I’ve been on a grand journey through the last two years, searching for that one headphone that would satisfy my audial needs and be the best overall for me. After extensive experience with headphones such as M50, DT990 and HD650, the D2000 still remains my go-to can for music. It offers a linear extension of bass that hardly any other cans can provide. Even though the HD650 narrowly beat out the D2000 in audio quality only in my face-off, D2000 barely squeezed a victory in my heart because of the overall package it provided. Where both the DT990 and HD650 fall short in bass extension and presence, the D2000 satisfies. The D2000 also provided enough detail retrieval and instrument separation to keep me happy for so long. Enter the HE-400. It will be my first venture into the world of planar magnetics—widely known for their immensely detailed, warm and extended bass. Will the HE-400 finally overtake the long-venerated D2000 as my favorite pair of headphones? Read the comparison to see. Even though I do not have the HD650 with me anymore for up-front comparisons with the HE-400, I will try my best to chime in with HE-400 vs HD650 comments here and there to help others as well.
256-2166 kbps AAC/WAV files
Little Dot MKII (6N6P/CV4010)
HRT Music Streamer II
Build Quality & Presentation
I’m a sucker for great build quality and presentation, and it was one of the main reasons why I liked D2000 over the HD650. While the HD650 seemed plastic at times, the Denon impressed me with its choice of materials, overall weight and those delicious pads. I can say with confidence that this is one such instance where D2000 is definitely threatened when in the presence of the HE-400. The HE-400 is made up of a mixture of plastic and metal. Its yokes are entirely metal, giving a quality feel and look to its overall presentation. The casing for the cans is a deep, dark blue thick plastic. The headband adjustment also rides along a metal band, and adjusts with a good amount of tension and fluidity, to me it’s a very good headband adjustment—HD650’s and DT990’s fail in comparison. The headband itself looks to be made of the same stitched protein leather that the earpads are, and it’s a welcome aesthetical quality.
The overall heft to the HE-400 make it feel expensive and high-tech, as well its completely open grilled backings. The HE-400’s earpads struck me as average. The D2000 has one of the best presentations and build qualities to it in my opinion if you can look past the infamous screw issues. Its earpads are just excellent—uniquely contoured and angled to assure your ears feel natural inside their cups. The headband is simple yet elegant, and the headband adjustment is silky smooth. The major downside of the D2000’s presentation and build has to be its infamous cable. It’s very stiff and jacketed with fabric weaving, lending it to tangle easily and break down over time because of the tangling. To this day I still haven’t gotten all of the memory out of the Denon’s cable, and probably never will. The HE-400 comes stock with an 8 foot long black canare cable, which is a welcome upgrade from the Denons. The biggest benefit of the canare cable is that it terminates on either can of the HE-400s—a big plus when wanting to travel or dislplay the HE-400.
When I think of the Denons I think of an elegant Mercedes Benz, while the HE-400 comes off as more of a high tech Zonda. I had the same sensation when comparing the elegant D2000 to the exotic looking DT990, although the DT990 came of as a lesser exotic car than the HE-400 does.
Once again I have to stress just how much of an oddity the D2000 is. Most people consider it a closed headphone, but it really sounds and has the comfort of a semi-open headphone. Its clamping force is minimal, and more of just rests on your head than clamps on it. It also has a ventilation slot behind the ring that attaches to either yoke on its cups. This makes its soundstage rather expansive for what it is, and its long term comfort pretty good. It won’t get sweaty on your ears, nor will it feel cramped. The uniquely contoured angled pads do wonders for creating a natural but firm fit. Coming from the DT990 to the D2000 was a major upgrade in fit, as the D2000’s wonderful earpads made the DT990 look rather sloppy in comparison.
You’d think the HE-400’s circular pads would be a step in the wrong direction for fit, right? Well, mostly no but some yes. HiFiMan has put a foam ring in the inside of their pads to increase the depth of the openings in their cups, so the tops of your ears don’t touch the cloths covering their drivers as much. It’s a welcome change coming from the shallower DT990s, but overtime it seems as though the clamping force has shaped my HE-400 pads to be a little bit thinner at the top than bottom, so the very tops of my ears just barely gently graze against the cloths now. It’s not really a comfort issue as much as it is a fit issue. Going from the HE-400 to the D2000, the D2000 seems crammed in comparison, but still remains comfortable non-the-less. I thought the hefty weight of the HE-400 would give me long-term comfort issues and make for pressure points on its headband, but that hasn’t been the case so far. YMMV. Overall the comfort on both cans is top notch in my book.
General Sound Signature of the HE-400 compared to the D2000 with HD650 thrown in
You can think of the HE-400 as HD650’s adolescent but physically talented, athletically gifted brother. He has more meat and muscle to his bass, he boasts a better instrument separation with his gifted planar magnetic genetics, but he’s slightly less refined in his frequency response smoothness. Compared to the HD650, the HE-400 is a little bit darker, with some small bumps and/or ringing in its mids. I’m noticing some ringing in the 1khz margin, but it’s not disruptive enough to be a major point against the HE-400—if anything it adds to HE-400’s full fundamentals in instrument presentation.
The HE-400 simply has more bass and bass impact compared to the HD650, and oh does it extend lower. It’s about hallway between D2000 and HD650 in terms of bass extension, and that’s pretty extraordinary for an open headphone considering the Denons effortlessly drop sub-bass as if it was in their second nature to do so. More importantly, compared to the D2000, the HE-400’s balance from ground up is extremely close sounding. At times I forget I didn’t have the D2000 on my head when listening to certain songs with the HE-400. While the D2000 rolls off in sub-bass at around 30hz, the HE-400 starts to rolloff at around 40hz (according to graphs it's very strong to 25hz, so my amp might be lacking some juice and control to properly get its lowest bass tones), and just like the Denon, it sounds like it stays ruler flat out to around 1khz, then both gradually roll their upper mids off like any headphone should. For reference, the HD650 starts to rolloff at 50-60hz. Even though the additional 10hz doesn’t seem like it would make such a big difference for the HE400’s bass compared to the HD650’s bass, it’s a night and day comparison. The extra bit of sub-bass presence gives the HE-400 more weight to its bass presentation in every song.
The HE400’s mids are where it differs the most from the Denons. Both have very warm mids, but the HE400s don’t go anemic in the upper mids, and render different brass and electric guitars beautifully. At times it can definitely seem like the D2000s have a doughnut hole in their mids when compared to the HE-400. The HD650 in comparison has a little more upper mids than the HE-400 making it less dark. The Denons seem to have a little bass bloat in their lower mids, and often times they can render brass and woodwinds with an unnaturally dark timbre, while the HE-400 remains free of such a characteristic. Male vocals are often times ‘grounded’ on the Denons as well because of the same effect; they’re much more airy on the HE-400.
Highs on the HE-400 are tamed and better integrated with the rest of its sound compared to the D2000, although I still get a tiny sense of a treble spike on the HE-400 that isn’t present on the HD650. The Denons have a distinctly metallic timbre in their upper mids and treble that is present in some recordings on certain instruments. You can especially hear this effect if you have OSX and use the Denons while adjusting the internal volume of a Mac.
The HE-400’s planar magnetic drivers rendered the mids in a unique way for me. Often times it seems as though they’re smoothed over a lot transient wise, but they remain incredibly detailed with instrument separation second to none. It’s a trait that took me an hour or so to get used to, but after that it was game on.
Driving the HE-400
While Fang does state the HE-400 can be driven from an iPod, it's only halfway true. I do get a good amount of volume that satisfies full sound to me at around 80% on my iPod touch, but that's only for loud songs that don't have much dynamic range, and 80% is about where the newest iPods start changing their sonic balance and start distorting on dynamic peaks. On my Little Dot MKII with lowest gain, my Denons average around the 8 o'clock mark, while HD650 averaged around the 10 o'clock mark, the HE-400 averages around the 11 o'clock mark while DT990 600Ω was usually around noon. So basically I found the HE-400 to be somewhere in between HD650 and DT990 600Ω for efficiency. On the more brickwalled of recordings I have, my HE-400 is more around 10 o'clock, and on the most dynamic or quiet of songs it can get up to 2 o'clock. I found it had much more of a range of power requirement for songs than any other dynamic headphone I've tried.
In this section I’ll be choosing 15 favorite recordings of mine to cover a good amount of genres while putting these two headphones through their paces. The recordings range from mostly rock/alternative to instrumentals/orchestral and hip-hop/electronic. I’ll be dedicated an hour or two for every song to compare either headphone. Each song will get 4-5 playthroughs to give my ears enough time to acclimate to one headphone’s sound, then I’ll switch to the other headphone and see if I hear any differences, and repeat said process three or four times over. During certain passages of songs I might switch out the headphones rapidly if I deem necessary. Following each brief description of how either headphone handles the song, I’ll give my opinion on which one I liked better for that particular song. My favorite performer will receive a perfect score of 5/5 while the second place contender will get anywhere from 1-4 depending on how far it trailed in performance. I will then tally up all the scores and give an overall rating of each headphone.
Rebecca Pidgeon: The Raven
The piano is rendered with more delicacy and sense of ambience on the HE-400. There’s a noticeable change in timbre in Rebecca’s voice with the two headphones: D2000 renders her voice darker with more emphasis on gut, while HE-400 paints her voice with a hint of brilliance. Both headphones offer the relatively the same amount of detail retrieval, but HE-400 gives a boost to texture on the piano’s bass notes. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Jethro Tull: Up To Me
The bass guitar is overly present and bloated on the D2000, while tighter and more controlled on the HE-400, letting the piano become easier to follow. The bass guitar still has great presence on the HE-400 when it hits lower notes, and is overall easier to follow. The strings and percussion have a sense of more separation and air between them on the HE-400 compared to the D2000. Listening through the HE-400 I heard distant and subtle voices on the left channel at 1:48, 2:55 and 3:02 specifically that I hadn’t heard before, but I heard them on the D2000 as well when focusing to hear them. HE-400: 5 D2000: 3
Johhny Cash: Highwayman
The D2000’s ‘cavernous,’ closed sound quality comes into affect on this recording. Willie and Johnny’s voices are ‘grounded’ and ill-defined and not very separated compared to the rest of the soundstage. On the HE-400 they’re up-front with plenty of separation between them and the background instruments. The background instruments are rendered with more delicacy and blacker background on the HE-400. The D2000 has a more impactful drum, but the bass guitar is easier to follow on the HE-400 and less bloated. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
This electronic song has a lot of content centered on 40hz, which allows the HE-400 to play better with it than the HD650. Going from HD650 to D2000 was way more of a difference to me in bass presence than going from HE-400 to D2000. The D2000 smoothed over a lot of the treble effects in the song compared to the HE-400—they’re laid-back, less edgy and less fully rendered. On the HE-400 they even seem to have bassy attack to them, but the D2000 doesn’t seem to be fast enough to convey that. The D2000 still has the ability to pressurize the bass in this song better than the open HE-400, though. D2000: 5 HE-400: 4
Lil Wayne: Outro
The bass line consists of layering between 80hz and 35-40hz. At times they’re played separately and in unison around the 3rd note of every pass of the bass line.
The HD650 fell short trying to play the 40hz tone back when I wrote a comparison with it. The HE-400 has plenty of impact on the mid-bass hits, and digs low with good authority on the lower notes, but the D2000 shows its sub-bass prowess by playing them back with full authority—especially when the low note kicks in by itself at 1:14. The horns and claps are more up-front on the HE-400. D2000: 5 HE-400: 4
Ludacris: How Low
This song has a couple bass drops throughout its composition, and really low 20s hz region bass notes that kick in during the chipmunk solos. The D2000 struggles to play these ultra low notes during the chipmunk solos, while the HE-400 all but ignores it. Both headphones give a decent amount of authority and rattling bass on the bass drops, while the D2000 seems to have slightly more impact on the mid-bass hits. The HE-400 separates the different horns better. D2000: 5 HE-400: 3
Hans Zimmer: Mombasa
There’s a constant attack of orchestral drums in this recording with plenty of 30-40hz reverb to test the extension, speed and impact of bass response. The HE-400 provides a lot of meat to the drums that the HD650 could not reproduce when I did the comparison a month ago. HE-400 also represents all of the reverb with dead-accuracy as well. D2000’s impact on the drums is top notch, but loses out on layering within the soundstage and instrument separation. The lack of upper-bass bloat on the HE-400 also gives more presence and texture to the low-brass in the song. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Lenny White, Jamey Haddad, Mark Sherman: Seven
A binaural track to test each headphone’s true soundstage depth and imaging.
The HE-400 showed a marginally larger soundstage than the D2000, but its airiness showed through in bulk. Drum strikes were delivered with more of a snap and hardness, while the tapping of the drumsticks was more crisp and defined. Once the song gets going, it’s easier to follow the drums to the left of you on the HE-400, while the D2000 tends to lose their quick strikes a bit. It seems way easier to follow the different strokes and hits on the cymbal once the song gets busy on the HE-400. I attribute this to both better instrument separation and better treble texture on the HE-400. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Hans Zimmer: Like a Dog Chasing Cars
The D2000 draws a couple timbre issues on this recording. The violins tend to sound tinny at times, while brass can sound overly dark and muddied. The D2000 exhibits good detail retrieval and decent instrument separation with it, but I find some of the background stringed instruments easier to follow on the HE-400. Besides more accurate timbre and better instrument separation, the HE-400 has crisper and more apparent treble in the recording as well—percussion effects are rendered better on the HE-400. The HE-400 doesn’t give the recording the largest of soundstages, but layering is a bit better than D2000. HE-400: 5 D2000: 3
Fleetwood Mac: Never Going Back Again
A somewhat intimate and upfront recording that plays into the advantage of the D2000’s closed backing I feel. The actual plucks of the guitars are crisper and have more body on the HE-400, but the HE-400 also comes off as a bit grating at times. The D2000 plays the song a bit mellower due to its recessed midrange, which is technically a bad thing but for this particular recording is something rather nice. I have a slightly easier time following the guitar in the left channel on the HE-400, and overall I feel the instruments are treated with more delicacy on the HE-400. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Depeche Mode: Personal Jesus
The focus and definition on the slaps of the drum strikes at times tend to get a bit tinny on the D2000, and I attribute it to its metallic-like upper mids. The drum strikes, though more edgy on the HE-400 are warmer. The actual impact is very close on both headphones, but the D2000 edges the HE-400 slightly and digs deeper. I feel satisfied with the amount of meat on the HE-400’s impact that I couldn’t get when I compared the HD650. The oscillating effects are rendered with more separation and crispness on the HE-400. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Arne Domnérus, Bengt Hallberg, George Riedel, Egril Johanson: Now's the Time
The D2000 yields its cavernous sound again, compressing the virtual layers within its soundstage. It also showcases its metallically timbered upper mid section on some of the drum and brush work around 4:50. The HE-400 played the recording with a hint of grace and floatiness, as the vibraphone melodies floated near your head. Once again the HE-400 had seemingly more finesse to its treble presentation, as the attack and decay of the hi-hats were easier to follow. The recording wasn’t the most busy of recordings though, so the D2000 didn’t completely fall apart. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
Rage Against the Machine: Take the Power Back
Just like in its comparison with the HD650, the D200’s recessed upper mids meant a lot of the edge, definition and crunch of the electric guitars seemingly lost which made them laid-back in the overall soundstage of the song. It made it less aggressive and exciting to listen to. The D2000 still rocks hard with a very impactful kick-drum throughout the song, but the HE-400 digs low enough to keep enough meat and weight on it to be satisfying. The bass guitar is easier to follow in the HE-400, and the hi-hats have more delicacy, sparkle and texture to them. HE-400: 5 D2000: 3
Pinchas Zukerman: Mozart Violin Concerto #2 in D, K211-1 Allegro
Many of the HE-400’s strengths on this classical piece are the same as the HD650’s was. Instruments are rendered more delicately and with blacker background. I’m having an easier time following certain lines on the HE-400 than the D2000, and when groups of instruments are played in unison, it’s easier to make out their different tones. There’s plenty of low bass presence on the HE-400 to give the recording an omnipresent feel. The main violin at forefront has more edge to it on the HE-400 when the bow draws back and forth along its strings. HE-400: 5 D2000: 3
Mumford & Sons: White Blank Page
The HE-400 puts Marcus’s voice at the forefront of the soundstage, and his vocals are better defined. The bass guitar is every bit as warm and present on the HE-400 compared to the D2000, but has more perceivable texture in busy passages of the song. Both headphones render the song in a very warm and welcoming fashion, but the HE-400 adds a sense of airiness to the instruments that the D2000 can’t reproduce. Kick drum has plenty of weight and depth on both headphones. Overall the D2000 doesn’t trail behind much in this specific song. HE-400: 5 D2000: 4
These are the 11 categories I look for in an overall good pair of home listening headphones. For reference sake I’ll add in HD650 from my last review—the ratings for DenonD2000 and HD650 have stayed exactly the same for consistency.
Build Quality & Presentation
Comfort: Short Term
Comfort: Long Term
Soundstage: Layering & Imaging
Resolution & Detail Retrieval
The D2000 was my long standing champion, and while it bested favorites like the DT990 and the much beloved HD650, it pretty much got swallowed by the HE-400, which is something very special to say the least. Not only does the HE-400 deliver on a better experience from the very moment you pick them up and feel their mighty heft, admire their high-tech industrial appearance, and marvel at their amazing ability to disappear on your head, but its planar magnetic technology delivers a very special sound that I feel is probably impossible to replicate with anything else in the price range. For me these were the first open headphone to achieve a very authoritative and weighty bass extension while keeping it amazingly fast and textured. Their mids are rendered very warmly and hefty with smooth transients; yet somehow manage to stay especially detailed and articulate. Their highs are very detailed and a bit energetic at times, but overall show very low sibilance and little grating. While other headphones may offer their specialties, at 400 dollars, I don’t think you could get an overall better package than the HE-400. I highly recommend it to anyone. Now I’ll find a way to sell off my D2000s.
Edited by TMRaven - 7/13/12 at 5:17am