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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.)

 

Sound
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.

 

Comparison
My $1699 Audeze LCD-X headphones are heavy, and although their headband distributes their weight fairly comfortably, their weight makes using them for long periods a bit of an ordeal. I didn’t know how much of an ordeal until I tried the V2s. The Audezes were harder to adjust for a good fit, although once I found the ideal setting, it stayed set.

The Liner Tube Audio amplifier was clearly the best sounding amp I had available, so I used it for the comparison. It could drive the Audeze headphones louder than the V2s, which is what I expected given the Audeze’s 20-ohm impedance and 103dB sensitivity. On the Haydn symphonies, the highs were not as prominent—not missing, just slightly rolled off. Both were acceptable to my taste, though I liked the V2’s highs a little better. I heard a little of the strange low-level noise on the Haydn symphonies, but less than with the V2s, which was probably due to the V2’s more extended high frequencies.

On “Folia Rodrigo Martinez,” the Audezes had somewhat deeper bass, with more impact—more like what I hear with my subwoofer. The guitar and harp were equally distinguishable, although the harp seemed better separated from the other instruments. Percussion transients seemed more prominent. Savall’s viola da gamba sounded more like it normally does—hardly a surprise, since this is how I normally listen to it.

On “Miserere,” highs were less extended, though not absent. The spatial qualities of the recording were perhaps a smidgen less well defined than with the V2s, but still good. The tenor soloist’s vocal phrasing was equally well defined through the Audezes, although his voice sounded just a little different.

 On If You Love for Beauty Vol. II, the Audezes spread the soundstage out precisely, and the voices were heavenly. The highs were slightly less emphasized, but nothing was missing in that part of the spectrum.

To sum up, the Audeze sound was skewed slightly more towards the bass end of the audio spectrum, and had excellent detail, but not the glorious highs of the V2s. And although the Audezes are respectable in the area of soundstaging (better than most ’phones I’ve heard), the V2s are even better—both better than I would expect to hear from headphones. The most significant difference was comfort: After wearing the V2s, it was almost unpleasant to go back to the Audezes. And the longer I wore them, the stronger that impression became. The V2s looked far better than the rather utilitarian Audezes—not that I could see them while listening, but if you’re shelling out big bucks, it’s not goofy to want a headphone with looks to match.

My headphone collection includes several other models: AKG K712s and K701s, HiFiMan HE400, and NAD Viso HP50s, which are great ’phones for their price. If I got paid by the word, I’d probably compare each of these to the V2s. But in fact, only the Audezes came close to the V2s in price or sound.

Bottom Line
A lot of my audio buddies cringe when I tell them how much the HiFiMan HE1000 V2s cost. To which I reply, “Find a better headphone at its price. Or better still, find better speakers at its price, or at five times its price.” Like every headphone I’ve heard, they have strengths and weaknesses. Their strengths are many; their weaknesses, few and slight. They are beautifully made, comfortable to wear, come with cables that should assure their usability with virtually any source, and reveal the character of whatever amplifier they are used with. Most importantly, they provided more musically meaningful information than virtually any transducer I’ve heard at any price. Let’s face it:  You can get far better sound for your money with headphones than with speakers. The HE1000 V2s are truly good headphones. That’s really all that needs to be said.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Open-back planar-magnetic
Impedance: 35 ohms
Sensitivity: 90dB
Weight: 420 grams
Price: $2999

HIFIMAN CORPORATION
2602 Beltagh Avenue
Bellmore, NY 11710
HiFiMan.com
[email protected]
(201) 443-4626

Associated Equipment
Source: exaSound Audio Design PlayPoint Network Audio Player using Roon music playback software. Music files are stored on a QNAP T-251 network attached storage drive.
Digital: exaSound e22 Mark 2 DAC
Amplifiers: Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL2.0 Deluxe, exaSound e22 Mark 2 DAC
Headphones: Audeze LCD-X
Cables: Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB cable, Crimson Audio Crimson RM Music Link interconnect cables, Blue Marble Audio Lightning power cord, Clarity Cables Vortex power cord
Power strip: Isotek Sirius

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