This allows us a grand view of the rear workings of the driver. Sennheiser also claims it’s a more effective way of dealing with the resonance you get with a closed design. More on that later.
The build quality is typical Sennheiser…
Style points are high whilst also inspiring confidence in the durability and sturdiness of the construction. The well-padded headband has an intelligent adjustment system. Any adjustments made result in equidistant movement of both arms, so the earcups never get out of position.
Treated properly in the home environment, the Sennheiser HD820 should last for years, just like its predecessors. You’ll have to watch out for that glass, though. Gorilla glass is known for its toughness, but we certainly weren’t going to put that to the test. The best we can say is that they look like they could take a good whack.
Three cables come with the package, all three meters in length. That fact alone should tell you that these headphones are intended for home use only. Furthermore, these multiple connection options make these some of the best studio headphones on the market.
Two of the cables provide balanced options. One has an XLRK amp connection, and the other a 4.4mm Pentaconn connection. A standard 6.3mm jack features on the third cable.
These are big headphones but at 360-grams, not too heavy. The ear cups will encompass ears of all shapes and sizes. And like the headband, they are generously padded with a microfiber finish that ensures critical listening in the highest of comfort.
Furthermore, Sennheiser has got the clamping pressure down to a fine art. There’s never any danger of the HD820 slipping off, and the pressure exerted is light but secure enough to keep things firmly in place. As a result, they are some of the best fitting headphones you can buy.
For such a large set of closed-back headphones, the 820 stays remarkably cool. The material design, leather on the outer edge and velour micro-fiber on the flat edge that touches the skin, is a smart choice.
Not only does it allow the headphones a higher degree of breathability, but it also forms a better seal under clamping pressure than an all velour set-up can achieve. It’s also way more comfortable over extended sessions.
They’ll be none of that nonsense here, sir! If you want Bluetooth, ANC, call handling, voice assistance, or any of that jazz, you won’t find it here. These are purist headphones with nothing else in mind than to focus on your listening pleasure.
Just how it should be. It’s an admirable ethos with the love of audio at its core. However, is it too much to ask for a practical carry-case to be part of the deal?
Most people are unlikely to be taking the HD820 out of the house too often. But for an item this expensive, you’ll want some solid protection if you need to transport them. As nice as the wooden box that’s included is, it’s not designed for portability. Other than that, features can go take a flying leap.
Sennheiser HD820 Sound Quality
You’ll need a well-powered amplifier to use the Sennheiser HD820 as they have a high impedance of 300 Ohms. Sennheiser has made an accompanying amp for this series, the HDV820, which we had the good fortune to be able to pair with the headphones for this review.
Yes, you’ll get different results depending on your amp. But we thought it fair to listen to them as Sennheiser intended them to sound.
The Gorilla glass factor…
No matter how hard Sennheiser tries, they are never going to be able to fully recreate the open-back sound in closed-back headphones. It’s just not possible. Drivers project as much sound backward as it sends forward. In closed headphones, this rear projecting sound resonates off the enclosed space and can even mess with the front-firing waves.
Here the curved Gorilla glass works to reflect and direct the sound towards absorbing chambers that will reduce the impact on the sound directed at your ears. We have to say that it’s about as an effective way of dealing with wave refraction as anyone has come up with to date.
Sennheiser can say the HD820 has as open a feel as any closed headphones currently available, and they would be correct in their assertion. Therefore, we have no problem calling these some of the best closed back headphones on the market.
A gigantic soundstage…
The width and depth on offer here are about the most impressive you’ll see from any closed-back headphones. The sense of space is palpable, especially when listening to orchestral music. As a result, these are some of the best sounding headphones around.
Each instrument is gorgeously showcased and easily identifiable amongst the 3D landscape. Jazz compositions are also beautifully presented with levels of articulation you’d expect from such accurate headphones.
The frequency range of the Sennheiser HD820 is frankly amazing. From the lowest rumbles to the highest tinkles, you will hear everything in the recording. As any good critical listening headphones do, they lay bare any deficiencies in the recording or equipment you are using. They also allow the best parts of any recording to shine. You will hear it all.
The overall sound profile is faithful to Sennheiser’s traditional sound signature. Once they’re going, you’ll be treated to a smooth, articulate, richly-detailed, and tonally-balanced experience, that brings the levels of clarity Sennheiser is famous for.
Anyone expecting a bass boost due to the closed-back design is in for a disappointment. They have the necessary punch and power but in equal proportion to the rest of the range. Complex basslines and sub-bass are rendered with precision and authority. Not a whole lot of passion, but a load of accuracy.
Ascending the ranges, vocals overflow with expression and are once again extremely well-articulated. Highs are as polished as you’d imagine with the perfect amount of bite and refinement on offer. Complex recordings involving multiple instruments and tracks are organized very well, always maintaining composure when things get busy.
Are there any drawbacks?
If there’s any criticism to be made, the Sennheiser HD820 is almost too forensically articulate and lacks the sense of intimacy other less technically-minded headphones give you. But to be fair, that’s the point of critical listening headphones, and these are industry-leading performers in the closed-back audiophile market.
The Sennheiser HD820 does a good job of passively isolating noise in the mid and high frequencies. Conversational voices and high-pitched noises like air-conditioners will be largely removed from interfering with your listening.
Lower frequency rumbles are not as effectively kept out. Although this shouldn’t be much of a problem when used at home. In the unlikely event you find yourself using these on a train or plane, they’ll let a lot of engine noise through.
Sennheiser HD820 Review – Pros and Cons
- The Gorilla glass design looks amazing.
- Extremely well-built and durable.
- Huge soundstage.
- A tonally rich and detailed sound profile.
- Absurd frequency range.
- Questionable value for money.
- Lack of intimacy.
- Open-backed headphones will always sound better.
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Sennheiser HD820 Review – Final Thoughts
It’s no secret that open-backed headphones provide the best audio experience when it comes to critical listening. But, if you insist on a closed-back model, you can’t do any better than the Sennheiser HD820. Sennheiser has come about as close as any company has managed to replicate the open-backed sound in a closed-back design.
If your domestic situation requires a little noise isolation and you’re willing to spend the extra, then these are the best audiophile headphones for you. Alternatively, if external noise isn’t a problem, then you’re better off sticking with the Sennheiser HD800 for a truly open-backed experience at a significantly cheaper price.
Until next time, happy listening.