HIFIMAN HE1000se Headphone Review Page 2

The Setup

I mixed it up a fair amount with this HIFIMAN headphone when it came to sources, shifting from a balanced dual-DAC equipped Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 DAP ($699 USD) playing DSD, PCM and streaming TIDAL Hi-Fi and MQA, to a Linear Tube Audio microZOTL MZ3 headamp/pre ($3,700 USD) being fed by an Aurender W20 Music Server/Streamer ($17,600 USD) and totaldac d1-direct ($19,250 USD – 24-bit/192kHz) combo that handled DSD, software-unfold MQA and PCM. I also employed the internal 32-bit/384kHz DAC/HXD-equipped (Headphone Crossfeed Director) headphone out of my McIntosh C2600 tubed preamplifier ($6,999 USD), which handled PCM, DSD and software-unfold MQA through a Roon Nucleus+ ($2,499 USD), and finally the dCS Bartók DAC/Headamp ($15,000 USD) running Roon via LAN/ethernet from the Nucleus+. All brought something different to the table from a sonic signature standpoint, which the HE1000se clearly translated with each switch in amplification/source. Like the Audeze LCD-4z, the HIFIMAN is somewhat ruthless in its transparency at revealing upstream changes. I chose this differing equipment because it is what I had on hand. Critical listening notes were made with the Nucleus+/totaldac/LTA combination using TelluriumQ Ultra Black II interconnects and a Final Touch Audio USB and Ethernet cable. Both the totaldac and the MZ3 come with separate linear power supplies/umbilical cables for AC power.

3.5mm stereo jacks.

Listening

As a preface and without hype, the HE1000se presents what I would consider to be one of the largest sound stages of any over-ear headphone I’ve spent time with to date, challenging the Audeze LCD-4z I’ve been using as my reference. Its ability to present a realistic aural picture in critical areas of reproduction such as lifelike mass and spatial-presence projection in the X,Y and Z-axis of vocalists, musicians, back-up singers and instruments allows the listener to stray dangerously close to a suspension of disbelief during playback – especially as you climb the ladder of quality in your source.

With a nod more to neutrality than warmth regardless of source pairing – and texture-rich timbral and tonal color – the HE1000se can be tuned to your liking by feeding it with an appropriate amp/DAC that is inline with subjective tastes. I like neutral, fast and transparent, but I also gravitate towards transducers that do not sacrifice warmth in a recording for transparency. I know from experience that the two are not mutually exclusive in two-channel hi-fi or personal audio, but they are not an easy achievement to combine on the first go. And just like musical taste, yours is more likely to be different than mine, so YMMV listening to the HIFIMAN through the gear I chose. This headphone will not make crap files through a smartphone sound brilliant, but it does have the ability to translate superlative files being fed to it through superlative gear with the utmost fidelity.

A judicious pairing.

Starting from the top, the aforementioned soundstage gets a big contribution to its size and scope thanks to the tremendous sense of air and space around notes in the upper registers; piano, violin, electric and acoustic guitar – strings in general – sax, trumpet, woodwinds, synth and keyboard, electronic effects, they all are possessed of clarity and exquisite decay without ever becoming strident – some albums/genres, like early metal (Black Sabbath, Paranoid – “War Pigs” in particular) or punk (Stooges, Raw Power) can reveal the limitations of a more strident sound in the mastering/recording, but, as with all things hi-fi, even this can be tamed with judicious amp/DAC pairing.

Singer-songwriter albums by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot (Sit Down Young Stranger) or Cat Power live in the midrange, and this is a strip of bandwidth with real meat on its bones through the 1000se when you provide enough juice. The benefits inherent to the transient speed of those lightning-fast planars not only lets the top end breathe, it imbues the mids with dynamic slam and weight while still allowing vocal and acoustic guitar-playing delicacy of covers like “Fortunate Son” off Dark End of the Street by Power to ever-so-lightly grind against you like a pair of too-tight corduroy pants. Pizzicato and arco on upright bass played by the likes of Doug Watkins on Saxophone Colossus are ripe with microdynamic texture and Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet on “Witch Hunt” off Speak No Evil sweats sheen and blaat with incredibly realistic and transparent brassy hues and detail of every change up in embouchure.

Comfort through design.

Bottom end frequencies on the 1000se provide a load-bearing structure for notes between the lowest octaves to build themselves up. It does this without lumping them together like some transducers can in the bass/sub-bass, rather it has that rare ability to provide real articulation to those lowest notes. Bass was visceral, clean, and punchy regardless of genre. The opening of the ECM masterpiece Lost River (Michele Rabbia/Gianluca Petrella/Eivind Aarset) is all sparse electronic tremolos, haunting gated-mic trombone and intakes of breath punctuated by some of the deepest percussive notes (courtesy of Rabbia) I’ve had the pleasure to experience on my two-channel system. Through the 1000se what could have been a bass-shy letdown was most definitely not. The scale and impact I had become used to through my big Harbeths and McIntosh mono blocs managed to carry through not only the Nuclues/totaldac/LTA combo but even through the A&K SR15 – it was a real wow moment for me and while the A&K did not have all the air/depth/resolution/warmth that the big system translated, it nevertheless left me wanting for little and again clearly showed how effortlessly the HEs can be driven and controlled with modest portable amplification.

Conclusion

The HE1000se is a convincing witness to the recorded event for those looking to crown their heads with nothing less than the best which can be had. At $3,499 USD it is priced firmly in the uppermost echelon of headphones and while obviously a serious financial investment, I feel it is worth the price of entry that this level of sonic reproduction commands. It absolutely challenges my reference $3,995 USD Audeze LCD-4z planar-magnetic, over ear monitors for sonic supremacy in all categories of reproduction. While I would be hard pressed to say one is better than the other, each headphone offers a differing take timbrally, tonally and spatially of music that challenges the listener with every song played to not lose oneself in the presented aural experience. These are both transportative pieces of analog technology that have few peers, but the HE1000se does stand apart in its design, sonic/technical/build achievements and because of its weight/headband structure, in its ability to stay longer over my ears than any other design at this price/performance point.

Highly Recommended.

Beauty in the eye of the beholder.

  • Driver Type - Planar Magnetic
  • Design - Over-Ear (Circumaural)
  • Sensitivity - 96 DB
  • Impedance - 35 Ohms
  • Cables - 3.5mm Single Ended, 6.35mm Single Ended, Pentacon 4.4mm Balanced Connector
  • Weight - 440 G
  • Price - $3,499 USD

COMPANY INFO
HIFIMAN
customerservice@hifiman.com
1-201-443-4626
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Simply Nobody's picture

May be a comparison review with the Audeze LCD MX-4 ($3,000), if possible? :-) ..........

Sith Overlord's picture

Maybe this has been asked before, but are there plans to accompany these reviews with measurements at some point?

Rafe Arnott's picture
... the hope. But it's been delayed several times in its implementation. I can't give a firm answer yet, but believe me, as soon as I know, everyone on the site will know.
Simply Nobody's picture

May be Rafe could review the new Warwick Audio Aperio electrostatic headphone system with matching hi-res capable headphone amplifier ($24,000)? :-) .........

Skycyclepilot's picture

Took me a year to save up and buy the plain Arya headset, so this headset is financially out of the question, but the Arya owes much to the HE1000 line. They aren't made of those beautiful, exotic materials used in the HE1000se, but the drivers are very similar.

I'd love to read an article comparing all the members of the He1000 line.

X