HiFiMAN is a headphone brand in the audiophile community, but not well known to normal consumers—and for good reason. Most of their are planar magnetic which is codename for expensive and almost impossible to drive without a powerful headphone amp. HiFiMAN doesn’t make headphones you’d plug into your phone—at least—not until now. A few months ago, they released the HE-400S. At $299, they’re the least expensive and most efficient planar magnetic headphones ever made. And guess what? They’re killer.
Fit, finish, and comfort Looks aren't everything
The HE-400S are open-back headphones so naturally, they carry the same virtues and vices as all open-back cans. If you don’t know the difference between open back and closed back headphones, I made a video a while back you should watch.
I personally think they look stunning, and with a nearly all-plastic construction, they have the advantage of being super light without feeling cheap. The only metal found on the outside of the headphones is the pretty black grill covering the drivers and the excellent, excellent headband. HiFiMAN is one of the few companies that makes suspended headbands from the factory. They distribute weight much more easily, fit many more people’s heads, and require less frequent adjustment. The HE-400S’ light weight along with the headband make these some of the comfiest headphones I’ve ever used—I could wear these basically forever without any discomfort.
The stock earpads are velour—not leather—and honestly, I didn’t like them. They were too firm, felt misshapen, and quickly got uncomfortably hot. I’ve replaced the stock pads with the upgraded FocusPads that are a hybrid velour/leather that I love. They cost an extra $40 but HiFiMAN also sells leather pads for $20 if you can’t stand the stock velour ones but don’t want to break the bank.
The cable is a mixed bag for me. It’s 1.5 meters long, braided, removable, and it’s pretty! That said, it’s very rigid and not very flexible so it kinda just does whatever it wants which is curl up. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s annoying to have it get in the way. Luckily, it’s removable, so I guess you could buy a different cable if you absolutely hated the stock one.
Sound Mid-fi at its finest
Okay, enough about the looks, how do they sound?! Like I mentioned previously, the HE-400s sound superb plugged directly into a smartphone or laptop.
They’re not reference-quality audiophile headphones but it’s a nice departure from the “bassy” headphones in this price range.
Like any headphone, the HE-400S benefit from desktop amplification by becoming tighter and widening soundstage, but it’s totally possible to get great sound without a fancy amp.
I LOVE the way these headphones sound. They’re undeniably warm with crazy smooth front-and-center mids. As a mid-head, I love this. Female and male vocalists alike are crazy lush and well-presented. There is nice, tight bass, but it’s never front-and-center. Likewise, treble is pushed back a little but not enough to lose much detail or clarity. I can’t help but compare them to the Sennheiser HD650. The Sennheisers still sound more precise and detailed with superior soundstage but the HE-400s are equally “fun” to listen to. And they sound pretty similar—at half the price. And really, that’s the bottom line. They’re not reference-quality audiophile headphones but it’s a nice departure from the “bassy” headphones in this price range. They’re super enjoyable to listen to and just about everyone will love how involved and cozy they feel.
I own thousands of dollars in headphone equipment and I own headphones that cost 8 times the price of the HE-400S, but the 400S are the headphones I probably use most. I have them on my bedside table for music and Netflix in bed. They’re comfy, easy to drive, are well priced, and sound excellent. For $300, you can’t go wrong.