The HIFIMAN HE5XX: I'm not sure I understand...
HI all, and welcome back to The Neighborhood! Today we’re taking a look Dave, the Honest Audiophile’s, HE5XX from HIFIMAN and Drop. I’ve been personally interested in the 5XX since it debuted, as I had recently received the Deva and there were lots of reports out there that the 5XX was essentially a cheaper Deva with a different headband, using what most suspected to be the same drivers. So, coming into this review I wanted to answer a few questions, 1) is the 5XX worth buying when the Deva is just a few bucks more? And, 2) is the 5XX the and the Deva as similar as others seem to think? Let’s get InToit!
The build here is the typical drop version of a HIFIMAN Headphone on the cheap. Meaning it has the original thin, form-fitted headband, without a suspension strap or much padding. Personally, I don’t mind this headband, and find it very comfortable, but there are some that report hot spots and difficulty with it form fitting to their head. I seem to have noticed that people with rounder heads are generally fine with this headband, while those with narrower head shapes tend to complain about its comfort. In any case, the headband here definitely helps the 5XX in the weight department, as these are some of the lightest planar magnetics on the market at the moment. The yolk design is metal, and it does play a bit, but there isn’t really any kind of swivel here like in the HE4XX.
Moving onto the cups, their design is very similar to the Deva, but instead of a silver and brown colorway, the 5XX sports and all black motif. The grills are metal like the deva, and the cups themselves appears to be composed of a thick plastic- again, sounding and feeling similar to the Deva. The pads are no different in their similarity with the Deva, except they are all black instead of brown. Nevertheless, the pad material itself seems to be made from the same perforated microfiber for the portion that rests against your face, and the same pleather material on the outside and inside rings of the pad itself. There major difference here is with the connection. The 5XX sports dual, right and left, TRS connections, while the Deva utilizes a single-sided, balanced 3.5mm TRRRS connection at the base of the left earcup, which supports its blue mini, Bluetooth adapter. The 5XX does not support this adapter, but likely fits many, other, more traditional cables, such as the dual 3.5mm to 2.5mm balanced Meze cable, which I used with the 5XX for the majority of this review.
So, to the naked eye, the 5XX at least looks similar to the Deva. Internally their planar magnetic drivers even look the same. And I’m not going to say that there is a drastic difference between the two in terms of sound either, other than to say that there most assuredly is a difference. But, this is why you subscribe to Your Friendly Neighborhood Reviewer instead of the pretenders who can’t hear the difference. Most notably the, the presentation of 5XX is thinner than that of the Deva, and it has a more embellished top end. The treble extension has more air and is vaster, but also sharper and a bit spikey here or there. The timbre of the 5XX is also cooler, and more in line with HIFIMAN’s house sound.
The Deva is more rolled in its top end performance, but also more even-sounding overall, with the most accurate timbre of any HIFIMAN that I’ve reviewed to date. Resolution, image clarity, and separation are comparable, but if I had to give the nod to one or the other, I’d probably give a slight edge to the 5XX here. Vocals are slightly larger and more forward in the presentation of the 5XX, but vocals also possess a somewhat shouty quality on this set; a quality which is absent on the Deva. In general, the notes depicted by the 5XX are slightly harsher and more ambient in their character, and the Deva somewhat smoother and with more weight. With that said, the low-end extension is ever so slightly more sub-bas focused and extended further than the Deva, which has more of mid-bass presentation with a more substantial roll off. I’d also say that the 5XX is a grainier headphone in comparison to the Deva overall, but neither headphone really excels at detail retrieval beyond its price point.
Given its visual similarity to the Deva, yet dissimilar sound, I’ve spoken to Farsil the Wizard about what could possibly be going on here? What Farsil suspects is that 5XX may indeed use the same driver as the Deva in principle, as others have suspected, yet he also thinks HIFIMAN might have used less powerful magnets in the 5XX, as he presumes it is a cheaper variant of the headphone that they provide to Drop, and they may be trying to save on the cost per unit. Again, there is no proof of this to date, and it is just his suspicion, but it does makes sense, at least when one considers each headphone’s presentation. The 5XX is somewhat rawer sounding- indicating less control by the magnets over the driver, while the Deva is more controlled in its overall presentation, which is likely why I prefer its sound signature to that of the 5XX.
So, in the end, I’m not really sure what HIFIMAN is after here offering the 5XX in addition to the Deva, but understand that some consumers may be attracted to the 5XX’s cheaper price, black colorway, and more traditional, dual-sided connection at its earcups. Ultimately, some may prefer the treble extension of the 5XX, and be willing to put up with its harsher, peakier character, but to me, Drop’s own 4XX bests the treble of the 5XX, and comes in at a cheaper price. So, these might be someone’s cup of tea, but I’d rather include the 4XX and, or the Deva in my collection before looking to the 5XX.
*Thanks to Dave, The Honest Audiophile, for sending in the HIFIMAN HE5XX for review!
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