Fang is at it once again! Be prepared…it’s a long review as I truly want to explain the sound on these as best as I can.
Design: open orthodynamic
Impedance: 38 Ohms
Box: wooden box
THE PACKAGING/BUILD QUALITY:
The headphones came packaged in the usual cardboard box with no signs of abuse. When you open the box you are met with a black wooden box which holds the future crown jewel of you headphone collection.
Open the wooden box and the headphones are another matter all together. Visually, they are stunning to behold. The cups are beautiful and the overall design is very aesthetic and very pleasing. They look nothing short of elegant and high-end. Head-fi members familiar with the regular HE-6 will know exactly what these look like as I see no difference in build quality from the HE-6 to the HE-500 except for a slight color variance in the cups. The HE-6 are black while the HE-500 have more of a gunmetal gray color.
As many here know, the HE-6’s are heavy yet extremely comfortable. The HE-500 is no different. In terms of comfort, these are on par with the much more expensive HE-6. The clamping force is quite strong yet never uncomfortable.
EQUIPMENT USED IN REVIEW:
For the equipment used, please see my profile.
SOME NOTABLE MUSIC USED IN REVIEW:
“Graceland” by Paul Simon – NON-REMASTERED VERSION
“Inception” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
“Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd
“Songs For Swingin’ Lovers” by Frank Sinatra (Mint Gray Label LP)
“Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” by Ella Fitzgerald
“Holst, Handel, Bach Sousa & More” Frederick Fennell & The Cleveland Symphonic Winds (SACD)
“Discoveries” by Gustavo Dudamel
The sound quality straight out of the box is awesome. As always, I decided to let these beauties burn in for at least 48 hours before I started my review. However, I noticed they sounded awesome straight out of the box AND while playing straight out of my CD players headphone out….that’s right…no amp.
After letting them play for about 48 hours I proceeded to put these through some rigorous trials. I don’t normally do these trials with most headphones but seeing that these are obviously high-end headphones and are not cheap, I decided to throw everything I had at them including the sonic equivalent of the kitchen sink…
THE TRIALS BEGIN….:
The most impressive thing for me was how they sounded straight out of the box with no amplification playing a run of the mill CD. Well, two days later, I now have my amps ready, my DAC’s ready, my CD’s ready and a slew of music to carefully and critically listen to.
I usually don’t run test tones through a headphone because most headphones can’t properly reproduce them to a level that satisfies me completely. If I think the headphone might be a true high-end ‘phone, you better believe that I am going to bust out my test tones.
In short – there are tones you hear and then, the hardest ones, are the ones you should feel. You feel quite a bit with the HE-500. ‘Nuff said.
This is a test is very dependent on your source material. For this reason I use certain recordings that sound as true to life as possible that are readily available and cheap. Sure I could use a rare DCC gold pressed and blessed CD but then you guys wouldn’t be able to follow along with my observations simply because they are rare and expensive.
My favorite recording to use in this case is Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, more specifically, the non-remastered version which can be usually purchased for under $10! All the tracks on this album can be used as demo material but my favorite two tracks are “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Homeless”.
“The Boy In The Bubble” has some very nicely recorded drum hits at the very beginning. Moreover, the voices, including Simon’s, are about as natural as they come. “Homeless” is completely acapella and was recorded in a very large room. Both songs on the HE-500 were amazing and I enjoyed them as much as I do on my beloved HP-2 headphones. The dynamic swings, the natural decay in the instrumentation and voices and the general tone of the recordings were really put front and center with the HE-500. The presentation, while not 100% neutral, was nonetheless extremely impressive and one which I enjoyed so much so that I heard the full album…twice.
For female vocals I used the old issue of “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” by Ella Fitzgerald. In my opinion, this is a fantastic recording that is neglected these days. It can be had for cheap and the sound is fantastic. I played the first track “A Night In Tunisia”. The drum work sounded fabulous but Ella’s voice sounded extremely natural. So much so that you feel that you can almost reach out and touch her. You can hear the spit of her lips for heaven’s sake! “Cry Me A River” was no different. The bass playing, drums and guitar work sounded mighty fine. Ella’s voice was just superb. I was forced to listen through the full album.
For this test I pulled out a few of my favorite holophonic and binaural recordings. The difference in holophonic and binaural recordings is simple. Holophonic recordings are recordings done with a minimalist stereo microphone that produces a 3D recording without the use of ears/pinnae. A binaural recording is also a minimalist stereo microphone that produces 3D recordings but these usually mimic the general size and shape of the human head and the microphones are coupled to accurate reproductions of the human ear.
I used Joe Grado’s holophonic recording “Solid Brass – Gershwin to Sousa”. The HE-500 handled this disc with an ease and grace rarely found on any headphones, let alone speakers. The intro track contains some nice bass notes that are usually not present on most headphones and speakers. A great headphone like the FA-002W shows you a bit of this bass. However on a headphone like the HP-2, the bass is all there. The bass is fully present on the HE-500. It’s not deep bass but it’s difficult bass to reproduce with proper slam, texture and feel. You would never think so while listening to the recording on the HE-500. The placement is very accurate, giving you a “you are there” feel and the bass is present and plays with such ease that you would think it always sounds like that.
For my binaural tests, I pulled out one of my favorite binaural recordings. “Strauss and Saint-Saëns - Also Sprach Zarathustra & Organ Symph. #3” on the Auracle label is one of my favorite due to the spatial cues within the recording. I must admit that when I pressed play this time, it was a true OMG moment. The bass, mid-range and sparkling highs were there in a way I have rarely heard. I have heard all three before but never before with such musicality. I could gush on and on about the accurate imaging, the well defined bass, the dynamics, etc etc etc. I will say the following though: If you have an HE-6, get this recording! If you don’t have an HE-6, get the HE-500 and buy this recording. Truly world class demonstration sound for under $1,000.00 USD.
Based upon the binaural and holophonic samples I played, I knew the HE-500 would be a champ when it came to this category as it excelled in the minimalist recordings I played above. I chose to listen to Danzon No. 2 as conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Immediately you get a sense of depth and soundstaging on the minimalist beginning of this beautiful tune. You can hear the natural reverberation from the clave sticks and the piano notes. Placement seemed very accurate and the depth was awesome. However, when the orchestra comes in at around 1:15, - it’s just wow…I had a tear in my eye. Such beautiful and amazing music presented with such aplomb and refinement is something everyone should experience. Granted not everyone is a classical music fan but for me, it was a revelation in terms of sonic presentation. I love a neutral and natural sonic signature and while the HE-500 is not a 100% neutral and natural headphone, it is so musical that you forget to listen for sonic signatures and details and simply must enjoy the music for its beauty. I found the soundstage to be extremely accurate and very enveloping provided the recording contains the information.
The ultimate bass test for me resides within a little known SACD titled “Holst, Handel, Bach Sousa & More” by Frederick Fennell & The Cleveland Symphonic Winds. The entire SACD is a feast for the ears but it’s true gem resides in track three The March from the First Suite In E-flat, Op.28, No.1. It’s a nice piece but the difficulty in this track is accurate reproduction of all the instruments. This might not sound like something hard but the biggest thing to note is one particular instrument…the timpani. The timpani are recorded so well that the deep bass is accurately conveyed to a point that only real life can beat it.
Most headphones fail miserably at reproducing the deepest bass of this track. You should be able to hear it and feel it. The only two headphones that have been able to handle the bass on this track to a point of satisfaction are the HD-650’s and the FA-011’s. The caveat however is that both headphones have certain issues depending on your preferences. In my opinion, the bass on the HD-650 is fantastic but the veil is so pronounced on the HD-650 that it completely removes the benefit of the hefty bass. The FA-011’s have fantastic bass as well but they are so colored that many might be turned off by their particular coloration.
The HE-500, however, has hit the “Goldilocks” of sound with me on this particular track. It presents the instruments very naturally. No coloration except for a wee bit of added top end. Not only that, but the bass is really impressive. You can hear and feel the timpani as you should and you do so without any negative side effects of having such extended bass. The bass was never flabby or overly emphasized and always remained tight, deep and impressive. As far as headphones go, this is the only headphone I know of that has been able to handle this track with the finesse and refinement of a high end speaker system worthy of being both a music system and a mastering reference system. The HE-6 can do it as well but I find that the HE-500 sounds more natural and neutral than the HE-6. Keep in mind that this is DEEP, TIGHT and ACCURATE bass not overly emphasized bass. If you are a basshead looking for a subwoofer inside a headphone, look elsewhere as these are very refined headphones.
I have a few albums which have hidden gems that really show off the resolution of a headphone. Many people never know about these little hidden sonic signatures simply because most systems don’t resolve enough to show them.
One of these little gems is “Ticket To Ride” on the album Dark Side Of The Moon. Wait…“Ticket To Ride”…that’s The Beatles! Dark Side is by Pink Floyd! Have I gone crazy? No…not yet. At the very end of “Eclipse”, there is a very low level orchestral version of “Ticket To Ride”. Speculation about why it’s there is endless but what makes most sense is that they simply grabbed a reel-to-reel and recorded over a previous recording. For whatever reason, it didn’t fully erase that orchestral version of “Ticket To Ride”. At normal volume levels, it’s very difficult to hear and as I mentioned earlier, most systems can’t even resolve that level of detail. The HE-500 is no slouch when it comes to resolution and detail retrieval. Now, do not confuse detail with a bright high end treble sizzle. This is not the case here. While the HE-500 might have a bit of treble emphasis, it really isn’t enough that I would call it “falsely detailed” or even bright. At normal listening levels, I could clearly hear the hidden tune at the end of “Eclipse”. With some headphones, I have to turn up the volume a bit to hear it but this is not so with the HE-500. To me, that is impressive.
Another test I like to use for resolution is the ambiance in the Frank Sinatra album “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!”. I use a mint vinyl rip I did of the original gray label west coast pressing. Many falsely believe that this recording is bone dry. What this implies is that the recording is free of echo and reverb. While the original recording on this gray label mono LP doesn’t contain any fake echo or fake reverb it does contain some natural room ambiance. If your system is properly resolving, you will hear this slight room reverberation on the songs present on this fantastic album. If someone is doubtful about this room ambiance then please get an HE-500 so you can hear this low level detail that is often hidden during playback. Without turning up the volume, I could very clearly hear the room ambiance. Not only could I hear the ambiance, I could hear a few chair squeaks, I could hear depth and even a sigh of relief. In terms of resolution and detail retrieval, the HE-500 is at the top of the heap.
As always, this is where the rubber meets the road…
I think the HE-500’s are fantastic and amazing. Are they as good as the HE-6? I don’t know for sure but judging from my memory, yes, they are just as good. Are they flat and neutral? No…but they are more natural sounding than the HE-6 and the sound is excellent none the less and it is very close to neutral in my opinion. The sound is very natural but with the slight treble boost the HE-500 has a very euphoric and musical sound. If you have read previous impressions about the HE-6, then you have a general idea of what the HE-500’s sound like. Do they need an amp to sound great? No. They sound great unamped coming from a regular CD player headphone out. Add in a high quality amp and the sound begins to improve by leaps and bounds.
This is obviously a high-end headphone aimed at true music lovers and it is my honest opinion that Fang has a true winner with the HE-500. Anything and everything I threw at the HE-500 sounded great, some sounded amazing and others sounded phenomenal. To be able to do so many things exceptionally well is quite an accomplishment. To do this for under $1,000.00 is even better. I imagine that with a super beefy amp you could get more resolution and detail from the HE-6 but if you have a less powerful set-up, then I am sure you couldn’t do any better than getting the HE-500. Of course, this would depend upon your sound signature preference and whether or not you can actively use an open headphone that leaks a ton of sound but if those minor quibbles don’t apply to you, get out your wallet and buy these things…now…seriously. These are mastering grade headphones and I can confidently say that these will be my next headphone purchase and that they will be placed alongside my mastering rig.
HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!