It is not everyday that you get invited to listen to a pair of headphones that cost as much as a sporty sedan or roughly the amount needed to buy 50 iPhone 7 Plus smartphones (256GB)
Which is why, when Sennheiser told us they have a true successor to the legendary Orpheus headphones, we simply teleported to the location. This is what followed.
Sennheiser HE 1 Listening experience
As I entered the hotel room dedicated for the Sennheiser Orpheus reloaded HE 1 demo, I gasped at the mere glimpse of the marble amplifier block that houses the headphones. Further visual drama was yet to begin. Sitting next to me, Andreas Sennheiser, CEO - Sennheiser invited me to give it a go and press the on/off-volume control button.
Visceral visual experience
Thus begins a symphony of metal, rock and the very best in audio engineering, as the story unfolds right in front of your eyes. First, the control dials (milled from a single piece of brass and dipped in chrome) push outwards from the housing, which itself is constructed from glass and a solid block of Carrara marble (remember Michelangelo’s Renaissance sculptures?). Next, the vacuum tubes with their quartz glass bulbs rise in unison from the base and eventually start to glow. The visual experience reaches its climax with the glass protecting the headphones cover rises, unveiling the HE 1 headphones.
The right amount of marbling
The marble not only adds to the overall beauty of the product, but also prevents structure-borne noise. It helps in another area too. Tube amplifiers are revered in the audiophile world for their celebrated impulse processing. But their sensitivity to air-borne-noise needs to be handled well. The Sennheiser HE 1 deploys eight vacuum tubes to process the incoming signals and the amplifier housing constructed out of granular, inhomogeneous Carrara marble is freely suspended with the amplifier. The decoupling of the tubes combined with the damping properties of the marble in effect, lowers structure-borne noise to an absolute minimum. If that's not enough, the tubes too sport a high-quality patent-pending enclosure consisting of quartz-glass bulbs that perfectly protect them from any surrounding disturbance.
The tube amplifier stage is followed by a patented ultra-high impulse amplifier stage that is directly integrated into the cups of the headphones. When compared with other products, this results in a 200 percent rise in overall efficiency. Sennheiser knows about the power loss that takes place when the signal travels through the cable connecting the headphones to the tube amplifiers.
To tackle this peculiar problem, they decided to take a radical approach and amplify the alternating voltage to high voltages not at the beginning of the cable but at the point where it is required – directly at the gold-vaporised ceramic electrodes in the headphones themselves. Which is why, on the HE 1, the distance between the amplifier and the diaphragm is less than one centimetre.
To fully unleash the potential of the HE 1, Sennheiser has carefully chosen materials that come together to produce uncompromising sonics. Each of the 6000 odd individual components were carefully chosen, their acoustic characteristics were evaluated and finally the optimum combination was put together. Sennheiser makes use of gold-vaporised ceramic electrodes and platinum-vaporised diaphragms for optimum performance of the acoustic unit. The eight wires of the high-performance cables are made of oxygen-free copper and plated with a coating of silver, which provides optimum conductivity for perfect transmission of the audio signal. The wires are sheathed in an insulating layer that has a mixture of differently structured materials which eliminates the sound waves acting on the cable.
...and 8 DACs
The HE 1, makes use of eight internal DACs to convert audio data with a resolution of 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 384 kHz or DSD signals with 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz into balanced analog signals. For every stereo channel, four DACs are connected in parallel for noise reduction. Thus, the entire frequency spectrum of high-end audio sources is reproduced without distortion. The ESS SABRE ES9018 chip – a reference in the field of digital-to-analog converters is used to convert the digital music data into analog signals.
Lowest THD headphones in the world!
The HE 1’s new transducer system has a frequency response of 8Hz to more than 100kHz , that precisely exceeds the limits of the human hearing ability. However, this ensures that in the audible range, the sound of the headphones is distortion free. If you love facts, the HE 1 offers the lowest total harmonic distortion in the world - at 1KHz and a sound pressure level of 100db, the total harmonic distortion of the headphone system is a mere 0.01%. That translates to audio reproduction that’s packed with detail and higher fidelity. Which is why if you listen to an average or bad recording, the HE 1 will instantly point it out. However, on a good recording, even the tiniest nuances of the music become audible.
The moment I looked at the Sennheiser HE 1 headphones, I was smitten by the way they were designed and gasped at the thought of them being heavy and bulky to wear. However, as I picked it up and wore it, the HE 1 was hands down the most comfortable pair of headphones I have ever wrapped around my skull. The fit is cosier than a pair of gloves on a windy winter night and then came the sonics.
As the track began, I closed my eyes and in an instant, I was transported to a listening room that was spacious yet involving. Every single note and the nuances that go with it was audible in the most pristine manner. The soundstage offered by the HE 1 is staggering and by far the best I have ever heard. Even with its state-of-the-art engineering, the HE 1 retained the soul of the track extremely well and that is what matters here. I have been hearing Michael Jackson’s Thriller track ever since I was a kid on numerous headphones and speaker systems. Three decades later, I realised that I had not heard all of it, until I put the HE 1s on. This is a monumental achievement and I honestly have nothing to complain about. I tried all tricks possible to prolong my listening session. I went to aural heaven and refused to come back. What I simply mean is that all the numbers on the spec sheet are fine, the material you use to build a product is fine, it will all boil down to nothing if it doesn't sound good. In this case it sounds the absolute best. Even at Rs. 45 lacs a pair, these are special.