Pros: Nice warm, lush sound at an attractive price
Cons: Will for sure be too warm and bassy for some
Fang from HiFiMan asked me to review the HE-300 headphones. I have been a big fan of HiFiMan’s planar magnetic headphones. But the HE-300 are not planars – they are dynamic driver headphones. While they look similar to the other HiFiMan headphones, their similarity is really only by look – they are MUCH lighter than the planar series. They are also much more efficient – at 93 dB/1mW@ 1kHz efficiency, and 50 ohms impedance, they can be driven by just about anything (although of course a good quality amp is still going to yield the best results).
Structurally, they are identical to the other HiFiMan headphones:
I find them to be quite comfortable overall, although I have a medium sized head - I think on a larger head the clamp might be a bit strong. I do think the stock cable is too thick and stiff, but the cable is easily replaceable and there is already a fairly robust group of aftermarket cables for the HiFiMan HE series headphones. I used a Q-Audio cable aftermarket cable with them for part of the review, and I thought it improved the sound slightly, and the ergonomics MASSIVELY. Of course, it cost about as much as the headphones do…
The HE-300 have a very robust sound, with strong and powerful bass, a slightly warm and forward midrange, and a fairly clean and smooth treble. While they do not break any new ground here, the overall sound is engaging, and enjoyable. They are definitely not for the detail freak, and if you like a leaner, more treble oriented sound they probably are not the best choice. The sound worked well for me, though, as I tend to prefer a somewhat warmer, lusher sound and that is what the HE-300 provides. While they are not the most transparent headphones that I have ever heard, to be sure, they provide a good level of clarity and transparency in their price class.
The HE-300 are definitely warmer and bassier than what anyone could consider neutral. That said, they are what I think many people would call “musical”, or “fun”. And that’s not to say that they are hopelessly colored by any stretch of the imagination, but they are for sure voiced on the rich side. There seems to me to be an emphasis in the 80-120 Hz range, and the treble response sounds like it is slightly shelved down.
As such, female vocals were well served. I also greatly enjoyed some Nat King Cole I listened to on reel-to-reel from the HE-300 – in fact I plugged them right into the headphone jack of my Pioneer RT-707 reel deck, which drove the HE-300 incredibly easily and effortlessly. I also had no trouble driving them with the Meier Corda Classic, the Meier Stepdance2 portable amp, and any of my vintage amps. They sounded great with the Trafomatic Experience Head One as well, although that is a much more expensive amp that is likely to get paired with the HE-300.
Michael McDonald’s terrifically recorded “Motown” sounded great, but there was very clearly some added bass emphasis, and the lower mids were voiced rich. The impact of this is that the HE-300 never sounds harsh or strident at all. I think this will appeal to a lot of folks – I get a lot of inquiries about a headphone that’s not bright. The HE-300 fits that description quite well. On the other hand, fans of headphones like Audio Technicas should probably look elsewhere. The HE-300 is not going to be something that people who like a brighter sound will like.
A headphone that is voices warm/lush, like the HE-300, can also seem to lack treble detail at times. If you listen carefully, it doesn’t actually lack detail – they are there, they are just not being pushed at you. On the flipside, the mids on the HE-300 can be a bit too forward at times, and so on some recordings you can get a little bit too “midrangy” sound. I felt that this was the case on Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” – his voice was pushed up front father than I know is what’s really on the recording. This was only occasionally the case, but this is the tradeoff you get at this price point, IMO. If you want to get a less colored but equally as musical a sound, you have to step up the ladder – to something like HiFiMan’s own HE-500.
The soundstage also is pushed out in front quite a bit, as a result of the frequency response curve. The soundstage is not very deep, but it is quite wide, and image specificity is good. Again, good performance for the money, but nothing even close to what you get from something like the HE-6/T1/HD-800/LCD-2, etc etc.
Funny how things progress – I’m not the best person to review the HE-300. My own headphones that I own are significantly upmarket from where the HE-300 plays. I no longer have any headphones that are in the same price class as the HE-300, which would be best compared to headphones like the Beyer DT880/990, or the Grado 325i, Denon D2000, or the Audio Technica ATH-A900. All of these are in the same price range as the HE-300. I have once had all of them, but I don’t anymore, unfortunately. At least from memory, the HE-300 competes well in this group, albeit with a distinct personality. It does not stand up competitively to the much more expensive group of cans I currently own, including HiFiMan’s own excellent HE-6, which is one of my references. But the HE-300 sound very good for the money, IMHO, and I liked the way it sounded as its colorations lean the way I do, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them as a good potential choice in the $250 price class, with the caveats above. For a warm, rich listen, it fits the bill well.