Review of the audiophile headphones HiFiMAN HE-500: Episode I*. This week we will be testing a very particular set of headphones, ‘particular’ as it does not have dynamic transducers but diaphragms using Plana Magnetic technology, also known as isodynamic.
There are many beneficial aspects to Isodynamic technology due to its mechanical and electric properties. The emissive surface area provides an outstanding feeling of immersion: for the HiFiMAN HE-500 headphones, each diaphragm measures about 4″ in diameter, which is twice the size of the largest dynamic transducers for headphones. Besides, the mass of the diaphragm is much smaller than the average membrane’s, which has a positive impact on its transient regime. In other words: due to its speed, a diaphragm boasts a very short time span between the creation and extinction of a sound. From an electrical standpoint, the absence of a voice coil (replaced by multiple electrodes) offers the amplifier a steady and rather low impedance.
The HiFiMAN HE-500 has an impedance of 38 Ohms for a sensitivity of 86 dB for 1 mW. Its frequency response ranges from 10 Hz to 60 kHz.
Theoretically speaking, the HiFiMAN HE-500 promises an exceptional sound for a price which, although high, is about half the competition’s.
We used the HiFiMAN HE-500 with a computer and different USB DACs, among which were the NuForce Icon DAC, the Arcam rPAC and the Graham Slee Bitzie. We also added a Lehmann Audio RhineLander headphone amplifier to the DAC in order to appreciate the benefits of an assigned amplifying system.
The HiFiMAN HE-500 is shipped in its storage box, with a 1.20 m twisted pair of OFC silver coated cable, a pair of optional velvet ear pads and a pair of extra mini-coaxial connectors. A fabric cover completes the list of accessories.
The quality is definitely attractive despite the reduced price for such a product. Be sure not to switch ear pads too often at the risk of wearing them out rather quickly.
The HiFiMAN HE-500 is an open model, each diaphragm is simply covered by a protective grille. Therefore, the sound produced by each diaphragm is diffused towards the ear and towards the outside as well. This means two things: there is no insulation from outside noises and the people around you also get to hear your music fairly well.
Pairing a set of headphones such as the HiFiMAN HE-500 is a rather delicate task. First of all, the HE-500 has a pronounced sharpness around 8-10 kHz, thus it is better to avoid using it along with a DAC or headphone amplifier that would be too generous around this frequency range- unless this is the type of listening experience you are looking for. This touch of clarity in the higher end of the sound spectrum is to contrast against the low frequency range, which is tight and clean but not naturally profuse. When used along with the NuForce Icon DAC, Arcam rPAC or Graham Slee Bitzie USB DACs, the sound seemed a little weak yet very analytical.
Do not think about using the HiFiMAN HE-500 with a smartphone, a tablet, or a portable device if you are expecting to get a proper bass sound.
Yet, listening to the HiFiMAN HE-500 with a USB DAC is far from being an unpleasant experience. The quality of these headphones speaks for itself: the sound is smooth and has room to breath, especially when the signal becomes complex or intense.
Headphone amplifier highly recommended
The Lehman Audio Rhinelander headphone amplifier brought substance in the mediums and in the lower end of the sound spectrum. We felt like the treble was slightly more under control, which was probably due to the use of the Viard Audio Premium HD RCA cables, as we have already noticed that this cable can ?calm down’ some overly lively tweeters (Q Acoustics 2050i, Focal Aria 926 speakers for instance).
We felt like the different levels of the sound stage were opening as the monophonic information was beautifully set in the centre, resulting in a well defined stereo effect. The HiFiMAN HE-500 became instantly more appealing, even though a headphone amplifier such as the Lehman Audio Rhinelander would be more adapted for high quality headband headphones rather than for a pair of isodynamic headphones.
It was pretty much obvious to us: the HiFiMAN HE-500 headphones must imperatively be used along with a quality headphone amplifier. Nonetheless, an integrated stereo amplifier with a very good headphone output will work well, such as the Arcam FMJ A19 and its absolutely excellent headphone output. Yet, it would be ideal to use a headphone amplifier with, for example, a strong power capacity and a balanced output (HiFiMAN also sells balanced cables compatible with the HE-500).
*We will soon be reviewing the HiFiMAN HE-500 with the NuForce HA-200 class-A amplifier. To be continued…