The HiFi Man HE-1000 Headphone Review. World’s Best?
Hello to all! I am back with yet another HiFi Audio review, and this time I am taking a long look at the new mega buck $2999.00 flagship headphone from HIFi Man, the HE-1000. HiFi Man says these headphones have been in the works for SEVEN years. Yes, SEVEN years. Bian Fang, head of HiFi Man has been putting his blood, sweat and probably tears into these for a long time now, and I am happy to say his work and dedication has paid off, BIG TIME. But before I gush on and on about what I feel are the best headphones on earth, I will say these are NOT inexpensive headphones. The price point here is high, and $3000 for headphones is a bit rich for my blood but if they offer up music that bests the famous STAX SR009, then they would be considered a deal. I wish the price point was more around $2100. Today we can pick up a brand new HD 800 from Sennheiser for $1200, and the HE1000, while MUCH MUCH different (and better IMO) than the HD100..well, I guess we have to ask ourself..”are these worth $1800 more than the HD100″?
The HE-1000 Headphone is visually striking, but just wait… if you ever come across a pair the looks alone will give you a few “wow, these are beautiful” moments. I am a guy who loves things that are not only built well, but look nice and feel nice and perform to the best of the best. While I usually can never afford these kinds of things, I still appreciate them and every now and again I am able to pick something up, and in the case of the HE1000, something just drove me to insanity…so I made the purchase. If they were awful, there was always the 30 day return option.
For 20 years I have been into High End audio. I have owned some nice systems, one in particular that had massive cash invested. I have heard systems costing $100k and even on one occasion, a $1 million system. While those systems are never something I was interested in, it was still nice to hear them so I know when I build my modest system I have something to shoot for sound wise. With these new HE-1000 headphones, I am hearing music as if it is brand new, and no, I am not just saying this for the review or to make it sound good. I MEAN THIS, as these phones will present your music collection to you in a way that you have never heard..not from other headphones or speakers. I would say my combo of ALO Studio Six amp and the HE-1000 are offering me a sound experience that could not be replicated by any 2 channel system under $40-$50k. It will be a different experience than speakers but magical nonetheless. The most magic I have ever heard from any audio product or system in my life.
For this review I will be evaluating the HE-1000 with two amps. The ALO Audio Studio 6 and the McIntosh MHA 1000. BOTH of these amps are world class and power the HE 1000 perfectly with the ALO and McIntosh offering up TWO different sonic presentations.
McIntosh MHA 100
I have to say the little Mac surprised me as it is the most powerful Head amp I have ever experienced, but it is also refined and sweet with a nice DAC inside, as well as a 50WPC Speaker amp. It’s visually striking, built to last forever (well, it gives off this impression anyway) and is a 99.8% perfect match for the HE-1000 over any other amp I have tried with them. I have tried the HE 1000 on a few amps and will get into that one later down in this review, so keep reading on 🙂 This amp powers the HE 1000 without breaking a sweat and it makes the HE’s DYNAMIC and powerful and bone shaking loud. Opposite presentation of the ALO (that offers up more liquid tube magic).
ALO Studio 6
The ALO Studio 6 is an all out beast but it is a sweet refined beast. Many have said it does not have a tube character but I disagree, to me, it is pure tube magic and quite the opposite of the MHA 1000 above. What the ALO offers over the McIntosh is a larger soundstage (width), more transparency (seeing through the music and being there) and a more relaxed and organic presentation, the music flows. Quite 3D. While it does not quite power the HE 1000 to its full potential or volume, the Studio 6 sounds magical with the HE 1000, and the Studio 6 is an amazing Head Amp, period. Check out the ALO Studio 6 HERE. With the HE-1000, the ALO does not offer the slam, volume or kick of the MHA 1000 when powering the HE’s but it offers up a more beautiful emotional experience. Plenty of volume as well.
When the HE-1000’s were announced I briefly remember reading about them, but my initial reaction was the same as it was when I listened to some STAX SR009’s a while back. “NO WAY I would ever spend that much on any headphone” I said. So after the price was set at $3000 I just ignored them..forgot about them. I refused to even listen to them as $3000, to me, was a bit insane as I did not have $3k to spare so I HAD TO AVOID THEM! I knew if I did listen it would be all over. I had a hard enough time buying a set of HD 800’s 4 years ago for $1400, then I had buyers remorse as the HD800 was only enjoyable with SOME of my music (and ended up selling them due to listening fatigue issues). Other than that it could be harsh and bass lacking, which meant fatigue for longer sessions (But I found the Amp makes all the difference with the HD800). When I sold my HD800 and amp setup back then I vowed to stick with $300 headphones and concentrate on speakers for my higher end audio system as it is a long road with Hi Fi. You buy something..then you want something else..then another amp, another source, another set of headphones. It never ends. Just as in the camera world, G.A.S. strikes hard in the Audio World.
Well..I had to try them!
After reading about more newer cans like the Audeze LCD-X, LCD-3F, and others from Audeze, HiFiman, Oppo and others I knew I had to at least listen to these new products, if anything to see if the hype was real or if it was fake hype due to the new big thing. After reading more than I should have on the HE-1000 I decided to order a pair. I mean…worst case, I return them if I hate them and if I love them, I could recoup some of the money for them by ditching my LCD-X and a few other things I had laying around with intents to sell. So no matter the outcome it would be a WIN WIN situation. I ordered them.
So the HE-1000 arrived. Upon opening the wooden presentation box I was stunned at the beauty and perfection in the build of these. I studied them for flaws, finish issues or overall problems. There were none, as to be expected. They were VERY light, and my LCD-X felt like a set of bricks in comparison. That made me nervous as I like when things are overbuilt and the LCD-X felt premium with the heavy weight construction, large leather pads and the nice comfy firm fit on my head. I love the LCD-X, and they can seriously ROCK out with any music you put into them, but to be honest, they do lack quite a bit of finesse, soundstage and the ability to really give those “goosebumps moments”. I never realized the shortcoming of the LCD-X until I plopped those HE-1000 on my head. That was the point of no return for me. Within 20 seconds I knew the LCD-X had to go and these would have to be mine. I was now finding a way to get $3000, when previously I swore I would NEVER buy a set for that kind of cash (A rule I also broke with the LCD-X recently).
Let me explain…
I recently acquired a pair of LCD-X and EL-8, made by Audeze (see here). Lovely headphones, especially the X. Easy to drive, a large thick meaty visceral sound with details and a nice organic flow. Music feels right and flowing through the X but they do have a dark character. When I first used the X, I noticed this but after a few days my brain got used to the sound of them, and it was longer “dark” or laid back. They just played really good music and always got my feet tapping.
When the HE-1000 were put in place on my ALO Studio 6 amp I was able to do true side by side comparisons as the Studio 6 allows up to 4 sets of headphones at once without any compromise to sound quality or power. Really. This is a special amp.
The HE-1000 1st listening session, not burned in, fresh out of box:
1st out of the box test was HE-1000 and THE ALO STUDIO 6: Laid Back but immensely rich and detailed without any hint of harshness, grain, excited treble or sloppy bass. They were full sounding unlike my old memory of the HD800, but at the same time they were very delicate and the soundstage width was WIDE, a tad wider than the HD800’s, which is a feat in itself, and while they had this wide soundstage, amazing instrument separation and a glorious silky buttery midrange they were never disjointed..never sounded bad with ANY music…rock, metal, 80’s pop, audiophile, jazz, classical, anything, NOTHING sounded bad through the HE-1000. After a few hours (these cans CAN AND WILL have you sitting and listening for hours) I was literally addicted and knew 100% these would be mine, forever.
Everyone was saying that these needed 150 hours to burn in, and my thinking was “NO!!! I love them as they are!! I do not want them to change”! But I let them burn in for a few days and today they have around 120 hours on them. The things that have changed over the 1st 100 hours or so are minor..but there were some changes:
More fullness, bass is even more pronounced (and these can pump some serious liquid bass). Treble became slightly sweeter and more extended but again, never harsh or biting. No splashiness or glare, ever. The HE-1000 and Studio 6 is an amazing pairing BTW, seriously amazing but it is polite and on the soft side. With the LCD-X I would have my volume set at 9 o’clock, for the HE 1000 I have to go to around 11-12 for the same volume, sometimes 3 o’clock if I want to go LOUD.
So the X is more efficient but the HE1000 also sound amazing though my little AK 120 II player. Lower power but the sound signature of the 1000 is there fully even when using them on this little amazing player. I would never use these as a portable set (I use ALO Lyra’s for that) as they are too big, too beautiful and they are OPEN BACK which means anyone near me will hear what I am listening to, even louder than I am hearing it! Yes, the HE-1000 sound leak is INSANE as when they are out on the stand playing (burn in for example) they sounded like mini speakers. LOUD as hell. When I put them on my head the volume became less and the sound instantly was fluid, full, detailed and magical. So these leak more than any other open back in existence, not a good portable phone and they are not meant to be, these are for SERIOUS listening sessions.
In fact, these are made to be a centerpiece of a High End system. I sit in a dark room, fire up the amp, put on some tunes and chill out for 1-3 hours when these are on my head. I am taken INTO the music as when you put these on, thrown on some tunes, even badly recorded music, and you just sit in silence you will be transported to the place and time of recording. The ALO amp comes in at $3900 and it’s one that will last you your entire life if you so desire.
Now with the McIntosh MHA 100: This amp powers these headphones with massive authority. I had the settings on 40-150 Ohm, high gain. This is the sweet thing about the McIntosh. You can select settings to match it up to you headphones. Anywhere from 8-600 ohms. Low gain or high gain. You can even use IEM’s with this amp, even a set of nice speakers. With the HE-1000 the Mac blasted the HE 1000 phones with volume, bass, and a wall of sound which was much different than the Studio 6 presentation. The HE’s became dynamic with the ability to go MUCH louder than the Studio 6 could drive them. But at the same time, while we gain Dynamics and slam and even deeper bass we do lose a slight bit of soundstage and the magic delicate tube goodness. The MHA 1000 powers the HE’s as they should be, with tons of juice so I feel it is driving them correctly. The McIntosh offers a slightly brighter presentation as well, but never too bright or thin. If you want to sip some scotch while listening to vocals or jazz, the Studio 6 is the amp for these. If you want to rock out with some aggressive music, metal or techno, the MAC is the choice without question. The MAC is very clean, crisp and big sounding. The ALO is like you are in a smoky jazz club with the HE-1000. Intimate and beautiful. I LOVE BOTH amps for different reasons and feel both are top end in the head game. For me, the best of SS and Tube.
Going back to the LCD-X from the HE-1000
After a few days with the HE-1000 I went back to the now lonely pair of LCD-X that was on my desk and was surprised at how they sounded. In a direct comparison to the HE-1000 they had more attack, more punch, a darker sound (almost muffled) and of course played louder.. easier. They were much heavier on my head, and while the sounded fantastic with superb separation and imaging, the soundstage was shrunk and now was sounding like I was listening to nice headphones. Sound was much more direct in my ear than the HE’s.
The HE-1000’s richness, soundstage, liquid vocals and emotional presentation was gone, and THAT is when I realized the X had to go as once I tasted the HE 1000 I could not go back to the others. Do not get me wrong, I still love the LCD-X for what it does deliver..power, slam, fullness and that rich meaty visceral sound that can be very powerful, and many may prefer that sound as sound is a personal thing.
When you compare the X to the HE-1000, the weaknesses become apparent. Are the LCD-X worth $1700? Yes, 100%. Are the HE-1000 worth $3000? Well, I originally said “NO, maybe $2100”. Now I say, “YES, without question”.
The reason is because the HE-1000 offer an experience, that IMO even bests the STAX SR009, which will set you back around $12k with an amp that will power them well. Thousands more than the HE-1000 and amp. The STAX has always been referred to as THE BEST headphone in the world. After hearing them, I will disagree as I feel the HE-1000 offers more, for less. The HE-1000 will offer more bass, but an amazingly tight and deep yet fluid and rich bass. When the recording calls for BASS the HE-1000 will deliver, but if you are good you can even tell what kind of bass is being produced..you can hear lips smacking, fingers plucking..all without a hint of harshness. At times it feels like I have a $2k subwoofer in my head as you will feel that vibration at times in the head. It does not sound as it comes from the headphones or into your ears, you feel it and can not pinpoint where it comes from. When you listen to female vocals they are always rich, lifelike and while a TAD recessed, they are sweet and you can hear the true intimacy of the studio or stage where it was recorded.
The LCD-X did not offer this. The HD-800’s offers some of it (from memory, haven to tried them on these amps yet), but not the bass as they are much leaner and more sterile over the HE-1000.
FOR ME and MY TASTES, the HE-1000 is just about perfect.
One thing with HiFi is that you can build a big megabuck system and have it sound good only with certain recordings. I used to have systems like that and they were awful and the least satisfying systems I have ever owned in life. I am talking 2 channel audio with speakers here…and more money does not always equal better sound. In fact, it rarely does. Usually the higher up the chain you go in Audio the more thin and analytical gear starts to sound, at least in my experience. It then becomes a WOW SYSTEM for Vocals and Jazz or Acoustic but sucks for rock or anything with some get down and boogie going on.
With a Headphone like the Stax SR009 you get some of that analytical flavor. Thin bass, more energy in the treble and upper mids. Usually leads to a more dry sound. This is one reason I love the Audeze line so much. The LCD-X and newest LCD-3f truly let music flow and they sound so good. None of that harsh analytical BS is present. When the HE-1000’s were announced I assumed they would be another HD-800 type with weak bass, thin trebly sound and an impressive stage.
After spending time with them, and owning them and putting 120+ hours on them I can say that these are the most impressive headphones I have ever heard or used or tested or owned. From top to bottom they present the entire audible range with a sweetness, richness, and clarity that is unheard of. You will hear every instrument, every noise, finger pluck, breath and sound but ONLY in a fluid organic way. These phones have body, are never thin and the soundstage is HD800 level, maybe even higher with the same width. The imaging is fantastic and when you pair these with a competent amp (ALO STUDIO 6 or MHA 1000 IS AMAZING WITH THESE)! and DAC you will be rewarded with a sound that is outside of the head, a sound that will have you thinking you are back in time with the artist.
Go ahead and grab some HE-1000’s, turn down the lights, grab a drink, sit in a comfy chair, throw on some tunes and close your eyes. You will be amazed.
AMPS I have tried with the HE-1000
ALO Studio 6
As already stated here, this one is a WINNER! Wow. This amp is a beast but a refined sweet beast. A beast you will be happy to be best friends with. With six tubes and a build that will survive a nuclear attack, the Studio 6 is an amp that means business. Boasting the ability to power ANY headphone, even 4 at a time with no fidelity or power loss, well..I can say I believe it as I own this amp and it has never once faltered, failed, hiccuped or stuttered as I put it through a torture test of having several hard to drive cans at once being powered to glorious levels.
With this amp and the HE-1000 you get a magical slightly warm and full presentation with the most “out of head” experiences I have ever had with ANY headphone. It’s hard to describe the sound from these except to say they sound extremely natural. They do not exagerate the treble, bass, mids or details. It’s as close to perfect as I have heard and with the ALO amp, it blows my mind every day.
There is one weakness with the HE-1000 and S6 combo. Dynamics. I thought the HE1000 lacked dynamics before trying them on the McIntosh MHA1000. It is just that the Studio 6 amp gives us the softer more emotional experience with the HE-1000. Amazing layering and details but presented softly in a relaxed way. It really is magical. But if you want Dynamics, the MHA 1000 is the best of the lot that I have tried with these headphones. If you want pure magic, the Studio 6 is tough to beat.
These are 40 Ohm headphones and do require a nice amp to get the most out of them. Not sure why though but these HE-1000’s do not work well with all headphone amps. I tried a Leben 300 and it could not power these well at all. By the time the volume was at noon all I had was grit and grain and distortion. It also lost the magic that the ALO 6 gave me and had no dynamics. I love the little Leben with speakers but with the HE-1000 they couldn’t do the job correctly. I plugged in my Audeze EL-8’s to the Leben and they rocked out hard but were too bright (headphone problem) and lacking in bass for my tastes. So I would say the Leben 300 is for easier to drive headphones like the LCD-X, LCD-3, etc. This is a gorgeous piece though. A true Heirloom item.
Astell & Kern 120 II Player & Dac & Amp
This little $1600 high res music player the HE-1000’s sound about 75% as nice as they do on my Studio 6. Less volume and you have to turn up the player to 70-75 (max) to get the most out of them but I would happily lay in bed with these on while having the 120II powering them. I was shocked at this but the player does do pretty good with the 1000’s. The player could not power the LCD-3 or HD-800’s correctly though. You do lose some body and flow with this little portable but they still sound magical using the 120 II. Just no get up and go or huge dynamics.
Burson Conductor Virtuoso
This is a nice Head amp but I preferred the Studio 6 as the Burson added some brightness and coldness (just a little) and I lost some of that organic richness of the ALO Studio 6. Another well made and sharp amp but for the HE1000’s the Studio 6 and McIntosh bests the Burson for my tastes and preferences. Still, there are so many amazing amps out there and this one is quality all the way.
McIntosh MHA 100
I was able to head to my local McIntosh dealer and listen to my HE1000’s on their demo unit. After 45 minutes I was so blown away by this guy I knew it was the best I have heard the HE1000’s sound in regards to power, dynamics, slam, bass and WOW factor. It lost some of the tube magic of the S6 but makes up for it with all the other stuff that was missing from the S6 and HE 1000 pairing. The McIntosh is $4500 but has a beast of a power amp using their patented Autoformers. It has the lit up blue dials that McIntosh is famous for, will power speaker with an authentic 50 WPC Mac amp (much like 150 WPC of a cheap receiver)and has a great built in DAC that many have put up against some big buck dacs. It is built to last forever and will give the HE 1000 some serious get up and go. More energy but never bright, hard or sterile. Overall, this is the best I have heard the HE1000’s be driven. I did take this home for a longer evaluation and will update my thoughts here if they change.
Other amps I would love to try are just out of my range price wise or there are 2 month waits to get one made. Woo Audio and Cavellli Audio make some fantastic amps and one day I will give them a try (when my bank account recovers from the HE1000 purchase). There are so many amps out there, and many brands you may have never heard of can sometimes offer the best performance for the money. I am so happy with my ALO Studio 6 I am not really worried about amp searching anymore but that doesn’t mean I do not like to hear the others as that is part of the fun of this hobby IMO. The constant search for that Holy Grail. Just when we think we get it, we think we have not and search for new things. It’s a disease 😉 But a fun one.
What about the $3000 Price Point of the HE-1000?
Many will say $3000?!?!?! You have to be a millionaire to afford them and an amp! This is insane!
Well, I agree. We are here in the days of $3000 headphones. When I am dead and gone many years from now we may just have $20k headphones as the way pricing is going…well, it seems to only be going up.
As I said earlier, I refused to buy these with the $3k price. After a while I HAD TO TEST THEM, so when I did I knew I had to own them. Keep them. If I did not I would miss them and could never listen to my other headphones again as they would have lost something. I would always long for that HE 1000 sound. That magical ethereal quality to the music, all music, any music. Beautiful, forgiving, magical, ethereal, liquid, flowing, detailed, huge soundscape, out of the head experience…all things I can say that will describe what I hear when these are on my head.
After all of this time with the HE-1000 I have to say… These are the best I have ever heard, even beating the Stax 009 for my tastes. At $3k then, these may be a slight bargain. I believe in living life to the fullest. We are here for one go round, and it goes by FAST. I remember being 16 listening to my albums in my room and here I am, 30 years later (now 46) listening to music in my office and bedroom, mostly all day while I work. I get massive enjoyment, peace and often times meditation from music. I love music, and having the HE-1000 Headphones have brought me closer to the music and the artist than I have ever been.
I am not into buying big houses, fancy cars, boats, rolex watches or fancy suits or shoes. No expensive jewelry for me. I only buy what makes me really happy. Things that improve my quality of life. Instead of spending $30k on a boat, or $60k on a car or $10 k on a ring I would much prefer to spend $3k for the HE-1000 and spend money on a great amp and source. So that is what I do. I am not rich, by any means, so spending $3k on a set of headphones is quite out there for me, but I have no regrets, no buyers remorse.. these are THAT GOOD. The fact that I have no buyers remorse tells me that yes my friends, these are well worth the cost as what they give you in return over the long haul is worth more than that $3000.
So they are not only for the rich as many think. What they will be for many, including me, is an end game in the headphone world, for now at least.