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Over-Ear item created by ogodei, Nov 18, 2016
Pros - Precise imaging, great comfort, fantastic detail retrieval.
Cons - Needs a correspondingly expensive system to get the best results. Bass a bit lacking in quantity to be ideal. Materials a bit cheap-feeling. Expensive
Back when I owned a modified Denon D5000, I went to a local hi-fi store and demoed a Stax system. I almost bought it on the spot, only hesitating because it would have been the most expensive audio purchase I'd ever made. Later on I ended up using a vintage Stax rig as my primary system which I've since regretted selling. It consisted of the Lambda Nova Signature, but with newer, thicker ear-pads and a borrowed SRM 717. The thicker ear-pads increased the bass, resulting in very entertaining listening. I don’t know what made me decide to sell them, as given all the experiences I’ve had since, it would have been simpler to just stick to what I had and upgraded my digital source instead.
Until now at least. The market value of Stax ear-speakers and amps, along with the US dollar both have increased quite a bit in the last few years (the latter more recently) and I could have got quite a bit back for them and put it towards new gear, specifically the headphones I’m listening with right now, the Hifiman HE1000 V2.
While it may not have been apparent when Audeze released the LCD-2 and Hifiman the HE-5, the popularity of planar headphones has caused half a dozen more manufacturers to join the fray with their own models and put the inevitable writing on the wall. Eventually planar headphones would catch up with that local deity, housed in a small factory outside Tokyo in Saitama and makers of what is probably one of, if not the greatest pairs of headphones ever made, and one that they bet the whole company on to design and manufacture: The SR-009.
There’s one thing I don’t like about the HE1000: given its cost is so much closer to that of the SR-009s, material-wise it isn’t anywhere near as beautifully made. Roughly-finished and poorly fitting aluminium and visible flaws in the drivers did not befit a $3000 pair of headphones. I had hoped to chalk this one up to my pair being a beta test model and not final production, but prior to the V2 the only change I know of that was made was to the headpad size to make it smaller. If you look up close at an SR-009 long enough, just like how that first experience I had with a Stax system made regular dynamic headphones seem like a pretentious effort at reproducing music, so do does the fit and finish of the 009s make most everything else look poor in comparison, especially the HE1000s.
Old on left, new on right.
With the V2, the quality has gone up a notch in a couple of critical areas. The first, obviously, is the earpads, the inner material lining of which looks classier than before. The second is the attachment point of the gimballs and headband. On the original, the gimbals almost flopped around with a slight gap in the hinge. However the V2 has a teflon insert on the gimball side and the fit is tight, leaving the gimballs to smoothly rotate. Even if the new cable's rubber sheath feels a bit lower class than the older, nylon-coated one, the headphoens themselves feel like they are put together a bit better than before.
Old on top, new V2 on bottom.
Material quality stops mattering when you put them on your head and start listening through a good system. They sit there with a lightness that makes the already light-and-comfortable -- MrSpeakers’ Ether feels heavy in comparison. The huge soft cushions envelope your head and it is easy to forget that they are there. Hitting play one does very much notice, and on a top-notch system the music is presented with tight and detailed bass and a sparkly treble more in line with an electrostat. It reminds me a lot of that old pair of Lambdas I owned, excepting possibly the greater precision and detail coming through. The treble on the V1 was a bit uncomfortable at first, something that settles with use. It is unlike the more upper-mid-forward SR-009s -- Mr. Speakers’ Ethers are closer in tone to those. The HE1000s deliver the full delay of cymbals as their sound fades for seconds after the hit and deliver a good thump of bass with the music, neither betraying the mids. They differ to the Ethers, which are more in-your-head, the bass punch fooling you into thinking you’ve left speakers on and your body is feeling it, while the sound from the HE1000 is all around it, giving a big wide space to instruments whose sounds float in to your ears.
To get this punch requires a good amp. Straight out of my Hugo and Mojo the HE1000 sounded some what flat dynamically. It was only using my Studio Six that they came alive. This was true down to simple drum hits in something like Diana Krall singing Temptation and all the way up to complex music of any kind. They had my AK240 at full volume using the balanced output, even if it did an admirable job. It would be interesting to try the same trick with Vinnie Rossi’s mod as it is supposed to help with the power delivery. Where the Ethers can be driven by portable amps to a satisfying degree, the HE1000s sound more muddy even out of the best portable amps, even Chord's Hugo and Mojo which are capable in their own right. Like other planar headphones when under-driven, detail is lost, transients are smeared and the bass becomes muddy.
If you’ve not experienced electrostatic headphones then descriptions of the sound are going to be all that more difficult. For those that have, Hifiman has made, in essence, a planar that sounds like an electrostat. If I put my hands even a few inches from the back grill the sound immediately changes, just like it does with the Stax models. Music itself comes through as light and airy, almost floating out of the air. Instead of being hammered into your ear, it is delicately and sharply placed there. However, the imagining feels somewhat akin to a video screen having been placed at either ear for the view of left and right, leaving an impression of the music coming from immediately around your ears. Contrast that to the Mr Speakers’ Ethers, where the soundstage seems distinctly in-your-head if you listen to them afterwards, but their incredible detail accuracy makes this disappear into an effect of the sound coming from everywhere it actually did when it was recorded.
However, despite the light and airy touch of the treble, deep bass is freakish. There is no other word I can find for it. At the beginning of Song of the Stars by Dead Can Dance is a didgeridoo playing. The deep guttural notes are so convincing that I could have sworn that the headphones themselves were vibrating with the sound, but touching the outside of the cups proved this wasn’t so. The mid-range leaves no questions unanswered except in intimacy, neither being too forward or too distant. C.C. Colletti is out there singing on the binaral Bring It On Home album, but she isn’t right up there in front of me like she is with the Ethers. The treble initially has a bit too much bite and is a bit unnaturally bright. I am not entirely convinced it has the ‘stat magic, to the degree that Stax's earspeakers do.
If there is one downside to this presentation, it is the same one that electrostats have, in that the music doesn’t have as much impact as it seems to with a regular dynamic pair of headphones. I keep wanting to the turn volume up when I should really turn it down. The over-detailed mid-range and treble reveal too much of the recording quality of many tracks I like, including very much where they might have benefitted from a bit more bass in the mix.
All the same, when I managed to get them dialled in right, the marginally warmer Mojo taking the place of the Hugo as the source, ever so slightly taking more of an edge off the treble, the HE1000 gave me musical entertainment in spaces. I felt, however, that the review wouldn't be complete without at least Schiit Audio's Yggdrasil as my main DAC, impressed as I had been by the level of detail retrieval it is capable of.
All that was left was to compare it with the HD800. I have replaced the plastic inner liner on my pair with perforated non-slip matting, leaving the driver un-covered, and also use aftermarket cables. This leaves them with a sound signature that is more precise without harming their spaciousness or treble, only removing the slight smear in the headstage that gives a false feeling of their being more space than there is. Despite this, and the slightly stronger bass from this modification, the HE1000 versions have more of a lush and warm presentation with more intimacy. The HD800 gives the more technically competent presentation, each pluck on Timeless (Three Guitars) revealing the guitar's position more precisely on the stage, and the notes themselves sounding more three-dimensional. Possibly partly because the different treble response, the HE1000 V1 presents each note more vaguely, but more gently, unlike the HD800's stronger but sharper delivery.
It was apparent that the HD800 are better when it comes to detail retrieval and less of that is clear with the HE1000 V1. The fine nuances of various tracks, from the hammers hitting the piano strings through to aspects of the voice of the guitar player as he hums in Three Guitars, which I spent so much time on perfecting the delivery of through a careful choice of digital components (see my Yggdrasil review) are not quite so clear as they are with the HD800. It isn't a matter of frequency response, or one pair of headphones being brighter, as these things are apparent at a variety of frequencies.
The V1 also seems to have a bit of distortion in the mid-range. This lead me to experimentally add surgical tape just under the cups to the reflective surfaces there. That seemed to improve things, while keeping the slightly vague, but pleasant presentation. Alongside a cable upgrade to a Moon Audio Silver Dragon, the level of detail seemed to increase, and the bass was fleshed out better.
Original on left showing the driver/pad gap, and V2 on the right.
With the arrival of the HE1000 V2, the distortions and vagueness are gone, and the sound is more precise, with noticeably better imaging, the removal of the gap between the pads and the driver likely having removed the source of the issues. The stock cable, now with 6 wires instead of 4, gives them something of a forward presentation. I compared it to the Silver Dragon which presents the sound in a more relaxed and less intimate manner. Unlike with the V1, the Silver Dragon is not a distinct improvement, but merely has a different effect. I don't feel one is better than the other.
Compared to the more punchy-sounding, if less detailed Edition X, the HE1000 V2 sounds more relaxed, very much needing a good amp to wake it up, yet more detailed where the music is. I could get good listening from ALO Audio's latest Continental V5 portable amp or HeadAmp's Pico Power, but it didn't deliver the spacious detail my Studio Six could. Even the good value, but quite competent Audio-gd NFB-1AMP, which was a good match with the Edition X, seemed to lack a bit of liveliness and detail retrieval capability ideally needed for the HE1000.
Music that is most ideal with the HE1000 V2 is that which is well-recorded and has a strong bass line, as one of the reasonable criticisms of the HE1000 is that, while the bass quality is excellent, it could do with a bit more quantity. I found myself reaching for MrSpeakers Ether Flow when I wanted more intimacy and punch, or my Sony Z7 when I was listening to modern music where detail didn't matter as all, but bass did.
When well-recorded vocals and instruments were the order of the day's listening, the HE1000 was magical, allowing me to feel the emotion of each note. One of my recent favourite finds on TIDAL has been Sarah Jarosz's Undercurrent. Both her voice and the guitars are wonderful through my system, the echo of her voice off the surrounding studio coming through clearly. This is something that doesn't come through the Edition X nearly as well.
Listening once again to Three Guitars, the presentation is now deliciously and effortlessly precise, the efforts of both Mike Moffat to get a natural sound from the Yggdrasil as well as mine to nix any digital gremlins bringing much pleasure through the Studio Six and HE1000 V2.
Jonathan Wilson's gentle voice singing Desert Raven as electric and acoustic guitars are gently plucked in the background is an absolute pleasure. Now I feel like I'm listening to music.
When a manufacturer comes out with a new flagship, it attracts a lot of negative comments, especially at the $3000 mark. While there was most reasonable concern with the original HE1000, I feel that the V2 performs at the kind of level expected of headphones at its price.
Thanks to Fang Bian of HiFiMan and HiFiMan Japan for lending us a pair of HE1000 V2s for review.
Pros - Build quality, new pads, better cables, stunning sonics
Cons - Slightly heavy, large
I was an early adopter of the original hifiman he-1000 (part of the original beta group). At the end of the beta period I elected to keep the product and it was replaced with the newest and latest version. I personally enjoyed this headphone very much. It needed a clean and powerful amp to really get the best from it. But when amped properly, you had a special experience.
Now enter hifiman he-1000 v2. Upon visual inspection, it looks very much like its predecessor with the edition of new cables. As you look more closely you notice the new pads. Now by all counts, these pads are just lovely. The materials and craftsmanship are top notch. Also, the pads are noticeably “chunkier” than the previous version.
With the headphones in hand, they continue to impress. The manufacturing process has certainly improved here. The suspension headband clicks firmly in place and feels very nicely crafted. In fact, the machining tolerances appear to be tighter and the headphone quality is showing some nice maturity with version two.
The cables are a nice upgrade over the original. Both in term of form and function, the cables now are more representative of a flagship product. Although they are slightly “springy” I have no qualms or issues with these new cables. Hifiman has even managed to trim down the weight of the new headphone to a very manageable 420 grams (thank you for this).
So how does the new version sound? If you've ever heard top of the line speakers in a well-treated room, you'll have an idea of just how good these headphones sound. There is an air of naturalness and ease in the presentation of sound across the spectrum. The bass extends hard and deep, always in control but never shy about delivering those deep notes in a dynamic manner. Treble is natural with tons of detail, but never harsh or strident. And then there's the midrange, where the music lives. Vocals are carried out with a delicacy and lushness that is rather addictive.
Compared to the original, version two is an upgrade across the board. Better build quality, better sonics and just a wonderful experience. These seemingly small improvements collectively add up quickly and result in what many, including myself, will call an end game headphone. My hat is off to Fang and the team at hifiman.
Misc: I amped the he-1000 v2 with Jotenheim and Questyle cma800r with Gumby as my source. Both amps drove the he-1000 v2 well. The Jot needed hi gain to get the most from the pairing. Overall the Questyle gave the best synergy providing better layering and allowing me to hear deeper into the sound stage. Both amps works well though and I could be happy pairing this headphone with either one.
Pros - Stellar sound performance and comfort; An actual upgrade over V1 !
Cons - High cost; Questionable value in the current flagship market
Standard boring details you should skip… I usually listen at low to moderate volumes (about 57 dB casual listening, maybe 67 dB rocking out). Preferred music genres are 70s rock & progressive, electronica, female vocals. The main setup for this review was a Questyle CAS192D DAC feeding a Violectric V281 amp, no-name balanced cables running through goldpoint passive switches\attenuators. I used the stock cables and earpads on all cans. Playback was through JRiver 22 on PC, no plug-ins, everything got level matched before & during listening sessions.
I purchased all hardware used in this review. The HE-1000 Version 2 is production and was bought new by me. I have no relationship with any manufacturer or vendor of equipment used in producing this review.
The actual intro you should read HiFiMan’s flagship headphone the HE-1000 (‘HEKv1’) popped into view just last year and was an immediate show stopper. With its ‘nanometer thickness’ planar magnetic diaphragm, unique looks, stunning sound and perhaps even more stunning price tag, the headphones were certainly the focus of all attention in the meets I attended. The forward-thinking technology involved (and that price tag) made a lot of us wonder what would come next in the world of head-fi.
A few months back HiFiMan announced their answer that question: The HE-1000 Version 2 (HEKv2). At first glance it looks like the original HE-1000 (now monikered by HiFiMan as the HE-1000 Version1) but it actually sports multiple changes. From their web page (my paraphrasing):
• Improved headband design to accommodate a wider range of heads
• Reduced weight
• Trimmed-down ear cups
• Asymmetrical ear pads, faced with polyester instead of velour to increase sound transparency
• Different cables with ‘improved materials’
• More user friendly when paring with non-high power amplifiers
I wanted to do two things with this review:
1) Review the HEKv2 cans on their own merits. Are they a great headphone? Are they worth the price tag? Should you immediately sell all your kidneys to go out and buy one of these things?
2) Detail differences between the HEKv2 and HEKv1. Are they important? Has the sound improved? Should current owners sell at least one kidney to get the upgrade, like, right now?
The stand-alone review is in the section directly below; the comparison has its own section further down.
Overview of the cans
The HEKv2 is the current top of the line, open-ear headphone from HiFiMan and features their bestest technology, presented to us on their website with nice graphics but few actual technical details:
• A 'Nanometer Thickness' planar diaphragm. Making a planar diaphragm yet thinner yields “faster response and lower distortion” and lets you use the word ‘nanometer’ in your advertising.
• An “Advanced Asymmetrical Magnetic Circuit” meaning they decreased the size of the magnets on the side of the planar diaphragm closest to the listener. (Remember that, unlike dynamic drivers, planar magnetic drivers require magnets on both sides of the diaphragm). Per HiFiMan "Insufficient construction of sound apertures from classical planer magnetic driver creates reflections, deflections and refraction of sound waves, resulting in audible distortion." Meaning if you put a bunch of obstacles (the magnets) and apertures (the openings between those magnets) between the speaker and your ear you get diffraction of sound, which, yeah, could be audible.
Since an aperture which is large in terms of the sound wavelength allows that wavefront to go through with little disturbance, increasing the size of the apertures here would have the most benefit for (i.e., reduce disturbances in) bigger wavefronts. That translates to cleaner bass and midrange, right? Somebody correct me on this. I wonder about the exact range of wavelengths that would be affected in something the size of this diaphragm. I see that MrSpeakers seems to be thinking the same thing with their design of the Ether Flow so this must be the next actual thing in the planar magnetic race.
• Patented “Window Shade System”, by which they mean using the least material as possible on the back of the earpiece to reduce reflections back towards the ear. Practically they worked this out as a convex steel (alloy?) grill over a metal-meshed.
The web page for the HEKv2 actually removed even the vague technical details they had posted about these technologies when the HEKv1 was around. They now go with pure marketing hyperbole and several pages of accolades from magazine and trade shows. Can’t say I blame them but I’m always interested in the details. Speaking of which, the reported specs:
Frequency Response : 8Hz-65kHz
I got discernable bass (meaning I could hear anything down there at less than ear bleed levels of volume) down to about 15 Hz on balanced power.
As usual the reported top number means nothing as you can’t hear anything at 65kHz. (Super-tweeter fans, take that!) In testing the top end of the can tracked a little hot above 5kHz before starting to drop off at 16kHz.
The cans are very efficient. I heard no real differences between feeding them balanced or SE power from my desktop amp. I ran them from my phone a less powerful desktop amp with little decline in sound quality so I buy HiFiMan’s claims that they are compatible with large range of sources. I would never use these portables though, aside from the looks you’d get I’d be afraid of laying them down and scratching up the metal cups.
Impedance: 35 ohm
These are going to work well on any decent desktop amp. Rule of thumb says an amp should have an output impedance under 3 ohms to be a good match with these, and that is going to be pretty much any SS amp you would use with a $3000 set of headphones. These being planar technology you can probably get away with an even bigger impedance so don’t stress
Weight: 420g (14.08 Oz) (reported), 429 Measured
Without the cable I weighed the HEKv2 at 429g on a calibrated scale, not sure where the mismatch is between my weight and HiFiMan’s reported one.
Senn HD600\HD650 256 (grams)
HiFiMan HE400S 358
Senn HD 800 366
Mr. Speakers Ether 374
Fostex TH-900 389
OPPO PM1 401
HiFiMan HE 1000 v2 429
HiFiMan HE 1000 v1 489
HiFiMan HE6 549
Audeze LCD-X 600
At 429 the weight is in the upper half the flagship scale but the head suspension rig makes the weight very manageable. I’m a light weight when it comes to comfort with heavier cans, I didn’t have a problem with these.
The HEKv2 comes with three cables (discussed in more detail below):
1.5 Meter cable with 3.5mm jack, weight is 31g
3 Meter cable with a ‘Neutrik’ branded ¼ SE jack, 78g
3 Meter cable with a ‘Yongsheng’ branded 4-pin XLR, 85g
Build Quality \ Design \ Comfort
The ear cups are elongated and easily encircle large ears while barely touching them. The pads are sharply asymmetrical in depth, thicker in the back (27mm) than the front (15mm), making the cans feel slightly different on your head depending how far you pull them forward or back. The pads are pleather on the sides with polyester material on the top. I didn’t look inside the pads but from the feel and weight expect open-cell foam on the inside. Cutting and stitching on the pads isn’t what I’d call ‘precision’ but no real complaints on that front, HiFiMan has gamed up from their lower end models. Removing the pads is a bit scary the first time as it’s accompanied by some nasty little cracking noises but I’ve done it several times with no problems.
The grills and other metal parts are precision cut, a mixture of steel (head band frame and slides) and alloys (cup grills, cup surrounds, yokes). The grills have a slightly convex bow and are quite sturdy. The rolled steel frame and leather suspension strap is functional and comfortable, providing a good weight distribution over a large area with no pressure points. The height adjustment is good.
The oversized cups manage to come off as light and attractive but, even when properly fitted, the bottom of the pads may rest on the top of your jaw. This isn’t a problem for me and I found the cans are quite comfortable after I got used to it. Other listeners remarked on feeling uncomfortable with it however so YMMV. Once adjusted they don’t move around too much on your head. I’m a wuss when it comes to headphone weight but these have worked just fine over the time I’ve worn them.
I’m not a huge fan of the frame and suspension at this price point. It works. It’s comfortable and adjustable, and the sliding height mechanism using detents in the frame has turned out to be a solid performer. No strikes on technical performance. However, the style and utilitarian feel puts it in the lowest-end of the flagship range for me. It feels like a rushed port-over from their lower end cans, gussied up with a steel finish. I’m concerned that the ‘raw’ leather suspension strap could become soiled over time especially if you use hair products that might be absorbed into the material. I wouldn’t be comfortable passing these around at a meet. (It does appear the strap could be removed with a very small Philips head screwdriver but HiFiMan doesn’t seem to sell replacements).
For a flagship the build quality is acceptable but nothing more. Comfort is very good; design is just good. At this price point and given the current competition in the market I would expect a little more style in a flagship. The elongated ear cups that we so shocking last year aren’t going to carry it just on style anymore.
Accessories The headphones arrive in pleather-covered cardboard display box with a top metal plaque. The foam insert inside is nicely customized to protect the phones and cables. No carry case is included. This is pretty much the standard at the flagship level (with a few notable exceptions) so I give this a ‘nothing special’ verdict.
HEKv2 comes with three stock cables:
• 1.5 meter cable with 3.5mm right angle jack for portables
• 3 meter cable to a Neutrik branded ¼ SE jack
• 3 meter balanced cable to a Yongsheng branded 4-pin XLR connector
The cables are covered with a rubberized, see-through, grippy sheathing that reminds me of the cord from my grandmothers 1960s’ sweeper. It’s interesting. The tactile grippy-ness prevents it from sliding around like a lot of heavier cables do (slide off your desk, off your lap, etc.) but it’s harder to un-tangle when it gets wrapped around itself or something else. It should easy to clean but I wonder about its durability if it meets up with children or something dropped on it. The cables terminate into 2.5 mm stereo plugs into each earpiece. I’m not sure why as the headphones work just fine using cables with mono input jacks. This was the same with the HEKv1 and the HEX so I presume HiFiMan got a price break for using on the stereo connectors. Not really an issue.
HiFiMan indicates the v2 cables have an “enhanced emphasis on the low end.” I couldn’t hear this in testing. Swapping it out with cables for the v1 or the OPPO PM1/2 (those mono ends) didn’t result an anything I could hear.
The inclusion of the balanced and portable cables by default is good thing, again I expect it at this price point. The change in cable materials is interesting, I’m willing to use these for a while and see how they wear. I expect there will be haters.
Sound This is a great sounding headphone.
The higher end is a bit forward above 5K and brings in lots of air, maintaining the openness of the cans with most material. It has great presence in the top end without getting too bright, brittle or analytical for my taste. They don’t approach the high end of the HD800, however if you find that can too ‘peaky’ you may feel the same way about these. (Full disclosure: I love me some unmodified HD800 all day long.)
Bass is balanced in the music, this can is not for the bass heads. Its tight and controlled all the way down to about 15 kHz. Impact and heft is acceptable but not exceptional. Best description I can think of for it is polite and slightly restrained. The mid-range is in line the bass levels, slightly leaner than full, not particularly forward or warm. Overall the profile of the can is flat and balanced with that slight lift between 8 and 12 kHz.
The soundstage is huge, presenting like an orchestra hall versus a small or medium room. Imaging is very good. It can be affected by can placement on your head, which I attribute to the angle of the earpads. Transients, dynamic range, detail\timbre are good while not the absolute best compared to some dynamic cans. The sound is very open, very light without becoming bright.
Summarizing all this is a bit difficult. I want to just type that the can does nothing wrong in the bass and mids while it brings a superb top end into play. No particular area stands out enough to overly praised (except perhaps the openness). But while I could leave it at that and be technically correct it doesn’t capture the quality of musical experience I get from the cans. Everything coheres together into more than a sum of its parts and it’s a great listening experience. In the range of flagship cans the HEKv2 stakes its place as one of the best for overall sound performance.
Conclusions Don’t buy these.
At least for a while, and not without thinking about it long and hard. These headphones are crazy expensive, even for that sound quality. There’s a resale market for HiFiMan headphones but the release of a new flagship version every few months will send it down the toilet. HiFiMan recognizes this (or got the message after reading the thousands of nasty notes left around the web to this effect) and offered a discounted upgrade to original owners of the HEKv1 for a while. Good on HiFiMan. It’s not enough to stop HEKv1 prices from quickly and drastically dropping on aftermarket however, especially as HiFiMan themselves are now selling remaindered v1s in competition with the used market. More important to potential new buyers: The residual value of a new HEKv2 purchase is also put into question serious question as another round of upgrades and close-outs could conceivably appear at any time.
Any potential purchasers of the HEKv2 (or any of the other flagship cans with nosebleed pricing these days) should listen to the can first and explore the used market before plunking down that much cash. Loaner programs are available, use them. There are hundreds of great headphones with new technologies being released these days, along with a bunch of **** headphones, all at much lower price points. HiFiMan makes some of them. Point is you can try a lot of stuff and find some new favorites out there without sinking this much cash into a single headphone.
Comparison to HE-1000 v1 Accessories \ Build Quality \ Design \ Comfort I’ve brain dumped all the miniscule physical differences I can find below. If nitpicking details don’t interest you skip to the sound quality section. If I don’t mention some aspect of the headphones below it means I see no change between the versions.
Packaging materials and the display boxes are identical with no indication of ‘V2’ on the box, only on the included marketing literature user guide. Quality level of the headphone build is the same (some rough edges on wood banding, etc.) I consider it the low-end of the top-end if you get that. The driver diaphragm appears physically the same gets seated in a slightly smaller cavity. The weight is less, I measured 429 grams versus 489 grams without cables. That’s a good reduction in weight which I did feel when switching between them after longer listening sessions. Weight on the v1 is very manageable though so YMMV.
Which is which?
The rolled steel headband frame has numerous small changes. It’s about ½ inch wider across in length (ear-to-ear I guess you would describe it). There are now 9 detents for the sliding-height adjusters where the HEKv1 has 7 and the detents are closer together. Roughly 3 millimeters of height adjustment range is added.
HEKv2 on the right
The sliding adjusters have cosmetic changes to the imprinted logo, the height of the slider itself is decreased by 2 mm, and the screws holding the suspension strap have shrunk a bit. The leather where the suspension strap attaches to the frame is now much more pliable, you can see and feel where the stiff insert between the pieces of leather ends before it attaches. This allows the strap to twist around in the frame and makes me a little concerned about long term durability. The yokes now have a slippery plastic surface where they meet the steel headband frame, so no more grinding and squeaking when you turn the cups.
HEKv2 on the right
The height of the wood band around the earpiece is slightly reduced (though I would be very hesitant to call it ‘slimmer and sleeker’ as the marketing material does). The ear pads are thicker and more asymmetrical. Material on the face of the pads changes from the standard HiFiMan velour to a patterned polyester material with less nap, which means none of the initial scratchiness I’ve felt with other HiFiMan cans. (That scratchiness always went away with a few hours of wear anyway). The polyester doesn’t seem to ‘increase sound transparency’ per marketing material but it does look slightly classier. The sharper angle on the pads makes the fit change slightly when pushing the cans backward and forward on my head, something I didn’t get with HEKv1. Overall the cans retain the same depth of each earpiece, with just the proportions of cup to earpad changing between the v1 and v2. The backwards-tilt-range of the HEKv1 within the yokes is reduced in the HEKv2 because of the deeper earpads but that that doesn’t affect anything when wearing them. The new earpads are interchangeable with the HEKv1 pads (more notes on that below).
The cables differ significantly from the v1. Although you get three cables of the same length and terminations, the HEKv2 cables have a ‘rubberized’ clear exterior allowing you to see three internal cores. Texture is quite grippy to the touch and because of the stickiness the cables get and stay tangled up a bit more than cloth covered ones on par. Per HiFiMan the cables are “newly upgraded … with stronger, further improved materials (of crystalline copper and crystalline silver wire)” with “enhanced emphasis on the low end.” This fancy new wire is still connected via the same ‘Yongsheng’ branded pot metal XLR connector from the HEKv1 cable, however. While they could be considered an upgrade from the HEKv1 stock I think whether you like them will be a personal preference thing.
Sound Quality: HE-1000 V2 versus HE-1000 V1
Listening and measurements were done with the stock pads and cables (SE and balanced) on the same set up. Again, if I don’t mention something it means I heard no discernable differences.
Sensitivity is reported the same (90dB) and acted that way in practice pretty much up and down the board. Impedance on the v1 was reported as “35±3 Ω”, now it’s listed as “35 ohm” on the v2 web page, we might infer it’s still the same and someone just cleaned the text in the name of marketing. Be green, save those pixels.
Overall the sound signatures were very, very similar but there were a couple of differences to be found. While sub-bass extension was about the same on both cans (usable bass down to about 15Hz) the v1 was fatter and rougher below 55Hz or so. For instance, on the bass sweep in Yello’s ‘Junior B’ the v1 was rougher and rumblier in that lower range while the v2 was very smooth and polite all the way down. The kick drum beats in Shelby Lynne ‘Just a Little Lovin’ come off as slightly more forceful on v1, and the drum kit tracks on Dr. Chesky’s demonstration disk sound tighter on the v2. The effect may have been slightly exaggerated on balanced power but it was also noticeable in SE listening. While it was plain to hear on those bass sweeps and drums I only picked up whiffs of this in the midrange of most tracks, even those with plentiful sub-bass. Male tenor vocals weren’t affected for instance. On tracks without sub-bass I didn’t hear any tonal change in the bass and mids at all.
Attack and transients were slightly faster on the v2. This was immediately discernable on techno and synth tracks. On more complicated orchestral pieces the speed allowed more detail and texture to emerge from the music. The v2 behaved better (or at least differently) in the high end on those orchestral pieces as well, presenting slightly more air, harmonics, and shimmer than the v1. On less complicated tracks (sound of a lone cymbal for instance) the high end didn’t change much: it was excellent on both cans.
Openness, female vocals, dynamics and imaging remain the same between both cans, although imaging was a bit more dependent on headphone placement with the v2. I presume this has to do with the new angled ear pads although placement of the driver in a shallower pan could conceivably affect this.
I noted that HiFiMan markets the v2 cables as modified with “enhanced emphasis on the low end” so I swapped cables to test this out. If the changes I heard really were due to the cables this would be a non-brainer upgrade for the v1. No such luck. I didn’t hear the sub-bass profiles swap with the cables, in fact I heard no relative changes at all. Ditto for swapping out the ear pads. Changing them out made no discernable difference to sound quality, either in that bass issue or anything else. I expect some hopeful owners of the v1 who purchase the new earpads will try to shout me down on this one though.
Conclusions in comparison with the HEKv1
Physical changes boil down to ‘different cables, different earpads’. We might also throw in ‘doesn’t squeak’. Yes, the v2 is slightly lighter but v1 already wears the weight well due to the suspension strap system. Everything else just feels cosmetic, including the expanded (by 3 millimeters!) height adjustments and the ‘sleeker’ earcups. If someone bought the new earpads and the new cable and I didn’t look to closely… I note that the price of the balanced cable has been ‘upgraded’ quite a bit at the HiFiMan online shop these days, so they may be thinking the same thing.
Unsurprisingly the sound signatures between the cans are almost identical. On tracks with sub bass the v2 is slightly politer with improved control, a fact I attribute to the can itself and not to the cables. HEKv2 comes off as a slight upgrade to v1 in transients and attack, possibly due to that same improved sub bass control but I doubt that’s the entire reason. I suspect the change was very intentional to counter reports of slow transients from the v1. The changes I heard in top end performance were slight at best, and could be reasonably ascribed to the sub-bass and transient changes alone. When I was listening to music for pleasure the changes were much less important than the similarities that were retained.
Finally, I can’t state that the changes I heard aren’t specific to my personal cans. I would love for anyone else out there to provide any additional listening feedback and tell me if they’re hearing this.
Should you upgrade? You get 99.5% the same performance from v1 as v2 so as a dollar value proposition I don’t recommend upgrading. First time HEK buyers should consider a used HEKv1 to get close to the same performance level at a much lower cost. If original owners upgraded via the upgrade program that’s awesome, although that’s still a lot of money that could have gone towards other head phones (Hear that ringing? No, it’s not your tinnitus, that’s three sets of HD-6XX’s calling you…). If you missed the upgrade program, upgrading to the HEKv2 by purchasing at full price would be a shameful waste of your headphone budget, IMHO. Your need to upgrade may vary but I wouldn’t do so based strictly on sound performance.
Edit: Painfully manually fixing the table so you can read it.
Edit: Again with the table.
Edit: Deleted the entire **** table, dumped the content into text.