“Magic” is the first word I’ve thought of when I listened to the Sennheiser HE 1. And that’s really the only explanation behind the sound of this outworldly headphones that come with a solid Carrara marble amplifier. Maybe the handcrafted manufacturing and tailor-made components have a part in that, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It must be magic.
I always wondered how €55,000 look like and now I have an answer – I even know how they sound. On show in the Excelsior department store in Milan, in the central Galleria del Corso, the Sennheiser HE 1 made little effort to hide their luxurious nature and all-but-subtle appearance. They were easily recognizable even from the distance, which is quite an accomplishment for a headphone!
There is just a single unit that includes DAC, tube amplifier and headphones. The latter are enclosed in a box which automatically opens and closes when the amplifier is powered on an off. Even the tubes (custom tubes designed and manufactured by Sennheiser) and the knobs on the front are hidden and come out of the body when the unit is powered up! And the volume knob goes to zero and then comes back to the previous volume level when you turn it on… No, really! Of course this is more of a gimmick to further show off the luxury, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
On to the important part: how do the Sennheiser HE 1 sound? I won’t delve into details and that’s for a practical reason: the venue was especially noisy and the HE 1 are open back, so they were inevitably influenced by sounds coming from outside. What I heard, though, was completely unlike anything I had ever heard before – they sounded more like hi-end speakers than headphones. Instrument separation was outworldly, detail retrieval was exceptional and voices were natural, smooth and without any hints of sibilance. Balance was great, although I think they are a bit warm. Alas I can’t write a detailed, in-depth report, but the impression I got is overwhelmingly positive.
I can’t compare them to anything I’ve heard this far, they’re in a league of their own. Marco Crucil, the Italian product manager for the consumer business unit, made it crystal clear: the Sennheiser HE 1 are a no-expense-spared, one-of-a-kind product which is more of a demonstrator than a “real” product. I will go as far as to compare it to those cars of which only ten units exist – they’re just a demonstration of the technological and design ability of a company. They’re a moonshot that could have a positive impact on the current product lineup, but will most probably remain an isolated experiment as a product.
Not only do they sound good, but they are also very comfortable: if you read my Bowers & Wilkins P3 Series II review or my Sony MDR-1000X review, you may know I have a problem with most full-size headphones. Although I did not wear the HE 1 for a long time, I got the impression they are superbly comfortable. The headband padding is so soft and easy on the scalp!
Very few people can afford the Sennheiser HE 1: Crucil once again made it clear that these are not meant for the general public, but for that 1% who is either very rich and wants something extravagant or extremely dedicated to audio (and also very rich, that is).
While these may not be within most people’s reach, Sennheiser often holds public listening sessions that anyone can attend – be sure to look out for them and attend, as I think it’s a valuable and enriching experience akin to listening to a concert. I hope I’ll be able to listen to them again in the future and write a more detailed report.
Magic. It must be magic.