HIFIMAN HE6se Review

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with closed-back dynamic-driver equipped headphones of late. In particular Focal and Sennhieser, to the point where jumping to a pair of planar-magnetic headphones felt like I was going behind their, well… their closed backs.

You see, I’ve been really vibing the deep bass texture, organic splash of cymbals and high hat and the brassy bite to horns along with the increased sense of “outside” isolation I’ve been experiencing through these closed-back designs – they felt cozy in a sense, so when I put the big, black HIFIMAN HE6 se open-back planar-magnetic over my ears, I definitely felt like I was stepping out.

But soon I was wanting that open-back natural reproduction all the time – and I found myself reaching for the HE6 se more and more. C’est la vie. Great sound is great sound regardless of how you get it and having the ability to go between two distinct types of headphone-driver architectures is a constant learning experience in evaluating their inherent strengths and sometimes, their weaknesses. Although I have to say, between the two I find myself almost exclusively focusing on the strengths of the disparate designs as far as sound goes with the weaknesses usually limited to comfort/wearability and yoke/headband design and build quality.

Build

I’m going to discuss the design and build quality of the HE6 se first, as I’d read online about some issues with the previous HE6 version (which I haven’t heard or spent time with).

I’ll start with the packaging which is robust and the headphones come in a sweet monochromatic two-tone faux-leather covered box with dense foam covered in a silk-like fabric for nestling the headphones into. The HE6 se is not light – weighing in at 470 grams – with high-tolerance fit and finish and a basic, but time-honoured yoke/chassis design of formed alloy and a wide suspended headband that remained relatively comfortable for long listening sessions. I did notice the sizing/slider mechanism to be a bit stiff for my liking and after only a few adjustments during playback, the flat black paint on the upper-yoke chassis wore off to reveal the metal beneath – not something I expected at the $1,800 USD price point. The design of the ear cup/yoke interface precludes rotation – fit is limited to the vertical plane. The 3.5mm cable jacks are angled at 10 degrees from the ear cup housing and were snug and easy to use with the provided two-meter OCC crystalline-copper and crystalline-silver cable which is encased in very soft and flexible semi-translucent tubing outputted with four-pin balanced-XLR to quarter-inch stereo-adapter termination.

Of note was the fact that despite the oversized large-diameter transducer housings and almost half-kilo mass of the HE6 se, the headphones did not exhibit any of the more “ponderous” feel on my head that I associate with some of the larger ear-cup housings on certain Audeze LCD series cans.

The HE6 se memory-foam earpads or FocusPads as the company refers to them, are a mix of pleather and soft velour and quite ergonomic. I never felt like my head was overly clamped between them and I didn’t get hot spots at any point around my ears during listening.

Sound

Slipping on a mix of genres including acoustic, jazz, vocal, rock, punk and electronica one of the most signature sonic traits of the HE6 se is the sense of spatial reality it imbues to every recording and that it is difficult to get these headphones to make a misstep. They seem to be on rails when it comes to playback with an uncanny ability to hang on to the innate musicality of every cut and not let go. They hook you in by ticking all the boxes I look to mark up: instrument/vocal separation, tone, timbre, air around the upper registers with real decay on those notes which demand it like cymbals, high hat, piano and keyboards/organ. A midrange with meat on the bones and a bottom end with stomp all rolled up with a lightning dynamic response and transient/leading-edge note speed – as long as there was power on tap.

With a listed frequency response of 8Hz~65kHz, 83.6dB sensitivity and a 50-Ohm impedance the HE6 se need real juice to make them sing, forget a smartphone or portable DAP (there’s no 1/8-inch adaptor) these cans need an amplifier that pushes at least three watts according to HIFIMAN, so I stuck with my McIntosh C2600 tubed preamplifier HXD (Headphone Crossfeed Director) ‘phone out and the Naim DAC-V1 headphone amp/DAC for all my listening for this review. Both were being fed a mix of FLAC, WAV, DSD and mp3 files via USB through an Aurender N10 Music Server.

Albums like Music for the Motion Picture Victoria by German producer Nils Frahm kept their driving urgency intact through the HE6 se and DAC-V1. The opening cut “Burn With Me” has a deep, rolling EDM bassline and is infused with myriad electronic effects, synth and instrumentation – a far cry from the Frahm I know and love. But the musical essence of the song that could easily be lost to the focus of the bottom-end and the fragmented effects are never sacrificed through the HIFIMANs which keep the parts together as a whole. Everything is clearly delineated on tracks like “Our Own Roof” with its textured cello and resonant bass plucking or the haunting, floating decay of piano notes off “A Stolen Car” that seem to hover over the insistent strings pushing the song forward. All rendered with exquisite timbral accuracy. Arranging legend Gordon Jenkins’ opening string work on Frank Sinatra’s Where Are You flood into the central presence region of the HE6 se via the C2600 as big as life with a clear, almost holographic presentation before giving way to Sinatra’s unmistakable phrasing which is rendered with real treble energy, but without a trace of artifice or hardness to the upper registers and all the husky chestiness of Sinatra I’ve come to expect from the best systems who give his voice that chest-based projection as opposed to the relatively thin throat-based projection of lesser playback-capable ones. Jenkin’s orchestral backup had space and air around the strings with beautiful timbre and tone.

Conclusion

At $1,800 USD the HIFIMAN HE6 se is in rarified company from both a price and performance standpoint. While I have a minor pique with the slider adjustment design, they were fine to wear for extended listening sessions despite their heavier weight and sonically they delivered the goods on all fronts from a planar-magnetic design standpoint (speed, bass, dynamics, and natural spatial presentation) that I’ve come to expect. While perhaps not as ultimately open as the Audeze LCD-3 and faintly energized on the top-end they still are more than able of delivering the goods from a musical insightfulness and resolution-capable standpoint. The fact that they were chameleon-like in their ability to adapt to any genre, extracting prodigious amounts of detail from high-res files which laid bare the sonic landscape for the listener – but not at the price of musicality – had me reaching for them often when I wanted to just listen to something as a unified piece; the big picture if you will. The HE6 se helped me to get lost and not be distracted by the details, instead it kept my attention on the music.

Specifications

  • Type: Planar-magnetic open back headphones
  • Impedance 50 Ohms
  • Sensitivity 83.5 dB SPL / 1 mW
  • Frequency response 8 Hz-65 kHz
  • Weight 470 g
  • Cable provided (2m) four-pin balanced-XLR to quarter-inch stereo-adapter termination.
  • Faux-leather storage case provided

COMPANY INFO
HIFIMAN
customerservice@hifiman.com
1-201-HIFIMAN (1-201-443-4626)

COMMENTS
KG_Jag's picture

How to they compare to the HE-6?

Rafe Arnott's picture
in the review, I didn't spend any time with the old models, so I cannot comment on that.
KG_Jag's picture

still on staff can provide the comparison. It seems like a natural question that begs to be answered.

Rafe Arnott's picture
There's only me at the moment.
KG_Jag's picture

Although things appear to have been slimmed down at IF, I count at least 3 others who have authored articles on this site in the last month.

Rafe Arnott's picture
I see what you mean, I'll ask around about the HE6 vs HE6 se.
Skycyclepilot's picture

I wonder how they compare to the similarly priced Arya...

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