When you hear the HE5LE, you quickly noticed that the bright sound signature is the first thing that Head-Direct decides to change from the HE5. So, the LE version has a noticeable darker sound signature than the original HE5. When I say “darker”, I don’t mean that the HE5LE is an overly dark phone like the HD650. It’s just that the LE sounds darker next to the original.
Perhaps it’s safe to generalize that the HE5LE is just sweeter sounding on most recordings. The HE5LE is overall a warmer sounding headphone. It has more bottom end and midrange body, translating to a fuller sounding midrange, more body on instruments like trumpets, saxophones, and guitars. Bass have more body on the HE5LE, and also each thump is beefier and stronger when compared to the original. Vocals are weightier, and most Jazz recordings, will sound better on the HE5LE. The treble, though being less pronounced on the HE5LE, actually still resembles a lot of similarity to the original HE5. The color and texture of the treble is so similar that you can tell that the driver comes from the same family as the original.
I think the change introduced on the HE5LE is very welcome. If you listens to a wide variety of genres and recordings and want one headphone that does it best, I think the HE5LE is the better choice. But again, if most of your music are recorded fairly well (Classic rock, classical music, audiophile recordings), then the HE5 may be preferable.
The darker sound of the LE does create some implications. Some said that the LE version is veiled. I can see where they’re coming from. Everytime I put on the original version after listening to the LE, I really get wowed by the impression of transparency given by the original HE5. And when I moved back to the LE, it does sound like there is less transparency. Yes, the HE5LE does sound less transparent, but by no means is the LE veiled. Because of this change, the LE may also sound less detailed than the original. But the fact is that the only thing that changes is the treble, but detail level remains the same.
Clearly, if you are going to lower all that treble energy, this is one of the effect that you’ll get: less transparent sounding. I don’t think that the LE version is the lesser headphone because of this. It’s just that in the LE, you get a different kind of sound presentation, than what you get in the original. If the HE5 strives for transparency, then the HE5LE trades some of that transparency for a warmer and fuller bodied sound.
On classical music, where hot treble is almost never an issue, I prefer the original HE5 by a large margin, as sound is much clearer from top to bottom, and I can hear the instruments better on the HE5. But when you’re talking about Jazz, it’s important to separate Jazz music into two types of recordings: the Real-world Jazz with big names like Davis, Coltrane, Hancock, or Audiophile Jazz like Jazz in the Pawnshop. Audiophile Jazz have very good recording quality that’s often sound warm right out of the recording, and so I actually prefer the original HE5 for these recordings. But the Real-world Jazz often have a dryer recording and inferior in quality to the Audiophile Jazz (what a pity, I know), and for these stuff, I’ll recommend the HE5LE to add some warmth and body.