HiFiMAN has been at the forefront of planar magnetic headphone technology for many years. Several of its headphones have been featured prominently here in Hi-Fi+ by our own Chris Martens. Recently HiFiMAN and its creative leader, Dr. Fang Bian, have been competing tooth and nail with a handful of other top-rated manufacturers in the high end arena and to say they can hold their own is an understatement. The company’s current flagship HE1000’s are without question one of the top headphones at any price in the market today. While it is exciting to see how far up the sonic mountain these top of the line products can reach, for most headphone aficionado’s these prices are prohibitive. Enter the HE400S. Priced at an affordable £249/$299, these comfortable and easy to drive new headphones are just the ticket to get a taste of champagne on a sparkling water budget.
When it comes to government spending there is some question to how effective trickle down theories have been. However, in the headphone world, they work very well thank you. The HE400S benefits from many of the innovations created for the HE1000’s and Edition X high end headphones. Notably, drivers drivers are derived from the latest planar technology, which allows a faster moving low-mass diaphragm that achieves a frequency response to 35kHz at only 22 ohms. This means a modest amp can drive the HE400S. A modest amp? Like a smartphone? Yes! A smartphone is more than capable of driving them to reasonable levels, without the headphones being sonically compromised. You can leave the stack at home. The HE400S are also very light, coming in at a modest 350g. The full-sized, fully adjustable ear cups allow for hours of comfortable listening and the headband takes its cue from the aforementioned HE1000’s in design and function allowing you to customize the fit as needed.
If all this is similar to the higher end model, what is missing? Premium materials for one thing. They also do not offer the nanometer thick membrane for the driver found in the company’s top designs. However, lessons learned in making high-end headphones like the HE1000 influenced the HE400S’ tech significantly, albeit in a more utilitarian way. While the HE400s sports less expensive materials, nothing subtracts from the listening experience. It is not cheaply built either; solid aluminium for the headband frame and a nice quality artificial leather for the comfortable headband. The ear pads are also a man made material. I found them well made and comfortable for long listening sessions. I did not experience that hot sweaty feeling you get from material that may be soft but does not breathe well. The user guide says HiFiMAN spent many hours in the development of these detachable and replaceable pads, and it is clear the time was well spent. The outer ring is an attractive matted silver finish on aluminium. The entire physical presentation is clean and well finished and reflects the high build quality expected from a top brand.
The HE400S also differs from its close cousin, the HE-400i, by offering lower impedance (22 ohms vs 35 ohms), less weight (by 20g), and higher efficiency (98dB vs. 93dB). Essentially, the newer HE400S are designed for the on the go listener who wants the speed and clarity of planar magnetics without bringing a stack of amps along for the ride. No harm that they cost a lot less than their cousins!