Reviews by billqs


500+ Head-Fier
Fostex TR-X00 Ebony- Muscular Sound that demands to be Heard
Pros: Beautiful looking Ebony Gloss Shine
Tremendous Bass with decent Treble to Balance
Fostex Biodynamic Drivers give a speedy "planar-like" response
Cons: Drop has Discontinued These
V shape sound is Fun rather than Reference
I just traded for a set of Fostex Ebony TR-X00 created as one of a series of wooden cup headphones designed in concert with Massdrop now just Drop. For some reason that completely evades me as I sit here listening to these sonic marvels, Drop has no plans for further runs of these phones. It makes no sense to me as they were best-sellers and have made quite a name for themselves as high quality bass intense headphones with a sound far above their price.

I've owned the Mahogany TH-X00 previously (the version without a removable cable) and the lower priced but also excellent Emu-Purpleheart. I also own the TH-900 but it's off getting repaired so I can't do a head to head, though I have a good idea of the differences here.)

The look of the Ebony phones is gorgeous, wood grain just manages to show through the black stain and glossy finish. The sound is muscular with solid bass, that announces its presence but doesn't badly diminish the mid's and treble. So, ok, everything can't be emphasized so there is at least a bit of a V to the signature but luckily the low point of the V does not remove the immediacy of the vocals as happens on many V shaped phones.

Listening to Back in Black and the bass and drums, especially the drums are so amazingly present with a palpable feel almost like Haptic Bass but with no subsonic cheating going on. Seven Nation Army also hits extremely well and shows just how excellent these are for rocks. Played some Velvet Underground from Loaded "Cool it Down" and "Rock and Roll" sound great with the expected focus on Moe Tucker's tribal drumming and Doug Yule's underrated bass playing.

Wanted to try out some jazz so I played Patricia Barber's cover of "Light My Fire". It is an Oasis for phones that have bass emphasis. Her alto voice with the acoustic bass and percussion take you into the music and put you right there. Going on a hunch looking for the bottom part of the "V" shaped sound, I put the vocal-centric Barenaked Ladies "Brian Wilson" and the Ebonies acquitted themselves wonderfully the vocals were front and center and there was no loss or underemphasis I could find. Finally, firing up Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn's Triphop "Better Things", you get amazing subbass, but also extremely clear female vocals.

These were supposed to be more linear than the other wood types in the TH/TRX series but there is definitely extra bass and treble emphasis. Luckily the treble is excellent for detail and I've noticed no sibilance or sharpness.

So, how do these sound compared to the TH-900, the Ebony's bigger 3 times more expensive brother? Using stock pads on both the 900's give a more well-rounded performance and the extra magnet strength (1.5 Tesla in the 900's as opposed to 1 Tesla in the X00's) in concert with an otherwise extremely similar biodynamic driver yields more subtle nuance. Everything is kind of "in your face" with X00's whereas you get more nuance and better soundstage for the substantial additional money. All is not sweeter in the TH900 land as depending on the recording you can run into sibilance or sharpness that isn't present on the X00's.

One thing you don't get, kind of surprisingly given the TH-900's reputation, is more bass. The X00's I've personally listened to Mahogany, Emu Purpleheart, and Ebony give you more bass for your buck. The difference is mostly in the pads which are wider open on the TH900 whereas part of the driver is covered on the TH/TR-X00 phones. This more narrow opening heightens the bass and helps keep the treble from becoming sibilant.

These phones were originally around $350 which represented an incredible value. They've gone up in price since they've been discontinued but are very much worth any price around $500. Much above that and they run into much stiffer competition. These are wonderful, fun headphones that grow addictive to listening to them.
enjoy them man. nice review and thanks for the trade once again


500+ Head-Fier
Drop + Hifiman HE5XX Amazing Best Bang for the Buck Planar
Pros: Low Price
Quality Full Range Sound
Comfortable to Wear
Cons: Old Hifiman Headband Design
Tends to run a little sharp in treble
Naming scheme makes it seem it's a recreation of the HE500 but it's not
Review of Hifiman 5XX

Since these are so new, I wanted to get out as soon as possible impressions of the new Drop + Hifman 5XX. It is the latest joint project between Drop (formerly Massdrop) and Hifiman who produce (mostly) magnetic planar headphones across all price ranges from $125 to $6000 (even much higher for the TOTL Shangri La and Shangri La Jr. electrostatic phones and special amps known as energizers). I bought these myself the first day they hit the drop so I got no remuneration for this review.

It’s also important to know the gear used in a review. I listened to the HE5XX through a SMSL 300MKII Dac, a McIntosh MHA 100 amp, and used Hart Audio cables (though I’m not a cable makes a phone sound different kind of guy.)

First lets confront the naming controversy. Is this a reissue of the renowned HE500? I used to own the HE500 and it was a wonderful headphone that could be improved greatly by making DIY mods to the original phones. Personally, I don’t see any relationship between the HE5XX and the 500. I think it’s best to treat them as 2 different headphones. If you want a pair of HE500’s they often come up used. Occasionally, Hifiman has a few pair of them lying around they will sell open box to you (you have to call the store to get information on these and the HE6 they may have.)

Some people also say it’s a redesigned Deva. I don’t own the Deva so I can’t answer that. If it’s true then Deva owners have a great sounding phone, because the HE5XX sound better than any sub $300 planar headphone should.

Being a new product, the passage of time benefits the HE5XX. Much like the reworked HE4XX (2020), the 5XX benefit from changes in the implementation of magnet structure and a much thinner diaphragm that have trickled down from the Susvara and HEK series. These allow the newer drivers to catch much better nuance in recordings.

The HE5XX have some great things they bring to the table. You get the lower distortion of the planar design which like electostats can give you an uncanny “you are there” esperience. Further, the 5XX have a great sense of dynamics that remind me of the dynamics in the Focal Elex or Clear. The HE5XX are tuned mostly neutral with a smidge of extra bass. This tuning is one that Hifiman uses on a lot of their phones even their most expensive. There is good separation, instrument location and a decent stereo image.

Where the more expensive Hifiman phones and the Focal Clears exceed the 5XX is in detail retrieval. The 5XX aren’t the detail monsters that the HE1000SE and Susvara (or even the Arya) are. But since these other phones run from $1599 to $6000 MSRP it’s not a fair comparison. What you get in the 5XX is a solid musical image which is coherent and keeps, nay demands your attention.

Frequency Response:

Bass: The bass is present and there and is proportional to the song you’re listening to. A listen to “Better Things” by Massive Attack has bass and excellent female vocals, even if these aren’t phones that give you the extra heavy bass EDM, and Triphop users crave. (Usually to achieve the preferred sound for listening to these types of music the bass is boosted either through headphone choice of EQ.)

That’s not to say the bass is lacking. A listen to Patricia Barber’s cover of the iconic Doors song “Light My Fire” has excellent bass and the natural sound of the acoustic bass and the warm alto of Ms. Barber’s voice come through clearly. It’s like being in a smoky jazz club, and there is no shortage of the required bass to bring this warm performance to life.

Midrange: Midrange sounds distinctive and there is no bleed-through from the bass. The Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” is a great test of vocals and the 5XX display it wonderfully.

Treble: Treble is fully present mostly without sibilance. There are a couple of “torture tracks” I play to see how the top end sounds. One is Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive”. There is lots of treble in this song which is excellently recorded and the 5XX come through with no sibilance or sharpness.

The second track is the Yes song, “Roundabout”. (It’s important you listen to the right version of this song. The remix from 2008 has too much top energy to the detriment of other parts of the song.) Listening to the much superior 2003 Remix of Yes’ album Fragile shows a full frequency response where the top end holds its own, although there was top end sharpness I didn't notice with the Thomas Dolby song above..

Final thoughts:

The HE5XX are surprisingly addictive to wear with a great overall tuning that makes you want to continue to listen to them. They are very musical sounding headphones. As I listen to them while writing this they are giving me much aural pleasure. Talking Heads “Psychokiller” and the Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” sound wonderful on the 5XX.

The 5XX are priced well for what you get. Personally, I prefer this phone to the Drop+Sennheiser 6XX. Although the 6XX is a very seminal reference level phone, I find myself drawn to the lively presentation as the 5XX.

If you are a basshead, then in this price point I have to recommend the Drop/Meze Classic Noir, which are exceptional in an unapologetically bassy and warm sound signature. I think the Meze Classic is a great phone to pair with the more neutral 5XX.

Overall, I think the HE5XX is a great buy, especially if you judge it only on what it brings to the table. It’s not an HE500, but it is exceptional in its own way.
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I sold my HE-4XX about a year ago because they were boring. The HE-5XX are not that.
5XX is more Grado 225e indeed. Do not want as main headphone - same goes for 4XX. 6XX is quintessential all-rounder. 4XX/6XX both sound sleepy from a cellphone, where 5XX does not. 4XX is the budget planar sampler. 5XX is a sidegrade. 6XX is safer bet with potential for greatness.
@Philimon Could you share the link for the mod?