We all know that Drop likes to work with companies to remake older model headphones and audiophile gear, but with a new development cycle, some alterations, and a new box (or maybe even some new accessories that never came with the original).
In this case, Drop worked with Hifiman’s CEO (Fang) and came away with a “new” version of the HE500 from yesteryear. Now, for me personally, the HE500 is the golden boy of the entire mid-fi HiFi universe. It, along with the Grado PS500 originally, are my undisputed favorite sub $500 headphones.
I have owned the HE500 since it was released and I had first reviewed it, long proceeding my days here at Headfonics. It was not until the TSA destroyed my set by crushing a bag of mine and refusing to pay for anything inside. So, of course, I was extremely excited to receive a new HE500 variant in this much cheaper Drop Hifiman HE5XX.
New Magnet Configuration
This time around, Drop and Hifiman have opted to use a thinner and smaller magnet setup overall, instead of the same or as close to replicating the original physical design of the original HE500. They went with something all new and in turn, they got an all-new sound.
This HE5XX is cited as inspired by the HE500 and I am not sure I agree with that assessment. Is that a bad thing? Not really. I just do not think this Drop HE5XX is really acoustically related to the original HE500. It is just more in line with the newer house Hifiman sound and not the old.
I do not consider that a negative thing, due to so many people enjoying the newer sound signature of Hifiman’s mid-tier models.
The design is simply fine. For $220, the exterior materials are good quality also. I feel like the real problem some might have is the weight factor being much lighter than the older planars and somehow that psychologically affects their perception of quality? I do not know.
The magnets inside are thin and light, so the headphone is in turn lighter feeling too than one would expect a planar headphone to feel. The ports are clean and feel snug. The headband is sturdy, with no creaking.
The metal braces feel good. The earcups feel thin, but overall, for the price I am not expecting a solid chunk of metal, to begin with so I would rate the overall build as above average and into the good tier. Not great, but good.
Thankfully, the HE5XX comes with a normal dual 3.5mm termination. Meaning, the ports that go into the earcups are not proprietary, or hard to come by. The original HE500 had a completely different cable end that is not nearly as easy to get a custom or a replacement cable for.
This new Drop HE5XX is extremely easy to get a new cable for if by a stroke of bad luck something does indeed happen to your stock cable. A dual entry 3.5mm cable such as this is easy to come by and even have made if you prefer that instead.
The exterior of the cable is a rubberish material, not fabric laced. It offers no memory and feels droopy in a good way, it is not the type of cable to retain shape. The 3.5mm adapter end is also average, nothing custom or heavy-duty feeling here anywhere on the cable side of things.
Also, unlike the original HE500, this new variant HE5XX is much more comfortable. The gimbal system on the original actually did not fit me so well, at the lowest setting, I had always felt like I needed it a little shorter. The original is also ungodly heavier as a product at a whopping 500grams. That, vs the new HE5XX’s mere 355grams.
The biggest problem I had with that original model was the weight factor, all of us who owned the older and first-gen Hifiman Planars likely felt the same…so heavy! This is not a problem in the newer HE5XX, as I mentioned, the driver setup is physically thinner, so weight dropped significantly.
The stock earpads of the HE5XX are also extremely soft, although I miss the velour pads of the original series. The top of the headband area has no padding whatsoever, but due to proper angled design, the headphone does not place most of the weight factor at the top of your skull.
The HE5XX also does not clamp much, so I rate the comfort factor extremely high. I can and have worn them for half the day, every day, for the entire review process. I have never come away rubbing my ears or feeling soar on the top of my noggin’.
Packaging & Accessories
Standard fair here. You get the Hifiman/Drop thick cardboard box, a short 1.5m cable with a 3.5mm termination, and of course a ¼ headphone adapter for usage with the larger source/amplifier output options. For $220, I am not interested in a plethora of things that most of us already have in the Hifi community.
For us, I think most of us do not need twelve adapters, 3 cable options, and a carrying case, etc. However, the general consumer might at least want or need a carrying case if they were to use this on the go.
The new HE5XX sounds nothing to me like the old and original HE500. This sounds more like the Hifiman HE-560 and HE400i. The overall tonality and density factor of the original HE500 is much weightier, thicker, and more prominent in physical weight on the low end. It was the perfect middle ground to my ear. Always was. Likely, always will be.
This new HE5XX is more in line with the newer Hifiman house sound, which was lost after the original HE6 and the discontinuation of the HE500. That heft factor really makes a world of difference and you can see by the revealing Drop and Mr. Fang dialogue on their website about how the process went down.
The new generation of Hifiman and most Planars seems to be on the purity side of the spectrum, not the more dense, vivid, and weighted side as the older generation offered.
The immense physicality difference between the new models and the old HE-series is staggering. I very much prefer the older series. The bass experience on the HE5XX feels like an exceptionally clean and clear dynamic driver headphone, it is faster, lighter. That, vs the older gen’s more rugged, deep-reaching and feeling, significantly weightier feel.
Responsiveness is not what I am talking about at this moment, I am referring to physical tactility. The new is thinner feeling, the older is thicker feeling, but also hits much harder. If I had one gripe, the older HE500 hit too hard when it was driven properly sometimes.
True, I consider that model a relaxing model but with the bass end of things, sometimes, it slammed too much for me. I do not feel that with the new HE5XX variant at all.
In fact, I want more of it and just find myself EQ’ing all the time to try to achieve more depth and thickness that never comes into view. The HE5XX’s responsiveness to EQ is relatively placed on the low end of moderate. That means if you want more bass, you can get a bit more. But not much.
The MSEB on my Hiby system is so potent on what it can push, yet I am cranked quite high and also have the CEntrance Bass Boost switch on, and I still feel like the low end of too thin, too lacking for me. Cleanliness is off the chart great for the price, probably the best on the market though.
However, this model is not bass-focused and clearly not intended for those who want head rattle. I simply do not have anything in this price range that sounds this clean though, so top marks for quality at $220.
The HE5XX is 100% intended for midrange, I cannot see how that sentiment is not the gospel truth in the original and initial design process. The older model has a flatter feeling, more even across the board.
This model from Drop has some clear midrange bloom effect that outperforms the low end by a significant margin in terms of quantity. That means the vocal experience, for the most part, is a bit more forward feeling than the treble and the bass experience.
The purity factor for the price is fantastic, but at this point in life, we know that Drop revisits on older models tend to release really great values. Repeatedly, history has proven, that Drop will release a new Hifi product and have it swiftly become the best overall value on the market.
This is a fantastic set of ‘wine and chill headphones’. If you like slower-paced music and want something pure feeling without going into the hyper-sterile territory, this is a great option. Classic vocal tracks in Jazz sound magnificent. This is an all-day headphone, so you likely will not get fatigued if you listen to the slower genres.
The HE5XX treble experience is noticeably tamer and less prone to brightness. The original model, while supremely clean, had some bite to the top-end that is totally absent on this model. I consider this new one as refined, tamed, smoother, and less physical on your ear.
The raw quality of the midrange and treble are both excellent for the price, again, likely the best out there now with only the other Drop titan (The HE-6xx) as the only competition in the sub $300 tier. However, I speak from experience now on the older HE500 as I no longer have it.
However! And a big however. That model is etched into my brain, as the most used set of headphones I have ever had. It was my main, my primary, and my go-to on walks for my own leisure time. I have not used any headphones outside of the original HD650 as much. I had custom cables for my HE500 to make it more walk and park relatable.
And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that a properly amped original HE500 sweeps the new HE5XX in quality across the board. But realize that the older model cost $899 at the time.
If there is a weak link in the HE5XX, this is where it will be found. The planar world is not known for bountiful sound staging and in turn, the HE5XX model is average in weight and height factor.
However, for the price, it is one of the better depth of field models out there. For $220? I cannot think of anything on the market outside of the HD6XX model also from Drop that has great stage depth and a nice, effortless appeal in stage-forwardness.
This Drop HE500 feels pretty airy out front, I have to admit. You can really feel that in the classic Phil Collins albums, usually albums known for excellent rear darkness factor in the recording, and with excellent timbre.
That airiness factor is noticeable with distant drummers in the recording, tapping high hats, and also with metal and fusion. Screaming guitars, amid the greats such as Eric Johnson…well, let us just stop there for a second. Eric’s Cliffs of Dover is one of my favorite tracks.
The album recorded version feels very flat, as most compressed albums sound. The live YouTube version feels so much more open and aired out, showing the potential the HE5XX can achieve.
Without biting too much, the top side is enjoyable and impressive for the price, as Eric goes a little crazy in an almost ethereal way improvising before the track really begins.
It goes from a sweet calmness to an almost godlike screaming sensation out of nowhere with rolling lines and licks of his guitar. This is where it is at folks, for $220, even my dad was impressed and wanted a set of these.
Typically, my parents give their opinions on my new gear too and it is rare for them to say something like “yeah, that would be great to use on the computer all day”.
The older Hifiman’s are electrical absorbing mutants from a comic book, things that require a small nuclear reactor to power the right way and to their absolute best. Scaling on the HE500 was extreme and even more so on the HE6. Roughly 2watts was where I would begin on the HE500 and I would still be recommending more.
The new boy HE5XX is much more efficient and runs at a lowly 18Ω. Yep, you can run very nicely off just your phone or a small, dedicated amplifier. More Hifi DAPs will be more than sufficient enough to power nicely.
However, still, I recommend a good amplifier despite that, you will notice the bass heft increase a bit while properly powered. I am able to get a great sound right out of my Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC, which has a lovely 3.5mm output! (I know, right!?). I also pair with the CEntrance M8 v2, a behemoth of a Bluetooth DAC with 1w output and I absolutely love the results.
I would not worry about it, if you are buying a lower end of the middle tier headphone like this, then odds are good you do not want to use it with a higher-end USB DAC and amp. You will likely be pairing with something else in the lower middle tier and the results will be more than acceptable. 500mW is plenty for this model.
As previously mentioned, power is not really terribly needed with the HE5XX, but it does improve the experience. Let us go nuts and toss the Burson Conductor 3 on it!
The results are sublime, of course. But, also humorously unneeded, as I do not hear anything but the tone and quantity differences between that powerful and expensive full-size home amplifier and DAC, vs the portable CEntrance M8 V2.
The sound signature changes, but that is because of the amplifier and not the headphone. The raw purity factor remains exactly the same so this HE5XX does not scale too much. In fact! I am perfectly happy using the 3.5mm right out of my Poco X3, so long as I am using HiBy’s music app.
I also tossed the Ultrasone Panther in there to see how that performs with the HE5XX and of course, to my absolute surprise, it pairs better than with the CEntrance M8 V2. Why? House sound meshing is my answer. The Ultrasone’s imaging experience is deeper than the CEntrance, so I sacrifice that purity factor in the M8 for the deeper and more aired out feel of the Panther.
Streaming & Gaming
As my parents have said, the HE5XX is a great option for just general usage. It is also a fantastic generalist, jack of all trades (well, close), and master of none.
The only lacking feature is bass depth and potential. Bass heads will not enjoy it, but those looking for an all-around great set for any application will enjoy this. I think this set excels at YouTube and all-night solo gaming needs.
If you are not playing pinpoint required online gaming, then I would recommend this HE5XX to you for your gaming needs. Remember though, it is open back, so if you are talking on a mic then odds are good those others will hear the feedback loop due to the headphone being open back and leaking all the sound.
I listen to Podcasts a lot, like…a lot. The majority of my day is Podcast sweeps, I have found the HE5XX useful in that regard, again, due to the nicely bloomed midrange and tamed treble experience. You can listen for hours without fatigue and require little to no amplification to get good quality out of.
Drop bats another home run with the HE5XX, we all knew this already though. I am a bit late to the game on this one.
My main concern is the lacking included balanced cable. As I say it is not a problem that it is not included, I (The audiophile reviewer) do not have a 3.5mm dual entry balanced cable to test with. HAHA! But that is my fault.
I am told it improves more in balanced mode but cannot confirm based on anything but prior experience with Planars where that sentiment is in fact true as can be.
The HE5XX is a steal at $220. No, it does not feel like the older original HE500, but it feels like a natural sibling to the newer models from Hifiman and if you like them, you will like this one too.
Drop does great with these re-releases. This is a generalist, a great all-around usage headphone. From music to YouTube, to light gaming needs, to a portable set to walk with on the treadmill.
Drop + HIFIMAN HE5XX Specifications
Operating principle: Open back
Drivers: Nano Diaphragm planar magnetic drivers
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 93.5 dB
Impedance: 18 ohms
Finish: Matte black with high-gloss black printing