Being a huge fan of EDM, I purchased the HE-400 back in May and immediately found myself on a roller coaster ride. Being fairly sensitive to treble, I probably should have read into the HE-400 more than I did since the sibilance came as a great surprise. These are the headphones everyone rants and raves about? But wait, that basssssssss. After breaking my EQ phobia, I started tampering with the HE-400's to make them more listenable for longer listening sessions. Soon, with treble reducing EQ, I found myself addicted to these headphones. My other cans took a back seat while I listened to more and more EDM tracks, completely lost in the sound of the HE-400's. But, alas, this is Head-Fi and I started to want more. For others like myself who ask for more, fingers point straight to the HE-500. This is the obvious upgrade from the HE-400, right? Almost twice as much money and 500>400, right? And you mean to tell me that there are no treble issues?! Well, I wasn't ready to spend that much money yet... or so I thought. Then came the rumors of the HE-4. Couldn't be that impressive since I had never heard of them before... right? Wrong. Oh myyyy was I wrong. In an act of impulse, I went for the HE-4's first due to their price. The differences between the HE-4 and HE-400 were astounding. They were begging for the HE-500 to intervene and so, impulse decision #2, enter the HE-500. Here is what happens when your wallet is telling you that there is only room for one HiFiMan ortho in the house...
The Headphones (specs from Head-Direct):
|Efficiency||92.5 dB||86 dB||89 dB|
Things You Might Care About:
I put the specs up there just to emphasize a couple things:
Some people don't like the fit of the HFM headphones, so if you're one of these people, don't buy them. Personally, I think they fit very well. They have an exceptional grip and quite a bit of weight to feel sturdy enough to make you feel like you bought something fairly heavy duty. The weight is all from the magnets (and some other stuff). The reason that the HE-4 is significantly lighter than either one is because it only has magnets on the outside of the driver diaphragm. Woohoo! This solves the problem of ortho weight, right? Uh-oh, there is still a catch to the HE-4...
If you aren't too sure whether your amp can power the HE-4, head over to the HE-4 appreciation thread and I'm sure someone can help answer your question. From experience, I don't find the efficiency to be a huge issue (as I once did). I've had great luck with the HE-4 on the Schiit Vali which has a very low power output compared to these speaker amps everyone swears by.
The jerg pads are amazingly synergistic with the HE-500, and very much so with the HE-400 as well. I can't recommend these enough for those two headphones. However, the HE-4 did not make for a very good jerg pad companion. I felt like they made them sound very hollow, though I expect the stock pleathers to be even worse. For that reason, I did most of my listening with the jerg pads (made by modulor) on the HE-400 and HE-500 and the stock velour pads on the HE-4. I also didn't use the vent mod on the HE-400's since I did not prefer the 50Hz boost over the flat bass response. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, or simply want to ask more questions about the jerg pads, head over to the jerg pad thread.
(This comparison method is somewhat stolen from preproman who I thought gave a great quick and dirty comparison between other HFM models in the HE-4 appreciation thread. In my defense, I tried not to pay much attention to it before I got to listen to these headphones myself, but after revisiting his comparison, I agree with his placement of the HE-500 in terms of the HE-4. In order to not completely copy his idea, I'm going to put my own little spin on it.)
Music: I know I've already made an effort to say that I love EDM, but my comparisons were done between EDM, shoegaze, classical, acoustic, hard rock, classic rock, and that one song from The Fifth Element where the blue broad comes out and sings on stage.
= :Equal to my ears, though maybe not for the same reasons.
> :Greater than sign.
>>> :Significant difference.
>>>>> :Three greater than signs just don't cut it.
Instrument separation/imaging, and air (soundstage):
No question. The HE-500 and HE-400 have a much more intimate presentation and thus has a more "smeared" sound than the HE-4. It's very easy to pick out layers and nuances on the HE-4. When listening to the HE-4, I'm constantly experiencing the reaching-for-the-speakers-to-make-sure-they-aren't-on cliché.
The HE-400 is known for its bass, and it definitely measures up. If you've heard them, you know what I mean. They just have great bass with very little distortion, giving it the ability to separate tones very easily. The HE-4 is only equal here due to the fact that it separates every sound very effortlessly.
OMG DAT BASS. If you like EDM, buying the HE-400 is likely where you will stop thinking closed dynamic cans are a good idea for bass (unless, you know, you're a Denon DXXXX fan or something). Between the HE-4 and HE-500 though... this is veeeery close, but the HE-500 comes out on top. Again, the HE-4 is spacious.
Vocals are very much forward on the HE-500. This can be pleasing or somewhat unnatural sounding. My friend thought they leaned more towards the unnatural side while I found them very lush and full. Vocals are nowhere near recessed or lacking on the HE-4 though. Now, as for the HE-400, vocals aren't recessed by any means. I repeat, vocals are not recessed. The problem is that the upper mid recession pulls out all the harmonics from the human voice (and pretty much every other instrument, for that matter) by ~10dB. Plenty of users will say that female vocals are just not up to par on these headphones. I'm not sure what "par" is for vocals, but the HE-400's are on completely different golf course.
The HE-4 is definitely a punchy headphone all around. The HE-400's come in second place because of DAT BASS. The HE-500's are very smooth sounding in comparison, but they still beat out an HD580/600 in this category.
An argument for the HE-4 can be made here, but overall, the HE-500 has more dependable treble. The HE-4's treble is nowhere near "tizzy" like the HE-400, but it can be somewhat hot on certain tracks. However, the increased treble provides for a very fun listen on treble-light tracks. The HE-400's treble though... if you are a no-EQ kind of person, you better love sibilance because these bad boys will serve you a 5 course meal of it. Every time.
The odd timbre from the HE-400 is not shared with these other two headphones. Every instrument/voice sounds real and organic on both the HE-500 and HE-4. The HE-500 has forward vocals which may sound unnatural compared to other cans, but it's something that can easily grow on you. The treble on the HE-4 is forward and serves a similar argument to the HE-500's forward vocals. What it comes down to is whether you prefer intimacy or soundstage/air. HE-500 for the former, HE-4 for the latter. Or if you want a more... digital(?) sound, the HE-400's won't bother you at all. They certainly sound odd.
Purely from a sound standpoint, I personally think the HE-4 and HE-500 are equal in their own way, it really just depends on your preferences. If you are looking for a headphone that will have you immersed in vocals, the HE-500 is a very lush and intimate headphone. The HE-4's are much more spacious without a whole lot of emphasis anywhere except the treble, which, again, can be somewhat hot on some recordings. I tend to have a very minimal treble EQ on when using them. The HE-4's are known for their excellence with guitars and rock in general, and I completely agree. These are aggressive headphones, and they really show it with guitars and drums. Seriously mind blowing. Let's not let these two overshadow the HE-400 though. This is still a great headphone. The bass is something to be praised for sure. If you are into EDM or metal with double bass petal action, these are mind melting. The HE-400 has only two big downfalls in my book: treble and naturalness. If you are looking for a headphone that sounds really organic and realistic, this is definitely not it. Still though, I grew really fond of its sound. When listening to EDM, it's not like you're looking for naturalness anyway, so who cares? Even outside of EDM, I found them very engaging and fun with jazz, some classical and any electronic influenced artists like Depeche Mode or Muse.
Verdict (IMO, in case someone needed a cheap disclaimer):
For my music tastes, I prefer the spaciousness and aggression of the HE-4 over the musicality of the HE-500. I tend to listen to a lot of instrumental stuff, so vocals have never been something I long for. The HE-400 is still one of my favorite headphones, it just can't compete against its brethren.
Edited by Thujone - 2/18/14 at 1:11pm