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.
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.
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.
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