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HE-400 vs. HE-500 vs. HE-4 Comparison

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by thujone, Nov 26, 2013.
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  1. Thujone
    Being a huge fan of EDM, I purchased the HE-400 back in May and immediately found myself on a roller coaster ride. Being fairly sensitive to treble, I probably should have read into the HE-400 more than I did since the sibilance came as a great surprise. These are the headphones everyone rants and raves about? But wait, that basssssssss. After breaking my EQ phobia, I started tampering with the HE-400's to make them more listenable for longer listening sessions. Soon, with treble reducing EQ, I found myself addicted to these headphones. My other cans took a back seat while I listened to more and more EDM tracks, completely lost in the sound of the HE-400's. But, alas, this is Head-Fi and I started to want more. For others like myself who ask for more, fingers point straight to the HE-500. This is the obvious upgrade from the HE-400, right? Almost twice as much money and 500>400, right? And you mean to tell me that there are no treble issues?! Well, I wasn't ready to spend that much money yet... or so I thought. Then came the rumors of the HE-4. Couldn't be that impressive since I had never heard of them before... right? Wrong. Oh myyyy was I wrong. In an act of impulse, I went for the HE-4's first due to their price. The differences between the HE-4 and HE-400 were astounding. They were begging for the HE-500 to intervene and so, impulse decision #2, enter the HE-500. Here is what happens when your wallet is telling you that there is only room for one HiFiMan ortho in the house...
    The Headphones (specs from Head-Direct):
    Efficiency92.5 dB86 dB89 dB

    Things You Might Care About:
    I put the specs up there just to emphasize a couple things:
    Some people don't like the fit of the HFM headphones, so if you're one of these people, don't buy them. Personally, I think they fit very well. They have an exceptional grip and quite a bit of weight to feel sturdy enough to make you feel like you bought something fairly heavy duty. The weight is all from the magnets (and some other stuff). The reason that the HE-4 is significantly lighter than either one is because it only has magnets on the outside of the driver diaphragm. Woohoo! This solves the problem of ortho weight, right? Uh-oh, there is still a catch to the HE-4...
    If you aren't too sure whether your amp can power the HE-4, head over to the HE-4 appreciation thread and I'm sure someone can help answer your question. From experience, I don't find the efficiency to be a huge issue (as I once did). I've had great luck with the HE-4 on the Schiit Vali which has a very low power output compared to these speaker amps everyone swears by.
    The jerg pads are amazingly synergistic with the HE-500, and very much so with the HE-400 as well. I can't recommend these enough for those two headphones. However, the HE-4 did not make for a very good jerg pad companion. I felt like they made them sound very hollow, though I expect the stock pleathers to be even worse. For that reason, I did most of my listening with the jerg pads (made by modulor) on the HE-400 and HE-500 and the stock velour pads on the HE-4. I also didn't use the vent mod on the HE-400's since I did not prefer the 50Hz boost over the flat bass response. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, or simply want to ask more questions about the jerg pads, head over to the jerg pad thread.
    Sound Categories/Comparisons:
    (This comparison method is somewhat stolen from preproman who I thought gave a great quick and dirty comparison between other HFM models in the HE-4 appreciation thread. In my defense, I tried not to pay much attention to it before I got to listen to these headphones myself, but after revisiting his comparison, I agree with his placement of the HE-500 in terms of the HE-4. In order to not completely copy his idea, I'm going to put my own little spin on it.)
    Music: I know I've already made an effort to say that I love EDM, but my comparisons were done between EDM, shoegaze, classical, acoustic, hard rock, classic rock, and that one song from The Fifth Element where the blue broad comes out and sings on stage.
    = :Equal to my ears, though maybe not for the same reasons.
    > :Greater than sign.
    >>> :Significant difference.
    >>>>> :Three greater than signs just don't cut it.
    Instrument separation/imaging, and air (soundstage):
    No question. The HE-500 and HE-400 have a much more intimate presentation and thus has a more "smeared" sound than the HE-4. It's very easy to pick out layers and nuances on the HE-4. When listening to the HE-4, I'm constantly experiencing the reaching-for-the-speakers-to-make-sure-they-aren't-on cliché.
    Bass texture:
    The HE-400 is known for its bass, and it definitely measures up. If you've heard them, you know what I mean. They just have great bass with very little distortion, giving it the ability to separate tones very easily. The HE-4 is only equal here due to the fact that it separates every sound very effortlessly.
    Bass fullness/rumble:
    OMG DAT BASS. If you like EDM, buying the HE-400 is likely where you will stop thinking closed dynamic cans are a good idea for bass (unless, you know, you're a Denon DXXXX fan or something). Between the HE-4 and HE-500 though... this is veeeery close, but the HE-500 comes out on top. Again, the HE-4 is spacious.
    Vocals are very much forward on the HE-500. This can be pleasing or somewhat unnatural sounding. My friend thought they leaned more towards the unnatural side while I found them very lush and full. Vocals are nowhere near recessed or lacking on the HE-4 though. Now, as for the HE-400, vocals aren't recessed by any means. I repeat, vocals are not recessed. The problem is that the upper mid recession pulls out all the harmonics from the human voice (and pretty much every other instrument, for that matter) by ~10dB. Plenty of users will say that female vocals are just not up to par on these headphones. I'm not sure what "par" is for vocals, but the HE-400's are on completely different golf course.
    The HE-4 is definitely a punchy headphone all around. The HE-400's come in second place because of DAT BASS. The HE-500's are very smooth sounding in comparison, but they still beat out an HD580/600 in this category.
    An argument for the HE-4 can be made here, but overall, the HE-500 has more dependable treble. The HE-4's treble is nowhere near "tizzy" like the HE-400, but it can be somewhat hot on certain tracks. However, the increased treble provides for a very fun listen on treble-light tracks. The HE-400's treble though... if you are a no-EQ kind of person, you better love sibilance because these bad boys will serve you a 5 course meal of it. Every time.
    The odd timbre from the HE-400 is not shared with these other two headphones. Every instrument/voice sounds real and organic on both the HE-500 and HE-4. The HE-500 has forward vocals which may sound unnatural compared to other cans, but it's something that can easily grow on you. The treble on the HE-4 is forward and serves a similar argument to the HE-500's forward vocals. What it comes down to is whether you prefer intimacy or soundstage/air. HE-500 for the former, HE-4 for the latter. Or if you want a more... digital(?) sound, the HE-400's won't bother you at all. They certainly sound odd.
    Purely from a sound standpoint, I personally think the HE-4 and HE-500 are equal in their own way, it really just depends on your preferences. If you are looking for a headphone that will have you immersed in vocals, the HE-500 is a very lush and intimate headphone. The HE-4's are much more spacious without a whole lot of emphasis anywhere except the treble, which, again, can be somewhat hot on some recordings. I tend to have a very minimal treble EQ on when using them. The HE-4's are known for their excellence with guitars and rock in general, and I completely agree. These are aggressive headphones, and they really show it with guitars and drums. Seriously mind blowing. Let's not let these two overshadow the HE-400 though. This is still a great headphone. The bass is something to be praised for sure. If you are into EDM or metal with double bass petal action, these are mind melting. The HE-400 has only two big downfalls in my book: treble and naturalness. If you are looking for a headphone that sounds really organic and realistic, this is definitely not it. Still though, I grew really fond of its sound. When listening to EDM, it's not like you're looking for naturalness anyway, so who cares? Even outside of EDM, I found them very engaging and fun with jazz, some classical and any electronic influenced artists like Depeche Mode or Muse.
    Verdict (IMO, in case someone needed a cheap disclaimer):
    For my music tastes, I prefer the spaciousness and aggression of the HE-4 over the musicality of the HE-500. I tend to listen to a lot of instrumental stuff, so vocals have never been something I long for. The HE-400 is still one of my favorite headphones, it just can't compete against its brethren.
    jaxz, Fegefeuer, JBal4 and 11 others like this.
  2. mogulmaster
    Awesome post! I have the 400s and yes i totally notice this timbre issue after I switched from the hd650s. I have noticed it is helped by EQing the upper mids up a little bit. 
    I am really interested in the 500s. would you consider the 400s and the 500s a complimentary pair to own? Or should i sell the 400s first? 
  3. Thujone
    They could definitely be a complimentary pair. For me, I already owned the HD580's, and while the HE-500's outperform them overall, the price tag is arguable IMO.
  4. hemipowered007
    i just sent you a pm before seeing you wrote this!!! dismiss the pm...And thanks for the write up!! I am awaiting my he4, and have always wondered about the 500. I still think i NEED to hear it, but hope the he4 keeps me content. Again, thanks for the review.
  5. hemipowered007
    So, the vocals thing. Is the he4 that much different than the 500? I long for immersive vocals, but, it seems the 500 dismisses alot of the other qualities i love. Since i sold off my 400 ive retreated back to my magnum v5 "rebuild". I can say, I am really hoping i get the natural guitar sound of the magnum in the he4. With the added planar detail and soundstage. So how are the vocals on the he4 compared to the 400? You touched on it but really really hoping i basically get an he400/magnum/grado hybrid in the he4.
  6. Modular
    Thanks for the write-up. I'm debating taking the plunge from my DT880 250 ohm phones into the Hi-FiMan realm and this helps quite a bit.
    Have you ever heard the DT990's? If so, would you say that the HE-400 is as "V-shaped" as those headphones?
  7. Errymoose
    Agree with most of it re: HE-400 vs. HE4.
    I greatly preferred the HE4 myself, I thought the HE-400 was a bit too V-shaped.  So bringing everything a bit more in line (still nice and very punchy bass though) with better imaging was nice. 
    I don't find the comfort great though.  Heavy and the shape of the cups seems to just make it hard for me to find a nice comfortable way for them to sit.
  8. Soundsgoodtome
    I'm interested on how your comparison changes with a jergpad on each of those HEs. Any chance you can score one from modulor or build one before you offload any of them?
  9. jerg Contributor
    If I may answer this, I've chatted with OP in detail already, and his impressions are with the v2.0 Modulor Jergpads, on HE400 and on HE500. With HE4 the earpads are a bad match (understandably, as I did these modifications specifically to fix issues inherent to HE500 only) so he opted for stock velours.
  10. TommyNavara
    Good job thank you very much...
    btw it's only the same thing:
    The most expensive things are better and you can't afford it probably.
  11. magicman
    I got he-500 again a few days ago to do some direct comparisons with he-4 - in my opinion on speaker amp (like a-100 or class A musical fidelity A2) he-4 just crushed all other hifimans I had chance to listen to in the past, sent it back yesterday to the shop ...
    he-500 missed too much of informations, comparing to he-4 is too polite because of smoothing anything you throw at it, no mather it's rock, metal, jazz, classical etc
    I immediately lost all this attack, speed, clarity, ultra fast, airy, punchy bass which is super detailed and textured in he-4, all genres sounded the same on he-500, this is not good and I used a few different amps to do the justice
    My final conclusion is when I have to lose so many informations from the mids I choose he-400 instead and get even better holography, magical atmosphere, dark and warm signature (which is great complement to he-4) and even better "bass fullness" + keep my he-4 as my main headphone
    Timbre, naturalness and transparency of he-4 is something out of this world, nothing can compare with it even he-6 I decided to test didn't have such soundstage, air, spaciousness and placement of instrument / musicians
    Use your own ears dudes, don't read too much, choose whatever sounds lifelike for you and gives you real enjoyment, don't be fooled by the pricing and advertising slogans
    btw he-500 sounded best on emotiva a-100, great authority and soundstage - even tonality improved a lot but still smoothing out everything, soundstage a bit congested - unacceptable for me, It just took away all that realism which is present on he-4 with powerful amp (and I don't mean volume, just current reserve for bass and dynamics peak)
    surprisingly it also sounded good balanced from built-in audio-gd 10es2 headphone amp - H gain 8-15 (max is 79), very similar to a-100 but without a hint of hissing (for example to drive a bit he-4 from balanced output it usually took about 40-60 in H gain position, to get the same SPL, punch etc)
    Just my 2 cents ...
  12. Thujone
    Thanks for the positive comments, everyone!
    Modular, I haven't tried the DT990's, so I can't say for sure. I wouldn't be one to call the HE-400's "V-shaped" though. They have a very flat response except for the upper mid recession, but 90+% of instruments and vocals that you'll be listening to are not going to be recessed fundamentally. As I mentioned, you're just going to lose a lot of harmonics from vocals and instruments that would normally give a more accurate timbre to the sound.
    Soundsgoodtome, jerg is correct. I used modulor's jerg pads on the HE-400 and HE-500 but preferred the stock velours on the HE-4. I have edited the "Things You Might Care About" section to include pads (I knew I had forgotten something).
    magicman, I definitely agree with you. The best word to describe the HE-500 is "polite". I, like you, do not prefer the politeness. Without a doubt, the HE-500 is the least "fun" headphone of the 3. The HE-400, while having some drawbacks, is still very punchy and aggressive, enough to put a smile on your face with certain tracks. The HE-500's are so smooth and lush that I was simply unimpressed. I like how you say that all genres sound the same on the HE-500. When I read that, I couldn't help but laugh because I can't disagree with that at all. Listening to the ambient tracks are just as engaging as fast energetic tracks, and there is something wrong with that in my book. Buuuuuut, I can see why their signature is so adored. While the word "polite" may have  negative connotation associated with it, I think that "musical", "intimate", and "full" are more positive words to describe them. As for the HE-400 and HE-4 pairing, I think that's a good pair for sure! In fact, it's probably a better pairing than the HE-4 and HE-500 since the HE-400 is so much different.
  13. magicman
    just got my ordered he-400 as a complement to my beloved he-4
    driven from balanced output with nice power of 10es2 is something what I have been missing for so long for genres like pop, electronica etc where colorful mids are bless and put some real magic into the sound
    a few notes of Ellie Goulding live or Roisin Murphy and I am lost for good but for timbre, details, unplugged music, classical recordings you lose too much on he-400 :D
    for me overall rank is like this:
    he-4>he-400>he-5le>he-500 (he-6 not in classification)
    and he-400 has the best vocal reproduction and most seductive sound of all, ultra smooth but still nice soundstage not like in audeze (total mistake)
    maybe I give it a shot on my emotiva a-100 too + try my velour pads from he-4 and see what the result is
    I have preamp built-in my 10es2 so the volume range will be pretty nicely adjustable on emotiva
    btw what I meant about he-500 about its lushness and smooth sound is that everything sounds the same - this is not good, no difference even between genres, for instance he-4 can sound super smooth on some recording or aggressive on the other, be super detailed and precise but can be your worst nightmare also on some real ****ty recording but he-500 sounds the same whatever I throw on it and whatever amp I use - it just sounds boring very fast, that's all
    edit: oh my god, how it sounds on a-100, and hiss is almost non existent ! can't believe with that sensitivity, I don't even have to use preamp, just low gain fixed at 1.25V rms output and emo is about 9 o'clock depending on recording level (low power speaker amps are the way to drive planar orthos, seriously, no matter the sensitivity, the difference is just jaw dropping, comparing to headphone amps just doesn't make any sense)
  14. mogulmaster
    jerg i've been forever looking for YOUR opinion on the differences of the 400 and 500, and why you have kept both. Can you please link me to that answer or provide me with info? 
  15. jerg Contributor
    Too lazy to sell :p
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