Most mortals don’t have $55,000 sitting around for a pair of headphones. For most, $55,000 is a huge lump sum of cash reserved for investments like businesses or vehicles. The idea of spending that much on headphones is wildly reserved for movie stars, CEOs or other big wigs. That doesn’t matter, because in the end there’s still a small market willing to pay big dollars to hear audio in its most elegant form. I’m here to share my experience trying out Sennheiser’s answer to this market, their $55,000 headphones: the HE-1.
After a few deep breaths of nervous glee, I open the door and enter the acoustically isolated room Sennheiser has built specifically for premium audio demonstrations at CES 2017. Sennheiser’s Product Specialist Scott Houston sits me down and asks what’s my level of experience with audiophile gear. I reply that I own a few decent sets and that my most of my experience was with “Mid-Fi’’ equipment. “So what this [HE-1] is gonna do, is just ruin everything else for you,” he replies, smiling.
The HE-1 Are The Best Headphones I’ve Ever Heard
I squirm a bit as I take my seat in a comfortable chair that emits an air of elegance in line with what I’m about to experience. Houston passes me the HE-1 as well as the heavy metal remote. But as soon as he pressed play, and the swells of Hotel California by Eagles started to play, any concerns of adjusting the volume were far beyond my reach. I was no longer in a modern stylish room created for headphone demonstrations at the bustling Consumer Electronic Show. I was at my very own private Eagles concert for one. Encompassed and immersed in the band, as sounds no longer came from general directions but precise locations. I soared far, far away from the show floor.
Every sound feels like an auditory melody that reaches deep into my bones. Soon, it feels like they dissolve away and I’m no longer capable of movement in the real world. Each bass note feels narrow and controlled in the best way possible, like a musical prodigy was hitting a small drum directly into my ears. While many areas of the HE-1 are difficult to compare to your everyday headphones, the bass is to me the most drastic. Certainly some other headphones have a bigger quantity of bass, but I’ve never tried a pair that has anything close to the incredibly tight and controlled low end the HE-1 produces. Vocals sound crisp and incredibly detailed, with a real sense of presence, as though you can actually feel the singer’s position in the studio. Certain songs I’ve heard before on standard speakers sound not only new and fresh but unrecognizable as their true forms are unveiled.
Sennheiser has Designed Luxury from Head to Toe
It’s not just the sound. The headphones, DAC and tube amplifier are all designed around each other with the purpose of building the most elite, extreme and luxurious all-in-one listening experience. The base unit that houses the headphones, DAC and amplifier is built from glass and a solid block of Carrara marble. Once awakened, the HE-1’s marble home comes to life as the left top cover silently swings up revealing the HE-1. To top off the sense of Star Trek futurism, each of the eight glowing tubes inside the tube amplifier are also slowly rising up to their battle positions.
If this article has sparked your interest to hear the HE-1 for yourself and you are one of the few who can spare $55,000, getting your hands on one isn’t as simple as going down to the local electronics shop.
“The way we do it, we go direct from Sennheiser as a manufacturer direct to the customer through a concierge service. So you put down a deposit, the unit is built and then it’s shipped out,” explains Houston. “But it’s with a delivery installer, which happens to be me for North America. So I fly out, and then it’s dressed up, white gloves, town car. In the box, bringing it to the customers home and setting it up”
By the end of my 15 minute session I felt as if I’d taken off to the skies of sound and become immersed into the music. As the last track faded, I slowly fluttered down back to reality. Where I was sitting again in a modern stylish room created for headphone demonstrations at the bustling CES. Yet, while my brief and intense time with the HE-1 had ended, I was still in the music, surrounded by the band, still playing their hearts out. I stepped back out onto the show floor, my own personal concert still echoing in my head in perfect detail.
Audiophile Reminiscing with the HE-1
To this day, there will be times I’m listening at home and recall the experience, music and details of my demo of the HE-1. The Sennheiser representative escorting me was right. Today, whenever Hotel California, Under Pressure by Queen or Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah comes on I find myself not just reminiscing but also judging my current listening setup’s failures on so many levels to replicate the taste of audiophile magnificence I once savored at CES 2017.
In the end, the HE-1 is still a headphone costing as much as some mid level sports cars, leaving its listeners to the movie stars, CEOs, big wigs and the lucky few who have the chance to demo it at trade shows. I’m just grateful I was one of the lucky few.