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Christmas Gift Guide
Headphones

This Hifiman headphone may be the world's best

The competition at the extreme high-end of the headphone market is fierce, so Hifiman made its top headphone even better.

It was in 2009 when I reviewed my first Hifiman headphone, the HE-5, and that headphone in some ways outshined the very best and much more expensive Denon, Grado, Sennheiser and Ultrasone headphones of the time.

The Hifiman HE-5 also sounded different, probably because its planar magnetic drivers were lower in distortion and much larger than the conventional drivers in the competitors' headphones, and that's still true today. Fun fact: the HE1000 V2's drivers aren't round or rectangular as they are in other headphones, the HE1000 V2's drivers are ear shaped.

The Hifiman HE1000 V2 headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The HE1000 V2 is a reboot of the HE1000 from just a few years ago. They look similar, but there are significant differences between the two. First, the headband adjustments have been redesigned to allow the HE1000 V2 to accommodate a wider variety of head shapes and sizes, so the 'V2 feels more comfortable to me. It's also a little lighter, now weighing in at 14.8 ounces (420 grams). The original was 16.9 ounces (480 grams). The new headphone's ear cups are thinner, while the ear pads have become thicker. The headphone's cables are user-replaceable, and impedance is rated at 35 ohms.

The 'V2's look and feel are downright luxurious, but the price remains unchanged from the original HE1000, it's $2,999 in the US, £2,599 in the UK and AU$4,399 in Australia. The headphone is available on Amazon.

As I listened at home with Pass Labs HPA-1 and Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL headphone amplifiers, I can almost feel my brain recalculating synapses as I got lost in the sound. I'm definitely wearing a headphone, but one that sounds more open and less inside my head than other headphones. Dynamic punch is good, but I've heard better soft to loud contrast and superior transient response from my Abyss AB-1266 headphones.

Then there's the effortless clarity, the HE1000 V2 "disappears" as if it doesn't have a sound of its own, it's a truly colorless device. Treble is pure without any hint of glare or harshness, midrange is natural and the bass is deep. To put some perspective on the sound I donned my Audeze LCD-3F, and swapped between the two 'phones. Both headphones feature highly refined, ultra thin-film planar magnetic drivers.

It was immediately obvious the HE1000 V2's power and soundstage performance were way ahead of the LCD-3F's, which was spatially smaller, with softer bass definition and less deep bass on Philip Glass' breathtaking score for the film, "Powaqqatsi." Rocking out to Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" album, the HE1000 V2 unleashed more life from the band's grooves, while the LCD-3F took them down a peg or two. Even so there's still a lot to like about the LCD-3F's more laid-back presentation, it adds a touch of warmth to the sound which can be a real asset with harsh recordings. The HE1000 V2 was more neutral and more comfortable, there's no denying that.

The Hifiman HE1000 V2 headphones' stainless steel and real leather headband.

Hifiman

Comparing an original HE1000 with the HE1000 V2, they were somewhat different. The original is big, rich and clear, while the HE1000 V2 is more neutral, vivid, livelier, more exciting and has more precise image focus. Still, they both sound good, just different.

The HE1000 V2's look, feel and sound embody the very best of the high-end aesthetic, but is it the best sounding headphone? Some think that honor belongs to the Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone, but I disagree, the SR-009 lacks the dynamic slam and bass oomph of the HE1000 V2.

Just a few months, ago I raved about the Focal Utopia headphones, but sadly I no longer have them on hand for direct comparison with the Hifiman HE1000 V2. As I recall, the Utopia was even more see-through transparent, but the HE1000 V2 might be as open. Both are superb, and anyone seeking the ultimate headphone should try to audition both.

If the Hifiman HE1000 V2 is out of reach, no worries, the Hifiman HE400S ($300, £190, AU$419) is still my top pick for best affordable audiophile headphone.