The $3,000 HiFiMAN HE1000 HEADPHONES – TINY INNOVATIONS DELIVER MASSIVE SOUND QUALITY
The Headphone.com offices in Livingston Montana have a spectacular view of snow-capped mountains set against our famous Big Sky. It’s enough wild beauty to lose yourself day dreaming about wide-open possibilities.
All this vastness can sometimes make you feel like a tiny cell caught in the maw of towering natural forces.
Around here, it’s easy to be reminded of our intrinsic molecular connection to the huge macrocosm of life.
Over the past decade, Dr Fang Bian of HiFiMAN has applied his PhD doctorate in the field of infinitesimally tiny, sub-molecular nano-technologies to research and develop the largest, biggest, widest, most perfectly balanced sound possible in headphones, culminating in the flagship HiFiMAN HE1000.
By devising his own newly engineered ‘nano-thin’ planar magnetic driver arrays, Dr. Bian saw that the path to the biggest sound quality advancement was to focus on the most minuscule of parts, the planar driver diaphragm material itself.
His HiFiMAN company then set about designing and manufacturing new internals for the HE1000 transducer and super-flyweight materials for the headphone frame and earcups. The goal was not only make the HE1000 one the lightest headphones of its type, but also offer a level of musical precision and smoothness that clearly bested all previous HiFiMAN headphones.
Safe to say Dr Bian burned some serious midnight oil during the self-imposed 7-years-in-the-R&D-wilderness he spent perfecting and then re-perfecting the HE1000 until it was finally ready to be unleashed into the marketplace in late 2015.
Priced at $2,999 MSRP, the HiFiMAN HE1000 architecture expands upon the superb audio DNA derived from the asymmetrical magnet and ‘teardrop’ style earcup design he previously developed for the much less expensive HiFiMAN HE560 and HE400 headphones. The basic idea is that an asymmetrical shape effectively reduces the amount of magnet and grill material placed between the planar magnetic diaphragm and the earlobes, which in turn helps reduce the potential for acoustic colorations impacting the sound.
In the HiFiMAN HE1000, Dr. Bian’s patented louvered ‘window shade’ outer earcup grills serve to minimize these low-level reflections with the result being a near-perfect purity of tone and clarity of texture unmatched by most other high-end headphones we’ve heard. Those louvered earcup slats also happen to look darn sexy-cool too.
The HiFIMAN HE1000 lightweight ergonomics make it among the most wearable of all the full-size planar magnetic headphones and it certainly exceeds the comfort level of any previous HiFiMAN model. It’s also cosmetically attractive with a large stainless steel adjustable headband frame, broad oval earcups outlined in genuine tonewood and an extra-wide vented leather head strap all contributing to the HE1000’s excellent comfort.
The overall construction quality appears solid, but it may be somewhat difficult to fully justify the eye-opening price tag based strictly on the HE1000 build design which could almost be perceived as being slight or underwhelming when matched up against the perfectly machined uber-logic of the Sennheiser HD800S or the beefy hand-hewn feel of the Audeze LCD-4.
Our HE1000 test sample contained a couple of hardly visible minor surface imperfections that disagreed with its extreme high-end price tag. Certainly nothing big and completely cosmetic for sure, but whether realistic or not, consumer expectations for 100% pure perfection always rise commensurately with the asking price.
When compared against the sister-model Edition X headphones, another open-back planar magnetic offering from HiFiMAN priced at around half the cost of the HE-1000, the Edition X has a more resonant but less well-controlled bass response with a bit of pudgy bloom audible in the upper bass/low mids regions. That presentation enables the highly efficient Edition X to partner directly with smartphones, computers or iPad / tablets with no amp required and deliver a more vigorous low-end kick than heard in the technically precise, tight bass extension of the HE1000. Of course, the HE 1000 does require an amp for best performance but, when properly driven, the HiFiMAN HE1000 tone manages to be both velvety smooth and delightfully airy, an enthralling combination we have not heard in many other headphones. It is hard to find fast dynamic speed and quickness so well-meshed with this kind of natural warmth and accuracy.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between these two top-tier HiFiMAN headphone models is heard in the mids/highs where the openness and extension of the HE1000 clearly tops the Edition X which – if only by comparison – sounds vaguely etched or grainy in the uppermost treble regions.
We also think the expansive ‘3-D’ imaging of the HE1000 surpasses the narrower, more vertically stacked soundstage perspective of the portable-oriented HiFiMAN Edition X. Although its perhaps not a world-beating disparity given the almost 2X price differential, the beautifully lucid sound of the HE1000 has audibly better space, air and dimension than noted in the Edition X presentation.
When compared versus the planar magnetic Ether open-back headphones from Mr Speakers designed and built in San Diego CA, the sound quality decision becomes a difficult personal toss-up with the Ether running just barely behind the HE1000 in detail resolution and interior access to subtle recording nuances. The tonally well-balanced Ether is also not quite as spacious in soundstage imaging or as fully resolved as the HE1000, although we’re talking about microns of difference given the Ether’s amazing half-the-price cost over the frightfully expensive HiFiMAN HE1000.
Sonically, we feel the HiFiMAN HE1000 can be thought of as the more refined and graceful counterpart to the Audeze LCD-4’s thickly chiseled, muscular thrill ride. The HE1000 offers a more airy acoustic perspective sans the vigorous sub low-end brawn of the LCD-4, but it escorts you deep inside the music and recording with an ebullient effervescence that’s engaging yet never overpowering. Undoubtedly, its a very easy-to-listen to headphone with a completely non-fatiguing and perfectly paced musical presentation.
Against the LCD-4’s relentless force and riveting low torque, the HE1000 clearly has a faster clarion call quickness and more facile speed with arguably equal levels of definition and resolution. So listeners not seeking the Audeze LCD-4’s burning bottom-end fire may have found their perfect alternative. Based on personal listening preferences and musical tastes, some audiophiles may very well prefer the exquisite light-as-air acoustics and cloudless vision of the lovely HiFiMAN HE1000 soundscape.
As of this writing, our Headphone.com review team placed these two amazing headphones – the HiFiMAN HE1000 and the Audeze LCD-4 – as rating among the top 3 or 4 choices for best pure sound quality performance currently available under $5,000.
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