Headphones of the Year over $1000
Yes, a third award for Sennheiser in our headphone categories this year, after only one in the last two years combined — it is a sign of how effective the longstanding German marque has been in countering the absolute flood of brands and models that have attacked a market in which Sennheiser was always a clear leader. And here we have the company’s reference model, the HD 800, given a new lease of life and a far wider set of applications by being adapted from an open design into a closed one. This is not as easy as it might seem — if you just sealed them up you’d be bouncing the formerly free back waves from the drivers straight back into the headphone and the results could quite easily be mush. So the cleverness here is in Sennheiser using a concave (from the outside) sheet of toughened glass, its curve carefully calculated to redirect reflected sound to a dampened outer chamber where a new absorber has been fitted. With reflections thus minimised, we have a closed headphone which sounds open.
Though not, to our memory anyway, exactly like the HD 800, which we’ve always thought rather light (though realistic) in the bass. With this HD 820 we formed no such opinion, at least while we were listening using their 4mm balanced cables into Sennheiser’s own HDV 820 headphones amplifier. Whether it’s the reinforcement of the closed design or the quality of the amp and its balanced signal, there was plenty going on downstairs, and yet not the slightest compromise to the open performance of the earlier incarnations. The headphone/ amp combination delivered a truly sophisticated sound, and classical fans will simply swoon over the tonal detail and separation granted orchestral material.
The build and presentation are luxurious, as you’d hope for headphone costing $3499; the earpads are a luxurious microfibre fabric, and fit is both balanced and light — they weigh 360g without their cables, and there’ll be no wear fatigue preventing the long listening sessions which their performance will surely encourage. The diaphragm is the same legendarily large 56mm ring design as in the HD 800, rather than a cone-type. This has various benefits — instead of sound emerging as from a point source, the ring radiator delivers a more planar wave, which may allow the ear and brain to better localise different sounds, while in distortion terms a ring dramatically reduces cone break-up. How we missed them when they went back! But we keep their memory as a reference. More info: www.sennheiser.com.au
“We raise a glass to Sennheiser’s idea of raising curved glass on its reference design, creating a closed headphone that sounds not only open, but better than the original.”
Sennheiser Australia’s Anastasia Scales collects their two trophies.