Most headphones released in the last year have spiraled into prices many can no longer afford once again Fang Bian comes to the rescue with a product that out performs many headphones that are twice the price and beyond. The HE500 is a product that after listening may have many people wondering if they will ever hear anything at this price level that is either competitive let alone better. Fang has made top tier headphone for the past couple of years but never has had a headphone in the 699.00 price range that could compete with his latest offering the magnificent HE500.
Included at this price are two sets of pads, one leather and the other velour. It also comes with a silver cable standard. The pair I was sent for review included both new pads and a single ended HE6 cable which Fang said was sent out with the prior shipment. All new order includes the silver cable as standard. The case is the traditional Hifiman case that all his top tier headphones are sold with.
When I participated in the loaner program I had some critical comments regarding the flimsy pads and difficulty in putting them on the headphone as the clips were easily broken. Fang heard the various criticisms and redesigned the pads offering a leather version and velour with much better clips. While I still find the pads assembly difficult to put on I had zero issue with any clips snapping off and was able to change pads on the HE500 without damaging the pad itself. The pads itself are much better in quality and a welcome improvement.
The cable that came with this review pair is the HE6 cable single ended with the 1/8 inch plug with a 1/4 adapter that can be used for full size amps.. My main criticism of the plug is that it does not screw on like the Beyer cable so it has a tendency to get stuck in the amplifier when I remove it. I would much rather have seen a ¼ inch jack used as standard as all my listening is done using full size amps. Caution must be taken to not remove this plug while you source is still playing music. Using portable amps with the HE500 would present no problems. The cable is light and very flexible for easy usage
Equipment used for the review process was the Decware CSP2 as a preamp driving the Decware Taboo and the Marantz SA8004 as the main source. All interconnects used are Audioquest Black Mamba and Diamondback cable. Music used ranged from jazz, rock, classical and both female and male vocal recordings,pop, jazz and rock. Also seeing some time was the Pioneer SX650 and Marantz DV6001 universal player. I also compared the headphone directly to the Beyerdynamic T1. The SX650 performed very well with the HE500 but the Taboo scaled much higher. Both solid state and tube amplifiers will perform well but the better the amp the better the HE500 will sound. It did not like being driven by the OTL CSP2 only and I would recommend using tube transformer based amps to get the most out of the HE500.
When I first received the HE500 I knew this was a headphone that not only was competitive with my T1 but in many ways outperforms it. In direct comparison the T1 is still has the spatial imaging and focus lead by a wide margin. I have listened to and owned all the flagships and many fall short in providing the soundstage and imaging capabilities of the T1. The T1 is also very good with details. The HE500 competes with the T1 in soundstage but fell a little short in spatial imaging. It does not have the same sense of space nor air in instrument separation but did very well and at almost half the price there are many things it does better. The HE500 has much deeper and tighter and controlled bass. It is headphone that you call feel the impact of the bass drum and hits very hard whereas the T1 has more texture but bass does not go as low nor hit as hard. The bass on the HE500 is outstanding and will satisfy even the most demanding bass heads. The T1 layering and wider soundstage in both depth and width make it better for classical listening but the HE500 is not far off. The T1 also has more inner detail. The treble on the HE6 is still more extended than the HE500 but not by much. Treble on the HE 500 is clean and extended and never harsh. The drum cymbals are reproduced with the sheen and detail that you experience live. The T1 treble is more extended. The HE500 has ortho transparency. Vocals are magical and presented with the transparency only heard in ortho’s and electro stats
There is a sense of easy when listening to the HE500. All music just flows. The presentation is very balanced. One of the major strengths of the HE500 is the midrange. Most music lives in the midrange. Graceland is a great album to test the speed of a transducer.TheHE500 is lightning fast. On track six “You can call me Al” the music requires a fast transducer to sound its best and the HE500 reproduce this track with all the speed and attack necessary to hear this track at its best. You can feel the precision and speed and the feel the impact of the bass guitar. I listen to many albums with female vocals. Vocalist Shirley Horn, Natalie Cole and Holly Cole all sound fantastic.. Male vocals were also produced flawlessly. The HE500 reproduced all vocals in a lifelike manner and without sibilance or any shortcoming.
One of my favorite and most demanding albums is the Keith Johnson HDCD recording on the Reference Recording label of Copland. This CD is a majestic recording and when reproduced correctly is magical for both soundstage and spatial imaging and layering. It is also my most demanding recording and has caused many headphones, speakers and amplifiers fits in reproducing it. The Taboo and HE500 simply nail the performance. The impact of the tympani whacks on the Fanfare for Common Man were heard with clarity, speed and detail that most headphones here before it have never been able to provide. The Taboo sails through the album without clipping. The HE6 would make the Taboo clip on this track and HE500 improved efficiency over the HE6 handles it easily.
Classical symphony recordings on the HE500 sound very good. I was never left feeling that I was missing any part of the orchestra. All instruments come to life. Violin and Cello are reproduced with the correct tonal balance and true to life sound. All instruments just sound so real and lifelike and most important the tone sounds right. The soundstage is sufficient to reproduce large scale symphonies. Layering and spatial imaging is not as good as the T1 but bass impact is better. The HE500 does well with classical music.
The HE500 is a well balanced and outstanding pair of headphones. It will compete and outperform many headphones that are twice its price. I know of no other headphone in the 699.00 price range that will come close to offering the performance of the HE500. Fang has brought to the marketplace a headphone of extraordinary quality in sound at a ridiculous low price. For the money you get a headphone that is remarkably lifelike. The bass is maybe the best I have heard in any headphone and a midrange master with a very non fatiguing treble. You may be hard pressed to find anything at near it price or even twice the price that will compete with it. The T1 is more comfortable and can be worn for longer periods of time without discomfort. The biggest issue I have with the hE500 is the weight and it can be uncomfortable for long sessions. If you have neck issues as I do and can’t tolerate a heavy headphone the T1 will be a better solution but at much more money. The HE500 has increased transparency and better bass than my T1. The soundstage and spatial imaging on the T1 is better but the impact of bass and speed of the HE500 makes this a headphone that I want to own. Fang has knocked it out of the park with the HE500. At the 699.00 price this is a best buy and a headphone that everyone should audition if you are in the market for an upgrade. It also has a 3 year warranty.
I have enjoyed the time I have spent listening to the HE500. My impressions are my opinion and others may have different views of the HE500 as we all hear differently. I cannot imagine someone not liking this outstanding headphone but as it is heavy it may not be for everyone. For me even though I struggle at times with the comfort level it is now part of my collection. I could not see myself without the HE500 and I am purchasing this pair. It is a remarkable headphone that gives me all that I want or could ever want sonically in a headphone. It strength much outweighs its shortcomings. Sonically for the price I do not believe you can do better. While all other manufactures are offering headphones from $1300-$5000 Head Direct is offering a masterpiece for a bargain price of $699.00. The HE500 perform for me well above any other headphone in its price range and I am thankful that Fang once again comes to the table with another gem. A new bar has been set for other manufacturers to follow. For what is being offered and at a price that most people can afford you would be hard pressed to find anything else remotely close to performance. Take a listen and I think most will be impressed with the HE500. Head Direct has hit a Grand Slam with the HE500 and to Fang Bian a job well done. An enthusiastic thumbs up and my highest recommendation.
Edited by Frank I - 12/13/11 at 6:15am