My Video Review:
Before I move on with my actual review, I just want to make it clear that headphone listening is the biggest hobby of my life…for multiple reasons. With headphones you don’t need expensive room treatments, absorbers or diffusers, you don’t need obedient neighbors, you will never bother anyone else with your underground music collection and weird music styles. With headphones you can listen to your tunes at night, in the morning, on the beach, in your favorite park, anywhere really, you can rock hard and head-bang like you’re in the middle of a rock concert, you can be 100% yourself, listening only to the music that drives you and lifts your mood, while completely bypassing additional expenses and work that needs to be done for a proper loudspeaker setup. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still listening to loudspeakers on a daily routine and still thinking about ways of improving them and elevating my listening experience to the next level, but today I’ll be about personal audio.
For me, it all started with a no-name portable cassette player that my parents bought in late ‘80-ies. When its stock headphones broke, I’ve asked and searched for a replacement, without the help of Google and internet…it wasn’t a quest for the faint of heart. Years later I’ve found about multiple headphones brands, about different sizes, shapes and of course about different price points. I started learning slowly but surely, Panasonic and Sony headphones came first, then I’ve found that my home town is making some amazing headphones of that period: the Amfiton TDS-15 planar-magnetic headphones…and after getting them, it felt like connecting to the infinite and all-knowing universe, hearing music for the first time and the rest is history. The quest that I had as a kid, isn’t finished yet, it is still ongoing and I’m still hunting for the world’s best headphones and with today’s review I’ve approached very closely to what I consider as musical nirvana. I’ve never tried the first and second iteration of Hifiman’s top dog HE1000, but HE1000 Special Edition is indeed a very special sounding headphone and, in many ways, it is the best I’ve tried. I’m on my 6th Hifiman review and in a span of a few years I’ve experienced some of their upper-class headphones, but HE1000 SE is something else entirely, something that truly deserves the high-end moniker.
In recent years I’ve tested some of their upper class open-back offerings such as $1600 Arya and $2500 Jade II Electrostatic headphones system, but this time around I’ll be doing an in-depth look for their God-tier headphones that are selling for $3500. Before I tell you more about them and their unique skill-set, let’s dive inside their package first.
As with all upper-class headphones, HE1000SE came double boxed with an absurd amount of bubble wrap and soft-foam for a better protection during shipping. You can never be too careful, especially with top-class cans, so I can only congratulate Hifiman for an excellent packaging. The headphones are coming in a huge leathery-like box that has an aluminum top cover. The company logo and model name are laser engraved on it, adding just a splash of uniqueness and taste. In it, you’ll find a velvety-like material that is surrounding the cans and some additional foam that protects its detachable cables. It was surprising seeing 3 headphone cables inside, I don’t remember ever seeing so many of them in a stock packaging, it was a pleasant surprise for sure. I’m not a huge fan of those cables, the outer jacket and its color are reminding about my student years…but it is still amazing having a 4-pin XLR balanced cable, a regular 6.35mm (¼”) headphone cable and another 3.5mm single ended cable. The last cable tries to tell me something and who knows, maybe I can drive them with portable devices? Will see about that very soon.
Build Quality & Looks
The moment I picked them up, I’ve realized that Hifiman put a much bigger accent on the build-quality this time around. You can find plastics and pleather on Arya, but you won’t with HE1000SE that uses only metal parts, a nicer and a stronger headband, much deeper and comfier earpads and for the first time I see some wooden accents that are adding refinement and class. The metal frame is reminding about the Arya, as these two are having the same size and shape. At only 440 grams (almost a pound) I find them lightweight and super comfortable long term. They aren’t applying a bigger pressure on top of my head and the cheek pressure is close to nothing, making them one the most comfortable planar headphones.
Hifiman went with the same Window Shade System that was applied to Arya and Jade II, making them as open, as open headphones could ever be. You can easily see the magnet structure, the planar-magnetic driver assembly and there is nothing stopping the acoustic waves just behind the driver. People around you should prepare some ear-plugs, as these will be leaking a good deal of noise outside of their cups. This clever design unlocked an open wide and an extremely transparent sound, boosting their soundstaging capabilities.
The hybrid ear-pads with leather on the outside and soft fabric where skin is being touched isn’t a novelty anymore, but I really enjoy the added thickness and extra padding that could potentially increase the soundstage size. Interestingly enough, they seem to have the deepest earpads I’ve seen on Hifiman headphones, even the mighty Susvara doesn’t have them as thick.
The metal structure was created via CNC milling and hand polishing and you actually feel that while holding them in your hand. When closely inspecting their earcups, you can see the extra care and the fine grain polishing that went before applying a matte silver paint.
So far, HE1000SE and Susvara are the best-looking headphones they ever did and there isn’t much else to add in here. I am aware of its thinner metal structure, I am aware of its wooden veneer, giving an impression that cutting corners are common practices at Hifiman, but I’ll remind you that solid wood, a heavier metal structure, some thicker metal grilles and heavier ear-pads will be leaving a huge burden on your neck, lowering the comfort level. I have an Audeze LCD-4 and Erzetich Phobos around me too, but at ~740 grams, those are almost twice as heavy to the HE1000SE. Would you trade exquisite looks over comfort long term? I don’t think so. I’ve blamed them too, until I’ve put them on my head, completely forgetting about the veneer or about a thinner steel structure and as of right now, I can understand the thinking that went behind its build quality.
Tech Inside them
We are talking about a huge fully open-back headphone that houses a ginormous planar-magnetic driver that is driven by a double-magnet structure in a push-pull configuration. The diaphragm has a sub-micron thickness conductor, making it extremely responsive to the powerful magnetic flux. As for the magnets, Hifiman developed some acoustically invisible stealth magnets that are reducing the wave diffraction turbulence which can degrade the integrity of the sound waves. The result? A lower total harmonic distortion that leads to a purer, more harmonious sound. Unlike the sound waves created by conventional magnets, the rounded shape of the stealth magnets passes through acoustic waves without generating interference, leading towards a more transparent sound.
The Window Shade System is moving the unwanted acoustic waves outside of its cups, improving the perception of a breathable sound, that can stretch wide open in all directions. As with all newer generation Hifiman headphones, you’ll find 3.5mm jacks in their cups, making them extremely versatile when it comes to using 3rd party cables.
You’ll find 3 cables in the package, we don’t know the conductor that is being used, but it looks like oxygen-free copper to me. Honestly, I dislike the look of their cables, especially the color and the texture of the outer jacket feels uninspiring to say the least. Luckily, sky is the limit as you can use any other 3rd party cable that looks better or uses higher purity conductors.
They have a lower impedance of 35 Ohms and a higher sensitivity of 96 dB per 1mW of power and I am really curious how they would perform with desktop and portable gear alike, so what are we waiting for? Let’s hit some eardrums!
I. Preliminary Impressions
I’ll start by saying that I was not prepared for such a huge jump in terms of everything over the Hifiman Arya, that I still consider as one of the nicest headphones you can buy at its respective price point. The amount of detail retrieval that came forward was mind-blowing…to say the least. The soundstage improved considerably, and as much as I am loving the Erzetich Phobos, they were beaten at their own game. As of right now, HE1000SE has one of the best layering, one of the most believable 3D imaging I’ve experienced with headphones and one of the most natural soundstage renditions, stretching wide open on all axes. For many years I’ve considered the Audeze LCD-4 as The Depth King and while they are still very impressive in here, always showing the exact distance between all the musical notes and myself, the latest Hifiman creation were even deeper and more holographic sounding to me.
Please don’t get me started with the bass performance…while Arya was quite solid in here shooting for a linear bass, it wasn’t a very punchy and visceral sounding unit to me. With HE1000SE, the mythical bass became a lot fuller, even clearer unearthing additional sub-layers, it also became a lot fresher, much livelier and punchier with any musical genre, not only with modern music. From a relaxing sounding Arya that ultimately lacked the fun factor, Hifiman created a higher tiered headphone that sounds even more technical, while seriously boosting the engagement factor to the next level.
The drier and more linear midrange of their lower-end headphones is nowhere to be found in here, finally I am experiencing guttural voices, finally the soul of the music came back in my office, as everything appeared more real, I was better feeling the weight of the piano notes, violins had a soul-grabbing vibration to them and a lot of naturalness made more room inside their cups.
With a lot sadness it seems that my own champions of the past: Audeze LCD-4, Kennerton Wodan and Erzetich Phobos are no longer reigning supreme when it comes to micro-details, ultimate transparency, soundstage and depth information, as HE1000SE easily outperformed them all and crowned itself as the most technical headphone I’ve reviewed.
There was another surprise that I didn’t see coming and that was their unexpectedly high sensitivity, as I was able to drive them with almost any headphone amplifier, even with several portable units. HE1000SE seems much easier to drive and control compared to the LCD-4, to Arya and it’s much easier to move compared to its bigger sibling, the mighty Susvara.
When I’m receiving a new pair of headphones, I consider that the very first seconds are the most important ones that are building a powerful first impression, as in time your brain is getting used to the new sound and sound signature. Even from the first minute, it was clear to me that I am hearing transparency and detail retrieval incarnate…if you think that Sennheiser HD800S, Beyerdynamic T1 or Audeze LCD-4 are detailed sounding, wait until you experience the sound of HE1000SE or Susvara…It is something else entirely and a thought is always swirling through my mind: can it get even better that this?
II. Power Requirements & Amp Pairings
I wasn’t super happy about several Hifiman planar headphones, mostly because of their very low sensitivity, making them almost unusable on the go and picky when choosing an amplifier, as some couldn’t drive them to their maximum (with very small exceptions like Ananda and Deva). When I was traveling around, Arya would never hop in my backpack, mostly because I needed additional electronics, like a powerful portable headphone amp, so I could drive them decently enough.
HE1000SE is much easier to drive, at 96 dB per 1mW of power, there is a loudness gain factor of ~1.5 compared to Arya, meaning that they are 1.5 times louder sounding to the Arya at the same output from your amplifier. To be driven at the exact same volume, HE1000SE will need 2 times less voltage gain and 4 times less power gain! This is a huge deal and a very positive change, since HE1000SE can be easily driven even by portable DAC/Amps or portable players (DAPs), so I’ll be carrying the HE1000SE in my future trips, can’t wait for that to happen. I can only presume that their stealth magnets designed to be acoustically transparent, their nanometer thickness diaphragm, the sub-micron thickness conductor and of course their low impedance of 35 Ohms, made all that possible and I’m really glad I can experience such a top-quality sound even with portable devices, not only with kilo-buck desktop amplifiers.
I’ve tested them with around ~7 desktop headphone amplifiers, ranging from super linear and honest sounding THX-AAA and NFCA amplifiers, to warmer bipolar transistor-based amplifiers and then to warmest MOSFET transistor-based Class-A amplifiers and I wasn’t shocked at all that every single one drove them fully to their maximum. I’ve had all the signs of a well-driven headphone, dynamics were explosive, bass was hitting me like a hammer, they sounded effortless even with crowded music and I’ve never experienced them closed-in or claustrophobic.
There is less travel on the volume wheel compared to their Arya, to the Audeze LCD-4, Quad ERA-1, Kennerton Wodan, MUCH less travel compared to their Susvara and they appeared just a little less efficient compared to some dynamic headphones as Fostex TH909, OLLO S4X Reference and Kennerton Magni.
To my surprise, entry level DAC/Amps could drive them decently, even thumb like gizmos like Shanling UP2 and Audioquest Dragonfly had enough headroom with my punchy electronica. Audiobyte HydraVox also worked extremely well and honestly this is how I’ve tested them for 90% of the time. Its warmer tonality and its super liquid and easy-going nature worked as Ying to the HE1000SE’s Yang, complementing each other’s faults, while making sweet love with my ears.
If you own a very revealing source that is very linear / neutral sounding, then I would stay away from THX-AAA and FNCA designs, mostly because HE1000SE needs a little bit of warmth that could tame its upper-treble, while infusing more soul and emotion in the midrange. In my Big Rig (Matrix Audio Element X + Benchmark HPA4) HE1000SE sounded way too revealing, way too taxing with less than perfect recordings and I really missed the liquidity and warmth of class-A amplifiers. If you are a solid-state guy as myself, go with transistor based (MOSFET, JFET or better yet – Bipolar) Class-A amplifiers that worked The Best with them and if you are a tube guy, hybrid amplifiers (SS input, tube output) worked nicer with them, better preserving their speed, slam and ultimate transparency. If you already have a warmer sounding source (R2R, NOS, FPGA, Tube output stage, turntable) then you can use any amplifier you please, including ultra-linear ones.
III. Transient Response
What was very clear from the start is that HE1000SE almost reaches electrostatic like speed and decay, it is extremely fast sounding, with the shortest decays I’ve experienced and it’s also a very punchy and hard slamming headphone, unlike electrostatic headphones that aren’t that impressive in this department. I’m happy to tell that Hifiman solved the biggest shortcomings of all Hifiman headphones. Finally, there is weight in the bass, finally my ears started flapping like butterfly wings in the air and of course that worked as magic with fast modern music. The bass itself was spectacular from any point of view, it was clean and detailed, fully preserving the layering, yet it was full of substance, of texture and it was visceral sounding all the time. HE1000SE were showing the exact character of the amplifier that was driving them, they worked like a polygraph test for it, exposing its real nature and sound signature. The difference between a smooth and liquid sounding source to an extremely snappy and fast sounding source became even bigger, so much so, that I will be replacing the Audeze LCD-4 with the HE1000SE when I’ll be doing my future DAC and amplifier reviews, because it is a better headphone in terms of technicalities.
While HE1000SE is quite a sensitive headphone that can be driven even by portable audio gear, they still have huge planar magnetic drivers and a double magnet structure in a push-pull configuration, meaning that for the best driver control and the hardest bass impact, a higher amount of current needs to be delivered instantly to their drivers that only desktop amplifiers could provide. They sounded good to almost great out of several high-end DAPs like Shanling M8 and FiiO M15 DAPs and considerably better out of much cheaper desktop setups. A very big surprise for me was the xDuoo XA-10 that didn’t limit their performance in any way, they sounded big, effortless and very engaging out of it.
As a whole, when it comes to transient response, from a bigger collection of planar-magnetic headphones, only the Audeze LCD-4 can stand a chance versus them, as anything else didn’t reach the same speed and impact…not even close. However, there is one and only headphone that can surpass both units at their own game and that is the Hifiman Susvara being driven by a fully-discrete Class-A power amplifier.
IV. Soundstage & Depth
In my past reviews for their open-back HE400i and Deva, I’ve called them as airy sounding, having a natural well spread soundstage. The oval-shaped Arya on the other hand were much taller and deeper sounding to me, the shape and size of their drivers improved the perception of air traveling around and many still regard them as one of the nicest headphones when it comes to stage size and exact location of the notes around the listener.
With HE1000SE, Hifiman used a thinner diaphragm, more powerful magnets, the same Window Shade System and that can only translate into a bigger overall picture that is clearer and even more precise. From my current headphone collection, there isn’t a headphone that surpassed them in here, Susvara was on the same level but only when it’s fully driven, while all other headphones, including the Erzetich Phobos and Audeze LCD-4 weren’t decompressing the music so easily and so gracefully. They reminded a little about the Sennheiser HD800S, without their obvious shortcomings. The extreme stereo effect on Hoodoo Man Blues (Qobuz / Tidal) is even more pronounced, as several notes sounded way to my left or way to my right and if your setup is up to the task, then nothing will be stopping those drivers from mimicking the sound of top-class stereo loudspeakers. Experiencing well mastered music was a pure delight, as I don’t remember when my old jazz and folk-rock sounded so imposing, so big and so real.
Better recorded acoustic albums sounded scary real, the tiniest air movements weren’t hiding in the shadows anymore, those were obvious and very welcomed. The left to right play on Live in Japan by Rodrigo y Gabriela (Qobuz / Tidal) reminded about my loudspeaker setup, I could easily point the location of every note and few sounds even came from behind my back, creating an impression that I was listening to binaural music and not to an ordinary live-recorded stereo album. An expanded soundstage on all axes always plays tricks on me and I believe that it will have the same effect on you. True balanced amplifiers with a close to zero channel-crosstalk further improved the layering, the depth and expanded the left to right soundstage. The biggest sounding units to me were still the Burson Soloist 3X and to a lesser degree the Flux labs Acoustics FA-10.
V. Detail Retrieval & Transparency
I’ll be blunt and brutally honest with you, it might not get me a lot of friends, but it’ll always get me the right ones. If I would never listen to the Hifiman Susvara or to the Sennheiser HE-1, then HE1000SE would be the most detailed, the most transparent and the cleanest sounding headphone I’ve ever heard. With a lot of sadness, it seems that Audeze LCD-4 and Meze Empyrean were easily outplayed in here, Kennerton Wodan, Erzetich Phobos and Fostex TH909 were outperformed as well with no rights to appeal. I will not blame anyone, but those that are telling you that HE1000SE is a redesigned Arya, having the same acoustic properties…should go see an audiologist and have their ears checked or maybe they should just upgrade their acoustic chain. Arya has nothing to do with HE1000SE, the gap is bigger to my expectation levels and it’s much smaller between it and the mighty Susvara. Will you hear additional nuances and micro-details to the said headphones, Hell Yes! A lot of them.
On my Big Rig, which I consider a reference headphone setup and on the Audiobyte HydraVox, HE1000SE were showing up everything that was hiding in the shadows, they were unearthing absurd quantities of details, too many of them, as often times with less than perfect recordings I wanted them to stop showing up uninvited in my tracks. That is precisely why sometimes I was ditching THX-AAA with NFCA amplifiers in favor of less revealing amplifiers that could improve their tonality and make them easier to listen to in long listening sessions. HE1000SE will not sugar coat your music, they will be revealing only the truth and everything that is tied to it. I can always count on their ability to show me everything that is good or bad, all the micro-details and all the mastering errors and in this regard, I’m placing them higher to anything I’ve reviewed so far. If you are hunting for the last drop of information from your tunes, for an ultimate transparency and detail retrieval, then I don’t know anything that is more revealing than this. 10 out of 10!
VI. Frequency Response
When I’m the mood for some electronic music, I would always reach my hard towards the Audeze LCD-4, maybe to the Fostex TH909, but I would never grab a Hifiman headphone up until today. While Arya is clean and linear, opting for an undistorted type of bass, they weren’t very snappy and hard slamming in this region. I don’t know exactly how Hifiman solved this problem, but HE1000SE isn’t lightweight in the bass anymore, it isn’t ethereal, it isn’t laidback…more like on the opposite camp, choosing a much meaner attitude, a nicer bass impact and a higher fun factor. I went through a series of electronic albums smiling all along thanks to a much higher engagement factor, I’ve felt all the bass quantity I wished for in a very transparent and clean way. I always believed there is something special about planar bass…its sheer size, its impact, its cleanness, its depth, its undistorted nature always appealed to me, I could never get enough of it and it seems that HE1000SE possesses exactly the same traits. You’ll easily hear 20 Hz notes loud and clear, you’ll hear mid-bass as impactful and clean and I wish all other planar headphones would sound so utterly amazing in the bass.
The key ingredient of unlocking an organic and life-like midrange rendition lies not only in the frequency response alone. More important than ever is how clean, how much distortion there is, how much pre and post-ringing there is in here. When distortion is moved out of the picture, when transparency is boosted and midrange is left alone on the same level with the rest of the frequency response, then it begins its life, it vibrates, blooms and decays more naturally and this is exactly what happens with the HE1000SE. Vocal performance is just spot on, I’m getting goose bumps on soprano voices, piano notes are moving more air down low, throat singing of The HU still scares the sh!t out of me and Leonard Cohen is still very guttural due to a lower voice pitch.
There is an unspoken rule that Hifiman headphones aren’t that impressive in the midrange. If you mean elevated, super-warm, up-front, close and personal midrange, then yep, Hifiman creations aren’t like that. HE1000SE will not boost the midrange presence, how some other top-class headphones are doing, like Meze Empyrean or Audeze LCD-4, but they will never render it less impressive to the rest of the frequency response. I can’t blame a midrange that is straight as a line, that is linear and present in my tunes when it’s called for, I could do that only when it’s missing, when it’s recessed, but that is not the case with today’s headphone.
Its treble performance can be described as clean, super defined and very extended even past top octave. I feel that it offers a higher extension in here compared to any other Hifiman headphones, it has a higher presence to the Arya and Susvara and sometimes that might cause a slight issue. The most sensitive part of our hearing is elevated by around 2.5 dB and that makes few particular sounds appear as sharper and more contoured, subsequently making them a little brighter to any other Hifiman headphones. On rare occasions I wanted to lower the treble presence, especially while listening to rock and metal music where distortion is usually much higher to any other musical genre. You can certainly tame its light brightness by slashing 3 dB between 7 and 10 kHz region and if you would like a smoother and a calmer top-end, drop another 2 dB or use smoother sounding sources and amplifiers.
Overall, I find their frequency response very extended from the lowest sub-bass notes to the highest treble peaks, without a drop in the frequency response, with just a small rise in the treble and that really differentiates common headphones from a high-end pair of cans.
After offering my subjective opinion, it is time putting them under a magnifying glass seeing how they really perform. When it comes to measurements, I have the highest confidence in the Benchmark HPA4 as it is as linear as headphone amplifiers could ever be and I have resumed at using the Matrix Audio Element X as the main DAC for the job. The measurement rig used was the MiniDSP E.A.R.S. calibrated with HPN (Original Headphone Compensation) files. Do note that MiniDSP E.A.R.S. is not following any IEC standards, meaning that my readings can’t be used as reference measurements or anything like that, I’m doing them only to get a general idea about their sound signature.
I have measured them several times, as finding the perfect spot on the test jig with those huge ear-pads wasn’t that easy. No side-pressure was applied on the earcups, they stood still in their natural position.
Take a look at their RAW measurement without any smoothing applied. I’m quite impressed by the driver matching, there is just a small deviation between 7.5 and 8.5 kHz of less than 2 dB and it is almost unbelievable how close both drivers are matched anywhere else. As for FR, just take a look at that beautiful clean straight line from 20 Hz to around 1 kHz. As you can see, HE1000SE is very impressive in terms of bass and midrange, it’s as good as it can get.
Applying a gentle 1/12 smoothing, not a lot of things are changing, you can better see how impressive they are in the treble region, it is very extended in there. There is just a small deviation from my 84 dB target curve and I’m quite happy how the FR looks as a whole.
If you’re wondering how HE1000SE would fair against other high-end headphones like Hifiman Susvara, Audeze LCD-4 and Meze Empyrean, here is a RAW measurement that will tell you more. (Blue – Hifiman HE1000SE, Orange – Hifiman Susvara, Red – Audeze LCD-4, Green – Meze Empyrean).
A THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) of 0.25% is a very good result, Phobos, Empyrean and LCD-4 had higher harmonic distortions. You can see a higher distortion in the bass, but everything else stays somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5% which is a good performance in my book.
Decay of the notes is impressively fast, you can see an even movement of the diaphragm and decay of the notes (Blue Mass), I don’t recall seeing anything like this before. In this regard, HE1000SE looks like one of the fastest sounding headphones.
Take a look at their waterfall, where you can better see the hot spots in the frequency response and the longer bass decay. I can’t stress enough how impressive they are looking in the frequency response.
Spectrogram shows a minor ringing of the driver in the sub-bass, but it is nothing to be worried about. Many other headphones, but especially open-backs are doing the same.
Overall, I’ve recorded the widest reaching FR, one of the lowest THD, a nice driver matching, some super-fast decays and a smooth waterfall, definitely performing like a top-dog headphone.
There is no point in comparing a more technical, a much more advanced and higher priced HE1000SE to the Arya, I really see no point as the gap between them is bigger to what I was expecting. Instead, I’ll be comparing them with its direct competitor and that is the Audeze LCD-4.
Hifiman HE1000SE ($3500) VS Audeze LCD-4 ($4000)
When it comes to looks and material choices, I really don’t know anything cooler and more unique looking to the LCD-4. There is something that always drags my attention to them, maybe it’s that soft leather, maybe that carbon fiber headband, maybe those solid wooden cups, I’ve always adored their look and build quality, hence scoring a point for the LCD-4.
When it comes to comfort, it isn’t even a contest, HE1000SE has a much lighter frame, some bigger and softer earpads taking the shape of the human face, makes them a lot more comfortable long term. My neck is strong and for me LCD-4 are not posing a problem, but I know a few guys that can’t use them for more than 45 minutes due to neck pain. HE1000SE easily scores a point in here.
When it comes to packaging and accessories, Audeze is bundling them with either a single ended 6.35mm cable or with a 4-pin XLR cable. Hifiman added both cables to the package and as an added bonus a 3.5mm cable can be used with portable devices. I don’t like the look of Hifiman cables, but hey…three cables versus one and Hifiman scores another point.
When it comes to sensitivity, HE1000SE will need ~9 dB less in achieving the same sound pressure level of the LCD-4, meaning that you’ll need way less power, a smaller and a more affordable amplifier to drive them fully. The difference is quite big, so again Hifiman scores a point.
From this point onwards, I volume matched both headphones and for that I used the miniDSP EARS system, matching both at the listening level of 85 dB.
Switching from HE1000SE to LCD-4 feels like I’m lowering the resolution of my photos by a third, like I’m shooting in 2.5K instead of 4K DCI, there is just less of everything happening around me. Resolution takes the biggest hit, everything appears less clean, less sharp, less outlined and contoured, like I’m listening to a less-revealing headphone. I still believe that LCD-4 is a detailed and transparent headphone, but HE1000SE is on another, much higher level. If you are an Audeze user, the increase of resolution from LCD-4 to HE1000SE feels higher than going from LCD-2 to LCD-4 (skipping the LCD-3). I wish this wouldn’t be the case, because I’m still enjoying my time with LCD-4, but HE1000SE can’t be beaten at their own game and their game is ultimate transparency and detail retrieval. Another point to the house of Hifiman.
When transparency is higher with a headphone and lower with another one, everything appears more technical, clearer, you can easier spot a change of pace, it is like looking through a window outside versus no window at all. The frequency response, but especially the bass appeared more detailed and more layered on Hifiman, while being a little harder slamming on the LCD-4…I can’t choose one over the over, LCD-4 is a little more fun in the bass, while HE1000SE is a lot more precise. It’s a draw in there.
While the midrange isn’t that clean or sharp on the LCD-4, it always grabs my soul when acoustic music starts playing, there is something that I can’t put my finger on, something that makes them truly special in here and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a sweeter midrange. LCD-4 scores another a point in here.
Treble performance of both headphones is very different, one goes with a roll-off (LCD-4) and one elevates it a little. However, there is a huge difference between lacking information and offering too much of it, with EQ I can calm down the HE1000SE, while with the same EQ I can’t make the LCD-4 more detailed in the treble, some information is just missing from that region and no EQ can help them. HE1000SE scores another point.
When it comes to imaging and soundstage, LCD-4 always impressed me with their depth, with pin point location of the notes (imaging) and less so with a left to right soundstage size. HE1000SE on the other hand, is always big sounding, it is taller sounding, it is wider sounding and it is exactly as deep and pin point accurate, easily winning another round.
Tonality wise, LCD-4 has plenty of bass, midrange presence and a mild treble roll-off, they possess a more pleasing tonality that works nicer with a wider variety of audio equipment. Older listeners also tend to prefer a warmer sound signature of Audeze. Hifiman went with a reference tuning, with them everything appeared at the same level and nothing stood out that much. You’ll need more time finding a perfect setup for the HE1000SE and not everybody is into linear and honest sounding headphones. I get both tunings, there is no right or wrong…but I believe regular people will get to enjoy the Audeze house sound a little bit more and they are scoring a point.
If you are using loudspeakers and need some reference, HE1000SE reminded a lot more about my KEF Reference 3 loudspeakers, about Raidho and ATC loudspeakers, while LCD-4 reminded about Harbeth and higher-end Dynaudio speakers…
In the end Audeze LCD-4 scored 3 points and Hifiman HE1000SE outplayed them with 6 points. I’m not ditching the LCD-4, it is still a mighty fine headphone fighting with the best there is, it’s the heaviest, but also the nicest looking one and its special ingredient in the midrange will always have a place in my heart. When it comes to technicalities, that can impress an audio junkie like myself, HE1000SE is in a league of its own, as every time I put them put on, I felt like my audio experience was going to the next level.
I know that Hifiman Susvara is one of the cleanest, if not really THE cleanest and the most detailed headphone out there, but I wasn’t prepared for such a remarkable look alike at almost half the price. HE1000SE performed like a baby-Susvara and in some ways it felt like a better headphone altogether, as I could drive it with most headphone amplifiers, while Susvara demanded tesla coils, juicy amperes and hundreds of watts to unleash their fullest potential. The most shocking part is that their technicalities went neck in neck. Both sounded super nimble, electrostatic like fast, hard slamming in the bass and uber-transparent to their cores, to a point of becoming too clean sounding with some particular tunes. HE1000SE and Susvara felt like twin brothers, separated at birth, that went to different schools of life, but retained the same family traditions. Considering that HE1000SE is the most impressive technical headphone I’ve reviewed so far (Susvara review incoming soon), I cannot go without awarding it our highest Golden Award! Congratulations to the team and I’m looking forward to their next doings!
I know that $3500 is a lot of money for a pair of headphones, it really is, but knowing that a single headphone can outplay and outwit every other headphone in the room sitting near me, I think that their price is fully justified. If I would be Hifiman, I would redesign the outer jacket of its cables and I would ditch the beautiful display case, in favor of a transportable hard case that people would put to good use.
You can get them directly from Hifiman web-store right here, you can also get them from your nearest Hifiman authorized dealer right here, or you can get them from Apos Audio right here. No matter where you get them from, please leave a comment below and let me know how they are treating you.
- Very solid build quality
- The best looking Hifiman headphone to date
- Three pairs of detachable cables in the package will save a lot of pennies
- The widest and the deepest sound I’ve experienced with planar headphones
- Can show an absurd quantity of details from your tunes, extremely transparent sounding
- Probably the most extended FR I’ve experienced with headphones
- Holographic and 3D sounding all the time, with a laser-precision and pin-point location of the notes
- Lightning-fast sounding, short decays, very punchy and hard slamming too
- One of cleanest bass I’ve experienced with headphones
- Clean, detailed and extended treble performance
- Extremely technical sounding
- Easy to drive, kilo-buck amplifiers aren’t necessary
- Impressive measurements
- This is how High-end sounds like
- Worth its asking price
- Unattractive stock cables
- A slight treble peak (could be solved with EQ or with a warmer sounding setup)
- DACs: Audiobyte HydraVox + HydraZap, Matrix Audio Element X, Gustard X26 PRO, X16, Gold Note DS-10 Plus, Topping D30 PRO, xDuoo XA-10 & others
- Headphone Amps: Benchmark HPA4, SparkoS Labs Aries, Flux Lab Acoustics FCN-10, Musician Andromeda, Singxer SA-1, Burson Soloist 3X, xDuoo XA-10, Topping A30 PRO & others
- Power Amps: KECES S300
- IEMs: FiiO FA9, FH7, FD5, Meze RAI Penta, RAI Solo, LittleDot Cu KIS, Hiby Crystal6 & others
- Portable headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 2, Meze 99 Classics
- Full-sized headphones: Hifiman HE1000SE, Susvara, Arya, Audeze LCD-4, Kennerton Wodan, Magni, Gjallarhorn, Vali, M12S, Erzetich Phobos, Mania, Fostex TH909, Quad ERA-1, Ollo S4X Reference
- Loudspeakers: KEF Reference 3
- Interconnects: QED Reference (x2), Topping TCX1 (x2)
- Speaker cables: Kimber PR8, Audioquest Type4
- Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier (x3)
- Balanced Isolation Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC400