In a world where you can get a decent pair of functional headphones at under Rs 1,000, the Sennheiser HE 1 might come across a tad ridiculous. After all, would you really spend Rs 4,500,000 on a pair of headphones? If you had that kind of money to spend, wouldn’t you buy yourself a fully equipped Mercedes Benz, or perhaps even a small flat?
If you already have it all, then the answers to my questions will be fairly obvious to you. You’re shopping for luxury, quality and exclusivity, and the Sennheiser HE 1 is all of those three things. The successor to the legendary Orpheus headphones first made by Sennheiser in 1991, the HE 1 is, without a doubt, the most expensive product sold today by the German headphone manufacturer. So much effort goes into it, that Sennheiser’s otherwise modern and efficient production line has the capacity to produce only one HE 1 per day. And if you’re living in India, you can now officially purchase the Sennheiser HE 1 for the anything-but-affordable price of Rs 4,500,000.
Let’s get some things clear at the outset; you aren’t just buying a pair of electrostatic headphones. Apart from the obvious pride and gloat-value that comes with owning luxury audio equipment like this, you also get a custom-built amplification and storage system for the headphones. Built out of marble with metal knobs and controls, the pre-amplification system for the headphones is powered by eight tube amplifiers, and comes with its own remote. You can also have the system customized to your tastes, such as gold plating on the knobs or a different kind of stone for the casing, depending on feasibility, and this will of course drive the cost up far beyond the Rs 4,500,000 price for the standard setup.
I had a chance to listen to the Sennheiser HE 1 at a recent listening session organized by Sennheiser in the company of Andreas Sennheiser, CEO of the family-owned German company himself. ALSO READ: Sennheiser teams up with Samsung to bring 3D audio to Android
The rig was simple; the Sennheiser HE 1 and its amplification system were connected to an Apple iMac, which served as the source device. There were some high-resolution audio tracks loaded up and ready, including a live cover of Hotel California by the Eagles, and Michael Jackson’s 1980s masterpiece Thriller. Starting it up is the beginning of the theatrics that I have previously mentioned. The knobs extend outwards, the tube amps rise up out of the casing, and the lid of the box opens to reveal the HE 1 headphones. Andreas explains that this is to give the tube amps the 25 seconds they need to warm up and prepare the amplification to the headphones.
As all audiophile headphones are, the Sennheiser HE 1 is open-backed. This means that apart from you, pretty much anyone around you will also be able to hear what you’re listening to. But since the headphones need a significant amount of power and the heavy marble DAC/Amp section is too inconvenient to pack into your bag, you’ll find yourself listening only at home where you can choose not to bother anyone.
The digital audio signal first makes its way from the Apple iMac to the DAC, which uses the ESS Sabre ES9018 chip. Capable of working with a resolution of 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 384kHz, this is a top-end DAC that keeps the signal as clean as possible. Pre-amplification takes place in the base unit too using the tube amps, and the final amplification stage takes place within the headset itself, before the power current drives the electrostatic drivers to create the sound.
Now, how does the Sennheiser HE 1 sound? To put it simply, it’s impressive. What you get is a truly open, three-dimensional sound that is a pleasure to listen to. From the famous guitar start of Hotel California to the eerie creaking of the door and footsteps at the beginning of Thriller, there’s plenty of detail to enjoy, and it’s a pleasure to detect and feel individual elements of the tracks as if they’re happening in the room you’re sitting in. Even if I only had about 20 minutes with the Sennheiser HE 1, this was a luxury audio experience to remember. ALSO READ: Sennheiser HD 4.20s Review: A great combination of comfort, style and performance
The headphones go on sale in India this month, but it obviously isn’t as easy to buy a pair as going online and paying by credit card. Fill out the form at Sennheiser India’s website, and the Sennheiser team will get in touch with you to take things forward. Audiophiles with the bank balance for this kind of luxury, think about giving this a try?