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HiFiMAN HE-500

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #23 in Over-Ear

Posted

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

 

Source:

MacBook Pro > Fidelia > Pan Am Stack

 

Bass:

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!

 

Mids:

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.

 

Treble:

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!

 

Soundstage/Separation:

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. 

 

Issues:

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!

Posted

Pros: Incredible mid-range, comfortably extended treble, resolution, balanced, vast soundstage, all-rounder, high quality leatherette box

Cons: Heavy weight, stock earpads are subpar, stock cable is subpar, not much padding on the headband, discontinued, not for bassheads

 

Background

 

To some, it may seem pointless to do a review of the Hifiman HE-500 in June of 2016, years after it was phased out in favour of their new product line – specifically the HE-560. However, I feel that this can be a useful guide for those looking to pick up one on the used market, as I did.

 

My previous experience with a Hifiman product was in January this year when I bought myself a HE-400i and it was my first set of planar magnetic headphones. I’ve since sold them and moved on to other cans, but I missed the speed that it had. With that in mind, and the hopes of finding a more neutral pair of headphones, I picked up a HE-500.

 

Specifications

 

Driver: Planar Magnetic

Sensitivity: 87 dB

MFR: 15 Hz – 50 kHz

Nominal Impedance: 38 Ohms

Leather Earpads

Cable: 10 Feet, Silver Conductors

Connector (to Amplifier): 1/4″ Phone Plug

Dimensions: 3.8″ Diameter x 1.8″ Deep

Weight: 1 Pound

 

 

Build, Design & Comfort

 

After my time with the HE-400i, the HE-500 simply looked like a bulkier version of it in dark grey instead of black. The HE-400i used plastic materials to lend to a lightweight build, but the HE-500 utilises sturdy and thick metal in places where the newer iterations have a thin piece instead. The adjustment does not use any form of incremental markings or place holders, it smoothly adjusts and holds in place wherever you choose to stop. As far as headphones go, this is built like a tank – which has its advantages and disadvantages.

 

One major disadvantage is the weight. I do not have exact measurements, but the HE-500 falls slightly north of a full pound of weight. It is even heavier than my ZMF Omni (one of the lighter wood configurations, cherry) and I have definitely found it cumbersome at times. Documented mod guides exist to alleviate this issue, but I do not want to undertake them myself. A major one involves replacing the headband with the one the HE-400i uses, which is an aluminium chassis with a light and thin headband. The HE-500 is, again, from a time before this design became preferred by the company. What you have here is a thick leather headband with metal inside and slight padding. I’m, simply put, glad that they did away with this design since.

 

 

 

 

It feels anachronistic now, at the time of writing, to complain about the screw-on proprietary connectors that Hifiman used to use and the ones that are present on the HE-500. They have since switched to dual 2.5mm connectors, such as the one my HE-400i used. I can see why people consistently complained about them for years, bringing about the change. At one point, one slightly unscrewed itself and the sound began skipping out on the channel – leading me to believe the wire itself might have been faulty. It’s easy to believe so because the wire is a silver cable that does not lend much to confidence in terms of build quality. I used it for amp comparisons as my Schiit Magni 2 does not have a balanced output like my Cavalli Liquid Carbon, but I avoid it otherwise in favour of a balanced cable. I took issue with the default cable on the HE-400i as well, finding it too short and rigid – prone to excessively fast wear and tear according to other owners. With both headphones, it is better to seek out sturdier third-party options.

 

 

 

 

The HE-500 comes with two sets of earpads, one pleather and one velour, and both are quite mediocre. This is another improvement Hifiman has made since then, introducing the FocusPads and FocusPad A’s (the one on the HE-400i) that are more comfortable. At first, I did not want to order a pair of FocusPads A’s from China and tried other options – specifically a pair of ZMF lambskin earpads that I had lying around unused as I prefer the cowskin on my Omni. Anyone familiar with Hifiman’s earpads will tell you how a ring exists inside them that must be removed and then inserted into any other earpads you want to use in order to mount them onto their products. It is quite a delicate process because the rings can indeed break if handled harshly, leading to earpads not being able to be put on. This is something that has not changed in Hifiman’s design.

 

 

 

My Frankenstein HE-500 consisted of ZMF lambskin earpads with the ZMF Pilot Pad thrown on top of the headband for good measure. I reckoned that, with this much padding, comfort would be greatly increased. However, the thickness of the pads put a lot of pressure on my face when coupled with the, by default reasonable, clamp of the headphones. It was a fatiguing feeling so I switched back to the velour and ordered a pair of FocusPad A’s in the meantime. I was pleased on their arrival, they really add to the comfort while maintaining the sound signature and transients the headphones are known for. The lambskin introduced more bass into the mix, but I have other options for that, like the Omni or the Fostex TH-X00. What I wanted was what the HE-500 provided.

 

Sound

 

You might be wondering at this point why I would bother with these headphones, given all the complaints above about its comfort and build. The answer is simple: the sound quality. I have surrounded myself with “fun” tuned headphones such as the Omni, TH-X00, Shozy Zero and the Meze 99 Classic, and really wanted something that is somewhat neutral in presentation.

 

I won’t sit here and tell you that the HE-500 is truly neutral, but it is a lot more than other options I have. As an owner of the Sennheiser HD600 in the past, I would actually compare these to them. I previously thought that the HE-400i was a planar magnetic version of the HD600, but the HE-500 is closer and superior in some ways to the popular Sennheiser cans.

 

The bass on the HE-500 does not sound bumped at all, as even the HE-400i did. It is very clean and articulate and does not intrude outside of where it should be. It’s a very impressive sound, but not what a basshead would want as there is a distinct lack of mid-bass. It also extends fairly low, lower than the HE-400i and definitely the HD600 – both of which had rolled off bass extension. This does not mean that the HE-500 goes into TH-X00 levels, but there is a sense of presence and control that is very pleasing for several genres. Where the TH-X00 excels with EDM and electronic music, the HE-500 does extremely well with more “organic” genres such as rock, metal, classical/orchestral music and classic rock. The bass frequencies leads to the bass guitar being clear and present in songs but never drowning out the rest of the frequencies. It is also very, very fast – something I love about both the Hifiman products I have used to this point. I don’t have the HE-400i on hand to compare, but it does seem that the HE-500 is more immediate in its bass response. It simply does not linger or overstay its welcome, the decay is really fast.

 

The mids are another reason I will hold on to these headphones despite any comfort issues I may have over long periods of listening. They have a very musical tone to them and are slightly warm, but are not forwarded in any sense. They sound natural but sweet. Vocals and vocal layering shine on the HE-500 as do electric guitars. However, I found the presentation of acoustic guitars to be less realistic than the Omni, but still very clear and resonant nonetheless. The mids, and the headphone overall, have immediacy and very low decay – which is very useful for genres where analytical listening is necessary such as jazz. Even the HE-400i, comparatively, had more of a mid-bass bleed into the mids – and I thought those sounded remarkably stark and clean at the time. If anyone recommends the HE-500 to you, it will definitely be because of the mids.

 

The treble is at a point where it sounds detailed but never sibilant. It is something in between the veil of the HD600 and the far extension of the HE-400i, which could at times be sibilant depending on song choice. The HE-500’s treble extension breathes life into classic rock recordings, which can easily be bogged down by roll-off due to their older production methods and large dynamic range, and thus I heavily prefer it for the genre over the Omni, TH-X00 and HE-400i. Led Zeppelin are a band whose songs have been at times problematic for several pairs of headphones I have owned because their overall warmth can dampen the bite of Jimmy Page’s guitar work. Where the TH-X00 heavily favoured the rhythm section and bumped it up in the mix where all else felt drowned out, the HE-500 eagerly displays all the colour and resolution that is necessary for listening to the band in incredible balance.

 

This is the most analytical pair of headphones in my possession right now and one that my Schiit Gungnir benefits from the most due to the detail retrieval. Of course, it might pale in comparison to the likes of the Sennheiser HD800, which I have not heard at length, but it fits right into my needs. I challenge you to find anyone who would classify the sound of the HE-500 as sterile or cold. It walks the tightrope admirably between resolution and overly “fun” warmth.

 

The soundstage trumps both the HD600 and the HE-400i quite a bit. I expected it to be similar to the latter, but it is far wider. Upon careful consideration, I’d actually place this second in terms of soundstage in full-sized headphones I have owned – right after the Beyerdynamic DT990. The wide soundstage complements the fast nature of the headphones as swirling instrumentation in songs travel far and wide without any sense of lag or inaccuracy.

 

 

 

Amp Pairings

 

While the Schiit Magni 2 is more than enough to power these headphones, the Cavalli Liquid Carbon pairing is now my favourite of all time – with the previous favourite being the HE-400i with the Schiit Asgard 2. This is because of the amp’s slightly warm but still detailed nature, adding to the sweetness of the HE-500 quite a bit. The Magni 2, which is transparent, shows the headphone’s true sound and it is still warm and inviting, but the Liquid Carbon just goes that extra step to my ears.

 

To sum up: not portable, need adequate amping as they are planar after all.

 

Conclusion

 

If you have good neck strength, these could easily be on your list of cans to try out. Sadly, they are indeed discontinued. It is likely that very few people will even dare to call these a pair of beautiful cans, or even largely comfortable, but the sonic benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. What you ultimately have here is an incredibly balanced but tonally rich and lush pair of headphones that does not lack in detail – coupled with the best transient speed planar magnets can offer. I would pick it over its younger brother, the HE-400i, any day due to its balanced and natural sounding strength that is well within my comfort zone for treble extension.

 

 

 

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Comparisons

 

Bass Quantity: TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > HE-500 > HD600

 

Mids: HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > TH-X00 > DT990

 

Treble Quantity: DT990 > HE400i > TH-X00 > HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I

 

Soundstage: DT990 > HE-500 > ZMF Omni > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > TH-X00

 

Comfort: DT990 > TH-X00 > HE400i > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE-500

 

Aesthetics: TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > HE-500 > HD600

 

Lightness: DT990 > TH-X00 > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > ZMF Omni > HE-500

 

Song Impressions

 

Equipment used: Foobar200 WASAPI Event > Schiit Wyrd > Schiit Gungnir USB Ver. 2 > Cavalli Liquid Carbon.

All tracks in lossless FLAC in at least 16/44.1

 

Abba - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

 

The soundstage and separation of the HE-500 is very apparent from the first notes that ring out in this song, as the melody is played on electric piano and guitars panned on the left and right. The bass guitar work is clear, with a good amount of extension into the bass region, but the vocals take the centre-stage of the song along with the amazing synth-riff that repeats. The beat is punchy but not overly bassy and the quick string sections and stabs have power behind them due to the speed of the headphones.

 

Aerosmith – Dream On (2012 Remaster)

 

The rock genre in general does extremely well with the HE-500 and this song showcases such strength. Steven Tyler’s vocal representation on the headphones capture the body and emotional power, flanked by the incredible dual-channel guitar work that also ring out due to the strong mids.

 

a-ha – Take On Me

 

80s synth and beats with speed. Beyond that, the shimmering backing synth and the vocals sound clear and present. However, the synth bass sounds a bit more rolled off compared to the likes of the TH-X00 – which made the song a more bassy affair at the sacrifice of vocal and synth pad clarity.

 

Alan Parson’s Project – Sirius/Eye In The Sky (2005 SACD)

 

The HE-500 does very well to capture the mystique in Sirius’ instrumentation in perfect balance. Quite often with other headphones, I’d find that some aspect would drown out another and lead to a less pleasing listen overall. That is not the case with the HE-500 at all. The soundstage lets each note breathe well and the speed lets nothing linger in the mix. The vocals sound right at home coupled with the shimmering acoustic guitar work that chimes in effortlessly through the track.

 

B.B. King – The Thrill Is Gone

 

For the first time to my ears, this song feels like a live recording rather than a studio effort. There is a very wholesome quality to it all. King’s guitar Lucille rings out in the mix as should be, but the backing track is clear too. The melancholy yet funky bass work is set up to ring through the song and give it a sense of pacing and body. As the song progresses, more guitar instrumentation and string instrumentation builds up but is never muddy on the HE-500. The fact that King’s hurt vocal rings out clearly over all this detail is astonishing and a superb achievement on the part of these headphones.

 

Billy Idol – We Didn’t Start the Fire

 

This track’s grandiose production is aided by the HE-500. The large but controlled soundstage really brings out all the musical intricacies that are going on that would seem hectic to a less resolute headphone. Very fun listen that helped me hear details I had missed before.

 

Black Sabbath – Planet Caravan

 

Clarity, warmth and balance are three words I’d give to this song’s representation on the HE-500. It benefits vastly from the soundstage too, as the percussion jumps from end to end and the instruments take up their places in the mix – with Tony Iommi’s melodious guitar soloing on the right channel and the piano on the left. Very impressive listen.

 

Blink-182 – I Miss You

 

The piano in this demure track stands out better than I have heard on my other headphones. The vast separation of the two tracks of acoustic guitars is a joy to listen to on the HE-500. The sense of space in the mix really comes through with this much room to grow that the headphones provide.

 

Blue Foundation – Eyes on Fire

 

The vocals sound ethereal and full-bodied simultaneously thanks to the excellent mids that the HE-500 possesses. You can also clearly hear the difference in guitar effects on the two guitar tracks while the gently shimmering synth sequencer continues to add atmosphere to the track. As the song picks up, every instrument and vocal note is presented in a balanced manner over a thundering drum track. The balance of the two vocal lines, the male and the female, are also clear and present where on some other headphones the latter would take priority.

 

Childish Gambino – Heartbeat

 

The kick drum in the intro moves faster than on other headphones that I’ve heard, but not necessarily as loud. The bass saw-synth riff does not sound as pleasing as it does on the TH-X00 due to its immense bass extension, but the surrounding instrumentation of the song overall is superior. Little details like extra percussion from the separate channels and the electric guitar in the second verse are picked out very well by the HE-500. Donald Glover’s higher pitched backing vocal in the chorus is also clearer than I’ve heard before.

 

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

 

Gentle rock/vocal songs such as this are magnificent on the HE-500 due to its controlled resolution. The delicate and emotional guitars and vocals go hand in hand over a clear and subdued bassline and gentle, brush-tipped snare hits. The faint backing vocals singing “this world is only gonna break your heart” have more body to them than before. One of my favourite songs and I have not heard it better, to be honest.

 

Clint Mansell – Lux Aeterna

 

The dramatic string section creeps up to the listener with power and precision and the high notes retain the starkness they require to cut through the mix as a result of the fantastic yet comfortable treble extension on the part of the HE-500.

 

Coldplay – Clocks

 

This reverb-soaked track is easy to get wrong on different sound signatures because of varying frequencies being favoured over others. Thankfully, the HE-500 makes a statement with how it presents everything in a way that is both accurately balanced yet never boring with plenty of detail.

 

Daichi Miura – Unlock

 

The mood of this track is accentuated by the HE-500 due to how it handles the demure vocals and layering along with the impressive reverb effects in the production. The low end doesn’t sound as “club” like as on some other headphones, particularly the TH-X00, but there is clarity and body throughout the rest of the track’s mix.

 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

 

The acoustic guitar has a lot of body to it, but is not natural enough to go head-to-head with the ZMF Omni. However, it fits in better in the mix than the Omni because of its balanced presentation. A magical listen due to just how in sync everything is.

 

Eminem – Without Me

 

A more detailed listen than the TH-X00 with respectable bass, but the Fostex just synergizes better with the rap genre in general. Despite that, the separation is again excellent and the verses’ musical transitions flow far more naturally than on the Fostex. The snare is also impactful, yet not sibilant at higher volume like the TH-X00.

 

Fleetwood Mac – Dreams

 

A song I re-visit with every new piece of gear and one I know as well as the back of my hand. A wonderful listen due to it playing to the HE-500’s strengths. Vocal separation is incredibly clear as is the high pitched synth in the back that adds to the atmosphere – of which the soundstage adds tonnes.

 

Kavinsky – Nightcall

 

The kick drum falls right into the realm of possibility for the sub-bass extension of the HE-500. Not the best pairing of song overall due to its reliance on mid-bass, but the chugging electric guitar and the vocals are benefitted by the strength of the mids. The backing vocal in the verses, singing “we’ll go all night long” repeatedly, sounds clearer than on the likes of the TH-X00.

 

Lana Del Ray – Summertime Sadness

 

A stunning listen. Sublime vocal layering of Lana’s incredible studio voice flanked by so much instrumentation over a mournful marching funeral beat. The strings ebb and swell to their potential as the rather odd choice of samples of children shouting (and a scream in the intro) are clearer than I’ve ever heard before. Nothing is drowned out, no detail is lost - the only way you would get more detail out of this is with a more analytical audio chain at this point.

 

Led Zeppelin – Achilles’ Last Stand

 

As mentioned above in the review, bands like Led Zeppelin benefit a tonne from the HE-500’s balanced yet musical nature. The guitars ring out clearly along with the vocals as the rhythm section stands where it should – not drowning anything out like on some other headphones like the TH-X00. The amazing guitar work is present on both channels with detail and resolution.

 

Marcin Przybyłowicz – The Fields of Ard Skellig

 

The power and precision of the HE-500 brings this track to life as the vocal soars over a lushly produced backing track. The Gungnir, Liquid Carbon and HE-500 truly highlight the “air” around the violin and other instruments due to the quality of production, mixing and mastering.

 

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

 

All the balance I have been praising above again brings forth this song in a new and incredible way. You just know that the vocal layering and harmonisation is something to behold on the HE-500, especially in the famous bridge section. The delicate piano flourishes never get drowned out by anything else in the mix and the bell sound effects never lose any of their nuance.

 

Ramin Djawadi – Game of Thrones Theme Song

 

The thunderous and cinematic percussion maintains its body and impact while the marvellously separated string sections churn ahead to present the epic title track in full glory. Another mention must be given to the track A Lannister Always Pays His Debts, also by Djawadi, for just how incredible it sounds on the HE-500 for the same reasons as the title track.

Posted

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...  :)

Posted

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.

Posted

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:

 

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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.

 

 

Posted

Pros: Value; Excellently balanced and agreeable sound; Transparency; Imaging; Mods

Cons: Weight; Require further investment to match the build quality and comfort to the sound quality

I'll be frank here, the HE-500s are just about the best deal in the headphone world. They're not perfect, they're not the best, but there's no other offering which comes close to the value that the HE-500s provide. Obviously, they're not magic headphones that provide flagship sound with no compromises and it's obvious that HiFiMan cut corners in making a headphone that optimised audio quality, was relatively easy to drive and could be available at a substantially lower price point than traditional summit-fi offerings but those compromises are more than worth it, especially considering that most of the concerns can be fixed with a little additional investment and effort.

 

The sound is excellent and truly balanced in every way in a way that creates not only balance but euphony. The bass really shows off the impact of the planars without being bloated or boomy and sounds wonderfully impactful and natural throughout without any boominess, bloating or roll-off. Some will prefer the LCD-2s bass but I prefer the tight and visceral impact over the spacious boom of the LCD's, which may be preferable to some but doesn't really do it for me. I probably won't be going back to dynamic cans after this because planars offer a truly different presentation of the bass that I just love.

 

The mids are perhaps the headphones' selling point, and are again wholly balanced without taking out any of the sense of fun. It's the mids that create the amazing transparency of these cans and they take extremely well to any instrumentation or vocals and they do well at excelling at any genre without being a jack of all trades. The clarity of the mids was a revelation coming from DT880s and K7xxs which to my ears have a more recessed mids presentation.

 

For me, the treble is what puts these headphones up there with summit-fi cans. The treble isn't heavy but it manages to fully be there and avoid harshness without taking the polite or veiled route that put me off the LCD-2s and killed the HD650s for me. The sparkle and brilliance that you want from the treble is all there and while the full extent of dynamics and detail isn't quite there, I still find that these are very detailed headphones that manage a very realistic presentation due to their excellent decay and transient response creating the overall organic sound and transparency that makes these headphones so great to listen to.

 

The soundstage is quite nice but the imaging is where it truly excels. I prefer a headphone that has a closer soundstage but excellent imaging to one that sounds wide and expansive but with lackluster imaging making the width sound artificial. Also, while power hungry they're also quite easy to amp, they'll sound fantastic with just about anything that gives them enough power even if that will limit your selection of viable amps. They need a lot of juice but they're not picky with what they get it from and these actually sound somewhat decent out of a PC headphone jack or an iPhone input even if it's far from a permanent solution.

 

Isolation is virtually non-existent and there's a lot of leakage, especially with the regrilling mod done, but you shouldn't really be considering flagship level open headphones if isolation and leakage are a real concern.

 

The HE-500s do suffer somewhat in the quality of their stock parts (by that I mean the pads and cable, the headphones themselves are actually very sturdy and durable) with the very rough and hot pleather and velour pads leaving much to be desired and the ugly, tangle-y and hugely microphonic stock silver cable needing a replacement. They're quite easy on the eye and the gunmetal grey finish and the overall sturdy and straightforward look do make these look like a premium offering rather than cheap looking but good sleepers. They're very heavy which can cause comfort issues and have some odd screw-in cable connectors that can be a bit annoying and there's an overall lack of padding on the headband which in addition to the weight, makes them somewhat uncomfortable without any aftermarket padding. Luckily, most of these issues are fixable with some replacements and the handy among us will enjoy the fact that there's several mods available that can improve the overall sound of the headphones although some others will be annoyed at the fact that they'll have to buy new pads and cables to get a better experience and may not be keen to dig into expensive electronics. Really, comfort and design issues are plentiful as corners had to be cut, but when you see that about $120 will fix these issues and that you can get a pair of these for around $600 or less depending on where you live (I got these in Australia for about $670 including shipping and paypal fees, which is about half of what I'd pay for new HD800s or even used ones), even these issues feel like total nitpicks.

 

Overall, these are a very organic set of cans that excel particularly in providing a balanced and transparent sound that just sounds beautiful and is rare even in top end cans. They embody the depth, palpability and enjoyment that I think defines high end sound. They're not harshly analytical but they're not overly laid back. They do just about everything just right. They're not too hot or harsh and they're not too mellow and dark. For me, these are the sweet spot of summit-fi and I don't think anything I could reasonably get would be a direct upgrade. I prefer these as daily drivers to my mate's HD800s (despite that soundstage) and LCD-2s and while I'd probably buy some HD800s to add to my collection if I had the money or some Stax if an eccentric millionaire handed me a cheque for $10,000, the HE-500s are a more than satisfactory end-game pair for me and even if the sound signature isn't your favourite, these can be part of any audiophile's end-game arsenal. If you don't mind replacing cables, pads and maybe adding some headband padding and doing the mods to get that extra oomph out of the sound, it's truly good enough to hang with the big boys and even surpass some of them for a fraction of the price. There is no better deal on the market, especially with used prices dropping more now that they're discontinued. If you're considering pulling the trigger on these, do it, you won't be disappointed.

Posted

Pros: Good Bass, good mid range, Clean detail NON sibilant highs. TEXTURED sound

Cons: Heavy as Fark, fatigue on the head

These cans are quite impressive. They have a very detailed and textured sound signature that is fun to listen to any kind of music with them. You can listen to just about anything them with them and enjoy it! Now this is with the cardas cable and velour pads. The silver cable might be more dry in taste and a little but more controlled in the bass sector. The cardas cable just makes the sound signature more fun and colored as well as enjoyable. Really the thing that blows my mind is the texture these head phones have. you can literately feel the sound as if you touched it with your finger!

Posted

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

Posted

Pros: Neutral frequency balance, plenty of frequency extension

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

Intro

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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HiFiMAN HE-500
Description:

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

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandHiFiMAN
Colorblack
EAN0609613431845
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
MPNHE-500
PublisherHiFiMAN Corporation
StudioHiFiMAN Corporation
TitleHiFiMAN HE-500 High Performance Headphones
UPC609613431845
SKU26200
Package Height7.2 inches
Package Length12.1 inches
Package Weight5.55 pounds
Package Width12 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumberHE-500
ProductGroupCE
ProductTypeNameCONSUMER_ELECTRONICS
UPCList - UPCListElement609613431845
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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