CES 2015: HiFiMAN takes things to 1000 and blows my doors clean off


ces-logoI might have been hallucinating. It’s possible. But I had to stop, bat country or no. There was just no way I was going to pass up on this chance.

If you thought I might have been a little batty before I went in, you should have seen me on the way out. The only way I’d have been more addled would have been during a traffic stop, caught with two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls, and the cop saying “Well, it’s not that you need all that for a trip, but I can understand that once you get locked into a serious drug-collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

Rattled. Rattled, I say.


To be honest, I’d been given a tip by a fellow addict and the word was that HiFiMAN was the place to be. A new pair of headphones, you say? Big deal, you say? Well, I can understand the distancing. Weed will do that. But I was flying a different cocktail, and I was in. Oh yeah.

I also might have been screaming. Something like, “JACK ME IN!”

Peter Hoagland, that pusher, was all too happy to oblige.

The HE1000 is a planar magnetic headphone. A planar magnetic, you say? Big deal, you say? Well, yes, actually, it is, and please put the ether down, would you? That’s hard to get. Anyway, fine — yes, Audeze — and HiFiMan — has had quite a bit of success with this tech. What’s new here, with the HE1000, is a gossamer-thin membrane. A nanometer? Yeah. Something like that. I seem to recall a video of someone playing Galileo with sheets of this stuff and it simply saying “screw you” to gravity and hanging around in the air — pretty much just like the bats swirling around the room. How did they get in here?

The magnet structure is “non-symmetrical”, but I don’t have more details — of course, I might have misplaced those. The mental library is carrying quite the draft these days.

The pre-production design I saw here is not quite finalized, so don’t get all hatey or too excited — I don’t think we’re going to see much except some tweaks to the looks and/or finish. But for those keeping track, the head-strap is a perforated leather — wicked soft and pretty easy on the ‘do, and something you’d probably like to have under your fingers even more than on your hair. It’s all soft and touchy-feeley in the best way. The band is monolithic, unlike the Abyss, but its straight-across style is reminiscent of that über-can, though much smaller, thinner, lighter and altogether less Hells Angels. Clamping force is certainly robust (it’ll squeeze your lemons for sure), but I’m told that’ll be addressed in the final run. Maybe? I’m pretty sure. They’re also big. I mean, not like The Mountain That Rides or anything, but still, big. If you have an oversized watermelon-head like John Darko Yours Truly, you probably won’t notice. But if you’re all dainty, they may swallow you whole. Be warned.

The new headphones are going to be expensive, too. Did I mention that? Yeah. Like “cleanly between the flagship Audeze and the flagship Abyss”. Further questioning of Peter had him laughing in weird, jittery way before held up his hands and turned into a Gila monster.

The headphones, which are fully balanced, plugged directly into a brand new mountain (the Mountain That Sat?). The EF1000 is a dual-chassis headphone amplifier, and supports both single-ended headphones and balanced ones. Price on this bad boy is still TBD, but the highlighter dancing across the ceiling, uncaring of the deadly winged predators circling up there, might have scrawled something about “More information by CanJam in March”. Where was I? Ah yes, amping. The EF1000 is a shunt-regulated push-pull, fully en-tube-enated, and runs in Class A. Yes, it was warm, but it was Vegas. The amp was warm, too. Interestingly, the amp also sports speaker outputs if you care to indulge in that sort of thing — not that there’s anything wrong with that — and such explorers will be rewarded with 50wpc of pure tube Class A joy. I’m pretty sure there were no speakers in the room, however. Hmm.

Did I mention that this pairing sounded totally boss? As in, “maybe the best headphone experience I’ve ever had?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention that. But I should. These were crazy. Deep bass, top-to-bottom coherence, an effortless top end, wrapped up in a fully immersive and wildly out-of-the-head experience. The HE1000 is easily competitive with the very best headphones on the market today. I was pie-eyed. You’ll have to forgive the gibbering about “Best in Show”, but quite frankly, I was desperately trying to fight the urge to bolt from the room. Headphones clamped firmly on my head, of course.

The last thing to mention, something that totally escaped my eye and my greedy soul-sucking camera, was the HM901s, the updated high-res digital audio player from HiFiMAN. Cast in solid aluminum, with an enhanced UI and a stepped analog volume control, the dual-ES9018-enabled player can do about up to DSD resolution for 9 hours of playback. It also has an SD card slot for up to 256G of additional storage. Shiny.

I’m pretty sure I spent way too long in this room. That was bad. Bat country and all that.