I have personally owned HiFiMan HE-6 headphones for about one year. In my headphone review, I believe the HE-6 is truly, a pleasure to listen to, and definitely worth the purchase price of $1299.
About 10 years ago (an eternity in the personal audio world), headphones weren't important or popular with "audiophiles". Few companies managed to get their attention and much less their money, but HiFiMan was definitely one that did. In 2010, with the release of the HE-6, one of HiFiMan achieved one of its biggest advancements into personal audiophilia.
It was HiFiMan's top of line headphone in 2010; however, in May 2015, the release of the HE-1000 edged out the HE-6 as their "top of the line" cans.
Did it make the HE-6 sound inferior or less than perfect?
These are the questions I ponder and attempt to explain via my personal listening sessions for the past few months. I also share some HE-6 history, design, power & sound quality achievements & characteristics.
History of the HE-6
At their introduction, the HE-6 brought many innovations into the headphone world:
- an ultra-thin membrane with golden transducers
- a powerful magnet system
- a special topology of spiral conductors in their coil
These features allow the HE-6 unbelievable linearity and frequency response scatter of less than 15 dB, which is an impressive result. However, these advancements came at their own price or with some limitations.
The HE-6 has low sensitivity, so they need a powerful amplifier to drive them. This can be an issue for some not wanting to have a separate headphone or portable amp to listen as many music lovers use their phone as their music source these days.
HiFiMan does offer a special adapter to plug the HE-6 into a traditional home amplifier for this reason, but it's not a good idea, as often home amps don't behave well with such unexpected load. However, if you do decide to drive the HE-6 with a home amplifier, choose a low powered speaker amp versus a high powered one so you don't run into gain or "volume control" issues.
HiFiMan HE-6 Headphones in Leather Box
These HE-6 first-generation HiFiMan cans include prime packaging of:
- a beautiful, leather box
- two pairs of ear pads (velour and leatherette)
- two cables: one with 4-pin XLR connector & one with an XLR to 1/4 jack adapter
- a pouch for storage
- a pair of SMC connectors, for those who'd like to have an alternative cable.
- By the way, if you want a better or upgrade cable for your HiFiMan headphones, take a look at the Black Dragon headphone cables, they sound superb with the HE-6 & "tame" or smooth out the top end or "higher frequencies".
Design of the HE-6
The design of the HE-6 is very simple. The HE-6 is a planar magnetic or orthodynamic headphone and has similar technology to electrostatic headphones.
Wikipedia defines orthodynamic as "consists of a relatively large membrane suspended between two sets of permanent, oppositely aligned, magnets. The membrane is then electrically charged in order to induce movement in the membrane and produce sound."a
Simple design, comfortable pads & headband, durable & practical materials, and great looks are included in the HE-6. At 502 grams or 1.106 lbs., it can be a little heavier than some headphones, but it is still super comfortable for lengthy listening sessions & non-fatiguing. Please note, they are open headphones, so listening in your office or on the street, are not your best options as you will hear outside noise.
Power of the HE-6
Driving the HE-6 to full power isn't a simple task as I've mentioned before, they do have low sensitivity. I've used their EF-6 amplifier, built especially for the HE-6, but it's large and pricey. Fortunately, there are many powerful headphone amps available today that can drive the HE-6 efficiently so proper amplification is not a problem anymore.
Sound of the HE-6
The sound quality of the HE-6 can simply be described as outstanding in my opinion, but, to characterize it fully, here is a longer summary of my listening session experience below.
The bass is very lively, dynamic and punchy. The speed and resolution allow it to demonstrate every single aspect of the lower frequencies in any recording. I believe, the HE-6 perfectly measures bass quantity, keeping it powerful enough to make an appropriate slam, yet not overpowering. Please note, that most of all, the lower frequencies are the ones who suffer most of all from inappropriate amplification.
The mids are so good, it can be hard to listen to a vast majority of headphones after spending time with the HE-6. The mids can seem a bit distant at times but they include such incredible detail, they are sublime. No hints of coloration or other distortions are heard and just pure recording as it is meant to be enjoyed.
The highs are also no compromise. It has a little bump on the highs, but there is no sibilance (at least if it's not present on record) or harshness. These headphones can overwhelm the listener at times with the quantity of high-frequency detail, but once you adjust, you'll enjoy the higher frequencies as a best feature with an incredibly airy & spacious sound.
In summary, if you are looking for a headphone in the $1000-$1500 price range, definitely consider purchasing the HiFiMan HE-6. It offers superb enjoyment, sound, detail & design that's close to perfection in my opinion on all points.
I wholeheartedly AGREE with Geoffrey Morrison's conclusion in his Technology article on the HE-1000 and I quote him here,
"high-end audio tends to last a lot longer, and offer more hours/years of enjoyment than just about any other hobby...it’s a worthy investment."b
a. "Orthodynamic" definition via Wikipedia, Retrieved, September 16, 2015.
b. 3,000 headphones, HiFiMan HE-1000 Preview, via ForbesLife, June 6, 2015.