But the best part comes when the HiFiMAN ‘phones reveal the blinding virtuosity of Tsang’s cello performance and the wonderfully controlled, perfectly paced lyricism of Wel’s piano work. The HE-6’s give you an amazingly up close, personal, and believable view of the performance, so that you can almost sense the intensity of Tsang’s concentration during the more challenging cello passages, or the way the players listen intently to each other and then make minor adjustments in pace and timing so as to stay exactly in sync with one another. Through the HE-6’s you aren’t “just listening to music” (as in hearing the general shape and flow of the notes); rather, you’re allowed to go deeper and to hear the performance—complete with all of the deep back-and-forth communication that word implies.
To give readers some idea of where the HE-6 fits within the broader price/performance spectrum, I compare it below to three competing modes at or near its price: the HiFiMAN HE-5LE, the Audez’e LCD-2, and the Sennheiser HD800.
HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. HiFiMAN HE-5LE ($699)
• The HE-5LE is $500 less expensive than the HE-6.
• The HE-5LE weighs about 100 grams (or roughly 20%) less than the HE-6.
• The HE-5LE is 4 dB more sensitive than the HE-6, which is a significant difference.
• The HE-6 comes with much a higher-quality signal cable harness than the HE-5LE does. Moreover, the HE-6’s signal cable harness comes with two different sets of terminations—one configured with a ¼” phone jack terminations, and the other configured with left/right set of banana plug connectors so that the headphone can be plugged straight into a conventional power amplifier of the type normally used to drive loudspeakers. But don’t feel pressured to connect the HE-6 to a big, beefy power amp; the fact is that a good, powerful conventional headphone amplifier will drive the HE-6 quite adequately.
• There is a strong, family resemblance between the sound of the HE-6 and the HE-5LE. That said, however, I think most listeners would say the HE-6 offers more powerful and deeply extended bass, more fully fleshed-out upper mids, and more extended, forward-sounding highs.
• While both headphones offer lots of resolution relative to like-priced competitors, the HE-6 ultimately takes resolution, transient speed, and overall definition to a whole new level. The bottom line is that the HE-6 is noticeably more revealing, while the HE-5LE offers a slightly more “forgiving” and thus, for some, a more comfortable sound.
HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. Audez’e LCD-2 ($945)
• The Audez’e LCD-2, also a planar magnetic design, is $254 less expensive than the HE-6.
• The LCD-2 is one of the HE-6’s strongest competitors for three reasons: first, it offers higher apparent build quality and better overall fit and finish; second, it offers levels of resolution close if not equal to those of the HE-6, and third, it is significantly easier to drive than the HE-6. The Audez’e also comes in a lovely rosewood presentation case, which is an appealing detail touch.
• The earcups of the LCD-2 are extremely large (larger, in fact, than the earcups for the HE-6). Nevertheless, the LCD-2 offers noticeably better ergonomics than the HE-6, meaning that it is more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
• The sonic differences between the HE-6 and the Audez'e LCD-2 might best be described by way of an analogy comparing them to two of the world’s greatest electrostatic loudspeakers; namely, the MartinLogan CLX and the Quad 2905.
• The HE-6, like the MartinLogan CLX, offers an almost hyper-revealing sound that is extremely tightly focused and capable of teasing even the smallest of fine details out of the music. Also like the CLX, the HE-6 can strike some listeners as sounding a bit “bright,” at least on some recording. Unlike the CLX, however, the HE-6 produces powerful, punchy and very deeply extended bass.
• The Audez’e LCD-2, on the other hand, produces a wonderfully natural and “organic” sound, as does the Quad 2905. While the LCD-2 may not achieve the ultra-revealing, super-focused sound that is the HE-6’s hallmark, it nevertheless produces a very richly detailed sound, and one that is consistently accessible and comfortable to listen to for hours on end.
• Which of these two great headphones you prefer will have much to do with what you are looking to take away from the listening experience.
HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. Sennheiser HD-800 ($1595)
• The Sennheiser HD800 costs $396 more than the HE-6.
• Both the HE-6 and HD800 are hand made products, but I would say the apparent build quality of the HD800 is a bit nicer—reminiscent in some respects of a fine Swiss watch.
• The HD800 is far easier to drive than the HE-6, though both headphones require high quality amplifiers for optimal performance. Even so, the more sensitive Sennheiser will arguably work well with a broader range of amps than will the very low-sensitivity HE-6.
• The HD800 is backed by Sennheiser’s time proven customer support organization, which implies that many years from now spare parts for the HD800 will continue to be available, should you ever need them. As a relatively new company, HiFiMAN’s long-term customer support capabilities are as yet unproven.
• Sonic differences: First, the HE-6 enjoys a decisive and clear-cut edge over the HD800 in terms of top-to-bottom resolution, detail, focus, and freedom from grain. By comparison, the HD800 sounds rougher and less well controlled up high, occasionally imparting a “spitty” or overtly “splashy” quality on sibilant “S” sounds.
• Second, the HE-6 sounds more harmonically coherent and all-of-one-piece on both human and instrument voices. Good though the HD800 is, it occasionally exhibits very small yet audible textural discontinuities that keep it from the finely focused, hyper-revealing sound that defines the HE-6.
• Third, the HE-6 offers noticeably better low frequency extension and pitch definition than the HD800, although both are markedly better than most competing headphones in this respect.
• Although the HD-800 is arguably one of the finest dynamic driver headphones on the market (many consider it to be a benchmark product), the HE-6 offers significantly greater performance upside, provided that you drive the HE-6 with an adequately powerful amplifier.
• With lower-powered amplifiers, however, the situation is reversed. The HD800’s can “sing” even when driven by smaller amps, where the HE-6’s cannot.