Hifiman EF499 vs EF500 – Comparison Review

Hifiman EF499 and EF500 Side by side

Hifiman is not new to the audio game. Their headphones have long run the gamut of top of the line systems all the way down to entry level products. I’ve always been a fan of their approach to entry level and mid-fi audio in general. With headphones like the Sundara and Ananda, Hifiman pushes the boundaries of what audio can do when on a budget. Now they look to fortify their DAC/Amp game in the same price ranges with the new EF499 and EF500. I got to try both of these devices at CanJam and was thoroughly impressed. We’ve also released individual reviews on the EF499 and EF500 so be sure to check those out. However, in this article, we’re going to pit the two against each other to find out which device makes more sense for different users. Let’s jump in!

What You Get

EF499 EF500
  • EF499 DAC/Amp
  • Power cable
  • User guide
  • EF500 DAC/Amp
  • Power cable
  • User guide


Look and Feel: 

Both devices are built very well. The EF499 is actually the more striking product of the two with its black and copper look. It’s also finished with a lovely clear front panel which takes on a great effect when sitting in direct light. The EF500, on the other hand, is a bit more buttoned up. With an all gray/silver colorway, it assumes a more professional, reference look. I do prefer the look of the EF499 and I wish that both colors were available for at least the higher end option. 

The EF499 and EF500 are both tanks. I was immediately taken by how hefty and well-crafted they feel. Of course, these aren’t portable DAC/amps so the risk of damaging them is low, but it’s still nice to see products at these price points being built to last. Since both products are built so well, I can’t really pick a winner. They’re both fantastic. 


The colorways of the EF499 and EF500 help these devices stand apart. But what really separates them are the internal builds of each product. The EF500 uses Hifiman’s own Himalaya LE R2R DAC. Using a series of resistors that Hifiman calls the “ladder” method, this DAC aims to provide a more natural tonality and maintain a sense of musicality while decoding the digital signal. 

Meanwhile the EF499 uses Philips’ R2R DAC. So you’re still getting R2R in the EF499, but it isn’t quite up to the standards that the EF500 is built with. We’ll get into the differences in sound in a bit, but on a basic level, the Himalaya LE tech that you’re getting on the EF500 is a much stronger design that is trickling down from higher end DAC tech that you can find in devices like the EF600 and EF400 as well as in some other high end products.

The nod has to go to the EF500 here with its more advanced DAC technology. The Himalaya LE R2R DAC on the EF500 is simply more capable of creating a natural and technically accurate sound than the EF499. 


Alright, now we’re ready to jump into how these devices sound. I’m struck by how wide the soundstage is on both of these DAC/Amps. There’s a great sense of lateral space and, depending on which headphones you use, you can get a good sense of vertical sound as well. 

In the EF499, I found a soundstage that felt about as wide as the EF500, but more artificially so. This means that I felt sounds were pushed to the sides in a way that sacrificed accurate imaging. This isn’t to say that the imaging is totally bad on the EF499, just not as good as on the EF500. 

I also found the EF500 better at scaling with higher end headphones. On a set like the Liric II, I was able to hear the expanded imaging capabilities of a higher end headphone, and it just sounded a bit more accurate on the EF500. 

Low End:

The bottom end of the frequency range is quite similar on both devices. They both have a bit more midbass presence than sub-bass extension. However, I think the EF500 subtly goes deeper than the EF499. The EF500 is punchier and can be boomier than the EF499, though neither amp is the most dynamic in their sub-bass responses. 

That said, both bass responses are very clean and neutral. I noticed that both amps were quite capable of reproducing low-end detail and separating bass notes from drum kicks and low end beats. Specifically on the song “Impossible Germany” by Wilco, I was able to follow the bass line very clearly, which isn’t always possible with the dense mix Wilco provides. To be clear, this goes for both models, which I see as a sign of overperformance by the EF499. 

I will note that I found there to be a bit better of a bass response with oversampling turned on. This goes for both devices, which I find really cool as it’s not always common to find these types of features on devices in these price brackets, especially the EF499 at $299.

However, at the end of the day, the EF500 still wins out due to its better sub-bass response and overall more dynamic presentation. 


Due to the aforementioned midbass presence, the midrange comes off as a bit warm on both devices. I think the mids are actually where these amplifiers are most similar. They present solid detail retrieval for the asking price, and thanks to the R2R designs of each product, both midranges sound lush and natural. I’ll call this one a tie. 

Top End:

If the midrange is where these are the most similar, the top end is where they sound the most different, and I think this all comes down to the DAC chips that were implemented by Hifiman. The EF499 has plenty of head room and top end sparkle, but that also comes with an artificial timbre. I heard this the most on cymbal hits and somewhat sibilant “S” sounds. I think this comes from an over-smoothing of the top end that doesn’t quite veil the treble response, but comes across as a bit unnatural. 

That said, at $299, detail retrieval is excellent, and when paired with more entry-level headphones, this problem is a lot less prevalent. 

The EF500 improves the top end greatly. I found the treble response to feel a lot more natural and it came across as a bit snappier. On a song like “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, you can hear the cleaner, more realistic sounding hi-hat hits to pair with its nice and dynamic kick drum. 

I think the winner here is clearly the EF500. 


So in total, these DAC/Amps have a lot in common, but they also have a few distinguishing qualities. Overall, I think these products are for two different types of audiophiles. The EF499, while flawed, is a great entry level DAC/Amp that offers R2R tech at a beginner’s price. This is no easy feat and deserves commendation. If you have entry-level headphones, like the Hifiman Sundara for example, this is a great pairing. 

However if you want to scale into more mid-fi sound quality, the EF500 is probably a better bet. Its use of the Himalaya DAC architecture helps audio quality scale with the headphones you use with it and offers a bit more growing room. 

At the end of the day, I don’t think you can go wrong with either piece, it’s just a matter of what your needs and budgets are. Either way, I’m mostly just impressed with Hifiman’s ability to bring advanced tech to more affordable products. That makes these great additions to Hifiman’s line of DAC/Amp products. 

The Hifiman EF499 and EF500 are available at Audio46.

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