Sennheiser HE 1

General Information


Excellence Reshaped.

In 1991 we created the best headphones in the world. We called them Orpheus. Now, we have done it again. The name and uncompromising philosophy remaining, this is Orpheus reborn. In otherworldly sound and timeless beauty. Perfectly engineered. Equipped with unique features and state-of-the-art technology these headphones transform music from something you listen to, into something you live in.


You may have never seen such beauty in headphones. But this is just for starters. Watch Orpheus gradually come to life with a touch - allowing a momentary pause to let the tubes of its amplifier reach the optimum temperature. Then put them on and travel into pure sound. To places you’ve never been. Places hidden in your music. On vinyl. On CDs. In high-res data files. Orpheus takes you there. With a audio range from 8 Hz to more than 100 kHz, and the lowest distortion ever measured in a sound reproduction system: 0.01% at 1 kHz, 100 dB SPL.

Precious Metals.

The relentless pursuit of perfection brings with it a uniqueness. Thus, the Orpheus is the first electrostatic headphone with a Cool Class A MOS-FET high voltage amplifier integrated into the ear cups. Eliminating the capacitive reactance of the cable, delivering an ultra-high impulse fidelity 200% more efficient than any other solution currently available. 2.4-micrometer platinum-vaporised diaphragms are employed as their size was shown by Sennheiser’s research to deliver optimal sound reproduction. Outstanding electrical and acoustical performance is ensured through gold-vaporised ceramic transducers, while 99.9 % silver-plated OFC cables are used for optimal conductivity. To allow you to immerse in the result of all of this are Orpheus' ear cups, precision-machined from solid aluminum, featuring handmade ear pads of finest leather and a soft, allergen-free velour/microfibre construction.

Everything but Compromises

The advantages of tube amplifiers and transistor amplifiers— with Orpheus you have them all. Thanks to a patent pending circuit design. Its vacuum tubes connected to the spring-loaded, damped marble housing to prevent structure-borne noise and surrounded by high quality quartz bulbs that protect against air-borne noise this state-of-the-art amplifier delivers ultra-high impulse fidelity at an ultra-low distortion level. For digital to analogue conversion, the amplifier can receive digital signals via optical and coaxial SPDIF inputs or USB input, it also accepts high-resolution PCM and DSD data. Music data is converted to analogue signals using the 8 internal DACs of the ESS SABRE ES9018. Four channels in parallel are used for each stereo side to enhance accuracy and decrease distortion and noise level.

Beauty with a Purpose

Orpheus’ striking design marries form to function. Its amplifier sits on a housing crafted from glass, and a solid block of Carrara marble. This luxurious natural stone—the type made famous by Michelangelo’s Renaissance sculptures—lends beauty but also prevents structure-borne noise. To create a visually stunning design, control dials are painstakingly crafted to the highest quality. Each dial is milled from a single piece of brass before being plated with chrome. This is music turned into an object.

Latest reviews

Sennheiser is one of the most popular audio brands and the company grabbed many headlines around the world when it came up with new version of its Orpheus range of premium headphones two years ago (mostly because of the $87294 AUD price tag). On Thursday, the company launched the successor to Orpheus, new Sennheiser HE 1, headphones in Australia. If you want to put your hand to your heart for the price, now is the time to do so, as the company has priced the headphones at $87294 AUD for the country.

If you are wondering why these headphones cost as much as a house does, it could potentially be because the company says that just the development of these headphones took around a decade. As per company’s claims, the new Sennheiser HE 1 premium headphones offer “a frequency response that extends beyond the range of human hearing and the lowest total harmonic distortion that has ever been measured in an audio reproduction system.”

In order to achieve improved sound, the new Sennheiser HE 1 headphones use a tube amplifier. The amplifier comes with eight vacuum tubes that are used to process the incoming signal. The company claims that the use of tube amplifiers is because of their superior impulse processing. However, as the tubes are sensitive to air-borne-noise, the company says that it crafted amplifier housing from granular, inhomogeneous Carrara marble and says that it is freely suspended with the amplifier.

What do you get for your money?
$80,000 gets you almost everything you need. Headphones, amplifier and DAC. Just add your own source and you are good to go.
The Sennheiser HE 1 is not just a pair of headphones. It is more accurately described as a headphone system as it comes with a specially designed headphone amplifier and DAC.

First things first, unlike Sennheiser’s flagship consumer headphone – the HD 800 S – the Sennheiser HE 1 is electrostatic. It doesn’t use regular dynamic drivers like the majority of headphones and speakers. Without getting into too much details, electrostatic headphones typically use a thin electrically charged diaphragm suspended between two electrodes. The diaphragm moves whenever an electrical signal is applied to the electrodes, this moves air and creates sound. One key advantage of electrostatic headphones is very fast response and very low distortion. This explains why most electrostatic headphones sound very snappy, clean and punchy.

Tubey goodness. The tubes sit inside special insulated containers to reduce noise and also to prevent owners from burning their hands if they accidentally touch them.
Electrostatic headphones require special amplifiers and the Sennheiser HE 1 was designed with this in mind. The Sennheiser HE 1’s special tube amplifier is machined out of a single block of aluminum and it sits on the amplifier, which is housed in a single solid block of Carrara marble – the same kind that Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo used for his sculptures. Carrara marble was chosen for its solidity, which helps reduce structure-borne noise. Inside the Sennheiser HE 1 are also eight high-end ESS Sabre ES9018 DACs, again four for each channel, which handle digital-to-analog conversion duties.

The Sennheiser HE 1 comes with a good selection of inputs and outputs. It can be connected directly to a PC or digital source via USB or Digital TOSLINK. And if you have speakers, it can be used as a pre-amp.
Turning the Sennheiser HE 1 on is also a special experience. The Sennheiser HE 1 is activated by a gentle push on the volume control knob. This causes the volume knob and the other various control knobs to retract out of the marble housing. As you would expect, the knobs are machined out of a solid block of brass and they feel extremely hefty and solid to turn. Next, the Sennheiser HE 1’s eight specially matched tubes will emerge out of its aluminum housing. Finally, the enclosure containing the headphones rises.

The platinum-coated diaphragm resides within. The ear cups are super plush.
Within each of the machined aluminum ear cup is a dedicated integrated Class A MOS-FET high voltage amplifier. This is to make up for their signal degradation that might arise from the cable. Speaking of the cable, they are 99.9% silver-plated oxygen-free copper cables – I’m almost surprised they are not dipped in 18K gold. The diaphragm within is just 2.4 micrometers thick – seven times finer than a human hair – and are coated with platinum because Sennheiser’s research showed this configuration to deliver the best sound reproduction. The ear cups are made of leather and are lined with an allergen-free combination of microfiber and velour.

How do they sound?
Enough talk, time for a listen.
I only had about 20 minutes with the Sennheiser HE 1, but from my short experience with it, I was deeply impressed. Electrostatic headphones already sound pretty awesome, but the HE 1 takes things to another level.

The HE 1 feels heavy on the head, but thanks to the generous amount of padding and the super plush ear cups, they don’t feel uncomfortable. The amount of clamping force is also just right.

Sennheiser’s flagship dynamic driver headphones are renowned for their spaciousness and imaging, and the Sennheiser HE 1 follows in this tradition. The HE 1 sounds extremely spacious, as if the sounds are coming from a source much, much farther away from your ears.

Give a man a good set of cans and he’ll be happy.
Playing around with the high-resolution audio tracks that Sennheiser prepared, the other lasting impression I have of the Sennheiser HE 1 is just how clean and distortion-free it sounds. There’s no perceptible distortion and no weird imperfections in the sound. It also sounds amazingly life-like and realistic. Some enthusiasts complain that electrostatic headphones are weak in the bass department, but this is certainly not the case for the HE 1. Bass is impactful, sharp, and sounds true to life.

But don’t think the Sennheiser HE 1 is just for high-resolution audio, I also asked to play regular MP3 music and even YouTube, and the Sennheiser HE 1 still sounded great.

Obviously, a system like this is a double-edged sword. It sounds best with good recording and you are more acutely aware if the recording is bad. But then again this is the same for any pair of high-end headphones, not just the Sennheiser HE 1.

When the headphones are just the tip of the iceberg
Sennheiser HE 1 – more than “head phones” in the usual sense. This is a full-fledged sound-reproducing tract of premium class, each part of which is perfectly matched to the rest. Including:

  • receivers of digital and analog signal;
  • a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that converts the binary code and zeros into electrical current fluctuations;
  • Preamplifier that prepares the signal for transmission by cable and subsequent amplification;
  • an amplifier that increases the signal power to a level necessary for the “build-up” of the emitters;
  • the headphones themselves, which are dressed on the head and convert the electrical signal into sound.
So the Sennheiser HE 1 is ready for use right out of the box. The main part of which is, surprisingly, not the headphones – but a massive block of real marble, responsible for switching, control and preliminary processing of the incoming signal.

Omnivorous and obedient
To connect to your system, the back panel of the unit is equipped with almost all common connectors:
optical and coaxial SPDIF;
USB with support for high-resolution audio formats PCM (up to 32 bit / 384 kHz) and DSD (with a frequency of 2.8 and 5.6 MHz);
Analog inputs: both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA, for connecting external DACs (in case of unbalanced connection, the signal will be balanced by the resources of the HE-1 itself).

Wireless connection is not provided. The transmission of a sound signal “through the air” inevitably leads to a deterioration in quality – which contradicts the very philosophy of HE-1. On the other hand, remote control does not affect the sound in any way. To the user as little as possible distracted from music – Sennheiser HE 1 is equipped with a remote control. When the settings are remotely changed (for example, switching input), the “twists” of the marble unit, obeying the will of the owner, independently rotate in the desired position.

The Sennheiser HE 1 digital-to-analog converter is built on 8 ES 9018 SABRE chips – top-of-the-line in the ESS Technology product line. The processing of each of the channels of stereo sound is dealt with immediately by 4 chips, achieving maximum purity and accuracy.

The whole table of Mendeleev – in the service of your ears
Acoustics is a subtle science. In it, not only volts and kilowatts are important. Each component of the sound path – from cups with ear pads, to the cable, connectors and amplifier housing – contributes to the final sound. Sometimes not obvious and unobtrusive – but not enough to hide from the hearing of an experienced audiophile perfectionist, who is addressed to Sennheiser HE 1. Therefore, for each of the 6000 components of the HE-1, a painstaking selection of materials was carried out – and the best variant was found, ideally combined with the rest of the parts. In the production of certain fragments even precious materials (platinum, gold, silver, etc.) are used. Not for fashion and waste, but purely for practical reasons. All you need is for the best sound in the world.

For example, the electrodes must be made of a sufficiently rigid material, resistant to resonance vibrations, which distort the sound. The choice of the developers fell on the ceramics, the granular structure of which far more dampens the vibration than, for example, glass. However, ceramics, as is well known, is very difficult to process – it does not yield to etching or precise drilling. To obtain ceramic electrodes, Sennheiser masters had to develop their own technical process on the basis of a multistage combination of sputtering and grinding. And at the final stage, the electrodes are covered with gold. Layer after layer, the vaporization of the shiny metal is deposited on the ceramic surface – bringing the electrical conductivity to optimum.

One of the key decisions was the choice of metal sputtering for membranes reproducing sound – the strings of the gold lira of Orpheus. The material should be very light, securely retained on the thinnest film, indistinguishable to the naked eye, and does not degrade its flexibility and elasticity. And the most important thing is to respond well to electric attraction. The best is platinum, which is sprayed onto the membranes on both sides.

The same approach substantiates the choice of materials for other parts of Sennheiser HE 1:
huge cups – carved from solid aluminum by precision milling;
soft ear cups, “hugging” ears, like beloved home slippers – are sewn by hand from genuine leather;
the inner surface of the ear cups is lined with breathable microfiber repelling microbes, which also absorbs unwanted reflections of sound;
The body of the preamplifier is made of Carrara marble, heavy (for extra stability and cushioning), incredibly durable and resistant to any influences. And it looks and reminds of the ancient Greek roots of Orpheus (in the same marble the great Michelangelo created masterpieces of ancient heroes);
Regulators – carved from solid bars of copper and covered with chrome.

As for cables, they, unfortunately, are not made of platinum or gold, but “only” of oxygen-free copper with a silver coating. It is this composition that is best suited for transmitting an audio signal with high accuracy and the lowest reactance. Cables are thick, eight-core, protected by reliable insulation from combined materials to exclude any environmental influences.

Spectacular prelude
Orpheus can awaken awe even before they end up on their heads. Just press the power button – and the marble body will come alive, immersing you in a fairy tale. From the front panel towards the user go chrome plated regulators. As if on the elevator a block with luminous lamps is raised. The cover of the headphone compartment is pushed open – inviting them to pick them up.

An impressive “presentation” has a practical meaning – the lamps take about 20 seconds to warm up and prepare for work. During this time, you just have time to dress Sennheiser HE 1 and tune in to dive into audiophile nirvana. Lamps go to the optimal mode after about half an hour of playing. So leave all the cases, turn off the phone and the Internet, lock the doors and windows – and let the god of all musicians take you to his Olympus on the wings of a magical, unearthly sound. Outshining everything that you have heard – and yet to hear. Because that sounds a wonderful future.
Whitigir there is a MOSFET inside the HE1 headphones ear cups?
Pros: The absolute best when it comes to audio purity. Good and understated design. Comfortable. Exclusivity
Cons: Such purity comes at a lofty price. Amazing system, but no ordinary individual will be able to enjoy it.

Sennheiser HE1 Experience

  1. Introduction
    1. When I first began my audiophile journey, I never imagined being involved with the hobby would be anything more than just listening to music through high-end headphones. However, after being involved with the hobby for the better part of five years, I’ve learned there are more aspects to the hobby of hi-fi apart from just the gear. What I’ve observed is that being an active member of the audiophile community allows an individual to get deeper insights into the developments occurring within the market. With that being said, my enthusiasm for the hobby has led me to experience something few audiophiles will. After much delay, I was finally given an opportunity to listen to the Sennheiser HE1 system. Having had my eyes on the Orpheus system for quite some time now, being presented the chance to receive a long listening session with the system fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams. To put my experience bluntly, I dwelt amongst a god, only to realize I was a mortal.
    2. Once I finally attended my first CanJam back in 2015 I noticed I was a bit of an oddball. It appeared to me that I was the only person there who was under 30 years of age. Actually, after spending two full days at the convention it appeared I was the only person there who was not yet a legal adult. Relative to other members of the audiophile community, I was extremely young. My age has created an internal dilemma which has affected my relationship with the hobby of hi-fi. Having always associated with what is known as the “popular” crowd in school, I was exposed to mainly top 40 music. As many audiophiles know, this type of music is not only poorly mastered but is also highly unpopular within audiophile crowds. Given that bit of background knowledge, it came as no surprise to me to discover that there were very few if any people at CanJam who were familiar with music from the likes of Future or Avicci. With that being said, my musical taste is not exclusive to popular contemporary genres as I also have a fond appreciation for genres like classical and acoustic. In recent years, my musical preferences have actually shifted much more towards these more mature genres. Regardless of my shift in genre preference, a sizable portion of my music library still consists of rap and electronic music. It is for this reason that I find my continued interest in the hobby confusing. As I describe my experience with the HE1 system, I will explain more discretely why this is the case.
  2. My opportunity and my experience
    1. I have the great fortune of living in the Bay Area which means I have the ability to visit the Sennheiser store in San Fransisco whenever I want. The Sennheiser store has been operating for quite some time, however, my busy schedule did not allow me to make trips to the store. Finally, I managed to book an appointment, and I was relieved I was finally able to listen to what had been formally established as the best headphones ever made. I believe it was this exceptionally high expectation that somewhat diminished my overall experience.
    2. Experiencing the HE1 doesn’t simply involve listening to the headphones. The significant amount of hype surrounding the headphone would make such a simple experience quite disappointing and pathetic. Luckily, the employees of the store made certain this was not the case. Just to make a statement, the HE1 is in a separate room on the second floor of the building. Only once I was inside the room and the employee had closed the door did I figure I was in for a unique experience. Inside, the room looked much like a living room intended to be used for the sole purpose of listening to headphones. However, before I got to listen to the system, there were a few things that caught my attention. The first of these was the HE90 which nearly made my heart rate explode. Initially, I thought it might be a replica, however, the employee confirmed it was indeed a real system. Unfortunately, it was not plugged into anything so I was not able to listen to the HE90, but I was able to try them on. On the same table, there was also a Custom HD 800 plugged into a custom HDV800. Both had a black and red color scheme which appeared interesting in my opinion. I’m sure such a color scheme would appeal to gamers. Moving along the room there was also a wall filled with EP albums and other nick nacks that are sure to make any aesthetic aficionado’s heart pound. Apart from that, the rest of the room was mostly bare and dark with a shortage of lighting.
    3. First Impressions: Before putting the headphones on I took a deep breath, preparing myself for what was to come. It is also worth noting that I was given the option of either using my Tidal account or listening to music straight from a turntable. Given the options they had and my musical preferences, I immediately opted to use my Tidal account. As I have done for the past four years, the very first song I played was Within by Daft Punk. Not only is this song well mastered, but it also features a mix of natural and synthetic sounds that are combined quite eloquently. The first movement of the song features piano which gives the song a slow and dark tone. This was one of the few times that the piano section of the song was able to provide me with a sense of dramatic tension, almost as if something tragic had occurred. Not even analyzing the sound, I was already impressed with how authentic the HE1 was able to convey this first section of the song. As the song progressed, I was startled by the use of symbols. When using most other headphones, the transition from piano to cymbals meshes together in a boring and unassuming way. Some may argue that this makes the song sound more coherent, however, with the HE1, the listener knows that there is a fine distinction between these two sections of the song. It lets the listener know the tone of the song has now shifted in a different direction. When I was analyzing the way the cymbals sounded, I was again impressed with the way in which they were presented. Instead of hitting and leaving, there was a long aftermath to the sound. Having heard cymbals in real life, I can confirm the HE1 did provide a more realistic approach. Given this hyper-realistic presentation, I will say there was a noticeable degree of crudeness to the way the cymbals sounded after the initial slam had worn off. To me this sound came off as rusty, however, I will put the blame to this on the recording of the song and not the headphones. I can vaguely remember hearing a similar tonality when I heard this section of the song on a Stax SR-009 through a high-end custom-made amp. Given the massive increase in performance over the aforementioned system, I was not surprised to hear that this sound was much more pronounced on the HE1. The song progressed to a small portion where there is a splash of sparkle. The first time I heard this song through proper headphones, it was this sparkle that really caught my attention. I’ve never heard something sound so pristine, it was truly like listening to diamonds. Listening to this section of the song through the HE1 was exhilarating. It felt like traveling through a space wormhole. I had the sense that it was raining jewelry in my ears. Overall the first song my choice gave me an exceptionally strong first impression of the HE1. Luckily, the client that came after me had canceled his appointment, therefore I now had a full hour of listening. With such a generous time limit, I tried to sift through as many of my favorite songs as I could, trying to encompass as many genres as I could to get a well-rounded feel of the sound of the headphones.
    4. General Overview: Having such diverse musical preferences meant I had to try to listen to as many different songs as I could. Even with the full hour, I knew I could only play songs significantly different from each other. Instead of randomly jumping around different songs, I decided to go through a few select songs from different genres. I started with classical, which made the most sense as this genre is known for being mastered exceptionally well and having high levels of dynamic range. The first song I choose for this portion of my listening session was the Piano Sonata No. 14, otherwise known as the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. Compared to most other classical pieces, this song isn’t necessarily known for its audio quality. Nonetheless, it is one of my favorites, and through a pair of performance headphones, this song is able to provide me with a strong sense of emotion. Additionally, good headphones also allow me to visualize a full moon when I listen to the moonlight sonata. Clarity and speed are actually two factors I would consider to be enemies of this piece as the tone of the song is intended to be slow and dramatic. To my amazement, the speed of the HE1 did not interfere at all with the tone of the sonata. I was still able to experience the effervescent quality of the piece that made it all the more enjoyable. The next piece I moved onto was the violin concerto in A minor by Bach. This is a piece that is staggeringly different from the one I had just previously played. For one, it is much more uplifting, but the use of different instruments obviously gives it a divergent character. I would have to evaluate this piece differently as I have actually not heard a violin played in real life. Because of this, it would be practically impossible for me to determine the sense of realism in the piece. Instead, I would have to rely on other objective measures. One common misrepresentation I often hear from higher-end headphones is that violins are over exaggerated with it comes to the upper registers. By this, I mean that there is ample clarity to a violin, but this also makes it sound squeaky. It doesn’t take a violin expert to know this is not the way a violin is supposed to sound. To my pleasure, the HE1 was able to convey the violin faithfully. There were also strings that are often hard to hear even with detailed headphones. Having a high level of clarity certainly helps in hearing the background strings, however, from my observations, it is more important for a headphone to image well in order to clearly make out the strings. More often this is an issue with IEMs and closed-back headphones. The lack of an adequate soundstage makes it difficult to hear the strings in the background. Additionally, with the HE1, the strings sounded as if they were each independently strung while on most other headphones they sound as if they were strung closely together, though not entirely separate. This demonstrated how well the separation was on the HE1. Despite this level of separation, there was not a lack of direction. Headphones that feature large soundstages often run the risk of sounding diffused. In these circumstances, while the music may sound expansive, a close listen reveals there is usually a lack of direction. The listener loses a sense of where everything is. This does not happen with the HE1, so while the soundstage may not be the largest, it is certainly the most accurate one I have heard. It keeps the size of a song accurate rather than artificially making it sound more expansive than it really is. With this piece, I was also able to examine the range of the headphones. While soundstage may measure how expansive the song is as a whole, range measures the proportional distance of either instruments or the artists. When it came to this evaluation, I decided to switch gears and listen to a classic, Hotel California. I’ve heard many audiophiles say that this song is overused, however, I would have to disagree with that. It is apparent Sennheiser uses this song often when it is showcasing its high-end headphones. Regardless of that, I think Sennheiser uses this song for justified reasons. It is a well-recorded song that provides a wide range of different sounds. Similar to Within from Daft Punk, it mixes the natural with the synthetic in a way that is superbly coherent. Just to make the experience more enjoyable, I decided to listen to the acoustic version as I feel this version sounds undoubtedly better. This version is heavier in its use of strings, and as such, I was able to more closely analyze the way in which the HE1 handled separation. Once again I was left extremely impressed with the way it portrayed the use of strings as there is no degree of mushing. This was also the first song I played that features human vocals, however being that this was a live recording, it was hard to evaluate the accuracy of vocals. Nonetheless what I heard sounded not only realistic but also authoritative. The voice of a man who sings his heart out will naturally sound powerful, perhaps even authoritative. With the HE1, I was able to get a strong sense of the singer’s voice when listening to Hotel California. Along with vocals, the song also features cymbals and drums. Altogether this is a rather complex song as I’ve said previously, headphones that have diffuse soundstages will struggle to replicate everything without sounding disorganized. The hyper-accurate soundstage of the HE1 prevents this sort of situation from occurring, and everything sounds orderly. When it comes to reference tracks, there was one more area I hadn't covered yet and that was female vocals. I’ve never been someone who was very fond of such female-exclusive songs, however, there were some that I was able to appreciate. One of these happens to be My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. This was the main theme of the movie Titanic and has since then become iconic. The song has a good mix of female vocals as well as rumbling bass to add some authority and listening to this song through the HE1 once again proved to be an entirely different experience. Celine’s voice sounded even more angelic on the HE1 than on other high-end systems I’ve heard in the past. Unlike headphones that emphasize the midrange and end up sounding nasal, the HE1 steered away from this approach. Granted, female vocals will always sound better with a mid-range focused sound, but I’m certain that most people will take the versatility of the HE1 over mid-range focus any day. On ordinary headphones and speakers, the song comes off as being desolate, and that it is. Knowing how emotionally charged the movie Titanic was, it always seemed odd to me that they would compose such a simple song to be the main theme. As soon as I listened to this song on the HE1, I quickly realized that there was much more underneath the surface to this song than I had originally thought. Apart from just a gloomy tone, there were also hints of hope. To many of those reading this, the description may sound odd, but it is truly one of those things that have to be heard in person in order to be understood. I became slightly emotional after listening to My Heart Will Go On, so I decided to end the first part of my analysis by listening to Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. This is a song that speaks volume in that it is both mastered well and carries a heavy set of emotions with it. This was really the first song where I was able to analyze male vocals, and I’m glad I chose this song as I was able to hear how different vocals sound as they change in volume. The song progressively becomes louder, so I was able to observe how the HE1 reacted to changes in volume and once again, it performed marvelously. As a side note, the immense detail also allowed me to hear Jeff lick his lips every time he was about to sing. Although this is a nuance I do not care much for, I’m sure there are audiophiles out there who will be thrilled to know they can hear such subtle nuances with the HE1. As the song came to a close I decided to take a short break before proceeding to the second part of my evaluation. I considered the first part of the evaluation to be an exposure to the full potential the Orpheus had to offer. This is the reason why I played my favorite reference tracks on it. However, like I’ve said several times at the beginning of this narrative, my tastes diverge from the usual classical and acoustic that are so common amongst audiophiles. Despite having an affinity for these genres and despite being well immersed in the hobby, I still have to contend with the fact that I deeply enjoy contemporary genres of music as well. As I did previously, I took a deep breath before I once again began to evaluate the sound quality of my favorite songs.
    5. Personal Dilemma: For the past year one artist who has captured my attention quite a bit has been NAV. He is a Canadian rapper who evokes a style that is similar to that of other Canadian superstars like Drake and the Weekend. His pilot song, Myself, has rapidly climbed to the top of my playlists and has solidified itself as being one of my favorite songs of all time. The song, as well as the rest of the album, somewhat resembles the album Thriller which was released by Micheal Jackson back in the 80s. Myself has a very dark tone that some would even say makes the song sound mystical, and I would have to agree with those descriptions. Given the vibe this song is able to provide, I simply couldn’t resist not listening to it. However, by then I had entered a love phase with the HE1 and had forgotten about the possibility that there might be some songs that just weren’t made to be played through such an exquisite headphone. I eagerly played the song and even turned the volume up to get a full feel for how it would sound. The first minute or so was fine as there was little going on. But as soon as the song changed pace, that's when I was reminded of my personal dilemma with the hobby. I was so startled by the change in sound I slightly jumped out of my chair. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a voice sound as raspy or harsh as I did when I played Myself. Most people would have stopped listening, however, I was determined to listen to the whole song. Doing so proved to be torture, and I would say was the equivalent of grinding your eardrums with sandpaper. It was painful and even slightly terrifying to hear such a sound. It was even more disappointing to know it was coming from one of my favorite songs. I quickly moved onto the next song which I thought would fair better; I soon found out that I was mistaken. The next song I chose was Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott. Although this is a newer song, it has become one of my references for testing the levels of bass in a headphone. From my previous experience with audiophile headphones, when playing this song one of two things happen. Either they fail to portray the bass convincingly, or they give the perception that the sound is falling apart. The latter description seems odd, however, it is worth noting this only occurs when playing the song through multi-balanced armature IEMs. The bottom line is that audiophile grade headphones often struggle to replicate such copious quantities of bass. Given the high failure rate headphones have with this song, I was actually surprised to hear that the HE1 was able to replicate the full force of the bass without any issues. What was more impressive was the HE1 was able to provide as much bass as it did given that it is an electrostatic model. So as a confirmation from someone who listens to music with high levels of bass, the HE1 is certainly not lacking in lower frequencies. Aside from the bass, the song did have a little bit more to offer. The heavy use of autotune means this was a good song to further examine the separation capabilities of the HE1. Although the HE1 essentially ripped apart this song, it did prove it was the master of audio separation in the process. With this analysis, I felt I needed one more rap song just so I could get a full feel for how well the genre would perform with such a high-grade pair of headphones. For this last portion of the analysis, I decided to use the song Wonderful, also by Travis Scott. I felt this was a good song to use as it also featured The Weekend, another popular artist who is known for the authenticity in his vocals. Unlike the other two songs, this one starts much faster, thus there was no sense of startlement as the song progressed. Aside from really enjoying this song, there is an important reason for using this one for the analysis. This song happens to be the most sibilant song I have in my entire library. It is so sibilant that even with “flat” headphones and the equalizer set on treble reducer, I am still able to hear above-average levels of sibilance. To no surprise, this song was extremely sibilant, but there was an interesting twist. Through the HE1, this was not the most sibilant that I have heard this song. In order to spare my ears some pain, I changed to a different song as soon as the Weekend was done with his main verse. What I gathered from this was that the HE1 is not a sibilant headphone, however, if there is sibilance in the recording, then it will be shown with full force. With the rap songs out of the way, I proceeded to analyze some of my EDM tracks. The first one I choose was Countdown by Hardwell. To put it simply, if a headphone fails to reproduce this song faithfully then there are two things wrong with the headphone. Either it has low levels of sloppy bass, or the treble is elevated to the point where listening to this song becomes torture. Now knowing the HE1 did not lack in bass, I was not worried about the lower frequencies being sacrificed. The bass hit both hard and swiftly, showcasing the true speed the HE1 drivers are capable of. However, this being an EDM song, the track was overall very hot, meaning there were tons of peaks as well as sibilant passages. Again, I’ve heard an overall harsher tonality from this song when listening to it on other headphones. Although there was still an abundance of harshness, I’m more willing to believe this was from the recording and not a fault of the headphones. After listening to this song, the affirmation that the HE1 does not fair well with contemporary genres continued to grow. I wasn’t ready to give up yet, however as I still had a few more tracks to test. One of these was the Hey Brother by Avicci. Although this is also in the electronic/dance genre of music, it utilizes a style completely different from the previous song. In contrast, this song is a lot more natural with a greater use of real instruments and vocals. I expected this song to sound less harsh and indeed it did. That didn’t mean everything was alleviated as the HE1 still revealed the hoards of distortion present in the song. Overall, even this song sounded too grainy to be pleasurable on the HE1. Already deprived of my enthusiasm, I decided I would try one more song before concluding my analysis. The final song I chose was Perplexing Pegasus by Rae Sremmurd. This is an interesting song as even with other highly revealing headphones, I struggle to hear any hints of harshness. In addition, this song also features a beefy bass background that reveals the depravity of lower frequencies in many high-end headphones. In the bass department, the HE1 did not disappoint with this song and even exceeded my expectations. Not only was I able to sense the punch of the midbass, but I also got a good feel for the sub-bass. Indeed many headphones, regardless of price, fail to bring up the sub-bass in this song and as a result, it ends up sounding flat most of the time. I was delighted to hear that the HE1 was able to faithfully execute the lower frequencies. The higher frequencies confirmed my long-held suspicion about this song. My suspicion was that this song was deprived of any sort of detail. Listening to it on the HE1 confirmed the lack of detail because if I could not hear it through the HE1, then that must mean it is simply not there. Set aside that logical fallacy to this statement, I am simply explaining what I hear, or better yet, what I didn’t hear. And with the end of that song, so came an end to my listening session, and I then proceeded to the interview portion of my project.
  3. Pure Sound Analysis
    1. It would be quite a disservice for me to write this without providing a detailed analysis solely on the sound. For those who wish to know how the HE1 sounds and nothing else, I will be writing a detailed description of it in this section. I will cover the standard layout of going from bass to treble and will also cover soundstage. Again if you are only interested in knowing how the HE1 sounds, then skip everything else and just read this section.
    2. General Overview: I will describe the sound of the HE1 in a way sure to exacerbate the opinions of many audiophiles reading this. So how does it sound? With the HE1 you don’t hear the headphones, only the music. To the average reader this sounds cliche and makes little sense, so I will elaborate. When listening to the HE1, you are able to hear music in its entirety. This means you hear very little from the headphones and receive more from the music itself. If the goal of a headphone is to attain audio purity, which would create a path towards perfect audio reproduction, then the HE1 is the closest to achieving this goal by far. Ideally, why would anyone want to hear anything else besides their music? Some will argue that different tonalities add character to the music, however, I would have to disagree with this statement. I will say when compared to other world-class headphones like Sennheiser’s own HD800 and the Stax SR-009, the HE1 does sound marginally warmer. This does not mean the headphone is warm sounding, I’m just making the statement from a relative perspective. Most people would only make such a claim if they had the two mentioned headphones on hand for a direct comparison. Apart from that, I highly doubt anyone would make the claim that the HE1 is a warm sounding headphone. Having said that, I also want to rule out the notion that it is an analytic headphone. This is far from the truth as the HE1 does not constrain the music in any way, it simply allows it to perform to its full potential. Without getting political, it is the libertarian of headphones.
    3. Lower frequencies: If there is bass in the track, then the HE1 will present it to its full potential, but nothing more than that. Despite that, I still advise bassheads to steer away from this headphone as it will not provide the heart-pounding, ground-shaking, earth-shattering quantities of bass such listeners may be accustomed to. On a more positive note, I’m almost certain anyone who is not a bass head will enjoy the lower frequencies on these. Knowing bass is a subject of contention within the audiophile community, I often use different types of bass to see how well a headphone stacks up. I use a mix of quality bass, crude bass, as well as hard bass and physical bass. Audiophiles enjoy a plethora of genres, and that's not even factoring in different types of media like video games and movies. For this reason, I implement different types of bass in my listening sessions. I will start by explaining what quality bass sounds like from the HE1. The track I used for this was Doing it Right by Daft Punk. I can’t think of a better track that features such good quality for both sub and mid-bass. Starting from the sub-bass, there is an exceptional sense of physicality, almost as if you could touch the music. Although not quite as effervescent as some of the leading planar magnetics, the HE1 easily holds its ground in this area. The slightly drier tonality does lend the HE1 to sounding more articulate. With these, it is easier to make it what little detail there is in the sub-ass region. In the upper bass, there is a strong and swift physicality, most analogous to a swift punch to the face. The HE1 not only punches fast but equally hard as well. While listening to the song, I was not able to observe any sort of sloppiness in the bass, however, later bass tests would show me how well the HE1 fared when presented with less controlled bass. Right after this track was over I decided to try the song Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott, to see how the HE1 handled tracks significantly more bassy. As I have mentioned before, Butterfly Effect is one of those tracks that can weed out bass-shy headphones, therefore I felt it was a great track use. I started off by listening at around 30% volume and here everything was fantastic, apart from the treble that was scraping my eardrums. There was no distortion or sloppiness whatsoever, which was to be expected. The bass in this track is entirely artificial so I did not expect to receive any feeling of a physical presence. I was able to hear some digital processing that was most likely used when composing the song. Peering that deep into the music startled me, though it did put a small grin on my face. What happened next might sound troubling as it was completely unexpected. Having solidified the notion that the HE1 was impervious to lower frequency distortion, I began to raise the volume just to see how differently the bass would sound. With a complete disregard for the comfort of my ears, I briefly raised the volume to 75%. With this particular track, I was able to catch a glimpse of the HE1 struggling to reproduce the copious quantities of bass, while at the same time maintaining a degree of order. No, the HE1 did not become sloppy with the bass and neither was there audible distortion, however, I heard what appeared to be a hollow sound. An anthropomorphic metaphor would be that the drivers of the HE1 were becoming exhausted. Without jumping to any immediate conclusion, I suspect if I had raised the volume by just five more notches, I might have been able to hear minute levels of distortion. Again, I will not make any confirmation, that statement is just pure speculation. I doubt anyone buying this set of headphones will listen to music as bass-heavy as the track I tested it with, much less listen to such music at high volumes. Regardless I still think this small observation was something to take note of. Noticing this prompted me to try a track featured in a film. I decided to use the track Cornfield Chase from Interstellar. This track is both physically powerful as well as emotionally potent. It features the type of intense sub-bass not present in regular music. It is the type of bass that with a good home theater system, will make the floor shake. When listening to this song through speakers, I could feel the low frequencies permeate through the room. Obviously, I was going to get a different experience from a pair of headphones. The song starts off slow, but this leisurely pace did let me get another glimpse at how well-constructed the soundstage of the HE1 is. Once the bass started, my jaw began to drop. I don’t mean to spew out a constant stream of superlatives, but the lower frequencies here were extraordinary. It is not simply that the HE1 was able to provide a scrumptious amount of bass, but it was able to convey the feeling this song has when played through a proper set of speakers. Like with my theater experience, the bass on the HE1 was able to envelop me, allowing me to get the sense I was inside of the song. Unfortunately, I did not have any triple-A games with me to see how well the HE1 would fare with lower frequencies in-game soundtracks. However, I would assume gaming soundtracks would be very similar to movie soundtracks, so it is safe to assume gaming soundtracks would sound equally as good on the HE1. My last bass test would demonstrate how well the HE1 handled fast and hard bass. This type of bass is most prominent in genres like electronic or pop. The song I chose for this test was Countdown by Hardwell. Right from the start this song smacks you in the face. With this song, it is easy to evaluate the bass control a headphone has. On a subpar pair, this song will sound immediately sloppy in the bass region. On most high-end headphones that overemphasize the treble, this song sounds incredibly harsh, verging on being unlistenable. Well, although the higher frequencies on this song did not bring comfort to my ears, the lower frequencies left me very pleased. I was able to observe how the bass in this track was layered, meaning there were different types of bass overlapping each other. Most headphones struggle to make this separation, however, the HE1 was able to dissect this portion of the song like a pair medical-grade forceps. Through this extreme level of separation, the HE1 still maintained the hard punch that the bass on this song has. For a brief moment, I took the headphones off, and interestingly, from a distance this portion of the song sounding as if the headphone was popping. This just goes to show how hard the bass in this song is. I suspect through cheap speakers or headphones, the bass would sound as if it was popping. I have also heard this through some single balanced armature IEMs, so I was quite glad the HE1 didn’t ruin the bass in this song. While the punch was not as physical as it is on speakers, it was certainly on par with what you would get from a world-class planar. My conclusion about the bass after listening to all these songs was that it was the correct type of bass that I had heard. Although it does not sound as physical as speakers or some planars, it still portrayed the bass in the most correct way I have yet heard. With that being said, my final thoughts on the bass is that is powerful when it needs to be. It won’t rattle your bones, but it also won’t leave you wanting more -- unless of course, you are a basshead. Amongst those who have more mature taste in musical genres, the HE1 will exceed expectations.
    4. Middle Frequencies: The mids often get overlooked in the evaluation of a headphones’ sound quality. It was impossible for me to ignore the mids in the HE1, not because they were overemphasized, but because there was nothing to drown them out. Similar to bass, there are also varying degrees of mid-range frequencies. Cellos are a mid-range centric sound, yet they sound completely different from female vocals. In order to evaluate the mids fairly, I also listened to different songs in order to observe how the HE1 handles all types of mid-centric sounds. The first song I chose for this test was Bach’s cello suite no. 1 in G major. This song is exclusively cello so I felt it was a good track to use when evaluating mids. The best way to describe this song through the HE1 was that it sounded organic. It was as if I could feel the wood of the cello up against my ears. In a more technical description, the mids sounded clear. This clarity is due mainly to having no obstruction from either the bass or the treble. You can hear the cello that comes immediately out at you, but at the same time, you can hear the decay of the cello that fallows. Having heard a cello played in actuality, the HE1 was extremely fair to how a real cello sounds. The lower mids added the needed authority that makes this piece sound emotionally deep. Moving up to the upper mids, the HE1 made higher registers of the cello sound pristine. Apart from that, there wasn’t much I could examine from this piece other than that the mids from a cello were both authoritative and clear. The next song I choose was I Love You Always Forever by Donna Lewis. Like other female vocalists from the 1990s, Donna’s voice sounds angelic. This is true regardless of what headphone is used, but with the HE1, her voice is elevated to another level. Although this description will make little sense to anyone reading, I would say that through the HE1, her voice sounded like I was listening to a beam of light. To elaborate, listening to her was the equivalent of listening to a strand of high-grade silk. Though her voice was exceptionally clear, in this case, the clarity of her voice was less relevant as the smoothness of her voice took over. It was the type of silky smoothness that makes a person fall back in their chairs. After this song was over I decided to try another similar song, not for evaluation, but simply for enjoyment sake. The next song I tried was My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. In terms of sound and style this song is very similar to the previous one, however, there is more of a sense of space with this song. What I mean is that opposed to sounding as if it was recorded in a studio, My Heart Will Go On sounds like it was recorded in a symphony hall. There is simply a larger sense of space with this song that makes it more suitable for testing open-back headphones. Sure enough, with this song, Celine’s voice sounds as if it was shooting off into the distance. It creates a large atmosphere that I think captures the emotion she is trying to convey in the song. Celine’s voice is also slighter deeper than Donna’s so this let me hear how well the HE1 portrayed different types of female voices. Like Donna, Celine sounded clear and pristine while at the same time being supremely smooth. And that description quickly summarizes how well the HE1 can convey female vocals. But female vocals weren’t the only types of vocals I tested. Of course, I also had to see how well male vocals sounded. It’s easy for many “audiophile” headphones to sound good with female vocals. All these headphones need to do is get rid of bass and elevate the upper mids. Sure this is a crude and dismissive description, but it is, unfortunately, the truth. Male vocals, on the other hand, are harder to reproduce because they require some heft from lower frequencies, while also maintaining clarity. For this test, I used the one song I’m sure all audiophiles have heard at this point. Yes, I am referring to Hotel California. Although this song is good for measuring many things in a headphone, I used it exclusively for the evaluation of male vocals on the HE1. I will disclose that for this test I used the acoustic version of the song in order to get more of a feel for male vocals. Getting to the core of the matter, the HE1 portrayed the male vocals in this song as good as I wanted it to. The lower registers of the singer's voice was as authoritative as need be which in the back of my mind, let me know it was indeed a man who was singing. The detail in the vocals matters too, and I was able to hear plenty of detail as well. The detail in this song was actually startling as I was able to hear the changing tonality in the singer’s voice. On top of that, I was able to hear the subtle raspiness on his voice as well. Keep in mind I was hearing all of these on top of everything else that was going on in the track. So apart from dominating male vocals, the HE1 once again proved it was a master at separation. I tried one more song to get a solid grasp on how well it rendered male vocals. I moved onto the song Doing it Right by Daft Punk. This song features the artist Panda Bear who is the singer of the song. His voice is different enough from the singer in Hotel California, so I am able to evaluate how the HE1 handles different types of male vocals. His voice is on the lighter end, so it benefits more from the high-frequency detail available on the HE1. For the most part, Panda Bear’s voice sounds extremely clean, similar to Celine’s voice. There are brief moments where he starts singing, and during these parts, I am able to hear the puckering of his lips. I will disclose I was able to hear this when I turned the volume up to 75%. It also helped that this song is very well mastered. Despite the high level of detail in his voice, there was no point where I felt the lower frequency heft was not being well portrayed. Panda’s voice was undeniably a man’s voice, and that was what convinced me that the HE1 doesn’t make sacrifices when it comes to rendering either female or male vocals. With that last song coming to an end, I confidently told myself that like the lower frequencies, the mids are also faithfully recreated through the HE1. Sure there might be mid-centric, bassless headphones that really make female vocals “pop”, but if you are someone who is after the more realistic portrayal of not just vocals, but all middle frequencies, then the HE1 is the cream of the crop in this regard. As I said at the beginning of this section, the mids on the HE1 are not excellent because they are, but instead because there is nothing to overpower them. As a result, they are able to shine without coming off as overly brash. I say that personally, these are my favorite types of mid-frequencies.
    5. High-frequencies: We have made it to the high-frequencies, which I often say is what makes or break a headphone. This statement is, of course, inclusive of all audio gear. People can say they don’t enjoy copious quantities of bass, but they can handle it. They can also say they don’t like mids that are too forward sounding, but they can handle this as well. This line of coping doesn’t apply to well for treble. To put it simply, too much treble is easily off-putting and will deter listeners more than either bass or mids. Nowhere is there more contention in sound quality than in this area of sound. Because of this, I had to evaluate this portion of the HE1’s sound as best as I could in order to avoid any misleading characterizations. With that being said, I will now describe the treble on the HE1 as accurately as I can. When it comes to testing the treble on any headphone, the first song I turn towards is Within from Daft Punk. Some may think this is an odd choice for this type of test; however, I disagree. Apart from the use of cymbals, there are also segments in the song where there is a stream of sparkle thrown in. This is a finishing touch that makes the entire song sound dark and luscious, yet immensely detailed at the same time. This isn’t the type of detail that is common amongst most songs. It’s the type of detail that needs a high-powered microscope to be appreciated. The HE1 is one of these microscopes that lets you peer deep into every particle in the track. For those who would like an analysis of more natural sounds, this song may not be sufficient when describing the detail retrieval capabilities of this headphone. Keeping this in mind, I turned to a piece that is less synthetic. The next track I chose is called We Three Kings, the instrumental version. This track features mostly string instruments, so it is more akin to what an ordinary person would think of when the idea of audio detail is presented to them. Through almost every headphone I’ve tried this song sounds very hot, and that is because it is. With so much detail thrown into the mix, it is nearly impossible to not characterize this song as anything but hot. On a normal volume setting, this song did not sound hot through the HE1. I did hear tons of detail, but nothing that would make me cringe. What is most fascinating about this song is that apart from just pure resolution, it also showcases the separation capabilities of the HE1 as well as the soundstage.
      Unlike other headphones, including the venerable HD800, the detail here doesn’t make the HE1 sound diffuse. Instead, I am able to clearly distinguish where every sound is coming from. Yes, the HD800 and other headphones like it may sound wider, or more open, but they certainly lack the staging capabilities of the HE1. This is just one cue that let me know that the HE1 does not go over the top with treble, but instead is nuanced in how it presents the available detail present in a song. The next song I chose was The Stable Song, by Gregory Alan Isakov. For those who might be aware of this song, it may seem strange to have picked this song for the treble evaluation, however, I did not use the original recording. Instead, I opted for the 2016 version of the song that is mastered significantly better. Like the previous song, there is enough raw detail here, but also a good level of expansion that makes the entire song sound like a journey through a vinyl record. It’s the type of resolution you have to look for instead of being the type directly shoved into your face. When looking through this song, it is evident there is more detail laying underneath the haziness of background. Through most headphones, this is not audible. “Neutral” or sterile sounding headphones have a tendency to kill the sound signature of this song, thus not allowing you to hear all the detail in the track. Because the HE1 doesn’t have the brute sharpness of some of these headphones, it is much easier to hear the underlying tones of this song. And this is what I wanted to explain the most. Detail isn’t just about listening to what is immediately noticeable to you. It is about being able to hear everything and then piece it all together in a way that makes a song sounds cogent. This translates into being able to see, or in this case, hear bigger picture. On the HE1, this is possible as it shows you everything that there is and nothing less. For tracks that are mastered well, this is a massive positive. But for those tracks in every audiophile’s library that may not quite be up to par with the rest in their library, the HE1 is the equivalent of Satan. There are songs I tested which have what I call “crude” treble. This is the type of treble that may make muddy sound car stereos sound clear, however, when played through high-end headphones, makes listening to the song sound excruciatingly painful. I’ve previously mentioned that one of these types of songs is one by the name of Wonderful, by Travis Scott. On any ordinary headphone, you might be fooled into thinking this song is well mastered, however, the HE1 reveals this song for what it really is. Through the HE1 songs like these sound like lava, an extremely hot mess. Apart from the lack of true micro-details, whatever treble there is in the song is synthetic, lending it to sounding artificial and very compressed. The end result of a song like this is that it just sounds plain terrible. Not bad, but quite frankly terrible. With the volume knob set above 35%, songs like these are unlistenable. Essentially, any song within the top 100 will be sonically destroyed by the detail retrieval the HE1 has to offer. This isn’t exclusive to just these types of songs, however. Through the HE1, I was surprised to hear that Micheal Jackson’s album, Thriller, isn’t as well mastered as most people have made it out to be. Even albums like these sound too brash. I’m going to go on the third rail and also say older album from the likes of the Beatles also sound bad on the HE1. With that being said, I will again make the clarification that the HE1 does not go over the top with the treble. It is by no means a treble-heavy headphone, rather is simply shows all the data available on a track. Some people enjoy hearing everything in a song, but then again, most of these people happen to listen to what most people would interpret as noise rather than actual music. If you own Mozart’s entire music collection on CD, or if you only listen to jazz on a Tidal premium account, or if you only listen to the RAM album by Daft Punk, then the treble provided by the HE1 will not only be highly engaging, but well worth the money. I think by this point people reading this will get where I’m going with this. The treble is fantastic, easily the best I’ve ever heard, no contest. In your face detail doesn’t compare to the level of nuance that the HE1 is capable of providing. The detail on the HE1 is akin to philosophical pundit Dr. Jordan Peterson. At a first glance, everything may not jump straight towards you, but given enough time and a close reexamination, the entire picture will become visible to you. The treble on the HE1 reveals the truth, and as many people know, the truth is not always pleasant. Great when it works in your favor but has the potential to decimate.
    6. Soundstage: This is an open headphone, therefore an evaluation of the soundstage is necessary. I’ve heard far too many audiophiles equate the size of a headphone’s soundstage with the quality of it. Contrary to this belief, this isn’t how the quality of the soundstage is examined. Sure the size of a headphone’s soundstage is important to keep in mind, but it is not all there is to it. Direction, placement, and separation are other important aspects to keep mind of. The problem is when reviewing headphones, many only listen to music and narrow genres of music at that. Films and video games are also out there and offer a unique insight into how the soundstage of a headphone may fair under these conditions. Unfortunately, I could not test video game audio as I had no console to pair the HE1 to. However, I doubt anyone would play a game while using the HE1. The idea sounds absurd, but it is a test someone in the future will eventually have to make. What I can say is that video games, especially the shooter genre, require levels of soundstage accuracy in order to make the experience more immersive. Players are placed inside of a virtual world, and as such, there are multiple noises coming from multiple directions all at once. Cheap stereo headphones clearly struggle when placed under these conditions, which is why many attempts to use digital surround sound to alleviate this issue. Other headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 fair much better but still don’t come near the level of separation a 5.1 speaker system is able to provide. The same can be said about movies. There is simply much more going on and not just any headphone is able to accurately transmit all of this data at once without sounding cloudy. I did play the Avengers Infinity War trailer through Youtube; however, given that Youtube isn’t the holy grail of sound quality, I will discard my analysis of this. For this evaluation, my only real option was to stick to music, and this worked out in the end. For this test, there was one song I was very eager to listen to. This song was Touch, also by Daft Punk. Quite a unique song that places the listener in a mystical outer space setting. With enough imagination, listeners might be able to fool themselves into thinking they are actually in outer space. That is how well the soundstage in this song is. And this is just with ordinary headphones. Through the HE1, the soundstage of this song is elevated to astronomical levels. The first portion of the song is more for seeing how big of a space the HE1’s soundstage can convey. There is actually little to no separation involved in this portion of the song. Moving along though, the song becomes increasingly more complex as more instruments and sounds are added in. The HE1 holds its ground and never becomes smeared. There are parts of the song where it sounds as if I were in outer space, but there are also parts of the song where I could get a glimpse of the size of the recording studio. The part most impressive was a part where there are drums playing in the background. There are very brief moments between the drum beats where I could almost hear the sound bounce off the walls. This allowed me to get an idea as to how big the recording room was. Not very big, but an impressive feat nonetheless. I decided to move along and test songs that were more grounded in reality. Really what I mean by this is I wanted to test songs that didn’t involve a heavy use of synthetic sounds. The next song I tried was The Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov. As I mentioned in the treble analysis, this song is riddled with nuances not heard on most headphones, including ones self-proclaimed as being highly detailed. I personally find this song to be one of the best to test soundstage as a good headphone will give you the impression that this song was played outdoors. That was the impression I received from the HE1, and it was the best portrayal of the song that I’ve ever heard. It truly brought out the vibe this song is intended to create. Atmospheric is the best way to describe the soundstage of this song. It places the listener not in a studio with the artist, but within a wide-open field in the presence of the artist. You can almost get a feel for how far the singer is from you, and to be able to achieve this feeling is no ordinary technical feat. There was one more song I decided to listen to before wrapping up my evaluation, and that song was none other than Winter by Antonio Vivaldi. I can’t think of another song I enjoy more with open-back headphones. It is certainly not the most complex, but in my opinion, it is one of the best for measuring perception. I am referring to spacing and direction this regard. On a more diffuse open-back headphone, a song like this will sound foggy. Not lacking in detail, but there is no sense of control or direction. Everything is in the picture all at once, but without control, hence the comparison to fog. Imagine staring at a giant movie screen but only noticing the light and the occasional shift in color. Through most headphones that is how this piece sounds. With the HE1 being so well at audio separation, I am able to get a sense of direction from this song. Clearly, the audio is being directed towards me, or whomever the listener may be. Having such an effect creates a feeling of entitlement as if the song was created for the individual listener. With a more romantic classical genre piece, this might be enough to make someone blush, but with Vivaldi’s Winter, it places the listener amidst a scene of swift action. The direction is linear as opposed to indefinite. The benefit of this is that the listener gets more enjoyment out of the track. If all the information is being directed towards them, then there will be more to hear and enjoy. As far as spatial awareness, the HE1 faired excellent with this track. While there is no way for the listener to know exactly how large the room of the recording is, it is possible to get a rough estimate of this. Not in numbers, but simply in imaginative terms. The recording obviously wasn’t done outdoors, but instead in a rather large-sized recording studio. This perception of size will largely depend on the track being played, but on a masterpiece like Vivaldi’s Winter, the full potential of the HE1’s soundstage is unleashed.
    7. Final thoughts on sound: We’ve come to the end of the sound analysis, which at the end of the day, is why the HE1 was made in the first place. Design, build, and even the status of owning an HE1, are all factors Sennheiser took into account when making this masterpiece of a headphone. Inevitably, however, people will look up to it for one main reason, and that reason is its audio quality. They are the best headphones I have ever heard. There is nothing else I’ve heard that rivals them, and I’ve heard nearly every top of the line rig there is. The problem with the HE1 is that it is a masterpiece that requires equally crafted music to match. It doesn’t take bad recordings and chew them up, instead, it rejects bad recordings altogether. If you attempt to listen to anything subpar, then you will be subjected not just to physical ear pain, but also to emotional disappointment. The disappointment stems from the realization that several tracks, and several genres, will be rejected by the magnificence of the HE1’s sound. At the beginning of this long review, I stated that I dwelt amongst a god, only to realize I was a mortal. The HE1, is a god, hence the name Orpheus, god of music. Even for those who have the financial means to own this setup, musical tastes matter as well. The “hood-rich” rapper will never be able to enjoy these headphones, nor will and up-and-coming political pundit, and not even a world-renowned athlete. This headphone was not made for those who have managed to rise to the top, but for those who have always resided in the clouds of heaven. If you are within the narrow bracket of people for whom this headphone was intended for, then you will enjoy a sound unparalleled to anything else available right now.
  4. Interview and Hidden Information
    1. Interview: After my listening session with the HE1 was over, I decided to proceed with the interview portion of my project. I only had a limited set of questions to ask, but they were quality questions nonetheless. The questions centered around how well Sennheiser was doing as a company, given the direction they have been heading in for the past several years. Unlike other reputable audio companies, I think that Sennheiser is willing to produce equipment that both sounds good and is appealing to the general public. We saw this with the introduction of the Momentum lineup back in 2012 and later with the Urbanite series. Although these lineups have not had the success that other mainstream brands have had, they sure brought some serious competition into the market. Prior to 2012, there were plenty of celebrity-endorsed flashy headphones that sounded like utter crap. On the other side of the camp, there were headphones that sounded terrific but looked like science fair projects. There was really no middle ground until brands like Sennheiser and Sony, to name a few, began to combine form and function. This move was a smart move on Sennheiser's part as it allowed them to expand the size of their audience. Given this bit of background information, I believe that Sennheiser is one of the few reputable headphone companies that is fine with stepping out of their comfort zone in order to explore new territories. This type of reasoning is what more audio companies should try to emulate as this is the type of thinking that leads to new innovations. From my conversation with the Sennheiser employee, it is clear to me that Sennheiser is intent on continuing their outreach towards different types of customers. The reason why this is important is that if reputable brands like Sennheiser start to increase their outreach, then it is inevitable that more people will be exposed to quality audio. Logically and if the situation is right, people who are exposed to higher-quality audio will have the potential to become audiophiles. This was certainly the vision that Sennheiser had in mind when they opened their store in San Fransisco. By having a store in such a densely packed urban environment, they will easily be able to attract more customers. However, there is an issue with Sennheiser’s plan and that it due to what I believe is an age conflict. Although Sennheiser easily has the potential to become the next big audio brand, how they promote their name is not coming off to well with younger audiences. And to this, I can point to their Pink Floyd collaboration. Sennheiser thought it would be a good idea to have their top-of-the-line Momentum model endorsed by Pink Floyd. Had this move been done back in the 1960s or 70s in a more homogenous society, then perhaps it would have been a successful move. Unfortatntly for Sennheiser, they did this in the 21st century and in a globalized economy. Apart from being an aged band, people in super-diverse nations like the U.S and the U.K, will not appreciate bands like Pink Floyd as they once did. Apart from the endorsements, while more mature listeners might appreciate the Momentum’s design, I know for a fact, being someone who is under the age of 20, that most people younger than me will not be as passionate about the design. The solution to this would be for Sennheiser to get inspiration from younger minds. They could have taken help from design companies like BMW or gotten endorsements from the likes of Drake or Ariana Grande. What I am saying is that as a society, we are vastly different from how the world was back in the middle of the century. As a result, Sennheiser has to advanced not just technologically, but also culturally if they wish to survive in an already competitive market.
    2. The second half of the interview was centered more around the HE1 itself. My basic question was why did Sennheiser even bother to make something like it when they already had the HE90. The simple answer from the employee was that Sennheiser simply wanted to top what they already had. As technology improves and other companies begin to pose a threat to the established reputation that Sennheiser has, they are compelled to improve as well. It took approximately 20 years for something to top the HE90, an impressive amount of time, but in the end, something did manage to dethrone what became known as the king of headphones. With the HE1, Sennheiser once again wanted to make something that would remain the best that there is, for a considerable amount of time. Technology is advancing at a rate that is unprecedented and it is unlikely that the HE1 will last on the throne for as long as the HE90 did. After all, there is already a direct competitor to the HE1 as I write this. For the time being, I will emphasize that the HE1 is objectively the best headphone in the world right now. Even if you disagree with me and you hate the way it sounds, there is no denying that other headphones will not sound as polished as the HE1. As I later mention later in my review, the HE1 is a statement product and Sennheiser didn’t just make it with the intent of it sounding incredible, but also with the intention of it leaving a lasting legacy. Even after decades of new technologies being introduced into the market, the HE1 will continue to be a marvelous item. Aside from just the sound quality, the build quality, design, and even the price and exclusivity will help to elevate it to a status that very few headphones, let alone other products can enjoy. At least for now, Sennheiser have succeeded in making a product that will endure years of fame. This is because apart from making a headphone, Sennheiser has also succeeded in producing a work of art. As most people know, once something is deemed as art, it is destined to become timeless. I’m certain that years from now people will enjoy the HE1 as much as they do today. Having no limits, led to the creation of a headphone that has become a legend amongst the audiophile community.
    3. Extras: There were some exciting extras to this project that were entirely unexpected. I mentioned earlier in this review that when I walked into the listening room, one of the first items that I saw was a HE90. Not just the headphones, but the entire system. Though not connected to anything, it was still a pleasant surprise to finally set my eyes and hands on a HE90. Not many exist, so being able to touch one is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Next to the HE90, there was a custom HD800 and HDV800. Both had a black and red color scheme that I’m sure youtubers from the likes of MKBHD will enjoy. Though I had seen the HD800 several times before, I had never seen a custom one, so this too was a pleasant surprise. By far the most exciting bit of information that I gathered from this project were documents that pertain to the HE1. These included both specifications and measurements that appears to have been signed by a real person. As far as I’m aware Sennheiser does not have any specifications for the HE1 online and there are also no measurements. It seems unclear to me why Sennheiser would not publish the specifications for the HE1 given that it is their best creation to date. I’m sure Sennheiser has their own reasons, however from my perspective publishing these specifications would sure cause a ripple in the audiophile community. Essentially I see no real reason to keep the specs hidden from the general public, but I suppose that there is no real reason to publish them as well aside from pure amazement. What was even more exciting than this was the signed frequency response graph that I saw. The employee told me that this along with the specifications came included when someone purchased an HE1. It is no surprise to me why no one has revealed such documents online. Just from looking at the graph, I’m sure an amateur audiophile will get a solid idea of how the HE1 will sound. Along with measurements of the HE1, there is also a frequency graph of the HE90 within the same plane. From the looks of it, it appears that the HE1 has slightly more bass than the HE90, with the lower treble being slightly more subdued and the upper treble just a hair above the HE90. Given this graph, one can expect the two systems to sound similar, and indeed they do. The HE1 sounds like a modern version of the HE90, having more adequate bass and a treble that is more liquid than airy or thin. Lastly, there is also a graph that measured the specific frequency response of the HE1 unit that I was listening to. The graph looks cruder than the other one, however, it does include the signatures of both Dr. Andreas Sennheier and Daniel Sennheiser. A nice finishing touch to an already outstanding package. I doubt most people have seen or were even aware that such documentation existed, So I’m certain that there will be some out there who are excited that they can now directly compare their measurements with those of Sennheiser. I would advise people to take these measurements and specifications with a grain of salt. In the past brands like Sony have been known to exaggerate these sorts of things in order to arouse their base. I trust Sennheiser, however, I still think it is important for a third-party to conduct measurements of their own, for comparison sakes. Now that Tyll from Innerfidelity has retired, someone else needs to find the courage and budget to measure the HE1. It is not a luxury of entertainment, but a necessity for the market to remain competitive.
  5. Design and Build: When the HE1 was initially announced, I was surprised to hear that many people hated the design. Upon the initial announcements, I fell in love with the design. As someone who massively enjoys classical and baroque art and design, the design of the HE1 made me gasp. It combines elements of the modern along with those of the past. The end result is a final look that while new, will remain timeless for years to come. Although I am someone who also enjoys space-age designs like those of the HD800, I personally feel like the listening environment also shapes the listening experience. As such, some headphone designs may feel out of place. An HD800, despite its technical feats, would appear out of place inside of a neoclassical style home. The same can’t quite be said about the HE1; it simply looks marvelous wherever it is placed. The cable is thick and coated in fabric, but I think I, along with many others, would have preferred seeing a more attractive cable to match with the overall aesthetics of the system. This is only a minor gripe of mine and on the other hand, I think having a basic cable removes any additional distractions. On the right side of the system is where the vacuum tubes are placed. I’m sure most people have seen by now that when powering on the system, the tubes move upwards. In video footage, this appears very intriguing. In person, this mechanism only makes the system seem even more astonishing. Along with these tubes, there is also a glossy black hatch that covers the actual headphones. Like the tubes, when you turn the system on, this hatch props open, revealing the headphones. Once this is open, the headphones are revealed in all their glory. The headphones themselves are large, quite a bit larger than the original HE90. They are not heavy, however, and the weight on them feels very evenly distributed. From what I could tell, the outer design is mostly aluminum, with hints of high-quality plastic in the headband. The earcups are interesting as on the outside they are leather, while on the inside they are made out of some kind of microsuede material. In the hands, the headphones feel substantial without feeling too heavy. They certainly do not feel cheap like many other electrostats do. All of this sure adds to the aesthetic superiority of the system, but does any of this lend itself to being functional? In almost every regard, yes. The tubes retreat inside the casing when not in use in order to prevent any potential damage, while the hatch remains closed to prevent damage and dust from ruining the headphones. The heavy marble base helps to prevent any resonance that might interfere with the purity of the sound. Even subtle nuances like the hybrid earpads add to the experience. They provide all the comfort and hygiene of suede earpads, while also providing the luxurious feel of leather earpads. I only wore the headphones for approximately an hour, but even so, I felt no discomfort whatsoever. I suppose people with weaker necks might feel some prolonged discomfort with listening sessions exceeding four hours, but this is a stretch. There was one area where did notice an issue. I have a rare condition known as red-ear syndrome, which means my ears become painstakingly hot when provoked. A simple tap on my ears can trigger a “heat rush”, which would make wearing headphones, especially closed-back headphones, very uncomfortable. The HE1 headphones happen to have amplifiers in the earcups themselves, and my heightened sensitivity was able to detect an accumulation of heat by the end of my listening session. As I’ve said, this is is a rare condition, but nonetheless, those who have ears sensitive to heat may find these to be uncomfortable. Other than that, comfort was top-notch with these, and I think only a sliver of people will find anything to complain about. Some may be concerned about whether the thick cable may weigh down the headphones. Luckily, this doesn’t happen as the headphones do a phenomenal job at distributing weight evenly across the head. With all that being said, I think these are beautiful headphones that will look impressive for many years to come. That, along with the tremendous comfort that they provide, means these headphones look and feel fantastic.
  6. Conclusion: Before making any judgments on the HE1, people first have to understand what it is. Is it just another audiophile-grade headphone? No, it certainly isn’t. Is it a technical accomplishment? This is partially true; Sennheiser did devote tons of time, energy, and money into creating something sonically impressive. But even this question or indirect statement is insufficient to explain what the HE1 truly is. In hindsight, the HE1 is a masterpiece of a statement. It doesn’t just exist for the purpose of making a bold claim, it exists to prove it is the best headphone the world has ever seen. It exists to prove it is the best at what it does, and anything else will fall short. Attempts to rival it’s dominance simply fail to succeed. For the time being, nothing can stand toe to toe with the system. After making this observation and understanding what the HE1 truly is, one can’t help but ask the question of, “Is it really worth it?”. I will spare readers an extra five pages of reading and say that this will ultimately depend on the listener. I’m sure there are many audiophiles reading this who already have their pitchforks and torches ready in an attempt to prevent me from ever making a review like this again. I have already established the HE1 is no ordinary headphone, and due to its status as a statement product, it cannot be judged in the same way as other headphones. It must be judged as its own category, something that is difficult to do. Throughout this piece, I have stated this system is aimed towards audiophiles with mountains of wealth. Some audiophiles have made the claim that this system is only intended for mega-rich athlete celebrities, but I debunked this idea in the sound analysis. If you are a wealthy audiophile who enjoys music from the like of Antonio Vivaldi or Miles Davis, then the HE1 will absolutely be worth every penny, or in its case, every $100 bill. Most of us, however, are ordinary people and are not in contention to own something as beautifully crafted as the HE1. We live in a society where you are free to do with your money as you please, but as many esteemed philosophers of the past have stated, money can’t buy happiness, and if you don’t fit the demographic, then the HE1 will not bring any pleasure into your life, nor will it provide you music with life. As a final conclusion I will say my experience with the HE1 made me fall in love, but unfortunately, it is a love that cannot be.

The End


Mm...very good review. It reinforces some of my own assessment, having spent the better part of the past year listening to my babe. My own babe is one year old! Good job.
Very good write up. Nice pictures too. I heard the HE1 at the Sennheiser store in March. I agree that only the finest recordings will measure up to the HE1. It's a shame that there is very good music that is poorly recorded and the HE1 will reveal that fact in no uncertain terms.
can you hear the sound from the gods with this system?? that price can buy me a new life LOOL
Pros: Clear, balanced sound without flaws. Comfortable and beautiful. The only reason I can think to own any other headphone with them is if it has its own distinct sound you want.
Cons: Obviously, $70,000, and really, they are a bit bulky to own and use compared to other headphones. How long it might take to get past 'evaluating' the sound and just use them..
I ran across the info that demos were available in San Francisco and booked one.

They were able to play vinyl, but couldn't get an internet connection working, and had about 1-2 dozen albums to pick from.

The obvious first pick for me was Dark Side of the Moon. Others were jazz or vocalist such as Norah Jones etc.

They were both great and basically flawless. I agree with others they don't add something that makes you say 'these are so much better as to justify the price' - they aren't a 'new experience' like great headphones over bad ones are.

These are simply for people who can afford to buy them and have the best and not worry about tradeoffs. But you can be perfectly happy with good headphones costing 1%-3% as much and not really miss much.

I really liked hearing them. And I'm ok not having them. If anything, perhaps these can help a little with chasing 'the next big sound'.

On the sound - they did everything right. The bass was as strong as you want, and not stronger. The mids were just right. And the highs were just as clear and sharp and well balanced with the sound as you'd want.

So they were just great - but as you listen, there's also a bit of 'ok, so they're flawless'. But they don't really grab you more than that. All the quality components are somewhat lost in the final sound.

There is a bit of listening for 'how good are they' and 'do I hear anything wrong' that takes away from just the pleasure of listening, in a demo.
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