Review written by @SenyorC
As mentioned in my recent review of the Hifiman Arya, Hifiman have very kindly loaned me both the Arya and the HE1000se for review, for which I am extremely grateful. As always, I will try to keep my opinions as sincere and unbiased as possible but it is always worth considering that it has not cost me anything to test these headphones.
Today I am going to review the HE1000se and, as was the case with the Arya, I am going to use the Hifiman Ananda as my reference for some comparisons throughout the review (you can see my complete review of the Ananda here: Review - Hifiman Ananda and the Arya here: Review - Hifiman Arya).
After I have completed this review, I would like to put together a short recap of the three models to make direct comparisons between them but today I am just going to focus on the HE1000se.
The Hifiman HE1000se is a set of headphones that places itself easily in the higher end models of the Hifiman line. With a price that is around 3500€, at the time of this review, it is easy to see that we are talking about something special.
My plan was to upload this review a week after the Hifiman Arya review, however, I found that these headphones easily deserve more than just a week of testing before coming to conclusions, at least that is my excuse for holding on to them a little longer.
I have mostly been using the HE1000se driven by the Schiit Asgard 3, however, I have also been using them for a lot of listening time with the JDS Labs Atom. It obviously sounds weird that I would be powering a set of 3.5k headphones with a 100€ amplifier, however, the Atom is an amplifier that I both know well and performs well with these headphones, something that I will mention more about shortly.
The Hifiman HE1000se are presented in a box that surpases the luxurious leather covered box that the Ananda arrived in. In this case it is again a leather covered box but this time in brown with a silver coloured (aluminum?) metal plate on top, sporting the manufacturer and model number embossed on it. The box is also rather heavy, which is not the case with the headphones themselves.
Inside the box we find the headphones in the usual silk lined cutout, with a very nice manual, actually more of a nice book on Hifiman and HE1000se. There is a separate compartment, as is the usual case, where the accessories are held. As far as accessories, we get three cables, one that is rather long and terminates in a 6.35mm TRS, the other is a shorter version that terminates in a right angle 3.5mm TRS and the last one is also long and terminates in a 4 pin XLR to use the headphones in a balanced set up. Unfortunately, the cables are the same style as those included with the Ananda, they are covered in a kind of silicone tubing that brings images of blood transfusion to my mind. The cables work perfectly and have no issues, but they are far from being something I would consider a high end cable to include with a headphone of this category (in fact, I think I said something similar about including them with the Ananda which is less than 30% of the price).
All in all, the presentation is very nice, no complaints at all from my side. Maybe the box is a little large to keep on hand for storage of the headphones (all of my headphones return to their boxes/cases when not in use) but certainly makes it feel like you are receiving something special.
Build and aesthetics
I mentioned in my Ananda review that they were one of my favourite looking Hifiman headphones, only second to the Susvara, however, the HE1000se have a very similar look to the Susvara, meaning that they are a beautiful set of headphones that, in my opinion, have a high-end finish that places them above the Ananda as far as aesthetics.
The build of the headphones uses the same headband and comfort strap set up that is used on the Arya, although in a different finish, and makes them extremely comfortable. There is adjustment in height of the comfort strap, with swivel and angle of the cups, making them contour perfectly to my face.
They are also very light, making me forget that I am actually wearing them, I have absolutely no complaints about the comfort or design of the HE1000se, they are easily my favourite headphones to wear (and look at) out of the ones I have had the pleasure of trying.
Now, where do I start? Going back to the Ananda for a moment, I said that they were a headphone that met everything I needed and that above the Ananda it would be more a case of personal preference than actual need for improvement. I still maintain that the Ananda are headphones that provide me with everything I need but there is no doubt that the HE1000se offer an approach to my music that other headphones have not been capable of so far.
Let me first say that the HE1000se are an extremely easy set of headphones to drive. I was actually surprised after using the Ananda (and the Arya) as to how much easier these headphones are to drive. Looking at the specs, the HE1000se have an impedance of 35 Ohms and a sensitivity of 96dB, which, in comparison to the 25Ω and 103dB of the Ananda, should make them a little more difficult to drive. For some reason, I find that the HE1000se actually respond better to lower power than the Ananda. They do need a little more on the volume pot to reach the same volume levels of the Ananda but the HE1000se seem to come alive sooner.
As I mentioned above, I have mainly been using the Asgard 3 but I have also used the Atom and these headphones sound glorious on both options. On the Asgard, I am around 11 o’clock on low gain or 8:30 on high gain. I was also surprised to find that they HE1000se also run quite happily from my phone (not my current phone, my previous phone that I use as a DAP on occasions), I am not saying that I suggest this pairing and the sound is not as good as paired with a desktop solution, but they were plenty loud enough and the quality was still great. I also found them to pair very nicely with the iFi Audio Diablo, the complete opposite of a phone with more power than most desktop setups, giving me great sound in a portable format.
My first impressions of the HE1000se were that they sounded great and my thoughts haven’t really changed much since then. If anything, I have come to love them more the more I use them. The general sound signature is clear and detailed but with a great smoothness to it. I am going to try to not deeply compare these to the Arya at this moment, although some comparisons are inevitable, however, I just wanted to say that when I say “smooth but detailed”, it is not in the same way that the Arya is.
In comparison to the Ananda, which is detailed and upfront about, the HE1000se presents it in a way that is just as clear and upfront but with a much more refined touch to it. As I believe I mentioned in the Ananda review, I find them to be very reminiscent of Meyer Sound speakers, very neutral, clean and capable of amazing details. I would describe the HE1000se more as a set of high end Hi-Fi speakers, even though I am not someone who has much experience in Hifi speakers (much more in live sound), in a room that is well treated.
But anyway, enough with the romanticism, let’s go through the usual steps.
The HE1000se is another set of planars that goes down further than our ears do, drawing a straight line past the range of our hearing. The control of the lowest frequencies is nothing short of excellent, no matter the style of music being played. Switching from something like “No Sanctuary Here” by Marian Herzog feat Chris Jones, to “Bury A Friend” by Billie Eilish, then to “Yello” by The Expert, we have three completely different styles of subbass and the HE1000se deals with all of them.
For the general bass frequencies, it is just as capable, or more, as it is in the sub bass frequencies. I have spent a lot of time (as much as possible) listening to the HE1000se over the past few weeks and I can say that this is the first planar headphone that presents bass in a way that could easily stop me from owning any dynamic driver. I really like the bass on the Ananda, as I have on other planar offerings, but there is something about a dynamic driver bass that just feels right when listening to certain bass lines. For the bassists out there, to me the bass of a (good) dynamic driver is like picking up that trusty old p-bass and plugging into an Ampeg, in certain situations it just sounds right. The planar bass is very quick with excellent detail, but sometimes just misses that natural warmth of a dynamic, I do not find that to be the case with the HE1000se.
The bass guitar in Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” sounds like it should, in fact, the bass guitars on all of my test tracks seem to sound as they should. That doesn’t mean they all sound good, I purposely have tracks on my test list that sound bad, I mean they sound as they should, at least to my ears. The warm smooth touch that the HE1000se has in comparison to other planars makes it excel with both electric and acoustic basses. The kick drum is another instrument that sounds as it should on these headphones, they are capable of keeping up with ridiculous double pedal drumming without sounding too dry, something that the Ananda is not capable of. The Ananda can keep up with extremely fast drumming but sometimes comes across as a little dry with the kick drum.
The straight line from the lowest notes continues all the way up to a dip around 2kHz, to raise slightly afterwards to around 3kHz. This allows the fundamental frequencies found in the lower mids to be present with just a slight bit more of presence towards the top of the mids. This avoids that sensation that I got with the Arya where the lower parts of voices seemed to be highlighted over their upper end. With the HE1000set here seems to be just enough presence around that 3kHz mark to make vocals sound more natural to me than they did on the Arya.
Acapella tracks sound great, in fact, I can safely say they are headphones that I have most enjoyed songs like “These Bones” by The Fairfield Four or “Hallelujah” by Pentatonix. Listening to Leonard Cohen was like having him breathing down my neck, a very strange sensation.
The same can be said for the majority of instruments in the mid range, sounding very natural and full. On my test track list I have “Adagio for Strings, Op. 11a” performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, a song that I listen to a lot but don’t really reference because I am no expert on classical music. However, the performance and the way it was presented took me on a journey of listening to a few hours of classical that I really enjoyed. It is amazing how classical music comes alive when it is well reproduced, something that the HE1000se is very good at.
The treble is possibly the part that impresses me the least. Now, by that I do not want to give the impression that the treble isn’t great, it is, just that it doesn’t “wow” me in the way that the Ananda did when I started listening to it. The treble is still very detailed and has a lovely sense of air to it, it is just not as impressive as the rest of the frequencies. of the HE1000se.
While the headphone is not sibilant, it does seem to be just on the verge at many moment. This sometimes is distracting because, especially with tracks I know very well, I am sort of bracing myself for the sibilance but it never materializes. This probably sounds stupid, complaining about sibilance on a set of headphones that is not sibilant, and no doubt it is, but the treble makes me feel like it is going to be harsh at any moment, even though that is not the case.
There is a sense of air that is pleasurable but I am going to go back to my reference before about Ananda being an open air “live” speaker and the HE1000se being a HiFi speaker in a good room, the Ananda sort of have an infinite roll of into open space whereas the HE1000se are more like being in a controlled room.
Soundstage and image placement
While I just said that the HE1000se being like a controlled room, I was referring to the sensation of treble, this is by no means an indication of soundstage. The soundstage of the HE1000se is very large and well implemented, maybe not quite the huge space that the Arya presents, but still wider and deeper than the Ananda.
This allows instruments and small details to be placed in a very three dimensional way, creating a sensation of wide open space. Where the Ananda are similar to being in front of a large stage, with mains to the left and right, the HE1000se are more involving, more like being part of the music, with instruments and details surrounding you.
The placement of images is excellent, giving a pinpoint location to each and every sound, similar to the Arya but without needing to focus in order to locate them.
And that rolls in to:
Detail and speed
With the Ananda, as I said in the Arya review, the details are pushed up front, making every detail clearly present, sort of like a “hey, listen to this!” kind of thing. The Arya are just as detailed (maybe more so) as the Ananda but present it in a way that is more subdued, making it necessary to focus on the music to appreciate those minute details. The HE1000se is the best of both worlds in this regard.
The details are presented in a way that they are clearly there but are not “in your face” as with the Ananda. They are laid out in a way that is similar to the Arya but stay clearly present, without the need to focus in order to notice the minute details. They are a pleasure to listen to, being extremely detailed without the fatigue of there being too much detail at once but also not needing that extra focus that I found necessary with the Arya.
As far as speed, well, there is absolutely nothing to complain about here, they are fast and dynamic, in fact, sometimes (with fast and complex music) it is my brain that struggles to keep up with the speed.
As far as technical capabilities, I don’t think I can doubt for one moment that the HE1000se are the most capable headphones I have ever listened to. They are a pleasure to wear, a pleasure to use and a pleasure to listen to, at least in my personal experience.
Going back to the Ananda one last time, I said that the Ananda were (are) a set of headphones that give me everything I need and that, at levels of Ananda or higher, it would be personal preference that comes into play more than actual capabilities of the headphones. I still maintain this.
While I feel there are things that the HE1000se does do better than the Ananda, the increase in performance is minimal in these areas and these will be fields that appeal to people who are focused on those specific areas. For example, if you are someone that feels that subbass is very important to your listening experience and music preferences, then I have no doubt that you would clearly find the subbass of the HE1000se to be superior. However, if subbass is not one of your essential priorities, then this will probably not stand out to you because the subbass of the Ananda is already very good and the step up in performance to the HE1000se is something that you will find minimal and probably not be important to your decision.
As I mentioned in the Arya review, I would like to sit down and do a brief comparison between the three headphones and now that I have spent this time with them, that will be my next task, to decide which headphones I prefer for which music or musical experience.
Until then, if I said that I have absolutely no complaints about the Arya, I can only say that I have nothing but praise for the Hifiman HE1000se.
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