In 2015 the original HE-1000 marked the definite transition from the old world of their high end offerings, like the absolute legendary HE-6, to the new world with a change in sound philosophy and the physics to achieve it – to popular reception. Much bigger drivers than ever before, in huge oval cups allowing the eye to somewhat see through the headphones (hence “window shade grill”) to reduce acoustic impedances. Refractions, reflections to a minimum, in favor of more openness, transparency, clarity and thus allowing bigger images to be rendered within a much bigger space than any previous instalment or actually throughout the industry’s competitors. The HD 800’s famous soundstage, for instance, now found its superior. The thinner, more nimble drivers now also added more speed and definition and a good eye for detail. A comprehensive package for all the genres you’d throw at it, albeit with its very own approach – a lust for slight warmth, a relaxed, laid back vision of how to project sound onto the listener.
About a year later the v2 iteration saw the light of day, improving upon the shell and overall build to add refinement to that vision, like angling the pads slightly, narrowing the cups to reduce acoustic impedance even further and allow for the sound to pass through even more effortless. Details emerged and appeared better now, cleaner with more resolve in their finer, delicate parts. The HE-1000v2 improved upon the formula manifesting itself as a unique headphone that stood faithful to the OG’s soul.
Now if you’re not familiar with the HE-1000v2, let me readdress that vision.
The HIFIMAN HE-1000v2
The overall character of the HE-1000v2 can be described as well-extended into both directions of the frequency response, where they are also slightly boosted. It’s not necessarily v shaped in a stronger sense but it’s definitely pronouncing both ends relatively more than its midrange, yet at the same time maintains a slight warm aspect despite the sparkle in the treble that helps illuminate the overall picture. A HD 650 or 600 it definitely is not if that is more your jam. However, the way it portrays the mids is nothing short of breathtaking and definitely among the best in its range. Vocals, instruments are clear, open, spot on in timbral aspects, projected in front of the listener’s eyes with an emotional aspect that you easily connect with and bond. There are still very few headphones that manage to transport you in such a way when it comes to rendering vocals.
The laid-back nature or the “drive” as in perceived macro dynamics add to the slight warmish aspect of the overall sound character that is especially carried through the enveloping, rather voluptuous bass presentation. Let’s say compared to a HE-6 which is notably more powerful, aggressive and forceful in that regard. HE-1000v2’s bass is toning down that impact and going for more volume, grandeur, finesse, bass line separation and texturing. Overall, detail and resolve are on such a good level that this laid-back approach is never in need to forward these aspects during the presentation with the means to show off or distract. It’s more about cohesion and fluidity throughout the whole range. The lack of disjointment or segmentation goes hand in hand with the overall composure of its driver. It never runs out of steam when things get heated, complex or wild. The HE-1000v2 maintains its vision through and through. It never doubts itself.
Staging and imaging are simply GRAND. GRAND as in tall, deep and wide. Again, in front of the eyes, layered with such finesse that not only the relative positioning of instruments, singers or objects can be perceived, but also the actual depth between them. This is where holographic presentation comes to mind. The feeling to sit in front of everything and almost being able to reach out.
Onto the HIFIMAN HE-1000 Stealth!
Now how does the HE-1000 Stealth improve upon that, or how do they compare to each other? Let me spoil it for you: They are different, both in their technical merits and how their presentation aligns with your very own taste.
Let’s start with the technical evolution.
Those Stealth magnets again!
We simply cannot escape Stealth Magnets, can we? As can be noticed in my previous reviews but also in those of others, there is a pattern that so far never broke. When you’re so far favorite HIFIMAN headphone gets a Stealth Magnets update finally, the technical foundation changes or shifts in the very same aspects to any other previous update of a certain model. Take the Arya v2 and v3 for example. You can find the review here:
Let me reuse a paragraph from that review to quickly explain the advantages of Stealth Magnets:
When sound waves pass through the magnet structure via the diaphragm, they are prone to interferences and diffraction with conventional designs as air is moved through them. The Stealth structure ensures this to happen to a minimum for more precision, clarity and imaging precision. In the same vein a stealth bomber’s shape and form which is not a random or artistic choice at all, and ensures deflecting or bouncing off radar waves and becoming unnoticed, HIFIMAN’s stealth system ensures magnets not being in the way of the sound as good as possible.
Now we are good to go:
Overall character and differences:
The HE-1000 Stealth throws laid-back and softness a good bit out of the window. It’s not a very radical departure from the HE-1000v2 but one that will make you think whether you trade the laid back nature for a notably improved technical foundation that is underlined by a notably more aggressive and dynamic nature – or ultimately just have both in your inventory.
The HE-1000 stealth takes no prisoners in comparison once you start it up the first time after having given it a good degree of burnin. It’s more explosive, sharper, forceful in nature. The Bass hits and kicks harder; the transients are more tactile and slightly less rounded. It’s not dry by any means. Cohesion and fluidity are still in the DNA but everything is more tight and forward in the presentation. The Stealth went Muay Thai on all fronts. The previously noted slightly v-shape nature has taken a slight turn and pushes the midrange more forward now.
The large protruding soundstage of the HE-1000v2 that is emanating in front of you is smaller now, tighter packed, but far more sharper in how everything is rendered within it and never blurry or similarly diffuse. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s the pattern. Smaller in the overall presentation but quite a big step forward in accuracy and sharpness. This is especially benefiting genres like metal, rock or Hip Hop. This headphone throws itself at you now, with more power and macro dynamics compared to the HE-1000v2, now with more finesse and agility.
The HE-1000 Stealth Bass does away with the large footprint, enveloping, rather pillowy nature and counters with tightness, boldness and decisively more heft and kick – certainly very welcome for a lot of popular genres, especially as the dynamics are improved as well. It still maintains all the qualities of the HE-1000v2 bass. There is no glossing over with all the added speed at all. In fact, it’s arguably better in this regard now – on a technical level, at least as the romantic, rather soft nature you might have fallen in love is gone now. Bass lines are as easily resolved as before and the ability to separate them is actually a notch better now.
The change of nature is especially clear in the midrange thanks to the more forward and micro / macro dynamically enhanced presentation now. The romantic nature makes space for a livelier, playful sense of aggression to the benefit of many plucked string instruments, e-guitars or simply: the attack of a piano. There is more bite now, less rounding and softening, more tactility or physicality in the transients. The HE-1000 Stealth doesn’t have the HD 800 squareness, it stays faithful to its foundation, but there is no relaxing anymore. Vocal presentation is as beautiful as ever. Open, clear, high in resolve and in its nuances.
Here we find the HE-1000 Stealth to turn things up again, closing the door to any „hope“ of not being such a departure of the V2’s vision. The treble is not only quite a bit more forward, there is also again, more bite, more micro-dynamics, more liveliness. This makes amp pairing more crucial than the V2 which keeps the treble emphasis more subtle, less in your face.
The Stealth definitely benefits from a warmish amp or any kind of technically proficient tube amp or tube hybrid.
Whereas the V2 had a slight sparkle that mostly maintained its balance, the Stealth is definitely overall a step brighter, more forward. It doesn’t shy off with its barrage of details. Where the HE-1000v2 was rather laid back in throwing details at you in this frequency range, the HE-1000 Stealth takes no prisoners. It’s an assault in comparison. Truly spectacular for this price range.
As you will have found out by now the HE-1000 Stealth is not an upgrade per se in my opinion as its change of nature contrasts itself with the HE-1000v2 in such a way that those two ultimately are different headphones for different purposes or tastes. The rich, inviting, laid-back romantic nature of the V2 that transports you with every listening session deep into the night for the detriment of your sleep vs the ever so attentive barrage of attacks, the technical superiority throughout all the frequency range, the bass punch and power the and jumpy dynamics of the HE-1000 Stealth.
Personally, I find them more complimentary than the Stealth being a simple replacement, but as of now the HE-1000v2 is discontinued, making the HE-1000 Stealth the only option going forward.