REVIEW: HIFIMAN HE-1000 V2 HEADPHONES
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Planar Magenetic Headphones
Following seven years of research and development, the HiFiMAN HE-1000 headphones were released as part of the world’s first in nanometer-thickness diaphragm technologies. With a sound to match, this has earned the company a CES 2016 Innovation Award which propelled HiFiMAN as a serious contender in the arena of hi-fi offerings. Hot in pursuit of this welcomed accolade, the company released an updated version of their planar-magnetic flagship – this time, touted the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2.
Much like its predecessor before it, the V2 presents the same underlying design as the V1. However, several changes were introduced as part of Fang Bian’s attempt to polish and refine the product that had originally made a stamp in the audio community. The changes include a new headband design, thicker bevelled polyester-coated earpads, improved cable designs and a higher matchability with amplifiers.
Weighing in at a reduced profile of 420 grams, the V2 remains relatively light for a headphone of its stature. This is helped by the well-designed suspension system which distributes weight evenly in much the same fashion as the original HiFiMAN Edition X (which is just 21 grams lighter).
The HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 retails locally for a hefty $3499 which places it smack in the middle of Mr. Speakers Ether Flow headphones ($2399) and Focal Utopia ($5500) headphones. Though not the cheapest offering, the HE-1000 V2 represents the era of higher priced offerings from companies in an ever-growing and developing industry.
HiFiMAN have opted for the same packaging details as the HE-1000 before it. Included is a leather-trimmed hard case with a foam interior which houses both the headphone and cables. Important to note is that the cables have been updated from the previous nylon covered two core design to a new rubber sheath enclosing a three-core crystalline copper with silver plated wire topology. Some limitations of these cables which come in both a 4-pin XLR balanced and 3.6mm termination, is their springy nature which may not be the best design in situations which require moving around.
The illustrious manual which symbolises a sense of luxury and professionalism in HiFiMAN’s high-end offerings rests below the foam insert. One point to note is that while the packaging is HiFiMAN’s most luxurious yet (and rightly so), there still lacks a case which would be useful in situations of travel and long-road commutes.
With the well-structured headband and use of light wood trim, the HE-1000 V2 is a surprisingly comfortable headphone for its size and 420 gram weight. It combines pleather earpads with calfskin head-support to allow optimal comfort during long listening sessions. The patterned holes on the headband also allow some room for breathability which is especially useful during the hotter seasons to avoid excessive heat entrapment.
Like the Edition X before it, HiFiMAN are masters of comfort. The revised V2 adds to the original HE1000’s design by now taking into account a more versatile and accommodating headband as well as greater number of placeholder holes to enable a more optimal fit.
The Design & Build
With an advanced asymmetrical magnetic circuit, HiFiMAN engineers have strived to achieve the optimal balance between higher driver efficiency and high technicality in sound. The window shade grill is one of several design choices that have been adopted from the previous iteration of the well-received HE-1000 class of headphones. Another is the heavily-praised nano-thickness diaphragm which has earned HE-1000 many fans in the rendering of a precise and tight sound with low distortion. Like the Edition X, the HE-1000 (V2) is also a distinctive looking headphone that stands out in the high-end world of audio.
With a revised headband, the V2 is able to accommodate a variety of head-shapes and sizes to allow for a more comfortable fit during listening than its predecessor. The headband combines a special metal alloy and the head-support utilises soft-grade calf-skin material. One limitation to this, however, is that when the headphone is lifted off the head, the calfskin depresses itself as opposed to maintaining its structured arch shape. This needs to be readjusted before it springs back into an arched shape and hence an improvement to future series of HiFiMAN headphones could be to enable the head-support to maintain its shape as with other previous versions. With that said, however, the V2s are a pair of headphones which can be worn for hours on end.
The housings of the diaphragm are rotatable in both the horizontal and vertical planes to allow listeners different variations to achieve an optimal fit. Finally, the cable connects are angled away from the user to prevent cables rubbing along clothing to not only improve ergonomics but also reduce microphonics.
Sound impressions (w/stock cable)
Like all audio products, burn-in is definitely recommended (100 – 200 hours). Usually with other headphones, I do not notice much of a difference, if at all, between stock and burn-in sound but with the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2, improvements in sound are perceivably noticeable. The reasons for this remain unknown but my suspicions point me towards the nanometre diaphragms which require some time to ‘settle’.
The HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 is one of those rare headphones that encapsulates magnificent bass amongst a tight and extremely intelligible sound signature. To elucidate, sub-bass quantities are not only delivered with clarity and precision but they are also displayed with heft and authority. Next to the Edition X, the HE-1000 V2’s bass extends deeper with more refinement and accuracy. Although the former headphone has more mid-bass presence, the HE-1000 V2 still does well in delivering a capably strong bottom-end performance.
In “Bassline” by Kalin & Myles, bass stops on the dime with impact and incision. This is substantiated in D’Angelo’s “Prayer”, where complex basslines and nuances are skilfully rendered and handled with ease. In addition, there is excellent transition from low-frequencies to midrange frequencies which add to the V2’s coherent sound signature. In comparison to the previous V1, the V2’s bass presents as slightly tighter and more impactful which fixes the minor shortcomings of the former model. With that said, however, the headphones have taken slightly different angles in their signatures; the V1 – a more laidback approach whereas the V2 – a more vivid and forward presentation. Overall though, an incredible start for the V2s on this section of the frequency spectrum.
Compared to the original HE-1000, the midrange frequencies have been brought more forward resulting in a slighter smaller soundstage. However, whilst some may consider this a downside, I would consider this an advantage especially as the HE-1000 did tend to lack a bit of immersion and captivation through a ‘distant’ sounding sonic presentation. The HE-1000 V2 deals with this by offering a more forward and realistic performance which as a result is more involving and impactful than the former model. Compared to Sennheiser’s HD800, the midrange of the HE-1000 V2 has greater body and weight whilst simultaneously revealing less sibilance and harshness.
With the stock cable, however, there does appear to be a tendency for an ever so slightly thinner note portrayal (which can be fixed with aftermarket cables as described below). Nonetheless, the HE-1000 V2’s midrange is neutral and linear with perceptively fast leading transients. Both male and female vocals benefit from this cleaner and more resolute signature. In “Dance Hall Days” by Imperial Mammoth, for example, the capabilities of the V2 become evident through the projection of sonic cues in the dimensions of depth and width, propensity to handle gradations in sound levels and a subjectively pleasant tonal signature.
Out of the box, the treble of the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 appears hot and splashy. With burn-in, however, the treble becomes more controlled and refined with an articulate presentation of percussion attacks. With that said, however, the treble does lean north of neutral with a more forward sound than the former HiFiMAN HE-1000. This means that although high-frequencies are presented in a crisp and extensive manner, the V2s are less forgiving with compressed files and music tracks of lower quality. Compared to the Edition X, the high frequencies of the V2s are brought more to the forefront giving these headphones a new sense of energy which departs from the traditional laid-back soft sound character of HiFiMAN flagship headphones. As with Sennheiser’s HD800, both micro-details and auditory cues are extracted from tracks highlighting the V2s’ capabilities as a reference-grade product.
Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit and Mjolnir 2 Amp
This pairing is an excellent synergy with the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2. The result being a transparent and yet open sound with plenty of detail retrieval while still managing to retain a natural feel and organic tone. The tubes of the Mjolnir 2 do well in working in tandem with the slightly forward treble of the V2s producing a sound which can indeed be listened to for hours on end (much like the Edition X headphones). This combination is also capable of driving the V2s to sufficient audio levels, although the volume level does need to be turned higher than the more efficient Edition X.
ALO Continental Dual Mono DAC/Amp
Surprisingly, this small device is able to drive the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 to sufficient levels. The resulting sound is slightly more euphoric with a charming midrange, rounded bass and more airy treble section. Though commendable for a ‘transportable’ solution, I would still highly recommend the Schiit combo above for that more holographic and revealing sound.
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil and MicroZOTL 2.0 Amp
The MicroZOTL2.0 Amp is a unique amp which is quite unlike any other tube amps I have reviewed. Paired to the Yggdrasil, the resulting sound of the V2s is very liquid with an ever-so slightly recessed midsection which is sweet and agile. Although the speed and articulacy of the solid-state is captured in this sound, the MicroZOTL2.0 also does well in instilling the same pleasant harmonic distortions which make tube amps popular for headphones in general. Bass, however, is not as tight as found in the Ragnarok which might be the biggest disadvantage of this amp.
The Soundstage & Imaging
The HE-1000 V2 presents an expansive soundstage with great width and height. Although the original HiFiMAN HE-1000 did have a slightly larger dimension in terms of width, it was this quality that some users found ‘distant’ and not as forward as they perhaps liked. The V2 while still retaining a beyond average width, tastefully renders tracks more forward with a greater height – recapturing the essence of immersion.
Instrument separation is also outstanding and perhaps the best I have ever heard from a planar headphone yet. This, along with the speaker-like quality of these ‘weight-less’ headphones, makes the experience of listening truly remarkable.
Lavricables is a store run by an audiophile with an interest in pure silver cables for hi-reference headphones. In this review, I had the opportunity to test their Master Silver HiFiMAN HE1000 Upgrade cable which costs US$334 by the 2 metre-cut. The cable itself is made of 12 separated cores of 6N purity silver braided together with the aim of reducing capacitance levels and skin effect on higher frequencies. Joints are soldered with silver and a Teflon insulation used for the bare wires.
With regards to sound, the Master Silver cable initially starts off as slightly harsh but definitely improves with burn-in. Compared to the stock cable, the Master Silver improves on midrange frequencies with a fuller and weightier sound. Whereas before, there was slight graininess in upper mids to lower highs, the Master Silver eradicates this and helps to extend the frequency spectrum. The cable also infuses a bit of musicality with a more rounded bass and a slightly more expansive soundstage. This is therefore, a highly-recommended purchase to get the best out of these flagship pair of headphones.
The HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 represents the re-update to the original HiFiMAN HE-1000 headphones which have previously won many accolades within audiophile circles. Like its predecessor, the V2 is a reference-sounding headphone with outstanding detail retrieval and soundstage production.
At $3499, however, the V2s constitute a significant investment and should only be considered for those who wish to get a share of the very best sound in an open-back format.
Of course, audible differences are not a stark departure from the original V1 but the V2s are definitely the quicker and more involving model with excellent ergonomics and design.
Combined with a beautifully layered and accurate sound then, the HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 deem worthy of a welcome in any audiophile’s collection and certainly, an audition.
For more information visit the HiFiMAN brand page.
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