Pros: well balanced, with perfect treble/mids
Cons: very uncomfortable and heavy with an inflexible cable
When I first heard the HE-500 I thought: »man these have the most natural sound I have ever heard.« And I still think so. These are also the first pair of headphones I didn't have to get used to the sound signature and liked them straight out of the box. Maybe because these are a loaner and were already burned in when I got them.
They are very well balanced when it comes to different tones. Treble is not bright, mids are there only the bass is kind of on the low side. I thought my HE-4 were the bassier headphones but when I did A/B comparrison between them I discovered they have the same amount of bass but the presentation is sligtly different. HE-500 is fuller or thicker while HE-4 bass is shalower and thinner but because HE-4 doesn't have as much mids, bass seems better defined and stronger. Because the lack of mids on HE-4 they also sound hollower between treble and bass, lots of full, unused air.
I compared these two headphones because I find them very similar actually. Most of the sonic differences I already mentioned above and of course HE-4 is the brighter headphone. HE-500 has a very relaxed smooth sound but the interesting thing is I could never fully relax when listening to them. And its not the fault of their sound signature but the comfort level. When I got these the headband was perfectly set for my head and the clamping wasn't too bad. HE-4 clamps harder while HE-300 is like air. I always thought the weight of 0.5kg would be a big problem but its not. It does bother me a bit because I am used to lighter headphones and I would certainly wish these were 150g lighter but I don't have any neck or back pains. I did however experinced some pain on top of my scul and my initial thought was that these need a headband like the Sony SA series so a wider one.
The real issue was the shallow space between my head and the capsule. My ears aren't Mickey mouse's ears but are rather small and are very close to my head. Still there wasn't enough space for them. I especially felt pain in my left ear as I have an ear ring in my upper part of the ear. I never imagined just touching the inner part of the capsule would hurt so much until I read these is a metal bar running across the capsule in the middle which I didn't noticed before. This is what is causing the pain. I have since got a bit acustomed to the disscomfort but still this puts me off enough to say I will never get these, unfortuneately as the sound signature is almost perfect. I would prefer slightly more bass but then I might be unable to hear mids so well. Something will suffer and I'm glad the mids and treble don't. I guess you can't have it all.
I will shortly touch the cable topic. I have the HE-6 v1 cable (heatshrink, thinner wires), HE-6 current cable, HE-4 cable+the HE-4 portable cable reterminated with unbalanced Neutrik connector, HE-300 speaker cable which I used to compare HE-4 directly with the HE-500 with the same speaker cable just terminated with a full ¼ jack. Interesting that when I first swapped HE-4 cable with the HE-6 cable I noticed the treble wen't down a bit. A very welcome change for bright headphones. Now its the other way around. One of my theories is the headphone was new and so was the stock cable while the HE-6 cable was used and therefore burned in. I didn't noticed any difference between HE-6 v1 or v2 cables except the newer one was slightly microphonic due to its thicker wire but the heatshink on the v1 was so long it was sometimes touching my shoulders. Sound signature is the same and in bass department comparable to HE-4 cable but brighter. So HE-4 cables is less bright, HE-6 is the bightest I have, Canare speaker cable that comes with HE-300/500 has increased the bass but the biggest surprise was the thin HE-4 portable cable which is of the thickness or RE earphones. Has just as much bass as the Canare speaker cable and tammed the treble a bit but it was slightly less detailed.
As much as I like the overall very good presentation of the Canare speaker cable with HE-500 and how it improves the bass quantity I have to say adding this cable in the package is »running from the problem rather than solving it«. The cable is way too heavy, thick and inflexible for a headphone. If the goal with it was increasing bass then the changes should be done to the driver rather than to cable choice. HE-6 cable is in many ways a very good cable and personally I could live with slightly less bass than with a significatly thicker and heavier cable.
Build quality is the same as the older and younger brother and sister (with the exception there are less visible marks around the connector on the HE-4 cup) the HE-4 and HE-300. The best thing I like on the Hifiman headphones is the sturdy build. When I hold HD800s in my hands I'm affraid they will break but these bring some confidence back. The pads on the loaner were alrady squashed a bit when I got them but they must be of the same thickness as the HE-300 as they also have the same level of softness while the HE-4 pads are several milimeters thicker and sturdier. The box HE-500s came in is the same as the HE-4 box covered with pleather with the exception of silver letters and lock opposed to golden colour on the HE-4 box.
My impressions are a bit different, I like to compare and since I know many members here have headphones of the lower Hifiman tier I decided I would use this opportunity to compare the models from Hifiman that I own. I have mentioned most of the differences above but I will summarize again and throw the HE-300 into the basket. HE-4 is the brightest headphone, it has a very well defined bass, in fact the best bass out of the three in my opinion. But it doesn't have much mids and there is where the HE-500 comes in. Reduce treble and add more mids. Perfect amount of everything, I would prefer slightly more bass but I am pushing it now. Mids are very liquid even from solid state amplifier. I first tried these from a speaker amp's headphone output which has more bass but it was poorly defined and I couldn't believe the bass is so poor. Then I tried it out of the Auditor which is a reference class SS amplifier. HE-500 has less bass out of it but its so much better defined. I also tried it with HM-602 and it was a very nice match. Not bright but very musical and involving and it didn't need much power, the volume was set at »2,5«. Overall HE-500 doesn't need that much power, on my Auditor the volume pot was set around 9 o'clock (more info on the photos). I must also add that the HE-4 sounded a bit more distant and so HE-500 were slightly more involving. HE-300 are the headphones with most mids. Exagerating with mids but after a while you get high with those mids. Bass is slightly more »bloaty« than the two more expensive headphones. No brightness at all and are the most comfortable headphones (even more than HD555 & HD800). If I compare these three with peaches the HE4 would be the sligtly green and harder peach, not quite matured but some like it that way, the HE-500 would be the perfect matured peach most people like, very sweet, and lastly the HE-300 would be the overmatured soft and mushy peach. All are likable, some prefer it this way, some the other way.
HE-500 has the almost perfect combo of everything but when you look from outside the box with the cable as thick and heavy as a power cable, less bass without the speaker cable, 0,5km weight on your head and the metal bar that causes quite the discomfort plus the high price tag you have to ask yourself if all that is worth it. Personally to me comfort is almost as import as the sound signature, I will always be looking for new headphone if the current one is causing me pain. Of course this is subjective and it may not bother everyone. Personally I'm very happy with HE-4 and HE-300 as they are completely different and bright some variety into my listening sesions. HE-500 is an upgrade to the HE-4 that I am certain of but the upgrade in sound signature is not as obvious as is the weight and discomfort difference. In the whole time of listening to HE-500 not for a moment I could fully relax, my ears just hurt too much. Maybe I am overly sensitive but I believe there is a lot of room for improvement for this headphone. Starting with reducing weight. That means one magnet on each side, consequently there will be no metal bar hurting ears and also the price will be lower. This of course is my opinion, opinion of someone who is not a headphone engineer just a man who likes to listen to music and enjoys it while doing it. At the end it came down to a single metal bar that decided that these headphones are not for me even though they had the most pleasing amount of everything I have heard so far.
Below is a link to some photos I have taken with, unfortunately, a poor quality camera lend to me by my best friend as I have lend my better camera to my sister who wen't to Barcelona.
A huge thanks for this opportunity to Hifiman/Head Direct and Mr. Sieveking for bringing this loaner out to the public and organizing it. I hope I am also considered for a similar program in the future as I am becoming quite a fan boy of Hifiman products (4 and counting) and would love to taste a bit of what is in the owen in the future.
kindest regards, Peter