Today we are talking about a very interesting piece of gear. The Hifiman HE6se!
This is Hifimans refreshed take on their venerable old classic headphone, the HE6. The HE6 was an incredible sounding headphone, riddled with flaws, but incredible sounding nonetheless. The original HE6 was incredibly hard to drive, needed modding to bring out their true potential, and lacked severely in terms of build quality. Hifiman has improved on the build quality with the HE6se, but they do remain incredibly hard to drive, and supposedly do need modding to reach their full potential. With that being said, I did not modify my pair whatsoever for this review. I don’t think it is fair to review the HE6se modified, as everyones modifications will sound a bit different. Going forward, everything I say about the HE6se is referring to a completely stock, unmodified pair. Right, with that out the way…
The build quality of the HE6se has been improved significantly. They sport the latest style of Hifiman headband, the same used on the Sundara. Whilst this headband doesn’t have gimbals to allow the ear cups to rotate and fit to your head, they do bend enough for the vast majority of users to obtain a comfortable fit. Some will struggle to, so as with every headphone, best to try before you buy! The headband is an improvement over the original Hifiman headband, and due to the suspension mechanism, is much more comfortable. The next change that Hifiman has brought to the HE6se vs. The original is the inclusion of 3.5mm connectors instead of the original SMC screw on type. The SMC connectors were notorious for signal drop outs, and were just fiddly in general. Although there are a pair of Velour ear pads included with the HE6se, they come out the box with a pair of Hifimans “Pali Pads” installed. These are the same pads that come with the Sundara. I really enjoyed these pads in terms of comfort and breathability. They also sound better than the velour pads, to my ears. You may differ, so if you purchase a pair of these headphones, give both a try. The headphones are very comfortable, but are a bit on the heavy side. The weight is well distributed, but the Susvara is definitely a more comfortable headphone than the HE6se.
The other piece of kit that is included with HE6se is the Hifiman HE-Adapter. This little piece of gear, shown below, is designed to allow you to run the HE6se from a speaker amplifier. This shows that even the manufacturer understands that these headphones are epically hard to drive. They are perhaps a smidgen easier to drive than the original HE6, but they remain the hardest to drive headphones I have ever tried. There are other harder to drive headphones out there, but they are very rare. If you don’t supply the HE6se with ample power, you will notice the bass become weaker, and flabby sounding. The highs will be brittle and overbearing. If you supply them with lots of power, these issues fade away. The treble can still be a little bit overbearing, but the HE6se is a fairly bright headphone, and you would need to get into serious hardware modifications to change that. Many people report that the HE Adapter from Hifiman degrades sound quality, due to adding the resistors and other things into the signal path. I decided, due to these reports, that I would try driving the HE6se directly from the speaker taps of the amplifier I was using. As long as your speaker amplifier is solid state, this is completely safe to do, you just have to be careful with the volume control! You can buy adapters to do this fairly easily, from any custom cable maker, or on eBay.
So with all that being said, lets get into the sound of the HE6se
These sound absolutely great.
The bass is punchy and slams hard. Not as hard as the Abyss AB-1266, but closer than anything else I have personally heard, including the Susvara. It is similar to the Susvara in terms of quantity – not too much, but far from too little. I really enjoy the HE6se’s bass. It works especially well with electronica, and music with a lot of information in the bass line. It is not a “one note” bass experience, and is superbly dynamic.
The mid range on the HE6se is a bit less present than the Susvara, and reminds me more of the Abyss AB-1266 in terms of mids, rather than the Audeze LCD-2 or similar. I wouldn’t call the mid range lush, or romantic. It certainly isn’t overbearing in terms of quantity. The lower mids are a bit pulled back, and the upper mids are a bit more present to my ears. I wouldn’t say these are a V shaped sounding headphone, but they are closer to that than a headphone with a lot of mid range presence.
Bright. There is no way to get around this without getting into special hardware modifications. There is a lot of treble in terms of quantity. However, it doesn’t have any hardcore spikes that drill into your ears. I noticed a bit sibilance at times with female vocals, but apart from that it was alright. The treble doesn’t have the detail levels of the Susvara, but for the price these headphones are available at, it is impressive.
Overall the HE6se is an exceptionally pleasing headphone to listen to. If you enjoy the music I tend to listen to, electronica, jazz, metal, and rock, these headphones make and argument for being the best choice I have heard for the price. I definitely prefer the HE6se to the Audeze LCD-3 I used to own, and they cost less! I just had a look at the used market, and these seem to be going for just over $1000USD. If you are in the market for a pair of headphones in that price range, please give these consideration. Yes, there are cons. They are hard to drive (very hard actually) and can be a bit bright. Apart from that, they are just a superb headphone.
Hifiman Sundara: The Hifiman Sundara is currently available for $350USD, on sale from Hifiman directly. Again, these make an argument for being the best I have heard for the price. However, they don’t have the detail retrieval, dynamics capability, and enveloping sound that the HE6se possess. If you happen to be a Sundara owner, and are thinking to yourself “I’d sure like to upgrade, but not spend Susvara levels of money” then you should definitely consider the HE6se. It is like a Sundara on steroids. The bass on the Sundara is a bit of a one note experience, but there is none of that with the HE6se.
Hifiman Susvara: The Susvara does improve on the HE6se in terms of treble response, detail retrieval, and smoothness. However, the HE6se does slam harder. The HE6se is the brighter headphone of the two, and has a much more forward nature. The fact I can recommend the HE6se as an alternative to the $6000USD Susvara speaks volumes to how capable it is, especially for the price. If you like a very forward sound signature, that is bright, go for the HE6se. If you can’t afford the Susvara, consider the HE6se.
All in all, the HE6se has a few flaws. It is overly hard to drive, and requires careful consideration with regards to choosing source equipment. It is a bit bright at times, and does display some sibilance, especially with female vocals. It does however improve on the original in terms of materials and build quality, and it provides the best sound for your money that I have heard yet. It looks great, sound great, and is a real “all or nothing” headphone. If you can get your ears on a pair of HE6se, don’t miss your chance. I think that if people consider that a decent speaker amp for driving the HE6se can be had for much cheaper than many underpowered headphone amps, and can get over that mental hurdle, the HE6se quickly becomes one of the best “bargain” options on the market.
HE6se? =Lots of sound for your money. Highly recommended listen!