Home Open Back Headphone Reviews HIFIMAN HE400se Review – The End Of Hi-Fi?

HIFIMAN HE400se Review – The End Of Hi-Fi?

by Stuart Charles Black
HIFIMAN HE400se Review

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Originally published 9/15/21.

Updates:

  • 4/1/22. Article revisit/gaming update.

Shoutout to HIFIMAN for the demo unit!

So, after demoing over 115 units and having thousands of hours of demo time, I can right now safely say the 400se is the best option in mid-fi and at its current price is likely the easiest purchase you’ll ever make in this hobby.

Greetings mate, Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…

Video Discussion

Coming Soon!

At A Glance

Preview
HIFIMAN HE400SE Stealth Magnets Version Over-Ear Open-Back Full-Size Planar Magnetic Wired Headphones for Audiophiles/Studio, Great-Sounding, Stereo, High Sensitivity, Comfortable, Sliver
Title
HIFIMAN HE400SE Stealth Magnets Version Over-Ear Open-Back Full-Size Planar Magnetic Wired Headphones for Audiophiles/Studio, Great-Sounding, Stereo, High Sensitivity, Comfortable, Sliver
Color
Black/Gray/Silver
Weight
390g
Fit
Circumaural (Around-Ear)
Type
Open back, Planar Magnetic
Materials
Not specified
Connector
Detachable 3.5mm (dual)
Headband Style
Traditional
Impedance
25 Ohm
Sensitivity
91dB
Frequency Response
20Hz - 20kHz
Primary Use
Everything
Cable Length
Not specified
Cable Detachable?
Folding?
Amplification Required?
Prime
Price
$129.00
Preview
HIFIMAN HE400SE Stealth Magnets Version Over-Ear Open-Back Full-Size Planar Magnetic Wired Headphones for Audiophiles/Studio, Great-Sounding, Stereo, High Sensitivity, Comfortable, Sliver
Title
HIFIMAN HE400SE Stealth Magnets Version Over-Ear Open-Back Full-Size Planar Magnetic Wired Headphones for Audiophiles/Studio, Great-Sounding, Stereo, High Sensitivity, Comfortable, Sliver
Color
Black/Gray/Silver
Weight
390g
Fit
Circumaural (Around-Ear)
Type
Open back, Planar Magnetic
Materials
Not specified
Connector
Detachable 3.5mm (dual)
Headband Style
Traditional
Impedance
25 Ohm
Sensitivity
91dB
Frequency Response
20Hz - 20kHz
Primary Use
Everything
Cable Length
Not specified
Cable Detachable?
Folding?
Amplification Required?
Prime
Price
$129.00

In the Box

HIFIMAN HE400se Headphones

User Guide

Warranty Card

3.5mm detachable cable

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos Audio!
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Impedance: 25 Ohm
  • Sensitivity: 91dB
  • Weight: 390g

The road traveled with HIFIMAN has been a long and winding one, filled with lots of ups and quite a few downs.

Iterations, re-iterations, stealth revisions, Quality control issues, failed partnerships, build updates/re-updates, and an admirable pursuit of never-ending improvement has brought us here.

Enter the HIFIMAN HE400se.

In some ways this is sort of like a redemption song for the China-based company, but that already happened with the DEVA in 2020.

No, this signifies something different.

In many ways, the introduction of the 400se feels like the end of hi-fi, at least in its traditional sense. In other words, how do people think about Hi-Fi vs. what it actually is to someone with a lot of experience?

It’s no secret that audio (specifically the headphone market) has changed quite dramatically over the years.

As with starting a home studio, it’s no longer complicated nor does it cost thousands of dollars to get up and running.

For as much as I’ve lamented the influx of new products at every turn, and the subsequent elitism that comes along with that, there is an upside to oversupply; it means that achieving great sound is more than possible for the average person with an average bank account.

The fact that so many people are trying to compete for what’s in your wallet is both terrifying and miraculous at the same time.

Your typical entry-level Amp/DAC combo sounds almost as good as something considered “High-end” and that’s most certainly a good thing if the goal is to save money while simultaneously drinking expensive scotch with your pinky out.

The higher you hold it, the fancier you are.

Not only have headphones followed suit, but they’ve completely shattered this “price to performance” barrier.

For all its flaws, Capitalism can sometimes be cool when you find yourself talking to people about stuff that they would otherwise never give a crap about.

For example, not only is dating a cool girl who you care about awesome but seeing the look on her face when she tries good audio for the first time is also truly priceless.

It really makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – seeing how overjoyed she is and wanting to share in that with her.

Such was the case when I let her borrow my HD600 and, upon returning the headphones to me, ecstatically exclaimed that she never wanted to leave her room ever again. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree, basically.

This good audio, low price tag phenomenon (for all intents and purposes) started with Drop’s Sennheiser HD6XX collaboration and has only picked up steam since then.

Sennheiser HD6XX

If you thought spending a mere $200 on a product that I paid retail for back in 2016 (the original HD600) was outrageous, the planar magnetic 400se is like “hold my beer, son.”

There are many reasons why paying a paltry $150 for a planar is absurd, and it all starts with the fact that you’re paying, wait for it…$150 for a planar. We’ll get into that in a bit.

If you’re a male reading this and are new, get ready for the boner of a lifetime.

If you’re a female, well, I won’t touch that one. Somehow it seems less appropriate. OK, never mind. Get ready to have your panties SOILED. I couldn’t help myself lol.

If you know anything about headphones, you’ll know that diminishing returns do tend to set in fairly quickly; I’d argue around $300-400 for cans (‘phones if you’re hip).

There are improvements above that price point, but they become smaller and smaller while you pay more and more. A scary concept indeed when you consider that there are people out there who will pay upwards of $20k on gear.

Not throwing shade on him (as we converse quite a bit), just making a point:

I simply can’t imagine someone enjoying the music after spending that much money on it. It just seems like all of the focus would constantly be on “how can I make it sound better” rather than just listening and discovering.

If you’d like to watch the video that he commented on, click here.

Of course, there are ways to circumvent this issue of money if you really want to get a taste of Hi-Fi: just look to the second-hand market, wait until the price comes down a bit (as in the case of something like an Ananda) or try and demo a pair you’re interested in before you spend all that money you made working the local street corner.

Hey, I’ve been there. NO shame in my game.

The 400se? It is indeed a different animal.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

The original 400s was a severely underrated gem in my eyes (read: the 400i got most of the love), but they all had issues.

While I loved the swivel design, it was prone to breaking down after HIFIMAN started outsourcing cheaper materials.

This was, in no coincidence, around the time that my local Audio Advice stopped carrying their products.

The original run of 400i/400s was flawless, but I think they learned a valuable lesson after cable/connection issues, malfunctioning parts, etc.

The Drop/HIFIMAN 4XX experiment was also an utter disaster for some of the same reasons, but its design was even worse.

Who would have thought that drilling screws into plastic probably wasn’t the best idea?

HiFiMAN HE4XX vs. 400i vs. 400S vs. Sundara

HIFIMAN HE4XX

Both the headband adjustment, material, and shape were also handled quite atrociously, but that’s a story for another day. Everything about the 4XX was really weird. I don’t know how else to put it.

It’s almost like they said, “Hey let’s use as many different types of materials as humanly possible and throw them all into one really strange design.”

When the DEVA came out in 2020, I nearly cried on camera because I was truly appreciative that a company actually listened to criticism and aimed to improve a product that they could have easily ignored.

That plus they probably had to or else their business was in serious jeopardy.

The introduction of the DEVA saw a completely revamped design, and while it was and still is a bit DUMMY THICC for some, I personally love it.

HIFIMAN DEVA Review

HIFIMAN DEVA Review

I like some cushion for the pushin’, what can I say.

The headphones actually feel sturdy and function flawlessly. The design is simplistic and utilitarian. While I do miss the swivel aspect, it’s not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things – especially if it means there are fewer things that can go wrong.

They rotate just enough to not feel as rigid as something Focal would manufacture, but they’re also not really studio headphones like a CB-1 or M50x.

In other words, the design looks and feels appropriate for the target demographic.

It’s also important to note that the cups do rotate down, but not around.

Just think of the Exorcist if you’re having trouble.

Again, these are scotch/caviar headphones for wannabe wealthy people.

There’s certainly an elegance and class to them, but it doesn’t feel like you’re trying too hard whilst emptying your bank account needlessly and telling everyone how awesome you are.

No, it’s like finding a really nice-looking sweater at Target. Nobody has to know but you, and you didn’t have to mortgage away your kidney either.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with shopping at Target. They actually have some really nice clothes!

Anyway…

The 400se basically mimics the exact design of the DEVA, but this time it’s black and silver/gray like the original 400s.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

The 400se.

HiFiMAN HE4XX vs. 400i vs. 400S vs. Sundara

OG 400s.

Everything about the new 400se is simple, from the smooth click adjustment to the perfectly padded headband, to the shape and material of the cups, to the sleek overall aesthetic.

One issue still apparent is the ever maddening glue dilemma on the back of the cups. I’ll say it and keep saying it until HIFIMAN does something.

Why, WHY does Dekoni manufacture the pads that you should put on your headphones? It’s getting ridiculous at this point. If I have to write a letter to Fang himself, I will.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

^That’s pretty much a brand new pad and the glue job looks like it was done in 3rd-grade arts and crafts. You can imagine how easily it’s going to come apart down the road.

Here’s a DEVA pad. The same issue, although it actually looks a bit better (not saying much):

Now check out a Dekoni pad next to a 4XX unglued pad. There’s no contest.

There’s no excuse for HIFIMAN to not manufacture that pad themselves.

Why should I pay Dekoni for something HIFIMAN should have done? This has been an ongoing issue for the last 4 years. Get it together.

Nobody should have to fork over that much cash for something so basic, especially when you consider the price of Dekonis. It’s asinine. $80 for freaking pads? Yeah, no thanks. That’s over half the price of the 400se!

Just fix your mistake, HIFIMAN. For the hundredth time.

As I’ve said countless times in other articles and videos, this is probably not an issue if you don’t handle the cups too much (i.e. swap them a lot), but it’s still crazy to think that HIFIMAN simply won’t do the right thing here.

I mean, it can’t be that hard to just wrap the damn piece over the plastic and not haphazardly glue it, right?

It’s one of the dumbest design decisions I’ve ever seen and makes no sense at all. Gluing the pads that way is literally asking for them to fall apart.

The other issue is that the pads flatten out/wear down pretty quickly. I’ve only been demoing the 400se for about a month now and both have flattened out considerably towards one side.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

This is only a few weeks later, albeit I’ve worn them every single day for many hours.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

Comfort

So, the build of the 400se is pretty fantastic aside from the glue thing, but comfort ends up being the best it’s ever been with regard to HIFIMAN products.

The DEVA comfortably made my Top 15 most comfortable headphones list, and it’s definitely near the top.

The 400se is no different. I simply never have to adjust or take them off, and this is likely a byproduct of the improved headband design, as well as the weight; which has always been near perfect.

Headband dig is rather common in cheaper cans, but the 400se really proves itself to be miles ahead. I’ve never once felt it, or the DEVA, dig into my head.

Again, all of this for $150.

There are headphones at similar prices (and many that are way more expensive!) that don’t even come close to this level of comfort.

By now you may be wondering how they sound.

Perhaps the best reason to stop everything you’re doing and purchase one of these is because of just that – their unique sound.

HIFIMAN HE400se ReviewSound

Admittedly, it’s hard to believe that a product cheaper than Drop’s 6XX could actually be better, but that’s precisely what we have here – for a few different reasons:

#1

Soundstage

Sennheiser’s mid-fi line of 580/58X/600/650/6XX are all known to have narrow imaging and “okay” placement.

The separation of instruments’ sounds is excellent, but at times they feel congested and don’t occupy the space as well as I’d like.

In other words, they are a bit too close together and need to be spread out more.

HIFIMAN’s mid-fi lineup has always provided better imaging and placement, with wider staging, better width, and more depth front to back.

In other words, instruments and sounds have more room to breathe which helps immensely with detail retrieval.

I can pick out individual soundscapes and backing instruments a lot better with a 400se, DEVA, etc. than I can with headphones in Sennheiser’s line.

The music also feels grander, providing that “out of your head” sensation that sometimes makes you feel as if you’re in an actual recording space or even a live venue (though that effect has been grossly overexaggerated by everyone and their Grandma).

If headphones like the HD600 rarely give you that sensation, HIFIMAN headphones do so more frequently while something like a K702 does it very frequently.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

#2

Timbre

Perhaps the best reason to invest in a planar headphone like the 400se is its Timbre; or, how an instrument may sound in real life vs. the way it sounds through a device.

In other words, its unique tone.

You may notice that cheaper headphones tend to sound decent, but they don’t give you any sense that you’re experiencing the music in an actual environment.

Of course, this is more prevalent in closed backs than open ones, but still, there are some closed backs out there that mimic the effects of open headphones – namely Sony’s MDR-Z1R, The Status CB-1, AKG’s K550/553, The Beyerdynamic DT770, etc.

The AKG K702, one of my favorite dynamic headphones, comes close to achieving a somewhat planar-like sound but is still outperformed by both the DEVA and 400se.

With the 400se, instruments and voices are that much more natural and intimate. Listening to an artist like Sufjan Stevens is almost like being serenaded by him, rather than simply hearing his composition being played out through headphone drivers.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

#3

Attack, Sustain, And Decay

Going off of the last point, attack, sustain, and decay are all markedly better with a planar, and this has a lot to do with their driver structure. If you want to know precisely how and why planar drivers perform better than dynamic ones, click that link.^

In short, it’s because there are more magnets (vs. only 1 in a dynamic) and they are placed evenly around the diaphragm. This results in a better and more uniform sound with less distortion among other things.

The 400se actually contains stealth magnets, which differ in shape so as not to hinder or alter the sound waves as they’re passing through the magnet and approaching your ear.

In theory, this actually results in even less distortion and interference than a traditional planar with squared-off magnets.

Can I tell the difference?

I would say yes, and I noticed this before I discovered that they used stealth magnets. The sound felt even better and more alive than I remember when listening to some older HIFIMAN models.

Instruments and voices not only ring out better (sustain), but they trail off as they would if you were hearing them live (decay).

In other words, they sound more realistic.

You may have experienced a song in which you can’t quite make out what the instrument does when it’s finished playing a note or chord, or the entire run of the specific sequence of notes.

It kind of gets lost as a new sound comes into view (so to speak).

With a 400se, you can clearly hear what all of the instruments and sounds are doing to the fullest extent. They are fleshed out better and seem more natural and organic – even more so than the original 400i and 400s.

Put another way, sounds aren’t overlapping each other to the point where everything kind of sometimes becomes a mish-mosh.

This is common in cheaper dynamic headphones most notably.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

#4

Detail Retrieval

You’ll start to hear the stuff on the right and left, or those backing instruments – the ones way in the back such as the one that plays during the chorus of Kevin Garrett’s “Factor In” around 1:46.

It kind of sounds like a high-pitched synthesizer, giving the song some extra atmosphere and wisp – but there’s also a clear melody to it; something I didn’t really notice as much in other dynamic headphones.

What I’m really getting at here is that the songs start to sound 100% complete with most everything being accounted for.

While you may get that last extra 1 or 2% with something like a Utopia, it’s probably not worth it unless the price is right like Bob Barker.

I’ve talked quite a bit about the Utopia and I still think it’s the best sounding dynamic headphone on the planet.

The 400se is in no way better, (as in, the Utopia is still superior to me) but it may not be enough of a difference to warrant that sort of price jump.

That’s really up to you to decide, though.

In many ways, a planar does rival really expensive dynamic headphones.

At 2:44 Garrett says “One look at you and I start to crash” and then there’s this instrument that sounds much clearer and livelier than I ever remember, kind of emulating the downward spiral he just vocalized.

These are the types of things that seem small and insignificant until you’re listening to music and it all comes together.

It’s that “heart drops into the stomach” feeling so to speak.

It’s the experience I always talk about – falling in love with music all over again.

Re-discovering some of the intricacies in your favorite music that may have become lost over the years.

The headphones in this case do help to provide this amazing experience, but again, you’re only paying $150.

So in essence, and in somewhat of an ironic sense, they are cheap – but only in terms of the price.

This is another reason why I’ve been so outspoken against gear in recent years.

There are people out there who would have you believe that it’s really complicated and that you must commit to exhaustive measures in order to get the exact right setup or spend X amount of dollars on Y headphones and Z DAC, and everything in between.

It’s really not like that at all.

A lot of what you’re hearing through a device (I’d argue the majority) is the direct result of how the song was recorded, mixed, and mastered, and that will never change no matter how advanced “gear” becomes.

The good news is that if you mostly stick to well-recorded music, good headphones like the 400se will only enhance the experience and help it to reach its full potential.

This is because their sound signature is excellent, and in my opinion even better for one HUGE reason: the treble.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

Treble

There are very few times when I listen to a HIFIMAN headphone and don’t complain at least a little bit about the treble. It’s almost become a meme at this point.

I can only think of one or 2 instances (The Ananda in particular) in which I wasn’t that bothered by it.

In my mind, HIFIMAN finally listened.

No longer am I hearing that signature “hiss” “bite” or “essiness” that they’re known for.

It’s completely gone. This is one major difference between the DEVA and 400se.

The DEVA is clearly bright up top and took some EQ for me to really enjoy it even though that phenomenon can be dicey to talk about as well.

The 400se is neither overly bright like a 7506, nor is it dark/veiled (insert whatever term you want) like an Audeze or *gasp* Sennheiser. Yes, the HD600 can sound veiled at times.

The 400se is like finding the right woman.

She’s not a loud annoying bitch, but she’s also not your average goody two shoes; like that girl you knew in grade school who was always quiet, always smiling, and super friendly but who you felt had a deep dark secret – as in, she hid dead bodies in her parents’ basement and was a cannibal.

Kind of like that cannibal family in Fallout 3 who strutted around town in pre-war clothes even though the apocalypse happened like 200 years ago and everyone was dead.

Yup, nothing to see here. Move along.

Anyway…

Both the bass and mid-range here are classic HIFIMAN. Vocals and instruments are lively. Everything sounds correct and tonally accurate.

You’re still getting that signature gradual decline after 1kHz into 2k, but it doesn’t bother me here as it sometimes does with a Sundara.

I’d classify the overall sound as fairly neutral and transparent, with a slight emphasis on the mid-range around 1kHz.

The bass is your typical HIFIMAN outfit; slight roll off and no mid-bass bloat.

It’s a fantastic sound signature that’s super nutritious and represents all the food groups.

Sounds like Fang Bian may have indeed married Mister Rogers.

With that, yes I think you should buy these headphones if you’re brand new to the hobby and looking for the best value sound-wise. I called the DEVA the best overall value, but that’s with the extras.

While that sound signature had some small-ish problems, the 400se improves upon them and I don’t think it has any glaring flaws.

Heck, you may even have a ton of experience like me and realize that you don’t really need the others – and that’s including both my beloved HD600 and K702.

The 400se is sort of what it would be like if the HD600 and 702 had a baby.

You’re getting the best of both worlds: The K702’s Soundstage (albeit not as wide), with the HD600’s great instrument separation and non-fatiguing treble.

Add in the fact that it’s a planar with stealth magnets that outperform both in terms of Timbre and detail retrieval and you’ve got all the makings of an easy purchase.

Gaming?

I have to say that even though the Soundstage here is a bit better than an HD600, I still found the 400se a bit claustrophobic for gaming. In other words, it wasn’t as open or spacious as a DEVA, SHP9500, Arya, or K702, and I was fairly surprised by that.

I will have to go back and double-check my findings, but I’d recommend any one of those headphones over the 400se if someone forced me to decide. That’s not to say that the 400se is bad per se, but I don’t feel nearly as comfortable with it in an FPS environment as I do with the others.

Even so, I will be revising my 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500 to reflect the fact that overall I think the 400se is the best value in Mid-Fi. As in, it will certainly be replacing the 6XX as the #1 option.

If I somehow change my mind and the 6XX stays #1, The Sundara is most assuredly being replaced by the 400se regardless.

In my mind, it’s just too good of a product to pass up. It’s like they’re literally saying “Eh, you can have it. It’s on us!”

Not really, but you get the gist. When you’ve had as much experience as I’ve had in this hobby, $150 for these headphones seems like chump change.

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

 

The HIFIMAN “experiment” has seen its ups and downs, make no mistake about it. They’ve screwed up a few times and it was a bit touch and go there for a while back in 2019.

But it seems like they genuinely care about improving their line and for that I applaud them.

So here’s to you, HIFIMAN. Now just fix the damn glue issue and you’ll be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And I’m out!

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this HIFIMAN HE400se Review, and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Just want to make a one-time donation? Click here. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps keep this site running!

Is this product worth an investment? What are your thoughts on the hobby as a whole? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Photo Album

Media

Tasmin Little – The Lark Ascending (2013)

Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

Toonorth – Aftersome (2021)

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1959)

Oceansize – Frames (2007)

Tortoise – TNT (1998)

Papa M – Whatever, Mortal (2001)

Papa M – Live From A Shark Cage (1999)

Papa M – Hole Of Burning Alms (2004)

Slint – Spiderland (1991)

Papa M – Papa M Sings (2001)

Papa M – A Broke Moon Rises (2018)

Sam Gendel, Sam Wilkies – Music for saxophone & bass guitar (2018)

Meitei – Komachi (2019)

Papa M – Highway Songs (2016)

Pajo – Pajo (2005)

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)

M83 – Saturdays = Youth (2008)

Trans Am – Surrender To The Night (1997)

slenderbodies – Are We? (2021)

Henry Green – Half Light (2018)

St. South – Nervous Energy (2016)

Flor – Ley Lines (2019)

Great Good Fine Ok – III (2017)

Great Good Fine OK – Great Good Five OK (2021)

vbnd – scum funk (2021)

Gustav Holst, John Williams, Strauss, Sprach Zarathustra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – the Planets (1997)

Gustav Holst, Lorin Maazel, and Orchestre National de France – The Planets (1982)

slenderbodies – Fabulist (2017)

Henry Green – Shift (2018)

Aquilo – Silhouettes (2017)

Ford. – The Color Of Nothing (2020)

Ford. – (The) Evening (2018)

Amber Rubarth – Sessions From The 17th Ward (2012)

Bill Evans – Sunday At the Village Vanguard (1961)

Bill Evans – Live At the Montreaux Jazz Festival (1968)

Shallou – Magical Thinking (2020)

Sufjan Stevens – A Beginner’s Mind (2021)

Phoenix – Alphabetical (2004)

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73 comments

Saul November 28, 2021 - 5:30 pm

H Stu. Just pulled the trigger on a set of 400se. Current $129 pricing made it irresistible to finally scratch the itch. As a long time planar speaker owner (ET-LTF8b) I have long wonder what planar tech sounds like bolted directly to my head. Your review somewhat sealed the deal (and put the nail in coffin on the drop 4xx).

I’m curious though as to the 400se vs Sundara. Worth the $$$ or two different animals?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black November 29, 2021 - 1:24 pm

Hey man what a fantastic deal and steal!

Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I honestly don’t really think the Sundara is worth the money anymore at $349 even though yes, it is a slightly different tuning. The treble is more subdued, and the headphones have a warm/gooey type of quality kind of like the HD650. It sometimes is not a good thing though. They can come across as dull in certain instances.

I think you’re going to fall in love with the 400se and I wouldn’t worry about it. It doesn’t suffer from those issues but it’s also not overly bright like most HIFIMAN cans.

I had the Sundara at #2 on my Top 5 Under $500, but the 400se will most assuredly be #1 or #2 now knocking the Sundara off.

The Sundara was a great headphone, but not really worth the money anymore. In 2018 it was a giant leap forward for HIFIMAN, but they’ve since improved even more and audio as a whole has gotten a lot cheaper since then.

Please keep me posted on your 400se impressions!!

-Stu

Reply
Prabin November 30, 2021 - 5:47 am

I’m getting one

Reply
Stuart Charles Black November 30, 2021 - 3:03 pm

YOU DARN WELL BETTER! YOU BUY ONE NOW!! xD

Reply
PRABIN December 14, 2021 - 7:38 am

I’ve sent you a pic in Instagram. Check it out. Day 1 and I’m stoked.. I saw your review after ordering one by the way. 😂

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 14, 2021 - 2:19 pm

Ha ok. I also reworked the Top 5 Under $500 to reflect the change. https://homestudiobasics.com/the-5-best-audiophile-headphones-for-under-500/

Reply
Alberto December 7, 2021 - 6:59 am

400S vs 400SE? Thanks

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 7, 2021 - 7:26 pm

Hey man, I would just go with the 400SE. There’s no real reason to get a 400S anymore due to the SE’s updated build. Sound-wise, it’s been quite a while since I heard a 400S but it’s pretty much the same sound although I think the SE handles the treble better than pretty much all mid-fi HIFIMAN models. It finds a nice balance of bright-neutral without getting out of line IMO. I would just go for it you won’t regret it.

Reply
Skelly December 9, 2021 - 2:37 am

Aside from the concern about the earpad deflating (which is probably due to stronger clamp force and I bent up the headstrap a bit to make it more comfortable and less clampy), the 400SE is kinda insanely good for the price. I don’t usually like to say “for the price”, but there’s definitely 200 and 300 dollar cans that just suck compared to new kids on the block that have better tech and lower price. Which is exactly what the 400SE does. I feel like it pairs insanely well with the Vali 2+, as the Magni 3+’s focus on accuracy and neutrality can make these headphones seem a little boring. Same thing for when I A/B tested with my HD6XX. I felt like the Vali 2+ breathed new life and excitement into the headphones, so my go-to is always the Vali (with the Electro Harmonix 6922 tube replacing the stock one). Super fun to listen to. I feel like the Vali’s pleasant distortion and coloring combines well with the 400SE and it’s focus on neutrality and cleanliness in the audio. 400SE is super clean like everything is so smooth, so the slight texturing and coloring the vali does really provides an affordable audiophile setup that rivals people spending much MUCH more for. As far as bass is concerned, there’s just enough to be satisfied, but it could use a tiny bit more oomph. Still, they’re kickass and the pros far far far outweigh the cons.

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Stuart Charles Black December 11, 2021 - 3:07 pm

Yeah man, the 400se certainly feels “market disrupting” in the same way that the 6XX did, only I think it’s an even better value, cheaper, and with a superior sound. You’ve got better separation, Soundstage, Instrument Timbre, and decay; all things I’ve always harped on when talking about HIFIMAN and the generally loftier sound coming from planar headphones. It’s truly one of the best mid-fi headphones to ever come along (perhaps the best). I’ll probably knock the 6XX down to second place on my top 5 under $500.

Actually listening now with the iFi xDSD Gryphon (demoing). It just sounds wonderful and exactly as you describe – smooth, detailed, and clean. I just can’t get enough, hence this 5,000-word article lol. It really makes you realize how poopy headphones like the A71 sound by comparison.

And yeah, I would definitely not pair a 400se with a neutral, sterile type of amp. I think it works best with something like a Zen, K5 Pro, or something similar; i.e. not entirely neutral but not overly warm like a tube amp.

I also think HIFIMAN improved the treble on the 400se. I didn’t find it overly essy or bitey like a DEVA or some of the earliest iterations of the 400i, which is also something I complained about quite a bit. Not saying they took my critique into consideration, but it does feel like they’re constantly trying to improve.

I think it’s extremely important for them to keep the house sound without making the treble too dark (as there’s a fine line), and I believe they’ve achieved that wonderfully well. I’d classify it as bright-neutral, as in, I think it strikes a near-perfect balance. A little bright? Yes. But that’s not a bad thing here. It’s almost perfectly done. Certain types of music will make it sound a tad brighter (for example now I’m listening to Boston’s More Than A Feeling and it’s heading that way), but it still somehow retains an impeccable sense of control despite everything going on in the hook.

You took the words right out regarding the bass as I was going to say the exact same thing. Just a liiiiiiitle more slam. I guess you could go all Metal571 and EQ up the bass (which I’ve certainly done in the past), but yeah. It’s one of those minor nitpicks that at the end of the day, I don’t really care too too much about.

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Skelly December 12, 2021 - 12:36 am

Not to flood up the comment section but I have two last questions! How would you compare the HE400SE to your beloved K702? I pulled the trigger on a K712 pro and I came back to the 400SE. Do you think I’d be better off selling the K712’s and grabbing the K702? In addition, what other amps should I be on the lookout that give me the same good combination like the Vali 2+ with the 400SE?

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Stuart Charles Black December 12, 2021 - 9:09 pm

Wow man nice timing I just mentioned to someone yesterday how I want to compare the K702 and 400se! I will get back to you on that in a bit. As far as swapping K712 for 702. Yeah I do think so and here’s why: https://homestudiobasics.com/akg-k612-vs-k712-vs-k702-vs-k701-vs-q701/

Hm you said Vali 2 was erring on the warmer side? I’m honestly not a big Amp guy anymore because I think they’re overrated but I also may not be the guy to ask since I’m not a huge fan of tubes (at least the last 2 I tried). Idk. Too syrupy for me. The TA-20 was one recent one I tried.

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Stuart Charles Black December 23, 2021 - 6:44 pm

Hey man I haven’t forgotten about ya.

I’ve been doing an exhaustive back and forth so I can get my impressions right. The 3 biggest differences between the headphones are mid-bass meat, Soundstage, and the mid-range. The K702 is more open sounding, wider Soundstage, etc.

It sounds more open which can be fairly jarring when you switch back to the 400se – which is kind of claustrophobic at first (may be the mid-range discrepancy which I will touch on later) – until you realize that its Timbre, decay, and detail are all just a bit better. Even though the Soundstage is wider on a K702, you may not notice certain things in recordings that you will with the 400se.

An example would be J Dilla’s “Say It” which actually reveals background ad-libs (panned right/left, down and back slightly) better and provides a somewhat more immersive experience even though technically the K702 should be doing that given its unique signature. Planars are known to sound more realistic and that’s certainly the case here.

Furthermore, there’s more mid-bass meat on the 400se which certainly gives it that extra edge in my mind. You won’t be having to throw on XBass with an iFi product, though it still can add to the experience depending on the track in question.

This is an ongoing theme in planars vs. dynamics, and thus why the 400se is #1. It just performs a bit better even though the 702 is no slouch (also why it’s #3). I’ve talked about this before in delicate compositions such as those by Sufjan Stevens, and it really is a photo finish with regard to whether or not I ultimately prefer a planar over a dynamic.

Keeping with the mid-bass on the 400se, it’s done just right and provides a perfect amount of slam without suffering from the pitfalls of traditional cheap and/or closed-back headphones that go overboard and end up sounding bloated and artificial. By contrast, the 702’s mid-bass is a tad thin but still sounds great. It just doesn’t have as much impact.

Finally, the mid-range on each is done slightly differently. K702 opts for that 5dB rise around 2kHz which I really like and in some ways prefer to the slightly rolled off 400se after 1kHz into 2k – typical of HIFIMAN and not bad, but in comparison, you can tell that it’s a bit more subdued and slightly pushed back.

This is likely another reason why the 400se sounded strange at first after a long demo with the 702. You’re used to that forwardness and then it kind of just disappears until your brain gets reacclimated to the new signature.

Overall, the 400se still comes out on top but I will always keep the 702 around and still enjoy listening and/or gaming with it every day.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

-Stu

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Skelly December 24, 2021 - 2:35 am

No worries! I actually was re-reading your review! Thanks for all the insight and research you’ve been doing, I admire how much you go into detail about how the headphones sound and not just from some data frequency graphs. Back to the 400se, yeah there’s just something about that timbre, decay, and detail that’s all so enticing, especially at such an affordable price, it’s nuts.

I recently purchased the HE560 v4 from Adorama because the deal was kinda too good to pass up, so I pulled out the Paypal Credit and just went for it. Originally it’s in the 800’s but it’ll go on sale on Adorama for about the 240 range? You can get a used refurbished one for about 209 as well. I’m honestly having a bit of a tough time deciding which one I like more. If I could, I’d buy you a review pair to try out. I still might have a slight preference for the 400se but I also love the sound that the 560 v4 brings to the table especially with a really nice extended bass. I hope you get to try the 560 v4 someday! Thanks again for all your review work.

Stuart Charles Black December 28, 2021 - 9:38 pm

Hey man!

My pleasure and great to hear from you. I hope we continue our dialogue.

I was telling someone in another comment about HIFIMAN’s sleight of hand and a complete disruption of the market which has caused me to have to re-evaluate my Top 5 Under $500. In other words, re-considering what the actual best value is and it’s most certainly the 400se until someone else decides to step up. As you said, the price of the 400se is insane when you take everything into consideration. As much as I love the 6XX, it’s finally been outclassed.

Yeah man, that sounds like an awesome deal! Perhaps you could send it over for demo sometime.

Look forward to hearing from you again!

-Stu

Skelly January 10, 2022 - 11:39 pm

I just saw in your other article about your top headphones under 500 bucks, that you’re working on a 400se video! I’m super excited to see it. Could you possibly go for a little segment comparing it against the sundara? Because apparently that’s the next step up. However I think that’s arguable considering how you actually prefer the 400se over the sundara, as well as many others that I’ve seen online. As you said, for some, the sundara may not exactly be worth all that money by now. For a considerably lower price you still get something that’s on par or at least directly just under the sundara, which is pretty damn impressive!

I also wanted to mention that I’ve been switching back and forth from the HE560 v4 and the HE400se. I’m beginning to come to a conclusion that I actually prefer the 400se, and it’s cheaper lmao. The tuning just totally rocks. Hifiman really setting a new standard with these things. In terms of an actual upgrade, I think the next can I’d really like to save up and grab would be the Hifiman Edition XS. It seems like a nice sweet spot at 500 dollars because it’s not nearing 1000 buckaroos for a set of cans, which I would like to avoid spending, and you’re still getting something incredible. Anandas would be nice, but that Edition XS is sitting at such a nice sweet spot, it’s next on my list (I don’t actually have a list, I’m just really interested in planars and Hifiman cans in general. I listen to a lot of jazz and funk, so Hifiman planars are an absolute joy to listen to!)

Stuart Charles Black January 13, 2022 - 6:26 pm

Hey man!

Great to hear from you again. I will certainly jot that down and plan to incorporate it into the video! Thanks 🙂

But yeah, spoiler – I don’t actually think it’s a step up at all, and imo is a complete waste of money. The Sundara now sits in this awkward price range but is almost useless now with the introduction of the 400se which is just as good for way cheaper. The Sundara also had the slight issue of being overly warm at times and you can clearly see this on graphs with regard to the too-dulled-down treble.

The 400se takes the too bright/hissy DEVA/older 400 models and finds an almost perfect sweet spot of “bright-neutral” without irritating me in the slightest. I haven’t once heard any hiss save for some really badly recorded metal tracks.

Lol and yeah. The problem with HIFIMAN is that they’re always outdoing themselves and end up just kind of punking themselves almost. Because in my mind, the Sundara is almost completely obsolete now. There’s literally no reason to buy it unless you’re a snobby audiophile who’s living in the past. In 2018 it was groundbreaking. Now? Anyone who tries to sell one in my mind is kind of a shill.

Let me know if/when you get the Edition XS! Looks like something I need to get my hands on and compare with the Ananda/Arya. What a sweet price point! Man, that may replace the Ananda for step up from mid-fi but I need to demo it first. I see here it’s got the updated build. HIFIMAN can be super confusing. For instance, the Arya employs the old build of the original Edition X, and then you have the Ananda which mimics the Sundara’s build.

I think HIFIMAN could stand to be a bit more organized. I THINK they’re attempting to phase out all the old builds and go with the new one, but you can never really tell.

Thinesh December 27, 2021 - 9:08 am

Hi Stu,

Love the reviews. However, you might want to put a warning message for anyone buying Hifiman off Amazon. I bought the Hifiman HE200i (based on your recommendation)and about 10-11 months later, the right driver cutout. When I contacted Hifiman, they said they would not honour the Amazon purchase as it came from Amazon.com. If you buy from the Hifiman store on Amazon (which is actually an authorised reseller) then they would honour the warranty. Long and short is Amazon agreed to take back the headphones and refund me my money. I’m now in the market for another headphone. I have the Ananda’s (secondhand) but they press on that space between my jaw and ear so much I can only tolerate it for 15min, so I’m stretching them out with a pillow and hopefully that works. If it doesn’t I can’t decide between HD6XX and the HE400se. Space and soundstage is important to me. I listen to jazz, and rock mainly. I really wanted to like the Ananda’s but the pain…

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Stuart Charles Black December 28, 2021 - 8:36 pm

Hey Thinesh!

Thank you! Yeah, the older models are definitely hit and miss; something I mention in a lot of other articles but will also edit to add here.

If you end up having to return the Ananda, definitely go with the 400se as it improves tremendously on the other issues present in older HIFIMAN models! Also check this article for an explanation of why I decided to dethrone the 6XX for #1 spot.

Keep me posted on everything!

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Thinesh January 24, 2022 - 2:50 am

Hey Stu. So I found out that I could bend the top metal frame of the Ananda and that made it much more enjoyable and although not completely comfortable, now it’s listenable. After much agonising I decided to go with the K702, I think it’s the turtleneck that sold it for me. (Also if I have the Ananda, another hifiman HP didn’t make sense) It’s comfortable and a great sound. I wanted to ask though – is EQing worth it. There are a lot of opinions and I know it’s subjective but do you bother EQing your HP?

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Stuart Charles Black January 24, 2022 - 3:55 pm

Hey Thinesh!

Hahah! *Doug Funnie voice* IT’S NOT A TURTLE NECK!! It’s a SWEATER!! That’s awesome though, glad to hear it. 🙂 I don’t have those issues with the Ananda but it just goes to show everyone’s a little different.

I EQ very rarely as I think it’s a bit counterintuitive to spend a bunch of money on headphones only to change their sound signature. Kind of defeats the purpose in most cases, but yes, I do sometimes. I EQ’d the DEVA’s bright treble out for example as I thought it made sense to do so.

Keep me posted on the 702!

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redmito January 2, 2022 - 6:16 am

Hey Stu,
Im currently using the akg k702 and beyerdynamic dt 770pro with an Ray Samuels SR-71A amp and an ipod 5th A1136 modded by red wine audio. I want to know if buying the HE400se would be worth it. thanks in advance

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Stuart Charles Black January 4, 2022 - 2:04 pm

Hey man!

I think so. Here’s my explanation: https://homestudiobasics.com/the-5-best-audiophile-headphones-for-under-500/ You can just skip down to #1 to see, but I would place the 400se ahead of the 702 although I love both headphones.

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REDMITO January 7, 2022 - 2:31 pm

Thank you again for replying

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Stuart Charles Black January 7, 2022 - 3:51 pm

My pleasure man! Keep me posted on your decision. 🙂

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REDMITO January 20, 2022 - 1:04 pm

Hey Stu,
so I decided to not buy the 400se because when i tried it i didn’t think it was worth it. However, I may end up saving up some more money and seriously considering on the hifiman ananda.

Stuart Charles Black January 24, 2022 - 3:52 pm

Hey man!

Kind of shocked to hear that but okay. Keep me posted!!

REDMITO February 7, 2022 - 4:19 am

Hi Stu,
At the end, I got the HIFIMAN Edition XS . I preferred it over the ananda because the bass has more ‘thump’ into it and it still has most of the things I like about the ananda. Anyways I got a very nice deal that includes the Edition XS and the Topping NX7 for Rp.8.500.000 (Indonesia’s currency) which is $590 which I think it’s a steal. I think it was worth it on waiting for a bit because I love the Edition XS and the NX7 and I don’t think I’m going to buy anymore headphones for a while .

Stuart Charles Black February 7, 2022 - 2:56 pm

Wow, great buy! Keep me posted on your impressions for sure. 🙂 I’d like to try an XS soon.

REDMITO February 8, 2022 - 2:39 am

I had my first listening session yesterday and wow, what an experience. The soundstage was so wide and the instruments sounds very realistic. One of the songs I listened to was ‘Hotel California’ from ‘Hell Freezes Over’ album and it was amazing. Again the soundstage was wide and deep. I can isolate and focus on the individual instruments playing. Another thing that surprised me was the sub-bass. I listened to some songs and I just noticed the sub-bass that was present in the song which was really surprising in a good way. I love the sound signature of this and the level of detail and resolution doesn’t disappoint. I haven’t used it for 150 hours which is the recommended time to ‘burn-in’ so I’m looking forward on how it will change as I listen to it more.

Stuart Charles Black February 11, 2022 - 3:33 pm

Hey man great to hear! I wouldn’t get too caught up about burn-in though or worry much about it. Here’s why: https://youtu.be/5h4E1AtoR_A Do keep me posted on your sound impressions though. The 400se is a fantastic headphone!

REDMITO March 9, 2022 - 9:11 am

Hey Stu,
It’s been a while and I had listened to the Edition XS a lot now. There’s nothing left to say other than that I still love this thing. It could be placebo talking but I think the bass sounds better and the treble has become smoother compared to the first time I listened to it. I’ve been thinking about getting an aftermarket cable though, I think I would like it more if it sounded warmer. I would like to hear your opinion on getting the aftermarket cable. In your experience, does 8 braided cables sound better than 4 braid cable. If so, how big is the difference? Hope to hear from you soon!

Stuart Charles Black March 14, 2022 - 4:23 pm

Hey man!

Glad you’re enjoying 🙂

No, cables in my opinion don’t make a difference at all so I’d steer clear of pouring money into something like that.

REDMITO March 16, 2022 - 12:55 am

Okay, thank you for all your help! I really appreciate it man.

Stuart Charles Black March 16, 2022 - 3:24 pm

My pleasure!! 🙂

Oscar Villanueva February 1, 2022 - 7:54 pm

Hi Stu. Been keeping an eye on your videos and articles. First of all thank you for all your dedication and research. It’s been very helpful.
About the AKG K702 compared to the Hifiman 400SE, which one do you think may fit better with my music preference SQ wise, which is mainly film (instrumental) soundtracks, from a more classic filmscore sound like John Williams to a more modern style like Hans Zimmer. I personaly like clarity, natural/organic sound and imaging.

Thank you so much in Advance

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Stuart Charles Black February 2, 2022 - 6:43 pm

Hey man!

Thank you, and you’re welcome!!!

Yeah, it’s close there. The K702 will give you a wider Soundstage and immersion into the environment – sort of mimicking the effect of surround sound which is really cool. The 400se’s Soundstage isn’t as wide but still has some out-of-your-head moments. Overall, the 400se is going to sound a bit more realistic with slightly better instrument timbre, decay, etc. 400se’s clarity is a bit better as well. As far as a more natural/organic sound, gonna have to go with 400se there as well. It’s close, but the 400se is the best mid-fi headphone out: https://homestudiobasics.com/the-5-best-audiophile-headphones-for-under-500/

I will say I use the K702 for film duties but part of that might be because I don’t have a long cable for the 400se yet.

Keep me posted with further questions!

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Oscar Villanueva February 2, 2022 - 8:27 pm

Thank you Stu. The thing is I acquired recently the K702 which I love, but was tempted to sell it and get the 400SE, but I guess I’m gonna keep it and may be sell my Senns HD598 and get the 400SE. From your insight I guess the 400SE surpass the HD598 considerably, right?

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Stuart Charles Black February 4, 2022 - 6:45 pm

My pleasure man! Yeah, I think that’s a good decision. Sell HD598 and keep 400se and K702. 400se is light years superior to the 598. Listen to both 702 and 400se for a while and decide if you want to keep them or sell one. Keep me posted!!

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Julio February 4, 2022 - 10:58 pm

Hey Stu. I was going to buy a second-hand 2020 Sundara for about $200 but then saw your review of this 400se. How was the 400se on the zen dac v2? Is there a difference if I play it on balanced vs unbalanced? Second-hand $200+ 2020 Sundaras are rather frequent from where I am that from outright value, I would have thought they’re the better value. From reading your article, however, you liked the 400se more than the Sundara anyway. How is the 400se holding up for you? I’m also contemplating on the dragonfly red vs other options like the hidizs s9 pro and the fiio models you regarded as good portable value.

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Stuart Charles Black February 7, 2022 - 2:54 pm

Hey man!

The 400se sounds great out of Zen. I’m at around 2 on the volume pot with power match.

Balanced vs. unbalanced I can’t comment on with the 4.4mm jack as I only have XLR balanced here, but as for general impressions there’s a slight difference but nowhere near as big as people make it out to be. Honestly, it’s mostly a volume difference as generally speaking, you’re getting more juice balanced.

400se is holding up well! I’m listening now and out of all the headphones I have, I use this one the most and it’s not close.

As for your dilemma on the Sundara, that’s a tough call but I’d still lean towards the 400se unless for some reason you really want a warmer, more syrupy sound. The Sundara is great but can be a bit dull at times and the treble can sometimes lack sparkle. I think the 400se solves the issue of older models being too hissy but without coming across as too laid back. There’s sparkle there but it never feels over the top.

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Julio April 8, 2022 - 1:14 pm

Hi Stu! Thank you for your insight. I finally settled on a used HE400se from a trusted friend with an open grill mod, larger pads, and I tried a balanced cable on the zen dac for slightly more volume for $80 total. This is the Chinese version mind you, but I also tested the international “stealth” version and barely saw any difference for about $40 more. For a price comparison, I also recently got a Koss KPH40 with the USB C DAC ($60) and other than their outright difference in open ear and on-ear, getting the 400se at $80 feels absolutely nuts! (Though to be fair the KPH40 is also crazy good and I thought it beat the SHP9500 in a vacuum unless the SHP9500 had AutoEQ and Bass boost)
There was also someone that offered me a used Ananda for $390, which I’m assuming is a massive steal? In any case, I still tried the Ananda, and I don’t really feel left out especially considering the $300+ difference versus the HE400SE.
All in all, I am deeply satisfied to the point that I’m considering calling the hobby off for a good few years

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Stuart Charles Black April 9, 2022 - 10:14 pm

Hey Julio!

My pleasure and what a steal. So glad you’re enjoying them!

Had no idea there was a KPH40. Gonna have to try that one!

Love the 9500 but do feel as though the 30i outclasses it a smidgen!

Yes, the Ananda at that price is more than a steal, it’s armed robbery. xD I’m glad you’re satisfied and calling off the hobby, but get back to me in a couple of months’ time so we can see where you stand LOL.

Reach out anytime my friend and keep me posted.

-Stu

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Julio February 5, 2022 - 8:38 am

Hey Stu. I was going to get a used Sundara for $200 until I saw your review on the 400se. From an outright value perspective, the second-hand Sundara seems to be the better buy than a brand new $150 HE400se. Though from looking at your review, it seems like the 400se is better than the Sundara when it comes to the important bit (the sound). How does the 400se hold up? Will it make a difference if I get a balanced cable and plug it with the zen dac v2? Thanks for being real

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Stuart Charles Black February 7, 2022 - 2:54 pm

Hey man! Thank you. Replied to your other one 🙂

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JLuis February 10, 2022 - 6:14 pm

Hello Stuart, first: thanks a lot for your very good work. Let me introduce a brief history of how I reached this site. I was looking for a closed pair and, after reading some reviews, went for the Meze 99 Neo. Well, I received it and directly I plugged it to my Hip Dac 2. First song surprised me (“Wow, what a punchy bass..”), second song…, third song and I said “but what on earth has I bought??” I thought my pair perhaps was wrong, because the bass was completely inflated.. and came again to the network to read again the reviews, but almost nobody mentioned that “horrible” bass. Then, in the 4th “o” of Goooogle I found your site (why good things are so far way??), read you review about the 99Neo and said “ok, so I am not so crazy…”. I agreed with you point by point about those cans, very nice but not very well tuned. Well, in just some days you’ve helped me to change my perception of the Hi-fi headphones. I was thinking also about the Sundara, but of course I have gone for the HE400SE, that I am listening to right now. What a wonderful sound, no matter what kind of music, everything goes fine. So, again, thank you for your honest, accurate (and funny) articles. If suggestions are allowed, please consider have a look at the Hifiman Edition XS. I would prefer the Utopia, but I’m sure nobody is gonna pay 4000$ for my left kidney 😉 so I will wait for XS. Thanks!!

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Stuart Charles Black February 11, 2022 - 3:44 pm

Hey man! Haha! Strange, I checked and I’m on the first page lol. Must have jumped up or something. Weird. Yes, they are terribly tuned. 10dB bass shelf from 20Hz to like 200 is just inexcusable. And to think, people actually trash the 50x when that shelf is like maybe 5dB. This is partly why I can’t stand the audiophile community. Lots of parroting and bs. The Neo is pretty awful. If you like bloated crappy bass, more power to you, but the problem is that most of these sites recommend everything that comes along and try to justify bad sound. I think if people want that type of sound (mid-bass emphasis) but with a headphone that doesn’t laughably boost everything and sacrifice the mid-range, the Caspian is what they’re after.

And thank you! I’d like to try an XS very soon 🙂 The 400se is definitely the best mid-fi has to offer in my opinion. Check this article for some extra justification on your great purchase: https://homestudiobasics.com/the-5-best-audiophile-headphones-for-under-500/

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Kira February 12, 2022 - 11:40 am

Hello Stuart. I’ve been on a deep-dive into headphones and audio for the first time after having not previously given the subject much thought beyond ‘this sounds decent’, and your resources and comparisons have been invaluable!
At first I leaned towards DT990s and an iFi Zen v2, but talk of sibilance on those made me rethink, as I am somewhat sensitive to that. I’d mostly decided upon HD600s paired with a Topping DX3Pro+, but am rethinking again after looking through your reviews, so am curious what you would advise. My current reference point is a pair of SteelSeries Arctis Pros.
I would classify myself as more of a casual listener rather than a reference one; my use would be an eclectic assortment of music (in varying quality), gaming (Final Fantasy XIV, so MMO/RPG, not FPS or MOBA), and general use (YouTube, voice chat, etc).
It seems that perhaps HD600s would not be the best match with my usage, and may accentuate the imperfect quality in things, so now I am leaning towards HD650s or these HE400SEs, maybe with the DT990s an option as well. (Worth noting, I am from Europe, so HD6XXs aren’t really an option as they’d end up being more expensive than HD650s by the time they’re imported several weeks later.)
What would you suggest between those three, and do you have any thoughts on the DX3Pro+ to drive them? From what I can see, it seems to be similar to the K5 Pro but a little more powerful and with a few more features at a similar price, and the remote is handy.
Thank you!

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Stuart Charles Black February 14, 2022 - 3:48 pm

Hey Kira!

Great questions. I think the 400se is what you’re going to want to go with. My previous top recommendation was indeed the 600/6XX but I think the 400se is a better value, provides a superior sound profile, and works well with everything (and all the stuff you mention). The treble also has sparkle and detail without getting sibilant like the 990, and the overall signature is very neutral but still enjoyable. If you’ve never heard a headphone like this, you’re going to be blown away plain and simple.

I haven’t heard the DX3Pro+ but I did a quick search and see here that it has the ESS 9038 chip and less than 0.1 impedance which basically means it’s going to be super sterile/clean sounding. The K5 Pro by contrast uses the AKM chip so it will be a tad warmer and smoothed over but still detailed. The differences will likely be somewhat noticeable so it really depends on which type of sound you think you’ll prefer. I may go with the K5 Pro paired with a 400se as something really sterile (DX3) may make the treble presentation come across as a tad hot.

Bear in mind these differences are still rather subtle but let me know what you think! My rec would be 400se + K5 Pro. Also, remember that the K5 Pro I’m referring to is not the new one but the one with the AKM chip. The new one has the ESS 9038 chip so it’s almost a toss-up I suppose. I think it’s interesting that they both carry the ESS chip but I can’t say one way or another if the newer K5 Pro is worth $50 more as I haven’t compared them yet (hopefully soon!) Per my experience, I’d probably tell you no, but it’s looking like you’ll still have to pay around $200 now regardless of if you purchase the new or old. The original was around $150.

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Kira February 15, 2022 - 10:40 am

Hello Stuart! Thanks for the reply, very helpful information!
It does bring me a new question, however: HE400SE, or Deva Pro? From what I understand, the Deva Pro has similar upgrades to the 400SE, and reviews seem to suggest it sounds at least as good as the 400SE.
The Deva Pro does come with its Bluemini R2R, which can act as a USB DAC/Amp, but I presume that it would still benefit from a dedicated unit?
For the DAC/Amp, my interest in the DX3 Pro+ was in large part due to its ability to switch between outputs via its remote control – I do alternate between speakers and headphones, and it’d certainly be convenient not to have to plug and unplug the headphone cable whenever I wanted to switch. As far as I can see, the K5 Pro doesn’t allow output switching, nor do any of the alternatives at this price point, such as the iFi Zen. Would you say the difference in sound between the K5 and the ESS DX3 would be noticeable enough to push it ahead despite that?
Price isn’t really an issue for me with any of the gear mentioned here – it’s all within budget and seems to represent good value to me, so it’s a matter of performance and suitability.
Thank you again for your expertise!

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Stuart Charles Black February 21, 2022 - 3:54 pm

You’re welcome!

I haven’t heard the DEVA Pro but hoping to get it here soon for demo/comparison.

From graphs, it looks a bit different than the DEVA in some respects but still has a very similar sound signature overall.

The Bluemini does come in handy but since I always have DACS here (ugh lol) I don’t use it as much as someone else who doesn’t review stuff would.

I must admit I do love the remote that Topping includes with much of their gear. It was a big reason why I liked the E30/L30 combo so much as I didn’t have to ever leave my couch. xD If convenience is what you’re after, go for it!

On sound differences, I can’t say as I don’t have a K5 ESS here but that one should be coming soon as well for comparison to the original with the AKM chip. As for the DX3 ESS vs. K5 Pro AKM, I also can’t really say one way or another (since I haven’t heard the DX3) but I’d imagine the differences are probably pretty marginal though you’d probably still notice it (as the ESS chip is very clean and crisp).

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JLuis February 18, 2022 - 8:19 pm

Hello Stuart, I’ve got the HE400SE for a time and I wanted to share with you my impressions. At the very beginning I was very happy with the purchase but a little bit disappointed because I thought I wasn’t getting the whole performance of the cans. I think they are a bit difficult to move because of the low sensibility and my Hip Dac 2 couldn’t do easily. I was necessary to carry the volume knob almost to the top. Then I started to use the “Powermatch” button that the Hip has, and the sound was louder, but I think there was a sound quality decrease, with bit a noise. So, I decided to look for a balanced cable to be able to use the balanced output of the Hip that gives almost double of power than the unbalanced one. And then I got it, the headphone opened itself completely, with a crystalline sound but fleshy as the same time, great instrument separation with a lot of space, very good sound stage; it’s a pleasure. I have compared with my old Grado SR80 (one of the oldest, without letter), that I love because of how detailed they are, and the 400SE is far better in all the aspects, even much more detailed, less bass but more detailed and controlled. I am really impressed. The only thing I can say, man, is thanks a lot for your recommendation! I think Hifiman is actually changing a little bit the paradigm of the “audio-file” headphones world, because 170€ (in Europe) for this sound quality I guess is not very usual. Anyway, since I am also a little bit consumerist, I think I will want to upgrade in the mid-term. Do you think the Ananda would be a good upgrade. What could it add to the 400SE? Thanks a lot and will continue reading you.

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Stuart Charles Black February 21, 2022 - 4:36 pm

Wow, that’s awesome man! Great to hear you’re loving them and you’re welcome for the rec. I think the 400se is definitely the best mid-fi has to offer and I think it’s pretty bold of HIFIMAN to challenge the market by making a planar this affordable. It really is/could end up being as disruptive as the 6XX was – perhaps even more so considering the sound of these is certainly better than the majority of cans out there.

As for your question, yes. The Ananda is my step-up recommendation from mid-fi and will net you a better sound. I also think it sits at a great price point of around $600. Initially, it was around $1000 and I still thought it was worth it but bordering on expensive, but $600 is definitely the sweet spot and I have no reservations in pointing people to it.

Sound-wise it’s clearer, crisper, and a bit more open sounding while providing more micro detail. Definitely check the article for specifics and keep me posted with questions!

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George Vichev February 21, 2022 - 9:30 pm

Hey man, I recently started checking out headphones again as I needed some new fun cans. I checked several of your reviews and not only I quite like the way you write, but also you’ve nailed my experience with some of the cans I’ve used so far. I decided to share a bit of my experience and ask you to share you thoughts. Back in 2012 I bought 2 pairs of the He-400, and while I liked the overall different sound presentation, I didn’t really fall into the highs, they were fatiguing at times, if not most of the time. Another thing was the build quality I had to send one of the pairs to Hifiman, but they were very kind and quickly sent me back a replacement pair. For anyone interested the issue I posted a video back then: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssB6r-V9v_U
Long story short, after some cans (I kept 1 He-400 for about 5 years) I ultimately decided to part ways with my He-400 and leave my favorite and obscenely green Q701 as my main headphones. And then… I got 2 children and forgot about that hobby, but that’s for another time… So, to the point, I am looking for a fun headphone and I somehow miss the planar presentation of the He-400. Still, I love the AKGs, but they are a bit sterile at times, and I need a bit of rumble listening to music (not essential when I get back to Fallout :D). I was initially interested in the Sundara, but after checking out your review of the 400se – I am intrigued. I see you’ve had experience with the K702 and would very much appreciate if you give me some advice on how to proceed. In Bulgaria the retail price of the 400SE is 299lv. = 173 USD and the Sundara is 699 lv. = 405 USD. I listen mainly to (apart from loud children) rock & metal, I’m not a basshead and I like a clean presentation. I checked some of the comments here and they do answer some of my questions, still just to say hello and to hear your opinion. Thanks for your effort!

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Stuart Charles Black February 23, 2022 - 3:42 pm

Hey man!

First off, that’s so cool you’ve heard the original. The oldest one I’ve listened to is the original 400i before they started outsourcing materials.

Secondly, which Fallout do you play? I actually just got the platinum trophy on Fallout 4. It was a good run and kind of sad in a way. I’ve been playing the game for 7 years and at the end of 2021 decided to get the trophy. I suppose I won’t play it much anymore as there’s nothing really left to do, but I’ll always have those great memories.

As for your question, I def understand your concern about the 702 as it can sound that way at times (a bit sterile and lacking slam) but man I love the headphone so much and use it daily for gaming.

I’d definitely discard the Sundara at that price and go for the 400se. The Sundara is most certainly overpriced now and while it used to be #2 in my top 5 under $500, the 400se is a much better value. It’s perfect for all genres and has a very clean presentation. I’d call it bright-neutral and I love that HIFIMAN improved on the treble issue. It’s no longer overly hot/sibilant/essy. Fantastic bass response as well and not too much. Honestly, it’s just about the perfect all-around headphone and my go-to for mid-fi.

Hope to talk some Fallout soon and get your opinions on which game you like best. I also just recently fixed my PS3 so I can play NV and FO3 again 🙂

Talk soon,

-Stu

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George Vichev February 23, 2022 - 5:47 pm

Haha, thanks man. I haven’t pushed Fallout in about a year, yes I played Fallout 4 and all the DLCs and I’m currently at level 91 (just started the game to check that out). I’ve been playing the game on and off for 7 years like you and had great fun with it! I am hoping for a new iteration of the game soon, should be magnificent with the new hardware available… I am currently playing Cyberpunk 2077, but yet again I do not have much time to enjoy it peacefully. Might just go for the He-400se, thanks for the info. Will keep you posted!

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Stuart Charles Black February 23, 2022 - 7:00 pm

Same here! I’m really itching for a proper follow-up but I fear Bethesda may ruin the series if they haven’t already. While I liked Fallout 4 and felt it was an above-average game, there were a lot of issues with it and if we’re being honest, it wasn’t really an RPG. I suppose one could argue “Well you played it for 7 years you must have liked it.” Yes, but there was something truly life-changing about New Vegas and Fallout 3 that I can’t put into words. In those games, you felt like your choices mattered and there was incredible dialogue to boot. Fallout 4’s story was actually way better than I expected, but I miss feeling truly immersed in the worlds that the others provided.

And you’re welcome 🙂 I may have to check out Cyberpunk!

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George Vichev February 23, 2022 - 8:25 pm

Well, Cyberpunk is nice (Keanu Reeves makes the day), but no where near Fallout to be honest, Fallout 3 was massive, but I played it over 10 years ago (will never forget Megaton and its own nuke). I still love gaming, but I do not need headphones for gaming, I need them to enjoy music (RIP Mark Lanegan). Greetings from 5 thousand miles away!

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Stuart Charles Black February 24, 2022 - 5:08 pm

Yeah man I loved the music in 3 and NV. So nostalgic. Don’t tell anyone, but I spent my entire Spring Break 2008 on the couch playing Fallout 3. I pretty much didn’t move except to pee and get food xD Keep me posted on everything!

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George Vichev March 2, 2022 - 8:43 pm

Nice, and I played F3 at my first job… it was great… So, I just got the 400se today. Will share my opinion when I get the chance to listen to them properly (may be in a week).

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Stuart Charles Black March 7, 2022 - 9:23 pm

Nice! Definitely keep me posted man.

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George Vichev March 12, 2022 - 3:32 pm

I’ve listened to the HE-400 for some time now and I’ll try to summarize my
thoughts. I like the build quality (the new black cable is also good), compared to the AKG Q701 it feels a sturdier headphone. Compared to the original He-400 I feel that the build quality is on par, the 400se is substantially lighter and comfort wise is better, it also surpasses the Q701 by a bit here – I hate those headband bumps… Regarding the sound – I’ve forgotten how much these planars leak, much more than the Q701. The Q701 soundstage is way bigger, but I do not find this disappointing in the HE-400se which compensates (for me) with great instrument separation. The most obvious difference between these and the originals are the highs – the original was sibilant and shouty at times, here the highs are presented more smoothly. Compared to the Q701, 400se lacks reach and details there, but the highs on Q can be too much at times.
Lows – seems like the right amount – more punchy than the Q701 and sounding great on bass heavy songs.
The area where I am a bit let down is the midrange and the dip there which makes vocals on some songs too far back and/or sounding a bit strange, I love vocals, so this is my only gripe. Overall I find the HE-400se to be a musical and fun headphone, which can also be listened casually (with an amp for sure), at a very attractive price (both the original HE-400 and the Q701 were double the price headphones) and I intend to keep it. At least for a while. What will be your personal recommendation for a definite step up in all departments – without spending ridiculous amount of cash of course. =))

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Stuart Charles Black March 14, 2022 - 5:54 pm

George,

Great impressions! Glad someone else is pointing out HIFIMAN improving the treble tremendously. Agree wholeheartedly with all points you’ve made with regard to build, etc. What you mention about Soundstage is why I can’t use them for competitive gaming. Just a bit too closed in for that. And yeah the 400se can sound a tad distant at times in mids but it’s a small nitpick for me. Glad you intend on keeping them!

A step-up is definitely the Ananda!

Keep me posted with any questions 🙂

-Stu

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Lilo March 11, 2022 - 11:45 pm

Nice review, I am just waiting to arrive my Koss KHP30i and now I think to buy the He400SE and I have two questions.
In Aliexpress they have the normal version and Stealth version, they sound really different?

Other question, I never used DAC before, I bought the Fosi Q4 Mini, it will be enough to enjoy the HifiMan HE400SE?

Thanks, I enjoy your channel and all your reviews! From Brazil!

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Stuart Charles Black March 14, 2022 - 4:29 pm

Hey Lilo!

Agh. Unfortunately, I haven’t tested them side by side but I’d probably just go with the stealth as I don’t think there is much of a price difference? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Haven’t heard the Q4, do you know what its power output is?

Thank you for the kind words, my friend! Hope to chat soon.

-Stu

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Mac March 27, 2022 - 4:01 am

Hey Stuart, thanks very much for your review and website in general. I’m learning a lot! 😁 I was just wondering, apologies if you already answered this and I missed it, how is the bleed on the 400 SE? Like ,If I’m wearing them while I’m sat next to someone are they going to get irritated? I’m using 40x’s at the moment but feel like I need an upgrade but I use them everywhere and ideally would like to do the same with the 400 SE’s.
Thanks from New Zealand!

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Stuart Charles Black March 27, 2022 - 4:11 pm

Hey Mac!

Thank you for the love and support!

Yes, that’s a great nugget to add into the article. Thank you!

They’re definitely going to leak sound a bit and whoever is close by will be able to hear lol. In fact, sometimes I leave music running on them and can hear what’s playing in the other room xD

What types of music do you listen to? If you think that bleed will be too much, perhaps I can point you in the direction of a great closed back alternative and something better than the 40x.

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Mac March 30, 2022 - 12:36 am

G’day Stuart! Your very welcome!

Yes, I would love help, thank you. 🙂
I, like yourself, am pretty eclectic, Jazz, Classical, Opera, Blue Grass, Alternative, Rock, Folk, Electronic, etc, etc.
I listen to my music via flac on computer and phone.

Yes, totally open to another headphone set, I hope it captures the magic that you relay above if at all possible.

Many thanks! 🙂

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Mac March 31, 2022 - 4:52 am

I’ve filled out the form for headphones to make life a bit easier. Lol!

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Stuart Charles Black March 31, 2022 - 3:41 pm

Got it, man! Gonna reply to your comment as well 🙂

Stuart Charles Black March 31, 2022 - 8:43 pm

Hey man! You’re quite welcome 🙂

Per your email, the closest thing that fits your description of “Balanced/Flat (Rolled off bass, flat mid-range, darker treble)” in that price range is the KPH30i and Creative Aurvana Live.

The 30i is semi-open but shouldn’t leak sound nearly as bad as a true open back.

Let me know what you think!

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Mac April 1, 2022 - 2:29 am

Nice one mate! Thanks very much for your help. I’ve responded to your email. 😁

Stuart Charles Black April 1, 2022 - 2:05 pm

You’re welcome, Mac! Keep me posted 🙂

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