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Sennheiser Orpheus HE-90

Posted

Pros: Layering, Imaging, Midrange, Realism

Cons: Sub bass, Micro detail

Sennheiser Orpheus - Demo Impressions

 

Last week I had the pleasure of demoing this legendary headphone system.

I found it to be a great experience so thought I might as well share it with you.                                                                                                                                                            

 

This pair is one that Senneheiser own themselves and had bought it down for a few days to audio lounge, central London. It’s in exquisite condition and I listened to it in a perfect environment – a quiet demo room for over an hour with my own music I’m extremely familiar with.

 

You might be thinking how I randomly stumbled on an Orpheus and so you should be as it was, well, quite random. Just the other week I was wondering around on a lunch break and walked to the end of Wigmore street (near Selfridges) to find a sweet looking high end audio shop that has a decent headphone contingent too. Wanting to demo the sr009, but with stax a bit short of energisers, the sales person, Arif, got in touch later asking if an Orpheus demo would peak my interest instead (!). He’s very open and knowledgeable mind you – he used to officially trade these units up till the very last one.    

 

 

 

Before Sound

 

HEV90

I’m sure you don’t need me to convince you on its looks.

 

 

 

Have you any equipment in your house that looks better?

If I had one I’ll give it a room to itself. I might want to switch it on once in a while too. When you do, there’s a little red LED that lights up and reflects nicely off the aluminium surfaces. I like the gentle way the tubes light up too, making for an even more sophisticated look.  

 

One thing I frequently moan about on headphone amps is the volume dial. I’ve sensitive hearing where lower volumes are more than enough and thankfully HEV90’s volume dial was perfect, allowing for plenty of movement without channel imbalance in the lower dB ranges. Neat.

 

 

Headphone comfort

Headphone comfort was so seriously high. I’m talking stock d7k levels or higher here. When taking them off after wearing them for over an hour, the first thing that hit me was how freakishly comfortable they were. The headphone is rather light, clamping force low and pads really soft/supple. Also to note – with this pair no material residue was left on my ears (unlike the he90’s I tried at last year’s London headfi meet).

 

 

 

Sound

 

Imaging / Soundscape

The soundstage is large (<HD800 though) and very multidirectional. It’s utilisation of space, layering and instrument positioning is outright the best I’ve ever heard. There’s a real quality in its deployment here making it hard not to be impressed by it with whatever you listen to. This was especially the case in complex music such as Lorne Balfe’s Assassins creed OST or Thomas Bergersen’s dreamaker where complexion was uncovered in almost an unfamiliar way. These orchestra’s felt like they simply came alive and provided a convincingly clearer picture of composition by component than any of my headphones have. 

 

 

Tone / Timbre

Full of body and just ohh so easy to listen to! 

It’s closest to the HD650’s I’d say in each notes weight whilst similarly remaining tactile and agile. All to a better degree though. Diana Krall and Jennifer Warnes sounded realistic from this system, no doubt, and when the instrumental sections broke out the sense of realism only increased.

 

Just the other week I listened to Elias String Quartet perform Beethoven live, unamplified, down the street at Wigmore Hall (stunning venue and sound). Actually I regret not having a track or two on the demo CD but if I were to hear this live recording through the Orpheus, I imagine I’d be deeply impressed. It’s that kind of realistic warm ‘chamber’ type of feel this system gave me, which always remained free from upper mid-range/high frequency brightness that I’ve heard from many TOTL headphones of today.

 

 

Sub Bass

Let’s be blunt - sub-bass performance left a bit to be desired. Soundtracks and Orchestral music (such as Hans Zimmer’s Rush and Thomas Bergersen’s Dream-maker) especially were calling out for more ‘rumble’ in the lows. A well driven hd800 provides this for example. Cello’s and strings didn’t reveal <60hz information across many of my sample tracks as I would expect a world class headphone to do so.

In terms of other bass properties - mid bass impact, speed, attack, decay, accuracy, timing and general quantity – things were very well done.

 

 

Brightness / Warmth

Really interesting this. The headphone extends high and reveals treble detail, but in a different way to ‘bright’ cans. I guess it feels relaxed and in a sense more calmly executed but when called for definitely does it deliver.  Take a track that is very treble centric; Evanescence – taking over me. Through the Orpheus this sounded outright remarkable with treble performance contributing in no small way. Cymbals were crashing and the electric guitar screaming with a stunning sense of realism of the like no headphone has hit me with.  This isn’t the best recording in the world, making it even more striking how awesomely the Orpheus delivered this track.

 

Perhaps on the other end of the scale was how music from Ludovico Einaudi sounded.  I’m a massive Einaudi fan and ‘Experience’ is one of my favourite pieces – though I hastily have to admit it’s a slightly muddy recording. Obviously, the Orpheus was faithful but with this track I prefer a brighter headphone. The violin towards the end sounds more effervescent, fragile and sweeter with a beyer T1, contributing beautifully to the overall ambience.

 

 

Detail retrieval

It’s very detailed, but to be honest I was expecting a tiny bit more.

For example with Keiko Matsui and Jan Garbarek, notes sounded a touch too rounded for my liking. I’d say this is less resolving in this way than a HD800 / T1, which reproduce the saxophones in both tracks more vividly and with better micro detail. It’s probably a cliché where one headphone is said to be for pure listening pleasure rather than a studio tool, but I would say the HE90 is an ultimate headphone of the former type.

 

Detail isn’t constantly thrown at you making long sessions appreciably less fatiguing. There were those few instances where I was expecting a little extra definition with individual notes across a few tracks. Don’t get me wrong, it was always clear, transparent, agile and fast, but there was detail in say vocalists breath and plucks of strings that I felt wasn’t presented at least with enough vigour. I guess this and sub bass performance were the two negatives I found with the Orpheus .

 

 

 

Overall

 

Thanks again to Arif at audio lounge for inviting me to this demo. A really enjoyable and interesting experience overall allowing me to hear extremely familiar music in a pleasantly different light. Let’s face it, I may never get to hear the Orpheus like this again let alone own one…..especially if I don’t find a spare £20k I wouldn’t do much else with.

 

 

 

Listening Setup

 

Setup

Power: Standard

CD Player/Dac: Bel Canto CD-2

RCA Interconnect: Siltech 550i

Amp: Sennheiser HEV90

Headphones: Sennheiser HE90

(forgot to check seriel #'s)

 

Listening conditions

Ambient noise: <~35db ambient noise

Ambient temp/humidity: Standard

Listening Volume: Low/Low-Normal

 

Music (Artist / Album / Track)

Ludovico Einaudi - In a Time Lapse - Experience

Agnes Obel - Aventine - The Curse

Lorne Balfe - Assassins Creed III (OST) - Main Theme

Diana Krall - The Girl In The Other Room - Black Crow

ATB - No Silence - Marrakech

Thomas Bergersen - Illusions - Dreammaker

Jennifer Warnes - Famous Blue Raincoat - First We Take Manhattan

Vivaldi Four Seasons (Chesky) - Vivaldi - Winter 1 Allegro Non Molto

Diana Navarro - La Esencia - Ea

Evanescence - Fallen - Taking Over Me

Hans Zimmer - Rush (OST) - Lost But Won

Jan Garbarek - Rites - Rites

Keiko Matsui - Glance of The Past - Bonfire In The Piano

Michael Jackson - HIStory Begins - Billie Jean

Riverside - Voices In My Head - Stuck Between

Yo Yo Ma (& Friends) - The Goat Rodeo Sessions - No One But You 

Posted

Pros: Warmth, Clarity & Spontaneity

Cons: Price

The Orpheus sounds fantastic. It is full of detail and clarity with a very flat frequency response. It also caresses the music, in that the music's presentation is very warm. The soundstage is excellent and instrumental timbre is very well replicated. These are my subjective listening experiences.

However, I believe the money would be better spent on speakers. I own a pair of Focal speakers that outperform the Orpheus at two thirds of the price. 

 

In a blind test which I performed on ten fellow classical musicians, which included the HD800, HD650 and LCD-3, the Orpheus did not outperform these counterparts to a significant level. In fact, a lot of them preferred the LCD-3 and HD650 over the Orpheus and the HD800. After the blind tests, I revealed all the headphones (the participants were blindfolded at first) and asked them to try these models again. As expected, the Orpheus gained unanimous approval after the visual stimuli. 

 

These experiences show that the high-end headphones often have negligible difference in sound quality; and that these differences get wildly blown out of proportion when visual stimuli is present. 

 

All in all, the Orpheus sounds great, but does it really trump the other high-end headphones at a comparatively cheaper price range (around the HD800 level)? I believe the answer is a definite no. 

 

As people have kept on asking, (I used the Beyerdynamic A1 as the amp). Used several power amps as well coupled with ESP100 adaptor just to see how it would turn out. (Most of these gear belong to my father, and it was done ad-hoc).

 

 

Sounds like you forgot to mention a lot of things. Like how you connected the 009 to the Orpheus amp, or how it's hardly optimal for driving an 009. A Beredynamic A1 huh. Let me know where I can buy this amp it sounds very interesting! There's a bunch more hurdles I was faced with when doing these blind tests but you should definitely answer these questions first.
 
I seem to be unable to add more comments?! As I said, there were many variables I couldn't control for. Sennheiser offers an adaptor for other headphone connections for the Orpheus amp. However, as I said, I used the A1 for all the others. And to those of who you ie Maxvla who is needlessly offensive, you should see how the ESP P100 is created. It's quite a simple resistor based adaptor so one can use serious power amps with your headphones with little or no risk.
Sennheiser Orpheus HE-90
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Sennheiser Orpheus HE 90 over ear headphones.

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