It was only a matter of time until HiFiMAN decided to jump into the closed-back arena with the latest release of their two new models – the $1299 HiFiMAN HE-R10D (subjective of this review) and the $5499 HiFiMAN HE-R10P. HiFiMAN have produced some of the world’s best open-back models, and so it was intriguing to see how their closed-back models would fare. The inspiration behind the HE-R10D (dynamic) and HE-R10P (planar) stems from none other than Sony’s legendary MDR-R10 headphones. These discontinued headphones were somewhat of a rare limited edition item with only 2000 created in existence back in 1989. While the MDR-R10 retailed for $2500 (an unheard of price at the time), its scarcity and ‘inflationary’ value can often be seen to exceed HiFiMAN’s $5499 HE-R10P model.
Where the MDR-R10 utilizes bio-cellulose dome diaphragm drivers, HiFiMAN has pledged allegiance to their own signature nano-particle coating for both their dynamic and planar magnetic driver variants. However, the HE-R10P and HE-R10D employ the same ear-cup design as the original Sony MDR-R10. Such a design had been acoustically engineered to provide maximal space while reducing face-on aesthetic bulk. In keeping with the latest trends and convenience, both HiFiMAN’s HE-R10s have the ability to go fully wireless with the Bluemini Bluetooth adapter. This certainly opens the models to a larger consumer base – i.e. those in search of a wireless closed-back model with high-fidelity sound.
It is interesting to see a wide discrepancy between the price of the $1299 HE-R10D compared to its $5499 planar counterpart. Perhaps a greater element of product differentiation could have done HiFiMAN favors here to justify their hero products to the public.
The HE-R10D arrives in the same black-leather trimmed hinged display box which is similar to that of the HiFiMAN HE1000se and the Susvara. It is a well-designed box which exudes luxury and class. It also doubles as a headphone travel case which is useful for moving the headphones in between commutes.
Inside the box, users are greeted to a black felt cloth which houses the HE-R10s. In between the cup enclosures, a small island is where 3 different cable types reside. HiFiMAN have chosen to include the standard 3.5 mm, 4 pin XLR and 6.35 mm terminations. This time, however, there is single-sided cable input into the housings of the headphones which is noticeably more convenient than standard two-sided cables.
Other accessory products include the essential Bluemini Bluetooth adapter which was initially introduced with the HiFiMAN Deva. The adapter includes all high-quality codecs including LDAC, AAC, SBC, aptX & aptX HD. Not only does the Bluemini output its own DAC into an internal amplifier, the amplifier can also be connected to an external DAC obviating the need for Bluetooth – a useful add-on. HiFiMAN’s manuals are premium in appearance with a high-quality paper gloss finish laying out the background and foundations behind the headphones.
The Design & Build
The HiFiMAN HE-R10D draws inspiration from the Sony MDR-R10 with its closed-back wooden earcup design. The cups are crafted with CNC carving of wood and aviation-grade aluminum. The design may not suit all who prefer a more understated and minimal aesthetic. However, the concentric grains and finish on the wood does add a certain elegance to the HE-R10D headphones. HiFiMAN have also incorporated premium materials such as black leather for the head-band and lambskin for the ear pads. The head support system works very well with good level of resistance and tactile click when adjusting the size of the headphones.
Comfort & Isolation
Despite its size, the HE-R10D is relatively lightweight at 350 grams. For comparison, the Focal stellia scales in at 435 g and the ZMF Verite Closed-back model weighs in at 460 g. Pressure distribution is good on the HE-R10 with the headband supporting the weight of both ear cups nicely. Clamping force is also adequate and the plush lambskin earpads aid a comforting prolonged listening session.
All in all, the HE-R10D offer a very comforting listening and can be listened to for hours on end. Isolation levels, however, could be improved. This is not a practical headphone that can be worn in public settings or commutes owing to its size but also its slight sound leakage. Thus, its use case is restricted despite being an optionally wireless closed-back headphone.
The HE-R10 conveys an overall brighter sound which is rooted in a capable low-end bass performance. Note size is leaner than average with elevated upper midrange and lower treble presence. There is a good level of detail and clarity throughout perhaps at the expense of sheer macro-dynamic prowess.
The HiFiMAN’s HE-R10’s low-end is driven by 50 mm dynamic drivers with a special nano-particle coated material applied to its surface. This same technology can be seen in their TWS800 model. The end result is actually quite good with bass that extends with guttural depth, rumble and physicality. Granted, it is not as taut as the HiFiMAN HE1000se model or as engaging as the ZMF Verite’s low-end. However, there is natural decay with palpable bass presence. One thing that could be certainly improved here is texture akin to that of beryllium-coated dynamic drivers and planar models. Mid-bass frequencies are slightly favored over sub-bass frequencies and the HE-R10D handles complex bass lines well. Bass is generally responsive and frequencies do not bleed over into the lower midrange. Despite having a planted and weighty low-end, the tonal character of the HE-R10D does not lend itself towards a warm or lush sound.
The midrange of the HE-R10D evokes an overall clear and intelligible sound. However, the note size does sway towards the leaner side of the spectrum. While the signature is not clinical, there does seem to be a lack of cohesion between the bass and rest of the frequency spectrum in a way that resembles hybrid configurations in the IEM world. Next to the ZMF Verite, the HE-R10D does share a similar property of liveliness. However, the Verite closed-back presents a more agreeable tuning which is versed in rich tones with an overall less fatiguing sound. This is likely owing to the ZMF Verite’s more pronounced dip from the 3K – 4k region compared to the HE-R10D. Having said that, the HE-R10D is more susceptible to increased resonance in the upper midrange which can grate after prolonged listening. Transients do become more rounded with tube-amplifier pairings and the HE-R10D does seemingly benefit from this type of added harmonic distortion.
The HE-R10 emits increased energy in both the treble and brilliance part of the frequency spectrum. As a result, there is extra sizzle and a brighter tonal presence which adds height to the overall soundscape. In line with its upper midrange, the HE-R10D does not offer a laidback listen. Rather, it extends well with a forthright treble that commands attention. Fans of a warmer and more relaxed sound should look elsewhere. Having said that, the HE-R10D does respond well to synergy and in particular – tube amplification.
Imaging & Soundstage
I did expect more from the soundstage of the HE-R10D given its relatively large wooden enclosures. In sheer proportions, it has decent height but relatively average width and depth. Instrument separation levels is also average and understandably, the HE-R10D does not keep up with the ethereal presentation of some of HiFiMAN’s other planar offerings.
Matchability & Pairing
The HE-R10 has an impedance of 32 Ohms with a sensitivity of 103 dB. It is great to see the direction that HiFiMAN has been heading of late with emphasis on easy drivability and convenience. Flagships such as the HiFiMAN HE1000se as well as mid-tier products such as the Arya can easily driven from smartphone, tablets and other media devices. There is no need for huge amplification and other considerably inconvenient sources. Pairing wise, the HE-R10D sounds great from a Cayin N3Pro or Cayin N8. The added harmonic distortion and tube euphony does take the edge off the leading transients creating a less fatiguing and more engaging overall sound.
iBasso SR2 ($569)
The HiFiMAN HE-R10D sounds brighter next to the iBasso SR2 with a more energetic and sharper transient response. The SR2 has a unique tonality in the sense that there is some elasticity to its timbre. Both are not the most strictly natural, however, with the HE-R10 leaning towards a lighter character and the SR2 towards a more neutral-darker delineation. Overall, the HE-R10D has the bigger soundstage with more rounded soundstage proportions.
Fostex TH500RP ($699)
Where the HE-R10D uses dynamic drivers, the Fostex TH500RP incorporates a planar magnetic topology. The sonic character is quite different on these two headphones with the TH500RP favoring a thick, musical and lush sound. The HE-R10D, on the other hand, has a relatively airier, brighter and more treble-extensive signature. The note size is also in stark contrast with the HE-R10D presenting a leaner vocal size whereas the TH500RP inducing a weighty one. Although the TH500RP is an older headphone, it stills stand the tests of time as a unique transducer with an enjoyable tuning and great macro-dynamic swing.
ZMF Verite Closed-back ($2499)
Both the Verite and HE-R10D incorporate wooden enclosures for the headphone cups. However, the Verite’s do look more luxurious given its use of boutique woods and more premium materials. Comparing the sound, the Verite trumps the HE-R10 in overall dynamism, sense of pace and tonal richness. In terms of imaging and soundstage proportions, the Verites also sound more holographic with a more rounded presence and excellent front-to-back depth. However, the Verites do retail for twice the amount of the HE-R10 and so pricing needs to be taken into consideration.
The HiFiMAN HE-R10D represents HiFiMAN’s ambition to secure a slice of the closed-back market. It is their first headphone to implement their signature ‘Topology Diaphragm’ seen in some of their IEMs on a larger scale. The end result being a sound which has strong bass foundations with a clear midrange and lively treble. The tuning may not be for everyone, though, as the HE-R10D has a tendency to run hot in the higher frequencies. Synergy is an important consideration in the audio chain and I have found that tube-based systems tend to work quite well with the HE-R10D. Build quality is great with the use of premium materials and careful CNC milling processes. The ability to turn the HE-R10D into a fully wireless closed-back is also a very welcomed addition given the increased convenience and flexibility. While there is room for improvement, it remains to be seen whether these are fully addressed with the HE-R10P planar version. For now, the $1299 HE-R10D aims to capitalize on the mid-tier closed-back arena and is certainly worth an audition.
HiFiMAN HE-R10D Specifications:
Frequency Response: 15Hz-35kHz
Driver: 50 mm dynamic