Drop HE5XX

Drop HE5XX

30 December 2020 0 By Petros Laskis

The Giant Killer

Pros: – Reference natural tuning
– Musical presentation
– Well extended bass
– Full sounding
– Comfortable
– Dual entry detectable cable
– Price

Cons: – A touch lean at the highs
– Minor quality issues

The HE5XX was kindly provided by Drop and is still under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

Note

After further listening tests and further research we have edited the section HE5XX vs Deva.
Kindly read again.

Introduction

The Drop/Hifiman HE5XX is a brand new open back planar magnetic headphone that is selling for $220 and can be bought exclusively from Drop.
This is not the first time that Drop and Hifiman join forces together but rather the sixth with various models available such as their great success HE4XX ($180) with more than 40k units sold and the dynamic driver HE35X ($70).
The HE5XX is positioned between the now out of stock Edition XX and the HE4XX.

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Technology

Quoting from Drop website we read:

“Inspired by HIFIMAN’s iconic HE500 Series headphones, the open-back HE5XX pairs powerful, speaker-like audio with new ultra-light components to maximize both fidelity and comfort”.
“Thanks to stronger double-sided magnets, 2-micron-thick Nano Diaphragm membranes, and other careful design adjustments, the HE5XX is 30-percent lighter than the Legacy HE500. What’s more, these same components (plus a newly designed conductor layer) greatly increase the efficiency of the HE5XX, making it easier to drive. For those that want to push to performance even further, the HE-5XX is also wired to work with a balanced cable”.
The HE5XX has a nominal impedance of 18Ω with a sensitivity of 93.5dB so it is not power hungry.
The cable entries are separate for each ear cup featuring a 3.5mm plug that is used for all the new generation headphones of Hifiman so finding aftermarket cables should be an easy task.

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Inside the box there is only the 1.5m cable of typical quality plus an extra 6.35mm adapter.

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Physical

Weight is 355gr and it can be considered very light weight for a planar headphone.
The design of the HE5XX resembles very much that one of the Deva with the same ear cups and gimbals this time finished with a black matt color that better suits our aesthetics.

The ear cups are made of good quality plastic with a metallic black mesh at the outside which covers the drivers and looks very beautiful while the gimbals are made from metal.
The difference is in the headband design and in the way that the ear cups are attached to it.
In the Deva we find the brand new extra thick headband of Hifiman while in the 5XX is that classic older style design that was also used by Drop in their previous Hifiman products.

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The headband is very lightweight and made of a metal band covered with synthetic leather and reinforced with extra padding.

The Achilles heel of the headphone seems to be the plastic rounded clip that attaches the ear cup gimbal to the headband.
To be honest we haven’t experienced any problems at all but it looks a bit flimsy leaving us wondering how future proof it is.

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The headband length is easily adjusted with ten clicks and the whole system allows for a small swivel of the ear.

A minor issue that we have encountered is that in the lower position of the available length the headband edge is depressing the ear pad in a way that restricts movement and might damage it.

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The ear pads are the hybrid type design that we find in a lot of Hifiman headphones with the outside and inside made of soft synthetic leather while the outer part that touches the face is made from a breathable velour mesh.
The pads are internally filled with good quality memory foam of medium hardness.

Comfort

Wearing comfort is good thanks to the even distribution of the weight and the medium clamping force.
The ear pads are very roomy and can accommodate the whole ear without depressing it but depth is medium so some ears may touch the inside mesh.
We used it for hours long without feeling a hint of discomfort and we also found it very breathable and stable to the head.
Our overall impression is that build quality and feeling is good and the headphone seems to be durable and able to withstand the test of time at least if we treat it with care.

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Listening tests

We have spent a lot of time with the HE5XX so we were able to test it with various devices at our disposal like the iFi zen can and NEO idsd , FiiO M11 pro and Q5s Type-C , Vali 2+ , EarMen TR amp just to name a few.

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The HE5XX is portable friendly but still needs an amplifier able to provide enough current and above all quality due to its great transparency.
With a revealing and unforced nature it is going to do justice to upstream gear but on the other hand it’s not forgiving at all to mediocre quality.

Regarding overall tonality it is evenly tuned with a natural and lifelike presentation.
It’s not perfect as we are going to discover later but hey what is and the HE5XX ticks most of the right boxes.
Bass extends well without any serious roll off and is realised with a linear and a neutral approach without a hint of extra boost or midbass bleed.
The low notes are rendered tight and layered with detail and insight even in the most complex passages.
This is the well known Hifiman bass that is clear and accurate but this time surprisingly well bodied and dynamic.
Having tested all the current models up to the Ananda we can declare the HE5XX as the most full sounding of the bunch or if you prefer the least lean sounding with great overall dynamics.

Transition up to the mid range is almost linear with a slight progressive emphasis to make the region sound full and slightly forward.
Voices and the rest of the instruments are very accurate and well rounded with the right amount of projection and timbre.
This is not a mid centric headphone but rather a headphone with a balanced and yet engaging mid range.

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Then there is smooth rise up to the presence area and treble without any severe peaks to ruin the overall performance.
As that we are served with a crystal clear detail with very good integration of all the small nuances that add greatly to a lifelike character.
This headphone is an excellent performer with technicalities that reach well above the price point in a manner that is truly surprising.
Air among the notes is great and higher pitched instruments are almost tonally correct.
And we say almost because we can hear a slight peak that slightly ruins the whole picture adding a somewhat fake texture to some instruments.
Some instruments or notes if you prefer decay a little faster than the ideal so they sound a bit thin and rushed.
Still the overall tuning and timbre are natural and very satisfying with a highly musical factor.

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Headstage as is the case with it’s sibling the Deva is magnificent and without rivals until we reach several times more expensive offerings.
Wide and deep is full of air with a laser like precision and very believable proportions.
It will communicate the recording venue with great success offering the listener the chance to open a window and lean inside the performance.

Selected comparisons

Now let us discuss some brief subjective comparisons between the HE5XX and the rest mid priced members of the Hifiman family.
We are going to analyze sound performance only as the fit and build quality between the various models is more or less the same except the Sundara.

Vs the HE400i 2020 edition ($169)

(https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/hifiman-he400i-ver-2020.24702/review/24488/)

The HE400i 2020 is maybe the best bargain when we are talking about a branded high quality planar magnetic headphone.
Compared to the HE5XX it lacks a little in bass extension and is flatter regarding the mids with a more emphasis at the higher registers.
Another key difference is the leaner sound signature which combined with the overall frequency response makes for a monitor type presentation whether the 5XX is fuller sounding with a more musical manner and better instrumental timbre.
The 5XX is clearly a better technical performer regarding overall clarity and separation with a more natural decay and much better soundstage.
So in our opinion the extra $50 are well spent but still the 400i is a great bargain very well suited to restrained budgets or when a more monitor like and analytical character is desired.

Vs the Sundara ($349)

(https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/hifiman-sundara.23041/review/24766/)

This is the only rival that clearly bests the HE5XX in build quality by a fair margin.
With metal ear cups – but without significantly added weight – and the classic style self adjusting leather – metal headband is made like a tank and can withstand any kind of abuse while still being elegant and visually appealing.
Moving on to the sound we have a more lean and slightly brighter character against the more bassy and fuller sounding HE5XX.
With both headphones equally performing in the technical department the choice comes down between the fast , analytical and detailed approach of the Sundara vs the more relaxed and natural voicing of the HE5XX.
Sound preference is purely subjective but if you are looking for the best build quality and the maximum durability then be prepared to pay the extra $139 without remorse.

Vs the Deva ($299 with the BlueMini included)

(https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/hifiman-deva.24334/review/23957/)

And now it’s time for the million dollar question.
Is the HE5XX the Deva rebranded with Drop and Hifiman trying to fool us?
Hell – definitely NO!
This question has been addressed officially by Drop but there are two web resources with measurements that lead to different conclusions.
The one claims that there are very similar but different headphones and the other that they are exactly the same.
Well we don’t know and maybe there has been some kind of misunderstanding between Drop and Hifiman and that explains the Drop statements.

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Since we don’t have the tools to perform our own measurements we are going to provide our subjective listening experience.
We have opened both headphones to have a look at the drivers and they seem identical.

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It is definitely true that they sound very similar.
Maybe the HE5XX offers a slightly better bass extension that additionally is more controlled and detailed but it might be a placebo effect.
Since we had to unplug the headphones every time we cannot guarantee 100% about the different since it is very very difficult to tell them apart.
But we think that actually it doesn’t matter as long as both sound excellent.
There are other differences to determine which headphone is the best offer and we think that both can have it’s own place.
By now it seems that the HE5XX with it’s lower price is the obvious choice and this is partially true at least when we need a cabled headphone with 3.5mm dual entry plugs.
But the Deva has an ace up sleeve and it is the BlueMini with it’s great diversity.
The Deva is one of the best designed bluetooth headphones in the market as it is a headphone that can become instantly wireless by just plugging the BlueMini.
So for an extra $99 we get the extra BlueMini that is not just a wireless dongle but it is an excellent performer and can substitute as a separate usb dac of high quality.
And let’s not forget the headband and aesthetics differences that for some people do make a difference.
As always judging between budget and our needs will call the final winner.

At the end – A Clear Winner

During our time with the Drop HE5XX we have been constantly wondering how it came that Hifiman authorized this release greatly risking to compromise the rest of their mid priced line.
Don’t let the asking price of $220 fool you as the HE5XX is one of the best headphones we have ever heard no matter the type or value.
With an excellent natural and musical tuning plus technical performance rising well above the HE5XX is a remarkable achievement.
It is a reference planar magnetic headphone that should definitely be a part of every collection even without considering the friendly price.

The test playlist – http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright – Laskis Petros 2020