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As good a value as exists in the world of audio.

A Review On: HiFiMAN HE-400

HiFiMAN HE-400

Rated # 16 in Over-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $400.00
Alondite
Posted · 5338 Views · 16 Comments

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.

Bass

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

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.

Treble

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. 

Soundstage/Imaging

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. 

Signature

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.

Design/Comfort

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. 


Overall

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. 

16 Comments:

WHile I can agree with most of your review, I belive the HE-500 are sonsidered an even better value :D.
While I agree with you as well, I do believe the HE 4 is an EVEN BETTER Value than both of the Latters xD
Yes, HE-4 are better than both HE-400 and HE-500...
Great review, what set up did you use?
Nice review, how does it compare to vintage orthos in case you ever heard any?
 
IMHO, you could easily cut down on the trebles:
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/413900/how-to-equalize-your-headphones-a-tutorial
 
http://www.davidgriesinger.com/headphones.htm
 
"the coupling of high frequencies to the eardrum varies greatly among individuals.  It is influenced by the volume of the concha, the diameter and geometry of the ear canal, the eardrum impedance and other factors.  Lacking probe microphone measurements at the eardrum, the best way to equalize a headphone is by listening."
The HE-500 are certainly a better headphone, but at twice the price, I don't think they are a better value. As for the HE-4, my time with them was limited, but I did get a chance to A/B them with my own pair of HE-400s. While there were some things that the HE-4 did better, I preferred the HE-400. A brief run-down of my impressions on the two:

- HE-4 was a bit thin-sounding, and a little loose on the low end. HE-400 bass is leagues better. 
- HE-4 was very detailed. Excellent resolving power. Moreso than the HE-400, maybe even more than the HE-500. 
- HE-4 treble spike is, imo, in a worse location. I'm more sensitive to lower treble trouble than in the upper-most regions. The timbre of the HE-4 was just a bit "off," and while I never found the HE-400 to be harsh, I did have that experience with the HE-4. I think it's because the distortion with the HE-4 is peakier, whereas the HE-400, while overall higher, isn't of a peaky nature. Everything is "distorted equally," so to speak. 
- I found that I could essentially EQ the HE-400 into an HE-4, but I couldn't do the reverse.
-The HE-4 is also a bit more expensive than the HE-400. Not by a lot, but by a margin I'd consider to be significant. 
- I definitely wouldn't say that the HE-4 is better than the HE-500. More resolving? Maybe. Overall better? No. 

My primary setup was Foobar WASAPI (.flac for critical listening) > Modi > Magni. I used a few other setups at some local meets, but I don't remember any of them being significantly different. 

I can't say that I've heard any "vintage" orthos (depending on what you consider "vintage"). Compared to the modern planars I've heard (LCD-2, HE-4, HE-500, HE-6, and a few others), I'd say that the HE-400 holds up quite well considering the price. The LCD-2 was a bit "dull" sounding to me, the HE-4 was thin a harsh by comparison, the HE-500 is better in every way, save maybe bass presentation (but is also twice the price) and the HE-6 were kind of piercing, and almost too resolving, if that's such a thing. Or at least the way that it presented detail was fatiguing. 
Why did u pay $400 for these i got mine for 250 and u can find them all day for $300 new?
I am in a full agreement with this review of HE-400 vs HE-500 and HE-4, heard all 3 headphones: http://www.head-fi.org/t/692229/he-400-vs-he-500-vs-he-4-comparison
 
And while I prefer HE-4 over the other two even in stock form, you need to mod them to get the very best out of them: http://www.head-fi.org/t/522157/hifiman-he-4-impressions-thread/2295#post_10632960
When I was Buying the HE-400, I had the oportunity to get the HE-500 or the HE-4.
Eventually it came down to efficiency, as I wanted to be able to use them with a portable device.
Since The most powerfull portable and affordable amp I know has 880 mW (and I assume its more like 750 in reality) on the fiio E12, even with a portable amp the HE-500 and especially the HE-4 wouldnt cut it.
 
Now that I have the HE-400, I am wondering if its better to get a HD600 or a HD800 to complement it :D.
5 stars for a can you say is not perfect and one which has a newer improved version coming out which apparently overcomes its flaws and which is also lighter and more comfortable?
I had these headphones for a while but due to them not being very comfortable and too heavy did not listen to them much even though they did sound good,overatted headphone which requires modding and eq to sound better!!
I own the 6 and the 500.  At a moderate price and if midrange is important to you then i'd definitely recommend the 500 over the 400, especially if big, slamming bass is not important to you or your type of music.  The 400 has a very particular V-shaped FQ-response profile.  I agree with you that the 500 costs a healthy chunk more but still believe it would be overall better value if you want glorious mids.  With what amplifier did you try the 4?  It has an 87 dB sensitivity rating so needs serious power and loose bass and thin treble usually indicate insufficient juice availability.  
 
King of neutrality is the 6,I prefer it to my HD-800 overall.  But it's not a purchase to be made lightly as its power specs require a dedicated setup to get the best out of them.
You need to try the AKG K712 pro.
"Why did u pay $400 for these i got mine for 250 and u can find them all day for $300 new?"

Because they retailed at $400 when I got them, and I didn't want a used pair because of the numerous revisions that it has gone through. I wanted to know what I was getting. 

"Now that I have the HE-400, I am wondering if its better to get a HD600 or a HD800 to complement it :D"

HD600 is a better compliment, and is less than 1/3 the price. The HE-400 is very detailed, fast, with low-reaching, linear bass, is laid back in the upper mids, and has prominent treble. The HD600 is basically the opposite. It's less detailed, and isn't as fast, but it's a very smooth and easy listen. The bass is warmer with less extension and more mid-bass, the upper mids are much more forward, and the treble is more laid back. It really is a perfect compliment. There isn't a genre of music with which at  least one of the two doesn't excel.

"5 stars for a can you say is not perfect and one which has a newer improved version coming out which apparently overcomes its flaws and which is also lighter and more comfortable?
I had these headphones for a while but due to them not being very comfortable and too heavy did not listen to them much even though they did sound good,overatted headphone which requires modding and eq to sound better!!"

5 stars for a $300 headphone that sounds as good or better than some $1000+ headphones. A $300 headphone with very few objective faults. 5 stars doesn't mean that it has to be perfect, because nothing is. 

Secondly, the "newer improved version" isn't out yet, and "apparently" improving isn't the same as actually improving. I never found the weight of the HE400 to be an issue, so I couldn't care less that they are lighter, and the headband design on the new version is atrocious. 

A $300 headphone which truly delivers high fidelity sound cannot be overrated. If anything, the HE-400 is vastly underrated. It sounds far, far better than a $300 headphone should sound, and by no means "requires" EQ or modding to sound good.

"With what amplifier did you try the 4?  It has an 87 dB sensitivity rating so needs serious power and loose bass and thin treble usually indicate insufficient juice availability.  "

It was a high-end HiFiMan armp, if I recall. It wasn't a matter of lacking power, it's simply a property of the headphone. There is considerable distortion in the low end which causes the loose bass, and the elevated treble and peaky high frequency distortion is causing the treble issues. 

"King of neutrality is the 6,I prefer it to my HD-800 overall.  But it's not a purchase to be made lightly as its power specs require a dedicated setup to get the best out of them."

I greatly prefer the HD-800. The HE-6, by comparison, sounded like it was trying to stab me in the ears. The HD-800 is as close to neutral as I've heard, though the treble was just a touch elevated on the setup I heard it with. 

"You need to try the AKG K712 pro."

I have. I prefer the HE400. The...

Good on u then. Why did u end up preferring the he400? The...? U try the HE4? I'm looking at thunderpants
Relative to the HE-400, the 712 was lacking in bass impact, tightness, extension, and texture. The treble was also more harsh and metallic than the HE-400, which is hot, but not harsh. The midrange on the K712 was odd. It wasn't bad, per se, but it definitely wasn't natural-sounding. The HE-400 also has much better soundstage/imaging. 

I preferred the HE-400 over the HE-4, also. The HE-4 was super detailed and resolving, but it was thin-of-note and had harsh treble. 
Yeah, I thought u may find it lacking in the low range.
Huh, interesting, especially you saying the 400 has better soundstage and imaging. MadLustEnvy has a different take on that I suppose.
Hmm, wow. Have you tried the HE-500?
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