HiFiMan HE-560 Headphone Review

Build Quality
PRICE $899

Transparency to die for
Planar magnetic drivers
Lighter and more comfy than most planar headphones
A stay-at-home headphone

HiFiMan’s heavily revised planar magnetic headphones take the sound closer to the ever-elusive goal of reproducing reality.

The very first planar magnetic headphone I heard was a HiFiMan HE-5. That was five years ago. As luck would have it, I had just finished a series of flagship headphone reviews from nearly every major manufacturer, but it was the HE-5 that made a lasting impression. While it wasn’t the most transparent or dynamic, or best imaging, it was the one I kept returning to. The key was balance; it just sounded more “right” than the others. Oh, it was also significantly less expensive than any of the other top-of-the-line models. All of the brands have stepped up their game over the last few years, and now HiFiMan has completely redesigned its planars as well. If you haven’t heard a high-end headphone in years, this would be a great time to check out what’s going on.

HiFiMan didn’t have a monopoly on the technology; it was quickly joined by Audeze and much more recently Abyss and Oppo’s planar magnetic designs—and to be fair, Fostex had planars long before HiFiMan. Most established headphone makers use conventional dynamic drivers, which are essentially miniature speaker drivers with voice coils. Planar drivers use super lightweight flat diaphragms—there’s no voice coil—and the conductors are distributed over the entire surface of the diaphragm. Bar magnets push and pull the diaphragm in response to signals moving through the conductors. Planar drivers have lower distortion and more powerful bass than equivalent dynamic drivers. One thing’s for sure about the HE-560: The new headphone is lighter (13.3 versus 17.7 ounces) and more comfortable than the model it replaces, the HE-500.

The HE-560’s ebony wood-trimmed (over high-quality plastic) ear cups lend a more upscale look to the design than the older HiFiMans. The driver, magnet structure, ear cups, ear pads, headband, and cable are all new. The HE-560’s single crystal silver over single copper cable is user-replaceable, but the connectors on the ear cups are proprietary. The headphones come with a beautifully finished wood storage box—very classy!

After I received the headphones, I spent a few hours listening to the HE-560 at a Chesky Records’ jazz recording session at a church in Brooklyn. The band was playing live, and I was off in another room listening to the direct microphone feed over the HE-560s. This rarely happens, but I have to say the headphone’s sound was better balanced than what I heard in the church, sitting about 20 feet from the band (the mics were closer and better positioned to capture sound from all the instruments). The HE-560’s transparency and “speed” produced startlingly realistic drum sound, and the cymbals’ metallic sheen was beautifully resolved. It’s rare to hear a trumpet’s incredible dynamics reproduced without compression, and I could clearly hear the instrument within the context of the church’s natural reverberation. The HE-560 didn’t hold anything back.

Back at home, the HE-560 is more see-through transparent, with more sharply focused imaging than the latest version of the Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones ($995). Some classify the Audeze sound as “dark”; I don’t, but it is richer/warmer, and the HE-560 is definitely lighter/brighter in tone. The HiFiMan better delineates gradations in dynamics and has a touch more low-level (quiet) detailing than the LCD-2. They’re both superb but will appeal to different tastes. The LCD-2 is more sensitive, so it plays louder with portable music players and phones; the HE-560 is more of a stay-at-home (or studio) design. One other big difference: It’s a lot lighter, at just 13.3 ounces, whereas the LCD-2 is 21.1 ounces!

If the $899 HE-560 is out of reach, HiFiMan’s $499 planar dynamic HE-400i will get you most of the sound of its big brother.