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HifiMAN HE-5LE v. HE-500

post #1 of 127
Thread Starter 

After having owned and enjoyed the HifiMAN HE-5LE for the past few months, I was fortunate to acquire a pair of the HE-500 a week ago for an awaited head-to-head comparison.  

 

At this juncture of my Head-Fi "quest", the HifiMAN products have gotten my attention.  This began with the HE-5LE bettering--to these ears and tastes, at least--the Audeze LCD-2, Rev. 2, which I had owned on two previous occasions (one of which being concurrent with my ownership of the HE-5LE).

 

Equipment:

RAM-modded Samsung HD-841

Virtue Audio "Nirvana" interconnects

Fitz-Improved Bada PH-12

IeGo power cords

 

Tweaks:

Shakti Electromagnetic Stabilizer (aka "Stone"), placed above disc drive

DakiOm Negative Feedback Stabilizers, R203 at source output and FM273 at 1/4" headphone output

EVS Ground Enhancer at parallel 1/4" headphone output

Duende Criatura and Herbie's Hal-Os tube dampers

Herbie's gabon ebony dome footers and ebony blocks

GIEN graphite Hi-Fi Tuning Mat (IMHO better--and appreciably cheaper--than the Marigo Signature CD Mat)

Walker Talisman de-magnetizer/anti-static treatment

Auric Illuminator edge and surface treatment (edges first smoothed with 400 sandpaper)

 

 

Not my "reference" source gear.  The EVS-modded SONY BDP-S780 will come into play later (I hope).  This equipment also comes sans power conditioning and massive platforms (the SONY, power conditioners, platforms and ancillary tweaks reside at another address for the time being).  

 

Tubes, at least for the preliminary rounds, are nothing fancy, either: 2x Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 and 1x Electro-Harmonix Gold Pin 6SN7.

 

 

Preliminary General Impressions:

Initially, I listened to both headphones through the speaker outputs from the Linn Intek integrated (50 WPC/8 ohms).  The only headphone cable available at the time was my least favorite, the OFC 4-pin XLR cable that came with the HE-5LE.  This cable tends to be a bit dull overall, with unwelcome upper midrange glare.  That aside, the 5LE and the 500 did distinguish themselves.  

 

The 500 sounds with a sweeter, more rounded and liquid tonality, and with more of a sense of speed--actual or perceived, I won't say for certain yet.  The sound is also warmer and punchier, formed around the midrange.  There is definitely a midbass thrust to the 500 not evident with the 5LE.  

 

The 5LE seem to have more of a treble-leading character.  Perhaps because of this character (and my own listening bent), the 5LE sound more open and airy to me than the 500.  Compared with the 500, the 5LE have a "raw" rendered quality that seems to draw more out from cymbal strikes, massed strings and horn swells.  The 5LE also seem to deliver more texture, and the kind of balance that might better suit classical, jazz and folk genres.  Lastly, the 5LE offer more pronounced soundstage width and depth, with a sense of "layering" unmatched by the 500.

 

Curiously, the 500 do not concede in absolute detail to the 5LE, though.  The 500 always manage to leave a pleasantly elusive trail.  Cymbals have a refined finish, tones a delicious touch of sweetness.  The speediness and unexpected dashes of nuance give the 500 their unique attractiveness.  Other reviewers and commentators have mentioned that the sound of the 500 "grew on them".  I have just begun to appreciate that descriptor as a firsthand observer.

 

*****************************************************************************************************

This first installment will end without any formal, exacting a/b.  I have just finished disc 1 of Stevie Wonder's greatest hits with both sets of headphones.  The HE-500 were outfitted with their stock (and somewhat unruly) cable; the HE-5LE with their silver plated copper cable.  Both were run single-ended through the Bada.  Order of listening decided by the toss of a coin.

 

The HE-500:

Punchy, quick, rounded, refined and sweet, leaving surprising lilts of tone and detail here and there.  Volume knob at 10:30.

 

The HE-5LE:

Open, expansive, candid--I almost said "neutral", intimate and layered, with a lingering, "see-through" quality.  Volume knob at 11:30.

 

Ending this first report as the Bada assumes griddle-like surface temperatures.  (I forgot my 6-inch desk cooling fan at another address, the Bada's internal fan having been purposely disabled.)


Edited by pataburd - 7/13/12 at 11:40am
post #2 of 127
Thread Starter 

Day One:

Tubes: 1x Tung-Sol 6SN7GTB (tall bottle/v-plates), 2x GE 6SN7GTB (halo getters).

Crossfeed on lowest of three settings.

 

I resisted the urge to swap out the interconnects.  The Virtue Audio remain in; the Ric Schultz OCC interconnects wait at the ready.

 

Heads.  The 5LE will be up first.

 

Disc:  Shadowfax, "Folksongs for a Nuclear Village", Capitol Records 1998

We Used to Laugh

5LE/Volume at 12:00.  The GE tubes bring crispness, detail and delicate snap to this track.  The Tung-Sol forthrightness, warmth and bass presence.  Drum smacks are thick and heady, with vibes skipping in to the right and left, bass is deep with good, even carry as the track begins.  The saxophone has excellent brassy bite and timbre.  Wood, skin, metals are clearly individuated with excellent sense of space.

 

500/Volume at 11:00.  Warmer and more boldly sculpted in the midrange with excellent clarity.  The bass has more roundedness and drive, but without bloat or appreciable loss of depth.  Tones have an arresting purity, sheen and finish.  More tonal "glow" (w/the 500) versus "bite"and texture (w/the 5LE).  The soundstage, while arguably smaller--though not by a lot, is more exacting and just bristling with spritely detail.   

 

Behind Green Eyes

Single, forceful piano strikes on the lower registers, which carry this track from start to finish, decay more slowly with the 5LE.  The whole presentation is more relaxed, extended and deliberate.  The pacing and cadence of this piece seem, to me, truer to source with the 5LE.  The overall experience is more immersive with the 5LE.   

 

Madagascar Cafe

The HE-500 carry the drive and carnival-like expedient of this track very well.  The speed just grabs you and the subtle tonal distinctions and surprisingly detailed finishes amaze.  The 500 "rule" with pump and percussive deftness  The 5LE ARE a tough act to follow, but the HE-500 bring their distinctive mastery to center stage on this track and the following one, Against the Grain.  But then the HE-5LE bring an overhang and fingertip scuff to plucked string, added grit to gourd rattles, stirs a coarse warm breath across the flute mouthpiece and, I think, come off with more overall coherency.

 

 

Disc:  The Bee Gees, "Greatest", PolyGram Records 1979

. . . to be continued . . .


Edited by pataburd - 7/14/12 at 7:49pm
post #3 of 127
Thread Starter 

Swapped out the two GEs for a pair of Raytheon 6SN7GT (copper posts).  Also replaced the Virtue Audio interconnect with PCOCC cables.  Overall, a warmer tilt to things, which serves the 5LE better, I think.  Warm cables/tubes coupled with the 500 bring about an overemphasis of the bass, which now seems to impose itself unduly (especially with some warm tracks from the SACD, Bob James in Hi-Fi).  

 

The HE-500, compared to the 5LE, are definitely tipped to the warm side already, which isn't an unwelcome thing in itself, but should warrant care when component matching.  Like the HE-5LE, the 500 are very responsive to system changes.  I definitely preferred them with the GE tubes and the Virtue Audio interconnects, which served to "play down" the 500's slight bass emphasis and better bring to the fore their enthralling tonal capabilities.  By contrast, the warmer cable/tube set puts a little more meat and tonal color to the 5LE's generally leaner stock signature in a welcome, complimentary manner.  

 

"Cung Dan Dat Nuoc" (Melody of the Country) from The Music of Vietnam, Celestial Harmonies, 1994, sounds rich, full and exceptionally well-balanced with the 5LE.  But then the 500 bring a tonal brilliance all their own to the monochord solo in this fine folk piece, and their trademark readiness and brilliant speed to the virtuoso bamboo flute solo on Anh Van Hanh Quan (You're Marching On).  

post #4 of 127
Thread Starter 

Swapped out the Tung-Sol 6SN7GTB for a Sylvania 6SN7GTB.  Much cleaner and less huffy presentation comparatively.

 

Annie Laurie (Folksongs of the British Isles), The King's Singers, EMI Classics, 1993.

"Danny Boy" sounds more natural, even and balanced with the HE-5LE.  The massed vocal crescendos on "Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill" come off with a bit of glare and a forced character with the HE-500, which I think might be interconnect-related.  Otherwise, their--the 500's--very clean and precise midrange quality remains in force.  The 5LE manage the aforementioned vocal crescendos with the utmost discretion and near zero glare. 

 

[The HE-500 may be going through a "break-in" stage--duck!--with probably a little under 200 hours logged on them so far.  I've read comments saying that at least 200 hours--duck!--are required.  Other potential sources of the anomaly: resonance from the metal casing of the Linn Intek, on which the Bada is resting--I told you this set-up was less than optimal; new electrolytic capacitors breaking in.  But why only the HE-500 accentuates the glaring quality is unknown.]

 

I prefer the HE-5LE with this recording and the related equipment/tube configuration.

 

Celtic Voices (Women of Song), Narada Media, 1995.

"Bring the Peace" by Mary McLaughlin.  The acoustic guitar comes across with more percussive detail over the HE-500, but the upper midrange in the vocal, pipes and whistle are fraught with that pesky glare.  Hopefully, this is a temporary artifact that will recede into "break-in history".  That tubby, glaring quality--which seems to have emerged in the context of the last two recordings, following tube and interconnect changes--has put a pall on what earlier was otherwise a stellar performance by the HE-500.  

 

 . . . have to walk the dog and call it a day . . .


Edited by pataburd - 7/12/12 at 4:46am
post #5 of 127
Thread Starter 

Swapped out the PCOCC interconnects for a pair of the Soundsilver Trilogy (a description cut and pasted from AudiogoN follows):

 

The Trilogy consists of THREE solid pure silver parralel conductors in varying gauges per channel for the signal plus DUAL solid core copper grounds braided around the signal wires to ensure greater clarity, depth of soundstage, superior imaging and a silent background.

Soundsilver cables are constructed of pure .999 soft annealed solid silver wire made in the U.S.A., individually hand polished to remove any surface contaminants, sheathed in Teflon®, Switchcraft ® gold plated rca plugs, and Cardas silver soldered.

 

Wow!  All I can say is that the HE-500 magic is back--with a double helping!  These cables, by a wide margin, are the best-suited for the 500 so far (the only pair I have left are some Neotech UPOCC, two and a half hours away).  With the Soundsilver, the HE-500 deliver big, solid and clear with beautiful tone and detail.  Bass--still prominent--is tight, driving and easy to follow while listening to Dave Grusin Collection, GRP Records 1989, "River Song".  No pesky glare.  

 

Still . . . I preferred the overall balance of the HE-5LE on this Grusin track.  These headphones have a settledness and ease to their presentation, along with an expansive treble shimmer all their own which, in sum, more faithfully convey the essence of the first few songs.  Bass runs deep, but without the upfrontness of the HE-500.  Tones are pure, if just a bit lower in sugar content with the 5LE.  For my listening tastes, the 5LE are the more involving, and in a more introspective way, of the two.  If the 5LE are a touch "introverted", the 500 are clearly the more "extroverted" in their presentation.

 

Again, these happen to my subjective preferences.

 

But here come the HE-500 with a jaunty, dynamic and tone-sweet rendering of "Bossa Baroque", followed by a lovely offering of "On Golden Pond".  I am relishing the tonal treasures of this simple track in a way that only the 500 can afford me, then handily sorting the flute from the note-for-note in tandem piano with their distinct timbres in a revelatory going over of "Mountain Dance". 


Edited by pataburd - 7/12/12 at 8:58pm
post #6 of 127
Thread Starter 

I finished last night's listening with Henry Mancini, All-Time Greatest Hits, RCA 1988 and some Chinese '90s pop on the Polydor label, 1993--I cannot read any of the labeling (all Chinese characters).  The 500 seemed to do better job of delineating between glockenspiel and piccolo on "Baby Elephant Walk".  "Peter Gunn" sounded, to me, more balanced and coherent with the 5LE, though not uncompelling with the HE-500, either; the Chinese male vocals more detailed and involving {also with the 5LE).  Even though the 5LE lack the "pizazz" of the 500 (which may yet be attributable to their not-yet-abated novelty factor at this point in time) they still give the listener everything there, with honesty and integrity.

 

Now it's Friday afternoon.  No system changes have been introduced since last night.  

 

The only Rock or "Rock-like" disc at my current address is The Byrds' The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Columbia/Legacy re-master, 1997.  Even with the SBM re-master, these tracks can sound unbearably tinny and brittle.  Surprisingly, the aggressive opening splashes of brass are listenable and well organized with the HE-500.  The haunting, stirring strains of "Goin' Back" are liquid and smooth and the 500's inherent bass drive move these tracks well along.  

 

Detail over the 500 seems to stir from within isolated pockets, as if individual performers/instruments are cordoned off to their respective "membranes".  The 500 walk a fine line between apportioning the listening space with a mutual exclusivity between elements--which might degenerate into an undue isolation of the respective parts--and sense of conviviality among the elements.  The 500 manage this delicate tightrope act with the utmost grace and athleticism, but I still think that they ultimately fall short of achieving the level of absolute coherency which hallmarks the 5LE.       

 

The second going over of these same tracks with the HE-5LE reinforces my earlier musings about coherency.  With the 5LE, each respective element in the mix is always part of the overall fabric of the composition.  The only other headphones I've heard that might rival the midrange clarity and overall coherency of the 5LE--toward which the midrange plays an indispensable role--would be the AKG K501.  With the 5LE, I always feel wholly connected to the entire composition, even while focusing attention on only one or two particular elements, but with the musical parts not, at the same time, degenerating into a non-descript homogeneity.  Again, this critical point of departure between the 5LE and the 500 is what, for my ears, makes the 5LE sound "truer to the source".  In addition, I think the 5LE have slightly wider and cleaner frequency extension than the 500, giving even more room over which all that lovely coherency may arrange itself.  The 500's "truncated" (if you will) rendering met on an overall, spectral, macro level is also manifested on the micro level with an "over-individuation" between compositional elements in space (as discussed earlier), which makes them sound comparatively confined and "peaky" alongside the 5LE.


Edited by pataburd - 7/13/12 at 1:26pm
post #7 of 127

Thanks for the very nice and thorough comparison. Just acquired a set of He500's recently and you have described them very well. I'm hearing a constant change as I'm burning them in. The soundstage for instance is about twice the size it was out of the box, no exaggeration! Also the warmth that was creeping up onto the mids is going, just deep natural bottom end now. The separation that I had read about with planners has also taken a while to happen. But it is, and after a week and a half of constantly playing these they are really delivering their promise. I imagine in a month's time they will be even better.

post #8 of 127
Thread Starter 

LugBug1,

     Thank you for the heads-up.  

     My HE-500 are just barely crossing the 200-hour mark.  I have also noticed an enlargement in the soundstage over the last 20 or so hours, around the same time the "glare" issue cropped up.

 

PAB


Edited by pataburd - 7/14/12 at 7:51pm
post #9 of 127

Great posts and very detailed comparisons.. thanks.  Been enjoying my HE-500, very much.  Looking forward to hearing how they sound from speaker taps soon.  Pataburd.. any experience driving the HE-500 or HE-5LE from the speaker taps of a class-T amp?

post #10 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by FlySweep View Post

Great posts and very detailed comparisons.. thanks.  Been enjoying my HE-500, very much.  Looking forward to hearing how they sound from speaker taps soon.  Pataburd.. any experience driving the HE-500 or HE-5LE from the speaker taps of a class-T amp?

FS,

Have used speaker taps with the (Class AB) AMC XIA, (Class AB, again, I think) Linn Intek and (Class A) Qinpu X-1.0A integrateds with good success.  These amps have given both the HE-5LE and the HE-500 tighter control, especially in the bass, but overall do not sound as detailed and full as the Fitz-improved Bada PH-12 hybrid.  I really like the flexibility of tubes, and the fact that these HifiMAN headphones are very sensitive and responsive to system changes, including tubes--which adds a whole new dimension to their [the HE-5LE's and the HE-500's] stellar performance.

PAB


Edited by pataburd - 7/14/12 at 8:04pm
post #11 of 127
Quote:
Originally Posted by pataburd View Post

Tweaks:

Shakti Electromagnetic Stabilizer (aka "Stone"), placed above disc drive

DakiOm Negative Feedback Stabilizers, R203 at source output and FM273 at 1/4" headphone output

EVS Ground Enhancer at parallel 1/4" headphone output

Duende Criatura and Herbie's Hal-Os tube dampers

Herbie's gabon ebony dome footers and ebony blocks

GIEN graphite Hi-Fi Tuning Mat (IMHO better--and appreciably cheaper--than the Marigo Signature CD Mat)

Walker Talisman de-magnetizer/anti-static treatment

Auric Illuminator edge and surface treatment (edges first smoothed with 400 sandpaper)

 

 

Not my "reference" source gear.  The EVS-modded SONY BDP-S780 will come into play later (I hope).  This equipment also comes sans power conditioning and massive platforms (the SONY, power conditioners, platforms and ancillary tweaks reside at another address for the time being).  

 

Tubes, at least for the preliminary rounds, are nothing fancy, either: 2x Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 and 1x Electro-Harmonix Gold Pin 6SN7.

 

 

Preliminary General Impressions:

Initially, I listened to both headphones through the speaker outputs from the Linn Intek integrated (50 WPC/8 ohms).  The only headphone cable available at the time was my least favorite, the OFC 4-pin XLR cable that came with the HE-5LE.  This cable tends to be a bit dull overall, with unwelcome upper midrange glare.  That aside, the 5LE and the 500 did distinguish themselves.  

 

wooha, what's with all this voodoo? seriously, the only thing left to do here is to sprinkle the rig with chickenblood to increase the mid-range.

post #12 of 127
Quote:
Originally Posted by roBernd View Post

 

wooha, what's with all this voodoo? seriously, the only thing left to do here is to sprinkle the rig with chickenblood to increase the mid-range.

Erm.. its mountain goat blood to increase midrange. Chicken blood is the used to reduce harsh treble.. Thought everyone new that! rolleyes.gif and why anyone would want to use chicken blood on the HE500's?? is just crazy to me.

post #13 of 127

I find this comment somewhat funny. tongue.gif

post #14 of 127
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by roBernd View Post

wooha, what's with all this voodoo? seriously, the only thing left to do here is to sprinkle the rig with chickenblood to increase the mid-range.

Don't leave home without them!  [and don't knock what you haven't tried].  : )


Edited by pataburd - 7/14/12 at 2:40pm
post #15 of 127
Thread Starter 

Have added a power conditioner.  Oh, so much quieter a background now!  Everything else is the same.  [I am fighting the urge to swap the Sylvania 6SN7GTB for the Brimar ECC33!]

 

The Carpenters, Love Songs, A&M, 1997.

"Top of the World".  Karen Carpenter's inimitable voice is located closer and little farther upward with the 5LE.  Soundstage is wider.  The natural sibilance in her voice, too, is more faithfully rendered with the 5LE.  I can hear more of the subtle vocal queues with the 5LE, like the "P" launched with a soft puffing/peeling apart of the lips, the "F" formed between the teeth and the lower lip, the "S" ushered out between the tongue and upper palate.  In short, such treble-borne ancillaries, more evident with the 5LE, give me "more" of Karen's fine vocalizations.  True to form, the 500's strengths lie primarily with delivering these vocals in pristine, round-sculpted tones, sweet and alluring.  Vocals emerge a bit lower and more out-front, but without sounding remote.  That tonal aspect, coupled with their firm bass propulsion and the intrepid, attention-getting fleetness of their delivery make the 500's presentation winsome and captivating in its own right.  

"Only Yesterday" with the 5LE, I say to myself: "It cannot get any better than this!"  Intimate vocals, the composition rendered in a balanced, coherent and flawlessly paced fashion.  The 500 add pluckiness and acoustic sparkle to the guitar accompaniment, extra snap to the castanets, a bit more speed and pitch to the high hat taps.  A cliffhanger here.  Even though there are fundamental differences between the respective deliveries of the 5LE and the 500, ultimately they both provide a musically satisfying listening experience.  

 

The 5LE (like me) tend to be tipped to the sober side--if you will indulge the metaphor, while the 500 offer the modicum of spirited exhilaration from imbibing 12 ounces of a tasty micro-brew. 

 

Talkie Walkie, Air, Virgin Music France, 2004.  Picked this up at the local thrift store, artists previously unheard (as well as unheard of) to me.  Two flaccid French male voices singing in English with British accents.

"Cherry Blossom Girl", a bass-dominant track, is delivered with pile driver solidity by the HE-500.  Some of the most imposing bass I've experienced with headphones: chest rattling and gut deep  (but I'm not used to this musical style, either).  Again, the soundstage sets lower and a bit farther out there with the 500.  To me, perhaps, things are a little "over driven" with the 500, but it all still "works".  

The opening instrumental measures of "Surfing on a Rocket" hit you like a well-aimed and deftly wielded designer two-by-four, subsequently juxtaposed with the mild, excessively genteel monotony of "surfing on a rocket" slinking in from left and right with voices that strike me as a hybrid cross between Air Supply's Russell Hitchcock and John Lennon, both having been administered a mild sedative.  Notwithstanding, I enjoyed the novelty of these tracks, served up well with the HE-500 ("Alpha Beta Gaga" plays with an intergalactic rustle and swoon).   The HE-5LE bring more expanse and "other-worldliness" to these offerings.  Bass, while not as slam-banging as the 500, still goes deep, hits sufficiently hard and holds the tracks together quite well.

 

Time to "'fess up", but my biases are already known, my hand already tipped: I still prefer the 5LE, not due to their being "better" than the 500, but because of their being different from the 500 in ways that sway my subjective preferences accordingly.  I could easily live with both, but if constrained to keep only one, it would be--for me--the 5LE. . . at the moment.  : )

 

Postscript:

Manchicourt, Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus, Huelgas Ensemble, Paul Van Nevel, SONY (SBM), 1997.

"Kyrie" and "O Virgo Virginum".  The 5LE, to my ears, resolve these complex vocal arrangements more flatly--"flat" is being used in a positive context here--and naturally.  The 500 (and this could be due to insufficient break-in at this point) tend to overdrive the pieces, injecting a spurious upper midrange/lower treble spikiness into the solo treble swells.  The 5LE just seem to capture the chapel acoustics with greater fidelity, rendering them more believably.  Reiterating/reemphasizing: for the Early, Period, Baroque and Classical genres, the HE-5LE are my clear preference.  


Edited by pataburd - 7/14/12 at 5:24pm
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