sennheiser offers two headphone amplifiers: the hdvd 800 and the hdvd 600. they look almost identical and that’s no coincidence. the sennheiser hdvd600 is a pure analog amplifier. the hdvd800 is the same amp, but with a built in dac (digital to analog converter). They were launched after the HD800 headphones had been on the market for some time and were marketed as their ideal partner. how the hdvd 800/hdva 600 performs as an amplifier for the hd800 compared to other relevant amplifiers which i have covered in a fairly extensive separate review found here.
Next I will compare the hdvd800 as a dac amp to the dac amp combos I had available. unfortunately i didn’t have any single solution available like burson driver, simaudio ha230 or oppo ha1. i will also test the amp section of the hdvd800/hdva600 with various headphones, comparing it to some relevant amps.
Reading: Sennheiser hdvd 800 headphone amplifier review
update: the new hdvd 820 will be released in August/September 2017. it will be sold together with the hdvd 800 (ref)
I start with the big truck. only the audio-gd master 7 dac costs more than the sennheiser hdvd800, so that might be an unfair comparison, but it’s interesting to see how the sennheiser performs against a setup almost twice as expensive. The Audio-GD Master 9 Amplifier is slightly cheaper than the HDVA600, which is the amp-only version of the HDVD800. here follow my observations, track by track.
gilimanuk – nils petter molvær: with the audio-gd setting, the bass is deeper and more solid. the soundstage feels bigger. there is more air. black is blacker, so to speak. best holography. the sound signature, however, is quite similar. both are neutral to dark, neither is bright or harsh in any way. the sennheiser feels a bit subdued in direct comparison. not bad, but the competitor’s double price is apparently not in vain.
those thoughts – dan sartain: This noisy lo-fi song sounds more relaxed, smooth and refined with gd-audio.
almost like the blues – leonard cohen: same here as above. more refinement with the audio-gd combo.
winter – i , vivaldi 4 seasons: the difference is less obvious when the music is less complicated. this piece is played mainly by a few strings, violin, viola, cello. but audio-gd is still more nuanced.
daddy lessons – beyoncé: the difference is not as noticeable in this track as in some of the previous experiences, but again, the audio-gd feels more relaxed in its presentation, less tense, more like a natural flow.
holberg suite i – 1b1 & jan bjøranger: again, classical strings don’t make the difference so obvious. but audio-gd gives much more sense of depth when you actually listen to the music. not a striking difference at first glance, but definitely significant.
audio-gd master 7 dac vs hdvd800
To test the dac in isolation, I connected the master 7 to the analog input of the hdvd800 and made a direct comparison with the sennheiser integrated dac. Master 7’s volume was a bit louder, so I corrected it between sessions. running through the same playlist as above, my experience was mirrored. I could have written almost the same words, although the difference was a little less obvious than when I compared the full setup. in other words: master 7 is a superior dac to the hdvd800’s integrated dac, rather than master 9 is a superior amp to the hd800. however, i must remind the reader that the cost of master 7 is nearly four times the cost of the price difference between the hdva600 and hdvd800. In that perspective, I think the hdvd800’s dac board works quite well.
I really like the hegel, it has been my most used dac recently. its introductory prize was the same price as the hdvd800, so i was expecting it to be a step up compared to the sennheiser. plugging it into the hdvd800 and comparing it to the internal dac, the difference is certainly less noticeable than with the maestro 7. the hegel adds a bit of clarity here and there, but overall they sound surprisingly close when browsing the same songs i used before. I prefer Hegel, but by a small margin.
for me, the violectric combo is a kind of mental reference. especially yhe v200 is a great all round amp that makes all headphones sound good, and the v800 is a great dac. they are also small and match in size and appearance.
bergen open – bmx :switching from the sennheiser to the violectric does open things up a bit. the sennheiser feels perhaps a bit more “cozy”, if I dare to use that word, a bit fatter. both are great listens, but the purple platform feels more detailed. the bass feels more prominent with the sennheiser.
cité tango – gotan project: again, the sennheiser has a slightly more robust sound, the violactric a bit more precise, the bandoneon has a better texture and a higher pitch. there is also more air with violet.
limit your love – james blake: massive spinning sounds feel pretty similar, but I tend to feel like there’s more of a presence to james blake’s voice, there’s there’s more texture and nuance with the purple platform, and also more shine on the cymbals, especially noticeable at the end of the fade.
To identify what is causing the dac and what is the amplifier, I connect the v800 to the hdvd800 and the v200 to the output of the hdvd800. I had a harder time noticing significant differences between the dacs than I did between the amps. so whatever dac i listened to, the amp made the most of the difference. Basically, the differences I saw in the track-by-track comparison between the violectric and the hdvd800 were actually pretty much the same when comparing the hdvd800 and v200, regardless of the dac used.
When I did my big HD800 amplification review, the violectric v200 stood out for its great performance, especially when price was taken into account. the amp section of the hdvd800 is not that good. but the dac held its own compared to the v800 which makes the hdvd800 a nice all in one.
As I mentioned before, I have covered extensively how the hdvd800 works alongside that hd800 in another review compared to the range of other amps. it’s a bit on the dark side of neutral.
winter – i, vivaldi 4 seasons: as with the hd800, the hd700 is better focused with the v200. it is more precise, more air. the strings have better texture, the tone is sharper. not in a nervous way, just more precise. the sennheiser amp sounds good, but the v200 is better.
as before – olga konkova: again, the v200 is more textured, more precise. the sennheiser is perhaps a warmer sound, but also a bit fuzzy. especially the female voices here sound more distinct and present with the v200. it also feels a bit more snappy with all the percussion. slightly sharper piano.
mississippi rise – floratone: again, the v200 sounds a bit clearer, but the sennheiser has a nice warm moment on this track, could be a little more mid-bass.
I generally find the same differences with the hd700 as I do with the hd800.
858-2, richter 858 – bill frisell: with the hdvd800 there is a very nice warmth that makes this experimental and instrumental string piece sound better than with the v200, which becomes a little clinical. the violin is so delicious with the hdvd800, full-bodied sound.
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gilimanuk – nils petter molvær: same here, the trumpet is really delicious with the hdvd800, warmer and fuller than the v200. otherwise both work fine.
almost like the blues – leonard cohen: with cohen’s extremely full voice, the preference changes. the v200 gives your voice more texture and nuance, while the hdvd800 gets too crowded and loses detail.
the hdvd800 was really great with the beyerdynamic dt1770pro. it seems to push the midrange and midbass a bit further forward.
almost like the blues – leonard cohen: there’s more midbass here with the sennheiser amp. Cohen’s voice is a bit fuller, but with the v200 it’s a bit more detailed. the hdvd800 is more intimate, v200 more reserved.
dualist – ola kvernberg: here too, the hdvd800 gives a little extra meat to the bone with the kick drums as well as the strings. the v200 is a bit more courteous and adds some detail.
as before – olga konkova: this track reveals and grows in the extra clarity and transparency that the v200 offers. the sennheiser sounds good, but the v200 is better.
the hdvd800 handles the hd650 very well. as with the dt1770pro i did notice that the mids and upper bass are a bit more direct, at the cost of some clarity compared to the v200, resulting in a warmer presentation, which is sometimes luscious and sometimes a little less clear.
given the hdvd800’s relatively high output impedance, i thought it might work well with the 600 ohm beyerdynamic t1. and sure he did. I first compared it to the violectric v200.
natsukashii – helge lien trio: the piano is clear and satisfying, the precision is pure delight. lots of texture. the soundstage is wonderful, the depth of imaging is top notch. this time it’s the v200 that sounds a bit fuzzy in comparison.
midnight city- m83: everything is so tight and full of rhythm that I can’t help but step on this one. again, excellent image depth with the hdvd800. moving to the v200 again makes me feel like i’m losing that great precision and agility when playing with my fingers.
the questyle cma800rwas a better amp for the hd800 when compared to the hdvd800, so naturally I was curious how they compared to the t1.
morning bell – radiohead: this track can really sound dry with some gear. and the t1 sounds very dry with the questyle. the hdvd800 is better, it sounds warmer and not less detailed, quite the contrary, the more relaxed presentation of the hdvd800 makes me feel more detail.
mystical friend: the splendor: again, the search style is a bit drier, a bit restricted. the hdvd800 somehow sounds more comfortable, more natural. great spacious precision, nice warmth on the acoustic bass, lots of texture on the saxophone.
dualist – ola kvernberg: the hdvd800 is simply a more comfortable and enjoyable listening. the questyle is a good amp, but with the t1 it sounds a bit sterile.
Since I have a feeling the hdvd800 could be a real winner for the t1, I’m looking for my precious woo wa2, a really good amp for the t1, and extensively Recommended for being just that.
contemplation – bushman’s revenge: This slow jazz instrumental is pure bliss on the wa2. spacious, warm sound, lots of detail. moving on to the hdvd800, things change noticeably. things are sharper, instruments are very focused, precise. I like both presentations, but I prefer the more relaxed wa2. it is relaxed and full of details and dynamics.
can i sit next to you – spoon: this alternative pop tune sounds better on the hdvd800, mainly because the bass is tighter and fuller here, the vocals stand out more. wa2 is cool too but this one is for sennheiser its cool makes this song more fun.
hungry ghost – hooray for the rabble: although this song is quite similar to the previous one, I change preferences. the voices here are better with the wa2, more natural.
winter – i , vivaldi 4 seasons: both great. the hdvd800 has a sharper tone, more edge on the strings, the wa2 is more relaxed, easy flowing, rounded, but full of texture.
the hdvd800 is really a great match for my t1. excellent clarity and tightness without sounding dry, offering a full-bodied sound. i can’t help but conclude that the high impedance of t1 is helping the hdvd800 to get its best performance. so, i had to get the beyerdynamic a1 solid state high impedance amplifier out of my closet. i always loved it with the t1 as well as the hd800 and hd650.
inspired by the great performance the hdvd800 gave with the beyerdynamic t1, i pulled out my beyerdynamic a1 amp for a comparison. the a1 is the amp that was released six or seven years ago as beyerdynamic’s own alternative to the original t1, and has since been replaced by the fancier looking beyerdynamic a2, which has basically the same specs and shouldn’t be much different . however, i have never compared them side by side, and the a2 has a switchable output impedance (0 or 100 ohms) which makes it more versatile. the a1 has a fixed output impedance of 100 ohms, even higher than the hdvd800 which has 43. not many solid state amps have impedances that high.
..with the beyerdynamic t1
midnight city- m83: Again, I am baffled by the impressive performance of the hdvd800. it has rhythm, rhythm and timing, clarity and nuance, great depth of image. totally superb. this is the kind of experience and discovery that makes checking out fun!
going to a1, things change quite a bit. the a1 is a good amp with the t1, in a nice cozy way, but it’s not quite as nimble and compact as the hdvd800. especially noticeable with the synth buzz kicking in at 18 seconds, there’s no question the a1 is more laid back. but the hdvd800 manages to be clearer and tighter without sounding too sharp. and, I might add, the soundstage is excellent. just great.
looking for hope – bill frisell: this live set includes many different elements and easy to follow instruments in a very three dimensional way. again the hdvd800 is clearer with a better soundstage, the a1 is more laid back and not as compact.
overgrown – james blake: this sounds fabulous with the a1, almost preternaturally crisp and clear, but still with a nice warmth on the bass. moving on to hdvd800, i find things a bit less sharp this time, a bit more relaxed presentation, but not at the cost of clarity and enjoyment.
Overall, I find the hdvd800 to beat the a1 in its own right, which really leaves me with the clear conclusion that it’s an excellent amp for the beyerdynamic t1. i used the original t1 but i cant imagine how i would have come to a different conclusion with the newer beyerdynamic t1 mk2 as it is very similar and has the same controller.
… with the sennheiser hd800
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Since the a1 is out of production, this is really something I shouldn’t spend a lot of time on, but previous experience made me curious how the a1 compares to the hdvd800 to the hd800. From what I hear there are clear differences.
as before – olga konkova: the soundstage of the a1 immediately feels wider and more expansive. the piano also sounds fuller with the a1, slightly sharper with the hdvd800. the female voice also sounds thinner with the hdvd800.
winter – i, vivaldi 4 seasons – the norwegian chamber orchestra: I feel that the strings flow more easily, are more alive and natural with the a1. they have a little more punch with the hdvd800, but sound thinner.
björk – army of me: both amps sound great with this one, the soundstage is expansive and deep with both. the a1 somehow makes björk’s voice fuller and bigger, but otherwise they’re pretty similar.
I didn’t really mean to write the comparison to a retired amp, but the sound of the a1 fascinates me. it brought something different to the hd800, with an even wider soundstage and fuller midrange, which often makes me prefer it. but the hdvd800 is still capable.
… with the hd650
dualist – ole kvernberg: I always thought the a1 did a great job with hd650, and it still does. however, the hdvd800 is better at keeping the massive kick action in check, and generally feels sharper off the strings and tighter overall.
I quoted tango – gotan project: I think both work fine, no real differences here.
airplane temperature – glasser: here, the hdvd800 comes out a bit sharper and cleaner. a1 is still clean, but a bit fuller in a favorable way, especially on the bass.
in my experience the a1 is a great amp for the hd650, and the hdvd800 is on par or even slightly better in many ways. makes the hd650 sound clear, open, and smooth enough.
the hdvd800 is marketed specifically as a high impedance headphone amplifier. this is because it has a high input impedance, which affects the damping factor. if the output impedance is not significantly lower than the headphone impedance, this alters the sound to some degree, often making it less clear and snappy. but of course low-impedance headphones can still sound decent when plugged in.
feeding the very low impedance (16 ohm) fostex th900 with the hdvd800 gives a totally pleasing listening experience, but the th900 is noticeably fatter and more relaxed sounding than with the low output impedance violectric v200, as it was expected. however, as someone who sometimes finds the th900 a bit on the bright side, this is partly a welcome change.
the middle impedance 62 ohm akg k701, however, isn’t as muffled on paper and doesn’t sound like that either, even compared to the v200. i find the k701 sounds great with the hdvd800, but a bit lazy.
another medium impedance headphone is the shure srh1840. I don’t really notice that it’s more relaxed with the hdvd800 than the v200, I think they sound pretty similar.
planar magnetic yield
Planar magnetisms aren’t necessarily as affected by output impedance mismatch as dynamic headphones, so I try a few. First, the 35 ohm hifiman he-1000 mk2 sounds surprisingly good. in direct comparison to the auralic taurus (which is a really good amp for the he-1000), the hdvd 800 is a bit more dynamic, spacious, and detailed, but not by the margin i expected. not by much, really. here’s a little hint by hint:
ting – ipa: going from the hdvd 800 to the taurus sharpens things up a bit, but not more than the hd800, just the opposite.
slow – leonard cohen: same here, the hdvd800 works fine.
symphony no. 2, ‘resurrection’: iii,mahler, paavo järvi/hr-sinfonieorchester: I am again having a hard time finding anything negative to say about the hdvd 800’s performance with the he1000. from top to bottom of the harmonic spectrum it behaves very well, despite its high output impedance.
Moving on to audeze, the 16 ohm lcd-x sounds a bit muffled with the hdvd800. compared to taurus, it sounds a bit muffled. my 50 ohm lcd-2 rev.1 sounds good, albeit with a slightly thicker sound signature than with the taurus. i guess the newer version of the lcd-3 might be a good match, given its 100 ohm impedance.
First, I found the hdvd800’s dac to work quite well in my setup. audio-gd master 7 was clearly superior, but it also cost much more. the hegel hd25 and violectric v800 were about the same level in my setup, and both cost more than the premium you have to pay to step up from the amp-only hdva600. I tried it with usb from windows 10 and with coaxial from my squeezebox touch, and I couldn’t tell the difference.
As an amplifier alone, the hdvd 800/hdva 600 performs well overall. for the hd 800 as i found in my big hd 800 amp comparison i found the violectric v200 and woo wa2 amps work even better, at prices comparable to the hdva 600 but then you don’t get the dac so as an all in one single piece, the hdvd 800 is still a good choice. the hdvd 800 works well with a variety of mid and high impedance headphones, and i was thoroughly impressed with its performance with the beyerdynamic t1.
the hdvd800 packs a nice amp and a nice dac into a really neat package. it has a wide variety of inputs and outputs, and works well overall. you can get better amps and better dacs. but if you want an all in one, the hdvd800 is not a bad choice at all.
technical data (from sennheiser)
dimensions (width x height x depth): approx. 216mm x 55mm x 324mm Frequency Response 0.3hz to 100khz (-3dB) THD, Total Harmonic Distortion < -110 db (1 kHz / maximum gain) weight 2.2 kg audio input xlr-3 analog input: max. input voltage 20 dbv / input impedance 10 kohm rca analog input: max. input voltage (eff) 14 dbv / input impedance 10 kohm spdif digital (rca): max. sampling rate 192 kHz / compatible with aes3) / max. resolution 24 bit digital spdif (toslink): max. sample rate: 88.2khz (aes3 compatible) max. resolution: 24 bit digital aes/ebu (xlr-3): max. sample rate: 192khz (aes3 compatible) / max. Resolution: USB 24-bit (USB-B) USB Standard: USB 2.0 / USB 3.0 USB Audio Class: USB 2.0 Audio Power Consumption 9 W Input Voltage Range 100-240 V AC / 50-60 Hz
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