Pros: Well-balanced sound, light, comfortable
Cons: Feel rather cheap for the price, HiFiMAN connectors, finicky headband adjustment
* Obligatory warning that I am not a professional and am not the best at describing sound qualities of headphones. I don't like to use words like liquid or chocolate because descriptions like those leave me puzzled and hungry. So take this review with a grain of salt on the rim of a nice cold drink.
I have only had these for two days now, but I feel I can give some initial impressions. I own both the HD800 and LCD-X and used both of those headphones to compare the HE-560 against. My setup goes as:
Foobar with only lossless files 16/44.1 through DSD fed via USB to my Fiio X3 as an external DAC. This is passed via line out to the RCA inputs on my Bryston BHA-1 amp and then single ended output to my HD800 and HE-560 and balanced 4-pin to my LCD-X.
The tracks I used to compare these headphones include numerous genres: classical (Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saens, Bruckner), Jazz (Magnus Lindgren, John Coltrane, Vince Guaraldi), Rap (Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Eminem), Folk (Fleet Foxes, Alela Diane, Iron & Wine), Ambient/Chill (The Album Leaf, Motohiro Nakashima, Brian Eno), Rock (Muse, Green Day, Coheed & Cambria), Acoustic (Paco De Lucia, Ottmar Liebert, Andy McKee), and many, many more (some specific examples included below).
Upon opening the box the HE-560 were shipped in I found a very nice wooden storage box with the headphones packed neatly inside. I was rather impressed with the improvement of this box over that of the HE-500 (which I previously owned). After taking the headphones out of the box, though, my first impression was that they don't really feel like $900 headphones. Yes, they are significantly lighter than my LCD-X, but the build quality doesn't feel the same. I was disappointed to feel that some of the parts (yolk, cups, and headband adjuster) just felt a bit cheap. I have owned the HE-400 and HE-500 and demo'd the HE-6 a few times and the build quality of those models was better than that of the HE-560. I already knew this, but I'll point it out here that HiFiMAN went with the same connectors as used in previous models. I guess this is a minor issue, but I dislike having to screw the connectors in and out as this twists the cable (nit-picky, I know). I noticed that the cable is a bit shorter than I'd like as well (6 1/2 feet from end to end), but I have my amp a bit farther away from my desk chair than most, so this probably is a positive thing for many people. My last gripe with these headphones is inconsistency with the headband adjusters; the adjuster on the right side feels snug and holds its position well whereas the adjuster on the left feels very loose and moves with even a slight tug. I'm wondering if I could tighten up whatever mechanism is inside, but I'd rather not disassemble the headphones after only two days. Putting on the HE-560 for the first time helped relieve some of my initial disappointment. The headphones are very comfortable and a very reasonable clamp force - not too tight to cause unnecessary pressure yet not too loose to let them slide around with excessive head movement. The HE-560 weighs considerably less than the LCD-X and does not leave my neck tired after several hours of listening. The wide headband seems to distribute pressure well (an improvement over the LCD-X). Comfort-wise, I'd place these toward the HD800 side of the spectrum. With slightly larger earcups the HE-560 might compete with the HD800 in comfort.
My first impression of the HE-560 is that they would be a very good pair of headphones for someone looking for a one headphone setup as they seem to do everything well. I wouldn't say they are the best in any given category, but they are very well-rounded. They take the neutral, detailed sound of the HD800, smooth out some of the harshness, add some of the bass characteristics of the LCD-X and end up as a rather fun, balanced headphone.
To date, my LCD-X have the best bass I've heard out of headphones. The LCD-X have wonderful, enveloping and detailed bass that extends very deep. It is rich and punchy but not overly emphasized in my opinion. The HE-560 do not hit as hard as the LCD-X and don't give me goosebumps either. The HE-560 does, however, seem to extend just as deep and is just as punchy. The bass of the HE-560 just doesn't seem to have the power that the LCD-X does. I love listening to large orchestral pieces (1812 overture with canons specifically) or soundtracks with the LCD-X because they portray the bass as I would expect it to sound in real life. The HE-560 match the quickness of the LCD-X, but not quite the power. That being said, they still sound very good and are in no way weak in the bass region.
When it comes to mids, I prefer my HD800 as they are very clear and detailed in the midrange. The mids of the HD800 are a bit forward which I tend to prefer because it they tend to separate voices from the accompaniment. Listening to Frank Sinatra on the HD800 I get the feeling that he is right in front of me with the band farther back on stage. The HE-560 are not quite as forward in the mids. They are, however, still clear and detailed and sound very natural. This is surely a matter of preference and I could see people preferring the HE-560 over the HD800 here as the mids are a bit more smooth (and perhaps more natural) on the HE-560. Given that I have only had the HE-560 for two days, I might have to come back to this and see how my preferences change after I get more time on them.
The HD800 are rather infamous for being picky with amps. I've listened to my HD800 through a few different amps and with a bad pairing the highs can be piercing and fatiguing. I think they pair well with my BHA-1 and have fast highs that extend, well, seemingly indefinitely. The highs of the HE-560 are a bit more smooth and not quite as prominent. They lack the extreme detail and quicness of the HD800, which might be why I don't have any fatigue with the HE-560 after my long listening sessions so far. After listening to some Paganini caprices, the difference was a bit more apparent to me. With the HD800, it seemed as though the headphones were faster than the musician and hit every note with quickness and ease. With the HE-560, it seemed as though the headphones were trying to keep up with the music.
The HD800 are generally believed to have one of the largest (if not the largest) soundstage of any headphone. Comparing my HD800 to all other headphones I've experienced, I agree with this statement. The HE-560 fall short of the HD800 in terms of soundstage (as I expected). Listening to acoustic and classical music I do get a sense of an open soundstage left to right, but I don't hear a lot of depth to it. Comparing the HE-560 to the LCD-X, the soundstage is pretty large. When I owned the HE-500, I tried some grill mods to open up the soundstage and I'm guessing the same can be done with the HE-560. I'm guessing removing the grills completely would open these up even further, but I haven't had enough time to try that yet. That all being said, the soundstage is big without feeling unnaturally expansive, but could still benefit from being a bit more open. The imaging of the HE-560 is very good as well. Again, I would say that the HD800 has the edge, though. I used the following CDs to focus on imaging: Audio Stax The Space Sound CD and Dr. Chesky's Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show. I could close my eyes and get a very clear sense of the environment. The directional cues were pretty much spot on.
I thought the HE-560 would be a good balance between my favorite qualities of the LCD-X and HD800 and I think they pretty much met my expectations. I love the full, rich sound of LCD-X and the impact of its bass. The LCD-X is a very fun headphone for me and I love getting lost in music while listening to them. The HD800 are the king of open, airy, and detailed sound. I love acoustic and classical music through these because I can feel a great sense of space. The HE-560 fall short of both of these headphones in a head-to-head comparison, but do both aspects well. While the bass is not as ample as compared to the LCD-X, it is still tight and punchy. The mids of the HE-560 are clear, detailed, and natural. The highs are smooth and non-fatiguing. The soundstage is nowhere near as large as that of the HD800 but is still fairly open and could probably be easily improved with a grill mod. The detail again is not as great as that of the HD800 but in no way poor. I forgot to mention this earlier, but the HE-560 are not the most efficient headphones. I found myself switching my Bryston BHA-1 to high gain to match the volume of the HD800 when A/B-ing the two.
These are very good headphones and some people might be satisfied with them as an end-game pair, but I'm not quite sold. I am very happy with both my HD800 and LCD-X as they are extremely good headphones for their particular uses. If I could only have one headphone, though, I might pick the HE-560 as a very well-rounded pair that doesn't do anything perfectly, but does everything pretty well. From a build quality standpoint, they don't quite feel like $900 headphones, though. In my opinion, they feel more like $400-$500 headphones, which is a bit disappointing. I know the selling point of these headphones is that they're considerably lighter than previous models, but the HD800 are able to use lightweight materials while still maintaining a solid build quality.