Pros: well made, beautiful sonic signature, comfortable, not ugly, incredible value
Cons: hard to drive with tubes, large (though this is not necessarily a con)
I do not consider myself an accomplished or experienced audiophile, so I will
avoid getting too deep into terminology or discussions that I feel I have no place
in. However, I do consider myself a human with ears, and I feel qualified to review
I received my HiFiMAN HE-5LE’s as an early birthday present to myself. I found two
things: 1. The box has since changed (it is not a super nice wooden box anymore,
but is still quite nice, and 2. HiFiMAN has decided to include a braided cable without
the lamented-over XLR termination and converter as an option. Neither of these
things bothered me, and the second was in fact quite helpful. I bought these from a
legitimate audio store nearby so I do not suspect they are fakes, even though I was
at first put off by the box difference.
For the record, I am driving the HE-5LE’s via a FiiO E7/E9 combo. The HE-
5LE’s are apparently notoriously difficult to drive, but via a solid-state amp this
is not the case. When I attempted to drive them with my friend’s Woo Audio 3
with upgraded tubes and a higher-end DAC, it reached a soft volume at 12:00 and
distorted heavily past 12:00.
Anyway, here we go.
Frequency response: 10Hz – 60kHz
Weight: 402 grams (without cables) (12.3 oz)
Sensitivity: 87.5 dB (1 mW input)
Impedance: 38 ohms
It is important to heed the warning from Fang that the HE-5LE has a notoriously
low efficiency (as do all planar magnetics) and is thus extremely difficult to drive.
Even though the impedance is low, remember that this is not the only factor that
affects how easy to drive a headphone is. Personally, if you are unwilling to drop
several hundred dollars on a competent tube amp, look the way of solid-state amps.
The E9, for example, has ample power for the 5LE. Past 12:00, volumes are rather
uncomfortable to me.
However, I can drive them off of my E7 with my iPod. This surprised me. The
volume is not loud but if I am simply walking it is more than enough for a pleasant
walk while listening to jazz or classical.
The HE-5LE’s are rather large. I have a head too big for some hats, but these cans
fit me on the smallest setting, or maybe a few nudges past. They have very little
clamping force, but because of the shape of my head the bottom of the pads tends
to push a little bit into the muscles of my jaw. You know that feeling you get when
you chew gum for a whole plane flight? After several hours of listening I often find
that feeling of soreness in my jaw. The muscles that protrude slightly when the jaw
is closed or clenched rest directly under the edge of the pads for me, and are forced
back whenever they tense. Not a major drawback and as far as I know I am the only
person who has experienced this. The ear cups are a wonderful soft velour and
rest well around the outside of my ears. I do not “bottom out” in these headphones
(even though my ears are a tad elephant-like in their protrusion) and I find their
fit extremely agreeable. The headband is not exactly plush, consisting of leather
layered over metal, but nonetheless bothers me none, even after hours.
Bottom line: I find myself forgetting these headphones are on very soon after
The HE-5LE’s are an interesting headphone. They are massive. Far exceeding
the size of the HD-650’s or M-50’s I have at my fingertips, I can see them in my
peripheral vision. However, during long walks I have found myself unashamed to
listen to some jazz off of my iPod. However, being open cans with a considerably
high ratio of leaked volume to heard volume, I do not take them anywhere where
I will not be in relative quiet. Since these rest on my desk, I do not place aesthetics
above really anything in importance, but they look extremely professional,
especially with the gold accents from the cable connections. I prefer their black
leather and plastic to the HE-5’s, only because wood is not my style. I find them very
visually pleasing and impressive. Enough said.
And now we come to obviously what you are all here for— the sound presentation.
Having only heard the HD-800’s once to date, and being devoid of any other
experience in planar magnetics (and a limited scope of auditions in terms of other
high ends), I may not be the best qualified person to make this statement, but I will
nonetheless. I think these are the most wonderful headphones I have ever listened
to. I enjoy them more than the HD-800 for several reasons, which I will discuss later
but are obviously a construct of my limited experience and personal taste.
However, as you will notice, many times I complain of recording-centric problems.
These headphones are extremely revealing and if you listen to anything lower than 256kbps you will be very sad. In short, bad quality in = abominable quality out, and good/great quality in = amazing quality out.
The highs on the HE-5LE are an intentional step down from the original HE-5’s
which many found a bit too much. I think the HE-5LE’s highs sparkle. As a drummer,
when I hear a hi-hat or cymbal hit I am amazed to hear almost every detail of
the percussion. It is lifelike. Sometimes a bit too lifelike for my tastes as in some
sample-heavy songs such as hip-hop where if the recording artist chose a rather
bright cymbal, you can tell. However, as you may notice, this is not the fault of
the headphones. The HE-5LE’s bring about as much forward in terms of treble as
the recording, except they do sometimes maybe a tiny, tiny emphasis in certain
situations. However, I find this quality endearing. Even as a basshead, it is wonderful
to hear details sparkle and shine through like this. The highs have a lively soul in
jazz that I have not heard anywhere else.
The mids on the HE-5LE are strong and clear. I will sometimes EQ the mids a little
bit for certain songs, as the HE-5LE’s are very transparent. But like I said before,
this is something about the recordings and not the headphones. When listening
to mastered FLAC albums, mids shine through and are beautiful and resonant.
When listening to a professional singer on Come Away, Death, the vocals are
astoundingly lifelike. Even my friend with very high-end components and HD650’s
with nice custom cables was extremely surprised by the vocals. They are the most
realistic vocals I have yet to hear in a headphone. Even the one time I listened to the
HD800’s, I noticed a bit of distance in the vocals that I was not a massive fan of. I do
not sense the same in the HE-5LE’s.
Being planar magnetics, the bass is not thick or rumbling. As someone who loves
dubstep, drum ‘n bass, and other electronica, you would imagine that I would find
this distressing. However, rather perplexingly, I still find myself bopping my head
nonetheless. This is because while the bass may not have the presence of say, my M-
50’s, it is still punchy and engaging. It is not overstressed. When sufficiently loud,
drops are still powerful and mind-blowing. However, at lower volumes bass rolls
off a lot and if you are listening to electronic music at low volumes you will likely
be underwhelmed. Once again, it’s not really a drawback because if I want quiet
I take them off. When listening at a normal to high volume the bass is beautiful
and accurate. I feel every drum kick as if I am in the room with the drummer. The
bass extends low with a surprising amount of detail and it is a welcome level of
transparency in many of my favorite dubstep tracks.
I echo many of the comparisons between the HD800 a few other people have
made—mainly that the bass is a bit thin in comparison to these. Once again,
I only had a short hour or so with them but I consider that enough to tell the
sonic qualities of a headphone on a basic level. There is also the matter of them
being almost twice the price of the HE-5LE. However, I have never heard a single
headphone that has sounded strikingly better, which surprised me. These are for
sure not the be-all end-all of headphones, but they are not heavily outclassed by
anything I have heard to date, nor have I read otherwise from any other qualified
reviewer, which is a major accomplishment considering their price-point.
If you have the money, I think they are far and away one of the best purchases to
be had in their price range. I have never read a single review that did not extol the
unbelievable nature of the value of the HE-5LE’s.