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View Full Discussion Hi all, Massdrop sent me a sample to review. Please let me know if you have any questions!
In May 2016, I submitted an order for the Massdrop x HiFiMAN HE-350 and received it on September 22nd that year. By the time I received them, I had already been familiar with headphones like the HD 280, HM5, K7XX, HD 650, and TH-X00 PH—a decent price range of headphones that are often enjoyed by the community. These days, the older HE-350 doesn’t hold up to the competition, but does the newly revised HE-35X make enough change to be a compelling offering?
When compared to the older rendition, the HE-35X doesn’t have too many structural changes. It employs a new reinforced yoke to prevent breakage that other HiFiMAN headphones have encountered, and the 2.5mm connectors have been swapped out for 3.5mm for increased durability. Aside from those changes, you’re still getting a primarily plastic build aside from the headband, which is thin and lightweight. In short, this isn’t the kind of headphone that’s meant to take too much of a beating. Rather, it opts to be lightweight and affordable.
In terms of comfort, the HE-35X is quite comfortable when compared against the older HE-350. When I wear the older HE-350, the stiff velour pads don’t form a proper seal around my ears, while the HE-35X’s new hybrid pleather/velour pads are soft, plushy, and conform around my ears to create a very comfortable seal and improve the distribution of the clamping force. The headband padding is still thin, but the clamping force of the ear pads should offset the need for thicker headband padding. However, this clamping force might cause stress on the jaw for some. This wasn’t a problem for me, but ought to be mentioned. One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that this headphone may not fit well for larger size heads due to its smaller adjustment height.
As far as portability is concerned, nothing has changed from the HE-350. These headphones are just not small. Their size is a strong indicator that they are really meant for use at your desk, but if you are committed to using them in a portable fashion, then they can be driven by portable devices like smartphones. Just be warned that open-back headphones may disturb those around you who are uninterested in your questionable taste in music. And thankfully, the HE-35X comes with a cable that terminates in 3.5mm but comes with a 3.5mm to ¼” adapter.
Okay, so far, it seems to be decent, but how does it sound? Well, this is going to be a more controversial headphone compared to other popular open back headphones like the HD 58X or HD 6XX.
Firstly, do they sound better than the HE-350? Yes. Absolutely. Comparing the two, I can best describe the older HE-350’s treble as sounding like steel trash can lids, whereas the HE-35X has substantially better treble reproduction that can be considered bright, but artistically so. This is thanks to the decision to use a high-pass filtering circuit in each ear cup that balances the low treble. The bass extension on the HE-35X has also improved thanks to the new ear pads and proper seal. This headphone actually caters to my bass-head desires a lot more than I thought it would.
These days, I listen to a variety of k-pop, instrumental, metal and more. I demoed the following songs with the HE-35X using the Massdrop x Grace Design m9XX:
Other things to try: If you are a Windows user, you may consider going into the properties of your playback device, selecting “Enhancements”, checking “Bass Boost”, clicking the “Settings…” button and setting it to +6dB@80Hz. I found this bass boost to be quite enjoyable under certain circumstances, and the HE-35X was able to hold up surprisingly well without completely diminishing the presentation of other frequencies.
So who is this headphone for? Well, I find that it’s best described as a V-shaped headphone due to its elevated bass response and brighter treble. If you’re listening to instrumental music that doesn’t carry too many sibilant frequencies, I’d say this could be right up your alley. These are also great for more energetic music genres like metal and pop, but tracks that have very hot masters and emphatic treble brightness and sibilance may end up over-represented in those frequencies. For me, I do feel as though this headphone is quite competent and has merits that the previous HE-350 just did not have. While audiophile newcomers might want to play it safe and lean towards a more neutral headphone, if you’re sure you’re looking for something V-shaped with an emphasis in the treble, the HE-35X is probably right up your alley. For those coming from warmer headphones like the HD 6XX and K7XX, this headphone is in a completely different category and should even provide some competition to the similarly priced Grado SR80e, which is also known for its brightness.
- Listening to Dreamer by pianist Hiromi, the HE-35X delivers quality reproduction of Hiromi’s keyboard playing. The presentation maintains the dynamics of her playing, and I’m able to enjoy her melodies and rhythms without any strange sibilance or frequencies fighting for the spotlight. The keys resonate in the midrange, which is one of the cleaner aspects of the HE-35X. Anthony Jackson’s bass lines are delivered in such a way that I can hear the timbre of his fingers against the bass guitar. There is a bit of bass elevation in this headphone, but it’s presented in a tasteful way that avoids bleeding into or overwhelming the lower midrange. Lastly, Simon Phillips’ percussion is delivered with impact; the snare comes in with good attack and remains well-distinguished from the sparkly, shimmery cymbals, while the kick delivers decent representation without stealing from Jackson’s basslines.
- Listening to Eclipse by k-pop group LOOΠΔ, I can quickly hear the brightness of these headphones when it comes to percussion and vocals. There is definitely sibilance in the consonant “s” and “t” sounds—which have the potential to push to the front of the mix more on this headphone compared to headphones with more relaxed treble. Upper-treble cymbals can also be very forward in the mix. But with those two warnings aside, this headphone delivers an enjoyable listening experience for those looking for a V-shaped sound signature. The sound stage remains narrow, intimate, and immersive. Bass kicks are impactful while the bass synths are lightly pushed into the back of the mix while the vocals come center-stage. Compared to a more neutral headphone, the vocal range can push itself to the front more often and push bass synths to the back of the mix.
- When I Meet Death by metal band Time, the Valuator delivers an excellent V-shape that provides bass impact with the kick which synchronizes very well with the guitar. In this scenario, the frequency response of the HE-35X delivers an especially enjoyable listening experience for the guitars and percussion. The vocals are balanced within the mix while letting the attack of the guitar lead the song forward. While remaining narrow in its soundstage, the presentation is immersive and another great example of the type of music this headphone is great for.
- Story by rock band CHON is often my go-to song for showcasing soundstage on a headphone, and as mentioned before, soundstage still remains narrow, but immersive. The presentation of this song is very well done with the HE-35X. The bass guitar carries noticeable impact in this song, as notes are delivered in long durations, while the guitars maintain excellent clarity and good stereo separation. The percussion is balanced without harsh cymbal presentation, and if you close your eyes and focus on the percussion, you might be able to visualize Nathan Camarena playing the drums.