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

The HE-400S’s sound somehow reminds me of the Sennheiser HD650 and that means a lot as it is one of my favorite headphones. To me the Sennheiser, especially when amped correctly, is still ahead of the 400S in all areas. At the same time, the 400S sounds so good it for the moment has replaced my beloved HD650 at the office. The Senn is and will always be great but I feel more comfortable leaving the HE400S at work unguarded. It also doesn’t require me to bring a good/expensive amp to work and it still sounds really good. Not HD650 good, but at the office you can’t do any critical listening anyway, so the 400S is all I need. After I took the Beyerdynamic A20 amplifier back home with me I have been using the Chord Hugo as a DAC/Amp at the office. When the ALO CDM arrived, the Hugo returned to my night stand and as soon as my ALO CDM tube rolling article will be online, I will be leaving the CDM at home as well. It will –for now- be replaced with the Fiio E10K and the brand new Fiio Q1 DAC/Amp combo. As a matter of fact, the HE400S plays great directly from the awesome Fiio E10K and that’s what makes this a great headphone: You don’t need an extra huge budget for an amp and you still get good sound.

I always let one of my colleagues (Audio-Technica ATH-M30) listen to the new headphones I bring to work and he most of the time doesn’t really like them (he’s using a 1st gen E10). He usually returns them to me after an hour but the HE-400S just wasn’t coming back. Last time that happened was with the Philips Fidelio X2, another great headphone.

Comparisons

The well amped Sennheiser HD650 still has better precision and more detail with a larger sound stage. Bass has more quality and better layering. The Hifiman HE-400i also is more precise and has more detail. Its strength is in the mids like the 400S but there’s more focus on the voices. Bass body is closer to the 400S than it is to the 560. You do get a bigger sound stage, better spacing and more precise instrumental separation. To me it the 400i is the best “400” Hifiman has made.

The Hifiman HE560 to me isn’t mid-fi anymore and it has even more precision, better detail level and more clarity. There do is less bass body but its quality is better (layering, detail). Of course you also get a wider sound stage, I really love the HE-560 on the right amp. The Audeze EL-8 also has more forward vocals, better detail and precision. It’s further extended, especially treble but it does have less bass body. Overal the EL-8O is more airy sounding.

The Massdrop AKG K7XX hasn’t impressed me yet. I really don’t like the headband system and comfort isn’t to write home about. I must have a weird head. Its sound signature is more v-shaped and bass is tighter but well bodied. The K7XX is the more clear sounding headphone and treble is a lot further extended. The mids on the other hand are thinner compared to the 400S.

The Philips Fidelio X2 has a more full bodied sound with bigger bass and mids. Treble is also further extended. If you like the darker sound signature and big bodied bass and mids, you’ll love the X2. Some people will agree on how I see the 400S and other won’t. The HE-400S’s sound really depends on the source and amplifier used and it of course depends on your personal taste.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an easy to drive, open driver mid-fi headphone that sounds musical, the HE400S without discussion has to go on your short list. In the “up to $300 USD” segment there aren’t that many headphones that outperform it, but that’s also a personal preference thing. Sure it’s tuned for the masses and it won’t give you the ultimate audiophile experience but it absolutely rocks when you just want to enjoy your music and get good quality.

I wouldn’t really recommend the HE-400S if you want to discover the potential of high-end planar technology headphones. The 400S does partially sound like a dynamic headphone because of the bass section. In that regard I think the HE-400S is more a competitor for the dynamic headphones as it is to the orthos.

The HE-400S impressed me. To me, it certainly outperforms a whole lot of headphones in the Mid-Fi (dynamic) segment. Its price/quality ratio is high even if a lot of headphones are priced at $299. And don’t forget most orthodynamics will cost you a lot more. I didn’t expect the 400S to impress me as much as it did and as long as I don’t have to start reviewing a new full sized headphone, the HE-400S will be my daily pair of headphones at the office.

The 400S can be bought directly from Hifiman via their Head-Direct shop or through one of their dealers but as usual it’s always better to listen before you buy.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

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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