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.
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.
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.