This is certainly one of the most interesting Hifiman headphones around, and definitely has more to it than just being the entry level model.
The full size dynamic driver category is a crowded place. Every brand has put their best efforts in the arena and yet I have yet to find one full size that can be a master-of-all genres, a true all-rounder headphone with good sound and musicality. And while the fairy young Hifiman brand is not going to eclipse the technology that we find in Beyerdynamic’s Tesla driver or Sennheiser’s Ring-shaped driver anytime soon, through careful tuning, they may have produced one of the best all rounder dynamic driver I’ve seen. Name all the best dynamic drivers you can think of, from the HD800, the T1, the W5000, the AD2000, the Edition 8/9/10, the Grados, the AKGs, and tell me if any of them has a good genre bandwith. Nope, none. They are all highly polarized headphones. It’s quite surprising therefore, to find a young brand such as Hifiman producing a superb all rounder while still managing to sound pretty high end.
A dynamic driver! While I suspect that one of the reason for the dynamic driver is cost, on the other hand the dynamic driver also does things that you don’t quite get in the planar, orthodynamic based models. Yes, the transients is the first thing that you’d notice to be different from the bigger Hifimans, even to the HE-4. But on the other hand, the dynamic driver in the Hifiman HE-300 is so superbly tuned that it gives me a more relaxed sound, and is easier on the ears than what I hear on the planar models.
GENERAL SOUND IMPRESSIONS
Let’s start with the tonal balance. This is definitely the warmest sounding Hifiman so far. Take the Hifiman HE-500 and bring up the warmth even more. Tone down the treble a little bit, keep almost the same smooth midrange that everyone seem to love with the HE-500, add a little more bass body. The end result sounds like what I would’ve liked Sennheiser do with the HD650: a less sleepy HD650 with more engaging sound without loosing its cool and relaxed presentation. Cleaner mids and lows, still weighty, and without the slow bass and the “veil”. Ultimately it still can’t replace HD650′s low end impact, but the HE-300′s faster and clearer bass will probably be better for a lot of people, me included. The pace is definitely faster than the HD650, though overall it’s still a fairly laid-back music listening device.
HE-300 vs HE-500
Same brand, two different driver technologies, tuned and created at about the same time and probably by the same engineers. How will the two differ? A-Bing between the HE-300 and the HE-500, first and foremost you’ll notice that the HE-500 has a significantly clearer sound. I also notice that the planar’s transients is quicker overall and that the dynamic’s is more laggy, yet the dynamic has a better sense of coherence from top to bottom frequencies — and that’s something that I regard very highly.
The planar driver clearly had what it takes to earn the higher model number (and price). While I do think that the HE-500 does excel in the clarity of the treble and bass region more than the HE-300, I actually feel that the overall impression of clarity may be largely due to the significantly more treble presence in the HE-500. The mids of the HE-500 has been known to be very special, but in that region I feel that the HE-300 was able to better it, though with a slightly different tone due to its dynamic drivers. The mids are slightly darker, and yet just as clear sounding and even more it has a deeper depth in the mids that I don’t hear from the HE-500′s midrange. The mids are definitely warmer in the HE-300, and the mids have a better dimension and flow to it than the HE-500′s does. Moving down to the bass, the HE-300 again sound weightier on the lows, warmer and more inviting, though with slower transients than the HE-500′s bass.
So, while in one hand the clearer sound, the more open soundstage, and the faster transients of the HE-500 clearly state that it deserves the higher price tag, on the other hand the HE-300 remains to have a unique voice by itself that I really don’t think it should be seen as inferior to the HE-500 (well, maybe a little bit). But compared to the HE-5 and the HE-4 models, I do think that the HE-300 is a far more likable headphone, purely based on the tonal balance.
BUILD AND ERGONOMICS
The use of the dynamics driver also brings down the weight of the headphones considerably, and the HE-300 is really the most comfortable Hifiman headphone. I never really think much of the pads that Hifiman uses in their headphones, but without the weight of the planar magnets hanging down the headband, the pads now feels very comfortable, again similar to the comfort of HD650′s pads but without the Sennheiser death grip sensation.
Build quality is a bit on the lower side, like you can tell that this is a lower end model to the HE-500 or HE-6 that I happen to have around. Although from a distance the silver housing and black grill does make it look like the latest $5,000 Stax flagship model. In all seriousness though, I do think that the impression of a lower build quality is largely based on the quality of the paint finish on the housing, while the construction of the headphone remains just as solid as the higher end models.
There is no denying that Hifiman is getting better with each headphone they release, and that they are doing it at a very speedy pace. When the first Hifiman headphone was released, the HE-5 was very impressive and yet it was quite edgy and in the long run turned out to be a difficult headphone to live with. With each subsequent release, however, I think the voicing of the Hifiman headphones have become more and more matured. The HE-5LE to the HE-5, the HE-6 flagship, and even the release of the HE-500 though being a lower model to the HE-6, was overall a more mature headphone than the HE-6. And now Hifiman has done it again with the HE-300.
It’s no technical giant, and the HE-300 is pretty far from the league that the HD-800, T1, LCD-2 and HE-6/500 are playing at. Get over the technicalities, however, and I really think that the musicality aspect can go head to head with the big boys and even beat some of them (the HD800 would be a pretty easy one to beat). The price tag, of course, will make the Hifiman line up more affordable than ever, and if you ask me how it compares to the current line up of ~$300 open-backed headphones, I think the K701/DT880/HD650 trio is facing a very serious threat from the HE-300. The signature is closer to the HD650 than the AKG or the Beyer, but the lighter pace and the slightly more forward presentation makes it a better all rounder than the HD650 is. Pair it with anything from the Burson HA-160 to the ALO Continental, and the result has been nothing short of pure musicality.