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Sound and Vision: The Sennheiser Orpheus is luxury audio at its finest

OPINION: Earlier in March I was given a tour of the Sennheiser Headphone factory in Tullamore, Ireland, and while I was there I was given the opportunity to listen to the Sennheiser Orpheus HE-1.

Now while I wouldn’t say that I have some sort of audio bucket list, the Sennheiser Orpheus has always been one of those audio products where I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to listen to it.

Named after the Greek God endowed with superhuman musical skills, at £60,000/$60,000 (if not more) it’s not a product where access to it is easy, though someone else on the trip said they had already listened to it twice before. The Sennheiser Orpheus is something of a sacred hi-fi object. Only a poor taste in music could possibly desecrate it, but such is its capabilities that it could make the most soporific of songs sound interesting.

And like all expensive pieces of kit, there’s drama to its unveiling. Turning the Orpheus on is essentially theatre with some misdirection thrown in. The base is a solid block of Carrara marble (sourced from Italy), with an electrostatic headphone in a see-through compartment on top with dials that push out from the fascia, and valve tube amplifiers that rise from the marble block. It’s like the rocket positioning its engines and getting ready for launch.

Sennheiser Orpheus in the flesh
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The misdirection is that the valve tube amplifiers need some time to warm up and get ready, so all that theatre is there to get stuff in the background up and running, which on first start-up takes about a minute.

You’re given the headphones which are massive but comfy, the design of which looks like a prop from out of a Tarsem Singh film – and then you sit back and allow yourself to be transported away.

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Now, some of that may come across as hyperbole. It can’t be that good, it’s too expensive, etc, and yes the Orpheus could (or can) be very well those things if you come at it from a certain perspective. What do I care, my £50 headphones do the trick for me etc.

But part of the enjoyment about luxury audio is that it is ostentatious, silly but also a great deal of fun. In performance terms the Orpheus sounds terrific – it sounds effortless with its warm sound; that’s inviting and wraps around your head like some sort of sonic cosy. It performs just as well at quieter and louder volumes, never sounds as if it’s straining and vocalists sound as if they were standing in front of you. Best of all, you stop thinking and just listen.

Sennheiser Orpheus valve amplifiers
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

That’s what the best audio products do. They disarm and transport the listener into the music, not to some distant vantage point where you’re thinking and analysing. I’m not a big fan of Daft Punk’s now final album in Random Access Memories but the rich, soulful performance the Orpheus elicited from the vinyl album made me want to listen to it again in full – but probably only on the Sennheiser Orpheus…

A trip through The Beatles’ Revolver album was equally illuminating (and had me bopping my head to Yellow Submarine), as was a listen to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Whatever the music genre, the Orpheus fleshes it out in a rich and rewarding way.

Sennheiser Orpheus and me
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

I only spent an hour with it, but everyone else on the tour could have easily spent plenty more time listening to it. It’s a special product, put together by one person (hello Damien!), which takes him about two weeks to put together before it ends up as a 21kg product put through acoustic, mechanical, and electromechanical tests before it gets shipped to its new owner.

We never learnt who bought a Sennheiser Orpheus, but they’re a lucky person. Such products don’t come around often, which is rather the point, and when they do, you’ve got to enjoy them from an uncynical point of view. After all, music can do many things, and one of them is to put a smile on your face, and that’s what the Sennheiser Orpheus HE-1 does – as long as you’ve got £60,000/$60,000 in your wallet.

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