Gregory Porter

Discovering the Ultimate Sound Experience


Gear is what fascinates us. The best tools for capturing lifelike audio, all those breathtaking instances of sound that deserve to be recorded or transmitted. The best tools for processing, and the best tools for making all these very special moments come alive again during playback. “Products” will introduce you to extraordinary stories surrounding exceptional audio solutions.

Gregory Porter is one of the world’s most successful jazz musicians. Axel Grell is the chief developer of the new Sennheiser HE 1 headphones. The two men discuss their favorite music, excellence and the ultimate sound experience.

  • Author: Hanna Gieffers
  • Photos: Sennheiser / DJ Marketing Communication Ltd.
  • Video: Sennheiser / DJ Marketing Communication Ltd
  • Editing / Post Production DJ Marketing Communication Ltd.
„When I record my own music, I always try to convey my emotions. I don’t know how exactly, but these headphones really do succeed in getting those emotions across.“

We meet Porter at Vienna’s Liechtenstein Palace. Porter puts on a pair of headphones as he gazes into the distance, listening pensively.

Gregory Porter, what have you been listening to? Gregory Porter: We were listening to Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole singing “Unforgettable.” It’s one of my favorite songs. I’ve heard it many times, but this is the first time I’ve heard it like that. It’s the first time I’ve heard Nat King Cole’s voice so intimately. That’s truly extraordinary.

Axel Grell: We created the Sennheiser HE 1 for precisely these types of sound experiences.

Gregory Porter: The most striking thing about listening to these headphones is the simple clarity. I hear different, lighter elements in the strings that I didn’t hear before. I’ve never heard that part of the song like this. I feel like Nat King Cole is sitting on my shoulder – right here to my left. I probably would like to listen to my entire catalog of music on these headphones. When I record my own music, I always try to convey my emotions. I don’t know how exactly, but these headphones really do succeed in getting those emotions across.

Alex Grell, you served as one of the developers of the Sennheiser HE 1. How would you explain the fact that the headphones are able to transport these emotions? Grell: It was very important to us to make a detailed and precise sound possible. The listener should have the feeling that the singer is singing directly to him or her. That can only be achieved when the product is perfect.

Did you have a specific music genre in mind when you developed these headphones? Grell: These headphones are suited to any kind of music. The headphones play jazz music particularly well because they are capable of presenting the full qualities of this complex music.

Porter: I’ve got a question that I would like to ask Mr. Grell. Is the case really made entirely of marble?

Grell: It’s real marble that we bought in Italy. We went there especially for this task and came back with 20 tons of it. The case has been cut from a single block of marble.

Porter: It's a wonderful product – these are groundbreaking headphones. I can’t imagine anyone would not love to have these headphones. The weight and the build quality is really something extraordinary. One thing that struck me upon first viewing it and watching the process of getting to the headphones is that it’s a slow process – it slows you down, it’s a thoughtful process. It’s like the process of putting a record on a turntable and dropping the needle on it. It’s brings a bit of a ritual to listening to music. It can focus you and make you more contemplative about the process you are about to embark upon: listening to music. I love the fact that the tube amps rise slowly. That’s already a performance. I’ve never seen or held any headphones like these. I’d like to just take them with me now.

Gregory Porter experiencing the HE-1 in vienna
„These headphones are the ultimate perfection. I want to make sure that the music coming out of headphones like these is also perfect.“
„Excellence is important to us every day. “

Mr. Grell, what is it that you’re trying to express with the design? Grell: When the amplifier housing is closed, the case is a modern sculpture. It protects the headphones. It’s only after you open the case that the device’s function becomes apparent. The design is quiet and unobtrusive. It is timeless and will surely still be appreciated in 20 years’ time. We only used extraordinary, durable materials. The quality of the sound should also be reflected in the design.

How important is excellence in your work? Porter: For me, doing the best I can musically and bringing excellence to the audience is very important because people give their time and their time is very valuable. And when they give you time to listen to your music whether it be in their car, on their headphones or when they come to your concert, you want to always honor the fact that they’ve given their time to come. These headphones are probably the ultimate in listening excellence. I would even make sure that the music coming through these headphones is excellent.

Grell: Excellence is important to us every day. Even though we produce less expensive products as well, we want to achieve the best quality possible. That’s the Sennheiser Principle.

Is high-end listening the future of the audio industry? Porter: A high-end listening experience is a very different experience than listening to music on your cell phone. That’s not the way music was meant to be heard. When I’m writing a song, what I’m trying to achieve is the ultimate intimacy. What I’m trying to do is to eliminate these (he points to headphones) – anything that gets in the way of singing directly into the ear of the listener.

Grell: High-end listening is getting more and more interesting. Many people are noticing that there is much more to be found in music if you can listen to it uncompressed using high-quality equipment. That’s not only interesting for the Sennheiser HE 1, but also for less expensive models. The listener should be able to appreciate the emotions the artist is trying to transport. I get goose bumps when I listen to music on these headphones.

Gregory Porter und Axel Grell
„A new sound icon: Precise craftsmanship paired with German engineering and a "Work of Art Design."“

With what kind of song? Grell: With “Slabo Day” by Peter Green. That’s my absolute favorite song. I’ve heard details with these headphones that I never noticed before.

Mr. Porter, which songs would you like to listen to with these headphones? Porter: I would love to listen to a few classical pieces and jazz from the 1930s. Trying out new headphones is like going on an expedition.