New School vs Old School: A Comparison of the Hifiman HE400i and HE500
Oct 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 16

JoeDoe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 12, 2013
Posts
8,161
Likes
1,806
After posting in numerous threads and blowing up numerous inboxes in an effort to get definitive answers, I took matters into my own hands. How does Hifiman's new HE400i stack up against the legend, the HE500?
 
It's well-known that the 400i's tuning does not follow in the footsteps of it's predecessor. The new generation is in a word: refined.The rich planar sub-bass and spicy treble have been  revamped. Gone are the clunky, blue cups - instead, the gunmetal-esque replacements. No more scratchy velours - but now, the angled, pillowy Focus Pads. Needless to say, there’s plenty to like here.
 
So, without further ado, let's get into it!
 
Source Material: 
*All songs are ALAC 16-bit/44.1 kHz except for "Someone Like You" and “Joshua” (24-bit).
 
"Something" by Snarky Puppy feat. Lalah Hathaway: A Grammy-winning funk-jazz track that lets Lalah really show off and thanks to the size of the band and the extra backup singers, portrays a great opportunity for imaging, separation, and soundstage. 
 
"Make It Mine" by Jason Mraz: A funky pop tune that has a lot of little nuances i.e. hi hat splashes, vocal harmonization, organ riffs, etc.  
 
"A Wake" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: This hip hop track offers some excellent sub-bass texture that most cans just don't pick up on. Also, the portrayal of Mack's vocals can make or break this one.
 
"Someone Like You" by Adele: This chart-topper is performed live at Royal Albert Hall. Probably the best test of soundstage I've ever heard. She invites the audience to sing the chorus and it either makes you look around to make sure there aren't actual people around you or it sounds well... fake.
 
"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon: Even though just about anything Paul does could be used, I know this one well and it is very rich in layers and nuances.
 
"Joshua" by Miles Davis: Had to have a jazz track. Depending on how this one is portrayed, the trumpet often overshadows everything else. Done well, each instrument of the quintet should come off very clearly.
 
"Free Will" by Rush: Lots of opportunities here. This is from the live Exit Stage Left album so immediately there are chances to show off soundstage and imaging. Also, with better gear, the guitar and drum impacts and texture can really shine.
 
Gear
 
For this review, I used a balanced setup consisting of the Little Dot DAC1 and Mk VII+. Source material via optical was from my MacBook Pro running Fidelia. IC’s were DIY XLRs courtesy of Lord Tris, balanced headphone cables were DIY courtesy of wje and for SE, I used the stock HE400i cable for both. Also, I used Focus Pads on both headphones as the velours and pleathers of the 500 are, let’s be honest… just awful. 
 

 

 

 
 
*Note: Even though the 400i seems much easier to drive on paper, I didn’t have to adjust the volume nearly as much as I thought I would going from one headphone to the other. Make of that what you will.
 
Abbreviated Findings
 
 ​
 
500 vs 400i​
  
 HE500 SEBalancedHE400i SEBalanced
SomethingRichly textured vocals, extended low end, good sense of space and L/R imaging.More clarity and detail.Vocals are less forward than 500. Less space.More space than SE.
Make it MineVocals are very upfront. Drums in front of other instruments.Better details. Drums are better placed in mix.Very close to 500, but vocals are recessed and SS is closed in. More vocal presence.
A WakeGreat bass texture. Drums sound awesome. Vocals are detailed but sometimes sibilant. (reminds me of RS1.)Even better bass and more separation.Good bass, hot treble. Noticeably smaller sense of space.Aww yeah, we bumpin' now!
Someone Like YouRich textured vocals and piano. Medium sense of the space.SS opened up. Better everything.Very similar but smaller SS.Maybe a touch more space?
50 Ways
Smooth vocals. Hear bass more than feel.Awesome. Killer vocals and bass is now felt.More treble presence. Vocals not as smooth.A little smoother on vocals, but still not up to 500 level.
JoshuaExcellent imaging. Bass light?Just awesome.Richer bass than 500. Closed in SS.Better separation and slightly better space.
Free WillDecent percussion impact. Good separation and textured guitar.Best of everything.Meh.Better space and percussion impact.
 
 
 
*Note: The SE columns are referring to the other headphone i.e. 400i SE is comparing to 500 SE and vice versa. The balanced columns however, are referencing the same headphone using SE. 
 
Commentary
 
So overall, I’d say HFM did what they set out to do. The 400i is very closely related to the 500 in its tuning. The more prominent differences are:
 
  • 400i has thicker bass.
  • 500 has much richer mids.
  • 400i has more treble, but it’s not as detailed.
  • 500 has much better soundstage and sense of space.
 
For those of you who enjoyed the original HE400’s “fun” tuning more, I would not recommend the 400i. He’s traded in his beer pong cups for trendy micro-brews although he definitely hasn’t graduated to the small batch bourbon that is the 500.
 
Conclusion
 
Both headphones are quite good. The 400i is the closest planar I’ve heard to a Grado sound. I was reminded of the PS500 in some ways albeit with less soundstage and more treble detail. The 500 takes that sound, brings the mids forward, smooths the treble, and widens the space - in some ways similar to an RS1, although the 500 throws a much better soundstage.
 
If you’re interested in a tuning that’s halfway between “fun” and “neutral,” I’d wholeheartedly recommend the 400i. It’s got just enough mid-bass boost and treble presence to make electronic, hip hop, rock, and pop tunes really engaging. However, it’s intimate sound and slightly recessed mids may not be what you’re after if you are a big jazz, classical, or vocal fan. The 500 in comparison takes the 400i’s (oh so slight) deficiencies and capitalizes. The rich, organic mids are in full effect and the soundstage is much better, making it an overall more versatile headphone.
 
 
Oct 24, 2014 at 2:32 PM Post #2 of 16

Terja

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Mar 11, 2012
Posts
383
Likes
77
Nice comp, very well-done. Interesting conclusions though considering both headphones are pretty much the same price right now. Kinda puts things into perspective and maybe makes it harder to come up with a choice, especially when the 'new' factor is taken out of the equation.
 
Oct 24, 2014 at 2:40 PM Post #3 of 16

Makiah S

Formerly known as Mshenay
Sponsor: HeadAmp
Joined
Mar 30, 2012
Posts
15,636
Likes
1,790
Nice I too have been curious about how they compare to each other 
 
Oct 24, 2014 at 5:09 PM Post #4 of 16

whirlwind

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 21, 2007
Posts
10,072
Likes
12,465
Location
At The Crossroads
Nice review, Joe.
 
Oct 27, 2014 at 10:23 AM Post #5 of 16

JoeDoe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 12, 2013
Posts
8,161
Likes
1,806
Some afterthoughts:
 
1. I can't stress enough how much pad-rolling has helped the HE500. I was really ready to sell after two weeks because of the comfort issue. They're already a heavier headphone, (especially for a long-time Gradohead) and the pleathers, while soft enough, make the sound too unnatural. The velours sound better, but are the aural version of an itchy sweater your great Aunt Cathy knitted for you for Christmas '98. SO. Putting these focus pads on was a game changer in both comfort and SQ. They're very natural sounding and thanks to the angled nature of them, the soundstage has also improved.
 
2. I've decided that balanced is not for me (at least not in this price range). Therefore the LD stack is up for sale and I'm back to the Pan Am stack. Great decision. The Mullards or Voskhods can affect the treble sparkle and soundstage oh so slightly, just enough that the balance in Miles' combos or the staging of the LSO go from great to awesome!
 
3. The stock cable for the HE500. What a joke. Probably the most microphonic thing I've ever used. SQ is fine, but if I so much as breathe to heavily (which, let's face it, is prone to happen when you listen to The Dirty Loops in 24/96) it's like running a hammer up and down a chain link fence. Just awful.
 
Nov 2, 2014 at 10:36 AM Post #6 of 16

llcook51

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 30, 2014
Posts
463
Likes
317
Excellent comparison. I own both the He-500 and 400i. You and I "hear" things a little differently (that is to be expected). But, we both agree that both headphones are excellent and suit slightly different tastes.
 
Again, thanks for the great detailed review.
 
Nov 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM Post #7 of 16

q2klepto

Member of the Trade: HiveMind Audio / DESKHERO
Joined
Jan 22, 2014
Posts
536
Likes
51
Location
Canada
Excellent comparison. I own both the He-500 and 400i. You and I "hear" things a little differently (that is to be expected). But, we both agree that both headphones are excellent and suit slightly different tastes.

Again, thanks for the great detailed review.


What are your thoughts on the 500 vs 400i? I did a review on the 400i vs 400, that I'll need to throw up on headfi first tomorrow night but I'm curious how it stacks up against the 500
 
Nov 2, 2014 at 6:40 PM Post #8 of 16

skyline315

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 15, 2010
Posts
1,148
Likes
327
Thanks, Joe.
 
I've got the 400i and really love them.  But, I just can't shake the idea that I like the 500s a TAD more.  They both retail for $499, so I could probably do a straight trade with someone, but can't make up my mind.
 
The 500s I heard were heavily modded, which I'm sure impacts things.
 
Based on memory of the 500s, the bass was a little boomy.  I prefer the 400is tighter bass.  The 500s also lacked a little edge/bite on guitars, especially acoustics.  I prefer the 400i here as well.  And, as for comfort, it's the 400i, hands down.
 
STILL, the 500s did something magical for me in terms of ambiance and realism.  They put me in the room with the musician and made things come alive.  A little smoother, a little more space and air, and a little more organic.
 
Ah, audio...why must you torment me so?
 
Nov 3, 2014 at 10:52 AM Post #9 of 16

q2klepto

Member of the Trade: HiveMind Audio / DESKHERO
Joined
Jan 22, 2014
Posts
536
Likes
51
Location
Canada
  Thanks, Joe.
 
I've got the 400i and really love them.  But, I just can't shake the idea that I like the 500s a TAD more.  They both retail for $499, so I could probably do a straight trade with someone, but can't make up my mind.
 
The 500s I heard were heavily modded, which I'm sure impacts things.
 
Based on memory of the 500s, the bass was a little boomy.  I prefer the 400is tighter bass.  The 500s also lacked a little edge/bite on guitars, especially acoustics.  I prefer the 400i here as well.  And, as for comfort, it's the 400i, hands down.
 
STILL, the 500s did something magical for me in terms of ambiance and realism.  They put me in the room with the musician and made things come alive.  A little smoother, a little more space and air, and a little more organic.
 
Ah, audio...why must you torment me so?

 
You know what - i found that the 400i soundstage was slightly narrower than the 400s.  I've since flipped the L <-> R inputs and wear my 400i backwards so the drivers tilt away from my ears - this noticeably widened the soundstage (Used YouTubes "Virtual Barber" to test)
 
Ive mentioned it in the 400i thread - i think another person agreed and also says the bass seems to be a tad more impactful, not sure if thats placebo or what but you can cleary test width with virtual barber. 

I think i might play around with pad rolling, thicker the better. I have a set of NVX PT100 and they come with a really really thick set of pleathers - just need a mounting ring to test it on.  If its good - might drop the money for Audeze Lambskin pads or the Shure 1540 pads, both way thicker..but also pricey at $80 :frowning2: 
 
Nov 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM Post #10 of 16

JoeDoe

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Apr 12, 2013
Posts
8,161
Likes
1,806
  Thanks, Joe.
 
I've got the 400i and really love them.  But, I just can't shake the idea that I like the 500s a TAD more.  They both retail for $499, so I could probably do a straight trade with someone, but can't make up my mind.
 
The 500s I heard were heavily modded, which I'm sure impacts things.
 
Based on memory of the 500s, the bass was a little boomy.  I prefer the 400is tighter bass.  The 500s also lacked a little edge/bite on guitars, especially acoustics.  I prefer the 400i here as well.  And, as for comfort, it's the 400i, hands down.
 
STILL, the 500s did something magical for me in terms of ambiance and realism.  They put me in the room with the musician and made things come alive.  A little smoother, a little more space and air, and a little more organic.
 
Ah, audio...why must you torment me so?


Haha, amen brother. I think the 500 has a little Grado in its blood. Not necessarily technically better, but more enjoyable and more true to what live music sounds like. Maybe organic is the right word?
 
Mine have the cloth removed and now the focus pads. It's gonna be hard to get these away from me...
 
Nov 3, 2014 at 1:21 PM Post #11 of 16

skyline315

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 15, 2010
Posts
1,148
Likes
327
 
Haha, amen brother. I think the 500 has a little Grado in its blood. Not necessarily technically better, but more enjoyable and more true to what live music sounds like. Maybe organic is the right word?
 
Mine have the cloth removed and now the focus pads. It's gonna be hard to get these away from me...

If you decide to sell them at some point (and you usually do!), let me know.
 
I'd have to sell my 400i to fund the purchase, but it may be worth it.
 
Dec 20, 2014 at 1:48 PM Post #12 of 16

Jazz1

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 20, 2003
Posts
1,053
Likes
170

Hmmm. I've got a 400i on order. I'm beginning to think that maybe I would have preferred the 500 as I found I wasn't a Grado 325 fan as I found it exciting, but  too tiring for long sessions. I'll certainly give the 400i a chance when I get it. I'm really enjoying the the Phillips X2, and like my HD-650 and B&W P7.
 
Thanks for the great review JoeDoe!
 
Dec 20, 2014 at 8:59 PM Post #13 of 16

whatup69

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 15, 2014
Posts
105
Likes
16
I just got a he500 and about 10 hours in I'm very under whelmed. Sounds very soft and veiled, and the great mids I'm led to believe it has simply isn't there, sounding distant and recessed. I'm driving them via a audio gd nfb15
 
Dec 21, 2014 at 2:36 PM Post #15 of 16

monkeysixtysix

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 13, 2014
Posts
296
Likes
27
Location
NYC
Great comparison... I've also owned both the HE-500's and 400i's and the only thing I would add is that the HE-500's bass definitely extends further than the 400i's. Bass extension would probably be my biggest complaint with the 400i.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top