Hifiman HE-300: A new high for mid-price headphones?

You can't beat full-size headphones for sound quality, and Hifiman's snazzy new HE-300 may be the best mid-price model on the market.

The market for quality headphones is still growing by leaps and bounds, so there are lots of new brands getting into the game.

When Hifiman introduced the HE-5 headphone in 2009, I was so impressed I compared it with $1,000+ models from Audio Technica, Denon, Grado, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone, and the upstart company's headphone model more than held its own.

More recently I looked at the Hifiman HE-500 headphones ($699), and compared them with one of the best headphones in the world, the Audeze LCD-2 ($945). That one's low bass felt more solid and had superior impact, but the HE-500's midrange and treble were more detailed and present.

Hifiman HE-300 Hifiman

The HE-300 ($249) shares the HE-500's styling, but uses more conventional driver technology. It's lighter in weight (270 grams), has a leather headband and soft velvet earpads, and comes with a user-replaceable 9-foot-long cable terminated with a 3.5mm plug (and there's a 6.3mm adaptor). The long cable is bulky and a little stiff, but since it's user-replaceable, HE-300 owners may find shorter, more flexible alternatives. The headphone comes with a sturdy padded storage case. Comfort over long listening sessions was good, but not up to full-size Sennheiser headphone standards. That company has a real knack for making comfy headphones.

Savage Aural Hotbed is an all-percussion band, and its CDs sounded you-are-there transparent over the HE-300. The drums' hard-hitting dynamics and bass punch over the HE-300 sounded more powerful than the HD-580 and other Sennheiser headphones I had on hand. The HE-300's bass-midrange-treble balance is excellent and smoother than comparably priced full-size headphones, like my Audio Technica ATH-M50. That headphone made more bass, but bass definition and overall clarity weren't on the same level as the HE-300. The Grado RS225 was better than the M50, but not as evenly balanced as the HE-300 on Jakob Dylan's "Women and Country" CD. The bass went deeper and Dylan's vocals were more natural sounding over the HE-300. I listened to all of the headphones with my CEntrance DACport digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier.

The HE-300 also sounded fine plugged into my iPod Classic. That open quality is a rare treat, compared with my usual in-ear headphones. Neil Young's "Live at Massey Hall, 1971" is a gorgeous, audiophile quality recording, and it was sounding so good it was hard to believe it was coming out of an iPod. Not all full-size headphones are suitable for portable use, but the HE-300 definitely is. As you can see, Hifiman has done it again, the HE-300 has set a new standard of performance for its price class.

 

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