Back in 2009, I had a headphone meet at my home and Fang Bian, the master behind HIFIMAN, came with his fiancé to my meet and had his HE6 prototype. The new headphone was impressive and the design had the attention of the community.
The headphones were a bear to drive and the 82 dB load presented stress on most headphone amplifiers. Driving them was a project in itself in order to get them to sound good. Using a 40 watt NAD integrated in NY with the HE6 hooked up to the speaker terminals showed what the HE6 was capable of doing and sounded spectacular.
Being part of the prototype group Fang had commissioned made it exciting for me to participate and give feedback and suggestions on the development of the final product. Fang brought me the prototype for the meet and we used my Outlaw 2150 receiver speaker terminals to drive the notorious load. The powerful 100-watt receiver drove them easily and the sound was spectacular. The main challenge for me was I had to use long headphone cables to the room where the Outlaw was located and it was never ideal for me while listening, but I became addicted to the sound of the headphone.
I had also experimented with a vintage Pioneer SX 650 35 Watt receiver and found that the headphones were driven easily through the headphone jack. I quickly put the receiver into my headphone listening room and was excited that I found something to drive them without having to use them hooked up to the speaker terminals. The HE6 when not driven with a high-quality power amp was unremarkable in sound quality, the lesser headphone amps failing miserably and sending a clipped signal to the headphone. The challenge for users was to have an amplifier with enough power and current to get the best out of the transducer.
That was not the only issue that the HE6 had; in addition, the headband design was uncomfortable and the heavy weight the headphone made long listening sessions tough to bear. The pads were also scratchy and not of the best quality, which further made the listening sessions difficult. Fang was up to working on revisions to the band, but the headphone band remained the same and the planar design still needed high current headphone amplifiers to get the best of what they capable of producing. Once powered properly the HE6 was fantastic and went on to become a legendary headphone in the Headfi.org community. Worldwide sales were brisk and listeners were amazed by the sound quality.
Future designs by Dr. Bian and the emergence of more energy efficient planar designs ultimately led to the HE6 being discontinued and becoming a collector’s item in the community. The community was sad to see it go but there were new designs which Fang had on the market, which were more comfortable, had a terrific sound and were easy to drive. The new ergonomic headband designs were lighter and the modern design let the listener listen for hours in comfort, but many still missed the HE6.
Asking Fang Bain in New York if he considered reissuing the HE6 brought a quick “no” from Fang’s mouth before I could complete the question. I proceeded to tell him why I thought he should release the headphone, especially since he had better pads and a comfortable headphone band. Still got a firm “NO” from Fang. I proceeded to tell him the advancement in headphone amplifiers now available would drive the HE6 easily but he was still adamant on not releasing a new HE6 special edition.
Evidently, I was not the only one asking for the redesign of the legendary HE6. Speaking with Peter Hoagland, who at the time was doing HIFIMAN PR work, the discussion centered on the HE6. Peter went on to tell me that many people were asking for the return of the legendary discontinued HE6 but Fang was firmly committed to not manufacture it again. Shocked was I when a year after that conversation I was to see the re-launch of the HE6se. Becoming excited I contacted Adam Sohmer in NY and arranged for both the HE6se and the HE1000se to be sent to me for review and amazingly a reunited HE6se was in my hands once again to play with and provide commentary and my opinions on this legendary headphone.
Mozart Adagio performed by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and sourced directly from Tidal as an MQA recording using Audirvana made me remember what I loved so much of the past experiences listening with the HE6se.
Violin recordings are exceptionally reproduced with clarity and the tone of the instrument is musical and accurate to what I hear in a concert hall. The new headband is more comfortable and ergonomically so much better than the original and the ear cups are comfortable without being scratchy while the musicality of the driver is exceptional. The Auris Nirvana amp and Marantz SA10 DAC is able to dig deep into the recording and with the HE6se the extraction of detail was all there. I was able to hear everything the recording has to offer with exceptional transparency.
The soundstage is exceptional and the width and layering of the orchestra are spaced with air and definition between the musicians. Violins sounded musical and had life and the sound of each section in good recordings was both vivid and lifelike. I was able to get fully immersed in the performances and forgot I was listening to a transducer. Musicality was exceptional and always made the sessions rewarding.
Chopin’s 24 Prelude, another Tidal MQA recording with Martha Argerich performing, sounded romantic and the piano tonality in this excellent recording was special. I could visualize the size and shape if the instrument as well as the pianist playing with excellent focus with the image of the instrument sounding lifelike.
Listening to Barbra Streisand singing the John Lennon classic “Imagine” from her Walls album once again brought back memories of why I loved the original design so much. The sound of her vocal was sibilant free and the powerful and seductive sound of her voice was captivating. The clarity of her beautiful vocal was lifelike and vivid and had a sound that was magical. The orchestra was surrounding her in a layered soundstage with air and space and never got in the way of her performance. The HE6se once again was comfortable and made me focus on Barbra’s vocals and brought me to the studio. The HE6se was able to recreate the performance and make her come to life and nailed the performance with a rare realism that the planar design and the Auris Nirvana sailed through exhibiting incredible synergy.
Norah Jones singing “Wintertime” from her new MQA release once again showcased how good the HE6se was with vocal recordings. Her vocal was clear and articulate and the delivery once again was exceptional. Her pristine vocal was delivered with incredible realism and articulately reproduced. The HE6se delivered a flawless performance. The dynamic Auris Nirvana was musical and dynamic while driving the HE6 and the sound was spectacular and the Nirvana was able to extract all of the musical detail without ever becoming stressed out. The synergy was incredible, alive and always musical.
Leonard Cohen’s vocal sounded exceptional on “Hallelujah” from the Leonard Cohen Essentials album. Leonard was in the studio and you could hear the room vividly with his background singers standing out in the stage in their own space and separation was once again first rate. Cohen had his typical gruffly sound but was alive and the classic masterpiece came to life and was vivid creating another wow moment for me while listening.
“Natural Mystic” from Exodus had Bob Marley front and center in the sound stage. The HE6se had excellent extension on the bass with terrific texture of the instrument and was not overpowering and always sounded exceptional. Marley’s vocal was delivered with realism and the music flowed and was dynamic with all the musicians in their own space. Once again sound staging was exceptional with excellent air and space. Lovers of sound staging will not be disappointed with the HE6se performance.
The HE6se once again showcased for me all the strengths of what I came to love in the original design back in 2009. The best part of listening with the new HE6se was the improved headband and ear cups. Fang did an outstanding job and brought new life to a legendary classic. The Auris Nirvana never faltered with the 82 DB beast and was always dynamic and able to get everything out of the HE6se bringing music to life. Paired with excellent amplification and source the HE6se once again delivered a stellar performance and reminded me of why it has achieved legendary status. Never designed for portable reproduction the HE6se when driven properly competes with any headphone regardless of price. Large-scale recordings come to life and the HE6se can recreate large orchestras with vivid lifelike definition with exceptional layered sound staging.
Small vocal recordings are always delivered with realism and clarity. Listening to the HE6se driven with the right amplifier and source is a rare musical experience that makes the listener feel like he is in the moment. I am happy to see this exceptional headphone come back to life once again and again Fang has the community talking about his newly revived masterpiece. Back to life the HE6se once again will reward the listener with a rare magical performance and again the new HE6se lives up to the reputation of the original legendary design and improves upon the listening experience because of the new headband and pad design.
The HE1000, when introduced in the community, was an overwhelming success. Designed for the consumer it was a new evolution in HIFIMAN design. The new retro-looking headphone was comfortable and its oversized driver and cups were so comfortable, cushioned and light on the user’s head. Most noticeable was the immense soundstage combined with outstanding transparency and comfort. The new model took the community by storm and it was the beginning of a new era that moved HIFIMAN forward in both design and sound, making it one of the best transducers in the world.
As many HIFIMAN fans know, Fang Bian is always looking for ways to make improvements and found ways to improve the design by using a thinner wood on the band and slight modifications to the driver which in turn brought improvements in bass and treble extension, and these modifications led to the creation of the V2 version of the HE1000. Still looking for ways to improve upon the V2 Fang began experimenting with efficiency and thinner nanomaterial for the driver.
The HE 1000se has an improved 96DB efficiency making this version better and easier to drive for all portable devices including phones, tablets, and portable players. The incorporation of the new neodymium magnets increased the efficiency and also lowered the distortion considerably. The new modifications increased the price to $3500. The new design made listening on various sources enjoyable and also made the phone more portable if you desired to take it on vacation or to the office.
Listening to Jascha Heifetz play the Brahms violin Concerto from the RCA recording with Fritz Reiner is an exciting presentation of a classical recording and an insight into how well layered and deep the orchestra is on the stage at Symphony Hall. The HE1000se was able to capture this magnificent performance and showcased Heifetz violin playing with all the tonality I expect from a reference caliber headphone. The instrument was vivid and clearly defined in the soundstage and the hall sound of the Symphony was captured with realism and the HE1000se hit the upper treble region with a sound that was masterful and always true to a live performance.
The Auris Nirvana reference amplifier was able to drive the HE1000se effortlessly and keeping the volume low I was totally consumed with the musicality and amazed with the layering of the soundstage. The transducer never sounded polite and felt improved over the HE1000 V2, which many users feel can be polite and soft in delivery of large-scale performances. The new version using the new magnets had improved speed and the driver was able to recreate the entire performance without any fault. Noticeable was more air and space and the layering of the orchestra was truly remarkable and realistic.
Van Morrison’s new album The Prophet Speaks is exciting and a celebration of Van’s 50th anniversary of his classic Astral Weeks. “Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From” is another MQA recording and the HE1000se nailed the performance. The soundstage was never restricted and the life of the tune came alive without any distractions. The sound was musical yet the dynamics were spectacular and I could hear deep into the recording and noticed the bass was defined and textured, and the extension of the treble soared in the upper regions without ever sounding sharp and the Organ was vivid and defined in its own space without any harshness.
Shirley Horns’ vocal on “Beautiful Love” from her classic You won’t Forget Me album, brought her performance to life and was as good as I have heard it sound. The guitar work accompanying her vocal brought an uncanny realism to my listening session and her vocal had exceptional clarity. The Harmonica solo that also accompanies this track was showcasing once again the beauty of the music and how special this performance was. If you want to really hear a vocal you need to hear this song, it is one of the best I have heard in a female performance.
Emmylou Harris’ and Rodney Cromwell’s Old Yellow Moon album has some m exciting tracks. “Buck Rider” has both Rodney and Emmylou in a country stomping tune. The sound coming from the HE1000se showcased once again the speed of the driver and the dynamic duo came to life and sounded vivid and alive while I was listening. The performance once again was exceptional and the sound exciting listening to this country tune.
HIFIMAN continues to improve their existing designs as Fang Bian’s quest for perfection continues with the HE1000se. The new transducer had improvements in speed and dynamics soared. Whatever genre I used for listening, the HE1000se always delivered a dynamic and effortless experience. Whether I used a classical or country tune the sound was always musical and dynamic in delivery and made each session enjoyable.
One of the major advantages to high resolution streaming with a world-class DAC is your ability to surf and try different music. The Marantz SA 10 and the Auris Nirvana were synergistic with both the HE1000se and the HE6se. I was able to listen to different genres of music easily and both transducers had noticeable differences. Using both headphones in the Nirvana at the same time let me switch frequently and enjoy both headphones immensely.
The HE6se with the new headband and pads was a much better fit and more comfortable than earlier incarnations and a major improvement both in looks and comfort. The HE6se still is a terrific headphone that can capture an exceptional performance and in many ways was the creation of the magical HIFIMAN sound. The treble extension is one of the best in available reference headphones and the transparency is exceptional. Driven with the right ancillary equipment makes it still to this date one of the best designs in reference headphones.
The new edition is priced at $1795 which is $500 higher than the HE 6 issued in 2009. The additional cost 10 years later is not much considering the new improvements in the design. The new headband and pads make the HE6se one of the best sounding designs in its class and still one of the best in the world and with more powerful amplification designs opens a world to new listeners and another generation of music lovers to captivate.
The HIFIMAN HE 1000se ($3500) is an improvement over the previous HE1000 V2 and will appeal to users who are looking for a more efficient reference transducer that can be used with any portable device and offer world-class musicality. The additional speed of the driver made recordings more dynamic and delivered exceptional performance with all genres of music used in my evaluations.
The HIFIMAN HE6se and HE1000se are extraordinary products that will captivate your listening experience and if you were ever wondering what the HE 6 sounded like, now is your opportunity to listen to the legendary headphone that started HIFIMAN on to creating some of the best headphones in the world. Fang continues his quest for perfection and with these two majestic designs, he keeps getting closer to achieving that goal. Highly Recommended.