Pros: Unbelievable bass extension and punch, fairly wide soundstage, good imaging and separation
Cons: Recessed mid-highs, minimal headpiece padding, poor earpad choices, mismatched drivers in my pair, strange ear fatigue
First of all, I was not running these from appropriate amplification at the time (Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro breakout box). Secondly, I have exchanged these for some other phones, and have only had them for a few days (also potential defects). Third, I am relatively new to the hifi scene. Therefore I have deemed it fair to give them 3.5 stars in order to not ruin the average. I felt I had to after that guy gave 1/5 stars for some reason.
With that out of the way, onto the review.
EDIT: Please ignore the scales to the left, they do not reflect what I think. I can't change them for some reason.
FLAC 44.1 16-bit or MP3 V0/320, various genres -> JRiver Media Center -> ASIO -> Audigy 2 ZS -> Platinum Pro breakout box -> HE-400
Previous phones i've owned are the Sennheiser HD202 (broken, piece of crap) and HD555's with the foam mod. I had the former for about a year and the latter for 3 or so.
Design / Build
- These are Revision 2's.
- Personally, I think these look fantastic. They are how I would design headphones if given the opportunity. It reminds me of something like a sleek old muscle car with a modern facelift. The colour may look showy to some in photos, but in real life it's not quite the case. It's a nice, dark shade of indigo blue that doesn't look gaudy at all. In fact, they look much more attractive and unique than the HE-500's with its boring grey scheme.
- The housing appears to be some cheapish plastic, unfortunately. The paint job seems decent though.
- The mesh can be removed fairly easily by pulling out a plastic retaining ring with your fingernails. This adds some nice modding options (diamond/criss-cross grills anyone?) that can potentially affect the sound. You could probably paint the ring to give the phones some accents too.
- Apparently both drivers are wired in reverse polarity (I couldn't confirm this because I didn't have a mic). A few people argue that it has a negative effect though I can't say for certain.
- Cable is removable, though uses unusual mini coax connectors for the drivers. I guess they used them instead of mini XLR for cost reasons.
- Stock cable is not horrible as everyone makes it out to be (coming from HD555's, anyway). Bit too long and stiff though.
- I feel that the connectors detract from the aesthethics (and function) however, and they should simply be sticking straight out the bottom of the housing; instead of being recessed (makes it more difficult to screw on the cables as well).
- Earpads are a bit fiddly to put on, and they spin freely (not a big deal).
- The round things with Hifiman logos that hold the arms for the housings seem to do a decent job of retaining its position.
- On a whole, these don't feel or look like cheap headphones. They seem like they would take much more of a beating than the dynamics i've owned, and I don't see anything that would crack in everyday use (unlike the HD202 and HD555's). Not sure how they would cope being dropped onto a hard floor from waist height however.
Comfort / Fit
- Repeating the words of everyone else, they are heavy. But when I first took them out of the box, they weren't as heavy as I thought they'd be.
- Weight only posed a problem in regards to pressure on the top of my skull. It was probably the most annoying thing comfort-wise about these. I never experienced any kind of neck pain.
- Headband padding is some faux leather and way too thin for my liking, especially with the weight of these. It was somewhat more bearable when I ripped the pleather padding off my dead HD202's and stuck them on though
- Included earpads (pleather) are not as soft as i'd like and made my ears hot fairly quickly. The optional Hifiman velour pads were actually stiffer than the pleather ones (???) and definitely not up to scratch to my HD555's stock earpads, but at least my ears didn't get too hot. Overall, they did improve the comfort noticeably though (and sounded a bit better too).
- It's possible to mount earcups from other manufacturers on. I've seen people mount Lawton Audio slanted leather cups and they look awesome.
- You can bend the headband to fit your head better (manual says so), though I felt no need to do so.
- All in all, actually not as uncomfortable as some people make it out to be. But I am constantly reminded of its presence, which detracts from the listening experience sometimes.
- This is probably the part of the review I feel the most uncomfortable with as a budding headphone enthusiast. Bear with me. Also note that they probably weren't amped properly.
- I was excited, so when I first got these I soon plugged them into the only source I had my hands on at the time: Galaxy S II (with varying genres of FLAC files running through PowerAmp player). I did not expect anything amazing at all. And I got exactly that. Nothing to speak of. I could only just barely get them loud enough at max volume. To be expected of a phone, even though HiFiMAN says it's good enough for portable devices.
- I immediately plugged them into my Audigy 2 upon arriving home and started playing my favourite track: Give Life Back To Music by Daft Punk. I wasn't blown away, though I wasn't really expecting to be. I wasn't blown away when I went from my HD202's to HD555's either though.
- I then started to play some ambient music (stuff like Jonn Serrie, Steve Roach) because I wanted an idea of how immersive it could be. Wasn't blown away here either, but I noticed the soundstage seemed noticeably wider than my 555's, though the depth was about the same I think.
- Deadmau5 - I Remember - to test the bass impact and vocals. First of all, I am not a basshead. I was actually quite surprised here. When I heard the pulsating bass, it was strange, but not in a bad way at all. It sounded very much like a subwoofer, yet I felt no rumbling at my feet. I actually went to check if I accidentally turned my 2.1 set on. Still, they could have used a touch more bass quantity, though amping them properly probably would have done the trick. As for the vocals, they seemed less than impressive to me. They didn't really stand out and sounded a bit hollow to my ears.
- I enjoy some classical here and there. Played some woodwind stuff. Problem: Certain notes were quite uncomfortable to listen to, I blame the treble spike.
- I tested the bass further by doing some frequency sweeps within 20-200hz. The bass extension was truly something to behold. It really was like having a subwoofer mounted to your head (minus the physical rumbling).
- Throughout all that, I experimented with various angles and distances between the drivers and my ears. A couple of things to note: there was significantly more bass quantity when I held them about 2cm away from my ears. Slanting them inwards (like on the Audeze LCD-2) seemed to reduce the 'nasal' tone significantly and make them sound more speaker-like. In short, they are quite sensitive to positioning compared to most dynamic phones.
- Played some games, namely Mirror's Edge and Battlefield 3. Things like gunshots and explosions sounded lacking and hollow compared to my 555's, also I didn't feel as if anything took advantage of the bass extension. Then I wondered why the sound positioning didn't seem as good as the Sennheisers. Sounds coming from the front did not sound like they were quite in the center for some reason. I concluded that they weren't suitable for this purpose and I simply went back to my 555's for gaming.
- Watched some video reviews on YouTube for a bit. Voices didn't sound right. I then swapped over to the 555's. It sounded like it was in the center as it should. I was confused. Played some movies to triple check. Same problem. I was worried. I posted about it on Reddit, someone believed it was a driver mismatch issue.
- At this point I noticed my ears were tired and ringing more than usual (already had tinnitus). I didn't have them much louder than I usually have the 555's yet it fatigued my ears far more for some reason.
- I'm not sure what to think of burn in yet, but I left them burning in on my desk in a cardboard box at slightly higher than normal listening level for about half a day. No idea if it made a difference soundwise. But during the time I felt that familiar fatigue in my ears. I feel there's some kind of resonance or something that I can't put my finger on, causing strain to my ears. This was probably the biggest problem I had with these, with the sound positioning issue following very closely behind.
I really wanted to enjoy these. They are aesthetically pleasing and I was very excited about diving into the world of planar magnetics. Unfortunately, quality control issues and a bizarre fatigue problem ultimately stopped me from enjoying them. That aside, and truth to be told - most of what is going to be coming out of headphones for me isn't music, as much as I am very enthusiastic about the stuff. I want general purpose headphones for computer/entertainment use that is decent at everything - music, gaming, TV shows and film.
I think I would have kept these if I had a dedicated listening setup for music. Heck, I don't even have a headphone amp yet. I have since replaced them with DT880's (Premium 600ohms, yes I need an amp, just trying to be future-proof here). I think they are a step up from the HD555's in every way for what I use them for. However, I do miss the HE-400's in a lot of ways. They provided a speaker-like experience. They sounded full and allowed you to feel the music, and just had this charm about them I can't put into words.
Would I recommend these headphones still? Yes. These issues might not even bother you at all.
It almost ticks all the boxes, but just misses a couple of critical ones for me.
I eagerly await a successor so I can give HiFiMAN another fair go.
I hope this review, though somewhat unrefined, helps people.