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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.94g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.5.10 in direct/integer mode 1, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Voce S2, Apple iPod Classic 160 AIFF-loaded, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pure i20, RWA-modifed Astell&Kern AK100
Headphones: HifiMan HE-500, HE-6; ALO-rewired Audeze LCD2 and LCD-XC; MrSpeakers AlphaDog, Oppo PM1
Headphone amps:
Bakoon AMP-12R and HPA-01, Eximus DP1, Burson Soloist, Stello HP100MkII, Questyle CMA800R, Aura Note Premier V2 and Vita
Cables: Complete Zu Event loom, KingRex uArt and Light Harmonic Lightspeed split USB cables, Tombo Trøn S/PDIF, Van den Hul AES/EBU, AudioQuest Diamond glass-fiber Toslink
Powerline conditioning: Vibex Granada on front-end components
Review component retail: $899
HifiMan. By name they perhaps hope for the once ubiquity of Sony's Walkman. And HifiMan's actual chances of achieving a relative degree of ubiquity are a lot higher than they are for most hifi companies. That's because they specialize in headphones across all price ranges. But not just any headphones. Whilst they do have a few dynamic and IEM models, the majority of their catalogue is about around-the-ear full-size planarmagnetic designs. Those are also still known by their vintage nickname of orthodynamic. Think Magneplanar earspeakers.

This puts HifiMan into a select group of companies. Of those the currently best-known ones besides them are Audeze and Fostex. Joe Skubinksi of JPS Lab's Abyss Sound is the purveyor of the perhaps costliest production version of this breed. Oppo Digital are its newest member. MrSpeakers™ seems to be the commercially most successful re-engineer of vintage Fostex planars. And lest we miss out a goodly number of their SKU, HifiMan's catalogue also includes headfi amplifiers and advanced hi-rez portable players. As such HifiMan are a lot more than all the Johnny Come Lately firms who've boarded the headfi train because it's going 200mph. In fact they're a lot more even than makers who focus exclusively on headphones. Yet that'll be our focus today: just headphones.

Their previous planarmagnetic flagship with gold traces called HE-6 still holds the dubious title belt of toughest load extant. Here it has replaced the legendary AKG K1000 as the litmus test for headfi amp moxy. With the new HE-560 lower by 40—or higher by 554 depending—one might think that the HE-6's status as range topper remains unchallenged. The 560 would seem to slot between it and the HE-500 to perhaps presage an eventual HE-600. And just one look at the HE-560 underlines such future numerology. The newbie introduces a classier headband that's vaguely reminiscent of AKG; updated/upgraded finish; more sophisticated swivels; partially smooth pads to upgrade the fuzzy older Velour jobbies; and Teak wood enclosures at about the same time that arch rival Audeze have embraced full-metal jackets (or mere wood trim if we consider their LCD-XC which bolts a sliver of polished wood to its sealed metal cup). The A-word mention was unavoidable. On fit'n'finish the Americans had shown their HifiMan competitors a cool shoulder and clear lead. To keep up on perceived value which always starts with the eyes, HifiMan were due for a revamp. And the HE-560 is that vamp. But it's not a senseless heavy. At 380g or 13oz, it in fact points a well-deserved finger at the latest Audeze models for being grotesquely overweight by comparison (600-650g). It even outlightens its 502g/440g HE-500/HE-400 team mates. One suspects a move back to single-sided magnets to explain this weight reduction. With 35-ohm impedance one still plays the lower reaches. 90dB sensitivity is about middle of the pack for this type. Sadly the cheesy connectors of the originals remain. This means you must pay attention not to twist up the leads whilst screwing them up ... er, on. HifiMan's stock cables in the past ranged from mediocre to poor. Presumably this implied that the 560 would improve that aspect as well. Aftermarket cable rollers of course will always get busy with their favorite suppliers or build their own.

Because it'd been quite a while since the resourceful Fang Bian had put out a new headphone at the top of his portfolio, I was curious how ongoing R&D, growing experience and customer feedback had pooled into this newest HifiMan planar. It looked to be a new statement effort; except for half the price of the most current Audeze competition. And the timing was most opportune too. John Darko had pitched me to review Oppo's brand-new $1'099 PM-1 for his site. I'd already agreed when HifiMan's PR man contacted me. Lunar alignment and all. A new lighter prettier more comfortable HifiMan with top sonic ambitions for attainable dosh? That promised to be quite the find. I was definitely keen to make its acquaintance and compare it to its earlier stable mates, specifically the HE-6 and my until now favorite of their bunch, the HE-500.