Hifiman HE5 & HE5LE

What I do notice with the HE5LE, is that the upper midrange is a little distant HE5LE, and this is one area that I wish they could’ve done differently. I notice this on recordings such as Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, as well as modern stuff like John Mayer. If your singer’s vocals lie in the upper midrange range (and many of them do), the music doesn’t engage as much on the HE5LE because the upper midrange is a little distant. I also get the impression that those region gets a little muddy sometimes. You may not notice this if you’re listening out of an amplifier that naturally boost that region, like on my TPA6120 balanced amp. But on something like the Beta22, it’s very evident.

On my computer set up, I can tweak the EQ fairly easily via iTunes, and that’s what I did: a simple EQ on the 1-2kHz region will make for a much better sound, in my opinion. (I also raised the 500Hz and 4kHz to make a smoother transition):

Of course, a lot of people doesn’t use equalizers, and likewise my main listening rig doesn’t have one either. So in that case, it becomes a problem. Damping can probably fix it, but that’s a whole different ballgame. But I don’t know if this is going to be evident to everyone, because some amplifiers have a non linear frequency balance, and may actually have a boost in the upper midrange. If you’re using tube amplifiers, tube rolling can probably get you the right sound. Otherwise, try to turn the volume higher, and the upper midrange will not sound as distant. But then you won’t want to do that if you’re used to listening on moderate volume.

If you have a recording that’s quite balanced and not so hot in the treble, I find that the original HE5 actually gives a more engaging sound because the upper midrange is more intimate and right on the spot. Just the way I like it.

I mentioned earlier that there is an increase in bass presence from the upper bass region and down on the HE5LE. This is nice, of course. And it does help to make the HE5LE quite warmer sounding than the original. The additional bass presence can get just slightly boomy. I’m not talking about boomy as in a boom-boom sound that you find on low quality headphones. Yes, it’s slightly uncontrolled, but overall I say that the change is welcome. It certainly will make music more enjoyable for most people. Again, the HE5 and the HE5LE gives different presentations of the music, and it is up to you to choose which version you like better. You can always buy both if the bank allows it.


3/5 - (5 votes)

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22 Comments

  • Reply May 28, 2010

    Martinz

    FWIR, the original flavor HE-5 is still the right one for me 😀

    • Reply May 29, 2010

      Jose

      Same here. Great read Mike. About balanced driving, that is the next improvement I am looking for in my setup, but I am also afraid about not getting good synergy from the balanced amp I may choose. I have read good impressions about the Little Dot MKVII, which is one of the few options I have for a balanced and affordable setup, but again, I am afraid the sound won't be as good as with the EF5, even if the soundstage and bass improves, the highs is where the HE5 are picky about.

      • Reply May 29, 2010

        Mike

        Hi Jose, though balanced amplification is important, amplifier character is more important. Nothing can replace a good sinergy.

        • Reply May 31, 2010

          Will

          Do you think that Hi-Fi Man will release a balanced version of their EF5?

          • Reply May 31, 2010

            Mike

            Hi Will, I really haven't heard of such plans. It would cost nearly double of the current EF5 though, seeing how you need nearly double the circuitry.

    • Reply May 29, 2010

      Mike

      Your wallet will thank me for that :).

  • Reply May 29, 2010

    Jose

    Hehe, not for long though.

  • Reply May 31, 2010

    Earfonia

    Another great in-depth review!

    I agree with your statement:

    "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."

    People sometime relates tonal balance with detail, which is not entirely related. It is true that headphones with good, transparent high will sound as they have better detail, but trained ears will notice that some darker sounding headphones can also have excellent detail 🙂

    • Reply May 31, 2010

      Mike

      Very true.

      Cheers. 🙂

  • Reply June 1, 2010

    Alan

    Thanks Mike for the excellent review.

    I had the same reaction as you to the change from the HE-5 to the HE-5LE.

    Since, I use the HE-5LE primarily with ITUNES, your equalizer suggestion is a simple and valuable way to deal with the HE-5LE's more limited treble while preserving its excellent detail.

    I will be interested to see where the HE-6 falls in the trebel-balance continuum.

    • Reply June 1, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Alan. How do you like the effect after adding the EQ on iTunes? Since the EQ is done on the digital domain, its effect is quite smooth.

      If you want, you can also try boosting the 4kHz by 2dB and 8kHz by 1dB and see if you like the extra treble.

  • Reply June 7, 2010

    Andrew

    Excellent review Mike!

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your reviews on the Lehmann BC linear, and the KOSS ESP950 (both of which I do have for two years), and now this very useful comparison of the HE5 and the new LE :)! (although I do read that the HE-6 is coming).

    How does the HE5LE compare with the KOSS ESP950? I understand that both are coming from entirely different types but thought I’d ask since you’ve written a review on the KOSS – and that I’m deciding whether to recable the KOSS and get a STAX amp instead or to start a new venture on orthodynamics. All for the fact that I’ve never heard of ortho’s before, and that everyone seems to favour this over the ‘big’ dynamic players out there.

    Also, speaking of synergy – have you tried (or considered) pairing the HE5LE with the HE5 amplifier?

    Otherwise, an excellent write-up mate :). Greetings from Oz. The prices on any hi-fi gear here has been a joke for so many years :(.

    • Reply June 7, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Andrew. Thanks, and I'm glad you like the review.

      The Koss ESP950 has one of the fastest transients among electrostatics, and I don't think the HE5 or the LE can compete with it yet. I also like the treble and the midrange on the Koss better, as I think it's a perfect blend of detail, clarity, and smoothness. Electrostatics have always maintained a unique sound that you can't get on any other transducer design, and so you won't get that in the HE5s as well.

      Now, the HE5 and the LE would be superior mostly in bass, punch and slam, besides other differences in sound signature. The sound is a bit grainier than the Electrostatics though. Details are also more pronounced on the HE5s.

      I tried the EF5 amplifier after I wrote the review, and I'm truly blown away by the sinergy. If you head to the lounge, you can find me talking about it there: http://www.headfonia.com/bbpress/topic.php?id=23#

      I might do an EF5 review, but no promises there. 😀 Although I like the EF5 so much, I'm considering to buy it for myself. 😀

      • Reply June 10, 2010

        Andrew

        Thx for the quick reply!

        Sorry if I am hijacking this discussion but – how would you think the EF5 performs with low impedance cans? I'm currently using MS-Pro (and for three years prior to that – the W5000, though now I think it's a little too analytical to the point of being bright).

        Do you consider the amp 'high gain' at all? Because with the Lehmann BCL – it gives me just the right volume range for me to listen to without losing channel balance. Frankly I was disappointed with a lot of amps I've tried in the past (especially stepped attenuators) with the fact that with just a notch or two levels up suddenly brings everything too loud and unlistenable; well at least with low impedance's.

        I've been thinking for quite some time to get back to tubes. I used to have the DOGE6210 with years of tuberolling until I came to appreciate the complete neutrality of the Lehmann BCL.

        Yes, you're right – speed is something that really comes to mind whenever I'm listening with the KOSS. Although I do not primarily use it for music – I've actually been using it for PC gaming for nearly 2 years now, suprisingly enough. To my ears – battery powered (I'm using rechargeables) supply actually sounded better than using the supplied AC.

        Thx for the reply once again mate!

        • Reply June 10, 2010

          Mike

          HI Andrew,
          I had the MS-Pro around when I had the EF5 loaner last week. Honestly I only have a brief memory of the combination, I was listening to mostly the HD800 and the HE5. I don't think the EF5 has problems with low impedance cans. It comes with a low and high impedance setting, and I was using it only at the low setting, which was enough for the HD800 and the HE5.

          The EF5 is not a pure tube design, but it has enough tube smoothness to remind you of a tube sound. I did like the combination of the smoothness and the clarity that I get from the EF5. Soundstage imaging was very good too.

          When I had the Koss a while ago, I never actually used the battery pack. But you have a point, maybe the sound is cleaner through the battery pack.

  • Reply June 23, 2010

    Massi

    Nice review Mike!

    After a few days spent with the HE5-LE I think these cans are very very good, with great dynamics and a fantastic level of detail.

    But I mainly listen to jazz and classical so I can't decide between the old and the new version.

    Unfortunately I don't have to chance to listen to the HE5, so I have to trust your impressions 🙂

    Decisions decisions…

  • Reply August 2, 2010

    Xsajohn

    I agree 100% w your take on the HE5's. I'm very happy with mine. Fwiw – I use a Little Dot MKIV SE + Itunes/Pure Music and I've no trouble with the treble. It's clear but sweet sounding. I think the HE5 wants tubes as a generalization.

    I enjoy your reviews/site – keep up the good work.

    Thanks.

    • Reply August 2, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks! I can imagine that the HE5 will be superb with the LD Mk4 SE. It's been a long time since I heard that amp though, but I still remember how sweet it drove the MS-Pro and AKG K501!

  • Reply March 11, 2011

    treal512

    Mike, have you tried switching the cables on the two HEs? I’ve heard the original HE-5 cable with the HE-5LE headphone makes things very interesting.

    • Reply March 11, 2011

      Anonymous

      Oh yes it does. The original HE-5 with the HE-5 LE cable, and vica
      versa. I think the sound is better balanced when the cables are switched.

  • Reply April 9, 2011

    Zack

    Do these cans leak a significant amount of noise? My audio setup is outside my room so I don’t want my family to be disturbed by my music 😛

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