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Sennheiser HDV 820 Thoughts and Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by Bansaku, Nov 2, 2017.
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  1. Bansaku
    Heyas folks! IT HAS ARRIVED! I am getting the ball rolling and starting up this thread as it needs to be done!

    (Apologies for the potato quality. This is an HDR photo off my iPod touch. )

    The night is still young, and there is much listening to be had. Thus far, I have only listened to a handful of DSD files, so there won't be much in the way of this first post; This is merely as teaser! In all honesty I am still in disbelief that this flagship unit is sitting on my desk, driving my HD 600s to sonic bliss! I am in awe of not only the HDV 820's amazing build quality and aesthetics, but left nearly speechless at the phenomenal, near flawless transparency!

    I have often wondered just how much diminishing returns a $2400 USD DAC/amp has over a unit (or combo) that is both well received and priced to cater more towards the average enthusiast. Well, in the hour(ish) I have been listening for, I am beginning to realize that in the case of the HDV 820, there is none. In other words, this bad-boy is worth every hard earned dollar, period!

    Anyway, as stated this is just a teaser. More impressions and better quality picts to follow in the up-coming days; I gots some listening to do!

  2. Bansaku
    Wow, did I get off to an unexpected start, but I managed to make the most of it. So, it's day 2 with the HDV 820 and before I started off my weekend of listening I decided to (finally) update my Hackintosh to macOS 10.13.1 and get rid of those pesky reminders that have been annoying me for the past few days, and well, it did not go so well. For the first time ever, the Mac side of my system was un-bootable. It just so happens that my whole music library is on macOS. But all was not lost as I had two killer new AAA games to play in Windows; South Park - The Fractured But Whole, and Shadow of Mordor - Shadow of War. Normally it would be later on in my review process before I tried out anything but music, but at this point I had to take what I could get; I was not about to let Sennheiser's flagship DAC/amp sit idle.

    I will write my impressions of the above in the posts below. I hadn't planned for this post to be what it turned into and formulating a post in an edit window is awkward. However I have been absent in my own thread for too long but all is good with my system I needed to give an update.

    Over the next few weeks, I intend to post my impressions regarding a certain aspect of testing, one at a time. Instead of jotting down notes (mentally and physically) for my eventual review, I will simply post them here. This way I remain active with my thoughts and impressions as well as save the time and effort of posting and taking notes. I am not sure why I never thought of this many a review ago...
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2017
  3. wldcohso
    I just sold my HDVD800 for 1100usd to get this. I called Sennheiser yesterday to inquire about purchasing one but she said there was no release date, can you direct me to someone to purchase this please? Also is the dac much better this time around.
  4. vo_obgyn
    Nice thread. Thanks. I have the Sennheiser HDVD 800 and would be interested to hear how the HDV 820 compares to it. I would imagine that the DAC is much improved but what about the amp section, I'm wondering? Is the amp section much improved also? Should I upgrade?
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
  5. wldcohso
    Do you plan to give a review?
  6. Bansaku
    As much as I would love to help you out, I don't think the folks at Sennheiser would be ok with me giving out any contact information I may have. Perhaps @Sennheiser can assist you with your inquiry.

    I have not heard the original HDV 800. I know the specs, and from what I can tell every aspect of the original HDV 800 has been improved upon with the HDV 820. Personally I would be more than happy with an HDV 800, but if you can easily afford to upgrade I say go for it. Sennheiser (in my opinion) has never released a newer product in the same line that was not an upgrade to the last.

    Absolutely! See post #2.

    Last edited: Nov 13, 2017
  7. Bansaku
    Despite having a rocky start, my first few days with the HDV 820 have been a real ear opener. Not having access to my music allowed me to focus on a mostly overlooked use for headphones: Gaming. I admit, I am a gamer. Mostly casual these days, since my first Atari 2600, progressing all the way to PS3/XBox 360 and eventually PC gaming, the number 1 aspect that for me that had the biggest impact on immersion was(/is) sound. Graphics simply had to be good enough, but music and sound was always the driving force in the games I chose to play over the years. This is why my home stereo is way, WAY better than my TV, and likewise carries over to my computer; 10 year old monitor - iFi stack. Over the years I have purchased numerous top tiered PC sound cards and eventually external USB audio solutions all in the pursuit of the best PC audio experience, both for general music listening and games. Creative, ASUS, Audioengine, TEAC, and now my iFi stack, I thought I have heard some of the best out there. The HDV 820 not only puts their performance to shame, it is in a completely different echelon! Don't get me wrong, my iFi stack sounds amazing, and for many (my poor self included) it would be considered their end game, but the HDV 820, much like it's predecessor the HDV 800, truly is worthy of being considered "Summit-fi".

    I am not one to revisit old titles, so naturally what I am currently playing through are recent releases: South Park - The Fractured But Whole, and Shadow of Mordor - Shadow of War. As it so happens to be, both titles are sequels to originals that are highly acclaimed, and thus far both are improvements, especially in regards to graphics and, most importantly, sound! While playing through the original titles, the HD 598 had the honour of accompanying me alone my journey to the end of both games, this time around the HD 600 is my weapon of choice. For the previous 2 weeks before the arrival of the HDV 820, I had been using my iFi stack consisting of the micro iDAC, micro iCAN SE, and micro iTube2.

    Along with the reference class HD 600, the pair make for one heck of a gaming experience! While some may consider the HD 600's sound stage to be too narrow for gaming, thanks to both game's stellar audio engine, as well as the open-airy tubiness of the micro iTube2, this simply was not a problem; The HD 600's supreme focus and imaging simply complimented them both. Both games sounded amazing. Immersion was there, 3D positioning and imaging was (seemingly) spot on, and I was one content gamer. Then came the HDV 820. One word: Wow! Nah.. Maybe holy schiit!? Nope, still not good enough. Hmm, I got it: EPIC! Yes, the most over used word of the year (of 2014) that should never be used again, but I don't care because truly, that is the only word to describe what my ears hear! Heck, even... ÜBER EPIC! Take that hipsters! Ha HA! But no, in all seriousness, it would be reference class studio sound, through and through, bar none, period.

    First off, dialogue and vocals. Whether it be story driven dialogue or battle born war-cries, both games feature almost non-stop talking. The HD 600/HDV 820 combo superbly and effortlessly renders voices to perfection! Every word spoken had incredible focus within the sound scape in regards to both position and scale, coming across clean and clear with perfect layering. It mattered not if the voices were simple back ground chatter, a cut-scene dialogue, or a horde of 20 orcs coming at me from all directions, every sound that exited a mouth could be easily distinguished and positioned within the game's environment. I knew exactly who was talking and where they were coming from. Advantage: me!

    Much like vocals, environmental sounds and effects were rendered to perfection. The accuracy of the 3D positioning was spot on, providing me with a natural sense of scale and position. In Shadow of War, I could be perched upon a roof, overlooking a courtyard full of orcs going about their business, and without repositioning the camera to get a better vantage I could pin-point exactly where they were underneath me just by the mundane sounds their movements were creating! When in the heat of battle, archers and ranged opponents pepper you from afar. With arrows and spears wizzing by while deflecting blows from swords and axes, they are difficult to notice and often are only spotted once you take a few hits. The combination of the game's well engineered audio and the HDV 820's rock solid grip on the sound allows me to easily and quickly receive a clear and precise directional audio cue the moment the projectile is launched to the point it flies by my head (or into my torso). Sword blows were felt, possessing an excellent transient response thus giving a great sense of impact! Every individual crackle of burning embers falling upon the ground was heard as fire pits explode, which in turn had a great sense of exploding force! I could go on and on, but all in all, I was totally immersed! It doesn't take me long to forget about the fact that I am wearing headphones with sound coming out of an amplifier as everything sounds so natural that I simply fade away into the game's world!

    Lastly, and certainly not least, the music of South Park - The Fractured But Whole, and Shadow of Mordor - Shadow of War. One word: Epic! This time I mean it! Being Action-Fantasy and Super Hero themed, both can not be described any other way than simply, epic, and the HDV 820 renders their scores with beautiful, blissful, perfection! Surrounding my head in a expansive sound-scape, the music was big, the music was dynamic, every subtlety could be discerned without strain, yet sat perfectly behind both the effects and vocals without sounding distant or recessed! It was almost as if I had a secondary driver sitting behind the main that produced nothing but the music.

    To be continued....

    Next up: I am thinking, perhaps, the AKG K340 Elektrostatic-dynamic 400 Ohm power hungry flag-ship of old!

    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
    Aryadeva, vrln and Sennheiser like this.
  8. wldcohso
    @Sennheiser can you help confirm if orders will ship out sooner rather than later.
  9. Bansaku
    ... the continuation: AKG K340

    If there is anything to be said about hi-end AKG headphones, it's that they need a powerful amp to reach their fullest potential. Soft bass, peaky treble, cold, analytical mids, and lacking refinement are common complaints from users unaware of the beefy power their AKG's need. A smart phone, in theory, should have enough output to moderately drive a pair of 55 Ohm K240; In practice, well, refer back to the previous sentence. So it goes without saying that a pair of AKG K340, rated at 400 Ohms, requires an amp capable of delivering the power the elektrostatic-dynamic drivers crave. AKG even recommends for optimum performance, snipping the 1/4" plug and connecting the headphones directly to a standard stereo amplifier's speaker terminals! How crazy is that? Being a proud owner of these vintage cans, I can tell you first hand it's not that crazy of an idea at all! Since coming into possession of the K340, I have been more than pleased with their performance when paired with my iFi stack. Albeit, even with 4W of Class A power per channel, I still need to have the iCAN SE at high gain to achieve sufficient power to drive the headphones, but it does the job well. Enter the HDV 820.

    Firstly, I'd like to talk about the absolute raw power the HDV 820 yields! When paired with the K340, the volume potentiometer never goes above the 1 o'clock position, period! It matters not if I was listening to a Telarc mastered recording, Hi-Rez tracks from Chesky Records, or numerous DSD compilations, moving the dial even a few degrees above this position is near deafening with these cans; The HDV 820 has power to spare! And it's not just the ability to drive the K340 to extreme volume, but the total grip it possesses over the entire frequency range!

    Even with the iTube2 in play, I found the bass to be somewhat slow, and slightly lacking in impact. Quantity was good, and even the quality was pretty decent, especially considering the headphones are nearly 40 years old, but overall the dynamic driver's bass was showing it's age. Thanks to the HDV 820's quick transient response, coupled with pure Class A analogue power, the AKG K340's bass sprung to life! The overall speed and clarity were increased, allowing for a greater sense of impact, and enabling the hidden detail and resolution of the lower spectrum that were previously overshadowed by a sluggish and muddy (though never bleeding) bass response! Instead of tasting like a worn leather boot, the bass became a juicy, fresh-cut steak grilled to near perfection! Whether it was the deep resonating sounds of a classical cello quartette, or the rumbling and thumping rhythm of electronica, the HDV 820 brought what was missing to the bass response of the K340. It was refreshing to appreciate the K340's natural bass without the aid of a tube-filter or bass-boost.

    The mid-range and treble frequencies sound even more impressive than the bass, thanks in part to the elektrostatic driver providing the sound for the two ranges. Smooth, crisp, detailed, and focused can only begin to describe the sound the K340/HDV 820 combo produce! Male and female vocals were beautifully and effortlessly rendered, each sounding detailed yet natural, possessing both body and a sense of breath. Instruments have incredible texture, complete with precise focus; Every note sounding organic and whole, easily discernible from one another, never colliding with the next, and seemingly suspended in air surrounded by a sea of blackness. My ears were tickled with sonic delight!

    Being a closed backed headphone, one area the K340 take a hit on is the soundstage, at least in regards to opened backed variants. When paired with an amplifier with sufficient driving force, I find the K340's biggest weakness would be the sense of space. The headphones do have incredible focus and imaging, among the best I'd say, it's just that the overall soundscape is rather flat and lacks volume. Much like everything else, the HDV 820 simply fills in the gaps! No more did the K340's sound seem like a a flat circle, now it sounds like a perfect sphere! I won't say the soundscape became larger, instead it became expanded with increased transparency.

    To be continued...

    Next up: Meze 99 Classics (balanced cable)

  10. wldcohso
    How does it compare to Chord Hugo2?
  11. Diehard9er
    How is the amp only minus DAC? I’m looking to try a new amp and currently use Senn HDVA 600. I read somewhere that a dealer tried a compare and felt it was a tad better but he probably would not suggest an upgrade if one was already using the 600 or 800. This was the amp only no DAC.

    Sure is a great looking amp.
    omniweltall likes this.
  12. wldcohso
    Wish i could audition one of these.. keeping this on my radar..
  13. wldcohso
    Was able to get one for 2k... will give impressions of HDV820.
  14. Ginge
    Where did you find it for 2k? That would be the sweet spot for me.
  15. Oscar-HiFi
    We have a review of the HDV 820 coming out next week, keep an eye out on our website. It is a smooth and refined, high end amp/DAC :D
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