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The Hifiman HE400S sets a new low price point for bona-fide high-end headphones

The new Hifiman HE400S headphone features advanced planar-magnetic drivers in a lightweight, comfortable design.

I've covered the wide range of Hifiman's headphones, from their downright affordable to high-end full-size headphones many times on the Audiophiliac. Even so, the new over-the-ear HE400S made me sit up and take notice, and not just because this headphone is the lowest price planar magnetic design ever offered by Hifiman. The HE400S is the best-sounding $299 (around £190) headphone of any type I've ever heard. 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for audiophile headphones, and I'm here to tell you the best ones are better than ever.

The silver ear cups and new headband make for a more refined look, and thanks to its light weight (12.3 ounces or 350 grams), the HE400S is more comfortable than the older Hifimans. Impedance is rated at 22 Ohms.

Hifiman HE400S Hifiman

Let's get down to business, how does the HE400S' sound compare with more conventional designs, like the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 ? Swapping between the two headphones one thing is immediately obvious, the HE400S sounds more open and spacious than the closed-back Momentum 2.0. The upside for the Momentum 2.0 is that it superior isolation from external noise, the open-back HE400S lets the noise in.

The Momentum 2.0 is also brighter in tonal balance and played considerably louder at a given volume setting on my Astell & Kern Jr music player than the HE400S. Listening to Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld's dazzling series of saxophone and violin duets on their "Never Was the Way She Was" album the HE400S sounded more natural. The Momentum 2.0's low-end definitely delved deeper, but the HE400S' bass definition was better, and its overall clarity, dynamic punch, and bigger soundstage were undeniable. For those who care, the Momentum 2.0's cable has a mic and phone controls, the HE400S' user-replaceable cable does not.

Next up, the Oppo PM-3 closed-back, planar magnetic headphones, and again the differences in open- versus closed-back designs were the first thing I noticed. The HE400S is decidedly more spacious than the PM-3, they're both remarkably clear sounding headphones, but the HE400S wins on transparency on the Punch Brothers' "Phosphorescent Blues" album. The acoustic instruments and vocals were also clearer on the HE400S. Bass detail was superior on the HE400S as well, but if you need the isolation from external noise, get the PM-3.

To try an open-back for comparison I went to my Grado SR325e headphones with Yo La Tengo's "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One" album. The record has a lovely atmospheric sound, and only open-back 'phones fully reveal its spacious qualities. The SR325e is a brighter, brasher, more immediate sounding headphone; the HE400S' sound is bigger, warmer, clearer, and spacious, it has much better sound overall.

The Hifiman HE400S set a new benchmark for sound quality for $300 headphones, if you're ready to make the jump to better 'phones put the HE400S at the top of your list.