The Exceptionally Pleasing HiFiMAN HE1000 Planar Magnetic Headphone Page 2


Sound Quality
So seductive. I don't remember when I've had a headphone that sucked me into the music this much. And not just one type of music...almost any and every track I punch play on stops me in my tracks. The exception would be loud complex music like metal mass orchestral crescendos where the HE1000 seems to become a bit too confused in the mids and treble.

The best word I've found to describe the overall sonic impression of the HE1000 is "soft." At first, after hearing them for a bit, I thought this soft nature would end up reducing dynamic impact. It does, a bit, but on continued listening I feel the dynamics are actually above average. Like a lot of things with this headphone, when you take a particular attribute you can pick it apart, but when you listen to the whole of the music the problem just doesn't seem to matter much anymore. These are just an incredibly pleasant headphones to experience.

The stock tonal quality leaves a little to be desired. Bass heft and extension is very good, but a tad bit under the levels suggested by the Harman response curve. I beefed it up a couple of dB when EQing the HE1000.

Similarly, the headphones measure nominally flat between 200Hz and 2kHz, and I did EQ them to provide the gentle rise of the Harman curve, and again found it to be an improvement to the coherent representation of the human voice.

The one area that I found mildly bothersome without EQ is a slightly elevated response above around 5kHz, which has a particularly exaggerated peak at 8kHz-10kHz. Comparing EQed to stock, I heard the HE1000 to be just a bit "zingy" up top, giving it a very slightly bright character. While I find the EQ beneficial, I also think the stock sound is quite good—the Mr. Speakers' Ether needs EQing more than the HE1000 in my opinion. Here's my EQ settings.


Despite the soft and slightly blurry transient response, the HE1000 does image quite well; probably the best of the Big Sound headphones but for the HD 800. I'm a bit surprised at this result as it's my belief the clean articulate transient response is directly related to the ability to produce a sense of space. I'm not quite sure what to think of that. Measurements show good transient speed, but also show a moderate amount of noise subsequent to the leading edge. I suspect the fast transient edge and subsequent blur give a subjective impression of space that's not actually on the recording. Again, we see a technically underperforming atribute of these headphones that produce a surprisingly pleasing result.

Compared to HE1000, the LCD-3F sounds somewhat boxy, inarticulate, and lifeless. The Ether sounds closest to the HE1000, but less deep and wide, and less coherent—the HE1000 sounds more open and real. The HD 800 lacks the bass weight of the HE1000, and therefor seems less integrated across the whole of the music. HD 800 is more precise however, producing a wider deeper image and a properly articulate transient response; the difference in analytical comparative listening was pretty clear. But where it really matters, the music enjoyment, the HE1000 was far more pleasant and enjoyable. The HD 800 was agressive and analytical, while I just wanted to snuggle up to my music with the HE1000. I think I might have even sucked my thumb just a bit while listening.

So, while I think the HE1000 falls a bit short on technicalities, it's long on pleasurable listening. In the Big Sound finale where I tally the participant scores, the HE1000 with 10 points came in a close second to the HD 800 with 12—the next highest score was 7 for the Stax SR-009. I tend to see this as a conflict between the technical prowess of the HD 800 and the shear satisfaction of the HE1000. The HD 800 has awesome technical capabilities, but it's wretchedly hard to make them lovable. The HE1000 is the opposite; the overall sound quality is much better than the bit-by-bit technical performance would indicate.

$3000 is a lot of dough to part with, but if you're going to spring for an end-game headphone the HE1000 is a "must listen." For me, it provides solid gains in listening satisfaction from the less expensive Ether, HD 800, LCD-3, and the like. That kind of differential is hard to come by at this price point. But listening satisfaction is strongly tied to personal taste, so I wouldn't buy on my words only. Take the time to seek out an audition.

Styling, materials, and accessories are well apportioned with the HE1000. Comfort is sublime. But build quality seems slightly lacking for me with a bit of grittiness to the earpiece swivels, and some slight mechanical noise from the outer ear piece grill and headband when flicked with a fingernail.

Yep, the HE1000 will hit the Wall of Fame. The Ether and HE1000 will go up, the Audeze and Oppo headphones will be retired. Time marches on.


HiFiMAN home page and HE1000 product page. reviews, and threads here and here.
Super Best Audio Friends thread here, here, and here (with disassembled pix).

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