HIFIMAN HE-400 REVIEW
So you want a strong performing Mid-Fi headphone. As one may already know, Mid-Fi (price) is full of A LOT of very strong performing headphones and the competition is very fierce in order to come out at top. It’s difficult to categorize some, if not all of these headphones because they are all so vastly different. But Hifiman released a very affordable Planar Magnetic headphone, the only one in this price range as I’m aware of. I’m not going to go into details about the Science of Planars, but instead I’m here to give my foremost honest opinion about my experience with the HE-400. Let’s jump right into it. Sorry again for mediocre pics. No fancy camera here
INTRO/PRICE/VALUE: It is priced at $399USD, or simply $400 MSRP. That is what I would consider a Mid-Fi price and this being a new unit to the market, it’s more difficult to find good prices compared to the AKG Q701 for example. You can pick up a Q701 for as low as $250USD and in comparison, the $399 price tag on the HE-400s are quite the difference. The same story as well with Beyers DT990 and even a Denon D2000 (even though the price on one is still relatively strong). Fortunately I tried the Q701, D2000 and DT990 and I don’t care if the HE-400 is more expensive because it is worth the premium.
Source used includes a Marantz CD5003->Hifiman EF5 with stock tubes; Samsung Ultrabook-> Calyx Coffee DAC-> Hifiman EF5 via RCA interconnects. The source I included was used ONLY with the HE-400 and other headphones I own. The CDs used were Biophilia by Bjork, The Look of Love by Diana Krall, The Girl In The Other Room, by Diana Krall, Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem, Sacred Arias by Andrea Bocelli, Come Away With Me by Norah Jones, The Stillmatic by Nas, Emancipation of Mimi by Mariah Carey, The Ultimate Collection by Luciano Pavarotti, and All The Lost Souls by James Blunt.
Bass: Very well controlled. Enough impact and body to please bass demanding songs and adapts well to every genre I listen to. You might be mistaken when people call the HE-400 so called “bass monsters”, but people also call the Denon D2000 as “bass monsters” as well and same story with the DT990… None of the above is considered to be “monsters” in the bass, but the three has a very distinct signature that emphasizes the bass more than other headphones. Bass has nice pace and doesn’t decay as early as some faster paced headphones. Extension is great and the bass seems nearly level throughout the “bass” region until it fuses with the Mids; where the bass loses some presence. Other than that, I can’t hear any audible bass bleed into the Mids. Rap is very enjoyable with the HE-400 because the bass is that enjoyable. The beat is very distinct and blends very well with the vocals (mids). Other genres like Jazz, the presentation of the Bass Drum and Upright bass (also the electric bass) is very realistic and audible. During Upright Bass solos during Diana Krall’s songs like All or Nothing At All (the intro), I found it difficult to stop myself from tapping my feet or closing my eyes because the level of enjoyment was too high. The presentation sounds very raw and realistic for the headphones overall sound.
Mids: Slightly recessed, but don’t be fooled. There’s just something about Planar Mids that’s just so unique… It’s unusually smooth and has just a touch of warmth. Almost like warm Motor Oil… Smooth, fluid, and warm. I found this to be the same with Audeze Planars and other Hifiman Planars. Very detailed, not quite as detailed as the AKG Q701 but detailed enough because I find the Q701s to be notoriously detailed. The Mids reminds me of Shure IEMs that I enjoy so much. I also found that the HE-400 plays female laid-back vocals very well, like Diana Krall and Norah Jones. This is because the upper-mids, lower-treble is more emphasized than Male voices with lower octaves. The Girl In The Other Room, by Diana Krall is especially very enjoyable because her voice is truly a godsend for one, and the instruments sound just right on. Diana’s Steinway&Sons Piano just sounds world-class. Whether it’s Rap, Classical, Jazz, or Pop, the Mids on the HE-400 will satisfy the majority of listeners. Being a dark headphone, the HE-400 just fails to deliver Andre Bocelli’s voice enough for my tastes. It doesn’t have the energy and Grado-like in-your-face presentation. I found brighter headphones to do extraordinarily well with Opera while darker headphones fell behind the brighter counter-parts. However, I did enjoy Pavarotti with the HE-400. I would have to place the HE-400 Mids below the Q701s and above the DT990. I usually use brighter IEMs and Headphones, but the dark HE-400 seriously impressed me. Other than my little rant over Opera music, the HE400 has a very solid midrange. Like I said before, the balance is what is so important on the HE-400. Midrange compliments the bass and treble very well. Couldn’t find a poor sounding genre with the HE-400 at all.
Treble: Personally, I enjoy bright sounding cans so I can say that I’m sort of a Treble Head as well… But listening to the HE-400, I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable after reading users say that it is a fairly dark sounding headphone. Temptation, by Diana Krall was also very enjoyable because the drums being very dependant throughout the entire song. Every subtle splash, hi-hat, crash, and tambourine sounds just as needed throughout the song. There wasn’t too much of it like from the Grado SR225i (even though I enjoy the excessive amounts from Grado products) but definitely enough of it to balance equally with the overall signature of the HE-400. Shine On, by James Blunt was a real treat for me because the treble allows the song to sound fairly calm with an exciting pick up at 3:09. The emotion felt was quite a surprise because it went from sounding fairly laid-back to more exciting in such a short amount of time. The distinct higher octave piano tune really plays a large part for this change because it ranges from softer to louder with more energy.. Then BOOM (not that extreme), the harmony is overtaken with a very melodic guitar with plenty of energy being accompanied by a great rhythmic drum. I really enjoy drums with the HE-400 because it is able to play both bass and treble. Usually on some headphones, I found certain parts of the drums to be louder and more prominent than the others. For example, my SR225i definitely plays the cymbals louder than the bass drum. The HE-400 seems to have very good sonic balance throughout the frequency range.
Soundstage: Beautifully spread apart and open feeling. Nowhere as large as the AKG Q701, which is a good thing IMO. I find that if the soundstage is either too narrow or spread apart, certain details are lost and to achieve this lost detail, the soundstage has to be just large enough to be able to picture every origin of sound of that certain sound in your head. With the Q701, I find that the soundstage often messes around with my imaging in my head because the gaps between the instruments seem too large and things sound too distance from there.
Build & Design: Very well built. I’m not sure if these are hand built like my EF5 amp, but a really fine quality product. No signs of imperfections and everything about the headphone looks and feels like it’s there to last. Cables is made by Canare made in Japan, and knowing Canare cables they are both high performing and of good quality. Personally, I like the design. I like the colour as well, but that’s all personal preference. The design is nearly identical to other Hifiman Headphones minus certain details.
Comfort: Heavy. Not too much of a problem at first, but it gradually gets worse… After 1+ hour of use, the weight is definitely noticeable on the neck. Pads feel good and Velour feels even better. I can say that comfort is pretty good, not as good as the Beyer DT990 and AKG Q701, but good enough IMO.
Conclusion: If you are planning on buying these, just try them out. You will never know unless you try them yourself. I’m not here to persuade you into buying them specifically, I’m here to give you my hands on experience to somehow reflect on what your needs are and if they match up. Of course, never take my reviews 100% to heart. Every observation is objective/subjective as with every individual. Overall, I really like the HE-400. As my signature says, I can’t keep these headphones off my head. They are really that good. Hifiman really raised the bar in the Mid-Fi market. The HE-400 seems to match up with my needs very nicely and that’s why I decided to keep them. I am very picky with the headphones I keep and seeing how this one’s a keeper; the HE-400 really impressed me greatly. My first Planar and I’m certain I made the right choice. Hope this helps and hope you enjoyed!
Edited by planx - 9/9/12 at 2:04pm