HIFIMAN HE400se Review
The King is dead – Long live the King.
Pros: – Natural and well balanced tuning
– Very extended soundstage
– Engaging and fatigue free
– Clear and detailed
– Good build quality
– Great value for money
Cons: – Lacking in body and slam
– Could be more refined
– Not portable source friendly
– Passable cable
– Without any carrying pouch
The HE400se was kindly provided by HiFiMan as a long term loaner in order to be used for this and future reviews.
They have never asked for a favorable review and as always I am providing my honest and subjective opinion.
The brand new HiFiMan HE400se is a classic favourite with a modern twist or to put it in other words yet another version of the iconic HE400.
The latest iteration was the HE400i 2020 that is now discontinued and replaced by the HE400se version.
There are two variants available , the one being made specifically for the Chinese market and the international version being reviewed here.
They retail at $149 that is $20 cheaper than the HE400i 2020 and you can get them directly from the HiFiMan store
The international version is the only one to feature HiFiMan’s unique stealth magnet design.
Unlike the sound waves created by a conventional magnet , the special shape of the stealth magnets enables the waves to pass through the magnets without generating interference.
HiFiMan’s advanced magnet design is acoustically transparent, dramatically reducing wave diffraction turbulence that degrades the integrity of the sound waves.
The reduced distortion yields pure sonic output that is accurate and full range.
Build quality and comfort
The HE400se features the newly designed adjustable lightweight headband design that was introduced with the Deva and adopted since then.
The headband is reinforced with heavy memory foam padding and it has a cool feeling and comfortable positioning but it feels a little cumbersome.
The aluminum yokes insert inside the headband and can be very easily adjusted in a lot better way than the Sundara system plus they allow for an extra swivel.
The ear cups are made of durable silver colored plastic and the drivers are protected by a newly designed metallic black grill for enhanced durability and protection from the elements.
Overall build quality is typical HiFiMan but it is much improved since older generations and certainly acceptable for the price point but still something is left to be desired compared to the competition.
The ear pads are the hybrid style that HiFiMan is using lately with faux leather at the outside perimeter and perforated at the inside plus a velour surface area that touches the face.
They are filled with memory foam and feature an asymmetrical shape that is thinner at the front side.
The inside diameter is 6cm so slightly larger than the 2020 edition (5.5cm) and a little smaller than the Deva so they can accommodate the whole ear without exercising pressure.
Weight is 390gr and while they are 20gr heavier than the HE400i 2020 edition they fit and feel very comfortable with minimum clamping force and good breathability.
The headphone features the new dual entry 3.5mm removable cable system which thankfully is compatible with a lot of aftermarket choices because the bundled cable is passable.
HiFiMan instead of improving their generally bad stock cables they just keep stepping backwards.
Well there are no accessories and besides the cable we get a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter and that’s it.
A carrying pouch is very cheap to buy in the wholesale market and would be very easily included without affecting the selling price of the headphone.
It is not that it is so necessary but it is the first impressions that count against the thriving competition.
We have let the drivers burn for about 80 hours before starting the listening sessions.
Since this is a $149 headphone it felt natural to test it with dac/amps of similar value more or less so we mainly opted for FiiO BTR5 (balanced) , EarMen TR AMP (review) , iFi ZEN CAN and Schiit Hel 2 & Vali 2+ (review)
The HE400se is rated at 25Ω/91dB and it is not portable friendly at all.
It is power hungry and there is no way to use it with a phone or low powered devices.
For example with the iBasso DX300 balanced output which is quite powerful and very competent we need to use high gain and get up to >85 volume setting in order to get loud enough but there is still much left to be desired.
The Hel 2 was very good but we reached half the pot in high gain to enjoy the HE400se.
The same goes with small dac/amps like the BTR5 which can get loud enough but it feels very underpowered by sounding thin and anemic.
The HE400se is one of the best tuned HiFiMan headphones with a very balanced and even frequency response without any severe peaks or dips.
Bass is fairly extended and very linear up to the mids but can’t reach sub bass levels without roll off.
The tuning is reference type without any unnecessary boost or coloration so it is very easy to hear and distinguish all the bass instruments no matter how many of them are playing.
We couldn’t spot any signs of masking or mib bass bleeding and we were very pleased with the overall clarity and layering.
Bass is very tight and controlled but with the downside that it feels lean , that is without any extra weight and body so while it is quite dynamic you don’t hear that slamming effect.
The driver is very fast and dynamically contrasted but it doesn’t allow for mass air movement so the attack is soft without rumble.
Mid frequency response is very linear with the slightest dip while reaching for the upper mid range.
This is a neutral and not mid centric headphone and all parts of the spectrum get equal shares so don’t expect voices to step ahead with added presence.
Clarity is amazing for the category and timbre is very natural and organic with a blended instrumental palette and a nice rendering of the various overtones.
A very engaging presentation without added warmth but still very rounded and greatly articulated with good vocals rendering.
Rising upwards we have the necessarily uplifting that it is needed to add space , air and high resolution.
Treble performance is greatly balanced between sounding lively and illuminated but with a smooth and polite manner without any signs of brightness or hardness.
Clarity is good and extension with detail retrieval are satisfying but here we start to hear a few shortcomings of the driver.
There is a certain extra loss of body relative to the mids and lows so highs sound a touch more lean in comparison.
Decay is faster than the ideal so bells and high-huts or similar instruments fade away in a hurried manner.
Timbre is good without any metallic flavor but articulation is not so fine and nuanced as we would like it to be.
An instant example is solo harpsichord where the upper notes struggle to compete with the lower register or in full orchestra where violins sound a little mashed and high percussion can’t shine in the mix.
We are nitpicking here and for the asking price the HE400se is a capable and neutral , well balanced headphone with an ethereal character to it that is not analytical or cold blooded but not warm either.
The stage is remarkable and miles ahead from the bulk of the competition.
It is wide with natural proportions and although it is lacking in depth we are compensated with a great deal of space and excellent imaging just a touch panned left and right.
The HE400se is not afraid of heavy loaded and complicated music and is very suitable for large symphonic works able to do justice to the full orchestra.
Compared to the HE400i 2020 ($169)
Overall build quality and fit are the same with 0.5cm more room inside the pads for the HE400se so not much left to talk about here.
The same goes with the overall tonality which is more or less the same for both headphones with slightly more present and forward mids for the HE400i 2020 (review).
The two siblings differ in the way that they present the music with the elder one being more cosy and intimate , a little more relaxed with an added overall weight to the sound and a more intense vocal projection.
Stage is less airy and more narrow on the HE400i but with the same pinpoint imaging.
Both headphones are great performers for the price and we do think that HE400i 2020 owners should skip the HE400se and look higher in the food chain but new buyers should not be worried about the 400i 2020 being discontinued because the brand new HE400se is of the same league and with a slightly reduced price.
Compared to the HE5XX/Deva ($220/$299 with the BlueMini)
Build is of the same quality and the major difference lies in the extra room inside the HE5XX (review) / Deva (review) ear pads and the different design of the HE5XX headband that some users might prefer.
The expensive models are more comfortable and cool but the HE400se can fit more tightly and stay in place whether the other two feel more loose, especially the Deva.
Overall frequency response is quite similar with a few differences.
The HE400se treble is more smooth and relaxed and compared the other two models have a touch of a mid emphasis.
While you can’t call the HE5XX/Deva bright or piercing they have an extra accentuation at the presence area.
Not necessarily sharp but that extra energy is clearly heard as a resonance peak that some users may find fatiguing.
Of course frequency response is only part of the equation and the rest are up to the HE5XX/Deva favor.
Bass is a fuller and extended lower with greater impact and dynamics plus it is more layered and controlled.
Mids sound more liquid and full bodied as for higher frequencies they are greatly extended with a finer articulation , extra thickness and more natural decay.
The soundstage is slightly wider but with that missing extra depth and layering so space allocation feels more natural and lifelike.
The more expensive headphones are the better performers but mid – high frequencies tonality and ringing artifacts might not suit all users alike.
Compared to the Sennheiser HD560S ($200)
It’s been a while since we reviewed the HD560S (review) and the unit is now returned so we couldn’t perform an A/B comparison.
Build quality is quite different and while not necessarily a lot better it has that western touch and refinement in design and overall feeling.
Both headphones are very comfortable but the HD560S headband is better fitting and the headphone is considerably more lightweight, weighing a whole 150gr less, a difference that is of critical value on extended use.
Regarding sound signature the HD560S is more forward at the upper mid range with a distinctive peak at presence area followed by a sudden and steep roll off that translates in less distanced and warmer sounding vocals but considerably more bright and with ringing artifacts in the treble.
Both headphones are ethereal with a leaner character to their presentation but the HD560S bass is extending lower with added dynamics/ramble and extra weight.
Both have a reference like neutral tuning and are very detailed with excellent clarity and almost equal in terms of soundstage and imaging.
We found the HE400se to be more balanced and engaging for long term casual listening while the 560S felt more clear with better detail retrieval and finer articulation.
At the end
The HE400se is going to be another HiFiMan bestseller as it is undoubtedly the best value planar magnetic headphone in the market right now with an overall sound performance that greatly exceeds the humble asking price.
It is a great entry level reference headphone and a first step into the planar magnetic world for the budget conscious audiophile who is going to feel that his hard earned cash is well spent here.
Very highly recommended.
Copyright – Laskis Petros 2021