First Look

How does paying $75k for a headphone system sound to you?

Pre-orders are required for the Sennheiser HE 1 headphone system, which comes with a €50,000 price tag.
Pre-orders are required for the Sennheiser HE 1 headphone system, which comes with a €50,000 price tag.PHOTO: SENNHEISER

In life, one can opt for a Toyota Corolla or a Ferrari 488GTB supercar. Just like you can choose between the Apple EarPods and the Sennheiser HE 1 headphone system.

You see, the Sennheiser HE 1 costs a whopping €50,000 ($74,980).

For this amount, you can buy a good second-hand car or pay the deposit for a Housing Board flat. So is the HE 1 really worth the moolah?

I got a brief "ears-on" with the HE 1 during its regional launch last month. There were many regional tech reporters waiting to listen to the only unit available at the event. Thus, everyone got only 5min of listening time.

This headphone system consists of a set of electrostatic headphones and a tube amplifier system with eight vacuum tubes - all housed on a slab of luxurious marble.

Powering up the HE 1 is an experience in itself. Press the power button, and the control knobs will slowly extend outwards from the front, the eight vacuum tubes housed in their quartz glass bulbs will rise and a glass lid will open to unveil the headphones.

The system connects to a digital audio source via S/PDIF (optical and coaxial) or USB. It has eight internal digital-to-analog converters (DACs) that can convert audio data with a resolution of 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 384kHz, as well as DSD signals with sampling rates of 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz, into balanced analogue signals. Four DACs are connected to each stereo channel for noise reduction.

According to Sennheiser, audio signals go through the impulse processing of the tube amplifier, aided by the damping properties of the marble housing to reduce noise to a minimum.

The integrated high-voltage amplifiers in the headphones make up the final stage of the audio processing.

The headphones are said to use gold-vaporised ceramic electrodes and platinum-vaporised diaphragms for optimal audio performance.

The headphones were very comfortable to wear. They cupped my ears completely and effectively filtered out any outside noise.

When the first strains of music reached my ears through the HE 1, I was gobsmacked.

I could hear what direction the sound of the instruments was coming from. I couldn't help but turn towards that direction as a natural reaction.

I am no audiophile. But I could pick out the different instruments used and the tones of the music.

The bass, mids and highs were so distinct and sharp that it made me want to throw my other headphones into the bin.

Simply put, these are the best headphones I have tried. But I wouldn't buy one, even if I have the money to spare. I am just not that hardcore of a sound enthusiast.

Even if you want to buy it, you can't just purchase the HE 1 off the shelf. You have to pre-order it and Sennheiser will make one for you. And the company will be making only 250 units each year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'How does paying $75k for a headphone system sound to you?'. Print Edition | Subscribe