Once again, a big thank you to Audio Sanctuary (based in New Malden, London) for lending me this demo unit of the HE-1000 V1
Hifiman and I have come quite a way. It was their HE400i that was my first ever planar magnetic headphone. I had gotten a great deal, for the time, on it from Taobao and was over the moon to see what the fuss was about regarding planar tech. While I liked it, I found their classic HE-500 more to my liking. Continuing my tradition with reviewing phased out Hifiman products, I’m tackling their former flagship today – the HE1000 version 1.
Fit – Over Ear
Jack Plug – 3.5mm
Transducer Type – Planar Magnetic
Frequency Response – 8Hz – 65KHz
Impedance – 35+/-3 Ohms
Sensitivity – 90dB
Maximum Power Handling – 6W
Weight – 16.9 Oz/480g/1.06 lb
Build Quality, Comfort & Features
I’m on the fence about the use of veneer on the cups. On one hand, I am told it is to prevent cracking issues which might come about with using hardwood - but on the other hand it was released as a $3000 headphone. My bias is showing here, but this doesn’t quite lend to a premium look and Hifiman would have probably been better off going for another finish. That being said, I do kind of understand what they were going for with the headphones overall – a kind of classic look with a very modern twist with the earcup shape and drivers.
The build itself felt sturdy enough to me as the frame is made of stainless steel and feels quite durable. The earcup size is absolutely huge, easily the most space I’ve had for my ears in a full-sized headphone to date. It isn’t any sort of width that especially accomplishes this either, but the tallness of it all. This adds to the HE1000 being quite a comfortable headphone, easily wearable for long listening sessions. It weighs 480g but this weight is distributed quite evenly through the floating head strap, avoiding any issues that I found on the stock Audeze LCD-2.
The HE1000 uses 2.5mm connectors, similar to the later production HE400i and HE560 models further down the line. While not my favourite connectors, I greatly prefer them to the older SMC variants that they, thankfully, abandoned with time.
This is probably the first time I’ve reviewed a planar magnetic headphone where its presentation was a blatant alternative to my dynamic driver offerings. The most apparent difference is the bass on this. It reminds me of my once-owned Hifiman HE500 in a sense that it doesn’t seem hiked in the mid-bass region, but is rather quite linear and well extended. It’s also very clean and full sounding when the music calls for it, but in no way intrudes when it is not wanted. I would imagine that absolute bassheads might find the HE1000’s bass presentation to be a bit light, along with lacking slam and impact – but I find it far more than sufficient for all-rounder listening. While bass impact might be on the softer side, it retains good speed and decay rate.
Similarly, I didn’t find the lower midrange to be either too elevated or recessed. Its transition from the bass is natural without any overpowering or bleed. This area is what can make or break some headphones for me, as messing it up can render the whole experience a bit muddy – no such complaint with the HE1000. Rock, metal and vocal music are some of the genres I really enjoyed listening to on this headphone, lending to its ability to be a stellar all-rounder. I found the midrange itself to be enjoyably smooth and well-layered.
The detail-retrieval prowess of this headphone, while not entirely lacking, is still muted compared to several other headphones that can be obtained for its price – and well below in the case of the Sennheiser HD800/HD800S. While track separation is pretty good, texture and detail is a bit masked – instead offering a smoothed experience. That being said, there is some remarkable body in the midrange that really shows itself with vocals both male and female. Also, this is a very forgiving headphone – perhaps more than any other I’ve reviewed this year. Bad productions, poor masterings and shrill and harsh recordings are all doused in the blanket that is the HE1000’s presentation – which may be very much to your liking or a characteristic you will decry as incompatible with the concept of high fidelity.
On top of that, the staging is decently wide while possessing good depth to it – and a “tall” sound that might be related to the sheer size of the cups and drivers. There’s a slight “larger-than-life” sound compared to other headphones.
Treble performance is a bit of a mixed bag on the HE1000. I don’t really get the string texture and air that I find somewhat necessary when listening to the high string sections in orchestral music, or the bite of a saxophone in jazz music. Both instances and genres feel a bit smoothed and muted in their ability to sound truly lifelike. However, I again must commend this headphone for its pairing with rock and metal music – and cymbals, while slightly muted, still retain their crisp attributes in the percussion section of these genres.
That being said, I couldn’t shake the feeling of the treble being a bit tizzy at some points. What I mean by this is that, while not exceptionally problematic or painful, there sometimes existed too much energy along with the fact that it was thin and artificially hard sounding at some points. I’ll chalk this up to the driver having a slightly dry and brittle presentation in this area, not a deal-breaker for me but a noticeable difference from my dynamic-driver offerings.
This headphone’s ability to scale was quite a bit less, in the detail retrieval department, than my dynamic driver headphones. Rather than be infused by my most detail-oriented tubes on the Dragon Inspire IHA-1, I found it to have similar performance in this regard on the Audio-GD NFB-28. Most importantly, the latter was able to supply enough juice to flesh out the bass heft and performance – making it both full-sounding and nimble on its feet.
The difference in bass performance alone makes this a headphone that I would rather pair with a decently strong solid-state amplifier. While it wasn’t anywhere near horrible on the tube amplifier, it was a noticeable upgrade in this region without losing too much of the tube benefits. Again, this seems to scale more with current/wattage rather than tubes.
This is not an especially sensitive headphone and definitely needs an amplifier, if the above didn’t make that absolutely clear.
Comparison to the Focal Utopia
Let’s get this out of the way, the HE1000 does not nearly match the Utopia in detail retrieval, dynamics, resolution, soundstage depth, timbre and impactfulness. The Focal flagship is also better paired with tubes for further scaling and is a headphone both revealing of source gear and source material. There, honestly, isn’t a situation that I can think of (for myself) where I would pick the HE1000 over the Utopia if I had to buy only one.
That being said, I do recognise the appeal the HE1000 clearly may have over the Utopia for others who don’t share my tastes. The Utopia can be too harsh for some, its stubbornness in presenting high detail and dynamics may fatigue some and cause them to call it overly dramatic. It also is brighter than the HE1000, and lacks its forgiving nature – skewering eardrums on poorly mastered and recorded music.
The HE1000 is a smoother experience, one lacking in many ways in this head-to-head but still with merit due to its unique sound signature.
It’s hard to hate on the disadvantages of this headphone really. Sure, it falls into a similar trap that many planar offerings do with the slightly artificial sound in the treble – but it really is one of the most non-fatiguing and tonally rich headphones that I’ve heard to date. I even, for now, prefer it to the Hifiman Susvara – which I thought had a distinct peak in the treble that I found hard to fathom.
While it could very well be someone’s all-rounder, I personally could see this as being a nice complement to my Focal Utopia. Its softer characteristic is sometimes needed, and its forgiving nature is sometimes appreciated. It is such a musical headphone honestly and, while noting its flaws, I couldn’t even feel especially critical. It’s a very cohesive listening experience that I’d honestly recommend to anyone to try at least. In a way, it’s more inoffensive than the Utopia, which (despite its great attributes) may seem too dramatic for some in its presentation. The HE1000 prefers to toe the line between laid back and energetic, and is somehow engaging for it.