Gramophone Dreams #75: dCS Bartók APEX; HiFiMan Audivina, HE-R10P, HE1000 V2 headphones Page 2

HiFiMan's Dr. Fang Bian recommends the Audivina, above and right, for studio and mastering work.

HiFiMan's wood-cup mania
I've been using two very different HiFiMan headphones: the newer, $1999 Audivina, which was released in March 2023, and the older HE-R10P, which costs $5499 and was released in spring 2021. Both are wood-cupped closed backs with "Supernano" planar-magnetic diaphragms. Each time I use one of them, I pause, surprised again by how just right it sounds. ("Just right" is an audio descriptor that needs no explanation. You'll know it when you hear it, I promise.)

The very special vintage Sony MDR-R10.

I remember one Sunday long ago, at a VFW lodge on Long Island, when a Japanese youth let me try his Sony MDR-R10, which cost $2500 in 1989 and now sells for as much as $10,000 used. I knew in 10 seconds that this was the best headphone I'd ever experienced. Midrange tone color was perfect. The MDR-R10 made every recording I sampled sound exactly the way I thought it should sound.

That's pretty close to how I felt when I first tried HiFiMan's HE-R10P planar-magnetic headphone, which, not coincidently, looks very much like the legendary MDR-R10.

When I received the R10P from Adam Sohmer, HiFiMan's PR representative, he included a second wood, closed-back headset called the HE-R10D, which he said uses a 50mm nanoparticle-splattered diaphragm that's similar to the dome-type biocellulose diaphragm used in the MDR-R10.

The R10D looks exactly the same as the R10P except that the R10P is made of a darker, heavier wood. As a result, the R10P weighs 460gm while the R10D weighs only 337gm. The R10D costs just $1299.

When I first tried the HE-R10P, my brain knew instantly that this headphone was excavating something more, some subtle type of extra information I usually don't experience with headphones. This extra information gave me the same feeling of harmonic completeness I noticed with the Sony MDR-R10. HiFiMan's R10P produced a crisp, Kodacolored soundscape that was uncannily similar to what I experienced with the Sony.

The HiFiMan HE-R10D) looks and sounds like both the R10P and the Sony MDR-R10.

The HE-R10P's high-rez, full-color detail also reminded me of HiFiMan's $6k Susvara open-back planar-magnetic. But, compared to the low-sensitivity (60 ohms, 83dB/mW) Susvara, the considerably higher sensitivity R10P (30 ohms, 100dB/mW) came across as higher-intensity color-wise and possibly better organized space- and musical-structure-wise. This made for an interesting comparison, because closed-back headphones play quieter (and usually darker and clearer) than open backs, which sound more open but let hazy street noise in. To me, HiFiMan's HE-R10P sounded like I imagine a closed-back Susvara would sound: deeper, denser, quieter, and clearer than its open-back counterpart.

After the HE-R10P did its incredible Sony MDR-R10 imitation, I was curious to see whether the dynamic-drivered R10D might sound even more like the Sony it's modeled after.

The $1299 R10D took a while to break in, but when it did, it didn't sound as much like the Sony as the R10P did. But it was possibly the sweetest, smoothest, most all-natural-sounding headphone anywhere near its price. The R10D excelled on all types of female vocals but was flat-out scintillating with soprano Roberta Mameli singing mixed early music and contemporary fare backed by La Venexiana, directed by Claudio Cavina on 'Round M: Monteverdi Meets Jazz (16/44.1 FLAC, Glossa/Tidal). Roberta Mameli's voice came through with intoxicating purity and an overtly textured sensuality. Paper domes in wood cups might have a natural advantage when reproducing human voice. In addition to unusually tactile sound, the R10D specialized in minutely accurate tone. This tone-correctness was enhanced with triode amplification: The R10D sounded quick, refined, and glowing tube-lucid powered by the headphone output of Elekit's TU-8900 300B amp, a high-value pairing that really showed what the "D" is capable of.

Through the more expensive R10P, that Roberta Mameli recording became something akin to sublimely refined. It felt totally grainless; with every compositional element, every individual instrument, all vocal tones, as well as all the air in the room assembled into something that felt perfect in scale and natural order. The more I listened, the more frequently the words "flawlessly balanced" passed through my mind. The HE-R10P created the most coherent, tangible, of-one-piece spatial perspective I've experienced with headphones, closed or open backed.

But these Sony-referenced R10 stories are just prolog. The big news today is HiFiMan's released-in-March 2023 Audivina planar-magnetic closed back. The $1999 Audivina distinguishes itself visually from Dr. Fang Bian's "round" R10 models by its bright wooden ovoid cups. The Audivina's light-toned ovoid cups foretell a brighter, more sun-soaked sound than that of the R10P. The Audivina not only play bright and clear, it brought sparkle to the eye: It is more luxuriously appointed, more Gucci, more fancy-to-the-touch than the more expensive but utilitarian-looking HE-R10P, which I would describe as classically modern and understated. Dr. Fang recommends the Audivina to recording studio and mastering-lab professionals, not for their looks but for their balanced, insightful sound.

The HiFiMan HE1000 V2, which Herb calls "the poor man's Susvara."

For these Audivina auditions, I ran the Bartók Apex DAC directly into Headamp's high-powered GS-X mini headphone amplifier, which really came alive with the dCS source. Just as I compared HiFiMan's R10 to its stablemate, the Susvara, I was naturally drawn to comparing the 20 ohm, 97dB/mW Audivina closed back to what I call the "poor man's Susvara": the ovoid HE1000 V2 open back. HiFiMan's HE1000 V2 retails for $2999 but is now widely available for $1999, the same price as the Audivina.

It was interesting to compare the open-back HE1000 V2 to the closed-back Audivina, because once again the wood-cupped closed back produced a quieter, brighter, more transparent, more sharply focused perspective. In contrast, my well-worn HE1000 V2 leaned toward soft-focus dark and dreamy. This was dramatically evident when I compared the two using this mind-bendingly beautiful recording: Soprano Natalie Dessay singing Airs d'opéras François (16/44.1 FLAC, Werner Classics/Qobuz). The HE1000 V2 played this recording with all the hedonistic color and painterly texture of a painting by French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806). The V2's presentation felt alive and fascinating but nowhere near as eye-wateringly vivid, focused, and high-frequency pure as the presentation of the Audivina closed back.

What I am assessing is not ultimate sound quality. Both headphones sound amazing. I am responding to differences between what open backs and closed backs bring to the listening experience. The HE1000 V2 has that beguiling openness we all love, but its air is "hazed" by mixing with environmental sounds. Closed backs, especially those with capacious wood cups like the Audivina, let the voice of a singer like Natalie Dessay soar and swing and only disappoint you if you're waiting for a bad note or a top-octave flair-out. The entire range of Dessay's voice was reproduced with a riveting, delirium-inducing beauty. Never for a moment would I have traded the Audivina's tonal purity and state-of-the-art transparency for whatever spatial effects an open-back headset might offer. I suggest you play this album through your system. It's a high-intensity sonic spectacular.

Another spectacular-sounding album that can sound blurry and messy if the transducers or DAC are less than the best is The Power of Indifference, composed and performed by cellist-vocalist Maya Fridman (24/192 FLAC TRPTK, X/Qobuz). This recording is packed to overflowing with reverberant space, morphing harmonic energy, and shimmering textures, and I was in awe of how succinctly and vigorously the Audivina (with the Headamp's GS-X mini) reproduced the work. Focused precision tempered by plush sensuality. I was seduced.

I have not previously encountered a headphone that delivered anywhere near this much pleasure and this much mastering lab insight at anywhere near the Audivina's price. If Dr. Fang Bian said it was $4000, I wouldn't blink. It's that good

Footnote 3: HiFiMan, 2602 Beltagh Ave., Bellmore, NY 11710. Tel: (201) 443-4626. Web:

Long-time listener's picture

Herb, would like to ask a question about Cardas interconnects. I have the Clear Reflection interconnect, which I bought partly due to your review of the Clear Beyond, partly because of a review on Steve Huff photo & video, and partly because of my own experience with Cardas many years ago. My question: The Cardas website says that their high-end wires should really only be paired with the highest-end systems, and that using a high-end cable on a more modest system won't necessarily raise its level of performance. I'm not sure I accept that, based on my own experience. What's your general view of this?

Herb Reichert's picture

is that once my system becomes engaging and exciting to use, once I'm really digging it, different cables make it sound either more exciting or less exciting, more natural toned or less natural toned, more dynamic or less, etc. My advice to audiophiles, once you get your system to sing, once you love your sources and speakers, do not be afraid of spending money to experiment with cables. The RIGHT cable can take it from really good to magic-level great. The wrong ones will make it boring or annoying.


Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm totally on board with what Herb says.

There are times when more revealing cables reveal more equipment limitations than anything else. When the synergy is right on, however, you'll hear it.

ok's picture

..are the cheapest upgrade. What else is a hifi system but a convoluted power cable anyway?

Ortofan's picture

... RME DAC.

hfd123's picture

Hi Herb, how do the Audivinas compare to the ZMF Vérité Closed? Thanks!