SPOILER - this one will be a little less critical. My rant is contained within the 1st review
So here comes my most complete review write-up yet:
Please let me start with a proper introduction this time
My name is Luke. I am 19 years old and am a student. I live in Europe or more precisely the Czech Republic A lot of time has passed since I have discovered this website and entered the world of headphones. Before that I didn't care much about sound. I listened to speakers of dubious quality, severely over-bassed and that was mostly what I cared for. In May last year, my friend bought himself the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones. When I listened to them, I thought they were awesome because apparently I had no idea about the qualities a headphone should have, other than bass. My only HPs back then [and still are, although rarely used] were the Sony XB-300. For those who don't know, "XB" stands for "Xtra Bass" and they sure were bassy. The other was the Turtle Beach PX-5, a gaming headset. I bought these in July, 2011 for 250 bucks. These were the polar opposites of both Beats and Sony. Bass light, but for gaming they were okay. After getting the Pro 900 I abandoned these and other than looking stylish they carried at least one other benefit with them, which turned to be quite useful in the future. What was it? Read on! The Beats were an improvement on direct comparison with the XB-300 but there was also a little bit of bias, because quitefrankly everybody wore them, celebrities mainly which mean they should be really good, right?
Well, I still hesitated a little, they were quite expensive but very stylish yet I wasn't entirely convinced about their qualities. This friend keep telling me that Beats are the best and that nothing can beat up. But I didn't buy into that. I made a bet with him that I can find a better HP, even more bassy and vastly superior in other aspects as well. This is when I have discovered this website. As luck had it, I was researching more information about those Beats and I managed to find a link [actually the lone link which actually criticized beats, every other website just praised them to death, including well respected sites as well] which read "Beats-why do they suck" which took me to this very website.. As this awoke some doubts inside me, I started looking for alternatives and found two - Ultrasone Pro 900 and Denon AH-D2000. But I was hesitating between these, each had it's pros and cons but in the end, the discontinuation of the D2000 made the choice for me. So I bought the Pro 900 for the retail price of 500 bucks. When I first listened to them, I was blown away by the sound. While high expectations had some part in this, in the end we [both me and even my friend] agreed that they beat theBeats hands down. But with time, I started to flaws with it. What flaws, you ask? There will be a little comparison with my current HP in the review of course! So my love for them turned to hate and this was around the time I wrote my first, very critical, review. If I were to write the same review again, I wouldn't bash them as much but I wanted to save you guys from the terrible burn-in process I went through. And after my previous experience I have concluded that it is better to be a little more critical than overestimating. This was the time when I have concluded that my preferences have shifted significantly. I no longer wanted that overbearing bass I found myself loving before. No, I wanted something neutral,balanced and natural. And again, I found myself initially struggling to decide - this time Hifiman HE-500 and Audez'e LCD-2 were the culprits behind this and later Hifiman HE-5LE was added to the mix. But then I discovered how helpful you could be. Many of you guys hurried and offered me gobs of help and advice. Those involved will be mentioned at the end of the review. Particularly a certain someone who sacrificed lots of his own free time to help me. This made the choice so much easier for me in the end.
After extensive analysis and some deep thinking I came to a decision. Which HP did I choose? As the title might suggest, none of the above. I took the plunge and increased my budget, thus kicking it up a notch higher - I went directly for the flagship model of HE-6. And this is why we are all here, right? Without further ado, let me get to the main event, the review itself.
Oh, yeah and this would be me
Yours truly, one and only!
Table of contents:
3)Build quality and design
9)Songs and genres
1)Equipment and cabling
Here I will list all the associated equipment with a few notes for each.
First the headphones
Very neutral, natural, coherent, transparent, detailed, very extended, exciting and inviting. These are just a few words one can connect with the HE-6. Special airy sound. I don't wanna say too much as these will be analyzed much deeper further in the review.
Ultrasone Pro 900
Fun, colored, bass heavy, unforgiving, aggressive, extended, V shaped. The midrange is recessed with very potent bass and extended aggressive highs. Prone to sibilance, but can provide a very special sound signature. Takes a lot of time to get used to and has a long burn in process. Add a bit of extra bass to everything. They complement the HE-6 really well. Works really well for gaming. Also really good when traveling even unamped but a slightly warm amp [ex. Fiiio E11 works really well] would be recommended. Doesn't cope well with neutral amps [ex. Audio GD NFB-16] More in the comparison category.
Turtle Beach PX-5 [and the DSP converter that came with it]
Their sound is very mid-centric. Bass is very shy and lacking, prone to distortion or underperformance when stronger bass is required. The highs are too smooth, slightly muted. No extra excitement found here. In the end you have a HP centered around midrange with unimpressive bass and highs. They are bluetooth and require 2 AA batteries to work. Their build is solid. Headband is sufficiently paded. However, neoprene is used which is an odd choice. They aren't very comfortable either and they borrow the cons from each leather and velour respectively. They are sweaty as leathers and itchy as velours. Not a good choice either. For gaming, the spacial cues and sound are okay, but are easily beaten by the two more expensive headphones in all aspects. For the highest Turtle Beach model, I definitely expected them to be at least on par with the more expensive HPs at least as far as gaming goes, but nope. Listening to music is even worse and by a big margin. Not particularly detailed and boring. Not much on offer here. The one benefit I mentioned earlier is the DSP unit that came with it. Works really good with Pro 900 and HE-6. One of the better processors I'd say. Works with both PS3 and X360. So at least the DSP unit makes up a bit for the headphones. Definitely not worth the 250 asking price.
The only HP which is on-ear rather than over-ear like the rest. They have a V shaped signature. Like the Pro 900, they also add bass to every song but more and it is boomy bass not tight at all. Their highs are smooth, but not very detailed. The mids are recessed but slightly less so than the Pro 900. The bass is very strong and hits deep, but as said is very boomy and can be bloated at times. For 40 bucks though, I'd say they were quite a value, if you like lots of bass that is. Exciting to listen to, good for traveling, doesn't need an amp like the Pro 900. Also nice for working out as they keep you going and are light weight. Now discontinued and replaced by the XB-400 which is slightly better so even bigger bargain as well.
Now associated Amplifiers and DACs
Emotiva Mini-X a-100 speaker amp
Now, let me start by saying this amplifier is something special. It costs 220 bucks, which is less than most headphone amplifiers. Of course this thing is for powering speakers, or is it? Well you could say the HE-6 is a little speaker. These two have great synergy, but is a speaker amp really necessary? In my opinion yes. There still is a little controversy about how much power Hifiman cans, especially the HE-6, really need. Well this amp works really good with HE-500 and HE-5LE as well. In my experience a conventional HP amp was not able to drive the HE-6 sufficiently. If there are still a few hardheaded guys who would like to use a HP amp, then yes there are those, but you are looking at no less than 400 dollars and yet the results are in most cases underwhelming. Mini-X and HE-6 is the real deal. it is transparent, quick, with decent soundstage depth and width, quite neutral and has nice extension on both sides. It is dead silent at all volumes. Did I mention it is only 220? It also runs very cool. You also have a nice volume knob and gold platted connectors. Long story short, there is no better entry level amp for the HE-6. It drives them effortlessly but it is easy to see that HE-6 benefits from extra power/current compared to HP amps. More on later. That saying there are more expensive speaker amps which can outperform the Mini-X, But those would be more expensive. In contrast wasting hundreds more on a HP amp with dubious results... Speaker amps seem to be the much safer choice in case of the HE-6. And of course there is always a chance that the receiver you have in your living room could have a nice synergy with this HP.
Audio GD NFB-3.32
DAC stands for Digital to Analogue converter. To put it simply, it converts digital sound [1 and 0] to analogue [sound]. The cheapest of the Audio GD DAC offerings [excluding the DAC/Amp combo units]. This one uses two WM8741 chips as well as a WM8805 and the USB32 chip for various inputs. ["WM" stands for Wolfson Microelectronics] This one costs 350 bucks + around 60 for shipping and I would say is priced nicely as well. The sound is very neutral but slightly smooth up top but still nicely detailed and extended. Also quite transparent. It has all the inputs you might need - USB [very nicely implemented, practically nullifies all differences that were there between coaxial and USB], coaxial and optical. I have a 2 RCA outputs version as the regular version, which has 1 RCA and 1 ACCS output, because I had no use for it. It runs slightly warmer than the Mini-X [which is practically cold] Much like the Mini, it is dead silent and there is no hum or noise from the computer. For 350, it is a good deal too. Although I can see further improvements with more expensive DACs. However, much like the a-100, it is hard to beat as a starter. All the components mentioned have good synergy with each other.
A very versatile little amp. Slightly warmer with smooth highs. Ideal for the Pros. Fits your pocket nicely. Mine has a twice stronger battery than the stock one so lasts twice longer [for 15 bucks].
Packs lots of power. For 60 bucks it is hard to beat. Fully aluminium casing [like all amps here]. Has a bass boost switch. Fiio is getting very popular among audiophiles these days.
Audio GD NFB-16 [DAC and Amp combo]
This unit was only used shortly with both Pro 900 and HE-6. The amp is very neutral and thus had a somewhat bad synergy with the Pro 900 as it prefers a warmer one. On the other hand, it has a good synergy with the also neutral HE-6 but ultimately couldn't supply enough power for the HP which was apparent in comparison with the Mini. It works on rechargeable batteries so it is a transportable amp, while not exactly pocket sized. For 200 bucks [+ shipping] it is again a great value and should have enough power to power most HP [it powered the Pro 900 alright] and is both a DAC and an Amp. It has a USB input an RCA line-in and a 1/8 jack line in. It boasts a 1/8 and 1/4 HP outs as well as a coax out. So you can connect practically anything to it. Very flexible unit. Unfortunately, I have no use for it right now. It is discontinued now and a new model is supposedly in the works [albeit very similar to this one] but it was on sale only for a month or so [last September I think]so if anyone wants to buy [80 Euros shipped] let me know.
Might be updated in the future as newer gear is purchased.
Stock power cables for all components
insert generic connector here
Die-Hard RCA/Optical cables
Sturdy, good quality OFC cable, double shielding, gold platted, cheap.
Nuforce transient USB cable
Nicely shielded, sturdy, gold platted OFC, less cheap
Hifiman HE-5 stock cable
The first Hifiman cable came with HE-5, claimed to be the best Hifiman stock cable, close to aftermarkets. Silver coated, has sleeving. I won't comment on the cable differences but sounds really good. Bought from a fellow headfier HiFlight [http://www.hiflightaudio.com/] IMO better than the stock OCC cable [ which is probably starting to oxidize anyways]. All neutrik connectors
+ Matching speaker tap extension
Matched with the HE-5 cable. silver tinned. Neutrik XLR and banana plugs. sturdy, heavy but lies on the table anyways. Sonically good to me. Also made by HiFlight [[http://www.hiflightaudio.com/]]
Also have the same matched cable for XLR to 1/4 plug. Again all Neutriks and again courtesy of HiFlight
There, among the stock copper cable.
Pro 900 stock 1/8 cable
Very sturdy stuff but also somewhat flexible
Also comes with a 1/4 cable
It is coiled. I also think those 1/4 could be used as a killing weapon one day...
Will be updated later when I get either Q audio or Norse audio cabling.
Now let's get to 2)Unboxing and accessories
A/N: I bought the HE-6 from Justin W. at HeadAmp. Justin is a nice guy, were easy to deal with and if you have any requests he is likely to fulfill them [for ex. I wanted the leathers swapped for velours]. He also offered international free shippingwith FedEx which was really cool. Either way, both Justin and Hifiman offer tremendous customer support and service and I can easily recommend them.
Ok the headphones arrived in a big box, within a week after payment.
The HP case was covered with while polystyrene.
And even further snugly protected by polystyrene and bubble wrapped
After unwrapping you get a nice looking leather covered shoe box, which looks better than moost other shoe boxes HPs come in [HD800,T1,etc]
There wasn't any other box however.
Upon opening the box, I was greeted by these
I think they look very nice in these pictures, almost better than the real thing.
What else will you get?
A copper cable, valued at 150 bucks by Hifiman.
I however, opted for a different cable,mentioned above
A pouch in which the cable came as well as an extra pair of velours.
Quality control/assurance card [probably new design, I know it used to look different]
The old one
HE-6 overall 8.5/10
In comparison to the Pro 900, the package is quite similar. In favor of the Pro 900 speaks the extra box [y'know the one all other headphone come with]. There is also no manual for the HE-6 and you get only a single cable while the Pro 900 comes with two. In return you get a nicer leather box, a nicer quality cable [not necessarily more durable but possibly better sounding] and a leather pouch oh, and don't forget the quality assurance card. That one apparently matters a lot...
Pro 900 overall 9/10
Right, this brings as to...
Read the rest of the review here -
Pros - Best headphones short of top end stats. IMO
Cons - Not really headphones but as mentioned, head speakers.
I have been in search of a headphone that could give me the details and dynamic range of an electrostat with the tonal weight of a reference dynamic. The previous system was a K701 with a Singlepower Extreme. It gave me a pretty good sound but I felt the sound was still inferior to electrostats and bass was lacking compared to other mid fi dynamics.
Last year a headfier introduced us to the HE-5 at the same time as the HD800 and PS1000. While I liked the similarities to the K701, the HD800 still felt a bit thin in presentation. The PS1000 had a bit more sonic weight and I liked them as well. Then I tried the HE-5. I first heard it on the first HiFiMan amp and it sounded ok but didn't have enough juice to "crank it". So I brought them to my rig for a listen and was curiously impressed with the ortho sound.
Well, a fellow headfier let us borrow his LCD-2 headphones for a few weeks last fall. At that time, I was infatuated with the sound. It gave me that speed, detail and impact I was looking for. There were a few things I did notice about the LCD-2 that didn't suit my tastes. One was the laid back presentation, another was the slight recession of the highs in relation to the mids and dominating lows. I also felt the center imaging was a bit fuzzy but being a new technology (for me), I attributed this to my inexperience.
After reading several threads about the new HE-6, I chanced the purchase. I ordered them on the 15th and received them on the 20th of December. To have a headphone come from across the world, through US routing during their holiday season and at my door in 5 days is impressive.
I was happy to see the piano gloss black matched my TV, sub, etc. but the wood of the HE-5 is a piece of art (similar to the LCD-2). The cable that comes with the HE-6 is much better quality than I was expecting. Lightweight, extremely flexible, sturdy connectors & plugs, nice on the eyes.
I plugged them into the SP thinking no burn in time was needed and I had plenty of power because the HE-5 sounded great on it. Wrong on both counts. I couldn't get enough volume to hear vocals without distortion. Any extension from the mids on either end was unbearable. Having heard the burn in of the K701, I knew not to react to initial impressions, so they were left on for a couple days. Coming back to them was a much more pleasurable experience. I could hear beautiful sound. Something didn't sound right but I was having a hard time identifying what it was. For one, I couldn't get enough power for preferred listening. Every time something got me excited, my amp ran out of steam and would distort in the lows. Something I'd not experienced with K340, K701, HD800, RS-1, etc.
The other thing I had a problem with was the center presentation. Both side sounds were clear, in place and localized. When panning, everything tracked through from ear to ear. But playing music sometimes, the center presentation seemed to be out of phase, soft, fuzzy. I noticed this with the LCD-2 so I thought it was perhaps the technology.
Well I kept reading about trying a speaker amp to run them and I had one I could control the volume on the amp (Rotel RMB-1050). After I got the volume pots trimmed for my listening levels, I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Not only did I hear what I wanted, I heard what I didn't think could be done with a headphone. Deeper bass with better details than any headphone I've heard up to that point and most speakers/subs. The highs were comparable to stats with just a bit less decay and not quite as delicate. Much better than I've heard from any dynamic. The best part was that the center resolution issue disappeared. Seems I just needed more power.
I am a tube convert and wanted to try a tube speaker amp but the only way to control the volume is by the computer (right now). So a fellow headfier offered me an amp to try (GTA SE-40). I have to say, a tube speaker amp with good extension and little roll off is a treat worth the investment and time. I have found my sound and am indeed a very happy camper. Now to get a DAC (Perfectwave maybe) worthy of the setup with a volume control and I can listen to music and not equipment until my ride comes to take me home.
If you like the Sennheiser sound, the LCD-2 are your babies. If you like the AKG sound, the HE-6 will be the ones. For the price of the HE-6 and a nice quality tube speaker amp, you can get a pretty good rig for under the cost of a HD800.