Pros: - One of the best sounding headphones one can get for less than $500
- Bright but not peaky, generally well balanced headphone
- Lightweight for a planar.
Cons: - Quality control problems. I did not count these in to the overall score, but the problems in particular with Adorama versions are alarming.
- Extra cable would have been nice, since the only one has a 6.35mm connector
- Might be too bright for some people
- Midrange can sound too thin depending on listeners preferences
- Requires decent amplification
- "Adorama Orange" looks tacky
- No matter how good these are, Sundara is better and cost about the same
Hifiman HE560 (Adorama versions)
Unit I have here was bought used. To my knowledge it is Adorama version of HE560. V3 to be exact. According to Hifiman the drivers are the same as on original HE560 so to some extent this review should apply on other versions too. I think Adorama HE560 was $199 for a short period off time, more common price was a bit higher. As I write this both V2 and V3 are $899 on Adorama. Even if the discount prices were only temporary it did create seconhand market in which HE560 can be easily acquired for $200.
Build quality and comfort:
If you have ever handled Hifiman Sundara, you know what is necessary to know about build quality off Adorama HE560. I red somewhere that V3 has more extension room on the headband than V2. I have not tried measuring the two but on my head Sundara and V3 behave the same way. Both are quite comfortable. I can adjust them to proper size without a problem. They clamp quite tight and some people might have problems with it. I don't mind the clamp but these definately don't vanish on my head. You know you are wearing headphones. Weight is nicely distributed and for a planar they're not heavy. I don't have experience with original HE560 but to my head both HE400i and HE560 V3 are equally comfortable. So the changes in design are more about durability than added comfort.
Design itself feels cheap. Sundara style headband is nice but the cups don't look like something you would want on a $899 headphone. That orange color is a matter of taste but I find it gaudy. Attach a mic and a flashing led and these look more like $50 gaming headset than a serious audiophile headphone. Funny enough I came across I-rocks headsets that I suppose are rebranded Hifiman's. They look like this:
Cable is dual entry connected with 3.5mm plugs with 6,35mm plug at the amplifier end. I wish they had kept 2.5mm connectors so one could use old hifiman cables but with Sundara also having 3.5mm connectors it makes sense.
When talking about build quality on most Hifiman headphones you can't really do it without mentioning quality control. Reason why prices on Adorama HE560 succumbed so low was that the quality control was non-existent. Many units had dead drivers on arrival and a lot broke in first few weeks. If prices for Adorama HE560 come down again I would advise to think twice. Even though there is warranty you might just get another faulty unit in return. Many of us don't have the time and nerves for that cycle of returns. I't might be better to save a few bucks and buy a used unit with some hours on it. It seems that faulty drivers die quite soon so an unit that has been previously used quite a bit is more likely to withstand long term use.
I encourage to do a proper research before investing on HE560 because of the quality control problems. I'm not an expert on these matters but there is a lot off information available.
HE560 frequency response. Measured with minidsp H.E.A.R.S.
I find HE560 to be a bit bright sounding headphone. Treble is not particularly peaky or sibilant. However I must admit that I prefer darker sounding headphones, so getting used to HE560 signature after Audeze LCD-3 took a while. Treble emphasis seems to be at it highest at 4khz and 10khz. I'm not that sensitive to those areas and in my experience emphasis on 7-9khz region is worse as it can introduce quite a bit of sibilance. So like said, despite the bright tonality HE560 is not a sibilant headphone and I don't find them fatiguing to listen. I much prefer this approach to the one provided by another planar, Brainwavz Alara. Alara was just way too dark but not in a good way like Audeze headphones or Audioquest Nighthawk's.
Midrange on HE560 is pretty much flawless. I'd say they sound bit too ”dry” and I do prefer something with more body to the sound but HE560 does deliver a coherent sound whatever music I'm listening to. I prefer mids on iBasso SR1 but iBasso does have exceptionally nice midrange. There is no sibilance(HD700), shoutiness(DT1990) or noteworthy grain(ath-R70x) to the sound.
HE560 is not as detailed nor does it have the soundstage of Sennheiser HD800 but for fraction of the price it does get pretty darn close. It is still a step behind HD800 when thinking about how well defined different sound sources are. HD800 sounds faster, more resolving and has a darker background from which the music appears. I'm bad at describing this kind of stuff but major difference between HD800 midrange presenation and HE560 is the ability to deliver the virtual space for music. HD800 is just more transparent, there is very little between me and the music. HE560 is more traditional ”looking into the music” with headphones instead of really feeling you are in the, in the audience. However just the fact HE560 can be compared to HD800 speaks volumes. Of course HE560 used to cost a lot more but now that it is available for $300 it is heck of a bargain. Only thing diminishing the bargain factor is ironically Hifiman Sundara. I find Sundara to be a direct upgrade over HE560. Take everything I've said about HE560 and add 5% of quality and you have Sundara's.
Here is HE560 measured with Sundara's. Volume was not perfectly matched but you get the idea.
Talking about Sundara's there is one are I find HE560 outperforming it's successor(OK, technically Sundara is HE400i successor). Bass on HE560 is better extended, more present and in other aspects equal to my ears compared to Sundara. It would be fun to experiment how much of the difference comes from different earpads and how much is caused by the Sundara's new lighter diaphgram. Bass on HE560 is not on par with marvelous bass on Brainwavz Alara but among other affordable planars it is top notch. Out of dynamics I enjoy bass on iBasso SR1 more because it has such a kick to it but when talking about sheer speed and ability hande complex bass sequences HE560 and Alara are the best I've heard for the price.
HE560 vs Alara:
Few words about amping:
HE560 is not very difficult to drive. Of course it one should not try to pair it with a smartphone. Which you can't of course because of the 6.35mm plug. Chord Mojo does a decent job driving them but my beefier desktop amps (SPL phonitor, Gustard H10, Burson Soloist) do a better job. With Sundara the difference is still there but it is not as big. My favorite amp for HE560 is the cheapest one; first generation Schiit Vali. I feel that even though Vali is a tube hybrid not a full tube amp, it does clean the edges out a bit and make HE560 more enjoyable to listen. If someone purchases HE560 for $250 and Vali+Modi combo for $250 it is a $500 setup that is near impossible to beat.
HE560 has technicalities that were on par with many flagship headphones just five years ago. Now that it has been made available by Adorama for fraction of it's original cost, it is one of the best deals in the headphone game. On the downside there is the increased lack of quality control. This is something to take seriously. I won't let the quality control affect the final rating of this headphone. If I did I'd propably rate these 1/5 and that would not be fair either. If you are not dead set on needing the little extra bass that HE560 has over Sundara I'd advice to wait for a discount and get Sundaras for $350.
Pros: Great Sounding Headphone
Linear Bass response
Neutral/Bright sound signature
Lightweight (for Planars)
Cons: Build Quality of Yokes
Treble Peak may bother some people
The Hifiman HE560 has been around for a few years now, and I figure I should give a proper review to one of my favorite headphones. Oh shoot, spoiler alert, this review will be a recommended rating!
Hifiman was one of the first headphone companies to start the recent Planar Magnetic driver wave that has grown in popularity in recent years, along with Audeze, and created a market of headphones that have spectacularly low distortion levels and linear bass response, something that is very challenging to do on a normal dynamic driver in headphones.
This planar magnetic technology has been around for a very long time with audio names like Magnepan using it in their speakers for many decades now. Yamaha (Orthodynamic series) and Fostex (Regular Phase) have had several planar magnetic headphones from over 30 years ago with Fostex still in this market with their popular RP series.
So what makes the recent wave so much better? Well technology has improved and on top of that, these new headphones from Hifiman and Audeze are extremely attractive. They also cost quite a bit.
The original HE560 was introduced at $899 and still retails at that today. Through many aggressive sales, one can find it for as low as $299 brand new on sites like Adorama now. And I can say that this is a fantastic stellar deal.
The version I own is the V2 or V1.1 or something… The original version used SMC connectors. The version I have replaced those finicky connectors with 2.5mm connectors on each ear cup. There is a new version that recently came out that replaces the original headband with the Sundara headband which is an all-metal construction which improves build strength but has less freedom of movement.
Back to the one I own again – The headband is extremely comfortable. The notorious yokes swivel and and the cups can rotate, giving a very large amount of movement on your head. This allows the headphone to fit on any head comfortable.
So why do I call it notorious? Well, a recent batch of these yokes were very prone to cracking and breaking very quickly. Hifiman customer service has responded quite well and offered replacements very quickly each time though. And because of this issue, the new version using the all-metal headband was released.
The pads that come with the HE560 are just okay. They are faux leather and angled with a velour pad that goes against your face. The velour helps keep you cool and sweat-free for longer listening sessions, while the faux-leather helps keep the treble in check.
Now that said, I don’t like the original pad too much. I’ve since upgraded to the Dekoni Elite Hybrid Leather pad. It’s pretty much the same idea as the original: it’s angled, with a velour pad but made with a real leather pad and soft memory foam inside. The inside of the pad has perforated leather. Essentially, it’s a hybrid of all of Dekoni’s pad types. This pad is super comfy and soft, and I have no qualms about wearing it for hours.
The cables that came with my package were a 6 foot long XLR Balanced and 6 foot long ¼ inch stereo cable. The cables are very stiff and inflexible and generally annoying. I sold the balanced cable immediately, and the other cable has been relegated to the box which is in the garage behind other boxes in a corner.
Luckily the 2.5mm cable is very common and one can find replacement cables very easily. For example, NeoMusica makes a good cheap cable for under $20 that works perfectly fine for this headphone. I elected to make my own balanced XLR cable for this headphone and it was easy and works well.
Some people say the HE560 is bright and can be harsh. Others, like me, think this headphone is nearly perfectly neutral. Yes, its neutral-bright. There is a slight peak in the lower treble that can be harsh for treble-sensitive ears, but for me, I love this sound signature. It’s a very well-balanced signature, with some very slight recessed mids that some may call dry.
The bass response on this is nearly perfectly linear down to sub-bass levels. It’s got rumble and texture and is a good example of what planar bass is. If you are coming from a dynamic, you’ll miss some of the big impact and boom, but you will be rewarded with a super clean and smooth transition into the lower mids. Muddiness will never be an issue on these.
The upper-mids, again are slightly recessed, while the lower treble does peak up a bit which gives the headphone a lot of air and detail. This effect does give some people the sense that it sounds harsh.
Due to it’s low distortion numbers and generally true with all planars, they do respond well to EQ across the board.
The soundstage width is open and imaging is very good on these as well.
Overall, I really dig these headphones. There are some general concerns with the headphone build quality (when price is considered), but I actually think it is well built now that I have a functional headband. I actually am using a 3D-Printed Yoke, but my final supplied headband from Hifiman works fine as well as the metal Sundara headband.
Tonality has some small issues in the upper mids and lower treble, but it doesn’t affect me at all. I can listen to this headphone for hours at a time (and I have).
Included accessories are pretty poor though. So I would probably look into buying additional accessories with it if that matters to you.
Pros: Lightweight and comfortable.
- Very good bass extension, texture, detail. Outclasses dynamic headphone bass.
- Mids sound linear, male vocals sound good and no instruments here sound unnatural to me. Female vocals usually sound authentic too, though some harshness can occur in the worst case scenario at least with a Schiit Lyr 3.
Cons: - Treble is too forward, making it the focal point of the headphone. Treble performance is not bad but is not excellent, bordering on grainy at times.
- Unimpressive imaging for an open back headphone.
- Cheap build quality and materials, 2.5mm cable connectors that will wear out if used often.
- The Sundara sounds far better/more natural for the same price and is built better (not that saying it's built better means much, HiFiMan sets the build quality bar quite low).
The HiFiMan HE-560 is an open back planar magnetic headphone with a single sided magnet array. For more information about planar magnetic headphones, read Tyll's excellent article on the subject:
This is going to be a more concise review than my others, simply because I don't love this headphone so I don't feel compelled to write as much in this review. I will write as much as I feel is necessary to describe its sound and build quality, which is what matters. I bought it for $320 from Adorama, for that price I'd give it 4 stars. But for the typical price of $450-500 in Q2 2018, 3 stars seems about right. If you get it from Adorama, you won't get the case with it. Otherwise you will get what seems to be a nice case, but I can't speak for it. HiFiMan is nice enough to include two cables with the HE-560; a single ended 1/4" one and a balanced XLR cable.
- Breeze DU-U8 digital interface
- Chord Mojo DAC
- Schiit Lyr 3 amplifier with Raytheon VT-231 tube (was NOS when I bought it in 2018).
Build Quality and Comfort
The first thing that jumps out are the plastic yokes. Cheap, people have had them break. The inner headband is a synthetic material that seems fine, the pads are pleather with velour where it touches your ears. HiFiMan can't even use real leather on their $6,000 SUSVARA so of course they don't use it here.
The biggest problem though is the fragile 2.5mm cable connectors. So don't unplug your cable often at all, it will not handle repeated use very well.
Comfort is excellent however, thanks to the suspension headband design, large soft pads, light weight. It is highly adjustable and should fit most adults. But the build quality just supports stereotypes of Chinese made products. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Though I like how much the cups rotate.
The general sound signature of the HE-560 is a bright and somewhat forward one. Good extension in both directions, mostly linear but with a slightly forward treble response. Too bright for my taste, doesn't have the bass slam or awesome aggression of say the HE-6 to accompany such brightness which could make for a very "fun" listening experience for many listeners. Detail retrieval is nothing extraordinary nor is it weak by any means.
Very good extension that goes firmly below 20 Hz. Easily outclasses 99.9% of dynamic headphones here. Good texture, mostly linear sounding bass with no mid bass bloom or hump. A bit more bass slam than most dynamic headphones but not a major focus of this one at all. I prefer more full bodied bass than what the HE-560 provides.
I directly compared the HE-560 to two headphones: the ZMF Blackwood (also a planar, a heavily modded closed back Fostex T50RP MK3 in fact) and the Sennheiser HD 6XX. As expected, the bass completely outclasses the HD 6XX's in every way; deeper, better texture and detail, more impact. The ZMF Blackwood however beats the HE-560's bass in every way, again deeper but also more full bodied, and more impact. Sub-bass is the biggest improvement for the Blackwood.
The mids here sound linear, nothing really stands out more than anything else here and the bass doesn't overshadow anything since it's not a particularly bassy headphone. Good detail, doesn't sound thin in the mids at all which is one of the most important aspects of a headphone for me. No instrument sounds particularly unauthentic.
Vocals sound authentic for the most part, but female vocals can become a bit harsh/strident on the most demanding songs like Sledgehammer (Rihanna). That might be my Lyr 3's fault but the ZMF Blackwood and Ori for reference don't sound strident there. That harshness is actually worse on the HD 6XX.
Nothing in the mids is amazing, but aside from rare and mild harshness in the upper mids that the Lyr 3 probably exacerbated, there are no problems with the mids either to my ears.
The most prominent frequency region of the HE-560. It's not as bright as say the Beyerdynamic T90, but the treble is more prominent and will get the most of your attention, like it or not.
Thankfully, the treble is not terrible. It sounds like a fairly linear treble response to my ears. Using treble sweep tests, it reaches 19 KHz (might be equipment limited). The treble presentation is not smooth, perhaps even a touch grainy at times but again I never used the HE-560 with an excellent amplifier or top tier DAC, but then again, the system I used it with is a realistic one for a $500 headphone.
The forward nature of the HE-560 contributes to it being an overall forward sounding headphone, though the only thing in your face will be the treble. I really wonder why HiFiMan went for this sound signature (this is the only HiFiMan headphone with this sound signature).
It sounds open and airy, but lacks precision and the very noticeable dimensions of top tier open back headphones. Imaging is actually weaker and less precise than the closed ZMF Blackwood.
Focus vs Focus-A Pads:
I ordered Focus-A pads since I was anticipating the HE-560 sounding too bright based off my memory of it, having listened to it in the past (albeit in a noisy environment). The Focus-A pad is said to make the HE-560 sound more neutral/linear, move the treble back a bit.
The truth is, to my ears the Focus-A pads hardly sound any different than the stock ones. The pads are extremely similar and are crafted with the same materials. The only difference I hear is that yes, the treble is a teeny weeny bit less forward overall, but now slightly less linear sounding too. But the differences for both are very mild, and the treble sounds no more smooth nor grainy with either pad to me.
I love how the HiFiMan HE-500 sounds. For a long time, it was by far my favorite sub $1,000 headphone and I liked it more than flagships and past flagships like the Sennheiser HD 800, Audeze LCD-3F, and JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266.
The HE-560 is the HE-500's successor but not a worthy one. I never owned an HE-500 so can't give an accurate comparison, but the Sundara is the real HE-500 successor.
The Sundara is almost the opposite of the HE-560 with its more laid back character, a dip when the upper mids transition into the treble that doesn't cause recession like Audeze headphones, just moves the overall presentation back a bit as if you're in the audience opposed to being on the stage (similar to the HE1000). I don't prefer the laid back character of the Sundara in general, but to me it sounds considerably better than the HE-560's treble forwardness. The Sundara is more natural, images better and has a better defined sound stage. It also has metal yokes, but seems to have its own QC issues right now based on reception here on Head-Fi.