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Legendary Headphone System - Sennheiser Orpheus

A Review On: Sennheiser Orpheus HE-90

Sennheiser Orpheus HE-90

Rated # 202 in Over-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
CantScareMe
Posted · 8777 Views · 15 Comments

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 

15 Comments:

Wow... lucky you. Thanks for penning an informative review of this legendary setup.   
Of course, yes ... lucky you ! A truly unique opportunity to listen under such conditions.
Thanks a lot for this extensive review and sharing your impressions on this rare piece of equipment. I guess if Sennheiser could keep all the good things of the HD800 (esp. sound stage) and morph it into an electrostatic headphone that has the best of both worlds, that would be headphone nirvana.
The design is freaking beautiful, but also freaking expensive =.=
 
Thanks for the review too.
No problem - glad you found it interesting :)
This is why I love HiFi and Headphones for over 20years...
Very nice!
 
I'm curious as to how the Orpheus sounds with the HEV90, especially since the two complaints that you have are, at least to me, not issues with the HE90 paired with the HeadAmp Aristaeus that I lived with for a month (and reviewed, btw). The bass on this combo was by a significant margin the best I've ever heard in the headphone world, and I think that in terms of detail retrieval it was still ahead of my current GS-X/HD800 pairing.
 
By the way, I go to London very often and I'm wondering how I could miss this shop since it's so close to Oxford Street! What is it called?
Audio Lounge, it says so right in the second paragraph.
Yep that's 'audio lounge.' Not sure if they'll be getting the orpheus back again though!
Oxford Street is so full of people that there doesn't seem to be life above or below it - at least until you venture out!! Nice and friendly people at the store with plenty of high end gear. Wigmore hall (just down the street) is good to visit too -  great musical performances at a decent price.
Of course, hearing it from a different amp would probably change it's sound output. Not something I've done though!
Thank you for the review, especially for the light you shed on a couple of weak spots.  Very nice gear but let's face it...even if one has 20k GBP to spend discretionary on audio (hope springs eternal:  a nice city bonus for instance) then it's probably easier/more efficient to pick another high end project delivering at least the same bang/buck as this.  Stax 9 and BHSE come to mind.  Or building the ultimate high end custom tube amp or -shudder- speakers.
Oh, thanks! I missed it.
I've got a stack of these still in closed boxes... guess I should open them up someday and have a listen.
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