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HiFiMAN HE-400 Review - Planar Magnetic Headphones at a Reasonable Price

I'll be reviewing the HiFiMAN HE-400s today. These are planar magnetic headphones that are one of the best values of any headphone on the market in my opinion. Planar magnetic headphones offer wonderful bass while sounding very open and airy at the same time. They don't have the highs of dynamic head

I'll be reviewing the HiFiMAN HE-400s today. These are planar magnetic headphones that are one of the best values of any headphone on the market in my opinion. Planar magnetic headphones offer wonderful bass while sounding very open and airy at the same time. They don't have the highs of dynamic headphones, but you'll quickly see that that is a trade off you might be willing to make. The instrument separation is simply unrivaled. The sound stage is great. All in all I'm a huge fan of Planar Magnetic drivers...but let's get into what makes the HE-400s a great headphone.

Let's start with appearance. As you all know, I'm not into reviewing "packaging." I think that's stupid. I don't give a damn what the package looks like cuz the first thing I'm gonna' do is remove them from the packaging and toss them in a closet never to be seen again. People that waste a paragraph talking about packaging are wasting everyone's time. As far as appearances go, I want to start off by showing you all what the HE-400s look like..both in pictures and in reality. Some of you considering the HE-400s might be put off by their blue appearance as I was. I had seen many pictures of a REALLY blue looking headphone..much like this:

That looks really blue and I was not wanting to get a headphone that looked that blue. Luckily, in reality the blue is much darker and more pleasant to see. It's real color is like this:

The reason for the light blue look is simply the way the headphones reflect off of the flash or possibly even the poor camera quality. Whatever the case may be, rest assure the HE-400s are not that light blue. They are a very nice looking color.

The blue casing is a higher quality plastic Doesn't feel cheap. Has a sorta' shininess to it that reflects in a mirror sort of fashion. The cups are attached to a metal Wishbone bar and this allows the cups to rotate and they rotate well, but not so well that they can't hold their place. They hold their place well, especially on your head. The metal wishbone connects to the headband. The headband is made of leather. It's overall thin and you might think that'll really rub into the top of your head with bad padding..but that's not the case. While I wouldn't say it's THE most comfortable headphone I've had on my head, it's definitely really good, especially considering the weight of the headphone. The headphone isn't REALLY heavy, but it has some weight to it, unlike many other headphones that are extremely light like the AD700s and DT880s. These definitely have some weight to them, but not so much where I'm like ugh, these are a burden. I'd say you could comfortably stand the weight without a problem for a few hours. Depending on the strength of your wouldn't mind the weight for ~3 hours. Some others with stronger necks won't have an issue for 5 hours. After those 3-5 hours though, they definitely let you feel that they have some weight. Taking them off and resting for a few minutes lets you wear them for a few more hours. The HE-400s also have an extension on the headband that lets you control how much you want to extend the headphone depending on the size of your head. It's a slider that really holds solid and doesn't move unlike the DT880s which..well..those things can slide up and down for no reason. I really hated the DT880s extension. Only good thing about it was that it marked how far the extension was. So 3-4 dots was typically what I had mine at depending on how loose of a feel I wanted. The HE-400s don't have those dots and that sucks, but you should do an OK job of getting both sides the same length and you won't need to adjust them ever again after that unless you just want a looser fit.

Some accessories you can expect to either buy or have come with your purchase of the HE-400s are a typical black canare cable and leather earpads. Some packages come with Velour pads, but if yours don't, you can simply buy them from HIFIMAN for very cheap. My HE-400s have the HE-500 silver cable with them, so you'll see them with the silver cable in my pictures. They're said to temper the treble spikes that are known to occur in the HE-400s and they do an OK job at that.

The pads are VERY easy to switch and don't get ruined like they do on other headphones if you don't do it perfectly. They sort of clip into place rather than having to stretch the material over the phone. I much prefer this way of putting headphone pads on. The leather pads, while not the epitome of leather comfort, are softer than most leather headphone pads I've tried. They're not uncomfortable, but they're not as comfortable as velour and for that reason, they had to get swapped out. They velour pads are more comfortable, but definitely not the most comfortable velour pads I've tried...which are the DT880s velour pads. They have this ultra soft microfiberness to them that's just simply fantastic.

For those looking to use leather pads on the HE-400s, but don't like the HE-400s ear pads, I believe the Denon D2000 leather pads also fit on the HE-400s. Give that a try. Typically you'll get better bass response on leather pads, but I'd have to say the drop in bass wasn't bad for the comfort of the velour. Very small change.

The HE-400s have this beautiful black grill on them. They are one of the most open sounding headphones I've ever heard at any price range. They completely blow away the AD700s in terms of openness. You can literally see from one side to the other. They also come with a velvet carrying bag that I didn't include in the photo.

The real reason we all buy headphones is ultimately the sound quality they produce. The HE-400s aren't just nice looking headphones, they're also very good sounding headphones. Let me all remind you these are $400 headphones. To many people that's a lot of money to spend on headphones. Only audiophiles would spend that much or more on headphones. At $400 the HE-400s are a bargain. They're a greatly priced headphone. Even used you'll never see these drop below $350.00. That's value right there. The He-400s are beautifully priced planar magnetic headphones.

The bass on the HE-400s is why people buy this headphone. The HE-400s have wonderful bass. IMO a headphone should not have less bass than the HE-400s provide without touching the EQ. Music without this touch of bass just isn't great. The HE-400s can also EQ AGRESSIVELY. They are one of the few headphones that I can really do weird things with on the equalizer and they will respond. I think you could even do a +18 rise on the lower frequency of this headphone without destroying SQ badly and they'll really shake your head. The DT880s cry after mild EQ tampering and don't even respond that well. They AD700s get brighter in the mids and highs, but as far as bass goes they don't move anywhere. The HE-400s don't just produce impact bass, but really extend low as well. Drums that have some bass to them are really enjoyable on the HE-400s. With other headphones you don't get that bass from the drums. It's by no means overpowering..but it's just right. It's wonderful. Drummers and audiophiles alike would really appreciate the way a drum sounds on these headphones. The DT880s sounded great for the snare drum, but these sound great for all drums and not just the bass drum, but also the rack tom, floor tom and all different types of drums. You just can't hear the brilliance of a drum until you have enough bass from the driver to really do it justice.

The bass is very enjoyable for dubstep. They might not have the slam/impact of other headphones, but the bass extension and speed is overall very enjoyable. It does have some impact too, so I wouldn't get all depressed about that, they're just not bass monsters. To give you a sort of feel for where I am bass wise..I think the DT880s are bass light. They're nowhere near enjoyable for dubstep or bassy music. They have just enough bass to get away with the bass adequate for most music to sound good. The HE-400s don't have a ton of the mid-bass people associate with bassy headphones. They're more focused on the extension aspect of bass. The Ultrasone Pro 900s are better for dubstep if you really want that mid bass to just slam into the side of your head. If you're wanting overall nice bass but for the rest of the sound spectrum to sound fantastic the HE-400s are for you.

The mids are good. Some might complain they're slightly recessed, but it's not something you'll rage about or even mind to an extent. I don't have a ton to say about the mid range. Vocals are fine in the mid range. They don't sound veiled. They don't sound put in the back. They don't sound crazy up front like Grados. They're normal. They're good.

The highs are the issue with the HE-400s. Ultrasone's have really piercing highs. These don't. There is a spike in the treble around the 10khz range, but other than that the highs are subdued. I'd probably say they're a little too sub-dued and if I could, I would give these headphones a boost in the 1k-7k region and lower it from the 8-10k region. Some people feel you can equalize them to fix them up. To an extent you can do some things to help with the highs, but overall, the headphones suffer from highs that annoy. I personally haven't found a way to completely fix them..maybe someone else has. IDK. Let me explain a little bit more with what's going on with the highs.

The highs suffer from some crackling sound if they have to hold the tune for an extended period of time. It's slight yet still very noticeable. It's actually frustrating. The DT880s don't have this problem. The HE-400s..depending on the revision you have..can also be very very sibilant without some tampering. I had more to say about the sibilance until I started writing about it. I wanted to describe it better, but there's not a great way to describe it. It's very sharp. It's not so much a TSH like the's more of a very sharp S sound. Not even sure if this accurately describes the issue.

The sibilance can be fixed to a greater degree than the distortion issue. The distortion issue I found can be greatly helped by LOWERING THE PREAMP and raising the volume of your amp. I noticed that GREATLY helped with any distortion these headphones were facing. I'm not sure exactly what's going on with the distortion..I'll have to read into them a bit more to figure out what's going on, but I've for the most part fixed it greatly by lowering the preamp.

Female vocals are good on the HE-400s. They're not the best I've heard, but I can definitely listen to them enjoyably. I think the HE-400s are probably more fitted towards male vocals though. I'm very much into female vocals, so I'll be looking to move onto the HE-500s very soon, but don't take that as the shot to the HE-400s that stops you from buying them unless you're also into female vocals.

So far you've probably read that the HE-400s have great bass extension, not a ton of mid bass and that the highs suck. You may not be pulled into buying the HE-400s from this de-ion so let me go into what makes this headphone great..

Instrument separation is phenomenal on the HE-400s and is generally a trademark of planar magnetic headphones. All planar magnetic headphones are fantastic at instrument separation. Complex sounds are made easy with planar headphones like the HE-400s. The sound stage on the HE-400s is really big. I haven't tried gaming with them for a long period of time competitively, but I'd assume they'd do great. The imaging on them is really good from what I can tell as well. If you're looking for an open sounding headphone with great bass, good for gaming, this headphone is for you. The detail on these headphones surpasses the DT880s which were already really good headphones in term of detail. While the detail in the highs isn't great, the texture of everything is better. I also hear parts of songs that were previously there, but never had such a presence.

When you put your hands over the cups of the headphones, they actually ruin the SQ IMO. They change the sound more than any headphone I have ever tried. I'm even interested in seeing how they'd sound if you take the existing grill on them and replace them with an even more open grill design. These headphones are so open and can get so loud that you can take them off, put them on your desk about a foot foot and a half away and listen to them as speakers comfortably.

These headphones when I first wore them were a bit fatiguing. I wasn't used to them, but after 2 days I got used to them and they no longer fatigued me. You can listen to them for ~4-5 hours before needing to take a short break or take them off. Once you're used to the HE-400s I have no doubt you won't need to take them off and could listen to them for extended periods of time. I've worn them pretty much all day today from 12:00PM to currently 8:00PM. 8 hours and while I haven't listened to music that entire time it goes to show that you can wear them for a while.

The leather pads as I said before are comfortable enough to wear them for ~3 hours before needing to take them off your head for a minor break. You can toss them on for an additional 2 hours after that before another minor break. THe leather isn't hard or fake feeling. They don't feel like if they get sweaty they'll start melting into pleather poo like other headphone ear pads. They're again not the most high quality leather ear pads I've tried on, but they're good enough to where if I wanted to wear a leather ear pad I wouldn't rush out to buy a d2k ear pad. I would only buy a D2k ear pad if I was really into the leather pad feel which I'm not.

The headband is really rather comfortable. I have no issue with it drilling into my head. In fact, I probably have less problems with it drilling into my head than I do with DT880s. I'd say those probably drill into your head more. The band equally distributes the weight of the headphone across your head appropriately. The clamp on the headphones is much more noticeable than on DT880s, but they're not vicegrippy at all. They're extremely comfortable really and I could literally headbang to music with these things witohut fear that they'd come off. I probably can't say the same for DT880s, Q701s or many other "comfortable" headphones. They're way more comfortable than Ultrasones and are nowhere near as vice-grippy.

I have to say the thing I enjoy the most about the comfort of the HE-400s is the eacups. They're SO LARGE. I don't think any side is touching my ear. It's fantastic. If I could get one mod on the HE-400s other than something that would fix the highs, it would be getting DT880s velour pads on this somehow. The next mod would be trying these out with large holes in the grill.

The HE-400s are great headphones for those wanting instrument separation, an airy sound, good deep bass and possibly want to use them for gaming as well. These headphones are not for those focusing on music with a lot of highs..especially highs where the notes are held for a long time. These headphones distort under highs. That's the one thing I dislike about them and if I can fix them, that'd be awesome, but I don't think I will be able to fix them into perfection. For this reason, I'm already looking to replace them with HE-500s..but as you all know the HE-500s are significantly more expensive than the HE-400s. The He-400s are priced beautifully. They're a great headphone to have at this price range. Their only competitor is the Sennheiser HD-650 in this price range.

If you're looking at this and the HD650 think about what you want more. The HD-650 will give you better highs, but this headphone definitely does bass better. These are maybe slightly less airy sounding than HD-650s. These headphones have better instrument separation..I'd say the HD650s probably have more detail though, but I'd say the HE-400s are better for gaming. The soundstage on the HE-400s are superior to the HD650s. The tough to say which is better.

All that taken into consideration, I obviously chose the HE-400s over the HD650. Take that for whatever you want. The HE-400s have been in my arsenal for a few months now and now with a new cable, but I'm really into gothic metal and female vocals, so the HE-500s have since replaced the HE-400s for me. New review for HE-500s forthcoming.

2013-01-12 20:29:36
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