We’ve been hearing people complain about the rate at which Hifiman releases a new product into the market, and the release of the Hifiman HE-400 shows that they are not slowing down in any way. This certainly presents a real dilemma to the current owners as the majority of them can’t possibly keep up with the rate at which Hifiman releases a new model. Hence, I would start out this review by saying that it would be good if Hifiman can take some time to slow down.
Having said that, I would still need to acknowledge Hifiman for bringing yet another new offering to the market. Though releases like the HE-4 has been less special among the line up, the models with the hundreds numbers have been quite special offering: the HE-500, the HE-300, and now with the HE-400. The HE-400 comes with a sound signature not found on any of the other Hifiman models. Which means that Hifiman is not simply trying to push out as many models as they can, but rather they are making different headphones with sound signatures that’s right for each individual’s needs.
Before we continue, I need to make a note that since both me and Lieven each received one unit from Hifiman, we decided to do a collaboration for this review. This is the first time we’ve done a collaborative review so I hope you guys will like it.
I will start with Lieven’s impressions (in blue), while my impressions are in black.
The HE-400 is a fun headphone when listening to the right music and the sound is clear as you would expect from an orthodynamic headphone. What springs out most is the bass, and that (like Fang announced before) is definitely aimed to please a broader audience that listens to popular bassy hitlist music. On the downside this headphone sounds very closed and dark for an ortho, especially compared to the other Hifimans and Audeze’s. You get a more “headphone” kind of sound where the music is in your head instead of feeling you are right there. The HE-400 gives you a nice balance, clarity and instrumental separation as you would expect though. Layering is quite good and there even is a reasonable amount of detail from bass to mids and highs, but it is nowhere near the level of more expensive orthos, so don’t think you will be getting the same level of sound just because you’re buying an “orthodynamic”. To come back to the bass, it is the punchiest bass of the Hifiman/LCD-2 series, is always right around the corner and as soon as you start playing bass heavier music, the HE-400 comes alive most. From time to time it overpowers the mids a little, but I wouldn’t say that’s a constant issue.
To my ears it that makes it a great headphone for electronic/dance music and maybe for some rock but I can’t say I like the way it portrays classic music, jazz or vocally strong music. It is a bit more aggressive sounding, not forward sounding, but at the same time it is thicker, lots. It’s a lot more fatiguing to listen to the HE-400 for hours if you’re used to the HE-500 or LCD-2, but I guess that is personal preference as well.
Is the HE-400 a good overall headphone? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone? Ofcourse. If you want to have a taste of the ortho sound for a great price, if you like bass heavy music and if you’re coming from a lower level headphone, then the HE-400 will amaze you from the start and you shouldn’t doubt buying it. If you’re not especially looking for an orthodynamic, then I would still recommend the HD600/650 line, which is pretty hard to beat as it portrays ALL music styles in a better way (and not just some specific ones). At the same time if you’re already used to how the more expensive HiFi orthos sound, then I don’t see any reason to add this one to your collection (unless you want a bassy one for electronic music, like me). The latest in the Hifman series in no way can replace the LCD-2 or the higher Hifimans.
The tuning on the HE-400 is unlike any of the previous Hifiman headphones. Zero emphasis on treble, but instead you get something really dark that it sounds like something Audez’e might have done. Obviously the technicalities is nowhere on the level of the HE-500, HE-6, or even Audez’e LCD-2’s, but at $400 the HE-400 is not designed to compete with the higher up models. It does, however, improve on the sound of the previously released HE-4, as well as the dynamic driver HE-300. You get the signature orthodynamic transients and clean black background, though again soundstage performance is sub-par to the higher up orthos.
The HE-400 makes for a very appealing offering for an entry level orthodynamic. The voicing should work very well with the majority of mainstream music. The dark tonality gives a good amount of bass, though not LCD-2 low, the treble is unoffensive, the midrange is clear and full. The presentation is forward and the pace is moderately fast. Though the HE-500 and the HE-6 are still the more impressive headphones, the HE-400 makes for a better day to day headphone for me since I can play all sorts of recordings on this headphone.
Compared to the older HE-4, the HE-400 is definitely more special. It’s smoother sounding, the background is blacker which gives you better clarity, and most of all the bass and the midrange is fuller and punchier than on the HE-4. Compared to the HE-300, though the dynamic-based HE-300 was a pretty good all rounder, the quality of the driver was sub-par to the HE-400’s planar. You don’t get the transients and the clarity of the planar, and the HE-300 is still a mellower headphone than the HE-400, whereas the HE-400 is more forward and has a better PRaT.
Overall, the HE-400 is the darkest sounding Hifiman yet. Darker than anything that’s come before it and definitely darker than the HE-500 and the HE-6.
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