Review: Hifiman HE-400S – The Dynamic Easy To Drive Ortho

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Disclaimer: We were sent the Hifiman HE-400S directly from the factory in China. Hifiman is also a Headfonia advertiser.

HE-400S

Several months ago I suddenly got an email from Hifiman with the news of the HE-400S. My first idea was “Another HE-400?” but it actually makes sense. While the HE-400i and HE-560 were supposed to be easy to drive orthodynamic headphones, they did in fact need an external amplifier to sound their best. And that’s exactly where the new HE-400S comes in.

Yes, the 400S really is easier to drive and it sounds darn good straight out of my phone and DAP. Hifiman claims the HE-400S is one of the highest efficiency planar headphones in the world actually (98dB). The new HE-400S also uses the new connectors like the reference model, the HE-1000, does. Besides that, the design of the HE-400S is basically a copy of the HE-400i and HE-560, and that’s more than ok. I for one like that Hifiman has kept a clear line in their designs: Their headphones look great and the headband system makes them very comfortable. I can wear my Hifimans for hours without any issues but at the same time the pads seem to be a bit different. The 400i/560 does feel more comfortable over the ears so I measured the size of the opening to find out the 400S’s opening measures 5 to 6cm, where the 400i and 560 measure 6cm everywhere. The pads this time also are in full velour and they’re not mixed like the pads on the other Hifimans.

The new 400S only weighs 350gr which is about 20-25gr less than the before mentioned models. Hifiman – so I have read – implemented one driver/ear instead of two, eliminating half the magnets. For a planar magnetic headphone that is very light but if you’re used to dynamic driver units, you still might find this a heavy headphone. For people like me, who use the LCD-XC for hours on end, the HE-400S feels like a feather. I wouldn’t call it a portable headphone however as it is pretty big, it leaks a lot of sound and it doesn’t even come with a carrying case. The HE-400S only costs $299, which is really impressive for an ortho, and it comes with a 6.3mm headphone adapter, one 1.5m cable and one pair of special designed earpads which are pre-installed. While I wasn’t always happy with the build quality of the Hifiman gear, I really have nothing to remark this time. The grey plastic and metal combination looks flawless and everything arrived in perfect working order.

For those still not familiar with orthodynamic headphones: “Dynamic headphones utilize conductors that vibrate in limited areas of the diaphragm. Result is that a large percentage of the diaphragm cannot be directly driven by those conductors. Planar headphones have conductive layers over almost all of the diaphragm. Evenly driven by these conductors, result is significantly lower distortion than conventional dynamic headphones”.

Sound

According to Hifiman, the HE-400S “delivers all the lifelike clarity, detail, extended bass and wide sound stage that audiophiles have come to expect from HIFIMAN”.Let’s see how that worked out.

First of all, the HE-400S is an open type headphone. It leaks a lot of sound, making it less friendly for use at the office or during public transport. A lot of people, because of its price and good sound, will be looking at the HE-400S as a portable headphone but I would really advise against using it like that. You would be losing a lot of the sound quality (and you would disturb everyone around you).

The HE-400S really is easy to drive. The AK120II which isn’t exactly known for having a powerful headphone section, drives the 400S to ear deafening levels without any distortion. My Samsung S4 does just as good. I normally don’t use my phone as source but a friend of mine asked me to check out a certain new player and the HE-400S sounds almost as good as on the AK. Does that mean you don’t need an external amplifier? I guess you don’t, but at the same time you will –depending on the amp used- notice its sound quality go up. They don’t scale up as well as the 400i/560 but there clearly still is a difference in sound (quality) where you “amped” get more detail, a tighter sound and mostly a more spacious sound.

I like the HE-400S’s tuning. It’s smooth, musical and probably more on the warmer side of neutral but it also shows good clarity. It’s a bit like the AD01 IEM but with less bass. It’s not as clear or spacious as his Hifiman siblings though, but more on that in the next chapter.

What I like most in the HE-400S are its enjoyable smooth mids. They have good body, good detail, enough clarity and all that with a relaxed and unfatiguing presentation. The overall balance of the HE-400S is quite good and both bass and treble fit in nicely with the mids section. Treble is on the softer and certainly inoffensive side but there’s enough clarity and detail to enjoy the music and to not miss too much. Treble in the HE-400i and HE-560 is more clear, more precise and further extended though. As said the bass blends in perfectly with the mids but this isn’t necessarily a bass neutral headphone. It has just a bit too much body to be called neutral but it does sound perfect with the mids section. Bass depends a lot on the source used but I would say it always has more body than average. With ALO’s CDM, bass body was a lot bigger than on the Samsung S4. At the same time bass was also tighter but the 400S’s bass will never be of the tightest kind. It’s not a basshead’s headphone by far and I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy the 400S’s bass.

Bass on the HE400S is special as it’s not the typical kind of bass you get from an orthodynamic headphone. It sounds more like the bass you get from dynamic headphones but its depth is lacking a bit though. Taking all this into account you could say the HE-400S has good balance, it’s a headphone that’s easy to love if you don’t expect it to sound like a high-end unit (like the LCD-2/3 or HE-560).

“Sound” continues on the next page, after the click HERE

Review: Hifiman HE-400S – The Dynamic Easy To Drive Ortho
3.84 (76.89%) 122 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

65 Comments

  • Reply September 15, 2015

    Carl

    Really excellent review L! To me it seems your words (and thoughts) flow more smoothly than say perhaps a year or two ago. Your obviously positive feelings about this headphone came through superbly and for me this is the perfect headphone review – lots of genuinely relevant detail, pertinent comparisons and just the right angle of approach for one possibly considering getting this headphone.
    A great read! Thanks very much L.
    Be well.

  • Reply September 15, 2015

    szoze

    Great review Lieven. Long time expected too 🙂 It seems to be a nice headphone. I am now waiting for your review of Audioquest Nighthawk

    • Reply September 15, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you. That might be a while though 🙂

      • Reply September 15, 2015

        dalethorn

        Here’s a prediction: Start with the Flare Audio R1 review as a template, change “insane clamping force” to “very comfortable”, change “heavy veil” to merely “veiled”, and there you go.

        • Reply September 16, 2015

          szoze

          Not so good then?

          • Reply September 16, 2015

            dalethorn

            For users who can get along with the Nighthawk sound as is (needs a particular type of amp – Dragonfly-2 works good), they’ll enjoy the smoothest sound I’ve ever heard. Users who don’t mind a little tweaking, if they’re very careful, may be able to flatten out the default sound some, and enjoy what I think is better than the $1000 planars, but that gets into unknown territory of course. But the reviews I’ve read that say the sound is just right out of the box and after burn-in, that’s a really different sound signature than any of the major planars or dynamics are targeting today, so I wouldn’t recommend it without those caveats and the ability to return it if not satisfied.

            • Reply September 17, 2015

              dalethorn

              Some additional thoughts: There’s always a valid argument about a headphone signature, whether it’s too bright or too boomy, or too thin or too dark, etc. etc. But there’s a test you can do to see how your headphone compares to live sound. Take a walk – go to different places, like a public park, a shopping plaza, a market — places where you hear both natural sounds and people sounds, especially people having conversations close by. Walk into those places playing stuff on your headphone, then remove the headphone and see if the sound is about the same for clarity and detail, etc. You might have to find some example tracks that have the right kind of energy in them.

  • Reply September 16, 2015

    Nat

    Thanks for your great review :D. How does it compare to the ATH R70X anyway? 🙂

    • Reply September 16, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I couldn’t really tell as I don’t have that one

  • Reply September 16, 2015

    christopherpuchta

    Great review as usual!
    Since you mentioned using open headphones in public/office, is there anything in this class/sound-quality/price-range but in a closed fashion?

    • Reply September 16, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      H6, dt770, nad visio hp50

      • Reply September 16, 2015

        christopherpuchta

        Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply September 16, 2015

    Jinx

    Great review. Is the comparrison with the HD650 the old model or the 2007 version? I’m thinking about buying either HD650, HE-400S or Audioquest Nighthawk but I am still uncertain as which to choose. You’re probably not familiar with it but I’m using Audio-gd C-2 and Audio-gd DAC 19. I hear the HD650 scales well where as HE-400S scales less. I’m looking for non-fatuiging headphone that I can listen to for many hours without any trouble.

    • Reply September 16, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      The hd650 is the silver “driver”, the latest version.

      I would only recommend tubes or a warm ss for the senn like the Violectric amps and the Beyer a20

      I sold my audio gd dac nfb something. Nighthawk and 400s are both non fatuiging.

      • Reply September 16, 2015

        Jinx

        What is the difference between the old and new HD650?

        I actually have the A20 amp but why would you not recommend it for normal solid state?

        That is good to hear, I presume HD650 also is non fatuiging? I’m also looking at HE-560 which suposedly is a better than HE-400S but I’m afraid it’s gonna be fatuinging, do you have any experience with it?

  • Reply September 17, 2015

    Orly

    I love the HD650’s sound signature to death and am looking for a new headphone to complement it. Right now, I’m torn between the Philips X2 and HIFIMAN HE-400s. I listen to a wide variety of music (from classical/jazz to blues/rock and as of recently, I started to listen to EDM). Any input is highly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Reply September 17, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Then I wouldn’t go with a headphone similar to the HD650. I would look at the HE560, LCD-X, dt880,T1, even DT990

      • Reply September 17, 2015

        Orly

        I had my eye on those beyers for the longest time (DT880 and T1), but couldn’t pull the trigger. I don’t know why. Haha!

        But when I read that X2 and HE400s sounds similar to the HD650, I felt the need and urge to listen to those. Maybe I just love the HD650’s too much that I wanted to try those two out.

        Anyway, thanks for the input. Really appreciate it.

      • Reply September 18, 2015

        szoze

        Or T90 🙂

  • Reply September 18, 2015

    Ilias K

    Thanks for another great review. I was considering these as an introduction to planar headphones, but reading this i think i have to look elsewhere..i have the Philips X2 already..so perhaps i should try the Oppo PM3 or HE-400i?..i am planning to upgrade my X3/E12A combo with the X5ii too..

  • Reply September 20, 2015

    Vasilis Rapanakis

    I’ve got a pure II+ and looking to try an ortho, do you think it would pair ok with the 400S?

    Also do you think the Pure has enough power for me to try the 560 (which I heard in headroom in London through a Schiit desktop amp and thought it was great) with? Although not sure I want to spend the 560 type of money given that most of my listening is on the move/office with CIEMs…

    • Reply September 20, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Yes it would even be overkill for the 400S. It has enough power for the 560 as well, I even bet it sounds better than the schiit amp 😀

      • Reply September 20, 2015

        Vasilis Rapanakis

        Thanks for the lightning fast reply! 🙂

  • Reply October 3, 2015

    Logan

    I picked up the HE-400s’ a month or so ago and found it to be a bit bland. The sound is good and I found you could listen to everything with them, but it didn’t make me want to keep listening for hours on end. I can see how many people would like this headphone, especially for the price range. I ended up returning mine because they weren’t doing it for me..

  • Reply October 22, 2015

    GrizzlybEast

    Good review thanks
    Just curious how it should be on someones short list when everything you compared it to beat it? Should I read the disclaimer?
    I do wonder which has better details and imaging between the x2 and 400s?

    • Reply October 22, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Why the disclaimer remark?
      I think it is VERY clear that the 400S is the one to get if you’re on a budget, but yes all the others are better.

      • Reply October 22, 2015

        GrizzlybEast

        Thanks for the response. Wasn’t trying to be rude. I took that remark out. Just trying to understand. Because there is the 650, X2, and 7xx the same but price all better. After not liking the 400s myself I just hope i get more technical ability from the x2. Someone wrote the 400s is better detailed and images better than the x2. I find it hard to believe because I dont hear it doing much better than the x1 in those areas. Any how thanks again.

        • Reply October 22, 2015

          dalethorn

          Different headphones and different amps can react in ways that are unpredictable. As a suggestion, if you do find something with good synergy, then just remember that changing anything can disrupt that synergy.

        • Reply October 23, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          The HD650 is still the better headphone but it needs a really good amp. The X2 and HE400S are pretty close together but the X2 wins in technicalities. 400S doesn’t really have the better detail and imaging, but is is an orthodynamic, so it’s different. The 7XX isn’t a good headphone imho, it’s one of the only headphones I regret buying.

      • Reply November 15, 2015

        Marc Axelrod

        I enjoyed the review. I have the 400S and the HD650.I use the 400S with the Fii0 E12 and the HD650 with the Valhalla 2.

        I like the 400S more than I like the 650. The first time I put on the 400S, I said “Wow these headphones are so clear, so spacious!”

        The 400S to me has better clarity, fidelity, and dynamics than my HD598, 600, or 650. I was really surprised. In fact I’m thinking of selling the above mentioned to get the HE 560.

  • Reply December 7, 2015

    Lucas Meyer Galibier

    Great review! but gentleman, this review made me think twice now…
    I’ve been reading reviews there’s been months and i concluded based on them that the he-400 was the best option for me because i am looking for a fun sounding, extended bass headphone that wouldn’t sacrifice soundstage and clarity. after a while i the ones i selected:

    Beyer dt990
    he 400
    (prehaps a vmoda crossfade )

    but now that i found this review, it’s bass desn’t seem to quite what i expected…
    I’m not a basshead, i think, i like soundstage, clarity and voices and treble as well but i jast cant live flat! What do you guys think? should i go Beyer? should i go where the bass lives? (JVC ha sz 2000) ? or the he 400 shold still satisfy me? Please give an SOS anyone

    • Reply December 7, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      How about the HE-400i? It’s somewhere in between

      • Reply December 7, 2015

        Lucas Meyer Galibier

        just reading reviews of it and it seems to do fine too.
        apparently it would please me but it has gone into another price range i guess.
        not willing to spend 470$ in a new pair of cans right now 🙁 but thanks!

        • Reply December 7, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          I’l afraid you just missed the Black friday discount. If I remember well they were -$200…

          • Reply December 7, 2015

            Lucas Meyer Galibier

            What?

            • Reply December 7, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              yeah, sucks.

              • Reply December 7, 2015

                Lucas Meyer Galibier

                Man, sorry for bothering you so much but how do you think a Philips x2 would stack up?

                • Reply December 7, 2015

                  Headfonia_L.

                  Comparable to the 400S and the HD650 in a way.

                • Reply December 7, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  Seems to me the X2 fits your stated requirements – good bass but not bloated, great clarity and soundstage, excellent build quality….

                  • Reply December 7, 2015

                    Lucas Meyer Galibier

                    Thats exactly what i was thinking Dale! the only thing still holding me on buying them right now are the constant comments regarding that they shine in no specific area, and then people state they are “the best under xx $”… it sounds confusing, as it’s not reviwed in a constant fashion as hd600-50’s have been. But i’ve been deliberating about them for so much long now i’m quite tired of never making my mind. Too many options around… grados, senns, hifimans, shures and it never ends

                    • December 7, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      I haven’t had the X2 as yet, but I owned several Philips including a surf model, the L1 and L2, the M1, the SHP9500, and more …. and their quality is great and the sound probably best for the price. So following the X2 reviews and comparing to my experiences, esp. the L1/L2, I wouldn’t have a problem deciding. But one caveat – until you can afford the Senn Orpheus or something as perfect, be prepared to hit the bass or treble switch to get that last little bit of tuning adjustment. It’s gold in the bank.

                    • December 7, 2015

                      Lucas Meyer Galibier

                      I think you guys helped me getting myself unstuck as i need to purchase a new set since mine are desintegrating after using them for about 6 years or more. Im moving from my superb but beaten and much loved IEM’s and into the headphones areas… Thanks you guys, Dale and Headfonia_L. for your responses and time writing this all!

                    • December 7, 2015

                      Headfonia_L.

                      Keep us posted!

          • Reply December 8, 2015

            Dave Ulrich

            I snagged the HE400i discount. Really nice headphone

  • Reply January 5, 2016

    Spectral Lynx

    With Picollo, should I live with HE-400S or Fidelio-X2?

    • Reply January 5, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Picollo is an IEM amplifier most of all. Luckily for you it works pretty good with full sized headphones as well. Both the headphones you mention are easy to drive but I would recommend the planar HE-400S. Fun headphone

      • Reply January 5, 2016

        Spectral Lynx

        Thank for your advice. I heard both HE-400S and X2 is easy to drive even with smartphone, so my Picollo should not have problem with them. IIRC you also mentioned that Picollo has good power output in the review 🙂

        • Reply January 5, 2016

          Headfonia_L.

          yes, but it’s important to remember it won’t drive all full sized headphones. It’s also the reason why I recommend it for the planar HE-400S. Enjoy!

  • Reply January 26, 2016

    Jack Of Heart

    Do you think it will be good match with new Cowon plenue D?

    • Reply January 26, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      I couldn’t tell. the 400S is easy to drive though

  • Reply March 14, 2016

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Fiio x5ii its a good match with he400s? Any mid-fi dap recomendation?

    • Reply March 14, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Could you finally make up your mind? lol. I’m ok with answering questions but you keep changing your mind. yes it’s a good match. iBasso DX80, Fiio X5II, Cayin N5

      • Reply March 15, 2016

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        I’m pretty undecided. Do not be angry with me please haha. The issue is that thanks to you , I feel that the x5ii + CN would be my ultimate portable combo ( the best value for the price) . The issue is still not sure that headphone jump first, and considering how sensitive the HE400s could await the amplifier.

  • Reply June 15, 2016

    Morkha

    Hi, thnaks for the great review. I’m currently looking for a new headphone.
    I’m using a DT990 with a Fiio E10K right now.
    You mentioned that the HE 400s sound a bit like the Alpha Delta 01 IEM but with less bass.

    Since a absolutley love my AD01 but also the bass they provide do you think the HE400s with the FocusPads would be a good fit.

    Or are there other headphones which come closer to the AD01 sound signature?

  • Reply July 3, 2016

    Neo

    With the HD600 being around the same price and having a similar sound signature, which would you recommend? I plan to use them with a JDS Labs C5D.

    • Reply July 3, 2016

      dale thorn

      Which is more important to you – bass detail or upper treble detail?

      • Reply July 10, 2016

        Neo

        Bass detail, which I assume means the HE-400s?

        • Reply July 10, 2016

          dale thorn

          Yes, and what Lieven said. I have a few amps, but haven’t heard his amps. Good recommendations though.

  • Reply July 8, 2016

    Matthew Thomas

    Which would be a better headphone to buy with Schiit Lyr/Bifrost combo?

    -HD 600
    -DT 880
    -HE 400s

  • Reply July 10, 2016

    Mateo

    Which portable amplifiers you like to use more with he400s ?

    • Reply July 10, 2016

      Lieven

      Duet, Picollo, Vorzuge, Phatlab, Meier Quickstep, etc

      Just take something neutral and not bassy

      • Reply July 10, 2016

        Mateo

        Which of them would represent the best value for money ? I do not think can afford to buy the phatlab = )

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