Pros: Lightweight, fairly easy to drive, comfortable, neutral sound, fair pricing, good customer support from Hifiman
Cons: Slightly cheap/poor build quality and Q.C, short stock cable.
The HE560 is Hifiman's attempt at making a headphone between the HE500 & HE6, as of the time posting this review, there are two known versions of the HE560: the preorder version and production (rev 1 as I call it) version. The preorder version has numerous differences in build quality, but, they sound very similar. I've listed some photos below showing the build differences between the models. Just click on them to make them larger.
Preorder one says HE560, new one doesn't and is a bit less tall but deeper, both boxes had scratches and marks when I got them.
Sound wise, they are quite similar, but there are small differences: The production HE560 sounds a little thinner in the midrange and a bit brighter in the treble. This is a subtle difference. I noticed this effect when swapping pads to the preorder HE560 as well, so, it seems to be the pads that cause this difference to my ears.
Comfort and build: Comfort is substantially improved compared to the previous HE headphones. The new earpads literally melt into your cheeks. They're plusher than both the original velour and pleather pads that came stock with my HE400 & HE500. The velour material that covers the top of the earpad feels less grainy/rough, compared to the velours that came with my HE400/500. Clamping force is a bit on the high side. However, If you don’t find that the Sennheiser HD600/650s clamp too hard, you should be fine with the clamping force on the HE560 after a brief break in.
The cable feels solid. It's terminated by a Neutrik 6.5mm plug. The new fabric black cable has less microphonics than the original silver HE500 and tangles a lot less easier. However, the new cable is shorter and weighs a bit more. The old HE500/4/6/etc. are left in the dust in terms of comfort, but, come back in build quality. The HE560 kind of feels like a toy in comparison to my HE500. When you pick up the HE500, you're greeted with reassuring weight and metal gimbals. The HE500 just feels solid in your hands, while the HE560 is composed of plastic gimbals and is much lighter. It seems more fragile and less “serious” in your hand compared to the HE500.
Overall, the build quality is fine, but, there are a couple of small nitpicks I have. For example, the wooden box has no feet on it to prevent scratching and mine came a bit banged up (scratches and dents on the sides). My headphone also had some permanent scratches/marks on the gimbals when first opened as well.
Bass: Extends down to ~20 Hz felt, with a sharp roll off in power starting at around 30-40 Hz. Both the HE500/560 have excellent sub bass extension. A good seal with the earpads is crucial for optimal sub bass performance in both. The bass sounds quicker and has less of a mid bass hump vs the HE500. The HE560s bass has better finesse and control, when listening to fast faced metal and techno, I can tell the bass can keep up more effortlessly. The HE500 on the other hand has a tiny bit more raw impact, especially in the mid bass. However, it sounds more one noted and slower in general.
Mids: Goodbye recessed upper mids. The midrange is a lot more even on the HE560. The depression around 2-3.5k is rectified, and the midrange is a bit less forward and sounds less thick (though IMO the HE500 was too forward/thick). Vocals are more palpable on the HE560, at least in terms of tone/realism. Same with most instruments, explained in the timbre section later.
Treble: High notes on the HE560 are a touch airier, more extended, and in my opinion superior. The lower treble region is more forward and brighter on the HE560. However, the upper treble is less bright and flatter on the HE560. This is because there are peaks on the HE500 around 10 kHz that are absent on the HE560. I generally hear the HE560 as having a brighter treble in most recordings, however, some songs that hit the 10kHz area a lot make it seem like the HE500 is brighter but gives you the impression it's a bit grainy or tizzy because of that peak. This is especially noticeable with cymbals.
Timbre: With the help of a more even, extended treble and the absence of the recessed upper mids, the HE560 takes the edge in terms of timbre. Nearly all instrumentation sounds more lifelike on the HE560 but some can also sound dull in comparison with the HE500. The HE500 has some treble spikes and peaks, as stated before. This makes certain instruments like cymbals a bit strident and harsh. They’re over exaggerated on the HE500 but can be more engaging in some songs while the HE560 is more accurate.
Soundstage: Listening to binaural recordings gives you a larger sense of space on the HE560. The soundstage is wider, but not so much so that you begin to feel very distant or bored (Looking at you, HD800 and Stax SR-202). The larger width of the HE560 can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. I actually preferred the smaller soundstage of the HE500 with rock/metal as I felt closer and more engaged with the band playing. However, for orchestral music and jazz the larger sense of space on the HE560 was welcomed, in these genres, the HE500 was less resolving and sounded almost claustrophobic in comparison.
Enough about the width, depth is also a key part in soundstage. To be honest, the HE560 is kind of the same. I can’t detect any major differences. HE560 is on par, if not better than the HE500.
Efficiency & amping: My receiver has power output meters, to reach the same value at the power meter while playing a flat tone (100hz,1000hz,etc). The HE560 needed to be turned 1 notch less on the volume pot compared to the HE500. So, pretty much the same.
The HE560 also scales fairly well with multiple sources. On Magni, it's kind of bright and forward, more akin to the HE500s sound. When I stepped it up to Lyr, it sounded less forward and more relaxed, especially with the right tubes (Matsush1ta E88cc) and was much more louder. I also felt the same when comparing HE560 on Magni to my old integrated amp (JA-S55).
I would recommend amping HE560 with a Lyr or a Vintage A/V amp (they do quite well and can be bought for cheap at garage sales or craigslist). Magni works as well but the volume had to be turned to 100% to reach my preferred listening volume with recordings that have a extreme dynamic range. (Explorations in space and time, DSOTM 5.1 SACD, most of my old Vinyl rips). With pop music the volume was at 40-50%.
Song Comparisons (All lossless, AMB y2 DAC, JVC JA-S55 amp, and SKW JIB interconnects)
Artist, track, album. and source.
AC/DC – TNT – Self titled album (Lossless CD rip)
HE560: Wider soundstage, the guitars (especially in the first couple seconds) extend outwards to the left more. Less raspy and sibilant on the vocals and overall the 560 has a more lifelike and palpable rendering of the vocals, guitars, and drums. You almost feel as if you were there, cliché I know, but it’s true.
HE500: Immediately more forward vs the 560. The guitar in the left at the beginning sounds right in your ears, vocals take up a larger sense of space in the center and are more in your head sounding. Vocals are also more raspy/sibilant, especially when "TNT" is screamed. The HE500 actually sounds more engaging on this song yet this may give you the impression its treble is uncontrolled and peaky in return (10khz+ bump).
Pink Floyd – Money – Dark Side of the Moon (5.1 channel 30thanniversary SACD rip)
HE560: The sounds of the cash register and coins extend outwards towards the left and right more. You can easily tell where the center channel and left/right is on this surround sound recording. Timbre on all of the instruments are improved, cymbals are less splashy and bright, and the guitars have a bit more bite due to the lack of recessed upper mids. Vocals are less sibilant and raspy as well.
HE500: In the beginning, you can again tell that the HE500 is more forward like the other song. The coins dropping and the cash register in the beginning are closer to your head and sound like they’re almost mashed up in the center in comparison to the 560. It’s a bit harder to determine the location of the center channel and left / right. Cymbals are brighter and guitars have less bite. Vocals are more sibilant and raspy.
Miles Davis – Freddie Freeloader – Kind of Blue (HDtracks 192/24)
HE560: Again, soundstage is wider. In the first 30 seconds you can easily tell that the cymbal on the right is more outwards and out of your head, same with the piano in the left. Timbre is significantly improved, simply put it it, every instrument sounds more palpable and effortless on the HE560.
HE500: More in the head. You feel closer to the sextet. Cymbals and the piano are less out of your head and closer to your ears. The piano almost has a slight glare to it which is absent on the HE560 (around 40 second mark).
Conclusion: The HE560 will not necessarily be a better headphone than the HE500 for many. The HE500 has an addicting tone to it, which is a forward, up close, and full sound On a lot of songs, especially during rock/metal, I found the HE500 to be a much more engaging headphone. I felt closer to the band due to the more forward/smaller soundstage and the emphasized 10k region was actually welcomed for me in these genres.
However, technically speaking, the HE560 is the better headphone overall. It doesn’t have the tone of the HE500, but, what it does have that the HE500 lacks is better technicalities. Bass is quicker, the soundstage is wider, and everything sounds more lifelike. Problems like recessed upper mids, ringing, and heavy weight in the HE500 are also resolved with the HE560.
I can also wear my HE560 all day (and yes I've done that, my weekends are that boring) without any listening fatigue. I've tried this with HE500, my ears just got tired of the 10khz peak and the weight required me to take them off every 2 hours for a break.
So, it kind of boils down to preference which is better. For me, I enjoyed HE560 and think it's a worthy successor to the HE500. If you want a neutral and lifelike sound with great timbre and balance, kind of reminiscent to the HD600, the HE560 is your can. If you want a more colored and forward sound then the HE500 is what I would recommend. Also consider you can find a HE500 for $400-500 used, which is a steal, these used to be $899 when first released.