HiFiMAN was responsible for the surge of interest in orthodynamic headphones when they launched their HE-5 headphone a few years ago. Since then, we have had the pleasure of testing their HE-400, HE-500, and HE-6 headphones which all featured orthodynamic drivers.
During the past year or so HiFiMAN has refined their single-sided magnet array driver, and the result is staggering. A single-sided magnet array for a set of orthodynamic headphones is nothing new. We saw the array on the HE-4, but it seems as though HiFiMAN has gone all in, refining the concept to now use it in such a high-end headphone as the HE-560.
Beyond changes to the driver, HiFiMAN is using a brand-new suspended headband design, wooden cups, and angled pleather/velour pads. At $899, the price is the same as for the HE-500 at launch, which is not surprising since the HE-560 replaces the HE-500 in the HiFiMAN line-up.
- Weight: 390 g
- Impedance: 35 Ohms
- Driver type: Orthodynamic, single-sided
- Frequency response: 15 Hz - 50 kHz
HiFiMAN ships the newest incarnation of their HE-series headphones in a big wooden storage box.
The bundle is pretty limited. You get the headphone, the box, and a cable. The cable is of pretty high quality, but it is rather thick and bulky. On the upside, HiFiMAN uses quality connectors on both ends. The 1/4" jack is made by Neutrik, so it will last a very long time. The cable is still not good enough in terms of design and feel for something accompanying a $899 set of world-class headphones. The wire is more than good enough, but the sleeving, the split, and overlap onto the connectors look somewhat crude.
With the HE-560, HiFiMAN has stepped up their game in terms of design. The wooden cups and the new suspended headband look great and function extremely well. Except for the cable solution, which is the same as that used on all HE-series headphones, everything about the HE-560 is new. The new exterior design looks classy and the finish on its parts is definitely better than what we saw on other HE headphones. It is still not quite up there with the truly high-end headphones by German manufacturers Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser, but it is getting there.
The ear cup and pad assemblies have been upgraded. The pads are asymmetrical and are made out of velour and pleather.
One of the reasons why the HE-560 is so much lighter than the last generation of planar magnetic headphones from HiFiMAN is that half the magnets have been ditched. The HE-5LE/6/400/500s all had a magnet array in the back and front of the diaphragm. HiFiMAN somehow managed to do away with the problematic front array that sits right in front of the path the sound waves travel, which probably causes some odd reflections. This puts an even higher demand on both the diaphragm and rear magnet array if you want to maintain the same efficiency and speed. The new driver looks very different compared to what is in the HE-6 and HE-500. One would think that it was an evolution of the HE-4's driver, but here the similarities are few as well.
HiFiMAN's new suspended headband design looks and feels great on your skull. It is slight and ensures a much better pressure distribution across your skull than the old design on the HE-500. The clamping pressure is a little lighter than with the previous HE series of headphones.
The pads are now asymmetrical, which makes the ear cups sit on your skull at an angel, rather than being orthogonal.
HiFiMAN surprised us when they first showcased the HE-560 with its wooden cups. HiFiMAN already tried that with the HE-5, but those cups were prone to cracking. The new HE-560 is very different internally and the woodwork seems better. Aesthetically, the HE-560 is definitely one of the better looking headphones I have had on my desk in a long time.
In order to get the ball rolling, we let the headphone burn-in for over 100 hours, even though we have a hard time believing in burn-in when it comes to planar magnetic drivers. We wasted no time after the burn-in and got it hooked up to our new testing amplifier, the JDSLabs C5D, a very competent little DAC/Amp combo. You get plenty of volume from the HE-560 at even low gain, and based on our subjective listening tests, the claim of 90 dB/mW is probably right. The headphone seems a little more efficient than the HE-500, so it is safe to say that any decent headphone amplifier will power them just fine.
The first thing you notice when you put on the HE-560 on is the weight, or rather, lack thereof. The HE-560 is over 100g lighter than the HE-500, which makes a huge different in comfort. Its new suspended headband also makes a big different since it reduces clamping pressure somewhat and allows for better pressure distribution across your skull. HiFiMAN jumped on the angled pad bandwagon for the HE-560, and it does effect sound imaging, albeit in a subtle way when tested back to back with our customized Fischer pads. The HiFiMAN pads are pretty good. They are extremely comfortable to wear and give a good coupling between the ear cups and your skull. They are not that deep, which makes the tips of your ears touch the innards of the ear cups. While not a major issue, it is something to consider. You could just stuff them a bit harder to gain some extra clearance.
After a little messing around with the headband to get a proper fit, we played some of the test tunes, and the HE-560 is really a step up compared to the HE-500, a pretty amazing sounding headphone. The HE-560 retains the speed and smooth frequency response, but is even more neutral. The HE-500 sounds warmer and slightly more congested than the HE-560, and do keep in mind that the HE-500 is one of the best headphones in the world. The HE-560 definitely ups the game when it comes to detail and sound stage. While not quite on par with the Sennheiser HD-800 in terms of sound stage, it is a lot closer than the HE-500 could muster. The sound-stage is still a bit left-right, similar to sitting at the very front in a concert hall. The precision of where instruments and voices are placed is remarkable, and the midrange detail level is absurd. The detail level is right there up there with the HE-6 being powered out of a huge amplifier.
Going down low, you find the almost trademark-perfect bass a lot of HiFiMAN cans can deliver. The HE-560 has a little more punch than the HE-500 and a little more texture at the very bottom of the scale, which makes it very entertaining to listen to. Compared to the HE-6, it is a little bigger, but equally competent in terms of precision.
Switching between the JDSLabs O2+ODAC, the C5D, and the new and much improved ASUS Xonar Essence STX II revealed that the HE-560 sounds good with all of them since it is not that sensitive to amplification power. The most colored combination was with the HE-560 and the Xonar STX II, which could be due to the HE-560's higher-than-average output impedance. The HE-560 was quite well-behaved otherwise. The AudioQuest Dragonfly and the Cambridge DacMagic XS drove the HE-560 decently, but there was not a lot of surplus power, though there were some minor artifacts in terms of bass, which might be due to a lack of power. It is pretty safe to say that you need a dedicated headphone amplifier to do it justice. It currently sell for $899, which is a lot of money, but compare it to a speaker setup with equal performance and it is a steal. Pair the HE-560 up with a competent low-output impedance, solid-state amp and you are in for a world of joy.
Considering the HE-560 can be powered well by a normal but competent headphone amplifier, it is a bargain compared to the HE-6 that takes a monster of an amplifier to sound its best. The same applies to the Sennheiser HD-800 that needs a lot of power in order to shine.
When talking about high-end headphones, it is often subtle differences that make all the difference, which really sets the HE-560 apart from the HE-500. While it does not obliterate the HE-500 in every department, it is clearly better. Compared to such a headphone as the Sennheiser HD-800 and it is comfortably ahead in pretty much any genre except for classical, where the HD-800's absurdly precise imaging gives it a noticeable edge.
The HE-560 sounds way more spacious and is more precise in its imaging than the previous series of HE headphones. Listening to instrumental or even capella music is amazing. It possess a rare balance between intimacy and spaciousness, or projection if you will, that is hard to find. We put it through a huge musical range, and it was pleasant, but a bit harsh on bad recordings, which is to be expected.
The HE-560 is truly a jack of all trades in the high-end headphone arena because it covers all the basics incredibly well. It has the right amount of bass, but comes with better definition than the HD-800, and its frequency response is linear but with a slightly elevated bass, which fits most contemporary music well. The upper midrange is a bit more dominant than on the HE-500, but just as smooth, which gives it a more airy presentation without the listening fatigue the upper midrange of the HE-6 introduces. Treble intensity and detail level is HE-6 territory and is perhaps a little lacking compared to the Sennheiser HD-800.
Value and Conclusion
|9.7||The HE-560 proves that HiFiMAN is still at the top of their game. They retained the HE-500's good price/performance ratio, which was extraordinary considering it was a true high-end headphone. The HE-560 also retains some of the principal qualities which the HE-500 and the HE-6 have and is, in terms of speed and control, on par with the HE-6, though just as easy to drive as the HE-500, which is quite a feat.
If you are looking for a superb set of headphones that can be powered out of a not-so-ridiculous headphone amplifier, the HE-560 is a safe bet. The build quality is better than is the norm for HiFiMAN, and its sound quality per dollar is just amazing, even better than the last generation of HiFiMAN headphones, which says a lot. You, in short, get a lot of headphone for your hard-earned dollars.