Cons - cable is too short and right angled jack not ideal for desktop use
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Hifiman He400i on the wall mounted headstand
Headphones are made of different types of drivers. Normally, it is made of dynamic drivers. If you pick up a random headphone from your nearby Best Buy, it’s probably going to be a dynamic driver headphone. Some headphones use different drivers to produce sound. This is mainly to produce a different or unique or better sound signature. The headphone we will be going over today is the Hifiman He-400i, a famous planar magnetic headphone, arguably one of the best headphones under $500. Planar magnetic headphones usually have larger thin drivers with more magnets on either side of the drivers. You can find more explanation of the difference between drivers online and we might provide you with one in the future but for now, the planar magnetic drivers are commonly found in audiophile headphones with companies like Hifiman and Audeze designing and selling them.
HiFiMAN Electronics is a designer and manufacturer of audio products including headphones, amplifiers, and portable audio players. Hifiman is known for its high-end audio products made under the brand Mee Audio. Its most popular products include the HE-400 which are full sized open back headphones and the RE-400 which is an IEM (In Ear Monitor). Both products are supposedly critically acclaimed for their sound quality
This review unit was provided by audio excellence (an audio store in Canada) with the permission of Hifiman distributor. As usual, my reviews will be honest and contain no bias.
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 35 KHz
Impedance: 35 Ohms
Cable length: 1.5m
THE BUILD QUALITY
Headphone: most of it is made of high quality plastic with thin metal suspension. The headphone seems durable and comes with a case that seems incredibly premium. The headphone adjustment is made with a up/down clicking mechanism which feels nice and easier to adjust because you can physically see or feel how much you are adjusting for both left & right. This was a problem in the HD6xx/HD650, where there were no ticks/levels to know if you were adjusting the headphones evenly for both sides. The mesh on the side of the headphones are very beautiful and the drivers can be seen with the right lighting, of course, this open-looking mesh means, this headphone is very open back, both in terms of sound and leakage.
HIFIMAN He400i rear view
HIFIMAN He400i mesh
Pads: the stock pads are the Focus pads, with the velour on the inner part and pleather for the rest of the pads. This hybrid pad feels very nice and is extremely comfortable but gets a bit hot with extended wearing durations. It is also glued on, so you would need to make some serious modifications to change the pads. Some suggestions out there are the alpha pads, but this was not tested by me. For me, the stock pads were just fine.
HIFIMAN He400i Focus Pads. Velour side can be seen from this angle.
Cables: Fabricated and looks like a pretty decent stock cable but is only 1.5m long, which is very short for a desktop/home use. It also terminates in right angled jack, which makes plugging into your amps rather inconvenient. The connectors are 2.5mm connectors that is differentiated “left” & “right.” Clicks in nicely and it is firm enough that it won’t yank out.
Case: hands down, it comes in the most premium packaging in the world.
These headphones are highly efficient and can be even driven with a phone.
Low Freq: The bass in the He-400i is well extended. By that I mean, there is some sub-base. It is comparable to the sub-base I get when I use my HD6xx with the Dark voice 336 se tube amp, which is already around $800 dollars in value. The overall bass is intimate, tight and punchy. It is rather an accurate representation of bass but at the same time, very pleasant, in my opinion. The bass does not blead into the mid frequencies as much as in other headphones, for example; in the tracks, Smooth Jazz Tribute to Sam Smith, the bass came in nicely without taking anything away from the beautiful mid frequency presentations.
Mid Freq: This is a warm-ish headphone and I say that because this headphone sounds quite like my HD6xx from the low to low-mid frequencies and then it starts to differentiate itself from the high-mid to high frequencies. The Vocals are very clear and everything exists within the boundary of “mids” but there is no emphasis in any specific areas. Everything from vocals to instruments retain that smoothness through this frequency. For example; while listening to the Small Bump by Ed Sheeran, the bass was almost euphoric while the guitars and vocals retained its beautiful harmony
High Freq: this is where the real fun begins for this headphone. The highs are rather rolled off in the HD6xx/H650 or HD600s but here, the highs are clear and much more evident. It is much more natural and lively-sounding. Now, you might associate lively-sounding to bright or even sibilant headphones, so let me make it clear, “He400i is just right, it is not sibilant.” Now, of course if you are coming from a more dark-sounding headphone or if you are all about that “warmth” then, you may FEEL like it is sibilant at first, but that is just your ears getting adjusted to all the details in the highs that you have not heard before. Some instruments are meant to sound this way, to make the overall track livelier, but some headphones take this away because not many people enjoy all the details in the highs and it is a very hard to get that perfect roll off to make it “just detailed enough but not sibilant.” But as you move up away from the Mid-fi area, you are seeking for more “detail and clarity,” therefore high end audiophile headphones are commonly criticized for being sibilant. It seems like He400i has achieved that “just right” feeling for some people. It may be still sibilant depending on your preference or previous gear but at least for me and those I have talked to during this review, this headphone seems to do just that, “perfect.”
Soundstage: the soundstage is most intimate than the HD600 or the HD6xx/HD650, but this makes the bass much more apparent. This would be a preference thing but I enjoy soundstage and this was a downside for me
Imaging: very accurate for a sub 500-dollar headphone, I would say it competes with the HD600/650s if not just a tad bit better. For example; in my symphony tracks, I could tell which instruments were coming from which positions but it was not a wide accuracy but more an intimate one.
HD600/H650 vs HE400i: Straight off the bat, there is no clear winner, it will ultimately be your preference that determine which headphone is right for you. The HD600 is commonly compared to the HE400i. Some reviewers say that the He400i is as neutral as the HD600, which I do not agree with because if anything, the He400i is more closely related to the HD650s in that it has that bass. Of course, both do not have a lot of bass but they have more than neutral headphones like the HD600s. He400i sounds livelier than both HD600 and HD650 but vocals come in much more euphorically in the HD650s because it is much more present due to the rolled off highs. Some may rather prefer the more natural sounding vocals and instrumentation in the He400i.
He400i + phone: at max volume, the He400i is at a reasonable listening level. Everything sounds great but at the same time, sound a bit lean and messy/veiled in busy tracks.
He400i + Schiit stack: sounded just right, I can see many people using this combo as it adds more warmth and clarity. Modi 2’s clarity may be overwhelming for some people and can be even called sibilant in some tracks but again, this depends on your preference and which gear you are coming from.
He400i + Oppo ha 2 se: This was by favorite combo. Sounded phenomenal, even took it out for a drive in my car and although it may not have been the best idea, I have no regrets. The bass boost in the Oppo ha 2 se with the He400i is just mouthwatering. The mids became more emphasized with the highs retaining that clarity and detail.
He400i + Darvoice 336se: I’ve noticed some higher than normal noise floor, probably due to the He400i being low impedance headphones but this combo adds more bass and vocal emphasis. Overall, I would say it makes the He400i slightly warmer without losing any detail in the highs.
He400i + Jotenheim: Rather an overkill, since these headphones are highly efficient. But a powerful amp and a good dac adds more body to the sound making everything more full and detailed. With this specific combo, it felt like everything the He400i could accomplish was accomplished. The instruments and vocals sounded much more detailed compared to the He400i + phone combo. The bass also seemed to extend more and punch more confidently.
The He400i is a great headphone to start with if you are looking for a great headphone. If you are looking for great headphone within this price range, it is either the HD600s, 650s, or these. It all comes down to what is important for you. Do you prefer more bass & lively/detailed headphones? Then, the He400i could be for you.
At 240 dollars new (price I paid) there is not a single headphone in the world with better price/performance ratio. Each song is a new listening experience and these sound far superior to any other cans or speakers I have ever heard. I am currently using a C&C BH amp Colorfly C3 combo. Sound is very addicting with very pleasant musicality with great tonal balance. Clamping force was high on initial use but they fit much more comfortably after a few days of use. I would gladly pay 400 even 500 for these headphones.
Cons - Not musical as detailed, vicious clamp (fixable), treble characteristics of cheap headphones.
I'll keep this relatively short as the HE400i has over 20 reviews here, some of which are very detailed and some that contradict others. This is just my 5 cents on the matter.
I think @jerg summarized it perfectly in his review, that these are a "compromise between musicality and technicality". On one hand, they are detailed and accurate, have great separation and for acoustic music, there's good layering. On the other, listening through them simply isn't immersive enough, as if they are too detailed, soul left outside the box. It's kinda hard to explain in words, but if you ever get the chance to listen to a pair of Shure SE535 (*) or something with a similar audio profile, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Imagine the audio equivalence of drinking just enough to feel the effect. (*) My listening (and evaluation) mule for the past 5-6 years.
Other than musicality, my second and final con on audio with these, is the treble. It's too extended, causing things like cymbals to sound too distant from the rest of the record (think one floor above). Some call it separation, I call it "the thing that's wrong with half the cheap headphones I listen to", except the HE400i ain't cheap. A lot of companies seem to do that as it adds sparkle and detail (I guess?), but personally, I'm not a fan.
Unto actual usage, these are pretty easy to drive from anything. Smartphones, Fiio amps, 1st gen Schiit Fulla, no problem.
On comfort, the pads and headband are very nice and comfortable, but the grip is very tight. I've been looking around for a solution on Google without avail, till I got tired (and pissed) and took the "manual" approach: Bent them myself at 5 points across the upper steel gate, now it's just fine (the 2 L bends, middle, and half-way through to the middle).
I read about these having some issues with the cable and Hifiman mentioned on their website about swapping them. For what it's worth, I got the new cable, and no complains. It's thick and conductive, really all I have to say. The 6.5mm adapter is crap though, had connection issues so I threw it to the bin (having another 5 laying around).
Lastly, Hifiman states in the manual that "to obtain optimal performance", these should be burned in for "at least 150 hours", constantly. Subjectivity aside, this is, by far, the dumbest remark I've seen on any headphone, from any manufacturer. Just think about the prospect of, well, buying a pair of $500 headphones, eagerly anticipating them, finally getting the package and then, "welp, here they are, let's just put them there playing and wait another week". By now I imagine I passed the 150 hour mark, and frankly? I don't remember how they sounded a week ago in comparison, to be bothered with. If it wasn't important enough to burn them during production, this can't be too meaningful at the customer's hand.
To close the review, you might be wondering why the 5 star rating. Simple: Supposedly these retail for $450, but occasionally they will go as low as $250, and for that price, it's very impressive value.