Sennheiser hd650 vs Hifiman he400
First, a few disclaimers. I am a subjective guy. I test with my ears and not with graphs and charts. There is no hard evidence to back up my observations or to substantiate my evaluations other than my own personal reaction to what I hear. What I find sublime you may find subpar. “One man’s heaven is another man’s hell,” or so they say. I thought that it would make an interesting comparison to put these two headphones head to head. . They are similarly priced and both compelling in their own right, so let’s give them a closer look. Please note, for this review the he400 will be evaluated with velour pads, second revision.
I have been a huge fan of the he400 for the past six months. The he400 struck a wonderful chord with me. Originally, I bought and tried to love the he500 but the weight and lack of bottom end punch ultimately led to a parting of ways. And then the he400 came along and was slimed down and sexy. The reduced weight along with the presence of wonderful bass with real impact and texture were right on target for me. There is no mistaking the sound signature of an ortho-dynamic headphone. It’s very different from a dynamic driver hp. It has a striking realism that makes for a compelling listen.
And then came the discovery of the velour pads for the he400. The velours added comfort and a beautiful clarity to the mids that made these impressive hp’s just that much better. Somehow these improvements to the mids did not deter from that luscious bass at all. If anything the bass now had a touch more texture and all the quantity as before. Once you’ve tried the velours on the he400, the pleathers will begin to do what they do now for many of us…collect dust.
Another wonderful aspect to the he400 is that they amp so easily. They are not fussy and high maintenance. You can drive them with anything all the way down to the $139 fiio e17. I did notice a nice improvement with them once I added e09 to dock with the e17…mostly with regard to power and dynamics. Oddly, they improved again with the odac added to the e09k and that was my steady setup with the he400 for months.
Enter the hd650. I have bought and sold almost two dozen hp’s over the past few years. But the hd650 is one that I’ve passed over. I owned the hd280, hd598 and auditioned the hd600. Honestly I felt like I already knew exactly what they sounded like. In my mind they would be somewhat dull and lifeless. They would be very “veiled” and have no sparkle or ability to produce detail in music. I don’t think that I could have been more wrong. In fairness there is darkness to the hd650…a beautiful and addictive darkness.
When I first strapped on the hd650, I remarked to myself how feather light they were. Then, I fired them up on the e17 alone. Where the e17 drives the he400 well, it doesn’t satisfy the hd650 in the least. I came away from that first listen having heard a hp that had no punch in bass, weak recessed mids and was essentially lifeless. I hooked up the e09k and odac and popped in the hd650. It was a very nice improvement. Now I felt like the hd650 had come alive. They were still a little dark in the mids but they were wonderfully layered and transparent. Dark but with detail…which ironically is often how the he400 is described. The mid bass also woke up with the e09 and odac. There was punch there…more texture than quantity but very present, particularly the mid bass. Then fast forward a week and I have picked up the lyr and bifrost based on recommendations from the boys over at the hd650 thread.
As much as the hd650 improved with the e09 and odac, it truly became a new hp with the lyr and bifrost. With this amp and dac, this is now the best setup that I have ever heard. As I plugged the jack into the lyr and adjusted the volume to about 10:00, I waited for that split second before the music breathed and came to life. Then the hair on my arms stood straight up. It was completely cathartic. All the purchases, all the disappointment…it was all worth it for this moment. In more tangible terms, the sound stage jumped from about mid shoulder to well off the shoulder and seems to be everywhere. There was attack and shameless purpose to the notes and chords. The bass was all I had ever hoped for. Texture, impact, quantity…without bleeding into the rest of the signature. The first song I chose was Cassandra Wilson’s: You Don’t Know What Love Is. I’ve listened to this song probably 50 times. I had never heard it till this moment. You always hear people say that it was like hearing that song for first time and you know…it really was. I heard details from the instruments that I didn’t know were there. About half way through the song there is a violin solo that I’ve always been impressed with because of its clarity and raw emotion. So I reached over and turned the lyr to about 11:00…don’t ask me why. I was half expecting it to be way too loud and was ready to reach back for the volume pot to kick it back down. What come out of the hd650 at that moment was simply sublime. The way the hd650 was able to render that violin was other worldly. We all hope to have these moments later in our journey and we spend ridiculous amounts of money to have them, wondering if we will ever get there. The volume was not loud or blaring. It was more like moving from the 5th to the front row. I sat and listened in stunned silence to about half of the solo and being the bad boy that I am, I reached for the volume pot again and edged it to 12:00. That put me on stage with Cassandra and her ensemble. Incredible. This is why I listen to music. To get this kind of experience. To be moved by the sound.
Now that I’ve got the more reactive version out of the way, I’ll give a brief comparison stating the more tangible differences.
The he400 has very good treble if not a touch bright. It is detailed and natural. To some it might sound mildly fatiguing depending on the source material. Cymbals crash distinctly and crisply. Verdict: 8.5
The hd650 produces a less aggressive treble than the he400. That is not to say that there is a loss of detail because there is not. There is wonderful extension on the highs. The extension is done without being bright or fatiguing in any way. Verdict: 9
This is where the magic happens for many people. How well do these hp’s reproduce vocals and much of the instrumentation?
The he400, with velour pads, have great mids. Planar magnetic headphones typically have an advantage here. This advantage is inherent to the design and materials. This is simply a wonderful technology to use for the reproduction of recorded music. The mids of the he400 are distinctive and engaging with wonderful imaging. The instrument separation is very well done and the sound stage is open and airy as you’d expect from a fully open headphone. Verdict: 8.5 After several weeks of critical listening, I was expecting that the worst the he400 would do with regard to mids, would be a tie with the hd650. Well, I was wrong. I’d actually give a nod in favor of the hd650 here. Why? Because the mids of the hd650 are sublime. The description here is tough to describe. The hd650 also has natural sounding mids, but it’s more than that. Organic and raw might be a better description. They have been often described as dark and veiled. I do get the dark moniker but veiled is misleading. There is no loss of detail here. All the voices are rendered wonderfully. The ability to interpret and reproduce the singers emotional signature through their voice is a hallmark here. I can listen to the hd650’s for weeks without going to another hp purely based on the quality of the mids. Verdict 9.5
I’ll cut right to the chase here. Probably to know one’s surprise, the he400 has some of the best sub bass for an open orthodynamic headphone, outside of the lcd2/3, that you’ll find anywhere. The hd650 just cannot compete toe to toe with the he400 when comparing sub bass. The he400 has deep tight bass with impact and texture and is joyous to listen to. The hd650 has very good “mid” bass, but falls short when playing material like dub step, rap and electronic music. Verdict: Hd650 (8.0) He400 (9)
Price: The best deal currently for the he400 is $360 shipped from Moon Audio (sale price). The best deal for the hd650 is $375 shipped from razordogdeals. So the difference is negligible.
Comfort: The hd650 is one of the most comfortable headphones that I’ve ever owned. It is hands down more comfortable to wear for extended periods than the he400. The hd650 is less than half the weight of the he400.
Amping: The he400 is known to amp incredibly efficiently with even modest amping. As previously mentioned, everything starting with the e17 by fiio is sufficient to power to he400 to very enjoyable levels. The hd650 on the other hand does not sound well from an e17. It sounds essentially underpowered and lifeless. But given proper amping, the hd650 scales up incredibly well. The Schitt lyr and the hd650 is one of the best headphone amp combinations that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to since I’ve been into headfi. You’ll pay more for the right amp to pair with the hd650 but you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
Other: The he400 is a relative newcomer and has enjoyed a high degree of success in a short period of time. The hd650 has been out for better than a decade. The driver design of the he400 was somewhat problematic upon release with significant manufacturing issues. Also the he400 has undergone a recall on new drivers that were intended to make it more durable. The hd650 has a very solid build despite being made mostly of plastic. Even though the he400 exhibits stronger materials, I’d favor the hd650 for its tried and true build.
Conclusion…And the winner is:
Honestly, if you decide to buy either of these hp’s you can’t go wrong. They are both outstanding values at their respective price points. The 650 will get you a better mid oriented hp, but will require a good amp to get the best out of those mids. The he400 delivers mids that are almost as good and adds wonderful sub bass presence. This comes at the cost of a headphone that is somewhat heavier than the 650. When I first reviewed the he400, I commented on the weight and somewhat thin headband. As I used the he400 over the next several weeks after that review, I became more accustomed to the weight and the headband and was able to wear them for hours without much discomfort. With the hd650, I quickly forget that I have hp’s on at all. Both are well designed but the hd650 wins the comfort battle easily. Of course, ultimately picking any headphone is a very personal choice. Factors like comfort, cost of proper amplification will weigh heavy in those decisions. Honestly, you wont go wrong with either one here.