Sennheiser HD 820

Great Gaming Headphones

Pros: Good quality bass
Good detail
Excellent soundstage
Good instrument separation
Great gaming performance/spatial imaging
Big ear cups
Good highs

Cons: Lower bass quantity
Mids are just OK
Build quality


Up for review today are the famous Sennheiser HD820 (HD820.) The closed-back version of the HD800s adds gorilla glass to the sides to close off a lot more of the sound. I will be comparing these to the other closed-backs I have/recently had like the Sony MDR-Z1R (Z1R) and the JM Audio XTC-Closed (XTC-C.) The question here is whether these are worth a grab over the cheaper headphones listed above, or more expensive options like the Stellia. If you don’t feel like reading my ramblings below – you should, this is a complicated headphone.

820 Top.jpg

Build Quality / Comfort:

Sennheiser usually makes pretty darn good quality headphones. The HD820 comes with aluminum ear cups that are easy to rub the anodizing off of, cheap-feeling plastic headband pieces, and easily scratchable plastic on the headband. The ear cups also have a ribbed metal part that collects grime easily, making it hard to keep these clean. It’s nowhere near the quality feel my Momentums had back in the day. The gorilla glass feels really good quality and tough though. So, build quality is just OK – but is unlikely to fall apart or break. The cable is nice and thick, with no discernable microphonics, and comes in a 6.35mm plug size.

Comfort is OK, not the most comfortable, but not bad either – the ear pads are huge, so not even Dumbo’s ears will touch the pads. The headband doesn’t maintain the setting you put it at (at least on my used pair.) Head clamp pressure and the headband are both decent, but not as comfortable as the Z1R or the XTC-C. I feel the top headband could become a hotspot over time, but that’s fixable with a headband cover and by lifting the heavy cable off the floor to rest on the desk.

820 Right.jpg

Sound / Source / Comparisons:

I’ve posted the frequency response graph from to highlight how weird the frequency response on these headphones is. It’s not every day you see a bass response that has a peak in the high-bass and then a drop in the low-mids this sharp. It’s some weird tuning for sure – especially considering the massive drops in the treble as well. Audio Science’s frequency response charts is even more bizarre with more valleys and mountains than California – Crinacle’s graph isn’t much better. Ok, enough with the squiggly lines, how do these actually sound coming from my Burson Conductor 3X Performance (3XP) – 87/100 on low gain?


I don’t like breaking down headphones by each frequency since every song has bass, mids, and highs. So, I will start with bass-heavy songs, and break down each song by how all the pieces are presented. You can find my Tidal test tracks playlist in my signature if you want to compare them to your headphones. The first bass-heavy song I am using to test with is Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The intro synths come in cleanly with an excellent soundstage and the bass and sub-bass are there with good rumble and detail, but more muted than on the Sony MDR-Z1R and JMA XTC-C. These headphones respond really well to more power, but if you turn them up to get more bass, the mids can start to become sharp and metallic. The vocals, which are pretty sparse in this song, come in cleanly, but further away in the soundstage – instrument separation is really good though on these, with excellent layering.

The HD820 is very similar in its technical capabilities to the Sony MDR-Z1R, but with a more subdued bass and better (less sharp) highs. The XTC-C has a smaller soundstage and less instrument separation, but better detail, closer mids, and better quantity bass in this song while using a lot less power (without scaling with more power.) The Knife’s “Silent Shout” highlights a similar experience, with some good quality bass thump, but not quite to the standards of other more bass-heavy headphones. The mids and highs here come in nicely if a little more distant than I prefer. So, despite these missing out on the bass QUANTITY present in some of the best closed-back headphones (XTC-C, Gjallarhorn, MDR-Z1R), the HD820s still have good quality, detailed, and tight bass which can scale up in quantity with more power at the cost of the mids quality.

So then, if they’re not the best basshead headphones, how do they do with mids? For a mids-test song, I am using HIM’s “Wings of a Butterfly.” The intro guitars sound crisp, if a bit metallic, and the bass guitars come in nicely if more forward than some headphones. The XTC-C does guitars better on this song, though the guitars in 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” sound good on both headphones. The vocals are once again clean and clear, though more distant again, whereas the XTC-C has the vocals more to the forefront (my preference.) The soundstage on this song is once again apparent, these have one of the biggest soundstages I’ve ever heard in closed-back headphones. Elliot Minor’s “All My Life” is where the bass/mids power war comes in strongly. At 90/100 power on my Burson, the deep bass rumble at 0:45 comes in weak, but the transition at 1:21 sounds smooth. When I turn up the volume to 95/100, I get that bass rumble, but the transition at 1:21 sounds sharp and the vocals sound muted and the metallic sound becomes more apparent. Listening to the same song on the XTC-C, the bass rumble at 0:45 is perfect at a reasonable volume and the transition at 1:21 has no issues while maintaining a good balance and avoiding the metallic sound.

Switching over to Demon Hunter’s “I Am a Stone”, the bass and strings once again come in at the forefront (sounding like they’re behind your head – awesome spatial.) They are a bit overwhelming in a song that should have the vocals and strings more forward – displaying more reverberation than I would expect in this song. The highlight of this song should be the violin and the vocals, but they really take a back seat, and the bass overwhelms the song more than it should (confusing tuning). The XTC-C has a lot of that low-end bass, but with a better balance so that the vocals can be heard more clearly – I wouldn’t say any of the closed-backs I have manage to do this song justice though – the XTC-Open/Ether 2 are significantly better at representing this song (both open-back.)

To test the highs, I switched over to Michelle McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren” as a very high’s intensive song that a lot of headphones do not perform well on. There is clearly less sharpness in the highs here than on the MDR-Z1R (which struggled with highs.) The song comes across beautifully and only occasionally hits a jarring note combo, which is very rare on this song – so the HD820s do a better job with low-highs than they do on the mids. Moving on to Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes”, the soundstage and separation are once again very impressive. The mids maintain their further away presence, but the strings in the background once again come in clearly and cleanly. This song can really highlight sharp “S” sibilance in a painful manner, and while the HD820s aren’t perfect here, they are far better with the sibilant “S” sounds than a lot of other headphones (Z1R.)

The HD820s have less bass than the Z1R, but less sharp highs and similar mids/soundstage/technicalities (mids can sound a little clangy/metallic.) Overall, the XTC-C is better (and cheaper) in most every way except for soundstage and instrument separation, though their highs are relatively comparable, and strings are more forward and clean on the HD820. A quick side note, if you remove these from your head, they will act like speakers and be quite loud, so don’t use them near sleeping people – they also won’t prevent a ton of sound from coming in (poor isolation). A quick note on gaming, which I don’t usually include in these reviews, but the HD820 may be one of the best gaming headsets I’ve ever encountered. The large soundstage and spatial sound placement are awesome for video games – Warhammer 40k: Darktide sounds really great with these on.

820 Left.jpg


These are some of the most conflicting headphones I’ve ever listened to – I go back and forth between really liking them and finding issues. On the one hand, they can sound excellent on some songs, even beating the XTC-C. Then, on the other hand, they’re missing some of the bass that the XTC-C highlights so well and they can have a metallic twanginess in the mids that the warmer XTC-C doesn’t have. The highs are less sharp than the MDR-Z1R, but they are missing the bass the Sony has also. They have an excellent soundstage and good instrument separation – though they are not your best option for keeping your music in or the outside world out. But y’know what? If I turn the volume down and stop trying to analyze them, they are a fun listen and it’s hard to be mad at them. If you’re a gamer who wants good headphones to play with and listen to music too, these may be the best.

Headphone Scoring – Each category can be split into quarter points:
Build Quality0.5​
Ear Pads / Tips1​

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s