If you’ve been reading Playback for a while, you will know that we hold HiFiMAN planar magnetic headphones in pretty high regard. No manufacturer is perfect, but HiFiMAN has managed to impress in its short time on the scene (or maybe because of it, since they seem to be trying very hard to get it right). The HiFiMAN HE-5LE ($699) began the HiFiMAN wave, and is certainly one of the market’s performance/value leaders. And there are those on the staff who think the HE-6 ($1199) is one of the finest headphones they’ve yet heard at any price. Now we get a full look at their new HE-500 ($899).
The HiFiMAN Difference
HiFiMAN uses an unusual technology that audiophiles familiar with Magnepan speakers will know about. The vast majority of full-size, high-end headphones on the market use traditional piston-type dynamic drivers, but the HiFiMAN HE-500 is different in that it is a so-called “orthodynamic” headphone that uses planar magnetic drivers. In a planar magnetic driver, the diaphragm is a thin, light membrane whose entire surface is covered with a conductive coating arranged in a specific pattern. The conductive driver membrane is in turn suspended near a grid of magnets so that, when an audio signal is fed to the driver, the entire diaphragm surface is alternately pulled toward or pushed away from the magnet array. The electromagnetics are similar to those of a standard driver (a force will result from passing a current through a wire suspended in a magnetic field), but the mechanical arrangement is different.