Drop x Hifiman HE5XX is a planar headphone made in collaboration between those two companies. It costs 220USD.
I think that Drop is a company that every single audiophile should know. They’ve sold over 125k units of Sennheiser HD6XX, which is a crazy number in the audio world. HE5XX is the third kid of Drop and Hifiman cooperation, after the awesome HE4XX and HE35X.
If this is your first time seeing the Drop co-made product, let me explain a little. Drop is cooperating with some big companies (like Meze, Sennheiser, and, of course, Hifiman) to make a Drop exclusive model. There are some changes in the look and sound. How does it change? Well, usually, the sound signature is slightly changed compared to the original product, it’s warmer and darker, same as the design that’s going into dark colors. The last change is the fact that the price can be lower. How did things change this time? You’ll know soon.
Drop (or Massdrop, if you’re old-fashioned) was founded in 2012, and 9 years later, it’s a really big player. They’re known so well not only because of audio stuff, but also mechanical keyboards and watches. Right now, on their site, you can even buy some knives, wallets, and… socks.
Of course, many of those things are cheaper compared to regular prices. Others are made in collaboration with original producers, as the product that’s being described in this review.
Drop is one of the best things to have happened to audio in the past few years in our opinion. Not only it provides great products for the price, but it’s also one of the biggest communities nowadays with thousands and thousands of fans and customers.
Build quality and comfort
When I held HE5XX for the first time, I was like, wow, that’s so light. Then, I put them on my head, and instantly forgot that I’m wearing them. Some may think that they’re unsolid, but I wouldn’t say so. Definitely not. They’re just simply made, with the same headband that was used in HE4XX before, covered in leather, with spring steel inside and some type of pillow in the lower part, where it touches the head. It’s great and lets me use HE5XX for a very long time.
Earpads are hybrid ones, with leather around and soft material in a pentagonal pattern on the inner part.
Those features matched together provide a really high level of comfort. That’s this type of headphone you forget about when it’s on the head, perfect for the most prolonged sessions you can imagine. No matter if I’m working, studying, playing games, or enjoying some TV series (Chicago PD right now, if you’re interested, but you can recommend something new for me in the comments, thanks!). Every time it’s excellent and causes no pain like the Kennerton Odin’s that were trying to crush my jaw. But that’s because I’m a big-headed person (unfortunately, it doesn’t combine with IQ), so when the Kennerton provided a headphone for people with smaller heads, the HE5XX is just flexible thanks to the spring steel used in the headband, so everyone should be satisfied with the comfort.
There’s also one important thing for everyone who loves to use the balanced output in their amplifiers. In each cup of 5XX, you’ll find a 3pin 3,5mm jack input, so changing the cable is an effortless operation. If you don’t care about that, the stock cable maybe looks basic, but it’s really soft and provides a decent sound quality.
HE5XX uses a planar-magnetic driver with magnets on both sides. This is a reference to the past, when Hifiman was producing their legendary line-up, including the HE-6, HE-500, etc.
But the drivers have changed a lot since that time. They’re about 30% lighter compared to the old ones.
The impedance is rated at 18 oHms, with the sensitivity of 93 dB.
So, if I’ve said this magic phrase, the “sound quality,” let’s talk about that. I’ve plugged HE5XX into the EarMen Eagle initially, just for a short check, and it sounded like a solid V signature. It has changed after a few hours of burning in, and after ~20 to 80 hours, the differences were really slight. As a result, we receive a pretty musical headphone that has an excellent value.
The bass is quite deep, and it’s not a dry slam but a vivid punch, with stepped back subbass, which plays further away, making a great background, without being the main theme. For few weeks, the music has been rather dull for me, and I’m skipping tracks after 30 seconds because it doesn’t keep me listening. HE5XX is a gamechanger because I went back to the tracks that I wasn’t listening for a while. It means I’m again in love with all songs that have a bass guitar at the front, like the “Cold Cold Cold” by Cage the Elephant. The beginning of the song is sooo satisfying. HE5XX provides truly thick drums and bass guitar. All of that is completed with a firm texture and a kick that materializes from nowhere to hit my ears and disappear.
The midrange feels a little withdrawn at the beginning, especially on sources with less power (like EarMen Eagle, built-in laptop DAC). Still, with any stationary or strong mobile amp, that feeling disappears. Even using 99$ JDSLabs Atom, the HE5XX shows its best side (there’s even no lousy side, lmao). Male vocals are transparent and robust. Finally, Dave Gahan sounds so authoritative. Kendrick Lamar’s voice is placed deeper, a lot deeper. The second voice in the song is more significant in the presentation, which doesn’t satisfy me, but some sources like SMSLs SU-9 and SH-9 change that and places Kendrick in the first place.
Female vocals are shown differently, delicately pushed to the front, with a more vivid playstyle. An excellent example is “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa; it forces you to sing at the beginning of the song.
The texture is decent, not overloaded, but it’s not an entirely smooth sound. It depends on the source but still keeps around the golden mean.
Some say that the treble is too sharp in HE5XX, but I don’t see it this way. It’s just greatly accented, but not sharpened, nor smoothed. With proper amplification, it’s correct, and provides many sparkles, that can’t start the fire. I think that’s the best way to describe the treble.
I discovered my favorite thing in that part of the sound when I listened to the “Nightcall” by Kavinsky (yes, that song from the “Drive” soundtrack). At 3:45, there are some “splashes” after the rataplan strike, and usually, they sound like one splash, like the brush in the Paint. Using HE5XX provides it as more the airbrush, same shape, but not fulfilled, each part is the separate one. That also shows how many details you can hear at this point. And it’s definitely the best treble I’ve heard in this price range.
The soundstage is the icing on the cake. It’s just crazy. There’s no way for two different sounds to stick into one. They’re always separate, with incredibly correct and marked positions, all around.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the music video of “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar, but at 1:55, they used a special machine that was moving like an industrial robot used to cut the shapes in metal or something. That’s how the soundstage work in there. Exact, with strong, marked pinpoints, and the sound can come from every direction. The final feeling is different from many headphones I’ve used. 5XX provides a more natural presentation. Combined with their comfort and lightness, I can easily forget that I’m wearing headphones and start enjoying music on another level.
It’s also one of the best headphones I’ve used for gaming. I can easily define what floor the opponent is on and pinpoint him when he runs, so I can prefire whenever he picks, so they think I’m hacking or something. If decent audio is hacking, then yes, I do cheat. And yet again, I trust 5XX’s way more than my teammates. Those cans can’t be wrong about positioning (unless the game isn’t trolling, which sometimes happens in Escape From Tarkov, for example).
Drop x Hifiman HE5XX vs. Hifiman HE400i 2020.VS Hifiman HE400i 2020
5XX is more fun-to-listen when the 400i is more correct in overall feeling. The higher model is an upgrade in terms of details, but the signature change might not be the favorite for everyone. I’m a huge fan of fun in headphones, so I like HE5XX more, but that’s, of course, not everyone’s opinion at this point. Also, the soundstage in Drop signed headphones is broader, deeper, and crazier.
Drop x Hifiman HE5XX vs. AKG K702
At first, HE5XX is way easier to drive. You don’t need the whole power station to have a good sound. In terms of sound, the K702 has much less springy bass, when the one in Hifimans is more universal, so they are more flexible in terms of everyone’s taste. The biggest difference is in the midrange. 5XX provides way more life and vividness in vocals. 5XX’s treble is more delicate, and the soundstage is way deeper. It’s similar in width and pinpointing but way higher and more profound.
Pairing is a straightforward part. HE5XX sounds good with any sound source I’ve used (as always, you can find them at the bottom of the review) if they have enough power. Of course, some will cut the soundstage, but even xDuoo XD-05 Plus provides a decent size and correctness. The rest stays on the sound signature, and 5XX is not the most source-dependent at this part. All changes are only cosmetical.
Drop x Hifiman HE5XX is another wonderful kid of those two companies. For only 220USD and free shipping in the USA, you get a vivid sound, the most extensive soundstage at this price range, and one of the most comfortable headphones. If I’d have to select one headphone under 500$ as my daily driver, I’d buy HE5XX and a balanced cable. I’d spend the rest of the money on beer, and that combo would make me really satisfied.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Audeze LCD3, Hifiman HE1000se, HEDDphone, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman HE 400i 2020, Meze 99 Classics, Dekoni Blue, AKG K702, Philips Fidelio X2HR
- Sources– JDSLabs Atom DAC + Atom AMP, iFi iDAC2, EarMen Eagle, EarMen TR-Amp, xDuoo XD-05 Plus, SMSL SH9 + SU9 stack