There are some serious players in the headphone industry and HiFiMAN is one of them. I’ve read a lot about their headphones and it bothered me that I didn’t know anybody in close vicinity to lend me a pair of HE-6 or HE-560, as up until recent events we did not have a local distributor in Romania.
One day before the Christmas holidays I was feeling lucky and I thought that it doesn’t hurt to ask HiFiMAN directly for a review unit of HE-560. After sending an email, I got back to work and only a few hours later my phone informed me that I had received an email.
I never expected it to be from HiFiMAN, not this fast. Well, this might have been the promptest response I have ever got. And as you would expect, I wouldn’t babble about this if it was negative feedback. After some very quick e-mail exchange I had a tracking number of the HE-560 review unit package.
I must thank HiFiMAN for their prompt response and wonderful support.
Before getting into the review, I managed to get a mini interview with their manager .
How did you guys found HiFiMAN and what are your major achievements?
Dr. Fang Bian developed two early passions. High-end audio and portable players. The culmination of these two led to HiFiMAN marketing the world’s first high-res portable player. At the same time, he became intrigued with furthering planar magnetic technology in headphones. HiFiMAN over the years through various iterations of HE models, has become a leading designer and manufacturer of planar magnetic headphones. Today the company also offers excellent in-ear models as well as headphone amplifiers.
What was the purpose of HE-560 and what objectives did you guys have with this product?
Lighter weight, increased comfort, improved cosmetics, better packaging and serviceability.
I have heard that HE-560 had some revisions. What did the last revision improve compared to the others?
All HiFiMAN products are subject to continuous improvement. The biggest revision to HE-560 has been the ear cups.
Why did you choose the single sided magnets technology?
Lower weight. HE560 and HE400i are 30% lighter than previous models.
I have seen some pictures with HE-1000 prototype which got me really excited. What can you guys tell us about it and what should we expect from it terms of sound quality and wallet damage?
HE-1000 and its companion EF1000 amplifier are no compromise products that will represent the latest thinking from HiFiMAN on planar magnetic headphones and amplification. At CES, these two models were previewed and will be available in the middle of 2015. No price is set yet but they will be priced as reference products.
I have suspected from some time now that 2015 will be a very interesting year for audio. The development of headphone flagships isn’t as fast as with new computer components for example, which appear from one year to another.
HE-6, their previous flagship was released in 2010, Sennheiser HD800 was released in 2009, Audeze LCD-3 was released in 2011 and so was Stax SR-009.
I can’t complain about the development time though. Imagine that every year a new better headphone would be released from each company. Just thinking of this made my wallet run away.
However, I think that 2015 will be a very interesting year and HiFiMAN already confirmed this with HE-1000. You can’t imagine how excited I am. This actually reminds me of my childhood when I was waiting for a new and exciting toy.
Until then, let’s get back to their wonderful HE-560.
Design & General Presentation
HE-560 comes in a very nice looking wooden box that adds to the joy of getting your new toy, as you get even more excited when you unpack it.
I realized pretty fast how light they are when I held them in my hands . The build quality seems pretty solid as well. I was eager to put them on my head.
They are one of the most comfortable headphones I have ever tested. The headband is very comfy and doesn’t apply pressure on the top of your head. Also they are very light and they weigh only 40g more than HD800, which weighs 330g. There is another reason for the light nature of HE-560, besides the light material used to build them.
The heavy planars usually have 2 sided magnets on both sides of the membrane and HE-560 chose the single sided way.
The pads are soft and on the inner circle they are made from velour which prevents the area from getting hot.
You can notice above that the cups can swivel and this may come in handy if you want to save some space.
The cable connectors wouldn’t have been my first pick. I would have preferred the mini-xlr connectors that Audeze chose as they are easier to plug/ unplug.
Tests and Listening Impressions
The tests were performed with Audio-Gd Master 9, Audio-GD Precision 2, AG500 Power Regenerator, Sennheiser HD800, Audeze LCD-X, MSB Analog Dac.
From what I have read on their website, HE-560 is more efficient than its bigger and older brother, the HE-6, having an efficiency of 90 db/mW. Actually, I think the last revision improved even more. From what I’ve seen on Innerfidelity, the older revision had 90db/2.5mw.
HE-560 comes with a single ended cable by default, so I had to use the single ended output from Master 9 which “only” has 2.5 W in 40 ohm. Don’t worry, it was quite enough, but I had to turn the volume knob more than with other headphones. I stopped at ~73%, which from the exponential volume graph from audio gd means about ~ 10% of power output. I would say that this wasn’t bad at all.
Precision 2 which is single ended by design, has a whopping 16 W @ 40 ohms output. HE-560 sounded wonderful on it as well, adding more bass weight and a little more control, making the sound a little bigger and more decompressed compared to the single ended output from M9. I am sure that on the balanced output from M9, they would gain more control as well.
The conclusion is that they still need a powerful amplifier to really shine.
Coldplay – We Never Change
The guitars that start the song are quite impressive. They have a very good texture, spark, strong pluck and good extension. They really make you feel the instrument and the material the guitar was build of. They also have a quite nice smoothness attached to them. Even if they have a good attack with good impact, they still have a smooth signature that makes the sound flow with ease. The voice is crystal clear and well textured as well.
Bon Jovi – Diamond Ring
These headphones are very addictive. The song begins with a guitar as well. I love how clear and how well textured the plucks are. When the voice starts, I got goosebumps. These headphones have one of the most present and clear voices I have ever heard, being forward, near you, not in the back like with other headphones. The soundstage is very spacious and the instrument separation is very good. The drum is highly present and deep, providing good impact as well.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11
The effect from the beginning of the song when they rub the guitar and the chords is very impressive and well reproduced by HE-560 which is also revealing the texture of the instrument. There are also some nice details while they rub the chords, as you can hear the very subtle springs. I am providing the link above because you can see exactly what they do and it is easier to follow my words. You can find here is the studio version of the song, that presents better details and impact. The energy of the song is very strong, addictive and contagious. HE-560 manages to reproduce this quite well. The plucks of the guitars have an impressive impact showing good attack with addictive extension. Another important aspect is the spacious soundstage which gives an impression of quite a large scene.
Infected Mushroom – Noon
If you listen to the song you would realize that it is a good bass test. Besides the bass, it is a good test for pace, rhythm and speed. HE-560 was good on all the fronts. The bass hits with strong punch and goes quite deep. It’s also fast, showing good control and tightness.
Vivaldi – Autumn – Allegro (La Caccia)
I love the airy presentation that 560 has. It’s not the most accurate / biggest soundstage, but it has a nice presentation that gives a sense of space and air. The instruments have a lot of space between them, showing very good layering. The treble on HE-560 is very detailed and extended. Even if sometimes it can get a little tiring, it behaved extremely good on this song. The instruments presented good extension, detail and attack.
Leonard Cohen – Come Healing
The female backup voices were delicious on he-560. Yes, they are well extended and textured, with a quite a strong presence in the scene. However, the first thing that I noticed was their crystalline quality that he-560 bestowed upon them. The ruggedness of Leonard’s voice was very well reproduced as well.
Hugh Laurie – Battle of Jericho
Hugh’s voice is brought right near you and it is very transparent, with good texture and tonality. The instruments around are sparkly and show good details. The treble is again well extended, but the cymbals are a little too strong, especially if you listen to more similar songs in a row.
The bass on HE-560 can hit low, with authority and impact. It is also quite fast and tight, presenting a very good amount of detail. What I love about it is that sometimes it surprises you when it seems to appear from nowhere and it shows you how deep it can go and how hard it can hit. It’s very well integrated in the rest of the spectrum and gives the sound a fast and energetic sound signature, keeping the sound on the neutral side.
The mids on HE-560 are quite impressive with very good details, energy and feel. The voices are quite clean and present in the song as these headphones bring them closer to you. The instruments have good energy in the beginning of their life span, especially the vibrating ones like chords. For example the violins, cellos and electric guitars are very visceral and full of energy.
The treble is well extended, detailed and sparkly. They are not quite bright but on some songs they can be a little tiresome. However, they do give a very airy sound signature and it still seems more natural than the treble on HD800, even if not quite as detailed.
The detail retrieval is very good and you can hear a lot of stuff going on in the songs.
The voices are brought to you in a very present and transparent manner. They are right there with you in the front row, but not in an invasive way, natural being a better de-ion of the situation. I love their presence, texture and extension.
Soundstage, Imaging and Instrument Separation
I love the airy presentation of these headphones. They have a very spacious and natural soundstage with good imaging and instrument separation.
Considering the very clear midrange, sparkly treble and fast, tight but deep bass, these headphones offer a very crisp and clean sound.
Energy and Dynamics
As I said before, the sound is very energetic on the HiFiMANs. Besides the fast sound that he-560 offers, it is also vibrant and visceral, giving life to the chords and strings. These qualities also help in offering great dynamics.
The sound is very fast for a planar. Actually it might just be the fastest planar I have heard. LCD-X for example has stronger attack, but a little more lingering decay (especially for lower notes) than HE-560. While this is very fun and can lead to a more energetic presentation, there were times when I found the decay on LCD-X a little more complete and times when it was lazy compared to the HiFiMANs. Overall, it leads to a very interesting and energetic sound experience.
With the exception of some harsh treble sound, for example cymbals, HE-560 has a very natural tonality and overall sounded more life like than both LCD-X and HD800.
Smooth sound signature
Besides the above, HE-560 has a nice smoothness characteristic in the sound signature than can be very addictive. When I am saying smoothness, I am referring to the way it jumps from a note to another. It has a strong attack and a fast but smooth decay at the same time. Actually the attack is strong but not too strong, keeping this smoothness I am referring to. While the beginning and the ending of the musical notes are a little blurry, their extension is full of life and energy.
Compared to Sennheiser HD800
Their lite and comfortable nature combined with the opened sound made me think of HD800 right away. They both have a neutral sound presentation with the mention that HE-560 seemed to have an even flatter frequency response. Why am I saying this? Because of the sub-bass and the upper midrange which were both more present on he-560.
Soundstage & Instrument Separation
The soundstage on the Sennheisers is more accurate and larger, especially wider. However, it’s very good on HE-560 as well. While on HD800 you could feel the sounds bouncing from the end of a large scene, delimiting it, on HE-560 the end is not quite clear and gives the impression of big scene as well but it’s not so holographic or well delimited.
Besides the size, HD800 is more accurate in positioning the instruments across the scene.
The bass is better controlled and hits harder on HD800, but doesn’t go as low as on HE-560. HE-560 has a fuller sound than the Sennheisers. They are not Audeze like, but the bass can hit hard and low when needed.
Both are very good in this section. HD800 is still more clear and detailed here, but HE-560 is a little more forward as the voices and some instruments have more presence and sound more natural.
The treble on the HiFiMANs is well extended too, but not quite as detailed as on HD800 which still extract more micro details here as well. As with the Sennheiser, the treble can get a little tiresome after a while, but they aren’t so edgy overall. I also think that the treble is still more natural sounding than on HD800.
The voices on HE-560 are more forward, a little more transparent and have a more natural tonality. However they still have better textures and are more detailed on HD800.
Tonality and Naturalness
HD800 is a little thin sometimes, taking away from the natural textures of the instruments and voices. Actually, when it comes to voice and instruments textures, HE-560 are more natural and closer to reality.
Transparency and Details
The Sennheisers also win in terms of transparency and details. Don’t get me wrong as HE-560 are quite detailed themselves, but not quite in the same league.
The sound is also faster and more controlled on HD800, presenting stronger attacks and faster decays.
Besides the above, HE-560 has a very nice smoothness characteristic in the sound signature than can be very addictive. When I am saying smoothness, I am referring to the way it jumps from a note to another. It has a strong attack and a fast but also smooth decay.
Compared to Audeze LCD-X
These headphones sound surprisingly different from each other.
The bass is very good on both cans, LCD-X having a stronger kick, a fuller body and sometimes better texture. The bass on HE-560 is faster and can go very deep as well. It is also tighter and helps in achieving a faster sound.
Because of the fuller bass, the heavy sound with more present voices and smoother treble, I liked rock and electronic music more on LCD-X.
Both are good in this region, but HE-560 has a more present midrange across the frequency range.
Some instruments are more visceral on HE-560 . Let’s take for example the chords from a violin, cello and even an electric guitar which have more energy and are more visceral on HE-560, even though sometimes they have more weight on LCD-X. Because of this, the natural tonality and textures of these instruments and the very airy sound presentation I found myself preferring HE-560 for classical music.
This comparison is quite complicated. Some other instruments have better texture and feel on LCD-X. Let’s take for example a saxophone or a trumpet. Both have better detail, texture and extension on LCD-X. Because of this I mostly liked jazz music better on LCD-X.
The treble on HE-560 has more spark but they are more linear and less edgy on LCD-X, making it easier to listen for longer periods of time.
The soundstage is good on both cans but quite different. On LCD-X you can get a better grip on the room as you can hear the echoes that define it. The soundstage on HE-560 is not so accurate but it is more airy and gives an impression of a larger scale/ room.
Also, on some songs, the soundstage seems more natural on HE-560 while on LCD-X it is a little too echoey.
I’ve listened to some Leonard Cohen on both headphones, and I must say I just love how Leonard sounds on the Audezes, as it has an incredible presence throughout the songs, with great texture, extension and tonality. Leonard’s voice sounded very good on he-560 as well but not quite as visceral, full bodied, or well textured.The female voices are cleaner and a little more present on HE-560, but very good on LCD-X too.
LCD-X has a stronger attack but not necessarily faster decays than HE-560 which seem to have better speed but sometimes seem to end too fast compared to Audeze. Because of the fuller sound, LCD-X might sound a little slower sometimes, but I still consider it to be a fast planar.
The HiFiMANs do a great job with rock and electronic music as well and I have found some songs where I did prefer it to LCD-X because of a more engaging and energetic presentation.
Even though HE-560 has a lot of air between the instruments, they seem to be better delimited on LCD-X with a clearer profile, but a little more air between them on the HiFiMANs.
The headphones are quite comparable in the details department as both extract a very good amount of details.
Overall, the sound is also cleaner / more transparent on LCD-X, but this has two sides as well. Because of the faster, tighter bass, a very clean midrange and more sparkle in the treble, there are some occasions when the sound seems to be more clear on HE-560.
Tonality wise, I think that overall HE-560 sounds more natural than both HD800 and LCD-X.
In the end these headphones sound very different and can easily be used as complementary headphones, though a person could prefer one instead of the other.
As I said before, HE-560 has a more different sound signature than I expected, even though they are planars. They have a very interesting and addictive sound signature offering a whole lot for their price. At the moment I cannot think of another competitor at that price level to offer the same amount of quality.
At 899$ they are capable of fighting with more expensive headphones and can offer some very nice qualities over the competition.
It has an unique signature that still reminded me of orthos, especially in the bass region but it manages to keep it neutral, adding speed, smoothness and air that leads to openness.
It has a spike on the treble area, my guess is on the 10k frequency, that gives it sparkle and could be enjoyable on some songs, but tiring on others. However, I feel that even if it might be a little bigger than on HD800, this peak is not as edgy and annoying on the long term.
With the exception of the treble area, it also has a very natural tonality making the voices and instruments sound closer to real life.
They were actually more natural than both HD800 and LCD-X.
This is a headphone worthy of my recommendation and your wallet. They became one of my most favorite headphones on the market today.
I also have some good news for Romanians as it seems that we have a dealer right here in Bucharest.
- excellent tight, fast bass with deep extension and good punch
- very detailed and present midrange with excellent vocals and visceral instruments
- open, airy soundstage with good instrument separation and imaging
- fast, energetic and dynamic sound
- very natural tonality especially in the midrange area
- very good detail retrieval
- smooth sound: the way it jumps from one note to another creates a smooth sound signature
- very comfortable
- good build quality and ergonomic design
- the treble can get a little tiring on some songs
- not the most comfortable cable connectors