Back in 1991, Sennheiser unveiled the Orpheus HE90. Touted as the best headphones ever made, they carried a price tag of $16,000; only 300 were made on a limited edition run. These highly desired headphones are being sold for double that price today – if you can even find them.
25 years later, Sennheiser has released the Orpheus’ successor, the HE 1. A product well over a dozen years in the making, Sennheiser took painfully meticulous steps to ensure these headphones are indubitably the best headphones ever made. They’re also perhaps the most expensive, going for €50,000 (about RM221,000).
Here are just some of the things Sennheiser did with the HE 1, which debuted earlier this year at CES 2016:
- Electrostatic headphones require a lot of voltage to work, and most of it is lost in the cables from external amp to earpieces. So Sennheiser created high-voltage amps that are integrated into the earcups themselves.
- The HE 1’s dedicated amp’s housing is made from Carrara marble, the same type of marble used in Michaelangelo’s sculptures. That last fact doesn’t really matter, but what does matter is that marble has a higher density and mass compared to other materials, meaning that it is a very good damper of sound waves.
- Not content with that, the HE 1’s tube amplifiers consist of eight tubes freely suspended from the marble housing to make it even less susceptible to ground distortion. To deal with airborne noise, these tubes are vacuum-sealed and are housed within quartz-glass bulb enclosures.
- Inside each tube is an ESS SABRE ES9018 digital-to-analog converter (DAC). There are eight in total, with four connected in parallel for each stereo channel for even higher noise reduction.
- The diaphragm is 2.4 micrometers thin. It is made from platinum that is shaped via a vapour deposition process, so not only is it only about 100 times thicker than a single atom, it is also almost absolutely pure platinum. Meanwhile, the transducers are made from ceramic that is coated with gold, again via vapour deposition.
- The eight wires of the cables are made from oxygen-free copper plated with a coating of 99.9% silver for optimum conductivity. There’s an insulating layer made from a mix of differently-structured materials to eliminate sound waves acting on the cable.
- Sennheiser designed the HE 1 to be a sensorial experience. When you turn it on, the vacuum tubes rise up from the marble housing and begins to glow, while the chrome-covered brass knobs slowly extend to the front. A glass cover then automatically rises, revealing the headphones underneath. This isn’t just for show: the 20 seconds or so allows the tubes to be warmed up.
- At 1kHz and a sound pressure level of 100 decibels, the total harmonic distortion (THD) of the headphone system is a mere 0.01%. In contrast, the company’s HD 800S headphones (RRP: about €1600) has a THD of 0.02%. Dirty.
- The unique transducer system results in a frequency response of 8Hz to 100kHz – well above the limits of the human ear. If that sounds wasteful, it actually helps: it means the audible range is virtually free of distortion.
- The HE 1 is fully made in Germany, and that includes the hand-crafted ear pads made from hypoallergenic leather. In total, there are about 6,000 pieces that make up the Orpheus HE 1, and each unit takes up to 400 man hours to build. For that reason, Sennheiser says that the company can only manufacture about 200 units per year.
That’s actually why if you make a pre-order for the HE 1 today, the waiting list means you’ll only be getting it sometime in the middle of next year. Since these are essentially made to order, Sennheiser also takes requests for customisation; normal ones include reserving a HE 1 unit of a specific serial number like 008, to more outlandish ones like exchanging the marble housing to one made from jade. Unsurprisingly, both these requests were made from customers in China.
For more information about the Sennheiser HE 1, check out the official product page.