Hifiman HE400SE Review



If you've read enough of my reviews on headphones, you'll surely know that I enjoy planar magnetic headphones and many of them come from Hifiman, one of the premier planar magnetic brands based in China. They have come a long way since starting nearly 15 years ago.

I've own my fair share of Hifiman, starting with the HE400i, the HE560, and more recently the Arya, Susvara, HE6SE V2, and now the newly released HE400SE. The original HE400SE was released in China exclusively in late 2020, but an updated international release came our in 2021 with "stealth magnets," which is advertised to reduce reflections and improve sound quality.

 The HE400SE was a bit of an impluse buy for me. I had already been quite happy with my "end-game" set-up with the Hifman Susvara, and had also had what I called "baby sus" with the HE6SE V2, but decided to try out the HE400SE after some solid reviews from people. It was also only $149 USD and I could use it in my new office setting.


Unboxing


When I first got the HE400SE, it came in a familiar brown Hifiman box. Inside the box, was another box, that looked much like other Hifiman offerings. The difference internally though was a much cheaper and lower cost presentation. Not a huge deal for $149 though. There was no silky fabric lining inside to hold the headphones. Instead, the headphone packaging was a generic plastic shell.

The cable that it came with was also quite bad, as is normal with Hifiman headphones. In fact, I think this single wire, braided silver-looking cable was so bad, Hifiman decided to give another cable in the box. Not the original retail box, but the brown box. Yes, Hifiman put a second cable in the shipping box, not the actual retail packaging! A second cable as a secondary thought.

And actually, this new black cable felt quite good. It's durable, flexible, and has a nice L-shaped 3.5mm connector on it. Its only downside is that it is quite short. Its roughly 1.2 meters which is a bit shorter than I want. But it beats the springy, thin, impossible to use silver cable it came with. 

Either way, I put both in the box after trying them out and use my own set of cables instead.

The Hifiman HE400SE features a similar look and design to my previously reviewed HE6SE V2. It looks like they took the headband of the Hifiman Deva, the silver cups of the HE400S, and put 3.5mm jacks on it and put in a new driver set and made this unit. 

The unit is pretty light, weighing roughly 377 grams, and is extremely comfortable to wear. Well, sort of. The headband needs a bit of break-in time, and even then, I do find a hot spot in the center of the headband. As with the HE6SE V2, I made a quick DIY suspension strap with leather and twisty ties, and put them around the adjustable portion of the headband, and it solidifies the comfort and makes this headphone easily one of the most wearable things I've owned.

The feel of the headphone is quite cheap, but its lightweight! Even compared to the similar looking HE6SE V2, I felt the HE400SE felt a lot more budget. The paint felt less premium, the cups were lighter, and the overall headphone lacked the heft of the HE6SE V2. A lot of that probably has to do with a cheaper or lighter coating on the cups, and an overall lighter driver. But, as it may, the HE400SE still has a nice appearance from afar and feels feather-light compared to almost all planars on the market.



Sound Impressions

When I finally played some music with the HE400SE, I was immediately surprised. Yes, the reviews I've read and the graphs did not lead my astray. The HE400SE had really solid tonal balance with many characteristics similar to the Susvara and the HE6SE V2. In fact, I almost prefer the tonality of the HE400SE over the other two in some ways. The HE400SE is a very neutral headphone with a slightly dry upper mid-range but also a very smooth and unfatiguing treble. There is perhaps a small sharpness to it that is reminiscent of some other lower end Hifiman headphones that I'll discuss a little later. All in all though, the tonality of this headphone is very very good and cleans up the market at this price point, and then some.

I do want to note that most of my impressions here come with a few simple mods. First, I swapped out the grill with a more open-cell grill, which has some minimal changes to soundstage and bass. I also added a leather suspension strap to this unit as described above.



One of my favorite characteristics of planar headphones is the bass region. Many of the good planars can reach low with good resolution, attack speed, and agility. The HE400SE has a decent reach into the subbass region, but doesn't quite go as far down as say the HE560 or the Arya. It does compare quite well to the HE6SE V2, and actually provides a slightly warmer sound that is closer to the Arya than the HE6SE V2.

One thing I did notice quickly was that the HE400SE felt slower than its older and more expensive siblings. This particular budget model doesn't have the transient speeds that my Susvara and, at the time, HE6SE V2 had. This in-turn does seem to make its presentation feel more rounded, blunted, and lacking in the very fine micro-details that the Susvara is so good at. The HE400SE isn't bad though. When I compare it to others in this price range, it can take them on swiftly. 



It's biggest competitor, given its price, is probably the Sennheiser HD6XX and its own sibling, the Sundara. I do not have the Sundara to try, nor do I have the HD6XX, but I do have the HD600 from Sennheiser, and I found that both of these are incredibly good headphones for their asking prices. The HD600 has a more organic mid-range, but the HE400SE really does it better in both the bass and treble ranges, and gives a much more better presentation for soundstage width, depth, and image separation, while resolution and intricacies remain very similar between the two.



The HE400SE works well with a lot of genres, and I spent a lot of time going through music from all of the ones I normally listen to. I listened to countless hours of jazz music and found that the HE400SE's tonal balance and imaging were extremely good for this price. In fact, I think it has that very traditional Hifiman sound that is in every one of their sets, but with a smoother sound that resembles more like the HE6SE V2 and Susvara than the slightly bright Arya and HE400i. Yes, that is quite a big set of praise, but there are definitely things you lose going from Hifiman's flagship $6000 Susvara to their $150 HE400SE.

The major differences come with the noticeably less resolving sound, the reduced layering and depth, and the slower and more blunted transients. The 400SE probably still pales in comparison of these little technical artifacts when compared to Hifiman's HE6SE V2, Sundara, and HE560, but for the low cost of $149 for an audiophile headphone, I really can't take these technical talking points as a major flaw. They are minor, and still out-perform many other headphones I've heard at higher prices.

I am a big fan of the HE400SE, and if I found only small flaw with it, it would be that there is just a slight peak at 6KHz. This treble area only rears itself once in a while, but its ever so subtle. It doesn't have nearly a striking attack as the Arya or even one of ZMF's headphones. In most music, I found this peak to be quite tame and found the overall treble response very smooth, though not as smooth as the Susvara.

That said, when I compare it to the HD600 from Sennheiser, the benchmark of most of my headphone reviews, I did find that the peak was slightly more pronounced, however, the HD600 doesn't have nearly the amount of treble that I feel like it needs to not come off as slightly congested and dark when compared to the Hifiman HE400SE. 


Wrap-Up


Hifiman has come a long way over the past decade and a half, and they have a very competitive arsenal of headphones at every price point. They are quite consistent in their delivery and getting one of their over-ear planars is a lot of knowing what the expectations are. You may get so-so build quality, but you know the tonal balance and sound quality are going to be consistent and solid. Yes, sometimes their pricing is questionable, but their sale prices are more representative of what they should cost, and even then, they typically out-perform their competition.

The HE400SE is priced low and I feel it could cost a little more. It's a spectacular offering at a low price and immediately renders its own budget lineup redundant and overpriced. There's no reason to get any of their under $500 headphones when you can get the HE400SE. Yes, I am saying that I would rather own this over the Sundara, and that's mostly due to the terrible headband design of the Sundara than its sound qualities.

The HE400SE is a great little set that I think will sell quite well. Good work.

Comments

  1. Great Review!

    Do you think you can detail how to change the grills/ where to find grills as well as if removing the foam helps in anyway?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Search ebay for hifiman grill. Just pop off the ring on the front of the cups that hold the existing grill on. It's held by 4 clips. It should pop off with a fingernail.

      Delete
    2. Do you use some kind of cloth to cover the grill mod or just let it be like that? Also, should i be concerned about dust if i didn't use any cloth or dust filter to cover the grill mods?

      Delete

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