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HiFiMAN HE-500

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #32 in Over-Ear


Pros: Fantastic sound, mod-able

Cons: Weight, cable connectors, stock cable, stock pads

The HE500 brings one word to my mind: Immersion. I've never felt closer to the music. Period.


It's the most organic, musical headphone I've heard to date. This implies a preference over the D2k, D5k, RS1i, GS1k, HE400i, ZMF Master, T90, HD600 and HD650. Just a home-run of an effort from Hifiman that, aside from a few aesthetic/comfort issues, makes these an end-game can.


The Breakdown 


Test Songs (all ALAC either 16/44 or 24/96):


Someone Like You - Adele - Live from Royal Albert Hall

Late in the Evening - Paul Simon - The Essential Paul Simon

Mahler Symphony 5 - Georg Solti & CSO

What About Me - Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here

Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself

Prelude from Cello Suite #4 - Yo Yo Ma

Hot for Teacher - 1984 - Van Halen



MacBook Pro > Fidelia > Pan Am Stack



Well, in a word: real. I got my first taste of planar bass early last year with the HE400 and even though it punched more and lower than my flavor of choice, the RS1i, it didn't stick with me. I've got the 500s now and they have the most realistic bass I've ever heard from a headphone. The sub-bass is present, the mid bass is dynamic, and the upper bass/lower mids are nice and clear and textured. The range of Ma's cello can be heard with ease (something not easily done!). Kick drums on the Snarky Puppy and Van Halen tunes don't sound like shapeless blobs. They sound distinct and punchy. This beats any bass I've heard from a dynamic hands down. Sorry D5000 and HD650!



Rich! Neither forward nor recessed. I don't think I'd say that the HE500 is a mid-centric phone, but in my experience the mids are often the defining characteristic for most upper-end headphones. That's where vocals, guitars, and horns predominantly sound. Lots of guys can live with hot treble or sloppy bass, but if the mids aren't palatable, whether they say or it not, they aren't satisfied. The mids are very lifelike in they're portrayal of texture and detail. The horns in the Simon and Snarky Puppy are very clear and textured. Vocals sound excellent in "Hide and Seek." Very organic and rich. Once again, my hat is off to Hifiman. I thought I'd never find electric guitar I liked better than the RS1i. Even though I'd love to have both, the HE500 presents vocals beautifully AND I get the crunch from my favorite guitar riffs. Truly an accomplishment.



Natural and clear. The HE500's upper end is quite special. While not unnaturally-detailed (what I think of when I hear the HD800), the treble range is still very detailed and revealing. It bests anything I've heard from Beyer and certainly Grado. Intricate cymbal work on "Hot for Teacher," violin overtones in Mahler, and air in Imogen Heap's voice all come through clearly and naturally. Probably the only time I've been able to say that about any headphone. A comparison I've often heard is that of the HE500 to the LCD2. The treble has to be the biggest difference. If you want polite, smooth treble, go with the Audeze. However, if you want real treble, go with the Hifiman!



The soundstage is excellent. Once again, just real! Not overly huge a la Denon, or pre-shrunk like a Grado. Studio recorded tracks have excellent space and imaging. Live albums sound live! All instruments from orchestras to jazz bands to duos can be picked out with ease. To me the sound sits just in front of "midway" around the head, but once again, nothing sounds fake or doctored. 


*Note: I have the new Focus Pads on my 500s. These are slightly angled in an effort to improve sense of space. I hate the stock velours and pleathers so much that I won't offer an A/B but I will say that the Focus Pads are much more comfortable and certainly don't take away from anything that was already happening. If there is an improvement in sound over the stock velour, it's minimal to these ears. 



The only qualms I have with Hifiman's hit are those in the categories of comfort and accessories. First, I have gotten used to it, but when I first gave the HE500s a go, I thought the weight would be a deal-breaker. Remember, I'm a recovering Grado-holic, so I'm quite used to wearing headphones that weigh next to nothing. Luckily the headband fits my head quite well (like a Grado) and I've switched to the Focus pads, which are softer, and distribute weight more evenly. I still am reminded of the heft of these guys from time to time, but it's certainly not unbearable. Second, the stock cable and pads are well, just awful. The stock silver cable is the most microphonic cable I've ever heard. Worse than any of the 75+ IEMs I've tried. Since most of my listening is done at the desktop, this doesn't come into play too much, but for a premium headphone like the 500, this is to me, a ridiculous shortcoming. Also, the pads. Pleather: 2 thumbs down! Velour: 1.5 thumbs down! Neither are comfortable, both are hot, the pleather muddies up the sound, and the velour feels like sandpaper. Once again, silly issues to have for a headphone that is so awesome!



Final Thoughts:

If you couldn't tell already, I'm a huge fan of the HE500, even though for me to really love them I had to buy some new pads and switch up the cable. They offer the best sound I've ever heard. And by best, I mean most lifelike. No overly hyped-treble a la upper-end Senns or Grado. No head-shaking bass a la Audeze. Instead a presentation that is very complete, organic, and most of all fun! These are my thoughts and I'm sticking with 'em!


Pros: Neutral, bass response and impact, smooth and detailed midrange, value for money

Cons: Heavy, Flimsy velour pads and cable, amp requirements.

My HE-500 review
Source: Audiolab M-DAC (USB output). First impressions based on Asus Essence STX.
Headphone Amp: Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear




On first listening to the HE-500 I found a lot that reminded me of the Sennheiser HD580 which I still regard as my reference in terms of what a neutral headphone should sound like. On first listen to the HE-500 you will immediately notice the exceptionally clean and clear sound you get with an orthodynamic transducer which Hifiman are masters of. Switching between the HD580 and HE-500, the HD580 (which I thought up till then to be pretty good in the clarity stakes) to be much grainier by comparison, especially in the treble regions.


Bass: (Excellent)

The HE-500 has excellent bass in my view with nice slam and impact. Visceral would be an apt description and it is particularly good at picking out bass notes. This is particularly enjoyable with rock and metal music with bass guitars and also gives orchestral music some body and scale which I found lacking with my dynamic headphones. I really enjoyed going through all my old rock/alternative albums again and found myself listening to albums I haven't listened to in years totally enjoying how different they sounded. There is no boominess and flabbiness to the bass and doesn't dominate the treble or midrange like a lot of other headphones would.


Mid-Range: (Excellent)
The mid-range on the HE-500 is musical, nicely detailed and involving, but not forward in your face like a Grado headphone would be. It is slightly more forward compared to the HD580, but does not detract from the overall balance. Violins and piano sound really great and the tonality seems pretty good. With rock music I managed to pick out quite a few extra instruments in songs I thought I knew pretty much inside out. It trashes out tons of detail on guitars. The HE-500 is fantastic with female vocals. The mid-range on this headphone is really excellent and in my opinion its stand out feature.


Treble: (Good)
The treble has a slight bit of air to it which most likely has got to do with the sizeable drivers and ear cups.The treble is very clean. I can't really comment on extension as my hearing isn't particularly great in the upper treble regions. The headphone changed quite significantly in the treble during the burn-in period, from being a bit hot to noticeably more mellow after about 50 - 100 hours of burn in. It does have a slight peak around the 10kHz region which seem to give the treble a bit of sparkle which I quite like. The treble is nicely balanced with the rest of the audio spectrum and while not perfect, definitely nothing there to put anyone off.


Sound staging and Imaging: (Good)

The HE-500 projects a nicely detailed soundstage, but does lack that last ounce of information. In my view this makes this headphone slightly more suited to rock/pop type music than to large classical works. Imaging is also decent, but not as good as my Grado RS1i's. So whilst I reckon that there are other headphones out there that excel in either of these categories the HE-500 makes up for this by not having any notable weaknesses in either of these categories and by virtue of its excellent sound quality. This also makes the HE-500 a good contender for a wide variety of music.

- Comfort. (Good)

In the beginning the headphone had quite a bit of clamping force. This appears to have reduced somewhat after owning this headphone for some period now. It is a very heavy headphone and you do need to take a break once in a while to give my neck a breather. My neck appears to have gotten used to weight of the headphone after about 6 months. I can now wear the headphone for quite long periods of time without any obvious discomfort. The headband has more than enough padding and the headband pressure is spread out nicely by using memory foam. I prefer the velour pads over the leather pads, though the leather pads are more comfortable in my view. The velour pads add a bit more sparkle to the sound. Hifiman appear to aim this headphone at people with normal to large size heads. I wear the HE-500 on their smallest setting. On the HD580 I have the headband set to 4 clicks down for comparative purposes.


- Noise isolation. (Poor)

Leak monster. My wife has complained about the HE-500 quite often and I would put it down as a negative. Not a good option for late night listening in a bedroom. If you have your own listening studio then this isn't a problem. Your listening environment also needs to be pretty well isolated as the HE-500 also lets in a lot of sound from external sources of noise.


- Amplication. (Average)

Very dependent on good amplification and matching. With my desktop amplifier the sound is noticeably full and with lots of impact. When under driven the dynamics and bass are lacklustre. I haven't managed to properly power these from a notebook, portable player, AVR or portable headphone amplifier. I will eventually look at upgrading to a more powerful amplifier as I think there are still gains to be made over the Lehmann Black Cube Linear that I'm currently using. The HE-500 also scales nicely with better DACs. I recently upgraded to the Audiolab M-DAC and this provided a noticeable step of improvement in sound staging, detail retrieval and clarity over the Asus Essence STX I used initially for this review.


- Construction. (Average)

The headphone itself looks to be solidly constructed and the headband is nice and comfortable. I'm a bit nervous about the assembly mechanism that attaches the ear cups to the headband, but so far no problems. I received the twisted copper cable with my headphone which I think was shipped with the second batch of HE-500 before Hifiman switched over to the silver cable and I quite like the sound, but construction does come across as flimsy and I suspect that the connector or wire might break one day. At least there are a lot of 3rd party cable options out there as well as replacements available from Hifiman. I also received the old velour pads with my headphone which use a flimsy method of attaching to the ear cups. The new attachment mechanism as on my leather pads are a big improvement.


- Summary: (Excellent)

I really enjoyed these headphones with all kinds of music, from rock to classic rock, metal, jazz, country and classical music. All in all a superb set of headphones and a terrific all-rounder. After owning this headphone for about 9 months now I find that my other headphones seldom get any listening time. In light of this I reckon the HE-500 is an excellent candidate for people who want to own one single high end headphone that does pretty much everything well. I am hoping to still have the opportunity to listen other high end headphones in order to place the HE-500 in better perspective, but to my ears this is a really fantastic bit of kit will hopefully give me years of listening pleasure.


Pros: Outstanding overall performance

Cons: somewhat heavy

Mini-review: HiFiMan HE-500 Planar-Magnetic Headphones


Fang from Head-Direct was kind enough to loan me a pair of HE-500 for review.  The HE-500 are billed as a more efficient version of the HE-6, although there are some other differences, both in design and in sonics.  They are also a little different looking, in that the casing is a very nice gun-metal grey:






Taken on its own, the HE-500 are really an exceptionally good headphone.  While they still require a somewhat powerful headphone amp, I was able to drive them with no problem from the Woo WA2, WA6, Trafomatic Head One, Decware Mini-Torri, Musical Paradise MP-301 mk2, and Leben CS300XS, all without any issues. 


The sound overall embodied the principle qualities I have come to love from Planar headphones - a very transparent, open, and smooth sound, that is free from the graininess that is present on even the finest of dynamic driver headphones, with the lone exception of the Sony R10.  The mids especially have a transparency that is very beguiling.  The HE-500 are very smooth sounding as well - in some ways they have the smoothest of all of the HiFiMan planars, especially in the treble.  The treble is very smooth, clean, and unfatiguing.  The mids, as mentioned, are very smooth and open, and sound very uncolored.  The bass is full, and fairly tight, with just a touch of mid-upper bass warmth.  Overall the sonic picture is quite neutral, with perhaps just a very small amount of warmth - not a bad place to be for many users.  The soundstage has very good image specificity, and depth is excellent, although it is not as wide as the very best.


All forms of music were well served, but I especially enjoyed the new CD by Alison Krauss and Union Station, which arrived about the same time as the HE-500.  Alison's delicate soprano was beautifully and accurately delivered, and the string plucking and tone were excellent.  The HE-500 also had no problem keeping up with very fast metal like Symphony X's "Sea of Lies", or complex prog-rock like in King Crimson's "Red".


Versus the HE-6, assuming one is using a powerful enough amp to drive them, I find the HE-6 to be just slightly more transparent.  Bass is slightly deeper, and slightly better defined.  The mids were just a very small amount drier, and the treble is just slightly more pronounced and seemingly extended, without being in any way edgy (although the HE-6 treble CAN be edgy without proper amplification).  If one already owns a VERY powerful amp, the HE-6 provide better absolute performance than the HE-500, IMO.  However, they are $300 more expensive, and they have much more stringent amplification requirements to achieve these results.


Compared to the LCD-2, again I very slightly prefer the LCD-2, as I find them to offer a slightly more natural sound (although the HE-500 are still excellent in that regard), and very slightly more nuanced. The LCD-2 are also just slightly more efficient than the HE-500.  But the fact is, I could live very happily with any of these three Planar headphones, and I prefer ALL three of them to any Dynamic headphone currently available.  The HE-500 easily outperform the HD800, Beyer T1, Rudi Chroma MD-1, Denon D7000, Ultrasone Edition 10 or 8.  And given the HE-500's price, they have to be considered a bargain, as far as high-end headphones go.




Pros: Great midrange, musical, warm yet detailed, won out in an audition process

Cons: A bit more air and presence would be nice.

I made the trip to CES and T.H.E. last year, and had the chance to review these against the HiFiMan HE-5 and HE-6, Sennheiser HD 650 and HD 800, and the Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3. I was looking to select a single set of dedicated system headphones, and settled on the HE-500. It has an interesting presence and warmth that I found missing from the other models, and just sounded right. Following my purchase, I later found they sound wonderful with a VTL IT-85 integrated tube amp (upgraded with KT-77s).


One disappointment was the Audeze products, given all the positive reviews. They just didn't sound as good, and were on the same system as the HE 500.  I realize this is subjective, and the fit/finish was superb, but compared to the other models it was clear that both had a lack of detail, and the bass was a bit bloated. 


I heard a few of the latest models that arrived at this year's CES, but I still don't feel the need to upgrade. Although the HE 1000 was pretty amazing...  :)


Pros: world class sound for less money

Cons: still a lot of money

the equal of the LCD-2 and better than the HD 800/T1 


And its cheaper


Pros: Neutral frequency balance, plenty of frequency extension

Cons: Possibly the price and the weight, some may prefer a darker sound signature.



It’s been an eventful week for me in which I’ve received three pairs of headphones in four days: a new Audio Technica ATH-M50s, a loaner Audez’e LCD-2, and a loaner HiFiMAN HE-500. I got quite intimate with music via the LCD-2 and was rather wowed by it (see here for more on that). I’ve also been sitting with the HE-500, and my first impressions are that it’s another great headphone that shines in many ways.


The following impressions are based on listening to music via 320 kbps and Apple Lossless audio format files played via iTunes and fed via an optical cable to a Lavry DA 10 DAC/Amp.


Overall, the HiFiMAN HE-500 is a neutral-sounding headphone that presents a high level of detail with a well-balanced sound.


Packaging, Looks, and Physical Feel




After removing the packaging of this loaner HE-500, the black leather-covered HiFiMAN box was revealed to me. It feels solid, robust, and refined, though not as opulent as the case which came with the LCD-2. A few weeks ago, I had some concerns that the HE-500 box may not be ideal for travelling with the HE-500, which some HE-500 owners may like to do, as it may get scuffed and detract from its attractiveness. Though the same could be said of a hardcase, I thought that a more travel-friendly option could be worthwhile, so I suggested that to Fang of HiFiMAN, and he informed me that a travel case for the HE-500 would be available in the near future. That is a great example of HiFiMAN’s continued willingness to improve and update their product line and their openness to customer feedback and suggestions. Well done.





The supplied Canare cable was fitted with at ¼” Neutrik connector, was more flexible than the stock LCD-2 cable, and less flexible than the stock Sennheiser HD 6x0 series cables. Connecting the Canare cable to the HE-500 requires screwing some small nuts at the end of the cable into the ear cups. Once the cable is connected it stays firmly in place, but I find connecting it to be a bit fiddly and take a little longer than installing a cable with mini-XLR connectors. It has occurred to me a few times that a tool to assist the cable screw-in process could be a worthy inclusion with the HE-500.


The HE-500 design reminds me slightly of the Stax SR-40, and the gunmetal grey colour of the HE-500 is attractive to me. I find the HE-500 comfortable to wear, but slightly less so than the lighter Sennheiser HD 6x0 series, which I am used to and often forget I’m wearing. Due to the clamping force of the HE-500 pads, I can be aware that I’m wearing it, but not always (I’m wearing it now and didn’t notice it was on my head until I wrote the last sentence). But overall, to me the HE-500 is a well-made headphone that feels nice to wear and handle.


Clarity, Timbre, and Sound Signature


The HE-500 clearly reveals all of the details of the recordings I feed it. Mids and treble are presented very well and there’s great qualitative bass extension, but more on that later.


There is great PRaT with the HE-500, and though I find that it seems to present the sound of recording upon me with slightly less force and immediacy than the darker-sounding LCD-2 does, I can easily get inside the music with the HE-500, and with it I seem to be in the position of detached observer mode by default, just like I am with the HD 600, to a lesser extent. But the sonic quality is much, much higher with the HE-500. 


I really enjoy the soundstage of he HE-500. It is wider than the soundstage of the LCD-2 and HD 600 and narrower than that of the HD 650. I find the HD 650 soundstage very immersive and wide, sometimes too much so for my preference, and for that reason I often prefer the narrower soundstage of the HD 600, which I find places me as if I am sitting further back in the audience or further away from the monitor speakers, situating me at what can sometimes be a more comfortable distance from the music. The openness of HE-500 soundstage is somewhere in between the two Sennheiser models I listed and is really enjoyable to me. I find that I am at enough of a distance from the music and able to immerse myself in it with ease. Though I compared the HE-500 soundstage to that of the HD 600, I just want to clarify that to me the HE-500 soundstage is far more detailed and of a much higher quality. Well done, Fang!


Perhaps one of the few caveats of the HE-500 to me is that it sounds a little bit thin or light at times in relation to what I would call natural i.e. what I would hear when observing a live performance, and that thinness is sometimes just enough so to remind me that I’m wearing headphones. But they are headphones, which is after all a different experience from going to a gig of listening to studio monitor playback. However, the HE-500 has a really excellent frequency balance that reveals all the details of the recording being played, and I often find myself enjoyably immersed in the music I'm listening to with HE-500.




Bass, Mids, and Treble


Since recently spending a few solid hours with the LCD-2, I am still in admiration of its bass reproduction, and the HE-500 also reproduces bass very well. With the HE-500, I find sudden bass punctuations e.g. when a drummer hits a floor tom, more noticeable to me than against the blacker background of a darker headphone such as the LCD-2, which is a definite plus for the HE-500. I find the bass impact of the LCD-2 more realistic for certain instruments e.g. drums, as it seems to produce a more pointed and weighty bass impact, possibly due to its darker sound, than that of the HE-500, which I find to have a softer than natural impact. But the bass reproduction of the HE-500 is very detailed, extends low, and I find it enjoyable.


The mids and treble performance of the HE-500 is excellent and perhaps its best sonic feature. Mids and treble are very clear and vocals are well-represented. A few hours ago, I discovered many new nuances in Frank Sinatra’s ‘Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!,’ and am currently enjoying Michael Jackson ‘rockin’ the night away,’ in ‘Rock With You.’ Though, to my ears, the HE-500 treble has much extension to the point of sounding slightly more forward (or brighter, depending on how you describe it) than natural, I’ve never found it to make recordings harsh or fatiguing, just detailed and revealing in a very musical way.


With the Lavry DA 10, I find the HE-500 to audibly shine when listening to much of the music I feed it, and have noticed it to be particularly well-suited to acoustic-based jazz and vocal playback. Whilst some may prefer a bassier headphone with more sonic slam for genres/styles such as Rock and Electronic, the HE-500 will accurately represent what’s on the recordings you play through it in a way that’s true to its nature.  


In Closing


I find the HiFiMAN HE-500 to be an excellent quality headphone, slightly reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD 600; its neutral and slightly warm yet forward sound make recordings come alive in a revealing way that is very enjoyable. Well done, Fang, and all else at HiFiMAN. smile.gif




Pros: Excellent bass, great impact and body, surprisingly comfortable for large noggins.

Cons: Lack of treble resolution, a bit of ringing, some quality control issues, heavy, hot.

Disclaimer: My opinions are just my own. They do seem to be in contrast to some others' experiences, but we all have different preferences.


I heard great things about this headphone, and really wanted to like it. I can see why they are popular, and they indeed are fun. However, I'm a treble-head, and as one who was spoiled by the beyerdynamic DT880's, I hated them.


(TL;DR: I bought these new from Headroom. Compared to the beyerdynamic DT880's, the HiFiMan's have much, much better bass impact, a fuller body on all frequencies, and less sibilance. The DT880's crush the HE-500's when it comes to treble resolution, and a slight lead in mid and low frequency resolution.)


(Off topic: I have not the slightest clue why beyerdynamic insists on using all lowercase letters, but this isn't a typo.)






Before we start: my setup was a Benchmark DAC1, feeding into a Meier Corda Opera. Files were lossless, fed bit-perfect from iTunes to a M2Tech HiFace (with a regulated, linear power supply). Cables included double-shielded power cables, a triple-shielded USB cable, all interconnects used shielded Mogami wire and Neutrik terminations with matching impedances. Primary comparison was with a beyerdynamic DT880 (600 ohm, with a Blue Dragon cable, whose drivers were broken in with over 300 hours of pink noise- even before I began using them a year before). Power conditioning was with a medical-equipment/mission-critical-telecom grade double-conversion, fully online, UPS. (That's just how I do things!)




On to the listening tests:


I burned them in with pink noise for about 100 hours before giving them a serious listen. The first impressions was that there was fantastic bass impact. These are fun headphones! The mids had decent resolution with excellent body, and the bass was not flabby. Stock, everything was a bit veiled and the bass was a tiny bit muddy, but that was resolved by removing the foam damping sheet, as recommended by many owners. I'd highly recommend trying that modification to see if you like it. 



Compared to the DT880's, if you like bass, then there is no contest- the HE-500's win by a mile. (Then again, that isn't exactly a hard thing to do.) Additionally, the HiFiMan's had more body to the mid and low frequencies, and there was less sibilance than the beyerdynamics have. Some people find the DT880's habit of brutally reproducing sibilance and recording flaws to be fatiguing, others don't. I am in the latter group. Note that the HE-500's resolution improved dramatically with all frequencies when I removed the internal foam damping sheet. I didn't notice the "tizzyness" some people complain about. 


The ugly... coming from beyerdynamic DT880's and being a treble-head, I found the high frequencies seriously (in comparison to my fantastic treble-loving beyer's) lacking resolution. The HE-500's treble resolution was miles behind the beyerdynamic's, and the mids on the HE-500's were slightly less precise than the DT880's. Smooth and friendly treble, yes. Resolving- not all that much. 


For example, with the beyerdynamic's and violin recordings, I can easily tell which way the bow is moving, and the slight "crunch" the bow hairs can make on impact with the strings during intense sections. . With vocals, I can hear when the performers take a breath. This all makes me feel more involved and intimate with the performers, especially as a violin player. The HiFiMan's had very little of that, and I missed the intimacy and detail. 


There was also a slight "shouty-ness" with the HiFiMan's. Testing has shown that there is a bit of a ring in the 1kHz area, probably due to poorly designed housings. That bothered me a lot, but then again, take this with a grain of salt as I am very sensitive to it. (Fun fact: designing good housings is very difficult- just see how hard Sennheiser worked to reduce the resonance and ringing when they designed the HD800's, so it is understandable that HiFiMan, as a smaller company, might not be able to invest in exotic plastics and crazy geometric designs like Sennheiser did.)



In the end, just make sure you take my own preferences into account. These all could be good characteristics for some people who want something more forgiving or more impactful.




Non-sound considerations:


Initial impressions were that they seemed solidly built. There was no play/slackness in the pieces- fit adjustments were easy and crisp. I also really appreciated the inclusion of both a balanced and unbalanced cable, and a set of spare terminations for their RF-originated cable attachments (absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is a bizarre design choice.) The spare part for DIY cables was a thoughtful touch which impressed me. 


However, most of the unboxing experience was bad. Though the box was of nice quality, the headphones had a very strong smell of volatile organic vapours (AKA, cheap plastic smell) and a week of airing out later, the smell was still strong on the headband- which showed that the packing material was not to blame. (They really need to rethink that headband material.) Given others' experiences, I suspect they have since resolved that smell issue. In the end, though, this is just not acceptable for $700 headphones. 


The 1/4" TRS cable was poorly made on my particular set- the 1/4 inch termination was already loose, and there were bits of plastic hanging off where the mould lines were. The XLR cable was of okay ("meh") quality. It was functional, and since it was, my tests were used the balanced cable and with a nice, not cheap, XLR to TRS adapter, given the compromised build quality on the TRS cable. This affair is not something I even see on most $30 headphones. It made me suspect that, at least on the day mine were made, there were some quality control issues with the cables. It's not a huge thing as most will probably just throw these out and use nicer aftermarket cables, but then again, this is an expensive piece of kit, and I can't forgive the lack of consideration.


And yes, these were purchased new from Headroom. 






In the end, I didn't like them, and returned them (Headroom has fantastic customer support, by the way!) The sound wasn't bad, per say, but I couldn't take the lack of treble detail and the slight kHz level shout-y ringing/resonance problems (which were present with and without the damping foam). They wouldn't necessarily be bad as a second pair of headphones for me, and if someone gifted them to me, I'd keep them. If you want something quite fun and with a lot of very controlled kick (AKA, what my anthropomorphised beyer's would, with a haughty attitude, grumpily call "plebian" and then say "Bah, you're all Philistines!") while still having decent detail retrieval, they are fantastic.


Don't forget to try removing the foam damping sheet. You might like the difference.


Pros: Tonality, smooth grain free unforced stereo perspektive, price

Cons: heavy and low comfort



Reviewed item: Hifiman HE-500

Used equipment:

CD: Rega Saturn

Amp: Rudistor RPX-33evo8

Kimber PBJ interconnect, diy powercables and Isotek Orion conditioner



Received the he-500 very safely packaged from Jan Sieveking as part of the European loaner-program.


And boy am I glad I signed up for that!!!



I have been living for years with my ath-w1000 because I really couldn’t find a suitable alternative. While it is a bit too harsh for my tastes and to bright a have builded a whole system around it to compensate that, because I love the comfort brought by the wing system and comfy pads, and the deeply layered soundstage I get with them. I sold the hd650 because I needed a closed back at the time and because they had to be turned up to loud the rock and gained a harsh treble when I did. My amp is more forgiving of the harsh upper mids of the w1000. Since that I have really tried to be impressed by the hd800 with absolutely no luck. The Grados, Beyers and Akg’s I have heard have all been either too harsh or to boring.


Enter the Hifiman HE-500!!!!!

It sounds very smooth with a very full sound, and yet it never sounds boring or uninvolving. In fact I find myself dusting of rock and pop records I haven’t listened to for years! The decay of notes is amazing and I finally understand what all of you mean by “eargasms”. I used to get those from live concerts when musicians or singers brought so much life to a single note that I could virtually make me cry. These last nights I have had eargasms again – and multiples that is!!!


The first couples of listening sessions left me feeling that in spite of the excellent tonality I still missed some of the details and soundstage of the w1000 and wondered if I was condemned to closed back phones forever because I missed the more intimate soundstage of the ath faced by the more diffuse one of open back.

After a couple of days that is no longer an issue and I marvel in the infinite soundstage coupled with a tonality that simply gives me little room for comments: Right now I can’t find any part of the frequency spectrum that seems recessed or to forward!!

– of course I will find one eventually – Even faced with live sound headfiers will always find some lack in sound that grant future upgrades!!


The w1000 and he-500 are simply so different in sound signature that I quickly gave up the idea of switching back and forth between them on different records and write a comparing review to you guys. Going from the w1000 to he-500 made the latter sound muffled and shut in which it definitely in NOT given time to adjust. Going the other way made the w1000 sound unbearingly bright and made me wonder how I could ever listen to a phone like that.


I could still list a couple of tunes and describe my findings but I simply think I worked wonders on everything I threw at it. That being both newly recorded and very old blues, contemporary pop, driving rock, opera and classical, jazz and the world music that forms the core of my collection.


I will just say that I have never heard reproduced hi-hat sounds being so driving without ever being harsh. Until now I also never heard hand claps from headphones sounding anything like real handclaps! Bass is deep, tight and only there when called for. Ever so slightly warm, but never too much.


So grain free that I - at very first -feared it was boring sounding – Not So!!

I realize that I sound a little to positive, but I have to stress that I have grown into being so positive from a beginning where I was amazed by the tonality but also convinced my search had to go on!


And then the down side – it’s not the sound – but ergonomics. It hurts my scull and the pressure from the pads keeps reminding me that the sounds I hear is coming from the cups tree centimeters from my ear and not from the sweet purring singer I imagine in diffuse head space.


 How come only ATH have found a really comfy solution that makes you forget you are wearing phones? Ok So no wing system, but at least ad enough padding to the headband. I simply cannot understand why phone producers don’t put too much rather than to little padding. Can’t be the most expensive part of the phone and neither the heaviest.

Still sound is enough to make me forgive this fault. The pads I am beginning to get used to and it made the soundstage grow because I no longer remember the phone and the headband must call for a diy solution once I get my own pair. And that must be my conclusion – Getting my own pair!


I still haven’t heard the T1 and the edition 8, I still would dream of the ldc2 if just for cool looks, but the he-500 simply makes all the sounds I have dreamt for and is by far the cheapest in Denmark. It also seems to make a very good combination with my rudistor amp that gives no impression of being underpowered but sounds extremely assured.


So tomorrow when I send these babies to the next lucky guy on the list - it will not be “Farewell!” but


“Take care – see you soon!”


Edit: After having lived with my own pair for half a year I have edited the star-rating from 4 to 5 stars. Yes they are still heavy, and comfort is nowhere near as good as my ATH-w1000 - But I got used to it at it doesn't bother me at all, and at the same time the sound is even better than I thought at first! So at this price a phone that competes with the very best soundwise should earn 5 stars even if if the comfort could be better!


Pros: Clear sound, creamy mids, more prominent lows and highs

Cons: comfort


I had the opportunity to hear HE-500 under the EU loaner program organized by the EU importer (thank you SievekingSound). I am not really an audiophile (I don’t usually hear critically or do I notice small details in soundstage, etc) but I do enjoy good sound. I have, also, very limited sound experience, both with live music and high end equipment, so please keep this in mind when reading the below and use a fair amount of grain of salt.


I have compared HE-500 sound with Sennheiser HD-650 (‘new’ version) which is the only HQ headphone I own. I used mostly European jazz, folk and classical music for evaluating and comparing the two.

DAC/AMP used are CEntrance DACmini  and Qables iQube V2. I used a laptop win7 computer as a source with Lilith audio player.


1. Comfort

HE-500 is heavier than HD-650 and clamps more. Its pads are more stiff. Its cable is also more stiff and more heavy (personally, I believe that this cable is a joke and should be replaced with a lighter and more flexible one). All these contribute to a significant less comfortable headphone. Its sound, also, unequalized (see below, paragraph 2.2), has much more volume on highs. Although these highs are not harsh or sibilant, they tend to tire my hearing system more easily, but this easily changed with the help of proper equalisation.

There is something else, also, that was fatiguing me with HE-500, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. Maybe it is a kind of resonance, something in the sound which I couldn’t really define causing me a slight fatigue (even after equalising the sound - see 2.2 below). Fortunately this fatigue was very slight, and I believe that, if it is truly some kind of resonance, I could pinpoint it and eliminate it with proper equalisation if I had enough time.


2. Sonic impressions


2.1 Smooth, clear sound

The first thing that stroke me upon hearing HE-500 is its clear, free sound. I cannot really describe it, it is like you are hearing less distortion (but, of course, HD-650 has already low distortion). I do not really know why so big difference in favour of HE-500, probably the different drive technology, but the fact remains: Notes from HE-500 are sooo much clearer, distortion -free, grain free. In comparison HD-650 seems ‘electric’ (I mean it seemed to have a kind of distortion usually associated with electric instruments), especially in the voices. Did I say HE-500 has a more clear, free sound?  smile.gif


2.2. More extended at the ends, more low & high frequencies

From the first few minutes it was quite clear that HE-500 have much more bass (although a bit less defined) and treble than HD-650. This was very flattering for the sound of HE-500.

By curiosity, I have compare the frequency response measurements of both headphones, using the data found on Tyll Hertsens InnerFidelity  measurements page. I combined the two frequency responses and it turned out very similar:


combined FR



With yellow and light blue-green is HD-650, with red and dark blue is HE-500. As you can see the FR graphs are very similar indeed, with a bit more bass (about 3dB at  30Hz) and more treble (about 7dB at 9KHz). HD-650 has almost 4dB more output at 2KHz and 3 dB around 200Hz.

This flatters HE-500 sound much. So, based on Tyll’s data I equalize accordingly HE-500 to ameliorate these differences. I do not claim that I completely and successfully make the frequency response of HE-500 exactly the same, that cannot be done by FR graph alone as this paper from Harman Acoustics notes. Resonances in the audio spectrum, even light ones (with low Q and dB) are clearly audible, although they do not really show in frequency response graphs. But the equalisation I used based on Tyll’s measurements helped ameliorate the big flattering of more prominent and extended frequency limits of HE-500, so I was able to compare it more easily with the HD-650, without the need of extended listening sessions.

Unequalized, HE-500 clearly wins HD-650 but it is also a bit more tiresome, because of the more prominent highs.



2.3 Midrange

Ah, the midrange is truly remarkable on HE-500. Very much more engaging and ‘creamy’ than HD-650. Both female and male vocals are more palpable, more intimate, lifelike. Even with less than stellar recordings, the midrange magic of HE-500 makes voices very enjoyable.

One thing that I noticed, though, even when I equalized the 4dB difference with HD-650 at 2KHz, is that HE-500 has more low frequency volume in vocals (I believe some resonance about 800-900Hz, I haven’t truly pinpoint it). This makes vocals more ‘creamy’, but I feel it masks some details.



2.4 Bass

Bass, even after equalised to match the FR of HD-650 has more impact and energy on HE-500, but it is also more slow and not so much controlled. There are more upper bass frequencies (probably a 2 dB resonance around 100Hz with Q around 1, I haven’t exactly pinpoint it). This makes bass ‘thick', but I think maybe contributes to the slowness of bass notes.


2.5 Treble

Treble is more prominent and extended, even with the use of equalisation based on Tyll’s data. But they are quite sweet and clear. There is no more sibilance issues than with HD-650.

Some may feel that the unequalized treble is way too much more than HD-650. In the majority of recordings I don’t believe to be so, but on some ‘bright’ recordings, the unequalized treble of HE-500 is indeed too much.


2.6 Soundstage

One advantage of HE-500 is the more centre - focused soundstage. Maybe its soundstage is less wide than HD-650, but it is more seamless and more centre focused (HD-640 seems to have three distinct soundstage areas, left, middle and right with less organs in between).


2.7 Placement tolerance

With HD-650, even slight changes of the headphone placement on one’s head, effects the frequency response (especially in the highs) and, accordingly, soundstage. This is not the case with HE-500. I found the sound pretty much the same when placed in a logical position on my head.


2.8 Sound with less than stellar recordings

That was a concern of mine. I do not want to separate myself from the numerous technically troublesome but excellent artistically recordings I enjoy with HD-650. I found, with much relief, that although the technical flows were a bit more apparent with HE-500, it didn’t distract me from enjoyment because the added midrange creaminess and overall sound clarity counter balanced it.


2.9 Amplifiers

I used mainly DACmini for evaluating both headphones. I found DACmini quite capable of driving HE-500, but at least two other members of HeadFi found that a stronger amplifier will drive HE-500 better. Unfortunately, a stronger amplifier was not available to test this.


2.9.1 With iQube as source

Just for the sake of it, I used also the portable iQube. Although it’s a portable amplifier with a mere 80mW at 32 Ohms per channel it did drive HE-500 quite well, but with limited volume. Classical music and some jazz / folk with high dynamic range drive iQube to its clipping with HE-500 more easily than HD-650.

Even with iQube, HE-500 was better overall, with clearer sound. It has more coherent and holographic stereo image but a little smaller. The lows were much more extended and maybe a tad more defined. Big difference was on voices, HE-500 presented voices much more intimate, with fluidity and smoothness. Voices on HD-650 seemed ‘electric’ in comparison. Highs were more prominent but quite soft.


3. Conclusion


Comparing HE-500 with HD-650 which I am familiar with, I found it better overall, with clearer and less distorted sound, ‘creamy’ midrange and more extended and prominent bass and highs, which flatter its sound significantly. Of course, there is a significant price difference between the two, but my personal view is that it is worth it.




Hifiman upgraded the cable and the pads and reduced the price significantly. With the new price, I believe, this phone is, given adequate amplification (Hifiman recomments 1W/ch), a ‘giant killer’.

The cable is now silver. It is thin and light and very comfortable, but I cannot comment on any sound changes (I have only an HE-6 type intermediate cable).

The included pads are new and two pairs. One pair is made of pleather (protein made artificial leather), which is softer and at first more comfortable. But it is also more shallow and you may find, like me, that the outer parts of your ear is touching the inside metal grill (covered by a thin sheet of felt). After a while this gets pretty annoying. These pads make the sound signature somewhat bassier.

The velour pads are updated also, but I cannot comment on these because I have the old ones. 

HiFiMAN HE-500

The HE-500 is one of HiFiMAN's best performing planar magnetic designs yet its 89dB sensitivity is higher than similar designs and allows it to be driven with a conventional headphone amplifier. The HE-500 offers impressive frequency response from 50Hz to 50KHz and with all of the dynamics and lifelike realism that HiFiMAN headphones are famous for. HE-500 headphones are much higher efficiency than HE-6. Customers can use regular headphone amplifiers to drive HE-500. Specifications Frequency Response: 15 to 50 KHz Impedence: 38 Ohm Efficiency: 89 DB Weight: 502 g Accessories Silver headphone cable (3 meter or 10 Feet) leather earpad 1 pair (on the headphones), velour earpads 1 pair 1 travel case for HE Series headphone cable connectors 2 pairs 6.35 mm plug

FeatureEmploys Planar Magnetic technology to deliver studio quality sound Oversized ear cups encompass the entire ear Delivers a frequency response of 50Hz to 50KHz Comfortable memory foam leather wrapped ear pads
LabelHiFiMAN Corporation
ManufacturerHiFiMAN Corporation
PublisherHiFiMAN Corporation
StudioHiFiMAN Corporation
TitleHiFiMAN HE-500 High Performance Headphones
Package Height7.2 inches
Package Length12.1 inches
Package Weight5.55 pounds
Package Width12 inches
UPCList - UPCListElement609613431845
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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