These closed-back headphones provide a natural laid-back sound with superb comfort and easy-to-use wireless capabilities. That said, the look won’t be for everyone, and they could use a touch more transparency.
In March, I took a look at Hifiman’s Deva Pro, a planar magnetic headphone with a novel feature. That would be its compatibility with Hifiman’s Bluemini Bluetooth dongle, which allows it to switch from wired to wireless in seconds.
I thought that particular headphone/dongle combo sounded really good, due in no small part to the R2R DAC circuitry in the included Bluemini. So today, I’m checking out another pair of headphones that works with that same Bluemini dongle, the HE-R9.
The R9 is a Dynamic Closed-Back model that utilizes Hifiman’s Topology Diaphragm (with a nanoparticle pattern on the film) for optimum detail. This is the same type of driver used to a significant effect on Hifiman’s flagship closed-back dynamic headphone, the R10D.
According to the company’s founder, the R9 is designed to exhibit similar sound characteristics to the reference model. So does the trickle-down technology and wireless option make these affordable cans worth adding to your affordable headphone collection? Well, read on, and I’ll give you the scoop!
Disclaimer: The review unit I have on hand is provided by Hifiman Electronics in exchange for our evaluation. No input has been given regarding the content contained within.
According to the promotional copy, the HE-R9 is expressly designed for extended listening, and that was evident to me as soon as I put them on.
First of all, these headphones are surprisingly lightweight for their size (328g), which keeps them from hurting your neck. Secondly, the memory foam-wrapped steel headband and ear cups effectively distribute what little weight there is.
In addition, the clamp is nicely judged, which keeps the R9 from creating a lot of hotspots. This makes them supremely comfortable to wear for long periods.
If I had any complaint regarding wearability, it would be a slight scratchiness to the earpads, but it’s something I got used to after a while.
In addition, despite the light weight, overall build quality is good. The metal earcup yokes are sturdy and slide smoothly, while all the plastic parts, including the earcups and trim, are robust. The finish on every piece also seems to be uniform and scratch-resistant. I especially like the shiny burgundy color used on the earcups.
Speaking of the earcups, they have a large angled enclosure similar to the ones used on Hifiman’s R10D headphones, except these are made of plastic instead of wood. I actually prefer the cheaper headphone’s glossy finish to the flagship model’s wood finish, even though the wood looks more premium overall.
Conversely, I have to mention I’m not a massive fan of how the earcups look. They stick out very far at a weird angle, and you will look like Dumbo the elephant whenever you wear these headphones. That said, they do serve a purpose, starting with providing plenty of room for your ears.
The large enclosures are also there to provide more spaciousness to the sound, and I have to admit they do. So at the end of the day, I guess they are worth a little embarrassment since good sound always trumps looking cool in my book.
In the box, you get a decent two-sided headphone cable with a nice thickness and good flexibility. It’s not the prettiest cable I’ve ever seen, but it looks well built, which is most important.
While the included cable is dual-sided, the HE-R9’s cable sockets accommodate both dual-sided 3.5mm and single-sided balanced cables.
In addition, the balanced 3.5mm socket (on the left side) works with Hifiman’s Bluemini R2R dongle to turn the R9 into a wireless headphone, just like the Deva PRO I mentioned earlier. The HE-9/Bluemini combo is $749, which comes to an extra $150 versus buying the headphones alone.
If you’re not familiar with the Bluemini R2R dongle, it plugs directly into the left earcup, operates using Bluetooth 5.0, and is compatible with just about every BT audio codec, including LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, and SBC.
It also has a Battery life of around 8 hours, which is excellent considering this dongle contains Hifiman’s Himalaya DAC, which uses a miniaturized R2R ladder circuit for D/A conversion.
The Bluemini dongle also has a microphone to take phone calls, but the call quality is just ok. It will do in a pinch, but I wouldn’t buy one for this feature. Also, keep in mind that while it doesn’t add much weight to the headphones, it is a touch bulky and doesn’t do the R9 any favors in the looks department.
On the other hand, if you do decide to use the included headphone cable, the HE-R9 has a high sensitivity of 100dB and an impedance of 32 ohms, which means it can be driven easily by portable devices.
For my initial sound tests, I connected the HE-R9 to my FiiO M11Plus Music Player, playing a bunch of music from Qobuz (BTW, you can support the channel by getting a free Qobuz trial: Rediscover your music in studio quality with Hi-Res streaming and downloads on Qobuz. Get a free trial now. ). I found the R9 to have a neutral tonal balance with just a touch of warmth.
There was some treble and mid roll-off at the top, which removed a little air from the sound, but the center mids down through the sub-bass was remarkably detailed. The bass was quite articulate and deep.
I was especially impressed by the center portion of the midrange. Pianos, guitars, and vocals sounded realistic and vivid. On the other hand, I could hear just a bit of top end and presence roll-off that presented a bit of dullness. This roll-off also made things sound a bit dark at times.
However, there was just enough sparkle up top to keep things both natural and exciting. For example, I was enraptured by the fullness and realism of Emily King’s guitar on her song “Always” from her album “Sides.” Her vocal was also quite engaging as she performed in the middle of the soundstage.
I was also impressed when it came to dynamics. The R9 had better macro-dynamics than micro-dynamics, but both were good. These headphones played fast and pushed the rhythm forward nicely.
Speaking of soundstage, the R9 had a vast one for closed-back headphones. The presentation spread way beyond my ears, making it hard to believe I was listening to closed-back headphones at times.
Conversely, I did wish there was more depth and separation when it came to imaging. I found the R9 lacked some of the dimensionality provided by Hifiman’s planar headphones. For example, the Hifiman Edition XS (and the Deva Pro) gave me just a little more space and definition between the mix elements.
Simply stated, these headphones had a very organic and laid-back sound that played into the “extended listening” theme. At the end of the day, the sound put me in the mind of Sennheiser’s long-time favorite HD650s, which is a bit of a compliment considering I’m comparing a closed-back headphone to an open-back one.
With the Bluemini Dongle
I also did sound tests using the Bluemini dongle connected to my Samsung S21 Ultra via LDAC. Going to the wireless dongle directly after listening on the wire, I heard a slight drop in transparency and detail, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Besides that, I felt the warmth of the Bluemini’s tuning matched up a little bit better with the Deva Pro Planar Headphones than the R9. I thought the warm sound signature of the BT Dongle combined with the warmth of the HE-R9 was a little too much of a good thing at times, adversely affecting the midrange clarity.
However, if you can make peace with the slight decrease in sound quality, there’s something to be said about the convenience of ditching the wire in certain situations. I liked it most when doing chores at the house. I recommend getting the HE-R9 wireless package w/ the dongle if you know you’re going to be moving around a lot while listening.
The Wrap Up
In Conclusion, while they are not the final word in depth and separation, the Hifiman HE-R9 has an organic, laid-back sound that provides just enough detail to keep you engaged with the musical material. The soundstage is also remarkable for a closed-back model.
Their warm yet neutral tonal balance plays well with all genres, making them a good all-rounder for daily listening. I would describe the sound as somewhere between the Sennheiser HD650 and Focal Elear. At the end of the day, closed-back headphones are very hard to get right, and this may the best I’ve heard under $1000.
In addition, their lightweight build and cushy padding also make them a pleasure to wear for long periods.
I highly recommend these headphones for those who are sensitive to excessive upper midrange and those who want a good neutral headphone to listen to during the workday. If you move around during the day, you should spring for the Bluemini dongle, which provides decent sound while letting you cut the cord.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.