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.

Physical Description
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 biggest—if not the biggest—I'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 HE1000—once 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 fingernail—the 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...

COMPANY INFO
HiFiMAN
711 Dawson Drive
Newark, DE
customerservice@hifiman.com
201-443-4626
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
wiinippongamer's picture

I heard a sheet of TP gets rid of both the ringing and distortion spikes

potterpastor's picture

These are 10 times the money of the 400S, so I would expect and hope they will sound better. But how much better do the HE1000 sound? 10 times better? or 2x better? I Love my 400S

Audioaddict's picture

Would a genere like metal cause these cans to trip up in the upper mid and high registers like you say they can get? Does the Ether handle complex faster music better than these? If so i would much rather get the ether's and EQ them.

potterpastor's picture

I forgot to say how much I appreciate your reviews

Seth195208's picture

Is it possible with the software you're using to get multi tone IM distortion plots? They're way more relevant to music than HD measurements.

Jazz Casual's picture

sums up the HE1000 sonically for me. Very comfortable and an easy listen but it took the edge of everything, and I regard that as its fatal flaw. I think it's overpriced and couldn't recommend it over the HD800.

zobel's picture

the Sennheiser HD800S. From all reports, this will be the holy grail of headphones. Hope the price doesn't go up much from the HD 800.

Headphone4life's picture

After reading a few reviews about the HE-1000 it seems like my dream headphone, which is all it will probably ever be. I understand it cost a lot to develop and produce a headphone like this but do they really need to be $3000 and $4000? Someone like me will most likely only be able to hear them at a show or meet because spending that much on a headphone just isn't practical. I really hope someday the prices on headphones like this come down to the $1000 or $1500 range because that's about as much as I can or will ever spend on a headphone. One day I might be able to buy a used headphone like the HE-1000 but for now I'm happy with what I have, for now at least because we all know how this hobby is.

24bitbob's picture

Hi,

I'm with you on this. For most people, the difference between $1500 and $3000 for a headphone is way too much (For most people, full stop, paying $1500 for a headphone is crazy, never mind $3000).

If you followed the recent Big Sound series of articles, you would find that more participants preferred the HD800's over the HE1000's, so the idea that the HE1000's is an improvement at all, can be debunked. At best, it may be a preference for some people, but based on Big Sound, the preferences lay elsewhere.

$3000 for a headphone you may, or may not, prefer over what you have is a big call, verging on the ludicrous.

I would suggest you EQ your HD800's. There is a good step by step guide that Bob Katz went through in a Big Sound article on 7 September 2015. I guarantee you that EQ'ing the HD800's transforms them, and I'm 99% (make that 99.99%) sure that doing so will elevate them above the HE1000's.

Also, EQ'ing will more than make up any differences that may exist between amplifiers and DAC's, assuming that you have passable ones of these in the first place.

What I found interesting from Big Sound was that a $2000 amplifier could more than stand its own against $4000, or even $15,000 models. I'm sure there are a good few $1000 designs out there that would pass that test too. Differences if they exist at all, are measured in 'smidgens' of sound quality, meanwhile price differences come out in $,000's.

HiFi these days has left the scale of diminishing returns, and operates in other realms. I reckon pricing is governed by costs to do with scale of manufacture /research, and the old chestnut of desirability. For sure, price is not a gauge of quality.

Caveat emptor.

No's picture

You can buy excellent transparent DAC/amps for <$500.

No's picture

The $300 HD 650's have lower distortion.

Beagle's picture

...for a lot less with my Nighthawk? Ether splits the diff?

Guess I saved a lot of money.

Mr AC's picture

Tyll,

Excellent review. I'm really intrigued by the DMG Audio EQuilibrium product. How does that fit into your playback system - could it work with JRiver, for example? I can't figure it out by looking on their website which says one of the system requirements is having ProTools.

Thanks!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I use the DMG Equilibrium with J-River. Shouldn't be a problem for you.
Mr AC's picture

Thanks Tyll, I look forward to demo-ing EQ. Seems like it might be very useful!

dwyerwinchell's picture

I very much like your writing. You manage to be definite, descriptive, and thorough without being dogmatic, ideological, or overbearing. It's clear that music remains the fundamental as your getting lost in Carmen McRae while evaluating the Pono player demonstrates (it's a great CD). The HiFMAN HE1000 will be forever out of my price range, but I've had the 400S for about 6 months and like them a lot. (I also like the Sennheiser HD 580's I bought 22 years ago from Headroom because Tyll thought they were great as well as a number of other headphones like the NAD Viso that I got after your review.) What you heard is consistent with what I had heard, but I make no pretense of being as critical or discerning a listener.

I would also like to praise the inclusion of the equalization graph and discussion. It was very interesting to read about and see your equalization tweaks. I Hope you will begin adding such information to your reviews.

After your Big Sound sessions with Bob Katz, I tried to dabble with adding equalization. I downloaded JRiver because it's generously offered with a free trial period and tried to add equalization. However, I didn't care for JRiver--it's far more that I want or need and I much prefer Foobar2000's simplicity. Consequently, I hope that someone sometime soon writes about adding equalization programs like DMG to Foobar2000 and discussing the whole process of equalization. Foobar2000 has a built-in equalization and perhaps that all one would need. In any event, I hope you have the time and inclination to write a comprehensive article or series of articles on equalization and how to implement it with various players like JRiver, Foobar, and available equalization add-ons. I would like to have an equalization for dummies, step-by-step instruction on how to implement equalization and how to approximate the Harman curve or other suggested options.

In the meantime, thanks.

MRC01's picture

Tyll, I appreciate your candor and integrity in wondering aloud how a headphone that subjectively sounds so good can have measurements that reveal shortcomings that should be audible.

I wonder how often audiophiles attend live acoustic musical events to reset their perceptions on what the absolute reference really sounds like. To disregard electronic or amplified music here is not a judgment, but a simple observation that there's no absolute reference what it should sound like.

Personally, I find most "high end" headphones (and speakers) do not sound like an actual acoustic music performance. They have various forms of euphonic distortion, commonly sounding brighter with hyper-detail compared to the real thing.

A speaker or headphone that actually sounds like the real thing might be too boring for some audiophiles, who are looking for more "zing" in the sound.

MRC01's picture

BTW, that overly bright and detailed sound could also be the way a lot of music is recorded, and the speaker or headphone is simply rendering the recording.

Yet while this may be true in some cases, it can't explain all cases because there are some speakers & headphones with excellent measurements that also sound close to the real thing when playing high quality recordings of acoustic music played in natural spaces.

Pedalhead's picture

...with my HE1000s. I like the slightly more "meaty" presentation, although I've gone for less of a dip around 8khz (-1dB).

I was another who initally balked at the crazy price of the HE1000, but whilst I admit they lose a little impact over some others (including my HE560), they are otherwise wonderful and as you've eloquently pointed out...just hugely enjoyable to listen to. For someone who often listens to 5+ hours of music via headphones a day, they're a godsend :-).

Mr AC's picture

Tyll,

Seems like the readers might benefit from an article on how to EQ. I sure could not find a whole lot of information on the subject out there. I am reasonably tech savvy (build my own PCs) but getting DMG EQuilibrium working with JRiver took a fair amount of tinkering and guesswork. That being said, so far my impressions are very positive. I just wonder, what are the downsides? Does EQing cause some kind of loss of fidelity, e.g. bit destruction?

Long time listener's picture

"Despite the soft and slightly blurry transient response, the HE1000 does image quite well; probably the best of the Big Sound headphones but for the HD 800. I'm a bit surprised at this result as it's my belief the clean articulate transient response is directly related to the ability to produce a sense of space."

Tyll, is it possible you're focusing too narrowly on one attribute as being responsible for good imaging? The HE1000 does have one attribute that the HD800 doesn't, which is better extension at both the top and bottom end. I suspect that may be related to pushing out the boundaries and extending the sense of space.

chik0240's picture

I am curious that as the nano diaphragm will cause modal resonance, (I remember in the sennheiser new orpheus article seemed that they think diaphragm have a best thickness rather than simply the thinner the better?)

In this sense, it seemed that the Edition X with most of the HE1000's design but a thicker diaphragm would actually shows less distortion and more neutral signature or more analytical sound? Do you have any impression and measurements of the edition x?

Jonny Audio's picture

Hi Tyrll,

This is my first entry onto your incredible website. Thank you so much for your excellent reviews.

For years, I have been searching for headphones that will do justice to my fondness for pipe organ recordings, which of course often have very low bass,now faithfully captured in many fine recordings of the instrument, as well as the complete range of audible sounds. I have several pairs of headphones which do a credible job, including the bargain-priced Koss Porta Pros I have enjoyed immensely for decades, and the discontinued Bose AE2 just recently picked up for a song on a great website called BLINQ. Just this weekend, I was lucky enough to acquire a used pair of Audeze LCDX's. Of course, this headphone, lavishly praised by you and John Atkinson, is a wonderful reproducer of music of nearly all kinds. But, I thought I had been committing the "sacrilege" of applying EQ to each of these devices through a Rane 31 band pro unit to suit my tastes, until I came upon your articles.

I have never quite understood how the "high end" feels tone controls degrade the sound, when it's pretty obvious that no two humans hear quite the same, and after all, it's really about enjoying the music, and not fulfilling some laboratory standard of what's so called "realism" in sound.

Fine headphones, in my opinion, through EQ, allow the user to make the adjustments that ends up in their being pleased with what they hear. When I used some very fine headphone amps, but without the provision for EQ, I often was left rather disappointed. But now, through my faithful companion, a more than 30 year old Luxman integrated amp, with a headphone output, and my added EQ, I could not be happier. Each of the phones above needs its own adjustment, and finer tuning depending upon the recording chosen, but after that, its hours of sonic bliss.
The Audeze is clearly the king of my headphone collection. However, its bulk and pressure on the head make it not as soothing to the cranium as the other lightweights, but its capabilities make the comfort issue worth enduring. I am going to experiment further with the headband- perhaps a little gentle traction will lessen the clamp effect.

In any case, kudos to you for allowing the concept of EQ to enter the high end sphere. It would be really great to see its use also "permitted" in the high end journals. In that sense, it has already been given a "pass" through the many room optimization devices now being advertised in their magazines, such as DEQX.

Kindest regards, and thanks for all your excellent work.

"Jonny Audio."

So, Tyrll, it's a blessing that you have

Jonny Audio's picture

Hi Tyrll,

This is my first entry onto your incredible website. Thank you so much for your excellent reviews.

For years, I have been searching for headphones that will do justice to my fondness for pipe organ recordings, which of course often have very low bass,now faithfully captured in many fine recordings of the instrument, as well as the complete range of audible sounds. I have several pairs of headphones which do a credible job, including the bargain-priced Koss Porta Pros I have enjoyed immensely for decades, and the discontinued Bose AE2 just recently picked up for a song on a great website called BLINQ. Just this weekend, I was lucky enough to acquire a used pair of Audeze LCDX's. Of course, this headphone, lavishly praised by you and John Atkinson, is a wonderful reproducer of music of nearly all kinds. But, I thought I had been committing the "sacrilege" of applying EQ to each of these devices through a Rane 31 band pro unit to suit my tastes, until I came upon your articles.

I have never quite understood how the "high end" feels tone controls degrade the sound, when it's pretty obvious that no two humans hear quite the same, and after all, it's really about enjoying the music, and not fulfilling some laboratory standard of what's so called "realism" in sound.

Fine headphones, in my opinion, through EQ, allow the user to make the adjustments that ends up in their being pleased with what they hear. When I used some very fine headphone amps, but without the provision for EQ, I often was left rather disappointed. But now, through my faithful companion, a more than 30 year old Luxman integrated amp, with a headphone output, and my added EQ, I could not be happier. Each of the phones above needs its own adjustment, and finer tuning depending upon the recording chosen, but after that, its hours of sonic bliss.
The Audeze is clearly the king of my headphone collection. However, its bulk and pressure on the head make it not as soothing to the cranium as the other lightweights, but its capabilities make the comfort issue worth enduring. I am going to experiment further with the headband- perhaps a little gentle traction will lessen the clamp effect.

In any case, kudos to you for allowing the concept of EQ to enter the high end sphere. It would be really great to see its use also "permitted" in the high end journals. In that sense, it has already been given a "pass" through the many room optimization devices now being advertised in their magazines, such as DEQX.

Kindest regards, and thanks for all your excellent work.

"Jonny Audio."

AGB's picture

I believe it was under the Audeze reviews at InnerFidelity, LCD2 or X in which I had commented about the necessity for EQ for all headcans - some need more EQ, some less. In my review of the x for Paul's Post which Arnie Nudell got before he reviewed the X for The Absolute Sound, I published another article on EQ itself. This technique should have been the acceptable norm years ago. The three main reasons for EQ are:
1. We all hear differently, each of us has a different FR curve built in.
2. Age-related HF loss. Or youth-related loud-head-jangling hearing loss.
3. Each can has a different FR.

There are other reasons I won't get into here.

I use Fidelia iZotope-enabled digital engine with their headphone module because 1. Fidelia is one of the best sounding players, 2. it has a headphone module while most others do not. That module makes a difference. Lastly, it has three parametric EQs that work just right.

And while I'm at it, the USB REGEN is wonderful and indispensable for most DACs.

xp9433's picture

Tyll

In your excellent review, did you compare them both EQ'd? Or were you comparing the EQ'd He1000 with the "standard" modded HD800?

I am sure a lot of HD800 owners would love an update on an EQ'd HD800 from either you or Bob with final EQ adjustments shown.

xp9433's picture

Innerfidelity's commentary on EQ in and since Big Sound 2015 has been enlightening. EQing my headphones by starting out with the Harman target curve and then adjusting to tweaking to suit my tastes has increased my enjoyment of HP music a lot. Many thanks! Like you I like a little less bass than the Harman curve suggests.

In future HP reviews is there any way you can remeasure the EQ'd HPs. Possibily not, but it is worth the question.

It would be very helpful and instructive if you were able to show/add the Harman target curve to your frequency response measurements for comparison purposes.

RoadDawgWest's picture

The review states HE1000 needs an amplifier with sufficient power to drive them. I know some might say it's time for an updgrade, but would my trusty Headroom Max headphone amp drive the HE1000's?

No's picture

Overpriced Junk. At least Audeze planars have constantly low distortion. HiFiMAN's do not.