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On June 26th, an email tracker arrived. Checking DHL's online terminal, this shipment originated in Hong Kong. Clearly it wasn't the unit I'd returned to HifiMan in the US. This was brand new to require break-in all over again. Since I no longer had the first sample to compare against, I asked Fang and Lu Zhang of what the changes were. In no particular sequence, the formerly solid-wood Teak cups had gone veneer over plastic ("the veneer is more than 1mm thick so we call it bowed wood"). The pads had become channel-specific with improved stitching, slightly greater openings, a slightly steeper angle and perforated leather instead of fabric mesh in the center. Molding seams on the plastic yokes had been eliminated. The cable had gained a new sleeve and the presentation box had been improved. That sonics would be affected a bit despite no changes to the membrane or magnet structure shouldn't surprise. Headphone pads, their geometry, size and relative damping all influence the sound. It's why Grado and Oppo offer various pads as hot-swappable tuning items*.

Fang Bian: "We improved the driver damping so the new 560 has more bass if you are using the old ear pad. However the new ear pad is more open for better high/mid clarity. Now some users feel that there's less bass when actually the amount of bass between new and old pads is identical. Our new  cable conductor is more durable so we didn't need a thicker coating for protection. It is still a mix of single crystal copper and silver and sounds better too."

* Seeing how HifiMan offer the new pads for $39 which are compatible with all their full-size headphones, owners of HifiMans with the older pads might enjoy experimenting.

As delivered, the revised 560 now showed wood only around the straight edge, no longer the bevel. It also exhibited higher clamping pressure of its metal bridge for a better ear seal. The greater slope of the pad profile had built in a steeper angle of membrane to ear and the worked-over finishing higher perceived value. The presentation box even came with a plastic protector over its metalized lid. Now the HE-560 looked and felt like a sleeker lighter Audeze. But at $899 it only wants close to half of their biggest competitor's best. Fang Bian looked set to shake up headfi's status quo at the top. As it turned out, particularly for planars this had sonic implications too.

Having heard/reviewed three Audeze whilst owning their pre-Fazor LCD-2; having written up numerous HifiMans, Oppo's flagship ortho and two dogs from Dan Clark's MrSpeakers kennel, I feel confident that the planarmagnetic breed has a general propensity for minor darkness and lush midband textures. Anyone arriving in ortholand from Sennheiser's HD800 or AKG's K-812 would instantly hone into this treble difference. So would fans of electrostatic cans from Stax (I've not heard the KingSound equivalents). Not so with the HE-560. It's the first ortho in my experience to graft atop the typical planarmagnetic signature an electrostatic-type treble.

Breaking in via 160GB iPod Classic, Pro-Ject digital dock, Aqua Hifi La Voce S2 DAC and Bakoon AMP-12R

Particularly fresh out of the box and when driven from a very wide-bandwidth current-source amp like Bakoon or Questyle, the HE-560 will sound uncharacteristically bright and lit up not just for an ortho. Here break-in becomes a mellowing agent. But even afterwards the HE-560 will never need this type of accelerating light-injection amp to compensate like my chunky chocolaty LCD-2 most certainly do. This latest HifiMan is a planar the HD800/K812 crowd could love. That's big news.

For those who've bought into the superiority argument of planar push/pull motors, the 560's single-sided drive might read like a setback. But this overlooks that double-sided magnets insert a partial barrier between membrane and ear. In Oppo's case there's actually a lamella-type lens to shape their air flow. Audeze have added their Fazor elements to address the same issue. The 560 avoids it by design. The price to pay is lower sensitivity. The right amp with sufficient gain offsets that. It simply shifts requirements particularly for portable applications.