The Hifiman HE-400i uses the exact same headband system as its big brother, the HE-560, does. In my HE-560 review from August I said: “The detachable pads, in combination with the extremely good suspended head band design and the light drivers, make the Hifiman HE-560 one of the lightest and most comfortable Orthodynamic Headphones on the planet. You hardly notice it on your head, no painful feeling on top, no death grip and perfect sealing pads. It can’t get much better really. What a design!” And that goes for the HE-400I as well: light (12.7 ounces) and very comfortable. I never really loved the old HE-400 as much as I loved the HE-500 and on both of the old units, the comfort is only so so. They don’t really fit small heads and they don’t have the most comfortable fit. After a few hours the HE-400 starts to hurt on top of your head from the headband and the cups are big and they don’t seal well on everyone’s head. (velour pads do help for comfort). Compared to the old HE-400, the 400i now is heaven to have on your head.
Build quality, like with the HE-560 is excellent. After what happened to the HE-560’s recall, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the HE-400i but the unit I received was flawless. Well, I did only get it a few months after the launch, that probably helped as well. Never the less, I much prefer this new – smoky grey – color scheme over the weird blue the old HE-400 had. It just looks better and higher end. The box it came in is one of the prettiest I have seen from a headphone company. And I have seen a lot. (see pics)
For this review I, besides the stock cable, mostly used cables from Forza Audio and Charleston. The HE400i has an efficiency of 93 dB/mW and a nominal impedance of 35Ohm. In reality my HE-400i measures 42.9Ohm on both sides, but at least they are balanced. The latest Hifiman headphones should be easier to drive then ever before but you will notice they’re still not the easiest to drive headphones. The new HE-400i though, can easily be driven by the most popular DAPs.
First, I will start with a description of the HE-400i’s sound in general. Then after that I’ll compare it to the HE-400, the HE-560 and the good old HE-500.
Like the HE-560 the 400i displays great clarity from the planar magnetic drivers. The HE-400i has a nice black background, great clarity and good speed. The detail level is fairly good but once you have listened to the HE-560 you will realize there still is ample room for improvement. The HE-400i’s sound stage also is fairly good for its level but the higher end headphones of course go wider and deeper. Especially the depth of the HE-400i could be a little bit better in my opinion.
The HE-400 was known for its bigger bass and the 400i also has great punchy bass with good body but it doesn’t have the body of the old HE-400. Bass quality isn’t like the 560’s bass which has a lot more detail. The 400i is a great headphone for bass lovers and bass heavy dance music/pop but it doesn’t mean it is a bass head’s headphone, cause it clearly is not.
Overall the HE-400i has a more “in your face” kind of sound with more forward sounding mids. That makes it a slightly more aggressive sounding headphone just like the HE-400 was. The mids, which have good body, especially make the vocals come out and shine.
Treble is good but it’s not the best/most detailed treble either. In one way it is a lot better than the old HE-400’s treble but I’ll get back to that later. I could say the HE-400i is quite linearly tuned but there is more focus on the mids and bass than there is on the treble. In that regard the HE-560 is a lot more linear and “reference” tuned.
Just like with the 400 vs the 500, the 400i could be considered as the more fun sounding headphone and the 560 as the more audiophile reference unit. The HE-400i is also more forgiving for bad recordings but not as forgiving as the HE-400 was. You will easily be able to pick out the not so stellar quality files in your collection.
While these headphones both use the same headband system, the HE-400i clamps fairly tight on the side of your head but it still is very comfortable and you can wear it for hours without any issues.
The HE-400i is more aggressive sounding than the HE-560, especially in the mids section where the HE-400i’s vocals are more upfront. Treble is further extended and more detailed on the HE-560. The HE-400i’s bass has more body and is bigger and harder hitting. The HE-560’s bass and mids on the other hand are more textured and layered. The 560 is more linear tuned and there is no special focus on anything. The HE-560 has a wider and deeper sound stage. It has more air and room between the instruments and it does complex and fast music a lot better than the 400i.
The 400i is easier to drive than the HE-560 but the overall sound is less refined and detailed. The HE-560 in a way is smoother and more natural sounding with more detail and timbre.
In a way you could say the 400i is to the 560 what the 400 is to the 500 but the difference is less huge as it was before. These two headphones, performance wise, now are closer to each other and that’s very positive for the consumer with a smaller budget.
Vs the HE-400
Comfort wise, the HE-400i is miles ahead of the not so comfy HE-400. Sound wise, a huge improvement was done resulting in a less aggressive sound than before with more detail, a bigger sound stage and an overall more refined and higher level sound.
The HE-400 was more raw sounding and the mids in the old version were even more forward sounding then they are now. The new HE-400i is softer, more refined and a lot more musical and dynamic making longer listening session a lot easier.
Bass quality on the HE-400i is better. The 400’s bass was more basic and had more body while the 400i’s bass is more detailed and layered: a better quality bass. Treble wise the 400 might be a little further extended but the 400i’s treble is more textured and detailed than before. The sharp side has been filed of.
The 400 wasn’t the greatest headphone ever made but for its price it performed quite good. Now, compared to the 400i, the old version is miles behind. Technology has evolved, and that’s a good thing.
Going from the 400i to the old HE-500, comfort and sound wise, is quite a shock. Comfort gets reduced to almost zero and even while I don’t have the biggest ears, they are now slightly touching the HE-500 drivers (velour pads). The HE-500 on tubes was one of my favorite headphones but I have to admit I haven’t used it anymore since the arrival of the newer headphones. Especially the Audeze LCD-XC and the Hifiman HE-560 are to blame for that.
The mids of both the 500 and 400i are comparable and the biggest difference is in the bass. The HE-500 can have great bass but getting it out of the drivers is more difficult. To do that I always use a tube amp (339 and 300b) and with the 400i it is so much easier to get out.
To me the HE-400i is tuned more linear than the 500 and the 500 is more laid back sounding. The 400i has a smoother and more musical presentation in the mids section with more body. It is less dry in a way (not that the HE-500 is dry). The 500 is known for its slightly more in the back mids so that’s no real surprise to anyone. Treble do is more detailed on the HE-500 imo.
Volume goes up easily to 45 – 50 and as I mainly use these players with my custom IEMs, I’m not used to seeing these higher levels. Out of experience I didn’t expect the AKs to drive the HE-400i this well but in the end the result is very pleasing to my ears: good bass, good body, good overall sound. A nice surprise, a very musical combination with a lot of feeling.
With the iBasso you get bigger bass on the HE-400i than with the AK players. That’s quite normal as the DX90 has more bass focus. You also get a darker sound and less clarity than with the AKs and while I’m a big fan of the DX90, I’m not really liking this combo. The DX90 has more than enough power to drive the HE-400i even on low gain but as I have mentioned in other reviews, I prefer the middle gain setting on the DX90. The iBasso makes the HE-400i more dry sounding in a way and the clarity just isn’t there for me. I feel I am not getting the most out of it, which is a shame because I really dig the DX90 DAP.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Sometimes the good old S4 surprises me and it does exactly that with the He-400i too. The clarity is there, it’s musical and it’s more than just an acceptable performance. Sure the bass body isn’t as big and the volume is maxed out but I could enjoy this if I had no other choice. The HE-400i is not showing its full potential though.
The Duet just received my portable amp of the year award and so I was confident it would make the HE-400i perform at its best. Biggest sound stage of the portable devices till now with the most detail, highest clarity and just enough (tight) bass body to make it all very musical. Best treble without doubt. Best portable setup so far. The Duet drives the HE-400i with ease and even on low gain I haven’t gone past 10 o’clock on the volume dial. Great performance and a desktop quality sound.
Directly out of the iPod Classic you will have to turn the volume up to almost 100%. The clarity, detail and body have gone. The S4 does even better than the Classic, but just by a little.
The Theorem is known for making orthodynamic headphones sound awesome and the 720 & Audeze LCD-2 combo is legendary already. Compared to the Duet, the 720 is more forward sounding in the mids, clarity is huge and it’s a very dynamic sound. Unlike the Duet, I use mid gain on the Theorem. I easily put the triple stack Cypher Labs setup on the same level. With the Theorem, the mids are more forward and clear while the Duet setup focuses more on bass and body. Both are great and offer a desktop quality sound and it comes down to what type of sound you prefer, I personally find the Theorem setup to have the slight edge over the triple stack, but that’s me.
Violectric V281 (balanced and non balanced)
I have been using the HE-400i mostly in a balanced configuration for this review. The V281, which I’ll be reviewing next week, has more than enough juice to power even the most power hungry headphones on the planet. The combination with the HE-400i is great but I have to add that all the headphones I have tried on the V281 sound great. This amp really brings out the best of every headphone and the HE-400i just sounds gorgeous. It is like the perfect mix between the Cypherlabs and Theorem setup, with even more detail and a bigger sound stage added to that. Perfection.
The A2 is great amplifier that has more than enough power for the HE-400i even if it was built for dynamic headphones. The latest Beyerdynamic amp brings out great clarity and tight bass. The mids are a bit more upfront and vocals sound more forward than on the V281. The A2 delivers a big sound stage and a very detailed and dynamic sound with lighter bass and body in the mids (compared to the V281). It’s a bit like the Theorem vs triple stack comparison. Body vs forwarded mids and increased clarity and dynamics. I could love the HE-400i just as much on the A2 as on the V281.
The HE-400i sells for $499. The sound quality you get in return is impressive and Hifiman has really let the HE-400 evolve in an i(mproved) version that makes you forget about the HE-400 and maybe even the HE-500. You get all the benefits of the orthodynamic drivers: clarity, detail, speed and a black background. You’ll love every single bit of it.
The HE-400i is an incredibly good Mid-Fi headphone that you really should look at if you have this kind of budget available. Sure you will need a good portable player or amplifier to make it sound its best but I’m sure most of you will be using this open back unit at home anyway. The HE-400i is closer to the HE-560 as the HE-400 was to the HE-500 but the HE-560 is still performing at a higher level with a more reference sound.
Another job well done, Hifiman!