Cons - harsh treble (some recordings), silver stock cable, heavy,, build quality, hard to drive
Marantz CD5003 > Audio-gd NFB-2 > Hifiman EF5
I have had these for at least a year, so its been fully burned
I also have the K701, HD580, AD1000PRM, M50
Browsing through Head-fi's list of over-ear headphones in the head gear section, i am surprised that theres not a lot of reviews on this beauty and also on its ranking (81st?? man..), so here its goes..
Honestly, Hifiman couldve done better like they did with the LE version (nice wooden case). The headphone came in a big, somewhat cheap-feeling black box with foams in it. Not appropriate for something in this price range and it doesnt suit the wooden housing at all. Come on Hifiman, you could have done WAY better with the packaging. Hifiman also included some spare connectors should you decide to make a DIY cable.
Above average. I mean 600 bucks is not cheap, and after a couple of months, the somewhat-flimsy build quality started showing its flaws. First, the connectors on the cable started to show some rust. Then theres the metal piece connecting the headband and the housing. It wasnt crafted as nicely as the wood housing and needs some finishing touch because i feel the metalworks is not of high quality. I do like the classy wooden design of the headphones very much though.
The pads themself are decent, not too hard and not too soft. Theres much clamping force but again, comfort is subjective. In my opinion, the comfort aspect of the HE-5 is pretty good and it is comfortable to wear for extended periods. However, some people may have issues with the weight. It is by far, the heaviest headphone in my collection.
On to the sound..
This is where the HE-5 really shines. They are very clear sounding and they reveal a lot from your recordings. I even find it more revealing than the K701. My own personal taste for sound signatures, i prefer neutrality, but i don't mind any colorations on headphones. Now im not saying that they are colored but as we all know, the HE-5 emphasizes heavily on the treble.
Right out of the box, it didnt really impress me as much as i thought and it is very veryy bright. It does benefit from alot of burning process, say at least 100 hours.
Highs are very clear but it tends to sound harsh with some recordings but i still find it pleasing to my ears. Generally, it just sounds bright (maybe a bit brighter than grados) and i feel like the drivers attack your ear drums and nerves directly. It is very aggressive and fast, and It makes a great rock headphone. The detail level is amazing and they reveal a lot from the music.
Mids are not as focused and is a bit laid back due to the treble-happy nature of the headphones. The mids on this headphone is smooth, but again, vocals may sound sibilant due to the treble factor on the HE-5. It sounded full and I also like it with jazz and vocal recordings.
Bass is another area where the HE-5 shines. The bass has very good impact and quantity. It is not boomy and has (in my opinion) just the right amount of decay. Much of the pace and speed of the headphone is also defined by the bass. The headphone scores well in terms of PRaT.
Overall they are very natural sounding and very musical. With the right type of recording, they will sing and entertain you very much. However, we all have different tastes and preferences and what i said above is just my opinion. Some will find the headphone fatiguing and overly bright. I also find it to be versatile with a lot of genres.
Two things that need to be considered before purchasing them are the treble factor and the drivability of the headphone. A powerful amp like Hifimans own EF5 is needed to drive the HE5 to its full potential. So you should consider investing at least another $300 for an amp.
Pros - Incredibly natural presentation, amazing phones with proper synergy (component matching), easy to replace cables
Cons - Abysmal build quality (wood cracking), uncomfortable design, relatively heavy, barebone packaging, no manual, harsh treble (read more), hard to amp
Nuforce uDac > EF-5 > HE-5
uDac > Sennheiser HD 555 (foam modded, with thousands of hours of burn in)
Out of the box, HE-5s sound abysmal compared to my HD555s through uDac. That came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I expected them to sound better even without burn in. I appreciated a drastic improvement after a few hundred hours of white noise, pink noise, and sine wave sweeps. However, since I was listening throughout the entire period intermittently, it might just be that I was getting more accustomed to the sound of an orthodynamic headphone, or a combination thereof.
When these headphones work properly, they seem to be heavenly. Incredibly natural presentation and fidelity is the main strength of these phones. However, sadly, these phones are riddled with weaknesses. I've barely had time to explore the strengths and nature of these headphones thanks to debilitating build quality courtesy of Head Direct.
Out of the very simple box (which contained no manual or instructions, just the headphones & a few replacement cable connects screws), the headphones were damaged. The top left wooden headscrew had chips missing, and the bottom right hole for the cable connector had a hairline crack running through the center. Sadly, I did not think much of it until after my 30 day period for a refund had run out and I had read posts on the forums detailing some customers who had to replace their HE-5s a multitude of times in the course of under a year due to wood cracking alone. Living in Canada means that sending these in for repair would cost just under $100 and at least two weeks of downtime, (or $50 and 3 months of downtime). For now, it appears to be cosmetic. While I wouldn't return an HE-5 merely for cosmetic reasons, I am definitely worried about the stability of my phones as a whole because of the severity of wood cracking for most customers. I'm also reluctant to spend $100 in the process because I suspect that the wood cracking could be caused or aggravated in the process of transit to and fro the long distance.
So far however, I have not used my HE-5 for a few weeks for more than 20 minutes (read on to see why). I've coddled it and babied it, and the wood cracking seems to be benign for now. However, if it ever got beyond the point of cosmetic and actually affected performance, I'd want a refund, regardless of if the date is over. That sort of build quality on high-fidelity equipment is utterly unacceptable.
Just yesterday I went to meet another HeadFier to attempt to help him verify if his HE-5 had strange treble. We concluded that his had a wider and more pleasing soundstage, while mine had a more amiable treble. The colouration of the wood between the two was also distinctly different (his was darker, as opposed to my lighter wood), and his had less if any wood cracking (at least none that he noticed in his short period of ownership - buying it from another HeadFier). His model was from December 2009, mine in March 18th, 2010. The difference between the two is rather unreassuring to say the least. Head Direct has serious quality control issues to let this be. It is possible there were two different types of wood were used, quantifying the differences we heard.
Another unfortunate aspect was my EF-5 amplifier. The power supply was faulty out of the box (I set it at 18V / 115V before I plugged it in). My EF-5 would die out randomly when the dial was past 40-50% (more frequently the higher it went) requiring me to restart the system. 3 weeks after arrival, it finally died completely, forcing me to return it for repairs. I am currently unable to use my HE-5s which I had only just finished burning in and have barely been able to see the true sound signature of them.
From what I recall, about 2 weeks after receiving the combo (when the HE-5 was about done burning in), I really, really loved the sound. However, yesterday, auditioning and A/Bing my HE-5 with the other HeadFier's EF-5 + his Dac and my uDac, I was really quite unimpressed. Maybe it was the less than stellar conditions of the room (though it was relatively quiet, HE-5s provide 0 isolation and leak like hell). He also agreed that my HD 555s sounded about as good, if not better at some parts than his HE-5, which was sparkly in treble that my HD 555s did just fine. Admittedly, the HD 555s were foam modded and had thousands of hours of burn in, but the HE-5 should be in a completely different league.
Recently, I've been just listening to my HD 555s and I've preferred that to what I heard at the audition yesterday with the HE-5s. The HD 555s were put in the same situation, and I think they did just fine.
When I get my EF-5s, hopefully I can get back to giving my HE-5s some love that it deserves. I think that I've been criticizing it too harshly and not seeing its positives. It may work better with a fully working EF-5 and I'll also be trying the Musical Fidelity V-Dac to go with it. The star ratings could improve significantly if the wood cracking stays as cosmetic for the years to come, and the sound opens up even more as I use my HE-5s more, and I grow more accustomed something that doesn't sound like my regular dynamics. Unfortunately, I don't know if I can properly deal with side clamping pressure and overall lack of comfort - it hasn't really improved since I first bought it. Only time will tell - probably 2 more months before I receive the repaired EF-5 for more testing. If I only see more debacles come out as a result, I'll be definitely in the market for a different setup, perhaps HD 650s, Lambda Nova Signatures, JHxx Pros, etc.
As a final note, I almost must say that Head Direct & Mr. Fang Bian (Fang1 Bian4, Mr. Convenient in Chinese) has been very inconsistent in their dealings with me. They ignore about half of my PMs & emails. They simply redirect me to emailing them on their MSN contact (why do they have it, then?) which goes back to the ignore cycle. However, dealing with them by phone seems to be fine. Others have had much better experiences dealing with them, and this seems to be a drastic outlier, but hey, it happens, right?
Sound Signature - needs more testing
Build Quality - Terrible - wood cracking, alternating quality between different headphones of the same model. In comparison to HD 555s, I've used them as a portable and at home for thousands of hours, put them through hell, literally smashed them dozens of times, and exposed them to hundreds of hours of moderate to excessive rain, and even bent the gold plated connector. They still work as good as new. Oh, and it also blocked a pile of bird excess from hitting my head
Comfort - subpar, too much side clamping force (not like a vise but definitely gets very annoying very quickly. It is pretty much impossible for me to listen to a full album on these headphones, thank god for shuffle playlist), top (headband) isn't cushioned, just overall 'meh'. HD 555s are vastly superior in this regard.
Isolation - none at all, blocks out nothing, lets anything in. Very similar to speakers in this regard. Definitely bleeds more than HD 555s, and blocks less (even though they are both open circumaurals).
Extra Features - very bland packaging and manuals and stuff, presumably to save money (no manual or any text at all, some replacement screws [for the cable] are all that is included). Not that it is hard to figure out what to do, but it is a nice touch, and the Senns win again.
I really sound like a sullen old man suffering from buyer's remorse of the FOTM, don't I?
Edit: I may have to adjust the audio quality ratings - I really may have tricked my mind to adjust to the sound rather than objectively improved the overall SQ with burn in. I would agree with this post:
I also must say my comfort and design ratings are very subjective - as stated before, I seem to have received an outlier product that is especially abhorrent. However, do not expect the 'average' HE-5 to be much better. I've seen other HE-5s without wood cracking (the one I A/B'd didn't seem to have any) and the owner personally didn't have comfort issues to the point that I did. Just food for thought.
Pros - Excellent sound quality, high details, very fast, great mids and comfortable.
Cons - Production variations / complications and loose cable connections.
Fang from Head-Direct has made a real winner here, although not perfect.
Excellent packaging off the bat with the box including extra sets of cable connectors, in case you DIYers want to make your own cable. The brown leather headphone is quite comfortable as the bottom is padded with a thin layer of memory foam type material. The pads are nice, firm and covered in a black velour fabric and putting the finishing touches on the comfort levels, you have the adjustable cups.
The sound quality is very clear and delivers impressive levels of details. The reproduction is slightly warm and has a nice full sound. Bass has a great response for an open headphone, being nice and punchy, and keeping with the rest of the headphone, quite clean. Mids are forward, clear and thanks to that touch of warmth it produces, you get a lovely full-bodied sound that makes acoustic sound vividly real and really complement almost any stringed instrument be it guitar, violin or kora.
Highs are a little forward, which can be a hit or a miss for some folks depending on preference (i.e. preferences in laid back reproduction or forward rockin') and for some may cause some fatigue for extended listening.
A large issue with the HE-5s being production variations. Although some apparently not affected, there have been issues with sibilance (this has been compared and confirmed between Head-Fiers with one sibilant model and one normal model) as well as wood cracking. Fang from Head-Direct was great with helping those afflicted by the defects by replacing their models with new ones. The second and later batches of HE-5s were given a star-shaped dampening between the pads and drivers, this came very quickly after the first batch before many complaints were filed about sibilance, so hard to say if that was a contributing factor or not.
The connectors have been an issue for some of us as their connection rarely seems solid. Even with the connector firmly tightened in place, a quick brush from a shoulder or shirt collar causes a quick short in sound to the touched channel. Annoying, but not a frequent issue.
The HE-5 is a wonderful headphone with lovely combination of modern and classic aesthetics and it's a shame to see the model be replaced so quickly (see HE-5LE) as I'm sure there will be some folks who prefer the sound of the current model to the new model. The issues may sound annoying on paper, but are easy enough to live with if you're listening in a stationary position and even if not, they sound is well worth the trouble for some.
As there was only a limited quantity made and HiFiMAN has a bright future ahead of them, it may be worth picking up a pair of these used as soon as you can before they disappear and become a fabled collector's item.
Fang has introduced a new model of the HE headphone series that is another orthodynamic headphone with an identical overall build to the HE-5, but with black plastic enclosure, buttons and a black leather headband. The driver has changed, so the sound will be different than the HE-5's.