Sennheiser's new Orpheus electrostatic headphone system was designed without budgetary constraints or limits, so expectations among the audiophile cognoscenti are running high. For my listening session in New York City on Tuesday, I loaded a USB drive with familiar tunes to evaluate the Orpheus. I'll tell you upfront the sound was, in many ways, more realistic than I've heard before. Sound "barriers" were indeed broken!
I was taken aback by the sound of brass instruments, which were incredibly present and alive, and cymbals' metallic sheen was brilliant. I've never heard better.
Orpheus' effortless dynamics pushed the state of the art to new highs, and bass definition was no less thrilling. Stereo soundstaging was fine, but not as wide or spacious as I've heard from the Hifiman HE1000 or even Sennheiser's HD 800 headphones. Sadly, listening time was limited to about 20 minutes, and I didn't get to compare the Orpheus to any other headphone.
Orpheus is a closed system, meaning the headphone cannot be used with other brands headphone amplifiers. Priced at €50,000 in Germany (approximately $55,000 in the US, £35,000 in the UK, and AU$75,976 in Australia), Orpheus will be the most expensive headphone system in the world.
The Orpheus' ear cups feature vaporized gold ceramic electrodes, and superthin 2.4 micrometer, platinum-vaporized diaphragms that Sennheiser claims produce the lowest distortion that has ever been measured in sound reproduction equipment, at just 0.01 percent at 100 dB SPL at 1 kHz.. Orpheus's digital converters work with PCM files up to 32-bit resolution and sampling rates of up to 384kHz, and 2.8MHz or 5.6MHz DSD files.
The marble that Sennheiser selected for the tube amplifier comes from Carrara in Italy and is the same type of marble Michelangelo used to create his sculptures. The build quality, touch, look and feel of the entire Orpheus system is, even by high-end standards, exceptional. It's a rather large but extremely comfortable headphone.
The listening session was just a preview -- Sennheiser promised I will get to spend a lot more time with this system in the coming months, but for now I will say Orpheus left me shaken and stirred.
Orpheus production is set to begin in Germany next summer, and just 250 headphone/amp systems will be made each year. A team of Sennheiser technicians will build just one Orpheus system per day.