Pros: Nicely balanced, accurate bass. Amazing mids. Unintrusive yet detailed highs.
Cons: Soundstage could be better. Clamping at first. Microphonics.
I got the HE-300 for $150 without knowing what I was really getting. I was on the verge of purchasing the HD 598 instead, but my life needed some unknowing excitement…I guess.
A cardboard box. That’s all you need to know. The first revisions came with a wooden box that looked rather sexy, but HifiMAN has chosen against it for its second and third revision, instead giving you a silver cable that will make a sound if you even think about touching it. Don’t get me wrong, the cable has been very well regarded and it sounds great, but the microphonics are terrible.
Comfort and build quality
At first, horrendously clamping. After a couple of days, amazing. The velour pads do help, but you will have to manually “expand” the headband a couple of times to make it work. While twisting the headband would be something I would be scared to do on any pair of cans, the HE-300 is so well built that you can bend it without a second thought. The headphone itself, although half plastic-half metal, provides a sense of sturdiness that brands like Sennheiser or Grado can seldom afford.
This is a hobby I only recently got into and still can’t appropriately afford, so I’ve just been testing these using Spotify at 320kbps, some FLACS, the laptop’s MB, an Onkyo receiver, and more recently a FiiO E07K.
In just a few words, these are warm and clear. For an open headphone, I was not expecting this much bass, especially at such a controlled and ‘accurate’ level. I’m not a bass head, but I’ve always thought that a more-than-neutral headphone can make music more, well…musical. While headphones like the V-Moda M100 and the modded HD 439 are extremely fun and focus on the lower end, the HE-300 will give you just enough to not overshadow the mids. It's perfect for those who do not want extra analytical sound, but don't want to focus on bass either. Sub-bass is lacking, though, so apart from some Gramatik, Lemaitre and Daft Punk, the HE-300 did just fine for me when it came to electronic music. Funk and jazz, however, work amazingly well.
Mids are amazing. I’ve had a little demo of the Audeze LCD2+Burson Conductor, the B&W P7, Momentum, Grado s80i, m50s, HD 558, and AKG K240 & K550, and other than the Audeze the HifiMAN are my favorites in this range. I think I fell in love with acoustic-y music again, getting lost within The Goat Rodeo Sessions and the solo Aoife O’Donovan, while catching new things from Don Ross’ guitar. Don’t even get me started with salsa and other latin genres: Bass and mids collaborate so well in this case that I almost forgot that I don’t really latin music that much.
Treble is one of those things that I have trouble defining. It's smooth on these cans, crisp but not harsh. Remember they are warm, so you’ll get enough clarity in the highs to not be left in auditory darkness, but that’s it. In my case, this is ideal, giving me a jump from the Sennheiser “veil” I enjoy while not giving me headaches (I’m extremely sibilance-sensitive).
Very good, but I understand there’s much better. The HD 598 would have done better, but it doesn’t really bother me since the Hifiman have the great imaging I was hoping for instead. The E07K did help with increasing the soundstage, but moderately so. A similar effect can be achieved by modding the HE-300, removing a felt piece that lies right in front of the driver (this will also make the treble and overall clarity of the headphone increase). These are perfectly enjoyable and forgiving without incorporating an amp/dac, although you do get some benefits from them.
Overall, I’m extremely happy with the HE-300. These are definitely fun cans, yet very respectable cans. Prog rock and metal are my favorite genres, along with funk and jazz, and these headphones have performed exactly to my taste in all of them. Jethro Tull, Liquid Tension Experiment, Kiev, Memoria de Peixe, Radiohead and Bill Evans have stolen my auditory heart again. Out of the aforementioned, I think these shine mostly in jazz, funk, and vocal-oriented music. No, they are not perfect, but at this price range perfect doesn't exist.