Packaging, Build, Materials
The HE-400, as you all know by now, is delivered in a cardwood box with a plastic “container” and to me it was in some way “wrong” to see a planar technology headphone being delivered that way. It reminded me of the box of the M50 which is more or less identical. It’s too bad not to get a fancy box but at $399, some savings had to be made and to me it was a bit disappointing as I’ve gotten used to the nice boxes from Sennheiser, Audeze and even Beyerdynamic. The stock canare cable (I love canare) is over 2 meters and is only fitted with a full size 1/4 plug… weren’t these cans supposed to be driven by a phone or DAP? The cups and the connectors of the cups just don’t feel as solid to me, more plastic like but the fit is more or less the same, it’s just lighter. The HE-400 comes standard with the pleather pads. I prefer velour but according to Mike they don’t do the He-400 justice, and I trust his ears.
Personally I wasn’t too bothered by the cardboard packaging box. Likewise the 1/4″ termination I think it’s great since I enjoy using desktop amplifiers and in fact the first amplifier I used the HE-400 with was the RSA Dark Star. But re-reading Lieven’s comments, I do think that he made some very valid points. One is the 1/4″ TRS termination, yes a 1/8″ with an 1/4″ adapter would make more sense. And yes even though the HE-400 is supposed to be an affordable orthodynamic headphone, it still costs $400 and I think it’s reasonable for consumers to get the HE-400 in a nicer packaging. I mean, if you’ve seen the boxes that the K701/DT880/HD650 comes with, then we can definitely expect something that’s at least on par with those.
One of the selling points of the HE-400 is that it’s very easy to drive and that you don’t need big expensive amps for it. That is indeed true. While you can get a good loudness level straight from an iPod, it does feel a underpowered (remember, rule of thumb is that full size headphones need an amplifier regardless of impedance or sensitivity numbers), and as a result you get this loose bass with weak impact.
I tried the HE-400 with all the entry level amplifiers, including the JDSLabs Cmoy, C421, and the O2, the Fiio E10, E11 and the E17, the Ibasso D-Zero and the Digizoid Zo. My favorite for the task is definitely the JDSLabs O2 as it has both the sound quality and the impact level, while the second best amp I found for the HE-400 among the bunch was the Fiio E11. Like Lieven, I also enjoyed the HE-400 out of the Fiio E10, but bass impact is not as good as from the E11 or E17.
I’ve mostly used desktop SS and tube amps and ofcourse all those work well. As I said in my first note the soundsignature of the latest Hifiman changes considerably in regards to the type of amp used. Right now I’m listening to the He-400 with the genious Fiio E10 (high gain and bass on) and I can only say it sounds gorgeous. In contrary to my initial impression I like the HE-400 quite a bit more with the SS amps: Violectric, E10, E11. Anyway, the HE-400 is very easy to drive.
Pads and Cable Swaps
Some people who find the HE-400 to be too dark can resort to using Hifiman’s silver cable or velour pads to add treble quantity. I didn’t have the Hifiman silver cable and instead I used the HE-6 cable which I believe is a silver plated copper cable with more treble than the stock Canare L-4E5AT but less than the Hifiman silver. I also tested the HE-400 with the old velour pads (my new Hifiman velour pads are on loan to a friend). While these two solutions do add treble, I didn’t like the result as the treble and midrange area becomes dryer sounding. Personally, I would add the treble using EQ. Even iTunes’ build in EQ works better than the physical solutions here, as you get the added treble level without the dryness.
The silver cable changes the tonality of the HE-400 a lot, the darkness we’ve been talking about kind of disappears and it make the HE-400 less thick sounding. At the same time it also seems to level out the bass amazingly in regards to the stock cable, making an overall lighter and easier to listen to headphone. The stock cable delivers the most bass/fun though.
Surprisingly I prefer the stock cable because it makes the He-400 more “unique” With the silver cable the bass has almost disappeared and it has become rather thin and bright sounding and lifeless, though more detailed. I’ve never heard such a difference with a cable switch. So not only does the HE-400 depend a lot on the amp, also on the cable…
The scalability of the HE-400 drivers are quite limited. While I enjoy the HE-400 a lot from a $3,500 amplifier like the RSA Dark Star, I really wouldn’t be building a high end set up around the HE-400 headphone. In comparison, we find headphones like the classic Sennheiser HD600/HD650s that though may be less impressive than the HE-400 in first listen, actually scales up tremendously when driven from a high end amplifier. Basically it boils down to your choice. The HE-400 is more impressive with low end amplifiers, but if you’d like to build a higher end set up, I would suggest the likes of the HD600/650, and the higher end orthodynamic and dynamic models.
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