By : Theo @ Samma3a
With the HE1000se we get what has become known as a typical HiFiMAN box, meaning that the headphones and its accessories come shipped in a box which also doubles at a storage case. However, seeing as these headphones are of HiFiMAN’s more premium line of headphones, we also get a more premium looking and feeling storage case.
The brown leather (probably still faux) looks really good, as does the contrast stitching. There’s also a metal latch to securely close the lid.
As is usually the case, you don’t really get much included with their headphones. In the case of the HE1000se we get two sets of cables (a single-ended as well as a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced cable) and the large storage case in which the headphones and cables are shipped. The cables are of typical HiFiMAN design and quality. Personally, I think they feel a little skimpy and would much prefer a soft braided cable. As mentioned, the storage case is of a more premium design than what you get with their lower-priced models. The brown leather looks and feels more luxurious than the “businessy black” cases that we usually see, and there’s also an aluminium plate on top that has the HiFiMAN logo and HE1000se text laser-etched.
If there’s one thing that immediately sets HiFiMAN’s higher-priced models apart from their lower-priced ones, then its those iconic egg-shaped earcups. The HE1000se has a similar earcup design to the Edition X V2 and HE1000 V2 but is more closely related to the latter, albeit that the wood accent used for the HE1000se is of a darker colour. The headband design is also practically identical to that of the HE1000 V2 and the uber-expensive Susvara.
Personally, I don’t particularly like the design of the spring-steel headband frame as I think it just looks a bit too obnoxious. The sleeker headband used on the Sundara, Ananda, and new HE6se just looks more refined in my opinion. But of course, there are a ton of people who would be drawn to the more iconic and perhaps even retro look of this type of headband, and so of course they’ll prefer the look of the HE1000se.
The earcups are able to be rotated all the way around and in either direction. Here I have to give props to HiFiMAN as I think they’ve managed to give the swivelling bits a decent amount of resistance as to not feel too floppy in the hand. I generally prefer a more rigid earcup design, but I can definitely see the merit and upside to using this type of design instead.
This is all about comfort, really. As we’ve all got differences in our physiology it is incredibly difficult for manufacturers to design products that are meant to be worn and thus have a generic shape that would accommodate everyone’s physiology. So ideally, what you need is a design that can change and conform to the wearer, and this is what we’ve got here. By designing the earcups in such a way that they can move, at least to some extent, along all three of the axis, it means that the headphones can be worn by many more people and for longer periods of time.
So, as far as comfort is concerned, the HE1000se does get a big score from me. Despite its somewhat high weight, there’s just the right amount of clamping force to them on my head without making it feel like I’m wearing a near-half-kilo set of headphones.
As you’d expect, we also get a removable cable design. HiFiman included 2 cables here with one being a standard single ended cable that has a 3.5mm connector on one end, but they do include a ¼-inch adapter as well. Then they went a step further and gave us a balanced cable too that has a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector. We’ve mostly seen this type of connector being used on Sony devices, and it seems that their main advantage is that the connector tends to be more robust due to it’s larger size as compared to the somewhat flimsy 2.5mm connections that we see on most portable devices that have balanced connections nowadays. The overall design of the cable isn’t anything new, really, as we’ve seen this same kind look and feel used on a vast array of their other headphones.Now, unfortunately we do need to discuss some quality control issues.
As briefly mentioned, the HE1000se does feature some wood accents on the earcups, which are very similar to that of the HE1000 V2 and even the Susvara. On the left earcup it actually feels pretty good, but on the right earcup the wood accent doesn’t quite line-up with the rest of the earcup. Now of course, this is only a relatively minor thing and so I suppose you could argue that this is just nit-picking. However, there is a bit of a more serious issue on the left earcup, which I noticed immediately when I first tried to play some music.
The first thought that went through my head was, “oh great, HiFiMAN strikes out again, the left channel is dead”. The connector was properly seated, but for some reason the connector housing on the earcup is rather finnicky. Thankfully the left channel came to life after I rotated the connector a little bit, but when I rotated it a bit more to see if I can make the problem come back it unfortunately did. So, I thought I would try out a different cable and unfortunately the issue persisted. So that’s when I knew that the problem lies with the earcup rather than the cable.
So yes, it was thankfully not a case of the driver being dead, and so the headphone is still very much usable, but this issue, even if it is slight, should not be there at all.
And see, this is something that really annoys me, but allow me to explain my outlook on the matter.
These headphones come with a price-tag of $3500. Now, you do not have to spend anywhere close to that amount of money in order to get some seriously, seriously good sounding headphones, and so the price-tag of the HE1000se means that we are now well and truly within the realm of what should be considered a luxury item.
With luxury items the idea is that all the engineering boxes have been ticked and you now start adding artistic expertise into the product.
I don’t want to get too off-topic here but to illustrate what I mean, let’s consider what that $3500 price-tag would mean within other areas of the luxury market.
You could drop around $20 on a quartz-powered Casio watch and you’d have a watch that is more accurate than pretty much any mechanical watch out there. So, objectively, that’s all you need to spend if keeping accurate time is your priority. But as you move up the pricing ladder and you enter the luxury market, this is where you end up paying for the artistry. You don’t have to spend more than a few hundred dollars to get a reasonably accurate mechanical watch, but if you want something that is seriously a work of art in terms of both the technical expertise required to make a robust mechanical movement, and you want exquisite dial and case-work, then you could easily end up paying well over $1000. You don’t necessarily have to, but you could, especially for a Swiss-made piece.
So, what’s the point in me mentioning all of this. Well, let’s draw our attention back to that $3500 price-tag that HiFiMan has attached to the HE1000se. In the wristwatch world, $3500 can buy you a really, really nice mechanical watch. I mean, from German brand Nomos you could get the Tangente for cheaper than $3500, and from Omega you could get the Seamaster Professional, or even one of the most iconic watches of all time, the Speedmaster Professional. This is the price-point that we are talking about here.
So when I mention to you a Swiss or German watch, or even a German car, what is one of the first ideas that runs through your mind? Perhaps a product that is well-designed, reliable, and in the case of watches, something that is very accurate, right? Well, there’s a reason why you would think that.
These manufacturers, and indeed those parts of the world, have been producing products for decades, and throughout the span of that time a pattern has emerged. The manufacturers have built up a certain level of trust with people to the point where, if you buy a Swiss watch from the likes of Omega, you know that you’re getting a quality product that has undergone exceptional craftsmanship and quality control.
And yet, you can go on any audio-related forum, and if there are posts about HiFiMAN there will be a pretty large number of them mentioning poor quality control. It’s so common that we’ve reached a point where HiFiMAN now have a reputation for quality control issues.
I just feel that if a company, any company, is going to have the audacity to charge you $3500 for a set of headphones, then I expect them to have all their quality control ducks in a row. This is a premium, a luxury product, and part of the luxury experience should be that the product is meant to have undergone ultra-strict quality control.
Ok, that’s my little rant over. Let’s talk about the sound.
If we look at the bass region of the frequency response we don’t see any particular surprises here as we’re getting a pretty flat response as we’ve come to expect from planar drivers.There’s a bit of a bump in the midrange which means that, whilst the HE1000se does dig deep into the sub-bass region, it can perhaps seem just a little bit bass shy relative to the mids. I only say this with reference to people who might be used to a more meaty low end, but if you’re familiar with headphones where sound quality is given precedence over quantity, then the sound of the HE1000se will probably be one that you’ll like quite a bit.
I really can’t say that I could either hear or see any obviously problems on the frequency response, so overall it’s a pretty clean-sounding headphone that offers a balanced sound which allows you to enjoy all of the music, rather than just certain parts of it.
Something I quite liked was when I was listening to Grass Top on Amber Rubarth’s Scribbled Folk Symphonies album was the very organic sound of the string instruments. The guitar had just the right amount of reverb to still give off that metallic texture without sounding artificial, and likewise the violin on the right channel had a lovely presence.
Being of an open-back design we also get a nice wide stage. It doesn’t come across quite as deep as I’d like, but the width certainly does help to make it seem like the sound is coming from further away than what the drivers are actually sitting relative to your head.
So overall, I’d say that the HE1000se offers a sound which is pretty neutral for the most part and so will sound agreeable if you’ve become accustomed to this type of tuning.
If we look at the frequency response of the HE1000se compared to various other HiFiMAN models, we can see a similar trend in the tuning of all of them. The HE1000se has a response graph quite similar to that of the Sundara and Ananda, but with a noticeable increase in the low and sub-bass region. In this respect it’s more similarly related to the Edition X V2.
So, I suppose that, if you either own or have heard the Sundara or Ananda but you’re looking for something that has more sub-bass extension and presence in the upper mids, then the HE1000se might just be what you’re looking for.
As far as the value is concerned, this is a bit tricky for me. On the one hand I want to say that I really did enjoy the sound of the HE1000se as it definitely does give you a step up from your average mid-range headphones.
But in the back of my mind is still this trend of quality control issues with HiFiMAN products. I don’t feel that it’s unreasonable for me to say that, if you’re gonna slap this kind of price on a set of cans, then there really is no excuse to have shoddy workmanship.
Who knows, perhaps this particular one is just an outlier in this case, but as I said, the fact that there’s even an established trend of quality control issues does suggest to me that there’s a high probability that other people might experience the same or similar issues.
But, for what it’s worth, if you do decide to buy one and you end up with one that has no build quality issues, then I’m pretty confident in saying that you can rest easy knowing that you’ve got a very good set of headphones indeed.