The HIFIMAN HE-R9 is a wired, closed-back headphone from a company primarily known for its open-back offering. It’s a somewhat entry-level pair priced at at $369with a 3.5 mm TRS connection, along with a 6.35mm adaptor so you can plug into just about any headphone amplifier. The headphones come in a beautiful maroon and black finish, and one of the more noteworthy features is that you can add the Bluemini R2R module to make your wired headphones into a wireless set, allowing you to functionally have the best of both worlds. Jerry Del Colliano dug into this concept with the HIFIMAN Deva Pro, if you’d like to read more.
What Makes the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones Special?
- If you’re someone who is looking to try out wired headphones but don’t want to have to buy a headphone amp, the HE-R9 is a great option, as they only have 32 ohms impedance. This means that you can drive them with your cellphone or laptop and achieve reasonable listening levels without much trouble. I tried them out with my Apple iPhone 13 (using the Lightning-to-3.5mm dogle) and Apple MacBook Pro and they were both capable of putting out ample volume. In my listening, I found that they still sounded their best when I used them with a headphone amplifier such as the iFi XDSD Gryphon that I reviewed, or even using the 6.35 mm plug with the NAD C 338 Hybrid Digital DAC amplifier.
- The HE-R9 headphones are quite light at 0.7 pounds, or 328 grams for fans of the metric system out there. I’ve worn these headphones for more than four hours at a time and felt comfortable the entire time. Heat on my ears was never the issue I would have predicted it might be.
- The headphones provide good passive isolation. The don’t have any active noise cancelling (ANC as it is known in the wireless headphone world), but they are insulated well enough that you can wear them in an office without feeling distracted by people talking around you. I also found that when I wore them on walks, I could hear traffic go by, but it wasn’t too much of a distraction. There was just enough awareness of the outside world to keep me safe
Why Should You Care About the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones?
The biggest advantage of using a wired set of headphones is that the sound isn’t defined by a chip. Bluetooth is a fantastic technology, but it does have a sound and it isn’t one that you can easily flavor to your liking. So, if you’re looking to sit down in your listening room and enjoy your favorite music without annoying your partner or waking your kids,this is a product worth considering. And, as previously noted, if you prefer the mobility of Bluetooth, you can always add the Bluemini R2R Bluetooth DAC and Amplifier that HIFIMAN sells separately.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones
- Because of the design and physical bulk, they are not ideal for travel. You can certainly put them on and go for a walk around your neighborhood, but they aren’t going to be your first pick for putting into your briefcase or backpack when you’re getting on a plane. IEMs (in-ear-monitors) or other wireless headphones often get added to your travel/gym rig for this exact purpose.
- There are no color or additional finish options. If you’re someone who cares about what your headphones look like and maroon isn’t your color of choice, you might not like these as they don’t come in any other colors.
- It would have been nice to have a longer cable right out of the box. Using the cable length that came with the HE-R9 was great while I was sitting at my desk, but in my listening room, my chair is much further away from my preamp, so having a longer cable would have been nice.
Listening to the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones…
In my opinion, listening to some Rush is always a great place to start with almost any piece of audio equipment. I listened to “A Passage to Bangkok” (Streaming 44.1kHz) from their 2112 album (buy at Amazon on CD, vinyl, or even cassette!). This Canadian classic rock anthem sounded very balanced through the HIFIMAN cans. The legendary rhythm section of Geddy Lee and Neal Peart was certainly there and you could easily hear each of their instruments, but Alex Lifeson’s guitar track was never pushed too far forward, so it didn’t sound too bright. One of the great things about having such a talented rhythm section is that it allows the guitar player room to make more interesting sounds and you could hear all that detail on this track while using these headphones.
Listening to “By Crooked Steps” (Streaming 44.1kHz) from Soundgarden’s King Animal album (buy at Amazon). These Seattle grunge pioneers started to sound a lot more rock and a lot less grunge in this 2012 release, but what makes this one most interesting are the layers in the mix and even the band’s signature, uncommon tunings. The HIFIMAN HE-R9 headphones were able to keep all of those layers both clear and separate throughout my listening, even as the pace of the song moved. As a bit of a side note: if you have never checked out the video for this track, you should. It’s a lot of fun and also happens to be directed by rock legend Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame.
Next up: “Weapon of Choice” (Streaming 44.1kHz) from Fat Boy Slim’s 2006 release The Greatest Hits: Why Try Harder (buy at Amazon). Normally, I would never recommend a greatest hits album, but in this case the mix is different than on the original release. This version is much more bass heavy and gives you a good feel for how the HE-R9 handles the lowest octaves. This electronic track features a tight bassline that I was able to easily differentiate all of the different sounds and low-end effects. This is an accomplishment on this track, which features three different samples, as well as the glorious baritone voice of the great Bootsy Collins (Silk Sonic, James Brown, Parliament).
Do the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones Have Any Resale Value?
These headphones are keeping their value incredibly well from my initial research. Several sets have sold on eBay over the last few months at about two thirds of their current retail value, which isn’t a surprise when you consider their build-quality and pedigree. People are collecting wired headphones more and more these days, so fewer and fewer make it to the resale market. If yours ever did, I think you’d have a pretty safe investment with the HE-R9.
Who Is the Competition For the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Wired Headphones?
The most obvious competition for the HE-R9 is the long-standing classic Sennheiser HD 600 ($399) (buy at Amazon). These headphones have been sold for literally 20 years, which is an incredible feat. Just note: the HD 600 has a much higher impedance, so you likely couldn’t use them with just your phone.
If you prefer an open-back headphone, the Apos Audio Caspian ($499) is one worth your consideration. They have their own unique look and feel, as they have handmade oak ear cups and sheepskin ear pads, which might not be for everyone. However, the impedance is low enough that you can power nicely with just about anything, including a phone or tablet or laptop.
Now, if you’re looking for a much different sound from your headphones, you should check out the STAX SR-L300 ($455) “ear speakers” (buy at Amazon). These aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing set of headphones, as to my eyes they look like space heaters placed on your head, but if you have never checked out a pair of electrostatic headphones, you should check these out.
Final Thoughts on the HIFIMAN HE-R9 Headphones
I used these fantastic headphones for months ahead of listening to this review, and I found myself enjoying them from the first moment I put them on. They are not going to be an end-game headphone, which is exactly what you should expect at $369. They are a fantastic option for anyone looking to add a real musical upgrade to either their workday or who are just looking to have some time to themselves in the evening where they can relax and get away from the stress of their day. There are so many ways to win with these headphones that they are easy to recommend.