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This gives an excellent foundation to the rest of the range. Putting the HE-300s on the head we are immediately isolated from the surroundings. Isolation is fantastic for an open design, almost as good as with closed headphones. We are immediately immersed in a deep substantial and dense sound. It’s primarily that density which creates the perception of warmth. The treble is rather withdrawn which only strengthens that impression. But it’s not a warm sound per se. The reason for that is the upper midrange which is quite strong; not so much the whole band but rather a narrow section which translates into a slight hardening of some higher vocal parts and instruments like trumpet. Just to be clear, that emphasis is not unpleasant. It’s not perceived as brightness, grain or impurity. I’d call it something like a stronger accent. With that kind of accent or emphasis in the presence region there simply can be no question of warmth.

Let’s go back to the beginning then. Strong bass and a highly cultured sound meant that for over a month I’d been listening to the headphones paired with HifiMan’s HM-801 portable player. In my opinion it’s probably the best player of its type currently available. With the HE-300 it made a lovely pairing indeed. The sound from this duo was dense and strong. With classical music the uniform emphasis over a narrow bass range was slightly distracting but after getting used to it I had no other objections. As it happened, on that system I preferred listening to more rhythmic recordings of electronica and rock rather than jazz or classical. In my opinion these headphones are perfectly suited to generating really low frequencies, a slightly closed-in headstage and a close-up presentation rich in massive bass.

Feet were dancing and hands clapping out the rhythm as I listened to remixes of the limited edition Bruise by Assemblage 23. "Rain Falls Down" not on the standard release resonated with power in a dark disturbing way as though hiding some secret. The same was true with remixes of Enjoy The Silence… 04 by Depeche Mode from their eponymous single. Both the strong hypnotic "Richard X Extended Mix" remix and the even better "Cicada Mix" remix of World In My Eyes were fantastic. I had no doubt that these were the perfect headphones for that kind of music. I sat down and listened, listened and sat down. You need to experience it for yourself!

For proper auditions I paired the HE-300 with my reference Leben CS-300XS headphone amp and a brilliant headfi stage built into the Marantz SA-11S3 SACD player. The latter completely surprised me. I had just reviewed a Marantz system with this player and matching PM-11S3 amplifier for our Polish Audio magazine and then treated the headphone output in the player as the usual convenience add-on just as it’s almost always treated by the manufacturers themselves. I was proven wrong however. In this case the developers had approached the matter very seriously indeed and in addition to a normal line output included another almost identical output stage dedicated solely to headphones built around a few HDAM S3modules with discrete power transistors. That makes the unit into a high-performance headphone amplifier that simply so happens to be integrated with an SACD player and DAC (the Marantz sports a digital input).

Both amplifiers instantly showed why the Sennheisers HD-800 are much more expensive. There was no doubt that they erected bigger better arranged images, provided a better tonal balance and most of all had better resolution. Even so I spent most my time with the Leben and Marantz paired with the HE-300. Why? Because it played well. It wasn’t entirely ‘audiophile’ in the sense that one tracks what was done how and why. The main concern was certainly not on fidelity to the recorded material but on loyalty to a certain vision. After all, perhaps that’s audiophila. Regardless, with the kind of music I mentioned it was great. There were meat, weight, dynamics, good selectivity and no sharpening. And I think it probably sounded even better with the Marantz. It seemed that all these headphones really needed was a headphone amplifier with a slightly lighter tonal balance and everything returned to normal at least when it came to bass amplitude.