If you're tired of those Apple EarPods, I have a treat for you. Sennheiser is attempting to make the world's best headphones. Again.
Back in 1991, Sennheiser created the Orpheus HE90, which became widely known as the best pair of headphones money can buy. They came with an amplifier, cost $16,000 and only 300 pairs were made. If you wanted them today, the Orpheus HE90 would cost you triple the retail price, if you can even find a pair for sale.
The Orpheus isn't really made for playing music from your smartphone
Nearly 25 years later, Sennheiser has returned with an updated version of the Orpheus, and this time it will cost you €50,000 (roughly $55,000). The new Orpheus headphones have been in development for over a decade. Hand-crafted in Germany using over 6,000 components including gold-vaporized ceramic electrodes, platinum-vaporized diaphragms, and Carrara marble amplifier housing from Italy — the same used by Michelangelo — the Orpheus is far more ornate than your average high-end headphones.
But all those precious metals aren't just for show; they can noticeably improve conductivity when utilized properly, and given Sennheiser's history of crafting excellent headphones, they were likely crucial to the construction of the Orpheus. The luxury extends to the amplifier as well; the control elements are crafted from a single piece of brass which is then plated with chrome. Even turning on the headphones is a procession, with those chrome-plated brass knobs extending out from within the amplifier housing, the eight quartz-encased vacuum tubes rising from the amplifier base and starting to glow, all before the glass encasing around the headphones is raised. But would you expect any less for €50,000?
Where Sennheiser separates itself from the competition with the new Orpheus is in digital amplification, which takes place directly in the headphones, which helps reduce any interference that cord travel may induce. It even has eight digital-to-analog converters to coax the finest sound from your low-quality Spotify stream (even 300kbps isn't great quality when compared to physical media). The Orpheus isn't really made for playing music from your smartphone anyway — high-end audio speakers deserve high-end audio, and most phones aren't able to produce the requisite audio quality to truly express the Orpheus' capabilities properly.
Sennheiser hasn't limited the production run of the new Orpheus out of the gate, noting that the extravagant headphones will be produced "from next year onwards," with no more than 250 produced each year. That means audiophiles around the world will have some time to start saving up to reach that €50,000 price tag before the Orpheus is available in mid-2016.