The Bottom Line
If you are looking to upgrade to a serious set of cans and are ready to commit £250 to do so, then we reckon the Hifiman HE400s should be top of your list. An amazing planar magnetic design that can be driven at relatively low power and a reasonably affordable price (for this quality) mean that these headphones edge out the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 model as our top pick.
So who are Hifiman? Well, they are a bit of a new kid on the block. Set up in 2005 by Dr Fang Bian, they have been quietly growing a reputation as a high-end audio company due largely to some incremental design and technology innovations in the headphones market. The HE400s represent their first real play in the mid-range price bracket, but they seem to have kept most of the charm and, more importantly, the performance of their more expensive cousins.
Design and Build
Hifiman HE400s come in at significantly less than the other Hifiman offerings, like the HE400i and HE560, but they use the same quality materials so they feel pretty study.
The design is a bit more controversial. Some in The Grade team liked the chunky look, while others thought that looked a bit unrefined. Everyone was in agreement that the double band system was effective, easy to use and really comfy (as are the velour pads that rest against your ear). Essentially a wide, leather look strap is placed against your head, while another adjuster band sits on top and keeps the band taught at the width you choose. The only downside to this is a major case of “headphone hair” – so you might want to use in-ear headphones if you are on your way to a formal meeting and don’t want to look like you have been pulled backwards through a hedge.
They come in at a weight of 350 grams. While there are less heavy sets out there, this is still on the lighter side for a premium pair of headphones and they can be comfortably be used all day.
Sonically the HE400s are incredibly smooth and easy to listen to. With classical tracks we found ourselves drifting away. The treble and the bass are nicely balanced. It sounds like Hifiman is playing it down the middle here, conscious not to lean too much towards ‘fun’ headphones or reference headphones. However, they are definitely not boring headphones. What makes them stand out is simply the quality and accuracy of the sound – they are clean, and vocals especially are handled very naturally. They also have an exceptionally wide soundstage.
There are drawbacks. These headphones don’t have the punch in the lower end that the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0s do. They don’t perform badly here by any means and do render bass accurately – they just have a more grown up, sophisticated sound for people who are not obsessed with thumping tunes (I’m looking at you Beats wearers).
Another slight issue is noise isolation, with many competitors being able to do this a lot better.
When listening through your phone, you can notice that quality improves at higher volumes. This is because of the power required to get the best out planar magnetic speakers. We didn’t encounter this as a problem ourselves, but if you prefer to listen with the volume down you may want to get a portable DAC for your phone (Note: if you are used to cheaper headphones then you should know this is an issue with most sets that cost a bit more – the HE400s definitely work better with phones on their own than most others out there).
How Do They Stack Up Against Competitors?
There are two main competitors that we think stack up against the HE400s.
vs Oppo PM-3: The Oppo wins out on noise isolation, but to our ears the HE400s win out (marginally) on pretty much everything else, but especially on the 3D quality of the sound they produce.
vs Momentum 2.0: The Sennheiser’s are a little bit more exciting and work slightly better natively with a phone but, with a heavy heart, we would say they are no longer the king of the sub £300 range.