Review: The Week My Life Changed – Sennheiser Orpheus

A few months ago Sennheiser got in touch as they wanted to advertise their Reshaping campaign on Headfonia. Who at that time would have thought the launch of the new Orpheus was linked to that. A few weeks ago however it all became clear Sennheiser was launching the new Orpheus and Jude got some kind of premiere with his listening session and video. From that day on I was hoping to get invited to one of the Orpheus events and luckily for me that happened. What an honor.

It’s no secret: I’m a big fan of Sennheiser headphones. Ever since I got into headphones, the HD650 has been one of my favorite units and I (not so) secretly call it the King of all headphones. Some will agree and some won’t but for a lot of people the HD650 is an end game headphone. I still use it on a daily basis myself. Next to the HD650 I have/had the HD25, Amperior, Momentum, HD600, HD700, RS220 and HD800 in my personal collection. That’s a lot of Sennheiser but for a fan, it’s normal. Isn’t it?

When I last week got my invitation for the private listening session I was a bit worried. You see, I last Saturday got married to my lovely wife and I – only three days later – was about to interrupt our honeymoon to go listen to a headphones setup in another country. Luckily for me she understands that I, being the headphone enthusiast I am, can’t reject an invitation to such an event. I mean, this is like the Champions’ League soccer final or the Superbowl for headphone fans: it just can’t be missed. So I have to thank her for that. And just to be sure she was OK with me leaving for the day, I got her some shoes just in case. It worked. We’re still married.

Orpheus 1

Back in 1990/1991 Sennheiser presented the HE90+HEV90 to the world a.k.a. the Orpheus. Only 300 units were ever made and with specs like 500V and a whole bunch of other impressive numbers, the Orpheus became the world’s best sounding system. 25 years have passed and since then a lot of new technology has found its way to the headphone market. I guess Sennheiser figured it was about time to set a new standard and my dear Lord, they did just that. November 2015 will from now on be remembered as the month Sennheiser showed the world the very best headphone system on the planet. Well, and of course the month I got married in. The missus might be reading after all.

I have to say I was very excited to go to Sennheiser in Almere (of all places). Not often do you exclusively get to listen to the world’s best headphone system. Actually only about 20 or so journalists got invited over the two days. I have listened to the original Orpheus quite a number of times during shows and while it certainly is a very good system it has never really wowed me that much. After I listened to it for the very first time, I wrote I expected angels to come down from heaven but that just never happened. It probably would have had I listened to it in the nineties though, at that time the original was just as astonishing as the successor is today. The “old” Orpheus still is good but with the new technology available today the differences between the Orpheus and the high-end gear available on the market today – such as the Stax 009 in example – isn’t that impressive any more.

Orpheus 2

The new Orpheus is impressive. It’s a completely new amplifier design which combines the best of tube and transistor amplifiers to provide the ultimate audio experience. Patented high-voltage amplifiers, which are integrated directly into the cups of the headphones, increase efficiency by 200% over other solutions currently available. It’s superb, believe me. The only downside of this is that the ear cups kind of get warm. It’s awesome though during winter and great for those cold Belgian nights. No, no no. Who am I kidding? With a sound like this I really don’t care about the cups getting warm. Orpheus is comfortable. Orpheus is sensual. Orpheus rocks.

High-quality quartz bulbs around the vacuum tubes eliminate all acoustic noise from the outside world, while an amplifier housing of the finest Carrara marble offers an unshakeable solid foundation. So far only three prototypes have been built, two of them are located in the European Union and the other one is somewhere in the US of A. When production starts in 2016 only 250 units will be made and it takes a full day to build just one unit.

Click here or below to go to page 2, the “tech stuff”. The Orpheus Experience itself continues on Page 3.

Review: The Week My Life Changed – Sennheiser Orpheus
4.2 (83.55%) 62 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

35 Comments

  • Reply November 20, 2015

    Barun C

    Nice writeup. Hope Sennheiser makes a Baby Orpheus 2, so that more people can enjoy this new technology without paying an overwhelming premium.

    • Reply November 20, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you, let’s hope so!

    • Reply November 21, 2015

      dalethorn

      They say they’re making only 250 of these, so that’s a total sales price of only $13.5 million USD. Less costs and labor it’s probably 3-4 million maximum – not a big payoff for a company like Sennheiser. If they were to make a stripped down version with the same sound and choice of amps, to be reasonably close to Stax’s prices, then that would be very cool. But if they made a really dumb decision, to make a stripped down version with lower sound quality, they’d be crushed – the competition is watching this very, very closely.

      • Reply November 21, 2015

        N Selvam

        That should be 250 units a year, the production rate targeted by Sennheiser. They have clarified through their reps on various forums (headfi for example) that these will not be limited edition, but ongoing production models.

        It’s conceivable there will be revisions down the road, or more affordable editions as well, but they are not the limited edition Orpheus of yesteryear.

        • Reply November 21, 2015

          dalethorn

          If that proves to be the case, it could be a positive move for them, but it does tend to move focus in the “headphone industry” to higher priced items, creating the impression of “mid-fi” even for items that cost $2000, which in turn lowers expectations. There are extensive discussions of how these upticked pricing wars are bad for the audio industry on the Stereophile forum.

          • Reply November 22, 2015

            N Selvam

            To some extent, I disagree, only because of how ludicrous the price is. Sennheiser knew from the offset no matter how they packaged it, it’s not nearly sane to spend $55,000 on a headphone system. It’s not intended for the market at large, just the very few who can afford a fabulous POC project.

            Now, I much rather place the blame for changing expectations (and accepting overpriced goods) on brands like AK especially ($3,500 for a DAP is way more ridiculous, because it’s targeted at a broader market). But again, this is a conversation for another place and time 😉

            I really really want to audition the HE1060 though, just to hear for myself what’s possible in the hobby

            • Reply November 22, 2015

              dalethorn

              You missed my point. It wasn’t purely my opinion – there’s quite a lot of discussion on Stereophile about exactly this process for speakers, turntables, etc. And the readers are upset at the idea that reviewers are telling them in not-too-subtle ways that their $50k systems are just mid-fi, because the better gear costs several hundred $k – a tonearm alone is $30k for example. I’ve read reviews here describing $600 headphones as “mid-fi” – not because of the sound apparently, but because of the price. That’s more like some other site I thought, not here.

  • Reply November 20, 2015

    dalethorn

    So will anything under $10k dollars now be referred to as mid-fi?

    • Reply November 20, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Wasn’t that already the case? 😀

      • Reply November 20, 2015

        dalethorn

        I’ve always identified with the poor, or less wealthy people, so I look for the items that have unusually good fidelity for the price. I think we can find very-high-fidelity for well under $1000, like the new DT1770. But if we’re reviewing 100 items per year, it’s easy to just throw those exceptional items into the big box and forget them. Maybe that would be a good new category to add to Headfonia: Highest ‘Fi’ for the price. I know that Innerfidelity has 150 headphones on their wall of fame by now, but that’s not “best” Fi or even hi-fi necessarily. I’m thinking best Fi at given price levels, or even “best Fi for under $1000”. Then other people can add their comments so the customer can read that as a shortlist without having to read 1000 pages elsewhere.

        • Reply November 22, 2015

          Tronco

          Good idea.I guess the good old HD 650 would be on top of the list 🙂

          • Reply November 22, 2015

            Dave Ulrich

            be on the top of all lists

      • Reply November 24, 2015

        digitldlnkwnt

        So i vote for a new category. Just like in the sports car world you have sports cars, super cars and hyper cars – i think that should apply here. Hyper Fi. Reserved for one-off, very exclusive, very high cost systems like the Orpheus or the Abyss. I think you can achieve very high levels of fidelity, without spending tens of thousands of dollars.

        • Reply November 24, 2015

          dalethorn

          I asked my wife what would she think if I bought the Orpheus, and she asked “Would it really do something for you?”, and I said “I don’t know”.

          • Reply November 24, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            And you would get used to its sound. And what’s next then? 🙂

            • Reply November 24, 2015

              dalethorn

              If I bought it I would go into hibernation, then after a few months I would emerge and say “Turn down that light, it’s killing me”.

              • Reply November 24, 2015

                digitldlnkwnt

                There’s a saying that your “never meet your heros” and for some of us, me included, that may just be the closest thing to the truth regard Orpheus. I’m really glad tech like this exists because in years to come you may find derivatives of the Orpheus on other more affordable headphones and systems-in fact it’s an inevitability. But as far those folks who complain top-tier anything being to expensive, they remind me of my dad; if the price doesn’t meet with his own fantastical rationalization – it’s too expensive.

                • Reply November 24, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  I will only say it’s too expensive if I can talk someone into a discount. We used to sell computers – IBM, HP, others – up to 30-35 percent off in West LA and Beverly Hills in the 1980’s, so if someone will sell me an Orpheus for 30 percent off, that saves $16.5k USD. Pretty impressive, eh? But sad to say, these things are made to be price-controlled, so since price-fixing** is not a customer/consumer-friendly policy, we are better off not playing their game.

                  **Today we have euphemisms for bad words like price-fixing, but still it’s the same deal.

                  • Reply February 7, 2016

                    Douglas Kinnear

                    Dale, in economics the term “price fixing” refers to cases in which sellers collude to keep their prices in line with each other — to avoid competition. For a one-of-a-kind product like the Orpheus, there is no such phenomenon.

                    The term you are looking for is, I believe, “resale price maintenance.”

                    • February 8, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      Well, I can’t argue the technicalities of price-fixing versus resale price maintenance for this particular limited-edition product. I’d say that a corporation like Sennheiser who makes a limited-edition product like the Orpheus for retail sale is price-fixing if they allow a dealer to sell it, but prevent the dealer from cutting the price. I’d probably have to know more about those reseller arrangements before firming up my opinion.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      Douglas Kinnear

                      Dale, I am just trying to clarify the language. What you have described (manufacturer prohibiting sellers from cutting price) is resale price maintenance, not price fixing. This is easily verified.

                      “Price fixing” sounds more ominous, probably because it is illegal in the US. But that is not what Sennheiser is doing, so we shouldn’t throw the term around.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      “We” are not throwing the term around, I am. And frankly, I’m not impressed with your euphemisms. Now let’s find out exactly what those relationships are, and then I will tell you what I think of them. Until then, I’m just speculating, like any interested customer who is shopping for “best price”.

                      Edit: Mr. Kinnear’s Disqus account has a grand total of 3 comments.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      Douglas Kinnear

                    • February 8, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      I know all about those official definitions. I also know about the Warren Report and other official stories. I also sold computers and electronics retail in L.A. and Beverly Hills, for years. Hewlett Packard was my top supplier. They were scum then and still are. You call it what you want, but I’ll stick to my experience, which I’ll be happy to share with any customers here. Take the small vendors and mfrs. here – God bless ’em, but the big guys -no. I’ve purchased and reviewed 150 headphones, and lots more. I know how bad it gets at the top.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      Douglas Kinnear

                      No one is denying your experience, nor your opinion. But the definition of “price fixing” is not a matter of opinion.

                      You can keep using the term incorrectly. There’s no law against ignorance.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      I see. If I worship the wrong god, then I won’t go to the same heaven as you. Actually, that’s a good thing.

                    • February 8, 2016

                      Headfonia_L.

                      Keep it cool guys. Big brother is watching 😉

                    • February 8, 2016

                      dalethorn

                      As I noted, his Disqus profile seems to have been created just for that purpose, rather than for ordinary discussion here. Most people don’t seem to pick up on those things. Remember when I reviewed the $1500 AKG K812, and one person created a new Disqus profile just to say “This was the most useless review ever….”?? I like to think positively about everyone, but I’d suggest that they be real, and participate in the discussions.

        • Reply November 24, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          You should see Head-fi, some are going crazy about the Orpheus price. I think they’re just sad they can’t afford it. I don’t see where the problem is, I can’t buy it either but people driving Lamborghinis probably can. This just isn’t for the normal mortals. So Super Fi or Hyper Fi sounds good.

  • Reply November 24, 2015

    digitldlnkwnt

    Congrats on the wedding L! And thanks for taking the time to crank out these reviews amidst wedding planning and execution – that’s not easy. Wanted to write that before I forgot. Now i’ll get back to reading about the unicorn you listened to.

  • Reply November 27, 2015

    cspirou

    What technology would trickle down because of this? After the 1st Orpheus it is not like Sennheiser started making electrostatic headphones and tube amplifiers.

    • Reply November 27, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      We’ll have to wait and see :/

    • Reply November 27, 2015

      dalethorn

      This isn’t the first time someone talked about the “ultra, super-ultra thin” membrane of their drivers (and how does it pump out the bass without tearing?), so if that’s a valuable feature, then it should trickle down. They did some special encasement for the tubes here, but that likely will always be expensive unless someone can mass produce it. The isolation and shielding of the components is expensive, unless someone can mass produce it. Tight QC so each unit sounds and measures the same is expensive, unless someone can mass produce it AND they state that as a guarantee/selling point. That last point is crucial – so many flagships are all over the place in inconsistency. Beyer has made very consistent headphones sometimes. It’s sorely needed today.

      • Reply March 14, 2017

        Logan M

        Its not ideal to make the thinnest membrane possible. They just throw that spec out there because it seems impressive. Several manufacturers including Sennheiser have experimented with thinner membranes than this but it starts to degrade sound quality in various ways if you go to far. They’ve been able to make membranes 1/10 that thick for 20+ years is just has no use as far as electrostatic headphones are concerned with the way they currently build them.

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