CES 2015, The Personal Audio Perspective: HiFiMAN’s HE1000 (Part I of III)


by Warren Chi

ces-logoYou’ve probably heard all about the HE1000 by now.

It’s the newest flagship headphone from HiFiMAN‘s latest generation of headphones, which includes the HE-400i and HE-560, both of which are very good in their own right. And from the moment it was first announced, approximately a week before CES, the HE1000 has quickly earned itself a reputation as one of the very best headphones that many have ever heard – even in its current pre-production form.

“To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child.”

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

If you’re new to personal audio, that’s probably all you’ll ever need to know before scheduling an audition, or just taking the plunge and buying it blind when it’s eventually released. But if you’re curious as to how the stunning HE1000 came about… seemingly out of the blue… then you’ll want to know the full back story to this saga, which began over seven years ago.

Back in 2007, an obscure Chinese company named HE Audio had employed (at that time) an even more obscure Fang Bian to create an electrostatic headphone capable of holding its own against the very best the world had to offer. This meant taking on the Sennheiser Orpheus, Stax SR-009, Stax Omega, etc. In other words, this was not a trivial undertaking by any stretch of one’s imagination. By 2008, a few incremental models had been released, culminating in what is today known as the HE Audio Jade. Like the Sennheiser Orpheus, it was produced in limited numbers for a relatively short time span before it disappeared into Head-Fi lore.

What made the HE Audio Jade so special, was that it sounded absolutely glorious if you got your hands on a good pair. And with just a little bit of modding, it became something absolutely transcendent and heavenly. Unfortunately, product consistency was an issue, as it always is whenever one pushes the envelope, and that’s how that story goes.

But it doesn’t end there.

Departing HE Audio, Dr. Fang Bian went on to found HiFiMAN. And over the years, he has churned out a string of planar magnetic hits known for both exceedingly good sound quality and unbeatable price vs performance ratios.

However, for those in the know, for those who had heard it, and certainly for many that owned one, the HE Audio Jade stood as a testament as to what was possible. And through the years, many yearned for the return of the HE Audio Jade, or an HE Audio Jade II. There’s even a long-running petition on Head-Fi begging for exactly that.

For a long time, that quiet yearning by a small minority of enthusiasts, was all there was in the way of a new Jade.

Then, about a year ago, something suddenly showed up on the Interwebs. And just like that, the fire for a Jade II was re-kindled. As you can see from that link, it was obviously an HE1000 prototype or pre-cursor, but no one knew that at the time.

As 2014 progressed, anticipation continued to build, tempered only by the exemplary performance of the HE-560, which was just good enough to make people forget about a random Jade II photo for a short while. More importantly, the HE-560 was actually available for purchase, which certainly helped those who wished to enjoy it.

But it was too late. Pics or it didn’t happen right? And there were pics, so clearly something was happening somewhere.

On December 29th of 2014, Head-Fier cCasper TFG started a thread about the new HiFiMAN HE1000, and we were off to the races. It was the “Jade II” seen nearly a year before, but this time it was real, the unit had a model designation. Of course, as the world would subsequently learn, the HE1000 is a planar magnetic headphone with a single-sided magnet structure and the world’s first nanometer driver membrane. It was not an electrostatic headphone as was first believed.

Honestly, does that even matter? I won’t get into specific impressions now, and I know I’m about to spoil parts II and III, but the fucking HE1000 sounds totes amazeballs! It’s the bee’s knees, the goat’s cheese, and everything in between. And as such, it is very likely the Jade’s spiritual – if not technical – successor.

Here endeth the lesson.

About Scot Hull 1063 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.