From Sennheiser HD 650 to HiFiMAN HE-400i... there's no way back!
Apr 14, 2015 at 6:19 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 74

DeBilbao

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From Sennheiser HD 650 to HiFiMAN HE-400i... there's no way back!
 
First of all, I would like to thank Headphoniaks - one of the HiFiMAN dealers in Spain - that gave me the chance to test drive the new HE-400i headphones from the chinese manufacturer.
 
This little review is written from the point of view of a serious Sennheiser HD 650 lover. These great dynamic headphones have been my trusted companion for years, with its lush and relaxed sound, rounded with even greater mids and an intimate scene. With the new HE-400i from HiFiMAN I've found the step ahead I was waiting for and I would like to share my thoughts with you.
 

 
    
 
 
Background
 
I've listened the Sennheiser HD 650 with many different DAC and amp combination, from Musical Fidelity to Lehmann until Burson came to my preference. The heart of my main rig is a Burson Conductor with the exquisite ESS SABRE32 9018 DAC, and a I also have a secondary setup with a Burson Soloist SL and a CEntrance DACport LX that Iím changing in favor of the more compact and versatile iFi iDSD micro.
 
Many times Iíve tried to find an alternative to the HD 650's, but until now I haven't found a headphone that unify comfort, quality of sound and moderate pricing. I've tried Sennheiser HD 800 and found their soundstage excesive, Audeze LCD-2 Rev.2 were much better but very heavy and the HiFiMAN HE-500 was too open and bright for my ears.
 
None of them gave me the intimacy required for my listening tastes. I'm a Jazz lover and I mostly listen to Jazz music, and Jazz recordings are not always well recorded, so some kind of forgiveness is a requirement, and none of the above mentioned headphones comply to this - at least for me - fundamental characteristic.
 
I won't discard a record, but I'll discard a headphone instead. This is my mantra.
 
 
Music and technology, together... but music first!
 
I consider myself more a music lover than an audio gear fan, but I cannot say I'm not a bit fascinated about the audiophile world. Each year new products appear in the market, and even though most of them cannot be considered breakthroughs and are just simple updates from previous models, there are exceptions and brilliant products, technologies, and applied technologies too.
 
And to really get a kick out of you, a new pair of headphones with a different technology can be the easiest way to find something really new, something that can surprise you. Planar-magnetic technology is such a kind of technology, mature enough to trust it and with a very rich sound that can present the instruments as they actually sound.
 
 
Good looking is desirable, but superb comfort is mandatory  
 
Before you listen to a new pair of headphones, there are two simple tests it must pass: it should look nice and it must be comfortable. You can have a bit of tolerance for the first one if it sounds really good, but I won't accept the best sounding headphone if it fits bad in my head or if it's too heavy. A perfect headphone must become unnoticed and you just simply forget you're wearing them. And if they look good, you will pick up them everyday with much more satisfaction.
 
This happens to me with the Sennheiser HD 650 and it happened again with the HE-400i. HE-400i are really lightweight, they cover my medium-to-large sized ears perfectly and I can move around without a problem. The generous headband and it's suspension system make them ultra-comfortable. And they look great. They are not superb in terms of build quality but they don't look like a cheap chinese product. Plastics could be better and the metal sheet of the suspension system could be better too, but both are correct. Packaging is close to superb and you get the looks of a premium product.
 
HE-400i are even better in terms of comfort than the Sennheiser HD-650. Outstanding comfort.
 

 

 

 
 
 
 
And HE-400i delivers pure music, straight to your heart
 
When I hook up a new pair of headphones it's uncommon to get something new. I mean, really new. And that's what happened to me after listening the HE-400i for the first time, I got a very satisfying first impression in almost every characteristic, from comfort to sound quality. It seems silly saying that you fell in love with a pair of headphones but, well, actually this happened to me. I'll try to explain myself why.
 
Compared to the Sennheiser HD 650, the sound is a great step forward in terms of everything, but a moderate step. They have more of everything, but they keep my intimacy with the musical scene, now way wider than before. When I listen to a Jazz quartet in a small Jazz club, it doesn't make sense if sound is presented like in an auditorium as it happens with other cans. With the HE-400i you're still in the small club, but instead of being just in front of the performer, you are sitting a few rows back. And with this wider soundstage you appreciate better the instruments positions and the dialogs between performers. And this is perfect for the kind of music I listen to.
 
 
Trying to describe the HE-400i sound
 
Scene size is remarkable for Jazz music, but what surprised me most is the air between instruments and I suppose this is the breakthrough of planar-magnetic technology used in the drivers. At the very beggining you need to get accustomed to it and you feel this is air excesive, but soon you realize that it only adds realism to the scene described before, music notes flow wonderfully in a space not too deep, not too wide, as I like it.
 
Another remarkable characteristic is the timbre of the instruments, making them so alive and real that you can close your eyes and feel they're actually there with you. String instruments as guitars and violins are spectacular, but I would say that the piano is simply superb as I consider it an instrument of very difficult reproduction. I felt wind instruments a bit metallic but I'm quite sure this will change soon as I'm too used to the HD 650s dark sound profile.
 
Listening Coltrane deep blowing entry in Stairway to the Stars (Bags & Trane, with Milt Jackson and John Coltrane) literally blow me away and I started a post selling the Burson Soloist SL, the DACport LX and my beloved Sennheiser HD 650. It was having Coltrane in front of me, and I was shocked.
 
One of the biggest selling points of the HD 650s are the medium frequencies, and here the HE-400i have something to say too. HE-400i position them a bit more recessed, but they are extremely realistic and convincing, with a lovely sense of intimacy with the performer as if you were seeing the full body and not only his or her face.
 
With a headphone like this, listening to reference quality recordings is a delicacy, but it works well with legacy recordings not so well recorded. HE-400i are not so forgiving with them, but they let you enjoy them with enthusiasm. Remembering Billie Holiday listening to her Body & Soul performance from the album Body & Soul in its Ultradisc MFSL (UDCD 658) edition made me cry, though I'm really easy emotionally and if some notes hit my soul, my eyes get wet really fast. It's the price for music loving.
 
Bass is good enough, but far from being bloated, or excesively present. People looking for deep bass will find depth, but not boom-boom. The dialogs in Jazz trios between bass, drums and piano they appear in its right measure, and if you choose a performance with bass solos you will be delighted. Listening to Paul Chamber's Bass on Top or the more recent Beyond Double Bass from Renaud GarcÌa-Fons are just a joy.
 
Highs are remarkable. Having listened to the HE-500, I expected them much more brilliant but instead I got a very moderate and warm highs, far from being excesive. HE-400i excel with drums, and I now listen to cymbals in passages that before are . I love listening to trios and I'm re-listening many of my favourite recordings now.
 
I must also remark how fast they are. Speed is desirable in Jazz music, but for rock and other fast paced music genres is a must have. Electric guitars and their fast transition shine with the HE-400i.
 
 
A few more comments and final thoughts


 
HE-400i headphones have a 3,5mm stereo jack and it's really useful due to their high sensitivity of 93 dB/mW and a low impedance of 35 ohms, so they are easy to use with portable players and they can even be powered by an iPhone or iPad, though they will sound much better from a quality amp. I've found they are extremely well driven by my FiiO X3 and they make a great combo. 
 
Compared to the Sennheiser HD 650, I must say that the HE-400i offer more of everything and I'm quite sure that people that love the HD 650 will love them as an upgrade keeping "the idea" of the Sennheiser sound but with a more wider and deeper scene, a more airy sound, more detailed, more realistic and remarkably comfortable. It's price tag of 499€ don't make them a cheap option, but I think they are worth every cent.

I still love HD 650s and fortunately I will keep one of the two units I own. I'm sure I will come back to them for some recordings that I find they are best suited for. 
 
i've listened to the HE-400i with my Burson Conductor and its DAC ESS SABRE32 9018, with the Burson Soloist SL and a DACport LX and also with the iFi iDSD micro. They go well with all of them, with the Burson making them sound more open and detailed and the iFi iDSD micro making their sound warmer, sure by the presence of the BurrBrown DAC.
 

 
Apr 14, 2015 at 7:31 PM Post #2 of 74

YtseJamer

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Very well written comparison sir!
 
I'm tempted to try the 400i again because of you 
wink.gif

 
Apr 15, 2015 at 4:28 AM Post #3 of 74

DeBilbao

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  Very well written comparison sir!
 
I'm tempted to try the 400i again because of you 
wink.gif

 
Thanks for the compliment, pfillion.
 
I would appreciate reading some more comments from other Sennheiser HD 650 users that have tried the new HE-400i from HiFiMAN.
 
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Apr 15, 2015 at 8:41 AM Post #5 of 74

marhol

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Thanks for a very nice description and generous evaluation of HE-400i in comparison to HD 650. I haven´t had an opportunity to listen HD 650, but I have no doubts its a great all-round headphone which I would love to hear. HD 650 is surely a measuring stick when it comes to comparing high quality headphones. Congrats for getting HE-400i and happy listening ! 
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Apr 15, 2015 at 10:08 AM Post #6 of 74

Roland Aguilera

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This was a GREAT description of the Hifi 400i. You have an excellent way to communicate your opinion and experiences.
Funny, when I bought these headphones one of my two other choices was in fact the Senn. HD 650. The other was an Alpha Mad Dog and I know that to my musical taste and listening preferences, I made the right choice. As you say it sounds great, it has looks that can kill and such a wonderful fit.
I completely enjoyed reading your review.
 
Apr 15, 2015 at 3:30 PM Post #7 of 74

reddog

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A great comparison and contrast of the HD 650's and the HE-400i's. I really enjoyed the He-400i, when I had it for the demo tour.
 
Apr 15, 2015 at 4:49 PM Post #8 of 74

DeBilbao

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Thanks you everyone for the compliments.
 
Right now I'm revisiting one of my favourites recordings from Benny Carter, and the incredible Jazz Giant has never ever sounded that great with the unbelievable combination of the Burson Conductor, the HiFiMAN HE-400i and such good music. I'm going to listen again at least my favourites recordings with this setup.
 
I wrote a review about this recording some time ago in my blog JazzBai and there you will find an embeeded album so you can listen to it with your Spotify account while you enjoy the reading.
 
Benny Carter: Jazz Giant (1957, Contemporary)
 
http://www.jazzbai.com/benny-carter-jazz-giant-1957-contemporary/
Sorry, it's written in spanish but you can read it Translated into English by Google Translator
 

 
Apr 16, 2015 at 5:11 AM Post #9 of 74

swspiers

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It's really nice to read that someone else fell in love with them at first listen.  If I weren't an insane headphone geek in love with the whole hobby, they could be my one and only cans!
 
Apr 16, 2015 at 5:27 AM Post #10 of 74

DeBilbao

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  It's really nice to read that someone else fell in love with them at first listen.  If I weren't an insane headphone geek in love with the whole hobby, they could be my one and only cans!

 
They're actually damn good, but I'm keeping a pair of Sennheiser HD 650 for those moments or recordings where the HE-400i neutrality and clarity are simply excessive.
 
The new Sennheiser Momentum M2 are perfect for travel and they have been a really nice update compared to the first version, and the Etymotic hf for those moments where you want to be unnoticed. I listen the portable headphones with portable players, either the iPhone 5S, the FiiO X3 or the MacBook Pro with the FiiO X3 as a DAC or a simple and small DAC ES9023 from HiFiMeDIY.
 
But if I would be forced to choose one, the HE-400i could be my only cans too.
 
And if I had to choose one player, the FiiO X3 will be my choice. Paired with the HE-400i make a great combo that can be used on the move or connected to a computer. I will try the new FiiO X3 2nd gen and report.
 
Apr 16, 2015 at 7:06 PM Post #11 of 74

swspiers

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They're actually damn good, but I'm keeping a pair of Sennheiser HD 650 for those moments or recordings where the HE-400i neutrality and clarity are simply excessive.
 
The new Sennheiser Momentum M2 are perfect for travel and they have been a really nice update compared to the first version, and the Etymotic hf for those moments where you want to be unnoticed. I listen the portable headphones with portable players, either the iPhone 5S, the FiiO X3 or the MacBook Pro with the FiiO X3 as a DAC or a simple and small DAC ES9023 from HiFiMeDIY.
 
But if I would be forced to choose one, the HE-400i could be my only cans too.
 
And if I had to choose one player, the FiiO X3 will be my choice. Paired with the HE-400i make a great combo that can be used on the move or connected to a computer. I will try the new FiiO X3 2nd gen and report.

I totally ge that.  And there's no way I'm letting for of my Alpha Primes or Grado's, either.  Too many flavors of awesome.  But, the 400i's get the majority of my full size headphone listening.
 
Apr 17, 2015 at 12:54 AM Post #12 of 74

mikey1964

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I dunno, I didn't take to the HE400i when I first got it (partly due to my having so many cans), I didn't quite enjoy it compared to, say, my HD700 or Grado GS1000i. I actually thought it was kinda dark, yes, treble was there but semmed somewhat recessed. Then, I'd recently scored a HE500 + Audeze Q Cable + NFM adapters, as well as a stock HE560 to replace the stock HE500 cable that the seller had lost. I dunno, is the stock cable for the HE400i THAT bad? I ask because I'd replaced the stock HE400i cable with the stock HE560 cable (the one with a Neutrik connector) and suddenly I find myself enjoying the HE400i more. The highs is more pronounced, this made quite a difference to me as I'd found the HE400i with stock cable to be great for mids and lows, but the recessed highs bothered me. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't quite have the sparkle of the GS1000i, but treble doesn't feel recessed (or veiled) now. Perhaps my brain has burnt-in the sound? I really can't say. Bear in mind, I'm past 50, so I know my hearing isn't quite sharp, perhaps that explains my tolerance for the sparkle on my GS1000i, ATH-AD2000, AH-D2000 and K812.
 
Dang, just checked the cable on the HE400i, I've been using the Audeze Q Cable with HFM adapters......I guess my memory's first to go, not my hearing.
redface.gif
I've been using my K812 and HD700 lately because I'm trying to burn in the new cables I'd had someone custom make for me. Perhaps I'm burning in my brain instead....
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Apr 17, 2015 at 8:39 AM Post #13 of 74

sbtruitt

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Really nice review DeBilbao! I just got the 400i's last month and love them, and agree with your observations, they were spot on. I agree comfort is very important so you listen to the music and not the headphones. The great comfort of the 400i allows you to do that.

BTW - just listened to Coltrane's 'Blue Train' the other day - a great listen on the 400i's.
 
Apr 18, 2015 at 3:14 AM Post #15 of 74

DeBilbao

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Added a few new pictures of the HiFiMAN HE-400i to the review.
 
This is my secondary setup for the weekends, with an iMac, the iFi iDSD micro and a portable 2TB external hard drive that I move from one setup to the other. Desktop clutter has been reduced to a minimum and the combination of the iFi iDSD micro and the HE-400i give me an incredible sound.
 
I'm amazed with the HE-400i, and... aren't they beautiful?
 

 
Now listening again Paul Chamber's Bass On Top with Audirvana on the iMac
 

 
 
Chasin' The Bird performance is a great tune to  appreciate the quality of the HE-400i's. Paul Chambers bass goes really down in the scale, the cymbals of Art Taylor's drum goes really high while the sweet and mellow mid's of the guitar of Kenny Burrell is a joy to listen at. And you also get the superb piano performance from Hank Jones.
 
Highly recommended https://open.spotify.com/track/1QMPz8TzDNALFqEqmrKCwt
 

 

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