HIFIMAN’s reputation is built upon its pioneering use of planar magnetic driver technology throughout its product line. Into those flat drivers a bit of dynamic drivers must fall, and the recently introduced HIFIMAN HE-R10D Dynamic Headphones with Bluemini Adapter is their new top-of-the-line dynamic offering. Visually, it’s a clone of the HE-R10 Planar Headphones, which tip the scale at $5,499.00, whereas the HE-R10D Dynamic models are $1,299.
Headphones, even those made of beautifully crafted wood, seem to be a dime a dozen. Every major manufacturer has them, and they usually adorn their luxury models. Personally, I’m not sure what it means for the ear cups to be made of wood versus any other materials, although wood “feels” warmer to the touch, more “living” than the sterility of metal, plastic, or carbon, at least to me. If wood changes the sound, that’s a question for the designer. Certainly, some of the best headphones in the world aren’t made of wood, including the stellar HIFIMAN SHANGRI-LA planar headphones.
One thing that is notable is how light these headphones are. The wood cups feel featherweight on the head and the earcups are comfortable on the ears. The CNC milled wood earcups make them precise, superbly finished, and with machine-like repeatability, which is to say that each side appeared perfectly like the other side. Quality control is first-rate.
These aren’t of the invisible headphone design aesthetic. These are large, roomy, and spacious, with a well-padded headband, but there is no easy way to identify them. There is a subtly engraved “HIFIMAN” at the end of each headband, but that’s it. No model, no identifier, and my gripe, a barely visible R and Lembossed into the same plastic opposite the logo type. Nothing fancy, no branding of any sort. I get it from the point of view of the quiet and elegant school of design, but some users might feel good about having the option of a bit more branding. In fact, the only way to tell the difference between the more expensive planar version and the dynamic version is the slightly darker-colored wood.
They come sumptuously appointed in a glam leather-like strong box, among folds of satin fabric, presenting the headphones in style. Importantly, they are supplied with the normal and expected mini-jack cable, but also a set of lovely balanced cables. And the mysterious HIFIMAN Bluemini, a small bluetooth adapter with some advanced electronics and CODECs, but absolutely no instructions or documentation. Why “mysterious” you ask? Well, I couldn’t figure out how to get them to work, but I was able to find the manual online. A few clicks later, the adapter connected to my MacBook Pro. I would have liked to have found the manual on the HIFIMAN website.
The Bluemini is charged via a USB-C port, and does so quickly and efficiently. Once paired, it worked as expected. It’s a clever design and cleanly attaches to the left earcup, mimicking the curve of the wood. It’s also used on other models. Not just a bluetooth adapter, it’s also a full-blown DAC, able to support the Sony LDAC codec, HWA (Hi-Res Wireless Audio), LDAC, Qualcomm aptX, and aptX-HD. The Bluemini provides portability at little cost in weight or fit. Pop a phone or high-res music player in your pocket, and use Bluemini to crank the tunes. No soft or travel case was provided – the exclusion was probably to keep the price point lower - but jeez, it would have been nice to use this product in an approved case. No matter, I borrowed one from another model.
The point is, with the BT adapter, they became far more flexible and useable. The adapter doesn’t have volume controls, which would have allowed users to keep their phone or music player in their pocket to change the volume. My hunch is that HIFIMAN didn’t want to add extraneous circuitry. as a result it’s crystal clear, solid, and sounds great. With the included hardware support for low loss (or lossless) CODECs, it was difficult to tell the difference when we used them with cables. The only exception we experienced was when we played lots of bass-hungry tracks, when a bit more juice makes a difference. Rumour had it that an updated model was in the works, but other then that, no one was speaking specifics.
Bluetooth Version: Bluetooth 4.2
Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
Battery Life: 4 Hours Weight: 25g
AMP Output in fact: 230mw
AMP Output in theory: 1125mw
TDH <0.1% @1W/1KHz
Battery Life: 7-10 Hours
Bluetooth Codecs: LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, SBC
Transmission" Bluetooth/USB Type-C
I’m kind of over the technology of audio components these days. It’s interesting of course, especially when the tech affects how you can actually use a product. Electrostatics are really interesting, but they could hardly be considered portable. So, that particular technology limits their use. Although Stax introduced a portable battery-powered supply for their models, for the most part, they can’t be used while on the road. I’m down with taking music on the road, and the advent of inexpensive high-performance music players makes that possible. Coupled with some great headphones, there is no need to be anchored to a Class A, fire-breathing, headphone amp. The HE-R10D’s are efficient enough that we enjoyed taking them on the road. I used them with my Motorola phone, the Topping E30 and L30 ensemble. Straight out of my MacBook Pro Retina, and using the tiny new Periodic Rhodium, a little bargain priced amp and DAC. Fair to say, we put them to the test, with gear that was a lot less spendy by a significant margin.
Frequency Response: 15Hz-35kHz
XLR balanced/ 3m
¼" (6.35mm)/ 3m
HIFIMAN Topology Diaphragm
According to HIFIMAN, “The Topology Diaphragm” refers to a diaphragm featuring a special nanoparticle coating applied to its surface. The result is a more natural and detailed sound than what is typically achieved in True Wireless earphones.
The idea behind the new Topology Diaphragm was inspired by Dr Fang Bian's PhD thesis that "different nano materials have differing structures, and each of those materials have its own properties. Therefore, by carefully controlling the diaphragm surface structure you can yield different results in acoustic performance to a degree previously unobtainable.” They claim the “best-sounding 50mm dynamic driver” with high sensitivity, thanks to HIFIMAN's use of a rare earth magnet, and a topology diaphragm, for detailed high frequency response to 30kHz, and an advanced voice coil.
Most manufacturers claim unique design features, so it’s fair to accept that they pioneered new manufacturing techniques for these models. But that isn’t the story folks are talking about with these. Many folks in the media, feel these are a tribute to an old, legendary set of headphones from Sony. Forty years ago, Sony introduced an amazing component TV system, with a separate CRT and receiver/tuner components that blew away the competition. They also introduced a set of headphones, whose diaphragms were coated with palladium, among other materials. The Sony DR-Z6 and DR-Z7 headphones were limited edition, created in the mid 1970s to coincide with the release of Sony’s commitment to the high-end. One of their concerns was that as Sony grew more popular, they were seen as commodity providers, not the groundbreaking research institution that lay at the heart of the company. So, they addressed that image by releasing some amazing products, and creating separate, unique product lines. Then, in 1989, Sony released yet another high-end headphone, the MD-R10. While the HE-R10D doesn’t look like the Sony MD-R10, for some reason many folks have taken the position that they are a tribute. Visually, the MD-R10's also featured large dome shaped earcups, made with old wood, and designed with the help of computers.
Because the HE-R10D looks superficially like the Sonys, doesn’t mean they are the Sonys. Not having the more expensive, planar big brothers to compare, I won’t go there – that would be like comparing apples and oranges. According to the company, they weren’t actually inspired by the Sony’s, so a bit of a myth.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was a photo editor at National Geographic, and having been a photo editor myself, I was curious what her approach was. She said that she didn’t look at each image and compare them with each other, but instead looks at each image as its own image, not in comparison or contrast with others. An image either worked, or not. Later, as she started to winnow the images down, she continued to ask whether the image worked to tell the story it was meant to. If yes, keep; if not, deselect. So it goes with audio components. I didn’t want to compare and contrast the HE-R10D’s with others. I just wanted to listen to them, for them. If that makes sense.
Break-in is a controversial topic, especially since some items are digitally based, and unless the laws of physics have been broken, are pretty much immune to break-in. Analog components are another matter.Diaphragms are a definition of an analog component. Essentially, they are pistons, with materials that move, pulse, and vibrate. Ever work on a car? Every shade-tree mechanic knows that pistons and rings need time to properly settle in and work together to form a more perfect union. Rubber, plastic, and metal, all age, form and deform, and whose elasticity are all affected with use and age. Environmental issues also play a rule, with ozone proving to be a particularly nettlesome adversary. I do think that break-in is real, but most of the time I’ve heard a real difference with moving components like drivers. And it seems to end pretty quickly. After enough hours, materials settle down, and if there is additional wear, I think it’s hard to ascertain. I was lucky at one time to have two sets of phones to compare, and one stayed in a box, the company in no hurry for their return. So, a year later, I was able to hear a difference. A little less harshness, less sibilance. Then, I ran music through the older ones, paying attention to the comparison, and after between 12 to 20 hours, the differences stopped, and the phones were identical.
Did the HE-R10D have any break-in? Yes, but not much. After a few hours, they settled in and didn’t change. How did they sound? As Albert Brooks said in “Lost in America” when encountering the Mercedes of his dreams, and asks the driver if he likes the car, the guy responds with, “What’s not to like?” These phones sound great - open, airy, and with great sound isolation from outside audio. The cushions are soft, comfy, and wearable. The headband was similarly comfy, and the size belies their light weight. The wood cups are indeed beautiful. Light in tone, light in weight, the wood distinguishes them from other models. On the Audio-Technica Art Series, for example, the wood is deep, rubbed, and round, and give off an entirely different aura. These are understated. Nothing flashy, even the small Left and Right letters on each side, are just molded into the plastic, nothing fancy, nothing any headphone wouldn’t have. Even the CNC machined aviation grade aluminum, doesn’t have anything to indicate their lofty origins. The only sense that these are luxury models, are the large wood cups. This is similar to other HIFIMAN models, where the primary purpose is functional design, not flash. What’s not to like? Nothing at all!
The HE-R10D’s handled bass without fuss. Deep bass didn’t faze them, and as is expected of a dynamic driver, had a solid punch. I used them to listen to the newly released “Chesky Records 35th Anniversary” collection, which encompasses the label's recording history, with folk, jazz, world music, blues, classical, and a lot of singers. The collection is presented at the highest resolution available for the recording, from high-resolution to CD quality. No matter the track, the HE-R10D acquitted themselves wonderfully. There was never a time when I felt like I needed another set of phones. The soundstage was open and convincing. I used them while traveling, and because the kit I brought with me didn’t have a balanced output option, I couldn’t try the balanced cable that was provided.
I’ll update this report, once I return to my trusty Oppo HA-1 DAC, with its Type-A amplifier that I used to review the HIFIMAN Jade II electrostatic headphones. I’m not sure how much I’ll gain to be honest. The kit I was using, included the inexpensive Topping E30 and L30, Audience OHNO interconnects, the tiny Earman Sparrow and TR-Amp, and even my Motorola phone and MacBook Pro, all of which worked without a problem. Some higher end phones are delicate, finicky designs, not so the HE-R10D. True, the higher output devices rewarded you with a deeper lower end, more dynamism, and sense of reality. But they were always musical, and easy to pop on. I even liked the Bluetooth option, despite it feeling like an add on. It sounded great, and untied me from the kit, so a lovely change of pace.
At $1,299 these are not a throwaway purchase. They are serious kit, with all the accessories you might need, and even if you limit yourself to the HIFIMAN line, you have plenty of options. So, why the HE-R10D? Because they are a wonderfully flexible, no-muss or fuss, portable headphone that sounds great, can respond to a wide variety of output devices and genres. Do they have faults? Sure, but they aren’t consequential. You might not like their size, color, shape, or lack of bling. That’s your right. Audio is subjective, but to my ears, they are a superb set of closed-back dynamic daily drivers. Word is that a new updated Bluemini is on the way, and we will post an update on them when they arrive. Despite their cost, I found they were easy to toss in my backpack when I flew the new Avelo Airlines to Arcata recently. Of course, I’d have loved a carry case…
Harris Fogel, with editorial assistance from Nancy Burlan and Frank Schramm, posted 9/22/2021
To learn more about the HIFIMAN HE-R10D Dynamic Headphones with Bluemini Adapter visit: https://www.hifiman.com/products/detail/308
For the User Manual for the HIFIMAN Bluemini visit: https://fccid.io/2ATP3-BLUEMINI/User-Manual/User-manual-4675421.pdf
To learn more about the “Chesky Records 35th Anniversary” collection visit: https://chesky.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-chesky-records-35th-anniversary-collection