Sound – Intro
According to Hifiman, the HE400SE offers outstanding audio at a very affordable price. Superior sound and realistic spatial separation bring out the best in any source. Let’s find out if that makes sense.
Just like when I first started listening to the HE-400i 2020 version, I also this time figured I was listening to a +$400 USD headphone. That was already impressive with the 400i 2020, but this version is even $20 USD cheaper. This is getting ridiculous, in the good kind of way.
Sound – General
The Hifiman HE400se is extremely easy to listen to. It’s fun, it’s engaging and it produces a very non fatiguing sound. You can use the HE400se with all kinds of music, but it’s also perfectly fine for watching TV, as well as Zoom & Skype meetings. It’s a great allrounder kind of headphone. Actually, it’s more than just that, as its sound quality is really impressive.
Body-wise the HE400se is lighter but it’s still a full and balanced type of sound from top to bottom. It’s not as weighty as the HE400i 2020 is, and in this regard it’s definitely more neutral. The HE400i on the other hand is more extended and spacious / airy sounding. Notes on the 400i 2020 are more extended and have better decay, where they here in the se are more energetic and definitely more clear.
The HE400se to me has a more neutral tuning with a good energy level, even more so than the HE400i 2020. Overall the balance to me is pretty good. Where the delivery of the music in the HE400i 2020 is softer and warmer, it with the HE400se is more to the point, energetic and focused. The 400i 2020 sounds more spacious and airy but it at the same time is less clear and clean sounding. The HE400se to me sounds more spot on, focused, tight. Both headphones have a musical delivery, but the i 2020 is warmer and smoother where the 400se is more energetic and rhythmic.
The HE400SE as a planar magnetic headphone of course has a nice black background, great clarity and good speed. The level of detail is good but it’s just a little under that of the HE400i 2020. That being said, because of the additional clarity over the 202 version, it’s not as obvious. For both headphones there still is ample room for improvement though, don’t forget these are entry-level headphones. Great ones, but there if course is better gear.
The HE400se’s sound stage is good for its level but the higher end headphones of course go wider and deeper, with better layering. But we can’t complain too much. The HE400SE of course sounds open, but it’s not really the full out of your head kind of experience you’re getting at this level. But at the actual price, it’s simply very good. The 400i 2020 to me performs a little better in this regard, but for $149 the HE400se sounds extremely good, there’s no discussion there.
Like with the HE400i 2020, it’s impressive to see how easy and good they are to listen to. No they’re not as precise and technical as the high end headphones, but at the same time it’s very difficult to take them of your head and to stop listening to them. That simply means they’re very good. Period.
Sound – Classics
Bass is really nice with this version. It doesn’t have the same amount of body and impact as the 2020 version, but it still has more than good weight and presence. Bass isn’t the very tightest but it’s very easy on the ears. When needed and called upon, bass can go deep and it will for sure impress, though in a civilized way. The bass presentation has a nice softness and smoothness to it, not ot be mistaken with warmth.
The bass presentation is soft but carries enough speed. As said, it’s really pleasant and enjoyable bass. I never felt like I was getting too much bass with this headphone. Bass detail isn’t the very best, as is the layering. There are limitation at this price point, but at the same time it’s fun and engaging.
The mids have that same touch of softness the bass has. Compared to the 400i 2020 version, the mids are also lighter in body and sound less warm. In exchange you get enhanced clarity and a very clean sound. The mids here are a bit less airy and spacious as with the previous model, and the note extension isn’t as elaborate. What you do get is great vocals, excellent clarity and a higher energy level. Where the 400i 2020 version’s mids were more edgy (with the upper part and the vocals), they in the se version are more balanced and linear.
The treble section is very easygoing. For some it might be a bit soft, but for the big crowd and general consumer it will sit just right. So very soft treble on the ears, but with just enoug energy to keep things exciting. Treble is clear but not the most precise or extended. Simple, easy treble really.
Vs HE400i 2020 & Sundara
Throughout the review, I have already made many comparisons between the HE400i 2020 and the se model, but to be clear I’ll sum up the main differences again.
The Hifiman HE400i 2020 version is fuller and more heavy sounding with more body from top to bottom. It is also more spacious and airy sounding, and has the better extension in the width as well as in note extension. The 400i 2020 compared to the se version sounds warmer, smoother. The se-version is lighter, more realistic and it sounds a lot more clear and clean. Its tuning is more neutral than that of the warmer HE400i 2020. Bass in the 400i 2020 is much bigger and the mids are weightier but you do get better extension and decay of the notes, with a wider sound stage. Treble is both headphones is easy and soft on the ears, nothing really spectacular to report here.
The Hifiman Sundara is a very popular headphone and it’s selling for $499 right now. That means you can buy three HE400se’s for the same amount. In the past I haven’t always been positive about the Sundara, but it’s actually a really nice headphone (even though there’s still room for improvement). When I listen to the Sundara, I do recognize the signature of the HE400 series in it, but it’s performing at a much higher, technical level. It has more detail, better dynamics, sweeter timbre and a lot more precision. The stereo image, left/right balance and positioning are at a whole different level. You also get a wider soundstage with better depth and layering, more airy and a typical open sound, with better extension and note decay. There’s no surprise here, but the HE400se is not a Sundara killer and the latter still is the better headphone of all the headphones mentioned in the comparisons.
A lot from the conclusion from the HE400i 2020 review is valid here as well:
When starters or normal headphone users like my friends asks me for a recommendation of a closed headphone, the Beyerdynamic DT770 32 is the easy recommendation. Starting from now the Hifiman HE-400i 2020 is my recommendation for an open design headphone. And now that I have heard the se-version, I can easily advise it as well.
The Hifiman He400se and 400i 2020 are both musical and very easy headphones to listen to. If you like body, fulness and warmth with more extension, go for the i version. If you prefer a more clean and neutral sound with more energy and excellent clarity, then the HE400se will rock your boat.
You don’t have to know a lot about personal audio and technology to love these headphones. And for the very accessible price the Hifiman HE400se is going for, they’re the ideal recommendation to a whole lot of people. As a result I am adding the HE-400se to our list of best headphones to buy. The HE400i 2020 was already on the list, and as the se-version plays at the same level but sounds differently, it also deserves its spot their as an excellent entry level headphone.