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Sennheiser HD 820 flagship closed-back headphones: The story of beauty and the beast

Today, we will look at the Sennheiser HD 820 flagship closed-back headphones.  First, let's briefly discuss some design, tech specs, build quality, and comfort of the HD 820; then, we can get into my sound impressions. 

Sennheiser HD 820 Design and Build Quality

The HD 820 has been around for several years, so we are not going to discuss anything revolutionary from a technical standpoint that you haven’t heard of, but let’s still go over the headphone's details.

According to Sennheiser’s website, The HD 820 uses a 56mm Ring Radiator dynamic transducer system with an impedance of 300 ohms, SPL of 103 dB, THD of less than .02%, and an FR of 6hz-48,000hz.

From a visual perspective, the HD 820 is beautiful, using concave gorilla glass reflectors showing off some of the headphone's drivers and acoustic absorber system.  The headphone uses microfiber, leather ear pads, and a headband system similar to the HD 800s, wrapped in microfiber and some padding on the headband.  

Unfortunately, I still got a hotspot from the headband after listening for about an hour, so while the headband system is similar to the HD 800s, I find the HD 800s to be far more comfortable both in weight and how the weight is distributed.  According to Sennheiser, the HD 820 is 360 grams, about 30 grams heavier than the HD 800s.

Included with the headphones is a balanced XLR-4 cable, a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn cable, and an unbalanced ¼ inch cable. 

Sennheiser HD 820 Sound Impressions

 If you follow our TSAV channel and saw our last video comparing the HD600 vs. HD660s vs. the HD650, you will know that I have long been a fan of Sennheiser headphones, as I feel like the majority of their headphones have a superb mid-range presentation, unfatiguing sound that is highly enjoyable to listen to especially with tube amplification. 

I should preface my very brief sound impressions with the fact that I generally prefer open-back headphones to closed-back headphones as they, in most cases, sound more natural to me and are generally less fatiguing for me personally.

Unfortunately, with every amplifier and digital analog converter in my house, I had a hell of a time getting any synergy in sound for my preferences with the HD 820.  I tried the headphones with several amps, tube, and solid state.  For solid-state integrated amplifier Dacs, I used the Marantz 40n, Chord Hugo 2, and Chord TT2.  

The tube amplifiers I had in the house I ran the HD 820 with were the Audio Research I/50, OG iFi Pro iCan, and amps and sound pendant, hell I even drove up to my daughter's grandparents' house and grabbed my Bottlehead Crack OTL tube amplifier with speedball modification, in hopes that would pour some sugar on the HD 820.  

While the more silky sound of the OTL Crack helped some, it still wasn’t enough to bring the headphones in line with my preferences.  I ran through all the filters on my Hugo 2 and TT2 as the DAC to see if any of the filters would provide some subtle improvements to the sound, and unfortunately, the only thing that helped the headphones for my preferences is to turn them way down.

At normal listening levels, the sound they presented to me was immediate, detailed, clean but disjointed, fatiguing, and peaky, with a hard quality of sound that doesn’t present naturally to my ears.  I listened to just about every genre of music I usually listen to, and nothing jived with me.

The timbre of the HD 820 doesn’t present many string instruments, guitars, and vocals naturally, and they lack coherence.  The quality of the bass is decent from the HD 820, as is the soundstage for a closed-back headphone. 

Still, in my opinion, neither of those qualities is good enough to justify purchasing the HD 820 over theHD 800s, Sennheiser’s much better 800 series headphones, at least for my preferences.  

So if you follow my personal YouTube channel, our TSAV channel, you know me, to be fair, always striving to talk about the positives and areas of opportunity of each product we feature.  

 Unfortunately, I never want to make an article like this, but the areas of opportunity in the HD 820 outweigh the positives for me and the audio chains I have in the house.  It could be that I don’t have a suitable amplifier or DAC to make them shine.  

It could just be that they need significant EQ or tone control for my preferences, or it could just be that designing headphones with gorilla glass, a hard surface for sound to reflect off of, even if there is a filtration system in between, isn’t the most natural way to reproduce sound.

For those who love the HD 820, please let us know what amplifier and DAC pairings you enjoy and if you use any EQ!  I always keep an open mind, and maybe I couldn’t find the perfect pairing for these beautiful-looking headphones, and you can help me find it!

Rather than digging deeper into my listening notes and presenting you more of my sound impressions on the HD820, which will not help to change my overall impression of the headphones, I would recommend that if you were dead set on trying these headphones out to come down to our TSAV Showroom or visit your local dealer first to give them an extended listen.  

If that is not possible, I would look for an Open Box pair with a manufacturer's warranty at a reasonable price so you can resell them if you decide they are not for you.  Or pass on them and go with the HD 800s or one of the Six Hundred series headphones I talked about in our last article, as all those headphones have distinct merits and a quality of sound that can be enjoyed and synergized much more easily in my experience.  

If you are looking for a pair of closed-back headphones around the same price point, stay tuned to our channel and subscribe today, as we will be presenting the Meze Liric soon on our channel!  Or if you can go up a bit in price, I enjoy and have been a long-term owner of the Focal Stellia!

If you are interested in trading up your old headphones or other gently used audio gear for a new set of headphones, check out our website for the  trade-up program, and don’t forget we will price match, other authorized dealers!  

Did you find the perfect system for them, or did you have a similar experience to mine?  Until next time friends, remember, let the music be your guide! 

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