The HIFIMAN HE-R10P is the company’s first real closed-back planar magnetic headphone model. Ever. They also released a dynamic driver version, the HE-R10D, that my colleague Mel Martin will be covering in a separate review. According to the press materials, HIFIMAN has been working on this type of headphone for quite some time, having put the project on hold for a while to perfect their open-back designs first. Having successfully climbed that mountain, they have since returned to this little experiment and have succeeded in developing a headphone of suitable performance to place it at the top position in their line.
HIFIMAN HE-R10P Planar Magnetic Headphone
- Solid powerful bass that doesn’t overshadow everything else.
- Surprisingly warm and spacious sound for closed-back headphones.
- CNC real wood earcups are pretty.
- Optional Bluemini BT module turns these into some of the best sounding BT headphones.
- They don’t have enough of a premium luxury look or feel.
- The earcups are huge. You won’t go unnoticed.
In my mind, HIFIMAN, more than any other mainstream headphone company in recent years has pushed the bounds of headphone technology and design. This effort has eventually trickled down through every price point of their line to provide consumers with great sound, with options from affordable to astronomical. The company always seems to be moving, experimenting with alternative ideas, and in this case, with the HE-R10P, they are bringing us their take on the closed-back planar magnetic headphone concept. Up until now, all the company’s planar headphones have been open-back designs, so it will be interesting to get a sense of what HIFIMAN thinks a proper closed-back set of cans should sound like. They also sent along an optional Bluemini amplifier, a Bluetooth module that allows the HE-R10P to be used wirelessly. An unexpected yet interesting pairing.
Back in 2015 when HIFIMAN launched the HE-1000 open-back planar headphones, they caused a real stir on a variety of fronts. They looked like nothing else, and they sounded so incredible that the (at the time) eye-watering $3000.00 asking price could be justified. I own a pair of HE-1000v2, and I use them as a reference when listening to other headphones. Fast forward to today and there are a lot more hi-end headphones, all very unique offerings, in the $3000+ space. Can HIFIMAN do the same thing that they did before with the new HE-R10P? There’s only one way to find out!
Circumaural, Closed-back Headphones with Planar Magnetic drivers.
Manufacturer Freq. Response:
10 Hz – 60 kHz
Black with Cherry wood earcups.
Single 1.5-meter-long cable with 3.5 mm termination. Single 3-meter-long cable with XLR termination. Single 3-meter-long cable with ¼-inch phono plug termination.
Bluemini Wireless Module
20 Hz-20 kHz
<0.1% @ 1W/1KHz
LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, SBC
Bluetooth/USB Type C
HIFIMAN, bluemini, planar, closed-back, headphones, Reference, Headphones Review 2021
Just to get this out of the way up front, there has been much chatter on the interwebs about the HIFIMAN HE-R10P headphones being everything from an homage/tribute to a blatant copy of the very rare, circa 1989, Sony MDR-R10 headphones. I have not experienced the Sony headphones in question, but from what I can see after examining both designs is that HIFIMAN seems to have used the same design concept and size of the Sony’s wooden ear cups and adapted it for their particular use. Otherwise, the HE-R10P headphones seem completely different in every other detail.
The HE-R10P uses one of HIFIMAN’s current generation planar-magnetic drivers in each earcup. Each driver uses a nanometer thickness membrane as the diaphragm sandwiched between 2 sets of magnets.
The large cherry wood earcups have been CNC milled to a precise shape and thickness to allow for sufficient space around the planar drivers for them to perform as intended. This is presumably to improve sound staging and imaging over a more traditional closed-back design. Whether the species of wood was chosen to help imbue the sound with any additional characteristics is unclear. The grain and satin finishing on the earcups is attractive which is good because their size is attention-getting.
The generously sized earpads are a combination of leather on the outside with soft fabric on the contact surfaces. They are thicker at the back versus the front and the pads completely encircled my ears, with room to spare, when I put the headphones on. Clamping pressure was quite agreeable making the HE-R10P easy to wear for extended periods without discomfort.
The headband and arms on the HE-R10P are pretty much the identical design as what is found on HIFIMAN’s far less expensive Deva headphones, which is to say that it is comfortable and works well. It is perhaps a bit of a conservative design choice for their flagship headphones.
The Bluemini wireless module that was included with the review sample is a $150.00 optional extra. It is essentially a Bluetooth receiver, DAC, and amplifier all in one and simply plugs into the single 3.5 mm socket on the bottom of the left earcup. The Bluemini is compatible with SBC, AAC, AptX, AptX-HD, and LDAC codecs. Battery life is a claimed 7-10 hours on a full charge. And the USB-C charge cable also will double as a direct digital audio connection when plugged into your computer.
Accessories included with the HE-R10P are a 3.5 mm cable, a 1/4-inch phono cable, and a balanced 4-pin XLR cable. A small 8 x 10-inch hardbound owner’s guide is also included in the leatherette-clad presentation box we’ve seen in other high-end HIFIMAN products.
While the overall design, build quality and aesthetics are quite good with the HE-R10P, the finish and choice of materials is not as luxurious as some other competing headphones out there. The Focal Stellia that I reviewed last year are a good example of getting the aesthetic details right.
I tested the HIFIMAN HE-R10P in a variety of scenarios. For listening in my studio, the headphones were driven by my Benchmark HPA4 headphone amplifier. The source was my Surface 3 PRO tablet running ROON, which was connected to the Audio-gd AS1 DAC via USB. For tethered mobile listening, HE-R10P was connected to my Topping NX4 DSD portable headphone amp that was using the output of my Shanling M0 DAP. When using a Bluetooth connection via the Bluemini module, the source was either the Shanling M0 using the LDAC codec or my Apple iPhone using AAC.
Broadly speaking, these are a fun set of headphones to listen to. Right off the bat, my first impressions of the sound of the HIFIMAN HE-R10P were “spacious” and “warm.” By comparison, they certainly presented a bigger image than most closed-back headphones that I’ve listened to. The perception of warmth I attribute to an additional bloom in the midrange frequencies, which was particularly noticeable in vocal performances. As I spent more time with the HE-R10P, I also came to appreciate their bass performance, finding it to have a tremendous impact with the right material but not at the expense of making everything else sound bloated. The treble performance sounded quite good in general. I sometimes felt that midrange warmness kind of took away a little of that “bite” that I was looking for in violin strings or horns, but others might appreciate that character. It is just something that happens with increased midrange response, which can make the edge transients less audible. I really enjoyed the HIFIMAN HE-R10P with live jazz and blues recordings, most rock music, and vocal focused music. For classical music it was a little more of a mixed bag. It depended on the recording but, in some cases, I found the HE-R10P’s additional warmth and spaciousness to lend a slightly artificial sound to the orchestral material that I would cue up.
The HE-R10P were also a bit of an enigma, in that you could use the optional Bluemini module with them, and the pairing worked surprisingly well, but I don’t know that HIFIMAN would exactly prefer they be used that way. I admit to feeling slightly self-conscious wearing such a pricey pair of “wireless” headphones around the neighborhood while walking my dogs. Never mind the practicality of wearing them on a crowded subway or bus. The physical size of them made me feel like I should be helping taxi a 747 to its gate at the airport or getting ready to push the plunger for a building demolition. But I must give credit to the amplifier and DAC guts of the Bluemini. They kept a strong Bluetooth connection between either my iPhone or my little Shanling DAP. The iPhone had a more stable connection with the HE-R10P at farther distances. I had to keep the Shanling M0 in my left shirt pocket to keep the LDAC connection solid. Both the AAC and LDAC connections by the way sounded very good. The sound was lively and clear with plenty of headroom in the Bluemini’s built-in amplifier. Using LDAC sounded a bit more detailed than when listening to the same tracks from my iPhone but we’re talking by a matter of degrees. A case could be made for the HE-R10P being the best (non-ANC) Bluetooth headphones I’ve heard but, again, I don’t think they are really geared for that.
Some of the music that got my attention with the HIFIMAN HE-R10P was:
Buddy Guy, Live! The Real Deal, Silvertone Records, 1996, 16/44.1 FLAC.
In the last 30 years (good Lord has it been that long?) I have seen Buddy Guy in concert about a half-dozen times. Always a soulful and electrifying performance, this album comes about as close to recreating one of those live experiences that I have come across on disc. The HE-R10P’s sonic character lends itself supremely well to this recording, nicely recreating the atmosphere of Legend’s Bar where the show was performed. On “The First Time I Met the Blues” Guy’s voice is front and center with all its plaintive expression. Everything from his yells to his whispers comes across clearly and with plenty of depth. His guitar licks ring and bites with the right sense of attack along with the reverb from the room and amp buzzing in the background. Lenny Pickett’s tenor sax solo sounds clear and expressive and, at full volume, does not upset the planar drivers one bit. The bass and drums have excellent weight and impact, mimicking what you would feel sitting in the club and the audience applause sounds broad and diffuse, almost coming from behind, as you would expect, without competing with the musicians. A proper live experience.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, Woman Child, Mack Avenue Records, 2013, 24/96 FLAC via Qobuz.
A happy-accident-find courtesy of my ROON subscription, Ms. Salvant’s voice has incredible range and expressiveness, going both expectantly high and surprisingly deep. “You Bring Out the Savage in Me” is a bit of Avante-guard jazz and Broadway show tune rolled into one. Just drums, piano, and vocals, the HE-R10P has an easy time imbuing it all with space and body. Her vocals are rich and clear, changing both volume and range quickly. The HIFIMAN’s drivers move just as quickly and the dimension of her voice when it reaches down low is satisfyingly solid. The drum hits have solid weight behind them and the sticks tapping the rims sound nice and clear. The accompanying piano sounds big and full as expected from these headphones. A really fun song that takes full advantage of these headphone’s characteristics.
Dvorak-Mussorgsky-Rabaud, Exotic Dances From the Opera, Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings, 1996, 24/176.4 FLAC via Qobuz.
A big and dynamic orchestral performance. It’s on material like this that the HE-R10P, for me, doesn’t quite live up to expectations. While the bass impact was still good, I found the added midrange warmth and overall spaciousness conspired to muddy the overall presentation. Instrument sections were not as distinct and the whole performance tended to flatten out. On “The Snow Maiden” and “Salome’s Dance” I switched back and forth between the closed-back HE-R10P and my open-back HE-1000v2 and while the bass impact was diminished, the latter cans had a more agreeable presentation to me. Instruments stood out more with better separation. Everything sounded more naturally open. Looking for a more apples-to-apples comparison, I have the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noir in for review and they also happen to be closed-back planar headphones. They have quite a different character from the HE-R10P, and their presentation was a little more focused and more neutral sounding. Not quite as much bass impact or as wide a soundstage as the HIFIMANs but the separation of the instruments and detail was all there with the Noirs. It lent itself better, for me, to this kind of music. Others may think differently.
Johnny Cash, American Recordings, American Recordings, 1994, 16/44.1 FLAC
Just the man-in-black and his guitar on this iconic set of songs. Listening to “The Beast in Me” returns the HE-R10P to the top of its game. The added warmth and the spacious tuning help bring the best out of elder Johnny Cash’s deep, resonant vocals. He and his acoustic guitar sound positively huge. Listening to the HIFIMANs I almost felt like I was in the room with Cash when he laid down these sparse, simple yet profound tracks.
Gov’t Mule, Shout!, Blue Note, 2013, 16/44.1 FLAC.
This is a two-disc set from this Southern Rock staple with the second disc featuring alternate takes of songs with special guest performances. “Stoop So Low” featuring Dr. John on lead vocals was tailor-made for the HE-R10P. The groovy, swampy organ vibe mixed with Dr. John’s gravelly delivery, and the “Wah-Wah” guitar flourishes makes the most of the warm and spacious presentation of these headphones. And the bass reach just makes these headphones groove that much harder. The pinnacle of fun, listening to this.
If your headphone preferences veer towards a more warm and spacious sound with plenty of bass, and you have the budget, the HIFIMAN HE-R10P are worth a listen.
- Spacious sound.
- Great bass response.
- Optional wireless use is a bonus.
- Improved luxury look and feel.
I respect HIFIMAN as a company and the accomplishments they have made with their products over the years. I have enjoyed both their flagship, midrange, and entry-level headphones to an equal degree. The HE-R10P planar magnetic closed-back headphones are an interesting departure for the company. I found them quite fun to listen to with most kinds of music and the HE-R10P have some endearing sonic qualities to them that should find favor with many high-end headphone enthusiasts. Personally, I don’t think they are a “game-changer” headphone like the HE-1000 were back in the day and I wish the HE-R10P had a more premium and luxurious feel to them for a flagship set of cans. That being said, I know a number of people who would find the HIFIMAN HE-R10P’s warm and spacious sound character to be just their cup of tea. They certainly have a different personality, and in the high-end headphone game, that accounts for a lot. They are worth a listen if you get the chance.