HiFiMan HE-560 Headphone Review

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HiFiMan's Mid-Priced Planar Magnetic Headphone

The HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones hanging off a metal bar
The HE-560 features a single-sided planar magnetic driver designed to deliver tighter bass and better imaging. Brent Butterworth

The HiFiMan HE-560 reminds us that, in a lot of ways, HiFiMan put planar magnetic headphones on the map. Or at least, back on the map. Planar magnetics have been around for decades, made by companies dedicated to audio quality. But the embrace of the technology by HiFiMan – and the introduction of reasonably affordable, great-sounding models – brought planar magnetics back to the attention of audiophiles.

Although acclaimed, the company's efforts look a little primitive – it's no surprise, considering HiFiMan was tackling an unfamiliar technology at the time. The HE-560 and the HE-400i headphones represented a substantial design rethink for the company. The basic technology is the same – planar magnetic drivers mounted in shallow, open-backed cylindrical earcups – but with a much more refined style. The headband is designed to provide a more consistent clamping pressure all around the earpads, allowing it to fit better around your ears, thereby feeling more comfortable.

Like the HE-400i, the HE-560 features a single-sided planar magnetic driver designed to deliver tighter bass and better imaging. For those who don't know what planar magnetic drivers are, they use a mylar diaphragm onto which a long wire trace has been applied. The diaphragm is surrounded by perforated (or slotted) metal panels, which are attached to a magnet. When electricity passes through the wire traces, the diaphragm moves back and forth between the metal panels.

Compare this to a conventional dynamic headphones; they have drivers which are essentially tiny speakers packing the familiar voice coil, cylindrical magnet, and diaphragm that works in pistonic fashion. The purported advantage of the planar magnetic technology is that the diaphragm is lighter and can thus produce more detailed, delicate treble.

The single-sided driver design of the HE-560 eliminates one of the two metal panels, so the diaphragm is open on one side. This choice helps to eliminate the acoustical impedance of the removed metal panel while also lightening the headphone.

HiFiMan doesn't detail the differences between the HE-560 and HE-400i, except that the former features upgraded cables and teak earcups. But, as you'll see, they sound and measure differently.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Features and Ergonomics

The HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones in brown colorway
As with most planar magnetic headphones, the HE-560 is an open-back design. Brent Butterworth

• Single-sided planar magnetic drivers
• Teak earcups
• 9.8 ft/3 m detachable cord with 1/4-inch (6.2mm plug)
• Included storage/presentation box

The HE-560 is an audiophile headphone designed for home use, so it doesn't have much in the way of features. It's made only to sound good (i.e. not to take calls from your smartphone, cancel out jet engine noise, etc.) and look good. The woodgrain sides give it a refined, elegant style that would have delighted the pipe-smoking, Brubeck/Kenton-listening, Esquire-reading audiophiles of the 1960s as much as today.

As with most planar magnetic headphones, the HE-560 is an open-back design (versus closed-back), which means that it provides no significant isolation from outside sound. So when the kids start screaming and the dog starts barking, the HE-560 will offer you no sanctuary. It also leaks sound out, which may annoy someone sitting next to you.

The included cables are relatively inexpensive ones that the company supplied with the review sample. HiFiMan normally sells the HE-560 with a higher-end cable made out of crystalline copper and crystalline silver.

As noted with the HE-400i headphones, HiFiMan's newer headband design seems a little lighter than the old ones while distributing the pressure around your ears more evenly. We found it comfortable enough to wear for hours – something not easily said about the HE-500, which tends to feel heavy for some. HiFiMan says it's 30% lighter – if you just lift both headphones, it's obvious that the HE-560 is radically lighter in weight.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Performance

The HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones inside the product box
For a lot of audiophiles, the HE-560 may just have the perfect amount of bass. Brent Butterworth

For most of the listening, we used the silver-coated copper cables supplied with the original HE-500 review sample HiFiMan sent years ago. As seen in the measurements (below), the HE-560 isn't sensitive enough to get a usable level from a smartphone or tablet. So we paired the headphones with two different USB headphone DAC/AMP devices: a Sony PHA-2 portable, and a Goldmund HDA. Both were connected to a Toshiba laptop full of digital music files.

When listening to "Between Joy and Consequence" from jazz drummer Franklin Kiermyer's intense Further, the differences between the HE-560 and HE-500 are obvious – their similarities are also readily apparent. The newer headphone seems more oriented to detail and spaciousness. Not that it sounds brighter, but the soundstage is definitely bigger, and the air and breath of Azar Lawrence's tenor and soprano saxes are easier to hear. However, the HE-500 has more and deeper bass, with a fuller sound overall, even if its treble reproduction sounds less refined.

Which is better? That's a matter of taste. We presume that Dr. Fang Bian, the entrepreneur behind HiFiMan, tuned the HE-560 headphone specifically to suit audiophiles. Not that it's one of those treble-that-takes-your-head off audiophile faves, like the AudioTechnica ATH-M50; the HE-560 is far, far better balanced, less colored, and more natural-sounding. So if bass is important to you, this isn't your headphone.

Playing our favorite go-to test tracks for tonal balance, Toto's "Rosanna" and James Taylor's live version of "Shower the People," we notice that the HE-560 does have some apparent emphasis in the lower treble – around 3 or 4 kHz. This manifests itself less as an overt coloration and more like a subtle boost in this band. The only thing it does that we'd consider as coloration is that the HE-560 makes snare drums, cymbals, and high-pitched acoustic guitar notes sound a tad more sizzly than they probably would in real life.

Again, the HE-560 doesn't sound overly bright, and it doesn't sound fatiguing. It's just a relatively mild emphasis that makes detail stand out a little more, even if it probably makes the bass appear a bit less robust. It's actually delightfully surprising and rare to hear a headphone with so much detail that doesn't fatigue the ears.

The bass on "Rosanna" and "Shower the People" is as tight and precise as expected from a high-end planar magnetic headphone. On a tougher bass test, the upright bass solo that begins "The Blue Whale" from saxophonist David Binney's Lifted Land, the HE-560 shows off its flawless precision, capturing every subtle detail of bassist Eivind Opsvik's plucking and fingering. As with the Franklin Kiermyer side, we don't hear a ton of body in the bass. But, paradoxically, neither does the HE-560 strike us as thin-sounding.

We doubt many HE-560 owners would listen to a lot of heavy rock or hip-hop on this headphone, yet we decided to try it anyway. We played "King Contrary Man" from the Cult's mega-classic Electric only to fall in love with the way the HE-560 gives huge sense of space to the cymbals, snare, and electric guitars. Sure, more bass would be nice, but it's easy to appreciate that fact that there isn't the slightest sense of boom or resonance in the bottom end – an exceedingly rare experience with headphones.

We had the exact same experience with R.E.M.'s "Little America" from Reckoning. On this tune, the HE-560 sounds pretty close to ideal. The detail, dynamics, and drive in Peter Buck's jangly guitar line, Bill Berry's snare and kick drum, and Mike Mills' bass line really grab at you. Especially the bass, which isn't loud, but sounds incredibly tight and precise – much the way it does when you plug an electric bass straight into a mixing board instead of recording with an amp.

And you know what? For a lot of audiophiles, this may just be the perfect amount of bass.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Measurements

Frequency response chart for the HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones
As with most open-back planar magnetic headphones, the HE-560 is fairly flat in the bass and midrange. Brent Butterworth

The chart above shows the HE-560's frequency response in the left and right channels. As with most open-back planar magnetic headphones, the measurement is fairly flat in the bass and midrange. Above 1.5 kHz, though, it rises considerably, suggesting that the HE-560 will sound somewhat trebly.

We measured the performance of the HE-560 the same way we do other over-ear headphones, by using a G.R.A.S. 43AG ear/cheek simulator, a Clio FW audio analyzer, a laptop computer running TrueRTA software with an M-Audio MobilePre USB audio interface, and a Musical Fidelity V-Can headphone amplifier. Measurements were calibrated for ear reference point (ERP), roughly the point in space where your palm intersects with the axis of your ear canal when you press your hand against your ear. We experimented with the position of the earpads by moving them around slightly on the ear/cheek simulator, settling on the positions that gave the most characteristic result overall.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Comparison

Frequency response comparison chart for the HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones
The HE-560 will be a bit brighter-sounding than other planar magnetics. Brent Butterworth

This chart compares the HE-560 headphones response to three other open-back planar magnetic headphones: the HiFiMan HE-400i, the Audeze LCD-X, and the Oppo Digital PM-1. All are referenced to 94 dB at 500 Hz. The measurements are similar for the two HiFiMan headphones, with the HE-560 showing a little less bass output than the HE-400i, and +2 to +5 dB more energy than the HE-400i between 3 and 6 kHz. This suggests the HE-560 will be the brightest-sounding (i.e. most trebly) of all these headphones.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Spectral Decay

Spectral decay chart for the HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones
The HE-560 shows a lot of resonance in the midrange, but less bass resonance than typically seen. Brent Butterworth

This chart shows a spectral decay (or waterfall) plot of the HE-560. Long blue streaks indicate significant resonances. Like with many planar magnetic headphones, the HE-560 shows a lot of resonance in the midrange, although its bass resonance is less than typically seen with conventional dynamic headphones.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Distortion and More

Distortion chart for the HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones
As with most planar magnetic headphones measured, distortion by the HE-560 is extremely low. Brent Butterworth

This plot shows the total harmonic distortion of the HE-560 measured at 90 and 100 dBA (set with pink noise generated by the Clio). As with most planar magnetic headphones measured, distortion is extremely low. It's almost non-existent through most of the audio band, rising to 1.5% at 20 Hz/90 dBA and 4% at 20 Hz/100 dBA. Note that 100 dBA is an extremely loud listening level (we've learned by doing subwoofer measurements) and 4% distortion at 20 Hz is very, very hard to hear.

Impedance almost dead-flat in magnitude and phase, at a measured 48 ohms. Isolation is, for most intents and purposes, non-existent, with maximum attenuation of just -4 dB at 6 kHz. Sensitivity, measured with a 1 mW signal between 300 Hz and 3 kHz at the rated 50 ohms impedance, is 86.7 dB. That's low, although some other audiophile-oriented, high-end planar magnetic headphones we've measured had similar results. Bottom line: use a headphone amp or a dedicated, high-end music player with the HE-560.

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HiFiMan HE-560: Final Take

Closeup of the HiFiMan HE-560 planar magnetic headphones
The HE-560 is easily one of the most comfortable planar magnetics on the market. Brent Butterworth

We love HiFiMan's new industrial design, especially because many planar magnetics feel uncomfortable either because of their weight and/or too much clamping force at the temples. The HE-560, like the HE-400i, is easily one of the most comfortable planar magnetics on the market.

For some, the tough decision would be whether to spend more on the HE-560 or less on the HE-400i. The HE-560 has a smoother response, while the HE-400i has more emphasis in the lower treble. We definitely prefer the HE-560, although the difference may not be worth almost double the price. But that is a personal decision dictated by pocketbooks and priorities in life.