CES 2017: Upcoming HiFiMAN Edition 6 and RE2000 Flagships

HiFiMAN was showing a prototype of an upcoming new flagship planar magnetic: The Edition 6 ($6000). They also were showing a prototype single dynamic driver IEM called the RE2000 ($2000).

This move evidently crossed some sort of tripping point and triggered a firestorm of reaction from the headphone enthusiast community. Some of the response can be found in threads at Head-Fi.org, Superbestaudiofriends.org, and Head-Case.org. Unfortunately, looking now you will not see the full force and vehemence of the dialog as the Head-Fi thread is now locked and has been heavily moderated with the most intense posts removed, and the SBAF thread is locked with ongoing chat tucked away in a more private forum area without casual outside access.

The gist of the backlash from enthusiasts boils down to:

  • Stop with the relentless introduction of flagships doubling of price every time.
  • Coming out with HE1000 and Edition X version 2 products so quickly devalues the worth of previous owners headphones. It makes owners feel like they bought the right to Beta test the product.
  • If you're going to make an expensive flagship product it needs to look the part. Build quality on current $1000+ models is under par.
  • There are too many reliability problems and your customer service sucks.

The dialog got pretty vicious at times. I think we should all take a chill pill and return to our corners for a moment. For starters these frustrations are not limited to HiFiMAN, there are plenty examples of similar behaviour from other planar magnetic manufacturers. I think HiFiMAN just hit that nerve a little too hard, and received the brunt of a fairly big well of pent up disatisfaction.

I'm going to go to bat for Fang (HiFiMAN's CEO) for a moment. There are very real cultural differences between China, and the US and other first world markets. China does seem to be improving as a whole, but I've heard far too many horror stories about corner cutting in Chinese manufacturing processes and the cultural norms behind it to believe they think about quality assurance the same way we do in the west. I'm sure some manufacturers there are exemplary and there are a wide range of corporate commitments to quality. I certainly wouldn't know where to put HiFiMAN in that spectrum, but I'm sure Fang doesn't quite see the quality issue the same way as we do here.

There's also a significant difference between the US market for enthusiast headphones, and that in China. Here in the US, we, the vast average public, are the important market. We, average everyday people with various interests both wide spread and special niche, are the important player. We're the biggest market in the world, and we know it, and we often make demands from that position. (Like when we started buying Japanese cars in the '80s because Detroit's quality sucked.)

In China, the vast public is poor. They are not the big buying power. They have way more people, and to the best of my understanding, their cultural structure is more rigidly stratified than ours. My point is that I'd guess HiFiMAN sells mostly to a business class in China; one that is proud of its accomplishments and relishes in its new-found wealth. Conspicuous consumption seems to be a bit more the norm there, and the ever increasing price and introduction of high-end HiFiMAN headphones may be quite successful in that "keeping up with the Jones'" environment. Just a guess.

All I'm saying is, Fang may be operating well within the norm of his culture, in fact, he may be quite exemplary.

On the other hand, HiFiMAN is selling their products globally. If they want to play on that playing field, they're going to need to invest earnings into developing solid sales, distribution, and customer service channels that are just as high quality as they intend their products to be. I too have felt HiFiMAN too often rushes product to market. And I too feel HiFiMAN flagship products fall below expectations in terms of build quality.

I'm sort of disappointed in the descending level of discourse and poo-flinging that appeared in the Head-Fi thread; I think we should be able to express our concerns in a respectful manner. I'm also disappointed that the thread is now so heavily changes from the original because I think things have to get difficult before they begin to get better. I thought the thread was just beginning to right itself and may have brought about some healing and learning, but that opportunity has now been aborted. It is difficult dialog like that that leads to growth and learning eventually. The thread is now locked.

FWIW, the thread at SBAF.org is also lock...but the original content remains without redaction. At SBAF sensitive topics are discussed, and sometimes the thread gets locked when it has served its purpose and there's no need for it to devolve.

Personally, I think the most sensible course of action is to vote with your wallet. I will try to get a sample in for review and make comments on the merits and moistiness of the product itself. 'Til then, you have Fang's words in the video below. I found them...informative.

COMMENTS
AMW1011's picture

I really like your take on the drama. Reminds me to be happy you're a figurehead in this community. Thanks Tyll.

mithrandir39's picture

And thanks for asking Fang directly about his pricing. That was a slightly awkward interaction, and necessary. At Headfi and SBAF, I really tried to keep my posts on point in those HFM discussions, but wow, things really started to get personal between members and Fang (in both directions), especially at headfi.

HiFiArt's picture

I can't really believe all the complaining about the pricing of Hi Fi Man headphones.

I mean, the guy creates a headphone the shame of his face for $6000 and people are complaining about it! The last one (the 1000) seemed custom made from Srajan Ejeban's face-shape, sounded great, and everyone loved it!

http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/munich2015/hifiman1.png

People are complaining about the Shangri La!

You guys don't get that a small apartment in the Shangri La (here in Canada) will set you back $1M (or $20M for the top+) and that just the taxes every year will buy you a headphone collection or the monthly maintenance (say non mortgage) will cover a non-Orpheus non-Shangrila top model. :)

http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2014/05/61st-floor-shangri-la-hotel-vancouver...

For the Toronto numbers that's $18.9M + $5025.25 monthly.

http://torontolife.com/real-estate/home-of-the-week-18-9-million-for-a-t...

Really, this is the sort of place for a HE 1000.

Now, I'm with you guys, about some of the Hi Fi Man models.

I bought myself a 300 and was looking forward to the 500, when the 560 came out and replaced it.

I thought I already had a 560 (a Sennheiser) so this is just a brand confusion in the market tactic.

Why wouldn't I want the original good one?

But I don't hear a lot of praise (which there should be) for this guy, Fang Bang, taking in HE 1000 headphones from original purchasers, and offering an upgrade program to a brand new HE 1000 Mk 2.

Who else does this amount headphone manufacturers?

I mean, the headphone was already a fantastic headphone. I thought it looked like shit from a luxury item point of view (sort of fake luxury, copying an Ultrasone Edition 10 Limited not very well in mt estimation), but it sounded so good, it was "better than headphones!"

I mean, in my estimation, so good that one like Dr. FB ought to think about coming out with a speaker based on his membrane technology.

As for looks, it will get me a lot of flack here, but not even Focal can make a good looking headphone.

I mean, the $5000 model, the Utopia (sorry Canadian pricing). The model down (Elear) actually looks better. Couldn't they have done better?

And what's the tiny little driver (Be) for such a large headphone size? Looks like a tweeter to me. Couldn't they have done better? Sounds good from around 5 foot away.

Anyone ever heard of an 009? :)

But the headphone world is weird, wonderful. It's so sort of an object fetisishist word that models like The Aybss get bought and praised.

What a stupid product is that?

But guys like to think of themselves as Dungeons and Dragons stalwarts (or Styxx aficionados) and like to think of their heads wrenched into place!

Long live the Mylar headphone technology. At least for Saran Wrap! :)

Dr. Fang Bang (FB) makes some great sounding headphones!

Dreyka's picture

You are absolutely right that the problem goes well beyond Hifiman.

People are angry that they're getting priced out of the very top end of the market as the price keeps going up. A flagship was $1000, then it's $4000 and now it's $6000. How long until we see the LCD-5 cost $8000.

The concern goes beyond pricing though. If improvements don't trickle down and manufacturers just let their product line stagnate as they fixate on the next most expensive flagship then this anger is only going to get worse.

What is needed is something with the frequency response of the HD600, the bass extension of an Elear/Utopia and priced below $1000. Perhaps Audioquest could be this and actually use their snake oil fortune to do some good.

HuoYuanjia's picture

You pretty much have exactly that with the Oppo PM-2, but people ignore it due to the fact that it does NOT cost a ridiculous amount.

HiFiArt's picture

It's a bit like in the Real Estate - market - and it happens when you fail to purchase, or I guess, also when you wish to re-purchase.

Take two Vancouver (excuse me for excluding a certain part of the market...)

http://www.albrighton.ca/r2134361-3315-w-38th-avenue

This one was $5M CDN when I was looking at it. Now, the new owner is asking $7,980,000.00 CDN. Good for the new owner, if he can sell it, and make $2,980,000.00 CDN - tax and fee.

This is just like the Sony MDR-R10 King Headphone ($2,500.00 USD) for perspective. When you buy a used item, it is worth way less (to you) than if it was brand new. There is damage, and depreciation, just like any fixed asset like Building, Plant and Equipment.

https://www.cnet.com/news/sony-mdr-r10-the-worlds-best-headphone/

Today, a Sony R-10 King Headphone ($2,500.00 USD) usually sells for over $6,000.

Now that $5M home that I looked at I thought was fine for Bali or somewhere nice, on a beach.

There was another one, with a swimming pool (I was hoping to use this for a stereo room - with a cover over the pool). I'm pretty sure this was not over $10M CDN when I was looking at it:

http://www.albrighton.ca/r2114993-1919-w-57th-avenue

Now, the owner is asking $17,800,000.00 CDN for it. Of the home, only the basement level is nice (suitable for parties), and it's on a double lot in a really poor area (poor view).

You don't see any photos of the basement (below ground...) level in the listing, but it's got a real elegant airport feel. The house has a nice proper wall, and was a great architectural home for it's day.

So if the guy sells it, over a few years, he's made $7,800,000.00 CDN - taxes + fees.

I've got a small headphone blog, by the way, hifiart.blogspot.com.

Mostly talk about wine. Was going to make a magazine, hifiart, but never got around to it. :)

You'll pay about $8,000.00 USD for a thin over-coat in Miami, so that's probably about right for an LCD-5.

Keep in mind, the nomenclature.

Who, besides a gamer or a stock market trader, uses 3, 4, 5, or more LCD screens? :)

How much does these screens cost? $5,000.00 USD for an 8K display today. (32")

http://ca.ign.com/articles/2017/01/06/ces-2017-dell-just-announced-an-8k...

A retina 5K? If you're happy with a 5K display, the LG Ultrafine 5K ($974.00 USD) goes for about $25 (26) less than your Elear's.

http://www.apple.com/shop/product/HKN62LL/A/lg-ultrafine-5k-display

While it seems that one can purchase a Lear Jet ($12M) for about the price of Vancouver real estate, these days, it looks like the lease-rates (single flight, free "legs" of journeys) are a bit more than today's headphones.

In terms of Inner Fidelity, then, it's more out of (or into) Fidelity Investment's (typical wealth) territory, and into Stereophile speaker (and entry-level high end) land!

John
aka
Staxguy
stereophile.com

RPGWiZaRD's picture

I'm glad I'm not into flagship headphones, my current fav is a $120 headphone and I've been testing headphones worth around $750 as expensiest, since then my faith in headphone pricing has declined and expectation bias doesn't affect me, my ears tell me which sound I like and the price doesn't matter much so when I'm looking for a new headphone I tend to look in the 100 - $1000 range and can be equally interested in the close to 100 as $1000 headphone, as long as it fits the kinda sound signature I'm looking for. :)

tony's picture

True that GM was making "not-so-good" products, our ex CEO even said "we've made a lot of junk" buuuuut we ( the US Auto Industry ) migrated to the "11 year durable-good" concept after WW11 ( from the concept that the car will last your lifetime, which the Germans still built to ). The 11 year Car is completely recycled and the consumer benefits from the New technologies. ( and, of course, gets to keep paying and paying and paying )

It's true that from 1992-on, Honda & Toyota began building to Mercedes quality and performance levels (even with their econoboxes ), which drove all us US Car Companies into near-bankruptcy ( which Obama and Steve Ratner fixed, god bless em ). Ratner fired our Top Executives and brought in competent people.

Mr.Fang is continuing to blunder, not seeming to understand. Jude and the others are protecting him for a while but "Market" forces are closing in. The Howls of Protest and disgust will have to be addressed or there'll be Blood in the Water ( lost sales momentum ). I kinda feel sorry for him!, he's got Focal to compete with and the others. All he has is the same tired stuff with skyrocketing prices, he needs "fresh" & lower price points but burned customers don't come back quickly ( as we GM people keep re-learning ).

Nice balanced reporting from Mr.Tyll, yet again!

Tony in Michigan

The Federalist's picture

From Fang's own perspective it's been 2 years since he released the HE1000 which is technically his last flagship release.

To a manufacturer trying to stay current, 2 years has got to feel like an eternity with the steady flow of new flagships hitting the market. It seems partly like Fang is actually trying to do just that... stay current.

After Sennheiser released the new Orpheus Hifiman released the Shangri La. It seemed like a "Me Too!" reaction to something Sennheiser had been developing for years.

Problem is that Hifiman has been by proxy cannibalizing their own line up. The HE500 outperformed the HE6 (the supposed flagship) and anyone who ponied up $3000 for the HE1000 as a would-be "early adopter" would have to be fighting mad when they turn around a few months later and release the Edition X for half the price.

It just strikes me as though Hifiman reacts to the rest of the market, vs knowing their own core market and knowing what their strengths are and the rest of the market be damned "This is what we are going to do."

What is precarious for Hifiman is that they have very limited, if any penetration into the mainstream market so are pretty dependent on their core market aka "the enthusiast" market to stay in business.... If you alienate your core market before you've gained traction in the mainstream. It's a dangerous place.

It's like selling out before you've blown up. Not a good thing.

The HE1000 sounded good but I actually have lost interest in the flagship market because of the constant re-ups. Flagship fatigue I guess.

I couldn't care less about the LCD4, the Abyss, the HE1000 or this new one... About the only headphone I am keenly interested in is the new Sony because they KNOW quality and their engineering at the flagship level has always been stunning.

Beyond that I'm good with my Elears and my HD800.

jgonzo's picture

Sticker shock and outrage at $6,000 products. That won't even buy you a single tweeter from Wilson Audio....

Torq's picture

You can buy an entire, current, Wilson Audio speaker for <$8,000.

And comparing the build quality of anything from HiFiMan to anything from Wilson Audio is comical.

Beyond complaints that $6,000 is off-the-charts for a headphone, most of the outrage comes not from the Edition 6 headphone itself, but the expectations set by the last few HiFiMan releases in terms of build-quality and lack-of-longevity.

bradleyp's picture

So the model numbers correspond to the prices in US dollars? The inelegance of that strategy is most unfortunate. Such a miscalculation will be difficult to overcome, I predict. Most people with that kind of income are more discerning.

ADU's picture

Cuz it sounds good. Makes perfect sense to me. : )

I've never listened to any HPs by HiFiMan. But I like Mr. Fang's no-nonsense approach, and wish him well in his endeavors.

ultrabike's picture

AFAIK, Dr Fang Bian has a PhD in Chemistry from the City University of New York. This after he moved out of Boston University because he did not like it there. Furthermore, this is not his first product introduction outside of mainland China.

As such, I'm not sure he is unfamiliar with the west. But then again, maybe he is.

Source:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/716831/what-kind-of-dr-is-dr-fang-bian

http://www.strata-gee.com/look-up-in-the-sky-its-a-bird-its-a-plane-its-...

南开米饭's picture

不跟你们说了

Thorsten Mühler's picture

Translation: "Screw you guys, I'm going home".

No, really.

Thorsten Mühler's picture

What the comment actually says is "I'm done with talking with you people, seriously."

echineko's picture

The name and tone of this comment sure seem like it's Fang, but I hope he clarifies his identity before people unnecessarily assume this is actually from him.

silgt's picture

南开米饭 = Nankai...his same username as in Head-Fi.

So unless someone else is using the same username as Fang, this will be a crying shame and a surefire way to destroy your brand name

silgt's picture

Hey...Can I buy your HE-1000 for $1,000?

...or should we call it "HE One Thousand Dollars"?

mike138's picture

like some pent-up frustration at Hifiman boiled over a bit. It looked like the complaints fell into two main categories:

1. Quick releases of $1,000+ headphones (as well as newer versions of said headphones) is frustrating to the customers who thought they were buying a flagship model that was, for at least some time, "the best" that Hifiman had to offer.

2. Hifiman has had some quality control and customer service issues.

I can't really speak to the first point - I'm strictly a mid-fi guy. I do own the HE-400i (purchased at half price last year) and I think they are excellent value for the money. I wanted to try planars, and at the time the 400i was entry level for HFM.

I also owned the RE-600s, and the cable cover was so stiff it clipped the wire inside. From what I've read, I was far from the only person to have that happen. I saw that HFM released an updated version with a different cable, but I've already moved on to other IEMs.

However, none of this really justifies how ugly that thread got. Personal attacks on Fang, and his use of a very disturbing image are way out of line for what amounts to hobby equipment.

There were a few really good posts detailing the differences in American and Chinese business cultures. I think HFM may have benefited from a more strategic release schedule. Let people get a little bored with their gear first....

tony's picture

Wow, I've just had a closer look at the Head-Fi postings, Phew!

Some of these postings are just the same as we saw during the Trump Rallies, Eeeeeegads, regular polite people have gone NASTY.

Is this the ugly future means of all things Social?

It isn't happening in the Big Box, Super Priced, High End range of gear that Stereophile normally reports ( $750,000 Wilsons ), maybe Audiophiles have already resigned themselves to outrageous.

Is it Trump Style "China Bashing"?

Has Hubris creeped into Mr.Fang and Company?, now paying the Price? A Make HIFI great again slogan printed Poster modeled after the Trump Poster.

I think that I'm seeing the Headphone Community SCREAM!

Who's next?

Tony in Michigan

ps. Stereophile & JA did a very nice job of reporting CES, even doing Tyll style video. Our Tyll leads with dignity ( yet again ), well done!

logscool's picture

I think much of the more mainstream (non-headphone) audiophile community has already grown acustom to crazy pricing and some of them do have very much that feeling of pride in owning outrageously expensive gear that Tyll talks about with the high end Chinese market.

The headphone community is a bit different people are looking for value and (most) aren't simply looking to show off. I'm not saying there isn't crossover in mentality between the two communities but as a general rule they are different. I think there are more headphone enthusiasts who don't have lots of money but want a really good music listening experience and are willing to use the money they have to pay for it then there are in the general stereo audiophile community.

tony's picture

Yes, I think you're right.

Audiophiles are a committed group willing to accept the tip falling off their $12,000 Phono Cartridges, willing to evaluate $1,500 Hurricane Power Cables, willing to audition Fuses. Audiophiles ( like me ) are psychotically crayzeee. ( although I went into an Audiophile Recovery Group in 1985 and am now quite down to earth & practical ).

The 300,000,000 ( 300 Million ) headphone owners seem quite normal by comparison to us the Lunatic Fringe types ( or at least me ). They think $50 ear thing is expensive but worth it if you can afford it, great Bass! Besides, normal people don't have the time for focusing on Audio alone, their lens is Wide-Angle with max depth of field, plus, their music is horrible sounding, so why bother with Sennheiser HD800?

Tony in Michigan

Journeyman's picture

I agree completely with your opinion.
This site need a like thing...

logscool's picture

Everyone is getting very mad and bent out of shape at all of these mega kilobuck headphone releases however I also seem to notice that many of those same people are becoming increasingly price desensitized below the threshold of these new ultra expensive headphones.

I noticed in several of Tyll's other CES videos where he was looking at headpones in the $200-$500 range and calling them "affordable". This used to be high end or at least mid-high end pricing. If someone like sennheiser released a good flagship headphone right now for $1500 everyone would go on and on about how great sennheiser is for making their new flagship so "affordable" when only a few years ago it would have been very much top end flaship pricing.

Also a brief comment on Fang's comment about the RE2000 costing so much because they sound so good. To be honest that should be the driving factor behind headphone price. The price of most commodities in the world is not driven by the cost of development and manufacturing but rather the demand and willingness to pay of the market. If a headphone that costs $20 to make and hardly had any development costs came to market and sounded better than anything else available today they would and should be able to sell it for a very high price not because of the costs but because of the resulting product.

mike138's picture

but part of the reason that people would be praising Sennheiser is that they keep their flagship headphones around for quite a while. This helps them retain value, which Senns tend to do towards the higher end. The HD 600 was released in 1997, the 650 in 2003, the 800 in 2009, 750 in 2012, and the 800s in 2016.

HFM has released what, four $1000+ headphones in the last few years alone?

logscool's picture

Yes and I hesitated in using Sennheiser as the example for this and other reasons.

NickS's picture

I think part of the frustration from the Head-Fi community is that they are the fuel for the engine that has become the high-end headphone industry. They grew up together, in partnership. Until recently, the majority of flagship headphones were affordable by a middle class person (except electrostatics). That is no longer the case and the audiophile headphone community rightly resents it.

Secondly, if you are a middle class person who has stretched their budget to buy a flagship headphone, it is understandably galling when said flagship is updated shortly after release and then superseded a year later. Flagships should have a longer life than that. See: HD-800, STAX 009, LCD-4, Abyss, and many others for flagships that have had a life of more than a single year. Flagships represent a major purchase for most people and pride of ownership is important psychologically to many. Manufactures should understand this.

Last of all, most of us do not view audiophile headphones as luxury items in the traditional sense. A person into fashion does not expect the cost of designer clothes to be related to the cost of labor and materials. They are paying for the brand. That is not how audiophile headphones have been priced in the past. We expect the price to be closely related to the cost of low volume production (research, labor, materials, etc). As Fang indicated in your video, his pricing model is now closer to traditional luxury pricing. It is not surprising that audiophiles object to this move away from value.

(For what it is worth, I say all of this as someone who has a very high-end headphone and two channel systems and who can afford all the flagship headphones I want, short of the Orpheus 2, perhaps. I still resent the pricing of the Edition 6.)

Pedalhead's picture

Spot on article, good stuff Tyll. Although I do like the sound of the HEK v2 and had saved up enough to buy one, I just voted with my wallet and put it into my 2 channel system i stead. Stay moist mate.

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