I am sitting in this room on the 13th floor of the St.Regis hotel in Mumbai overlooking the concrete jungle the financial capital of India has become. Alongside me is Andreas Sennheiser, co-CEO and chief scion of the legendary german audio company and he has what some people would say the equivalent of a Rolls Royce for audio with him. Sennheiser, was in India showcasing the legendary audio marker’s latest achievement — the HE-1 headphone which the company claims is soulfully the next generation of its iconic Orpheus headphone. In the 15 short and sweet minutes I tested these headphones, my worldview of audio has been changed forever; and unfortunately for me it is something I may never be able to recreate at home considering the astronomical Rs 45 lakh price point of the HE-1, but then that’s what dreams are made of.
While Rs 45 lakh goes beyond one would call ostentatious, particularly for a headphone, there is this silken gratification in the fact there is a company in the technology industry which is just focussed on pushing the boundaries, maxing them out knowing fully well that it will not be selling even in the 1000s. And this is about pushing the boundaries of what kind of sonics one can expect from a headphone. This investment I’m sure will trickle down in multiple generations of Sennheiser products.
But let me come down to basics. This is a tube powered headphone system. It is what Sennheiser calls an electrostatic headphone system with a 500v tube amplifier — it has custom JJ tubes, additionally it comes with two stage amplification. Sennheiser claims that you’d hear things in a song that you’d never hear before and boy they are bang on.
In fact, the team told me that they showcased the headphones to a number of Indian artists like Loy Mendosa, Papon and the likes and all of them were wowed by the sound quality of the HE-1.
In my session which lasted a total of 15 minutes included an acoustic piece featuring a cello, violins, an acoustic guitar; basically an orchestra. This was the ‘aha’ moment I had never experienced in my life. The moment the song started playing I was agitated and wondered where the sound was coming from. It was directional of course, it just didn’t seem like I was wearing headphones. It sounded so natural. It was quite enthralling.
The second song was the iconic live acoustic rendition of the Eagles classic
and it sounded astoundingly good. Everything from the highs and mids to the low-end frequencies were audible crystal clear, but that was a given. What was more interesting was that the sound of the crowd was natural. I could individually pick out different sounds, which I have never experienced with any headphone system including Sennheiser’s HD800 line which is meant for mastering records.
Last song was Michael Jackson’s iconic
and this was perhaps the most intriguing experience of all. While I was able to listen to new elements in the mix, I could make out the quack and the peppy sound of Steve Lukather’s guitar. Jackson’s vocals sounded more supple in the mix and sat right in the middle allowing all instruments to breathe. I could even make out which pickup Lukhather had used on different passages of the song. This was fascinating as I had heard the very song on the AKG Quincy Jones headphones a couple of days earlier. Quincy Jones was Jackson’s producer for the album and his signature line of AKG headphones are amongst the very best around and the HE-1 steamrolled it in terms of sonic rendition of the song; that’s no mean feat, but at Rs 45 lakhs, it is only meant for hyper obsessive audiophiles, connoisseurs and well, people with spare kidneys.
At the end of the day, my conclusion is short and simple. My favourite guitarist of all time is Jimi Hendrix and I dearly hope someone, somehow hands him one of these bad boys in the heavens because he deserves to rock out to
with the almighty up there wearing these.