The market for quality headphones is still growing by leaps and bounds, so there are lots of new brands getting into the game.
When Hifiman introduced the HE-5 headphone in 2009, I was so impressed I compared it with $1,000+ models from Audio Technica, Denon, Grado, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone, and the upstart company's headphone model more than held its own.
More recently I looked at the Hifiman HE-500 headphones ($699), and compared them with one of the best headphones in the world, the Audeze LCD-2 ($945). That one's low bass felt more solid and had superior impact, but the HE-500's midrange and treble were more detailed and present.
The HE-300 ($249) shares the HE-500's styling, but uses more conventional driver technology. It's lighter in weight (270 grams), has a leather headband and soft velvet earpads, and comes with a user-replaceable 9-foot-long cable terminated with a 3.5mm plug (and there's a 6.3mm adaptor). The long cable is bulky and a little stiff, but since it's user-replaceable, HE-300 owners may find shorter, more flexible alternatives. The headphone comes with a sturdy padded storage case. Comfort over long listening sessions was good, but not up to full-size Sennheiser headphone standards. That company has a real knack for making comfy headphones.
Savage Aural Hotbed is an all-percussion band, and its CDs sounded you-are-there transparent over the HE-300. The drums' hard-hitting dynamics and bass punch over the HE-300 sounded more powerful than the HD-580 and other Sennheiser headphones I had on hand. The HE-300's bass-midrange-treble balance is excellent and smoother than comparably priced full-size headphones, like my Audio Technica ATH-M50. That headphone made more bass, but bass definition and overall clarity weren't on the same level as the HE-300. The Grado RS225 was better than the M50, but not as evenly balanced as the HE-300 on Jakob Dylan's "Women and Country" CD. The bass went deeper and Dylan's vocals were more natural sounding over the HE-300. I listened to all of the headphones with my CEntrance DACport digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier.
The HE-300 also sounded fine plugged into my iPod Classic. That open quality is a rare treat, compared with my usual in-ear headphones. Neil Young's "Live at Massey Hall, 1971" is a gorgeous, audiophile quality recording, and it was sounding so good it was hard to believe it was coming out of an iPod. Not all full-size headphones are suitable for portable use, but the HE-300 definitely is. As you can see, Hifiman has done it again, the HE-300 has set a new standard of performance for its price class.