Hifiman HE5 & HE5LE

What about that mod that Fang posted on Head-Fi about removing the protector cloth from behind the grill?

I did try that out. Obviously I wanted to know how the sound would change from the modification. On the brand new HE5LE, the plastic ring that holds the grill in place was a bit stiff and hard to remove. So, be careful when you’re trying to remove it, as excessive force may break the plastic. I actually broke one of the retainer on the ring, just because it was so stiff brand new. After the plastic ring is off, you take out the metal grill, and the dust cover cloth is lightly glued to the metal grill. Remove the dust cover cloth very carefully, because the light glue apparently is sticky enough that you may rip the cloth and you won’t be able to reverse the mod. As you can see on the photos, the grill cloth on mine still have some glue left after I remove it from the grill.

With the cloth off, the first impression that I get is the sound is much cleaner now. That slightly boomy bass is totally gone, and is replaced with very clean sounding bass notes. Obviously, the bass presence is reduced a little bit, but even more, the bass punch is also reduced. Since the bass presence is reduced, the midrange becomes clearer sounding as well. The sound doesn’t become any brighter though, so overall you’re getting a cleaner sound version of the HE5LE, but with a weaker bass. The choice is up to you, but I definitely prefer the slightly original sound as I think the lack of bass punch robs the soul from the music.

So I went back and put the dust cover back on and enjoy the music that way.

3/5 - (5 votes)



  • Reply May 28, 2010


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

    • Reply May 29, 2010


      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


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

        • Reply May 31, 2010


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

          • Reply May 31, 2010


            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


      Your wallet will thank me for that :).

  • Reply May 29, 2010


    Hehe, not for long though.

  • Reply May 31, 2010


    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


      Very true.

      Cheers. 🙂

  • Reply June 1, 2010


    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


      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


    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


      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


        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


          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


    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


    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.


    • Reply August 2, 2010


      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


    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


      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


    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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