General Tonality

My initial expectation of both the HE400i and the HE560 was that of an older brother and cheeky little upstart of sorts. That both would really be the same but maybe the HE400i would be a step down in resolution, extension and quality. However in reality, after a testing, they are really two different unique headphones with specific niche listeners in mind. Mind you if added mid-bass weight is a good definition of a cheeky upstart then the HE400i may not be that far off my initial pre-review impressions.

Both the He400i and He560 have a far better tonal balance than before. The HE400i stays in much safer or familiar territory than the more airy HE560 in terms of weight and bass tuning whilst the HE560, though lighter in bass slam never sounds too lean, sharp or bright. Instead it trades a bit of the HE400i’s overriding musicality and fun for a better sense of accuracy, a more natural sounding timbre and additional reach both in terms of bass extension and treble articulation or headroom.

The HE400i is the warmer of the two headphones with a keener emphasis on bass response combined with a forward mid section and a smooth and slightly laid back treble performance. The HE560 on the other hands aims squarely for a more coherent or linear presentation with an emphasis on accuracy and detail. If anything the HE560 could be regarding as being neutral and flatter in overall tonality but not void of musicality or coming across as overly sterile and flat.

Bass

Two different flavors of bass for the HE400i and the HE560 and each will appeal to quite different audiences depending on how you want the bass to perform. Unquestionably the HE400i’s bass is the more dominant signature between the two headphones with a much thicker and weighted bass slam and a more pronounced mid bass hump. Whilst it is not as pronounced as the HE400’s bass response the texture and tonality of the HE400i is a slightly better all rounder for modern musical tastes. Pair the HE400i’s bass signature with the likes of Dash Berlin or a Deadmau5 and it has no problem with both the pace and power, sounding convincing and confident without ever being overbearing.

The HE560 on the other hand has a much more linear and neutral bass response that is tighter, more controlled and perhaps more realistic than the HE400i. It also has greater extension than the more mid bass orientated HE400i, more in keeping with the type of extension the HE6 has but maybe a little lighter in body overall. The HE560 bass response is a lot more transparent and true also to whatever source or recording you are going to be using. The HE560 bass presentation will not overemphasize or add undue coloration so if you want to dial up the bass it might be better to start with the HE400i in the first place otherwise the HE560 stays truer and more accurate.

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Midrange

The HE400i midrange is thicker, more forward and more emphasized than the HE560. However the HE560 retains a flatter and more coherent or balanced mid section. Both have their plus and minus points. The coloration and slightly forward and more intimate nature in the HE400i’s mid range is actually a positive for the character of the HE400i sounding musical without ever being too shouty or messy. They are certainly a much improved performance over the rather recessed mid range of the HE400 and convey a better but more intimate vocal stage than before.

The HE560 mid range, especially moving to the upper mid range, starts to sound a lot more open if not as forward as the HE400i. Technically it is far more accurate and the detail is a few notches higher. Initially it might not seem as musical as the HE400i but the clarity and timbre just feels perfect especially for strings, acapella and female vocals. After considerable testing I actually found the mid range of the HE560 to be more satisfying and absorbing in the long term whilst the HE400i I found to be more capable of impressive blasts over shorter listening periods.

Vocal performance largely mirrors their tonality and midrange performance with the HE400i sounding beefier and more forward but also more forgiving and rarely displaying any signs of sibilance. The HE560 though is more neutral and slightly more detailed but a little bit thinner meaning it was a bit more prone to displays of sibilance on certain tracks but it also had more articulation and subtly with female vocals, especially operatic vocals that require plenty of space and control to sound convincing.

Treble

The HE560 does treble really right for me. Very few cans can master a treble performance satisfactorily, the HE560 is one of those headphones, along with the Beyer T70p and, when setup right, the HE6. Whilst the HE6 treble depends on a lot of variables the HE560 delivery articulate clean treble right out of the box with great extension and air, neither being too harsh or strident or too rolled off. It is beautifully balanced and matched on the EF6 which has a liquid like relaxed signature. Honestly it sounded superb. Black Key’s “Strange Times” sounded positively brimming with energy and clarity and not a sibilant peaky note in the house. I am particularly fond of how the HE560 tones down splashy cymbal work without losing any impact and clarity – that lack of tizziness is addictive. It doesn’t quite have the detail of the HD800 treble performance but it is certainly more forgiving and musical.

The HE400i follows a slightly more typical consumer type treble response than the HE560, being overshadowed by the thicker and weightier bass and midrange presentation. Compared to the HE560 the HE400i treble is competent and clear but not as detailed or articulate and lacks a considerable amount of air to really extend adding to a more intimate closed in feel than the more open HE560. The plus side is the HE400i is that is ‘oh so forgiving’ and smooth and lacks any of that unwanted peaky performance that the later revisions of the HE400 seemed prone to. Lossy recordings will be well treated by the HE400i.

Soundstage

Planars are not universally renowned for big accurate soundstage and imagining at the best of times and the same could be said of both the HE400i and the HE560 with the HE560 sounding wider and taller than the more closed in HE400i. The HE400i lack of upper extension and more forward bass and mid section comes off as being intimate and tight but never messy or too congested. Image separation is just ok, on par really but not quite on the same level as the more open HE560. The HE560’s airier and more open presentation delivers a more believable soundstage with a more accurate sense of separation and imaging but it is not a huge soundstage by any means.

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Old Versus New

The HE400/400i bass debate

There will be quite a few reading this review clutching to their older HE400, HE500 and maybe even their HE6 wondering if this is the right moment to let go of the old and embrace the new. Mostly I would say yes totally but there are a number of small caveats when you decide to drop some new notes on these shiny new planars that you should be aware off. Whilst the He400i is likely to be the most consumer orientated or bass tuned Hifiman between the two, perhaps even in the entire updated range (unless Fang surprises us and that’s always possible), it doesn’t quite have the same strength of slam as the older HE400.

I remember a buddy of mine talking when we initially got the rev 1 production HE400 about how the bass on the HE400 was just about the most addictive mid tier bass response we heard in ages. Well the HE400i bass response is still satisfyingly good and perhaps more coherent in its transition to a better and more forward midrange than the HE400 but the HE400 slam still has the edge and the depth. The edge of course at the cost of a underperforming mid range but if it is all about slam you have been warned. That being said I do prefer the HE400i’s more textured and detailed bass and it’s more naturally balanced sound which to me is more convincing as a whole than the HE400’s slightly disjointed overall presentation.

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Which is replacing the HE500?

The HE500 along with the HE6 retain a special place in my headphone journey and the HE500 still retains a high degree of musicality, transparency and a smoother delivery to this day. Comparing the HE500 to the HE400i and HE560 is not an easy task though as neither are direct replacements of this older release. The HE560 is probably the one most people will say is the main replacement and to a certain extent that is true.

The HE560’s detailed and articulate treble performance easily outshines the HE500 slightly peakier treble response and the balance in the attack and decay is much sweeter than the sometimes tizzy upper treble response of the HE500. The HE560 midrange, whilst sounding a bit thinner than the HE500 feels a bit more balanced and accurate than the HE500’s midrange. Some might prefer the HE500’s thicker midrange but I felt the vocals didn’t quite stand out as well as the HE560’s performance.

Perhaps the biggest area of debate might be the bass performance of the HE500 compared to the HE560 and the HE400i. No question they are different beasts in much the same way the HE400i is to the HE560. Of all the three the HE400i’s bass performance is going to sound the hardest hitting and musical and probably the most suitable for modern pop and beats genres. The HE560’s bass response is leaner, tighter and faster with more extension, much more so than the HE500. Yet the HE500 treads a middle path with a decent dynamic punch and extension that might be a suitable compromise between both the HE400i, which at times can sound much more closed in and less detailed, and the HE560’s linear but very controlled bass response. It really depends on your preference for which one has the right bass for you. If you need control and speed and great extension then pick the HE560. If you want good extension with a bit more mid bass slam and weight then the HE500 will still appeal to you. If you want a far more bass dominant tuning then the HE400i’s high levels of musicality and bass power will be the preferred choice.

Page 3: Matching 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.

    • Matt MusicJunky

      very interesting perception! So, in your mind, are these HifiMan’s overpriced? I’m curious to hear your take on whether there could be a better headphone at less cost, but doesn’t have the marketing thrills that come out of ‘from-the-gut’ impressions (that are sometimes bought and paid for). I’m in the market for a great open/semi-open set of cans with big soundstage, great bass, and good clarity through the entire spectrum. Is that too much ask?

      • headfonics

        Well its been 2 years since these were reviewed so times flies and all that and even Hifiman are dropping the price of both now in then in a lot of promotions. When they were released I would have said these are the ones but since then the Edition X has come out as well as the Edition X v2 which I absolutely love. They also dropped the price down from $1799 to $1299. Now this costs more naturally than the HE560 and HE400i but the inviting tonal quality is just too good in comparison.

        Of course, that is more cost and not less but it does show how quick things move on. Now if planars are not a must I would highly recommend the DT1770 from Beyer also. It’s closed but has a huge soundstage and a very high-quality bass performance. Price wise now its pretty competitive.

  • mike

    I’m a year into listening to the 400i with my Magni/Modi 2 Uber stack and I don’t think I could be happier. It’s a great matchup, and I feel like I’d have to spend a lot to get a noticeable improvement in sound quality.

    • headfonics

      Its a good choice with the schiit stacks.