HE6 was one of the big boi planars. They debuted in 2010 as one of the first models in HiFiMan’s offer and one of the first headphones of the revolution. Gandalf, I was there… 3000 years ago… At least, it feels like that.
A broke-ass kid, just touching the world of headphones. When I was buying my first good pair of cans, I tried the HE400, the OG one. It was something else. Shopkeepers wouldn’t even let me touch the HE6 at that time. It was uncomprehensive for headphones to cost that much. Stax and the Orpheus were basically unknown to people. The HE6 was listed in Forbes as one of the most expensive headphones at the time. It was dark times before planars were so easily accessible. And before $1000+, headphones were considered normal.
The HE6 was a big success for HiFiMan. So big that it became a product that was ordered and serviced for years to come. Even after the newer series came to life, some people still swear by the venerable HE6. A true classic, a young timer, actually. We can safely say that this is a mark of incredible quality in a world of change. HiFiMan often asked about repairs, and spare drivers were still continuing to manufacture them, so an idea popped up to refresh the HE6 into more modern, more comfortable headphones. This is how the HE6SE came to life. It uses the same drivers as the OG HE6, but a lighter and more comfortable frame. So, if you want a piece of the legend, you can have it. But isn’t it just some reheated dinner? After all, HiFiMan moved on with technology for a reason. Is there anything special about the HE6SE that the HE1000se can’t do?
Packaging and Comfort
The HE6SE comes in an exquisite box covered in artificial leather. It looks like an oversized jewelry box. Inside, you will find the cans, a stock XLR cable with a 6,3mm adapter, and a few leaflets. It is basic, but frankly, what else do you need?
The cans share the suspension and headband system from the Sundara. This is a practical solution from HiFiMan, as it is much nicer than the original system that was implemented in HE6. It is also proven, and spare parts are available. The only thing missing is pivoting the cups, but during my testing, it was not an issue. Nothing worse than overcomplicated headphone that is hard to repair. No, thank you.
But when unboxing, it felt a little weird that the $400 cans have the same system as the $1800 ones. But, since it works… The comfort is there. It’s not as comfy as Meze Liric, but it is absolutely fine to use them for hours. At 470 grams, the weight is on the heavier side but still acceptable. It’s around 40 grams heavier than my Sundara Closed back.
Build Quality and Tech
The headphone is well made. HiFiMan used metal and high-quality plastic. The headband’s support is made out of artificial leather. The perforated cups hold approx. 60mm planar magnetic driver. The diaphragm is gold-plated. It looks absolutely sick. You can be ballin’ on everybody on your nearest audio meet. The gold plating on the foil creates an inductor, which moves it in a strong magnetic field, creating sound. The HE6SE, just like the original HE6 has a very low sensitivity. You will need POWAH to make them sing. I’m talking 2W+, and I mean the real Watts. 83,5dB is no joke.
A balanced drive is recommended, as always with planars. You know me. The impedance is 50 Ohms, but many measurements show 64 Ohm impedance. While not crazy high, together with low sensitivity it can be a problem for amplifiers that don’t offer large output voltages. The low sensitivity is not all bad, though. The noise will be below the hearing threshold, even with tube gear. Most of the times.
The connections to the cups are made with a 3,5mm jack, unlike in the OG HE6, and I see it as a great quality of life improvement. Some people mod their HE6SE by removing the grille covering the drivers, but I have not tried it, and it is not a part of the review. I’m just letting you know there is an option if you are interested.
So, what does the HE6SE sound like? Absolutely fantastic. It is my favorite planar headphone now. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be the resolution. It gives you 10/10 insight into the music. While it is slightly less detailed than HE1000se, it has better control. If you drive them properly, the HE6SE will never skip a beat.
Metalheads, EDM-lovers, this one is for you. For others too. It’s a very universal headphone, and its slightly darker, slightly musical tuning will appease many. The tonal balance is neutral, with a solid bass (especially for open-back headphones). It is a darker presentation than the newer series of headphones. It has its own style of sound. And it is not worse. It’s different. Dark neutrality. Perfect speed and control, with a fantastic insight into the textures. Luckily it wasn’t done by diminishing musicality. I’m using the HE6SE with HiFiMan’s EF400, and I believe it’s one of the best possible combinations, especially without spending unreasonable amounts of money. It does everything at least very well and many things exceptionally.
For an open back, the subject of this review checks all of the boxes. The speed, volume, textures, foot driving, impact it’s all in there. Let me tell you that listening to Halo by Machine Head was a ride. One of the most technically advanced songs by Californians, this song will keep you on your toes. The wall of sound, the crazy bass lines by Adam Duce, and the absolutely insane drums played by Dave McClain. It’s an all-out assault, a release of emotions musicians hold inside. Yet the HE6SE can reproduce that with no own input. In all that insanity, there is a calm professional who works to deliver you the best possible experience. I can’t describe the bass as anything less than perfection in open-back headphones.
I absolutely adore the Tenacious D. Below the funny lyrics and showmanship of JB and KG you will find great craftsmanship that might get overshadowed by these. It is also music focused on guitar and vocals. Which is perfect for this paragraph, isn’t it? Add to it, that the mastering of the Pick Of The Destiny is really good. The funniest benchmark ever is here. For my tests, I have selected The Classico. It really shows off Jack’s singing skills. The scale, the vibratos, the explosive dynamics. The HE6SE delivers his performance with absolute resolution. There is an endless amount of tone in his voice, and it shows. Another big pro of the cans is the fact that the sound is extremely smooth. It’s not smoothened. It’s smooth. It means that the distortion is really low. Somebody smart once said sometimes it’s not about what is in the sound. Sometimes it’s about what isn’t there. HE6SE gives you all you need and nothing besides that.
Treble is very good too. Listening to The Nearness Of You by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio is a pure pleasure. The song is rich with cymbals from start to end. What I really like, and I imagine many of you will appreciate too, is that the highs are soft, yet they retain their detail. It’s not as detailed as on many other headphones in this class, but it provides more than enough information. What is lovely is that it never lets the sound get out of its grip. Even in more intensive passages, the sounds stay coherent and separated. The high tones of a piano are silky smooth, while at the same time, the cymbals are brassy and metallic. I feel the top end might be slightly lower in volume compared to the Harman tuning, but it’s the way I like it.
The HE6SE delivers a solid performance in the sound staging, but it is not as amazing as the other characteristics of the sound. It is certainly good enough, but it’s pretty far from the HD800. The stage is pretty close to the listener but not inside the head. There is good reach to the sides, but they could use some more depth. I tried the Muddy Waters song My Home Is In The Delta, and the mentioned happened, but there was an interesting thing. The whole album is full of big volume jumps, it’s very dynamic. And that is something that HE6SE excels at. Those leaps in volume really enhance and enlarge the perceived soundstage. But, and it’s a big but – you need a powerful amp to do that with the HE6SE.
Brother against brother, the civil war. They are very different indeed. Their common point is the fact that both are very detailed and have great resolution. The HE1000se is brighter than the HE6SE, providing more detail, a nicer, and more interesting treble. The sound staging is also better on the newer model. There is much more space between the sound and the listener, which I appreciate very much.
On the other hand, the HE6SE is more pleasant sounding and excels at the control of the sound. The HE1000se is also more comfortable and easier to drive. Both are absolutely amazing headphones, and the final decision will come down to your preference. If you like hard and heavy music, the HE6SE will be a better choice, that’s for sure.
The Audeze LCD-X 2021 was praised by us for its bass, but it has to take a knee before the HE6SE. While the American cans have more muscle, the quality is on HiFiMan’s side. It’s more agile, controlled, and refined without losing the fun aspect. The LCD-X has a thicker and richer midrange, which might be an advantage if that is something that you seek. It loses in insight and resolution, which was to be expected in this case. Treble is a close tie. HE6SE was smoother but sometimes more boring. The Audeze is more interesting but could go into too much in some cases. The soundstage of the two is on par also. This is probably the closest comparison in this review. A testimony of two amazing pairs of headphones.
The HEDD is darker in tonality but doesn’t provide as much in terms of bass, both amount-, and quality-wise. It has a completely different style of providing sound. More lively, more colorful. The sound also is leaner and faster than the HE6SE. The midrange of the HE6SE is more neutral and cleaner, but in some cases feels more boring. The treble of the HEDDphone is legendary, and the HE6SE can’t compete with it. It’s smoother and more detailed at the same time. Sharper in the good meaning. And it creates no fatigue, unlike the headphones themselves. The HEDDphone is well known for not being the most comfortable cans on the market.
A reasonable flagship for those unreasonable times. The HE6SE is one of the best planar headphones on the market. It shines in terms of resolution and control while delivering a slightly musical, intensive sound.
Its neutrality makes it easy to shape the sound with your chosen amplifier. Take your time choosing it. With its low sensitivity and 50/64Ohms impedance, the HE6SE is not easy to drive. The safe option is the EF400, and together they form the (probably) cheapest end-game setup on the market.
The comfort is not top-tier, and the materials used could have been nicer, but all of those objections vanish when you listen to it and compare the sound to the asked price. If you are shopping for cans in this price range, it’s an absolute must for an audition. The king lives on.
Big thanks to HiFiMan for providing us with the HE6se 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.
I can really say “been there, done that” in regard to audio. Designing, building, fixing, reviewing, selling. All of that for big boy stereo. Headphones are something new and fresh for me. We all need something exciting now and then, so join me in my quest of discovering this cool world. We will listen to, drink and WE WILL bring the balance to the force. Oh, I like beer.