Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX


New Head-Fier
Best Bang for buck budget Planar Magnetics
Pros: Amazing sound for the price
Cons: Not an all day headphone
as expected, Hard to drive
Because they are cheap, the HE-4XX's will more offten be compared to phones of the same price,So comparing these to equivalently priced headphones, they sound much more controlled and precise, when going back to normal dynamic(same priced) headphones the sound is slightly flatter and duller.

Bass is punchy and controlled, with a good DAC you get that deep low end energy, with out the need for tone controls
Treble is sharp and clear, since i can't hear above 13-15k i welcome more treble.

Small issue with these is the weight and high pressure they put on your head, so after about 1-2hrs i get a headache, but it may due to the extra bass they make. And you will need a headphone amp if you want to drive them loud, but they still sound very good at low volumes, you will be good with a USB powered DAC like the Dragonfly.

If your on a budget(less than$400) and still deciding what headphones to buy, i highly recommend these.
These are like a gateway drug to high-end sound, before the HE 4XX, for me spending $1000+ on a pair of headphones was out of the question, but listening to these maybe its time to start saving up.
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Nice review! Have owned my HE4XX for about two years now and really enjoy them.
Got mine open box for $106. Incredible bargain for a planar magnetic. 😀
Hard to drive? Mine runs fine on my two old crappy DAP's and way loud on my LG v40.


New Head-Fier
Great entry into the planar headphone world
Pros: comfortable pads
planar bass
details & transparency
Cons: somewhat high contact pressure
...with treble boost
treble sometimes a bit peaked
stage for an open design
Rating: 8.2
Sound: 8.1


DROP tries in cooperation with established companies to make their products accessible to a wider mass at lower prices by taking former or current products with a good reputation, giving them a little more mainstream (soundwise) and also trying to implement more cost-effective variants in the design. Although DROP does not always succeed with these "slimmed down" versions to land a big hit, but in collaboration with SENNHEISER (HD6XX & HD58X), for example, respectable headphones have been created, which can represent a benchmark in the price range.

So let's take a look at how this cooperation with HIFIMAN is bearing fruit, where several models have already been released (HE35X, HE4XX, HE5XX & EDITION XX).


The HE4XX makes a very robust impression, which is certainly also subjectively generated by its weight. This is not particularly low at just under 400 grams, but it is well distributed on the head and ears, so that the wearing comfort is in a good range.
The very comfortable pads are angled slightly to provide better ergonomics. However, I find the contact pressure a bit high at the beginning, but you get used to it just like with the SENNHEISER HD6XX, or HD58X. Nevertheless, this is, for example, better managed with the HE5XX.

The headband has sufficient padding, but it could be a bit softer. I also miss a grid device for size adjustment, but the headband automatically slides into a well-fitting position when put on.

The scope of delivery is somewhat modest. There is only a rather thick cable with a 3.5mm jack connection, which can be adapted to 6.3mm (included). The headphones are connected on the left and right via 3.5mm jack, which also makes it easy to convert the HE4XX to balanced operation.

The isolation is hardly worth mentioning due to the open design, but it is slightly better than the even airier HE5XX due to the better sealing of the ear pads.



The HE4XX was basically my first planar over-ear headphones and I was initially a bit skeptical about how the bass performance would turn out here, since I was used to more dynamic representatives. Absolutely unfounded, because the bass of the HE4XX does not quite come close to this organic and dynamic of such a "conventional" driver, but it brings completely new qualities. Of course, not every dynamic headphone is equal to a high pleasure in the bass. There is a wide control in both directions here.

The HE4XX's bass is not only interesting because of its detailed, drying playing style, it adds a certain lightness to the sound. Even though it doesn't bring the fattest kick in the subrange or build up any noticeable punch, it's very accurate without slipping into the mids or overdoing it. This not only makes it very clean, but gives it an unexpected sense of spaciousness. To that end, it persists in any genre with consistent quality and speed. Absolute bassheads might want to look to closed-back dynamic headphones, though, for the absolute kick.

I would describe the mids as quite neutral, even if they sometimes seem a bit restrained to me and don't sparkle with energy. Basically, I quite like these relaxed, natural, but detailed mids in this form, though in that case I would like a bit more liveliness to create a symbiosis with the treble. Thus, the relationship is a bit discordant to me, but I don't blame the mids as much for that, since they basically do little wrong. Voices are intimate and instruments that are more in the midrange sound largely realistic.

Neither garishness resonates nor any other unpleasant background noise. However, the mids sometimes sound a bit veiled, but this only becomes noticeable when you switch to the HE5XX, for example.

The treble should be taken with a grain of salt here and there, as it is noticeably artificially boosted, which can amplify the sibilants and cause the HE4XX's tonality to slip a bit into the bright and unnatural at times. This is song-dependent, but for me there is always something slightly artificial resonating, although you also quickly get used to it.
Nevertheless, the trebles are transparent and have a good resolution, but they don't necessarily invite you to turn up the volume. However, it is precisely the good detail and transparency that finally make the highs attractive and give them not only quantity, but also quality, even if this is not always produced in a natural-looking way.

The stage is well positioned in terms of width and depth, although this is certainly not where the HE4XX's absolute strengths lie. I would describe this as quite realistic, without the stage being classified as above average in width. Compared to the HE5XX, the HE4XX sounds a bit more compact, but this could also suit some people.

Despite the more accentuated highs, the HE4XX is not quite as airy and quite intimate, especially in the voice presentation. The separation is decent and voices and instruments are clearly separated from each other, but if you compare this to the HE5XX, you'll notice a few deficits. However, the HE4XX is not bad from a technical point of view and is certainly still very decent in its price segment. However, you shouldn't expect an outstanding holographic sound despite an open planar driver.


The HE4XX is an interesting and competent planar headphone in its price segment! However, in comparison with other price-performance powerhouses from DROP, it can't quite keep up for my taste (HE4XX < HD58X < HE5XX < HD6XX) and for me that has something to do with its slightly artificial, sometimes peaky highs, because the bass and mids are really good tonally. Here is certainly still a bit what to get out with an equalizer.

In the end it is also a question of taste and above all tolerance, as far as the treble is concerned.
However, I would have liked either a bit more lively mids or slightly more relaxed highs a la HD6XX to make the HE4XX sound even more harmonious overall. The HE4XX is a very good, high-resolution all-rounder and a great entry into the planar headphone world.
If you have a few more bucks in your pocket and prefer a more lively, open sound, you should take a look at the HE5XX if you want a HIFIMAN (DROP edition).

However, with the HE4XX, you should keep in mind that despite the successful overall performance, we are still talking about a planar headphone of just under 150 €, which makes it very well positioned in its price range and more than competitive!


More reviews: CHI-FIEAR
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Makiah S
Makiah S
Buying used is a great way to hear things for your self! Re-sale on a used purchased is usually pretty close to what you paid for it initially.
HE-500 used $360 new $800; HEX v2 $706 used, new $1600; HE-600 v1 discount new $699 original $1799.

HFM cans drop price more than most because:

1. warranty only backed for original user
2. general QC rep
3. decision to discount original list - frequently

What you say holds better for some other makers. Senn 800S tend to go over 50% of original list. Audeze similar. Being a HFM advantage has some benefits outside of the sonics.
Good review! 😀


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound Quality with great build at a silly low price
Cons: None really
I waited a while to give an opinion on the Hifiman HE4XX because I had bought so many Headphones I did not want to unfairly compare them to something else .

So I bought the Original blue Hifiman HE400 and compared them to their earliest incarnation.

The 4XX has slightly less Bass but in my opinion better quicker bass .

The highs are great and with a reasonably flat mid-range withw a punchy Bass so these are exciting headphones and I was lucky enough to pick them up new on eBay for only $120

The build quality is much better than the blue pair which also were purchased new for twice the price .
At massdroops price of $169 it's really a no brainier these are to my ears wider in soundstage to the original also
Good review! 😀


New Head-Fier
Pros: Nice sounding head phones if you happen to get a non-defective unit. It sounds best at lower volumes and it is forgiving of poor sounding recordings.
Cons: You will probably get a defective headphone
Besides the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX, my other headphones are the Sennheiser HD600 and HD700, Beyerdynamic dt990, and Philips Fidelio X2. Each of these headphones could be considered my favorite on any given day. I swap headphones to match with specific recordings. I use the Schitt Asgard 2 for the headphone amp and the Marantz CD5005 as the source. I listen mostly to classical and opera.

The Hifiman HE 4XX is my second headphone purchase from Hifiman. I previously owned the HE 400S but I returned it (and paid a hefty restocking fee) because it had little or no bass, poor treble extension, and poor resolution.

The HE 4XX sounded significantly better than the HE 400S right out of the box. It has a warm, full bass and smooth midrange but the resolution was poor and the imaging was the worst of any headphone I have ever owned. There was no imaging or soundstage whatsoever.

I burned them in for about 700 hours but there was no improvement in resolution or imaging, so I started looking for mods and found that some people like to replace the outer grill. I removed the grill on the right ear cup and found that 2 of the ribbons had paper glued to them. I removed the paper and glue the best I could. I also removed the cloth filter from the grill before replacing it. Then I removed the grill from the left ear cup and found that 3 of the ribbons had paper and glue on them. I removed it the best I could and replaced the grill after removing the cloth filter.

After doing the repair, the sound immediately and dramatically improved. The resolution and detail went from poor to good and imaging and soundstage went from non-existent to excellent.


Before the repair, the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX had a mainstream friendly sound. It had a warm sound but poor detail. The texture of the sound that I normally hear from my other headphones was noticeably missing. I had trouble finding recordings that I could listen to and would frequently have to change to a different headphone part way through the first track. There was no imaging or soundstage. I imagine that some people would not notice this problem and they would think there was nothing wrong with the defective headphones.

After the repair, the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX sounded much different. Resolution and soundstage had a huge improvement. However, I was still not in love with them. It was hard finding recordings that sounded good on these headphones. Compared to my other headphones, the sound was muddy in the bass and the treble was too rolled off.

Then one night I was listening to the Emerson String Quartet CD of Bach Fugues and I could not get it to sound good. It sounded really muddy and congested. Then I lowered the volume a bit and it sounded a little better. Eventually I lowered the volume so much that it was like I was listening to background music but the sound was much clearer and enjoyable.

These days I mostly use the HE 4XX mostly for late night, low volume listening for chamber music. None of my other headphones can be played at such low volumes without the soundstage and tonal quality collapsing. The HE 4XX fills a niche that my other headphones cannot fulfill.

Bass 4/5

Before the repair, the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX had a big, fat, upper bass and lower midrange but not much extension. It was like listening to a car stereo with a 4 inch woofer and the bass boosted by an equalizer.

After the repair, the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX has much better bass extension and texture. It now extends an octave or two lower but lacks the slam and sub-bass rumbles of larger and more expensive headphones but most people will probably not notice this unless they are listening to orchestral music and they have been using other headphones with better extension.

Midrange 4/5

The Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX has a smooth midrange that lacks some detail on some recordings. There was not much change in tonal quality to the midrange after the repair. Compared to my other headphones, the HE 4XX has a warm lower midrange that obscures some detail but gives the music a more natural tonal balance on some recordings.

Treble 4/5

The Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX has the least detailed and extended treble of any of my headphones but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Recordings with a bright or strident treble sound better on the HE 4XX than on my other headphones, so the HE 4XX actually fills a void in my headphone collection by having a more forgiving treble balance.

Imaging and Soundstage 5/5

Before I repaired the ribbons, the HE 4XX had no imaging or soundstage at all. I actually thought that one of the ear cups might have been wired out of phase. After the repair, it became one of the best imaging headphones. Only the HD700 images better.

Comfort 4/5

The ear cups are large and some people might have trouble getting a good seal or finding a comfortable position on their head. Also, they tend to grip the frames of my glasses. Other than that, they are fairly comfortable although they are a bit on the heavy side.

Quality Control 1/5

The first run of the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX had a lot of complaints about the yoke that holds the ear cups to the head band coming off. The only reason I bought these was that there were not any recent complaints, so I figured the problem was fixed. The problem with the tape on the ribbons is actually a worse problem in my opinion because most people who own this headphone most likely have not taken off the grills to check for any defects.

Quality control this bad is not acceptable. I will not buy another Hifiman product until they resolve their QC and build quality issues. Even though I was able to repair these to the point where they sound good I am not confident they will last very long. Until quality control becomes comparable to the other headphone manufacturers, I consider Hifiman products to be disposable and they will probably break shortly after the 1 year warranty expires.

Overall 1/5

The Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX would have gotten a 4/5 score if I had received a non-defective unit. I cannot recommend a headphone that was shipped to me defective and I cannot recommend buying from a manufacturer that has shipped me 2 defective headphones. If you buy these, you are taking a risk. Despite the fact that I actually like the sound quality for the most part, I cannot recommend buying these or any other products from Hifiman.

Listening and Comparisons:

Tchaikovsky - Symphony #1 “Winter Dreams” by the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan – This was the last recording I listened to before I found out my HE 4XX was defective. The tonal quality was fine but there was no imaging or soundstage. It was almost like listening to a mono recording. About halfway through the first movement, I switched to the Fidelio X2 and the difference was astounding. The X2 has a huge soundstage and about 2 more octaves in the bass and treble regions. Once I repaired the HE 4XX, I listened again and there was a big improvement but overall, I prefer the X2 over the HE 4XX for this recording.

Bach – Goldberg Variations played by Murray Perahia – I have had this recording for years and never really warmed to it. I have many other versions of this work that I listen to more often. But when I listened at very low volume with the HE 4XX, I could hear all kinds of nuances that were obscured by other headphones. This is the main strength of these headphones: They can play at a much lower volume than my other headphones without losing the soundstage and tonal balance.

Handel – Rinaldo played by the Freiburger Barockorchester conducted by Rene Jacobs – This is one of my favorite recordings but it has always sounded a bit on the lean side. With the HE 4XX, there is some added warmth and it smooths out the treble which can sound a bit harsh. I usually use the HD700 for this recording but the HE 4XX holds up well against the competition.

Beethoven – Symphony #8 played by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell – This recording sounded real muddy on the HE 4XX, even when I tried adjusting the volume. I tried high volume and low volume but neither helped with the lack of clarity. This recording sounds much better on the HD600 or dt990.

Mahler – Symphony #3 played by the Boston Symphony conducted by Erik Leinsdorf. This is on the High Performance series of recordings and on my other headphones it is one of the best sounding orchestral recordings I have heard. The weight of the bass and the detail in the treble make it sound like a live performance. However, the HE 4XX was not able to reproduce the fantastic sound that I get from all my other headphones. The X2 is the one I use most of the time for this one. The HE 4XX sounds flat and dull in comparison.


I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend anyone buying the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX or any product from Hifiman due to their non-existent quality control. Mine had paper glued on both ribbon drivers, so I have to assume that all the drivers are defective. If you already own these, I recommend removing the grill covers and checking the ribbons. Even after I removed the paper, these do not sound as detailed and dynamic as my other headphones.

However, they are more forgiving of poor quality recordings than my other headphones and they sound better at low volumes than my other headphones, so they fill a niche in my headphone collection. Once I repaired the ribbons, they image as good or better than my other headphones and have a deep soundstage. The perspective is more like you are sitting on the first tier or rear orchestra. All my other headphones give a perspective more like front row center.

At $169.99 plus tax, the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX represents a fair value if you are able to get a non-defective unit. My Beyerdynamic dt-990 was only $129 and the Philips Fidelio X2 was $200 and both are much better sounding headphones in my opinion. My Sennheisers both sound better than the HE 4XX but they are more expensive.

Buyer beware: Purchase at your own risk. You will most likely get a defective headphone if you buy these.

(The photo was taken with the grill cloth removed.)

I am not sure that's entirely fair, given the QC issue in this case was user-fixable. My pair came the same way you did and I remedied it like you too (luckily the magnets themselves are more rigid and can withstand the removal of paper). In fact, you could even make the point you actually got a good pair if that's the only issue it will ever have. I totally do see where you're coming from, but given the price and relative minority of this issue, it might be fair to reconsider.
Good review. I've had my HE4XX headphones for about two years and really enjoy them. However, I agree about the QC issues for Hifiman. My HE4XX arrived as an open box with the left channel cutting out intermittently. Took it apart to find that a small piece of paper toweling had been accidentally glued to the left channel input wire. When I removed the paper the problem was resolved. I wonder how many Hifiman headphones with intermittent channel issues that were returned to Hifiman, suffered from this particular problem?
My 4XX has been perfect QC wise. If your budget is very tight, then this can function as a passable all arounder. OTOH HFM and the headphone market has changed since I bought these like 4 years ago. Compared to the HE-6SE v1 (used), HE-500 (used), XS, Ananda (used), ((Sundara, 5XX) - low bass absent on these two)) - yes all more expensive - the 4XX is totally outclassed. The lack of real low bass under 50 Hz, the raised thick mid bass, the spiky high end, the lack of any real transparancy, and the muddled soundstage.

Makiah S

Sponsor: EarMen | HeadAmp
Member of the Trade: Bricasti Design
Formerly known as Mshenay
Pros: Gorgeous Balanced Sound Signature, Ease of Use, Build, Price,
Cons: Avability

Massdrop's Bold New Statement the Hifiman HE 4XX

Dating back to 2012, Massdrop has long been a active member of the Audiophile community. I remember back when it was still a new and unfamiliar concept Head Fi used to remove any discussion relating to Massdrop! They started to become almost notorious, which seems so strange to me, as quick google search will reveal just how much success they've had over the last few years! Going from black listed underground community of price slashers to the shining knights of affordable audiophile products tuned by the community for the community. Starting in 2015 with the launch of their first collaboration headphone the K7XX, designed for audiophiles by audiophiles in collaboration with AKG. The K7XX was a big hit with the community!

I however, got my first Massdrop collaboration headphone a few months later when they pair'd with Fostex to release the TH X00 which I found compared favorably to my custom modded LA Denon AH D5000 back in 2015.

Fast forward to today and Massdrop has once again established another market first, with the HE 4XX being Massdrop's first planar magnetic headphone, while they pair'd with Hifiman previous to release the HE 350 a dynamic, the HE 4XX is a depart into uncharted waters! An I can certainly say the maiden voyage for the first community tuned Planar has been a huge win for everyone! Priced at $170, the HE 4XX is by far on of the most pleasurable headphones I've heard in a long time. Combined with it's aggressive pricing and exceptional build quality, they've certainly set a new standard for the market!

Starting with the build quality, I have to say I'm impressed and a little jealous honestly. I own a Hifiman HE 4 one of their legacy planars, and the stock build of the HE 4XX is a real step up from what I remember of my HE 4. Long since modded, I stripped away what felt like cheap plastic from my HE 4 years ago and went with mango wood cups and accents instead. Had my HE 4's original manufacturing felt as good as the HE 4XX, I might have kept it stock.

Plush and well manufactured, the headband is what impresses me most. A little more padded than the original and much more comfortable. The Massdrop team made sure to fix this pain point from the original legacy design.

It both sits comfortable atop of my head and balances the weight of the cups well. The headphones overall gave me little to no neck strain or fatigue. They were light weight and easy to manage over long listening periods!

Another big step forward, new connectors! While not unique to the Massdrop collaboration, I am happy to see Hifiman switch over to a simpler connection. Those old mini RF connectors where a nightmare to swap out... the 2.5mm dual entry cables are much more user friendly.

There's a nice weight to the plastic cups and a pleasant matte blue finish on the HE 4XX, additionally the gimbals and slider mechanism are well built. The slider clasps in particular are heftier than what I remember from the OEM equipment on my HE 4. There's a solid in the hand feel with this headphone for sure.

Overall the HE 4XX looks and feels sharp, solid and modern. The classic style headband doesn't make it stand out like Hifiman's own newer hardware nor does it feel as flimsy either.

Hifiman offers two distinct ePad Styles for their circular headphones. The Focus and Focus A Pads, with the latter offering a clearer sound over the former. Hifiman apparently thinks most consumers will prefer the more V Shapped signature of it's classic Focus Pads, thankfully the Massdrop team choose the more balanced Focus A pads as stock hardware for the HE 4XX.

I found the Focus A Pads to be both comfortable and breathable. I didn't have any issues with heat or excessive sweat.

But... looks and build aside, what are the specifications and ultimately how do they sound?


  • Frequency response: 20 Hz–35 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 93 dB
  • Impedance: 35 ohms
  • Cable: 4.9 ft (1.5 m), removable
  • Plug: ¼ in (6.35 mm)
  • Weight: 13.1 oz (370 g)
To leave it at good would be a gross understatement, in short these are hands down the most beautiful sounding headphones I've heard in this price range to date!
The Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX presents a warm full bodied sound, with a thick meaty low end, warm romantic mid-range and a touch tactility of smoothness up top. It proves itself as a exceptionally well rounded headphone, suitable for a wide variety of genres and file formats. While it scales mildly with more resolving gear, the improvement isn't really worthwhile. It's consistency across a wide variety of both entry level and higher end gear make it just a pleasure to own.

Low-End Response

  • The lows were quite fun, meatier than lean with excellent kick for drums and a good punch for Electronic Dance Music and DubStep. It is a little loose, all in all it's not too emphasized. It's slight roll off around 50hrz isn't to obvious either.
  • I found the HE 4XX to be phenomenal with D.R.A.M's Dark Lavender Interlude, the sub bass kicks were heavy and drove the music well.

Mid-Range Response

  • A warm full bodied sound characterizes the HE 4XX's presentation of the mid range. While there is some emphasis on decay over attack, there's still a nice touch of tactility and excellent resolve. An while I couldn't find any real faults with the mid range presentation, vocals are what stand out the most in my mind! The HE 4XX proved it self exceptionally well resolved with vocals especially. It maintains both a beautiful gentile tactility and warm romantic quality.
  • One of my favorite vocalists, Dai Quing Tana, has a distinctly lower register. The HE 4XX was able to present a beautifully romantic sense of weight and body in her vocals while also preserving the delicateness of her lips and breath as she sang!

Top End Response

  • Neither super impressive nor disappointing, the HE 4XX has good balance and extension up top. There are instances where I'd like a little more energy from it but also times were I appreciate it's more tapered response as well.


  • Again, the HE 4XX does place a little more emphasis on decay rather than attack. While this does soften the sound in general, the HE 4XX retains a nice tactility amidst it's beautiful decay.
  • It's dynamics were neither impressive nor too lacking, they felt sufficient given the price range.
  • Ultimately vocalists and horned instruments had the most resolve comparatively, I found more AHMsamong instruments and information in that category than others.
  • Speaking of AHMs I found the HE 4XX to max out at about 20 AHMs out of my reference systems, while netting 6 AHMs from my Shanling M2s.
  • Proving it self a real people pleaser, the HE 4XX matains a well balanced image. Intimate when needed and a little more spacious when required. Though it was more intimate than wide, and did lack a little depth at times. The HE 4XX also responded well to the imaging characteristic of the amp driving it, there was an impressive bit of flexibility from the HE 4XX especially in regards to making adjustments to the audible image it presented.

The Carrying Case pictured is not included with your purchase

Function & Scale
While not needed, an amp is recommend primarily for functional gains in headroom or for having a wider range of listening levels. I used the Line Output of my Shanling M2s to achieve average volumes peaks of only 88.9 dBs. I prefer to have peaks right at 93 dBs. While the M2s offered an excellent quality of sound, I did find my self sometimes needing a little more power to maintain an average listening level of 87dBs. While the HE 4XX does scale with more resolving gear... it's not really worthwhile. Starting with the M2s I was able to net about 6 AHMs, I had the MOST gains in AHMs when moving from the M2s into the JDS Labs EL Dac with my Pico Power or my GeekOut v2+ I netted an additional 8 AHMs for a total of 14. Each of these systems can be had for around $500, though part of that price is mark related to portability. So for a purely desktop system, $350 is more reasonable. Finally, moving into my reference level system netted the addition of another 6 AHMs for a total of 20.
The problem here is how little gains were made from moving out of a Mid Fi system that can be had for around $500 into a one that costs upwards of $2000+ & while technically the reference system had the BEST quality of sound... the improvements were disproportionate given the cost. We have a total of 14 AHMs with an investment of $500, vs a total of 20 AHMs with an investment of at least $2000. So we go from about $35 invested per AHM in the mid range tier, to $100 invested per AHM at reference levels. So ultimately I think the HE 4XX offers the BEST ratio of cost to performance within it's price bracket. I see NO need to recommend any one spend more than $500 on a desktop system.
An even $500 is a bit too much, I would say investing in a JDS Labs EL Dac and a good $100-150 solid state would be a smart choice if you intend to use the HE 4XX as your primary headphone! An of course there are a variety of other excellent DACs and Amps within that price range to choose from, depending on what you want! An finally, with all this talk of AHMs it's time to take a look at how the HE 4XX sounds as it scales.

Let's start with the Shanling M2s, using the line out the M2s HE 4XX combo was outright fun! There's an added touch of kick in the lows and some excellent resolve, the mid range retains beautiful vocal resolve and otherwise romantic decay characteristics. Additionally, the highs open up nicely with the Line Out from the M2s, gaining a little touch of needed tactility. An while the frequency response pairing of the M2S an HE 4XX was spot on, it did lack in imaging and resolve comparatively ultimatley netting 6 AHMs. But, this super simple plug and play combo was just plain FUN! Super convenient to carry and operate while being a real joy to listen to.

Introducing Hifiman squared, this was really by FAR the most romantic sounding portable system I've ever listened. Unmatched in it's beautiful romantic mid range presentation and natural spacious imaging. But... more often than not it was too much of a good thing! Yes the HM 601 and HE 4XX share a very similar tuning, and yes there's just SUCH a VISCERAL quality to the lows, and YES the mids are to DIE for. But the top end is much to tapered for my tastes, and all that mid range emphasis and decay kinda kills the balance. The HE 4XX no longer has beautiful, tactile mids with a touch of energy... but rather a beautiful, romantic and almost sleepy mid range that's often too soft and slow. While resolve and imaging were some times vastly improved on the HM 601 in comparison to the M2s, the pair'd frequency response of the two is too polarizing and there are still times where the imaging and resolve fall behind that of the M2s.

Depending on your tastes, the HM 601/HE 4XX combo may net you 5 or 7 AHMs. Making the M2s a smarter more consistent recommendation for this headphone.

I pair'd the HE 4XX with the Vali 1 fed via the EL Dac, while I don't feel that tube amps are the best fit for the HE 4XX, I will say this combo did combine the best elements of both my portables! Netting an easy 9 AHMs, but ultimately unless your specific taste is for a super mellow, romantic relaxed sound your better off grabbing a solid state amp. Or getting a good DAP for some portability!

Also, my favorite pairing for the HE 4XX was with the EL Dac and my PicoPower! I spoke of this combo earlier, and it was really quite rewarding! The EL Dac has a beautiful naturalness about it, that pairs nicely with a good clean solid state feeding into the HE 4XX. The lows were a bit tauter out of this combo, allowing for a little more resolve, additionally the mid range as a whole experienced a small increase in overall resolve! Not only vocals, but guitars and other stringed instruments had more clarity to them, a well defined edge and beautifully clear decay and vibrato that canvased nicely over a rather wide sound stage. While the highs were still a little lacking and the imaging could have been deeper, this combo was overall the PERFECT amount of many good things. The EL Dac & Pico Power combo netted an easy 14 AHMs.

Still, this price range is where the HE 4XX works it's magic! I feel it has it's best price to performance ratio in systems ranging from $300-500 total cost. There's a lot of customization here for fine tuning the HE 4XX to what you like best without missing out on too much in terms of resolve.

I HIGHLY recommend any one who intends to keep the HE 4XX as their primary headphone to, upon acquiring such a system, seek NO further upgrades to your DAC/Amp until after you upgrade to another headphone.

LH Lab's Geekout v2+ competed nicely again'st the EL Dac/PicoPower combo. The portable solid state dac amp had similar resolve with a bit less beauty, magic and imaging width in exchange for a sharper tauter sound that filled a slightly deeper sound stage. Likewise this combo netted 14 AHMs.

I will state though, that the GO V2+ has both balanced an SE outputs, in most cases the balanced output provides better technicalities with the SE output having a little more natural sound in exchange for a little less resolve. That said, I wouldn't really recommend purchasing a GO V2+ if you only intend to use SE headphones, though while not super cost effective you could balance your HE 4XX if you wanted a more technically correct sound. Though I STRONGLY discourage pursing a balanced amp beyond this price range if you only intend to use it with the HE 4XX, as the total improvements are not proportionate to the overall cost. Really the GO V2+ serves as an excellent portable Dac/Amp that works with both Single End or Balanced configured headphones.

20 AHMs... when you triple your budget and get deeper into reference level gear you gain about 6 net AHMs for a total of 20. That said, the HM 901 [Vintage] Filter and Pico Power are by far a phenomenal sounding portable rig for many headphones. There was an increase in both tautness and the perception of power in the lows, with a marginally heavier more tactile mid range! The emphasis on decay presents it self the least out of systems at this level, it's not removed by there's a much more cohesive balance of the leading edge of a note, it's attack, and the fall to silence that follows it. While vocals still resolve the best, the rest of the mid range isn't too far behind at this point. Additionally, the darker top end really starts to shine with the HM 901 and Pico Power, there's a snappy airy quality despite the darker top end. An of course, the sound-stage is at this point the most cohesive and open, with resolve seeing a final bump in clarity. Really, those last 6 AHMs are the ones I enjoy the most... as they are the result of a more complex combination of transients.

Still though I cannot justify nor recommend any one spending upwards of $1500 to bring the HE 4XX to this level... as you can achieve the same level of AHMs with a cheaper Dac/Amp system and a better headphone all for LESS than what this combo would cost you.

But if you already own gear at this level, and your curious then take some comfort in knowing your HE 4XX will improve ever so slightly with it!

Again, 20 AHMs was the result of this combo. Where as the HM 901&PicoPower have clarity, tactility and power. The NFB10ES2 Pair'd with my Ember II bring better resolve and add just a touch of beauty back into a phenomenally tactile sound. While the lows aren't AS fun or powerful, they are a bit more resolved here. Vocals take a clear step forward on this system, but at the cost of softening stringed instruments a little, finally there's a little more energy up top with this combo as well! Which adds a nice crispness and tactility to percussion but also makes ambient noise stand out a little more.

Overall the two systems have equal levels of resolve, but slightly different presentations in terms of imaging and pair'd frequency response. I personally, prefer'd the NFB10ES2/Ember II combo the most! I found it really to be spot on with every genre I tested, just plain enjoyable! VERY unpractical and again not something I can recommend realistically but, it is undeniably pleasurable to listen to!!

I have to say, I never realized how poorly my 668HD did until I started comparing it to the HE 4XX... functionally the Superlux HD 668B is great. Very clean sound, but it's got some glaring flaws... namely it's kinda thin, harsh and often incoherent. While the HE 4XX presents a different frequency response, it is also technically better in every way. If you've only ever had the HD 668B or equivalent headphones and your ready to upgrade, I'd grab the HE 4XX as soon as it drops again! I guarantee you'll easily experience 2 to 3 AHMs per 5 minuets of listening!

Nhoord Audio's Gen 1 Red Driver is where the HE 4XX starts to fall behind, both are characterized by a warm natural sound, and while the HE 4XX dominates in frequency response from 50hrz down, the Nhoord Red V1 could have the edge from there on up depending on your tastes.

Sub Bass and Synth's are where the HE 4XX will perform better, but even with an electric bass I found the Nhoord Red V1 to have both better clarity and speed. It's bass was punchier and more resolved for both electric and acoustic instruments. The timbre especially is more accurate, closer to reality with the Nhoord Red V1.

That naturalness continues on into the mid range. Where as the HE 4XX has a beautiful romantic sound, the Nhoord Red V1 has a more natural beauty! A more defined transient response overlayed atop of a slightly romantic decay, this results in amazing resolve with both vocals, stringed instruments, horns, and everything in between!

The highs also really come to life with the Nhoord Red V1 as well, percussion snaps and crashes alive with enthusiasm! High hats gain a more airy playful quality as well.

Really the Nhoord Red V1 is a departure into a more lively energetic sound that the HE 4XX can only dabble in. The problems though are in the imaging. In most cases, the Nhoord Red V1 is a little more intimate than what's necessary. It's also kinda of oddly tall and tilted, what should be behind you sometimes sounds a little beneath you. These are issues the HE 4XX doesn't have, the other issue you need to overcome with a Grado Style headphone like the Nhoord Red V1 is synergy! That $350 JDS Labs EL Dac and Schiit Vali 1 combo are MAGICAL for this headphone... but finding a Vali 1 is a bit difficult as is finding another $100 tube that's on par with the Vali 1. If your thinking about using solid state... I can tell you when I plugged the Nhoord Red V1 into the Pico Power and it becomes more shouty than beautiful, like wise the SE output of the GeekOut v2+ makes the Nhoord Red V1 a bit too warm and slow in some cases. I've actually got my pair balanced as it really compliments the GO V2+'s balanced output.

I paid around $275 for my Nhoord Red V1, another $70 for the balanced Cable/Adapter to use with the Geek Out V2+. And while I get around 18 AHMs with the Nhoord Red V1 out of the same system that only netted my 14 with the HE 4XX, those gains are the result of quite a bit of experimentation and exploration. That's the difference though between the beautifully simplicity of owning the HE 4XX and chasing after upgrades, for literally half the price and 1/10th the work the HE 4XX get's me 77% of what the Nhoord Red offers, and that's assuming you LIKE the brighter top end of the Nhoord Red V1. If you prefer the darker sound of the HE 4XX than you'll wind up with losses inAHMs instead of gains.

While more different than similar, the HE 4 is ultimately the more resolving headphone. It has a cleaner bass response, no humps and less distortion, while not as much fun it's faster, heavier, harder and kicks like a mule at times!

The mid range is more resolved, more tactile and has all of the beauty and decay without any of the sluggishness. The HE 4 also presents an amazing creamy quality with some electric guitar solos, and it's the increase in transient information like this that launches the HE 4 above and beyond what the HE 4XX can do!

The only problem area for the HE 4 is it's top end, which is HYPER RESPONSIVE, you either like brighter headphones or you don't. In the event that you don't than despite having a plethora of gains in AHMs the over emphasized top end will literally pick away at your face. The other problem with the HE 4 is power, it's very in-efficient. So not only do you need enough power to drive it to listenable levels, you also need enough quality to preserve all it's speed, magic, beauty & hyper real resolve/imaging! Ultimately like the Nhoord Red V1, you'll need to work at building a system to compliment this headphone. Assuming you can even find one any more.

I've spent the last 3 years trying to perfect my reference system around the HE 4, and while I've enjoyed it. It's been work... in comparison, while the HE 4XX tops out at around 20 AHMs the HE 4 on the same system pushes closer to 50 AHMs if not more! Proving it not only have more potential when you scale, but also requires a system at that level! If you underamp it or pair it with poor source material, then you'll start to net some negative AHMs, or you'll have moments where details your used to hearings AREN'T there any more.

At the end of the day, the Massdrop X HE 4XX earns nothing less than my wholehearted recommendation. It's tuned beautifully, for our community by members of our community. It brings enough resolve to be an eye opener and is still forgiving enough to always be pleasurable. Additionally it's modest amping requirements and limited scale really help any one new to this hobby grasp many of the basic concepts of upgrades without having the temptation to fall too deep into the rabbit hole. The next time it drops, if you've never taken the plunge on an "audiophile" headphone I sincerely hope you choose to make this your first and maybe even your last!
Do you think an LG V30 would provide enough juice to efficiently power these cans and bring them close to full potential?
Makiah S
Makiah S
Likely not, unless you can always get "high output" but if it has the same power as my v20 it'll be a little less than ideal
Excellent, thorough review! I think HiFiman uses good quality parts for their headphones. It's the quality control issues that have always been problematic with this brand. Really enjoy my HE4XX after two years. Bought them open box only to find that the left channel would cut out intermittently. Opened the left earphone only to find that whoever had assembled this headphone had accidentally glued a small piece of paper toweling to the left input wire. When I removed the paper the intermittent problem was remedied. I wonder how many Hifiman headphones have been returned because of this problem?