Nearly 25 years ago Sennheiser introduced its Orpheus headphones, which were widely considered at the time to be at the leading edge of headphone design and quality – they cost US$16,000. For the last 10 years, engineers at Sennheiser have been trying to improve upon that original design and they've now produced a successor. The company claims the new Orpheus are the "best headphones in the world" – and they come at an even higher price tag of around €50,000 (US$55,100).
That may seem like a bit much for a pair of cans, but what you get are a set of hand-crafted headphones that come with their own separate amplifier. Each set has over 6,000 components, with the amplifier combining both vacuum tube and transistor technology within a handcrafted glass and sculpted Carrera marble casing.
Powering up the headphones is meant to showcase just how much workmanship went into the system's design and to emphasize that this is as much art as object. When the system is inactive, all the control knobs and internal amplifier components are retracted inside the glass and marble housing, but give the on/off-volume control a slight push and the entire system comes to life.
The control knobs, each of which are crafted from a single piece of chrome-plated brass, extend from the marble housing, followed by the quartz glass vacuum tubes rising from the base. Then a raised glass cover allows you to remove the headphones that feature ear cups made from precision-machined solid aluminum and covered in genuine leather and an allergy-free velour microfiber.
The Orpheus designers also pushed the envelope on the technical performance front, improving upon the original electrostatic design and amplifier. Sennheiser says these are the first electrostatic headphones with a metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOS-FET) high voltage amplifier integrated into the ear cups. Meanwhile, sound is produced via a platinum-vaporized diaphragm placed between two gold-vaporized ceramic electrodes, with the resulting diaphragm coming in at just 2.4 microns thick. Engineers also claim to have eliminated the capacitive reactance of the cable to allow the headphones to deliver an ultra-high impulse fidelity 200 percent more efficient than any other headphones currently available.
Once the headphones are plugged into an audio source, they deliver a claimed audio range of from 8 Hz to more than 100 kHz, at a distortion rate the company says is lower than any ever measured in a sound reproduction system: an insanely low 0.01 percent at 1 kHz.
"It is able to deceive our senses in a completely unique way, creating the perfect illusion of being directly immersed in the sound," says Daniel Sennheiser, CEO of Sennheiser.
The headphone space is relatively crowded with established players like Bose and Technics competing with newer companies like A Audio and Blue Microphones for customers willing to shell out $250-300. Even Bang & Olufson's BeoPlay H7 can be had for $450. The Sennheiser Orpheus headphones are in a league of its own in terms of price, whether that league extends to audio quality is likely on something only audiophiles with deep pockets will be able to attest to.
They will be hand-crafted in Germany from next year onwards.