Many years ago the Chinese firm HiFiMAN got its start and its name by building (or perhaps more accurately, re-building) hot-rodded, performance-enhanced versions of the ubiquitous Sony Walkman personal music players, and modern personal digital music players are still an important part of the company’s DNA. In my mind, however, HiFiMAN stands first and foremost as a high-performance headphone specialist. I say this because, when you get right down to it, making very accomplished high-end headphones is one of things HiFiMAN does best of all.
My first exposure to HiFiMAN came during the time period when the firm was transitioning from its original HE-5 planar magnetic headphones to an improved HE-5LE model, which was the first of many HiFiMAN headphones I have reviewed over the years (click here to see my HE-5LE review from the digital magazine Playback). In time, the HE-5LE was superseded by HiFiMAN’s excellent but notoriously difficult-to-drive HE-6 headphone (click to see my Playback HE-6 review), which in turn was followed by the also superb but much easier to drive HE-500 headphone (praised by my colleague Tom Martin in Playback and especially by Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom in Hi-Fi+ issue 83). Later still, the arrival of HiFiMAN’s HE-400 marked a watershed event (click to read the Hi-Fi+ review of the HE-400 co-written by Garrett Whitten and by me) in that the HE-400 was at the time arguably the world’s most affordable and easiest to drive planar magnetic headphone). My point in taking this trip down memory lane is to underscore the fact that HiFiMAN has broad and deep experience in building upper-tier planar magnetic headphones that each have earned well-deserved critical acclaim. Indeed, there really isn’t a ‘clunker’ or a misstep in the bunch, which is actually a pretty rare thing in high-end audio. It would have been understandable, then, if the firm simply opted to ‘freeze’ its product line for a time, essentially resting upon its laurels. That, however, is not the HiFiMAN way.