$169 for a full sized Planar Magnetic Headphone? From HiFIMan?
The usual caveats apply; I’m a reviewer so I get sent stuff. HiFiMan have been very loyal to me and also to many of us on headfi, and we’re appreciative I’m sure of the faith they put in us, and I’m also pretty certain of that some of the feedback goes into making their products even better. Of course, that could be why we have arrived at 2020 version of a good seller for them of the HE400, one of their baseline models. The reason why the question mark over the subtitle is because $169 seems a very cheap price to pay for a pair of full-size planar magnetic headphones given that planar magnetic driver technology is more expensive generally to produce than dynamic driver headphones. What we will want to discover is is are these too cheap and cheerful to consider audiophile quality and where havethe saviour’s been met to enable these to be sold at this price level? Stay tuned and read on and I will give you these answers in very short time, do not worry…
The revamped Headphone
About the he400i 2020.
Within which I will describe both the technical aspects in as untechnical a language as I can think.
Firstly, you will want to know what the difference is between the original and the 2020 version. If the original has of the traditional hi-fi man headband has different cables and slightly different materials have been used to make the headband and and yoke and cups and cable. HiFiMan have recently changed their headband design and taking it from a 2 piece design at the top to a one-piece design which has created a more modern look. That’s the first thing you notice about the 2020 version. The drivers are the same as the original. I will leave others to speculate on the tuning of the new compared to the originals because to be perfectly honest with you I’ve never heard the old version. Also I do these reviews without reading any other reviews I’m a products that I’m testing to ensure fairness and originality.
Most HiFiMan full-size products need amping to make them sound at their best. By which I mean don’t expect a plug these into your smartphone and hear deafiningly loud music come out. It just won’t happen. But, being a model in the low price range, at least for a full size headphone that is, the 400i can at least be plugged into a smartphone. Although it has a slightly low sensitivity of 93 dB, compared to an earphone, this planar magnetic headphone has a low resistance of 35 ohms. The corded cable supplied is terminated with a 3.5 mm jack. The idea is to be plugging this into either a smartphone phone, digital audio player or one of these DAC/amp dongles you can get. Low resistance and low sensitivity are not usually a good combination for getting the best out of your headphones by connecting them directly to as low and empty device has a smartphone but of course dear reader I will be doing just that and will give you my opinion on the results of that experiment.
Unboxing accessories build quality
As one might expect at this price level for a full-size planar, there are few frills within the reassuringly large box supplied. Once open the headphones, sans cable, are nestled in the usual velvet inlay. The cable is contained in the middle under a little plastic flap. Otherwise we have an instruction manual and a 6.3 adaptor. There is no case supplied with this model so you’ll have to go out and seek your own or get a stand or do without.
I was pleased to see that my packaging arrived from China in a pristine condition; this is because it was double boxed.
The he-400i has flawless stitching around the headband has a decent set of cups, a reasonable clamping force, and at 375g is not overly heavy. I have a very small head but at the minimum setting they didn’t feel particularly floppy. These have sufficient adjustment to suit many different sizes and shapes of heads.
I know some of you out there that were not impressed with the rather fragile feel to the surgical tubing style of the more expensive cables supplied with headphones such as the HE1000, and the Susvara. This one has a more robust feel and look to it.
These are good size set of headphones the diaphragm size of the driver’s inside are pretty large for what I’d expected at this price.
I was very pleased with the sound quality. For $169? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m a fan of the HiFiMan planar sound. The tuning of these, the size of the drivers, the clamping force of the headband, the quality of the cups, all contribute to create an experience which should leave the vast majority of audiophiles feeling extremely satisfied. No these won’t compete with a Susvara. But they will hold their own with the Deva, which is a $299 Bluetooth Planar. the characteristics of the planar sound are all here. We have a fast bass response which is reasonably linear, and we have that crispness in the mids and highs, which doesn’t get too bright or energetic unless the headphones are underpowered. The soundstage is reasonably large and of course we are dealing with some reasonably large driver diaphragms inside some good sized cups which have a good depth to them.
Sound from smartphone
As promised I put these into my Xiaomi mix 3 5 g smartphone. My first attempt was not too successful. The sound had to be put up to full volume and was not too pleasant to be perfectly honest with you. the simply didn’t feel like there was quite enough juice in my phone to run these properly.
Undaunted I tried my UAPP app. For those of you who have this I used in bit perfect mode and tried some radio channels as I don’t have any music currently stored on my phone. The attempt through this app was far better and yielded a less thin sounding result.
I then had a look at my sound settings and realised that I could configure the phone phone for a pair of full-size headphones and that achieved better results again.
I managed a passable sound quality at around 90% volume.
Fiio M11 DAP
I had this in the low gain setting mode at 73% volume. I used Fiio music player in pure mode, which converts all files to dsd. although just for fun I tried other stuff I felt that the fire M11 was more than adequate to produce decent sound out of the HE400i. The recording on the video embedded here uses the Fiio M11, for your reference.
Of course this is surely overkill! The hm1000 is a $4500 dacamp. But it’s very nice and I’ve got it with me so why not try it?
Of course the sound was amazing. There are three sensitivity settings on the copper DAC amp. Super low low and high. The he-400i 2020 needs the low gain setting. It needs about 60% volume to sound at it’s best.
A tiny little DAP. It has a very rudimentary gui, no streaming capabilities and cannot be hooked up digitally to anything. For those who have lots of music files on a microSD card who just want to listen to music on the go however, this thing is superb sounding.
It even has a balanced 3.5, which gives an extra bit of power even when you plug in an unbalanced cable. Who knows what DAC chip is in this one, but I really like it. The 400i works perfectly well on this device.
I can think of very little to criticise here. At $169 I see this as being a very good introduction into the hifiman range of planar magnetic full-size headphones and I’m presuming that they are are in at this price level to tempt you to part with more of your cash down the line and become a member of their Clan.
There will be many temptations with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas just around the corner. for those not wanting to spend much on a set of full-size headphones this has to be on the list.