Sennheiser HE-1 Orpheus: The World’s Most Expensive Headphones. A monument to engineering and design excellence when creativity is left unfettered.
Throughout history, there are but a handful of examples of true, unfettered excellence: The Bugatti Veyron, A Patek Phillipe Grand Complication pocket watch, Concorde, The Sistine Chapel – for example.
These projects illustrate the effect of removing piffling concerns such as budget, or finding a market for their creation. Sennheiser’s Orpheus HE-1 Headphone system is perhaps the latest creation to join that list of great designs…
Sennheiser Orpheus – Designed without constraint
So, just HOW expensive constitutes the title of ‘World’s most expensive headphones’? Well, in this instance, somewhere around €50,000. Clearly then, these are not the kind of headphones which represent a casual purchase.
The prospective purchaser of the Sennheiser Orpheus’ may perhaps connect them in conjunction with their Naim Statement amplifier, Focal Utopia Grande EM loudspeakers and SME 30/12 Turntable. Seriously high-end Hi-Fi for those who demand the very finest in design and performance, at any cost.
Undoubtedly, however, there will be those amongst you who will be asking a pertinent question, “Is that price justified”. To answer that question, let’s look at the no compromise design and engineering which goes into these incredible headphones.
Orpheus – Unfettered Design & Engineering
The first thing to consider about the Sennheiser Orpheus, or HE-1 to give it its correct model designation, is that it comprises of a pair of headphones and a dedicated headphone amplification system. The two are closely integrated to form one unit – The Orpheus.
Focussing firstly on the amplifier section of the Orpheus, one can’t help but be struck by the remarkable aesthetics of this unit; in true Teutonic fashion, however, there’s much function behind the form.
Sennheiser has chosen a hybrid circuit design, utilising MOS-FET Solid State and Valve amplifier technologies. The Valve amplification aspect of the Orpheus is perhaps the most visually arresting; eight valves, housed in quartz bulbs rise dramatically from the unit when powered on.
The sense of theatre is not only pleasing in its sense of event and drama but also borne out of the desire to isolate the Valves from vibration and any possible microphony. They are, therefore, spring mounted to a marble base. Ah yes, that marble base; hand selected Carrera marble as used by Michelangelo for his sculptures.
The Amplifier control knobs are made from machined brass, which in turn is chrome plated; appearing flush to the surface, they extend from the marble base when powered on, as does the lid to the headphones enclosure open invitingly.
The Orpheus Headphones – Electrostatic Excellence
The headphones themselves utilise the electrostatic principle; a very thin synthetic film is coated, in this instance, in platinum, to form the diaphragm of the headphone. A charge is applied and depending upon the polarisation of the charge, the diaphragm moves backwards and forwards.
The key advantage to this approach is that the diaphragm is extremely low in mass and hence inertia; the benefits are enormous, resulting in increased transient response, and a super wide bandwidth. In the case of the Sennheiser Orpheus a staggering and unmatched 8Hz to 100kHz!
In order to avoid transmission loss down the cable, the Sennheiser Orpheus mounts a high voltage, Class-A, MOS-FET amplifier within the headphones themselves. Sennheiser claims this to be a first for Electrostatic headphones, claiming an impulse fidelity 200% higher than other solutions currently available.
The headline performance figure of the entire system, however, is its distortion figure: 0.01%. As such, it’s quite possible the Sennheiser Orpheus is the most transparent sound reproduction system ever manufactured.
Design without compromise? Emphatically. Design which delivers? Without doubt. In the Orpheus, Sennheiser has joined the pantheon of groundbreaking, landmark designs; an achievement for which they should be greatly congratulated.