For the China-based headphone specialists at HiFiMAN, the firm’s new HE‑400i and HE‑560 planar magnetic headphones represent great leaps forward (with apologies to the late Chairman Mao), each in its own way. I say this because both models show, in terms of build quality, sound quality, packaging, documentation, and overall presentation, that they are the products of a rapidly maturing maker of world class headphones—a manufacturer that is a force to be reckoned with in today’s high‑end headphone marketplace.
Readers may recall that HiFiMAN’s more costly HE‑560 model (£660), as reviewed in Hi‑Fi+ issue 117, is a very ambitious design whose mission is to fill the rather large sonic ‘shoes’ of its predecessor, the widely admired HE‑500 model (favourably reviewed by Hi‑Fi+ in issue 83). But by design, the HE‑560 also aims to deliver sufficiently high levels of sound quality that it might also be considered a viable alternative to the firm’s excellent but very difficult-to-drive flagship HE‑6 headphone.
The new HE‑400i (£375), for its part, has a similarly challenging mission. Specifically, its goal is to replace HiFiMAN’s affordable and popular entry-level HE‑400 planar magnetic headphone, while at the same time raising the bar for outright sonic performance vis‑à‑vis other headphones in its price class.
In creating the HE‑400i, HiFiMAN sought to leverage the core strengths of the original HE‑400, while improving upon its design in several key respects. In particular, HiFiMAN wanted to approve the ergonomics, adjustability, and comfort factor of the HE‑400i, while reducing it weight. Further, the firm wanted to preserve—or if possible to improve upon—the already relatively high sensitivity of the original HE‑400. Next, HiFiMAN wanted the HE‑400i to improve upon the sound quality of the original HE‑400 with an eye towards giving the new model more accurate and more neutral voicing overall. Last but not least, HiFiMAN sought to improve dramatically the HE‑400i’s product packaging, documentation, and appearance, while preserving a still very affordable selling price.