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The age of the bling boxes is upon us. I couldn't help the thought. A few days earlier I'd lifted Oppo's PM-1 out of its gloss Cherry presentation box with push-to-open lock. Now I was doing the same with the HE-560, staring in surprise at its metal-ensconced draw lid.

Nestled into precision-cut foam I found the plastic-sheathed cable in its own lift-out tray, beneath it HifiMan's latest whilst proudly displaying its new ±90° swivel feature to pack as flat as its floating head cover allows.

As a result of the new hinges, you can display your new toy in all manner of fun ways. How about like ye..

... or yahoo? This fully rethought 'suspension' works like a charm, is of comfortable weight and...

... the size adjustment to accommodate various heads is as clever as it is simple. A couple of holes in the metal bridge allow you to click up the soft head band in small equal increments. The smallest noggin would end up with this...

... whilst a really big skull would fit like so. As I said, simple but very effective, basic yet elegant.

Whilst the matte wood finish and velour pads impart a somewhat rustic look compared to Oppo's executive office chic, HiFiman's HE-560 usher in a new era for their cosmetics. In that department the only unaddressed—non-dressed—item remains the 'power cord' sleeving of the cable. Woven fabric or similar would look so much nicer though it certainly does nothing for or to the sound. The company describes their leash as "a premium cable comprised of crystalline copper and crystalline silver".   

Compared to the latest Fazor-fitted Audeze apparatnicks—what's the plural of apparatus?—the HE-560's thinner pads and shallower bodies make for slimmer hifi slices on your pink bits. And by keeping the bridge's metal away from the sensitive crown of your skull, you won't suffer the eventual contact irritation that long sessions can otherwise create. In short, Fang Bian's rethink on the physical structure of his planar design is a success and the lower weight plainly more comfortable. Cosmetically it's a definitive step up from its present stable mates though not on the level of big corporate Oppo. Which given their disparate coffers should not be expected in the first place.

On a far more practical note, where HifiMan still lag behind is in the current planar trend of getting in touch with your inner sensitivity and going soft on amp demands. The Audeze X models hit 95 and 96dB respectively for the closed and open-backed versions. Oppo have decisively cracked the 100 barrier by 2. At 90dB the HE-560 still belongs squarely to the older generation that was/is harder of hearing. iPod direct is out of the picture unless you're a whisperer. An Astell&Kern's higher output voltage goes farther.

But depending on SPL needs and recorded levels you still could come up short. Think portable amp to be safe*. Unlike Audeze and MrSpeakers™ whose ear pads slant by being a lot thicker in the back than front, the HE-560 plays it flatter if still slightly angled to fall between those and the PM-1. The pads secure with four catches in their plastic ring base. Pushing inwards at equal quadrants from 12:00 releases them. Reseating them reverses the procedure. This is a bit less elegant and intuitive than Oppo's scheme of 'speaker grill' posts where you pull to remove and push to reseat. With the HE-560 replacing the HE-500, Fang Bian also introduces a new logo with the vertically stacked stylized HM letters. This now wraps up my physical inspection. What Fang would add for under-the-covers changes are "improved surface treatment method and formula on the diaphragm; far more powerful magnet; better single-ended structure with superior imaging and soundstaging".

* To put these figures into perspective, a balanced-armature IEM like NuForce's €400 Primo 8 sports a sensitivity rating of 118dB. It's such extreme ratings which get the most from underpowered portable devices. HifiMan know this. They have their own IEMs rated at 102dB - a far cry from the NuForce but significantly higher than the HE-560.

On May 9th I got a surprise email from Peter Hoagland, Fang's PR man. "As hard as this may be to believe, Fang has identified two critical design changes he needs to make to the HE-560 so we need to bring it back and ask you to wait for its replacement before you write about it. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience. My colleague in the U.S. Summer Yin will be in contact with a prepaid return shipping label. Then one of us will let you know when you can expect the replacement."