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Sennheiser HDVD800 Headphone Amplifier Review

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Sennheiser HDVD800 Amplifier

Sennheiser is one of the largest companies manufacturing headphone and microphone products in the world. Whenever Sennheiser releases a flagship product it is a big deal. When they decided to release an amplifier for the HD800 headphone it was a very big deal. While Sennheiser is known for manufacturing really good headphones, they are far less known for manufacturing amplifiers. When Sennnheiser released their much anticipated flagship amplifier, the HDVD800 in May 2013, it hit the marketplace like a storm. In addition to its amplifier section, the HDVD800 has a built-in Burr Brown 24hz 192Hz digital-to-analogue converter; the entire unit is priced at $1,999. A second model, the HDVA600, will be released shortly. The HDVA600 lacks a DAC but is otherwise identical to the HDVD800; it will be priced at $1,599.

The HDVD800 was designed and voiced by Tim Frey, who is also a musician, under the direct supervision of product manager Axel Grell. The HDVD800 is hand built in Germany. This HDVD800 was first introduced as a prototype in 2011 and was originally scheduled to be released in the summer of 2012, but Sennheiser delayed the release until the spring of 2013.

Design

The HDVD800 is a fully balanced amplifier. Its built-in DAC is 24-bit that can sample up to 192kHz. The unit has two 4-pin XLR outputs on the front as well as the XLR inputs in the rear of the amplifier. There are also two 1/4-inch outputs in the front of the amplifier for using single-ended headphones. This arrangement permits the use of two pairs of single-ended headphones as well as two balanced headphones; that is, four pairs of headphones can be played at once. The HDVD800 also has a switch in the front that allows switching between AES, Optical, Coaxial and USB connections. TheHDVD800 can thus use pretty much any type of source currently manufactured. One can also use the DAC separately. Though equipped with both XLR and 1/4-inch outputs, potentials of fully balanced sources will be exploited by the Sennheiser’s symmetrical design. The casing is available in Silver aluminum only and the top of the casing has a clear glass on the right side that allows one to see the Melf resistors used inside the amplifier. The parts are all audiophile grade and were, according to Sennheiser, carefully selected for maximum sound quality. The amplifier puts out a maximum power of 2.5W into a 50-OHM load. The casing is very attractive and appears to be built to a high standard. The volume control is a Alp 27K, which operates smoothly. Four fully balanced amplifiers are used in the HDVD800 in symmetry.

Review Equipment

For this review, I used the Sennheiser HD800 headphone with a balanced 4 pin Norse aftermarket cable. The Audeze LCD2.2 had a Q cable 4pin connector for balanced operation and the other headphones I used were all single ended. The other headphones included the Beyer T90, T1, Audio Technica AT3000 ANV, and Sennheiser HD700.

The source I used was the Oppo BDP 105 universal player, fully balanced using the Nordost Blue Heaven XLR cable. Power cables were the Nordost Blue Heaven cords. The Nordost USB 2M cable was connected to my iMAC, to allow testing of the HDVD800’s built in DAC. I also used single ended Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects for the Oppo BDP 105.

Music choices ranged from jazz, classical, folk and a good assortment of both female and male vocal recordings, in both SACD, HDCD, and Redbook formats. The music used from the iMac was all loss-less recorded music in my iTunes library. I also used audiorvana plus software in evaluation of the separate DAC. Concert DVD videos and Internet concerts were also used to evaluate the digital player.

Sennheiser HDVD800 Amplifier

13 Responses to Sennheiser HDVD800 Headphone Amplifier Review


  1. MacedonianHero says:

    Wow, great looking amp and a great review Frank! Well done sir. Glad to see Sennheiser making an amp worthy of their brilliant HD800s!

  2. baka1969 says:

    Nicely done Frank. It’s a solid amp.

  3. J says:

    Why no comparison to some of the other gear you’ve reviewed?

  4. Frank Iacone says:

    I felt the hdvd800. I concentrated more on different headphones in this review than other amps which I had none on house except the Decaware Tube amp for a bit then the Woo WA5 which is much more expensive so the hdvd800 was equal to the Decware but different the TabooMk 111 had a more rounded sound some tube coloration which made it warmer. The WA5 is in another class entirely from either the Mk111 or the HDVD800.

  5. Simon says:

    I listened to the HDVD800 over a four day period and compared it to a demo Bryston BHA-1. I only tried my HD800 headphones, reterminated with a 4 pin XLR connector. I really wanted to like the 800, and listened to in isolation it was a pleasure. However, the Bryston was noticeably better to my ears in terms of authority, dimensionality, engagement and sheer grooveability. The amp section of the HDVD800 performed better when fed by my Valab DAC rather than the internal DAC. I have the impression that the DAC lets down the total package.

    As much as I wanted to buy the 800, as it would look cute and convenient on my desk, the musical engagement steered me to buy the Bryston.

  6. moodyrn says:

    Sorry I’m a little late to the party, but great, well written review Frank!! It seems this maybe the closest thing to a one box, one size fits all combo out right now. I find your impressions very interesting. An amp that does nothing but accurately amplifies the signal feed by the internal dac, and just gets out of the way. You really don’t come across many of those.

    • Frank Iacone says:

      Thanks Michael for your comments. I thought the hdvd800 did many thing well. The amp was very neutral and impressed me for a solid state amp thta really just played the music.

  7. Zacks says:

    Nice review! currently I own the hdvd800 and hd800 combo, and I wonder how does T1 sound with hdvd800 compared to hd800(seems unlikely) using the built in DAC? Thanks!

  8. Gus says:

    That helped me pick an amp!! Thanks Frank!

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