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This is the 37th in a series of reviews dedicated to the concept of 32Ohm Audio as embodied by the store of that name in downtown Portland/Oregon and described here - Ed.

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: Apple iMac 1TB running OSX 10.6.6 with Pure Music 1.74 in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM (AIFF files up to 24/192), Burson Audio HA160D as DAC, Weiss DAC2 in 176.4kHz mode, iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF, ALAC), Pure i-20 dock, Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo, Resonessence Invicta [on review]
Headphones: ALO Audio recabled Audez'e LCD-2, Sennheiser HD800, beyerdynamic T1 and AKG K-702; stock audio-technica W5000; HifiMan HE5LE & HE6; Ortofon eQ7
Headphone amps: Trafomatic Audio Head One; Woo Audio Model 5 with Synergy Hifi glass exclusively; ModWright LS-100; Burson Audio HA-160D; Bel Canto C5i; Schiit Lyr [on loan]
Headphone stand: Sieveking Sound Omega, ALO Audio T, Klutz Design CanCans
Cables: Zu Event loom
Review Component Retail: $899

At $899, Fang Bian's latest planar-magnetic open-backed headphone design slots between the $699 HE-5LE and his king of the range, the $1.199 HE-6. "The HE-500 uses a more complicated array of bigger magnets to increase sensitivity over the HE-5LE plus a different diaphragm to improve midrange performance. Sensitivity is 89dB, impedance 38Ω. Our portable players can drive it well. The magnetics are actually the HE-6's. The diaphragm was modified to provide better vocals and bass. The voice coil traces are coiled aluminum, not gold. Then we apply a different treatment to the surface of the HE-500's diaphragm. That makes it different from our HE-5, HE-5LE and HE-4 models. The HE-500 is better than the HE-5LE in almost every way. While the HE-500 lacks the HE-6's ultra clarity, its sonic signature over a regular headphone amplifier is pretty close to that of the HE-6 over a high-end amp."

The above was the result of four politely probing but progressively more frustrated emails. Fang Bian plays things very close to the vest. I tried to explain that with four identical-looking models it would be in his best interest to communicate features, benefits, distinctions and intended applications better, i.e. more openly. Help your buyers allocate their budgets and assist in their decision making within an already overcrowded market, never mind your own terribly confusing catalogue. Instead his lineup of orthodynamic headphones is to the eye distinguished only on price. But what to do? I'm no dentist. I don't pull teeth.

Thus all you apparently need—and get—to know about the HE-500 has already been said. Well, not exactly. You expect more. From us. But it does make the gig more pleasant and fruitful when makers get that we ask questions only to be more informative, not to be nosey or to reverse engineer things. But I can be taciturn too. Refer to my prior reviews of the HE-5LE and HE-6 for concept and execution. As the designer confirmed above, all of it applies to the HE-500 - except for the unspecified diaphragm treatment and a deliberate attempt to make this model easier to drive. At HighEnd Munich 2011 I ran into Fang and German HifiMan importer Sieveking Sound. With typically Teutonic efficiency the latter had already compiled the following useful model overview for his customers:

Model HE-4 HE-5LE HE-500 HE-6
Rec. power 2 watts 2 watts 1 watt 8 watts
Drive magnetostatic; magnets on one side; aluminum traces magnetostatic; magnets on both sides; aluminum traces magnetostatic; magnets on both sides; aluminum traces magnetostatic; magnets on both sides; gold traces
Response 10Hz - 60kHz 10Hz - 60kHz 10Hz - 40kHz 8Hz - 65kHz
Impedance 38Ω 38Ω 38Ω 50Ω
Sensitivity 86dB/1mW 87.5dB/1mW 89dB/1mW 83.5dB/1mW
Weight w/o cable ca. 350g ca. 400g ca. 500g ca. 500g
Price €399 €599 €749 €999

Fang Bian with prototype EF-6 integrated with speaker terminals; and his impedance converter box
to drive headphones off normal power amplifiers (only four resistors inside, 2 in series, 2 in parallel)

As my review of Schiit's Lyr declared, for $449 and orthos there's no better or more powerful amp I'm presently aware of. With the HE-500's claim to be happy with more proletarian amps, I'd have to work my way down the power ladder to determine minimum drive requirements. But for the main course the Lyr was the natural mate.

The HE-500's presentation box includes one replacement ear cushion; two lock screw terminals so DIY rollers can terminate the pig tails of a wire of their choice; and one 3-meter black plastic-jacketed Japanese Canare speaker cable that's been repurposed for headphone use and is finished in the expected full-size 6.3mm plug.