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HiFiMAN HE-400

95% Positive Reviews
Rated #21 in Over-Ear


Pros: Good across the frequency range, Live Sounding, Full

Cons: Connectors - Logo Paint

When I originally got into this hobby some 2 years ago, my first run of purchases included Sennheiser HD650's, Denon D5000 and Ultrasone Pro900's. I also had a couple beaters from Koss laying around like the Porta Pros (which I LIKE!). So upon purchasing my first true head amp (a Fiio E10) I thought my journey was over.... I had an amazing closed headphone, an amazing open headphone, a decent amp/dac... nuff said. Lets close the book on this consumer business and listen to some music.


From there I focused a good amount of my energy on (A) fixing up my 54 Lincoln and (B) mechanical watches..... I was in the throws of said watch obsession waiting for Steinhart to fill inventory on the Ocean 44 dive watch when I saw an episode of "How It's Made" on TV at the AKG factory in Austria where they take you through the steps of construction on one of the K702's.


Headphones!.... OH I LIKE THOSE


Since Steinhart was pushing their restock date back to August... maybe I can spend some of that money that is burning a hole in my pocket on a pair of Headphones.


And so the bug bit again.... But this time reading through forums, websites and reviews the kiss of death was bestowed on the K701 and 702 (which were my knee jerk target purchase after watching the show) but words like: lacking bass, thin sounding, airy and very NEUTRAL were intertwined into descriptions of their sound.... meh! I cannot handle thin sounding anything.
I've been to too many live shows to be able to pass off a thin sound as accurate.


Also (to me) the word "Neutral" conjures up images of a lifeless two dimensional sound that is lacking pace rhythm& and attack. Neutral is about as exciting as FLAT

I cannot imagine an OEM that would enjoy reading a review of their products, headphones, speakers or otherwise as "very flat and neutral".


So after jettisoning the 702 notion on its face, further Headfi forum reading of 'this vs that' impressions and product reviews and general chatter brought forth numerous mentions of a new player in the game... A company out of China called Hifiman who's entire line up of headphones consisted of planar magnetic drivers and open back designs. Even though the company hails from the PRC, they have a presence on US Soil that is comprised of a technical support staff and New York based distribution.The more I read about the Hifiman planar magnetic headphones, the more they starting working their way to the top of my list.


My pops raised me on a steady diet of vinyl with big power wars era receivers and massive floorstanding dynamic speakers but I remember spending time at my Uncle Johns in the summer where he had 2 big Magneplanar speakers set up in his game room. I don't remember a whole heck of a lot from back then but I do remember that I wanted my Uncles system.... So it became clearer and clearer to me that Hifiman was going to benefit from my next purchase. About the time I started my hunt, the HE400 model had been on the streets long enough to get through Rev 1.... and long enough for a couple of reviews to make it onto the street.


An article from Headfonia gave it a restrained thumbs up but Steve Guttenberg of CNet Audiophilliac fame gave it a gushing review. So as an impressionable young mark (er man) these last two votes of confidence were enough for me to pull the trigger. And so about 10 days after purchasing the headphones from Amazon for $399, they arrived at my doorstep. However upon taking delivery of the box there were obvious signs of having shipped direct from China and markings on the box gave me the impression they were shipped from a Chinese retail outlet as an in store demo. When I opened the box I was even more dismayed. There was no fancy case like had been shown in the literature and early reviews... Just a simple retail class cardboard box. I opened the box to find a pair of what looked to be a pair of blue HE400 but they were covered with a white dust and seemed to have been haphazardly packaged into the box.


"Is this some damn knock off or something?" was my original thought... 


The sticker on the exterior of the box seemed to imply that this was some demo model... yet I paid full price.... WTF!


Needless to say the Hifiman HE400 and I did not have a very good introduction... no love at first sight here.... I was on high alert once I saw that the package had made its way from China and because the way it was boxed with the headphone crookedly placed in the box, it did not seem to be packaged with the type of professional polish one would expect to find from a relatively high cost consumer product targeted for retail sales. I was therefore a bit miffed from the start. Then I plugged them in and pushed play and that is where all the hand wringing fell away.


Up until this point all of my headphones were on the warm and/or bass heavy side.... Denon D5K's, Ultrasone Pro900's, Porta Pro's and Klipsch Image Ones that I once heard described on Headfi as "bass fart cannons".... so my predisposition of what a good headphone sounded like was a bit tilted to the basshead side.... With all the hype I expected something similar but different (you dig?) But plugging in the HE400's I was taken back initially.... They were clear, very clear and very crisp.... the bass was there but certainly not up with the D5ks or Pro900s... Its not a basshead can. But as I listened and listened I had that "AHA!" moment.... These things sound good... very good!


The HE400 sound is not lush or warm or thick like many dynamic offerings.... It is smooth but hangs its hat more on clarity and providing a balanced presentation of the music. Some have called it a bass heavy can but I don't see or hear that at all. Comparing it to the Pro900 and the Denon D5K its sound is much lighter and fast.... If the sound of the Pro900 is overly thick and bassy.... audio maple syrup.... then the HE400 is distilled water... faster, refreshing, clearer but it doesn't lack for musicality.... What one does discover listening to this planar magnetic headphone is that despite having a super clean and clear treble, the slightly more forward and engaging mid range gives it a very "LIVE" presentation. It does not have that heavy full bodied pulsating rhythmic drive of similarly priced dynamic cohorts, but that livewire midrange provides this growling power to guitar driven rock that makes you want to listen to music. That is good enough for me!


Shortly after this I purchased the planar magnetic darling of Headfi, the Audeze LCD2. I was originally assuming that the HIFIMan can would lose its luster after the LCD2 arrived but this was not so.... Mind you the LCD2 has a lovely way about it... a beautifully resolving sound and penchant for low volume listening... the ease/ effortlessness with which the LCD2 can play the most complex and formidable low frequency passages is amazing.... I give credit to its lightning fast planar membrane.... It sounds wonderful with jazz, oldies, and classic rock.... but what I discovered after weeks and weeks of comparing the runt of the Hifiman planar line with the Audeze cohort more than twice its price is that with more up tempo guitar driven music the HE400 actually provides just a bit more impact to bass (especially with less than reference sources) and there is this "LIVE" factor to the mid range that gives it a more realistic sound with guitars.


Now I am splitting hairs here to draw differences but I saw the LCD2 as sounding more like listening to music at home while the HE400 was more like being at a show. Saying that is a very stern criticism of the LCD2... I am trying to paint a very thin line (a very small deficiency) with broad strokes but I heard it so what am I to do. That ever so slightly tipped up mid range response on the HE400 makes it just a bit more involving and immersive. The LCD2 holds you back ever so slightly from the music and thus can cause disengagement with mid range focused guitar rock.... Considering the better part of my library is punk, rock, and alternative... the HE400 is actually the better all rounder of the two.... What is more is that while the LCD2 can give you ridiculously well resolved low frequencies, I mean it mines the depths of a song to absolutely subterranean levels with perfect texture and resolution, the HE400 actually provides a bit more punch and impact to its low end despite being a bit less confident in its resolve. The HE400 is prone to get a little tizzy on some heavy low end stuff where the LCD2 holds crystal clear.... but the HE400 makes up for its slightly messy presentation with more punch and dynamic weight.... you can hear it with the Audeze but you can feel it with the Hifiman. This desire to meet you halfway is what makes the HE400 so special.... It is not as euphonic and lush as the HD650... but it does sound similar in a lot of ways, in that its presentation is on the polite side of things compared to very forward and bass heavy cans like the Denons and Ultrasones. However in terms of accuracy vs. impact it has found an amazingly intoxicating balance that stays fun while never getting fatiguing. The LCD2 offers you resolution and clarity in spades.... Its technical speed is unmatched by the HE400 (which is how it ought to be) but the LCD does take maybe a few step further away from the stage and this slight recess strips away enough of the emotive experience that the HE400 has a justified place in my collection.


It is certainly not the last word in headphones but considering its price and the competition in the $400 +/- market it is an amazing performer. In the right setting with enough current feeding its drivers, it is an outstanding all rounder.




I have one maybe two gripes with this headphone and they have ZERO to do with its sound quality. One is the weird reverse polarity coaxial connectors used to connect the cables to the cans.... The connectors are actually a pro television and radio fitting for antenna connections so it is an odd choice.... and very difficult to source. More importantly is that twisting the cable over and over to connect and release the cables is bound to eventually cause a short or some other form of damage in the cable.... My particular model came with a 6 foot Canare quad OFC cable and after connecting and disconnecting a few dozen times the collar on the cable side of the connector actually pushed through the back of the stem and fell off.... rendering the cable dead.... Hifiman was quick to send out a new replacement cable to me (Hat tip to Vince at Head Direct!) but if there was one thing I would change it would be that. Another line of defense that I may likely pursue is Toxic Cables adapters. If you buy a cable from him with say mini XLR terminations for Audeze cans he can build a set of adapters for Hifiman connectors so you can bypass the twist connector all together. You'd have a couple of odd little earrings dangling off the bottom of them when not connected to the cable but... This should only bother the most retentive of people in the hobby. The other mild nuisance is that the logo and markings are all painted on the headphones..... Thus after a few short months of handling them, the L & R designating which side is which have all but rubbed off.... The headphones appear to be perfectly symmetrical in build so I don't know that it changes anything to wear them either way but I opted to tag the stems with red and black sharpie to keep track. However it'd be nice if they could find a more permanent solution for marking the sides.... and the brand.... I've got to believe that eventually the "Hifiman HE-400" marking on the blocks will go to the wayside as well. Beyond these minor grievances I am superbly happy with this headphone.... It is a worthy adversary in the $400 realm and beats the snot out of its similarly price AKG, Beats and Grado adversaries... The HE400 is an opportunity to get some of the planar magnetic sound for significantly cheaper spend than normal. It is worth every penny. You will not regret it.


Pros: Balanced, Decent Bass Body, Not much Plastic

Cons: Rather Heavy, Slightly overzealous Clamp, Cable connection could be better - Not much really

This review was originally posted on my blog [ http://noblehifi.blogspot.co.uk/ ].



Disclaimer: A big thank you to Electromod for loaning me the HE-400.

For those of you who don't already know - Hifiman are a Chinese company, although technically founded in New York (2006), their R&D department is in China. In just a few years they've made quite a name for themselves making high end portable audio players, amplifiers and headphones. For the latter their focus has been with 'planar magnetic' (commonly and less correctly referred to as orthodynamic, or 'ortho'), apart from their entry level model, which costs £300. The ortho's range in price from £400 to £1000, but share a very similar design - essentially only the colour changes. Their model numbers can be a little confusing too, so let me try to get my head around this hierarchy:

Their current flagship model is the HE-6. This now has a baby brother with the HE-4, but originally the next model down was the HE-5 and that was replaced by the HE-5LE. Both of the HE-5 models have now been phased out and replaced by the HE-500. Finally there's the focus for this review - the HE-400, which is the company's cheapest and most successful selling ortho to date. 

Hifiman have made a couple of other interesting products recently too. Like the EF-6, a high-end headphone amplifier that partners with the power hungry HE-6 headphone. Then there's the EF-2a, an affordable ($169 US) USB DAC and tube amplifier. More recently Hifiman have been branching out into in-ear monitors, with the RE-400. Let's not forget about their portable audio players too. Models like the HM-801 and the more reasonably priced HM-602, I've always been interested by these, but unfortunately never got the chance to try them. So they clearly have the audio pedigree, albeit a pretty short one. 

I've tested a lot of open back headphones lately, with the DT880HP200GMP400. Plus although I haven't reviewed them, I've spent quite a bit of time with the Sennheiser HD600 & HD650 too, so let's see what I think of this more expensive newcomer.


The HE-400's sound is well balanced, but it's also very impressive and exciting. The real icing on the cake for me is their versatility with various genres. It's an airy and clear sound with slightly warm leanings. There's lots of presence and body here, but with very little colouration or fatigue. Bass almost verges on the epic considering it's control. Mid-range is clear and detailed, while the upper ranges sparkle without being harsh. The soundstage is wonderfully spacious and three dimensional, as is instrument separation. 

That pretty much sums up the HE-400 for me, it's a stunningly likable headphone. There really isn't much to complain about in the sound department, even at this price. If the Sennheiser HD600 was a little cheaper I would say they are equally matched for value, but this is purely based on sound. I have a couple of reservations about the HE-400's comfort, but also at the HD600's price point I would still give the overall crown to the Hifiman. Damn it! Now I'm getting into comparisons, OK I'm struggling to say more here so I will move on and go into more detail later on...


Running the HE400 from my phone (Galaxy Note 2) and trying to get the sound loud proved a bit of an issue. At maximum setting it was about 90% of the volume I wanted for Electronic music, which means it would be about 70% for most classical music. That's unfortunate because the sound quality wasn't too bad, but let's face it, if you're looking at these headphones you will most likely already have some decent amplification for them. 

Proper amplification wise I started with the Schiit Modi and Magni, which have a tremendously compelling performance that combines very well with the HE-400. I can see why Electromod concentrate on these two brands almost exclusively, you can't go too far wrong with them. The only down side is that the three entry level models will set you back around £600, which is a lot to swallow in a single purchase for many people. Perhaps it's slightly over the sweet spot of diminishing returns too, but wow does it attain a seriously compelling sound!

Next up I partnered the HE400s with a nice portable solution for laptop use with the Ifi iDAC (combined DAC/amp that I will be reviewing soon), which is rather unusually is capable of 24bit 192khz through USB and is purely powered by the USB bus. The only other unit I had like this was the iBasso D7, which I also tried with the HE-400. The D7 Sidewinder was actually a lot better than I remember, possibly because it's better suited to more demanding headphones like this. Anyway, it still exhibited it's typical power issues when plugged into the non-powered USB ports of my laptop *sigh*. The Ifi iCAN showed no such power issues and drove the HE-400s loud and well, no matter what ports I connected it to. This was not as a compelling sound as the Schiit combo, but don't forget this is a lot more convenient if you're away with a laptop, or perhaps a Windows surface?

I also plugged the HE-400s into the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. This combined DAC/amp might be ridiculously more expensive than the HE-400, which are not cheap already, but it was understandably entertaining. On the Fostex TH600 (also being reviewed soon), the DAC2 was almost surreal in it's separation, but the HE-400s soundstage stayed a little more reasonably great and retained a level of coherent realism as well. The imaging was still given a wide push compared to anything else I tested it with and it is lot of fun. I'm left feeling that you can safely spend considerably more on amplification with the HE-400s and keep getting tangible improvements, where that same investment could be a waste with other headphones.



Here are some individual music tracks and how I felt the HE-400s coped with them. Most tracks were listened to in CD format with lossless compression. All tracks are also available on Spotify, which on the 'premium' service are maximum quality MP3s and I find these highly acceptable.

  • Jesper Kyd: "State Of Decay Main Theme" - I actually don't know what this is a score for, I just follow the Danish composer because I love some of his other game soundtracks.   One of reasons the HE-400 is so good with Classical and soundtracks is it's nicely flat response, although flat can sometimes mean a bit boring, it certainly doesn't here. There is a quality and emphasis to the bass and treble, while not being offensive and that really makes these headphones special!
  • Excision: "Deviance - Original Mix" - With the HE-400s superb upper bass body I had to try some nicely powerful Electronic / Dubstep type tracks. This one has some great & dynamic bass! The HE400s do a stunning job of rendering it without any mid-range contamination. This is one of those headphones that can be addictive for bass as well as agile and powerful, yet delicate for something like classical.
  • Jason Mraz: "I'm yours" - The bright and crisp vocals are beautifully presented, produce zero harshness and have a great sense of air. I want to say that these headphones make a compelling argument for vocals, but again it's their versatility that seems to really stand out.
  • Fear Factory: "Replica" - The HE400s transition from delicate vocals into aggressive death metal with ease. There's great attack and speed from the guitars, while aggressive vocals are clear and nicely separated as possible. This is as good as I've heard this music. 
  • Amy Winehouse: "Back To Black" - This track has nice sense of smoothness and good emphasis on vocal clarity. It's as entertaining with slow or simple music as it is with fast, densely packed instruments fighting for attention. 
  • Orishas: "A Lo Cubano" - This latin pop is extremely enjoyable through the HE400s. It's a nicely mixed, dynamic sound that will have you foot tapping at the very least and these headphones bring out the full soul of the music. 


Comparing these headphones to others can be rather difficult. There are clear differences and advantages to orthodynamic drivers and the problem with comparing the HE-400s to other orthos is that there's nothing else in quite the same price bracket. On the low end there's Fostex's most expensive orthodynamic headphone - the T50rp (£100). The best option here is to compare the HE-400s to a modified T50rp, like the Mr. Speakers 'Mad Dog', there are several others, but this is one that I've reviewed. At around £300 this is a much closer price to the HE-400 and luckily I still have them here to compare. The only other orthodynamic manufacturer around is Audeze, but their cheapest model is twice the price of the HE-400 and is a lot harder to find. This means that the next most expensive ortho after the HE-400 is HIfiman's own HE-500 (priced at £700), so you can see the problem. So for this reason I will open the comparisons up to some dynamic driver headphones as well.

Mad Dog - This is the only other orthodynamic headphone that I've had the fortune to try so far. Although it's based on a much headphone costing 1/4 of the HE400, the external changes that Mr. Speakers have added to it (additional leather headband and new Alpha pads) make it feel infinitely more comfortable than the original, or indeed anything else around that price. In fact this is one of the nicest headphones I've worn and it clearly beats the much heavier HE400 in the comfort arena too. Apart from weight the big enemy of the HE400 is clamping force (which it probably needs to stay on your head), it's a little too tight. This is made worse by the ear-cushioning being rather hard, which being symmetrical doesn't hug the head nearly as nicely as the Mad Dog's 'Alpha' pads. So the HE400 doesn't seal quite as well, but being open-back it doesn't really need to and here we reach our next problem comparing the sound. The original Fostex T50rp was a semi-open headphone and it isolated reasonably well, but the Mad Dog modification has made it more like a closed-back. 

The air and separation of the Mad Dog may not be quite as impressive as the HE400, but the soundstage is stunning with both. The tonality of the two presentations seem pretty similar, especially now that the Mad Dog is using the new Alpha pads, they're both a little on the warm side, but both manage a staggering lack of colouration into the mid-range, shine for vocals and have very well controlled upper ranges. Both headphones need nice, powerful amplification to flourish, but I would say that the HE400 comes out a bit ahead on pure versatility of sound quality (possibly more for Classical and Jazz) because of the few open-back qualities. If you find yourself sitting on the fence between these two headphones I would recommend mostly using the need of isolation to steer your decision.  

Sennheiser HD650 - This is a classic, well balanced dynamic headphone and it's price is close to the HE-400 (£330 vs £400). Comfort wise the HD650 pretty much wins. Not only is it very light, but the ear-cushioning is fabric, which makes makes it a bit more comfortable and less hot. The HD650's clamping force is similar to the HE-400, a bit too much relative to weight, but since the weight isn't there it's less of an issue. Like the HE-400 the HD650 has dual entry removable cable, although the Sennheiser's push fit might be much easier to use it also seems more problematic under constant use. 

So tonality wise the HE-400's sound seems to sit neatly between the Sennhseiser HD600 and the HD650. With the dynamics the more neutral HD600 seems to be what most audio enthusiasts & pros  prefer and I agree. The HE-400 is a little warmer than that, The upper bass has a substantial weight and kick to it, but it doesn't poison the mid-range as many lesser headphones do. By comparison, even the HD650 is a bit bloated for some music, although it's saved somewhat by being in the realms amplification tonality balancing, which is why I think it's loved so much. 

I wish I could say more about the Audeze range and how it compares here, but unfortunately I haven't had the chance to try them yet. Since the price is so far different from the HE-400 to the LCD-2 I'm too worried about this right now, if I get my hands on the HE-500 it will be more of an issue



The HE400s are one of the most heavy headphones I've tried to date. This seems to be a theme with the orthodynamics from Hifiman and Audeze. In the Hifiman's defense there's a lot of heavy-duty metal in the construction. Actually the first bit of plastic you'll probably find is as you examine the cable terminals. Then there's the fake leather headband & ear cushions, but apart from maybe a couple of tiny washers (and perhaps the driver assembly itself) the rest is all metal. They feel very strong and the design is nicely simple, which at least seems like parts are easily replaceable. 

Speaking of removable & replaceable parts Hifiman have done a nice job with the cable. Yes, you expect a removable cable at this price (even if you don't always get one), but this screw fit, dual entry cable is a really nice touch. I guess if I was to nitpick I could say that it's a little fiddly to secure at times. A better grip on the screw mechanism and end of the cable, so you could hold both and twist more easily would be appreciated, but this really isn't that bad. The other end of the cable is terminated by a 3.5mm connector and it comes with a push on 6.35mm adapter. I would have preferred to see a 6.35mm connector here and an adapter for smaller jacks - a la Sennheiser HD650, again a very small nitpick. 


The large space inside the ear-cushions makes for an almost perfect comfort for the ears themselves. The HE-400 might be described as a 'Lightweight' on the companies website, but it still weighs a hefty 440g. To better manage the pressure on the headband and stop the headphones from slipping down Hifiman have made the clamping force quite a bit above average and some people will find this annoying after a while. OK, it's not the most comfortable headphone in the world, but it's not that bad either. I wonder if a velour type ear-cup material could have softened the clamping pressure and lowered the ear temperature somewhat.


OK, I have a couple of reservations about the HE-400s comfort, which I know I made sound worse than it really was, but overall there really isn't much to complain about with this headphone. I would still give comfort & fit an 8/10 score. 

Overall I really love the HE-400 and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you can afford it and you like a generally balanced sound with impressive bass body then put them at the top of a small list. This is the cheapest high-end production orthodynamic headphone available at the moment, but it certainly doesn't seem like a cut-down model. It's also the cheapest one that I have tried, so I hope to try many more soon (stay tuned).

If you can't stretch to this budget, but you like the idea of this sound then I highly recommend looking at the SoundMAGIC HP200. 





Desktop PC, Dell Vosto Laptop, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Audiolab M-DAC, Shonyun SH-306A, Schiit Modi & Magni, Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC, Benchmark DAC2 HGC, SoundMAGIC HP200, Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm, AKG Q701, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser HD600, AKG Q701, Mad Dog (Fostex T50rp mod), Fostex TH600


Pros: Great bass impact for an open-back planar. Unique sound signature.

Cons: It's strengths are a conditional double-edged sword.


As of September 2014, the HE-400 has been discontinued, and it's successor, the HE-400i is being sold in its place. So why publish, or even read, a review now? First, there are many used HE-400s in the market and are being considered for purchase. Second, many retailers still have new stock of the now heavily discounted HE-400, and these are the latest versions with no risk of future revisions. Third, based on 3 days of listening to the HE-400i, I've concluded that the new 'i' version is not an upgrade to the HE-400. It's a different sound signature. Asides from the considerable cost savings, I can see how someone could prefer the sound of the original HE-400 over the HE-400i.

Review set-up;
Source: PC  -> Teac UD-H01 USB DAC -> -or- FiiO X5->
-> Objective 2 Amplifier -> Hifiman HE-400 (Pleather Pads)

Hifiman HE-400

The Hifiman HE-400 is an open-back, over-the-ear headphone with an orthodynamic / planar magnetic driver. It's a break-through in the sense, in that Hifiman achieved it's relatively affordable pricing through advances made in automating the production of the traditionally handmade planar magnetic drivers. Most recent models with this type and size of driver are sold closer to the $900-1000 mark or higher when introduced (the prices come down of course). The HE-400s MSRP is $400, and (as of Sept. 2014) the fact that it's successor, the HE-400i (MSRP: $500) has hit the market, has a street price of significantly way below that.

With a rated sensitivity of 92.5 dB/mW at 35 Ohm impedance, it falls into the  category of high-efficiency planars - headphones with planar magnetic drivers that don't need a powerful desktop amplifier to sound their best. In comparison, the HE-500 and HE-6 models up the line have sensitivity ratings of 89 dB/mW and 83.5 dB/mW respectively. Since dB is a logarithmic unit, an 83.5 or 89 dB/mW sensitivity rating means a headphone will need a lot more power than one rated at 92.5 dB/mW to reach a given loudness level, despite what the  small difference in number would suggest. To reach the volume of a typical live concert (115 dB SPL),  the HE-400 will need ~177.93 milliwatts while the HE-500 and HE-6 will need ~398.34 and ~1413.29 milliwatts respectively. Big difference.

(Note: these numbers are approximate as there is some disparity between manufacturer spec sheet numbers and actual measurements.)

Because of this, high-efficiency planars are in a practically different league from their desktop bound siblings, as they can be used  in a portable rig.  Ideally,  a powerful portable rig, as it still needs a fair amount of power to reach really loud levels. While the popular FiiO X3 and X5 players using their internal amplifiers (which are quite powerful relative to other portable players) can drive the HE-400 to fairly loud levels on their respective high gain settings, it still doesn't sound as dynamic, most noticeably in terms of bass extension and impact, as when being driven by a separate portable amplifier. Think along the lines of the better portable amplifiers, such as the Objective 2 or FiiO E12. The sound impressions written here are based on the HE-400 being amplified by the Objective 2.

Sound Impressions

Have a look at the HE-400's frequency response curve, against the curves of the Hifiman HE-500 and Grado SR80i. Notice that there is a dip at the 2000-6000 hz frequencies, but then goes back up at around 7000 hz to a peak at 9000 hz. This is what gives the HE-400 it's somewhat unique sound signature. Vocals, guitar, piano - anything that falls between the 2000-6000 hz range is attenuated or sounds further away, with the details being masked by the other more prominent frequencies, while the peak at the 8-9 Khz range imparts some brightness to the resulting sound. Translated visually, its sound is like a dark rolling cloud with rich tonal variations from black to middle shades of grey, punctuated with bright (but not blinding) streaks of lightning which can actually be very satisfying, depending on the type of music being listened to.

Hifiman themselves have stated that it is tuned for a more 'American' (I take it this means emphasized bass) sound signature, as opposed to the more polite and neutral 'British' sound of the HE-500 next up in the line. The HE-400's bass does have a satisfying amount of slam while still retaining texture and clarity - its massive planar magnetic drivers characteristically being able to render and stop the sound very precisely (transient response). This, combined with the 8-9 Khz treble peak, gives the HE-400 sound signature a satisfying sense of dynamic contrast with a combination of hard-hitting bass on the low-end and some treble 'air' on the high-end, albeit with (or in a sense, because of) a recessed upper mid-range and lower treble.

If you like live recordings of rock bands like SoundgardenGuns N' Roses or Evanescence, with the thunderous and deep rumbling combinations of drums and guitar bass, and like to listen loud but without any shrillness in the treble from shrieking/shouty vocals, snare drums, cymbals, or lead guitars, you will appreciate the HE-400. In comparison, the Grado SR80i, which is also considered great for rock music, would start sounding harsh or piercing due to emphasized treble frequencies, and have  less bass impact at the same loudness level. Between them, it comes down to a choice between the HE-400's bass slam with good transient response vs. the SR80i's mid-range presence and detailed treble emphasis.

On the other hand, when listening to some acoustic or 'unplugged' recordings which have so much vocal or instrumental richness and subtlety in the 2000-6000 Khz range,  I would prefer either the STAX SR-207 or, to a lesser degree, the Grado SR80i, which will bring those elements forward. While the HE-400 by no means sounds bad with this type of music (it's still better than most 'default' headphones), I would prefer a more intimate vocal presentation - it's a subtle difference that can nonetheless change the way a song is appreciated.

I emphasized the word 'some' earlier because it really depends on how the music was mastered. I have high-resolution 24-bit/96Khz recordings of acoustic jazz with female vocals purchased from E-Onkyo Music, which sound impressively life-like with this headphone. Granted, these are audiophile recordings meant for playback in more technically capable systems, and it goes to show that the way the music is recorded and mastered plays just as significant a role as its genre. For typical recordings of electronic dance music and live rock (not acoustic) sets, the HE-400 generally works well.



Sometimes it pays to be late in the game.  Due to a combination of technological developments and price drops due to newer models being introduced, the Hifiman HE-400  scores very high in the price/performance scale. This assumes that the HE-400’s sound signature works with the listener’s music and preferences.  The newer model HE-400i has a completely different sound signature that does not build on the original’s strengths, so calling it a direct upgrade would be somewhat misleading.  I would consider the HE-400i as more of a sidegrade – a different headphone with a sound signature that appeals  for different reasons.

While the older HE-400s sound signature may not be ideal for all musical genres or recordings, when the stars of sound signature, music , and listener preference  line-up, it’s brilliant.  Combined with the Objective 2, it is still very much worth considering for high-end sound, in a  transportable package


Pros: Exciting, bold sound with great bass, engaging mids, and mostly smooth highs,

Cons: Stock cable is annoying (but easily replaced), highs can be edgy at times








By now I think most of us are familiar with the history behind the HiFiMAN HE-series headphones. What started with a single model has grown into a full lineup, with prices ranging from $1299 for the flagship HE-6 to just $249 for the entry-level HE-300. Worth noting is that the HE-300 stands apart from the rest by using a “traditional” dynamic driver. Every other model in the HE-series is based on planar magnetic driver technology.


The entry level position among the planar models is held by the HE-400. It is the most recent HiFiMAN headphone released and sells for $399, putting it in competition with some more established designs such as the Sennheiser HD600/650, AKG K701, and Denon D2000. As the only planar model available in this price range, I was curious how the HE-400 would measure up.


Those who follow my ramblings here know that I have a newborn baby in the house. Accompanying the birth of that little guy was a major purge of my open headphones; the logic being that I wouldn’t be getting much use out of them. So I sold my Sennheiser HD600, HD650, and HD800, my Grado PS1000 and RS1, and my Beyer DT880 and DT990. I also passed on buying the Audeze LCD-2 and HiFiMAN HE-500, which I have borrowed from friends multiple times and really wanted to own. Yet here I am with a new open headphone – why? The answer is simple: it’s one thing to have a $900 or $1,000 headphone sitting around getting little use. It’s quite another matter with a $399 model. I figured I would start small in the HiFiMAN lineup and make my way up the ladder when the time is right. Since then, the HE-500 has dropped to $699, but the point remains the same.






One would think that HiFiMAN must have cut some major corners with the HE-400 to allow pricing it at nearly half what the HE-500 sells for. But one would be wrong in that assumption. HiFiMAN claims the key to the low price is the use of automated manufacturing techniques. Apparently their planar magnetic designs are mature enough by this point to allow some level of hands-off construction. If anyone has ever seen the episode of “How It’s Made” showing the AKG factory building K702 headphones, you’ll note how automation makes the process many times faster and more efficient than it otherwise would be. There is still an element of human involvement but it is reduced in many key areas.


Think of a handmade… well, anything really. Whatever it is you picture, it’s going to be labor intensive to build. It’s also going to be expensive compared to an assembly line type operation. And it’s going to be more prone to have variability and likely a higher rate of flaws. Until now, it seems that all HE-series headphones were hand crafted. That sounds impressive but in reality there have always been issues with the method – think Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 sounding different from one example to the next. Think the initial run of the Grado PS1000 and the often disappointing silver finish. With the HE-400, HiFiMAN has automated the process of producing the driver, and I suspect at some point soon they will have more of the process automated, similar to AKG. The bottom line here is that the HE-400 may have otherwise been slapped with a $500 or $600 price tag if this new development process had not been achieved. So don’t think of it merely as a “budget” headphone with all the negative connotations that go along with that thought. Rather, think of it as an “optimized” design which allows the price to stay relatively modest.


In terms of appearance the HE-400 is very similar to its HE-siblings. The key difference is the blue paintjob, which I actually find more attractive than the usual dark color of the other models. Other than that we get the same leather headband, the same frame assembly, the same detachable cabling system, and the same earpads. But there are a few significant differences worth noting.


First, and probably most important, are the drivers themselves. They have smaller magnets and appear less complicated compared to the older models. While the HE-500 driver assembly looks like a fancy cheese grater, the HE-400 uses less complex perforations and a good amount of plastic. There’s also the earpad attachment system which is far better than the older “tab” system. It still isn’t perfect but I was able to swap pads several times without wanting to throw the headphones out the window in frustration. I consider that improvement. I believe all of the HE-series models are now using this new system. Then there’s the packaging and cable differences which I’ll discuss a bit later.


Here are the pertinent specs for the HE-400:

·       Efficiency: 92.5 dB/mW

·       Impedance: 38 Ohm

·       Planar Magnetic driver (orthodynamic)

·       Frequency response: 20 Hz to 35 kHz

·        Weight: 440 g

In comparison, the HE-500 is 89dB and 502g. That means the HE-400 is lighter and easier to drive. Supposedly one could even run the HE-400 straight from an iPod, though I can’t imagine a scenario where I would actually want to do that. This is certainly not a portable headphone. Still, the prior HE-series models were known to bring many headphone amps to their knees, so the improved efficiency is very welcome, as is the reduced weight.






Like the prior models, the HE-400 is nice but not perfect. It doesn’t have the same level of sophistication and “tightness” that something like a Sennheiser or Audio Technica would have. But overall it is acceptable for the price. The blue finish is attractive, and there is a good mix of leather, metal, and plastic. The new pleather earpads feel decent as far as pleather goes. I’m not usually much of a fan and I would have preferred the velours instead, but I’ve seen far worse. The new pad attachment system does allow the pads to “spin” more freely than I’d like. It’s the only area that feels to me like it isn’t of very high quality. Yet the pads never fall off and are fairly easy to swap, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. 



Prior HE models came in a nice looking storage case. In contrast, the HE-400 ships in a fairly basic plastic package as if it was a $50 headphone. As much as I miss the “wow factor” of the fancy box, I’m actually glad it was omitted here - unnecessary extras are just what you don’t need when trying to keep prices low. HiFiMAN does throw in a storage pouch which I’ve never once used; I guess it’s better than nothing and some people might have use for it. HiFiMAN sells a nice travel case for $29 if anyone desired such a thing. My HE-400 lives on a headphone stand so I’m pleased that I wasn’t forced to pay for a storage case that I’ll never use.


Prior models included a single spare earpad. I always thought that was strange – why not a pair? The HE-400 solves that strangeness by no longer including anything. And that’s fine by me. Additional sets in velour can be had for just $10 a pair.


The included cable is 10 feet long, terminates in a 1/8” plug, and is fairly thick and unwieldy. For me, this was the biggest letdown of the whole experience. I recall not being a big fan of the HE-500 cable, so I knew this one would probably be bad, but over time I came to really dislike it. It was an easy fix due to the plethora of aftermarket cable options on the market. Some people may not be as easily annoyed as I am, and may find the stock cable totally acceptable.



This is the equipment I used for my evaluation of the HE-400:


Source: JF Digital HDM-03S music server, Squeezebox Touch, Marantz SA-1


DAC: Violectric V800, Anedio D2, Yulong Sabre D18, Matrix Quattro DAC, Kao Audio UD2C-HP, Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11


AMP: Analog Design Labs Svetlana 2, Violectric V200, Yulong Sabre A18, Matrix Quattro Amp, Lake People G109P, Apex Butte, Audinst AMP-HP


Cables: As I’ll discuss later, I didn’t care for the stock HE-400 cable. So I replaced it with a CablePro Earcandy for single ended use and a Toxic Cables Hybrid for balanced operation.

Earpads: I swapped out the stock pads for a set of Lawton modified Denon D7000 pads. I’ll explain later.

Power was handled by a CablePro Revelation conditioner and CablePro Reverie AC cables. Interconnects were Signal Cable Analog Two for RCA and Paillics Silver Net for XLR. The HE-400 was burned in for well over 100 hours prior to doing any critical listening.












I have to preface this by telling my story about the pads. The stock pads are actually pretty nice - I was worried that I would have major isses with overheating, but that ended up not being the case. No, my issue was on the left side of my head apparently being a little lumpy. Behind my left ear, the stock pad would leave a tiny gap smaller than my pinkie finger. No amount of fiddling with the headband or cup angle seemed to remedy this. I've never had this issue with any of the dozens of headphones I've used, including the HE-500 with velour pads. I can’t fault the HE-400 but rather my own uneven skull. In any case, the gap caused a small but audible difference in sound from left side to right.


Obviously I couldn't eveluate the HE-400 without a proper seal. I borrowed an HE-500 from a friend but it used the older mounting system, so the velour pads were of no use. I was considering ordering a set (they are very reasonably priced) when I had an idea - why not try a few other pads that I have around the house? The very first set I found when I went digging in the drawer was from a Denon D7000. It had been modified by Lawton Audio when I sent my D7000 in for upgrades. When Lawton returned my Denons in LA7000 form, I never actually used the pads, opting instead for the J-Money V3 pads. So these Lawton pads were just waiting for a new home. For those unfamiliar, Lawton stuffs the pads with extra Poly Fil type material, especially to the rear area, which makes them look somewhat like an Audeze LCD-2 pad. It makes a great seal with my (apparently oddly shaped) head, and helps position the drivers at an angle to theoretically give a more speaker-like presentation. All of the impressions that follow were obtained with the Lawton pads in place. Since I couldn't get a good seal with the stock pads, no comparisons are possible. That might invalidate some of my impressions but there’s nothing I can do about it.


The sound from the HE-400 was immediately appealing to me. I heard the typical "planar" presentation which I categorize as having a sort of effortless sound to it, with excellent deep bass extension. I don't know how better to describe it, but it’s something that the LCD-2, Thunderpants, and HiFiMAN models all have in common, despite all sounding very different from one another. There's just an ease to the presentation that dynamic headphones can't quite match. I'm not saying planars are always superior, but this is one of their strengths.


Bass on the HE-400 is very nicely done. It isn't huge, but has enough of a solid impact and presence to be satisfying for all but the most extreme basshead listeners. Where similarly priced dynamic headphones from Sennheiser, AKG, and Beyerdynamic all have rolled off frequency response in the sub-40Hz range, the HE-400 (like most planar models) stays almost completely linear down to 25Hz or so, with a very mild drop below that. To my ears this ends up sounding more convincing; as if more air is being displaced. And maybe it actually is. The bass presentation is very close to that of the HE-500, lacking only a small amount of texture and refinement in direct comparison. On its own though it is some of the best low frequency reproduction I’ve heard from a non-flagship headphone.


Mids on the HE-400 are somewhat forward. This gives it a more exciting sound than the more neutral HE-500. There's an added "bite" to things like trumpets and violins, making for a very engaging listen. The mids have a nice smoothness to them though, meaning they aren't just run of mill, average quality stuff being boosted to sound more exciting. They really do have enough clarity and focus to pull off this little trick. Upper mids are somewhat subdued, which generally makes for a smooth presentation though it can occasionally take away some realism in the form of a lack of airiness or trailing edge. This was mostly noticeable with really well recorded tracks – on lesser material it could actually help hide some of the harshness from poor mastering. So it ends up being a give and take.


As with many headphones, the highs of the HE-400 are the one area where it isn't perfect. It isn't terrible either, but this is where I heard the biggest divide between the HE-400 and HE-500. The 400 has a bit of darkness to it but also has some brightness. "Dark and bright at the same time? How can that be?" Take a look at the Frequency Response chart as measured by Tyll at InnerFidelity. Notice the “droop” starting at roughly 1.5kHz which doesn't pick up until around 7kHz. From there it actually gets somewhat bright, and that's exactly how I hear it. Brass and woodwinds, while seeming fairly cool and dark overall, also have some "zing" up top peaking at 9kHz or so. This can sometimes come across as a bit brittle or harsh. Other times it is inoffensive and actually brings out some extra perceived detail. It works more often than not, but it must be mentioned because certain people are more sensitive to these types of peaks. I also need to point out how hard it was for me to wrap my brain around this presentation. With female vocals for example, you hear something of a darker presentation with less air or breathiness, which would normally be smooth all the way around. But then you get this peak which tends to accent certain consonant sounds, not quite sibilant but borderline.

Once Tyll got his measurements posted it started making more sense, though I do think my pad swap has helped the problem somewhat. I know people who use the velour pads and they report a subjective improvement as well, so that's something I definitely think is worth exploring since it costs so little.


I was surprised that the HE-400 was able to pull off a reasonably large and very well defined soundstage despite being on the darker side. Planar models tend to not have the most spacious presentation anyway, and the same goes for darker headphones in general. So I figured the HE-400 wouldn't have much going on to brag about in this area. Perhaps my angled pads are doing a lot to help, but I really do find these to be nice and open sounding, with good definition of the musical space. Imaging is accurate and there is some really nice layering going on. It might not be up to par with the HE-6 or HE-500, but it is definitely near the top of the pack in the "mid-fi" range where HiFiMAN has positioned this model. The K701 and variants might be more spacious but it comes at the cost of being somwhat artifical.




The HE-400 is supposedly the planar for the common man. It doesn't require heavy amplification, so one could reasonably use it from a fairly low powered amp, or even straight from a DAP. That's the theory anyway. In practice I found that to be only partially true.


Yes, my iPad and Sansa Clip can drive the HE400 to reasonably loud levels, and the resulting sound is certainly listenable. But I don't enjoy it nearly as much as I do when adding even a basic amp like my portable Audinst AMP-HP. Specifically, the bass presentation is nowhere near as satisfying until a separate amp is involved. And the highs are much more prone to offend with that “edginess” I mentioned. The only exception to this amp required rule might be some of the "premium" portable units such as the iBasso DX100 or HiFiMAN's own HM series. I did try my RoCoo D Power Edition and the result was reasonably good – better than my iPad, but still not great. Ultimately I would never use this as a portable headphone anyway so I don't mind the amp requirement.


As far as which amps work best, it becomes a question of sound signature preferences. All amps have their own unique presentation, and while the differences are not always huge, you want to pick one that best fits your predilection. I found that I enjoyed the HE-400 with all of my desktop amps, but some were better than others. I don't care how sensitive they are, planar headphones seem to always respond to power. For that reason the powerful Violectric V200 and its cousin the Lake People G109P did a fantastic job. The V200 had a little more clarity on the top end but for the most part the cheaper G109P was able to keep up.  I also liked the Apex Butte and the Analog Design Labs Svetlana 2 for their exceptional midrange presentation. The Matrix Quattro amp in balanced mode offered an enjoyably smooth, refined presentation for a low price. But I think my favorite pairing is with the new Yulong Sabre A18 amp in balanced mode. This is a Class A, fully discrete, differential design that just mates perfectly with the HE-400. It delivers just under 2 full watts per channel to this particular headphone, bringing it close to the V200 in terms of current delivery. But it has an exceptionally expansive soundstage that sets it apart from the Violectric model. It isn't always better with every headphone, but the HE-400 seems to be a perfect match. Single ended mode was good too, but not quite up to the same level, and in that situation the V200 regained the lead. For anyone interested in balanced operation, I highly recommend the A18/HE-400 pairing.


With a seemingly dark headphone like this you don't want to obfuscate any of the top end presentation by using a darker amp. Yet the sometimes peaky highs also don't need any extra attention either. So keep in mind when planning an HE-400 based system: a generally neutral amp is desirable over one with a strong coloration of any type.



I have owned most of the similarly priced headphones that would be considered competition to the HE-400. Unfortunately I no longer have any of them on hand for direct comparison. But I'm familiar enough with them to make some generalizations.


The AKG K701, and its brethren in various colors, are very different from the HE-400. Almost complete opposites - they have significantly less low frequency resolution, and as a result give the impression of significantly more energy in the upper mids. Personally I would choose the HE-400 every time, except perhaps in the categories of comfort and soundstage size.


The Sennheiser HD650 is still a killer headphone in my opinion. I think it offers a more even, linear presentation from top to bottom, while the HE-400 is far more exciting and dynamic. These two would actually complement each other quite nicely if a person wanted to own two headphone for two different takes on their music.


The Beyerdynamic line of DT770/880/990 is in process of being replaced by the new T70/80/90 models. But not all of those are released yet, and way more people have experience with the DT series. So this is still a fair comparison. The HE-400 strikes me as being somewhere in between the 880 and 990, but superior to either. It has less bass quantity than the 990, but to my ears it does lows in a much more convincing manner. Sub-bass extension is superior to the point where it just makes the 990 sound bad in comparison... and keep in mind that I actually do like the 990. Mids are more forward than either Beyer model, which is a welcome improvement in my opinion. Highs reminds me more of the 990 but are not an exact match - I hear the HE-400 as being less grainy and having a more natural flow; even though they do both get harsh on some tracks, the 990 is clearly the bigger offender.



I mentioned prior that I disliked the length and thickness of the stock cable. So I picked up two different aftermarket cables to try out. Both of them are miles ahead of the stock cable ergonomically, and both happen to look much better as well.


The first is the CablePro Earcandy which is currently on sale for $109 (regularly $129) for a 10 foot length. Construction is described as finely stranded 22 gauge OFC conductors, with a low-loss polyethylene dielectric and an OFC braided shield to block noise. Mine has a 1/4" Neutrik plug for single ended operation though other options do exist.  This is a very flexible cable with a low key, classy look to it that exudes quality while still remaining understated. It reminds me of the Cardas Sennheiser upgrade cables, but obviously priced way lower. I have to say I’m exceedingly pleased with the service I received from the company - CablePro sells all kinds of products (several of which I own) and they are extremely pleasant and helpful.










The other cable I got is from Toxic Cables. Based in the UK, their Hybrid cable uses a combination of cryo treated OCC copper and cryo treated OCC silver plated copper. I got mine with balanced termination though again, other choices exist. As of today's exchange rate the price translates to $134 for a 6 footlength. This cable looks like it should cost significantly more than it does – if the color was different it would looks a lot like the older (and rather expensive) Lawton Audio Jena Labs recable jobs. The best part is that it’s surprisingly flexible and easy to manage. I refuse to deal with an unwieldy cable no matter how nice it might look, so this aspect is critical for me. Toxic Cables is also a great company to deal with, and is actually an authorized HiFiMAN distributor as well - so headphone and cables could all be ordered together if one was interested. 











With a new headphone to figure out, a newborn baby in the house, and plenty of other reviews on deck, I don't have time to get into a cable debate here. I did let a friend who is a certified cable nut (and has way more free time than I do) borrow both cables, and he loved them. He normally uses Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 cables for his HE-500 as well as his original HE-5. In his opinion, both the CablePro and Toxic Cables products were just as good as the more expensive Moon option, and possibly better. He said he liked the Earcandy more with his Cary Xciter amp driving the HE-5, and the Hybrid more with his HE-500 powered by the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition balanced amp/DAC unit. Something about "synergy". Neither of those amps are high up on my list of favorites, so obviously he and I have different tastes. Yet we both enjoy these cables. I intend to keep them both - one will stay with the HE-400 and the other will pair with some future flagship HiFiMAN model that I'll eventually pick up.



HiFiMAN has done an excellent job of tuning the HE-400 to have big, bold sonics with any type of music you throw at them. The low frequency capabilites are very impressive, sounding very close to the much more expensive HiFiMAN models. And the mids are wonderfully engaging - nobody would ever call this a boring sound signature. The only area of concern is the highs; most of the time it is smooth, slightly dark, and generally inoffensive. Every once in a while it becomes just grating enough to remind the listener that this is in fact still a "budget" model. 


It sounds like I'm being hard on the HE-400 with my description of the highs. I don't mean to be picky and I don't want to overstate the problem. These really are excellent sounding headphones in the sub-$500 price bracket - a bracket where all entries will be flawed in one way or another. To some extent you have to pick the flaw which you find least offensive and go with that one.


I will say that these are my current favorites in the sub-$500 range. The HD650 is still an excellent all purpose model that could be a suitable counterpart for the HE-400, but if I had to choose just one I'd go with the HE-400 first. The Grado RS-2 might be more exciting for a very limited selection of music, but with everything else the HE-400 leaves it in the dust. Believe it or not, I could totally see the HE-400 being preferred over the HE-500 for some listeners. I think HiFiMAN has done a great job with this release and I can easily recommend them to anyone looking to purchase a good sounding headphone that isn't astronomically priced.











Pros: Exceptional bass

Cons: Not the most neutral headphones, heavy

First things first, there is a simple trick that solves all the complaints about the cable connectors - simply rotate each 720 degrees counterclockwise to build up some torque before you screw each one on clockwise.  Since you only need to screw 540 degrees clockwise to fasten them, the extra twist remaining in the cable keeps them securely fastened without having to overtighten.


The build is nothing special.  Yes the R/L markings rub off.  Also the screw placement is oddly asymmetrical.  Materials are not luxurious, and comfort is just average (though comfortable enough that I can enjoy them for hours on end without distraction).  They are somewhat heavy.


Bass is incredible.  In this price range, I am unaware of any headphones with this kind of bass extension, impact, and natural sound.


High mids are a bit recessed (less so with the velour pads), yet the mids as a whole remain clear, detailed, and vocals show great depth.


Speed, transparency, imaging: all strong suits.


These headphones absolutely shine with jazz, rap, electronic, funk, rock, and pop.


Pros: Spectacular bass, rich, engaging mids, great soundstage depth, and excellent detail retrieval.

Cons: A bit hot in the upper-most treble, and some upper-mid coloration

After using IEMs almost exclusively, I decided that it was about time to step into the realm of full-sized cans. I wasn't about to spend $1000, but I still wanted better than mid-fi sound. My options were pretty limited, and it came down to either the HD600 or the HE-400. In the end I decided that, despite the HD600's more refined sound, that the HE-400 had what I was looking for (tight, linear bass, excellent detail, and a 3D image). So I pulled the plug on the HE-400 (and a pair of velour pads), and never looked back. 

My first impression was a good one, and they sounded exactly as I expected them to based on measurements and first-hand accounts.


I'm not at all a bass-head. I find bass to be the must unimportant and non-essential part of the frequency spectrum because it provides little musical information and serves little purpose other than adding body to the music. That said, the quality of the bass is very important to me. I cannot stand liquid, texture-less bass, and I'm not a fan of elevated mid-bass either. Thankfully, the bass on the HE-400 is as far from that as possible. The response is almost perfectly linear, it's extraordinarily tight, articulate, and well-textured. It hits hard, goes low, and does everything that bass is supposed to do without ever getting in the way or disappearing. It's as close to perfect as I can imagine a headphone being in that regard.


Mids are very important to me. Nothing will ever sound right if there's trouble in the mids, and they're absolutely essential to the reproduction of the human voice. The mid-range presentation on the HE-400 is interesting. The lower mids are very full and somewhat forward, whereas the upper mids are more recessed. They're certainly colored, but it's not a coloration I'd call "offensive." The mids here are very rich and organic without ever sounding thick or syrupy. I think that's partially due to the elevated treble and excellent extension that gives vocals great air and a "breathy" sound. On some recordings the mids can sound a bit distant, but that's not an issue that I've run into very often.


The treble is the trouble spot with these cans. The treble isn't poor by any means, but it is significantly elevated in the highest octave (10kHz+). The treble can be very hot on some recordings. Some people may like the extra air that comes with this kind of treble presentation, but it's a bit much for me. I find that it obscures detail a bit, and can dominate the signature at times. However, the treble responds very well to EQ and sounds excellent with just a few dB decrease. Extension is great and the the headphones definitely do not want for air. 


I've never heard a headphone at this price that presents the audio image anywhere near as well as the HE-400s do. The soundstage is open with great height and depth with excellent layering, and width that is neither unrealistically large, nor cramped. Imaging is excellent, making it easy to pin-point audio cues and effectively sorting the various layers of the soundstage. 


The HE-400 signature is interesting. It doesn't really emphasize any region, but it somehow manages to be both dark and bright. It's not prefectly neutral, but it's not highly colored. It's just neutral enough and just "fun" enough to appeal to a wide range of tastes. It also responds very well to EQ (particularly in the bass, likely due to the very low distortion and linearity), though I'd avoid messing with the mids too much, as there is a bit of distortion there that can be exacerbated with EQ. However, you can tame the treble and crank up the bass as much as you want with little to no ill effect.


I've never had any comfort issues with them, and though the design seems a bit "cheap," I've not had any issues there either. They are a bit heavy, though, so keep that in mind. The stock cable isn't the greatest; it's thick, heavy, and a bit stiff. Don't be too rough with it, because there are reports of it shorting, or the sheath splitting. 


I've not heard a better headphone in the $300-$400 range (including the HD600). It does just about everything right, and very little wrong (and what little it does wrong is easily fixed). For the HD600 owners out there, they make a perfect compliment to the HE-400. I've not come across a better value in the entire world of audio. 


Pros: Good clarity, impulse response, open soundstaging

Cons: Physical discomfort, lack of mid-range, ploppy bass, cable quality

Review: HiFiMan HE-400 (revision 4)


published on October 14, 2013


(click for larger pic)


- download a printable 4-page PDF version of this review (target goes to a location on my Dropbox)


I originally got interested in the HiFiMan HE-400 due to early positive impressions by other Head-Fiers and eventually bought my own pair in November 2012, new from HeadAmp. This review contains my thoughts on the headphones, which I owned up until August 2013. Caveat: for various reasons I didn't listen to these headphones that much while I owned them and used them only for about 65-80 hours. I don't personally believe that planar magnetic headphones burn in either, which is another reason that the headphones never got many hours on them.

Equipment Setup

- Source components: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (Signal Cable Silver Reference power cord, directly into wall), desktop PC w/ headphone jack on Yamaha YSTMS50 speakers
- Analog interconnects: Emotiva X-Series RCA
- Headphone amplifiers: Burson Soloist, HeadAmp GS-X MK2, Schiit Magni
- Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000, MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2, Fostex TH900


The HE-400 (revision 4) was used only with the velour earpads, not the stock pleather ones.

Evaluation Music

- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane
- Andrea Parker - Kiss My Arp
- Goldfrapp - Black Cherry
- Helloween - 7 Sinners
- Infected Mushroom - Vicious Delicious
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos
- Machine Head - Through The Ashes of Empires
- Massive Attack - Mezzanine
- Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction [MFSL]
- Orbital - Snivilisation
- Ruth Moody - The Garden
- The Crystal Method - Vegas [2007 Deluxe Edition], Tweekend
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land
- Trifonic - Emergence

Negative Aspects


The flaws listed below collectively soured my experience with the headphones:


- Comfort & fit: The HE-400 was very uncomfortable on my head mostly because of the headband, which wasn't padded at all and frequently left the top of my head sore. I also never got a full "seal" with the ear cups due to the size and shape of the frame—i.e., the headphones were just slightly too big for my head at the smallest slide setting and didn't "clamp" enough to my head either, leaving slight open space. That may in part explain some of why I heard what I did with the HE-400, and it's admittedly possible that my fit issues could very well have been the source of my negative experience with the headphones.


- Cable quality & appearance mis-marketing: The HE-400's cable was one of the worst things about it to me. For one, the screw-in connectors were an annoyance to deal with (primarily because they were too small to easily turn) and always left me wary that they might break as well. In fact, I did break one of them from over-torquing and had to get a replacement cable through HeadAmp. Second, I thought the 3.5mm mini plug at the other end was a major error too for two reasons: (1) 3.5mm mini plugs usually indicate that a headphone can be driven well by portable & computer sources. I found this to not be the case at all with the HE-400. On my computer it required extra-high volume to sound loud. And on my amps it required high gain (where configurable) + high volume adjustment to sound loud. (2) I occasionally experienced sound drop-outs when I used the cable with a 3.5mm-1/4" adapter and frequently had to "shake" the adapter's connection to the headphone amp in order to regain sound. This occurred with all 3 amps, so it wasn't limited to a single amp. The problem was clearly with the cable's 3.5mm mini plug, as I've never experienced the issue with any other 3.5mm-terminated headphones.


- Overall lack of mid-range: I put the HE-400 through every major music genre that I listen to (classical, bluegrass/folk, metal, electronica/trip-hop) and had a hard time appreciating it for most of them simply because I found the mid-range overall to be too recessed, which negatively affected my enjoyment. It was just way too thin-sounding and never presented instruments like bass guitars or other elements like male & female vocals as properly full-bodied. It severely detracted from atmospherics/ambience as well—on music that was atmospherically dark, like trip-hop and certain types of metal, the stylistic "darkness" that should've been there was missing with the HE-400. I don't mean sonic darkness, I mean that kind of heavy, creepy, menacing quality that some tracks can have (for example, Massive Attack's "Inertia Creeps"). And the HE-400 tended to shove key musical layers to the background, like drums/percussion. In that aspect it was like the sonic inverse of the Audio-Technica AD2000/AD2000X, which both bring percussion to the extreme foreground.


- Boring bass: You'd think just having a lot of bass on a headphone would make it fun-sounding, right? Wrong. It depends on how it sounds, and the HE-400 had one of the most boring bass responses that I've ever heard. It reminded me of the "oonce oonce" bass in dance clubs—completely generic and indistinct with absolutely no real energy to speak of. Ok, the HE-400 had a lot of bass quantity. But the quality of that bass was just non-exciting, as it was just the equivalent of a generic-sounding bass "drop". There was just no impact, or force, or anything that sounded like the bass had some type of forward motion and wanted to keep pace with the rest of the music. And there was no tightness to it either, it was just a generic-sounding plodgy and ploppy blob. In fact, if there's one word that could sum up the bass for me, it'd be "ploppy".


- Spiked & unrefined treble: Ok, a lot of headphones have unpleasantly spiked treble. The HE-400 was just another case of that to me, and I like treble too! I'm a fan of the treble in the Sony Qualia 010 and Sennheiser HD800 for example. But the HE-400 had just too much zing and sibilance that made my ears wince on too many occasions. And it was unable to stay clean at high volumes, on music that was especially treble-heavy—i.e., it tended to blur ambient electronica at points where the music got increasingly complex & trebly.


- Over-diffusion: I'm generally not a fan of headphones that diffuse/separate the sound a lot, especially when it's obviously unnatural to the recording. (Case in point: HD800.) The HE-400 overdid this as well IMO and completely lost a sense of cohesion—it split apart bands way too much so they didn't sound like they were playing in the same room, for example. I'm pretty sure that most metal bands don't intend for their music to sound overly diffuse/separated and this aspect of the HE-400 especially annoyed me when listening to metal.



Normally I'd try to balance a negative review with some positive aspects but unfortunately my experience with the HE-400 really turned me off to it, way more than any other headphones in recent memory. So I apologize if I can't come up with anything especially positive to say about it. I guess the best thing that I can say about the HE-400 is that it was technically competent—i.e., it had treble and bass, a fast impulse response, etc, but for me it strayed so far from the point of conveying music that it ended up registering as below-average in my personal rankings. Additionally, by the time I really started putting the HE-400 through its paces for this review, I also had the MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2, which I'd be inclined to say is the superior-sounding planar magnetic headphone for less money.


As far as amping went, I used mostly the Burson Soloist and HeadAmp GS-X MK2, and only minorly the Schiit Magni. The Magni was able to drive the HE-400 effectively but that's about all it did—the HE-400 really didn't sound that great on it, especially compared to the Burson Soloist. The Magni was also unable to drive the HE-400 at ultra-loud, non-earsafe volumes without causing audible distortion in the bass frequencies (on extra-low/powerful bass notes). And although the Soloist and GS-X MK2 were better-sounding amps, neither of them helped to rectify my issues with the HE-400. The GS-X MK2 in particular only amplified its sonic flaws.


Addendum - Review Notes


My review notes are included here in their own section for convenience. These provide specific detailed info not included in the review. Notes start below the asterisks.


Terrible cable quality at both ends (screw connectors too small to easily handle, connectivity issue when mini-plug used with 1/4" adapter). 3.5mm plug mis-leading, HE-400 nowhere remotely efficient enough for use with portable sources. (Needs High gain to achieve sufficient volume on Soloist and GS-X at moderate settings.)


Overall passive, laid-back sound, in a V-type signature, with very emphasized treble and bass.


Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos

  • Strings clear & "shimmering", not too unlike HD800, but also diverges instrument sections widely. Very separated sound, not very cohesive. Almost too much channel separation. Treble overall reminiscent of HD800—has similar issue as HD800, causing wispy/glossy-sounding violins. Lacks subtle musical details that the OII would have (inflection, dynamics, bowing technique, etc). Lack of overall mid-range content negatively affects both violins & harpsichord.


Massive Attack - Mezzanine - "Teardrop", "Inertia Creeps"

  • HE-400 fails to portray analog-like warmth of Teardrop that should be there. Tape hiss doesn't add atmospherics either and is just “there” as background noise. Kick drum not very obvious as a kick drum either, also lacks distinction. Lacks percussive-hit drive into belly drums of Inertia Creeps as well. Drums sound slow and lack the fast vibration decay as heard on OII/BHSE. Dark atmospherics & ominous sound of track totally not conveyed by HE-400 either. 3D's vocals also lack a heavy intonation.


The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land

Infected Mushroom - Vicious Delicious - "Becoming Insane", "Vicious Delicious", "Change The Formality"

  • Bass on HE-400 is low but also sounds very boring. Has quantity, but lacks "motion" and power—i.e., drive/punch/impact. Not tight either and is semi-plodgy. Sort of blobby & ploppy. Almost excessively ploppy depending on music.


Helloween - 7 Sinners - "Who is Mr. Madman?"

  • This recording especially shows faults of HE-400—drumming is barely noticeable on it. Shoved too much to background and doesn't sound like an integral part of the music. Polar opposite of something like AD2K which brings drums to extreme foreground. Bass guitars also completely lack fullness. Track completely lacks excitement of AD2K.
  • For metal music specifically, HE-400's frequency balance skews more towards guitar string plucks/vibrations. Huge lack of general bass fill to bass guitars and vocals that more often than not offsets the intended atmosphere, so most tracks don't have an appropriate "metal" sound.


Porcupine Tree - In Absentia - "Blackest Eyes", "Lips of Ashes"

  • HE-400 lacks heavy/full sound that would add more to music. Guitars stick out too much in mix. Bass guitars detracted too much. Separated, diffuse sound lacks cohesion. Opposite of Grado-like where the band is close together and upfront. HE-400 splits the band too far apart. Treble is the aggressive element on HE-400, not the band's bass guitar as it probably should be.


Beyond Twilight - Section X - "The Path of Darkness"

  • HE-400 shoves male vocals to background too much and recesses them too much as well. Lacks heavy, dark sound on HE-400 that should be there.
  • Not sure HE-400 would be ideal for black or tech metal due to lack of mid-bass & mid-range (male vocals too recessed, bass guitars detracted from too much as well).


Pros: Solid, Taut yet Accurate Bass / Luscious Mids / Detailed yet non-fatiguing Highs / Price!

Cons: Potential Head Clamp/Weight Issues

I initially had my eyes set on the HE-500s but after some research I decided that the sound signature of the HE-400s may suit my tastes better as I predominantly listen to EDM (Tech House, Minimal, Trance, GOA, Psy). Initial impressions out of the box were quite impressive. For those of you who have yet to try a Planar Magnetic headphone - the detail and clarity are something else compared to dynamic headphones. There is no background distortion or noise at any volume as the background remains completely black.


The soundstage is adequately wide and does a great job at projecting space between instruments and vocalists, so much so in fact that I often forget I'm wearing headphones in a small, cramped room. 
It's the micro-details however that really allow me become totally immersed in my music. I'd best descibe the soundscape as being in a moderately large auditorium with perfect accoustics while vocalists and primary instruments are right there beside you - maintaining the intimacy. Live, lossless recordings are a wonder to behold (Coldplay - Live 2003 anyone?)


The bass is extremely accurate and the impact is surprisingly good for a completely open headphone. I do love the fact that the bass doesn't intrude unless called upon by the track. It allows me to enjoy my tech house/minimal tracks for their deep, thumping basslines and at the same time it can take a back seat when listening to accoustic or chillout/lounge music. This is unlike most "basshead" headphones where bass is pronounced everywhere, whether it is required or not.
I would love to try these out with a tube-amp as sometimes I do feel like the M-Stage may be too neutral for my tastes for some of my darker recordings and there could be a little more sub-bass impact; however as my equipment is limited I am unable to judge if this is down to my source/amp or the headphones.


Despite my affinity towards a U-shaped sound signature, the mids are probably the highlight for me and perhaps even converted me. I have never heard vocals produced with such clarity, emotion and musicality and wouldn't have thought it achievable at this price range. Everything from Barry White to Vocal Trance is outstanding. I wouldn't say the mids are pronounced though, they are neutral if anything allowing for very accurate and believable reproductions of the human voice.

Listening to Nora Jones (Come Away With Me) is almost a haunting experience as it genuinely feels like she is singing right beside me. Her voice is portrayed with quite an ethereal tonality and there is no unnatural resonance whatsoever on her extended notes.
Mind you this is all coming from someone who doesn't really listen to jazz/accoustic so let the impressions these headphones have left with me be an indication of how impressed I am by the HE-400s.


Now I read numerous times that the highs aren't quite neutral with the HE-400s as with their older brothers but I can honestly describe them as fast, extremely well detailed yet rolled off just enough to take the edge of some hot recordings. I think HiFiMAN have done a great job with providing the detail and presence in the highs while somehow avoiding them from becoming fatiguing.


Comfort wise, the earpads are height adjustable and they do swivel, so it should fit most headshapes. I will point out that the head-clamp is stronger than usual but I'm sure that will subside after I have worn them for a while. I have had no issues with wearing the HE-400 for extended periods whatsoever but I can imagine them being a little less comforable for someone who is sensitive to head clamp. They don't sit on your head quite as softly as the Audio Technica's winged design but they are snug do a better job of staying on your ears.





My Setup: Xonar Essence STX -> Matrix M-Stage -> HifiMAN HE-400

Overall, I'd recommend the HE-400s for just about any genre as I couldn't really fault them at anything in particular. Orthodynamics are quite revealing by design so you will need to provide them with a proper source file, I've been pretty disappointed with any files <192kbps but that's a given on a quality headphone such as this.


Pros: Incredibly smooth mids, stunning detail, CLEAN bass, and wonderful highs

Cons: Weight, somewhat lackluster headband, pain in the ass cable that I'll be replacing soon

EDIT:  My opinions and views on this set of cans has changed a fair bit after more extensive listening.  Please see the link below for my updated opinions on these headphones.



My Story

First of all - WOW.  This is my first set of proper Hi-fi/Mid-fi cans.  It's also easily the best sounding anything I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.  However, since I'm new to the head-fi game, take this with a grain of salt. 


So where do I begin with these headphones?  I guess I should give some background on my listening history.  I wouldn't quite consider myself poor, but I'm definitely far from affluent.  This means that my listening experience has been severely limited.  Until I purchased the HE-400's, the nicest cans I've had the chance to listen to were a pair of my friend's ATH-M50's.  While quite nice, they didn't particularly blow me away.  The nicest pair of headphones I've personally owned were a pair of Sony MDR-MA 300's.  They're semi-open, have a LOT of fairly clean bass, recessed mids like you wouldn't believe, and decent highs considering the $50 MSRP.  I definitely got used to the very dark sound signature of those Sony's.


When I put the HE-400's on for the first time, I was immediately very concerned that I might have wasted $300 of my hard earned dollars.  They were a WORLD of difference from those Sony's, and I just didn't care for the sound signature out of the gate.  However, I decided to stick with them for a week or so and see if my opinion on the topic would change.  That was without a doubt one of the single greatest decisions I've ever made.


Although it took a while for it to sink in, I had a eureka moment a few nights ago as I was laying in bed, listening to a new album I'd been recommended (Dead Horse by Charts and Maps for anyone interested in a fantastic, FREE Jazz Fusion/Math Rock album).  While listening to the second track, I finally realized just what I'd been missing in all my music.  The mids were so clear and smooth.  The instrument separation was unparalleled to anything I'd ever heard.  The drums sounded realistic.  And then there was that saxophone.  It sounded like it was right in front of me.  I've never had such a positive visceral reaction to music before.  I found myself smiling uncontrollably (as an aside, I'm listening to the same album while writing this review and can't help myself from grinning like a madman).  I was hooked. 


I've listened to more music in the past few days than I have in quite a long time, and I'm finding it hard to stop.  If you're new to the world of headphones and any of this sounds like it might be up your alley, I highly recommend you just bite the bullet and cough up the $300 (while the sale lasts).  While I can't guarantee that you'll love them, the potential is definitely high with these cans.


Now, for the more technical stuff.


Build Quality

Overall, there's not a whole lot to complain about with the build quality.  The only real issue I've faced is this cable.  I hate it.  It's thick, it's stiff, and when I go to lay down in my bed, sometimes the audio will just cut out.  Others have pointed out this issue, and I've never had this problem with other phones, so I know the cable is to blame.  I'm also not a huge fan of the connectors, but at least I can live with those.  I'm definitely going to replace the cable soon.  If anyone has recommendations on an inexpensive set of aftermarket cables (preferably under 100 USD), please, PLEASE shoot me a PM. 


It should also be noted that these are HEAVY CANS.  They weigh in at nearly 1 lb.  The flip side to this is that they also feel quite sturdy. 


Headband could also use a bit more padding, but that's part of the next segment.



Overall, they're pretty good.  I would prefer some extra padding on the headband (which I'll definitely be adding to these).  I don't have any problems with the stock cushions, other than a TINY bit of sweating, but I may try out the velour pads just for the hell of it. 



I read one review where someone said his amp (I believe it was a Schiit Magni?) was having trouble driving these headphones.  My experience is the exact opposite.  I can drive these perfectly well from my ipod nano, and my stock gain (2.5x / 6x) O2/ODAC combo can absolutely CRANK these things.  On low gain I never have to turn the knob past maybe 20% of it's travel.  I shudder to think of the damage I could do to my hearing with these cans cranked on the high gain mode.  Since these cans have an impedance of ~50 ohms, pretty much any source with under 5 ohms of output impedance should have no issues with damping. 


Sound Quality

I've pretty much covered it all in my story above, but I'll reiterate here in case some of you skipped it.

- Clear, present bass with a bit of a punch.  Wouldn't call this a bass-heavy can by any means, but it's certainly not lacking in quantity or quality. (EDIT:  After further listening on some of my favorite albums (that I feel also happen to be poorly mastered (see most The Fall of Troy albums) I've found that the HE-400's bass response just isn't up to par in terms of presence.  My previous pair of cans did just fine with TFOT, and you could actually hear Tim's bass through the mix, but with the HE-400's I have to use a fair bit of EQ to get it to shine through at HALF the volume of my old pair.  Bit more presence would be appreciated, but the clarity is definitely a stellar upgrade.)

- Fantastic treble.  While others have most definitely complained about treble issues with these cans, I can't say that I've experienced the same.  Your mileage may vary, but that's my two cents.

- The best clarity and instrument separation of anything I've ever had the chance to listen to (bear in mind that I am EXTREMELY new to this, so my experience is very limited.)



For my first entry into the world of Hi-Fi, I think I've made an excellent choice.  Although I didn't care for them out of the gate, I think these cans may very well be the best investment I've ever made (aside from my gaming rig.  It's pretty much my child.)  I may just save myself the time, money and trouble and just call this my end game, but at the same time it's making me wonder what lies just beyond the horizon.  Wish me luck on this crazy adventure that we call audiophilia, and don't forget to enjoy the music!


Pros: Price, stellar sound reproduction, fairly easy to drive, very snug

Cons: Headband is the chokepoint in the price, it's just ok. fairly heavy cans, and they are completely open

The title is not exaggerated either, but of course to get the HE-400s to that level you need at least a decent DAC and a tube or hybrid amp like the Schiit Lyr to even hear what they truly can do. Otherwise most amps will will work just fine with them! I have tried them with my Schiit Asgard solid state amp for weeks, but felt they need more that 1watt per channel (the Lyr has 6!). The gain in sound quality is extreme enough for most people probably, but as you get to really appreciate these cans, you will want to get everything out of them.

Simply put (without resorting to headphone comparisons which I did against the HE-400 which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zdHTN5ysZQ ) the 400's have Superior soundstage, detail, and balance while still being exciting. There is only one other Planar headphone on the market now (Fostex t50rp and it's mods like the mad dog) but it doesn't touch the 400, HiFiman made the pinnacle of price/performance.

You may think $400 (or less used!) is a lot for a pair of headphones, but when you consider it's top of the line tech that headphones many times it's price use, you know you've got a smoking deal.


Note: My 400's have the MUCH better than stock velour pads and a Q-Audio braided cable.

HiFiMAN HE-400

Orthodynamic (aka planar magnetic) full size, open-back, over-ear headphones. Sensitivity: 92.5 DB Impedance: 35 Ohm Weight: about 440 gram or 14.5 Oz Frequency response: 20Hz to 35 KHz

Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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