Sunday, April 8, 2012

[Impression] Hifiman HE-300

First, I’ll like to thank HifiMan for the HE-300 sample. For the last couple of years, Fang @ HifiMan has brought a lot of attention to the company’s line of full size headphones by releasing some of the best planar magnetic headphone there ever are. However, the HE-300 is the company’s first entry to the full size dynamic headphone – perhaps a challenge Fang sat for himself to release a (*price wise) class leading dynamic headphone. If that’s his goal, I would say HE-300 is doing very well. Note: though never announced officially, the second batch (and onward) of HE-300 (*known also as the ‘rev2’) is tuned differently to the first batch and being considered better by most who had listened to both. My impression however will be based on the first batch, which is what I have with me.





Spec
Driver: 50mm Dynamic
Impedance: 50 Ohm
Sensitivity: 93 dB @ 1KHZ, 1mW
Rated Power: 30 mW
Freq: 15Hz to 22kHZ
Weight: about 270 g

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
HE-300 comes in a rather big wooden box, which is akin to most of current HifiMan’s headphone packaging. While it is very well made for storing the headphone itself, the only grief I have with the box is that you can’t store the headphone with the cable attached (*the cable is designed to screw onto the headphone and comes unattached at first) – this makes the good looking box not a particularly useful choice for short term storage since cable needs to be unscrewed every times.





The cable itself is made from the Canare 4S6 star quad speaker cable, so the build quality is really good even though it is slightly on the heavier side. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for home use. The original headphone plug (as the one in this impression) is 3.5mm metal with a 6.5mm adapter, the later version however comes with a fully molded rubber plug to improve durability. The original batch comes with velour headphone pad, while the later also comes with pleather pad. I have both and for overall comfort and sound quality, I rather prefer the velour pad. The holding ring (the part that clips onto the headphone) of the original ear pad is a bit fragile looking and doesn’t look like they will survive for long, but the good news is HifiMan has replaced them with something much more sturdy on the later batch.





The design of the HE-300 resembles that of HifiMan’s planar magnetic headphone. It is function over form with a rustic industrial look. It might not win any beauty contest, but the simplicity in itself has a kind of attraction of its own. It is not the best build quality I have seen, but it is also far from being the worst. Overall, I’ll say it is quite a decent and comfortable full size headphone for day to day use.

Sound Quality
The headphone has been given no less than 50 hours of bun-in, though no significant change was observed. Gears used for review: Hifiman HM801 (line-out and balanced amp module), Meier Audio Corda 3MOVE and StepDance.





Warm, smooth, with a beautiful mid – HE300 has a more musical presentation that is more toward being euphonic than it is to reference sounding. One of the first things that grab my attention on the HE300’s sound is its bass. While it is far from being a bass monster per se, it is actually quite snappy and hard hitting for an open-back design. The mid range is definitely the strong point of the headphone. While it does sound a tiny bit grainy on the upper vocal, it is overall forwarded, easy-going and highly enjoyable, particularly for most mainstream vocal centric music genres, i.e. Pop, Folk, Country, etc. Treble is smooth and well extended – not lacking in any aspect but certainly not the main the focus in the overall presentation and not the best for analytical listener.



Going by my memory of how Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K701 sounds like (and please take this with a big grain of salt since I personally believe audio memory is not particularly accurate in general), I’ll say HE300 isn’t quite on the same level just yet. But when compared to headphone of the same price range, the SR-325i which I do own, I can see myself reaching for the HE300 every time as Grado SR-325i just sounds tinny and bright in comparison. Perhaps I am just not quite a Grado fan. While not quite as neutral as my previous favorite bang of the bucks full size, the Fischer Audio FA-003, I too find HE300 sounding better in comparison - likely because HE300 is more opened, dynamic and fun that makes music really comes to live.

Since I have the balanced amp module with the HM-801 and it has a balanced cable that is designed for the HE series, I take a quick listen to both HE300 under single-end and balanced configuration. HE300, when balanced, sounds richer and fuller in tone, in exchange for a bit of air when compared to single end configuration. The lower end, especially bass note, sounds grander and almost like listening to a closed back version of the HE300.The slight graininess on the upper vocal is all but smoothed out. Unfortunately, it also takes out of some air and closes in the soundstage, which seems to be typical for how balanced amp generally sounds like to me, as far as my experience with balanced amp goes. Overall, the balanced amp module adds some detail to the lower and mid range with the expense on soundstage, so I won’t say the overall improvement is night and day.



Final Thought
Overall, I really enjoy the HE300. It was priced around $300 at first but now it is lower to $250 or so, and that makes it a pretty good buy when compared to other alternative on the same price range. The euphonic sound is probably not for everyone and every genre, but I think the easy-going nature of the presentation has made HE300 a great headphone for casual listening – something you can just put on just to enjoy the music. Well, isn’t that music is all about?

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Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!

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