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HiFiMan HE-400 review: HiFiMan HE-400

HiFiMan HE-400

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Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg

Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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Superior sound quality is the reason HiFiMan quickly made a name for itself in the audiophile community, and the company continues to outperform sleeker-looking models from name brands like Beyerdynamic, Bowers & Wilkins, or Sennheiser. While those companies' headphone drivers work like miniature cone or dome speaker drivers, the HE-400 uses thin-film "planar magnetic" flat drivers that produce clearer and more dynamically alive sound.

HiFiMAN HE-400 Headphones
8.1

HiFiMan HE-400

The Good

The <b>HiFiMan HE-400</b> is a large, full-size set of headphones that use planar-magnetic drivers for exceptional sound quality usually reserved for pricier models.

The Bad

They're expensive, and comfort isn't a strong suit.

The Bottom Line

First-rate clarity, detail, and bass impact by way of new driver technology help propel the HiFiMan HE-400 headphones to the top of their price class.

The HE-400 headphones are designed for use at home with a receiver or headphone amplifier due to the drivers' increased weight, but they can work with portable devices; the only drawback is that you'll experience limited volume capability with a weak-powered mobile device. Though the $399 price tag exceeds the reach of audiophiles on a budget, the HE-400s are the best-sounding full-size, home headphones for those willing to make the investment.

Design and features
The HE-400s have a real leather-covered headband, high-gloss cobalt blue earcups, and faux leather ear cushions, but they're heavier than many full-size headphones at 440 grams. The Beyerdynamic T-70s, for example, weigh 330 grams. The weight difference mostly comes from the HE-400's flat bar magnets arrayed near the flat drivers inside the earcups. Switching between headphones puts more emphasis on the extra heft, but the HE-400's long-term comfort level is only slightly below average. Additionally, the earpad pressure is low, so your ears never feel like they're in a vise.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The HE-400s' 10-foot-long Y-cable attaches to the left and right earcups via gold-plated connectors. The gold may add a bit of design flair, but it also enhances long-term electrical performance since gold connectors never corrode. The bulky cable should last longer than skinnier wires, but it's also easy to replace yourself if it ever breaks.

The cable terminates in a gold-plated 3.5mm plug, and HiFiMan offers an extra 6.3mm gold plated adapter that comes fitted to the cable. No other accessories are included with the headphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The HE-400s have a low-rated 35-ohm impedance, but they're understandably difficult headphones to "drive." That is to say, they're not optimized for use with portable music players or phones and is better-suited as a stay-at-home headphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also an open-back design, so its sound will be audible to anyone within a few feet. On a positive note, a key advantage of open-back headphones is that they're arguably safer to use in public, since it allows ambient sound to enter from your surroundings, though, as I mentioned, the audio quality isn't ideal.

Performance
The first thing you'll notice about the sound of these headphones is their exceptional detail, but you'll never experience listening fatigue even after hours of use -- that's because the HE-400's sound is beautifully balanced from the deepest bass to highest treble. Switching over to the Shure SRH1440 full-size headphones the sound appears "closer," less spacious, and less rich.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The HE-400s' bass is also notably articulate and deep, without a hint of muddiness. Compared with the pricier Grado RS 1i headphones, the HE-400s' soft-to-loud dynamics are more explosively alive and the bass oomph is stronger. The HE-400s rock harder, but also sound equally poised at low, moderate, and loud volume levels.

Radiohead's guitarist Jonny Greenwood wrote the orchestral score for the film "There Will Be Blood," and the HE-400 proves its mettle on the sound of the strings. The orchestra sounded perfectly natural with no hardness or glare. And when playing DJ Krush's ambient trip-hop, the headphones projected a huge soundstage beyond the confines of the earcups -- the HE-400 really does sound great with all kinds of music.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At home, the headphones work best with receivers and headphone amplifiers like the $399 CEtrance DACport. And although the HE-400 isn't optimized for use with portable music players, it certainly sounds acceptable plugged into my iPod Classic. Power is the first issue, however, and it can't play nearly as loud with the iPod or phones as it does with a home theater receiver. Still, bass impact and overall clarity are better at home, though I wouldn't totally rule out occasionally playing the HE-400 on the go.

Conclusion
The HiFiMan HE-400 looks, feels, and sounds like a much more expensive set of headphones. They're sure to please audiophiles with sophisticated tastes, and they sound remarkably spacious, making the HE-400s ideal for home theater duty. The HE-400s' only real limitation is their lack of synergy with on-the-go portable use. Other than that one caveat, they're highly recommended.

HiFiMAN HE-400 Headphones
8.1

HiFiMan HE-400

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 9Value 8