HiFiMAN HE1000se Full Sized Over-Ear Headphone Review
When HiFiMAN first released the HE1000 in 2015, it was part of a watershed moment in the headphone industry. The headphone, along with the MrSpeakers Ether, were monster hits at the first CanJam SoCal. If one were to create a written history of planar magnetic headphones, surely it would be divided into periods occurring "Before the HE1000 and Ether" and after. They, along with their subsequent iterations, have largely defined the ultra-high-end market for planar magnetic headphones since.
For HiFiMAN's part, the HE1000 represented a new form factor and showcased HiFiMAN's new nanometer-thickness diaphragms. HiFiMAN has since taken that technology and evolved it into a robust product line, with headphones such as the HE1000 V2, Edition X, Edition X V2, Edition XX, Arya, Ananda and Ananda Wireless. With the new HE1000se ($3500), however, HiFiMAN has made another statement, creating their best iteration of the headphone yet.
The HE1000se isn't meant to replace the HE1000 V2, but rather, sit beside it in the product line. The central difference on this newest iteration of the HE1000 technology is the powerful neodymium magnets. These magnets make the HE1000se's nanometer-thick driver faster and more dynamic than ever before, with even greater levels of detail and lower distortion than previous iterations. But perhaps most significantly, these powerful magnets also make the headphone much more efficient, increasing the efficiency from 91dB to 96dB.
This 5dB increase in efficiency means the HE1000se can easily be driven by portable sources like DAPs, as opposed to the older versions, which required powerful amplification to milk out every ounce of sonic goodness. HiFiMAN is even marketing the HE1000se as a headphone that is capable of being driven by smartphones and tablets.
I first played with the headphone a bit when it debuted at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest late last year, and I was impressed with what I heard. Upon receiving the unit in the mail, I immediately noticed the build quality and feel is very nice, with great looks and very good wearing comfort for longer listening sessions.
I'm glad to see HiFiMAN is using 3.5mm connectors now, as opposed to the older, more fragile 2.5mm connectors. The connections feel more robust, though not quite as robust as the connections for Audeze and MrSpeakers. The headphone came with a very nice single-ended cable with a 3.5mm with a 6.35mm adaptor and a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced cable, along with the same leather and metal case that came with previous iterations of the HE1000.
It's an impressive package, for sure, definitely looking the part of a headphone with its lofty $3500 price tag. But the sound is where the rubber meets the road. Will the HE1000se measure up when we put it to the test? Let's dig in and find out.
The sound of the HE1000se is fairly neutral with timbre that stays pretty true to the original recording. There seems to be just a little coloration in the upper midrange, which I will talk about a little later. Overall, I felt that had very little impact on the sound. To my ears this version of the HE1000 excels with the same types of music as its predecessors: classical, electronic, pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, reggae and pretty much any good quality recording.
Running down the individual frequency ranges, the HE1000se has some of the best sub-bass performance I've ever heard from a headphone. Extension is phenomenal, reaching down to hit the lowest of lows. Volume and body were excellent, giving the music a foundation few headphones are able to achieve. But the real standout aspect here is the exceptional clarity and tonal differentiation in the lowest registers. Not only does the headphone rumble, but it does so with a crystalline level of resolution very few headphones are able to accomplish – at least among those with any actual kick in the deepest sub-bass. It's a rare combination that made the HE1000se an absolute killer with both EDM tracks and grand classical compositions alike.
The midbass is excellent as well, making this one of the best top-to-bottom bass performers I've heard. Resolution is crisp and the midbass never eats more space than it should. But at the same time, if you let it off the leash, it is absolutely vicious! Kick drums can punch with pretty savage impact in more aggressive metal and EDM tracks. Tonally, this iteration comes across as a little more neutral to me than some earlier versions of the HE1000, which sounded a tad warm. That being said, I find this version to be noticeably more dynamic than some earlier iterations of the HE1000, which might have been warmer tonally, but were a little flatter dynamically. In my opinion, I think this is a very positive improvement.
The midrange is excellent, but not perfect. The lower and middle midrange comes across to me as very neutral, but there is a tiny bit of unevenness in the upper midrange that can cause the HE1000se to sound just a little bright with some genres. On classical, audiophile recordings, rock, EDM, hip-hop and R&B it is solid. With more aggressive hard rock, metal and punk-type genres, it can get a little fatiguing at times. If you have no interest in that type of music, you shouldn't run into many issues with the headphone.
The treble on the HE1000se is definitely up there with the best. To get a more airy and transparent presentation up top, your only options from here are a well-driven HiFiMAN Susvara, the Raal Requisite SR1a and moving to electrostatic headphones. The HE1000se showcases absolutely outstanding extension and transient snap, which gives it a very electrostatic-like feel. Comparing with a well-driven Stax L300LTD, both possessed a level of speed and snap that I found simply intoxicating.
In spite of the drive-it-with-anything marketing message, the HE1000se can show a bit of sibilance on some recordings, depending on the source and amplifier. Paired with the Chord Hugo 2 ($2499) and the excellent Manley Absolute ($4500) tube amplifier, the top end stayed nice and smooth. Paired with Fiio's killer new M11 flagship DAP ($449), the HE1000se still sounded fantastic, but was prone to just a little bit of splashiness on a few songs when I started to turn it up. Granted, that's a huge difference in gear budget (and probably shouldn't surprise anyone), but it's something to be aware of.
Inner resolution is also very strong. I could easily differentiate between DACs during listening tests, which is not always the easiest thing to do. With the HE1000se, I was able to suss out a slightly plasticky reproduction of some percussion on one DAC vs. the more organic reproduction on another without actually even trying. Normally, this would take a bit of time and critical listening, but the HE1000se was resolving enough to make the difference obvious when I was listening more passively. While the theoretical downside to that is having a headphone that demands a better source, I didn't actually find myself enjoying the HE1000se any less in practical application. All the other good stuff was still very much there.
While the HE1000se has been doing very well in the review so far, we've now come to the main event: the soundscape. The spatial qualities here is among the best I have ever heard, hands down, with a fantastic sense of space and openness. I would say it rivals and possibly even exceeds the venerable Sennheiser HD800 in terms of shape and naturalness. While the HD800's soundscape can feel a little excessive at times, the HE1000se maintains an enormous sense of vastness while countering with enough weight so as not to feel overly diffuse. It is absolutely best-in-class in every regard: width, depth, dimensionality, stage definition - all of it.
Imaging is absolutely fantastic as well, helped by the combination of the wide-open stage and the lightning quick transient response. Sound images register instantaneously in space, with as much instrument separation and seamless layering as you could ever wish for. Classical music is especially impressive in this regard, as you can easily pick out individual instruments in large ensembles without having to really home-in too much on the sound. Everything is simply "there", and you can pick it apart at your leisure or just sit back and enjoy without any analysis. The HE1000se will serve you well either way.
Does It Fit Within Your
For jazz and classical music listeners, I would say the HE1000se is absolutely end-game. The staging, separation, extension (at both ends) and transparency are perfectly suited for the genres. The strong performance in these areas also means HE1000se does a great job with acoustic music, audiophile recordings, classic rock and more. It's definitely a headphone that can put you "right there" inside the music with its extreme transparency.
I would also say the HE1000se is a top-level performer for any type of electronic music. The improved dynamics and slam, crystal clarity in the low registers, extreme extension and flat lower midrange will give a faithful and engaging presentation. Hip-hop, R&B and reggae will benefit greatly from these attributes, as well.
The slight bright spots in the upper mids and treble can make it a little dicey for some more aggressive genres, in which case I would probably look to warmer options like the Audeze LCD-4, Abyss Phi, Diana Phi or ZMF Verite instead. I would say these headphones would all give the HE1000se a run for its money in the aforementioned bassy genres, as well (EDM, hip-hop, reggae and R&B) – it will ultimately come down to whether you prefer their warmer presentations or the HE1000se's airier, more neutral sound. For the easier listening classical, jazz, folk and acoustic music, I feel the HE1000se comes out ahead of the other flagships.
Overall, the HiFiMAN HE1000se is an impressive and worthy flagship-level performer. Although the HE1000 series is no longer the actual flagship in the HiFiMAN planar line (that honor now belongs to the $6000 Susvara), it is a headphone that leaves very, very little on the table.