HiFiMan HE1000 Version 2 Headphones

Second Time's a Charm

Equipment report
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Headphones
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HiFiMAN HE1000 Version 2
HiFiMan HE1000 Version 2 Headphones

HiFiMan is one of the leading manufacturers of headphones, earphones, and accessories, producing exceptional products ranging from moderately priced to upper-tier models, all of which employ the expertise in thin-film technology of company founder Dr. Fang Bian to advance the state of the art. Introduced at $2999, the company’s HE1000 headphone accumulated an envious reputation in spite of its high price. The HE1000 planar-magnetic diaphragm is said to be the thinnest of any headphone’s. Measuring less than 0.001mm in thickness, if you looked at it edgewise it would be too thin to see. Now the V2 version of the HE1000 makes several minor but important improvements based on customer input. And while upgrades often provide an excuse to raise a unit’s price, the V2 version still costs $2999.

OK, admittedly $2999 may be a sticking point. We just haven’t seen many headphones priced that high. But let’s put that price in perspective: Would you find $2999 an excessive price for a pair of loudspeakers? Of course not. We routinely pelt you with reviews of speakers priced at ten times that price, and sometimes even suggest that those speakers should be considered bargains. I’d go so far as to say a $2999/pair speaker could be regarded as a budget model. From that perspective, you might even regard the HE1000 V2s as bargains. And while they do need a good headphone amplifier to perform at their best, most headphone amplifiers are fairly moderately priced compared to conventional amplifiers.

Planar-magnetic headphones like the HE1000 V2 tend to be heavy, but the V2 is lighter than its predecessor: 420 grams vs. 480 grams for the original HE1000. In comparison, my Audeze LCD-X weighs 600 grams (ouch!), the Sennheiser HD 800 S (not a planar-magnetic design) weighs 330 grams, the Oppo PM-1, which is a planar-magnetic, weighs 395 grams, while the hot new $3999 Focal Utopia weighs 490 grams. The HE1000 V2 (hereafter just the V2) is a large headphone, too. If you have big ears, worry not; the V2’s ear cups are quite capacious, and the earpads are faced with a polyester material said to provide better sound and comfort compared to the original’s velour surfaces. The rest of the earpads are made of a substance called pleather, which Merriam-Webster describes as “a plastic fabric made to look like leather.” The earpads are shaped asymmetrically: The back is thicker than the front, so that the diaphragms are angled back slightly towards the ears, which should produce a better soundstage. The wooden earcups themselves are slightly slimmer than those of the original.

Constructed of stainless steel, the V2’s headband is rather large so the earcups press gently on the sides of your head, and can accommodate a wider variety of head sizes than the original model. A perforated (real) leather band supports the headphones on your head, distributing the weight of the headphone evenly over a wide area, and assuring a good airflow to prevent sweating.

The V2 has upgraded its cable with four-conductor silver-plated crystalline copper wires, which are terminated with three plugs: a 6.35mm (quarter-inch) Neutrik, a 3.5mm mini, and a 4-pin XLR balanced connector. I don’t mean you have to choose which termination you want; you get three separate cables with each of those terminations. The wires that comprise the cable are sheathed in a plastic tube that is very flexible and light, so the cables shouldn’t cause noise when they drag across your lap, nor should they add significantly to the weight of the headphones on your head. Standard stereo mini-plugs connect the cables to the right and left earcups. It should be easy to construct additional cables if they’re ever needed.

The V2 comes in an elegant leather-covered storage box. The box contains not only the headphones, but all three cables and an upscale color manual. I would have preferred a travel case, but one of those is available from HiFiMan for only $29, which seems like a no-brainer choice. Their $20 headphone stand seems pretty irresistible, also.

The V2’s impedance is 35 ohms, the sensitivity, 90dB. Those are the same figures as the original, and would indicate that a robust power amplifier should be used. However, the V2 is said to be compatible with a wider assortment of amplifiers, including lower-powered amps. Claimed frequency response is 8Hz to 65kHz, no variation specified—the same as the previous model.

Setting Up and Using the HE-1000 V2s
I mostly used my Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL2.0 Deluxe headphone amplifier to drive the V2s. It only has a standard quarter-inch (6.35 mm) stereo headphone jack, so that’s the cable I chose. Plugging the cable into the earcups was trivially easy—the hardest part was finding the markings for the left and right earcups. Then came a bigger challenge—fitting the V2 onto my fat noggin. That proved to be another non-problem, which took all of 20 seconds, after which I experienced an extremely comfortable fit. The leather support band comfortably distributed the weight across my skull, so the headphones actually seemed fairly light. Pressure on the sides of my head from the earcups seemed rather light, but firm enough to create a good seal. Then I turned on some music.

Wow! Right out of the box, the V2s sounded pretty awesome, good enough to make me say “awesome,” a word I abhor. I didn’t want to spend much time listening, since some people claim that break-in doesn’t exist; you just get used to a component’s sound. But I couldn’t resist a little more listening, and a wider variety of music didn’t counter my first impression. There are lots of opinions about break-in times for components; I follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. So I put the V2s into a break-in system for 24 x 7 playback until they reached the 150-hour recommended break-in time. The break-in system used a Hafler HA75 headphone amplifier, which appeared on my doorstep for review a few days after the V2s, so I figured why not break in both at the same time? A hybrid Class A design, the Hafler had barely enough power to drive the V2—with the volume control at its full setting, the V2’s output level was quite comfortable. But that’s fine for break-in. On the other hand, the headphone amplifier built into the exaSound e22 Mark 2 DAC, also here for review concurrently with the V2, was more than sufficient to drive the V2, and sounded very clean and detailed. Sometimes the headphone amps built into DACs are afterthoughts, but the exaSound’s was excellent. The source for the critical listening part of the review was the exaSound Audio Design PlayPoint Network Audio Player along with its e22 Mark 2 DAC. Since the DAC has a very decent headphone amp built-in, I used it as another amp to drive the V2s.

In this day of Microsoft Word-printed and photocopied owner’s manuals, the V2 owner’s manual stood out; it’s possibly the most elegant manual I’ve seen for any component at any price. Chock-full of color photos that enhance the manual’s thorough explanations of the V2’s features, it also includes photographs of several famous concert halls around the world to remind us why we go to all this trouble and expense to achieve good sound. Designed by a graphics professional, the manual was printed on Bugatti-quality paper. (If you’re not into cars, Bugatti makes incredibly powerful and expensive sports cars, one of which is priced at $2.6 million. And yes, they sell out the entire output of their production line.)