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Sennheiser’s US$55K HE 1: endgame or what?

  • fujiya_avic_spring_2016US$55K – if you had it, on what would you spend it? The super-duper serious head-fier might consider Sennheiser’s HE 1, the German company’s über-deluxe successor to the Orpheus HE90 electrostat, of which a mere 300 pairs were made and which now attract well above their original RRP on the used market.

    The HE 1 is a complete system aimed at the would be Orpheus hunter. Its integrated amplifier houses a multi-input D/A converter and its output has been tuned to ensure optimal headphone performance.

    Perhaps we might then view these high-end cans as actives? After all, there is even an amplifier stage to be found within the headphones themselves; one that ensures the wafer thin diaphragm is charged with sufficient voltage. Electrostatic headphones are thirsty.


    [For more technical info on how electrostats differ to dynamic and planar-magnetic designs, readers should consult my CanJam SoCal coverage on MrSpeakers’ Ether E.]

    The HE 1’s price point alone tugs hard on one’s propensity to bring out the superlatives. As does the system’s construction. Its start-up and shut down sequence is the neatest of party tricks: the tubes rise upwards from the amplifier’s body, the three control knobs emerge from the front panel and a smoked glass lid lifts on the headphones themselves. Retro-futurism writ large.

    Note the eight Sennheiser-branded tubes that sit, (partly) shielded from the tyranny of microphonics, in a ‘Carrara’ marble plinth.

    And the HE 1 system seen at the Fujiya Avic headphone festival is still the only one in existence.

    I missed an opportunity to take it for a test drive during its whistle-stop tour of select Australian state capitals in February but since then its been touring Singapore, China, South Korea and – now – Japan.

    In Tokyo, an opportunity presented itself to don the HE 1 ‘phones for five minutes, alongside a few regulars, before show start. I’d have been mad to turn it down, especially when other show attendees were required to register for an appointment.

    Here’s the conundrum in auditioning a headphone system that I will never afford: on one hand it’s an expression of what’s possible when (presumably) unlimited resources are applied by one of the world’s most prestigious headphone company’s to creating a statement system; on the other, an hour-glass timed audition is like being offered one night with your dream girl (or boy) – whispering incessantly beneath its surface seduction is the reminder that “You will never have me.”

    Ask yourself: could you live with that?

    Supplying the tunes was an Esoteric CD player that bypassed the HE 1 own D/A conversion. The CDs on offer were (depressingly) the usual suspects: Pat Metheny, Norah Jones, Michael Jackson and Steely Dan. I went with the first cut from the latter’s Aja.


    Was I blown away? Did my life change? Yes – immense clarity, inner-spaciousness, vapour-trail decay etc. – but also no. HiFiMAN’s Shangri-La, as heard at CanJam SoCal in March, impressed me equally, if not more so.

    Of course, very large handfuls of salt are required here. These are show conditions, listening carried out on the run and, here, with mostly unfamiliar music. An extended home-based A/B with my own music choices might yield very different results. Alas, that’s not going to happen for these two summit-fi systems within these pages.

    I’m not so into cars but with an eye-watering US$55K at my disposal, I’d probably use it to buy a hunk of metal on wheels. That’s me.

    The Sennheiser statement piece is for those who take home much larger pay checks. If that’s you, be advised that production of the HE 1 is expected to begin in earnest later this year.

    Further information: Sennheiser





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    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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