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Over-Ear item created by LarsHP, Jan 22, 2012
Pros - Sound Quality, Detail, Sub-Bass, Crisp Highs, Huge Soundstage, Comfort, Build Quality
Cons - 10ft Cable which I hate and that's really it
Upon getting them the first thing I noticed was the build quality, its very good as you'd expect from HiFiMan and also how comfortable they are. I had other cheaper headphones but they weren't this comfortable, I can wear these for hours no problem at all.
As for the SQ its just great and I'm quite hard to please when it comes to SQ. Three things I look for in a good IEM is detail, good mids and a good soundstage so I was hoping the HE-400 could stack up. Now with the soundstage I knew they would be good being open-backed and man are they, very wide with excellent depth and good height along with great imaging and good separation. Now the mids are the meat of music so they have to be good and the HE-400 while not as forward as I like they sound great, smooth and warm with good detail just how I like it. As for detail that was my biggest worry because coming from BA based IEM's like the SM3, e-Q5 and BA200 they all have very good detail and micro detail. The HE-400 really surprised me with the level of detail, now they don't quite have the micro detail of most good BA IEM's but they're not to far behind, I don't feel like I'm missing anything in the music. The bass and highs are also very good with the highs being a bit bright but not to bad over all and the bass on planars I've heard is very good and the HE-400 is no different with nice punch and very good depth and rumble but these aren't true basshead headphones though.
So over all I'm very happy with the HE-400 and honestly I haven't really been using my IEM's since I got these a little over a week ago. They have good detail and a great presentation so if your looking to get into good headphones unlike Beats or even Bose the HE-400 is a great place to start and I'm already looking into getting the HiFiMan HE-500 because planar magnetic is the way to go imo.
Pros - Good across the frequency range, Live Sounding, Full
Cons - Connectors - Logo Paint
When I originally got into this hobby some 2 years ago, my first run of purchases included Sennheiser HD650's, Denon D5000 and Ultrasone Pro900's. I also had a couple beaters from Koss laying around like the Porta Pros (which I LIKE!). So upon purchasing my first true head amp (a Fiio E10) I thought my journey was over.... I had an amazing closed headphone, an amazing open headphone, a decent amp/dac... nuff said. Lets close the book on this consumer business and listen to some music.
From there I focused a good amount of my energy on (A) fixing up my 54 Lincoln and (B) mechanical watches..... I was in the throws of said watch obsession waiting for Steinhart to fill inventory on the Ocean 44 dive watch when I saw an episode of "How It's Made" on TV at the AKG factory in Austria where they take you through the steps of construction on one of the K702's.
Headphones!.... OH I LIKE THOSE
Since Steinhart was pushing their restock date back to August... maybe I can spend some of that money that is burning a hole in my pocket on a pair of Headphones.
And so the bug bit again.... But this time reading through forums, websites and reviews the kiss of death was bestowed on the K701 and 702 (which were my knee jerk target purchase after watching the show) but words like: lacking bass, thin sounding, airy and very NEUTRAL were intertwined into descriptions of their sound.... meh! I cannot handle thin sounding anything.
I've been to too many live shows to be able to pass off a thin sound as accurate.
Also (to me) the word "Neutral" conjures up images of a lifeless two dimensional sound that is lacking pace rhythm& and attack. Neutral is about as exciting as FLAT
I cannot imagine an OEM that would enjoy reading a review of their products, headphones, speakers or otherwise as "very flat and neutral".
So after jettisoning the 702 notion on its face, further Headfi forum reading of 'this vs that' impressions and product reviews and general chatter brought forth numerous mentions of a new player in the game... A company out of China called Hifiman who's entire line up of headphones consisted of planar magnetic drivers and open back designs. Even though the company hails from the PRC, they have a presence on US Soil that is comprised of a technical support staff and New York based distribution.The more I read about the Hifiman planar magnetic headphones, the more they starting working their way to the top of my list.
My pops raised me on a steady diet of vinyl with big power wars era receivers and massive floorstanding dynamic speakers but I remember spending time at my Uncle Johns in the summer where he had 2 big Magneplanar speakers set up in his game room. I don't remember a whole heck of a lot from back then but I do remember that I wanted my Uncles system.... So it became clearer and clearer to me that Hifiman was going to benefit from my next purchase. About the time I started my hunt, the HE400 model had been on the streets long enough to get through Rev 1.... and long enough for a couple of reviews to make it onto the street.
An article from Headfonia gave it a restrained thumbs up but Steve Guttenberg of CNet Audiophilliac fame gave it a gushing review. So as an impressionable young mark (er man) these last two votes of confidence were enough for me to pull the trigger. And so about 10 days after purchasing the headphones from Amazon for $399, they arrived at my doorstep. However upon taking delivery of the box there were obvious signs of having shipped direct from China and markings on the box gave me the impression they were shipped from a Chinese retail outlet as an in store demo. When I opened the box I was even more dismayed. There was no fancy case like had been shown in the literature and early reviews... Just a simple retail class cardboard box. I opened the box to find a pair of what looked to be a pair of blue HE400 but they were covered with a white dust and seemed to have been haphazardly packaged into the box.
"Is this some damn knock off or something?" was my original thought...
The sticker on the exterior of the box seemed to imply that this was some demo model... yet I paid full price.... WTF!
Needless to say the Hifiman HE400 and I did not have a very good introduction... no love at first sight here.... I was on high alert once I saw that the package had made its way from China and because the way it was boxed with the headphone crookedly placed in the box, it did not seem to be packaged with the type of professional polish one would expect to find from a relatively high cost consumer product targeted for retail sales. I was therefore a bit miffed from the start. Then I plugged them in and pushed play and that is where all the hand wringing fell away.
Up until this point all of my headphones were on the warm and/or bass heavy side.... Denon D5K's, Ultrasone Pro900's, Porta Pro's and Klipsch Image Ones that I once heard described on Headfi as "bass fart cannons".... so my predisposition of what a good headphone sounded like was a bit tilted to the basshead side.... With all the hype I expected something similar but different (you dig?) But plugging in the HE400's I was taken back initially.... They were clear, very clear and very crisp.... the bass was there but certainly not up with the D5ks or Pro900s... Its not a basshead can. But as I listened and listened I had that "AHA!" moment.... These things sound good... very good!
The HE400 sound is not lush or warm or thick like many dynamic offerings.... It is smooth but hangs its hat more on clarity and providing a balanced presentation of the music. Some have called it a bass heavy can but I don't see or hear that at all. Comparing it to the Pro900 and the Denon D5K its sound is much lighter and fast.... If the sound of the Pro900 is overly thick and bassy.... audio maple syrup.... then the HE400 is distilled water... faster, refreshing, clearer but it doesn't lack for musicality.... What one does discover listening to this planar magnetic headphone is that despite having a super clean and clear treble, the slightly more forward and engaging mid range gives it a very "LIVE" presentation. It does not have that heavy full bodied pulsating rhythmic drive of similarly priced dynamic cohorts, but that livewire midrange provides this growling power to guitar driven rock that makes you want to listen to music. That is good enough for me!
Shortly after this I purchased the planar magnetic darling of Headfi, the Audeze LCD2. I was originally assuming that the HIFIMan can would lose its luster after the LCD2 arrived but this was not so.... Mind you the LCD2 has a lovely way about it... a beautifully resolving sound and penchant for low volume listening... the ease/ effortlessness with which the LCD2 can play the most complex and formidable low frequency passages is amazing.... I give credit to its lightning fast planar membrane.... It sounds wonderful with jazz, oldies, and classic rock.... but what I discovered after weeks and weeks of comparing the runt of the Hifiman planar line with the Audeze cohort more than twice its price is that with more up tempo guitar driven music the HE400 actually provides just a bit more impact to bass (especially with less than reference sources) and there is this "LIVE" factor to the mid range that gives it a more realistic sound with guitars.
Now I am splitting hairs here to draw differences but I saw the LCD2 as sounding more like listening to music at home while the HE400 was more like being at a show. Saying that is a very stern criticism of the LCD2... I am trying to paint a very thin line (a very small deficiency) with broad strokes but I heard it so what am I to do. That ever so slightly tipped up mid range response on the HE400 makes it just a bit more involving and immersive. The LCD2 holds you back ever so slightly from the music and thus can cause disengagement with mid range focused guitar rock.... Considering the better part of my library is punk, rock, and alternative... the HE400 is actually the better all rounder of the two.... What is more is that while the LCD2 can give you ridiculously well resolved low frequencies, I mean it mines the depths of a song to absolutely subterranean levels with perfect texture and resolution, the HE400 actually provides a bit more punch and impact to its low end despite being a bit less confident in its resolve. The HE400 is prone to get a little tizzy on some heavy low end stuff where the LCD2 holds crystal clear.... but the HE400 makes up for its slightly messy presentation with more punch and dynamic weight.... you can hear it with the Audeze but you can feel it with the Hifiman. This desire to meet you halfway is what makes the HE400 so special.... It is not as euphonic and lush as the HD650... but it does sound similar in a lot of ways, in that its presentation is on the polite side of things compared to very forward and bass heavy cans like the Denons and Ultrasones. However in terms of accuracy vs. impact it has found an amazingly intoxicating balance that stays fun while never getting fatiguing. The LCD2 offers you resolution and clarity in spades.... Its technical speed is unmatched by the HE400 (which is how it ought to be) but the LCD does take maybe a few step further away from the stage and this slight recess strips away enough of the emotive experience that the HE400 has a justified place in my collection.
It is certainly not the last word in headphones but considering its price and the competition in the $400 +/- market it is an amazing performer. In the right setting with enough current feeding its drivers, it is an outstanding all rounder.
I have one maybe two gripes with this headphone and they have ZERO to do with its sound quality. One is the weird reverse polarity coaxial connectors used to connect the cables to the cans.... The connectors are actually a pro television and radio fitting for antenna connections so it is an odd choice.... and very difficult to source. More importantly is that twisting the cable over and over to connect and release the cables is bound to eventually cause a short or some other form of damage in the cable.... My particular model came with a 6 foot Canare quad OFC cable and after connecting and disconnecting a few dozen times the collar on the cable side of the connector actually pushed through the back of the stem and fell off.... rendering the cable dead.... Hifiman was quick to send out a new replacement cable to me (Hat tip to Vince at Head Direct!) but if there was one thing I would change it would be that. Another line of defense that I may likely pursue is Toxic Cables adapters. If you buy a cable from him with say mini XLR terminations for Audeze cans he can build a set of adapters for Hifiman connectors so you can bypass the twist connector all together. You'd have a couple of odd little earrings dangling off the bottom of them when not connected to the cable but... This should only bother the most retentive of people in the hobby. The other mild nuisance is that the logo and markings are all painted on the headphones..... Thus after a few short months of handling them, the L & R designating which side is which have all but rubbed off.... The headphones appear to be perfectly symmetrical in build so I don't know that it changes anything to wear them either way but I opted to tag the stems with red and black sharpie to keep track. However it'd be nice if they could find a more permanent solution for marking the sides.... and the brand.... I've got to believe that eventually the "Hifiman HE-400" marking on the blocks will go to the wayside as well. Beyond these minor grievances I am superbly happy with this headphone.... It is a worthy adversary in the $400 realm and beats the snot out of its similarly price AKG, Beats and Grado adversaries... The HE400 is an opportunity to get some of the planar magnetic sound for significantly cheaper spend than normal. It is worth every penny. You will not regret it.
Pros - Perhaps the bass extension
Cons - everything else
I really expected to like this as it seemed to be an audiophile favorite here. I listened to it for a few days to ensure that burn-in could occur, whether it be my brain of the headphones themselves.
The problem with this headphone is that it's super harsh, harsher than the DT990. And interestingly it sounds dark.
I don't know how they pulled that one off. At least the bass is fantastic, typical of orthos, but at this point, that bass extension and slam is pretty much useless due to that massive treble spike I'm hearing around the 10K+ region.
Pros - everything but in cons
Cons - a little miss mid high for female voice, too long stock cable
This is my first puchase of "audiophile level" headphones. I was looking for cans which can play "every genre" included traditional musics (gamelan from Bali & Java).
Purchasing done mainly based on internet review. It's a rather risky desicion for $400 for me
But, it's really whorted the price. I've burn the cans about 40 hours now, and they're getting smoother and more transparent. Especially for the highs. I use Marantz PM5004 amp and mostly FLAC file. They sound soo beautiful.
Jazz, rock, classic, acoustic, gamelan, bamboo music just so alive. I only miss a little from female voices. And suprisingly, even my rockboxed sansa clip plus can drive this cans beautifully . Great.
Overall, this's excellent price/performance cans. And sound very fun. I need a shorter cable too
Pros - Everything not in cons
Cons - Long and stiff cord, bass is a bit lacking
I've been wanting a bassy open headphone for a while and after a bunch of research I decided on the HE-400. I normally have no interest in high end headphones because they lack bass, but from what I've read the HE-400 will give me a decent amount.
This is a quick impression from a basshead's point of view since there's already plenty of reviews, but most reviews are from audiophile who don't normally use and listen to bassy headphones.
I used the new FiiO E12 (the no bass version) for this impression with flat EQ on my iPod video 5.5G.
I use this set up because I have multiple listening spot in my house.
Definitely worth the $400, I got mine from Justin @ headamp.com for $335 shipped, factor in the sound and build and it easily worth more than $400.... If you're an audiophile. For bassheads it would depend on how much bass you're looking for.
I love the sound of the HE-400 but I do wish there was a bit more rumble, but I wasn't expecting it since it's an open audiophile headphone. The sound quality wasn't the leap in sound I thought it was. It's better than what I previously had but it wasn't that much better it's more of a different better. To my ears the HE-400 kinda sound like the portapro (which I love btw) but better everything. The mids are great and highs are nicely details without piercing my ears like most audiophile headphones. Vocals are nice and clear.
Now for the bass. It's good bass, clean, fast and just loud enough but no way is it basshead level.
For audiophiles who don't normally listen to bassy music or use basshead headphone will call the HE-400 bass heavy. For us basshead it's not even entry level. It's nice bass but lacking in quantity even with a bass boosting amp. The FiiO E12 with it's weak bass boost did not do much in uping the bass quantity. The quality of bass is great though.
I love the design of the HE-400, it easily one of the best looking headphone I've used. Build quality is solid too. The cord is the only issue I have, it's too long and too stiff.
I personally did not have any issue with comfort. I had mine on for 3 plus hours without any discomfort, but I don't normally have issues with uncomfortable headphones (except the V-Moda crossfade and Shure SRH750DJ) so take what you want from that.
I am a basshead but my demand for bass is not what it use to be. I don't want bass all the time, but when I'm in the mood for bass I want a lot of it. The HE-400 is good enough for normal listening session, but when I'm in the mood for some serious bass I usually skip the HE-400. When I first started here I got a lot of recommendation from audiophiles saying this and that has a lot of bass, but when I buy them they lack bass big time, I realized most audiophiles have a very different view on bass. What's lacking to bassheads are a lot to audiophiles. The HE-400 falls into this category.
Overall I'm happy with the HE-400. It sounds great and even though it's not basshead level, the bass is good enough.
I'm currently looking into other amp that will max out the HE-400 so I might update this later, but for now the E12 is not doing the job I bought it for so back it goes and will be replaced by the C5.
[02/20/2013] Today I decided to use my E07K, I max out the bass(10) and gain(12) and the HE-400 gave me a good rumble, but once I up the volume to about 40 (65%-70%) it started to distort.
At least now I know the HE-400 can give me a bit more bass quantity with the right amp. The E07K is not the right amp, SQ suffers when using this amp.
I have come to a conclusion, this headphone will never truly satisfy a true basshead
Pros - Detailed, great soundstage, amazing seperation,
Cons - Build quality, presentation, vocals, lack personality
I still recall the day I placed my order for the He-400's, I waited with anticipation and days seemed to last an eternity. But the moment they arrived and I connected the dac to my computer, I was severely disappointed. Needless to say I listened to them for about 30 minutes before I put them back in the box and left them there. My father is also pretty passionate about audio and knew beforehand that I had ordered these headphones. When he asked about them I just told him I'm returning them, he was curious as to why so I hooked them up for him. He listened to them and looked at me and said why don't you like these?
They sound extremely clear and detailed. I explained to him that I was expecting them to sound incredible. That same day I processed my return but the company I bought them for offers a 60 day money back guarantee. So I decided I would give them another try and eventually the sound grew on me, and I began to appreciate the clarity and the separation of the instruments. The amount of detail I noticed subtle things in my music that I had never heard before and I had never experience sound stage this good.
However for the many great things that the He-400's do right they also have their flaws. My biggest gripes with these headphones for me personally were the build quality and the comfort. These headphones were probably the most uncomfortable pair of headphones I have ever owned. They are heavy and produce a lot of clamping pressure. In all honesty I could not use these headphones for more than 30 minutes before I started to feel strong discomfort. The other fault lies in build quality, in my opinion these headphones don’t look or feel like $400 dollar headphones.
Pros - Extrodinary sound quality, relatively easy to drive, well tuned for the "everything" listener
Cons - Comfort could be improved
I've written a longer review elsewhere in the forum.
In short, these phones' offer tremendous sound for the money. Well-textured, virtually transparent, fast attack, with a balance tending toward "bright". They will present your most complex recordings with an effortlessness you've likely not heard before. The bass is incredible - in the sense that it can be punchy, and very well extended. You will notice bass lines differently with these, and sub-bass frequencies skipped by most headphones will be replicated here with little distortion. If you happen to listen to everything (like me), you know how important it is to have a balanced sound, and these have it. These phones are also known to respond very well to EQing. I do EQ treble downward about 2-3 dB as it can be a bit overemphasized with some genres. I also like to add about 2-3 dB in the 50hz area to add some weight to the bottom end. It is great to feel like I have such control over the 'final sound'. But sadly, some of this is a result of the unforgiving nature of the HE-400s - they will not 'fix' poorly mastered recordings or force their sound onto them. In a sense, they are only as good as your recordings are.
But these have convinced me that planar technology is the real deal, I doubt this sound can really be emulated by traditional driver technologies anywhere near this price. Overall sound will scale with a good amp / DAC (~half watt or so), though they will get adequately loud with most common 1V sources like laptops and phones. These cans can be a bit "fatiguing", but much of the fatigue has been corrected with minor EQ tweaks and modding the stock pleather pads / using the velours. Coming from German phones, I actually would rather have a more aggressive sound and experience some fatigue than suffer a 'laid back' sound when I am in the mood to head bang.
Would have given them 5 stars except for a few things. For one, I think the stock cord is a bit thick and stiff, and also way longer than necessary. After about a year of ownership, there is some fraying in the stock cables where they connect to the cups. I worry about long-term survival of the threaded connectors on each cup, but they are holding strong. In this price range, a nice metal headband and cup holders are welcome, but some slight "creaks" from the plastic are not. Other users have disconnected cups from the headband, as apparently, they are only glued on. Earpads easy to remove, and the tabs are not breaking, which has been a blessing as I have swapped the pads on and off many times at this point.
Comfort could be better - the clamping force is a bit intense at first, I needed to bend the headband slightly. I quickly swapped the thinner leather pads for the slightly thicker velour from their more expensive models. Leather or velour, the pads are quite stiff though not uncomfortable. I have since 'modded' the pleather pads by removing the foam spacer rings and cutting holes into the backside of them to improve damping. It improves on the feel of the pleather and the sound and is worth doing, but I still like the 'breathability' of the velours more, and they are still an upgrade in that sense (plus they sound better than stock pleather). The cups adjust and swivel, but are stiff and should be adjusted with care (pinch the headband and logo as you do it). Headband padding is too thin and I experience pain once in a while. It also gives me 'headband hair'. These phones are only 6 oz heavier than my lighter sennheisers (HD595), but they "look" and feel a lot bulkier. The threaded cord/cup connection grazes my shoulders when I turn my head which I can't imagine is great for the phones or myself.
But I can listen to these for hours anyway, the great sound just makes up for a lot of shortcomings. They are excellent headphones overall, but objectively, the comfort is simply no comparison to Sennheiser, which is often forget-they're-on-my-head good. The slightly aggressive sound may not be for everyone, and many are 'underwhelmed' by the sound at first (they seemed quite lean to my ears initially). But the HE-400 satisfies me much more than any phones I've owned before. That said, I knock a star off design for weaknesses in cable attachment / bulkiness and materials (stiff foam, possible cheap plastic), and 1.5 stars off for a sound which is fatiguing, a headband that can seem harsh, and cups which are hard to seat comfortably on my head (compared to other phones from which I have not experienced these issues). But if sound quality were the main criteria, good luck finding a better pair of phones for $400. The HE-400s are the real deal.
Pros - Price, stellar sound reproduction, fairly easy to drive, very snug
Cons - Headband is the chokepoint in the price, it's just ok. fairly heavy cans, and they are completely open
The title is not exaggerated either, but of course to get the HE-400s to that level you need at least a decent DAC and a tube or hybrid amp like the Schiit Lyr to even hear what they truly can do. Otherwise most amps will will work just fine with them! I have tried them with my Schiit Asgard solid state amp for weeks, but felt they need more that 1watt per channel (the Lyr has 6!). The gain in sound quality is extreme enough for most people probably, but as you get to really appreciate these cans, you will want to get everything out of them.
Simply put (without resorting to headphone comparisons which I did against the HE-400 which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zdHTN5ysZQ ) the 400's have Superior soundstage, detail, and balance while still being exciting. There is only one other Planar headphone on the market now (Fostex t50rp and it's mods like the mad dog) but it doesn't touch the 400, HiFiman made the pinnacle of price/performance.
You may think $400 (or less used!) is a lot for a pair of headphones, but when you consider it's top of the line tech that headphones many times it's price use, you know you've got a smoking deal.
Note: My 400's have the MUCH better than stock velour pads and a Q-Audio braided cable.
Pros - Exciting, bold sound with great bass, engaging mids, and mostly smooth highs,
Cons - Stock cable is annoying (but easily replaced), highs can be edgy at times
By now I think most of us are familiar with the history behind the HiFiMAN HE-series headphones. What started with a single model has grown into a full lineup, with prices ranging from $1299 for the flagship HE-6 to just $249 for the entry-level HE-300. Worth noting is that the HE-300 stands apart from the rest by using a “traditional” dynamic driver. Every other model in the HE-series is based on planar magnetic driver technology.
The entry level position among the planar models is held by the HE-400. It is the most recent HiFiMAN headphone released and sells for $399, putting it in competition with some more established designs such as the Sennheiser HD600/650, AKG K701, and Denon D2000. As the only planar model available in this price range, I was curious how the HE-400 would measure up.
Those who follow my ramblings here know that I have a newborn baby in the house. Accompanying the birth of that little guy was a major purge of my open headphones; the logic being that I wouldn’t be getting much use out of them. So I sold my Sennheiser HD600, HD650, and HD800, my Grado PS1000 and RS1, and my Beyer DT880 and DT990. I also passed on buying the Audeze LCD-2 and HiFiMAN HE-500, which I have borrowed from friends multiple times and really wanted to own. Yet here I am with a new open headphone – why? The answer is simple: it’s one thing to have a $900 or $1,000 headphone sitting around getting little use. It’s quite another matter with a $399 model. I figured I would start small in the HiFiMAN lineup and make my way up the ladder when the time is right. Since then, the HE-500 has dropped to $699, but the point remains the same.
One would think that HiFiMAN must have cut some major corners with the HE-400 to allow pricing it at nearly half what the HE-500 sells for. But one would be wrong in that assumption. HiFiMAN claims the key to the low price is the use of automated manufacturing techniques. Apparently their planar magnetic designs are mature enough by this point to allow some level of hands-off construction. If anyone has ever seen the episode of “How It’s Made” showing the AKG factory building K702 headphones, you’ll note how automation makes the process many times faster and more efficient than it otherwise would be. There is still an element of human involvement but it is reduced in many key areas.
Think of a handmade… well, anything really. Whatever it is you picture, it’s going to be labor intensive to build. It’s also going to be expensive compared to an assembly line type operation. And it’s going to be more prone to have variability and likely a higher rate of flaws. Until now, it seems that all HE-series headphones were hand crafted. That sounds impressive but in reality there have always been issues with the method – think Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 sounding different from one example to the next. Think the initial run of the Grado PS1000 and the often disappointing silver finish. With the HE-400, HiFiMAN has automated the process of producing the driver, and I suspect at some point soon they will have more of the process automated, similar to AKG. The bottom line here is that the HE-400 may have otherwise been slapped with a $500 or $600 price tag if this new development process had not been achieved. So don’t think of it merely as a “budget” headphone with all the negative connotations that go along with that thought. Rather, think of it as an “optimized” design which allows the price to stay relatively modest.
In terms of appearance the HE-400 is very similar to its HE-siblings. The key difference is the blue paintjob, which I actually find more attractive than the usual dark color of the other models. Other than that we get the same leather headband, the same frame assembly, the same detachable cabling system, and the same earpads. But there are a few significant differences worth noting.
First, and probably most important, are the drivers themselves. They have smaller magnets and appear less complicated compared to the older models. While the HE-500 driver assembly looks like a fancy cheese grater, the HE-400 uses less complex perforations and a good amount of plastic. There’s also the earpad attachment system which is far better than the older “tab” system. It still isn’t perfect but I was able to swap pads several times without wanting to throw the headphones out the window in frustration. I consider that improvement. I believe all of the HE-series models are now using this new system. Then there’s the packaging and cable differences which I’ll discuss a bit later.
Here are the pertinent specs for the HE-400:
· Efficiency: 92.5 dB/mW
· Impedance: 38 Ohm
· Planar Magnetic driver (orthodynamic)
· Frequency response: 20 Hz to 35 kHz
· Weight: 440 g
In comparison, the HE-500 is 89dB and 502g. That means the HE-400 is lighter and easier to drive. Supposedly one could even run the HE-400 straight from an iPod, though I can’t imagine a scenario where I would actually want to do that. This is certainly not a portable headphone. Still, the prior HE-series models were known to bring many headphone amps to their knees, so the improved efficiency is very welcome, as is the reduced weight.
Like the prior models, the HE-400 is nice but not perfect. It doesn’t have the same level of sophistication and “tightness” that something like a Sennheiser or Audio Technica would have. But overall it is acceptable for the price. The blue finish is attractive, and there is a good mix of leather, metal, and plastic. The new pleather earpads feel decent as far as pleather goes. I’m not usually much of a fan and I would have preferred the velours instead, but I’ve seen far worse. The new pad attachment system does allow the pads to “spin” more freely than I’d like. It’s the only area that feels to me like it isn’t of very high quality. Yet the pads never fall off and are fairly easy to swap, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.
Prior HE models came in a nice looking storage case. In contrast, the HE-400 ships in a fairly basic plastic package as if it was a $50 headphone. As much as I miss the “wow factor” of the fancy box, I’m actually glad it was omitted here - unnecessary extras are just what you don’t need when trying to keep prices low. HiFiMAN does throw in a storage pouch which I’ve never once used; I guess it’s better than nothing and some people might have use for it. HiFiMAN sells a nice travel case for $29 if anyone desired such a thing. My HE-400 lives on a headphone stand so I’m pleased that I wasn’t forced to pay for a storage case that I’ll never use.
Prior models included a single spare earpad. I always thought that was strange – why not a pair? The HE-400 solves that strangeness by no longer including anything. And that’s fine by me. Additional sets in velour can be had for just $10 a pair.
The included cable is 10 feet long, terminates in a 1/8” plug, and is fairly thick and unwieldy. For me, this was the biggest letdown of the whole experience. I recall not being a big fan of the HE-500 cable, so I knew this one would probably be bad, but over time I came to really dislike it. It was an easy fix due to the plethora of aftermarket cable options on the market. Some people may not be as easily annoyed as I am, and may find the stock cable totally acceptable.
This is the equipment I used for my evaluation of the HE-400:
Source: JF Digital HDM-03S music server, Squeezebox Touch, Marantz SA-1
DAC: Violectric V800, Anedio D2, Yulong Sabre D18, Matrix Quattro DAC, Kao Audio UD2C-HP, Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11
AMP: Analog Design Labs Svetlana 2, Violectric V200, Yulong Sabre A18, Matrix Quattro Amp, Lake People G109P, Apex Butte, Audinst AMP-HP
Cables: As I’ll discuss later, I didn’t care for the stock HE-400 cable. So I replaced it with a CablePro Earcandy for single ended use and a Toxic Cables Hybrid for balanced operation.
Earpads: I swapped out the stock pads for a set of Lawton modified Denon D7000 pads. I’ll explain later.
Power was handled by a CablePro Revelation conditioner and CablePro Reverie AC cables. Interconnects were Signal Cable Analog Two for RCA and Paillics Silver Net for XLR. The HE-400 was burned in for well over 100 hours prior to doing any critical listening.
I have to preface this by telling my story about the pads. The stock pads are actually pretty nice - I was worried that I would have major isses with overheating, but that ended up not being the case. No, my issue was on the left side of my head apparently being a little lumpy. Behind my left ear, the stock pad would leave a tiny gap smaller than my pinkie finger. No amount of fiddling with the headband or cup angle seemed to remedy this. I've never had this issue with any of the dozens of headphones I've used, including the HE-500 with velour pads. I can’t fault the HE-400 but rather my own uneven skull. In any case, the gap caused a small but audible difference in sound from left side to right.
Obviously I couldn't eveluate the HE-400 without a proper seal. I borrowed an HE-500 from a friend but it used the older mounting system, so the velour pads were of no use. I was considering ordering a set (they are very reasonably priced) when I had an idea - why not try a few other pads that I have around the house? The very first set I found when I went digging in the drawer was from a Denon D7000. It had been modified by Lawton Audio when I sent my D7000 in for upgrades. When Lawton returned my Denons in LA7000 form, I never actually used the pads, opting instead for the J-Money V3 pads. So these Lawton pads were just waiting for a new home. For those unfamiliar, Lawton stuffs the pads with extra Poly Fil type material, especially to the rear area, which makes them look somewhat like an Audeze LCD-2 pad. It makes a great seal with my (apparently oddly shaped) head, and helps position the drivers at an angle to theoretically give a more speaker-like presentation. All of the impressions that follow were obtained with the Lawton pads in place. Since I couldn't get a good seal with the stock pads, no comparisons are possible. That might invalidate some of my impressions but there’s nothing I can do about it.
The sound from the HE-400 was immediately appealing to me. I heard the typical "planar" presentation which I categorize as having a sort of effortless sound to it, with excellent deep bass extension. I don't know how better to describe it, but it’s something that the LCD-2, Thunderpants, and HiFiMAN models all have in common, despite all sounding very different from one another. There's just an ease to the presentation that dynamic headphones can't quite match. I'm not saying planars are always superior, but this is one of their strengths.
Bass on the HE-400 is very nicely done. It isn't huge, but has enough of a solid impact and presence to be satisfying for all but the most extreme basshead listeners. Where similarly priced dynamic headphones from Sennheiser, AKG, and Beyerdynamic all have rolled off frequency response in the sub-40Hz range, the HE-400 (like most planar models) stays almost completely linear down to 25Hz or so, with a very mild drop below that. To my ears this ends up sounding more convincing; as if more air is being displaced. And maybe it actually is. The bass presentation is very close to that of the HE-500, lacking only a small amount of texture and refinement in direct comparison. On its own though it is some of the best low frequency reproduction I’ve heard from a non-flagship headphone.
Mids on the HE-400 are somewhat forward. This gives it a more exciting sound than the more neutral HE-500. There's an added "bite" to things like trumpets and violins, making for a very engaging listen. The mids have a nice smoothness to them though, meaning they aren't just run of mill, average quality stuff being boosted to sound more exciting. They really do have enough clarity and focus to pull off this little trick. Upper mids are somewhat subdued, which generally makes for a smooth presentation though it can occasionally take away some realism in the form of a lack of airiness or trailing edge. This was mostly noticeable with really well recorded tracks – on lesser material it could actually help hide some of the harshness from poor mastering. So it ends up being a give and take.
As with many headphones, the highs of the HE-400 are the one area where it isn't perfect. It isn't terrible either, but this is where I heard the biggest divide between the HE-400 and HE-500. The 400 has a bit of darkness to it but also has some brightness. "Dark and bright at the same time? How can that be?" Take a look at the Frequency Response chart as measured by Tyll at InnerFidelity. Notice the “droop” starting at roughly 1.5kHz which doesn't pick up until around 7kHz. From there it actually gets somewhat bright, and that's exactly how I hear it. Brass and woodwinds, while seeming fairly cool and dark overall, also have some "zing" up top peaking at 9kHz or so. This can sometimes come across as a bit brittle or harsh. Other times it is inoffensive and actually brings out some extra perceived detail. It works more often than not, but it must be mentioned because certain people are more sensitive to these types of peaks. I also need to point out how hard it was for me to wrap my brain around this presentation. With female vocals for example, you hear something of a darker presentation with less air or breathiness, which would normally be smooth all the way around. But then you get this peak which tends to accent certain consonant sounds, not quite sibilant but borderline.
Once Tyll got his measurements posted it started making more sense, though I do think my pad swap has helped the problem somewhat. I know people who use the velour pads and they report a subjective improvement as well, so that's something I definitely think is worth exploring since it costs so little.
I was surprised that the HE-400 was able to pull off a reasonably large and very well defined soundstage despite being on the darker side. Planar models tend to not have the most spacious presentation anyway, and the same goes for darker headphones in general. So I figured the HE-400 wouldn't have much going on to brag about in this area. Perhaps my angled pads are doing a lot to help, but I really do find these to be nice and open sounding, with good definition of the musical space. Imaging is accurate and there is some really nice layering going on. It might not be up to par with the HE-6 or HE-500, but it is definitely near the top of the pack in the "mid-fi" range where HiFiMAN has positioned this model. The K701 and variants might be more spacious but it comes at the cost of being somwhat artifical.
The HE-400 is supposedly the planar for the common man. It doesn't require heavy amplification, so one could reasonably use it from a fairly low powered amp, or even straight from a DAP. That's the theory anyway. In practice I found that to be only partially true.
Yes, my iPad and Sansa Clip can drive the HE400 to reasonably loud levels, and the resulting sound is certainly listenable. But I don't enjoy it nearly as much as I do when adding even a basic amp like my portable Audinst AMP-HP. Specifically, the bass presentation is nowhere near as satisfying until a separate amp is involved. And the highs are much more prone to offend with that “edginess” I mentioned. The only exception to this amp required rule might be some of the "premium" portable units such as the iBasso DX100 or HiFiMAN's own HM series. I did try my RoCoo D Power Edition and the result was reasonably good – better than my iPad, but still not great. Ultimately I would never use this as a portable headphone anyway so I don't mind the amp requirement.
As far as which amps work best, it becomes a question of sound signature preferences. All amps have their own unique presentation, and while the differences are not always huge, you want to pick one that best fits your predilection. I found that I enjoyed the HE-400 with all of my desktop amps, but some were better than others. I don't care how sensitive they are, planar headphones seem to always respond to power. For that reason the powerful Violectric V200 and its cousin the Lake People G109P did a fantastic job. The V200 had a little more clarity on the top end but for the most part the cheaper G109P was able to keep up. I also liked the Apex Butte and the Analog Design Labs Svetlana 2 for their exceptional midrange presentation. The Matrix Quattro amp in balanced mode offered an enjoyably smooth, refined presentation for a low price. But I think my favorite pairing is with the new Yulong Sabre A18 amp in balanced mode. This is a Class A, fully discrete, differential design that just mates perfectly with the HE-400. It delivers just under 2 full watts per channel to this particular headphone, bringing it close to the V200 in terms of current delivery. But it has an exceptionally expansive soundstage that sets it apart from the Violectric model. It isn't always better with every headphone, but the HE-400 seems to be a perfect match. Single ended mode was good too, but not quite up to the same level, and in that situation the V200 regained the lead. For anyone interested in balanced operation, I highly recommend the A18/HE-400 pairing.
With a seemingly dark headphone like this you don't want to obfuscate any of the top end presentation by using a darker amp. Yet the sometimes peaky highs also don't need any extra attention either. So keep in mind when planning an HE-400 based system: a generally neutral amp is desirable over one with a strong coloration of any type.
I have owned most of the similarly priced headphones that would be considered competition to the HE-400. Unfortunately I no longer have any of them on hand for direct comparison. But I'm familiar enough with them to make some generalizations.
The AKG K701, and its brethren in various colors, are very different from the HE-400. Almost complete opposites - they have significantly less low frequency resolution, and as a result give the impression of significantly more energy in the upper mids. Personally I would choose the HE-400 every time, except perhaps in the categories of comfort and soundstage size.
The Sennheiser HD650 is still a killer headphone in my opinion. I think it offers a more even, linear presentation from top to bottom, while the HE-400 is far more exciting and dynamic. These two would actually complement each other quite nicely if a person wanted to own two headphone for two different takes on their music.
The Beyerdynamic line of DT770/880/990 is in process of being replaced by the new T70/80/90 models. But not all of those are released yet, and way more people have experience with the DT series. So this is still a fair comparison. The HE-400 strikes me as being somewhere in between the 880 and 990, but superior to either. It has less bass quantity than the 990, but to my ears it does lows in a much more convincing manner. Sub-bass extension is superior to the point where it just makes the 990 sound bad in comparison... and keep in mind that I actually do like the 990. Mids are more forward than either Beyer model, which is a welcome improvement in my opinion. Highs reminds me more of the 990 but are not an exact match - I hear the HE-400 as being less grainy and having a more natural flow; even though they do both get harsh on some tracks, the 990 is clearly the bigger offender.
I mentioned prior that I disliked the length and thickness of the stock cable. So I picked up two different aftermarket cables to try out. Both of them are miles ahead of the stock cable ergonomically, and both happen to look much better as well.
The first is the CablePro Earcandy which is currently on sale for $109 (regularly $129) for a 10 foot length. Construction is described as finely stranded 22 gauge OFC conductors, with a low-loss polyethylene dielectric and an OFC braided shield to block noise. Mine has a 1/4" Neutrik plug for single ended operation though other options do exist. This is a very flexible cable with a low key, classy look to it that exudes quality while still remaining understated. It reminds me of the Cardas Sennheiser upgrade cables, but obviously priced way lower. I have to say I’m exceedingly pleased with the service I received from the company - CablePro sells all kinds of products (several of which I own) and they are extremely pleasant and helpful.
The other cable I got is from Toxic Cables. Based in the UK, their Hybrid cable uses a combination of cryo treated OCC copper and cryo treated OCC silver plated copper. I got mine with balanced termination though again, other choices exist. As of today's exchange rate the price translates to $134 for a 6 footlength. This cable looks like it should cost significantly more than it does – if the color was different it would looks a lot like the older (and rather expensive) Lawton Audio Jena Labs recable jobs. The best part is that it’s surprisingly flexible and easy to manage. I refuse to deal with an unwieldy cable no matter how nice it might look, so this aspect is critical for me. Toxic Cables is also a great company to deal with, and is actually an authorized HiFiMAN distributor as well - so headphone and cables could all be ordered together if one was interested.
With a new headphone to figure out, a newborn baby in the house, and plenty of other reviews on deck, I don't have time to get into a cable debate here. I did let a friend who is a certified cable nut (and has way more free time than I do) borrow both cables, and he loved them. He normally uses Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 cables for his HE-500 as well as his original HE-5. In his opinion, both the CablePro and Toxic Cables products were just as good as the more expensive Moon option, and possibly better. He said he liked the Earcandy more with his Cary Xciter amp driving the HE-5, and the Hybrid more with his HE-500 powered by the Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition balanced amp/DAC unit. Something about "synergy". Neither of those amps are high up on my list of favorites, so obviously he and I have different tastes. Yet we both enjoy these cables. I intend to keep them both - one will stay with the HE-400 and the other will pair with some future flagship HiFiMAN model that I'll eventually pick up.
HiFiMAN has done an excellent job of tuning the HE-400 to have big, bold sonics with any type of music you throw at them. The low frequency capabilites are very impressive, sounding very close to the much more expensive HiFiMAN models. And the mids are wonderfully engaging - nobody would ever call this a boring sound signature. The only area of concern is the highs; most of the time it is smooth, slightly dark, and generally inoffensive. Every once in a while it becomes just grating enough to remind the listener that this is in fact still a "budget" model.
It sounds like I'm being hard on the HE-400 with my description of the highs. I don't mean to be picky and I don't want to overstate the problem. These really are excellent sounding headphones in the sub-$500 price bracket - a bracket where all entries will be flawed in one way or another. To some extent you have to pick the flaw which you find least offensive and go with that one.
I will say that these are my current favorites in the sub-$500 range. The HD650 is still an excellent all purpose model that could be a suitable counterpart for the HE-400, but if I had to choose just one I'd go with the HE-400 first. The Grado RS-2 might be more exciting for a very limited selection of music, but with everything else the HE-400 leaves it in the dust. Believe it or not, I could totally see the HE-400 being preferred over the HE-500 for some listeners. I think HiFiMAN has done a great job with this release and I can easily recommend them to anyone looking to purchase a good sounding headphone that isn't astronomically priced.
Pros - Solid, Taut yet Accurate Bass / Luscious Mids / Detailed yet non-fatiguing Highs / Price!
Cons - Potential Head Clamp/Weight Issues
I initially had my eyes set on the HE-500s but after some research I decided that the sound signature of the HE-400s may suit my tastes better as I predominantly listen to EDM (Tech House, Minimal, Trance, GOA, Psy). Initial impressions out of the box were quite impressive. For those of you who have yet to try a Planar Magnetic headphone - the detail and clarity are something else compared to dynamic headphones. There is no background distortion or noise at any volume as the background remains completely black.
The soundstage is adequately wide and does a great job at projecting space between instruments and vocalists, so much so in fact that I often forget I'm wearing headphones in a small, cramped room.
It's the micro-details however that really allow me become totally immersed in my music. I'd best descibe the soundscape as being in a moderately large auditorium with perfect accoustics while vocalists and primary instruments are right there beside you - maintaining the intimacy. Live, lossless recordings are a wonder to behold (Coldplay - Live 2003 anyone?)
The bass is extremely accurate and the impact is surprisingly good for a completely open headphone. I do love the fact that the bass doesn't intrude unless called upon by the track. It allows me to enjoy my tech house/minimal tracks for their deep, thumping basslines and at the same time it can take a back seat when listening to accoustic or chillout/lounge music. This is unlike most "basshead" headphones where bass is pronounced everywhere, whether it is required or not.
I would love to try these out with a tube-amp as sometimes I do feel like the M-Stage may be too neutral for my tastes for some of my darker recordings and there could be a little more sub-bass impact; however as my equipment is limited I am unable to judge if this is down to my source/amp or the headphones.
Despite my affinity towards a U-shaped sound signature, the mids are probably the highlight for me and perhaps even converted me. I have never heard vocals produced with such clarity, emotion and musicality and wouldn't have thought it achievable at this price range. Everything from Barry White to Vocal Trance is outstanding. I wouldn't say the mids are pronounced though, they are neutral if anything allowing for very accurate and believable reproductions of the human voice.
Listening to Nora Jones (Come Away With Me) is almost a haunting experience as it genuinely feels like she is singing right beside me. Her voice is portrayed with quite an ethereal tonality and there is no unnatural resonance whatsoever on her extended notes.
Mind you this is all coming from someone who doesn't really listen to jazz/accoustic so let the impressions these headphones have left with me be an indication of how impressed I am by the HE-400s.
Now I read numerous times that the highs aren't quite neutral with the HE-400s as with their older brothers but I can honestly describe them as fast, extremely well detailed yet rolled off just enough to take the edge of some hot recordings. I think HiFiMAN have done a great job with providing the detail and presence in the highs while somehow avoiding them from becoming fatiguing.
Comfort wise, the earpads are height adjustable and they do swivel, so it should fit most headshapes. I will point out that the head-clamp is stronger than usual but I'm sure that will subside after I have worn them for a while. I have had no issues with wearing the HE-400 for extended periods whatsoever but I can imagine them being a little less comforable for someone who is sensitive to head clamp. They don't sit on your head quite as softly as the Audio Technica's winged design but they are snug do a better job of staying on your ears.
My Setup: Xonar Essence STX -> Matrix M-Stage -> HifiMAN HE-400
Overall, I'd recommend the HE-400s for just about any genre as I couldn't really fault them at anything in particular. Orthodynamics are quite revealing by design so you will need to provide them with a proper source file, I've been pretty disappointed with any files <192kbps but that's a given on a quality headphone such as this.