ast few years belonged to planar-magnetic headphones. Oppo chose the same technology for its cans which was sort of confirmation for fans of this technology that this was the right way to go. So far in the 21st century this technology was used by small companies that might be called "professional audio enthusiasts". The scale of their production had to be limited, materials used were rather expensive so final prices one had to pay for them placed them among most expensive ones on the market. One has to pay a lot for a luxury product – one of golden rules of free market. But recently it started to change: HiFiMAN developed a new version of their HE-500 model. The design is bit different, some other materials are used and the new model name is HE-560. So today it seems possible that thanks to lower production costs we might see in a near future planar magnetic cans also in lower segments of the market.
The history makes a full circle. The beginning of this technology belonged not to small companies but to industry's giants. The first design that today would be called planar-magnetic came from loudspeaker specialist, British company called Wharfedale. Manufacturer named this project: Isodynamic, users called it ID1, and these headphones looked like a product for professional use in studios. They were designed by Oliver Hill and his team, Rank Radio International Ltd. They were introduced to the market in 1972 in a quite attractive price of 20 British pounds. A year later they received a prestigious Design Council Award. While they offered a very good performance and looks they had one significant (especially at the time) downside - a very low efficiency. At 120Ω they required several watts of power to show their true potential. It turned out that the market wasn't prepared for such a requirement and while there were few other attempts like Yamaha's designs or more recent Fostex TR50RP – they never became really popular.
The name „isodynamic” didn't last. Today other words used is „orthodynamic”. It comes from a Greek „orthos” („right”, „correct”, „proper”) and „dynamikós” („powerful”). The name „orthodynamic” was created by Yamaha in 1976 for particular type of their headphones. Over time it became a synonym of whole group of products. It's the same story as with words like Xerox, that today is used a any copying machine, or Velcro, or Tannoy that in Great Britain is used for a „PA”. Another word used for HiFiMAN's, Audeze's, Oppo's products is: „planar- magnetic”. „Planar” means „flat” which seems were appropriate considering the type of transducer used in these cans. Each and every of these terms tries to describe the design in its own way.
Whatever name one should use the HE-560 design is combined of a flat diaphragm (not cone-shaped like most used in loudspeakers), and the moving element is a very thin, light, flat membrane with metal paths working as coil. Membrane is placed over special frame and placed inside magnetic field that is applied from both sides, or sometimes just from one. The coil works in a homogeneous magnetic field (hence “isodynamic”). The magnetic field might be generated by permanent magnets and than such designs (loudspeakers of phones) are called MAGNETOSTATIC, or by electromagnet and than the design is called ELECTROSTATYC. The movement of a coil is cause by a current flow – musical signal.
HE-560 belongs to (if my counting is correct) a third generation of HiFiMAN headphones. The company ran by an American with Chinese origin, Mr Fang Bian, is registered in USA, which offers much latitude in everyday business. Its design office, chief designer Mr He (his name is placed on all headphones), and the factory reside in China.
Differences comparing to HE-500:
Recordings used during test (a selection)
Knowing almost all HiFiMAN's cans one could say that this company each time when offering a more expensive product tries to offer some advantages over its less expensive predecessor, plus in each case it does result in a better performance, better sound. But here is another thing that is as true as the previous one: despite similarities between HiFiMan's model, the differences are as significant. The same goes for the products from present portfolio (at any moment) as well as for new ones meant to replace older ones.
The new HE-560 are a great example as the model that is sort of new opening for HiFiMan. The sound of these cans places them not really above nor below any older model but rather somewhere at the side. Where? That's easy: imagine a 3D coordinate system with dots as reference to quality on a vertical axis, tonality on one of the horizontal ones and a spacing on the other. On quality axis HE-560 would be placed below HE-6 and Audeze LCD-3, but very close to Sennheiser HD-800. On tonality axis they would be close to LCD-3 and AKG K701 rather than to HE-6 and HD-800. And finally on spacial axis they would be close to LCD-3, AKG K701 and HD-800, slightly lower comparing to HE-6, and a lot lower than Ultrasone Edition 5. Can you visualize that? One could full oneself that audio is about simple choices. But in reality it is about choosing, or balancing between many variables, among which these above mentioned three are the most basic ones. But there are also other factors in play – personal preferences, and problems that appear in particular system.
One thing that is absolutely clear is that this cans sound differently than any other made by HiFiMan before. They sound more... tenderly, the tonality is more pastel-like. Take any recording and you'll get a nice performance but first of all a relaxed presentation. Even when playing music that always creates some problems like Peter Gabriel's 2003 So album SACD re-issue HE-560 will create a nicely balanced sound without usual aggressive style. This particular issue of a great album isn't really very good – it sound harsh, with hardened attack and without any content “behind” the sound which leaves listener missing something in what he hears. The best CD and SACD players are able to “fix” that without changing sound's structure. They simply soften the attack, and somehow put an ease to this something “behind” the sound that bothers listener not allowing him to enjoy the music. The reviewed headphones were able to do a similar job here. They played So in a “softer” way, because treble was rather pastel, smooth and liquid.
I listened to several recording trying to establish whether it was about treble roll-off or not and I didn't think so, it was not the case. It seemed that HE-560 offered even better, more extended treble than dynamic cans like Sennheiser HD-800 and Ultrasone Edition 5. I won't even mention AKG K701, because they belong to these cans with a tonality “modified” to emphasize midrange and thus treble plays only a secondary role there. I'd say that HE-560 sounded more like Audeze LCD-3. This is a very particular design that turned amazing density and lack of aggression in treble into a virtue. The bigger credit goes to Mr He, who designed HE-560 among other cans of this brand! This time customers get quite expensive cans but offering sound that comes close to even more expensive designs.
One should not expect any unpleasant surprises in the treble area. When the source already hardens the attack also HE-560 will show it that way. Sound won't be so spacial and treble won't shine so much, but the sound in general will still be on a “sunny” side of things, still enjoyable, relaxing. But time a recording allows it cans will deliver an open, rich, sparking and vibrant treble. Thus it should be easy to hear the differences between PCM 24/192 and DSD files. The latter will sound amazingly well, smooth, rich, and sounding in a more natural way than when played from Hi-Res PCM. The resolution that HE-560 offer might not be among the best I know, also selectivity isn't best, but all changes in tonality, in a way that leading edge is presented are clearly conveyed in a very inoffensive, relaxed way.
The whole range benefits from it. Bass is rich and nicely extended, there is a slight emphasize on the midrange but small enough not to introduce any negative consequences. But even more important is what happens “behind” the sound. HE-560 deliver a silky, black background. The HE-6, my personal HiFiMan's favorite model as well as the amazing LCD-3 – they do not present this background in a such a sophisticated way.
The reviewed cans present music in a very agile way while still sounding rich and smooth. Whether it was Shubert's Arpeggione sonata in A minor played by Janos Starker with Shuku Iwasaki on JVC special edition disc, or 13 by Black Sabbath, HE-560 played it effortlessly, easily, without assigning any noticeable character to the sounds. I mean there is some sound signature by it is not strong enough to impose itself on the sound that we can hear. It is not about withdrawing from sound, about not being present which could involve missing also some part of the music because of headphones. What I mean is like few professional athletes running in some charity event together with amateurs. It doesn't matter how fast they run, what matters is why they they run. That will make their performance effortless, joyful, as they won't have to prove anything to anybody. And they still will be much faster than amateurs. So their performance will be more of a ballet rather than fight. To realize what HE-560 really bring to the table one has to compare them with the top competitors and even that it will take a lot of effort to find all differences. If one just listens to them one would probably say that they offer sort of silky sound, level across the board and one would probably mention also this special, black background. To define what more the more expensive cans have to offer will be much more difficult. One could point out particular elements but it will be difficult to name them and to figure out why they are actually better.
The HE-560 are less selective than all other above mentioned headphones except for AKG. The latter focus on the richness of the sound, on imaging which makes their sound signature similar to the one of HiFiMans. Cans from US offer better tonality balance, better timbre and a nicer treble. HE-6 are able to deliver larger phantom images (instruments and voices), and LCD-3 even bigger ones. The reviewed cans are not able to deliver that at such a high level. The imaging is still very good but not as holographic, not as palpable. They are able to present the interaction between music and room's acoustics, reverberations. That allows HE-560 to offer very good spacing and imaging and the whole presentation seems agile, lively and effortless. But still the images are smaller than when presented by properly driven HE-6 and LCD-3, not so three-dimensional and they tend to be more “infused” into the background.
Each new HiFiMAN's headphone model introduced something new, some new qualities to the sound. Switching from HE-500 to HE-560 changes the perspective, the way we look at the music. The former are more direct, more precise, they try to show as much as possible as fast as possible. When you switch to HE-560 you can hear that older model does all that but at the expense of coherency. They still perform very well but new model is simply better in this aspect. Also their treble is more sophisticated, more vibrant, sparkling, they better differentiate even smallest differences in tonality and density, they deliver a proper weight of cymbals for example. Even more expensive HE-6 can not compete in this area and only LCD-3 could still win.
The resolution of treble is very good. It's the midrange and bass that are not so rich with information as are to top planar magnetic models. These both parts of the range are rich and dense, but the resolution is that good. One still has to love the sound but some information that is delivered by more expensive cans is missing here. Sennheiser HD-800 seem to perform better in this particular aspect too. There is no smearing of the sound – these are planar-magnetic cans after all, but it doesn't sound tough either. It's a great compromise between what has to be presented in a distinct way and pushing this feature to hard which results usually in a nervous presentation that is simply not correct.
It is the first HiFiMAN model sounding like this. These are damn good cans and I bet that whatever this company learned when creating them will be developed, improved and finally used for an even better, and surely more expensive design. A mellow, dense sound with nicely extended bass and impressive treble that's what makes this model special among planar-magnetic kind. That's how HE-560 sound like.
When it comes to headphones it is equally important how they sound themselves and how they combined with a particular amplifier. Differences between different combinations of the same cans with various amplifiers are bigger than in a loudspeaker/amplifier setup.
HE-560 worked very well with each amplifier although I'd rather suggest a high-power solid-state partner, not a low-power tube one. If you prefer tube amplification it should be fine as long as it is able to deliver enough power. These headphone's efficiency is quite high but if you want them to offer a dense, rich sound you will need a lot of power. These cans clearly response to a quality of the received signal but not in a nervous way. Simply the better the amplifier and the source the better performance of the HE-560. The sound of DSD files was simply fantastic, with great dynamics, smoothness and naturalness of the best kind. This system (with Gemmini) offered particularly pleasant listening experience.
The magnetostatic designs are also called planar-magnetic or orthodynamic. A large coil is placed (usually) between to magnet arrays and it moves while signals flows through it. The magnets must be placed in such a way that the flow of air on both side is seamless. Surely they will always disturb the flow of air in some way so manufacturers always look to find an optimal shape of magnets. The improvements that Audeze did introduce to their cans actually improved the flow of air. The new element that improves air dispersion is called Fazor. Most models used magnets on both sides of coil to ensure more even magnetic field on both sides of moving membrane.
Sometimes companies decide to use magnets only on one side, leaving the side directed on the ear free of elements disrupting air flow. This solution also has its downsides like: necessity of using stronger magnets and unsymmetrical air flow on both sides of the membrane which introduces some distortions to the sound. It's a designer's job to decided which sort of distortion he prefers to fight. When designing HE-560 Mr He decided that he preferred to fight distortions caused by asymmetrical magnet system as these are placed only on one side of the coil.
The new cans have also a different headband. All previous HiFiMAN models had earpads integrated with headband that rested directly on users head. That the way used also by other brands like: Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, Audeze, Oppo and many others. Now there is a separate metal arch and an additional element that directly touches the head. Similar solution is used by AKG and also a new, American company Abbys, AB-1266 model in particular. What's interesting is that Abyss also makes magnetostatic cans with magnets placed only on one side of the coil. I didn't see them myself yet but from a description it seems that they chose yet another solution placing magnet array on the ear side, leaving the “outer” side open.
HE-560 look very nice and it seems that fit&finish is even better than in any previous model. It clearly shows that company and designers are aware of what their competitors offer. That's why the outer wooden rings on large, round earcups bring Audeze immediately to mind do Audeze. The nicer look come, I believe, form nicer elements that create the general impression. It is clear that one of the goals was to take off as much weight as possible and that is why some metal elements were replaced with plastic ones, and the headband in very thin (and probably that is why there is this additional element that is placed directly on the head), also some elements of earcups are now made of plastic.
Also the pads were redesigned for this model. Instead of even, thick rolls around ears covered with velour the new ones have leather elements on the side and velour on the part that comes in direct contact with ears. The leather part enhances bass reproduction as it doesn't allow low frequencies to “escape” via a narrow opening between head and earcup. The pads are now shaped in a way that angles membranes towards ears. This solution has been used by Audeze and Abyss before. HE-560 are delivered in a nice, wooden box with a 3m long OFC cable. It's quite a good cable but if you want even better performance you should think about replacing stock cable with Polish one from Forza Audio Works or Swedish Entreq.
HE-560 are quite different from previous model both sound-wise and look-wise. On one hand they look better and the other design seems bit less solid than previous ones. It's a classic compromise, a decision that was made by manufacturer – they wanted a lighter cans that could interest a wider group of potential customers. It is already clear that this was only a first step that shows the direction, the way the company is going to develop their new products and the other brand new product called HE-400i confirmed that. I think this is the right decision but the HE-6 still are the best cans this company made so far.
Specifications (according to manufacturer)
Driver: planar magnetic
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One