HiFiMAN HE-560 Impressions & Discussion
Initial Impressions & Reviews (Links; chronological)
Test Prototype HE560:Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
HE-560 review (Edwood)
Preorder HE560:Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
HE-560 Impressions/Mini-review (stjj89)
HE-560 impressions (tinyman392)
HE-560 impressions (JustinBieber)
HE-560 impressions (krumme)
HE-560 vs Oppo PM1 impressions / comparisons (smellyfungus)
HE-560 impressions (TMRaven)
Production HE560 (newest reviews at bottom):
HE-560 shootout (vs LCD-X vs PM1) (TMRaven)
HE-500 review (JustinBieber)
HE-560 Impressions (MattTCG)
HE-560 impressions (buffer)
HE-560 Impressions (DVass13)
HE-560 review (Justin_Time)
HE-560 Review (Jerg)
HE-560 Review (grizzlybeast)
HE-560 Review (gelocks)
HE-560 vs anax-modded HD800 (drdiem)
HE560, Focus-A (older) hybrid earpads
Frequency response + Harmonic Distortion
Cumulative Spectral Decay (Waterfall plot)
HE560, Focus (newer) hybrid earpads
Frequency response + Harmonic Distortion
Cumulative Spectral Decay (Waterfall plot)
Production HE560 Review
Build & Ergonomics
The finalized take on HE560 cups is a matte-plastic-and-veneer finish, with the body of the cup being plastic much similar to other Hifiman cans, but a Macassar ebony wood veneer wrapped around as largely a design accent.
To my knowledge, this was largely a compromising decision made so that cup reliability over the long term will stay stable. Solid teak wood used for early HE560 units suffered some visual/matching, milling, and cracking issues despite teak being one of the hardier lumbers to work with.
From a purely artistic design standpoint, I do like the new cup look better than the old, which on top of vastly improved long-term reliability makes it a no-brainer for me; but of course, solid wood does have its allure.
Earpads / headband
The new headband assembly is, let’s just say, one of the most ergonomic in the headphone market currently, which for a utilitarian user would more than trade off for its peculiar look when worn on the head. For those who may find their headband clamping a bit much, just use some gentle and firm pressure and flex/hold the two 90-degree bends of the spring steel band, and clamp is easily attenuated that way.
There are two variations of the new hybrid velour/pleather earpads that Hifiman is making available along HE560; the Focus earpads and the Focus-A earpads. Both are fully-sealing earpads, with a slight (15 degrees or so) angling, soft velour for the flat portion and pleather for the outside cylindrical portion. The core difference between these two earpad variations is the inner-facing lining material; whereas Focus pads use a perforated pleather inner ring, Focus-A pads use a sloped permeable mesh fabric. Focus pads are also sewn more neatly than Focus-A pads. By default HE560s will ship with the Focus pads, but those looking for a less energetic and more balanced sound signature may prefer the Focus-A pads. Comfort-wise both are stellar as long as you don’t mind your ears grazing the inner lining of the earpads sometimes, as the earpad openings are not exceptionally huge; the velour fabric is much less itchy than prior Hifiman velour pads’, the foam used in these pads are MUCH softer than prior Hifiman earpads, and the angling conforms more naturally to the head allowing for better pressure distribution.
The cable that comes with HE560 is a 2 metre ‘crystalline’ copper / silver composite cable with black fabric sleeving and 1/4-inch plug. Some might find it too short if they like to prance about when wearing the cans. Stationary desktop users won’t have a problem with the length. The fabric sleeving is a welcoming change in terms of looks and feel compared to rubber or plastic sleeving of most of previous stock Hifiman cables.
It’s more flexible than both the Canare cables that HE400s come with, and the white SPC cables that HE500s have; cable diametre is slightly thinner than Canare cable.
Sound Quality & Characteristics
***The “treble / midrange / bass” subsections will cover the bulk of my sonic analyses; other subsections will either reiterate or raise more miscellaneous points toward those specific traits.
While the midrange and bass have some back-and-forth in terms of their performance relative to contenders, HE560’s treble is sublime.
Treble is always tough to get right, you need the correct frequency response, extension, decay, but also resolution / detail extraction (which correlates to but isn’t exactly represented by current methods of measurement); subjectively the ideal treble needs to extend into the nether regions without tizziness, be grainless, smooth, with minimal sibilance yet never recessed, and with fast enough transients to deliver treble texture in a convincing manner.
And out of all the headphones I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, only HE560, Code-X, and well-driven HD800s fully achieve that degree of treble finesse. The test prototype HE560s came close but still had some grain to its treble that stuck out like a sore thumb; the finalized production HE560s squelched that issue.
For me, HE560’s midrange is a complex matter creature. Right off the bat though, two traits that are very apparent are that their midrange is highly transparent, and just as open-sounding, as these are innate traits of the midrange signature that I find to be constants. Harmonic distortions in the midrange for HE560s are extraordinarily low from measurements that are posted thus far, which coincides with the subjective transparency.
The intrigue, however, lies in its tonality; HE560s can sound neutral, bright, organic, dry, thin, dynamic to different people. Frequency response-wise, HE560 has a slight recession around 2kHz and rise around 5kHz, which by definition gives them attack/edge yet still somewhat laid back, and that is what I observe in music too.
Further complexity is set in in that HE560’s midrange reacts to different earpads substantially. Hifiman’s most up-to-date earpads, the Focus hybrid velour/pleather pads, give HE560s a dynamic, slightly aggressive midrange signature with more upfront soundstaging. The alternative hybrid pads, the Focus-A pads, give it a more balanced, nuanced signature with more ‘roomy’ soundstaging. Of course, I had to try my Jergpads on production HE560s, which rendered a sound signature that was as aggressive as Focus pads, but also more forward-sounding, with a more laid-back treble (i.e. more mids-heavy balance); it’s different enough of a presentation from the hybrid pads that I may just swap between these and the Focus-A pads (which I prefer over the Focus pads).
Regardless of tonal balance, HE560’s mids are fast, really fast. There is little to no bloom, and midrange detail is rendered with startling realism. Some might call that a deficiency in musicality; I beg to differ, if it sounds strikingly realistic and convincing, to me that is musical, just in a different way than the typical “romantic, lush, etc” characteristics of sound signatures branded as being musical.
Regrilling mod done on HE560s gives it one extra nudge toward an extremely open sound signature. And here comes a surprising observation: for those who own Jergpads from ventures with older Hifiman headphones, you can make HE560s almost speaker-like in openness via backvented Jergpads with the dust screens completely removed (HE560s have internal dust screens built into the face-facing sides of the drivers). This is in contrast to the room-like open quality of the hybrid pads.
The word I would use to describe HE560’s bass is “disciplined”. It is a very technically capable bass, with excellent extension, tightness / low distortion, quickness, and lack of colouration; at the same time, it is never out of line in terms of volume relative to midrange or treble, always presenting itself in adequate quantity when the music calls for it.
That does mean that true bassheads may need to look elsewhere, because the low-end tilt simply isn’t here with HE560. But for those who seek bass with utmost finesse, and which is cohesive with the rest of the frequency band, these will not disappoint.
On the modding side of things, I have only very recently found something very interesting, that being that (surprise surprise) Jergpads seem to introduce a slight FR tilt toward bass/lower mids, which noticeably increases bassiness in the sound signature, at the expense of some bass tightness. Personally I found this quite satisfying actually, and may listen in this pad setup for some time to really decide if it’s something I’d endorse as a definitive improvement or not.
Again, these are as good as any headphones I’ve heard in the clarity/transparency front. Vocals and instruments are always in full focus with very fast and convincingly realistic decay. Separation is not just clearly defined, but each source of sound has its own appropriate projected volume in space. The ability for HE560s to render treble with tangible texture is frequently startling to me.
Medium-sized with the stock cans; partly due to the frequency response having an upfront aggressive signature. With regrilling mod and optionally some pad swapping, one may suddenly find the soundstage expanding at will depending on the nature of the recording.
HE560’s timbre is almost, almost completely spot on. In my personal opinion, the slight emphasis around 5kHz is the only thing holding back HE560’s timbre from completely believable, especially coupled with the strong transparency. I have not yet played around with equalization, but some may find that a viable option to perfect HE560s’ timbre.
I feel that the finalized production HE560 is the real deal, reliability issues are resolved, sonically they are competent in all fields and absolutely brilliant in many, and these no longer carry the stigma with modern planar magnetic headphones being unwieldy space helmets.
There are still minor flaws in HE560’s sound which I noted in this writeup, which may be remediable in a variety of possible methods of course, and some of them are subjective to my tastes specifically.
On a personal note, I will have fun figuring out mods to try to milk out as much performance as possible in the foreseeable future too.
Test prototype reviewWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Much thanks to Hifiman & Dr. Fang Bian for giving a few of us this opportunity to check out the HE-560 early.
Being an avid modder, this is definitely one of the most welcoming new headphone line revamps I’ve seen in recent years with regards to ergonomics and design. Just as important is of course the sound.
Build & Ergonomics
I am very impressed with how these new earpads turned out. There are two main implementations which draw parallel to my Jergpad mod, that being 1. Velour top-covers, and 2. Proper internal damping.
The velour top-cover element is a substantial boost to comfort; it appears to be a softer / finer velour fabric than the past Hifiman velour pads too. Also it is natively implemented, which means that it is foam rather than a layer of pleather underneath it. As for internal damping, a highly permeable meshy fabric is used for the undersides of the earpads, which is functionally equivalent/better relative to my mod where a series of holes were cut into the vinyl material on the undersides of the older earpads.
The foam used inside is incredibly soft, much softer than the foams in the older pleather/velour earpads.
The geometry of these new earpads is also well thought-out. It is medium in thickness with a slight (~10 degree) angling. The thicker back parts are ~2.5cm thick, while the thinner front section is ~1.6cm thick. This slight angling allows the earpads to form more naturally to the sides of the face. I will note though that these are substantially thicker than the older pleather earpads, and from my experience thicker earpads tend to sound less intimate yet more open compared to thinner earpads, as such these present a different earpad tonality.
Overall the comfort level (as a combination of the soft internal foam, the velour top, and the slight angling) of these earpads is as good as I’ve experienced with any headphone earpads. It’s almost “disappears on the head” level, but not quite (I don’t think any earpads could achieve that with conventional materials).
Feels and looks well-assembled and very utilitarian. I can see that a massive amount of weight is shaved off with this new headband compared to the old. The fragile joints of the old HFM headbands at the logo areas are no longer present here. I will say though, that it is a bit squeaky, and the plastics used aren’t as hardy as I’d like.
In terms of comfort though, the new headband nails it. The headphone sort of disappears on my head after about 5 minutes of wearing it; properly-implemented suspension strap IS, indeed, the way to go for ultimate headphone ergonomics.
Sound Quality & Characteristics
Summary of characteristics:
Extremely neutral overall tonal balance.
(updated Apr. 10, 2014) Bass is extremely tight and extended, with excellent physicality and tactility to it. One of the few headphones that give me physical sensation of bass without being "one-note-y".
Bass/lower mids is fast-sounding, without too much reverberant/lushness qualities to it; not dry either (after some burn-in***)
Bass->mids transition is completely smooth and boundary-less.
Upper midrange is very coherent and full especially apparent in vocal music, not forward or laid-back, though there seems to be a slight up-tilt followed by dip at the upper mids / lower treble boundary region (~5kHz), it isn't very apparent in music though.
(updated Apr. 10, 2014) Treble is smooth and well-extended, with a slight up-tilt going from mid toward upper treble, and extension only starts dropping off around 15000 Hz – attributes to a very airy treble. May be a tad fatiguing to people who favour the darker sound signatures (like HE500 or Audezes), but neutral-favouring users will like this. It is a VERY fast treble, which translates to a ton of micro-detail in music (i.e. the subtle cues of things touching / smacking of lips / physical nature of instruments being played are apparent).
3D imaging is exceptional, due to the level of airiness as well as good instrument separation; audio cues in music can be easily located and placed. Best of all, the "away from the head" placement of sounds is very convincing.
Dynamics are powerful, almost too powerful for my taste (I like more laid-back sound signatures); certain orchestral or acoustic instrument solo soundtracks that start off quiet and get insanely loud in a few minutes, which is not something I'm used to from using my HE500s. I won't lie, it could also partially be a consequence of the neutrality and more energy in the presence region of the midrange. But it is definitely also a consequence of the fast transients (next point).
Tactility/transients are fast; I don't know if it's a consequence of the single-ended magnetic array design or diaphragm tension, but these are very agile and articulate right out of the box, complex passages of music are handled exceptionally. And it's not just bass or treble either, midrange is also clear and very "quick".
The background is quite black, about on par with HE500s which are known for that quality.
Soundstage is quite wide, but not as deep (forward/backward projection). It is still satisfactory in gaming though mostly due to the high precision of its 3D imaging and layering.
***Notes on burn-in:
I've always found burn-in to do different things (or nothing) to different headphones, my belief is that it depends on the specifics of the drivers and how much the diaphragm may or may not need settling after they are freshly assembled. In this particular instance, out of the box the demo unit HE560 didn't have as much oomph below 200 Hz as I'd have liked, but after a while (oh about 50 hrs of use + burn-in time, and climbing) the bass in particular definitely fleshes out more. On the other hand things like midrange or treble don't seem to change at all, nor do other traits and attributes I described above.
And this is a separate improvement to what I did to the baffles, when I did that it did not change anything except nudge out a little more extension below 30 Hz. The burn-in didn't improve sub-bass extension, but instead on the overall bass range dynamics and impact.
Subjective frequency response:
Comparisons with HE-500 & HE-400:
Caveats & strengths:
Interesting Observations & Photos
HE-560 driversWarning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
- Work in progress -
Edited by jerg - 9/18/14 at 9:46am