Hifiman HE-6: The Treble Master
I have a love/hate relationship with Hifiman’s HE-6 Planar Headphone. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I want to strangle it. Generally, I find myself enjoying the headphone and instantly becoming depressed when switching up with another headphone in this report with regard to the treble. At the end of the day, the HE-6 offers the most intense, thrilling and vividly engaging upper end on any headphone I have ever heard.
Sure, the headphone is easily one of the most power hungry headphones in existence, but with great power comes great responsibility…no doubt Hifiman created a beautiful treble monster. Bright, lively, clear and incredibly sparkled are but mere words to toss around in attempt to properly chronicle the HE-6’s upper most areas. The general tone of the treble offered is saturated in a blue and icy coloration, but don’t take that in a negative light, the treble in my opinion simply shells out the best overall tone and coloration available. Anti-sibilant by comparison to their biggest rival the Audeze LCD3, which sounds audible more muted and hissy, more prone to sibilance. Having so many flagships nearby to compare with really paints a picture and it only becomes evident that the Sennheiser HD800 with absolute pristine track quality and rig pairing is capable of achieving similarly stunning treble…an occasional experience on the Sennheiser and one that is omnipresent on the Hifiman.
The HE-6 sound signature is one of a very weighted feel, blaring at times as if the physical body of the sound coming at you is barreling down upon your head. This is oddly contrasting to the actual physical definition of the sound signature itself, which isn’t nearly as solid sounding as the Stax 007. I find the experience on this headphone to conflict with what I generally would have wanted it to be if I had tuned it: the overall lack of physical definition and blurred edging to vocals and instruments forces a seemingly off balance sense to the heavily weighted sound signature. Impact on this headphone is simply too severe for me, too sharp and punchy for me to enjoy moderate to fast paced tracks. Speed equates to a total loss of control. However, with that in mind the HE-6 performs exceptionally well with slow paced tracks in Jazz and Big Band style genres.
The bass experience is powerful with excellent and interesting texture. Where Audeze is pure, Hifiman’s bass tends to me more weighted, solid and firm. Very to my liking when properly fed a nuclear blasts equivalent of voltage…without that excessive power ( 4watts is a starting point ) the HE-6 becomes a useless headphone. Something totally unable to be powered by any portable amplifier and to require what I consider absolutely crazy levels of voltage just to power to shoulder shrug worthy levels is the very definition of taking audio a step backwards in time. The HE-6 to me exemplifies a colossal leap backward in progress made in the HiFi world: it is simply too damned inefficient. Although, sufficient wattage does equate to the bass and treble quality truly rivaling that of the HD800. The problem here is that hardly and USB Dacs offer enough power to push this headphone to heavenly quality: a good HE-6 rig will cost you almost as much as a Stax rig will. In my opinion, this headphone is incredible in both sonic clarity potential…but costs too much to boost it to those stellar levels and ultimately making this headphone one of the worst deals in the headphone world. For similar complete rig pricing ( the cost of headphone, USB DAC or Source and the Amplifier needed ) a good HE-6 rig can easily reach in excess of $3000US.
The overall tone of this headphone is potently darkened in the background and when combined with the bright treble and very dark and firm bass response, the sonic imaging properties feels embossed and of a very dynamic origin. Stereo imaging properties are all poor compared to most other headphones in this report. Hifiman was never know for even passable sound staging properties.
The Most Interesting Comparisons
HE-6 vs Audeze LCD3 Fazor
The treble on the HE-6 eats the LCD3 for breakfast in every way imaginable. Where the Audeze is flat, dry and actually sibilant at times, the Hifiman is bright and vivid while showcasing noticeably less hiss and sibilance on notoriously sibilant tracks. I don’t enjoy the tone of either headphone, but I consistently find myself enjoying the raw musicality the HE-6 can aspire to when properly fed its fill of voltage. The LCD3 Fazor is more natural, less colored and the HE-6 is brighter with a darker background. Undoubtedly, the HE-6 fails miserably with regard to all imaging properties, it simply cannot compare to the juicy and lush stage depth the Audeze headphones offer. With the new Fazor enhancements in the Audeze lineup came some improvements in the sound staging department as well..making the fight over superior stereo imaging properties that much harder for the HE-6 to even begin to dream of comparing to. I feel the LCD3 midrange and bass to offer more purity and clarity, however the HE-6 upper mids and treble as mentioned absolutely destroys the Audeze unmercifully. The LCD3 is more midforward and in your face, the HE-6 is noticeably more laid back and relaxed.
HE-6 vs Sennheiser HD800
Obviously, the HD800 will sound bigger and more spacious no matter what rig you use. Sadly enough for HD800 owners, a well fed HE-6 is somewhat comparable to the HD800 in clarity across the board, however again that “great” HE-6 rig will cost you near 1/3 more over the price of what a great HD800 rig will set you back. My Oppo HA-1 Dac with the HD800 costs around $2600 total and sounds phenomenal, truly amazing and worth every penny. No extra amping needed, the HA-1 and many similar USB Dacs have enough power output driving force to feed the HD800 nicely. An HE-6 rig that can compare to that would cost at least the price of a great amplifier more, I’d not settle for any speaker amp since most of them in my experience in the sub $500 aren’t even close to as clear as most summit level USB Dacs…so in turn you would need a Summit level source AND a Summit level amp to get a truly great sound out of the HE-6 rig. Boiled down and once you achieve this dream HE-6 rig, it is certainly exceptionally awesome and pretty much on par with the clarity, tone and texture potential of the HD800…all be it always much smaller sounding and significantly more claustrophobic…and also not nearly as comfortable as the HD800.
HE-6 vs Beyerdynamic T1
Comparing these two headphones results in a noticeable and omnipresent haze over the entire T1 response by comparison, the HE-6 is unquestionably more clear while offering a higher fidelity expererience. However, the HE-6 signature is far too harsh in terms of weightiness to fairly compare with the T1, which is a headphone that has a much softer approach to the experience. The tone of the T1 is brighter with a much more apparent background coloration, very monitor in tone and texture, almost metallic and smokey, where as the HE-6 is jet black and void of texture. Both headphones have a bright treble response, but once again the HE-6 trumps the competition in clarity, quantity and texture with minimal effort. The HE-6 is capable of serious bass quantity and properly fed will stay in control no matter what, the T1 however loses control much faster than the HE-6. Both retain a similar physical locale to the experience that is a bit distant, but not overly so. I would not call either engaging in the sense of forwardness.
Rig Recommendations: The Schiit Lyr and a great USB dac are a great starting rig for the HE-6. Seek immense power output upwards of 6watts and avoid U-shaped signature in both source and amp. Any amplifier known for exceptional treble is going to pair immensely well with this headphone. Sources with exceptional bass response are almost required. Treble mastery is also a general requirement for me, so I would recommend fully that you shop around for the sources and amplifiers known for offering the best treble imaginable. Go big or go home, anything less makes the HE-6 shoulder shrug worthy, so feed it the best you can get and don’t skimp anywhere. Sound staging properties aren’t at all important, just make sure stage depth and dynamics are good with whatever source and amp you opt for.
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