Many of my regular readers know my love/hate relationship with HIFIMAN. My first light-bulb moment in audio came when I was listening to the HE400i out of a Bryston BHA-1 playing back a lossless file of Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.”
It’s a moment that’s been seared into my memory banks. Though it feels like only yesterday, I will remember it vividly for the rest of my life.
The song starts out with just an acoustic guitar, then some vocals, and then the bass line and drums come in. I’m really familiar with the drop and exactly how it sounds, so when the 400i completely shattered my expectations and rendered it in a way I had never experienced before, I was hooked to say the least.
Everything sounded so natural, but so foreign, like I had never actually heard it before. Plant’s voice, Page’s guitars, Jones’ Bass, and Bonham’s drums to me sounded like what perfection would sound like if perfection was attainable. The resolution and cohesion of everything was so crystal clear that I was squirming around in my seat anticipating the impeding jam out. When it finally happened, I remember thinking to myself:
“So this is what it was truly supposed to sound like all this time.”
Put simply, a planar outperforms a dynamic headphone pretty much across the board, from micro detail and resolution, to instrument timbre and so on. There’s a natural, buttery smooth quality about a planar that’s simply unmatched, and that’s in large part what made that first experience with the 400i so memorable.
There’s a lot of snake oil in this hobby, from the over emphasis placed on amps and dacs, to the ridiculously priced cables that don’t do jack sh**, to the obsession with obtaining more and more gear, and everything in between. One thing that’s not a scam is the transition from a dynamic headphone to a planar. That’s pretty much as close to being objective in audio as it gets, and few people would argue with you on it.
For those looking into a first foray into the world of planars, I would almost always point them in the direction of something like a 400S, 400i, Sundara, or 4XX. That is, until the DEVA came along.
Let’s get into what sets it apart from the rest of those products, and why I believe it’s a better investment. By the end of this article, you should have a clear idea of what makes it so special.
We’ll start with build!
Many of you know about HIFIMAN’s build issues over the last few years. The older production run of the original HE400i was flawless. I had demoed the headphone on countless occasions, and there were never any problems with it.
A year or so later, I started reading that people were having problems with the headband yokes, and I was puzzled as to why. I had never had any issues with the model I demoed, so I started digging. What I found out was that HIFIMAN began outsourcing cheaper materials and it made sense; the newer batches were poorly built and thus they broke down over a shorter period of time.
Recently I went over to Audio Advice again because I needed the 400i and Sundara to do the big shootout on my YouTube channel between the 4 headphones: The 400S, 400i, Sundara, and 4XX. To my complete shock and bewilderment, I was told by Isaac that they stopped carrying HIFIMAN products due to poor quality control in many of their products.
Though saddened, I didn’t blame them. I personally got really tired of having to explain all of these issues constantly to people who were interested in their products.
To put it bluntly, it became exhausting and frustrating. Why can’t HIFIMAN just FIX IT? They make incredible sounding headphones, but their seemingly nonchalant, I don’t care attitude about the durability of the 400 series in particular was kind of starting to sour me on even recommending anything from them.
From the shoddy cable connections, to the fraying of the wire, to the poor design of the backs of the ear-cups, to the headband issues, it was starting to really grate my nerves.
Fortunately for us, the DEVA improves upon most of those issues, and is in fact a giant leap forward for HIFIMAN (fingers crossed).
The build of the DEVA is similar to a 400 series headphone in weight and overall design aesthetic. It’s not heavy or light, but just right like Goldilocks’ porridge.
One thing noticeably different this time around is the adjustment blocks for the headband, a point of contention in older models to be sure.
They are a bit fatter, and thicker than their 400 series counterparts, but they also seem more durable and sure of themselves. DUMMY THICC. I find I can get a very accurate adjustment, and moving them up and down feels good.
There’s a faint click heard, and there are dots to help you achieve balance on either side, in addition to the very Remington looking “R” and “L” font on the inside of each adjustment.
Unlike the original 400S and 400i, the cups don’t fully rotate. They move similar to the Sundara and 4XX; just enough to ensure a good fit on your melon (The Sundara’s don’t move much at all IIRC). The DEVA’s rotate down about 45 degrees as well, which also helps with fit.
While I enjoyed the full rotation of the originals, it’s not really something I personally care about. Your mileage may vary!
Already we have an improvement in build – BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Massdrop’s version of the 400i, the HE-4XX, rectified most of the build issues except for the attachment of the bale to the ear cup, as well as the headband mechanism itself not sliding properly (either it’s impossible to move, or it slides too freely).
As far as the bale to the cup, many people have reported the two simply falling apart or coming loose, which is likely the result of trying to drill a screw into plastic (just a wild guess).
This time around, the methodology is the same, but the materials used in the DEVA seem more consistent with each other. The connection between the headphone bale and the ear cup looks and feels a lot more robust and deliberate. The slotted screw design seems less prone to damage because it was likely done by hand rather than with a machine. Take that with a grain of salt, but it seems less likely to break down regardless.
//IMAGE COMING SOON!//
The bale itself is similar in design to the Sundara, as it’s a uniform piece and feels a lot more streamlined than the older 400S and 400i.
The other improvement HIFIMAN made was finally fixing the cable connection. No longer is it cutting out intermittently on the right or left side, and in fact now there’s only one connection (on the left).
This is likely the reason why Audio Advice stopped carrying their products. Isaac told me that they were getting way too many complaints from their customers regarding the 400 series, as well as the Ananda, and I’m sure the cable connection was in large part a main culprit since I too had the same problems when I demoed the Ananda in particular.
As far as the ear cups and headband? They also feel great to the touch here.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about comfort!
In my DEVA Unbox & First Impressions Video, a couple people commented on the thickness of the headband and how they didn’t like the looks of it. They’re not wrong, this thing is DUMMY THICC (I’m sorry I can never help myself).
While that may turn some people off, I find it strangely appealing as I prefer some cushion for the pushin’.
Make your headphone as thick as you want. As long as it’s comfortable, I’m happy. The thicker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Wait that’s not the saying..
Fortunately for us, the DEVA is incredibly comfortable. Like on par with an HD600 comfortable. YEAH THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT!
The clamp force isn’t as tight as a 600, which will elicit a sigh of relief from many folks. I personally enjoy the clamp of the Senny’s, as it feels like receiving a warm hug, but it’s definitely not for everyone even after they have opened up.
The DEVA isn’t like putting air on your head, but it rests so perfectly that I literally forget I have it on sometimes, similar to the feeling I get with an HD600 or a Beyerdynamic.
Like the HD600, it stays on comfortably long after the music has stopped, and I hardly notice it at all. I can’t say that about many other headphones. I’m currently wearing them right now without any music playing, if that’s any indication of how good they feel on my noggin’.
The headband padding is equally as comfy, as I haven’t once felt it dig into my skull even after demoing almost 24 hours worth of music on Spotify.
The ear cup padding is soft and plush, but there’s no velour this time around which I would have liked to see. There’s still a memory foam inside, and the outside of the cups is a protein leather, but the tops resemble and feel like a type of rougher, breathable fabric.
Fortunately this doesn’t negatively affect the way they feel on my head, so no harm no foul. They’re still ultra soft and plush, and I enjoy squeezing them.
What makes the DEVA supremely comfortable can also be attributed to the deepness and circumference of the cups, which allows your ears to breathe, also providing plenty of room inside.
The only small nitpick I have is that sometimes the headphones move around a tad much for my liking, which can have an interesting effect on sound.
Where the headphones sit on your head can have a somewhat profound effect on how they sound. You’ll notice that sometimes they tend to slide backwards, which kind of muffles the signature ever so slightly. A quick nudge back forward rectifies this and they again become more open sounding. This is likely due to HIFIMAN’s famed angled drivers, which sound much better the further forward the headphone rests on your dome piece.
Overall, the sound follows the same general trajectory as it’s predecessors:
It’s very open and crisp, with plenty of micro detail, clarity, resolution, timbre, and DYNAMISM. Just kidding I hate that word. What is Timbre?
There is a buttery smooth quality about the DEVA that echoes past headphones in the line, and there’s very little to complain about overall. Let’s talk about bass first.
The bass doesn’t thump like an Ananda or anything, but it still has very nice articulation and slams when called upon. So it does thump like an Ananda. Sorta. LOL.
I haven’t looked at any graphs, but if I had to guess I’d say it rolls off a tad bit more than the Ananda, and less so than say, a Samson SR850 or AKG K240. So mostly a flat line, with a small roll off. That is my edu-ma-cated guess.
I find it to be pretty much the perfect balance of weight, texture, articulation, and modesty. I haven’t once felt like it overpowered any of the other frequencies, and that’s certainly all you could ever ask for. It’s humble but powerful like Evander Holyfield! Good you like!
I find the mid-range clarity exceptional, from vocals standing out just right, to the instruments sounding lively and clear.
Whereas an HD600’s mid-range around 1-3kHz sometimes becomes too shouty and in your face, I find the DEVA to sound correct in it’s portrayal of music for the most part.
Out of the box, the treble is going to be a bit hot and sizzly, similar to the 4XX’s treble. It’s a little too metallic sounding and essy, but does tend to mellow out over time. “Hey MELLOW OUT MAN!!”
This simply could have been what happened, as psychologically I became accustomed to the bright treble. That said, I decided to increase it by 3dB. So now instead of being down -5B, it’s only down -2B. I find this to be a good compromise and have had it set on this for many hours of music listening.
I suppose I prefer the Audeze house sound, which places a bit of emphasis on 1-2kHz, and then rolling off soon after into the treble. This is essentially how I set up the headphone to sound inside of the app:
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I also gave the sub bass around 31Hz a 2dB bump which helps with slam. It’s important to note that the DEVA sounds phenomenal without much EQ, but you will need to lower 8-10kHz down a bit, as it’s still fairly hot (without EQ) after around 24+ hours of music and over 250 songs.
There’s really no getting around that in my opinion ,as even after I turn the EQ off, I’m still hearing that metallic, essy character up top.
Imaging & Soundstage
I’ve always felt like a HIFIMAN sits right in the middle of something like an HD600 and K702. It’s not a narrow image by any means, but doesn’t quite have the width or depth of an AKG.
That said, I found myself frequently experiencing that “out of my head” sensation with certain types of music, to the point of pausing the track and looking around quite a bit more than I was expecting.
Instrument separation is also fantastic, as you can pretty easily pin point where sounds are coming from without much effort. This also makes a great gaming headphone, with excellent directional cues and a clear, neutral, open soundscape.
Not only that, but it doubles as a Bluetooth headphone AND an audiophile headphone. You can listen wireless with your phone, or use the supplied 3.5mm balanced cable with an Amp/DAC.
But wait, there’s even more!
The Bluemini Bluetooth Adapter also doubles as a headphone Amp/DAC.
“Yo dog we heard you liek amp dacs so instead of you having to purchase one separately, we included it IN the package at no extra cost to you. Just pay shipping and handling.” XD
Seriously though; that’s a really great feature because a lot of people may not want to purchase a DAC/Amp right away and so it becomes super convenient to use with your laptop without having to spend any extra money up front. More on that in a bit!
Genre wise? I listened to it all, from Hip-Hop, to Jazz, Classical, Indie/Synth Pop, EDM, Ambient, Acoustic, Classic Rock, Metal, Big Band, Soul, and even some Motown!
The DEVA is most certainly a jack of all trades type of headphone, and works really well with all of these genres. I still think Classical is one of the hardest genres to replicate effectively (even more so than Jazz), but the DEVA does pretty well, all things considered. It’s just not very forgiving, tends to get fairly piercing when a quiet passage heats up, and you might yourself reaching for the volume knob to turn it down.
That said, I enjoyed the headphone with pretty much everything I listened to (including Classical), so I wouldn’t worry too much about whether or not it will sound good with your preferred type of music.
Let’s take a break and watch a video..
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Photo Gallery (Coming Soon!)
What about amplification? Will you need some extra power to get these cranking?
The DEVA behaves similarly to the 400 series in that it has a pretty low impedance but also a low Sensitivity. In short, it doesn’t resist power much but isn’t very efficient at 93.5 dB.
With that said, it’s not that hard to drive but won’t get loud enough out of something like a SoundBlaster G3.
The SoundBlaster G3 – Sterile and Neutral sound, but outclassed by the G6. Not enough power for DEVA either.
iFi hip-dac – A warm, laid back sound that pairs well with a DEVA. Tidal/MQA compatible.
AudioQuest DragonFly Red – A bit more open and airy sounding, very crisp. Like opening your window and letting a cool breeze in. Tidal/MQA compatible, but maxes out at 24-bit/96kHz.
FiiO E10K – Slightly grainy in comparison to other Amps & DACS, but a fantastic sound overall. Smooth and crisp. Maxes out at 24-bit/96kHz.
FiiO K3 – About the same as the E10K, but less power and an even smoother sound. No grain. Tidal/MQA Compatible.
FiiO K5 Pro– Similar in sound to the G6, slightly warmer due to it’s 1.2 Output Impedance. Incredibly versatile Amp/DAC. Sells out very quickly! Tidal/MQA Compatible.
iFi Zen – Very similar in sound to the K5 Pro. Can be used balanced with 4.4mm cables. Pairs well with all headphones I’ve tried. True Bass sounds marvelous. A bit less power than the K5 Pro, but will drive most headphones. Tidal/MQA compatible.
I wouldn’t get too hung up on which you go with. To start, I’d probably go with something like an E10K or Zen, and then upgrade from there if you want.
Quick Comparisons (Coming Soon!)
Let’s wrap this baby up..
The DEVA is most certainly a giant leap forward for HIFIMAN. Build issues have mostly been rectified, the headphone is incredibly streamlined in appearance, the sound is close to perfection, and it’s one of the most comfortable cans I’ve ever worn (top 3 to be sure).
It’s a breath of fresh air for me to be able to recommend something this wholeheartedly, as it’s been quite awhile since I have been able to do that.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.