The HE-R10P (P for Planar) is Hifimans new flagship closeback headphone and together with its dynamic brother the HE-R10D marks their foray into the high end closeback market. Naturally we are all excited about this as Hifiman’s offerings belong to the absolute best on the market, be it the Susvara, the HE-1000SE, the Arya, the by now discontinued but still legendary HE-6 or the ever so romancing HE-500.
Sporting the HIFIMAN NEO Super Nano Diaphragm technology the HE-R10P profits from the toolings that were developed and refined for the Susvara and HE-1000SE. Given the price tag of 5499 Dollars Hifiman are very confident about where they place this headphone: right between the Susvara and the HEK SE. We’ll find out soon enough if they deliver:
With an impedance of 30 Ohms and a sensitivity of about 100db the R10 Planar is quite a lot easier to drive than the Susvara and fits right into the same mould that the HE-1000SE created: Hifiman flagship level sound right from a DAP.
The HE-10P is a pretty mid-forward headphone with a rather brightish overall character, yet devoid of any real annoyances or troubles. It has great extension to both sides, the emphasis on the largest parts of the mids and a slight emphasis on the upper treble make for a lively and exciting listen yet the cup design and the acoustic treatment/dampening also open up the staging and imaging accordingly which leads to an absolute stunner in terms of instrument placement, sharpness and the overall stage that is rendered big enough to accommodate all the cues, trails and reverbs that take place in the musical image – without batting an eye in busy or complex passages.
While the Susvara and the HE-1000SE go for the absolute minimum of acoustical impedance to achieve their grand openness, transparency and sublime staging and imaging, the R10 as a closed back headphone naturally does not have the same inherent advantages to design around. Thus a lot of trickery, dampening and absorption has to take place to control the driver and excess energy.
Yet the R10 impresses with a rather wide and deep image, rounded, not overlapping with gaps. And is has all its inner beauty, colors, richness, saturation and overall tonality drawn by absolute precision and sharpness. It’s very easy to follow trails, pick out cues, instruments, background noises and notice how nothing goes out of focus or blends into each other. It goes a fine middle way of enough decay for naturalness and the sharpness of of a blade.
I like to call the overall stage a personal bubble as it makes for such a dense and intimate listen. Ultimately, all these attributes scale with the amping quality and how the DAC plays to the strengths of the R10.
Dynamics, Transient Speed/Attack:
The HE-R10 is capable of large dynamic swings and tiny volume differences: In an instant the rendering of a soft pluck on a harp to a startling heavy thump of drums, the sheer speed of the drivers allow for large movements and yet are super precise and very fast at stopping and get going again. This reminds me of the Susvara’s technicalities and how it effortlessly renders large swings and tiny volume changes without breaking a sweat or making them disappear into the background.
The HER10 ultimately does not reach the Susvara’s supreme technicalities in transient speed and attack, as there’s always a tiny bit of the reverb and bloom coming into play. The initial attack is slightly softer than the Susvara but still coming into play with good tactility and palpability to dig deep into the music.
Now here’s a thing the R10 can take advantage of given its closed-back design. It’s easy to hear subtle nuances and absolute focus on what you’re hearing given the isolation from outside nuances. This hightlights the personal and intimate bubble I spoke of earlier which I find to be the R10’s strength. Of course it’s also in the nature of the demand that a close-back should allow for a more isolated and personal listen. The clarity does not reach Susvara’s level but is very close to it and also slightly accentuated by the short rise in the upper treble.
Punch and Slam:
While the Susvara goes farthest with absolute slam, punch and the physicality of it regarding the post HE-560 split of the old generation and the later generation, it’s still a tad softer than a 4-screw HE-6. The R10 goes slightly below the Susvara but has the advantage of closed headphones and has some energy to spare to underline the rumble factor.
Bass is fast, tight and has a slight bloom to it. Slight reverberations of the cup add to the warmish tone. Extension goes way down to 20Hz. Good thump, heft and control. Bass lines and pitch differences are easy to follow, as you’d expect from a Hifiman high end headphone.
Mids are clearly forward and accentuated and make for a lively and slightly accentuated tone. Guitar plucks are well emphasized but do not come with the same degree of tactility than well-driven Susvara. Vocals come off clear, raspy, breathy and with great clarity.
The upper midrange is slightly muted attributed to a dip around the 4k region leading to a slight muteness that instruments would want to benefit from. Thus the last part of accentuation is clearly defined by the treble.
Coming from the slight dip in the presence region, the treble section sees a rise in the 8,5k region and a gradual fall of the upper treble from there.
Given all this, we understand the rather brightish nature oft the HE-R10 and how it’s manifested
Detail retrieval is a tad below the Susvara and yet also kept in check due to the less linear frequency response in comparison. If I had to rank it among the HE-6, and the Susvara it would take the middle ground. The evolution of Hifiman’s drivers aims transparency and the resolve of subtle details above the last word in terms of slam and physicality. This is also a character trait of the HE-1000SE.
Comparisons: Battle of the Hifiman Flagships (and a little HD 800 bit)
Albums and Headphone Comparisons
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Songs: Can’t Live Without Your Love, Sally Ride, Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, What an Experience
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady – A brilliantly produced album.
I checked out the last few songs from the album, “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” were the tracks I wanted to hear, but once I started I just kept listening and listening, not skipping a track. I was so immersed I forgot to take any notes down at the time. It took listening to the whole album until I started over again.
Vocals are well-defined and strongly centered, instruments rendered with ease and slightly sharp contoured. Part of the slightly brightish character.
“Dorothy Dandridge Eyes“ is reminiscent of the vibes you get from listening to classic Stevie Wonder songs. The R10 sucks you into the music, albeit a bit more vivid than I am used with the Susvara.
Liked it so much I used this collection of songs for a quick listening comparison between the HE-R10 and my modded HD800 both paired with special amp I built myself with the HD800’s strengths in mind.
Bass quality does not reach the HE-R10’s quality and sustenance. The HD800 just hasn’t got the texture, definition or sub bass quality, power. Comparing the layering of the sounds and instruments and vocals, it isn’t as detailed or palpable. Now it still sounded great with the HD800, the detail, separation, the micro/macro-dynamics, the rendering oft he space. The overall scale is huge in comparison, but it’s simply lacking the emotion and the immersion that I get from the HE-R10.
After completing the track’s selection with the HD800 I went back and forth with the R10 and HD800 repeating some tracks to confirm my impressions with my listening memory and yes, it didn’t fail me.
One thing I forgot to mention is the speed difference – the transients are quite fast and clean on the R10, giving the whole experience an extra boost in clarity which allows me to keep a hold on the whole image of the sound in my head without having to focus or concentrate.
A kind of musical thing the HE-R10 gives is a type of luxury Jazz Club experience with some world class performers on the stage. Thanks to the tastefully done acoustic reverb the cups produce we get a good sense oft he whole venue, crowded, filled with laughter, joy, the clapping of hands and the clinking of glasses . This headphone just gives out that special vibe that we long for and haven’t experienced in a long time due to the pandemic.
Ah, the good old HE-6. Old you say? Only in age dear friends.
Back when the HE-6 appeared on the stage, it absolutely floored people and still does until this day when properly amped. Many mythical beasts were slain in order to extract the secrets on how to tame this special beast. For me personally, the quest for the secrets ended with my collection of various Pass Labs/First Watt amps.
My HE-6 is heavily modded, both with blue tack to seal the gap between the driver and the housing, through strategic filling and dampening of the hollowness of the cups with Sorbothane and the choice of good pads, e.g. ZMF Auteur Lambskin.
Well, how does it compete here?
While it doesn’t absolutely reach the fine articulation of the later generation of drivers throughout the whole frequency spectrum, it is very close while maintaining the most physical. tactile presence and transient rendering out of all 4 and still offers the greatest slam. It’s just a physical, almost bombarding (in a good way) experience.
Staging emanates from a strong core center and reaches out like fine hairs. It does not reach the imaging sharpness and dimension qualities of the latest Hifiman but equals these shortcomings out with viscerality and density.
Treble when tamed properly through careful modding is delicate, well-defined with great extension and air.
The studio experience – I’m a fly on the wall in the studio listening to the vocals sang live or the recording engineer listening to the final mixed track. I can hear each element of the recording in its most pure way. Not overly analytical, digging out the unnecessary grey of the mix but tastefully carving out the subtle, tiny details, the hint of cues and the sum of all individual things that are part of the overall image. The transparency allows me to focus in on an element of the track if I want to, but on the most part I’m just immersed into the music and its coherence.
The Susvara goes the last extra mile for transparency, linearity and cleanliness thanks to its rigorously open design where almost nothing is in the way. The acoustical window is without glass, it blurs between me and the venue. It’s a magical experience. It doesn’t have that special kind of reverb the R10 brings to the table and is part of its charm, but it counters with a cleaner bass quality and overall holographicness.
The Pass Labs XA25 drives the Susvara effortlessly with ease and liquidity. My custom 16 solid core Mundorf silver with a touch of gold allows the drivers to get to electrostatic levels in terms of speed and transparency, yet adding superior bass quality and slam which can get pretty visceral. Sometimes this experience even reminds me a bit of the HE-1’s magic.
Strunz & Farah – The Best of Strunz & Farah
I have to say a big thanks to Head-fier @Fegefeuer for sending me the qobuz links to some tracks from this album.
The individual tracks were so nice I had to just start the album over and listen to the entire album from the beginning. Yes, again. I could go on and on with each track itself, I’ll just cut it short to the core with my favorite tracks which I recommend you to check out:
Twilight At The Zuq, Bala and Ida Y Vuelta.
The strings on these tracks are simply well recorded and will be part of my future reference recordings to assess transient speed, attack, test for grain, decay and the resolve of the tiniest of gradual volume changes.
The R10 is relatively similar as the Susvara as for speedy transients. It has an addition to the sound signature, which is from the wood of the cups as I mentioned in my first impressions section. The wood has a magical instrumental tone to the sound, which even gives more of a vibe when showcasing the stings and percussion. It’s in harmony with the genre of music. There is a warm overtone from the bass, which is so pleasing with these headphones. Staging again is very personal.
Tactility and physicality again is a battle of the Susvara and the HE-6. As much as I love the HE-6 the Susvara’s superior articulation especially shines in acoustic albums like this and the staging space gives more breathability and helps unfolding the tiniest trails. Still, the HE-6 keeps up very well and makes for a very enjoyable listen.
The thing I love with the HE-6 it can communicate something unique even the great Susvara can’t do as well, you can close your eyes and physically feel some of the strings being plucked, its a bit like a 4D ride or being in a 4D movie theatre, just another thing to get your senses or imagination going with the beautiful music. Yes, the Susvara can do this too, but not as well – the only let down with the HE6 is the Susvara can do it with more detail. More linear and coherent in the FR than the R10, especially in the upper mids, presence region.
Instrument definition is clearer and does not employ accentuation via a treble rise. Again, it’s modded so not a clear cut reference for everyone.
Nas – It Was Written – The Message
Speaking of beautiful strings – I think we need a little Hip Hop happening too. The Nas track has the sample from the Sting song “Shape of My Heart” – The R10 can render these guitar strings with ease and presence and yet simultaneously handle the big bass line and vocals without breaking a sweat. Now while the Susvara sparkles a bit more in the presence region the R10’s bass is simply too addictive to put away and lust for the Susvara. There are moments like these where the excitement that the R10 brings from a tuning standpoint wins over technical superiority.
And in the same vein the HE-6 enters the stage and blasts the bass like the hammer from the underworld. Dense, with a strong core and foundation from where it emanates its strengths the HE-6 proves itself again as a genre master.
Comparing further and further the pattern stays the same. Those of you who know the HE-6 and the Susvara could almost blindly guess their strengths and weaknesses in the context of the R10.
Nas – God Son – Thugz Mansion (N.Y) with Tupac
The R10 again digs deep into the music, it’s just so well made for this genre which plays into its strengths – even when there’s no beat to tap to.
The guitar, Nas’s raspy voice and the substance of his words. Everything‘s wonderfully cohorent and never out of focus.
Wycliffe Gordon – Darktown Strutter’ Ball – (Chesky Records)
This binaural recording is one of my go to tracks when checking out the capabilities of a headphone, a DAC or amp even. How good are the technicalities? Is it able to take me into the recording? Do I feel realism from the instruments?
The HD 800 as expected shines a lot here – a vast open soundstage, mostly accurate imaging, great dynamism and the texturing of the clarinet towards the end of the track left no signs of smear. I could perceive the subtlest movement, nuances / breath coming from the clarinet, as if the clarinet musician was standing a couple feet away from me.
Listening to this track on the HE-R10 was eye opening, though. I am so used to listening to this on my HD800 it was really interesting to see how the HE-R10 could render the picture. I can perceive the acoustics from the room where they made the recording, which allow me to visualise the band and recording space on the whole. The image boundaries are smaller than the HD 800 (as expected) but the density of the venue is just so much better.
Soundstage height is not as tall as the HD800 but the width on the HE-R10 is very impressive for a closed back with this song – sure, the binaural recording has something to do with this too. I do not feel like I’m in the recording, but I felt like I was witnessing the recording space live. The R10 just pulled me more into the music and kept me there in my bubble.
A little similar to as if you were closer by watching the band in a holographic game of Dejarik aboard the Millennium Falcon, but with a wider floor space.
The sound seemed more vivid than the HD800. The instruments are more real sounding, smoother.
At the end of the track with the whole band going all out doing their thing – all i can say it wow! the dynamics really showcased the headphones, from the drum and cymbal to the trombone (all the instruments) exploded! I could still hear air and separation from all the instruments in the band and nothing got drowned or subdued.
The HD800 gets a little jumbled when all the instruments were going all out at the end – like the speed wasn’t fast enough to render it as realistic and defined as the Susvara or HE-R10 even with the HE6 communicate energy in a more organic manner.
The Susvara is a kind of mix with both the HD800 and the HE-R10 on this track. It has a grand soundstage size, just as big as the HD800, it has all the benefits of both with this track. It even goes into new highs in terms of texture and realism, speed. I can close my eyes and imagine the surrounding band. It’s all thanks to the amazing scaling of the Susvara.
And the HE-6? Having the least impressive imaging next to other three is not detrimental to the experience but it’s still noticeable. Still the HE-6 strikes back with superior FR coherence and the stronger transient attacks. Even though so of the minute detail and imaging isn’t there with the HE-6 the realism is still with the accurateness of the sheer weight of the frequency response it can give you, also with its musicality is all forgiven. I still think with and fast pace electronic album the HE6 is still king – the Susvara will give it a run for its money.
The HE-R10 is a stunning closed back headphone and a well-made entry in Hifiman’s flagship portfolio. Until the Verité Closed or the Focal Stellia appear on my door for a review, I can conclude the HE-R10P to being the best high end closed back I have heard so far.