I’ve had the Hifiman HE5LE for about two weeks now, and so I think it would be appropriate to share what I think of its sound after over 300 hours of burn in.
I only noticed that the burn in smooth out the treble a little after the first 12 hours. I don’t think anything else changed after that. I’ve also been comparing the HE5LE to the original HE5, testing out the clothless grill mod that Fang posted at Head-Fi, and both single ended and balanced amping.
I’ve also written a separate article that covers the physical difference between the HE5 and the HE5LE, which is titled the Hifiman HE5LE First Impression. This article assumes that you have read the first impression article, because this one will only going to talk mostly about sound properties of both headphones.
I truly think that the original HE5 is a great headphone. It really caused a lot sensation when it was released last year, and I really waited eagerly in anticipation of the headphone. When I first received the headphone, I was really impressed by it, and soon I wrote a first impression of the HE5 headphone (sadly the article is now missing somewhere) where I talked how the HE5 has a brilliant and detailed treble, yet it doesn’t lack any bottom end. Back then I’ve tried a few vintage orthodynamic headphones from Fostex and Yamaha, and I thought that the HE5 really brought the orthodynamic game to another level.
To recap, the HE5 has a very brilliant and detailed treble. It’s quite forward and agressive, quite similar to a Grado RS1 in that regard, but it manages to better the Grado in a lot of areas, especially the two areas that the RS1 is really lacking at: soundstage and low bass impact. The HE5 has a strong emphasis on treble, but it was never really a thin sounding headphone. Although not a particularly bassy headphone, the HE5 is always ready to give strong bass punch whenever called for.
On a good set up, and with a good recording, the HE5 is a great headphone, and if not, even awesome-r than a HE5LE. For instance, earlier I was listening to some Rolling Stones, and both headphones does a really great job of translating the music into their own different renditions. The HE5 is brighter and more agressive, the HE5LE darker and more laid-back. They’re equally good, but I did feel that the HE5 does it slightly better than the HE5LE, mainly due to the more forward upper midrange area, and the brighter presentation of the music which mates very well with a non-hot, non-compressed Rock recording. This was out of the balanced Beta22 and the Cambridge DacMagic.
The problem is that modern recordings are often brighter than when Rolling Stones recorded their “Angie” or “Start Me Up”. Classic Rock definitely won’t have this issue, but on the mainstream modern recordings, most people would find that the sound of the original HE5 tires the ears very fast.
A lot of the HE5 owners that I talk to love the sound of their headphones, but they really wish that the treble energy can be tamed down, and they do so by trying out a combination of cables, amplifiers, and source. Of course it’s not easy, because then you’ll have to get a very dark amplifier to balance the treble energy, and I don’t really know of an amplifier that’s dark enough to do that.