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Golden Ears: HIFIMAN HE-1000se Review

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
Hardware Reviews 0

Welcome back to Golden Ears, our semi-regular column exploring the world of high-end audio. Apart from highlighting neat and interesting products you might not otherwise know about, our goal here is simple: to discover exactly what makes these headphones worth their high entry price. Today, we’re looking at the HIFIMAN HE-1000se, a $2,000 pair of headphones that have been out for several years and are widely regarded as some of the best money can buy. 

How can a pair of headphones be worth $2,000 and what exactly can you look forward to if you decide to jump right to the endgame? That’s what we’re out to answer.


Current Price: $1,999 (Amazon

A Quick Introduction to Golden Ears… 

Welcome back to Golden Ears! This is our semi-regular column dedicated to the world of high-end audio. In this series, we look at premium audio products that all promise a next-level listening experience. But what exactly do you get when you spend a little, or sometimes a lot, more? That’s what we aim to discover, helping you to find out just what’s worth investing in to upgrade your listening experience for music and gaming alike. 

For this article in particular, we’re looking at the HIFIMAN HE-1000 SE, a flagship pair of audiophile-tier planar magnetic headphones that already have a mass amount of support within the headphone community. At this price, it exists in the upper-range of the personal audio market, beyond typical consumer pricing and well into enthusiast territory. As such, discussions of value are more subjective than ever. For many listeners, that pricing is simply out of reach, and no matter how good they are, they will seem like a terrible value. For others, passionate audiophiles with plentiful expendable income who consider audio their primary hobby, may have a different opinion.For products like this, ideas of value are very subjective; one person’s steal might be another’s exorbitance, so we’ll largely be leaving that to the side today.

On the topic of scoring, it’s important to note a couple of things. First, while we wish we didn’t have to do it, it’s a reality in today’s search-driven publication space. Second, when dealing with “golden ears” caliber products that often cost great deals of money, we expect these products to be at least Good (7) but hopefully Great (8), Amazing (9), or even Masterpiece (10) level. Though there are certainly products tha aren’t very good at every price range, a quick review of web publications shows that the score range is usually a bit tighter with these next-level listening products. Fittingly so — they should sound great! 

Given that expectedly tighter score range, it’s more important than ever to explore the nuances of what sets these products apart. What is their goal? Who are they for? How are they built? What are the intricacies of their listening experience? All of these things matter more and the number matters less. We are always going to be honest and forthright in all of our content, but take the time to hear the story each product is trying to tell, and you’ll understand it that much better. 

Thanks for joining us again, and enjoy the article!

HIFIMAN HE-1000se - Design and Highlights

If you have a sense of deja vu, you’re not alone. At the end of December, we reviewed the HE-1000 V2 Stealth, which is the next model down in the HE-1000 line-up. Their design and even naming convention are a bit confusing, so you can be forgiven for being a little confused. I know I was. But no, these are two different headphones with this model priced $600 higher than the V2 Stealth. 

The interesting thing is, these two headphones have much more in common than they do different. You definitely get better performance from the 1000se, but where on paper, they share so many similarities, you’re forced to dig deeper if you want to know what these differences actually are. And — spoiler alert — they’re mostly sonic.

Mostly, but not all. The unboxing experience with the 1000se is much better. This model released before HIFIMAN switched to more eco-friendly cardboard packaging, so it’s possible it could disappear with a future revision. For now, however, you get a very nice wooden box with a leatherette exterior and big metal nameplate on the front. When I think of what I expect from a $2,000 pair of headphones, I think of an immaculate presentation and this definitely has it. 

Inside, there’s a big glossy owner’s manual similar to what you might find with a high-end automobile. You also have some documentation beneath it.

Beneath that, you’ll find the headphones themselves engulfed in a velvet sheet. There’s custom-cut protective foam beneath the sheet to keep the headphones safe in transit, as well as a center cut-out for the cables.

There are three cables included with the headphones. Each connects to the earcups with standard 3.5mm connections, so you can upgrade each at a low cost if you choose to in the future. HIFIMAN includes a shorter 3.5mm cable for portable listening and longer 6.35mm and XLR cables to connect with desktop sources, single-ended and balanced respectively. These cables are each fabric sleeved and don’t have much memory from being wrapped. They don’t feel especially fancy like the rest of the package but get the job done. 

The headphones themselves adopt the egg-shaped design of most of HIFIMAN’s premium over-ear headphones. They utilize quite a bit of metal in their design: the open-back grilles, outer frame, yokes, and headband are all made of aluminum alloy for durability. Like the HE-1000 V2 Stealth, the outer rings of the headphones is a dark-red hued wood. They look very elegant, in keeping with their high price point. The outer rings are most likely a veneer but I can’t say for sure. Solid wood outer rings are prone to cracking over years of use and varying humidity, and I haven’t heard of that ever happening with this set. Reports of long-term reliability are quite good with this set overall.

As you can tell from the pictures above, this pair of headphones uses a wide-open open-back design. The grilles utilize HIFIMAN’s window-shade design. They’re about as open-back and open-back can be without having literal open backs. The idea is that sound can travel freely out without disruption and reflection back into the ears. 

And this is only a single example of the nuanced and incredibly minute considerations HIFIMAN has put into developing the sound of this headphone. Wave diffraction matters here, which isn’t something you’re going to find being called out on any mainstream, $200-300 pair of headphones I’ve ever heard of. 

These headphones also utilize Stealth Magnets, just like the V2 Stealth. It’s confusing, I know, but the important thing to know is that the HE-1000se came first and that it’s a welcome feature regardless. Stealth Magnets are positioned and shaped specifically to avoid sound wave turbulence that can impact clarity. They were first introduced on HIFIMAN’s flagship Susvara and have since made their way throughout the company’s line-up, improving the detail of each along the way.

Like most of HIFIMAN’s headphones, the HE-1000se utilizes large planar magnetic drivers, housed in extra large earcups. The drivers have nanometer thickness diaphragms and reach an astounding 8Hz to 65kHz frequency response range. They’re incredibly fast, allowing them to deliver an exceptional level of detail and realism.

They’re also fairly easy to drive with an impedance of only 35 ohms and a sensitivity of 96dB. Even a small amplifier will allow these headphones to reach comfortable listening volumes, though if you’re considering a $2,000 pair of headphones, you probably have more than a small amplifier to drive them. They scale well with more power and can sound absolutely amazing with the proper source and music files.

For fit and comfort, there’s no way around how large these are. I’m not the biggest guy, but I’m not the smallest either at 5’8” and 155 pounds, but the headphones offer a great range of adjustability. I was able to get a comfortable and stable fit by opening up the headband three notches. Even smaller listeners should be able to do the same since there is clearly room to shrink down further. They'll go down to your jaw unless you’re a great ape, but they don’t feel like they’ll fall right off of your head if you look down.

The headphone isn’t very light at 440 grams (0.97 pounds), but the headphones manage to be quite comfortable. The pads are hybrid with leather interior and exterior rings (which preserve bass) and fabric on the face for a cooling effect. They’re quite plus at about an inch thick. The head strap is made of leather and allows its weight to be well distributed and prevent hot-spotting (something I’m especially sensitive to).

HIFIMAN HE-1000se - Listening Impressions

With so much of its design sharing features with the much cheaper HIFIMAN HE-1000 V2 Stealth, it’s time we start to dig into what separates these headphones (apart from the much better unboxing experience). The biggest difference is its least tangible — or at least the hardest to work into written marketing copy: detail retrieval.

When you think of high-end headphones, it’s important to understand a few key qualities. The first is clarity. Coming to the HE-1000se from a mainstream pair of headphones, even very nice ones like the Apple AirPods Max or Bowers & Wilkins Px8. Heck, even genuine audiophile over-ears like the Focal Bathys, there is an immediate jump in quality that makes everything you’re listening to sound HD. I liken it to jumping from a 4K TV for the first time but for your ears. You will literally hear more even in familiar tracks. 

This comes primarily from the driver and the surrounding structure, like those Stealth Magnets, and how different elements of the sound come together to create the whole experience. The HE-1000se is probably the most detail-rich pair of headphones I’ve ever heard. The driver is incredibly capable. You’re dealing with top tier capability right from the start.

From there, you have this wide-open soundstage that makes what you’re listening to sound airy and separated like you’re sitting in an auditorium, minus the reverb. The imaging is excellent. You can pick up where in this spacious headstage every single source is coming from. There’s width and depth and, yes, even height. 

These three elements: natural detail retrieval capability, a huge soundstage, and excellent imaging, come together to create a listening experience that sounds ridiculously intricate. The HE-1000se hides nothing, and that’s for better and worse. If you’re listening to a poorly mastered track or video game sequence, you’re going to know it. When it’s done well, however, like Polyphia’s Ego Death or Battlefield 2042, you can get downright wrapped up in the listening experience. 

The HE-1000 V2 Stealth also offered great detail retrieval. The HE-1000se one-ups it. 

Another difference between the two models is that the 1000se has a brighter sound overall. The Stealth offered a bit more bass, and even that was fairly lean, so I suspect some listeners will find the 1000se too light in the low-end. It’s resilient to EQ, however.

And though it may be leaner than something like the Arya Organic, I still found there to be enough body even for genres like rock, metal, and hip-hop. This has a lot to do with the quality of the bass. It’s fast and incredibly detailed and tight. Even in the sub-bass, which is more felt than heard, there’s a cohesiveness to the sound that blends directly into the mid-bass. The mid-bass isn’t elevated, really, but it’s not rolled back noticeably either. In a word, it sounds flat. There’s enough there to fill out what you’re listening to without impeding on the particular and bright sound signature HIFIMAN is going for here. 

The mid-range is flat and natural sounding. Vocals don’t pop out but instead position themselves in the middle of the mix. I wouldn’t use these for professional work because of the flat midrange but it does allow these headphones to have a very neutral tone in keeping with the “reference” tonality HIFIMAN embraces in this range of its headphones. Instruments sound true to life, with fast transient response allowing them to have a realistic attack and the resolution a natural decay. Pianos sound particularly good on these headphones, as does acoustic guitar.

The treble is incredibly well extended and detail rich. Though I lack the ability to graph headphones like this myself, I’m confident that a graph would reveal notable elevation in the upper mids and treble. This elevation allows the details to really pop out with a wonderful sense of air and sparkle. If you’re treble sensitive, you may find these to be too bright, but I didn’t. They stop just short of being over-bright and instead deliver an upper range that enhances your music and games, bringing their resolution to the forefront for an even better sense of clarity.

For gaming, the HE-1000se are at least partially amazing. This is wall-hack levels of transparency and imaging. You’ll hear enemies and exactly where they’re coming from before you see them. The resolution here is phenomenal and provides a genuine advantage. Even for single-player games, I found them to have an almost holographic quality. I compared them directly to the Audeze LCD-GX and, though I would hardly have believed it when I wrote that review, the HE-1000se are even more transparent and immersive. 

They won’t wow you with their cinematic quality, though. The lean low-end means that explosions lack punch. They sound less energetic overall. It’s a matter of preference, to be sure, but if you’re willing to trade some detail for a bit more bass, that bass is easy to supplement with equalization.

As you might have gathered reading through this review and that of the Stealth version, we’re talking about gradations of quality. The difference between these two sets is absolutely noticeable, even if you’re not an audiophile. You get what you pay for. Yet, they also exemplify the hunt that many audiophiles find themselves on, paying extra for that 1% improvement. The HE-1000se offers more than 1% but is it worth $600 more, especially when the HE-1000 V2 Stealth is so good on its own? For most people, probably not, but then again, most people aren’t even considering a $1,300 headphone like the V2 Stealth.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the HIFIMAN HE-1000se stands on its own as an amazing pair of headphones. You’ll need to fall in a particular category to really make the most of these, but if you do, they’re truly great. It has superb clarity and detail, and though it may sound a bit bass-light for some listeners, there’s a genuine wow-factor to be had here. $2,000 puts them out of reach of most people but they’re worth a visit to your local HiFi shop, if you’re lucky enough to have one, to hear for yourself. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Some articles may contain affiliate links and purchases made through this will result in a small commission for the site. Commissions are not directed to the author or related to compensation in any way.

9.0 Amazing
  • Incredible detail retrieval and overall clarity
  • Exceptionally wide soundstage with great imaging within
  • Comfortable and secure fit
  • Don’t need a powerful amplifier to drive them
  • Stealth Magnet design
  • On paper, seems extremely close to the much cheaper HE-1000 V2 Stealth
  • Will seem bass light and/or too bright to different listeners
  • Quite expensive, even in comparison to other HE-1000s


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight