Review: The Week My Life Changed – Sennheiser Orpheus

The Experience

Walking into the room itself was magical. The Orpheus was standing in the middle of the room with a couple of couches around it. Knowing you’re about to get your socks blown off, believe me, is a special feeling.

Even just by looking at it, Orpheus did things to me. Things that no other headphone or amplifier has done before. It just oozes quality, luxury and style. The marble used for the housing, the cable sleeving, the tubes, the controls: everything is perfectly built. I’ve never seen anything better. And I could touch it. I still get goosebumps thinking of it. The Orpheus was under supervision at all times though, I behaved.

I was fortunate to get to listen to the Orpheus for about an hour and half. Yes, getting there early paid off. Sennheiser suggested bringing your own music and so my trusted AK240 joined me on the trip. I connected my optical cable to the DAC on the rear of the unit and ready I was.

Let me be clear: The new Orpheus destroys everything you ever listened to before. I’m not just saying this, there just is no other way to put it. It’s without doubt the very best setup I have ever listened to. Period. This time the angels came and they were prettier than I had ever imagined they would be. My wife said: “For a minute there I think you were going to cry”. Yup.

One of the most enjoyable things when you get into this hobby is that better gear will make you show things in your favorite music that you have never heard before. After years of writing reviews and listening to (high end) gear, that feeling kind of faded away and I accepted that. I never thought I’d get that feeling again but the new Orpheus proved me wrong. Thank you Sennheiser, thank you so very much for that.

After 1.5 hours it isn’t easy to give you an in depth analysis of what the Orpheus really sounds like. The experience is just so overwhelming. Its definition, depth, width and layering is beyond anything you have ever heard before. It just sounds so detailed, dynamic, airy and natural. I never imagined anything could sound this good, this perfect. Orpheus sounds fast, tight, and shows you a sound stage you have never experienced before. It’s hard to put into words what Sennheiser has done and you might not believe me but one day when you yourself get to listen to the new Orpheus, you’ll think back to this day and say: ”Yeah, he was right”.

Vocals on this system sound extremely good and most of all incredibly realistic. I could swear Michael Jackson came back from the dead and was singing in that same room. Especially with the cross feed set on low, all music sounded so realistic. I don’t think I have ever heard violins sound this real, this good. Bass goes deep while keeping its detail with sublime layering. Could bass be more perfect? I doubt it. Treble is very extended but it’s never too much, it’s just how it’s supposed to be: lively, detailed and addictive. Orpheus’ balance and 3-dimensionality is breath taking but it will punish you for using low quality files. Orpheus doesn’t forgive.

During my listening session I tried as much genres as I possibly could: classical, jazz, rock, metal, pop, ballads, you name it. From Mozart to Melody Gardot to Sepultura , Orpheus did it all with the same ease and with the best of result.

All good things unfortunately come to an end and my time with the Orpheus passed quickly, leaving me excited and happy but also very sad. Sad, knowing none of my gear at home comes close to what I heard now. Sad, because it will take several months before I get to listen to the Orpheus again. What a week it has been.

The End?

The good news is that hopefully over the next few years, the technology will be trickled down to the “normal/high end” consumer products. After today, I’m convinced there are lots of very nice things to come in the following years.

What people have been asking me most is: “Is it worth $55K?”. And when I tell them it might be, they all say I’m crazy. The thing is that it is incredibly hard to put a price tag on all this. It clearly is the best I have ever heard, but is it $40K better than your high end home setup? That’s something only you can answer. Personally, if I were to win the lottery this weekend, I would immediately order one, no doubt about that. Make that two.

Sennheiser, you’ve done it (again). Thank you so much for having me and you can be sure I’ll be back.

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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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