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See More Reviews Hi guys, I'm Mad Lust Envy, and I review headphones for gaming purposes (though my reviews are a little more fleshed out for overall usage). I have a guide over on headfi with all my reviews, including this one. You can find me on most social media platforms as well as Patreon. Just web search my name if you would like to see more.
Below is my 5XX review. It's been completed for a while, though I no longer have the 5XX in my possession.
**** (4 out of 5)
Where to buy: Drop.com exclusive
Disclaimer: A special thanks to Drop.com for sending the HE-5XX out to me for review. As always, whether products are sent to me or not, I do my best in being 100% honest with my views and opinions. If I don't like a product, I will refuse to write a review of it, or at the very least mention what I don't like about them, though I like to focus on products that people would like or at the very least are interested in. The only bias I have is to my readers and making sure they know about good products.Intro
Looks like Drop wasn't quite done with release bangers in short succession. Fresh off the heels of the Sennheiser PC38X, Drop teamed up with Hifiman once again to bring us something exciting: the HE5XX. This marks the third big Hifiman collaboration after the 4XX and Edition XX. The HE-500 is a legendary headphone for the audiophile community, so the HE5XX has a lot to live up to. What's different? From Drop's Product Lead Audiophile:
"We were able to work with HIFIMAN to develop a new dual magnet structure in a nod to the classic HE-500. These are significantly lighter than previous dual magnet planars which was a common complaint. These will also use their current gen super nano drivers which are only a few microns thick."
And a newer statement to reiterate:
"The 5XX uses the current generation Neo super driver membrane paired with a dual magnet design similar to the original HE-500. However, HIFIMAN was now able to make these magnets much thinner and lighter than previously possible. While I would not say this headphone is “bassy” it does have a well defined low end and really excels in the mids."
I didn't get to experience the original HE-500, but the statement of well defined bass and great midrange sounds like the HE-5XX is truly made as love letter to the HE-500. I can't say whether this is just a newer style HE-500 or not. I'm excited all the same.
What's In The Box?(Note: I was sent a pre-production unit, and therefore the packaging and design may not be indicative of the final product release.)
The unit I received came with a decent box for the headphone, short 3.5mm cable with a snap on 6.3mm adapter, and that's it. Pre-production being the key term here.
Cable - Unfortunately, the cable is a bit on the short side (3ft), like the questionable 'hospital tubing' that came with the Edition XX. I know I said that cable on the Edition XX was good, but in hindsight, I really grew to dislike it, enough to end up getting a nice, long cable from Amazon that was not only cheap, but looked and felt much better. I ended up taking that cable and using it for the HE-5XX. On the bright side, the supplied cable is much better terms of feel and flexibility over the Edition XX cable. There's nothing wrong with it aside from its short length. Drop or Hifiman, I sincerely hope that the next time around, you add at least one more foot of length. Ideally, I think all full-sized headphones should come with at LEAST a 5ft cable if the headphone isn't aimed for portable use. The 5XX is clearly not a portable friendly headphone.
Continuing to forgo the newer suspension type or even newer headband used on the Deva, Drop continues to use Hifiman's classic headband design for better or worse. My guess is that they continue to chose the classic design for cost saving measures and/or to deplete excess inventory. It worked for the various HE-4 and HE400 headphones I owned, and they were generally fine with the Edition XX.
The pucks travel quite easily when extending or retracting the length compared to the Ananda I reviewed a while back which was insanely difficult to adjust. Unfortunately, both the Ananda and the HE5XX leave marks on the extension yokes, though the Ananda was a quite a bit worse in terms of shaving off pieces of metal.
While my older HE400 wasn't too easy to adjust, the travel was smooth and left no marks. I don't know why they changed from this. I can't fault Drop here. It's definitely an issue on Hifiman's side, which I'm sure is one of the reasons they moved on to different designs. I do really like the very strong metal used for the yokes/extension arms. That's one piece that has always been good with Hifiman planars. On top of the extension arms that keeps them from fall off the headband are basic screws, which seems a bit... basic and under designed in comparison to the rest of the headphone.
In terms of adjustments for all head shapes, the cups have a generous range of vertical motion, and not much, but enough horizontal movement that I feel would be necessary for most head shapes.
The HE5XX's cups are my absolute favorite of all Hifiman headphones I've tested to date. Similar in design to the Deva, with outer grills that you can see clean through to the magnet/driver array.
The newer super nano drivers and thinner magnets comes with a noticeable weight reduction, yet doesn't compromise the structure or general quality of the cups. They feel magnificently sturdy and well built. The cups seem to have a considerably stronger construction than the plastic and wood used in the older headphones. The lower area houses the newer Hifiman logo which indicate where the 3.5mm cable inputs are located. The inputs are angled slightly forward (and I mean SLIGHTLY).
While I liked the Ananda and Edition XX cups aesthetically, I think the round design of the HE-5XX looks more elegant and appealing.
Pleather pads with a fabric surface where they rest on your skin. I will always appreciate this design, compared to going full pleather or leather. The ear opening is circular, large, and deep. The pads are quite soft, and not very dense. I do wonder if a denser foam would benefit the sound and bass. Unfortunately, the pads don't seem to be easily removable, nor do I know how they're attached. I'm not willing to risk ripping them off to find out.
As previously mentioned, the cable is quite short at 3ft. At the very least it's quite well built and flexible, so as long as you're close to your source, it's a fine cable.
Final Build Impressions:
The HE-5XX is the best Hifiman headphone I've experienced in terms of build quality, with a fantastic cup construction, metal yokes and extension arms. The pads are large and comfortable, the cable is durable albeit short, and the headband is a tried and tested design. Asides from the extension puck pieces leaving marks on the arms, there's nothing here to complain about. Hifiman seems to have mostly perfected this design with proper materials all around.
The only room for improvement I could see is that perhaps one of the newer headband designs would further boost the overall build quality to their limits. The pucks that hold the extension pieces in place could stand to be changed, as Hifiman has already done with the Deva.
Drop specifically mentioned the weight cutting measures done with the new super nano drivers and thinner magnets that should make a noticeable difference compared to the older Hifiman headphones. In practice, that is exactly what I experienced. The HE5XX is (from memory), not quite as light as the HE-4 (which was Hifiman's first foray into single sided magnet design), but unquestionably lighter feeling than the HE-400. The HE-500 being much heavier than the HE-400, it stands to reason that there is a dramatic difference between the HE-5XX and the HE-500.
In terms of personal use and comfort, the HE-5XX's weight is one of the last things you'll find problematic. The headband distributes the weight well, and doesn't stress my neck even after all day listening sessions.
This is perhaps my least favorite aspect of the HE-5XX's comfort. It's odd, as I didn't particularly have problems with the HE-4, HE-400, or Edition XX, and usually praise this headband for general comfort. It's not bad, but I do feel the headband pressing down on my scalp, and have to periodically adjust it. I'm not sure what has changed, and it may just be an unknown factor or variance. The underside has minimal padding, but it's something even the older headphones shared. The material did feel different on the HE-400, though it may have been worn in with age. Not quite sure.
Take my opinion on the headband with a grain of salt, as it may just be this particular headband. That, or I may just be having an overly sensitive noggin nowadays. It's not uncomfortable in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn't disappear on my head like the other models.
There isn't much to be said here, other than the pads feel fantastic. The ear openings are large and deep enough for my ears to fit in, and the fabric top feels great on the skin. The inner foam isn't as dense as I'm used to with other pleather pads, and don't seem to trap heat as much as other pads. Despite the inner foam not being as dense, they don't compress and bottom out. They also keep the clamp pressure from feeling overly strong.
Clamp is moderate without it feeling too loose or to constrictive. I personally prefer some clamp so that a headphone doesn't just slide off my head (looking at you, Audio Technica 3D wings), so the HE-5XX is what I consider close to ideal here. Perhaps just a teeny bit less would be optimal, but really, not necessary.
Overall Comfort Impressions:
I can wear the HE-5XX all day without much hassle aside from periodic breaks from the headband's downward pressure. The HE-5XX is lightweight, the pads feels great, the clamp is moderate and inoffensive, and, the vertical and horizontal pivoting should fit most heads. All in all, I'd consider the HE-5XX quite good for comfort, with the caveat of the headband maybe needing some extra padding.
One of the prime examples of planarmagnetics essentially being speakers on your head, the HE-5XX showcases why open-backed planars are not well suited for any isolation purposes . These leak a metric boatload, in and out. You definitely do not want to take these anywhere that requires noise leakage control, and you'll definitely want your listening station to be behind a closed door or two, as well as maybe playback volume being on the moderate to lower side at night to keep from disturbing others.
The HE-5XX is a classic case of sounding a league above its price range competitors. At its initial price of $220, I'm simply baffled at how good the HE-5XX sounds. I would've pegged it at being around $400 just off sound alone. It's simply a fantastic sounding headphone, and it's well worth investigating if you're looking for a higher end sounding headphone at a lower price. If you have yet to experience an open-backed planar (and I stress OPEN), your path should immediately lead you here to the 5XX.
When people wonder how planars sound when they extend to the nether realms of bass, the HE-5XX makes a great example. It goes very, very low, with nice, atmospheric presence. That being said, it isn't particularly heavy handed or potent, so those wanting bass to be at the forefront of sound will need to look elsewhere. It's articulate, well textured, and quite deep, but the impact isn't what I'd consider particularly strong. I'd say it's a neutral/natural sounding bass character. As stated earlier, it extends quite low, but slightly lacks a bit of rumble and impact. On the plus side, the HE-5XX has a considerably large headspace, which makes the bass fill out the sound very well. It's always there with a good sense of body, in the background filling out the ambience. With action movies, and bass heavy music, the bass is quite enjoyable, though it wouldn't be my first choice. Personally, a bit of a bass bump would fill out the bottom end nicely, but then you're altering the sound that may take away from what makes the HE-5XX what it is, and I personally would not want to take away from the 5XX's inherent characteristics. Comparing to the LCD-1 which also has a very bass neutral character, I find the HE-5XX slightly less reserved and more enjoyable down low. It's fuller, with more body and presence.
Frequency testing, you can somewhat hear it going down to below 30hz, but I'd say the low end presence becomes what I'd deem enjoyable starting at around 35-40hz. To compare with the last headphone I reviewed (the PC38X), the PC38X has more presence and energy down low, with a more enjoyable bass volume compared to the HE-5XX. Not that the HE-5XX isn't enjoyable, but that the bass isn't the stand out range in its sound. Overall, the HE-5XX manages its bass well, and those who like neutral bass that isn't being highlighted won't find much to be disappointed with here. It integrates itself well to the rest of the sound.
Midrange to Treble:
I wanted to compare midrange to treble with a planar that steers towards neutral, so I brought out the LCD-1. The LCD-1 has a peaky sound at around 3.5k, whereas the HE-5XX doesn't start peaking until about 5.5khz, which is actually not as forward on the LCD-1. This lets me know that my ears aren't hearing everything the same in the ranges. After the 5.5khz peak, there's a drop off at around 7.3khz or so, with the rest up to 10khz being softer hitting, with 10khz itself providing a sparkly peak, which drops off until it peaks again at around 11.5khz, and again at 13.5khz. I'd say there's plenty noticeable of detail to my ears up to around 14khz, with the higher ranges being there, but not as noticeable.
The HE-5XX is particularly present in the mid to treble ranges, with a good amount of energy and bite. There's some mild metallic zing to some S sounds, which can be a little fatiguing at high volumes. This is about the only aspect of the HE-5XX I'm not particularly in love with. I believe the 5XX will be sensitive and picky with source/amp matching.
I feel the midrange gives notes some space to breathe and image around you. It's rather on par and balanced with the bass, with neither being forward or particularly focal. I consider it well integrated to lift up the general sound of the HE-5XX. As such, I do find the midrange to be one of the 5XX's strengths. Yes, it's not in your face, but the harmony with the ambient bass and crisp treble air really gives it a team player-esque quality to it.
The treble ranges begin sharply, with crisp air, and laser focus. The 5.5khz peak is a bit zingier than I'd like, and the dip at about 7.5khz is perhaps a few decibels too soft. To sum up the treble, the 5XX has a brightness to it up top, and will highlight all the minor details. If you prefer a smooth experience, the 5XX isn't for you. It's for those that want some energy and focus up top.
The soundstage is one of the HE-5XX's greatest strengths to my ears. Considering how large and open the drivers are, the HE-5XX exhibits a rather spacious soundstage, which is rather tall and holographic. It's not quite wide like a dynamic driver's open soundstage. Yet, those don't have this level of layering and depth. It is an absolute highlight of the HE-5XX, and those that prefer to feel immersed with a great speaker-like experience will find the HE-5XX to deliver a fantastic stereo presentation. This makes the 5XX one of the greatest showcases for planarmagnetic soundstaging and imaging that I've heard. If you haven't heard a planar, rest assured, the 5XX will convert you on soundstage presence alone. Just playing random music, I'm constantly being surprised by how roomy its sonic presentation is. Absolutely enamored here.
The 5XX is a highly detailed headphone. From its articulate and highly textured, atmospheric bass, to its detailed midrange, and finally its razor precision treble, the 5XX is quite proficient in immediate clarity and detail focus. 7.3khz or so hits a little soft and muted, but it's not muffled or lacking in detail. Just low in volume at that range. All in all, the 5XX sounds like it has the clarity and detail of headphones costing far, far more.
There's something about the 5XX's sound that makes it hard for me to describe. It is energetic, and sharp, with a great sense of space. Its bass extends quite low with a good sense of body. The midrange while not immediate and in your face, meshes well with the rest of the sound. I can't describe it as a warm or lush headphone, but its not lacking in warmth. I also can't call it bright or analytical, because the bass body and ambience fill out the space with some warmth. It definitely isn't flat or neutral either. So it puts me in a bind. It is a transformative signature that can sound warm or bright depending on what you throw at it. Perhaps if I feel more comfortable in the future, I can say what it is. Until then, you'll have to make do with this.
I feel the HE-5XX requires moderate amplification to get the most out of it. It wouldn't be my first choice for non-amplification use, and I'd recommend investing in at least an entry level desktop amplifier for it. Ideally, I believe a warmer sounding source/amplifier would benefit its sound signature, which may possibly shave off a little bit of edge in its upper midrange to treble range. I'd personally recommend staying away from dry/analytical gear for the 5XX.
The HE-5XX is highly detailed and spacious, with atmospheric sound that makes it a very good headphone for gaming. It's quite dynamic, with a clean sound that helps in competitive gaming awareness. For immersive and casual gaming, it's quite good though it probably wouldn't be my first choice despite it being quite extended down low. It doesn't quite have the rumble, or bass impact that I'd deem ideal for non-competitive use. Not that it's bass light (I'd say it's more bass neutral). I just personally feel it could be a little more rich in the bass. My personal preference. I prefer a warmer, thicker sound for my casual gaming.
As stated earlier, the soundstage is quite holographic with excellent depth. While not quite as wide and as the better soundstaging headphones, the 5XX is exceptional when virtual surround processing is added in. Virtual surround makes the HE-5XX a great headphone for gaming, and I doubt many people would have issues using it for positional accuracy and spatial awareness. It's a great (excellent even) for competitive gaming, and a very good good for casual/immersive gaming uses.
The 5XX should be kept strictly for home or personal office use (offices with good noise control). The headphone is as open as they come, so everyone around you will hear what you're listening to, and won't block out any external noise. They also aren't suited for travel due to their size and inability to collapse into a more portable form factor. Keep it in your main setup.
Who It Is For:
If you have ever wanted to try a planar, the 5XX is the easy way to go. If you have something like a Sennheiser HD-650/HD-6XX and want a complimentary set of headphones that contrast the more mellow, intimate nature of those headphones, the 5XX makes its case incredibly well. I think having a duo like the HD-6XX and HE-5XX really covers all bases. If I had $500 and didn't have any headphones, this would be my path. HE-5XX and HD-6XX. You ask: "What about a $500 headphone"? I'd still say no. The performance from both are fantastic, and fit different moods. It's hard to find ONE headphone to suit all moods. So having two complimentary headphones that do things differently is ideal, in my opinion. The Audeze LCD-1 is a fantastic $400 headphone that will serve you if you just want a completely honest representation of sound. Complete, uncolored, and accurate. However, I rarely want something steered so far into neutral, without any liberties taken in engagement. To some, having accuracy is ideal (which the Audeze LCD-1 is AMAZING at), but personally, I like my sound with a little more sugar and spice. That's why I'd go for the HE-5XX for the times I want some additional vibrance energy, and the 6XX when I just want to chill out and relax.
Likes and DislikesLikes:
- Detail, energy
- Soundstage depth, imaging, and layering
- Speaker-like presentation
- Fantastic build quality and materials
- Lightweight for a planar
The problem with places like Drop, is deciding on which headphone to get in their cornucopia of excellent products. We're spoiled for choices, and now we have to contend with another choice in the HE5XX. While it's definitely not perfect, I feel it'd be worth considering even if it was worth nearly double its price. That's not a claim I make lightly. It's that impressive to me, despite the minor flaws.
I may have sounded a bit wishy washy about some aspects of the 5XX, yet it's the first headphone in a very long time that I told myself "You know what, I really want to buy this when it comes out. I don't need it, but I want it." I haven't bought a headphone in a long time, and the 5XX really made me consider it. Something about the way it presents sound that is truly unique, and unlike any other. It is truly a fantastic headphone, whose strengths vastly outweigh any reservations made about its less appealing traits. For $220, this would be my immediate first choice (after the 6XX).
The 5XX may not be what I'd consider the end be all headphone for everyone. That being said, the 5XX is absolutely one of the very best complimentary headphones I've heard to date. Something to have alongside another that it contrasts, like an HD650/HD-6XX. If its specific flavor appeals to you, it CAN be the end be all headphone. If you like a dynamic, energetic sound, with great speaker-like presentation, the 5XX is probably going to be an incredibly beloved headphone for you. It would be my immediate recommendation for that. Over the Beyerdynamic DT880, Philips Fidelio X2, AKG K702, or any midrange headphone I can think of that it probably would get compared to.
- Time to move on from the old headband design
- Short stock cable length
- Physical extension leaves marks on the metal
- Upper range sizzle, can be a little bright in some ranges
Great review. Super detailed as I like. 😁👍
I've never owned nor heard a planar magnetic headphone due to reading all kinds of bad things about 'em that for me break the good things. I've especially been steering away from Hifiman's ongoing QC issues and bad design decisions for years.
Now, having read Purrin's review and yours has compelled me to give the HE5XX a chance flaws and all. I own beyer's DT 880/990, T90 and Amiron home, so my ears have been conditioned to receiving high frequency punishment. 🤓
Recently I received the Focal Elegia from Adorama, and while being the clearest headphone I've heard, it's also one of the most bass impact-shy, boring and unengaging. I'm grateful about the deal I got, but they were truly a disappointment at first listen and also many hours later. I wear them for half an hour and have to take 'em off and wear the HD 6XX or the Cerene dB.
Hopefully I like the HE5XX. My intention is to compliment the HD 6XX, which I still find satisfying and enjoyable two years later, and which I loved since first listen.
Excellent review-I have anyways wanted to try/ hear a planar HP and this sounds like the one to take a chance on.
Same here, man. I'm actually excited about trying the,. I'm keeping my expectations low, but watching Zeos' review, he seems to be having a good time with them. He hated the Sennheiser HD 630VB and having owned them, I fully agreed with his viewpoint...so...I feel comfortable going by what he says. I like his "expressivity" and wordiness, too, ha-ha. He goes on and on, and I enjoy that. :D
Excellent review! A very detailed description without being over analytical. Thank you!
Do you think it's worth the upgrade from HE-4XX? I mean I know "worth" is extremely subjective, but let's just say someone who enjoyed the 4XX's and wouldn't mind a little more. Don't care about spending the money, but I don't want to waste on an upgrade I mostly wouldn't notice if that makes sense.
Currently digging the 4XX's, I do a lot of gaming but also enjoy headphones in general for daily use outside of just music. I've got a few aftermarket pads for the 4XX as well so hopefully they'll still fit and even better still use the same mounting ring.
I see that you have these listed as "bass neutral" which makes sense for how I'd describe the 4xx as well. While I'm sure they are a significant overall improvement, speaking specifically of the bass, is it about the same as the 4xx, better? maybe higher quality, but same presence more or less?
Thanks for the killer review!
Same question. I have the 4xx and am curious how they compare
As others have asked, are they "worth" upgrading to from the 4XX or how do these compare to the 4XX?
Sorry, I haven't heard the 4XX and can't make the comparison.
Sorry, haven't heard the 4xx
Haven't heard the 4xx so can't say.
Great review but the QC from Hifiman has been atrocious . The quality of my HE4XX was terrible and having to deal with support from drop was just a pain to deal with.
I'm sure there are quite a few of us that have this exact same question (me included) ... LOL. Love my 4XX's, but wouldn't mind adding a 5XX to my collection if it's a decent upgrade.
Thanks for the review MLE! Yours was the first review I read and I found it very helpful!