This is the place to discuss everything related to the original HE-6. This headphone has been sadly discontinued in favor of the newer HE6se V1 and V2 models, however the original performs differently enough that it warrants its own thread in my opinion.
Here’s the video comparison:
I’ve spent quite some time now evaluating the 6 screw HE-6 (thanks to Danda for sending them in for evaluation), and comparing it against both HE6se versions. But for anyone wanting more info on the 6 screw vs 4 screw question, here’s a deep dive by Svstem on the subject.
In any case, for my evaluation, I was able to use it with a number of different amplifiers and a number of different pads. This is where I’ll be posting all the measurements done with different pads. At the moment I’m away, just on my laptop, so this might get updated with additional info when I get back home and have the data files in front of me again.
My take here is that the pleather pads aren’t that great, but the stock velour ones are decent. Neither of them are as good as the Sundara (2020), Susvara, and HE400se pads - and all of those improve the comfort substantially. A critical analysis of the FR with any of these would indicate that it could use a bit of a bass shelf, mids filled in around 2khz, and a bit less 9khz (this is where you should see a dip, but with all the pads there isn’t one, indicating the HE6 has a peak somewhere around there). But with all three of these recommended pads, EQ is by no means ‘essential’.
Now… when it comes to the subjective technical performance, the original HE6 (at least 6 screw), categorically outclasses the two new HE6se versions. In particular, with microdynamic detail clarity and macrodynamic punch. Soundstage is also a bit better - as is incisiveness and separation (depending on the amplifier being used).
This headphone is also the perfect indicator of what a number of us have been saying for some time now - that macro contrast related punch and slam is not correlated with measured bass response, contrary to what you might read in certain places. And this is easily evidenced by the original HE6 in comparison to headphones that have much more bass like the DCA Aeons, or the HiFiMAN Ananda and Arya (even with a seal). Moreover, even when comparing this to the other two HE6se headphones, they all have similarly low resonance frequencies with similar bass extension, and when it comes to punch and slam the original HE6 destroys the other two.
In any case, in the interest of discovering where this quality comes from in headphones, the original HE6 is an interesting study, and one that provides meaningful insight into understanding this better. I think we’re at the point of being able to determine this stuff from a material parameter standpoint, in part by taking a look at what’s going on with the HE6 (I’ll leave the details to those who understand this stuff better than I do), however it’s still totally unclear where these parameters show up in measurements. Essentially, we’re still in the dark when it comes to being able to predict macro punch and slam - a headphone’s liveliness - by using data alone. Rest assured, I’m still working on being able to do so .
Now, briefly getting to the whole amplifier question… let me state as clearly as possible that you do not need a speaker amplifier to power these. There’s a narrative surrounding these headphones that’s kind of like the audiophile equivalent to “but can it play Crysis?” for those who remember that. That narrative comes from the days when headphone amplifiers didn’t have the juice to be able to drive the HE6 appropriately, but in the years since, that part of the industry has caught up - in part with design intentions specifically aimed at driving the HE6. So once again, you do not need to use a speaker amp with these, however you may still want to.
As an indicator, I was able to run the HE6 without issue off the Cayin IHA-6 (which was made in part for this headphone) without evening needing to use high gain. The reason you may want to use a speaker amp is because for whatever reason, the HE6 is more prone to taking on the characteristics of the amplifier than other headphones - or in other words, it’s more ‘revealing of the source’. Running it off the A90 makes it sound somewhat mushy and sterile, and a bit smeared on the iDSD Micro Black Label - but both of those amps could technically power the headphone sufficiently. I also didn’t really like it off the SPL Phonitor X all that much, but I typically find that amp does way better with high impedance dynamic driver headphones - less so the low impedance low sensitivity stuff. Contrast that with the IHA-6, the headphone got way more punchy and intense, with more forward depth to the presentation. So, when looking at certain synergies, there is likely to be a sonic character consideration for source equipment choices that’s relevant to a degree not found with other headphones - but that’s also not merely related to power requirements, but rather what you want from the experience. If anything, I think there may be something to the notion of using a high current output with these.
In any case, the bottom line for the original HE6 is that it’s a crying shame that this headphone is discontinued and no longer available for purchase. It’s floating around occasionally in the used market, and in the rare cases that someone is willing to sell one, it’s easily worth jumping on. I suppose this post isn’t going to help much availability, but somewhere in the ballpark of $1000, the HE6 is still an extremely easy recommendation. This is in my opinion the best sounding headphone under $2000, and is easily deserving of ‘legendary’ status. And I think that should be a key consideration for anyone releasing headphones around that price or higher. The HE6 was able to be produced and sold at only $1300 back in 2011, and since then there hasn’t really been anything quite like it. I’m waiting… hoping… someone will make it happen in the near future.