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This review first appeared in the August 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Audeze. - Ed

Reviewer: Marek Dyba
ModWright-modified Oppo BDP-83SE, TransFi Salvation, TransFi T3Pro Tomahawk, AT33PTG, Koetsu Black Goldline, ESELabs Nibiru, Hegel HD2, Hegel HD11
Preamp: ModWright LS100
Integrated amplifier: Art Audio Symphony II
Headphone amplifier: Burson HA-160D [on loan], Schiit Lyr [on loan], AURALiC Taurus [on loan]
Power amplifier: ModWright KWA100SE
Loudspeakers: DIY Jericho project with FSAC-2B & Fostex T900A, Velodyne CHT 10Q, JAF Bombard<
Cables: LessLoss Anchorwave, Gabriel Gold Extreme Mk2, Antipodes Komako,
Power delivery: LessLoss DFPC Signature, Furutech TP-609e
Stand: Rogoz Audio 4SB2N
Review component retail: $1.995

I've been an audiophile for quite a long time. Yet until more or less a year ago I lived happily without headphones (AKG K26P on an old iPod excepted). I didn’t even think about adding any. It’s not that I never tried. I did. A few times I borrowed popular cans like the HD600, AKG K701, some Audio-Technica models and others that I don’t even remember. I also borrowed very decent headphone amps like the Yamamoto HA-02. But each time my conclusion was the same. Headfi simply wasn’t for me. First, I couldn’t bear that pressure on my head and ears. Second, this was a totally different presentation to what I was used to from loudspeakers. I tried hard to find some upsides to headphone listening but finally gave up. Loudspeakers were it I said to myself. And so the story was over.

Until last year. I realized I was going to spend a month vacation away from home - without any decent system, hence no music. A month without music? No way! Just with an iPod? Not! But taking my whole hifi was clearly impossible. Only one choice was left: a decent headphone system. I knew I would spend this month in just one place. I could easily build a system with a laptop, USB DAC, headphone amp and some nice cans. But at the time I only had the laptop. That was a good time to be a reviewer. I could borrow the missing bits. All I had to do was choose which ones. I did a web search especially on and 'discovered' planarmagnetic headphones from HiFiMan. Reading many comments I realized that I might actually like them. I also learnt of a downside. These cans require a powerful head amp to drive them well.

After a quick search I found Polish distributor Rafko for HifiMan and Earmania who distribute one of the recommended amplifiers, Schiit's Lyr. Luckily both were kind enough to dispatch the requested products so I received the amp and HiFiMan HE-4 and HE-5L. As for a USB-capable DAC I borrowed  Music Hall’s 25.3 from Eter Audio. I’ll skip the details but spent a wonderful month with the planarmagnetics. It was an amazing new experience that changed my mind about headphones. To my ears these two pairs were much better than anything I had previously gotten from regular dynamic cans. This time I could spend hours with headphones on my ears even during very hot days. There was neither physical fatigue as these were very comfortable to wear; nor psychological fatigue from delivering sound so directly to my ears. Because of their great spacing for headphones, their transparency and impressive bass, the final sound wasn’t that different from my loudspeakers. It became clear that sooner or later I would be the proud owner of a pair of planarmagnetic cans. I decided to buy the Schiit Lyr, realizing that it wasn’t the best in the world but great value for money. It offered tube rolling and so much juice that it could drive even the most difficult loads like HiFiMan's top model.

Before making my choice, I wanted to check out the HE-6 and their biggest competitor, the LCD2 from U.S. firm Audeze. Thanks to the Polish distributor I had opportunity to listen to the HE-6 a few months later and had no doubts that this model performed much better than the HE-4 and HE-5LE. It sounded so good that I couldn’t imagine anything better. But before spending a few thousand Polish coins on cans, I wanted to make sure they were the best my money could acquire. I needed to hear the Audeze too. The latter was a newer player but over just a few short years had won the hearts of a huge number of fans in the U.S. and worldwide. I read many threads about both Audeze and HiFiMan and as with most audio products felt none the wiser. There were as many people preferring one brand to the other and vice versa. There was one thing left to do. Listen to the LCD2 myself. The company asked which model I wanted, the LCD2 or the new top model priced at close to $2.000. It took me a while but I chose the latter for its potential to beat the HE-6. With the LCD2 I reckoned it might have been mostly a matter of taste rather than any real performance advantage. If I had taken the LCD2 I still would have wondered if and how much better the LCD3 might be.

Sound. A selection of recordings used for the review. Marcus Miller, A night in Monte Carlo, Concord Records, B004DURSBC, CD/FLAC; Blade Runner, soundtrack, Vangelis, Universal, UICY-1401/3, Special Edition 3 x CD (1982/1991/2007), CD/FLAC; Patricia Barber, Companion, Blue Note/Premonition, 7243 5 22963 2 3, CD/FLAC; AC/DC, Back in black, Sony, B000089RV6, CD/FLAC; Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises, Watertower Music, B008645YEE, CD/FLAC; Ray Brown Trio, Live at Starbucks, Telarc, CD-83502, CD/FLAC; Carreras Domingo Pavarotti, In concert, Decca, 4304332, CD/FLAC; Marek Dyjak, Publicznie, UBFC Cd0111, CD/FLAC; Piotr Czajkowski, 1812 Overture, Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops, TELARC SACD-60646, SACD; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphonies, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Linn Records, CKD 350, 2 x SACD/HDCD; Pink Floyd, Wish you were here, EMI Records Japan, TOCP-53808, CD/FLAC; Peter Gabriel, New blood, Real World, 800035, CD/FLAC.