Sennheiser HE 1 for sale
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 $87 294 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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
HE-1 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.