In which I thank my suppliers and give a casual introduction and generally set the tone for the musings which will follow
I got married in 2019. Typically of me it was a laid back experience where things just seemed to fall into place. That is, until HiFIMan came along. The esteemed company started really upping their game. There were headphones, Dacs, Amps coming out of that factory faster than the reviewers could keep up with. I have had a close relationship with HiFiMan for many years, but 2019 was when it got serious. I can remember the date it got real. It was 20th April 2019, 7 days before I was due to get married. The Jade II system arrived. The HE6SE arrived. Both big launches and both building from a huge cult following of previous designs. The items had been in the subjective review offices for a week and I recieved an email requesting their prompt return. Despite working full time and preparing for a wedding the following week, the business on these 2 items was done, they were returned, and, since that time, I have not had a single chance to return to the HE6SE. Now, we are back together again. I have the time to relaunch the relaunch, as it were.
HiFiMan had their arm twisted gently round their back and have very kindly sent me another review sample. Typically, the review samples from them are no different than that which you would get, should you order them. The SE part of the HE6 stands for special edition – it’s important not to confuse that for Stealth Edition. Special Edition, in this case, means the old HE6 has had a facelift. Based on feedback and research from the great brains that work behind the scenes to bring you these endless improvements, the HE6 looks quite different from it’s elder brother. A new headband, new connectors and a shiny new set of cups gives me the distinct impression that this looks like the Massdrop version of the legend.
Why is the old HE6 a legend? Because there is great love for it. Huge numbers of posts have been submitted regarding every aspect of this phone, how good it is, what is needed to bring out it’s best, who has what version, which pads are the best, how and what to mod, nothing has been left untouched. When the HE6 went out of production, to make way for new models such as the HE1000, there was a deep sigh of anguish which could be heard echoing through the valleys of the portable audio clan. How could they discard such a headphone? There were reasons, of course. The HE6 was heavy. The planar drivers were notoriously difficult to drive. Not only that; it was expensive aswell.
The HE6SE now
The relaunch of the HE6 was a greatly anticipated affair. A new look, a more comfortable headand, a universal connector and a highly polished aluminium styling brought an old design a new flair. What hadn’t been changed were those planar drivers that so many people held in reverence. What remained of the old design was the weight and the inefficiency. Despite a new headband and an adapter to hook these up to a speaker amp, those 2 factors appear to have been stumbling blocks. It’s fair to say that the SE version of the HE6 has not sold as well as HiFiMan had hoped. The HE6SE are now becoming scarce. There are less SE’s around than there are 6’s. When you can find them, such as on the HiFiMan website this week, as per the introductory picture shown, they are on sale for a fraction of the RRP on launch, as illustrated below:
The UK bit of Amazon seems to be the only stockist around at present, although I’m sure HiFiMan would do what they could to source an SE for those of you outside of the UK. Do Not despair! Ok, so we have talked about buying them and how to find one, but are they actually worth purchasing, when there are 100s of other choices out there? That, my friends, is down to you. I can guide you as to what I think, but you really need to give them a listen first. When they’re so scarce that’s going to be difficult. Until now….
The HE6SE in action
The opportunity to listen to the HE6SE and to compare it to another top class headphone as in the power of your fingertips. This is because I have the ability to bring you the actual sound of a set of full size headphones, as if you were wearing them yourself. All you need is an open mind, plenty of time, and some half decent headphones or earphones. I’ll do the rest. How though? Easy! I have a set of binaural in ear mics – the Sennheiser Ambeo, which I have connected to an ipad. I put these in my ears, set the volume correctly, put the headphones on over the in ears, put the music on and press record. The mics pick up what is going on inside the cups. I record in lossless, 44.1 quality and upload the results into the cloud, and provide a short sample on the YouTube video, as below:
You are closer to the truth now. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that measurements for a headphone are interesting and important, especially in the design and quality control stages of their construction. But we don’t cannot listen to a measurement, we can only imagine what a headphone can sound like by studying it’s relative performance. Such analysis I will leave to the likes of those that have invested the time and money into doing them, at least for now. The only way you can truly know what a headphone sounds like is to listen to it over time, with different genres of music, different sources of hardware, in different moods. Of course, even I can’t provide you with all of this. My samples are at least a start, a part, of that journey. My observations are drawn over time, and with the different genres and sources, so bear with while I demystify the HE6SE/Arya debate, that is, hoping that you have had a chance to have a listen yourself by now. If not, please head back and equip yourself witha listen or 10. Then you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions.
HE6SE v Arya Organic
This match is a legend v pedigree setup. The Arya is part of the new styling that stems from that 1st glimpse of the large teardrop design that was introduced for the HE1000 series. The headband for the 6SE is usually seen on the HiFiMan base models, the planar driver wouldn’t fit into the teardrop shape either. The overall aestetic impression is therefore that the HE6SE looks cheaper. I mean, it is now, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The Arya Organic doesn’t need anything like the amount of power the HE6SE craves, it is happy with a fairly standard DacAmp. The Organic will respond to a bit more juice, as one would expect from a headphone of this class. I make no excuses for putting these 2 headphones into a very special headphone amplifier indeed. Fang Bian, the CEO and founder of HiFiMan has stated that the SE needs 2W at 50 Ohms to make it sing. I can provide 20W of Pure Class A mode with the kit I have used. How does that sound?!
Yes; that should do it. The EF1000 amplifier. A £13 000 slab of valve/transistor amplification that has no compromises. That is certainly a fitting place to plug in a couple of headphones for our little demo, don’t you think?
The results are in. The HE6SE was a punchy, detailed, lively affair, which could arguably be described as a little forward, or hot, or peaky, in the mid to high frequencies. The bass was faster, and leaner, than the Arya, the mids had more clarity, as did the highs, than it’s counterpart. It had to be turned up an awful lot higher than the Arya Organic. The Arya had an effortless, smooth, balanced sound to it, a fuller, richer bass and mid response, that hid some of the detail that was present in the HE6SE. The highs were rolled off somewhat compared to the SE, but tastefully so.
So,which was best? For detail and clarity – the HE6SE. For richness and tonality – the Arya Organic. For shortish periods of listening to music – the HE6SE. For longer sessions, using lots of different genres of music – the Arya Organic. These are my opinions, I respect if you feel differently, and maybe the measurements will asist you with that. I hope to see more reviews of theHE6SE in years to come. In fact, I shall take a look at the differences between this and the original, and see if there is anything sonically different. I suspect I may be part of a dying breed, but I sincerely hope that I’m not.