Nikhil RastogiMay 08, 2017 15:57:08 IST
Sennheiser released its original Orpheus HE 90 in 1991, only 300 units were made (selling now for USD 30,000 on ebay). These were the best headphones or rather sound-system that money could buy. Until, of course, the restless engineers (around 10 years back) sat around drinking coffee and said, “Hey, let’s see if we can make this better”.
Did you know?
According to Greek Legend, Orpheus was a poet and a musician, a son of Calliope, who followed his dead wife, Eurydice, to the underworld. By charming Hades, he obtained permission to lead her away, provided he did not look back at her until they returned to earth. But at the last moment, he looked, and she was lost to him forever.
Sennheiser India Experience
The Sennheiser Orpheus experience was a bit bizarre, to begin with. After reaching the 9th floor of St. Regis Hotel attached to Lower Parel, Phoenix Mall, Mumbai; the elevator doors opened up and two Sennheiser Angels greeted me (foreigner ladies, possibly German) dressed in complete white dress walked me down the long main corridor to the listening room. I was at first wondering what and where I was being led to, often double-checking my surroundings, almost thought “The Orpheus experience” probably meant more than “just trying on the headphones”. If this were a teen-comedy movie, perhaps it would.
After brief introductions, I was led into a room where the Orpheus awaited silently on the table with its all white Carrara marble body and an iMac right next to it which fed music in through purely digital via USB.
Andreas Sennheiser, the CEO quietly pressed the main power button to reveal the dramatic theatrics of The Orpheus. It’s better that you see the video rather than I describe it.
The iMac had VOX player installed to play the high-resolution files. I heard a maximum of three songs Strive- Amber Ruth (a superb spacious aural recording), Michael Jackson Thriller and a song which is played on almost every HiFi audio system, Hotel California Live version.
It would be really obvious of me to say that this sounded super clear and super nice. Most accurate headphones or amps give a clinical sound, these, on the other hand, don’t. I wish I had more time with this headphone system rather than three short renditions of songs and even if I had, I wouldn’t know how to describe them, leave alone compare. As there is no comparison when you hear such an ultra-high end system.
Here are a few things I learnt when chatting with Sennheiser:
These are not limited edition unlike the first one’s (HE 90, HEV 90), Sennheiser will make limited runs of it in a year as these are all hand crafted.
- The price tag of Rs 45 Lakhs is for The Orpheus He 1’s as is. It is incredibly customizable, with bling if you like such as gold plated knobs or shove in diamonds even if you like. Apparently, 34 units worldwide have been sold, one customer even asked for Jade marble instead of the stand white and black available.
- The Orpheus He 1’s (HE1060) have an audio range from 8 Hz to more than 100 kHz, and the lowest distortion ever measured in a sound reproduction system: 0.01% at 1 kHz, 100 dB SPL. Basically, this means it goes well beyond human ear capable hearing. However, sound and vibration dynamics suggest that vibrations can be felt even if it cannot be heard physically and this certainly adds to the entire sound and music experience. That is why going for Live shows purely for the music experience is a whole lot different than listening to recordings of the same performance.
- The Italian Carrara marble used is because it can prevent structure-borne noise first and also this marble was made famous by Michelangelo’s Renaissance sculptures lending to its beauty.
- The Sennheiser HE 1 is the first electrostatic headphone with a Cool Class A MOS-FET high voltage amplifier integrated into the very ear cups. This ensures that the sound is reproduced more efficiently.
- The vacuum tubes are susceptible to noise from the surrounding, so these are spring loaded and covered with high-quality quartz bulbs that protect against any airborne noise in addition to the marble dampening effect.
- The system uses tube amplifiers in combination with transistor amplifiers, 8 internal DACs of the ESS SABRE ES9018. Four channels in parallel are used for each stereo side and can receive digital signals via optical and coaxial SPDIF inputs or USB input, it also accepts high-resolution PCM and DSD data.
- Unfortunately, only one headphone can be attached and that too which comes along with the system, so you are out of luck if you already have a high-end headphone. The system is made to run the electrostatic headphone unlike the regular dynamic coil-magnet ones. Even the jacks are custom made. I wish they came with a conversion adaptor unit of sorts for regular headphones, but that is just my minion mind-set at work.
See the Axel Grell, the Product Manager and Audiophile talk about why and how they created the Orpheus He 1.
She’s got the look?
I understand that Sennheiser wanted to give the old turntables-que look to the system with a modern touch and yes it looks nice and impressive with all the theatrics. However, I’d expect much more in the looks department for that kind of price.
If you look at it, it’s basically an exquisite piece of really heavy marble outfitted with two black boxes on top. It feels a lot more functional (what an engineer would think like) than something gorgeous. Imagine if Italian sports car manufacturer Ferrari had made something like this or even if Apple had made with their design sensibilities without of course altering the sound dynamics, it would’ve looked superb.
What’s the point?
That’s what many people would ask and rightly so. Why create something as ridiculous as this? Use so many expensive materials which no one can afford or care about? And the answer is simple.
Humankind has always wanted to make things that were great, that defied regular Joe’s logic, which seemed unreasonable, which wasn’t altered and cut down by the dynamics of price; and this is exactly what Sennheiser engineers have achieved. They set out to make the world’s best headphone system which took them 10 years to make and improve further upon to perfection. Perfection!
Expect the crazy engineering, the different materials researched, new transducer tech made to slowly trickle its way down in one form or the other to the average Joe’s headphone/sound equipment. The research, the techniques, the ideologies are all there, it’s just a matter of opportune time, space and resources to make it viable for the masses to consume.
To know more, please click on Sennheiser’s official page for The Orpheus He 1
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