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Hifiman RE9 in box on pebbles outdoors in front of a potted plant

Review: Hifiman HE-R9 Headphones

Disclaimer: I would like to formally thank April from Hifiman for graciously providing us with the HE-R9 for review. I am not affiliated with Hifiman, and the views shared below reflect my honest thoughts surrounding the product.

Kevin

Pros:

  • Ultra-light frame
  • Focus hybrid earpads and headbands are incredibly comfortable for long-term listening sessions
  • Reasonable driveability with modest mechanical impedance
  • Satisfying thick low-end, and timbre-rich midrange
  • Excellent imaging prowess
  • Technically proficient across frequency-band with high micro dynamic and macrodynamic detail

Cons:

  • Not a reference sound signature
  • Limited soundstage width and height compared to open-back counterparts
  • Lacks the transient speed of its planar predecessors
  • Performance is contingent on source quality and amplification

Introduction

Hifiman was “subject zero”, or the foremost step taken in my career-spanning audiophile journey. The original HE400 was the first Hifiman to grace my prepubescent ears (a post-facto thank you to my brother for generously loaning me his pair in 2014). The HE400’s low-end tactility and in-your-face rhythmic articulation left an indelible impression on my precocious, younger self.

I was entranced by an undulating sea of sound! Can headphones sound this good? In hindsight, that was foreshadowing for prodigious days ahead.

Today, the Hifiman brand has made enormous strides in terms of technical performance and performance efficiency, with founder Dr Fang Bian boldly leading the creative team as their spirited captain. Concurrently, the “technical exclusivity” of their higher-end headphones has percolated into more affordable planar magnetic alternatives (think of Hifiman’s countless derivates of the HE400).

Breakdown of Hifiman's Topology Diaphragm and Advanced Voice Coil in HE-R9
Credit: Hifiman

But Hifiman’s frontier-pushing philosophy is not only limited to the planar-magnetic niche. Hifiman has pioneered the development of their “topology diaphragm”, a dynamic driver with a nano-composite coating. This composite formulation exerts complete control on the driver, adding much-needed rigidity for circumventing audible distortion and enhancing transients. Hifiman’s topology technology is the proprietary engine powering their constellation of IEMS (RE2000 Silver and Gold IEMs etc.).

Today, the Hifiman HE-R9 and 10D are their latest circumaural headphones to showcase their groundbreaking topology diaphragms in a 50mm format, complemented by an advanced voice coil and N52 earth magnets. The R9 is the cheaper sister headphone to the pricier R10D, which boasts aviation aluminium parts and premium CNC-ed wooden earcups.

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that Hifiman has generously discounted both models enormously. And you’d be absolutely correct! Currently, the HE-R9 is priced at a reasonable 199 USD versus their original 599 USD asking price. The HE-R9 is available for sale in Hifiman’s official store.

Today, I put the R9 through its paces with an in-depth review, sharing my honest thoughts on one of Hifiman’s latest endeavours.

Unboxing

Half-open HE-R9 Box

The Hifiman HE-R9 come shipped in a nondescript cardboard box, save for a stretch of black tape spanning the length of the entire box. The product’s title, official photograph, and specifications are printed on this stretch of tape that doubles up as the box’s official seal.

Upon lifting the front lid of the box, you’ll immediately be greeted by the Hifiman HE-R9’s lacquer-red earcups, snugly fitted onto a styrofoam headphone stand. The RE9 is sufficiently surrounded by protective styrofoam along the box’s four corners.

At the top of the box is a rectangular box with three QR codes redirecting users to register the R9’s 12-month warranty and Hifiman’s official social media pages. In the box, you’ll find a 3.5mm TRS (L and R channels) to right-angled 3.5mm terminated cable and a 3 1/4 inch adapter.

Because the styrofoam headphone stand has a rectangular piece of acrylic attached to its base, users can conveniently store their headphones after each use.

Credit where credit is due. This was an ingenious inclusion.

Design, Comfort, and Durability

The RE-9 is an oversized circumaural headphone drawing its visual inspiration from the vestiges of Sony’s industrious past: the Sony MDR-R10. I can see the resemblance.

3.5mm L and R termination on HE-R8 headphone

The RE-9’s headband and yokes are machined from lightweight steel, with two large Philips head screws holding each channel in place. The headband is first covered in plush memory foam, followed by a leather outer. On the inner side of the headband, the plastic elements hide the adjustable lengths of the headband each featuring oversized L and R indicators.

The 3.5mm female ends on each chamber share identical design DNA with its 5XX, and Deva forbears, featuring the same embossed “Hifiman” logo.

And let’s address the elephant in the room. The cavernous width of each piano-red plastic earcup is bound to raise a few eyebrows. However, Hifiman has explicitly stated that the earcup’s elongated chamber was deliberately designed to accommodate the back wave of each diaphragm. Personal gripes aside, each chamber was consciously moulded to fine-tune the product’s overall performance. As such, it would be remiss to arbitrarily critique it based on its appearance.

Honeycomb pattern and R indicator on HE-R9

The included pads share the same material makeup as the headband, but the surfaces coming into contact with my ears are finished in a fabric material with a printed honeycomb pattern.

Because of the headphone’s remarkably lightweight chassis, the HE-R9 are specially tailored towards long-term listening sessions. The overly-padded headband leaves little to no pressure on the base of my head, and the plush earpads comfortably encircle my ears without discomfort. The R9 is a delight to use for hours on end without pause. However, the RE-9’s “non-diminutive” silhouette is designed solely for use indoors, less so outdoors. I can envisage thousands of eyes staring at me on the train for wearing this behemoth out in public.

As a closed-back headphone, the R9 isolates satisfactorily in an indoor environment, preventing the encroachment of urban noise into your personal listening space. The headphone’s majority-steel frame strikes an equitable balance between robustness and comfort, reassuring me of its impressive durability.

Included HER9 headphone cable (terminated to 3.5mm L and R, to 3.5mm right angled jack)

The included 1.5m headphone cable is equipped with strain reliefs on both ends, preventing it from possibly being severed. The sheathing/cable jacket used is particularly malleable, avoiding the retainment of unwanted kinks or bends that can detract from its long-term usage.

Overall, the RE-9 may not be a mobile on-the-go solution (it never was intended to be), but it is a luxurious circumaural headphone ticking all the right boxes: long-term wearability and longevity. And the luxurious piano red finish doesn’t hurt either.

Onto the next page for details on sound…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Kevin Goh

Kevin Goh

Raised in Southeast Asia’s largest portable-audio market, Kevin’s interest in high-end audio has grown alongside it as the industry flourishes. His pursuit of “perfect sound” began in the heydays of Jaben in Singapore at the age of just 10 years old. Kevin believes that we live in a golden age of readily accessible, quality audio.

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