The HE400i and HE560 Planars by Hifiman
Tonality HE400i8.5
Tonality HE5609.5
Build & Fit of both8
Matchability HE400i8
Matchability HE5607.5
Value For Money8
8.3Our Score
Reader Rating: (71 Votes)
5.2

People keep asking me what my favorite headphone is, or what one I would keep if I had only one and for the last 3 years I have said to them it is the Hifiman HE6. The HE6 and I have been through a lot of growing up and maturing in headphone world from constantly upgrading amps for more power to looking at which cable will give me the most finesse for hooking it up. It also started a small Hifiman headphone exploration that ended up with practically every Hifiman planar, for good or bad, on my rack. The last one to escape my attention though was the HE-500. I even managed to get the HE-5 before the HE-500. For some reason it always eluded me until a few months ago when I received the HE560 for review low and behold one week later I got the HE500 in a local trade with a guy who was hot after all things Audio Technica. It is perfect timing really because the HE560 is now replacing the HE500 in Hifiman’s lineup along with its fiscally smaller sibling the HE400i and they have just announced their new flagship planer at CES 2015 – the HE1000 so lots of changes.

Now I just adore the HE400 and a few of my local group members have nothing but positive words to say about the HE400’s sound signature. In my review of the HE400 in Feb 2013 I mentioned that for me it was a real departure from the previous house sound of the Hifiman planar series and combined with the unique blue color, improved efficiency and satisfying bass response you could almost argue that it was Hifiman’s most consumer driven model yet. It still does the rounds today in our local groups and price wise you can grab it on Amazon for a very tempting $299.

Some fans aiming for the top end also picked the HE500 over the HE6 due to its open, smooth and transparent sound that a lot of people preferred to the sometimes brighter and more strident HE6. It is also a headphone that does not require a nuclear power plant to power it up to adequate levels unlike the HE6. It doesn’t have the consumer signature of the HE400 and costs around $200 bucks more but a lot see it as a bit of a bargain of sonic excellence when paired with the right source and my impressions of the HE500 are largely consistent with that opinion.

Now whilst you could argue that the HE560 is more or less a direct replacement for the HE500 the same assertion is not so clear for the HE400i replacing the HE400. In fact during a few email discussions back and forth with the team at Hifiman I did mention it would have been better calling the HE400i the HE460 simply because the relationship in terms of design, technology and even tonality bears a closer resemblance to the new direction of the HE560 than the older HE400. Comparing the HE400 to the HE400i as a direct replacement is basically the wrong assertion and those wondering why $499 and not $399 and ‘why this and that’ are simply looking at the title of the headphone and not beyond. That is a shame because the HE400i is a compelling headphone in its own right and whether or not it has a signature that “beats” the HE400 is based on purely numerical semantics of an errant product title. So be warned I am not going to compare this with the HE400 as a replacement but rather see it as a sibling of the HE560 which retails at $899 with a nod to the ‘spirit’ of the HE400.

What you get

The Boxes

Everything about these two headphones, both in the box and out of the box, screams upgrade on the previous series. The boxes previously where stylish enough on the HE500, though the HE400 ended up in a rather muted cardboard box rather than the previous black latch boxes. The HE400i box is more in keeping with the older Hifiman case albeit with a more modern faux leather finish in black and silver and little nylon ribbon lifter instead of the older gold colored metal latch. If you have had HE series black boxes from the older series then you will know that they were prone to flaking and decay considerably over the years so I am pleased that the new HE400i box seems more durable and less likely to fade as the months and years pass by.

he400i and he560 boxes

The HE560 box is an even more impressive design with a dark wood finished enclosure and a silver/grey metal top lid. It is one of the nicest decorative boxes I have seen to date. I would still place the Oppo PM-1 wooden finished box a bit higher in terms of overall quality of finish though and it is not as functional as the Beyerdynamic T1 case but it is a heavy upgrade on the older black box used by the HE500. The lid is a slide format lid rather than the HE400i lift lid type and cuts a very low profile, almost seamless, with the rest of the box in the closed position.

Both the inside of the HE400i box and HE560 box though are the exact same in terms of foam cutout design. Both have a slightly different layout than the older HE series black boxes with specific areas now for the cable to be housed in the middle rather than on the outside and a slightly more elaborate foam design for housing the headphone itself. It feels more secure than the older insert although slightly trickier to pack up and unpack than before due to the slightly more complex foam layering.

The Cables

Both the HE400i and HE560 come with similar looking cables finished in the usual gold plated coax connectors that screw in to the base of the headphone cups. Both cables are composed of a crystalline’ copper / silver composite cable with black fabric sleeving but both are terminated slightly differently. The HE400i is terminated with a right angled gold plated 3.5mm plug and comes with a quarter jack adaptor also gold plated. The HE560 though comes with a quarter jack termination only. I can only assume the HE400i’s 3.5mm termination is a gentle nod to the fact Hifiman see the HE400i as slightly more mobile and efficient than the HE560 and possibly could be used with modern day DAP’s with good amping. The efficiency rating of the HE400i is classed at 94db over the 90db of the HE560 so there is some credence in that. However I get a feeling most people will still end up using the HE400i as their main desktop headphone rather than commute extensively given the fact the HE400i is an open back planar can much like the HE560 and may still need some juice to sound its best.

Cable2

The HE400i cable is also a bit shorter at 1.5meters in length overall compared to the HE560’s 2m in length. Again if the nod is towards being more mobile than the 1.5m cable is going to be handy but if most opt for desktop the 1.5m might feel a little too short for comfort. Ultimately it depends on how far you are from your source but 1.5m is traditionally a sweet spot for me for cable length when using with portable devices. Both cables also have a little tube wrap half way down the outside of the cable I presume for insulation against microphonics when moving around and using them at the same time. I can feel there is going to be some debate though if the cable is long enough for both headphones but if you are sitting down and listening the length should be just enough – just!

adapter

The Connector Debate

I do think it is time to consider moving from the coax cable connectors to something more user friendly such as mini-XLR or the MMCX Shure type connectors. I have never been a fan of these type of connections, being both fiddly and prone to stressing the solder on the wires if you twist from below the screw and not the screw itself. Normally I see coax on the back of a TV or for satellite technology in broadcasting and if you read my previous reviews you will know that I am not a fan of them. That being said the latest pictures of the new HE-1000 flagship do point to the possibility that there will be a new type of connector used, possibly 3.5mm possibly not, but it does looks like it from the CES 2015 pictures at the time of writing.

The Headphones

The New Look

Both the HE560 and the HE400i represent a significant transformation in terms of physical styling, form factor, weight and comfort. Out of the box the cups have that classic style of Hifiman but from the gimbals up and including the headband the HE560 and HE400i share a brand new design. The HE400i still has those nice resin plastic cups of the previous HE series but this time less piano black and more of a smoky chrome finish which does a very nice color shifting shimmer in good lighting. The HE560 though have a mix of matte plastic and ebony wood veneer finish. Those that remember the HE5 or owned one will probably think this is a good move. There was an early batch release with some solid Teak wood used, but like the HE5, there were some concerns on the long term viability so the return to plastic and a wood veneer seemed the sensible choice in the long run.

Weight

Some of the previous discussions on the HE series of planars have centered on one of two major points and that being weight and fit. The previous HE-6 and HE500 are fairly heavy headphones in comparison to modern day dynamic headphones though slightly lighter than the planar range from Audeze. Oppo really made a mark in terms of planar size and weight with the PM-1 coming in much lighter than all previous planar cans on the market at a pleasing 395g, or just over 200g lighter than the LCD-2 from Audeze and just over 100G lighter than the older HE-500 model. Well both the HE400i and HE560 weigh in at only 370g and 365g respectively making them among the lightest full size planar cans on the market today. That is a hefty reduction in weight from the previous models in the HE range, namely the HE-500 and even the HE400.

headband

Balance of Pressure

Not only are they significantly lighter but the whole new design of these headphones means the distribution of weight is much better thought out and more balanced than the previous range. One thing I have always noted about the HE6 and to a lesser extent on the HE5/500/5 LE is the weight balance felt more on the side and top of the ears pressing downwards making them ever so slightly uncomfortable for my head for longer periods of listening. The HE560 and HE400’s lighter weight and redesign means that the clamping is less downwards and more ‘side to side’ which is a lot more comfortable. The inner headband strap also helps displace a little of that unwanted side pressure also unlike the older single headband of the say the HE6 which even at the smallest head size adjustment setting always felt perhaps a little too big or loose for me. I can honestly say there is practically zero movement with the HE400i and HE560 on my head properly adjusted and in use.

The New Pads

Both headphones are now sporting the new ‘Focus Pad’ designs. Those who have been following the development of Hifiman pads will know this is about revision three in the pad design to my best recollection. You first had the velour pads with the rather iffy snap on system that always broke. Then you had a much more durable pleather option that I think I bought about 3 pairs of them in my time and still use to this day on the HE6. The Focus Pads actually drew heavily from the original Jergpad modification which was (and still is) a mix of the pleather and velour wrapped into one single pad. A lot of people swore by it as the right mix of open spaciousness of the velour and the slightly darker harder hitting tonality of the pleather pads and there are 112 pages as of writing today on the Jergpad modification on head-fi alone which is just mind boggling.

DSC02751

 

Well Jerg must have done something very right because Hifiman’s new pads, the Focus pads are pretty much in keeping with the Jergpad spirit with a pleather exterior, a velour foam interior and a pleather stitched internal ring. The attaching mechanism on the back is still from version 2 of the pleather pads which is relatively easy to get on and off. The resulting Focus Pad is a very comfortable fit with only the odd discomfort if the edge of the pleather runs on the ear but once in place this rarely happens. There is considerably less heat also which is a problem with my pleather on the HE6. Combine this with the better angling of the cups, pressure distribution and lesser weight of the headphone itself makes the HE400i and HE560 comfort experience way higher than the older HE series such as the HE500.

Just to note there are another set of Focus pads, called the Focus A pads which came with some pre-ordered HE560 cans but now sold as standard by Hifiman. The main difference being on the Focus-A inner ring having a mesh fabric finish rather than the stitched pleather finish of the regular Focus Pad. Sadly I cannot tell you how they differ sound wise but forum users will swear that it is more linear and less energetic than the Focus pads.

Page 2: Sound Impressions

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • 24bit

    This is one of the best reviews I’ve ever read. Makes me want to try to grab a set of 400i’s for myself. But, Marcus, those pictures are clearly enhanced with color vibrancy. 😛

    • headfonics

      Mike you just know we clearly put the awesome in color – its our duty 🙂

  • The_Grudge2

    I have the HE 560 and I feel your readers should consider just how well it responds to more current. I finally made the move to having speaker tap cables made by Norne Audio allowing me to run directly from the speaker terminals of my NAD M3. Amazing results, and previous to this I was using a lovely and very competent Yulong A18 to drive the 560s. Yes the 560s can be driven well enough with a decent headphone amp (I used a Schiit Asgard 2 at first, but didn’t like the synergy as well), but if you really want the 560s to show you what dynamics can sound like, you do need some serious current.

    • headfonics

      You are spot on there and that was a common discussion on the HE6 which is why we did the majority of our testing with the Hifiman EF6 which is a class A 5 watt per channel headphone amp and almost perfect for the HE6 and really great with the HE560.

  • The_Grudge2

    I am now actually considering the HE6 as my NAD M3 should do them justice. Great review by the way, I think you did an excellent job at providing balanced feedback. I’ll be making a point of reading around here more. Cheers.

    • headfonics

      Ah cheers thanks for the compliments!

      I find the HE6 to be so much smoother once you get a nice powerful amp with a smooth signature, the top end behaves good and proper but it took ages to find that single amp that worked and in the end thankfully Hifiman did me a favor by releasing the HE6.

      In theory the HE560 should be a lot easier to power but finding your flavor is a game in its own right so glad you found the match for you with the NAD M3.

      I used to have some decent speaker amps about 7 years ago but nothing like that now, not a binding post in sight – scarey!

  • Ryan

    I’m really considering on buying a pair of 400i to listen to my music. I am not a musician, do not play instruments and would rather not use an amp. Would it be plausible to expect amazing sound from the 400i when using with my cell phone? Also, you say that pluging these into a computer makes for a very nice and convenient listening experience. So would using these for music on my computer sound as nicely as they would using an amp? Would using in conjunction with a computer sound much better than with a cell phone or very little?

    Thank-you for your expertise.

    • headfonics

      Well actually plugging these into a DAC/AMP connected to a PC is how I explained it so yes you do need amping to have them sound at their best and most mobile phones will come up short on that account.

      I would suggest though you do not have to break the budget to get the HE400i sounding good with something like a FiiO E09k and E17 package type setup for less than $200.

      For mobile I would grab a FiiO X1 and an E11k as another cheap start up or if your phone is android or iOS the new Oppo HA-2.

      • Ryan

        I’ve been up all night reading reviews for the 400i and viewing videos on youtube for the EF2A amp/dac. I am new to higher-end audiophile equipment as this will be my first setup. A pair of Yamaha EPH-100 has been my way of listening for some time and it’s just not enough anymore.

        When I seen the price of $599 for both the 400i and EF2A I almost purchased out of excitement. Then I quickly realized that it wasn’t a deal but rather retail pricing. With that said, I’m nearly at the point of buying that combo but I’m unsure since the EF2A is dated and prone to defects.

        Having a seperate dac alongside an amp isn’t ideal for my situation. Can you recommend any amp/dac in one piece that would push the 400i at no around $300 or less? The EF2A seems like a good value but for a $500 pair of cans they seem a bit on the cheap side.

  • Dean

    Very good article. It’s exactly what I am looking for. I see you used the Oppo HA-1 for the DAC. Was the HA-1 not a good choice for an amp? From the spec sheet, it looks like the HA-1 has a 2W XLR balanced output and I think you can get a cable upgrade for the headphones (expensive). In your opinion, would this be worth the effort?

    • headfonics

      Dean thanks for dropping by and glad you liked the article. Apologies for the late reply.

      The HA-1 is a fine amp just the EF6 is a beast of an amp – 5W Class A with a nice liquid sound I love with planars.

      No need for cable upgrades, spend the extra and get the Hifiman EF6 amp instead and any clean DAC signal that decodes hi res with a line out and you are good to go.

  • Axel Cortez

    Hi excellent review, right now my setup is very basic I have a Magni 2 Uber amp with HD598 looking to get the DAC that is matched to the Magni from Schiit, and looking for better headphones to relegate my HD598 to travel duties. Is my setup which is very budget limited good form something like HE400i or I’m looking at the wrong cans?

    • headfonics

      Actually the magni is just fine for the HE400i and I owuld grab the matching Modi v2 to go with it for the DAC.

  • szoze

    Thanks for the great review! Do you think Objective 2 amp is a good choice for driving HE-400i. After reading your impressions in the interview I almost feel it would be a great pairing.

    • headfonics

      I do not see why not if you are using a stock 02 as its largely transparent in presentation and the HE400i is not the hardest to drive.

  • FormerHighEndAudiSalesman

    The “tonality” is 8.5 for the HE400i’s and 9.5 for the HE560’s? What is the science behind that evaluation, your guesswork after switching back and forth? So much for using the scientific method. The difference is more like 9.3 vs. 9.2, judging by objective third party measurements. The HE400i’s have the identical technology of the HE560’s, except for minuscule differences in their diaphragms, grills, magnetic circuits, and other components. But remove the smoke and mirrors, and both models are are still simple orthodynamic headphones which produce sound waves via a thin layer of copper between magnets. The HE560’s have slightly different parts, but fidelity-wise there is little difference (even when using empirically-evidenced objective measurements), marketing exaggerations and gimmicks notwithstanding. For several years, I was a high-end audio salesman. I know how things are done in the industry. It is common for manufacturers to mark up their products dozens of times over their true manufacturing costs, not just headphones but preamps, amps, speakers, and everything else audio. I have gotten three manufacturer’s reps to admit this fact to me in private. Manufacturers compensate magazine reviewers for writing rave reviews for their highly profitable but vastly overpriced “high-end” audio products. The unwarranted praise gets perpetuated and propagated by naive blue collar types in so-called audiophile chat rooms. As for amps and DACS, the law of diminishing returns starts at around $300 for the pair. The purpose of this pair is to convert a digital signal from a computer device into an analog signal that is sufficiently loud without detracting from nor adding to the original signal. Solid state amps do the best job at that, as they do not color, distort, mute, and add noises (popping, hissing, clicking, etc.) like tube amps do. As such, a $350 portable JDS Labs O2 solid state amp and Standalone ODAC pairing will achieve 90% to 95% of the audio quality of any $5,000 or even $50,000 setup, marketing spam notwithstanding. A great alternative pairing is the $199 Schiit solid state Magni 2 amp and Modi 2 DAC combo, but they are not portable and you may have to upgrade to the costlier Uber versions of both (another $120 or so) to achieve compatibility with your equipment. High resolution files are a an inaudible gimmick, as proven by objective measurements and self-proclaimed audiophile listening tests, so do not be concerned that your DAC cannot decode their files. Empirical evidence is minimal in the audio industry, which has opened the doors for outlandish manufacturers’ claims that rationalize the ridiculously inflated prices of their laughably overhyped yet ordinary products. Third-party measurements of sensitivity, efficiency, frequency response, distortion, and the like are some of the few characteristics that can be objectively measured — and they empirically evidence every claim made in this post. Everything else is subjective hype and nothing more than marketing pseudoscience intended to reap the biggest profits for the manufacturers and retailers. I reiterate: professional magazine reviewers are compensated for writing rave reviews for overpriced “high-end” components, which are perpetuated and propagated by barely-literate, unsophisticated, naive blue collar types who post “expert” reviews at so-called audiophile websites. What are the educational credentials of the aforementioned magazine and “audiophile” reviewers, again? Remember, in the audio industry, price is rarely proportional to sound quality. If the HE400i’s cost $20,000, the “experts” would be raving about how much better they sound than the “lowly” $3,000 HE1000’s. And yes, there are other criteria that can be used to judge headphones, such as comfort and compatibility, but I am focusing on actual fidelity.

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