HiFiMan HE1000 Version 2 Headphones

Second Time's a Charm

Equipment report
HiFiMAN HE1000 Version 2
HiFiMan HE1000 Version 2 Headphones

My first impression was that the V2’s highs were sweet, extended, not at all peaky, with tons of detail—a delight. At the same time, I thought the bass was a little light—tight and detailed, but lacking the utmost in power. The latter impression lasted until the first encounter with music that had deep bass. Then I appreciated that it was in no way lacking in bass extension and power, just that there was none of the artificial bass emphasis common with numerous headphones designed to complement wimpy smartphones. So: accurate, extended highs and accurate, extended bass—ideal, assuming the midrange was decent. Let’s find out. Hint: It was.

While I was getting acquainted with the sound of the V2s, I downloaded an album of Haydn symphonies, numbers 31, 70, and 101 played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under their new-ish conductor Robin Ticciati on a 96kHz/24-bit FLAC recording by Linn. It was a splendid, rorty performance using valveless horns, which had the distinctive sound of hunting horns. The first time I cued it up on the HE1000 V2s, I had only listened to the album on speakers. I was pleasantly surprised to hear additional detail, solid harmonic accuracy, and excellent microdynamics compared to the speaker reproduction. I also heard a strange, extremely low-level non-musical noise, however, that I had not heard through the speakers—a kind of hissing that varied in frequency with the musical material being played.

Turning to a very familiar recording, The Tallis Scholars’ Allegri: Miserere; Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli, a Gimmell 96/24 FLAC download, I cued up the “Miserere” track. I was surprised to hear a well-developed soundstage, not something you normally expect from headphones. The performing forces consist of a small a cappella main choral group in the front of the soundstage, with a small solo group a fair distance behind the main group. A tenor soloist in the main group has a narrator function. To my surprise, through the V2s, the impression of separation for the distant solo group sounded more clearly defined than through my speakers; the reverberant echo that contributes to the sense of separation was exquisitely reproduced, with no distortion or smear. The sopranos in the solo group soar to a high C that must have been unusual to hear when the piece was performed in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Through the V2s, the highs were quite detailed and remarkably free of distortion. I’m tempted to invoke the ancient reviewer’s cliché and tell you the V2s stripped away veils from the reproduced sound, but I’ll spare you that agony. Suffice it to say the album sounded extremely detailed and pure. That was not only true of just the solo group, but also of the main group, which spread across the soundstage almost as spaciously as with speakers. And the freedom from distortion was just as evident from the main group of singers. Utterly gorgeous.

The recording I’ve unquestionably listened to more than all others is Jordi Savall and his band’s realization of “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” on an AIFF rip of the Alia Vox CD La Folia 1490-1701. This information-rich recording begins with three strikes on cascabels (sleigh bells) which sound slightly different through speakers, but through the V2s, sounded more similar. The high frequencies on the V2s were extended but not at all peaky, with more information than my speakers provide. Near the beginning of the piece, the baroque guitar plays a melody in the left channel that is echoed by a harp in the right channel. Quite a few components make the guitar and harp sound indistinguishable, but the difference was clear through the V2s; the harmonic structure of the harp and the guitar were quite distinctive. There is a lot of activity going on continuously with percussion instruments, which sometime blur into a background mush, but the V2s made it easy to follow the percussion at all times, even in soft passages. Savall’s viola da gamba sounded more refined than it usually does, as if he had switched to a better quality instrument. This piece has bass that extends quite deep, but the V2s didn’t descend as deeply as my subwoofer. The most remarkable characteristic of the bass is how the V2s reproduce the spaciousness of the recording; the bass sounded like it was in a much larger and more clearly defined space than I’ve heard it through subwoofer-augmented speakers. Bass detail is another area where the V2s excelled.

Another recently acquired album titled If You Love for Beauty Vol. II, by Sasha Cooke with Yehuda Gilad leading the Colburn Orchestra on Chausson’s “Poeme de l’Amour et de la Mer” for mezzo-soprano and orchestra [Yarlung Records, DSD256/DSF] illustrated how gorgeous high-resolution digital recordings can sound. Copious natural detail made the recording scarily realistic. Distortion was undetectable. The V2s made the performance quite moving, with wide frequency extension and vivid instrumental richness. Strings sounded quite lush.

OK, let’s switch to another amplifier, the one built into the solid-state exaSound e22 Mark 2 DAC. Since If You Love for Beauty was already cued up, I started there. Reproduction was clean but not as harmonically rich. It sounded more like an amplifier than a singer and orchestra—a very clean amplifier, with more bass than the Linear Tube Audio amplifier. The exaSound had lots of power, seemingly more than the Linear Tube Audio amplifier.

Switching to “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” I heard lots of detail, though slightly less harmonic richness. However, the detail didn’t quite congeal into a believable performance. Still, I had no trouble distinguishing between the guitar and harp, although they didn’t sound quite as much like a guitar and harp. Bass extended deeper, with lots more impact—I suppose I expected that.

Onward to “Miserere.” The sound was ultra-clean, distortion-free, and nearly as spatially enveloping as the Linear Tube Audio amplifier. It sounded more like a hi-fi—admittedly, a very good hi-fi.

So how about the Haydn symphonies? The exaSound had excellent microdynamic resolution. I heard none of the strange low-level noise I heard with the Linear Tube Audio amplifier. And I heard none of the noise when I played any other recording through the Linear Tube Audio amplifier. My best guess, and it’s only a guess, is that the noise was at such a low level only the most resolving amplifier made it obvious.

I had planned to try the V2s with the Hafler HA75, which sounds very nice, but as mentioned the Hafler had barely enough power to drive the V2s to the moderate listening levels I prefer.

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