Originally published 9/15/21.
- 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…
At A Glance
In the Box
HIFIMAN HE400se Headphones
3.5mm detachable cable
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
The 400se basically mimics the exact design of the DEVA, but this time it’s black and silver/gray like the original 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.
^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.
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.
- Amps/DACS used: Burson Playmate 2, FiiO BTR3K, AudioQuest DragonFly Red, iFi Go Blu, iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM (yes, iFi made a stack for HIFIMAN headphones).
- Playlist: Here! Keep in mind this is the iFi Zen CAN Signature Stack playlist but the majority of songs used were with the 400se for obvious reasons.
- Albums: Toward the bottom!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!!
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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,