Build & Ergonomics
The finalized take on HE560 cups is a matte-plastic-and-veneer finish, with the body of the cup being plastic much similar to other Hifiman cans, but a Macassar ebony wood veneer wrapped around as largely a design accent.
To my knowledge, this was largely a compromising decision made so that cup reliability over the long term will stay stable. Solid teak wood used for early HE560 units suffered some visual/matching, milling, and cracking issues despite teak being one of the hardier lumbers to work with.
From a purely artistic design standpoint, I do like the new cup look better than the old, which on top of vastly improved long-term reliability makes it a no-brainer for me; but of course, solid wood does have its allure.
Earpads / headband
The new headband assembly is, let’s just say, one of the most ergonomic in the headphone market currently, which for a utilitarian user would more than trade off for its peculiar look when worn on the head. For those who may find their headband clamping a bit much, just use some gentle and firm pressure and flex/hold the two 90-degree bends of the spring steel band, and clamp is easily attenuated that way.
There are two variations of the new hybrid velour/pleather earpads that Hifiman is making available along HE560; the Focus earpads and the Focus-A earpads. Both are fully-sealing earpads, with a slight (15 degrees or so) angling, soft velour for the flat portion and pleather for the outside cylindrical portion. The core difference between these two earpad variations is the inner-facing lining material; whereas Focus pads use a perforated pleather inner ring, Focus-A pads use a sloped permeable mesh fabric. Focus pads are also sewn more neatly than Focus-A pads. By default HE560s will ship with the Focus pads, but those looking for a less energetic and more balanced sound signature may prefer the Focus-A pads. Comfort-wise both are stellar as long as you don’t mind your ears grazing the inner lining of the earpads sometimes, as the earpad openings are not exceptionally huge; the velour fabric is much less itchy than prior Hifiman velour pads’, the foam used in these pads are MUCH softer than prior Hifiman earpads, and the angling conforms more naturally to the head allowing for better pressure distribution.
The cable that comes with HE560 is a 2 metre ‘crystalline’ copper / silver composite cable with black fabric sleeving and 1/4-inch plug. Some might find it too short if they like to prance about when wearing the cans. Stationary desktop users won’t have a problem with the length. The fabric sleeving is a welcoming change in terms of looks and feel compared to rubber or plastic sleeving of most of previous stock Hifiman cables.
It’s more flexible than both the Canare cables that HE400s come with, and the white SPC cables that HE500s have; cable diametre is slightly thinner than Canare cable.
Sound Quality & Characteristics
***The “treble / midrange / bass” subsections will cover the bulk of my sonic analyses; other subsections will either reiterate or raise more miscellaneous points toward those specific traits.
While the midrange and bass have some back-and-forth in terms of their performance relative to contenders, HE560’s treble is sublime.
Treble is always tough to get right, you need the correct frequency response, extension, decay, but also resolution / detail extraction (which correlates to but isn’t exactly represented by current methods of measurement); subjectively the ideal treble needs to extend into the nether regions without tizziness, be grainless, smooth, with minimal sibilance yet never recessed, and with fast enough transients to deliver treble texture in a convincing manner.
And out of all the headphones I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, only HE560, Code-X, and well-driven HD800s fully achieve that degree of treble finesse. The test prototype HE560s came close but still had some grain to its treble that stuck out like a sore thumb; the finalized production HE560s squelched that issue.
For me, HE560’s midrange is a complex creature to describe. Right off the bat though, two traits that are very apparent are that their midrange is highly transparent, and just as open-sounding, as these are innate traits of the midrange signature that I find to be constants. Harmonic distortions in the midrange for HE560s are extraordinarily low from measurements that are posted thus far, which coincides with the subjective transparency.
The intrigue, however, lies in its tonality; HE560s can sound neutral, bright, organic, dry, thin, dynamic to different people. Frequency response-wise, HE560 has a slight recession around 2kHz and rise around 5kHz, which by definition gives them attack/edge yet still somewhat laid back, and that is what I observe in music too.
Further complexity is set in in that HE560’s midrange reacts to different earpads substantially. Hifiman’s most up-to-date earpads, the Focus hybrid velour/pleather pads, give HE560s a dynamic, slightly aggressive midrange signature with more upfront soundstaging. The alternative hybrid pads, the Focus-A pads, give it a more balanced, nuanced signature with more ‘roomy’ soundstaging. Of course, I had to try my Jergpads on production HE560s, which rendered a sound signature that was as aggressive as Focus pads, but also more forward-sounding, with a more laid-back treble (i.e. more mids-heavy balance); it’s different enough of a presentation from the hybrid pads that I may just swap between these and the Focus-A pads (which I prefer over the Focus pads).
Regardless of tonal balance, HE560’s mids are fast, really fast. There is little to no bloom, and midrange detail is rendered with startling realism. Some might call that a deficiency in musicality; I beg to differ, if it sounds strikingly realistic and convincing, to me that is musical, just in a different way than the typical “romantic, lush, etc” characteristics of sound signatures branded as being musical.
Regrilling mod done on HE560s gives it one extra nudge toward an extremely open sound signature. And here comes a surprising observation: for those who own Jergpads from ventures with older Hifiman headphones, you can make HE560s almost speaker-like in openness via backvented Jergpads with the dust screens completely removed (HE560s have internal dust screens built into the face-facing sides of the drivers). This is in contrast to the room-like open quality of the hybrid pads.
The word I would use to describe HE560’s bass is “disciplined”. It is a very technically capable bass, with excellent extension, tightness / low distortion, quickness, and lack of colouration; at the same time, it is never out of line in terms of volume relative to midrange or treble, always presenting itself in adequate quantity when the music calls for it.
That does mean that true bassheads may need to look elsewhere, because the low-end tilt simply isn’t here with HE560. But for those who seek bass with utmost finesse, and which is cohesive with the rest of the frequency band, these will not disappoint.
On the modding side of things, I have only very recently found something very interesting, that being that (surprise surprise) Jergpads seem to introduce a slight FR tilt toward bass/lower mids, which noticeably increases bassiness in the sound signature, at the expense of some bass tightness. Personally I found this quite satisfying actually, and may listen in this pad setup for some time to really decide if it’s something I’d endorse as a definitive improvement or not.
Again, these are as good as any headphones I’ve heard in the clarity/transparency front. Vocals and instruments are always in full focus with very fast and convincingly realistic decay. Separation is not just clearly defined, but each source of sound has its own appropriate projected volume in space. The ability for HE560s to render treble with tangible texture is frequently startling to me.
Medium-sized with the stock configuration; partly due to the frequency response having an upfront aggressive signature. With regrilling mod and optionally some pad swapping, one may suddenly find the soundstage expanding at will depending on the nature of the recording.
HE560’s timbre is almost, almost completely spot on. In my personal opinion, the slight emphasis around 5kHz is the only thing holding back HE560’s timbre from completely believable, especially coupled with the strong transparency. I have not yet played around with equalization, but some may find that a viable option to perfect HE560s’ timbre.
I feel that the finalized production HE560 is the real deal, reliability issues are resolved, sonically they are competent in all fields and absolutely brilliant in many, and these no longer carry the stigma with modern planar magnetic headphones being unwieldy space helmets.
There are still minor flaws in HE560’s sound which I noted in this writeup, which may be remediable in a variety of possible methods of course, and some of them are subjective to my tastes specifically.
On a personal note, I will have fun figuring out mods to try to milk out as much performance as possible in the foreseeable future too.