I have not really written a headphone review before, but after participating in the HiFiMan HE400i touring event (basically, they lent the headphones to me for a while) I have decided to give it a go. Please forgive me if my thoughts are scattered, but I’ll do my best.
I should probably start with a little info about myself. I am a long time music lover, who used to sell audio equipment. (Anyone remember Nobody Beats The Wiz?) While I make no claims of expertise, I will say that I am not entirely unfamiliar with evaluating sound. (How accurate my interpretation is will be up for debate, I’m sure...)
Starting with the build quality, I think HiFiMan has a given a solid offering. Any plastic included is sturdy and attractive, as you might expect at this price point, ($499 USD as of this writing). The ear cups are somewhat fingerprint prone, but it’s not very obvious given the dark color, and they clean easily enough with a cloth or tissue. My set was solid, devoid of squeaks or clicks, with flawless fit & finish. The cable is thick with a nice braided cloth sheath over the wiring, which is not easy to tangle. The fabric & leatherette cushions are plush and well stitched, and the metal tension bar is quite solid. The only part that didn’t inspire my confidence was the position sliders that adjust the size of the headband. Although they adjusted with a solid click, the piece seemed more flimsy than the rest of the headphone. I will note that I didn’t experience any difficulty with the adjustment through my weeks auditioning them.
…And what wonderful weeks they were! The comfort level the HE-400i affords is better than I would expect from a headphone weighing about 13oz. I was able to wear them for hours at a time, without experiencing any notable discomfort. One of the changes HiFiMan made to the HE400i (updated from the HE400) was the headband, and I can say with confidence that the clamping force was never harsh on my (small-ish) noggin. The new design distributes the weight across a strap below the top bar, which holds the tension. While I doubt this will win any style awards, it does the job admirably (and open back headphones such as these are best worn indoors, anyway). My ears did feel uncomfortably warm on occasion, but that’s to be expected of any over ear (Circumaural) headphones.
HiFiMan recommends 150 hours (!) of burn in time (letting music/white noise play through the headphones continuously) so I deferred all serious evaluation until then. I’ve never been a big believer in burn in, but if the manufacturer requests it, I won’t argue. Another (potential) improvement HiFiMan made to the HE400i is an adjustment to the impedance/sensitivity, so that they can be driven by smartphones and the like. As a result I had no problems driving these headphones from any device. My Sansa clip, HP all in one PC, Fiio X3, LG phone and my Yamaha receiver were all more than capable of achieving an adequate volume without noticeably sacrificing sound quality, although on some tracks, the LG & the Sansa’s volume was maxed out. I found that the better the amp I used, the better the sound, of course.
Sound quality is what most people spend their cash for, and I found that the HE400i delivers. This pair of headphones simply drew me into the music. That experience of “Gee, I wonder what THIS song would sound like through these” was an all too common occurrence, causing me to jump excitedly back and forth through my catalogue of music trying to re-experience everything. Anything I played through the HE400i was a pleasure, provided that the recording/song was a pleasure, that is. These headphones are nothing if not revealing.
Bass impact was a touch less than I prefer on some songs, although I found them no less enjoyable. Stevie Ray Vaughn’s older recordings like Texas Flood or his album version of Voodoo Chile, had less “oomph “ in the bass than I generally like, but that is just my preference. The pitch and definition was stellar. The drums in A.H. Rahman’s Jai Ho from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack had texture and depth. Songs recorded with more mid-bass presence I think were better represented. I felt nothing lacking in the bass line from Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust, nor did I perceive The Possibilities Are Endless by The Teodross Avery Quartet as bass shy in any way. The HE400i could definitely reach deep when the recording called for it. The electronic bass line in Fatali’s recording of Homeless was pleasurably authoritative and deep. Even if the bass wouldn’t be considered the star of the show, I still felt it played the part extremely well.
The midrange, I’d say would be where the HE400i shines the brightest. Pat Wictor, my favorite undiscovered acoustic, bluesy, folky singer, never sounded so good. The well recorded a cappella song “Raise My Voice and Sing” was airy and crystal clear. Redemption Song had Bob Marley sounding as nuanced and intimate as I’ve ever heard him. Female vocals were just as gorgeous, from Stevie Nick’s trilling vocals to Jewel’s airy falsetto; I was constantly getting lost in the songs.
Moving on to treble, I found the HE400i to be smooth and articulate. Sufficiently revealing, without harshness, I found the treble well balanced with the rest of the spectrum. Cymbals sounded natural, and guitars soared without sounding edgy. What I found most appealing was the sense of “air” and space I experienced. More than any headphone I’ve owned, the HE400i gave me a sense of the environment the artist recorded in. One of my favorite classical downloads is of Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Bwv 1001-1006 by Oleg Kagan, and you get a distinct sense of openness from the venue through these headphones. Switching gears to AC/DC, even listening to a song as familiar (to me) as “You Shook Me All Night Long” had me take note of the echo/reverb added to Brian Johnson’s voice. Song after song, I noticed subtleties I hadn’t noticed before.
Obviously, I’m somewhat smitten with the HE400i, which is what prompted me to try my hand at a review. While I wouldn’t call these basshead phones, and the sound signature isn’t what I think of as “fun”…it’s not a v-shaped sound, I still I found these headphones to be engaging, revealing, and for me, a delight to listen to. Although they aren’t perfect (what headphones are?) there wasn’t anything I played that I wasn’t satisfied with. Obviously, I highly recommend them.