The Exceptionally Pleasing HiFiMAN HE1000 Planar Magnetic Headphone
I had a long and very interesting conversation with Dr. Fang Bian, CEO and Founder of HiFiMAN, earlier this year in which I learned Bian had two strong tracks in his life: audio and inorganic chemistry, specifically nano-technology. It seems to me, the HE1000 is the first time where Fang has been able to express these two disparate disciplines in a single product.
The HiFiMAN HE1000 ($2999) has a "nanometer thickness" diaphragm. I've asked Dr. Bian how thick that is exactly...but unfortunately that's a trade secret at the moment. I'll be glad to assume, for the moment, that his claim of it being the thinnest planar magnetic headphone diaphragm in production currently is true. The closest thing I can offer as evidence is Dr. Bian's short movie in which he plays with the material, floating it in air. Lovely.
One thing this year has taught me is that technological advancements will often not pay off when the rubber hits the road of sonic quality. I have to say that in this case it does seem to have paid off...though in a rather unusual way. But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's take a look at the headphones first.
The HiFiMAN HE1000 is a full-sized, circumaural, acoustically open, planar magnetic headphone. Full-sized may be a bit of a misnomer...the earpads on these headphones are among the biggestif not the biggestI've seen, with an ear opening measuring a whopping 3.25"H x 2"W x 1"D (at rear of angled pads). I've somewhat regularly experienced that very large headphones will often take a bit of fidgeting to get them to apply even pressure around the entirety of the earpad. I didn't experience this at all with the HE1000once the headband size is set, it dons and doffs easily and reliably. These are very comfortable headphones and can be worn for hours on end.
Construction materials seem quite good with leather and velour earpads; leather headband suspension strap; and lots of metal in the construction. It mostly looks like stainless steel. I'll mention that the headband is magnetic and the rest of the headphone metal is not. (Stainless steel is actually a wide range of metals; some is magnetic, some is not.)
The HE1000 is fairly light weight (HE1000 477gr; Ether 365 gr; HD 800 378 gr; LCD-3F 598 gr) and close inspection of the internal construction after taking the pads off show quite a bit of attention has been paid toward keeping the weight down. I initially expected the wood around the outside of the headphone would just be a veneer strip. It might indeed be, but it can be seen from the inside with the pad removed, and it's obvious much care has been paid to both stiffening it from inside, and to keeping the entire structure light weight.
Headband size adjustments use a detented slider, which seems positive in action, adjustable over a useful range (early pre-production units were a bit too large overall), and secure once adjusted. Replacement ear pads are available; removal and replacement are quite easy. This is the nicest earpad removal design from HiFiMAN yet. Once the earpads are removed you can easily see the diaphragm, diaphragm circuit traces; smaller front magnetic structure (the rear magnets are larger hense the "asymetrical" name in product literature); and surrounding support structures. If you get the chance, have the owner pull a pad off to have a peak inside; very interesting.
Accessorization is quite good for a home headphone. Three cables are provided, which attach to the headphones at each ear with a 2.5mm stereo-miniplug. Cables included are: a 3 meter cable terminated with a 1/4" stereo plug; a 3 meter cable terminated with a 4-pin XLR for balanced operation; and a 5 foot cable terminated with a 90 degree angle 3.5mm stereo mini-plug. The cable are all of about average diameter, but the cable itself is a bit stiff, though I didn't run into any problems with mechanically-born noise traveling up the cables.
A fairly large (11.5"x9"x6.5") presentation case is included, which will easily store the headphones and cables (once detached from headphones). The outside of the case appears to be a medium tan leather; inside the case is foam with cut-outs for the headphones, and a compartment for the cables.
Despite the good materials selection and nice design, I tend to feel the headphones have a slightly "cheap"-er feel than expected. It find the ear cup rotating mechanism is slightly gritty feeling due, apparently, to the metal-to-metal contact of the joint as it rotates. And while the outer grill might work well at being acoustically transparent, I 'm a bit bothered by the "ting" created when flicking the grill bars with my fingernailthe metal part of the headband also "tings" when flicked. I did take some measurements with and without some damping to these parts and was unable to find a measurable difference, so this may not be a acoustic problem...but I don't like it.
I find the comfort of the HE1000 excellent; the materials good; and the construction quality a bit hit or miss. All-in-all, a very nice build, though a bit under par for a headphone at this price, in my opinion.
But...the sound quality...oh my...