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HiFiMAN HE-500 planar headphones

A Review On: HiFiMAN HE-500

HiFiMAN HE-500

Rated # 24 in Over-Ear
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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




Good review, I agree on the comfort issues and your assessment of the HE500 vs LCD2. Both are absolutely incredible cans. However, I think it should get a 5 star for value since it's superior to all of the dynamic flagships at "only" $900.
Thanks, and agreed on the value recommendation - I've adjusted it. :)
Very Fine review! One thing I would like to add though! I have read test of your Lavry claiming it to be a fantastic dac, but ruthlessly revealing of bad recordings and not very forgiving. If that is true - it might explain why you find the He-500 a tad bright and I don´t! On my system it sounds very warm and smooth but never overly so. I might in fact find some more revealing and brighter interconnect cables along the way to complement my new phones!
My system have be optimised to take the harshness out of my ath-w1000 so it should sound smooth and warm. Just goes to say that different systems - different sound!!
Thanks, Kasper.
I found the HE-500 to be more forward-sounding than natural, and my preference with headphones right now is to achieve as accurate, natural and enjoyable a sound as possible. That said, I find I can can enjoy what I have now though.
The Lavry is very revealing and I admire it's 'truthfulness' and also enjoy it. I may get another amp at some point to preserve the Lavry DAC, and may also switch to a DA 11, but we'll see.
Excellent review Windsor, having read your review before getting the HE-500 and now listening afterwards and checking the review out again, this is pretty spot-on. Mine is still burning in, so the treble should probably settle down a bit with more hours.
Very nice review, I agree with your general remarks and found the contrast with the LCD-2 (which I've never heard) very interesting.  What amazes me though is that you describe the 500 as a bit thin/bright on occasions, I find the exact opposite, certainly when comparing them to the HD-500 and the HE-6; to me they're quite a bit warmer.  But they do have a glorious midrange, that's for me their strongest point, excellent with vocals and small ensembles as they bring these forward just a bit.  I listen exclusively to classical and as I said, for strings/chamber music and vocal they're absolutely great, better than the HD-800 and on par with the HE-6.  But when listening to classical I certainly wouldn't go for warmer voiced cans than these so I guess what this means is that the LCD-2 and 3 would be a definite no-go for that genre (for me at least).  For large orchestral works their soundstage and separation is marginal, with those I prefer the HD-800 with a good tube amp or the HE-6, imho the best overall headphone on the market barring perhaps some of the high end electrostats.  Thanks!
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