Head­phones of the Year over $1000

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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.

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