HIFIMAN HE-400i Review – First Love

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Review by Mhark Jhoshua Q. Torres

The Company

HIFIMAN has been one if not the best headphone maker out there, they specialized in producing headphones with unconventional drivers, they used Planar Magnetic drivers as the owner, Dr. Fang actually has researches regarding the technology behind Planar Magnetic drivers. Up until now they are very popular in the audiophile realm with several awards and positive feedback. HIFIMAN ANANDA and SUNDARA are few of their new lineups and it is quite popular in audiophile groups. HIFIMAN continues to be one of the top brands in headphone class and it is my personal favorite.

The HIFIMAN HE400i

“Easy-to-drive Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphone” this is the claim of HIFIMAN with regards of the HE400i, it is the newer version of the HE400 which is also a hit and was one of the first planar magnetic headphone that is designed efficiently. In my experience the HE400i can be driven by phones to audible volume at max, but it sounds thin and lacks resolution.

Fit, Comfort and Build Quality

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The HIFIMAN HE400i, despite being outdated still looks good, the construction of the grills is nice as you can see the drivers when there is enough light to reveal it. The build quality is a mix of plastic and metal, in my honest opinion it feels flimsy and the left and right cups aren’t aligned and it looks off when resting at headphone hanger/stand. I got my 400i as a 2nd hand unit so there are some marks of usage but overall it is definitely presentable. I don’t like the ear pads especially when I compare it with the SUNDARA, it feels itchy and warm to the skin surrounding my ears so the area under the pads becomes more sweaty.

The weight of the 400i is generally light and it doesn’t cause much pain on my neck, it feels comfortable for long hours of listening given the listening area is well ventilated and is at least 3 or 5 degree Celcius below the standard room temperature, because as I said, the coating of the pads feels warm/hot. The cable included is a sleeved type cable, it doesn’t feel premium at all, it gets tangled easily and I find it worse than the cable of SUNDARA. Overall, the build of  HE400i is just mediocre, it doesn’t feel premium and the alignment of the cups aren’t great, luckily it feels light and the clamping of the headphone is pretty good too, neither tight nor loose.

Technical Specification:
1. Frequency Response: : 20Hz-35KHz
2. Sensitivity : 93dB
3. Impedance : 35 Ohms
4. Weight : 370g
5. Cable Length : 1.5m
6. Plug : 3.5mm/6.35mm

Packaging

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The box of the HE400i looks premium and sophisticated, it beats the packaging of SUNDARA by a notch or two, the box is very solid and is made out of premium materials. Inside the box are the sleeved 3.5mm cable, 3.5 to 6.35 adapter, paperwork and the headphone itself. The package is just okay, I just hope that there’s a carrying cloth bag at the very least just in case you don’t have any headphone hard case and you want to carry it around from home and your workplace. The included cable is just average too I hate it because it gets tangled every time they have contact, I like it because it feels robust and sturdy enough.

Sound

I love gears with midcentric to flat sound signature as I really love listening to vocals rather than instruments. My genre ranges from heavy rock, alternative rock, pop rock, acoustic, pop, jazz and folk. Majority of my test tracks are in 16 bit – 44 khz and 24 bit – 48 khz FLAC file and here is the list of my commom test tracks.

  1. Reese Lansangan – For the Fickle (background, female vocals and upper mids)
  2. Foo Fighters – Bridge Burning (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
  3. Jensen and the Flips – Come Closer (Mid Bass, Mids)
  4. Ed Sheeran – Dive (Mid bass, Lower Mids)
  5. Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why (Upper Mids and Instruments)
  6. Paramore – Hard Times (Imaging, Layering, Coherence, Sub bass and Mid bass, Mids, Treble)
  7. Utada Hikaru ft. Skrillex – Face My Fears (Imaging Layering, Bass, Mids, Treble, Coherence, Quickness)
  8. Passenger – Coins in a Fountain (Mid bass, Layering, Imaging, Instruments, Lower mids, Treble)
  9. Tori Kelly – Hollow (Background, Upper mids)
  10. Ariana Grande – Raindrops (Background, Upper mids)

Summary

For the Quality, higher is better as this includes resolution and dynamics while the quantity and positioning are subjective, it actually tells how close and how much the frequencies are.

HIFIMAN HE400i
Source: Shanling M3s + Jazz R7.0

Bass

Starting with the sub bass, it is well extended and has very good texture, planars are known for their bass and the 400i is not an exemption. The rumbles and riffs are deep and is resolving without being too forward, quantity despite of being a planar is not excessive at all, the sub bass are produced with enough body, great details, and in quick and agile manner. Mid bass, just like the sub bass is being rendered in quick, tight and accurate manner. Both attack and decay are just flawlessly rendered with enough body and weight. Just like the sub bass, the mid bass is placed linearly to slightly forward (maybe due to my warm source and op-amp that I equipped with my amplifier), the quantity might not be enough for bass-heads but the quality is definitely top notch. Despite the known lush sound of planars, the bass of the 400i is rendered in detailed manner, every bass notes are greatly textured and accurate.

Midrange

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Lower midrange really depends on the source used and if the right power is supplied, this is the most noticeable part when plugged unamped and amped, it sounds thin and dry when unamped whilst it sounds lush and has good body when amped. It’s hard to find a good synergy too, pairing it with Shanling M3s + JDS labs O2 amp + Burson V6 vivid the details is literally smashing into my face but in return it sounds dry and thin for my liking, on the other hand when pairing it with Shanling M3s + Jazz R7.0 + Thai op-amp, it sounds lusher, smoother, and fuller without losing much details. The positioning of lower midrange is almost the same as the bass, it is just a bit forward, the timbre is natural (amped) and it sounds as natural as it can be. Upper midrange has moderate body, just enough for the female vocals not to sound shrill, it is transparent resulting to calming vocals and string instruments. As far as my journey goes, the midrange and timbre of the HE400i is definitely one of the best, it sounds natural and sweet while the fullness is just enough for it to stay away from being veiled or muddy. Positioning still the same with the lower midrange while the resolution is still great.

Treble

 I made the review mainly using the Shanling M3s+Jazz R7.0 setup simply because among the setups I tried, this suits my preference well and it feels that it has better synergy with 400i than the other setups that I tried. The treble of the 400i in this pairing is smooth yet detailed and well extended, the treble isn’t airy but has good sparkle and definition, it doesn’t sound sibilant or harsh at all (except it is not well driven). Both attack and decay is quick making very agile even when playing complex tracks. Since it lacks airiness, the sense of depth, width and height isn’t that great the staging despite sounding realistic isn’t one of the most spacious cans out there, I find the closed back Beyerdynamic Dt1770 pro to be deeper and wider.

Sound Stage and Resolution

The sound stage of 400i is far from the best out there (Planars are not known for humongous stage) but I would say it sounds very real, imaging and layering is great and satisfying especially when playing tracks by Led Zeppelin, I can easily pin point the location of instruments in my mind. It sounds 3D-ish too when properly driven but still not as wide as D1770 pro maybe because the midrange of 400i is slightly forward and the treble lacks air too (Planars, duuuh). Resolution is nice too, I acquired the 400i for 7500 Php (150 USD) and it is one of the best buy that I’ve ever done in this hobby, bass region despite its quickness is very resolving, midrange is quite smooth but still resolves micro details, lastly the treble which has good sparkle packs a lot of details for the price.

Synergy and Sound Signature

Unlike other Planar Headphones, the 400i’s sound sinature ranges from warm and smooth to neutral instead of dark. Bass is a bit forward and is very quick, tight and resolving despite being smooth at the same time, the midrange is smooth and a bit forward in comparison to treble it has very natural timbre and sweet upper midrange that makes it a good gear for vocal focused tracks, lastly treble lacks air but offers good sparkle, resolution and speed to compensate. I suggest to use a neutral sounding DAP/DAC/AMP when using the 400i since the signature it has is flexible enough to tackle every genre you have in your music library.

Shanling M3s (High Gain, volume @ 90)

This is how I tried the 400i initially and it was my first headphone purchase, it sounds thin and the treble sounds metallic but still it is far better than any IEMs that I’ve tried under 30,000 Php (600 USD). Obviously it is not driven properly, the bass is still quick, mids sounds too dry but has natural timbre, the treble in this pairing is prominent and sometimes it is aggressive. Despite being efficient, planars are known to be power hungry but in comparison to SUNDARA the 400i requires a lot more power.

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Adding Jazz R7.0 as amplifier and using copper IC, it sounded like a new gear. The bass extension became deeper, better texture and details and the mid bass became tighter and more controlled. Midrange gained a lot of body, it became balanced (enough lushness and transparency) the timbre became more natural due to added body, smoother yet resolving. Lastly the treble became smoother and less aggressive, sparkle and extension still remains the same.

Adding JDS Labs O2 (with burson v6 vivid) as amplifier and using copper IC, it sounded very detailed in comparison to jazz R7.0 and Shanling M3s (high gain), details on midrange and treble almost slapped me in the face but the overall tonality became thin and dry, it lacks body and I didn’t love the synergy.

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Adding Periodic Audio Ni (double amping) as amplifier and using copper IC, It sits between the tonality of Jazz R7.0 and JDS Labs O2, the body is slightly reduced but it sounds more transparent than the R7.0, details are there but not as prominent as when I’m pairing it with O2. Noise floor is suprisingly low despite using it on PO and not on LO (the Ni doesn’t have volume control, same goes to the M3s when it is on LO so I have no choice but to use PO to be able to control the volume). Despite being small, the Ni was still able to power the 400i decently but among the three amplifiers, I’d pick the Jazz R7.0 because it was able to properly balance the lushness and transparency of the 400i.

Smartphone (Huawei Mate 10)

The Huawei Mate 10 has a sound signature of neutral-bright, sound quality far below the M3s, cranking the volume to 80-100 the sound of 400i is just decent compared to the SUNDARA, it sounds dry and thin to the point that male vocals doesn’t have sufficient body. I don’t recommend using it with smartphone alone cause you’ll get around 30 percent of its full capacity (soundwise).

Comparison

HIFIMAN SUNDARA

The SUNDARA is actutally the upgraded version of the HE-400 series, in terms of build quality I’d definitely pick the SUNDARA, the body is made out of metal and still maintaining it as lightweight as the HE-400i, the cable is better too it is less tangly than the 400i’s stock cable. The sound signatures of the SUNDARA and HE-400i are nearly identical except that the treble of SUNDARA is more relaxed. In terms of sound quality, the SUNDARA is definitely and upgrade, the timbre is even more natural, better tightness on the bass, wider and deeper sound stage, more transparent mids and smoother treble. Resolution  is not night and day but still, SUNDARA picks more details and textures than the 400i, nonetheless for the 2nd hand price of the 400i it is still a good buy if you love the SUNDARA but can’t afford it.

Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro

This is a dynamic driver headphone so obviously it has better staging and airyness, but lacks coherency, speed and transparency in comparison to planars surch as HE400i. Desptite being closed back headphone, the DT 1770 Pro sounds wide and airy, but for me the 400i seems to be more 3D-ish. Sub bass depth and weight easily goes to the DT 1770 pro while the tightness and speed of mid bass goes to the 400i. The midrange of the 400i and DT 1770 pro seems to be linear while the latter leans to be slightly recessed, transparency, timbre and resolution easily goes to the 400i. Lastly the treble of the DT 1770 pro wins in terms of airiness, resolution, and sparkle while the 400i snatched the speed and extension. Overall they are pretty close depending on usage, I can’t use the 400i outside of my workplace or house since it is an open back design and lacks isolation and sound seal.

Conclusionlrm_export_16380154051665_20190406_2011454997125496330384942120.jpeg

This guy is my first love, I tried several Headphones before such as Sennheiser HD700 and AKG K712 but they never caught my attention the same way the HE-400i did. I love the timbre and how it scales very well with various amplifiers. Despite having pretty intimate sound stage for an open back headphone, it still sounds realistic since imaging and layering are top notch. Transparency is great as well while the resolution is just above average compared to other headphones that shares the price tag of the 400i. Despite being advertised as efficient planar headphone, it is not really meant to be used straight to your phone, adding some cheapo amplifier will make it sing a lot better than before. There are design flaws, bass isn’t the punchiest too, and the sound seal is far from being great but if you use it with proper source and place it is definitely a good buy.

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