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HE-500 vs HE-4 | Comparison & Review

post #1 of 91
Thread Starter 

Table of Contents:

Section 1 - The introduction to the beginning
Basics here folks. This section will get you situated with some of my brief history regarding the HE-4 and HE-500 and also a peek at how I will conduct the testing. Burn in will also be mentioned. This will get the ball rolling for the actual comparison, which will take place a few sections further down.

Section 2 - We'll eat the cake, but first the frosting
Everything will be discussed that regards physical appearance, construction, and comfort. I'll mention and explain the differences in both headphones, regarding the look and feel. And last, we'll see if these two pass the first and most basic test of any headphone, which just so happens to be comfort.

Section 3 - A first taste of our two different flavors
I dive headfirst into the review here. We'll be looking at my first impressions after direct comparison of these two headphones. First I'll describe my ideal way of doing the comparison and then we'll get down and dirty with actual results after directly comparing. You'll get a real good idea in this section.

Section 4 - I'm technically doing this technically
Okay, so we already have a sense how these compare, but now we need to grab the magnifying glass and have a closer look sonically. In this section, we'll look into the individual aspects of sound of both headphones. I'll try not to dwell too much in this section, as I'd prefer to have my focus elsewhere.

Section 5 - Wrapping it up before taking it down
And now, we hit the end. I'll discuss value, make any recommendations and also add any concluding thoughts I have. You'll get the general sum up here, but I'm kind of hoping you'll just read the entire thing. If not, or if you are in a hurry, just read this section as well as the following one, and call it a day.

Section 6 - Someone deserves some serious limelight
This special section is entirely dedicated to my experience with the HE-500. It's like a mini review, but it's done in an entirely different perspective. I'll be discussing my listening experience only, and embellish as necessary. My true feelings, thoughts, comments, and experience regarding the incredible HE-500.


Section 1 - The introduction to the beginning

Introduction: Just when I thought I was done with buying headphones, another door opens for me and I get up close and personal with planar magnetics. I was plenty satisfied with the HD598, but then came the HE-4. To me, the HE-4 did everything the HD598 did, but better. I will admit, treble was brighter then I wanted and soundstage was smaller, but yet I enjoyed it much more. Off went the HD598 and the HE-4 gained permanent residence. But of course, with my new found love of orthos, I already knew there would be another purchase... and in came the HE-500. I already had a feeling it wouldn't be a fair fight, but then again, I had doubts that the HE-500 would be worth double the HE-4. I knew it would be better, but how big was the margin? I began to question how much better headphones could get.

Testing: I'm going to be a bit more strict with this comparison. These are both incredible headphones, and it's going to take more than the ordinary test to find major faults with either of them. Thus, I'll be doing testing a bit different than normal. I've divided up my test songs into different sonic categories. So instead of listening to just a ton of music and deciding which headphones sounds better, I'll have a specific tracks and segments of tracks that will emphasize bass, midrange, treble, naturalness, detail, emotion, fullness, transparency, etc. As with other comparisons, I mainly drill a segment of a song into my head over and over, and then switch headphones and listen to the same segment. I find listening to the whole song a bit overwhelming, and it makes it harder to get better accuracy, thus I use small segments of songs more often. Although, I still use entire songs as well, but only a select special few. Testing is spread out across a few weeks, to maximize consistency.

The Setup: Everything conducted in the review was done so using the following system. HE-500 / HE-4 > Stock Canare Cable / Stock HE-4 Cable > EF5 (Fullmusic 12AU7) > PureAV Interconnects > P650 CD Player (BurrBrown DAC) > Audio CD.

Burn In: I've heard about it. The HE-500 changes significantly with burn in. Well, that said, I couldn't risk doing a review on partial potential. So, I started out with about 30 hours on my head, and finished another 70 just playing music. I might as well kill three birds with one stone and burn in my BurrBrown DAC, PureAV cable, and HE-500 all at once; assuming I'll find improvement. My HE-4 has had about 50 hours all on my head, and I have already noticed that the treble has tamed down a bit. So, in a general sense, the HE-4 has about 50 hours and the HE-500 has about 100 hours.

Section 2 - We'll eat the cake, but first the frosting

External Appearance: I'll just go ahead and say it, both of these look great! Looking at the pictures online, I honestly thought they looked like a DIY headphone, but I can assure they look better in person. Color schemes differ slightly, but I'll go ahead and explain. The HE-4 has shiny black earcups while the HE-500 has more of a shiny darkish grey. The hand band material looks different on the HE-500 as well, but generally about the same. Surprisingly, the HE-500's headband padding feels like memory foam, while the HE-4 is just regular foam. Between the grills, the HE-500's is partial see thru while the HE-4 is not; due to a foam disc inserted between the grill and driver. The HE-500 only has a super thin sheet, which explains being able to see the driver. Cable wise, I'm liking them both, but the HE-4 is nicer to handle, while the HE-500 is nicer in general. Although a bit stiff, it's thick and very sturdy while the HE-4's cloth coated cable is thinner and more flexible.

Build and Weight: I actually thought the HE-4 was heavy when I got it, but compared to the HE-500, it feels like a portable. Well, that's a bit exaggerated, but the actual weight is 350 g vs 502 g. TheHE-500 is quite heavy, but it gives them a super good, snug feel. No really, these are really heavy for a headphone. Luckily, it doesn't feel as heavy on your head as in your hand, but we'll get to that later. The HE-4 is definitely lighter, and is of a very good weight. While not feeling as good in your hands as the HE-500, it still feels like a quality product. Both are constructed almost identical, with the exception of the external appearances listed above, and the weight. HE-500's earcups are a bit deeper as well.

Comfort: Once again, I underestimated the HE series comfort. I thought it would be simply down right clunky and uncomfortable, but I was proven wrong. Both are fantastically comfortable. It fit my ears really well and just seemed to hug my head. Now, due to the HE-500's weight, many would have predicted much less comfort, but that's just not the case. You definitely can feel more on your head, but it's still just as comfy. After switching to the HE-4, I really appreciated how incredibly light it was in comparison and it definitely had the edge in comfort. Unfortunately, I couldn't wear the HE-4 any bit longer than the HE-500 because after about two hours with either one, the headband would annoy me. So, tie goes to the runner, which would be the HE-4 for being lighter. But that was a given.


Section 3 - A first taste of our two different flavors

How I Roll: One of my absolute favorite ways to compare two headphones is to listen to the superior one first. If find it much easier to get used to the better sound, so then when you switch to the inferior sound, you can hear exactly what has been taken away. If you do it in the reverse order, it's a bit harder as what has been added is a bit harder to detect then what gets taken away. This is the exact reason I was almost never satisfied with my upgrade path, is because I didn't notice the differences that easily, and thought everything sounded the same. Of course, my ears are better at picking that up now, but whenever I listen in reverse, I find the differences are much easier to point out. Just like in the good old days, I thought my AD700 sounded the same as my PortaPro(!) until I listened to them in reverse (and gained more experience). So, "Listening in Reverse" is a key part in my comparisons.

HE-500: Alright, so when I first listened to this headphone, this is exactly what I heard. It's incredibly full sounding with a very lush tone. It's smooth, it's balanced, and it just sounds flat out "right". The midrange is immediately present and gives vocals hair-lifting realism. The sound is just incredibly thick, as if it has more meat to it than your average headphone. Yet, with all this smoothness and fullness in sound, you still get phenomenal clarity. So now you've got smoothness and clarity; a feat I find very hard to accomplish by any headphone. You listen to the HE-500 and think, "It just sounds so right. Nothing is missing. It's all here. And presented with great coherency."

HE-4: Switching to the HE-4, you instantly notice a difference. No concentrating required here. The sound it presents you is much more bright. In turn, it generally sounds more hollow, light, and dry in comparison. Also, the HE-500's amazing texture is missing. I hate to use those words for a headphone as fabulous as the HE-4, but the HE-500 brings it out. As I listen, I think to myself, "Where did it all go?" It's much, much thinner and also much, much brighter. Treble is a bit too bright for my tastes and I sometimes I find it distracting. Emotion is harder to feel in the HE-4 as well, as the midrange and fullness is recessed in comparison. The sound is almost too sharp to enjoy fully.

Overall: I remember when I got the HE-4 and I was sort of complaining about the treble being the only thing that wasn't perfect. After about 50 hours of burn in, I found that the treble had tamed enough for me to be satisfied. Nothing bothered me then, nothing sounded wrong, and everything just sounded great. But then the HE-500 waltzes in and robs the HE-4 of all its glory. All of a sudden after having a listen with the HE-500, the HE-4 is painfully bright. Not only that, it lost all that meat and texture to the sound. Generally, it's lacking in comparison. Funny thing is, I swear I had Déjà vu when comparing these two, as nearly the exact same thing happened when I compared the HD650 to the DT880. The HD650 vs DT880 is the absolute closest resemblance to the HE-500 vs HE-4 I can think of, and that I have ever heard. But the sound of these two is simply on another scale, yet the foundation of the two sounds incredibly similar. Mind you, even though I've slightly raided on the HE-4, we are competing in a higher league. I'd still take the HE-4 over most; if not all the headphones I've tried in the past.

Section 4 - I'm technically doing this technically

Bass: Both the HE-4 and HE-500 have fantastic bass. What's fantastic bass? I don't know; it really depends on the person. But for me, it's the kind that extends dangerously low, has great clarity, and enough impact to satisfy on heavier songs, but never overbearing. And these two headphones don't disappoint. I'm actually really finding bass from these two to be my favorite, as they don't render mellower music unlistenable and also give heavier stuff plenty of punch and power. It's like the perfect balance between too little and too much. That said, the HE-500 does improve upon the HE-4 when it comes to bass, but not by huge margins. It does indeed have a bit more subterranean rumble that really adds character to the music. And it also does hit with a bit more authority as well, possibly satisfying dissatisfied HE-4 owners when it comes to bass. For me, it's nearly perfect. Yeah, I still love the bass from the Pro 900 and other bass heavy headphones, but I only find those desirable for serious beats. For the majority of music I'll take the bass of the HE-4, and more so, the HE-500, instead.

Midrange: So these are both orthos, right? That instantly qualifies them for outstanding and life-like mids. The HE-500's midrange is almost unreal. They are unlike anything else I've ever heard; and from what I've read, ever made. Vocals are simply spectacular. I don't know how it's possible for a voice to gain a physical touch, but these present the midrange in such a way, you honestly feel as if your personal space has been invaded by the singer. You hear the texture and layers of voices, and it sounds so incredibly real. Anyone that listens to vocal centric music, especially singers that have an ethereal and/or emotional sound to them, deserves to give these a listen sometime in their life. But just as a precaution, prepare for goose bumps.

Treble: Remember all the good I said about the HD598's treble? Same goes for the HE-500, but yet again, it raises the bar by adding more refinement and clarity. It never fatigues me, and is in perfect proportion to the rest of the music. The HE-500 really nails this aspect, and I can actually say for once, that I am perfectly satisfied with the treble. Unfortunately for the HE-4, I'm having Beyer flashbacks, and am finding it way, way too bright. It's very pure and sharp, but in such a way it's just too much. I feel the HE-4 is built around the treble, and the HE-500 is built around the midrange. Regardless, the HE-500 definitely has the edge in treble, and can be considered a selling point all on its own.

Presentation: One of the most important aspects in sound, period. The exact reason the FX67 is my favorite IEM. The presentations of these two headphones are remarkably different, yet have the same foundation. The HE-500 is incredibly thick, syrupy, full-bodied, rich, and comforting. The HE-4 is much more dry, thinner, sharper, and intrusive. At times, it almost seems like the HE-4 has better clarity due to its sharper nature in sound, but that could be debated. One thing is for sure, the HE-4 has a purer sound, but the HE-500 scores on likeability. The HE-500 is quite interesting in which it has a touch of warmth, yet it isn't bogged down with warmth in a way that muddies up the clarity and makes the signature boring. It's insanely clear, yet it's got a sound that really just comforts you. The HE-4 is extremely clear as well, possibly even clearer, but it's got a very sterile sound that just doesn't sound as good. But even that can be refreshing after the richness of the HE-500.

Section 5 - Wrapping it up before taking it down

Margin of Value: So here is the biggest question HE-4 owners are asking, "Is it really worth it to upgrade?" Or, the biggest question for someone that is deciding between them, "Is the HE-500 worth getting over the HE-4?" To both of those questions, it kind of depends. First I'd like to mention that if the HE-4 had the treble of the HE-500, I probably would be plenty satisfied with that instead, especially for $450 less. But, the HE-500 also throws in a much sweeter midrange, more smoothness and texture, and a more neutral/balanced sound; on top of fixing the HE-4's treble. So, I would say it is worth to upgrade. If you haven't bought either one yet, I would just go for straight for the HE-500. I cannot and will not say if the HE-500 is really $450 better, because you just cannot measure that way. But for what it is, I would pay the difference. The HE-500 has brought more tears to my eyes than the HE-4; that alone is worth it to me...

Concluding Thoughts: Both are simply fantastic headphones. They are worth much more than the manufacturer is asking, which qualifies them both as extreme bargains. Both are top of the line headphones that will put most other headphones on the market to shame. These are simply incredible folks; I'll say it again and again. Whether you want the brighter and more sterile sound of the HE-4 or the syrupy and beguiling sound of the HE-500; either one will be a fantastic investment that I highly recommend. But for anyone that already knows they'll be making more purchases in the future, I suggest just saving up and going straight for the HE-500. If your budget is tight, try the HE-4. But just be warned, you'll be so impressed with the HE-4, you may be driven mad that you didn't save up and get the HE-500 instead!

Section 6 - Someone deserves some serious limelight

Picking up the HE-500, it instantly let me know of its heft. Oh, these feel good! Something about holding them in my hand makes me grin. They just feel like a quality product. Very solid indeed. After being impressed with the weight and feel, I spin it around slowly, admiring every inch of it in all its simplistic glory. These look amazing. They look and feel like they mean business. I like that. Now, whenever I get through starring at them, I can start my actual listening impressions. Hold on, just a few more seconds...

So, I put them on my head, expecting the weight to be a problem. Oh, absolutely not. These are very, very comfortable. It's actually quite deceiving. First impression, they look like a DIY headphone, yet they look and feel amazing. Now, they look like they would squash my head like a bug, yet they are some of the most comfortable headphones I've ever used. They are quite snug, and just seem to hug my head without extruding like other headphones seem to do. So, as a quick recap: I'm loving the looks, feel, and comfort of these. Of all the headphones I've tried, already more than half of them have failed at least one of these three tests. The HE-500 definitely on a roll so far.

And finally, I push play. But wait, the song started at the end?

Alright, I'm not sure what just happened there, but I'll really focus now. Let's try this again. So now I restart the exact same song and listen closely. What I hear for the next few minutes, I still cannot describe or understand. Turns out to this day, I still find myself staring at the wall as my eyes literally glaze over, as I go into some kind of trance. No, I'm not even kidding either. I get that feeling of dozing off, only to be jolted back into reality by a random external noise. It's that same sensation I get when I start to drift off, yet I am conscious, and then a noise jolts me back awake. This is exactly what the HE-500 has been doing to me when I listen to music, especially soothing vocal tracks. I have never, ever had this happened to me before. The HE-500 gets me so wrapped up into the music, I cannot keep by brain clear enough to listen critically. I'm serious here; it's a hard task to critically listen to these. I almost cannot do it. The sound it presents grabs my senses, and just takes me away. It's as if the music just wraps its arms around me. It's almost creepy, and gives me goose bumps on a consistent basis, but I absolutely love it! It can pretty much be considered as a sonic drug, as its sound is so incredibly addicting. Vocals are given a physical touch, giving the most intimate listening experience I'll likely ever get. Female vocals are especially touching, and some really get me emotional. The entire sound as a whole is what I consider borderline flawless.

Some unknown amount of time passes before I realize I first put them on my head. I take them off, set them down, and just smile. Wow. That's something I don't experience every day. As I walk off, filling like I just ate triple dark chocolate cake, I suddenly stop. I then remember just a few more songs that I wanted to try, and I turn around and go back for another listen. I will be honest and say I've probably done this three or four times in a row. It just wouldn't let me go. It enslaved me. I wanted more and more, especially since I kept remembering songs and albums that I knew I just had to hear in an extraordinary way. Even with songs I've listened to hundreds of times in the past, I found myself listening to them again and again. And then, just one more time after that...

I'm floored. I really am. I'll be completely honest and say I'm really picky when it comes to a headphone's sound and value. For a second there, I almost questioned myself in purchasing these, due to them being almost one grand. That's quite expensive for what it is, there is no denying that. But for what it offers, it can be considered priceless... especially considering there is unlimited use. For anyone seeking near perfection in sound, really want to "experience" music rather than just "hear", or simply want to just be taken away to another world; I highly recommend picking up a pair. But be forewarned, once this drug is consumed, it will be a downright struggle to settle for anything less. With that in mind, prepare to be entirely and completely engulfed and beguiled by the music.

Edited by Katun - 4/11/13 at 2:12pm
post #2 of 91

Very nice review. Well put together and thought out. Thanks for the impressions. I hope to have mine in the next week or two.

post #3 of 91

Skipped straight to section 5 and your advice to HD650 owners. The HE-500 is on my radar and I'm awaiting impressions from other members who have heard the HD650 at its best to determine if the HE-500 is worth the upgrade.


It's interesting you note an improvement and refinement across the board, contrary to this Headfonia article. Headfonia sets a value at which the HD650 can achieve these things but I suspect those that have built their systems around these cans would dispute that steep financial commitment. I'm sure many will roll their eyes but synergy, not the price, really is the key with these cans and every component in a chain determines what is heard.


Edit: Just read the whole thing. Concise and well balanced review. You've come a long way from your earlier comparisons. The last section conveys what this slippery hobby is all about. You've brought me closer to pulling the trigger on these cans!

post #4 of 91

I genuinely think that the HE 500 will be my last 'upgrade' headphone. Until new tech (or Stax money) I suppose. 


Anyway, I also experienced being brought to tears by these headphones. It's a strange experience when music you've been listening to for years grabs such an emotional response you've never felt from it before.


Mine was Tarja. Both with and without Nightwish. As well as Bocelli...Simply amazing. Love these headphones, and loved your review format.

post #5 of 91
Very, very nice review. So it harkens to the old DT880 vs HD650 debate. Depending on your preference, one may just prefer the HE4 to the HE500? I have no doubt the HE500 is still gonna be technically superior, but for say people like me who possibly hates the HD650 and LCD2 type signature, you think the jump from HE4 to HE500 wouldn't go as smoothly and should probably better go with something else instead?

I always say it, it may no matter how amazing a headphone is, if you don't like the curve they throw, you may as well look into something else. Which is why I ask. Like I know I wouldn't like the overly analytical HD800, as an example.

Another example is preferring the KSC75 10x over the MUCH more expensive, warmer and midrich ESW9, which I absolutely despised. I now know it's now a fault in the ESW9, but that I just don't like the sound sig they have.
Edited by Mad Lust Envy - 6/11/11 at 10:28pm
post #6 of 91
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mad Lust Envy View Post

Very, very nice review. So it harkens to the old DT880 vs HD650 debate. Depending on your preference, one may just prefer the HE4 to the HE500? I have no doubt the HE500 is still gonna be technically superior, but for say people like me who possibly hates the HD650 and LCD2 type signature, you think the jump from HE4 to HE500 wouldn't go as smoothly and should probably better go with the HE6 instead?

The thing I love about the HE-500 is it combines three of my most favorite features in a headphone: smoothness, clarity, and engagement. DT880 and HE-4 had clarity and engagement, but no smoothness / too bright of treble. The HD650 definitely has smoothness and pretty good clarity, but little engagement. The HE-500 not only has all three of those features, but it refines upon them from coming from the DT880 and HD650. I still believe the HE-500 is the number one upgrade for HD650 enthusiasts, but would still be a fantastic upgrade even for anyone who dislikes the HD650. If you wonder why people don't like the HD650, it's usually because the sound is too laid back and slow. Not so with the HE-500, as I mentioned it brings that pure energy and excitement to the table on top of the smoothness and lushness. It simply does everything awesomely well, and has a sound that appeals to all tastes. It's almost impossible not to like the sound these put out.

post #7 of 91

Love the review.  I may have to get a pair of these some day...some day...




Nao. -runs off to take out a loan- (I wish)

post #8 of 91

Very interesting and well written review. I have been a long time HD650 user and as such my system has been built around these. I am currently auditioning HE-500 and LCD-2 and while I initially sided with the Hifiman, I am now leaning towards the Audez'e as the phone to upgrade to from the Senns.


I personally think that the mid bass is better on the HE-500 but they don't touch the Senns lower bass reproduction.The midfield on the HE-500 is more detailed and lit up than the Senns but there is just something quite seductive about the mids on the Senns. I have to disagree with you Katun about the HD650 not being engaging, its just that it takes a bit more work to achieve, which I suppose is the appealing thing about the plug and play aspect of the HE-500.


One thing I must add is that I am a bit sensitive to high frequencies and to me the highs aren't quite as smooth on the HE-500 as a lot of people are saying they are, but hey, we all hear differently.


post #9 of 91

That was an excellent review and well written and thought out. I liked the comparisons also. I agree on the sound qualities I am hearing with the HE500 in general. Nice job

post #10 of 91

Well done. A very nice read.

post #11 of 91
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by alvin sawdust View Post

I personally think that the mid bass is better on the HE-500 but they don't touch the Senns lower bass reproduction.The midfield on the HE-500 is more detailed and lit up than the Senns but there is just something quite seductive about the mids on the Senns. I have to disagree with you Katun about the HD650 not being engaging, its just that it takes a bit more work to achieve, which I suppose is the appealing thing about the plug and play aspect of the HE-500.


One thing I must add is that I am a bit sensitive to high frequencies and to me the highs aren't quite as smooth on the HE-500 as a lot of people are saying they are, but hey, we all hear differently.


Bass is definitely more present on the HD650, but sometimes I found it just made the signature too dark.


But I will agree, there is no doubting treble is brighter on the HE-500. But it's kind of like the HD598's treble, in which it blends the qualities of being smooth and non-fatiguing while being a notch brighter to help with aggressiveness and clarity. It's nowhere near the levels of the DT880, DT990, or HE-4, but it has the qualities of them without being harsh at any time. Even the special sibilance songs I tested them with, they passed without irritating me. I found the HD650's treble a bit rolled off, but plenty of users like it for that reason, and if not, upgrading would probably remedy that. HE-500's like the middle ground between HD650 and HE-4, DT880, when it comes to treble I would say. And neither the HD650 or the HE-500 fatigue.


post #12 of 91

Actually I feel I must take it back about the highs, they are smooth but takes no prisoners on lesser quality recordings. The highs really make the sound expansive.

post #13 of 91

Well done, very nice review. How's their soundstage performed against each other and compared to the HD650? For rock music, does the HE-500 performed as engaging and aggressive as the HE-4? Thanks.

post #14 of 91

Yet another exceptional Katun.  In fact, I feel this one is your best yet!  I tell ya, with all of the great audio products presently available it truly is a wonderful time to be an audiophile.smily_headphones1.gif

post #15 of 91

Great review Katun! Would you say the HE 500 are your favorite headphones now? =P I really have to hear it.


On the ATH PRO700MK2 thread, you said that you're keeping the Pro700mk2. Does that mean you're not keeping the HE500?


-from other thread-


Originally Posted by Katun


Originally Posted by GN3RAL KARL View Post

The MK2's are going to be sold, I can already foresee it.

You mean the HE-500? MK2's are staying put!

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