I wanted to do this comparison because despite these two headphones aren’t in the same price range, I do think they might appeal to the same audience. When I was on the hunt for alternatives to the DT-990 I found that this question had been asked before, DT-990 vs. HE-400. So that’s something I want to give my perspective on, since I own both at the moment.
Two things before I go on, my native language isn’t English, so my apologies for grammar mistakes etc. Second, I wouldn’t consider myself very well acquainted in the head-fi world, so please bear that in mind when you read on.
Let's get started, Hifiman HE-400 vs. Beyerdynamic DT-990 Edition 250Ω, tested with an Audioengine D1 DAC/AMP.
First the obvious differences like packaging etc.
Package of HE-400:
Which contains the following:
Package and contents of the DT-990 Edition:
So the DT-990 comes with a nice carrying bag made of synthetic leather-ish material, and a little booklet about Beyerdynamic. HE-400 comes with a pouch and the cable obviously since it’s detachable. Score for the DT-990 if you’re going to carry them around much.
The cable on the HE-400 is a lot thicker:
A few more comparison pictures before moving on:
A few more obvious differences. The HE-400 is a lot heavier, with a weight around 440 gram, while DT-990 is 290 gram.
Material wise the DT-990’s grills are made of aluminium, earpads are velour, and the headband is leather. The HE-400 grills are some kind of fine meshed metal, pads are soft leather (velour is available separately), and the headband is leather.
The HE-400’s cable is detachable and it connects to both sides of the headphones. DT-990’s is not detachable and only connects to one side (left).
The Beyerdynamics gets a lot of praise for being comfortable, and these definitely are. They’re light, have very comfy stock pads, and the headband is soft and nice. Now I honestly thought that the DT-990 is going to wipe the floor comfort-wise with the HE-400, but I was wrong. The HE-400 is heavy like previously stated, there’s no way around that. But the wide headband distributes the weight very well, and the cups are so big nothing is touching the ears (at least noticeably). I don’t feel any pressure on my head even after long (+3 hours) use. The DT-990 is by no means causing pain, but I do start to feel the headband after long use due to the narrow area the headband is distributing its weight on. The earpads are simply better on the DT-990, but I’m probably going to get the velour pads for the HE-400 and then that advantage is gone too.
So comfort wise, if you try them for a short time the DT-990 is going to feel a lot better. But extend the use and you might find that the HE-400 is better, like I do. Either way, none of them are uncomfortable on my head.
I’ve listened to a lot of music where I do a ~30 second session on one headphone, pause and switch headphones, and listen to the same 30 seconds again. I figured the easiest way for me to describe what I think is to pick out a few songs and go by them to begin with. I’m not going to make it very detailed, I don’t feel like I can describe sound well enough. I'll link the songs too so you can check what is what if you want. I have listened to everything through Spotify Premium (320 kbps).
First a metal track, The Unguided – Collapse My Dream
This is very easy, it sounds a lot better on the HE-400, the drums are tight and punchy, the whole range of sounds is very well balanced and the singer sounds good. On the DT-990 the highs are too intrusive and the singer sounds a bit sibilant.
A different kind of metal, Within Temptation – Our Solemn Hour
This isn’t as obvious, as the more airy sound of the DT-990 does help them in the fight, but the singer becomes a bit too much on higher volume, and the song just sounds more grand on the HE-400, it gets a bit… thin on the DT-990. Sibilance present here too on the DT-990.
Rap time, Ludacris – How Low
This is very good song for testing bass. And the HE-400 walks right over the DT-990, there’s no contest here. The song really goes very low, and the HE-400 has a nicer sounding “boom” while also having a bigger impact.
Electronic, Black Sun Empire – Wasteland
A different kind of bass, but very powerful. I actually thought the DT-990 might have a chance here, and they did better than with Ludacris, but the HE-400 still wins, the pounding simply sounds more juicy. I don’t consider myself a basshead, but I do like bass, and with songs like this the HE-400 really proves that it can provide a nice punch. The DT-990 does so too, but it doesn’t sound as good.
Alt rock, Madina Lake – Here I stand
A quite “normal” rock song. This is maybe the most even one. In a way the DT-990 makes the song sound more fun with the sparkly treble, but as a whole the HE-400 does a better job, I think one big reason is how nice drums sound it.
One last metal song, Fear Factory – Powershifter
I’m not really bringing anything new to the table here, I just wanted to mention this because it’s a good example of what I think HE-400 does the best, drums. The bass drums sound amazing, and also shows the quickness of the headphones. The DT-990 is not cutting it here, again it sounds thin compared to the HE-400.
At this point I stop with the individual songs, because I’d just start repeating myself. The HE-400 pretty much does everything better. Metal sounds a lot better on it, again probably thanks to the amazing drums and overall balance in the sound. But I also think they are clearly better with bass heavy music which was a surprise, considering the DT-990’s are regarded high in that area. In some songs it also feels like the DT-990 only plays the highs and lows – there’s something missing in between, recessed mids. Pop and such is better on the HE-400 thanks to the overall warmer sound.
When you listen to these headphones side by side you definitely understand what people mean when they talk about bright and dark headphones. It’s actually very describing, the DT-990's are bright, even a bit thin with some music, and sibilant at least to my ears. They do have lots of bass, but it doesn’t go as deep as the HE-400. Two words for describing the HE-400 are juicy and warm. They do everything well without becoming too much. The sibilance that occurs on the DT-990 is also something that bothers me personally, although I know not everyone is affected.
Like I mentioned the DT-990 has a more open sound, the HE-400 sounds closer to your head. I’m not sure if this is even a problem for me, more like an observation really.
If you are searching for a pair of sweet all-around headphones and can afford the HE-400, I’d get them any day over the DT-990. I know all I have written above makes the DT-990 sound bad, but I’m simply comparing a good headphone against a better one. The HE-400 is easy to drive too, it plays loud enough straight out of my Nokia N8 cellphone, although the sound becomes slightly flatter, don’t know if it’s because of the missing amplifying or because of the DAC. I personally feel like I can stop looking for headphones for now.