HE1000se is the third iteration of the vastly popular HE1000 series from Hifiman. It uses some tech that you can find in their flagship Susvara, and it’s priced at $3500.
I still remember the first time that I’ve listened to the original HE1000. It was a rather cold evening here in Poland, and my friend was organizing a headphone audio meeting at his place. One of my friends, Stefan, brought the newest and craziest model by Hifiman, which has been exciting for everybody in the room. I plugged them into his Questyle QP1R and played a song called “When a Blind Man Cries” by the legendary Deep Purple. I was standing in the middle of the room, but not for long though, as after hearing Ian Gillan’s voice, I simply sat down on the floor. It was that good.
Fast forward a little bit, and I had the HE1000 in my house for like 2 weeks, to have fun with and to make a review of them. They instantly became one of my favorite cans, thanks to their wonderful bass, beautiful, lush vocals, and the detail retrieval, which was really hard to beat back then.
The original HE1000 has been actually a huge success for Hifiman, and it established this company as one of the leaders in high-end headphones back then. Ever since they’ve been constantly pushing the limits further and further, which ended in the introduction of the Susvara, which is widely regarded as the best pair of headphones in the world. Sure, you’ve got the Shangri-La and the HE-1 Orpheus by Sennheiser, but those are complete systems, that include dedicated source components. The Susvara is just a headphone, and it costs a mind-boggling $6000. I’ve listened to them many times already but haven’t been able to get one for a long period of time for a review, but I’ll surely try to change it in the near future. While I’d call them as really the best pair of headphones money can buy, they do require A LOT of power to show their full potential, and by a lot, I mean a lot. People actually use stereo amplifiers to run them, which might give you an idea of how demanding in terms of power they are.
Today I’m reviewing the third generation of this product, called the HE1000se. It is one of the most expensive headphones on the market, and if Hifiman does something like that, we can be sure that they have something really special up their sleeves. It is said to be a baby Susvara that isn’t too far off when it comes to the ultimate sound quality, while being miles ahead when it comes to power requirements.
$3500 for a pair of headphones is nowhere close to being cheap, so you should be expecting a luxury product in every aspect – the unboxing experience as well. Even though Hifiman isn’t known for their super luxurious and over-the-top packaging, I think they’ve done a great job this time.
The 1000se comes in a leathery-like box with an aluminum top cover, which is absolutely huge. It’s not a jeweler-quality box, don’t expect a great smell of leather, silk on the inside, and hand-polished metal parts, because those would increase the price of the headphones even further. Hifiman is not really about that, they invest a lot in technology and engineering to make sure, you’re getting the best product possible for the price you’re paying. I believe this is the best approach to this topic, because at the end of the day, the box sits in the closet or on your attic, and the thing you’re using on a daily basis and the thing you’re paying for is the product itself.
Nonetheless, the box of the 1000se is great and it does look premium. Another nice touch is the owner’s guide that you’re getting. It’s a beautiful catalog about the headphones, what makes them special, what’s the tech inside, etc. I’d like to see it more often, as it’s reminiscent of the old times. Fair enough, you can go to Hifiman’s website and read all of this, but nothing beats the real deal that you can touch, smell and enjoy.
Overall, you’re getting what you paid for. You’re buying a premium, high-end pair of headphones and the unboxing experience truly feels like one.
The cable included with high-end headphones is a never-ending story of saying that it should have been better. Fair enough, you’re paying a lot so you should expect a lot. Hifiman includes three different cables with the 1000se – a short one terminated in a 3.5mm jack, and two long ones using 6.3mm and a balanced XLR connector. You’re basically getting all you need, except for the 4.4mm balanced cable for portable use. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to spend $1000-$1500 extra so Hifiman would upgrade the cables to some high-end treats. Go ahead and do it on your own, at the end of the day cables come in so many lengths and terminations that it would have been nonsense for Hifiman to guess what you’d like.
Having all that in mind, I have to admit that the cables included with the 1000se are good enough and totally usable. They don’t get in the way and they’re decent quality. Go ahead and get a screaming-edge, $1000 aftermarket cable – it’s totally worth it and you’ll notice a difference. But you’ll do it on your terms and you’ll get specifically what you want, and that’s the way to do it.
Build quality and comfort
I was really, really surprised when I took the 1000se in my hands for the first time. Hifiman did have some problems with build quality in the past, I’m not gonna lie. But I’m happy to report that the build quality of the 1000se is fantastic.
First of all – the weight. They are really light, and thanks to that, very comfortable. It’s a screaming-edge, TOTL product that you can wear all day without a single sign of fatigue, and this is absolutely fantastic. Compared to the likes of Focal Utopia, Audeze LCD4, Abyss 1266, HEDDphone, and many more, the 1000se is just a remarkably designed headphone that connects great build and unparalleled comfort.
Another really smart thing that Hifiman did is the wood on the 1000se. It’s a veneer, not a solid wood, and while it’s not as premium, this is the best choice they could have made. Real wood is heavy, it requires oiling, and it doesn’t like humidity, otherwise, it might crack. Thanks to using a veneer, you’re getting that beautiful look without bothering about the condition of the wood and sacrificing comfort by increasing the weight. Really smart.
Next up, the headband strap and earpads are both great quality and comfortable. The first one is made of perforated velour, and it distributes the weight perfectly, so you won’t be having ANY hot spots on the top of your head. It feels great and solid, so it won’t be tearing anytime soon. Luckily, as replacing this part might be very problematic.
The earpads are made of leather on the inside, and a soft fabric on the part that touches your head. Hifiman has been making these hybrid-style earpads for years now, and it’s proven to be the best when it comes to both comfort and sound reproduction. They are actually quite beefy and deep, which improves the comfort even more, and thanks to their hybrid design, they are specifically engineered to be as sonically invisible as possible. Definitely the best earpads by Hifiman I’ve ever used.
The overall construction is basically all-metal, that has been hand polished. The hinges work smoothly and perfectly, free of any squeaks or friction. Even if you’ve been using the Ananda and/or Arya, which may look very similar in the photos, these are not even close in terms of the feeling of the whole construction. The 1000se feels well-made, solid and very functional, from the swivel mechanism, all the way to the headband regulation. This is a true craftsmanship at its finest, and while I thought it’ll never happen, I have to call the 1000se the best-made headphones I’ve ever used in my life. It’s not all about the super luxurious materials, but how the whole construction is thought-out and executed that impresses here.
When it comes to the tech that sits inside the 1000se, it’s next-level and class-leading, and it has its reflection in the sound quality.
First of all, the 1000se uses a nanometer thickness diaphragm. Basically, the thinner the diaphragm, the lower mass it has, which results in faster response and lower distortion. You can definitely hear that, as the distortion in the 1000se is basically non-existing.
Next to that super-thin diaphragm, Hifiman uses the “Stealth Magnets”, which is basically an array of magnets that are acoustically invisible. It’s essential to reduce wave diffraction turbulence, which affects the integrity of the sound waves. Thanks to this technology, you’re yet again getting the purest, cleanest performance with no distortion.
Also, the 1000se uses a patented “Window Shade” system, which allows for a perfect combination of driver protection and openness of the sound. It keeps the sound waves from second refraction to avoid unwanted vibration and distortion. This affects the soundstage, clarity, and detail reproduction of the headphones.
Looking at all of the above, it’s easy to see the path that Hifiman went with while creating the HE1000se. It’s a top-level engineering to provide the best possible clarity and openness of the sound. While many companies go for a specific timbre of the sound, introducing a “house sound”, Fang Bian is a mastermind scientist, who has only one goal – creating the best sound possible. While our beautiful audio world is vastly subjective, Hifiman just has a different approach to it all – except for doing a subjectively pleasant and enjoyable sound performance, they simply go for an objectively best and most transparent performance possible. That’s the reason why Hifiman has become a powerhouse of the headphone audio industry – Science baby.
How does it all really affect the sound quality is the most important. While at the beginning of their journey Hifiman was “one of the few” manufacturers that were pushing the limits of audio reproduction, the Susvara and HE1000se have set the bar higher than ever.
Let’s begin with the bass. I was expecting it to be somehow light and lacking in weight and definition. Oh, I was really, really wrong. The 1000se reaches superbly low, has a perfect weight to it, and its definition is simply world-class. It is not fun, not dry, not too fast or too slow, it is just as natural as it gets. It immediately shows that all of that tech inside the 1000se is not a joke. The bass response will depend on the music you’re listening to, it will never be trying to push the limits or imitate anything. Its resolution, detail, and texture is class-leading in every aspect possible.
The combination of a very thin diaphragm, acoustically invisible magnets array, and the “Windows Shade” technology all result in extremely fast, crisp and perfectly controlled bass response, that’ll easily suit every single music genre you’ll throw at them.
Of course, there are many people that tend to call themselves “bassheads”, and they simply like boosted low frequencies in their headphones. Fair, it’s by no means a bad thing, but the 1000se could never satisfy one. They just reproduce the truth, not adding a single gram of weight to the sound, and that was the intention of Hifiman.
Thanks to that, the 1000se is an out-of-this-world experience when it comes to well-mastered music. You’re simply getting everything there is on the record, in a realistic, vivid and superbly clean manner.
Let’s begin with the song called “Evil Dub” by Trentemoller. It’s an electronic music that’s filled with various sounds floating in the air, and it’s superbly mastered. The 1000se sounds just mind-boggling in this track. The repetitive bass is deep, controlled, and saturated to the maximum. What’s really impressive, is that even though this bass line tends to dominate the sound in many headphones, for the 1000se it’s like a walk in the park. Everything is separated, crisp and, rich, and it really sounds spectacular.
Next up, “Forty Six & 2” by the metal-gods Tool. Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey create arguably the best bass-section section in the history of metal, and they do sound absolutely godlike on the 1000se. Everything from the pace, to the sound of bass-guitars strings vibrating and the kick of Dannys’ double kick drum sound just natural and as intended. You can actually hear a slight dryness and harshness in the sound, which helps to recreate the actual sound of this exceptional band.
As I stated before, the Hifiman HE1000se doesn’t really have its “bass response type”. It sounds just like it should sound in every single album I’ve tried. You’ll get an extremely low-reaching, energetic, rich, and superbly detailed bass response no matter what, but it’s up to the artists’ intention of how will it be recreated. Absolutely brilliant.
The midrange is unbelievably open, clean, and neutral. It makes the HEDDphone sound veiled in the mid-section, and it’s prominent immediately. While many of you might prefer a slightly voaled, thick and moist midrange presentation (well, I actually do), I have to admit, that the openness and cleanliness of the sound coming from the 1000se is something absolutely marvelous. The vocals have a proper weight to them, they’re highly saturated and very open sounding, resulting in a lifelike presentation no matter if it’s a studio recording or a live performance. The amount of details is, well, the best that I’ve heard. You’re gonna hear every single thing in the record, and it’s not fatiguing whatsoever.
Additionally, the resolution is so high, that every single instrument sounds as refined, natural, and pleasant as it could.
It’s not a midrange-forward kind of sound like in Audeze LCD lineup or something like Meze Empyrean. It doesn’t dominate, it’s as present as the bass and the treble, creating a superbly neutral and coherent sound signature.
“Keith Don’t Go” by Nils Lofgren’s acoustic performance “Acoustic Live” is my go-to track when it comes to detail retrieval and resolution, especially in the midrange area. It’s not a surprise that it sounds absolutely astonishing on the 1000se. Every single pull of the strings, the fingers sliding all over the fretboard, people talking, shouting, and clapping in the venue…it’s like being in the crowd yourself. The sound is so refined and crispy that you’ll hear a lot of new things in your favorite albums, no matter what pair of headphones you’ve been using in the past. They do all of this without even a hint of sounding harsh or unpleasant, and that is the most impressive thing about the 1000se. Their ridiculous technical performance isn’t forced, it doesn’t make the frequency response weird or sharp…this is an excellently tuned pair of headphones that is class-leading when it comes to technical abilities, as well as sounding natural and pleasant.
The treble is a frequency that also gains a lot thanks to the sublime engineering that went into creating the HE1000se. Its openness and airiness are basically unlimited, creating a superbly layered, coherent, and accurate treble response. Once again, its resolution is so high that you’ll never get any harshness or dryness out of it if you’ll give them a good quality system and well-mastered music. The amount of details and the resolution means that you’ll be having problems if you’ll plug them into a low-quality components and play some poorly mastered tracks, but that’s the low price to pay for ultimate transparency and accuracy.
Don’t worry though, as they simply cannot sound like a treble cannon or create a razor blade-like sound when it comes to the treble. For that, you would need a pair of headphones that boosts the high frequencies, like the Focal Utopia. The treble of 1000se is not boosted, it is just marvelously accurate and open sounding, and that means that you’ll be hearing everything that’s on the record, whether it’s desirable or not by the sound engineer.
That type of treble response lets us experience the ultimate timbre of the sound, and thanks to the superbly low distortion, you’re getting an accurate and natural treble no matter the volume.
The treble response is also very extended all the way to the top octave, which means that the sound floats effortlessly throughout the whole frequency range. That gives us an additional feeling of clarity and resolution, as there’s simply no limit to the top-end even near the audible part.
Now onto the soundstage. As I said in the TECH section, every single tech inside the 1000se is meant to improve the accuracy and openness of the sound, while maintaining superbly low distortion. All of that should make the soundstage of the 1000se very big, airy, and accurate, and guess what…that’s exactly the case here.
The staging of the 1000se is next-level when we’re talking about its size and imaging. It sounds way more open than the Audeze LCD3, Meze Empyrean, HEDDphone, Ananda, Final D8000, etc.
It does impress without sounding artificial or overdone. Take the Sennheiser HD800 as an example – it’s legendary for its huge soundstage, but the 1000se is far more natural and coherent sounding in terms of the staging. When it comes to imaging, no dynamic driver can match the accuracy of a well-engineered planar magnetic driver, so it’s not even a comparison in this regard.
It does wonders in both studio recordings and live performances, especially shining in the latter. The amount of air and separation gives us a feeling that we’re in the middle of a really big show, standing on the stage together with the band.
The amount of air between the instruments is just perfect, giving us a very clear and spectacular sense of space, but not overdoing it on the other hand. You can easily pinpoint every sound source and isolate it from the rest, but it still creates a coherent and consistent sound show.
Overall speaking, the Hifiman HE1000se is an objectively outstanding pair of headphones, and I’ll even go as far as calling the best headphones on the market. Its technical capabilities in the best in the market with the likes of the Susvara, Abyss 1266, Stax 009s. It’s marvelously tuned and very universal thanks to being superbly balanced and natural sounding. What makes it the best is that it’s very easy to drive, lightweight, and very comfortable. Forget about compromises, LCD4 and the HEDDphone are very heavy and you won’t be able to wear them all day long. The Abyss AB-1266 sounds fantastic, fair, but its design and functionality are just bad. Hifiman Susvara, T+A Solitaire, Stax 009s and RAAL SR1A are all magnificent and potentially even slightly better than the 1000se, but they do require a nuclear plant to sound at their best, or they simply need an energizer to even make a sound. Compared to all of the above, you can simply plug the 1000se into any modern DAP and get them to sing marvelously. You can even use them with an amp as cheap as the $99 JDSLabs Atom+ and still get a great result. Oh, and you’re easily be able to wear them all day long with no issues. That’s really something.
Requirements and pairing
As I’ve mentioned above, the 1000se is very easy to drive and they don’t need a powerful amp to sound their best. It’s not all though, as if you’d like to get the best sound possible out of them, you really have to invest in a very high-quality DAC and a very, very clean amplifier.
JDSLabs Atom+ stack works just fine, it sounds detailed, very fast and neutral, but it lacks in timbre and raw technical capabilities when compared to some more serious gear. While pairing a $3500 pair of headphones with a $220 DAC/AMP setup isn’t really logical, it’s totally doable. Got $3700 of savings and you’d like to invest in the best pair of headphones possible in this price range? Get the 1000se, buy yourself the JDSLabs stack and you’re good to go for now. You’ll be upgrading the ATOMs after hearing more high-end stuff anyway. The conclusion is that the ATOMs do NOT limit the 1000se when it comes to power and volume, but these headphones simply show you everything there is, so they’ll show you that the quality of the rest of your setup is not really on a desirable level.
Switching to the SMSL SU-9 + SH-9/Little Dot MK III SE gives us a better sound right away. The SU-9 is far superior to the ATOM DAC+ when it comes to raw technicality and timbre (as you could have guessed having in mind that it’s about 5x more expensive), and it’s a much better match with the 1000se. The amount of details, resolution, and openness of the sound goes way up, and you’re getting a true high-end sound experience. The SMSL SH-9 provides a very clean, powerful and transparent sound that gives the 1000se a very neutral, fast, and powerful performance, but this combination will be too technical for some. LD MK III SE is more organic and warm on the other hand, turning the 1000se into a more enjoyable, forgiving sounding pair without sacrificing its technical capabilities. Choosing between them will be completely up to your preferences.
It’s not over though, as using a setup like dCS Bartok/Chord Dave + Ayon HA-3 or XIAudio Broadway S gives us ultimate cleanliness, superb frequency response and the amount of detail is just staggering. Remember, you don’t need a powerful amp, but a quiet, clean and mature one. The Ayon HA-3 gives me that wonderful AA-45 timbre and subtlety which turns the 1000se into a true fun-provider, resulting in a very natural and sweet sound. The XIAudio Broadway S on the other hand is so clean and quiet, that it simply gives the 1000se a very high-quality fuel to shine the brightest. Combine those with a high-end DAC like the Bartok or Dave and you’re getting a sound quality that’ll cost you six digits in stereo equipment.
Last but not least, the Hifiman HE1000se works well with DAPS. Even with a rather cheap Cayin N3Pro they do sound absolutely terrific, especially in the ultralinear mode. Switching to something like the iBasso DX220 gives us a superbly layered and accurate sound, that won’t cost you an absurd amount of money. I’m not recommending going outside with your $3500 open-back headphones, but to have this flexibility everywhere in your house without power cords is very, very impressive.
VS HEDDphone ($1899)
I’ve called the HEDDphone as probably the best bang for your buck when it comes to high-end headphones, as it offers terrific performance and brilliant build quality for their price. HE1000se is way more expensive though, and it shows also in the audio quality department. While the HEDDphone is very fun, powerful, and out-of-your-head sounding, the 1000se is way more neutral, open sounding, and refined. As I said in the midrange section, it is so transparent and natural sounding that it actually makes the HEDDphone sound veiled and compressed sounding. Of course, some may find it highly desirable, as it helps the vocals to sound more romantic and full-bodied, but when we’re talking about an ultimate truth in the recording, the 1000se is really something else. Speaking of bass, even though the HEDDphone has a fantastic, rich and powerful low-frequencies response, the 1000se is more linear, and has a better subbass rumble, that improves its physicality. The HEDDphone is heavier and more “crazy” sounding in general, while the 1000se takes a path into an ultimate transparency and superbly fast decay.
The staging of both is actually an interesting story. While the 1000se is way more open and airy sounding, it creates a more “traditional” soundstage experience when it comes to headphones, where the HEDDphone has an ability to peel the sounds off your head completely, giving you a sensation that some things come to you from different places in your room. If you want an ultimate imaging and a very insightful soundstage, the 1000se is clearly a better choice, as it offers better image and more air between the instruments. The HEDDphone on the other hand creates a unique experience, that (even though it’s not as sharp and accurate), can change your mind when it comes to staging capabilities of headphones.
Last but not least, there’s a factor of the 1000se that completely destroys the HEDDphone, and that is the comfort and functionality. While you’ll be having a hard time wearing the HEDD for more than two hours without a break, the 1000se simply disappears on your head and you’ll forget that you’re wearing them in comparison. That’s the thing that I cannot stress enough, because trust me, you want to listen to both for a long, long time, and only the 1000se will give you that option here. Also, they are much more efficient, and while you really need a powerful amplifier for the HEDDphones to sound the best, that isn’t the case with the 1000se.
VS Hifiman Ananda ($699)
Even though the price difference is huge, there are some similarities between the Ananda and the 1000se. First of all, Hifiman took a similar approach when it comes to the tuning, with both being neutral and insightful. Basically, everything the Ananda does, the 1000se does much better, as it’s an evolution of the concept of the cheaper model.
In my review, I stated that the Ananda is probably the best choice when it comes to a neutral, detailed and fast sounding headphone in its price range, and it really sounds great for what you’re paying.
It’s next to impossible to rate the value of each of these headphones, as the 1000se is just an extreme version of the Ananda, and you’re surely getting what you’re paying for when making such an upgrade. There’s not a single thing that the Ananda does, that would be nearly as good as the 1000se, no matter if we’re talking about raw technical capabilities or the tuning itself. The latter is just a way more refined sounding headphone that offers a true Summit-Fi performance, and that comes with the price.
If you’re using the Ananda and you’d like to upgrade it to a model that simply is built better, sounds more resolving, and offers a similar tuning then the 1000se is your best bet. Skip the Arya though, as they do sound vastly different than both the Ananda and 1000se, with their more forward and definitely less neutral tuning.
VS Meze Empyrean ($2999)
Choosing between the Meze Empyrean and the HE1000se would really depend on the type of experience you’re looking for. The Romanian flagship has a very peculiar tuning compared to the ultimate neutrality of the 1000se. It’s definitely warmer, darker and less accurate, focusing more on that romantic, thick and slow-ish sound signature.
Objectively speaking, the 1000se is far superior when it comes to technical performance. The amount of details that it’s capable of reproducing is just a no-match for the Empyrean, which again, sounds veiled in comparison.
The biggest strength of Meze is its tuning that’ll definitely make many people love them from the first listen. It’s like a soft cloud hugging you in a very delicate and romantic manner, while the 1000se takes no prisoners with its unbelievable resolution and openness.
The Hifiman HE1000se is objectively speaking far superior if you simply want the best audio quality possible, creating a way sharper, coherent and accurate sound than its Romanian competitor. Audio isn’t always about that though, and I can see many people going for the more safe and lush sounding Empyrean. The best solution would be to get both and use them simultaneously, depending on your current mood or the type of performance you’d like to get. If you’re digging the best of the best clarity and detail retrieval though, the 1000se is an easy choice here.
VS Audeze LCD3 ($1945)
Time flies, and the Audeze LCD3 is still a popular choice when it comes to headphones priced around $2000. When it comes to those that seek a creamy, thick and big sounding pair of headphones, the LCD3 still offers a rather good value, especially considering its boutique-like build quality and beautiful, old-school design.
It comes with no surprise though, that the HE1000se completely outclasses the LCD3 when it comes to the pure audio quality. It’s way faster, more transparent, and its detail retrieval is just miles ahead. While the bass response of the former Audeze flagship is quite addictive with its bold and rich presence, the 1000se is just more accurate, universal and definitely more linear.
I said that the midrange presentation of the 1000se makes the Empyrean and the HEDDphone sound veiled in comparison. It is even more prominent with the LCD3, which’s creamy and dark midrange presentation is a no-match for an ultimate openness and transparency. Of course, that wouldn’t be desirable for everybody, as there are many fans of that “classic, vintage” type of sound reproduction that the LCD3 offers.
The HE1000se is actually more similar to Audeze’s LCD X, which is more neutrally tuned than the LCD3, but it’s a same-old-story in this regard as well – the amount of engineering and really clever design of the 1000se makes it just far superior when it comes to raw technicalities.
I’d like to address the build quality as well. While Audeze is known for its beautiful, classic design and great materials, I have to give an edge to Hifiman. While it might not feel as rock-solid and luxorious as the LCD3, its design is more thought-out in the engineering perspective, giving us a more enjoyable and comfortable experience with the headphones.
VS Crosszone CZ-1 ($2500)
Crosszone CZ-1 is an exotic pair of headphones from Japan, that uses a triple-driver design with a crossfeed technology. Having its closed-back design in mind, as well as using a very uncommon driver configuration, you can expect these two to sound quite differently.
That’s absolutely the case here. While the HE1000se has its biggest strengths in the technical aspect of the sound, the CZ-1 is all about that euphonic and unique sound delivery.
It will come as no surprise that the 1000se is yet again superior when it comes to the detail retrieval, resolution, and accuracy of the sound. Its frequency response is way more neutral and coherent, while the CZ-1 sounds simply weird in comparison.
Also, the 1000se is way more natural when it comes to staging, offering a big soundstage with superb imaging. The CZ-1 on the other hand has way more reverberation, making it a really interesting choice for ambient music and soundtracks while sounding off in regular studio recordings.
Having all that in mind really shows how much experience and knowledge Hifiman has obtained throughout the years of producing high-end headphones. Compared to it, Crosszone is a new kid in town, and they are a no-match for the HE1000se.
VS Hifiman HE-1000 ($2999)
It’s been a moment since I’ve had the original HE1000, which probably shows by the quality of the picture above. Nonetheless, I’ve had them for quite a while and I’ll try to give you an idea of what has changed.
Primarily, Hifiman went with a more neutral and coherent sound signature with their 1000se compared to the original. The OG HE-1000 was a rather warm-ish, sweet, and spectacular sounding pair of headphones, with big bass response and extensive soundstage. It was a true fun provider and one of my absolute favorites back then.
Nonetheless, I’m happy to see that Hifiman took their time to upgrade the overall sound quality by quite a margin, which results in the 1000se being superior in terms of technicalities and its tuning.
The current version is way more coherent and accurate sounding, but the biggest change is in the detail retrieval, which has been boosted significantly. The original HE-1000 has been a really detailed pair of headphones, don’t get me wrong, but the SE is simply in a different league. All those years spent into engineering and mastering the planar-magnetic driver technology has proven to provide a significant boost to the audio quality, pushing the boundaries of an accurate, fast and resolving fast further than ever.
The OG HE-1000 probably still has many users nowadays, as it is one hell of a headphone, but the HE1000se is a worthy successor, providing a jump in audio quality that is definitely worth the upgrade.
VS Sennheiser HD800 ($1390)
Sennheiser HD800 has been one of the most popular high-end headphones ever made, and for a good reason. Its huge soundstage, dynamic yet detailed sound and crisp upper-midrange provide a fun, spectacular, and easy-to-like sound.
It was about a third of the price of the 1000se back when it was available, and that price gap is justified, having in mind how much better the HE1000se is.
First of all, the detail retrieval of the Sennheiser ex-flagship cannot compare to the one found in the 1000se. The dynamic driver has its pros, but a well-engineered and tuned planar magnetic driver is simply capable of pushing way more micro-details, and that’s prominent right away. While the HD800 is very good in terms of the macro details, it lacks those subtle little things that you’re easily able to hear on the 1000se.
What’s even more prominent is that the tuning of the HD800 is way less neutral and rich, especially having in mind that famous 6.5kHz spike. Compared to the Sennheiser, the 1000se sounds superbly coherent, crisp and sophisticated, providing a much more pleasant and lifelike tone.
Additionally, its bass performance simply blows the HD800 out of the water, being faster, more accurate, and recreating various textures in a much better way. In comparison, the 800’s bass feels forced, too-shouty and distorted, as it lacks that complete control and an absolute lack of distortion.
This comparison has been a real eye-opener for me of how the audio industry has improved. We’re talking about an absolute Summit-Fi product back in 2010, that is simply a no-match compared to the nowaday’s top performer. Sure, it comes with a vast price increase, but what doesn’t?
VS Audeze LCD4 ($3995)
Audeze LCD4 is a flagship headphone using a planar-magnetic driver as well. It’s a completely different approach to making headphones though, as these two do trade blows in some regards.
The LCD4 is generally more powerful and thick sounding, having great detail retrieval, which is one of the best in the business. Still, the HE1000se comes as superior in this regard, providing a crispier and more insightful sound performance. It’s also more neutral and accurate sounding of the two, while the LCD4 is boosted in the bass in comparison.
The soundstage of the HE1000se is yet again unmatched both in terms of its size, as well as accuracy. The imaging is sharper and more precise, providing more air and being able to pinpoint each instrument more easily than the American flagship.
Yet again I have to give an edge to the 1000se when it comes to functionality and ergonomics. It’s easier to drive, more universal in terms of synergy, and definitely way more comfortable for a long period usage. The Audeze LCD4 is much heavier, which result in being forced to take a break from time to time. Again, you’ll never need to do such a thing with the 1000se.
Overall, while the HE1000se is objectively a more accurate and more detailed pair of headphones, the LCD4 would be a better fit for those who prefer a bigger and thicker sound signature, with superb midrange timbre. If you don’t seek absolute technical capabilities, then choosing between them would come down to your preferences.
The Hifiman HE1000se is a perfect example of what a pair of high-end headphones should be. Build quality and comfort is fantastic, it’s very easy to drive and if you’ll give them a proper sounding gear, they’re easily one of the absolute best headphones in the world. Outstanding detail retrieval, unmatched clarity, and exceptional tuning make them an objectively complete product. There are no headphones in the world that would be as detailed and clean as the HE1000se, while being that easy to drive and which you’ll be able to use for many, many hours without even slight fatigue. Having all this in mind, I’m confident to call them The Best headphones in the world right now. Not in terms of absolute sound quality, but how convenient and easy to use they are while being very, very, very close to all of those $5000+ headphones.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – HEDDphone, Audeze LCD3, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman Susvara, Crosszone CZ-1, Abyss AB-1266, Final D8000, Stax 009s, Sennheiser HD800
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, JDSLabs Atom+ stack, SMSL SU-9 + SH-9, Little Dot MK III SE, Luxman 1040, Ayon HA-3 II, dCS Bartok, Chord Dave, Ayon Stratos, Accuphase E-380, Accuphase DP-570, Transrotor Fat Bob S TMD + Phasemation PP-200
- Cables – Siltech Triple Crown (power), Siltech Triple Crown (interconnects), stock (headphones)
Founder of Ear Fidelity. I’ve been into audio for many years, working in production, distribution, retail, and marketing throughout my career. Now trying to revolutionize the art of reviewing audio gear, but one thing will never change: Music is the most important.