HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Review

HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Review

8 October 2020 0 By Petros Laskis

A Classic reborn

Pros: – Overall Sound Performance
– Great tonality
– Bass
– Open Headstage
– New more comfortable headband design
– New lowered price

Cons: – Could be more refined
– Needs power despite advertised as mobile friendly
– No carrying case
– Mediocre cable

A Classic reborn

The review sample was kindly provided by HiFiMan and is still under their ownership.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

One of the most beloved headphones of Hifiman with a now legendary status is the original HE400.
As we all may know the headphone have undergone many updates and revisions in order to become more comfortable and portable devices friendly plus some fine tuning adjustments.
The various iterations were the HE400s , the HE400i with the 2.5mm connectors , then the HE400i with the 3.5mm ones and now the latest HE400i 2020 version which is being reviewed here.

HE 400i 2020 version

The very nice looking full black 2020 version is essentially the 3.5mm HE 400i with the new type headband that it was first introduced with the Deva.
The real surprise however is that together with the revision we get a very generous price cut as the cost is now lowered down to 170$ making it the most affordable planar magnetic headphone from Hifiman and maybe the whole market.
The newly designed lightweight headband is a classic type one with added comfort and easily adjustable.
It is made of memory foam with pleather at the outside and allows for the ear cups to swivel freely.
The ear cups are made of polymer ABS material while the asymmetrical removable ear pads are made of pleater and velour.
The weight is very low for a planar headphone at only 370 gr while the build quality is the typical Hifiman good but not the best.
The newly designed detachable cable is terminated with 3.5mm plugs at both ends and it is the only accessory we get plus an 6.35mm adapter.
While it is of better quality than the older design it is still quite bulky and prone to tangling.
The HE400i 2020 version features the same very thin single ended planar magnetic drivers with an impedance of 35 Ω and an 93 dB sensitivity.
Fit and comfort are excellent thanks to the low weight and the roomy ear pads that are very breathable.
We used it for several hours without anything particularly bothering us except perhaps the contact points of the headband which could be a little more anatomical.

Listening tests

We have auditioned the HE 400i 2020 version with various devices among them the FiiO Q1 mark ii and EarMen TR Amp.
Excessive listening tests dictated that despite the high nominal sensitivity of the headphone in real life usage extra current was needed for the HE400i 2020 version to sound at it’s best so in our opinion the use of a medium power amp / dac is mandatory.
The general tonal balance of the HE400i is classic Hifiman with a neutral slightly warm sound , good extension to both ends and a little excessive energy at the treble.

A great advantage of the planar magnetic headphones is their low range quantity and quality and the HE400i 2020 is no slouch in this area.
The bass reaches well down almost touching sub bass and it is very tight , well defined with satisfying layering but lags a little bit in body and physical presence as it is more ethereal than visceral.

There is no bleeding at all to the mid bass with the response being ruler flat to the mids. Mids that are crystal clear and very naturally portrayed without emphasis so to be heard as faithful as possible to the recording.
But don’t be mistaken as this isn’t a clinical presentation but it is rather lively with a great amount of enjoyment.
Those of you who have heard the original HE400 will probably remember that at high frequencies was a little too hot with an added sharpness which could become very annoying.
This is not the case with the current model, which despite some accentuations at the upper mid range area it sounds much more restrained and controlled without being sharp.
There is enough presence and energy with great clarity and satisfying detail retrieval.
Still there is an ethereal touch to the sound and sometimes the headphone can become slightly thin or maybe out of tune due to the faster than needed decay time.

Headstage is one of the best we have heard in this price category and it leaves most of the competition just lagging behind.
Wide and roomy with pinpoint accuracy and ample air for the instruments to breathe it uniquely renders the recording venue while it only lacks in depth and layering when compared to the more expensive models.

The HE400i proved to be a very capable performer for all kinds of music with great precision and transparency although with a rather ethereal and delicate sound to it.

Compared to the Deva

The 40$ more expensive Deva (without the BlueMini) features the same headband , it is 10gr lighter and more sensitive and easier to drive.
Comfort is a little better with the Deva thanks to the larger more breathable ear pads but it is also bulkier with the HE400i offering more snug and discreet fit.
Overall sound signature is quite the same with only marginal differences but that are easily audible.
Bass extension and quantity is the same as is the quality with both headphones sounding clear and layered but the Deva is offering a more visceral presentation with better overall dynamics.
Performance up to the mids is identical with a slight boost for the Deva making for a fuller and warmer sound.
Upper mids are more restrained at the Deva resulting in an easier going presentation but there is a slight emphasis at about 5KHz that some people might find annoying.
The HE400i is slightly more detailed and airy but we thought that the Deva presented micro details better with a more natural and unforced way and the timbre was more to our liking.
Headstage is equally good and enjoyable at both headphones that they really reach well above the competition.
So when it comes down to choosing as always it is a matter of budget and preferences with the cheaper HE400i 2020 version offering a more monitoring and neutral character against the most warm and full bodied Deva.
Last but not least let’s not forget that the Deva can be easily transformed to a high quality bluetooth headphone with the addition of the extra BlueMini.

Compared to the Sundara

Sundara is the upper mid range headphone of Hifiman just a step behind the Ananda but it is double the price of HE400i 2020 asking for 170$ more.
Weight is the same as it is comfort , overall appearance and fit but the Sundara still uses the old type self adjustable headband without the extra padding and the freely swiveling ear cups.
Impedance and sensitivity are almost identical and they both require an external amp to sound their best.
Frequency response for both headphones is almost identical up to the mid range but then the Sundara rises up a little with a more emphasis at the higher registers.
As a result we hear more detail and the overall sound is more clear and luminous but although this is not a bright or overly sharp headphone some users may find it fatiguing at the end.
Frequency response of course doesn’t tell the whole story and in the case of the Sundara we get a way more refined sound with a better articulated and layered bass , greater dynamics and a more holographic scene with a more physical presentation of the venue.
The Sundara is definitely the HE400i 2020 evolved to a better and more sophisticated headphone.

Comparison synopsis

Hifiman is offering us three great planar headphones with a very good proportional rise to the value to performance ratio.
We spent more and we surely get equally sound benefits to justify the extra expense.
The HE400i 2020 version is an entry level neutral planar magnetic headphone that will satisfy everybody without missing a lot , then by adding 40$ more we buy the Deva with a little better technicalities and a slightly different more warm tuning or by doubling the price we buy the Sundara which is just a step before TOTL with the same neutral tuning but with much increased technical performance and refinement.
So judge carefully your needs and budget and make your pick.

At the end

The Hifiman HE400i (2020 version) thanks to it’s improved sound performance and the updated more comfortable headband is in our opinion the best version of the iconic HE400.
At the same time with the new much lowered price this is one of best bargains in the market right now not only as a first step to the planar magnetic world of Hifiman but also as a very competitive mid tier headphone regardless of type.
An excellent budget planar magnetic headphone from Hifiman that definitely deserves to be a part of your collection.

As always rating is a price to performance ratio.

Edit(06/12/20) – After a lot more listening we think that they deserve a half star more so we raised the rating at 4.5/5.

The test playlist – http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright – Laskis Petros 2020.