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HiFiMAN HE-500 = Waste of Money (and general discussion)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by insatiable one, Jan 6, 2015.
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  1. Insatiable One
    I'm not an "audiophile". Let's start off by making that clear.
    I just like music, like most people. However, unlike the majority of people nowadays, the quality of my music listening experience matters to me. I visit Head-Fi regularly and learn things everyday. I think I know enough by now to write this review. By now I also have a good vocabulary of all the terms and ways to describe a sound. Yay. Gold star sticker for me so I can show my mum.
    I'm also a student. Hence, money is very scarce and everything I buy must be worth it. I don't have enough to spend $1000 on something that's worth $500, if you know what I mean.
    My Experience with the HiFiMAN HE-500, and My Thoughts on that Experience:
    The HE-500's aren't bad. They're great.
    They're just not worth what you pay, at all, even at this all-time low price of $500.
    My only other pair of headphones are the Audio Technica ATH-M50. The Budget King. A well-rounded, jack of all trades. They were my first pair of headphones ever. Before that, all I ever listened to was my desktop speakers, car stereo, and cheap SkullCandy earphones. And boy oh boy, these ATH-M50s were phenomenal to my ears. Even the brand name was cool. Audio Technica. For $150 at the time I bought them, they were the best I've ever heard. I was around 10, years old at the time, I think. No, I don't have "Golden Ears". I was not gifted with such analytical hearing. I think that if I was ever compared to some of the other members here on Head-Fi, I would actually appear as if I had poor hearing! I most certainly can't hear all the little nuances that you read about on gear reviews, and I definitely can't tell the defference between two different DACs, DAPs, amps, or even the differene between high bit rate MP3 and FLAC. Either these people are under the affect of placebo or under the influence of their own expectations (which actually really do have quite a powerful influence on one's perception of things*see the bottom) or under the influence of what other members say, or I really do just have poor hearing. I passed the hearing test though :) I also found that I can hear all the way up to around 17.7khz, according to this website: www.freemosquitoringtone.com. My little brother showed me that website so that mum and dad wouldn't hear whenever a friend texted. I do believe that there are differences between headphones, and that those differences are indeed there to some extent, but it saddens me as I can't really distinguish between two sets of cans like that. 
    I am perfectly satisfied with my M50's, especially for the price I paid, which was a lot to me at that time. But, ever since I bought those headphones, I was wondering how much better sound could get? I knew that there were headphones that costed way above the mere price of $150. But I couldn't imagine what exactly this "better sound" really sounded like. I'm 17 years of age now, in my senior year of high school. I just purchased an HE-500 along with a Schiit Lyr 2. Great amp, great headphones, good pair together, I think. Not worth the money. At least the HE-500 really isn't. Supposedly, these HE-500s need a lot of power to drive. Here's the power, Schiit Lyr 2. Should be everything I need to make these headphones sound good, right? Oh yeah, I also have som hi-res music from HDTracks playing through an iBasso DX90 line out. I've sold it now.
    First off, I was extremely underwhelmed by these headphones. Extremely as in outrageously. Think about the surprise and amazement people experience when reviewing headphones that they feel are really good and their experience when they put the headphones on for the first time. Now take that level of excitement and surprise and turn it into disappointment instead of satisfaction. "For $500 this is what it sounds like?!" That was the kind of thought that was running through my head. I didn't think they sounded much like what a lot of the reviews said. They certainly didn't sound like $500 on my head. I was so disappointed that I even thought that I got a fake! Well, there are no HiFiMAN fakes that anyone knows of, and I got these from a legit certified seller. They're real and they're not duds. Everything in the reviews, all of the good points about this headphone, that was everything that was actually missing from this headphone! Or, at least, those qualities of the sound signature weren't as pronounced as people made it seem. People give high praise to the mids of this headphone. They're good, but not stellar. Vocals are supposed to sound immaculate, they're actually kinda just "there". The bass, people say that its got great texture and superb bass extension, fast bass, great control over bass, bla bla bla. The bass is merely sub-par on this headphone! It was almost anemic! If only there was a little more of it! I love the way the bass handles on this headphone though, the way it keeps its place, not bleeding into the mids, and the headphone does indeed sport superior control over the bass section. Really, the best bass control I've ever heard. I just realized how much better a nice clean and fast bass response sounds. It's just that the quantity of that bass is minuscule. So, in short, the bass quality is there, the quantity is...where? Not there. I'm not a bass head or anything, I certainly don't like a ton of bass. But I could only hear the bass well enough if I really listened to it and searched for it. When casually listening and not really paying absolute 100% attention to the way the headphone sounds, I can't help but feel that the bass is a little too light. Next, the highs of this headphone were good too, not sibilant or anything. Just ok. Mariah Carey's voice, for example, was really good but just as much as my M50 could do (maybe a wee bit better sounding, but not much, maybe the highs on the HE-500 were 15% better than the M50). In My Honest and Most Humble Opinion, I feel that I actually prefer my good old ATH-M50 for the following reasons: In short, there are simply not enough pros to combat the cons on the HE-500 to make it truly superior to the M50. I'm just so disappointed, sorry guys who worship this thing. The entire headphone's sound signature was simply lackluster. The bass was fast, tight, and very controlled, but there was not nearly enough of it. Even though the bass was very good quality, the quantity of that bass was so low that the fact that there actually is bass in the M50s makes the bass on the M50s sound better. I like hearing the beat of my music. It makes the music actually feel alive, while the HE-500 is kinda limp and dead. Also, the sound stage. It's just as small as my M50s, which is small. Maybe on some songs it does seem a little bigger, but only just a little, and only on some songs. It's definitely not huge like people say just because these are open back headphones. Instrument placing and separation was noticeably better than my M50s. Maybe instrument placing was easier to identify and more pronounced than my M50s by say around 40%. I actually prefer on this headphone, but that is probably due to the placebo of expectation due to all the raving comments about the mids, the mids, the mids! But, not really. Maybe a minor improvement overall in the mids section. Again, uninspiring. The highs, same thing. Very small difference, if any. Negligible difference in the quality of the highs.
    So to me, $500 is not a worthy investment for something that is in general only around 30% better than my M50s in terms of sound. Don't forget that these HE-500 also need more power, they're heavier (still comfortable, though. Just can't bob your head), and you can't take them out of the house, while, on the other hand, the M50s are ligher, you can take them out of the house, they don't need all the power in the world, they're relatively cheap, they're very durable, and they isolate sound.
    But, to each his own. I'm sure that the vast majority of members here on Head-Fi will disagree with me, but hey, it's how I feel. It's what I hear. And I'm on a tight budget, remember?
    The HE-500s aren't reall a quote-on-quote waste of money. To me they're not that bad but they're just not really worth it for the price that you have to pay. I just put that title in to get a little more attention :wink:
    What do you all think? Does anybody else feel this way? Maybe I'll try the Sennheiser HD-650...but people compare that to the HE-500. If they sound similar, then I definitely won't buy those HD-650s either, even though they're the highest rated headphone in all of Head-Fi, according to the Headgear page of over-ear headphones arranged in order of highest raitng to lowest.
    I think I'll return this headphone, unless someone wants to buy it from me. They're discontinued now and replaced with the HE-560, which costs a lot more, as it's new. If you want it, PM me. I'll probably keep the amp though. The Lyr has good reviews too. It doesn't sound bad or anything, and it's powerful. So it's kinda future-proof, in a way, in case I get any other hard to drive headphones. It was hard to decide on the Lyr 2 though. I really wanted to buy the Little Dot MK IV SE with its upgraded components, especially because it was quite a bit lower priced than the Lyr 2. But I ended up choosing the Lyr 2 because it has more power. MO POWA
    I hope this was insightful in some way. Maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe I italicized too much. But this is a completely 100% honest review from an average guy.
    End review.
  2. ArmAndHammer
    Everyone is different. I don't buy into a lot of the stuff people swear is gospel but I do know without a shadow of a doubt there's differences between headphones and amps and there's synergy and all that. But what I think is a to die for sound you may think is blah...and the other way around. I think my RS1i's are heavenly. Next guy that posts might think they are devil spawned. So for you...if you think the HE-500 was lack luster and not worth the money...don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Sell or return them and try something else. No doubt there's a lot better than your M50's, you just have to find it. That's definitely part of the fun/frustration of this hobby. 
    Arniesb, spitf1r3, xingfei and 2 others like this.
  3. Head Injury
    Seems like the headphone's sound signature just didn't mesh well with your ears. It happens, everyone's ears are different. Plenty of other headphones in the sea.
    Also keep in mind for the future, if people here claim night and day differences between any two pieces of gear, half the time the differences are minor and the other half they're nonexistent
    Insatiable One likes this.
  4. CrocCap
    Its hard to quantify improvements from one headphone to another, but realistically, a $1000 headphone is not going to sound 10 times better than a $100 headphone. 
    I think after the $200-300 range, the audible improvements become significantly smaller.
    spitf1r3, kaiteck and Gyp64 like this.
  5. xxxfbsxxx
    lyr2 is not good amp for he500, bring it to a good speaker amp and it gonna blow hd800 out of the way
    for example, he500+master 10 > hd800 +master 9
    alphanumerix1 likes this.
  6. lamode
    I had a similar experience last time I was in the headphone shop. I was there for hours spending time with some Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic and Audeze headphones. I tried the Hifiman HE-560 too but I kept them on for about 1 minute. They were significantly worse than the others. I didn't want to waste my time. The moral of the story is to try before you buy. I know that's not easy sometimes!
  7. Liu Junyuan
    While a speaker amp pairs quite well with the HE-500, I would not be so quick to dismiss the Lyr with the HE-500. With even the slightest effort to put in different tubes from stock, it is possible to be happy with the pairing. I think my Lyr sounds outstanding with the HE-500. 
    musikaladin likes this.
  8. Liu Junyuan
    I have also seen many people say the exact opposite--that they walked out of the store with the HE-560 and not the Beyers or the Audezes, even the Senns. On even a technical level, the HE-560 is not "significantly worse than the others," but it may have sounded that way to you, in the minute you tried it.  I am not a HiFiMAN fan-girl; they have their limitations like other headphones, with each model betraying strengths and weaknesses, and your experience is totally valid, but it came across as objective fact that HiFiMAN is an inferior headphone to those of other companies, and I do not buy that for a second. 
    Gyp64 likes this.
  9. Liu Junyuan
    Nice job on the write-up. I respect your impressions and the time it took you to write them up. It's too bad that you are not satisfied with your purchase. I have only a few points to state off the top of my head:
    1)The HD 650, which you said you are considering, is notorious for frustrating buyers as well, perhaps being one of the most misunderstood headphones out there. I absolutely hated them when I got them and responded exactly the way you did here. "These are not at all worth $500 [what I paid for them in 2008]. They sound worse than my old, cheap headphones," I thought. Many people have sold their HD 650s for sounding boring and laidback. Now I have learned to really appreciate their organic, rich tone and almost surreal midrange, but it took me a longer time to come to that conclusion. Point being this: you should proceed with caution before any audiophile purchase in the future. It is common to be disappointed initially when coming from a closed, bassy, and fun signature like the M50.
    2) How long did you listen to these, what types of music (other than Mariah Carey) did you try, and did you use high-quality source material (mp3 at 320 kbps or FLAC)? I would suggest, if you have not already, giving these a week or two before drawing a firm conclusion (unless you've done that already), and run them through a wide variety of musical genres. Do ensure your source material is solid though. Crap in = crap out. Try listening to some well-recorded cello and violin on these headphones; it sounds jaw-droppingly good to my ears. I primarily listen to electronic music, and this headphone is just wonderful with that genre, but it does rock and classical great too. My father thought the instruments were in the same room when he heard my headphones last summer. He now has the HE-560s.
    3) What pads are you using? HiFiMAN has released new pads for the HE-560, and I have found the Focus-A pads significantly improve the sonic virtuosity of the HE-500. They surpass the stock velour and pleather imo, and they are also a good deal more comfy. Bass definitely sounds fuller, for one, and the entire frequency sounds more natural, slightly warmer.
    4) You probably heard the HE-500 have a good soundstage from those who have done the reversible grill mod (there is an entire thread on this), in which you remove the grills from the headphone to let them open up. With grills removed, the soundstage does improve drastically, but with them on, the headphone (like all orthos [including Audezes]) will sound relatively closed in, like you're listening in a chamber.
    5) Final point: I remember when I got these headphones too; I researched them for a year and paid $600. I am also a student so can only make a major purchase once a year. I was not too impressed the first few days either. I remember clearly being a little let down, but by the third day of running my collection of files through them, I definitely had changed my mind. You may finally decide to confirm your conclusion above. These might not be for you, just as the HD 650s, AKGs, or Beyers are not for others.
    In the meantime, though, assuming you have not listened to them for at least a week or two, try giving them a fair chance. You might also find it useful to read through some of the HE-500 impressions thread if you haven't yet; it is quite long but there is some useful information there. Let us know what you decide to do, and feel free to send a PM if you have any questions, as I have a similar setup to you with the Lyr and HE-500s. 
  10. Bark Snarly
    This is pretty of interesting to me, mostly because I started out with m50's too but after moving to even headphones just a little bit more expensive (I went to sony mdr 1rmk2's next which have a very different sound signature) really emphasised the somewhat grainy sound coming from the m50's, TEENSY soundstage, the mediocre comfort and the recessed mids (on the flipside it showed faults with the sonys too such as their flabby bass by default - m50's do have nicely rounded bass to my ears, pretty good extension and really nice punch). Moving up again to b&w p7's I found more improvements - so much so in fact that I find the p7's better than the m50's in literally every way (apart from cost).
    Very surprised you didn't notice a difference between the soundstage as well, I noticed a huuuuuuge difference between the sonys and the m50's, so much so that I found them a bit hard to listen to at first due to the sound not coming from deep inside my head anymore, it sounded like I was being bombarded by sound from multiple directions which was really new to me at the time. I would've imagined the he 500's have an even bigger soundstage compared to the sonys too due to them being non-portable, open backed and objectively higher quality headphones (can't say for sure though, never listened to them before).
    Just out of curiousity, how long did you listen to the he 500's for before coming to your opinion? Took me a long time to get used to the new sound signature after my m50's, much longer than it has taken me since with any of my other headphones.
    EDIT: Also, have you tried many other full size headphones? Might give you a better idea if it was just the he 500's you didn't like or if it's more that the m50's are your ideal/almost ideal sound signature.
    Very interesting writeup though, thanks for taking the time to share!
  11. xxxfbsxxx
    actually i think schiit house sound, somewhat bright, does not work well with he500 due to the annoying treble spike,
    on the other hand, with more laid-back and darker house sound such audio-gd it would suit the he500 better :)
    JBal4 likes this.
  12. ArmAndHammer
    Also, how many hours have you used the HE-500's? I've read a bunch of reviews about the HE-400's where people said initially they weren't impressed but after some time they got used to the different sound signature and all the sudden fell in love. Could be that your ears/brain just need to get used to them and maybe they need a little burn in time. I don't know if people generally feel the same about the HE-500 but it might be just a matter of putting more time in with them.
  13. lamode
    But a headphone shouldn't have a different sound signature! Instruments and voices have a sound in real life and the headphone should aim to produce those sounds as close to real life as possible. YMMV.
  14. whatup69
    I wanted to return my he500s after 2 weeks and over 150hrs burn in. Unfortunately the store i got them from has a no return policy due to change of mind for hygiene reasons on headphones. Its been over 3 weeks now and i think im starting to get used to them. Pretty keen to do jergs fuzzor mod on my pair now. Im driving them via a audio-gd nfb15 (******* awesome product and company, highly recommended)
  15. Ishcabible
    Uhh, you're comparing the bloated, muddy bass of the M50 to the HE500's significantly more polite bass. It's not surprising you don't like them. You probably should have spent about $250 less and gotten the HE400 and be happier. I don't like the HE500 all that much anymore myself, but I do have to say they're definitely worth $500 when taking the fact that the HD650, which has looser bass, is usually $400 into consideration.
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