(This is the HiFiMAN HE-400i headphone review, which is one of the latest headphones from the HiFiMAN company that is aimed at non-audiophiles)
HiFiMAN, the famous brand that has now spread its fame across the audiophile world for the past years have also released something for the masses (sort of). Most of their headphones are planar magnetic, which is a type of driver that is different from dynamic or balanced armature ones. You can read more about the difference here. As stated before, this is a headphone aim for the masses that are either semi-audiophile or none at all. This is easily seen in it being easy to drive, especially from mobile phones, where they will normally have less than a desirable amp or DAC. Well, without further ado, let’s explore the HiFiMAN HE-400i headphone review to see if it’s worth your cash and also if you are fit for it!
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid any errors, however, there might still be some appearing due to human error)
Man oh man! The box is solid and is stylishly black. The Headphone is shown along with the logo that induces mystery and also discovery. I kind of like this approach that is not too bright or straight-to-your-face design that might cause it to be perceived as a cheaper knock-off. Inside, you will see the guidebook and also some notes that include your warranty card as well as one that contains the full specs of the headphone.
The headphone is rested inside the black foamed inner box which fully protects it from bumps. It’s not the best protection, but for the price as well as the quality, I do not have much to complain about. This is as good as it gets at this price range. I am actually a bit amazed that HiFiMAN has decided to make this a more luxurious experience for buyers.
The overall build is a mix of metal and hard plastic. What I do want to emphasise is that the latter are of good quality. They are not plasticky and is actually quite firm and have a satisfying smooth metal texture on them. The same goes for the metal grill by the 2 sides, which means they all scream ‘quality’ as you see and touch them. The cables are removable, and they are also made with the same quality standard as the headphone. They form a Y-shape as you wear them, which is a very common cable shape nowadays.
One thing I dislike is probably the z 3.55mm plug at the end, which I feel can be a bit restrictive especially if your DAP or DAC or AMP has knobs just beside the plug point. Another matter is that the shiny sides can be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, which kind of ruins the sleek black overall look of the headphone.
The headband is pretty good and easily adjustable and it is easily worn as well. Comfort is decently good as the headphone itself is not too heavy and the band is flexible yet also firm in handling. Lastly, the included 3.5mm to 6mm adaptor is included for those that prefer it.
Wooo Hoo! Now we are into the most wanted section and, arguably, the most important one. I figure some will skip to this section straightaway. So without further ado, I will state the audio devices that I have used with the HiFiMAN HE-400i. They are the MacBook 15inch 2014, as well as through AudioQuest Dragonfly Red and also from Sony Xperia XZ.
This testing is done straight through the audio jack port, and the music files range from Spotify 320kbps to CD FLAC quality. For the latter, it is done through the 5K Player and Quobuz (for JJ Lin and Jay Chou). Songs tested are:
Jay Chou’s 一路向北 and 擱淺
JJ Lin’s 黑夜問白天
Linkin Park’s Numb and One More Light
Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire and Perfect
—MacBook Pro —
With the MacBook Pro, it is also powerful enough to drive the HiFiMAN HE400i to a pretty loud level, though this is expected as this headphone is meant to be easily driven by any devices. With that said, I am actually quite surprised that the audio jack output of the MacBook is pretty decent. Most of the songs are played at a great volume and does not feature much hiss or noise artifacts. Or should I say, they are almost not noticeable unless you really concentrate to listen to it. This really proves the build quality of MacBook itself. For the vocals, most of the songs present a forward vocal that is clear, while the bass is appropriately loud and also show a bit of sub bass, though they are not as impactful or will catch you off guard at the quality. The headphone handles most of the different files well and I can only tell apart a bit which is the FLAC and which is the Spotify after several repeats. I am impressed at how this headphone makes me able to enjoy music from just the audio jack alone without any enhancements!
—AudioQuest Dragonfly Red —
Now we are starting to get into the audiophile world of better audio capability. AudioQuest Dragonfly Red is a really capable DAC/amp combo that is able to elevate the sound experience from even Spotify files. This is highly evident in the HE400i performance when it is plugged into it. First of all, there are no hiss noises at all when no tracks are playing. Then for the general impression overall, for the Chinese songs and Ed Sheeran, the vocals seem to be clearer and brought forward a bit. There is also a sort of airiness, seeing that this is an open headphone, which I like as it makes the experience seems more natural. Bass is not as strong as expected but it is handled well. One thing to note, most of the time, the Spotify version seems to be louder in the same volume, perhaps this is due to the original file itself or the normalisation used. Linkin Park’s Numb has a great tight controlled flow that also includes a good sub bass, which is just enough to listen. Admittedly, this headphone will perform better with a good dac/amp connected, and it can make any sound from Spotify to FLAC just sound as good. However, this is mostly for vocals or instrumental, as the bass is not really as pronounced as it is not tuned this way. Also, the sound is not very B-shaped, neither is it very flat like a true audiophile headphone. It is also not a reference headphone, so it feels like it is between casual fun and serious listening.
—Sony Xperia XZ—
Coming from a truly portable device, the Sony phone is not really able to drive the headphone, as I have to dial it up all the way to the top for it to sound the same loudness compared to the MacBook Pro and Dragonfly Red. Unsurprisingly, the headphone performs the worst in this pairing. Though to be fair, it’s not really the headphone fault as the amp in this phone is just on the weaker side. Even when changing from Spotify to FLAC, the overall quality is still so so. With that said, this headphone is somehow able to capture the mids and treble and control them well, especially with the vocals and some separation of the instruments. Still, this headphone is not really meant to be used with a mobile device like what it is meant to be. In a way, I am quite disappointed as I thouhgt I can enjoy planar headphone listening experience through phone, but guess not…maybe unless it’s used on LG v30 with its own DAC?