Every single time I write a review of Hifiman’s product, the introduction paragraph is getting harder and harder to write. How many times can I point out that this is the nr.1 manufacturer in the world when it comes to headphones.
They do offer arguably the best value models in every price segment when it comes to open-back, planar-magnetic headphones. It’s quite recently though when they started to go into dynamic driver headphones, so this is pretty interesting.
Their first dynamic headphone was the HE-300, a budget model released back in 2012 I believe. While it was certainly a good product, it wasn’t meant to flip the audio world upside down, mainly because of the market it was targeting.
Then, after many years Hifiman announced the R-10D and R-10P, and it was one of the most controversial announcements in headphone audio well…ever. Hugely based on the legendary Sony MDR-R10 with those huge and asymmetrical earcups, Hifiman surely grabbed a lot of attention. Some time has passed, and Hifiman has launched yet another model in this line, the HE-R9, which we’re going to review today.
What’s really interesting, is that Hifiman went with wired headphones with an optional Bluemini R2R Bluetooth module, and this is a hugely functional combination. The Bluemini R2R was originally supplied with the Deva Pro, our “Best Product of 2021”. This is THE headphone that will forever change the landscape of Bluetooth over-ear headphones. The Deva Pro is an outstanding product that I use very frequently, so this is very nice to see Hifiman trying to squeeze the most out of it.
The HE-R9 comes in a completely redesigned package, which Hifiman is starting to use with more of their models.
It’s a cardboard box with subtle branding, but it feels nicer than their previous offerings (apart from the Susvara, 1000se, and other high-end models of course). The good news is that you’re getting a headphone stand made of hard foam, that is used as a filler while the headphones are in transit. This is a very nice touch, as we all need headphone stands anyway, so you’ve got one more thing less to worry about.
The stand, even though it’s quite basic, does the job. It’s not tall enough to accommodate the R9 that is fully extended and has the cable plugged in, but it’s just a matter of playing around or adjusting the headband. While not the best, having a headphone stand in the box is a big pro for me, and it’s just brilliant.
Apart from the stand, you’re getting the Bluemini R2R module and a 3.5mm cable. You can use the R9 as both wired and wireless headphones, via Bluetooth, USB-C, or just a classic analog connection. The possibilities are almost endless.
The included cable is that black, soft one included with the latest Hifiman headphones, and I’m a fan of this specific cable. While not looking anywhere near-premium or luxurious, it’s super soft, doesn’t tangle, has no microphonic effect, and is just a joy to use. Ironically, this is the best cable that Hifiman has even included with their headphones in my opinion, as it just does work flawlessly and is hyper-comfortable.
Design, Build and Comfort
Let’s get into the design, build, and comfort of the HE-R9. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the earcups are hugely influenced by the legendary Sony MDR-R10, widely regarded as one of the best headphones ever made.
So, speaking about the design, the R9 is basically a Deva Pro with closed-back, cherry-colored, huge earcups. While I won’t recommend wearing them in public (mainly due to the fact that you’ll look like an aircraft pilot), they do look great. The huge earcups add that layer of refinement to the overall basic design, and it’s just impossible not to draw attention while wearing them.
The build quality is good, not perfect, just like with all Hifiman headphones. The R9 feels substantial and lightweight at the same time, and it feels really solid. The whole construction does not make a single noise, so the R9 will last you a long time.
As far as comfort is regarded, the R9 is just like any other Hifiman headphones, very comfortable. The lightweight construction paired with a very good and soft headband and plush earpads all make for a very pleasant experience, even while wearing the R9 for many hours without break. I don’t have any problems with listening to the R9 for the entire day, and my head and neck don’t have any problems with that, something I cannot say about many other headphones on the market. As I said in many of our reviews, Hifiman first handles the ergonomics, and then they build the headphone around it, and this is THE way to do headphones.
The Bluemni R2R Bluetooth module is pretty lightweight and it plugs into the left earcup, not adding too much weight to the entire construction. It’s easy to use with just a single button and a USB-C connector, so using it is just as simple and pleasant as it gets. It still amazes me how was Hifiman able to squeeze such a great sounding circuit with Bluetooth in such a small unit, this is some next-level wizard action.
There’s certainly a fair amount of tech included in the HE-R9.
First of all, the driver is using a “Topology Diaphragm” technology by Hifiman. Here are a few words about it from the company itself:
Hifiman has been using the “Topology Diaphragm” in their R-10D as well. It’s interesting to see a company that is focused mainly on planar-magnetic drivers engineering new and exciting technologies in dynamic drivers as well. Dr. Fang Bian is just a mastermind, to say the least.
Next up is the Bluemini R2R module. It’s built around an R2R DAC, which for the size and price of this little guy is just mind-blowing. Hifiman is releasing more and more headphones that can be used with the Bluemini R2R, and it’s just a fantastic way to increase the functionality and value of their products. Actually, they just released the Hifiman EF400 All-In-One (review soon!), which uses R2R technology as well. This is wise: create the technology, and then use it in a wide selection of different products. Spoiler alert about the EF400 – this is a “product of the year 2022” contender to say the least, and it’s only May!
Back to the Bluemini. It charges via USB-C, and the battery lasts up to 8 hours, which is a good score having in mind its impressive topology. It uses Bluetooth 5.0, a Qualcomm QCC5124 chipset and it supports LDAC, aptX HD, AAC, and SBC, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 114dB – this is mental.
That’s not all though. You can plug the Bluemini into the R9, and use the USB-C cable to connect it to a PC or MAC, and the Bluemini will act as an external DACAmp, powering the R9. In this configuration, you don’t even need to have any DAC or AMP to use the HE-R9 with your computer with zero latency. My MacBook instantly recognizes the Bluemini as an external DAC and it works with no setup.
You can of course use the HE-R9 as a wired pair of headphones as well. The drivers are rated at 32Ω and 100dB, so the R9 is very easy to drive. Just grab any DAC and Amplifier you’ve got and use the R9 as classic, wired headphones – you’ve got that option. I’m mainly pairing the R9 with the newest EF400 and I’m getting shocking results, but more on that later.
When it comes to sound, the HE-R9 is definitely one of the most unique sounding headphones Hifiman has released in years. Their headphones usually sound extremely neutral, ultra-fast, and detailed, being very technical and natural sounding at the same time. The R9 is a big, bold, and warm-sounding headphone that deviates a lot from what Hifiman usually offers.
Let’s start with the bass as usual. The R9 is closed-back and it uses a dynamic driver, hence you should expect a significantly different type of experience than the Edition XS for example. The HE-R9 is a king of fun when it comes to low frequencies, resulting in a vastly different sound signature than I’m used to with the rest of their lineup, which is a great thing, as it makes Hifiman even more competitive in different market sections.
So, while I won’t call the HE-R9 a Jack Of All Trades, it definitely shines the brightest with electronic music, metal, rock, and hip-hop, which rely on a saturated and physical bass delivery. The bass of the R9 is so huge that it actually makes the earcups vibrate quite much when listening to some bass-heavy tracks on a moderately high volume. Don’t think that it’s overblown or it lacks control though, as it would have been far from the truth. The R9 has a great grasp of the low frequencies, delivering an exceptional amount of dynamics and texture, while also reaching quite low. It doesn’t extend as low as the best planars, mainly due to the limitations of the driver’s technology, but other than that, this is a fantastic, saturated, and exceptionally fun to listen to bass delivery.
A good example is the last album of Tool, the Fear Inoculum. There’s a song called “Chocolate Chip Trip” and it’s basically Danny Carey aka Octopus and his insane drum kit. The amount of body that the R9 delivers in this track is just insane, making me bang my head like crazy. These headphones are made to deliver fun, and they certainly deliver on that promise.
The midrange is pretty warm, especially considering that we’re speaking about Hifiman headphones. The entire midrange is smooth and very pleasant to listen to, so it continues that fantastic fun factor that the bass offers, giving you mids that are just a blast when it comes to long listening sessions. Yes, the bass has a tendency to slightly bleed into the lower midrange, but I think that it’s a good thing in this case, giving vocals that added richness and natural warmth. What’s interesting is that I’d call the R9 an overall intense and extreme sounding headphone, but it’s not extreme in any specific area, which might sound ironic, but I don’t know how to explain it differently. This model is targeted toward people that just like to have fun and enjoy their music, especially more dynamic genres. Hifiman already has a lot of headphones that are perfect for everything, highly universal, and superbly technical sounding, so the R9 is a great springboard from the rest of their lineup.
So, every single vocal I throw at the R9 ends up sounding melodic, rich, and natural, with added body. Everything sounds big and bold on the R9, so this is definitely a trademark of this model. This is one of the most romantic-sounding Hifiman headphones I’ve heard to date, somewhat reminding me of the original HE-500. It has that ability to put you right into the music and take you dancing, offering a very rich, smooth, and colorful presentation that is loved by many (me included). If you thought that Hifiman can only do neutral, think again, as the HE-R9 surely proves it’s far from the truth.
The treble is the most dependent on the synergy. While it will never sound harsh or unpleasant, you can get quite different results depending on the system you’re going to use the R9 with. I will elaborate in the “pairing” paragraph.
So, the overall presentation of the treble is again, smooth and romantic, with good detail and great resolution. It has enough energy to make your electronic or metal tracks sound prominent and very dynamic, yet at the same time, it won’t bother you with unnecessary peaks or sharpness. This is mainly due to the fact, that the treble is smooth and not too forward sounding, so you’re going to have a good time even while listening to poorly mastered albums, which is a plus. You know that metal can sound unforgiving quite often, so I’m happy to report that the R9 handles it with ease. It’s not doing that in exchange for details and resolution though, as these two aspects are up there with the rest of the frequency response when it comes to technical performance. It’s just a different flavor, a more “classic” approach to treble, which has that sweet timbre and great body to the sound. What’s also worth noting, is that the treble extends quite high, not quite the Susvara or 1000se level, but it was never meant to rival these two Goliaths. The most important thing is that you’ll be able to listen to the HE-R9 for a long time, while not sacrificing any of the fine details in the recording, and this is the ultimate trait to have.
The soundstage is just mind-boggling when speaking about closed-back headphones. Just like the R7DX that I reviewed lately, the R9 doesn’t stage like a closed-back whatsoever. The soundstage is very wide, deep, and has great separation between instruments, resulting in perfect imaging and a very convincing 3D effect. I feel like most headphones I’ve reviewed in past few years got to the level where they stage incredibly well, but to see a closed-back doing things like this is impressive, to say the least. If you’re looking for closed-back headphones that stage like an open-back, look no further, the R9 is your guy.
Both headphones share some similarities, but they also differ quite a lot from each other. Both are big and bold in the bass presentation, resulting in a very fun listening experience. The midrange is more romantic and rich in the R9, whereas the Aeon 2 shines in transparency and crispiness. The treble is much more pronounced in the DCA model, not being as natural and rich sounding as the R9. Both models have great soundstage capabilities, but I’d rate the R9 slightly higher, as its soundstage is broader and even so slightly more accurate.
Lastly, while I would take the Aeon 2 for a walk outside, I would not do it with the R9. The Aeon folds, it’s much smaller and won’t draw as much attention, while the R9 will make sure that all eyes are on you. If that’s your cup of tea then sure, go ahead, but it surely is not for everybody.
The HE-R9 however is a different story. It’s much richer, thicker, and bigger sounding with huge dynamics and that intense bass delivery. While it won’t work as great as the XS as the one-and-only pair of headphones you’ll have, this is the ultimate example of a secondary pair to complement your daily, reference one. I can definitely recommend owning both, with the XS handling your everyday stuff with authority and technical excellence, and the R9 for your intense fun times. Yes, the Edition XS is more detailed and its tuning is much more mature and neutral, but I somehow tend to grab the R9 more, mainly due to that fun bass response and romantic vocal presentation. Choose which one is for you, or get both, you can’t go wrong.
Bluemini R2R Bluetooth module
Let’s address the elephant in the room, how does the HE-R9 sound when it Bluetooth mode? Absolutely spectacular. The Bluemini R2R module sounds like a proper R2R DAC, which results in a rich, smooth, and romantic presentation, just like the R9. Pairing both devices of similar characteristics gives us a sound performance that is just exceptionally pleasant and natural.
Two days after receiving the R9, my girlfriend stole both the R9 and the Bluemini, paired it with her phone, laid down, and was going to listen to some music for an hour. Well, an hour changed into 3 hours of rushing through her entire library to see “how does THIS or THAT sound like”. She was in audio heaven, but she loves big bass, so I was not surprised. She pointed out that the amount of fun and cleanliness of the sound shocked her, especially considering that she was using Bluetooth via LDAC codec. She’s not entirely a newcomer to audio, as she tests everything that I review, including all the crazy flagship-level gear, so let that sink in. This is her favorite product that she ever tried out of everything I reviewed since we live together, so this should give you an idea of how fun it is to listen to.
The latest All-In-One from Hifiman, A R2R balanced DAC with a powerful headphone amplifier, capable of getting the Susvara crazy loud. My review is in the works, so definitely stay tuned if you’re interested in reading about this little champ.
I got both devices in the same package, so I plugged both in immediately and paired them together. First seconds after an hour or two of warm-up and I was sold. This setup sounds incredibly mellow, rich and bold, while offering incredible dynamics and authority of the sound. The R9 is not a power-hungry headphone, but the EF400 definitely has more than enough juice to power like 20 of those, so it handles that driver like a champ. I already gave you a spoiler that the EF400 is a “Product of the year” contender for me, and when paired with the R9 it made me very happy that I get to listen to such an incredible audio stuff on a daily basis. I’ve got the Susvara, Elite, D8000 Pro, TOTL IEMs, Dacs, Amps, and I still enjoy this sub $1500 system A LOT. Sometimes technicalities are not the most important, and for these moments, the EF400 + R9 is my nr.1 setup for the past few weeks. Ever since getting them, the R9 is my most-used pair of headphones, the EF400 my most used DAC/Amp, and together they’re the most used system that I’ve been using throughout this time. Intoxicating.
Let’s try something very different now. The EarMen Colibri is a very small DAC/Amp, or a really big dongle, however you want to look at it. Its tuning is rather neutral and analytical, with slightly thin sounding treble and midrange that is not too engaging. The R9 is the opposite, so it should be a good match, right?
And a good match it is indeed. These two complement each other in such a way that the sound you’re getting is just right. No more analytical or slightly thin sound out of the Colibri, now it’s thick, moist and very, very engaging. That’s why I love reviewing audio, as some products are just waiting to be re-discovered. The Colibri is a great device, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t entirely my cup of tea when it comes to its timbre. Well, now I have found just a perfect companion to pair it with.
Also, the treble out of this combo sounds very different than with the EF400 for example, providing a more forward and crisp sound delivery. As I said in the sound paragraph, treble is highly dependant on what you’re going to pair the R9 with, and this pairing is a good example. However, you won’t find any pairing that makes the R9 sharp or unpleasant, or at least I haven’t.
SMSL DO100 + HO100
Okay, this one is going to be quick and straight to the point. How does the HE-R9 sound when paired with a dead-neutral budget stack by SMSL? Brilliant.
These little guys are like chameleons, they don’t have a “signature”, so the timbre of your headphones is basically a type of sound you’ll be getting. The SMSL stack makes sure the R9 gets a high quality, clean and powerful signal, and the R9 handles all the fun and subjectively cool stuff. If you want to get the HE-R9 but you wonder if it’ll pair well with a budget stack like this one, the answer is yes, it will.
In case you’re still wondering if I’m not a Hifiman employee, the answer is still NO. Well, I ran Hifiman’s booth at the Munich show for an hour, as the crew went to listen to some cool stuff, but I did it entirely out of my sympathy towards Mark and Tomek.
Okay, jokes aside. It’s not my fault that Hifiman only launches amazing products, so as long as they’ll continue this trend, you’ll be getting highly positive reviews from me. The HE-R9 is a complete product with great value. It’s wired, it’s Bluetooth, it’s wired but digital, it can do it all. The comfort is great, so it’s easy to use the R9 for many hours with no problem, and the sound is exceptionally fun, rich, and romantic, with one of the craziest bass responses I’ve heard in over-ear headphones in my life. The HE-R9 exceeded my expectations by a mile, so it now joins the Edition XS as my recommendation for headphones under $1000. Additionally, if you don’t need Bluetooth, the wired version of the R9 is now going for as low as $369, and this is just absurd.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE1000se, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, HEDDphone, Hifiman Edition XS
- Sources– Bluemini R2R, SMSL DO100 + HO100, Yulong Aurora, Hifimane EF400, Burson Playmate 2, EarMen Colibri, EarMen Tradutto, SMSL SH-9, Cayin N3 Pro,
Big thanks to Hifiman for providing the HE-R9 for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. Hifiman hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.
You can get your Hifiman HE-R9 (no Bluetooth version) on Apos Audio here. This is an affiliate link.