CES 2013 Show Highlight: Sennheiser
About 8 years ago I visited the Sennheiser headquarters campus in Wedemark, Germany (near Hannover). It was a fabulous experience, and I can't tell you how impressed I was at the seriousness with which Sennheiser takes every aspect of manufacturing a product. From hugely automated custom driver manufacturing machines, to a materials research labs bristling with expensive test equipment, to a complex marketing effort including very well staffed product management offices, their operation was inordinately comprehensive and competent.
But my favorite part of the visit, by far, was time spent in the Research and Development group and a long conversation with their, at the time, chief headphone engineer, Axel Grell. He filled me in on some of their methods for investigating driver diaphragm vibrations using laser interferometry, on how they conducted subjective listening tests, and gave me a preview of their current thinking on the still-in-development HD 800---which looked far different in the computer models than the finished product. Suffice it to say, I have no doubt that Sennheiser likely puts more R&D effort into their headphones than the vast majority of makers.
Axel has since moved into the marketing department to aid in developing Sennheiser's vision for their high-end headphone products, and was at CES touting their new in-ear IE 800 ($999) headphone. In typical Sennheiser fashion, this is a very unusual earphone using a 7mm dynamic driver, ceramic body, two tuned acoustic filters to get rid of typical ear canal resonances found in in-ear headphones, and silicon ear tips that include a built in filter to make cleaning your IEMs easy. Axel gave me a pair at the show, and I've had time to listen some since. I find these earphones quite good, but a bit unusual. They're a tad bright for me (which means they're probably just right for most), but are not harsh sounding. (I liked them WAY more then the AKG K3003.) They do have an interesting sparkle to them, and initial measurements reveal some unusual artifacts.
Which brings me to why Sennheiser was a show highlight for me: Now that Axel is in the marketing department I might actually have a chance to communicate with him about my findings and get some interesting feedback. In fact, I'm slated to go to Munich for the High-End Show in May, and I'm hoping to work in a Sennheiser factory visit. While most of what's in Axel's head is no doubt Sennheiser proprietary, I'm sure there's plenty of general headphone information that would provide me, and InnerFidelity readers, with a useful education.