Reclining in my leather review chair with my giant boots propped up on my review desk, I sink back into a world of sonic heaven. Did I forget to mention I just got ahold of the new Hifiman HE5SE? At $699, this limited edition release from Hifiman isn’t that expensive when considering the manufacturer’s current lineup. But what kind of sound can you expect? And how does this headphone stack up against the competition?
Hifiman HE5SE Review
The HE5SE comes in your standard hifiman box – lots of cardboard, a single headphone cable, a ¼” stereo adapter, and a user manual.
Design hearkens back to the earlier Hifiman HE5, and it’s very clear that the HE5SE is a throwback to this model. Using a similar grill design, the biggest difference here is the inclusion of wood on the earcups, and the fact that the HE5SE will be limited to a run of 500 pieces.
However, this new iteration does include some differences. In addition to an updated headband, the earpads also sport a newer hybrid design to accentuate bass and improve isolation while still remaining cool during longer listening sessions.
Frequency Range: 20-35,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 41 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 91.2 dB
As we can see from these specs, the HE5SE uses a fairly modest (at least for Hifiman) frequency range with some extension in the high end. The relatively low impedance of 41 ohms makes these headphones a bit easier to drive than some other planar magnetic headphones, but for my review I paired them with an iPhone7 and an iFi iDSD Micro Black Label. Lastly, sound pressure comes in a bit on the low side, but finding adequate volume shouldn’t be an issue if you feed this baby a little bit of juice.
The HE5SE displays driving, energetic lows. Detailed to an exceedingly high degree, this part of the frequency range strikes me as articulate and full. All of this is complimented by a solid, full bass that I can feel in my jaw.
In the mids, the HE5SE exhibits a strong sense of fidelity without a trace of compression or distortion. Seeming to smack of detail and contrast, this part of the frequency range arrests my ears with it’s clean character. Almost forward-leaning, the focused sound measures neck and neck with that in-your-face low end.
A little peaky at times, the highs exhibit a similar wealth of detail when stacked up against the lows and mids. However, there’s a slight intensity at play here that works well with the rest of the HE5SE’s sound profile. Overall, this part of the frequency range offers a little coloration, but this is far from a dealbreaker. Indeed, for rock music especially, this may be the ideal high end.
For the price point, the HE5SE delivers an immaculate soundstage. No other headphone I’ve demoed offers such wide, expansive realms of sound for a paltry $699. Everything can be pinpointed around around you as you listen, adding an uncanny realism to any track you throw at it.
Compared to the Sundara, the HE5SE delivers a more precise and punchier bass response. A greater sense of fidelity in the highs also seems more evident with the HE5SE.
In terms of its overall sound, this headphone struck me as a bit dark in comparison to the older and cheaper Sundara. However, during a side-by-side test session, it soon became apparent that the HE5SE simply offers a similar low end with a more polished and better bass response.
For folks who want an impressive planar magnetic headphone that doesn’t fall too far from neutral, the Hifiman HE5SE will do the trick.
But what if you want a little coloration, and a fun sound you just can’t stop going back to? It may sound odd, but that’s also the HE5SE. With it’s glistening highs, meaty mids, and snappy, razor-sharp bass, this is the headphone you just can’t put down.
If you really need the most flat, neutral sound possible, you could probably opt for the Hifiman Ananda ($999), instead. For a warmer, bass-heavy sound, you could opt for the Edition X V2 ($1299), but the price goes up and you may miss the fantastic mids found in the HE5SE.
At $699, the Hifiman HE5SE delivers undeniable value. This headphone’s robust, energetic sound makes for hours of music enjoyment, and places it well ahead of even more expensive planar-magnetic ‘phones.
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