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.