Chester Tan and Axel Grell at CanJam Singapore 2018

The CanJam Singapore 2018 is the only time that the new Sennheiser HD 820 can be auditioned, until production units are available from second half of 2018. The HD 820 is the first closed back audiophile headphones by Sennheiser, and the aim is to create the open back sound signature in a closed back design. Axel Grell is the chief designer, and NXT Singapore arranged an session so that I can interview him at the event.

Chester Tan testing Sennheiser HD820 closed back headphones at CanJam Singapore 2018
Photo: Shawn Chung, courtesy of NXT Singapore

Before the interview, I tried out the HD820 at the Sennheiser booth. The overall impression is that the HD820 has indeed achieved impressive wide sound and stereo imaging, but it still has signs of a closed back headphones. At high volumes, there are hints that the sound remains entrapped within the enclosed chambers. Perhaps I could conclude at this point that the HD820 is a fantastic headphones for consumers who love the HD800 series sound but desired less noise leak.

Sennheiser HD820 closed back headphones at CanJam Singapore 2018

In fact, after hearing from Axel, it becomes clear that the HD820 is for a different group of consumers and not an upgrade to HD800 series.

Currently, Axel carries an LG V30+ smartphone (which he says can drive the HD820) and listens to Sennheiser IE800S during travel.

Thanks Sennheiser Singapore for the exclusive interview.

How do you come about deciding to design the HD820?

Open type headphones are better by principle because sound that is radiated by the diaphragm to the rear can leave the system and the sound that is reflected from the ear can also leave the system. So, this is why Sennheiser built open-type headphones, while building closed-type headphones for specialised users like musicians, DJ. But we never had a closed-type for audiophiles.

All these while, the high-end consumers in Germany seem to be happy with open-type headphones as they usual have a dedicated listening room. But we listen to feedback from colleagues in HK that consumers would like to listen to music without disturbing people around them. This is the motivation behind the HD820.

In addition, Asian consumers tend to be very serious when it comes to music details. They want to listen deep and hear everything, to get as good as possible. We also got the same feedback from sales team in Japan and Singapore. We find that it is important to listen to our customers to understand what they really need. So, here is the solution.

Chester Tan and Axel Grell at CanJam Singapore 2018
Axel Grell and Chester Tan at CanJam Singapore 2018. Photo courtesy of Sennheiser Singapore.

So it sounds like the HD820 is designed for the Asian market?

Yes, to a large extent. It will be sold worldwide, but the highest demand is in Asia.

Why the use of Gorilla Glass transducer cover instead of other materials?

We wanted to have something lightweight, stiff, and transparent because we have great drivers and we don’t want to hide it. Like the Audi R8 with glass engine, we are proud and want to show it.

How does HD800S compare with HD820?

I find that listeners, when they try the HD820, first impression would be more driving in the low frequency. Upon deeper comparison, HD800S achieves wider sound staging, while with HD820 the instruments sound closer but still wider than usual closed type headphones.

With the HD820, we want to give the open type headphones experience to the listener. The approach in designing these 2 headphones are similar, that is, both headphones aim to deliver natural reproduction with good externalisation.

Sennheiser HD820 closed back headphones at CanJam Singapore 2018

What songs do you like to listen to with the HD820 compared to HD800S?

I really like to listen to Daft Punk on the HD820. Their music is surprisingly good for analytical listening. With a pair of good headphones like HD820, you get the low frequency push.

I prefer to listen orchestral music with HD800S, which delivers better instrumental separation and imaging.

When did you realise you want to develop closed type headphones?

It occurred to me that I was looking for closed type headphones when my children were small and I could still hear the music from their HD580 Jubilee headphones even with the bedroom doors closed. And that was the birth of HD280 PRO, the first closed type headphones I designed. In fact, if you turn the (model) numbers around, you get HD820. And we sold tons of HD280 PRO for musicians.


The Sennheiser HD 820 headphones will be available in Singapore later this year.

Article Name
Sennheiser HD 820 Preview at CanJam Singapore 2018: Interview with Axel Grell
An interview with Sennheiser HD 820 chief designer Axel Grell at CanJam Singapore 2018 reveals his inspiration to create the closed back headphones.


  1. While the prevalent thought / mantra / conclusion people bring up with open back headphones is that others might be inconvenienced……how loud do others have the volume? Where have you every seen/heard of anyone listening to quality cans at the job?

    1. Perhaps it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: one, the open cans are expensive. Second, they leak sound. Hence, no one really uses these cans at work. But I am beginning to enjoy listening to open cans at low volume at work. First, I get music privacy, and second, I can hear my surrounding and react to them, for instance, if my co-worker calls me. This is better than playing music through speakers at low volume.

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