gLer

Headphoneus Supremus
Hifiman HE400se – the new budget headphone benchmark?
Pros: Outstanding value
Fairly balanced and lively sound
Great for jazz, classical and similar genres
Decent build quality
Cons: On the bright side for my preferences
Not ideal with poorer recordings
Needs lots of power for optimal performance (adds to the cost)
Worst cable known to man
Introduction

It’s been quite a while since I last listened to a planar magnetic headphone, so when the great guys at Lumous Audio suggested I take the new entry-level Hifiman HE400se planar for a spin, I jumped at the chance.

My previous experience with Hifiman is admittedly brief. I’ve sampled quite a few of the company’s headphones, from the early HE400 models, to the highly-respected HE1000, and most recently, the bar-setting flagship, Susvara, but haven’t spent serious time with any of them.

Mostly though, I was intrigued that a name-brand headphone could cost so little, especially with some of the tech on the spec sheet. Surely something had to give?

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In the box

Nothing about the packaging, presentation or build quality of the He400se belies its lowly price point, although I can pick out where corners have been cut.

The headphones are packed inside a black box not much larger than a shoebox, with a nicely silkscreened image on the front and specs on the back. Inside, a foam sleeve protects the headphones themselves, which are placed inside a molded plastic cutout. A thin, white cable is rolled into a cavity in the cutout, above the headphones.

Aside from a warranty and info card on Hifiman’s ‘Stealth Magnet’ technology, that’s all you get. No storage case, no cleaning cloth, no adapters (unless you count the standard 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter), and no spare pads. Not that I expected anything more, but just be aware that if you need any of those extra goodies, you’ll have to buy them separately.

One thing you’ll definitely want to buy, even though it’s included, is a different cable. Rarely have I seen such a poor stock cable on a full-size headphone. It’s stiff, wiry, tangle-prone and microphonic. Yes, it does the job of getting a signal to the headphones, but honestly, if you take any sort of pride in your audio gear, leave the cable in the box and buy a better one.

I guess context is all-important here. The stock cable on any one of my higher-end IEMs costs more than the entire HE400se package, and it’s a point I’m going to keep making in this review. The same way you can’t hold a Hyundai i10 to the same standards as a Lexus, you can’t hold the HE400se to the same standards as…just about anything that costs an order of magnitude more than it does.

The fact that Hifiman have somehow been able to produce such a low-cost headphone that presumably holds its own against far more expensive competition is quite remarkable in and of itself.

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Design, build and comfort

The HE400se looks a bit different to how I remember the older entry-level Hifimans, with their laughable (albeit comfortable) clothing hanger-style headband. The newer headband style is the more traditional single-piece, pleather-padded type, and this one’s rather decent, especially since the headphone itself isn’t very heavy.

The metal headband yokes can be extended a fair way to accommodate larger heads, and I don’t think anyone, even the giants among us, will have issues getting a decent fit. The cups are closer to how I remember the early Hifimans’, with a sleek silver façade but (disappointingly) made from a cheap-looking plastic material. Thankfully the grilles are made of a finely meshed metal, and to be fair the cups feel solid enough to take the regular use and abuse of everyday listening.

Hifiman have opted for pleather and suede hybrid pads, which are actually very plush and comfortable to wear. The clamp force isn’t excessive, resulting in a good seal, and combined with the generously padded headband, I could easily wear these for hours without issue. The pads are also replaceable using Hifiman’s click-on mechanism, so ‘pad rolling’ shouldn’t be a problem if you’re so inclined. The only downside to overall comfort is the ridiculously janky cable, but I’ve said my piece about that already, so let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Not that it needs mentioning, but these are open back headphones, so expect minimal isolation when listening, and everyone in earshot will be able to hear what you’re listening to. If you’re buying these headphones for privacy, don’t. You’ll be better off looking for a claosed back pair, or IEMs.

Overall, the HE400se is well made and very comfortable to wear for longer listening sessions, especially for the asking price.

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Specs and tech

Before I get to what really matters, some notes on the specs and tech you can expect for your handful of ZARs.

Planar magnetic headphones have their pros and cons, fans and detractors, and the HE400se is no different. The large 10cm drivers cover almost the entire diameter of the cups, and for the first time at this price point, feature Hifiman’s ‘Stealth Magnet’ technology, the self-same tech used on the R100,000 Susvara.

Now, before you think I’m comparing the two headphones on either end of a very wide price scale, I’m not. But it’s good to see companies like Hifiman making tech they developed for much more expensive headphones accessible to audio enthusiasts with normal-sized wallets.

Without delving too much into the tech itself, if you’re familiar with Audeze’s Fazor waveguides, you’ll know more or less what Hifiman’s Stealth Magnets set out to achieve. Essentially, they’ve designed the magnet arrays that move the planar diaphragm (to make the sound that you hear) in such a way that they don’t obstruct the airflow from the drivers (hence Stealth). But they’ve also designed them so they act as waveguides for the drivers, causing less resonance and therefore lower overall distortion.

How much (or how little) this actually affects what you hear is debatable, but the theory is interesting regardless, especially (and I’ll keep saying it) at this price point.

If Stealth Magnets are the headline tech, the important spec, as far as drivability and matchability are concerned, is the HE400se’s paltry sensitivity of 91dB/mw. With a low 25ohm impendence, you’d think the headphones would be easy to drive from most sources, but not so. These things need POWAH, and lots of it, if you expect to get anywhere near the sound quality I’ve heard them produce.

Note that I said quality, not quantity. I could get the HE400se to sound plenty loud at around 70 percent volume on my portable DAP, but plugging it into a desktop amp with twice the power makes it obvious how much better they sound when given the juice they demand. That means the HE400se will necessarily need a decently powerful amplifier for optimal performance. Sure, you can try get away with plugging them into your phone, but they’re going to sound like s***, simple as that. Keep that in mind when factoring in the low, low cost of the headphones themselves.

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Sound impressions

The HE400se has a fairly balanced sound signature, though it’s not completely flat or ‘neutral’ either. Tonally I’d say it leans bright, with more emphasis in the upper midrange/lower treble region than the lower mids or bass, but it’s not Beyerdynamic bright or peaky, if you know what I mean.

Bass is typical planar, reaching fairly deep, but nowhere near Audeze deep, and lacking the punch of a good dynamic driver. There’s texture and speed aplenty, but it’s not the most resolving bass I’ve heard, and the sub-bass rolloff gives it more of a midbass bias. Also, unlike Audeze planars, the HE400se won’t satisfy bassheads. This is a neutral, even slightly south-of-neutral bass response that plays a smaller supporting role in the overall signature (of course Audeze planars start at six times the price of the HE400se, so there’s that).

Listening to Lorde’s Royals, I don’t get the sense of weight and slam the intro to that track is famous for, but that can also be a good thing if you’re particularly sensitive to deep bass rumble. Another go-to bass test, Missincat’s Piu Vicino, lacks the type of authority and size I know to be there with more bass-adept headphones, but again, the flipside is greater focus on the harmony, vocals and strings in the track, so it ultimately comes down to preference.

The midrange is where I have some issues with the HE400se. Lower mids and male vocals, given no added warmth or weight from the upper bass, are slightly thinner than I’m used to, while upper mids are pushed more forward than I’d like. The result is a mismatch between what I’m hearing when listening to purely male or purely female vocals, the former being too airy, the latter too shouty.

Ingrid Michaelson’s sweet voice has a glassy crackle to it on The Way I Am, a combination of the neutral bass that pushes the warmer bass plucks to the background while bringing her less-then-perfectly recorded vocals too far forward. And Don Henley’s signature smoothness is a little too lightweight in the live version of the Eagles’ Hotel California.

But…and there’s always a but, the HE400se does have a lane where the midrange deficiencies I found in my vocal test tracks don’t exists, or at least, aren’t as obvious. Missy Higgins’ Shark Fin Blues, normally a litmus test for sibilance, is surprisingly sibilance free with the HE400se. This jazzy track gave me the idea to explore other, even jazzier numbers by the likes of Diana Krall, and lo and behold, this is far more aligned with the HE400se’s tonal and technical strengths in my opinion. Diana’s smoky vocals in The Look of Love, for example, were as smooth and even as I’ve heard them, and the intimate staging of the HE400se worked particularly well for this track (more on staging below).

Again, like the bass, this is not the most revealing midrange presentation I’ve ever heard, but it’s not the least either. The same goes for the HE400se’s treble response, which as I’ve already mentioned is too peaky for my liking in the lower treble, but less so than some far more famous (and expensive) headphones. There’s enough air and sparkle to keep things interesting, and while the HE400se is many things, dull isn’t one of them.

Max Richter’s Winter 1 shows the strengths of a good planar driver in delivering plenty of detail and air to the strings, keeping up with the frenetic speed of its busiest sections. But even on slower, more meandering instrumentals, like Richter’s On The Nature Of Daylight, I enjoyed the lightness and agility of the strings. In fact, like jazz, classical music and pure instrumentals definitely play more to the strengths of the HE400se than most my indie pop and female vocal albums.

Where the HE400se loses ground to more sophisticated (and expensive) headphones are its technicalities. This is not a headphone for lovers of ultra-wide (or even just wide) staging, being rather more intimate and ‘closed-in’, though not quite as intimate as a Sennheiser HD600/650/6XX. From vocals to instruments, everything seems to be focused in the space between my ears.

Strangely enough I didn’t find the HE400se too congested on most tracks, with a decent amount of separation between vocals and instruments, and enough space between instruments to keep them from crowding. Then again, I don’t listen to particularly frenetic or complex music, so if that’s your thing, YMMV.

Resolution, as I’ve alluded to, is very average. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too many details but I definitely didn’t get a sense that I was hearing everything in the tracks either. The lack of stage likely has something to do with it, but then so does the reality of squeezing every last drop of juice from a planar driver at this price.

If a technical detail monster is what you’re after, the HE400se isn’t it, but it’s not going to let you down like a cheap knockoff either.

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Closing thoughts

Good but not great. It’s a theme that repeats every time I listen to these headphones, but again, when I think about the price I’m paying for entry, the quality is testament to how far headphone technology has come in the last few years.

For the R3000-odd you’ll be paying Lumous Audio to own a pair, you’re getting headphone that does very little wrong (with the right sort of music, that is), and does many things right. It has balance, speed, and agreeable tonality (for many), and technicalities that won’t light up the world but won’t make you wince either. It’s well made, has some respectable pedigree behind it, and aside from the lack of accessories and throwaway cable, you’re getting more than your money’s worth for a pleasant, if not mind-blowing listen.

The HE400se, to my mind, is a gateway drug for anyone looking to venture down the quality headphone rabbit hole without spending the exorbitant amount of money required to get to the really great stuff. If you’ve previously hesitated to get into head-fi for any reason, be it cost or complexity, this could be just the ticket to set you on your way.
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hevelaoak

New Head-Fier
Chinese HE400se (the non-international)
Pros: neutral tuning
detail retrieval
spatial imaging
dynamics
minimal design
comfort
price to performance value
Cons: slight sibilant
need amplification
no carrying pouch/bag? (no care)
HE400se5a.jpg

in the package: HE400se headphones, a black rubber sleeve stereo 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm cable (Chinese-non-stealth-magnet)


Tonality: 7/9
Technicality: 7/9
Resolution: 8/9
Biased Score: 4.5


I've been wanting a pair of budget open-back planar magnetic headphones since early this year but I didn't really have the time to start digging into another rabbit hole. but during my leisure time recently, after some readings & the double money-back guarantee from the seller, I was convinced to purchase a pair of the HE400se (Chinese version) for myself purely for the planar experience & the super cheap price tag (RM399/USD94.24). I kept telling myself that it might not be good enough to start with one of the cheapest models of Hifiman, but who knows. (this is my first experience with planar magnetic headphones and I will try giving a simple amateureview of the Chinese version HE400se alone)

No expectation
when I first listened to the non-stealth magnetic HE400se, I didn't like it very much. to say the truth, I've heard some open-back dynamic cans before, so I might have had a little expectation for some similar type of response from these cans. clearly, it was something new to me. although I didn't really like the tonality out of the box, I was quite passionate & became interested to learn more from this pair of headphones until it hit my classical library later that night.


HE400se1a.jpg

a minimalist; from the font to the headband design (without the Hifiman logo)


Build & design
minimalism is an idea that I hold dearly whenever possible. HE400se is minimalistic in many ways, from the font choice to the headband design. it's working minimalist. built with a sturdy pair of yokes with a simple mechanism, I find the headband is very comfortable that I can wear it on my head for hours. the overall build is truly alright and it came with a good working cable in a rubber sleeve. very reasonable package as per the cost. (I've been ignoring most of the Hifiman cans just because of the logo on the headband)

Revelation
I didn't bother with the 'International Version' nor 'Stealth Magnetic' as my intention was very clear and simple. I want to experience an open-back planar with a tight budget and heaven I'm indeed grateful and pleased that I made the purchase as of writing this.

the first hours with the HE400se was the usual favorite test tracks session consists of music like, from My Disco's A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck to Sunn O)))'s Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért). immediately I grasped the well-balanced and almost neutral signature of the driver. I can totally dig this kind of sound and for my musical diet although there was some sibilance here and there on certain pop vocals. (the first hours' session was a car driving and walking around the room using my LG G7 on high impedance mode; 80% volume)

Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major by Alexander Rudin (Naxos, 2002) was the key to my understanding of (this) planar magnetic response. almost everything in my classical library plays like birds of paradise. symphonic sforzando or fortissimo won't do too much harm to these headphones. it can reach a good depth even with crowded parts on live or studio recordings.

it made me smile throughout the night because of the music. it's alive and realistic. yes, I've experienced these words before, but this time it's differently different. to add & to be more precise, I just found a way to bathe myself in the sea of classical music recordings, and it was indeed pure ecstasy.

(listen to this recording and tell me I'm wrong - if possible please listen with HE400se or planar alike)


HE400se4a.jpg

the build is truly alright, but it's kinda irritating to see the wires like that - 7 pieces of non-stealth normal magnet bars


Tinkering
I read stuff online but nothing satisfies me or justifies the purchase more than listening to my classical library with my modest Chinese HE400se. a review by Mr. Ichos on April 27 & a comparison thread on Reddit surely helped beforehand. but there was something about the grill mod on the internet. some of them on Google image are really good just to look at.

I opened the soft pad, it was lovely, nothing extraordinary. removed the grill and the headphones responded slightly differently. the produced sound was more lively and airy but less thumpy, and it stayed like that for a few days until I put the grills back on but without the black cloth. I removed the black cloth & left it that way. I didn't bother to do any further modification because it was good enough for me.


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inside out: gotta love the look. swapped only the right cup to easily spot the channel. it's not plastic!


Technicalities & extras
music was always playing though I was not listening. sometimes through FiiO BTR5 or LG G7 on low volume. (150 hours burn-in as suggested in the manual)

I don't know anything about burn-in for planar drivers (or any kind of drivers really), but it doesn't produce any sibilant and the tonality is quite to my liking after a few days of continuous burn-in. it doesn't sound 'plasticky' like when I first heard it out of the box but the sound has slightly opening up and it's leaning towards neutral-organic. is it just me or is the HE400se is changing? does it mean the headphone is inconsistent? maybe, but it sure sounds nice.

other than classical, songs like Zu's Carbon, Lee Ritenour's Riverman & Mogwai's Rano Pano clearly sounded better than last time. these songs are sensitive & really good for gear testing. to highlight, the texture on both baritone bass & baritone saxophone on Zu's Carbon is very clear and full-bodied considering the lean bass response on HE400se. My Disco's An Intimate Conflict is one of my favorite tracks for saturated texture too. big jazz band piece like Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band's We've Just Begun is so addictive with an articulate instrument layering & separation. dynamics are also great with tracks like Muddy Waters' Big Leg Woman, Chick Corea's The Trial, and Casiopea's Eyes of The Mind.

overall for me, it was a satisfying listening on multiple sessions with a variety of genres and mixing styles especially live classical recordings. it has a good dynamic and is almost transparent in nature. ultimately, it will shine better with better production quality. a quiet or treated room is a requirement to achieve supreme exultation.

Driveability+
I find the new Topping EX5 is a great match to the HE400se. ample power for maximum satisfaction with 1.3W @ 32 ohms peak. the dual ES9038Q2M DAC is also great. the soundstage is wide enough with great instrument separation & layering. transient is spot on, with fast attack and agreeable decay. while imaging is good, overall it behaves differently than what I used to with Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk or ThieAudio Legacy 3 and on with other amplification. it makes me want to listen to everything that I have in my huge library again. Topping EX5 really helps to achieve the utmost joy.

the Chinese HE400se has great technical capabilities considering the price alone. but these cans really need a good amplification to perform better. yes, it's driveable but it won't reveal its true form or showcasing a balanced tonality with mobile or portable devices although it only has a 25 ohms impedance with 91dB efficiency (as advertised).


HE400se3a.jpg

Topping x Shenzhenaudio; the EX5 is a good match to HE400se. beautiful sound


Sit & listen
is this the best budget open-back planar magnetic headphones up to this point? I don't know, I just got started. it's not perfect, but I can confirm that it can produce a very musical and technical audio playback with decent amplification. I can see myself listening & bopping to these headphones for another year or two if no one ever provides me the 'honey'. at this point, I don't see why I need an upgrade with a 'perfect' budget setup like this.

despite the not-full mark score, I'm giving the Chinese HE400se a strong recommendation (4.5 stars) based on my audio reproduction product experience + the overall package. who cares about the no-carrying pouch or stealth magnetic? (I do actually care & curious about the stealth magnetic version. please send me a pair)

whether you're a veteran or a first-timer, just go get the Chinese version if you can. 1 for yourself, and another 1 for your friend or family member. sit and enjoy. sit and listen. but above all, sit together forever.

thank you for reading.


(yes, it's biased, not an objective review)
Last edited:
Osiris89
Osiris89
I really don't know how anyone who reads this review won't buy these pair of cans. Heck, it won't even hurt their wallet to just try out!

Great review, mate!
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
thank you. it's a newb perspective and without any comparison. I don't urge people to buy but the non-stealth magnetic version alone is really good for the price. at least to me

SenyorC

Head-Fier
A new budget reference!
Pros: - Tuning
- Performance
- SQ
- Great entry level planar
Cons: - Cable
- Considering the price, it is difficult to pick more faults
As always, my reviews are also available in Spanish on my blog and on YouTube, visit achoreviews.com to see them, along with all my other reviews (in English and Spanish).


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The Hifiman HE400se has been kindly loaned to me by Hifiman in exchange for publishing this review. They have not requested anything specific and, as always, my opinions will be as sincere and honest as possible but it is always good to be aware of the fact that it hasn’t cost me anything to try these headphones.

Intro…

Before I start with the HE400se, I would like to go back to September last year, when I reviewed the HE400i (2020). In that review, I said that the 400i were a decent set of headphones for their price but that they weren’t great. This has brought a bunch of comments (on my channel and on other forums) where people stated how incorrect I was, to the point that I felt that maybe I had received a pair with issues.

Now, the HE400se is a set of headphones that are at a similar price point to the HE400i, in fact, they are even cheaper, coming in at around 130€ direct from Hifiman.

I have never had the chance to try a different set of HE400i, so I really don’t know if they had issues or if I simply didn’t like them, but I will say that if the HE400i that I had in my hands had sounded anything like these HE400se, I would have given them a very positive review!

Anyway, enough about the past and on with the present, the HE400se.

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Presentation…

The presentation of the HE400se is very basic and it is easy to tell that Hifiman have saved as much on packaging as possible, which is a good thing when talking about a budget set of headphones.

Inside the box that is very reminiscent of other Hifiman models, we find the headphones sitting in a cheap plastic tray, along with a single ended cable and the warranty documentation.

That is it, there is nothing more to mention. This means that whatever they spent on making these headphones has gone into the headphones and not the packaging.


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Build and aesthetics…

I want to get the negative out of the way first... the cable. I am a fan of Hifiman but their cables are usually not great, at least on the models I have tried. I am sorry to say that the cable that is included with the HE400se is the worst cable I have ever received, and I am not just referring to “received with headphones”, I honestly cannot think of a cable I have disliked more with anything I have purchased.

The cable feels like a single strand cable, in fact, it feels like a length of thin fence wire that has been covered in plastic and had some TRS connectors put on the end. It is not only horrible to the touch and feel, it also bends and holds the shape just like any normal piece of fence wire would. Usually, even with some of the bad cables that come bundled with stuff (not referring to Hifiman but headphones and IEMs in general), I would say it’s not great but just swap it out if you don’t like it. In this case, I literally could not use it, it irritated me. The good news is that the HE400se are just regular 3.5mm TRS connectors, one on each cup, so you can easily use a different cable.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, the headphones…

The HE400se do not look like an expensive set of headphones, you can tell that they are not boutique quality, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t good for their price. The headband is the same as that used on the Deva and HE400i, which is a headband that works and is comfortable enough for longer sessions.

The pads are also decent, with the internal part of the pads using cloth where they touch your face, with an imitation leather around the outside. I also believe that these are the usual Hifiman size, so replacement pads shouldn't prove to be difficult to get.

The cups are made of a silver coloured plastic that, while not being a high end material, makes the headphones very light and helps again with comfort. The yokes that hold the cups to the headband are made of aluminium (or aluminum on the US version) which also keeps them light but makes them much stronger than if they had used plastic for the yokes.

I don't think that the HE400se is a headphone that I would consider beautiful but they are not ugly, at least to my eyes, and seem to have been built to be good without breaking the bank.

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Sound…

Presentation and build go out the window when we make it this far, the sound is by far the most important part of any headphone but even more so when we are talking about a budget offering.

The HE400se uses what Hifiman calls the “Stealth Magnet”, which is designed to reduce reflections and other non wanted issues inside the cup, while still being able to present that clear and clean sound that we (or at least I) associate with Hifiman.

The general sound of the HE400se is something that is easily identified as being a Hifiman planar but let's go through the usual steps regarding sound.

Starting with the subbass, there is plenty of that low end rumble when needed but it does not feel overdone at any point, in fact, I would say that there is a slight roll off as the frequencies drop but the HE400se manages to still seem to be present when needed . Tracks such as “Chameleon”, which is a rather demanding track in the low end, are presented in a way that the subbass is clearly defined but does not invade other frequencies. “No Sanctuary Here” is a very pleasurable listen on the HE400se, with plenty of low presence while maintaining the clarity needed. The low hits are clear and precise, no sense of bloat or loss of control.

Moving slightly higher into the mid and high bass, they deal well with electronic music, sounding very clean in these regions when listening to songs like “I Fink U Freeky”, while still being able to present natural instruments, such as my beloved bass guitars, in a way that is realistic and well balanced. From “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, a modern take on pop music, through to “Elephants On Ice Skates” by Brian Bromberg, a mix of plucking and ringing bass notes, both sound pleasurable and it is easy to identify the various styles happening in the low end.

In the lower mids, the transition from the bass is very clean, no sense of bleed or muddyness, making it very easy to define the differences between the low mids of say a guitar and the high bass of a bass guitar.

The mids are very balanced as we move through the center of them, although there is a slight dip when starting to reach the higher mids, somewhere around the 2kHz mark. While this dip is slightly noticeable, it is not to the extent of making vocals lose their presence in the higher midrange. “Down to the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss does seem to place her voice slightly further back that I am used to on higher end planar options from Hifiman, making it a little more in line with the backing vocals rather than take that extra step forwards, but it is certainly not unpleasant. I find this to be the case with various tracks that are mainly based on vocals, although I find it more noticeable with female vocals. In the case of “These Bones” by The Fairfield Four, the voices are still very nicely presented and seem well balanced, there is just a little step back in the higher frequency vocals.

Moving into the higher mids and the lower treble, the presence is back and makes the dip around 2kHz be just that, a small dip. This elevation in the higher mids works well to overcome said dip and manages to do so without causing any side effects such as harshness or nasal sounding voices.

Into the treble areas, there is a nice extension and presence of air and space found in the higher regions. These are not the most “airy” and “spacious” headphones I have heard but I cannot think of another set of headphones at a similar price that are better. I find the treble pleasurable and, although I could say that a little more smoothness would be appreciated, I have no doubt that these headphones are well above the competition in their price bracket.

As far as speed and dynamics, well, I could compare them to higher priced options from Hifiman and pick faults, but if we stay strictly in the sub 200€ bracket, I don’t think that any other headphones could make the HE400se seem like they are lacking in details. There are a few tracks, such as “All Your Love (Turned to Passion)” by Sara K., where I do miss some of those background details but, to be fair, they are details that I appreciate on headphones such as the Ananda which are 8 times the price of the HE400se. Even with very busy and complex tracks, the HE400se may not deal with them in such an effortless manner as the higher end planars but they certainly don’t feel as though they are struggling to keep up.

As far as soundstage and image placement, the width is not huge but it is more than enough to be considered good, with a great placement of images inside that area. Again, as I just mentioned, some of the background details are not quite present, meaning that they are also difficult to pinpoint in the sound stage, but the general placement and transitions from left to right, such as in the case of “Letter”, the placement is very good, in fact, I would say almost excellent if we consider the price range these headphones sit in.

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Conclusion…

The Hifiman HE400se are a set of headphones that offer far more than their price tag would lead one to believe. The overall sound and tuning is very good, except for that slight dip around 2kHZ and maybe a little roll off in the lowest regions (which does not bother me personally as I don’t like overly present bass).

Maybe the details are not up to the level of higher priced options but I think that they are way above the competition where they sit (at least amongst those that I have tried).

There are a few things that I could wish to improve on them but when I think of which headphones do these things much better, I realize that I am thinking of headphones that are way above the price of the HE400se. I would like to have a coherent comparison against the Sundara, which I feel is possible the next step up, but it has been so long since I heard the Sundara that I can’t compare them fairly.

In comparison to other headphones at a similar price, I have no doubt that I would choose the HE400se over the other that I have heard.

I think that if someone is looking for an audiophile experience on a limited budget, the HE400se is a great option that I would have no problem recommending. They do need amplification, at least I have found that they do, but they do not need some ridiculous amount of power to be driven properly. I have mostly listened to them from the Asgard 3, although I have used them a fair bit with the Atom and they were just as pleasurable.

If someone were to pick up the HE400se for 130€, add a Modi3+ for another 100€ and an Atom or Magni3 for another 100€, you have a very very capable set up for just over 300€. Well, maybe add an extra 20€ for a cable that isn’t made of fence wire and for 350€ you have a headphone set up that needs a lot more layout in order to improve it.

I have absolutely no doubt that the HE400se has become my recommended headphones for under 200€, possibly even more!

cappuchino

Previously known as sub30
Planar for the Masses
Pros: Planar driver benefits
Resolution
Detail-retrieval
Close-to-neutral tuning
Heavenly pads
INSANE PRICE
Cons: HIFIMAN/planar pre-upper midrange dip
Soundstage depth
Will not fit larger heads
Cable (new orders are now shipped with 2 cables)
Needs lots of power – understandable as it is a planar headphone
Timbre (preference)
Disclaimer:

I would like to thank Mr. Mark and HIFIMAN for providing a review unit of the HE400se. Rest assured that my impressions written in this review are my own personal thoughts and opinions and in no way influenced by outside parties.

I am not an expert in this hobby nor claim to be an audiophile. I just love listening to music and am fond of writing articles.



Introduction:


HIFIMAN is one of the biggest players in the headphone world. Founded in 2007, they have since been at the top when it comes to creating the best value-for-money and the TOTL “endgame” headphones. We have here the HE400se (Global Edition), the cheapest of all HIFIMAN headphones – an open-back, planar headphone utilizing "stealth magnets", currently selling for 149 USD. It has a sensitivity oh 91 dB with an impedance of 25 ohms.


These were plugged to my Oppo Reno 4/Asus X409 with the Earstudio HUD100 MK2 (bypass, high power) and the Kenwood KA-7100 for the review. Needs lots of power for drivers to wake up (bass extension/rumble, treble energy, clarity, soundstage improvements, etc.). 2 Vrms is enough to reach my listening volume with enough headroom but is in no way going to "wake-up" the sleeping planar of the HE400se.


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Build and Comfort: A mix of plastic and metal. It’s a balance between weight, practicality and ease of use. Due to the earcups and grill being plastic, HIFIMAN was able to keep the weight down to a comfortable level. Headband is on the thicker side, is well-padded and feels nice on my head. There’s a bit of rattle on the phones themselves, but understandable for the price. The hybrid pads, meanwhile, are heavenly - soft, plush, and non-irritating. It’s also angled for better wearing comfort. I didn’t encounter any issues regarding comfort with the HE400se. Forgot to mention, but this HIFIMAN utilizes recessed dual 3.5mm female connectors.

HOWEVER, I have the headband extended to the fullest and as reference, I have an average adult Asian head. Do take that into consideration as an estimate whether the HE400se will be comfortable for you or not. To note, I wear prescription glasses and the HE400se doesn’t get in the way of wearing said glasses properly.

Cable’s bad. Like really bad. It coils, is extra stiff, retains shape (like memory wire), and doesn’t give the headphone justice. Jack’s housing is plastic but it does have generous strain relief. The dual 3.5mm connectors also have plastic housing. And my biggest caveat of them all – it doesn’t have a splitter.

*Edit: it appears to be that new orders are now shipped with 2 cables.

Isolation is non-existent. Sound leakage would get you hit on the head by the people around you.


Package: 6.35mm adapter. Paperwork. 4-core cable.



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Now, onto sound:

For this review, the headphone was left in stock mode, without mods with a listening volume of low-medium to medium.


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Bass:
neutral. Considering that it’s an open-back design, it extends surprisingly well. But do keep that design choice in mind as while it does reach sub-bass territory, it struggles and starts rolling off at around 45 Hz or so. Not for EDM at all. Texture is well-presented so as not to sound overly smoothened out. Due to the planar driver, the HE400se can keep up with any song no matter how fast the bass lines are, though it does lack the visceral and physical impact of a dynamic driver. No bleed whatsoever. An overall satisfyingly excellent bass quality for the price. Weight and impact improve with more power.

Midrange: transparent, highly resolving and airy but there’s something weird going on. I know what it is and I’ve read about it in the past – the HIFIMAN pre-upper midrange dip manifested in their planar headphones. This takes away the possible shouty-ness from that region and highlights the airy highs, which in turn generates more space between the different regions. It does take some time getting used to and will sound particularly strange on initial listen. What this does negatively is it takes away a bit of bite from instruments like that of a distorted electric guitar. After that dip, it starts picking up again to neutral level where it provides clarity and definition to the overall presentation. Male and female vocals are presented without any bias towards one or the other and resolves fairly well.

Treble: very revealing treble region following a neutral tuning, but not the most refined. Has peaks in the upper end of the spectrum which leads to a tendency for the HE400se to sound zingy at higher volumes (preference and tolerance-dependent). Also extends well which adds more air, and in extension “soundstage.” With a weaker source like a phone or a laptop, the treble region sounds dead. It really needs more amplification for the planar drivers to wake up. After that, the listener is greeted with cymbal strikes that have planar fast attack and decay, maybe even too fast for their own good as they don’t provide that realistic rattle I look for and dies down quickly. One good thing is that harsh splashy-ness is simply never gonna occur.

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Timbre:
Planar hits different. I do believe that the driver type plays a huge role on the timbral characteristics of a transducer. And with the HE400se? While it does sound pure without coloration, it has this stiff and dry trait to it where it can also be interpreted as being rather artificial and not organic-sounding.

Soundstage, Imaging, and Separation: With the HUD100 MK2, there was limited soundstage width and height, having this sort of barrier a few centimeters away from your head that prevents a freer presentation. Plugging it to the Kenwood KA-7100 is a different story – everything opens up (more width and height; equal amount) with sound having more space to move around, giving the listener all o' them open-back goodness. Depth is enough to provide a 3D stage though I would have appreciated more as it’s barely enough to sound holographic (also presents the midrange in a more intimate fashion but still remains un-claustrophobic). Layering is sophisticated and compensates for the soundstage depth of the HE400se. Imaging plays along with that stage as well and is quite sharp and accurate, where it is easy to pinpoint where sound is coming from. Thanks to the instrument separation being able to handle any song, the HE400se can play virtually any genre but due to the depth, it has a tendency to sound crowded in the "extreme" multi-instrument tracks.

Detail-retrieval: Again, that planar goodness! Due to said driver and its close to neutral tuning, both macro and microdetails are rendered beautifully and clearly. As the resolution is also exceptional, it is a treat to listen to the HE400se.

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Conclusion:


A neutral-tuned headphone with a slight bias towards the upper frequencies, I see the HIFIMAN HE400se as a great value headphone sub-200 USD. While there is nothing going on with the packaging, the headphone themselves are built justifiably for the price, along with the heavenly pads. 2 Vrms can bring forth enjoyment, but do feed them with more power. Oh, and did I mention that they're full-size planar headphones all for 149 USD and even less?


*Dropped rating due to Takstar HF580


****If you have other questions/concerns with the headphone mentioned, feel free to message me****​
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Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
The King is dead - Long live the King.
Pros: - Natural and well balanced tuning
- Very extended soundstage
- Engaging and fatigue free
- Clear and detailed
- Comfortable
- Good build quality
- Great value for money
Cons: - Lacking in body and slam
- Could be more refined
- Not portable source friendly
- Passable cable
- Without any carrying pouch
The HE400se was kindly provided by HiFiMan as a long term loaner in order to be used for this and future reviews.
They have never asked for a favorable review and as always I am providing my honest and subjective opinion.

Introduction

The brand new HiFiMan HE400se is a classic favourite with a modern twist or to put it in other words yet another version of the iconic HE400.
The latest iteration was the HE400i 2020 that is now discontinued and replaced by the HE400se version.

There are two variants available , the one being made specifically for the Chinese market and the international version being reviewed here.

They retail at $149 that is $20 cheaper than the HE400i 2020 and you can get them directly from the HiFiMan store

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Technical parameters

The international version is the only one to feature HiFiMan's unique stealth magnet design.

Unlike the sound waves created by a conventional magnet , the special shape of the stealth magnets enables the waves to pass through the magnets without generating interference.

HiFiMan's advanced magnet design is acoustically transparent, dramatically reducing wave diffraction turbulence that degrades the integrity of the sound waves.
The reduced distortion yields pure sonic output that is accurate and full range.

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Build quality and comfort

The HE400se features the newly designed adjustable lightweight headband design that was introduced with the Deva and adopted since then.
The headband is reinforced with heavy memory foam padding and it has a cool feeling and comfortable positioning but it feels a little cumbersome.

The aluminum yokes insert inside the headband and can be very easily adjusted in a lot better way than the Sundara system plus they allow for an extra swivel.

The ear cups are made of durable silver colored plastic and the drivers are protected by a newly designed metallic black grill for enhanced durability and protection from the elements.

Overall build quality is typical HiFiMan but it is much improved since older generations and certainly acceptable for the price point but still something is left to be desired compared to the competition.

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The ear pads are the hybrid style that HiFiMan is using lately with faux leather at the outside perimeter and perforated at the inside plus a velour surface area that touches the face.
They are filled with memory foam and feature an asymmetrical shape that is thinner at the front side.
The inside diameter is 6cm so slightly larger than the 2020 edition (5.5cm) and a little smaller than the Deva so they can accommodate the whole ear without exercising pressure.
Weight is 390gr and while they are 20gr heavier than the HE400i 2020 edition they fit and feel very comfortable with minimum clamping force and good breathability.

Cable

The headphone features the new dual entry 3.5mm removable cable system which thankfully is compatible with a lot of aftermarket choices because the bundled cable is passable.
HiFiMan instead of improving their generally bad stock cables they just keep stepping backwards.

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Accessories

Well there are no accessories and besides the cable we get a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter and that's it.
A carrying pouch is very cheap to buy in the wholesale market and would be very easily included without affecting the selling price of the headphone.
It is not that it is so necessary but it is the first impressions that count against the thriving competition.

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Sound impressions

We have let the drivers burn for about 80 hours before starting the listening sessions.
Since this is a $149 headphone it felt natural to test it with dac/amps of similar value more or less so we mainly opted for FiiO BTR5 (balanced) , EarMen TR AMP (review) , iFi ZEN CAN and Schiit Hel 2 & Vali 2+ (review)

About power

The HE400se is rated at 25Ω/91dB and it is not portable friendly at all.
It is power hungry and there is no way to use it with a phone or low powered devices.
For example with the iBasso DX300 balanced output which is quite powerful and very competent we need to use high gain and get up to >85 volume setting in order to get loud enough but there is still much left to be desired.
The Hel 2 was very good but we reached half the pot in high gain to enjoy the HE400se.
The same goes with small dac/amps like the BTR5 which can get loud enough but it feels very underpowered by sounding thin and anemic.

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Listening

The HE400se is one of the best tuned HiFiMan headphones with a very balanced and even frequency response without any severe peaks or dips.

Bass is fairly extended and very linear up to the mids but can't reach sub bass levels without roll off.
The tuning is reference type without any unnecessary boost or coloration so it is very easy to hear and distinguish all the bass instruments no matter how many of them are playing.
We couldn't spot any signs of masking or mib bass bleeding and we were very pleased with the overall clarity and layering.
Bass is very tight and controlled but with the downside that it feels lean , that is without any extra weight and body so while it is quite dynamic you don't hear that slamming effect.
The driver is very fast and dynamically contrasted but it doesn't allow for mass air movement so the attack is soft without rumble.

Mid frequency response is very linear with the slightest dip while reaching for the upper mid range.
This is a neutral and not mid centric headphone and all parts of the spectrum get equal shares so don't expect voices to step ahead with added presence.
Clarity is amazing for the category and timbre is very natural and organic with a blended instrumental palette and a nice rendering of the various overtones.
A very engaging presentation without added warmth but still very rounded and greatly articulated with good vocals rendering.

Rising upwards we have the necessarily uplifting that it is needed to add space , air and high resolution.
Treble performance is greatly balanced between sounding lively and illuminated but with a smooth and polite manner without any signs of brightness or hardness.
Clarity is good and extension with detail retrieval are satisfying but here we start to hear a few shortcomings of the driver.
There is a certain extra loss of body relative to the mids and lows so highs sound a touch more lean in comparison.
Decay is faster than the ideal so bells and high-huts or similar instruments fade away in a hurried manner.
Timbre is good without any metallic flavor but articulation is not so fine and nuanced as we would like it to be.
An instant example is solo harpsichord where the upper notes struggle to compete with the lower register or in full orchestra where violins sound a little mashed and high percussion can't shine in the mix.

We are nitpicking here and for the asking price the HE400se is a capable and neutral , well balanced headphone with an ethereal character to it that is not analytical or cold blooded but not warm either.

The stage is remarkable and miles ahead from the bulk of the competition.
It is wide with natural proportions and although it is lacking in depth we are compensated with a great deal of space and excellent imaging just a touch panned left and right.
The HE400se is not afraid of heavy loaded and complicated music and is very suitable for large symphonic works able to do justice to the full orchestra.

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Compared to the HE400i 2020 ($169)

Overall build quality and fit are the same with 0.5cm more room inside the pads for the HE400se so not much left to talk about here.

The same goes with the overall tonality which is more or less the same for both headphones with slightly more present and forward mids for the HE400i 2020 (review).
The two siblings differ in the way that they present the music with the elder one being more cosy and intimate , a little more relaxed with an added overall weight to the sound and a more intense vocal projection.
Stage is less airy and more narrow on the HE400i but with the same pinpoint imaging.
Both headphones are great performers for the price and we do think that HE400i 2020 owners should skip the HE400se and look higher in the food chain but new buyers should not be worried about the 400i 2020 being discontinued because the brand new HE400se is of the same league and with a slightly reduced price.

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Compared to the HE5XX/Deva ($220/$299 with the BlueMini)

Build is of the same quality and the major difference lies in the extra room inside the HE5XX (review) / Deva (review) ear pads and the different design of the HE5XX headband that some users might prefer.
The expensive models are more comfortable and cool but the HE400se can fit more tightly and stay in place whether the other two feel more loose, especially the Deva.

Overall frequency response is quite similar with a few differences.
The HE400se treble is more smooth and relaxed and compared the other two models have a touch of a mid emphasis.
While you can't call the HE5XX/Deva bright or piercing they have an extra accentuation at the presence area.
Not necessarily sharp but that extra energy is clearly heard as a resonance peak that some users may find fatiguing.
Of course frequency response is only part of the equation and the rest are up to the HE5XX/Deva favor.
Bass is a fuller and extended lower with greater impact and dynamics plus it is more layered and controlled.
Mids sound more liquid and full bodied as for higher frequencies they are greatly extended with a finer articulation , extra thickness and more natural decay.
The soundstage is slightly wider but with that missing extra depth and layering so space allocation feels more natural and lifelike.
The more expensive headphones are the better performers but mid - high frequencies tonality and ringing artifacts might not suit all users alike.

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Compared to the Sennheiser HD560S ($200)

It's been a while since we reviewed the HD560S (review) and the unit is now returned so we couldn't perform an A/B comparison.

Build quality is quite different and while not necessarily a lot better it has that western touch and refinement in design and overall feeling.
Both headphones are very comfortable but the HD560S headband is better fitting and the headphone is considerably more lightweight, weighing a whole 150gr less, a difference that is of critical value on extended use.

Regarding sound signature the HD560S is more forward at the upper mid range with a distinctive peak at presence area followed by a sudden and steep roll off that translates in less distanced and warmer sounding vocals but considerably more bright and with ringing artifacts in the treble.
Both headphones are ethereal with a leaner character to their presentation but the HD560S bass is extending lower with added dynamics/ramble and extra weight.
Both have a reference like neutral tuning and are very detailed with excellent clarity and almost equal in terms of soundstage and imaging.
We found the HE400se to be more balanced and engaging for long term casual listening while the 560S felt more clear with better detail retrieval and finer articulation.

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At the end

The HE400se is going to be another HiFiMan bestseller as it is undoubtedly the best value planar magnetic headphone in the market right now with an overall sound performance that greatly exceeds the humble asking price.
It is a great entry level reference headphone and a first step into the planar magnetic world for the budget conscious audiophile who is going to feel that his hard earned cash is well spent here.
Very highly recommended.

Test playlist

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2021
Last edited:
P
pk4425
@adhoclex The treble of the HE-400se isn't piercing at all. It rolls off nicely at just the right frequency. I also own the Sennheiser HD 560s, which is a very neutral can, yet its treble has a peak at a certain frequency that adds a touch of harshness. That's not present in the HE-400se.
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hevelaoak
hevelaoak
nice review my friend. I find the comparisons help
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much!
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