I previously reviewed the HiFiMAN HE-400s for you not too long ago. They were reasonably priced headphones ($400) that introduced you to the amazing planar magnetic sound that offered you bass, instrument separation and nice detail to sound. While the HE-400 suffered from sometimes painful highs and less than perfect mid-range, the HE-500s step in to solve what was wrong with the HE-400s.
At $700, 200 dollars cheaper than the original price of their release ($900), the HE-500s are worth a pretty penny. They're in the expensive hi-fi range of headphones which I think starts after $500 and extends to $2000. After $2000 dollars is the ultra pricey range of headphones usually taken up by STAX headphones. The question you should all keep in mind when moving from mid-fi headphones (What I would consider the HE-400s/HD-650s and most other sub-$500 headphones) to high end headphones ($500-$2000) is "is it worth it?" Obviously diminishing returns plays a role when moving higher up the ladder, but I wouldn't say they're so small of a change that they're not worth spending the money if you have the funds. This review will outline why I think the HE-500s are worth paying more over the HE-400s and why they're an excellent headphone to begin your high end headphone journey..or even end your headphone journey forever.
The HE-500s look very much like the HE-400s except instead of the dark blue color the HE-400s have the HE-500s have a much more mature and conservative dark gray to them. I really like this color over the HE-400 which I thought were always a bit toy looking. Blue's never been my color. I'm a creature of the night and prefer darker colors. I like the HE-6's color also. The dark gray has grown on me though. They seem stylish because of their color more than they would seem with a black finish even though I'd really like to see them in black. The HE-500s like the HE-400s have a double sided connector for the cable that plugs into the left and right parts of the ear phones. I actually like the cable going into both sides rather than one side. The black canare cable is a bit heavy and you will feel it brush against you without a doubt if you move your head, but with the silver cable, it's very very light and you can move your head about without any problem. I only hold one gripe against the silver cable and that's if there's any static on you and you rub the cable against the static you will hear it in the silver cable. It's not an issue for me because I don't have static emitting from me nor do I move around like I'm performing a concert on stage, but I have heard it from time to time (if you wrap a blanket around you and that collects static and rubs against the silver cable you'll hear it).
The HE-500s are a beautiful looking can IMO. I don't have a ton to say about it's appearance.
As far as build quality is concerned, it's well built like the HE-400. Ear cups swivel like the HE-400s on the familiar wishbone ear cup holder painted in a nice black color.
The HE-500s come in at 502grams..that's a heavy headphone. For those used to dynamic driver headphones like Sennheisers and Beyerdynamic, you'll definitely feel the weight change. For those that remember the HE-400 review, those were a change that needed getting used to. Coming from the He-400 though my neck was already used to the weight even though these HE-500s are heavier than the HE-400 (and noticeably so after having gone back to the HE-400 a few times after using the HE-500). If you're going straight from a dynamic driver headphone like Sennheiser HD-650s or other model, your neck will need to get used to the extra weight. Your neck isn't used to holding this much weight for extended periods of time. Again, it's not a weight that you immediately feel like "Whoa these are heavy." It's a weight that strains you over time. You may not notice it for 2 hours, but after that your neck will begin to strain and you'll eventually literally feel tired from wearing them. You'll remove the headphones from your head..maybe wrap them around your neck and continue to listen to the headphones because they're very open and leak like speakers almost..but to a lesser extent than the HE-400s which I found surprising.
The HE-500s will strengthen your neck over the course of a week. Obviously different people have different neck strengths so you may need more or even less time thant his to get used to them. The HE-500s never stop being heavy though. They're never going to feel light like a feather like DT-880s or HD-650s. They're always going to have that weight and you'll be reminded that they're heavy from time to time. Personally, I can wear these headphones for 8+ hours if I wanted to, but my neck would eventually give me that slight burning sensation you get when you lift or exercize a muscle a little too much. It's just in one place for me and not really painful, but it's sort of a burn type feeling and your neck will want to lower and get some rest. Again, each person is going to have different tolerances for this. Unless you're a muscley dude with muscles ripping out of their necks, I'm pretty sure you're gonna' feel the weight no matter how strong you think your neck is.
Let me tell you why the HE-500, although heavier, feels better than the HE-400s though.
The HE-500s are 100g heavier than the HE-400s and that's quite a bit. It's significant and noticeable, but the HE-500s, if your neck is already strengthened by the HE-400s or from having worn them for a week and have strengthened them enough to where they're not a bother anymore, have a better construction to them. If you look at the two you won't notice any obvious difference. I don't know if the difference is the way the headband rests on your head or the way the headphone is balanced. I have to think it's because the HE-500s sit perfectly over your head. The headband seems to mold over your head perfectly while the HE-400s always felt a bit more rigid..maybe like they weren't contacting all parts of your head perfectly which felt like all the weight was on one area of your head more than another kinda like DT880s or Sennheisers in that fashion. Those dynamic headphones with the cushion on them always felt like they were resting on the top part of your head more than the entirety of your head..the HE-500s definitely rest across your entire head and comfortably so. You look at the thing leather padding and say "No way, after using an HD-650 there's no way this stupid thin band is going to give me any sort of head comfort." You'd be wrong. The HE-500s don't give me any top head pain or strain. They're very good. Better for top head pressure than the lighter dynamic headphones with those cushions for padding.
The HE-500 also seems to clamp better than the HE-400s. That's NOT to say that the HE-500s clamp tightly like Ultrasones because they DON'T. They're not squeezing your brains out of your ears. They're not vice grippy. They just sit on your head very well. I felt like the HE-400s had a slight bit of wobble on your head. I feel like I could headbang with the HE-500s and they wouldn't move at all (In fact, I just did while jamming to Incubus to prove my crazy assertion and I was right). Also for those used to grippy headphones, the HE-500s are very flexible. You can grab both ear cups and pull them apart off your head without any worry of possible bending, cracking, or breaking your headphone.. (thanks to the leather headband with whatever material is inside). I actually REALLY like the fact that the headphones aren't wobbly in any way. The HE-400s were snug and wouldn't move like other headphones I've had..but the HE-500s really don't move and I've come to appreciate that. You don't need to re-position them ever once they're on. They stay where you put them.
I also feel the HE-500s come with better pads than the HE-400. I COULD be wrong about this, but I feel like the velours on the HE-500s are softer. They're no Beyer fuzzy awesome velours yet, but they're much better than whatever that crap on the HE-400 velours were. The HE-500 velours have a kinda fuzziness to them as if they're a sort of combination between the HE-400s velours and the Beyer velours. I mean, the difference is so obvious that I can't be wrong. The HE-500s have better velours than the HE-400 period. They're much more comfortable and feel better. The HE-400 velours were kind rough if I'm honest. They were still velour, but not the nice kind. They were kinda hard velours and lacked softness. Maybe if I put them in the washer with fabric softener that might have helped, but I didn't.
Take note of this for the leather pads. If you have an early version of the HE-500s, you most likely were given the same leather or similar leather pads that were on the HE-400s. Newer HE-500s from late 2012/2013 were given softer better feeling leather pads. They're by no means LCD2 quality leather pads, but my GOD they feel so awesome compared to the HE-400 pads that I have had them on my HE-500s ever since getting the leather ear pad upgrade. I'm absolutely certain HIFIMAN changed their leather pads because these new ones are so amazing to wear I don't want to go back to velours, crazy huh?
So there you have it. That's what I think about the comfort of this headphone. Yeah, they're a bit heavy, but they sit so well on your head that you can forgive it.
As previously mentioned, the HE-400s come with the headphone and if you got an older version the black canare 4S6 cable. If you have the newer HE-500 it'll come with the silver cable. I prefer the silver cable as I feel it helps with congestion/any jaggedness in the music. See my opinion on the silver cable here. The velours are higher quality, softer, nicer as I explained in the comfort section. What separates the He-500 from the HE-400 in terms of accessories and why I even bothered adding an accessories section for this headphone is that it comes with a nice box to put the headphones in for travel. I personally don't put them in the box as I keep them hanging from a corner of my desk atm, but it's nice to have and really makes you feel like you've bought a higher quality headphones like most headphone in or near the price range of $1000 USD. Audeze is the first that comes to mind. Here's what the box looks like.
Now finally, the meat and potatoes of this review, The Sound. The HE-500s are fantastic sounding headphones. They're not the most detailed I've heard. They're not the bassiest I've heard. They don't have the best highs I've heard. They do have a great forward mid range though. Perhaps I've heard better in the form of hifi grados, but these are very very good for mids. Let's do a break down of each area of the sound and I'll finish off with the entire picture.
The bass on the HE-500s is great. to a certain extent the up front bass without EQ modification is better than the HE-400s. It's immediately present. The HE-400s have bass there, it's also obvious, but to really make them shine the HE-400s want you to EQ the bass up and the HE-40s can handle aggressive EQing. The HE-500s also work well with EQing, but are less EQ champs than the HE-400. Where as the HE-400s could EQ to crazy numbers, the HE-500s seem to have justice done with them up to about a +7db EQ on the 60hz range with the bass EQ'd up a bit, but in a downward slope to 250hz. The bass is both subsonic and has a bit of slam to it, but I have to say bass vs bass the HE-400 comes out on top. The bass on the HE-500s is great for all music except for bass heads. The HE-500 can do electronica, but not with the slam the HE-400s or Ultrasones can provide. The HE-400 is definitely the go to can if you want to listen to electronica music and give it justice. The HE-500s benefit from the EQ, but it's not as obvious an improvement as the HE-400s EQ. The EQ REALLY helped the HE-400s where as if you really wanted to..you could leave the EQ completely flat and not suffer much bass loss with the HE-500s. I'll continue more with this later on.
The mids on the HE-500s are fantastic! They're great! they're forward and upfront more than many headphones. Vocals are clear, enjoyable, great even with the EQ flat. I personally prefer higher mids than most people. I really like to hear the vocals as clear as possible without making them hollow or cavernous. I listened to the HE-500s the first week or two with no EQ modifications other than on the bass side. The rest of the equalizer was completely flat and I was satisfied with the way the He-500s performed, unlike the He-400s which needed equalization to make it really sound great. The He-500s come out of the box sounding great. If you're not into EQing the He-500s are for you. They sound great without messing with the equalizer.
That's not to say that you shouldn't EQ the HE-500s though, as I feel you can EQ the HE-500s a bit to give it an even clearer sound. You can raise the mids, especially near the 1-4k frequency (with more emphasis on the 2k range) for additional clarity. While the mids on the HE-400s were good, they were a bit recessed. I don't feel the mids on the HE-500 are recessed. I feel they're good, but I personally like my mids a little higher than most and like the additional boost to the mid range. The mids are definitely the highlight of the HE-500s. If you're into music with vocals these cans are for you. Not only do they do vocals amazingly, they also have a bit of bass for that guitar as well.
I was surprised to find that the highs were tamed on the HE-500s. They are much more subdued than HE-400s. This also makes them MUCH less fatiguing than the HE-400s. Simply put the HE-500s are anti-fatiguing out of the box. Unless you EQ the HE-500s up, they won't be fatiguing and you can even EQ the highs a bit without making them fatiguing. Because of their subdued highs, the HE-500s also don't give you that nice tsh sound to symbols I've come to enjoy with sibilant headphones like the DT880s and even HE-400s. The HE-400s were more of a SSSSh when it came to highs which made it cringe-worthy and painful at times, but they were both dark and sibilant at the same time, especially near the 8khz range where they spiked. The DT880s has a Tsh sound to it which at first was awkward and a bit fatiguing, but you quickly grew used to it and many people even preferred that sound to it. Looking back on the DT880s, they were good headphones for the mid and highs. The HE-500 is better for the mids, but inferior to the DT880s for the highs. I have to say though, this is pretty much a staple for planar magnetic headphone that I've come to expect.
The difference between the He-400s and the HE-500 for highs i that the HE-400s highs are painful. Straight up, they're unpleasant. The He-500s are pleasant to hear..in fact, you want to EQ the highs a bit to get a little more sibilance!
I think that the HE-500s are a great do everything can. They're amazing for vocals. They're great for bass as well so long as you're content with "some bass" and not a ton of bass like you'll find on the HE-400s or perhaps a better example Ultrasones. If I had to compare the difference in bass between the HE-400 and the HE-500 it would be that the HE-400 has more impact/slam and less consistent bass presence than the HE-500 while the HE-500 has more consistent bass all the time. It's a bit difficult to describe the bass on the HE-500 other than it's always there always available, but you get less of it where as the bass on the HE-400s is you get more of it, but it's not always up and available. It's like the driver has to do more work to get you bass on the HE-400s and it will get you that bass while the HE-500s have to do less work to get you bass, but obviously gives you less. Really though, in regular music(non electronica) unless you strong EQ the HE-400s, you'll get roughly the same amount of bass where needed in songs. I've happy with the amount of bass on the HE-500s for normal use. I could use more ofc if I wanted to listen to bass music, but it's good where it is when you consider the use of the HE-500.
The HE-500 is focused on mids and vocals. It's the headphone for vocals where the HE-400 is the headphone for bassy electronica music. The HE-500's could have been a bit more sibilant, but overall, the HE-500s are fantastic headphones. They don't make you cringe. They offer good detail, but not the best. If you want more detail than the HE-500s, look at the HD800s. They offer you much more detail, but they also can ruin music. I think the HE-500s are the best headphones for enjoying music anywhere near it's price range. Yes, I'll say it again. For enjoying music, the HE-500s are the best headphones you can find in its price range for enjoying music. The HD800s are probably better headphones if you're an audio engineer and want to hear everything that's in the song..but I also think with how poorly recorded most songs are and with how revealing the HD800 is it's not as enjoyable as the HE-500 is. The HE-500 will forgive music. The HD800 won't. The LCD-2 is great for bass. The bass is fantastic on LCD-2's, the mids on the HE-500 depend on your personal taste vs the LCD2. I think the HE-500s also give you better highs than the LCD-2s which are very very subdued in the highs department. Keep in mind the HE-500s are also hundreds of dollars cheaper than the LCD2s so really not even a fair comparison. Would be better to compare the HE-6s to the LCD2s and the HE-6s kill the LCD2s.
The HE-500s will give you the best listening experience a headphone can provide without being too revealing and while also giving you enough of those small details and instrument separation to really enjoy music.
You'll take notice that I did not mention the soundstage on these headphones like I did many times with the HE-400s. I think the HE-400s have a much larger soundstage than the HE-500s. The HE-400s sound much more airy to me than the HE-500 as well despite the same construction. While cans like the HD-650 and to an extent the HE-400s sound much more airy like the music is in the air..the HE-500s are much more personal and put the music in your head. The put you in front of the stage with a personal show just for you. I like an airy sound and while the He-500s aren't completely without air, the airiness isn't as obvious as it is with the HE-400s and even more so with the HD650s.
I must admit that I have very good hearing..much better than most people. I would say for most people that aren't audiophiles, but do like to listen to music the difference between the HE-400 and HE-500 may not jump out to you as obvious. The differences to most people will be that the HE-400s have a bit more bass impact and that the HE-500s are less fatiguing/sibilant. These are the differences most people will hear between the HE-400 and the HE-500. In short, the HE-400 is a great headphone for V shaped lovers that don't mind or are used to the cringe worthy highs. For those looking for a flatter sound, the HE-500s are great. They're not fatiguing and don't have those annoying cringing highs the HE-400s and ultrasones do. I wouldn't say the HE-400s are U-shaped though...they're a very wide V. You can EQ the mids on the HE-400 to be enjoyable.
The question from the beginning that I told you to keep in mind, which you obviously haven't is "is it worth paying the extra money for the HE-500s over the HE-400s. Is it worth stepping from mid-fi to hi-fi?I can't answer that question for you as you're the only person that can. People are on different budgets, have different incomes and some sadly can only hear so well. If you don't think you can hear that well, know you can't hear that well or don't have the funds, you can enjoy a nice mid-fi can like the HD650s or the HE-400s. To me the step to the HE-500 was a pleasurable one. It got rid of all the cringing moments the HE-400 gave me and also provided me with a better vocals experience and to me that meant the world. I have the funds to purchase high end headphones. I'm willing to pay the extra to get that extra performance. That extra bit that makes music sound great all the time instead of most of the time. That's the real difference when you step up to a high end headphone. Are you willing to pay for the minor differences in sound? That's what it comes down to.
Having both the HE-400 and HE-500, I can tell you that I'll be keeping the HE-500s forever. I'll eventually sell off the HE-400s. I think the HE-500s are priced very well. Very very well...even if that price is $700. If you're more into bass and want to step up from the HE-400s, I suggest the LCD-2 Rev 2.s actually. I think they'll be much more the headphone you're looking for. If you want a different more vocal/mid focused headphone, the HE-500 is a nice step up from the HE-400 or HD650.