HIFIMAN HE6SE Planar Magnetic Headphones Review – The Star Is Here
One of the most expected and eagerly awaited reviews at Audiophile-Heaven, the article on HE6Se is live now! This is a high-end flagship that really deserves more than just one article, so it has been covered during multiple videos, and other articles. There’s more to hear about it, and how it compares with HIFIMAN Arya, Kennerton Thror, Audeze LCD-MX4, as well as something much more expensive line Warwick Acoustics Sonoma Model One. Pairings with Mytek Brookyln DAC+, Audio-Gd Master 19, and Xtenik xDuoo TA-10, will also prove that regardless how much you invest in the source, you can surely drive HE6Se and have an excellent time with it.
A lot of people have been wondering about HIFIMAN, and their current customer relations, build quality, as well as other information about their latest products. To be honest, I feel like I’m repeating myself sometimes, but it looks like there are as many impressions as there are people, and it will always be like this. I think HIFIMAN is doing really well. Their build quality is quite good nowadays, and although they still don’t include a lot of metal in most of their headphones, they do in HE6SE. Furthermore, most HIFIMAN Headphones are fairly comfortable, with headphones like Arya making competition for HD800S in terms of comfort, and with Sundara being both light and wear-able in pretty rough conditions. Warranty and customer interaction is quite lovely nowadays, and HIFIMAN has an entire team dedicated to keeping their customers happy, not to mention everyone who had a problem in the past year having it solved and with very little to no cost.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with HIFIMAN, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I’d like to thank HIFIMAN for providing the sample for this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in HIFIMAN HE6SE find their next music companion.
Check out HIFIMAN HE6SE and other Hifiman Headphones on www.amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=as_li_ss_tl?k=hifiman+he6se
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
With HIFIMAN HE6SE, you get a proper flagship package from HIFIMAN, with a large wooden box covered in a leathery material. You can find the headphones, the long, high quality cable, along with something unique, an adapter inside the package.
The adapter is actually a surprise for most headphone users, since it does something unique. HIFIMAN HE6SE is really hard to drive, so HIFIMAN designed an adapter that lets you power HE6SE directly from a power or integrated amplifier, in other words, using a speaker amplifier to power HE6SE.
Overall, the package is limited in terms of accessories, and there is no practical carrying case included, but you can always grab one that is made for Ananda / Ananda Bluetooth, and have a solution to carry HE6SE. Since the original cable allows for usage with both XLR and 6.3mm sources, you don’t really miss anything on cables, unless you wanted a shorter / more comfortable cable.
The headband and support mechanism are exactly the same as seen on Sundara which may feel a bit underwhelming, considering it’s 1800 USD price point. Even the earpads are pretty much the same, but the weight is actually higher on HE6SE. The metalic cover on the driver is also different from the mesh used on Sundara making me feel confident that even less debris will ever touch the driver.
In practice the comfort is not the best, the headphone being considerably tighter and heavier than Arya or Sundara, or Sennheiser HD800 the most direct competitor considering the tuning and signature of HE6SE. This being said, HE6SE is not the worst in terms of comfort, it just isn’t great. You should stick until the Sound Quality part of the review though, because even though HE6Se ain’t so comfy, it still managed to get a ton of head time for me.
The overall design is bland and not overly interesting, but I always said this, even when reviewing Verum One, which was not that much of a looker, once you have a headphone on your head, especially once you have one that you’ll be wearing mostly indoors, you won’t really care how good it looks.
One important aspect about HE6SE you need to know, when it comes to their build quality, is that it has detachable cables, based on the 3.5mm Connectors, so any HIFIMAN cables should work, and you should also be able to use them with some Beyerdynamic Cables, as well as some Meze Cables. Furthermore, you should be able to easily order budget cables, if the default is too long or too thick, or not flexible enough for your liking.
And since HE6SE comes with a really long cable, that may feel a bit uncomfortable for some, I expect that questions about where to get replacement cables exist, which is why I’m happy HIFIMAN went with such a popular socket format.
The last aspect, although the most important, I wanted to talk about, is how hard they are to drive. We’re talking about headphones which may require the power amplifier designed for a speaker here, they eat a few WATTS for power, and if that ain’t a lot, I don’t know what is. Not even this, but they come with an adapter for large speakers amplifiers, rather than anyone recommending exactly what to use with them, but so far I can recommend officially a few that will surely work, have enough power, deliver good punch and comfort. And if you know any of my previous reviews, you know I love to listen loud, in fact so loud, that something like Ananda Bluetooth is one of the very few BT headphones that gets close to my needs in terms of loudness when it comes to Bluetooth headphones. Of course, that was a bad comparison, to put it differently, when I was using DX220 with AMP7, which was the highest power module, together with Sundara, I would mostly crank the volume at the maximum possible, and still have a great time, so you get the point.
In the end, HE6SE is made well, eats lots of power, is not the most comfortable out there, but will last a long time. Even if you abuse it. It may even get up to ask for more.
With so much complaining about the comfort and even about the build being bland, when it comes to a flagship, even one designed by HIFIMAN, a company I generally liked so far, would I say the sound is good enough for their 1800 USD price mark?
So much so, that I consider the fact HIFIMAN made such a simple, yet good sounding headphone, a miracle, at least for those who wanted flagship sound quality, without investing in fancy designs and such, like Thror, which has both an interesting sound, but a good part of the price also goes in the design.
Now, with HE6SE, you have to keep in mind that I reviewed Arya, Kennerton Thror, Crosszone CZ-1, ROSSON RAD-0, and many other flagships, so I have pretty high expectations, and know quite well what kind of detail and clarity a headphone should have to be worth a certain price. With He6SE, it is the kind of headphone, where you know that you have to have it, the first time you hear it. The incredible amount of detail, clarity, precision and how correct / crisp the sound is really makes you want it.
To put it in better words, He6SE is a very analytic, slightly cold and slightly bright headphone, with a fairly linear bass, a clean, slightly recessed, detailed, revealing midrange, and with a slightly thin, sparkly, well extended and detailed treble. You may notice that I never called them sibiland or harsh, and this is because they really aren’t either. They can be a bit cold, especially if you’re looking for more bass, but otherwise, I think the signature and the tonal balance is pretty good.
The bass is what I usually call quick, revealing and crisp. There is good impact, and depth, and when the bass is called for, it really hits, but it is not overly present, so you probably will want something more bassy, if you listen to a lot of hip-hop, or if you like a lot of bass with your music. Even if you prefer a warmer, more romantic midrange, something like Arya would be an excellent choice, but if you want the honest truth, HE6SE will really reach your heart.
Now, I am a man who listens to a lot of quick music, a lot of metal, rock, and I love having the best clarity possible, and this is where HE6SE comes in. Even when compared to electrostatic setups, like HIFIMAN’s own Jade II, or like Sonoma Model One I just reviewed, HE6SE manages to hold its ground (HE6SE being a planar magnetic headphone), so you won’t be left behind in terms of detail, micro detail and clarity. This all comes at the cost of the headphone sounding a tad bright and cold, but this works really well for rock and metal, and you never feel like your music lacks presence. Rather, you hear every little bit of texture, every single intricacy, and even nuance, He6SE is really good at revealing all of those to you. It also reveals the source a lot, so an amplifier to match, and an amplifier that is as revealing is necessary for He6SE to be fully enjoyed.
The next thing you will be wondering about is the treble, and well, that is as sparkly, well extended and clear, as the midrange is detailed and revealing. HE6SE never strikes as harsh nor sibilant, and doesn’t feel stressful, the treble having a slightly thin and soft presentation, which works really well, especially if you listen loud, love to have some presence of cymbals in your music, and if you don’t want the treble to have a serious texture. HE6SE sounds very natural in this aspect, and actually, this is what made me go for it so many times, night after night, of pure bliss. They simply sound natural. I too enjoy having a more fun presentation sometimes, and even I love Arya’s romantic serenades, but with HE6SE, I know that they sound natural, they sound live, they sound alive. They sound just like when I was playing the guitar with my friends, every instrument comes alive. They reveal exactly what you feed them, and this makes me love music once again with the same passion I did when I was 16 and played music with my friends.
The soundstage is what I would call normal and natural, it doesn’t extend much more than what you’d expect it to normally do, and if you ever worked in a studio, He6SE has a studio type of stage, where it is large, but only what you would expect from a studio. It won’t extend so well for orchestral, but the instrument separation is another strong characteristic of HE6SE, and overall instrument placing is also spot-on.
This doesn’t mean they will hit the sweet spot for absolutely everyone, but if you want this kind of presentation, they should really hit the spot. The dynamics are also excellent, especially with the right amplifier, like Audio-gd master 19, or like Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. The textures are really clear and crisp, as you’d expect out of a revealing headphone, and everything about HE6SE sounds natural. For 1800 USD, they captured what impressed me when I tried Sennheiser’s Orpheus system a few years ago, and this alone made me yearn for HE6SE so often.
Portable / Desktop Usage
Of course, this is a trick name for a part of my review, HE6SE is not portable by any means. I mean, the headphone itself would be pretty portable, despite the slightly increased weight when compared to Sundara, you could simply strap a Sundara cable to HE6SE and take it with you, if you found anything that would be capable of driving them properly.
The closest portable source I found that came close to driving HE6SE was iBasso DX220 while running AMP 7, but even then, the volume was a bit lower than what I typically give them.
The desktop usage though, is pretty much excellent. The earpads, although a bit small, are very comfortable, they are cushioned with a textile material, rather than pure leather or pleather on the inside. This makes the pads resist better to usage when compared to all-leather designs.
Coming with a cable that’s long enough to run from your amplifier, even if it was a desktop amplifier, HE6SE really makes itself at home, when you’re using it at home. A pretty big minus for portability, even for transporting them, is that they come with no carrying case, and unless you order any carrying case, like a Beyerdynamic Amiron Carrying case, or a HIFIMAN Ananda BT carrying case, you won’t have how to carry them around.
This being said, for their 1800 USD price point, a 30 USD carrying case is not that large of an investment, and the presentation when unboxing them is really worth the money.
I promised the comparisons part of this review to be spicy and to put HE6SE to the test, so I chose HIFIMAN’s own Arya, Kennerton Thror, and Audeze LCD-MX4 as the main competitors and contenders for HE6SE’s role in this world.
HIFIMAN He6SE vs HIFIMAN Arya – When it comes to comparing HE6SE to Arya, you know it is going to be a hard one. There are no hard feelings, but HE6SE rubs me a bit better sonically, while I prefer the overall construction and design of Arya quite a bit more. Both are minimalistic headphones that come with little extras, and HE6SE may come in a fancier package, when compared to Arya which is really the definition of a barebone headphone. This being said, the design of Arya is different, and follows the design of Ananda, which is more oval, has much larger drivers and earcups, with more space for your ears to sit in. Arya also offers a slightly different headband, although for the longest time I didn’t even notice they were different. Overall, Arya is larger and more comfortable. In terms of sound, Arya is firstly, easier to drive, so you won’t have to bother with heavyweight amplifiers, like you have with He6SE, but you still have to have a pretty solid source for Arya as well. The sound of Arya is sweeter, lighter, more dynamic, but less punchy. HE6SE feels more focused, and although the soundstage is smaller, and I generally enjoy a larger soundstage, HE6SE’s detail revealing abilities are better, with more macro and micro details. There’s more nuance with Arya, but there’s more refinement with He6SE. There’s more treble sparkle with HE6SE, and Arya is warmer, easier to listen to, more tuned for fun and musicality, where He6Se is almost precisely tuned, like a swiss clock, for detail and precision. Out of those two, your choice will clearly be made based on which you will prefer sonically, as Arya and He6Se share many construction characteristics, like the same 3.5mm plugs for the earcups and such.
HIFIMAN He6SE vs Kennerton Thror Palisander – And how different they actually are, compared to what people may be thinking if reading the individual review of each. The trick here is that both are fairly neutral, but Thror is not necessarily an analytic headphone, it is much more of a neutral, yet musical headphone. By comparison, HE6SE is much more analytic, with more textures and detail. Some may argue that Thror has a smoother treble, which results in a smoother overall sound, and well, that may be true, if you are looking for something that’s easier to listen to, Thror surely is impressive, but if you’re looking for something that has the ultimate resolution, clarity and detail, HE6SE delivers int hat area better. Thror is not as cold, and He6SE is quite a bit colder, so the midrange of Thror ends up being a touch sweeter, than the ever so detailed works of HE6SE. The comfort is also different, with thror being more configurable, but also a bit tighter and heavier, so despite the more options to customize the comfort of Thror, you end up with better overall comfort from He6SE. The build quality is quite great on both, but Thror uses real wood, real metal, and ends up looking and feeling quite a bit more resilient, and like it could take a much harder beating than He6SE. If you’re one who loves a headphone that looks great, Thror also looks better, with the palisander wood color making a much better looking headphone, than He6SE, which in my honest opinion is pretty bland in terms of aesthetics. Now, there’s another thing to consider, which is the driving factor. Thror could be driven, and I’m not saying you will, but it could be driven from half of smartphones on the market at the moment of writing this review. By contrast, He6SE remains really quiet, and requires much more power, needing either a pretty strong amplifier, or a dedicated integrated amplifier that would be connected to HIFIMAN’s Impedance Magic Box. Of course, to get the most out of Thror, you will need at least a midrange DAP like FiiO M11, but even then, HE6SE can’t really be driven portably, making Thror the better option if you don’t want to stress about power.
HIFIMAN He6SE vs Audeze LCD-MX4 – When you compare the definition of a “studio” headphone from two different companies, you get a really good idea of what each was aiming for. Both designed a headphone, which in my opinion, reproduces that type of studio sound, or rather that type of soundstage and instrument separation. This being said, the end product and the final result is largely different, and the headphone you get from each couldn’t be more different. Starting with the build, LCD-MX4 is much more comfortable, at first, but it is also heavier than He6SE, and quite a bit so, so you’re more likely to get good comfort from HE6SE than LCD-MX4, after you adjust to their personal fit and style. The cups and earpads of LCD-MX4 are much thicker, and if you like leather touching your ears, then MX4 feels better, but after having used each for hundred of hours, I can say for sure that I prefer HE6SE for the most part. On the other hand, LCD-MX4 feels better built, and looks a bit better, although both are pretty minimalistic headphones. In terms of how easy to drive they are, HE6SE is harder to drive than LCD-MX4, and you can fully enjoy an MX4 to the maximum with a Chord Mojo, iBasso DX227, iBasso DX160, FiiO Q5S, and most portables, while for HE6SE, you need more power. In terms of sonics, it looks like, once again, using the same technology, which is planar magnetic drivers, Audeze designed a much warmer, bassier, thicker, and more forward sounding headphone, than He6SE, which is nowhere near as forward or as warm. He6SE is neutral for the most part, where LCD-MX4 has a forward bass, a forward midrange, with a studio kind of soundstage, excellent instrument separation, and excellent detail, but with more dynamics at the price of revealing less textures than He6SE which is a detail monster. I understand the fact that some people really prefer a leaner, more smooth experience, and that if you’re in the studio, you want to do your job for hours in a row, so He6SE, with their ultra revealing overall sound, and sparkly treble may not be a better studio headphone, than the smoother LDC-MX4, but then again, HIFIMAN never market He6SE as a studio headphone, that is more of a personal note, that it would work quite well as one.
HIFIMAN HE6SE vs Warwick Acoustics Sonoma Model One – You may start to wonder why the hecc did I add a comparison between a headphone that costs 1800 USD, or about 3000 USD as a package, with a setup that costs over 5800 USD. Sonoma model one may be almost twice the price of HE6SE, as a setup, compared to a stronger setup including HE6SE, but at the end of the day, both are headphones, and people have been asking for a long while for more comparisons with the Model One inside. Now, here’s the fun part, Sonoma Model One is actually considerably lighter than HE6SE, being an electrostatic headphone. For this kind of headphone, the driver is extremely light, both the membrane, and the magnets, and relies on high voltages running through it, rather than a lot of power over a very large driver, like with He6SE, which has a very light and thin membrane, but larger magnets, or better said larger array of magnets producing the sound. The final result is that Model One sounds lighter, snapper, more fluid, but HE6SE manages to have pretty much the same detail level and clarity, with similar amounts of resolution. Model One was not designed as a studio headphone, and it has a larger soundstage that feels more holographic, with a sweeter midrange, and a more musical sound, especially after the setup warms up, which can take a few hours, but HE6SE still holds the key if you’re looking for a sparkly and analytic sound. The bass on Model One is slightly lower in amount compared to He6SE, which doesn’t have a lot of bass by itself. Now, you may be wondering if it is worth investing in Sonoma Model One, but well, HIFIMAN alsop has a Jade II electrostatic system, which was pretty similar, and which I will be comparing directly to model one soon, but if you ever heard a Stax setup and fell in love with the electrostatic kind of sound, then Model One is worth the asking price, otherwise, HE6SE and its long-tested planar magnetic tech may reach your soul better, with the deeper impact, more analytic sound, and more textures it reveals to you, as a listener.
Since I mentioned a few times that HE6SE is a full desktop headphone, I went ahead and included mostly desktop amplifiers for the pairing part of this review, the chosen ones being Audio-GD Master 19, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and xDuoo TA-10, all of them pretty interesting choices. The last one is only included so that you get the hope that you can drive He6SE while on a slightly more restricted budget.
HIFIMAN HE6SE + Audio-GD Master 19 – Starting with the strongest pairing, or rather, what I consider to be a really strong pairing. Audio-GD Master 19 is the amplifier part of a great setup, and you may require a DAC to run it, so even the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ could be a part of this setup, but if not, I think that a DAC like the M2Tech Young MKIII DAC would still be pretty awesome DAC to power Audio-GD Master 19. Now, this is one of the more recent setups I’ve heard, but my face was like, WOW, this setup is made in heaven. In terms of driving power, Master 19 is one of the strongest Amplifiers out there, that can also act as a Pre for a larger system, if you wanted one. The sound is very neutral, with an uncolored signature, Master-19 acting mostly as a transparent window to your music, rather than an opaque coloring frame, like some other amplifiers do. The sound is extremely detailed, clear, crisp, punchy and dynamic, and brings out the best in HE6SE, and their alive signature. This setup won’t work well if you dislike a colder setup, or something that tends to be a bit bright, but then, there’s Mytek Brooklyn DAC+.
HIFIMAN HE6SE + Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ – This one’s for you, if you heard He6Se, and wanted to make the midrange a bit warmer and sweeter, and the entire sound a bit more romantic. For all fairness, DAC+ manages to do exactly that, and although Mytek are better known for providing some of the most interesting DACs on the market, when they set out to implement a headphone output in one of their DACs, they managed to impress everyone with the large amounts of driving power, excellent control, punch and dynamics. In fact, it is pretty much as good as a dedicated amplifier like Master 19, but DAC+ has a different tonality, warmer, more romantic, more mellow and the detail, while it is there, feels less like it is being pushed onto you. I would say that both sources have a similarly large soundstage, and if you’re looking for a large stage both offer that, but then, if you wanted to focus the stage of He6SE, I found the pairing below, with TA-10 to do that.
HIFIMAN HE6SE + xDuoo TA-10 – Then, there’s xDuoo TA-10, which has a very warm, thick and smooth signature, and if you wanted to have the detail and revealing abilities of HE6SE, paired with a smooth, warm, thick, and bassy DAC / Amplifier, then TA-10 will deliver exactly that. Not only it is warm and smooth, it also colors He6SE, constricting their soundstage a bit, and delivering a more focused and intimate sound, which, if you wanted it, sounds really close to your heart. This won’t work so well with metal, rock and orchestral music, but it will work well with room music, Jazz and other relaxed styles. The other definitory feature of TA-10 is the fact that it has some of that Tube magic inside, and if you ever heard any Woo Audio amplifier and wanted to get a similar signature, but for a lower price, TA-10 should be exactly that.
Value and Conclusion
The price of HE6SE is not quite that pocket-friendly, when you consider the fact that it is a barebone headphone, with not much extra coming at this price. But, you should keep in mind that it is a barebone flagship, not a barebone budget headphone, so you get a proper high-end headphone for 1800 USD. An extra carrying case will be 30 to 50 USD, and a good aftermarket cable may run for 100 USD, so you could get the headphone of your dreams for less than 2000 USD, and have an end-game headphone for that money. Of course, you’ll need to complete the setup with an additional DAC and Amplifier, and something capable of driving HE6SE at that, but there are a few options out there.
The build quality of HE6SE is pretty much great, and although there isn’t much invested in the looks of this one headphone, you can still enjoy it greatly. Not only that, but with less fluff to worry about, you just have to enjoy the music, and leave alone the headphone, which isn’t meant to be more than a window to your music, and He6SE is pretty great at doing that.
As I noted in the sonic part of this review, the sonic performance of HE6SE is pretty much, like listening to live music. This comes with all of music’s ugly and beauty, but if you were into playing an instrument, you will love HE6SE, and it may rekindle your love for music. If you’re stuck at home, you will have a great time taking up playing an instrument, or just enjoying the music, or even reminiscing about the times when you used to stay outside, as a teenager. I know HE6SE is helping me greatly with those feelings, and since I started playing the guitar again, with a passion rekindled by it, I can say that if you like a revealing, analytic headphone, with a kick for textures, and clarity, you will love HE6SE.
Before the end of this review, I have to add He6SE to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, because I feel it provides something no one else does at this moment, a headphone with excellent clarity, excellent detail, and a barebone construction, with everything in its price going to sound, so you can get your own carrying case and cables afterwards. Of course, it is made for those who don’t mind their headphone looking like, well, a headphone.
Also, when watching Audiophile-Heaven Youtube Videos, leaving the ads to play may help my work and if it isn’t too much trouble, all your help is greatly appreciated!
I hope you have enjoyed this video, and at the end of this review, if you are looking for an analytic headphone, if you don’t mind simplistic design, and a practical approach, HIFIMAN HE6SE is one heck of a headphone to look at, and it won’t disappoint. Instead, it is going to make your sonic experience one you won’t forget any time soon, and will enjoy for a long time to come.
Check out HIFIMAN HE6SE and other Hifiman Headphones on www.amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=as_li_ss_tl?k=hifiman+he6se
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. I recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music! The playlists are different for Spotify, Tidal and Youtube, and based on the songs I enjoy and are available on each!
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