HiFiMan HE-400i review: High-end audiophile headphones for a semi-affordable price

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The Good The HiFiMan HE-400i is a large, full-size headphone that uses planar-magnetic drivers for exceptional sound quality highlighted by first-rate clarity, detail and well-defined bass. The headphone is also lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor.

The Bad Headphone cord may be too short for some people; fairly pricey; open-back design leaks sound.

The Bottom Line If you've always wanted to own a pair of high-end "audiophile" headphones but can't quite justify dropping a grand on a pair, the superb sounding HiFiMan HE-400i is a good compromise.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

When we reviewed it back in 2012, we gave high marks to HiFiMan's HE-400 headphone . Now discounted to $300, that full-size model remains on the market as the company, known for making superior sounding headphones that outperform sleeker-looking headphones from name brands like Beyerdynamic, Bowers & Wilkins and Sennheiser, has released its newly redesigned HE-400i ($500, £360, AU$699).

Like the HE-400, the HE-400i uses thin-film "planar magnetic" flat drivers that produce clearer and more dynamically alive sound than your typical headphone drivers which work like miniature cone or dome speaker drivers.

Comparing the two models, the first thing you'll notice is that the new HE-400i is lighter, weighing in at 370 grams (13.05 ounces) instead of 440 grams (15.5 ounces). HiFiMan has also redesigned the headband with an "improved pressure pattern" and swapped in new set of beveled "hybrid" ear pads made of pleather and velour. Those ear pads not only improve sound quality but comfort as well.

The HE-400i is signifcantly lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor. Sarah Tew/CNET

The HE-400i headphones are designed for use at home with a receiver or headphone amplifier , but they can work with portable devices, though you may want a touch more volume.

The one controversial change is to the length of the cord. The HE-400 has a 10-foot cord while this model measures in at almost half the size at 59 inches (1.5m). That's a good thing if you're using a mobile device, but not so good if you're sitting on the couch and are plugged into a home receiver.

The Y-cable attaches to the left and right earcups via gold-plated connectors. The gold not only adds 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, and 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 headphones, but you can store them in the swanky box they ship in.

The plush hybrid earcups. Sarah Tew/CNET

We should also point out that this headphone has an open-back design. The upside to that is that you tend to get more open, spacious ("airy") sound with open-back headphones, and that's certainly true of the HE-400i. But the big downside is the headphones leak sound in a big way. In other words, they're audible to anybody sitting close to you, so they aren't appropriate for a densely packed open-office situation like we have here at CNET in New York.

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