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Looking into HE-500's, help deciding on Amp and DAC?

  1. Novaeangliae
    Hey all, I just got out of college and I'm looking to upgrade my existing headphones. I'm still fairly new regarding knowledge and so I'm seeking help on whether the HE-500s would give me the best bang for the buck based on my preferences.
    I've listed a few tracks from youtube below so you can get an idea of what I'm looking for.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHjHQoxq9O0[2] (being 36 minutes, you may find it more worthwhile skipping around.)
    And lastly, a more vocal song: https://soundcloud.com/kouji_iced/wo-ai-ni-hitomi-takahashi-x[5]

    I heard that the HE-400s were pretty lively but weren't the best in reproducing mids/highs, and the HD 650s were stellar in reproduction but were considered "boring".
    Comfort is not an issue for me, I'm looking for the best performance for the price, and if it came down to it I think I'd go for HE-400s or HE-500s.

    My next question is deciding on an Amp and DAC, I've heard that the Schiit Stack is good enough for the HE-500s, so I was leaning towards those. I'm planning to listen through my laptop, phone, and a piano keyboard sometimes.

    My final question is whether I'll actually need a DAC, I feel like it will be unnecessary at this stage (as I'm barely messing with all this stuff), and I figured the headphones > amp > dac in terms of performance boost, so I was thinking going for the HE-500s and the Schiit Magni would suffice for the time being (it's a pretty large investment for me right now as I still have some student loans to pay off).

    Thoughts and criticism are much appreciated, thanks! :)
  2. JustinBieber
    Hey there, I'll try to help you out.
    I've owned the HE-400 and HD 600 (Pretty similar headphones to what you're considering). The HE-400's treble for me was too bright and the upper-midrange is recessed. The HD-600 simply sounds more full because of the midrange, but it did lack a bit of excitement, I wouldn't say they were boring compared to the HE-400 though. Instrumentation was also more lifelike when listening to Jazz and Orchestra, the upper midrange dip and higher treble made the instruments feel less life like on the HE-400 versus the HD-600.
    The Modi/Magni, according to my brief research, would drive it. However the HE-500 has much more potential. Check out this review, the HE-500 gets better with the Asgard 2 http://www.head-fi.org/products/schiit-asgard-2/reviews/8528.
    As for DAC's they can make improvements and are generally better then on-board computer sound. I've never actually owned a DAC, I did however try one before returning it (HRT-MSII) and I noticed slightly less distortion, a cleaner background, and in general just a slight bit more refinement, but not a night and day difference. Another cheap DAC you should consider is the Hifimediy Sabre, for $40-60.
    If I was in your shoes I'd just save up a bit more for a higher end amp, buy the HD-600/HD-650, then get a DAC.
    Well, hoped that helped you. Feel free to ask me any other questions you may have.
  3. Novaeangliae
    Thanks for the reply!

    I PM'd Jerg and he told me to go with the NFB-11.32 Amp/DAC, my impressions of the HE-400 was that it was lively compared to the HD-650s (Which in comparison were accurate but "dull), and seeing how this is going to be a big purchase for me (and based on the music I listen to, I'm kind of shying away from the HD-6XXs). That's where I hear the HE-500 comes in, putting the best of both worlds together to give a refined taste.

    I don't think I mentioned but I'm coming from the V-Moda Crossfade LPs which after reading a lot of the posts here, have been known to be very muddy, So I think going with HiFi or Sennheiser will be a leap from those either way.

    Also, I've heard the HD-650s are picky to drive, which kind of scares me a bit because it seems that the wrong set-up can yield poor results. So I guess you could say I'm opting for the safest option in terms of performance/price, and to my tastes. I'm not too much of a basshead, and most of the songs I linked have some sort of piano instrumental in there (my favorite!) so that's why I'm opting for HE-500s. With all this in mind, would you still recommend the HD-650s over the HE-500s? I don't mind the cost (it will be about 1k, as opposed to 700-800 for HD-650s), but thanks again for your opinion.

    Also, comfort isn't too much of a priority for me, but I've heard about the heaviness and the clamping issues for both headphones (what a pain... haha.)
  4. JustinBieber
    I really can't recommend the HD-650 over the HE-500, because I have no experience with those devices (only owned the similar HE-400/HD600). My experience was that the HD-600 had less treble and energy then the HE-400, but offered more realistic instrumentation and timbre. The HD 650's are known to be darker then the HD-600, so they would be even more laid back compared to both Hifimans.
    In all both are great headphones, you really can't go wrong with either. If you want a fun and dynamic sound get the HE-500's, if you're looking for something a bit more realistic, but not as exciting, the HD-600/650 will suit you.
    Just throwing in this article http://www.head-fi.org/t/656160/review-hifiman-he-500-vs-sennheiser-hd600 that did a direct comparison. As you can see, this guy had a similar opinion as mine. On the flip side however, the Hifiman bested the HD 600 in terms of speed, clarity, and sub-bass in my own personal experience.
    As for amplification, Jerg made a solid recommendation with the NFB 11.32. You should be fine using it with both headphones.
  5. davidsh
    Time to chime in, I guess.
    Which cans do you own now (if any)?
    Considering the low price difference between hd650 and HE-500, I would say HE-500 all the way. Also, listening to the music you listen to, I think the hd650 will seem to slow-ish unless you get the amplification just right...
    Alternatively, you should consider the fidelio x1. If you want to save some money, it could be an excellent choice!
    I would suggest getting a 50 watt speaker amp or recevier/something like that for the HE-500, and then getting a cable terminated in banana plugs. For DAC I second the Hifimediy, though not based on first hand experience. 
    Want to say one more thing, though. Considering the music you have posted, the HE-400 wouldn't be a bad choice at all, but if you want to expand you tastes and want a more realistic (not necessarily accurate but more timbral accuracy and true to life-like) presentation, go for the HE-500. Know that the HE-500 does have a dark and relaxed signature! The HE-400 is the more fun headphone. More bass, more treble energy, more 3D-like experience, though it can still be very dark. A simple EQ can correct the treble issues.
    Unless you have money burning in your pocket, I would recommend the x1 or the HE-400 if you can get them for fair prices. That is mostly based on the music, though.
    The sound cloud link does not work.
  6. Novaeangliae
    Here is the link aftter doing a search for it again: https://soundcloud.com/kouji_iced/wo-ai-ni-hitomi-takahashi-x
    It's basically J-rock/pop.
    I currently own V-moda Crossfade LPs. I've heard about the pickiness behind the driving of HD650s which is scaring me away from them, and also the "liveliness" that you mentioned is also keeping me from them, and the reason why I'm going for the HE-500s!
    The only reason why I'm straying from the HE-400s, is that it sounds like they are not going to be as appealing for some of the songs I listen to (much of J-rock is lead by female vocals), but of course all of this based on me reading the reviews of others and taking the average of what everybody seems to be saying. It seems like the HE-500s are a compromise of the HE-400s and HD650s, the best of both worlds, which I find intriguing (and since it's a very large purchase for me, I'd like to keep the cans I buy for a while before moving up the ladder), so it is appealing when I read about the HE-500s being very realistic in portraying music. 

    as JB has mentioned, I'd like to also get the best bang for my buck (and after exchanging a few PMs with Jerg) and concluded that the NFB 11.32 is the best candidate above Schiit stack. I'm just a bit wary about them since there isn't as much information about them, and the international shipping. But as I stated, I'm looking for the best value for my money (and after doing my research it seems like HE-500s will give me the best preference for me for an adequate price). 

    Thanks for taking the time to listen to my music, I can only go by anecdotal stories from here and it's fairly scary that I'm dropping $1,000 on a setup that I might not even like... So that's why I presume the HE-500 is the "safest" option if you will. What are your thoughts based off of this?
  7. davidsh
    If you aren't used to anything remotely hi-end (are you picky with ur equipment?) I'd say you shouldn't go all in on the HE-500, but rather go for the fidelio x1 and take it from there. Are you telling me, that you don't want a lively sound, but prefer the relaxed and withdrawn presentation that you suppose the HE-500 will give you? Because that might change my recommendation towards the x1.
    If you go into this with both legs, I'd say you should consider and be ready for upping your standards for music a little, possibly along with exploring other genres. That is just my opinion, though. You should also consider the quality of the files you use. The sound cloud link you posted is an example of compressed music, that isn't exactly what I would call of good production quality...
    Not sure I can help you more from here. I can't quite find out exactly what you want, and what you strive for in audio. Even if you think you know, you might not know for sure, because your preferences might very well change over time.
    First off, when i started with head-fi I craved neutrality and analytical sound. Not so anymore, I have matured since then on the headphone front and I feel more established in this world of audio (though ofc my preferences will always change).
  8. Novaeangliae

    I seem to have been putting it the wrong way, but you're exactly right that I don't know for sure what it is that I want, after perusing the sound glossary, there's not much I can relate to aside from the "muddiness" i can sometimes feel from the extreme bass in my Crossfades.

    When I first started doing my research the best appealing cans were the HE-400s (the impression I got was that they were lively, etc.), but as I read more comparisons and reviews, I was swayed towards the HE-500s, I wouldn't call it a hype train, but there were quite a few praises on the reproduction the HE-500s had. For now, the idea that a pair of headphones can produce the sound in the way it was meant to be is the most appealing to me, and of course, like you, my tastes may change over time. But I get the feeling that even though HE-500s might not be what I'm looking for at the end of my journey, they will surely not disappoint. Does that make more sense? That was the impession I got from them. Whereas if I went for the HE-400s or HD 650s, and experienced the qualms that the reviews discussed about them, I feel like I'd be more unsatisfied and I would strive for more (AKA HE-500s or higher). And again, for me it is the best bang for the buck while tailoring the most to what I feel like would make my ears happy.

    I totally understand about the compressed music, I just listed the songs in a futile attempt to get people to see what my tastes are, I've been getting FLAC files of my favorite songs (some are pretty difficult to come by...)

    And in the end, this is a pretty big purchase for me so I would prefer not having to buy another pair of cans if I'm unsatisfied with the current ones I am using. I hope this helps!
  9. davidsh
    Makes very good sense. The reason many sell off their HE-500 is because it is their first taste of hi-end sound. Some decide it isn't really for them and they can do with less, others want to go further down the rabbit hole. For many it is a stepping stone.
    If you get the HE-500 I think you should get proper amplification, but you can easily do with less if you want to. Amps like magni, and Audio GD's offerings comes to mind.  A budget speaker amp would do good, because the orthos are said to shine with more power.
    I guess it is up to you after all, but as you said it is a lot of money... You could consider buying used, since you will lose a lot of money when reselling if you buy for 1k$. Which country do you live in?
    The way I tend to approach audio is, that I'm trying not to be dead set on something specific. I prefer waiting for good offers to turn up, and researching about products as those offers turn up. Would never have ended with my Stax system if I wasn't open minded. I bought it from the original owner, a 80+ year old man, of course for a good price.
    Anyways I havn't paid full price for my amp, DAC, HE-500 nor Stax system (25 yrs old). As of now, I am on the lookout for a integrated amplifier with a remote control to use with my HE-500, and I doubt anything will turn up soon, but maybe some day...
  10. Novaeangliae
    Glad we're on the same page now! :)

    Everyone seems to be suggesting Audio GD's I'm not trying to shun them but they don't seem to have as much presence on the forums as schiit does, so where is all of this praise coming from? I'd love to do more research on it.

    Buying used is a good idea, I'll keep an eye out but like I said I haven't seen too many discussions about the NFB 11.32 on the forums, and HE-500s seem to not go on sale as much as other headphones, but if the opportunity arises I'll be sure to take advantage of it.

    I was planning to implement that strategy of yours into building my own PC parts, slowly buying up parts on sale. It's a very viable strategy and seeing how I'm just entering the audiophile community, there is plenty of time for me to look around, it's just a test of patience at this point. I would be lying to myself if I said I wasn't excited to hear high end headphones...

    I live in the U.S., which I presume makes it a little easier to access parts (except for audio GD...)
  11. davidsh
    I guess you can't demo anything?
  12. Novaeangliae
    Nothing that would be comfortably convenient. But it would be my first choice before making a big purchase, I demo'd tennis racquets so I faintly know the process behind the whole thing, but there don't seem to be very many local stores that hold the high end headphones. Closest for me is Fry's Electronics.
  13. CJG888
    A good sensibly-priced amp for the HE-500s is the Audio-gd SA-31. It has more than enough power, and quite a complementary tonal balance. Combine this with a good DAC, and you should be properly equipped. You do need to go in at this level if you want to do the HE-500s justice. IMO, the NFB 11.32 is not in the HE-500s' league...

    This combination will show up faults in poorly-recorded material (and lossy Codecs) remorselessly, though - so be prepared!

    You may find this link interesting:


    Alternatively, many users recommend the Project Sunrise II as a budget alternative.

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