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Straight to the point, the HE-500 is the currently best headphone of Fang's ortho stable if one has no super amp of Lyr or better providence. That's because the design's sensitivity does allow it to get going with 'normal' 6.3mm sockets on receivers, integrateds (my desktop Bel Canto C5i), DACs like Antelope's and 3.5mm sockets on portables like ALO Audio's and TTVJ's. Despite gold's reputation for soft HF—that seems to be consensus with pure gold cables and is also backed up by personal experience—the HE-6 with its gold voice-coil traces actually is the more lit up. Depending on listener bias this could be too much of a good thing. It tends to overemphasize the (on) speed aspects of a performance.

If you find the stock Sennheiser HD800 too zippy (a replacement wire harness addresses that), the HE-6 is its planar cousin. If you'd find a fictional hybrid of beyerdynamic's T1 and Grado's PS1000 too dark and chewy, you'd not like the Audez'e LCD-2 either. By making neither as much abysmal bass as the LCD-2 nor as forward/developed a treble as the HE-6, the HifiMan HE-500 for many will split the difference for that magic middle. It's not as subjectively fast and hyper resolved as its costlier sibling but close enough to wear the family colors. Of course hearing the HE-500 at its best is far more likely than with a HE-6 where that mondo/macho amp really is a requirement rather than luxury eventuality. In actuality the HE-500 will probably perform better in many instances.

Whether it's the diaphragm treatment, the aluminum rather than gold traces or a psychoacoustic function of altered treble balance or shift in output energy is academic. What matters is that the vocal band with the HE-500 is warmer, fuller and more 'musical' than over the HE-6 which behaves more typically electrostatic/whitish in that regard. If a vintage Quad despite its lucidity and speed has for your tastes always been too lean, the HE-500 becomes a bit fleshier. Its bass quality too is somewhat warmer and perhaps a tad looser than the HE-6 but to hear the latter best it—if really that—requires that beefcake of an amp.

The HE-500 finally cashes in on the promise of HifiMan's platform. It's a far more balanced effort now on par with arch rival Audez'e. While I personally still fancy my LCD-2 with ALO's silver/copper round chain mail cable more for its dynamic chocolatics and buxom bass, I now can enjoy switching to a Fangfone completely on its own merits. I no longer feel cheated in any way. The HE-500 is an equally valid proposition for a different listener aesthetic and from a size/wear perspective more conventional/normal to probably appeal to more heads.

Naysayers, fence sitters and career crimi... er, cynics can't be blamed for observing the rapid turnout of new HifiMans and feeling suspicious. So many product releases in so short a period. It nearly smacks of wallpapering to see what'll stick. Or not being truly dialled and finalized. Some premature antics did surround the HE-5LE with its various cords and damping mods. The HE-6 felt a bit like a high-strung Arabian stallion or prima donna - capable of true greatness on the right track but not easy to live with. The HE-500 is more settled, relaxed and coherent. Yet it doesn't relinquish the speed, articulation and lucidity which initially attracted attention to Fang Bian's ambitious revival of the orthodynamic can clan. Here the newest (but not most expensive) member is the crown jewel.

In Munich Fang confirmed that in some ways HifiMan's headphones are an offshoot of his studies at Hunter College/CUNY in material sciences, especially nano. His former professors are tickled by his industrious translation of acquired knowledge into products which ordinary people can use and enjoy. Whatever exact nano treatment the HE-500 diaphragm undergoes—Fang grins that Asian wise-man smile to defuse tension over remaining stumm—it clearly bests the HE-5LE and to my ears even the HE-6. More importantly it became a lot easier to drive.

Wrapper: Big corporate—Sennheiser, beyerdynamic, AKG—already had cause to scratch their collective heads when two gents from California working in audio after hours unleashed on an unsuspecting market the Audez'e LCD-2 at the very top of the charts. With his 4th model an industrious Chinese now repeated that stunt. Ingenuity and elbow grease continue to be formidable weapons. That part of the American Dream continues to be alive and well!

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