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A Failing Audiophiles Impressions of the Hifiman HE-500

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by swbf2cheater, Jan 3, 2012.
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  1. swbf2cheater
     
    **Before we begin, I'd like to thank Hifiman and all the users who were kind enough to loan me some of the gear used in this review.  No animals were harmed in the making of this review except my Goldfish, Thor, who died a true American Hero.  *salutes*
     
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    ( http://i62.photobucket.com/albums/h95/lordkazama/Testing1.jpg )
     
     
    Something happened to me,recently. Je ne sais pas comment décrire. Whatever happened, it was good and I am enjoying it thoroughly.  Not too long after Hifiman released the HE-500, I attended a small local meet and got my first taste of Orthodynamic goodness: Hifiman Flavor.  I soon thereafter became an addict, scouraging and prowling the cold, rainy streets in the night.  Desperate for an Ortho fix, I was willing to do almost anything to get another taste of the HE-500. "Yes, my precioussss."   The friend who had touted his He500 to this meet, whom is no longer a friend of mine due to not wanting to sell his HE500 to me on the spot, had introduced me to current Ortho tech and swayed me immediately out of common Dynamic driver types.  I became biased.
     
     
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    I've been studying the comings and goings in the HIFI world for years and they appear most...sinister.  I am going to try to answer as many questions as I can that I have received over the course of the last few months, mostly in regards to portable amplifiers and the general sound type of the HE-500 vs some of the other Big Boy Toys.  Lets Begin, shall we?
     
    Pawn To D4
     
    The HE-500 is a stunning masterpiece of technology, marvel at it.  Take it to bed with you, as the more love you give it more it ends up loving you in return.  Yes, it is power hungry, but it is important to know that the HE500, like the Audeze LCD2, is moderately efficient and can in fact be used with portable media players.  The Cowan J3, for example, has ample and suitable power enough to drive the HE-500 to comfortable listening volume.  However, it does lack dynamics, clarity and presentation qualities as found direct out of my Fiio E10 Dac. The J3 is not something I would ever use with any really HIFI set of headphones. No matter how I EQ it, sound quality and the overal experience is poor.  So poor in fact, I prefer the HE300 comboed with the J3.  Powerful, Punchy, a bit sibilant as well.  The HE300 directly out of the J3 sounds a lot like the HE500, just less clear.  The presentation is near identical, slightly distant, not as forward as I would like but not at all Sennheiser in location.  
     
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    The HE500 does require immense power, immense to me anyway.  I personally think the Schiit Lyr is a few watts overkill forwhat the HE-500 needs. I've been having trouble finding a suitable amplifier with exceptional dynamics and sound staging qualities that will justify it, I've failed in this endevor.  The Lyr is more suited for the HE-6 IMO and I am told the Hifiman EF5 might be the better choice.  Sadly, I was unable to acquire it for this review, I apologize to the few who asked me to compare it right now.  I plan to purchase it in the next few days, so stick around and I include it into this review at a later time. 
     
    The Fiio E10 provides more volume than I will ever need, as will the E9, but again both lack that dynamic sound scape, great depth and overall sparkle you would want in an amplifier paired with the HE500.  It is very nice to know that I can take the HE500 away from all amplifiers and still get good sound quality.  IF you happen to own one of the more powerful Daps like the Hifiman HM601-801, or perhaps the colorfly, I suggest skipping portable amping completely.  The experience on the go will be sufficient.
     
     
    Rook to C3
     
    The new Ibasso T5 portable amplifier ( $169 ) has slightly higher output capabilities than my J3, so that means when I crank the J3 to 90% volume ( 100% will cause distortion and sound terrible when amped ) and the T5 to max, the HE-500 still sounds lacking and similar to just using the E10 with nothing else.  Enough volume, not enough clarity or dynamics.  The HE500 is capable of serious...stressing this...SERIOUS sonic qualities. You just need the right amp to bring it all out.  Other portables like the TTVJ slim, one of the most powerful, if not THE MOST powerful slim amp out there seems capable of breathing the very begginings of dynamic sound into the HE500.  Again, lots of volume, lacking height.  Seems a bit off balanced to me because the TTVJ has very nice width and depth, but not very good height.  Just how my ears pick that up, I cannot speak for anyone else.  I find it to not mesh with the Hifiman at all.  The Leckerton UHA4 is an all arounder with above average everything with highs as the exception, they are a bit sibilant and comboed with the HE500 you get a slightly more promonent high experience, brighter highs, this amp is not capable of handling the amazing highs that are already present in the HE500, which are just tonally smooth, immensely relaxed and extremely responsive.  Cymbals and high hats, as well as finger snaps and screaming guitars are jaw droppingly good.  The Ibasso PB2 is another story, I found it to mesh incredibly well and would be the only portable amplifier I would ever use with the HE500.  Im using it single ended right now and I've had a permanent smile on my face as it is outed from the E10.  Great everything, sparkly highs that are of that type I've wanted for so long, never harsh but extend through the roof in clarity.  Good bass quality but magical in bass kick and weight.  Excellent depth.  I have never used the SR71B so I apologize again that I cannot comment on how that sounds.  I am sure balanced mode with Hiflights KIT will make the PB2 sound good enough make you fuse right into your chair.  For the most part, the HE500 sounds okay out of a good dap, sounds good out of a powerful dap, and really there are no portable amplifiers I am aware of outside of the SR71B and Pb2 with mods that can get you anywhere near desktop level amplification, which is required to get the best out of the HE500. The moral of this story is that the HE500 still doesn't sound stunning with any portable amplifiers I have ever used.  To me, it is worthless to purchase one for use with the HE500 unless it happens to be named the Ibasso PB2
     
    ( with Hiflights kit ) or the RSA SR71B.  I saw this as a good thing, saved me a ton of money.  
     
    The Lyr is a differnt beast altogether, took me forver to find someone willing to loan me one and I am kind of regretting even trying.  6 watts of power is more than twice what the HE500 seems to need ( for me ).  I think the wiser choice is search for a moderately powerful amplifier with exceptional staging qualities and far less power.  6w is really overkill, the HE500 is the easiest Ortho by Hifiman to date to drive ( maybe the new HE-400 will be easy as well? HMM! ) but I know for a fact the HE4 is harder to drive, and of course the titaneous HE-6 is astronomically hard to drive.  I just dont think the dynamics of the Lyr are good enough and well suited enough for the HE500.  I think the Asgard or similar amplifiers are more than great to combo with it.  I am really scared of the Lyr, it runs too hot, fry some eggs and brew some tea hot. 6watts of power flowing through something that doesn't require that much power seems dangerous! I refuse to hook any of my gear up to that monster.  ( I used to be an adventurer, using powerful amplifiers with good headphones but then I took an arrow to the knee ) Moderate power with exceptional staging qualities is the way to go with the HE500.  
     
     
    Rook to D5, White Pawn taken
     
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    Lets talk about some build qualities.  The HE500 is a bit of a monstrosity when it comes to weight the HE-500 clocks in at 542g by my scale, a little high compared to the official 502g listed on Head Directs HE500 Bio. 
     
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    In comparison to the HE-300, it is obviously much heavier but equally as comfortable.  This is something I really wish to commend HiFiMan for:  Hifi headphones that are actually comfortable! Who'd have thought this was even possible! ( yes, I am teasing some other brands :) Despite the weight, the HE-500 rests comfortably on my head with absolutely no pain.  The Headband is nice and thick allowing for maximum weight distribution on the top of your head, the Grado-style headband should be the only headband used on headphones today.  I absolutely hate the odd shaped Ultrasone/Shure Type monitor style, it is terribly uncomfortable and puts way too much pressure on the top of your head, worse yet they are usually very heavy and add more weight for no reason at all.  Nobody wants to wear a Radar Dish on their head, especially if they are an audio engineer sitting at his station for 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week.  Yuk! Thankfully, HiFiMan seems to care about athestics and comfort.  The HE-500 headband brandishes a nice memory foam like pad on its underside, it is soft, squishy and overall a joy to wear. Overall Build Quality is outstanding, everything feels solid and weighty, no creaking or odd sounds come from it when handled or adjusted. One feature I am not at all fond of, one that is shared with Audeze, would be the cable connectors.  They stick out too far and are almost begging to be broken at some point in the future.  High Risk for damage if mishandled.  There must be a better solution to having the connection point jet out so far.  
     
     
     
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    Luckily, the new Silver cable included is a godsend.  Wow, is it awesome.  It is super light, thin and has some memory to it.  It is a bit prone to kinking and seems to unravel a bit near the connection points, but that is a minor gripe as now I do not have a full on garden hose dangling over me.  The cable vanishes quickly and never gets in the way.  I have no clue why anyone would want their expensive headphones to have a super thick and clunky cable when they could have something like this! Amazing cable! Love it to death.  Fang took it a step further and actually thought things out, in that he designed the cable with a standard 3.5mm adapter with the option of adding the larger adapter piece for use with full size amps or sources.  My amplifiers have never been more happy as now I don't have to worry about the insane length of the adapter
     
    ( stock cable with 1/4 plug to 3.5mm adapter ) potentially breaking my input jacks on smaller pieces of gear!  
     
     
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    It came with a nice hard case, a material bag, extra connectors and leather earpads.  I've seen more than a few users ask about earpad replacements and what can be used on them, so I've included a few physical measurement snaps of the headphones and earpads to help anyone who wants to mod or create their own replacement parts.
     
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    Queen to A5
     
    When it come to Positional Accuracy and Gaming qualities, the HE-500 fairs well.  It is by no means exceptional like the Beyer T1 or Sennheiser HD800 can be, despite that it still stood its ground against some of the other big boy toys and flat out crushed a few of them.  During my run with the Audeze LCD2 Rev 1 and 2, I found I was absolutely unable to pinpoint locations during online First Person Shooter Gameplay.  However, the HE-500 faired much better for analysing possible locations of targets on the move.  In games like Call of Duty, when a specific Perk like Site Rep Pro is active ( an added feature to allow the user to hear enemy footsteps much more loudly ) one can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the barrage of players on the opposing team blasting you with insults for "Cheating".  Enemy footsteps became louder and due to the HE-500s natural sensitivity, I could hear other players with great clarity and accuracy even when not visible.  It became quite easy to hear the enemy sneaking up behind me or lurking just behind a wall nearby.  You should be more than capable of hearing these enemy footsteps well before they appear in your sights and know exactly which area they will be sprouting from in attempt to stab you. Call Of Duty's Kill Cam is a real deal breaker sometimes and can cause you to get "Booted" from the server or room you are playing in. As a legit player who is using the HE-500 to play the games with, often have I been scourned and branded as a flat out cheater ( lol, thats why I am called swbf2cheater ) because I am able to set up my cross hair in front of an enemy who is running behind a wall, ready to shoot the instant they became visible.  To anyone watching their own death in the game, you will likely become suspect for hacking.  This is a marvelous feeling when potentially 6-10 other players in your area toss horridly filthy insults your way because they think you are cheating, when in fact you are simply using a really nice set of headphones! 
     
    Below is a link to live recorded gameplay that was uploaded to Youtube.  It shows my ability to hear distant enemies with good accuracy before they became visible.
     

     
     
    Source Quality is immensely important for Orthos, I was unable to find a suitable source for it outside of my home pc using Foobar and Wasapi ( via just the Fiio E10 ) It was significantly more clear than my loaner Yamaha V2600.  Soundstaging on that monster is excellent and way nicer than my PC + E10 + Lyr.  However, again the overall clarity was much lower.  Stick with a nice home computer and Dac for your source.  I was unable to obtain a Bifrost, if anyone wishes to loan me one, please feel free to contact me and I will add that into my studies :)  I do feel absolutely satisfied with just the Fiio E10 with no amplifier.  Foobar + the E10 sounds excellent, what a lovely little Dac, very impressive in clarity but lacking in dynamics and stage qualities compared to some of the other larger dacs.  Don't hesitate to purchase it as your first dac to be used with the HE500, comboed with the Lyr or any of my portable amps mentioned above it sounds great.
     
     
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    Bass Quality is stellar. It is an entirely different experience from something like the LCD2, in my humbled opinion.  Where the LCD2 bass is solid as a rock and hard hitting at times, like a walls of marble emmitting bass, the HE500 Bass is like a Velvet curtain emmitting bass, more broad and enveloping.  I never had the impression the LCD2 bass was enveloping or titanic in vastness, I do however feel the HE500 Bass can be described as such.  It is stretched in nature, more forgiving and feels larger.  It is not quite as grand in quality as Audezes Bass, which could be the best bass quality of any headphone I've ever heard. The HE-500 has the more musical low end when it comes to anything outside of Rock or Metal genres.  This is a bit upsetting to me because I absolutely love Fusion Rock guitar, the LCD2 would be the set of headphones I would use to listen to that genre, where as the HE-500 would be the set I use for litearlly everything else.  The two sets are brothers in arms and it really boils down to preference.  I prefer the HE-500 for darned near everything except hard hitting fast paced music.  Dubstep might be more suited for use with the Hifiman because of the soundstage ( which I'll talk more about later in this review ) which happens to be more complete in its center stage imaging, more broad and spacious.  The HE500 is absolutely a CLASSICAL AND JAZZ monstrosity.  Never before have I witnessed anything on this level when it comes to Classical and Jazzy low ends.  The HE500 bass reaches deeper than I ever expected it to but remains undistorted with hard hitting bass and immensely low-lows.  Some Dubstep or Techno tracks like Daft Punks - Rinzler or Solar Sailor off the Tron OST reach so low that I originally feared the HE500 would not handle it without distortion.  I was wrong, it retains immensely clarity and epic "broad envelopment" no matter what type of Bass I toss at it. True it only reaches down to 15hz and there are certainly other sets that have frequency ranges below it, but I have not listened to anything anywhere near the price tag of the HE500 that even came close.  It reaches deep, really deep and is never harsh. Other tracks like Chaconne For Violin and Orchestra via the Red Violin soundtrack have, without question, the most live and dynamic classical experience I have ever heard.  The natural sound is top notch.  In this track ( which I encourage everyone to listen to in .Flac ) has one point in it where some large Timpani drums are banged suddenly, the sound was so realistic I wasn't sure if it was something in the track or if a bomb went off outside of my window.  One thing I absolutely love about the low end here is found in Gypsy Jazz, or really anything with upright bass.  The natural decay of the upright bass is immensely realistic, as a Bass and guitarist myself I found that resonance in live upright bass recordings or solos to be incredibly satisfying and beyond most Hifi sets of headphones I've ever heard.  Due to the smooth and lushious presentation of lows, classical and Jazzy recordings are absolutely incredible and fun to listen to, but retain excellent natural realism ( as much as headphones can currently offer ).  I read a lot of posts that say there is no need for headphones to reach that low in terms of Frequency response, as the human ear cannot pick up on anything in the lower single hz digits.  I agree with the idea you cannot hear that low or that high, but you certainly can feel that rumble. RUMBLE factor is something terribly overlooked and thankfully the HE500 once again retains excellent rumble without vibration.  This is insanely rare as other headphones, especially in this price range hit bass notes that low and end up shaking too much. 
     
    The HE300 on the other hand is more hard hitting and less dynanic when it comes to texture.  It sounds much more flat and thick.  
     
    The Mids are absolutely, astronmically amazing.  Bar none, the best Mid and vocal experience I have ever heard in sets that I have owned.  The only headphones I am aware of that can best the HE500 would be its big brother the HE6 and some of the very expensive electrostatics.  They are astounding to say the least.  Siting here A/Bing the HE500 with the Edition 8 for example ( a set known for excellent mids ) makes them sound god like.  The Ultrasone does not compare.  The location of vocals is never off, it is simply perfection for me, just the right amount of distance to sound somewhat realistic and never overly forward to sound "IEMish".  It is spot on.  Quality and dynamics in the mids are breathtaking at times if you listen to artists like Brian McKnight, Michael Buble or any other Jazz like vocalist.  The LCD2 is also known for excellent mids but not with vocals in my experiences, with instrumentals in rock I think the LCD2 sounds a bit better but definitely not with vocals.  Hifiman got it right.  It is just that simple and nothing else needs to be said about it.  The HE300 mids are actually nice for $250 or so.  Unamped, I prefer the HE300 to almost every headphone out there.  Still no where near clear enough to satisfy me but if I had a choice, I would use the He300 over most other headphones unamped.  Vocals are noticably more forward than its brother the HE500 and audibly more grainy.  
     
    Highs are smooth and well rounded, never harsh and reach to the stars.  Proof in tracks like Europa by Santana, where he lets his guitar scream with an exceptionally high note for an extended period of time.  They are well sparkled and exceptionally musical, completely absent of any discomfort.  Sibilance is never an issue, even tracks like Ms. Dynamites - Fire ( off the Magnetic Man Album ) are actually audible, breathing life into tracks I previous could not endure.  The track is immensely sibilant, but the HE500 blasts through it and makes the higher end of vocals and very high highs completely listenable.  Sadly, I felt the LCD2 highs to be more clear, but also more sibilant, especially so with techno tracks and fusion guitar.  Highs are more clear on the Audeze and a bit more colored into what i would call the "fun factor pallet".  A bit brighter but also more sharp.  I could not listen to Ms. Dynamite on the LCD2 despite the clarity, I can listen to it on the HE500 and enjoy it immensely.  By the way, the vocal experience on this track is one of the best I've ever heard.  You just need headphones like the He500 that are exceptionally clear and sensitive, but have a flatter high experience to fully enjoy her music.  
     
    Soundstaging is one of the HE500s downfalls.  It is large, but by no means exceptional. All of Hifimans Orthos are "jack of all trades". Meaning, their stages have good width, good height and good depth.  Everything is just good, not great. The LCD2 trumps the HE500 in stage depth, it happens to have the best stage depth I've ever heard below the Stax and HE90 type sets.  Excellent depth, but one of the Audeze pitfalls is that the amazing depth and 3D like experience is offset by its average width.  The set feels off center and lopsided to me and became unfit for use with Classical, Jazz, live concerts or even Youtube and general use with movies.  There are a lot of people who enjoy the LCD2 sound type, I get its appeal.  I am a stage nut bar and want amazing soundstaging before clarity, with the LCD2 I got this in only one area ( stage depth ).  I get this in no areas on the HE500, as all areas are absolutely perfectly set up to complament each other.  The stage is, for the lack of a better word " perfection ".  Every aspect is "good" but its appeal is that it just got it so right for musical enjoyment.  It resides in that perfect area, not distant, not too forward, retaining just enough forwardness to be considered fun and highly engaging. 
     
    ( Yes, I broke my box T_T ) 
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    The general sound type and coloration is on the dry side in the mids and highs, but moderately warm in the low end. I cannot think of any other sets that have such a high musicality to it outside of the Beyer T1 which also had good stage qualities all around, just bigger in height and width.  Again the HE500 presentation is geared for use with almost anything you want. I have no complaints, only one minor gripe in that I want it to be astoundingly vast sounding. This is asking too much at its price point, but hey, maybe Fang will design a new model geared for insanely amazing staging? ( *drools ) 
     
     
    The HiFiMan-HE500 has become my favorite headphones to date.  I fully stand behind them as one of the best headphone ever produced. Another pro is that it was a bit louder than my LCD2 when used with my Cowon J3, which required it to be at maxiumum volume before it produced moderate listening volume, where as the HE500 is loud enough at 35/40. It also retains excellent clarity at low listening volumes which is a magneficient achievement, it really sounds nice well below normal listening volume. Its Beautiful, Sexy, powerful, comfortable,  well rounded...did I mention they are now priced at only $699?  Best deal in a long time.  I couldn't be happier right now and I cannot recommend them enough.  
     
     
    -Mike
     
    Queen to C7, White Pawn taken, Check Mate
     
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    ( Sunglasses worn indoors, Dunkin' Donuts Coffee and an HE-500...life cannot get better )
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    Zoide likes this.
  2. K3cT
    The HE500 is pretty good but I always feel that it's the least neutral ortho in Hifiman's line-up. 
     
  3. rhythmdevils
    ^  hmmm my impression is the opposite :)
     
  4. Questhate
    Nice review, swbf2cheater. It was a fun read and a nice departure from the sterile impressions that we usually get. 
     
    So... I take it you're no longer on a crusade against big headphones that require amps??
     
  5. Llloyd
    Nice write up, I had fun reading it.  Thanks.
     
  6. BleaK
    Really nice write up, thank you :)
     
  7. Happy Camper
    To open the 500s, hook them up to a well designed speaker amp, preferably a pair of monoblocks. That with a quality source and they open very nicely. Not quite as big as the 6 but better than almost anything else in the dynamic world. That soundstage is very peculiar but once powered right can be special.

    I enjoy all our reviewers and beater has a special sauce that makes it wet and juicy.

    I look forward to following your continued travels through the world of amps and sources with your lover. And don't be fooled by the better sensitivity numbers. They do well with better power. Those comparing the Lyr to receiver and speaker amps have said the Lyr has some weaknesses not noticed until a better quality amp is strapped on and given a ride. Power numbers can be misleading.

    HC
     
  8. MCSquaredTT
    Great writeup, thanks for this. I am sure I will be referring back to it.
     
  9. K3cT


    Quote:


    Nothing wrong with being colored. Audio Technica W3000ANV and Sony R10 all have rave followings around here after all. [​IMG]
     
  10. rhythmdevils
    Hmmm... the HE4 and HE5 are known for having a smiley face curve and the HE6 is brighter than neutral.  The HE500 is still a bit bright I think but closer to neutral. 
     
  11. swbf2cheater
    Coloration on the HE500/300 are very similar to the Beyer DT880, which is pretty neutral and dry. 
     
  12. K3cT


    Quote:


    If we're talking strictly about the frequency response then yes I would agree but I'm sure there are some coloration going on between the lower midrange to upper bass and upper midrange to lower treble in the HE500. The latter especially makes it very nice with vocals but they are not present in the original recording. 
     
    The HE6 is truer to life I thought but like you said, it can be painfully bright (that's why it has a very good synergy with the RSA Dark Star which has a warm sound). Also a pain to drive properly. 
     
  13. Llloyd
    Anyone here have experience with the apex butte and the he500?  I've been considering one, although I will probably go balanced for my next amp.  The new hifiman amp being released definitely intrigues me.
     
  14. swbf2cheater


    Quote:


    Tyll found the Butte to not be well tailored for use with the HE-500.
     
  15. swbf2cheater
    Hifiman EF5 will be added, why though I am not sure as this thread is barren 
    -Mike
     
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