Welcome to the first installment of For What It’s Worth, in which an unbiased expert breaks down the seemingly ludicrous costs of some of our favorite objects.
Let's talk about Sennheiser's unparalleled headphone and amplifier combination, which was formerly entitled Orpheus, and is presently known as the HE 1.
Here is why it’s worth it.
Forget premium: we’re talking exclusive materials
The amplifier is housed in the spring-loaded body of Carrara marble that takes master craftsmen a day to cut and two to polish. That’s the same region where you’ll find the stone that eventually became Michelangelo's David. So this sound system is a masterpiece before you even turn it on.
And the headband of the 'phones is crafted from sumptuous leather with velvet-soft velour ear-cups for a classic HiFi feel, with an aluminum fin on the ear-cups to keep them comfortably cool.
It’s as much art as it is sound
As with David, the HE 1 possesses a bold physique, with retractable control knobs on the front, vacuum tubes on the top that rise out of the system and glow warm within 20 seconds once activated, and a sliding glass cover to house the headphone compartment.
But it’s not all for show
Aside from its beauty, marble is renowned for its acoustic dampening features. That natural ability is coupled with a shock absorber on the bottom of the amplifier that ensures the protection of your sound from subtle vibrations in your listening room's floor and walls.
Over 40 engineers, including experts in electronics, software and production, collaborated over the course of 10 years to design and handcraft the system’s 6,000 parts from scratch, working in irregular dimensions and lengths for optimal placement within the marble casing.
Now let’s talk about the nitty-gritty technical stuff. If you’re not an audiophile, feel free to jump to the next section, as this will all be French to you.
The amplifier delivers total analog sound without any digital signal processing. The unit also achieves the widest soundstage of almost any headphone on the market through the use of an open-air design wherein sound intentionally bleeds through the ear cup. The machine also espouses a groundbreaking approach to eliminating sound distortion thanks to the use of 2.8-micrometer sheets of vaporized platinum instead of the traditional magnetic fields exchanged between magnets and a diaphragm.
And to top it off, unprecedented knowledge and application of electrostatic transducers honed over the course of a year re-integrated with existing technologies has come together to create an aural experience that embodies the clearest possible sound on Earth.
It breaks sonic barriers
Vocals and instrumentals are palpable through the HE 1, and the accuracy of sound reproduction is unparalleled. This is quantified by the frequency response, which climbs from 8 Hertz to well above 100,000 Hertz, eclipsing what the human ear is capable of discerning — all with zero distortion.
In the audio world, there are fantastic stereo speakers that go for upwards of $150,000 (such as the automotive paint-clad Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF with silk tweeters, which goes for £200,000), but those tend to be more novelty than function. The concept behind the HE 1 is enduring. It weds German engineering with an entire day of intimate craftsmanship to produce a harmonious orchestra of mechanical movements — it’s basically a master Swiss watch made sonic.
I would gladly own the Orpheus over, say, the 2016 Corvette Stingray ($55,400), which is also excellent. Review forthcoming, hopefully.