Planar Magnetic isn’t some concept out of Blade Runner 2049 but a technology in headphones. As common as muck, you have dynamic headphone drivers – a magnet interacts with an electrically charged coil which is attached to a driver cone like your speakers use. Benefits equal cheap as chips manufacture, but more distortion at volume.
Cut to planar magnetic types and you have a thin diaphragm membrane with an embedded winding electrically charged conductor. Either side are strong magnets, usually of the neodymium type and the vibrating diaphragm creates your sound waves.
Having the thinnest of diaphragms means it can move faster and cope with transient response, which is a quality that makes music real. HIFIMAN say these headphones are the worlds first to use a nanometre thickness diaphragm. That’s a billionth of a metre by the way! I was wondering if their claims about its thickness not being visible to the human eye are true until a quick Google tells me paper is 100,000 nanometres thick (0.1mm) and DNA is 2.5 nanometers. So yes I can see that’s pretty thin – well actually no I can’t see it, can I !!
HIFIMAN are one of the biggest names in this type of technology. The contrasting leather headband, bead blasted effect metal covers, black pleather pads, and shiny headband frame, create a great luxury look for the HE1000 v2. So too the 11mm gloss wood strips that run around the slimmed down ear cups. Unlike the add on wood of the Griswold family truckster in National Lampoon’s Vacation, they seem to fit in very well. I’d prefer real leather to the pleather used though, to fit with the luxury of this product. It means that when you start using lots of different contrasting coloured materials, a luxury look is inevitable.
Fit wise they are nice and easy going. No weight issues and these are down 12.5% in mass over the original version one model. Head-pads fit against your ears somewhat lackadaisically but very comfortably and necessarily strong enough to do their stuff sonically. You don’t feel like your head is being ‘viced up’, such is the strong clamp like feel of some designs.
Remember they are an open backed design, so much like not eating curry in the office, don’t use these in the presence of your colleagues unless annoying them is the intention.
At $3000 they probably wouldn’t be used as ‘office annoyers’ anyway, but as hard core, serious home listening cans. Something to replace similarly priced 2-channel speakers and coming onto their sonics, can they do so?
Maybe somewhat ironic given you hear these headphones that they are eye-wateringly accurate and detailed and with musical separation. However against Focal Clear’s I tried they are undeniably more accurate and there is so much more separation in the sense of everything doing their own thing in a dynamically more engaging way. Perhaps unsurprising at double the price, but these HIFIMAN’s have a stand out trait of incisiveness in this detail.
Plus they have a naturally projected midrange quality with deep and gloriously extended bass which is fast and hard hitting. They really throw the cat amongst the pigeons of other headphones in regard to these qualities.
A flaw which is sometimes called out in Planar Magnetic designs is a relatively small soundstage. Soundstage is very good, not as jaw dropping as some designs I’ve heard. The Clear’s are better in this department, but overall it’s not something I think that could put you off buying these HIFIMAN’s, such are their quality in other areas.
Variations on a theme?
I’m extremely lucky to have the dCS Bartók at the moment as these headphones with it, are to die for. Balance is hugely good, natural detail….spit….layering….double spit…. The list and superlatives just go on. It’s about as tiring a listen as sitting on a desert island beach with a beer and having a back massage. So there are not really any major sonic penalties at all, that is if you like a detailed accurate sound. If you do laid back audio like dozing on that beach, then *maybe* consider a tube amp with these headphones.
Regrettably I’m still a virgin in high end headphones so being blatantly honest I didn’t have many comparisons to draw. A very quick test of some Focal Utopia headphones on a Bartók at dCS’ factory and I preferred the approach of these HIFIMAN’s in the sense of being a little bit more natural and very slightly less forward sounding with treble. Very subtle though.
With a Chord Qutest DAC / Yamaha WXC-50 Streamer / and JDS Labs Atom headphone amp, being hyper critical, things are a little bit more sibilant and edgy. There is still all the same depth of bass and very good detail but the balance is not as good and it makes listening more irksome over time. A trait highlighted to me by another HiFi reviewer I know, which is very true. So what this certainly tells you is that these headphones love a good source which they are extremely responsive too.
With the Qutest/Yamaha/JDS Labs system it’s better than I thought it would be. After all, these are easy fo drive headphones at 35 ohms and they work well with budget solid state amplification, and the better quality amplification of the Bartók. Even on the Qutest’s warm filter there is too much edginess in the sound, a trait of a cheaper source usually and permeating insidious high frequency noise.
Flip over to the Allo DigiOne Signature, a Raspberry Pi based streamer with an added quiet board and partnering dual linear power supply, and this all goes out the window. It signals out the Yamaha as the weakest link, unsurprising for a budget source used with such classy headphones and the great balanced Qutest DAC.
But having the luxury of such a tremendous source and DAC as the dCS Bartók I can’t help feeling the Allo is smoothing things out too much with the bass being joined up a bit. As unpleasant as a row of tailgating cars in your rear view mirror. Not a criticism of the Allo because the DigiOne is obviously operating at polar ends of the price scale to the Bartók, at totally different performance levels. But such is the spanner in the works of such an audiophile class leading DAC, it messes up your thoughts on more modest gear. The annoyance of having the dCS Bartók at the moment…. such a hardship!
If you are being uber connoisseur like in your approach to HiFi, as us audiophile people rightly and surely are entitled to be at these prices, checking these headphones out first on a range of gear is sensible.
They are a substitute product to similarly priced 2-channel speakers. Used with a great DAC and amplification, one can understand the markets march ahead for quality headphone systems at lower relative cost. This product definitely bolsters the way headphone audio has gone.
I can’t recommend them enough as serious listening headphones in a class of being detail retrievers, good balancers of bass and treble, laying bass on thick and fast, and being dynamically astute.
- Driver : Planar Magnetic
- Impedance : 35 ohms
- Frequency response : 8hz-65khz
- Sensitivity : 90db
- Weight : 420g (14.8oz)
- Plugs : XLR balanced, 1/4 inch (6.35mm), 3.5mm
- Ear pads : polyester surface with pleather cups
- Open back design
$3000 / £3000
- dCS Bartók using its internal streaming card / and with an Innuos Zenith Mk 2 over USB and Ethernet with Roon.
- Chord Qutest DAC with Yamaha WXC-50 streamer and JDS Labs Atom headphone amp. Substituting the Yamaha for a Allo DigiOne Signature streamer with Allo Shanti dual linear power supply for the DigiOne.