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Sennheiser HDVD800 Headphone Amplifier Review

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How do you describe an amplifier that has no sound? The HDVD800 is one of the most neutral, uncolored headphone amplifiers I have heard. There is no sound signature. The HDVD800 just plays the music on the recording very accurately. If the recording is a bad recording the HDVD800 will not mask it. It will let you know exactly what is on the recording. The HDVD800 has a balanced presentation; there is no tipping of the bass, and the treble is well extended. The midrange was exceptional. Vocals were very well defined and realistic.

Listening to Diana Krall’s excellent Love Scenes Album, the bass was really showcased. The Krall album has outstanding acoustic bass and the HDVD800 nailed the texture of the instrument. The plucked bass strings sounded realistic. Krall’s voice sounded as good as I have heard on a solid-state amplifier, with no detectable edge. The amplifier got out of the way of the music. The music kept flowing for hours and I always came away with the same observation. The sound stage was very defined, with very good front to back depth, and I could easily place all the performers in their own space. There was ample air around the instruments, and the background was jet black. There was no audible noise in the HDVD800.


On a classical recording like Dominick Argento’s Valentino Dances, the “Ring of Time” track was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra in 1972 to celebrate it’s 70th year. Argento wrote the piece to celebrate reoccurrence of time. There are three percussionists at the center rear of the stage and also on the opposite sides of the stage. The placement corresponds to the numbers nine, twelve and four on the face of a clock. This is very hard to get right if the gear used is not up to the challenge. The HDVD800 nailed the performance. I was able to hear the chimes in their pristine sound surrounded by air and space through the HD800 headphone. The sound stage was wall-to-wall, very deep and fully extended. The chimes on this piece of music are explosive and all I concentrated on was the music. The music came alive and inner detail of the recording was all there. With careful listening I could identify the different sections of the percussionist easily. This outstanding recording was breathtaking through the HDVD800.

Switching over to the LCD2.2 balanced I got much more of the same. The bass was very deep and extended, as was the treble on Patricia Barber’s Cafe Blue Nardis track. The bass drum with the LCD2 hit very hard and the drum cymbals on the track sounded like a live performance. This track brought out the best in the HDVD800. The amplifier played the recording so dynamically I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the same way it was recorded.

Playing the SACD recording of Elvis Presley’s Stereo 57 was another treat. It brought me to the studio in 1957 and was as live and realistic as it gets. The feeling was haunting, as I felt I was resurrected back in time to the studio for the session with Elvis; it was as if I was there. The binaural recording let me hear Elvis in an actual recording session. The stop and start between tracks and him laughing and having a good time at this recording session were very special. It was as if I was brought back in time to listen to a 22-year-old Elvis make some of his finest music. I could hear all the faint whispers of the band members as they were recording the tracks. The LCD 2.2 has great detail and the HDVD800 let it play the recording as it was recording. The combination was so real, so live that it was spooky. I felt the emotion of Presley and felt his presence while I was listening to this magical recording. I had forgotten that I was listening through a headphone. Again the HDVD800 just got out of the way and played the music.

The singled ended Audio Technica 3000ANV playing Amber Rubarth’s “Just Like a Woman” from her Session from the 17th Ward Sessions was more of the same. I could feel all the passion in Amber’s vocals. The song and recording were excellent and recorded. The binaural recording used two microphones strategically placed in a dummy head. The focus of the musicians is pinpoint accurate in this recording and there is plenty of air around the performers. This recording is very realistic and the HDVD800 let the AT3000 portray it accurately.

The Beyerdynamic T1 sounded fantastic on the HDVD800. Listening to EmmyLou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s excellent album Old Yellow Moon on track seven, “Dreaming My Dreams”, put me into a trance. Crowell’s vocals open the song, and I felt as if Rodney was standing very close to Emmylou while they were doing this recording. I could feel the emotion they were trying to portray. I was just drawn-in to the performance.

Listening to Harry Connicks’s We are in Love on track 6, “Nightingale Sang In Berkleigh Square”, the Beyer T1 with its very extended treble, had the pinpoint focus of Branford Marsalis tenor saxophone in the rear of the stage, and Connick to the front slightly left of the stage. There was excellent detail in the performance. Once again the HDVD800 just let me hear the music and got out of the way.

As I noted above, the HDVD800 uses a 24 bit Burr Brown 1792 high-end digital to analogue converter, capable of playing files from 24/44 up to 192kHz. I used the iMAC for my listening session, and listened mostly to files from both iTunes and high-resolution files on both flac and wav stored on my Audirvana digital player that is integrated with iTunes. The USB connection on the HDVD800 is asynchronous and very quiet, I heard no jitter, although there was some hissing when playing files of 176.4k or higher and up to 192kHz. Sennheiser is aware of this problem and is working on a firmware solution.

The HDVD800’s DAC performed flawlessly on all recording and concerts, the latter watched up to 24-96kHz. The DAC playing concert videos were very enjoyable. Mumford and Sons Live at the Ed Sullivan theatre is a special performance, and is available to watch on YouTube or directly form the Mumford and Sons website. The band played at the historic venue where other great British bands, namely The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, made their American debuts. The one-hour concert was exciting and very well recorded.

Listening to Marcum Mumford performing Lover of the Light, he moved closer to the microphone and I could hear that very clearly with the HD800 headphone. When he moved further back in the sound stage, I could clearly hear his vocal away from the microphone. The DAC was very convincing in its performance.

Van Morrison’s performance recorded in 2008 in London is one of my favorite concerts. It was recorded live in St. Luke church, and the acoustics of the church made the recording intimate and very special. The HDVD800 again rose to the occasion and the detail and accuracy of the recording were spot-on. It made both Morrison’s performance and the music shine. I was glued to my seat and enjoyed the concert immensely.

Watching Roger Water and Eddie Vedder perform Comfortably Numb from the 12/12/12 relief concert for the Sandy Hurricane Relief fund was another special treat. The concert was done in Madison Square Garden, a venue at which I have attended many concerts over the years, and the acoustics of the Garden are excellent. The HDVD800 was very accurate in its presentation. The performance was outstanding as was the entire 30-minute set Waters did for the show.


Sennheiser must have worked very hard to develop the HDVD800, as it is one of the very best solid-state amps I have heard in my reviewing of headphone amps. The amplifier is uncolored, it presents music in a natural and neutral manner, with focus and detail. I found no fault in the performance of the amplifier. The DAC is very competent using up to 24-96kHz files. It is very clean and musical. The combo adds no sound of its own to the performance, and the amplifier gets out of the way and lets the music flow.

The DAC has an issue playing high-resolution files from 176.4kHz and up to 192kHz. Sennheiser is working on a firmware solution to address the problem. At the time of my review this solution has yet to be announced.

The retail price of $2,000 puts this product into the higher end of amplifier and DAC designs that are currently produced today. If you are looking for a high performance amplifier and own a reference DAC then you may want to consider the HDVA600, which is $400.00 cheaper and does not have the DAC included. If you are looking for a one box solution and use 24-192kHz files you may want to wait until Sennheiser corrects the issue before you purchase the amplifier. If high-resolution files up to 24-96kHz are what you listen to mostly, I believe the HDVD800 delivers the goods. It performed flawlessly and would earn my highest recommendation if there was not the unresolved issue.

The HDVD800 did very well with all my reference headphones, and is one of the best solid-state amplifiers I have used with my headphones. It will drive any dynamic headphone produced today. It will let you hear the music as it was recorded and will provide many hours of enjoyable listening. Sennheiser has introduced a product that many will want to own. If you are in the market for a truly good solid-state headphone amplifier and digital-to-analogue converter, you should audition the HDVD800, and you may find yourself very impressed with the performance of the HDVD800. The amplifier just plays music and gets out of the way.


Comment from Sennheiser:

Sonically, the HDVD 800 delivers a balanced sound image, maximum precision and impressive spatiality. It features a fully symmetrical layout that ensures even signal transmission from the source to the headphones. “The fully symmetrical principle effectively compensates for interference and distortion,” explains Axel Grell, Sennheiser’s High-End Product Manager at Sennheiser. “The sound therefore becomes much clearer as total harmonic distortion is minimized.”

Scott Houston
Product Specialist – Consumer
Sennheiser Electronic Corporation

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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