Hifiman HE6se V2 Review




Back in 2009, Hifiman released the original HE6 planar magnetic headphone. It was very well-received for its sound signature, but also required significantly more power to drive than the headphone amplifiers available at the time. Because of the HE6 and other planars at the time, headphone amplifier makers started to design amps that can handle significantly more current that was required to drive these types of headphones. Ironically, now we have many amps that have an abundance of headroom, and much more efficient to drive headphones these days.

That said, there's still inefficient headphones out there, including things like the Hifiman Susvara, the Abyss AB-1266 series, and many others. Okay, I'm going a little off on a tangent now, so let's get back to the  story here. A couple years ago, Hifiman re-released the HE6 in a unit named the HE6 Special Edition, or HE6SE for short.

I won't go into much detail of the older HE6 models, partially because my time with them is very limited to a couple short trials at headphone meets, but also because Svstem wrote a fabulous review and historical collection of thoughts on this model here:





Despite being a newer release, equipped with the latest (at the time) Sundara-style headband, the driver was still as inefficient as before. Now, just a little bit later, Adorama partnered up with Hifiman again for a 2020 release of the HE6SE v2 with the latest iteration of Hifiman headbands; this time with the headband made famous from the Deva. 

Now my experience with Hifiman has been hit or miss in terms of quality control, but I will say that the ones I've purchased via Adorama at stupid-low prices, have had their fair share of issues, while the ones I've bought elsewhere, like the Arya from Headphones.com have had no issues at all. My last Hifiman/Adorama special was the HE560 when they dropped their secret price down to $400 from $900 retail on it several years ago. While I never had driver failures, I did have the well-known issues with the yokes breaking on minimal contact.

Luckily, Hifiman support was quite responsive and quick to replace these, each of the three times it occurred. So anyway, I've recently bought the HE6SE v2, at a price of $699, significantly lower than its retail price of $1799. Is this another bargain with caveats? 

Maybe. 

My first unit, yes first unit... was working great for three weeks and then the left driver suddenly stopped working. It was within my return window, so I was able to get it returned and replaced with a new unit and so far no problems yet! 

Knock on wood....


The HE6SE v2 packaging is similar to other Hifiman packages I've had. Inside the box is a lot of foam wrapped with velveting fabric and with the headphone and a set of cables and warranty card information. 

Pretty basic overall packaging. 

The cable is horrendous. It is the same cable that comes with the Hifiman Ananda and the top of the line $6000 Susvara. It looks like a catheter tube with wire inside, and some connectors attached. It looks cheap, feels cheap, and acts cheap. I recommend buying a new headphone cable. ANYTHING is better.

The HE6SE v2 does not look much like the previous SE model. The headband is now replaced with the Deva style headband, with dark blue plastic ends. The cups are also a dark blue color that can change a bit based on lighting. Overall though, I don't mind the color change, and the headband isn't too bad.

It provides some degree of swivel that the previous headband did not at all, but still lacks the full rotation of the HE560/400i-style headband, and this newer headband is much lighter on the clamping force than previous Hifiman headbands. There's also a slight hotspot at the very top-center for me, but your miles may vary.



The HE6SE V2 weighs about 510 grams and that's quite a bit heavier than the others I've used which are more in the high 300s and lower 400s in weight. It's still significantly lighter than most of the Audeze LCD series I've tried, but not the lightest in the Hifiman line-up.

This is mostly due to the heavier double-sided planar driver this unit has. Hifiman has gone away from this and most of their models now use lighter weight and single-sided planar drivers now. Still, the weight isn't a horrible issue for me outside the hotspot. I am using a headphone headband sweater and that seems to help quite a bit. I also have an Audeze Carbon Fiber headband coming and will perform a swap in hopes of getting better weight distribution and weight loss.

The default pads on the SE v2 is the same as the SE v1. In this case, they both use the default Pali Pads that come standard with the Hifiman Sundara. The original Hifiman HE6 used the standard velour pads which are flat and pretty stiff, but with a very open inner diameter. The Pali Pad has an angle to it and is perforated internally, and has a fabric layer on the skin side for comfort. I've opted to use Hifiman's Focus pads, which came with the HE560 instead. They are very similar in shape and size as the Pali pads, but come with a softer velour material instead of the itchier Pali fabric, however they do get a little warmer. 

The grills are similar to the other round Hifiman headphones out there. It's a metal plate with small circles precisely cut out of them with a very thin veil of fabric behind it. From reading up on forums and through my own listening, I found that removing the grill makes a small and subtle difference in terms of adding additional stage width and openness. It also slightly improves the bass performance and mid-range, which is measurable.

In my case, leaving it grill-less is a bit weird. I opted to order some pre-cut grills on ebay in a honeycomb-shaped design to use as a more open-grill structure. 

Sound Impressions

The Hifiman HE6SE has a very, very, nice neutral-reference tonality that meets my target preferences quite well. I could ask for a little more bass quantity, but the quality is very good. The mid-range is forward with a smooth treble response unlike what I remember hearing on the original HE6, which I found awfully bright.


The bass quantity is just slightly below my ideal preferences, but it sounds quite good no matter the case. It has a more dynamic and punchy sound than the teardrop-shaped Arya, despite the Arya having a deeper bass extension and a tad bit more quantity. Texturing on the HE6SE is quite good for the price point, with precision-speed bass response with enough dynamic punch that it gives it a generally natural sound. 

All in all, I do find the HE6SE V2 to be one of the more natural sounding planars I've tried, although I have not listened to the Susvara before -- this is on my shortlist. The mid-range is forward a bit, though has the typical planar-dip at 1-2KHz. This isn't a huge deal for me as I am quite used to listening to Hifiman planars for years now, but I have heard people say it sounds a little strange at first when they are coming into this new.

This dip does help create a wider and larger soundstage. While I don't think the HE6SE v2 has the biggest soundstage; that goes to the Sennheiser HD800/s, I do think it compares well to many other headphones. It's just when I compare it to the Hifiman Arya, it sounds a quite a bit more intimate. Whereas the Arya sounds more diffuse, meaning its soundstage is wider and more freely open, the HE6SE v2, in comparison, has a more closer and smaller stage. It sounds more focused and with this, you do get to carefully hear the intricacies of things just a tad better.

But that doesn't mean its resolution is beyond that of the Arya. I'd say they are comparable, but their presentations are different. This is most apparent in their treble presentations. In the case of the HE6SE v2, I find the overall treble very smoothed out, almost to an ideal state. It is a perfect balance of being exciting, but not fatiguing. It gives good extension and an airy nature, but doesn't come off as overly bright and does not have the sharpness that the Arya can provide at around 5.5 to 6KHz. 

The HE6SE v2 really comes close to hitting my target frequency response quite well, and I really love it most for that aspect. It also comes with good resolution, staging, and decent imaging.



Musical Pairings & Comparisons

I spent a good chunk of my last month listening to this headphone with all sorts of music. With the HE6SE V2 I was finding that I enjoyed them with ALL TYPES OF MUSIC. For the longest time, I had kept my Arya reserved for acoustical music like jazz, orchestral, and ambient-ish music, while leaving the Verite for use with rock and other genres. The versatility of the HE6SE v2 for my nitpicky ways is a nice addition to this family, and I'm finding myself gravitating towards it most of the time now.

One of the showcase songs I like to use with this headphone is the bass-heavy "Angel" by Massive Attack. This deep and relentless sub-bass attack really shows off the driver's low end punch and tactility. While the Arya has more bass quantity and actually extends better, it doesn't have some of the tactile textured response that the HE6SE driver has. Perhaps, it's due to the driver shape, but while the Arya can handle subbass quite well, I prefer the HE6SE in this case, despite its lower volume.

On "Black Water" by Of Monsters and Men, there's a very smooth overall presentation across the entire song, despite the high-pitched and grainier vocals of both lead female vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and lead male vocalist Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson. In addition, the big kick drums that come on at 0:17 into the sound and kick off each verse and bridge have significant weight and power when the HE6SE is cranked up in volume.

Oh that's one thing I will say about this headphone. I want to listen to this one loud. Louder than I would the Arya. Whereas I prefer the Arya at lower volumes, say 70-75 db SPL, I like the HE6SE v2 at closer to 80dB SPL. It's much like when I used to own and use Focal headphones, especially the Elex. I just wanted to crank up the volume on it to get the full visceral impact. (That said, I still listen quieter than some)

I also enjoyed listening to the Hifiman HE6SE v2 with my typical jazz selections. Joey Alexander's "Warna" record had a nice balance with a forward and intimate sound to it. This, of course, is in comparison with the Arya. When compared to the ZMF Verite, they intimacy and width level is similar. The Verite does do quite a bit of a better job with providing a warmer and lusher atmosphere though; which may create a more soothing experience or one that feels like you're in a dimly lit jazz bar listening live. The HE6SE is more about neutral reference and precision, but with some musicality to it, but nowhere near the extent that the pleasant-toned Verite will offer.



Power Plant Pairing

But it does come with a major caveat. It takes a lot or wattage to show its best. I am not even sure I've pushed it as far as it could go at this point, since I find some amps sound better in some ways and others in different ways and I feel like the potential is still untapped.

I've tried these headphones a number of different amps now and I felt each had a slightly different character. 

Here's a rundown:

Samsung Galaxy S10e Phone

Okay, so I mentioned throughout this article that the HE6 headphones require a lot of power, but how does it actually respond to something more normal to the average consumer. Well, the good news is it can get just loud enough to use. The bad news is that it sounds terrible. It lacks any sort of dynamics, and it really just a smearing of sounds. Bass is definitely missing and not well defined and it is not an that great of an experience.

I also tried using the HE6SE out of my laptop for conference calls, and it was just barely loud enough to hear my co-workers voices on maxed out volume settings.

Lotoo PAW 6000 Digital Audio Player

The PAW 6000 has 300mW of power in either balanced or single-ended outputs, at 32 ohm. It's nowhere near the 2W at 50 Ohm rating that Hifiman recommends as a minimum. Again, it can power it loud enough, but it's missing the special sauce to make the HE6SE sing.

Feliks Elise MK 2 OTL Tube Amplifier

To defy physics a little more, I decided to try this on the Feliks Elise MK2 OTL tube amp. It actually was decent with my Arya, and for the most part its OKAY with the HE6SE v2. It's can get loud, plenty loud. at 50% on the volume dial even. But it does sound a bit bloomy and lacking a little bit of low end definition. It's nowhere as bad as the portable devices, but it does not sound as refined as I like. That said, it's passable.

Topping A90 Solid-State Amplifier

With the A90, we are starting to get into the desktop solid-state amplifiers here. It is rated at 4 Watts at 50 Ohm and has ample power. I used it at 12 o'clock on the dial on high gain out of balanced inputs from the Bifrost 2. It's much better defined and has a more robust sound quality to it compared to the rest of the ones above. 

The A90's biggest pain point for me is what I perceive as a lack of soul. It's transparent and sterile, but sounds a little edgy and flat in its dynamics. Its forward to an extreme, despite being punchy. And that's a little bit of an issue where. While I won't say its terrible with the HE6SE, I know it could be a little better.




Schiit Jotunheim 2 Solid-State Amplifier

The Jotunheim 2 just came out and I covered my thoughts on it with the HE6SE V2 in the previous review of the amplifier. I do love the fact the HE6SE's dynamics are on display here, and its resolution and stage is well-defined and presented. Even the bass is quite good, and very well defined with good texture and decay. It does present the low end a little more neutral and that's why I decided to try something a little different.

Douk Audio G5 Power Amplifier

There's a lot of talk, meme-levels perhaps, of the possible need of a full-blown speaker amplifier for the HE6/SE. Hifiman even markets and sells a speaker tap conversion box for this purpose. I've actually have tried this before with my own DIY cable (speaker cables to 4-pin XLR) a long time ago with my Hifiman HE560 and it worked though was not necessary on the more efficient 560 model. On the HE6SE V2, this need was more warranted.

Unfortunately I only had one speaker amp in the house and I did not want to mess with it for the time being, and I had just recently sold away my Marantz and Cambridge Audio amplifiers within the last 18 months, so I had really nothing to work with. 

I decided to go online and buy a cheap $45 Douk Audio G5 50Wx2 stereo amplifier on Amazon that was available to deliver same-day. Why not? It's based on the popular Texas Instruments TPA3116D2 integrated circuit amplifier, and is quite basic. It has bluetooth and line-inputs and a single volume knob that also powers on the unit.

I plugged the HE6SE V2 into this cheap box, and was actually quite surprised with the results. While it doesn't have quite the dynamics and open sound of the Jotunheim 2, it has a surprisingly nice warm and forward sound to it. The low-end feels richer and just a tad more defined, while the overall-sound may lack some of the faster transients, it does sound more like a warmer Class A style sound than the Class D amp it is, at least when paired with these headphones and versus the Jot 2 and A90.

While I don't think this is the end game headphone amplifier/speaker amp for the HE6SE/V2, I am pretty impressed with what I hear. There are trade-offs with the Jotunheim 2 though, and that's why I think I'll be continuing my search in the near future.


Until Next Time....

...and there will be a next time when more gear/parts arrive. :)

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