I've recently reviewed most of the contenders for the world's best headphones: the Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000, Sennheiser HD 800, Grado PS-1000, Ultrasone Edition 8, and the best headphones I've heard so far, the Stax electrostatic SR-007Mk2. I listened to the Stax with the Woo Audio WES headphone amplifier. If you want and can afford the best, go for the Stax-Woo combination.
But now I have yet another headphone to check out, and this one is a very different-sounding design. Oh, and it's less than half the price of the least expensive of those models!
It's called the Hifiman HE-5, and it uses planar-magnetic drivers to create sound. A planar magnetic driver is a large, flat Mylar diaphragm, coated with superthin aluminum, suspended between rows of slender bar magnets. The HE-5's diaphragm is therefore driven over its entire area, which dramatically reduces distortion; conventional dynamic headphone drivers are "driven" by a voice coil on the outer edge of the diaphragm, so the inner portion is more likely to distort.
The HE-5's driver is similar to the Stax electrostatic 'phones in that way, but the HE-5 doesn't use the bias charging scheme that all electrostatic headphones use, which also means the HE-5 can be used with standard headphone amplifiers. The Stax cannot.
The HE-5 is incredibly detailed sounding, but at the same time it's very smooth and laid back. Swapping between the HE-5 and the Sennheiser HD 800--considered by many to be the world's best dynamic headphone--the two headphones are opposites. The HD 800 is brighter, crisper, with more apparent treble detail; the HE-5 is softer, warmer, and more natural-sounding. … Read more