There are very few times in my life that I've had the chance to try out something as incredible as Sennheiser's new Orpheus headphones. It's really difficult to describe just how good these headphones sound.
To appreciate the fidelity being delivered by the Orpheus's electro-static drivers, you'll have to be somewhat open-minded. Audio is almost completely subjective, especially at the high end. If you're going from a pair of $30 headphones to a pair that costs $1,000, you'll hear a substantial difference. But going beyond $1,000, it becomes increasingly difficult to spot the nuances.
Listening to the Orpheus is a whole ritual in its own right. The process plus the knowledge of its cost definitely makes you preconditioned to how "good" the headphones sound. Pressing the power knob on the front of the marble platform starts the 24-second procedure that brings the Orpheus to life. The vacuum tubes and control knobs smoothly slide out and begin to glow a soft orange, letting you know you're about to be plunged into exquisite audio nirvana.
The Orpheus uses electro-static diaphragms to produce its audio. This allows transients (or high frequency sounds) to be produced with incredible speed. When I say speed, I mean the speed at which the diaphragms can oscillate in a controlled manner to produce accurate sound. For mids and highs, the Orpheus can't be beat. They're that good. Even without a completely silent room, I could definitely appreciate the clarity being produced.
But what about bass response? These aren't your boomy bass machines like you'll find at the local Best Buy store. The Orpheus is designed to give you tight, accurate bass with excellent extension. I wasn't disappointed. The bass is tight, thanks to the Orpheus's large diaphragms. You could literally feel the headphones vibrate on your head. The sound isn't boomy, and the bass never drowns out the other frequencies.
Right now I have a set of Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphones, which cost $1,200 and sound incredible. I mean, I was literally blown away when I first listened to them. Are the Sennheiser Orpheus better by $53,800? That's a really difficult question to answer. It depends on what you appreciate and what you want. It also largely depends on your budget.
Different people appreciate different things. What pleases one person may not please another. Some might say that the cost of the Orpheus makes them ridiculous, but there's something to be said about the incredible engineering, materials, thought, and performance that you're getting. You're also buying more than just a product. You're literally getting a whole experience. In terms of practicality, it's like comparing an everyday commuter car to say, a Ferrari. Different things for different experiences, for different people.
I really wish I could have listened to Sennheiser's finest creation in a completely silent environment. CES is definitely not the place to audition audio equipment of any kind. With audio products, there's always incredible difficulty in conveying how good or bad something sounds—you just can't do it appropriately with just words. It's like describing something visual to a blind person. The new Orpheus is incredible without question. How incredible though, depends entirely on what you're after.