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!