TOTL Headphones Review: Purk’s Perks
This past Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting the home of a fellow headfier (Purk) to have a listen to many of the headphones that have been on my bucket list for years. The lineup:
*Sennheiser He90 (Orpheus)
Add to this list a couple of wildcards that I’ll mention at the end of the review. The dac used for all listening was the NAD m51. There was host of lust worthy amps including the headamp gs-x mkii, HeV90 amp, DIY T2 and even a custom amp that was roughly the size of a VW Bug…seriously. Now let’s get down to the business of what these wonderful headphones and gear sounded like.
I had heard this headphone once before at the Atlanta meet nearly a year ago. Unfortunately meet conditions are typically less than ideal when it comes to auditioning open headphones. But now, in the privacy and quietness of Purk’s listening room I got to put this electrostatic behemoth to the test.
Quite simply this is one of the finest headphones in existence. Some might say the finest ever. A few things just jump out at you at first listen. First of all there is the speed. The beginning and decay of sound is jaw dropping and stunning. It took my mind a few minutes to adjust to the rate of decay but then as I did, I was struck by the second hallmark of the sr-009 which is the startling sense of realism or transparency as some refer to it. Voices and instruments sound shockingly lifelike. The sr-009 plays all music well and is not genre specific at all. I cued up Diana Krall: Live in Paris. Diana’s voice was beautifully rendered. The sound of the instruments and ambient sounds from the crowd were placed on a soundstage that was wide and deep. I could have easily sat there and listened to the entire recording, but there were a few other headphones I wanted to sink my teeth in before the night was over.
Sennheiser He90 (the Orpheus)
Maybe more than any other headphone on my bucket list, the Orpheus has always held a magical place for me. The history of this headphone reads like mythical lore. The story of the build process along with the fact that the Orpheus has been out of production for many years lends credence to its legendary status. This headphone just does not come up for sale often on the open market, but if it does the asking price is usually somewhere in the “good used car” range.
My fear was that I had built the experience up too much and that when I finally got to cue up the music with the he90 I would be disappointed. In simplest terms, the Orpheus met and often exceeded my expectations on every level. After cycling through a few of my favorite test tracks, the aspect of the he90 that impressed me the most was its ability to render the most natural tone of any headphone I’ve ever heard. Tone is so difficult to achieve with the reproduction of music…both voices and instruments. When the tone is not quite right, it’s impossible for me to forget that I’m listening to headphones and get lost in the illusion that “I’m there.” This is the special gift of the Orpheus. It has the innate ability to transport you to another place where you feel that you’re experiencing the performance as its happening. The Orpheus is simply amazing and second to none with its ability to elicit emotion with the character of its sound.
There were several technical achievements that the SR-009 offered that surpassed the Orpheus, including decay, transparency and sound stage depth. But the tone of the Orpheus just melted me and kept coming back for another listen over and over.
So what could the lowly hd800 have to offer when paired against the likes of the previous two titans? Did it pale in comparison? Why even own the hd800 if you own the other two. The truth is that the hd800 surprised and at times delighted me. On the gs-x mkii amp everything impressive about the hd800 was accentuated. Although the speed was not quite up to the sr-009, it was actually surprisingly close and better than almost any other headphone that comes to mind. In terms of tone, the hd800 was rich and full in the mids falling just short of the he90, but still incredibly impressive. The more I listened to the 800, the more I was impressed with it. The “brightness” that is so often associated with the 800 was not there to my ears. And this is coming from someone who also always been sensitive to brighter headphones. What I heard was the most wonderfully extended and accurate treble I’ve ever experienced. I would maintain that position even when you consider sr-009. Yes, the 800’s treble is just that damn good. Not harsh, not strident but just sublimely good and the hallmark of this fantastic hp. The other crowning achievement of the 800 is the massive sound stage. Not only did it compete with the sr-009 and he90, it was both wider and deeper to these ears.
What I came away with after auditioning the hd800 is this. Not only did it give two of the best headphones ever made a run for their money, in some ways it surpassed them. Of course in other ways that hd800 falls short of the sr-009 and he90, but it never failed to at least compete and seem right at home with the very best out there.
This was an interesting addition to the lineup. If you haven’t taken a gander at the thread on head-fi, you should take a look. What Chinsettawong has been able to accomplish with this DIY project is nothing short of remarkable. Honestly, when I first put my hands on them I thought that they looked and felt somewhat juvenile in their production and were obviously a DIY project. To be honest I just didn’t expect very much. They were very light weight and seemed somewhat fragile. And then, I cued up the music. My hat is off to you Chinsettawong. What you’ve put together with your own two hands is better than I could have imagined.
Again, many thanks to Purk for the opportunity to drop by and listen to all the wonderful headphones and gear. You are a very gracious host sir and my hat is off to you.
So what did I learn? Well, first of all summit-fi is an incredible experience. I’ve spent many years enjoying mid-fi and all the offerings there. But with the right amp and dac, any of headphones mentioned in this mini review will deliver a truly sublime experience. For me personally, I enjoyed the signature from all of these headphones and would be happy to own any of them. But if I am honest with myself the only financially reasonably headphone that reaches this kind of performance level is the hd800. Is it amp and dac picky? Absolutely. But at the end of the day the hd800 is one of the most impressive headphones I’ve ever heard.
The comfort is as good as anything I’ve tried. The build quality, fitment and materials are truly impression. I should comment here that the hd800 is prone to chips and scratches in the paint. The only real cure for this problem is a custom repaint which can done at Colorware.com. I spoke with a Colorware representative at length about their paint process and durability. They use an automotive paint and process that should “wear” much better than the original paint and be more durable.
So there you have it. Again, many many thanks to Purk for his graciousness sharing his gear and hosting me in his home. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to get out to a meet to do so. But even more so, if you have a chance to get together with a few people for a mini meet, the experience can be very rewarding and often more revealing. As I wrap up my review I wanted to say that I listening to some fantastic music through my new sublime hd800’s. Enjoy the music everyone.