HiFiMAN EF500 Review

Sometimes I think the mid-fi desktop DAC/Amp market is a bit sparse. It’s easy to find a big jump between your budget-friendly models like the iFi Zen DAC and your high-end ones like the Pro IDSD. HiFiMAN is known to fill this gap, with past releases like the EF400. Now they have two new units to help offer an even bigger selection and keep your options open. The EF500 is the priciest of the two, sitting at $459. There’s also the EF499 that was released for $299, so let’s see what makes the EF500 the pricier option.

What You Get

  • EF500 DAC/Amp
  • Power cable
  • User Guide


The EF500 is a vertical standing DAC/Amp that looks like a shrunk-down and simplified version of HiFiMAN’s EF600 unit. My first impression of its was how heavy it is. I think the stand adds a lot of that weight, but it keeps the EF500 very sturdy. There’s no part of this DAC/Amp that feels flimsy. The chassis of the EF500 is incredibly solid, and its bolted front plate is even more rigid and industrial. It looks great sitting on any desktop surface, all while not taking up a ton of room.

The front panel only consists of a few components. You have a volume pot and a separate knob that switches between high and low gain. Four options add two high and two low options for oversampling and no oversampling. For headphone outputs, you have a quarter-inch connector and a 4-pin balanced XLR connector. On the back, you have balanced XLR outs, RCA outs, coaxial, and an ethernet slot to use the EF500 as a streamer. For USB inputs, you have the option of type C and type B connectors. This gives you a ton of options to use the EF500 in different ways, making it a very versatile device.


Inside the EF500 is a special Himalaya LE R2R DAC, which is the EF500’s main claim to fame. This chipset deals with most of the signal chain within the EF500, managing a lot of the power thanks to a series of resistors. HiFiMAN calls this a “ladder” method, using this array to retain musicality and accuracy with a digital signal.

Sound Impressions

After using the EF500 for quite some time, it seems to be one of the pickiest mid-fi DAC/Amps I’ve come across. It responds very differently to every headphone I paired with it, making it hard to nail down exactly what its overall sound signature is. I used the high gain most of the time while switching between oversampling and no oversampling. Both options wielded different results depending on the headphones I was using. For instance, pairing the Sennheiser HD 800s with the EF500 gave it a bit of warmth when selecting no oversampling. However, this also brought the soundstage closer in, which I didn’t exactly prefer. I’m used to the 800s feeling incredibly wide and open, but the EF500 has a little less spaciousness to it. This was a great way to get the 800s to deliver a more bodied bass through, which was enjoyable to hear.

It makes sense to try out a pair of HiFiMAN headphones with a HiFiMAN DAC/Amp, so I used a pair of Ananda’s next. This is one of the best ways to make a mid-fi headphone sound like a premium one. When paired with the EF500, the Ananda can get to the level of the Arya. Here there isn’t as stark of a contrast between OS and NOS as the 800s, with both modes showcasing tons of vibrancy at a comfortable gain. Everything was much more breathable and organized, and I’d never heard the Ananda sound so detailed in the mids and highs than through the EF500.

Lastly, I went to the Meze Liric II, which I didn’t need to boost very high to get an ideal picture of the sound. Listening to these headphones through the EF500 made the sound appear like it was at its limit of detail retrieval and clarity. This made for a less dynamic experience, as the EF500 pushes a lot of elements toward the front, but never solidifies them. The height of the soundstage is increased here, and everything sounds generally taller. The EF500 brings a larger scale to the Liric II, and it brings more of a heft to certain performances.


Most of my time with the HiFiMAN EF500 was highly enjoyable. Not every combination works a hundred percent of the time, but you’ll feel that Himalaya DAC does a lot of work to preserve and even enhance the character of your headphones. Using the EF500 with the Ananda Stealth was the biggest highlight for me, as it made the headphones shoot way past their weight limit. The overall build is also quite impressive, with its incredibly concrete construction. There are also a ton of options in terms of inputs and outputs that bring a ton of value and variety to this DAC/Amp. With its manageable price, the EF500 is strong competition as far as mid-fi DAC/Amps go.

The HiFiMAN EF500 is available at Audio46.

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Alex S. is a sound designer and voice-over artist who has worked in film, commercials, and podcasts. He loves horror movies and emo music.