I have been collaborating with Star Picker Audio lately, they will be sending me stuffs to review and what I need to return to them is the thing that I borrowed from them, and an honest review.
Everyone on the forum are crazy on Hifiman’s planar magnetic headphone all over the world, it is not only the Hifiman, but the planar magnetic from various manufacturer like the Audeze and Oppo are getting their name too. Look at the high end headphone, most of them are using electrostatic or the planar magnetic (Yamaha called this orthodynamic) driver. What is the big deal of this planar magnetic headphone? First of all, because they are even force on the diaphragm (Unlike the dynamic driver which is not even) so there is significantly less distortion across the band. Not only that, planar magnetic headphone tend to have good transient response and they are very clear/clean too, this is true when I first tried the Hifiman HE400, HE500 and also the Audeze LCD3.
However, it is not only all good. When I tried the HE series, I have noticed that their soundstage aren’t that good, it is not the positioning nor imagination problem, but it is not that wide and large as what I would like. The comfort level is not good either, they are quite heavy on my head and I don’t really enjoy wearing them.But talking back the previous generation planar magnetic headphone, we can’t denied that the world is turning fast, manufacturer are indeed trying hard to throw everything they got to improve the sound quality, improving the strength and weaknesses, planar magnetic headphone has evolve since then, that is why I am really interested on the HE560 and HE400i since their launch, only now I have chance to audit and review them.
Hifiman is really claiming big on the HE560, not only they claimed that HE560 will be easier to drive with their new driver, they are also saying that they are trying hard on improving the comfort level of HE560 (30% lighter and utilizing the Beveled ear pads). The new logo on the HE560 and a whole new design really differentiated HE560 from the predecessor HE500 from the first sight, HE560 is definitely a better looking headphone than the HE500, the build and finishing is good (Not great) too. HE560 is still using the poor cable connector (In my opinion) like the entire Hifiman HE series headphone, swapping/upgrading cable is an important feature for the higher tier headphone, so this is really essential.
The comfort level is definitely upgraded significantly, if you read back my previous review on the HE500, you should know how much I hate about the comfort level of the HE500, it is not only heavy but the pad also a pain to use, thanks God comfort is not an issue anymore for the HE560, this is a welcome change. To be frank, it is still a little heavy compared to my Beyerdynamic T90, Sennheiser HD700, a lot heavier than my German Maestro GMP450 (Which is very light, keep in mind these are all dynamic deriver headphone which theoretically should be lighter), comfort level wise the planar magnetic is still no contest to my dynamic driver headphones, but it is not that bad either, at least it does not really caused any comfort issue in my use, it is only that it still can’t compared to dynamic driver headphones. The ear pads that Hifiman utilize here definitely deserved my praise, it is really comfortable on ears.
Amping is quite important here. As a planar magnetic headphone, you shouldn’t really expected it to shine without a powerful desktop amplifier. For your reference, I am using Teac HA-501 and Rudistor NX-03 to drive the HE560. Both of my reference headphone amplifier can drive HE560 more than listening volume, it is not that super difficult to drive, it is harder to drive than my 250ohm Beyerdynamic T90, 300 Ohm German Maestro GMP450 and 150ohm Sennheiser HD700. So it definitely is not easy to drive as advertised, it is just that you don’t really need a super amp to make it sound.
I have paired the Hifiman HE560 with Teac HA-501 and Rudistor NX-03, PC with Foobar as source, using iFi Audio iDAC as DAC. Reference headphone are Sennheiser HD700, Beyerdynamic T90 and German Maestro GMP450, ZMF V1. Tested with the original (OCC + Silver) cable which Star Picker told me should have better details and transparency, they did sent me pair of OCC cable (which they said if people found that HE560 is too bright, OCC will make the sound darker with less detail compared to the OCC + Silver one) but I didn’t tested it, honestly HE560 is no way bright to me.
For audio quality sake, HE560 really shine. It is balanced and neutral (Toward a lil bit to warm, just a little), the treble that you will never find harsh, but extended to the very far and detailed. Mid is neutral and flat in comparison, what I said flat here is it does not ‘come out’ nor recessed, it has a neutral characteristic and definitely very natural to listen at. The bass? The bass of it is the best. Not only it hit really hard, the speed, punch and size is decent, transient response is really great, I listened to album ‘Patriot Games’ by James Horner, the bass response is really good, especially when track four, ‘the hit’, you really appreciated how good is the transient and low level detail of HE560. Percussion hit with great timing and have great presentation there, the sound of air after the drum been hit is clearly felt, decay is natural too. Don’t worry, the bass is nothing bloated or excessive, it is really so nice that I can’t nitpick anything, the bass is very clean and has good depth, bravo bass!
My description on its midrange performance is short, but that is not because it is not performed well. The vocal performance is natural here, the vocal that you won’t get fatigue even after long hours of listening. The album ‘Communique’ by Dire Straits is a very enjoyable album, it is even more enjoyable with HE560, the vocal by the lead is well portrayed by HE560, the instrument is well separated each together, instrument separation is one very obvious strength of HE560, there is always enough distance between every instruments but they are not separated, they are performed as a whole.
Switching to 24 bit 96khz of Air:The Bach Album by Anne Akiko Meyer, it is a lean performance, the violin do sounded real and the positioning is good. Soundstage is wider and more open than that on my Sennheiser HD700, but it is not as circular as HD700 as I would like, many complained on the depth of the soundstage of HE560, on my first listening I do think that the soundstage depth is not that good, but after some careful listening, it is actually deep enough but it is not that circular in shape, height is not a problem with HE560. If you are worrying that HE560 will be cold sounding, then you don’t need to worry from now on, I played the album ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ by Buena Vista, the sense of surrounding is well portrayed and it is even a little towards warmish, just a little. Detail level is very good, not only that, I can easily tell what instrument is playing at the background, the lead vocal and the second vocal, the position of them, were all clearly present and well separated by the HE560. Album like ‘Best Audiophile Voices’ are very enjoyable too, it is not only the vocal, but the instruments too, are all enjoyable, it make me listen for a very long period at night. The better the recording, the better you will be rewarded, this is for sure.
So what more I am looking for in the HE560? Nothing much really, however, over some time I do found that the sound of HE560 is a little dry, also, sometime I crave for more treble energy in HE560. It is not dark sounding headphone but I really will prefer more if they added more sense of air in the HE560. As comparison, my HD700 has good sense of air to begin with. But even I can’t say these are deal breaker weaknesses of HE560, it is more towards personal taste.
From all of the album that I threw at HE560, HE560 almost strike them all with flying colour, the only that I don’t really enjoyed well on the HE560 is maybe rock music, HE560 definitely has the speed but not the energy and bass quantity that rock music required. Oh, and you definitely don’t need HE560 for your R&B/Hip hop music either, it is not created for those, there are lots of cheaper headphone made for that purpose. Another issue is however, I think the centre image is still not as apparent/focus as my other headphones, not a big problem though if you are not after this.
Is Hifiman asking too much at 899USD for HE560? I don’t think so. Sound quality and comfort level is really worth that price in my opinion, HE560 can be your only headphone in my opinion, and it played well for most of the music. Sound quality is very good, all you need to do is close your eyes and enjoy the music. The soundstage do give you a sense like it is not large but this is certainly not true if you listen carefully, to be fair, the imaging and positioning are all great. The performance across the board are very good, the bass, the speed, the details, the midrange, the treble and the musical sense, HE560 have it all.
In my opinion, HE560 is a ‘musical analytical’ headphone, go audit one and you will get what I mean. I highly recommended this headphone nonetheless.