This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Sibling rivalry: As its review detailed, I performed a version of the manufacturer-approved grill mod to the HE-5LE. Rather than removing it altogether, I cut a silver dollar hole into the cloth beneath the perf metal. To appreciate why, place your hands over the 5LE or 6 under music signal. You'll appreciate just how badly the sound is strangulated when the diaphragms don't get enough air. Removing a section of the grill cloth "took off more hand".

Comparing stable mates showed how the HE-6 had gained the plusher ear pads for greater wear comfort. It also showed that the HE-5LE's impedance was lower. Driven from a low Zout amp like Ampino, the more effective power transfer belonged to the HE-5LE. It played louder for the same input voltage. Finally and with properly matched level, the HE-5LE was the clearly more open and immediate albeit also coarser performer. This seemed very wrong. Back camping it was. Happy-hour levels should unclog the HE-6's pipes for another 100 hours. If that didn't get it ahead of the minorly modified HE-5LE, I'd have my counter-intuitive verdict. Incidentally, Human Audio's class D battery-powered Fortepiano integrated with optional Duoforte power supply was in house and just as frustratingly not pre-conditioned by its maker. For some 2-in-1 conditioning, I repeated my Campino experiment. While the Hungarian's lower gain meant that at full volume it was just marginally louder than I'd want for listening—the Serbian could explode my head—it too operated flawlessly into this impedance. Oops. We aren't supposed to do that.

Sieveking Sound promised eventual relief: "The HE-6 needs something like 200 hours of break-in. I have a number of people in the German Open-End-Music forum who now own the HE-6 and used the HE-5 LE in the past. They learned that the HE-6 takes time. It is cold and brittle in the beginning as the membrane has not yet loosened up. Once broken in it actually runs circles around the HE-5 LE even in the bass if you can drive it well enough. By the way, the upcoming smaller models will use a similar construction because this one is sturdy and comfortable. We are thinking of a different paint job however. The three magnetostatic models will be black, the upcoming lower-priced dynamic models silver/greyish and the portable models a light silver. We have not yet finished these deliberations though. The current idea is to show the black version for the serious audiophile and the more stylish/modern colors for younger and possibly less affluent users."

HE-5LE vs. HE-6
: After 200 hours of high-output play and no modification to the HE-6's grill to level the field, the flagship was more resolved or lit up particularly in the presence region. This made it more critical of lesser quality software. It also glommed on harder to sibilants. Meanwhile I glommed on mostly to greater overall smoothness. This was coupled to a small reduction in transient bite. That's a very particular quality I've previously encountered with solid-core gold cables. Hence I associate it with that material.

On bass weight and impact I found the 'denuded' HE-5LE clearly blessed with higher mass and impact*. The promised running of circles as a wholesale higher octave of performance did not transpire. In my book, the HE-5LE was coarser and less refined but rhythmically more energetic and unplugged. The HE-6's localized sharpness in the presence band suggested higher resolution but in the energetic scheme of nearfield vs. farfield perceptions, the flagship put me farther from the action.


* As it turned out this was the cable. Using its black stock cable on the HE-6 noticeably improved bass performance.

This certainly didn't pertain to moving the stage in my head. It simply meant that the rise times and penetrating power of the HE-5LE seemed higher. As such it sounded more energetic, direct and nearfield. In simplified terms relative to an emotional response, the HE-6 was the carefully groomed polished studio performance. The HE-5LE was the rawer unplugged let-'er-rip life gig. While I'd happily take the HE-6's greater smoothness if it could be grafted atop the HE-5LE's more powerful directness, I did not categorically prefer the more expensive design. I found it rather more polite and civil in fact - the more sophisticated choice for sure but also the less exciting one. I realized of course that I wouldn't be winning any popularity contests for carrying a torch for the cheaper version. What to do? I remained suspicious of the grill mod and cable contributions. Therein lies the rub. First, how would the stock HE-6 compare to the Audez'e?

Orthopedic polarity: The HifiMan aesthetic ought to generally appeal to lovers of the HD800. The Audez'e LCD-2 meanwhile waves at fanciers of an imaginary hybrid between beyerdynamic's T1 and Grado's PS-1000. On dynamic contrast ratio the Audez'e wins clearly. On raw displacement, extension and sheer mass in the bass, it obliterates the HE-6. What the Audez'e does on LF frankly goes beyond any headphone I've heard. Vis-à-vis the HE-6, the LCD-2 also wins on the woodily redolent aspects of tone textures, i.e. what occurs after the first steep transient in the sustain of tones. One might invoke adjectives like smoky, lush, organic, liquid, meaty and rich to describe the signature traits of the Audez'e. Coming from it to look at the HE-6, the latter is pricklier and applies more needle point work or a finely-tipped brush where the LCD-2 texturizes with a palette knife.

That's because the HE-6 focuses more on the metallic attack aspects. Here one thinks MartinLogan full-range stat rather than their hybrids. That game is about speed, lucidity and exactitude. It's less about body, fully resolved tone textures and ultimate dynamic impact. From the HifiMan perspective the LCD-2 will obviously be less lit-up—perhaps dark and humid even—and certainly less foreground transparent due to greater and fleshier density. This juxtaposition is thus one of a polarizing yin/yang. It's either/or. Loving one design should nearly invariably mean having little interest in the other.

If orthodynamic headphones sound fundamentally different as their supporters allege, the HE-6 relative to conventional dynamic designs does so less than the Audez'e. 'Different' can easily seem capricious of course in a discipline whose very name implies truthfulness to a given standard like high fidelity. Particularly in today's hi-rez climate, the HifiMan better fits the established mold. The Audez'e veers off the beaten path.

The unauthorized illegal mod: Liberating the four-tipped spring rings to remove the perf metal covers from the HE-6 as I'd done for the HE-5LE, I discovered not just the customary fine grill cloth glued to it but behind it a thicker foam pad and behind that a thin layer of cotton wadding. Desirous of less civility and more grit I removed the white cotton fibers and thin cloth but left the foam in place. Mind you, calibrating the rear wave behavior of an ortho—how much acoustic energy freely radiates off the back vs. how much mechanical resistance is applied to the diaphragm with layers of material—is tricky business. The designer tweaks this with great care. It's not something a reviewer ought to upset. In this instance I felt encouraged. Had it not been Fang Bian himself who suggested it for the HE-5LE?

I can appreciate why he put the damping material where he did. Removing it had the same effect it had on the HE-5LE. It "took off the hand". Here it also emphasized upper-midrange energy to get brisk on lesser recordings for a dose of Lowther shout. On the powerful and generally lit-up Ampino, this veered too deep into stock-cord HD800 territory. On the Aura Note Premier and Burson HA160D however it was a lot more right. Simultaneously overall openness, immediacy and tacitness improved without a doubt. Because I had the HE-5LE stock wire, I now rolled that in. This kicked up bass power well more than just a notch. Smoothness took a small hit but on balance I preferred it.

It's not my job of course to second-guess and redesign a review loaner. I thus won't say more than to suggest viewing the triple layer of back-wave dampers and choice of cables as tools to fine-tune, voice and—at least in my opinion—still improve the HE-6. It's all easily returned to stock if you don't like it. As supplied and disregarding the clear cosmetic refinements, I did not think the HE-6 was an unambiguous advance over the slightly modified cheaper HE-LE5. Different yes, clearly superior no. Given existing reviews of the HE-6, this puts me in a distinct minority of one.

In the final analysis, the HE-6's greatest failing mirrors that of the K-1000. It's a hard-to-drive design that mandates a powerful amp to fully come on song. This counts out a good number of otherwise dedicated headphone amplifiers. That such low efficiency isn't intrinsic to orthodynamics is proven by the Audez'e LCD-2. That can be powered by an iPod (admittedly compromised but possible). HifiMan's build and finish quality are now fully commensurate with price as is the packaging. If you're curious about on-ear Maggies while hoping for an overall Sennheiser HD800-type flavor, HifiMan's HE-6 (and HE-5LE) are likely the only game in town.
Quality of packing: Very good.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Website comments: Not exactly commensurate with the HE-6's ambitions.
Human interactions: Good.
Value: On the pricier side and more expensive than its direct US-made competitor.
Final comments & suggestions: Speaker-level drive can compensate for the lower efficiency if such an amp is happy into 50 ohms. The HE-6 needs a long time to break in. The screw fittings for the cabling are a bit finicky. More than once they came loose from wear to interrupt or mute one channel. The cable's XLR coupler allows driving this headphone in balanced mode from amps with the requisite K-1000 terminal. Because that AKG design was even less efficient, amps designed for it will automatically work with the HE-6.

Hifi Man website