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 and Denon D5000.... I also had a couple beaters like Klipsch Image Ones and Koss Porta Pros..... upon purchasing my first bonafied 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 chapter and enjoy some music.
I focused a good amount of energy and resources from there 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 a "How It's Made" at the AKG factory in Austria....
OH!... Headphones!.... I LIKE THOSE!
Since Steinhart are setting their restock date in August... lets see what's new in the headphone world.
And so the bug bit again.... but this time reading through forums and websites brought forth many mentions of a new player in the game... Hifiman and its Chinese visionary leader Dr. Fang Bian.
I originally planned on buying one of the early models (HE-4, HE-5 second hand and was even looking at drumming up the cash to buy the HE500 when I caught word that a new lower priced planar magnetic model had hit the streets.... the HE400.
I perused the Headfonia article which gave it a restrained thumbs up as well as the effusive gushing review by Steve Guttenberg and decided to pull the trigger.
And so after purchasing the headphones on Amazon for $399 they arrived at my doorstep about 10 days later with obvious signs of having shipped direct from China.
When I opened the box I was a bit 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... A 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 me did not have a very good introduction... no love at first sight here.... I was suspicious of this johnny come lately and probably had mixed feelings about this headphone until the point where I plugged it in and pushed play. And that is where the criticisms ended.
Up until this point all of my headphones were on the warm and bass heavy side.... Denon D5K's, HD650's, Porta Pro's and Klipsch Image Ones that I once heard described as "bass fart cannons".... so my predisposition of what a good headphone sounded like was a bit tilted to one side.... But plugging in the HE400's I was taken back initially.... They were clear.... crisp.... the bass was there but certainly not up with the D5ks or 650s... but as I listened and listened I had that "AHA!" moment.... These things sound good... very good! very very good!
The HE400 sound is not lush or warm or thick.... It is smooth but hangs its hat on clarity and providing a balanced perspective of the music. Some have called it a bass heavy can but I don't see that.
Comparing it to the HD650 its sound is much more neutral (oh the word of death!) but it doesn't lack of musicality.... What one does discover listening to this headphone is that the slightly more forward and engaging mid range gives it a very "LIVE" presentation.
Shortly thereafter I purchased the planar magnetic darling of Headfi Audeze LCD2 and was originally assuming that the HIFIMan can would lose its luster after the LCD2 arrived but this was not so....
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 some slow 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 and forwardness to the mid range that gives it a more realistic, live sound.
I saw the LCD2 as sounding like home listening while the HE400 was like being at a show.... That ever so slight tipped up mid range made the HE400 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 and it is rarely mentioned on this site, is that while the LCD2 can give you a ridiculously well resolved low frequency that mines the depths of a song to reproduce it with perfect symmetry and resolution, the HE400 actually provides a bit more punch and impact despite being a bit less confident in its resolve.
The HE400 is prone to get a little fuzzy where the LCD2 provides crystal clear realism.... but it makes up for it with 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 euphonic and lush and warm like the HD650... but in terms of accuracy vs. impact it has found an amazingly intoxicating balance.... The LCD2 seemed too focused on technical skill and speed and this 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 it is an amazing performer in the right setting and is a decent 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 ears dangling on the bottom of them when not connected to the cable but... this should only bother the most aesthetically anal 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 only $400 can that I'd argue keeps pace is the Sennheiser HD6XX team.
Buy with confidence.... The HE400 is worth every penny. You will not regret it.