This is my review of the HifiMan HE-1000. I got interested in them after listening and owning the HE6, and I purchased them about two months ago. They are currently HifiMan flagship headphones, and they aim to be the top end of the orthodynamic headphones. Orthos, also identified as Planar Magnetic headphones, are somehow between dynamic headphones and electrostatic headphones. Their drivers are charged and moved by two magnetic fields for the entire surface, which is thinner than a dynamic driver, allowing higher time resolution (“speed”); at the same time, the driver is heavier than in an electrostatic headphone and can more easily output powerful bass.
The HifiMan HE-1000 have an interesting oval shape, reminding the legendary Sennheiser HE90 (the “Orpheus”, although such name used to identify the headphone and amplifier together), and are an interesting mix of flashy and elegant. I think they are gorgeous. One of their nice points, as far as shape and structure go, is that an “oval” shaped headphone is much more comfortable to wear when sitting on an armchair equipped with headrest, as well as lying on the bed.
For this review I borrowed the McIntosh MHA-100 from the local distributor (MPI Electronic), as well as a CEC HD53N from a friend audiophile (who owns the HD800).
Sources: Custom Museatex DAC (based on Weiliang Dual AK4399 DAC), AMR-DP-777, McIntosh MHA-100 DAC section
Amplifiers: McIntosh MHA-100, CEC HD53N
Contenders: Sennheiser HD800 (with the same system driving the HiFiman HE-1000), Stax SR-009 (out of my custom upgraded SRM-727A amplifier)
The HifiMan HE-1000 are very refined. They are somehow in the middle between a monitor headphone, and something more forward and toe tapping. They can actually work like both. Provided they are driven with a worthy amplifier, they have dynamic, snappiness, detail, huge clarity and soundstage, and spaciousness. They aren’t excessively full sounding, rather leaning to accuracy, presenting a linear frequency response, but never sound cold.
As I said, they have qualities reminding me a monitor, but being more refined in the highs, and overall more euphonic, because of some slightly tipped up upper bass and lower treble. They are much more neutral and refined than the HD800, equally fast, equally big sounding, with a more realistic, fuller midrange, which never feels distant (unlike the HD800). The HE-1000 also have much smoother treble than the HD800. I have always found the HD800 to be skeletal, while the HE-1000 has presence and solid midrange.
They have real bass slam, without being overpowering. The midbass is very clean. Compared to high end monitors such as the Stax SR-X Mk3 Pro, they are slightly fuller and as such more pleasant, especially with rock music (where the Stax monitor would gest strident).
Compared to the Stax SR-009, the HifiMan HE-1000 are more linear, less upfront and not as warm in the mids. The SR-009 is a very muscular, energic headphone, with a very full midbass-to-upper midrange joint which makes it upfront and always pushing the music.
The HE-1000 is extremely detailed and extended without throwing details in the face of the listener, and it’s musical without throwing the mids in face of the listener, allowing for listening to music at very high volumes. It’s very “electrostatic” in its smoothness.
There is something else that makes it close to an electrostatic: speed. It might be because of the advertised sub-nanometer diaphragm, but the HE-1000 manages to achieve something that the other orthodynamic I have listened are unable to, ranging from Audeze LCD-2, LCD-XC, several Fostex and Yamaha offerings: the HE-1000 have so fast impulse response the headphone is capable of rendering all the minimal volume variations during time, which is something that no other ortho is able to do: Aude’ze, as well as other ortho’s (as well as all dynamic headphones) render volume changes as “steps” comparatively, thus sounding less refined and comparatively shouty. So, precisely like the best Stax, the HE-1000 have much less noise from transients than most headphones, which produces the described effect of continuous micro-variations in volume changes.
I have used the MHA-100 most of the time, for two months, because it hits the sweet spot of dynamics, refinement, tonality, that gives the HE-1000 all the qualities I have described above. The MHA-100 succeeds in giving the HE-1000 the best sound I can imagine for them out of a solid state amplifier. Every micro particle in the music is drawn beautifully and delicately, and it has lots of power and dynamics. It succeeds at both the holistic and atomistic levels (the big picture, and the microdetails). The only deviation from linearity is in the treble department, with some brightness/distortion around 5 kHz.
Unfortunately, I must say that the CEC HD53N (a more affordable amplifier) is completely inadequate for the HE-1000. While it succeeds driving the HE-1000 with good tonality and powerful dynamics (so, the holistic picture), it completely misses any refinement. With the CEC, most microdetails pleasure is lost. There is less pitch black among sounds and transients. Something at the “atomistic” level is lost and comparativelty muffled compared to the MHA-100.
While for the first minute they would sound comparatively similar (because of similar dynamics and overall tonal balance), if I bought the HE-1000 to listen to it with the CEC, I would come away disappointed.
The HifiMan HE-1000 is pretty unique in the way it elegantly presents sound, only slightly warming up and tilting the presentation compared to a monitor.
While I think the HifiMan HE-1000 is much superior to the HD800 (bettering it in every way), the Stax SR-009 and the HE-1000 could be complementary headphones, since both have exceptional qualities. The HE-1000 don’t have as sweet midrange as the SR-009, but are more balanced, neutral, and laid back. Where the SR-009 envelopes the listener pushing their emotions with its color, the HE-1000 allows for both casual and critical listening, since the music just flows. Both are in some ways great all around headphones. I find the SR-009 to be slightly more capable to render rock music, where the HE-1000 is slightly more tuned towards classical.
The fundamental thing with the HE-1000 is to find the right amplification for it. The MHA-100 is definitely an awesome amplifier as far as solid state units go. For a tube amplifier alternative, I would look for a DHT amplifier, such a DNA Stratos or Eddie Current Balancing Act, which, for what I am reading and asking around, seem to be very solid choices. There is also an Audio Note design in the making, that seems very promising.