I wanted to take a moment to give some impressions of this headphone and share them with the head-fi community. For comparison during this review, I will be using the headphones that I currently own-the Beyer dt990/600 and the venerable Denon d2k.
The packaging is sufficient and on par with most of the mid-fi products that I’ve purchased. Nothing special really to be noted here. It doesn’t come with the fancy wooden box but honestly, that’s not anything that I’d really be interested in. If the box cost the manufacturer $30 and they have to pass that cost through to the purchase price then I’d happily go without the box. There is a velvet type bag included.
The word “tank” comes to mind when I look at the build quality of the cans. They are made of almost entirely of metal with a thin leather pad around the headband-more on that later. This makes them fairly heavy. Not as heavy as their big brother, the he500 but close. The leather pads for the cups are nice and soft and remind me somewhat of the d2k pleather. There is a dual in cord with threaded junction for each cup. I would have much preferred that they had used an rca type connection here. The threads are small and can be cross threaded easily. Or it could be that my big fingers are just clumsy but I did have some trouble threading each side. Once you’ve made the connection then it’s done and you don’t stand the chance of them coming out so that would be the tradeoff. After the cable splits the thickness going down to the point that that it terminates is about the same as the d2k. There is no click adjustment for varying the position of the cups. It simply slides up and down with a fair amount of force and seems to stay in place after adjustment with no issues. I do not know if the slider might become loose after prolonged use. There is a good amount of clamp with these cans, but it can be adjusted by gently bending the headband.
I feel that the price is reasonably fair. I’m excited that hifiman is able to make this tech more affordable and therefore available to a broader market. The planar tech is impressive and no doubt will continue to be more popular as the price becomes more reachable for those of us who typically purchase mid-fi products. I got mine from moon audio with a coupon for $360 plus shipping. At $300 or even $325 I think these would be great bang for this kind of tech and incredibly popular.
Amping and DAC
I have been using an Audio GD Compass for the past month, replacing my trusty fiio e10 for something a little more substantial. The he400 does not need a lot of amp to reach its potential but it does need quality. I’ve been very pleased with the Compass. For the Beyers and Denon’s the Compass is a great fit. It rolls off the treble just a bit and tightens up the bass without any loss of impact. But…it did not work well with the he400. The mids seems hollow and lacks the crystal sparkle that you’d expect from planar. However, I found that the diminutive fiio e10 works quite well with the he400. The sound signature across the board became what I was expecting and seems to satisfy the he400 well.
This is really where the rubber meets the road isn’t it? Both the treble and mids on the he400 are beautiful. The transparency and clarity are on a different level than with my dynamic driver headphones. The soundstage is tremendous with instrument separation that makes you feel like you are at a live performance. The bass is solid and tight with good extension and accuracy which is somewhat surprising for a planar hp. These are not bass cans for me although I’m a self-professed basshead. But I have to admit that it was very satisfying to listen to music with a good bass line with these. The denon goes lower and with a heavier impact, while the he400 is more accurate. I don’t want to undersell the bass with the hifiman’s. It is certainly satisfying albeit a touch off from the denon. I use the Beyers more for acoustic and live performances. Sometimes jazz and classical. Dave Matthews Band get a lot of play with them. The Denon gets more headtime with pop, rock and bass heavy music. The he400 exceeds the Beyer for me with the material that I would normally use the Beyer for. The sound is simply better. Instruments are cleaner and more accurate. Vocals and natural and often like velvet. The soundstage is bigger and the bass more satisfying. Compared to the d2k the he400’s are neck and neck with the material that I typically use the Denon for.
WHAT I LIKED:
*The overall sound-beautiful and transparent with stellar soundstage and imaging
*Ample bass with plenty of “meat” to eat to it-satisfying for a basshead-almost J
*Class A mids with wonderfully lifelike vocals
*Beats my Beyer 990’s at everything but comfort and is “right there” with the d2k given the same material
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
*Somewhat too heavy for me. The d2k is about as heavy a headphone as I’m comfortable with. The he400 weighs in at about 100grams more than the Denon. I would speculate that most people would not have a problem with the weight as I do though.
*The headband is ridiculously under padded for a headphone at this price point. The foam layer underneath the leather is easily compressed within a few minutes and I can feel the metal band resting across the top of my head. If I decide to keep these, I would certainly replace it. I’d venture to guess that a $15 Beyer headband would make a night and day difference assuming that it would fit.
The hifiman he400 is a fantastic headphone. The build quality is solid. They are fun, very musical and the planar tech is just down right dripping with energy. At $360 plus shipping from moon audio, I feel that they are fairly priced and would make an impressive addition to anyone’s collection who does not own a set of planar cans. Honestly, my only real issue is with the comfort level. Personally I find them a bit too heavy and with an underpaded headband. Please understand that I am more sensitive to weight and clamp than most people. For a point of reference I find that AT m50 to have too much clamp if that helps to put the clamp issue into perspective. I can wear the he400 for about 40-45 minutes before the level of comfort prompts me to take them off. When I play music, I listen typically between one to three hours if I have an uninterrupted period. I do not want to be distracted by a headphone’s lack of comfort. I feel that there are too many companies that have proven great sound quality and comfort can be had in package. I can wear the Beyer’s for 4 hours plus without issue. The Denon’s I can wear about 3 hours plus without issue.
These are very very good headphones. I’m very eager to order a replacement headband and see if it is able alleviate much of the comfort issue that I have with these cans.
9.0 out of 10
This is my first review, so please be kind and feel free to leave comments or suggestions.
Edit January 1st, 2013.
In an effort to help those considering the he400 or just getting started with it, I'll add some of the discoveries made through this thread and add them here. I hope that those reading this thread will find it helpful.
*The most immediate way to improve on the sound quality of the he400 is simply to change the stock pads from pleather to velour. While the velours are not perfect, this is easiest way to get your he400 to sound better. The mids will sound smoother and more open and all the bass quantity and quality are preserved. All for $10!!
*Some find the he400 to be somewhat heavy. I personally find it comfortable but any heavier and it would give me issues. Most who find problems with the comfort have issues with clamp and weight across the top of the head via the headband. If clamp is your problem, this is a simple fix. The headband is made of metal and can be reshaped to clamp with less force. Gently grab the headphones by the cups with your thumb and index finger just at the base where the band meets the cups. Bend the band nearly flat and hold it there for several seconds. Try it out and see if you like the new clamp force. If it's still tight then simply repeat the procedure until you've arrived at your desired level of clamp.
*wje/Wayne has offered a diy headband mod if you desire to make the headband more comfortable. See here: page 260
There is also a Beyer replacement pad that can easily be fitted to the he400 and can be purchased on amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Replacement-Leatherette-Universal-Sennheiser-Beyerdynamic/dp/B00862522A
*Grill mod.Thanks to Jerg for this one. If you want to go beyond the velour SQ improvement and want to take on a very simple DIY mod, the original grills can be replaced and offer a noticeable SQ advantage. See here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/619447/hifiman-he400-he500-re-grilling-mod-56k-dial-up-users-beware
*Cables. In as much as I'm able to tell, custom cables do not offer and significant SQ improvement with this headphone. But there are other advantages. The stock cable is stiff and terminated to 1/8. I prefer a softer more flexible cable, custom length and 1/4 termination. There are several companies offering very nice custom cables for the he400, such as Q Audio, Norse and Toxic Cables. They are all happy to give you a quote to finish off the he400 with a slick cable if you're willing to pony up the cash.
One of the impressive qualities of the he400 is that it doesn't need a world class amp to shine and show it's abilities. In fact, it can be powered directly from an iphone/ipod. You'll struggle with volume and dynamics though. To get the he400 up to speed with an amp, you wont have to spend much though. I've tried the he400 on better than a half dozen amps and it performed well with all of them. One of the frequently asked questions is regarding which amp to buy for this headphone. On a budget for my money it's hard to beat the fiio e17. For about $139 shipped you get quite a package...hardware EQ, three levels of gain, a nice display and a portable all in one solution to boot. Pretty slick. If you want to get the most from the he400, there are lot's of good offerings out there. The best that I've heard personally is the lyr and bifrost. Although this seems like overkill for an easy to drive ortho dynamic hp, there is some legroom with the he400 and you'll get it with this amp/dac combo.
Also recently released is the small Schitt Stack which is getting good reviews. For those on a budget it's worthy of your consideration. TMRaven has a review up for this stack.
Revisions, Revisions, Revisions
This fine hp has not been without production problems. The first revision seemed more like a prototype. The second known as r2 (white drivers) was rock solid for the most part. Then in an effort to increase durability, we got r3 (light sandy brown colored drivers). R3 was very bright and fatiguing and was eventually recalled. I do give HFM credit for handling the recall as professionally as they could. All of the r3 has been pulled from the retailers and no stock should be available for purchase on a new pair. If you are considering picking up a used pair, be sure to ask for a picture of the driver without the pad on the be sure what you're getting. The color of the driver is the easiest way to determine the revision.
What mods are available for my he400?
*See above for details on the mods
Where can I buy my pair?
Of course they are available at Amazon, but I always like to support small/local business. We have a great resource in Justin at headamp.com as a regular here on this thread. A gracious guy who is pleasure to work with.
Is it okay to buy a used pair?
“Caveat Emptor” comes to mind here. I have bought a couple of used he400’s here with no problem though.
What amp/dac should I buy to make my he400 sound best?
The beauty of the headphone is that you don’t need to spend twice the cost of the headphone to get it to reach it’s full potential. This headphone can be powered from an ipod. You won’t get the full effect for volume and dynamics though. A good starting place is the e17 by fiio. The best amp that I’ve personally heard with the he400 is the lyr with a good set of tubes. Wow!!
I’m having trouble with my he400, what to do?
*clamp-bend/reshape it (see above for procedure)
*pads-try velour, pleather, j$ pads
*channel cut out-tighten the cables. This is often the issue as it’s difficult to get these tight with your fingers. You can use a small pair of precision pliers being careful not to over tighten or scratch the paint. If this does not resolve the issue you may have a warranty issue.
Why are the he400’s described as dark and bright at the same time?
The overall sound signature is what I’d call dark/neutral, with the exception of a slight bump in the treble around 8-11 hz range. Some report eliminating this with a pad swap (see Jerg pads) or by simply modifying the EQ slightly.
The he400 is easy to amp, can I use it as a portable or outdoors?
This is really a headphone for home use. It’s on the large size and is somewhat heavy and fully open.
I’m a basshead, are these headphones for me?
That depends. The beautiful textured bass is one of the hallmarks of this headphone. Most will find the bass some of the best that they’ve heard shy of the lcd2/3. It is not as colored as the denon dx000 line though.
I listen to x,y,z genre of music, are these good for that type of music?
The he400 is a good all rounder and works well with most genres of music.
Why did hifiman paint them that ugly blue color?
Please note that the paint responds excitedly to flash photography and is considerably darker in person than in most photos. There is always an option for custom paint if you prefer.
How do I do the damn pads off?
Just grab and edge of the pad and pull. Getting them back on or new ones on is not that tough though. The first two tabs, opposite of each other say at 12:00 and 6:00, will pop right in. The third tab will also go in easily if you hold the first two in place with the other hand. On the fourth tab, I like to carefully use the blunt rounded end of a fingernail file or similar device. Just maintain the other three tabs with one hand and slide the last tab in place with the file.
With all the different revisions, is it safe to buy the he400 now?
No vendors that I know of have any old stock left.
Is the he400 too heavy for me?
For users of headphones like the Sennheiser series, these will seem heavier. After a few days I was able to adjust easily and I am quite sensitive to heavy hp’s.
Are the alternative cables available for the he400?
Of course. There are some great custom cable builders out there. Please consider: Norse Audio, Q Audio and Toxic Cables.
Is the he400 bad to leak sound?
Absolutely. They are like mini speakers. Everyone in the room will hear what you are listening to.
Edited by MattTCG - 2/5/13 at 2:35pm