One thing is certain and do not judge what I say till I am finished. The HIFIMAN HE400se are not the best headphone at anything when it comes to sound. The thing is they are not the worst at anything either and that is where the beauty of the HE400se resides.
Am I complaining? Not at all and not one bit. I honestly cannot pinpoint one area of the HE400se which I can seriously complain about, consider poor or annoying, or able to say they lack in a particular area.
These do everything adequately and some things very well but nothing poorly and they strike a balance in all departments audibly which is hard to find and to attain at any price bracket.
What I mean is that these have good bass but not the best, same as the midrange and treble and with everything else. As you listen, you hear everything and all instruments with a good amount of layering and a credible sound stage, and nothing in the frequency response jumps out or becomes dominant or gives the impression that something is missing either.
There is a good strike of balance sonically all around and there is good bilateral frequency extension and the frequency response is fairly evenly distributed and seeming rather natural. So while other headphones do a certain thing very well and some not, the HE400se manages to positively balance all sonic departments with no major problems in the sound signature.
The HIFIMAN HE400se has a fairly balanced frequency response that again, is not the best at extension but manages to reproduce everything in a recording when it comes to the frequency extremities. The only area of the frequency response curve that could probably come across as too forward is in the 5 kHz to 7 kHz region where there seems to be the only peaky area.
The bass response does have a bottom bass roll-off which to me seems to start at around 30Hz but if you tickle the driver with some decent power and some DSP bass correction, the bass becomes deep with a moderate amount of energy but still keeps the typical planar lack in punch character. The most prominent part of the bass is the mid-bass region.
The HE400se midrange response is evenly produced in proportion with the rest of the spectrum and has an intimate character bringing elements fairly close to the listener.
There is a small amount of veil in the midrange but compensated by sounding coherent by placing each element within its own personal space. There seems to be more presence in the upper midrange than in any other area of the frequency spectrum, however.
The HE400se high frequencies have plenty of character and presence but I did desire a touch more extension and shimmer. The HE400se are not the best at high-frequency extension and when things get intense the highs could get splashy and lose the nice isolated presence of elements and cleanliness they present just as the midrange does at moderate volume levels.
Listening to my favorite Elton John song, “come down in time” sounded correct in tone to me and remained the emotional piece it is on the HE400se. It’s a simple song at first impression until you realize there is a full orchestra in the background plus a band and the HE400se brings it all out well.
Speaking of detail, heavy breathing can be clearly heard around the middle of the song through the bass solo accompanied by a harp and Oboe and, the HE40SE was able to bring that forward very well so these can do detail well in my opinion. The Oboe itself sounded as if it was in the ether, above the head and very expansive sounding.
Just one song is not the forte of the HE400se because they are not gender-specific and can sound good with everything from Hip Hop to Classical music.
They reign with simple compositions and could present some congestion at times especially if underpowered or cranked up with a lot of volume and at that point, suffer from reduced dynamic range but not that they lack any when properly driven.
Transient response hits a good middle ground but by no means would I consider them the best I heard before in this category. There is a good dynamic response but they border on softness and I would say not aggressively toned.
If I was to pick on one area of the HIFIMAN HE400se soundstage is the amount of depth. These seem to be intimate bringing in the depth closer to the listener but width and height is exceptionally good. Not only that but the HE400se could rear project on occasion and even seem to punch below the chin at times.
Think of 3 circular 3d spaces, take two laid down for left and right, then take the third and flip 90 degrees for the front center stage making it sound like it lacks depth but with plenty of height, some width for center staging with the ability to hit notes below the chin and that should paint a picture of what I perceived.
Is it the best in imaging? No, but at this price, the HE400se imaging is exceptional. It does project a fairly accurate side-to-side plain. The lack of depth is in the center and not so much on the outer areas where there is some depth and even some decent 3D positioning.
Headphone technology has taken big leaps in the last 5 years especially price-wise because the HIFIMAN HE400se sounds like a headphone that costs twice or even three times what the actual asking price is compared to models of yesteryear. However, you still have to feed them well to reach their full potential and will sound lackluster and bland to most if not fed properly.
The 92dB SPL efficiency rating also means the bass performance will suffer the most as well as the transient response when pairing the HE400se with weak sources. It’s no secret planar magnetic cans need lots of current from an amp and the HE400se is no exception.
Once you feed them right, the bass becomes cleaner. Bass response improves if you tickle them with some boosting of the lower regions and they can take a considerable amount but you have to feed them the power to boost the bass adequately. They can accept a big amount of boost and power before distorting.
Could I feed the HE400se off my phone or even from a micro DAC? They will lack some volume and dynamic range. You would need a 100mW or above amplifier to get them loud enough from the likes of the Ibasso DC04. An iFi Hip DAC would power them better and my HIFIMAN Super Mini certainly did.
HIFIMAN 400 series
Here is the rundown. Let’s start with the HIFIMAN HE400i. This one to me has the best midrange response of the bunch. It has a very present and forward midrange that sounds crisp with lots of character and body.
The high frequencies are also crisp but some people did complain of them being too bright and edgy. The bass takes a back seat with a clinical and clean, flat-sounding approach.
What about the HIFIMAN HE4xx from the now called DROP? In my opinion, these are the best in bass response of the bunch. So if deep bass is your thing, perhaps these are the ones for you from this group.
However, the HE4xx lacks in treble presence and extension which is contrary to the HE400i which has a bright top end and the midrange has a more polite presentation on the 4xx as well.
I had all the rest of the bunch in my headphone collection but I never heard the HE400S but from what I gathered is that they have a good bass response with a smooth midrange section but the high frequencies are somewhere in the middle of the two above. These are perhaps the warmest sounding of the group.
What about the original HE400? They sounded great as the entire line does and in their own way, each with their unique audio niche, but the 400 was the least efficient of the bunch and by a lot, probably 2 fold. The one department the new HE400se is best at from the bunch is efficiency. But their main niche to me is their balance in sound signature.
It would be hard to beat these at the current market price. Since released, they have become a staple amongst audiophile circles and have found a home in many people’s hearts and this trend will continue I predict. I love my pair and they have become my daily driver.
My only peeve with the Sundara is with the headband assembly and is due to one simple fact. You cannot easily replace the comfort strap. Mine is getting aged and not in a nice way and I cannot do much about it. I could always swap the pads for new ones at least.
With the HE400i style, you could replace the comfort strap and with the original design used on, for example, the HE4xx, there was never a need to change it ever. It seems the new design will have better long-term durability compared to the Sundara comfort strap comparatively.
The HIFIMAN Sundara is superior in many ways to the HE400se and of course, that is expected comparing their present market value. Tonality is better and more accurate with a less veil, better bilateral frequency extension, and a more precise and more open soundstage.
The Sundara has a good depth which is lacking on the HE400se but width and height are similar in performance. The HE400se does have this unique ability to produce sound below the chin which is lacking on the Sundara.
Honestly, the particular dimension is not needed except for gaming where the HE400se does very well by portraying where those shots are coming from and giving you a realistic picture of your surroundings. They both do great with gaming.
The Sundara has a better musicality tonality than the HE400se due to their ability to extend lower into the bass region while at the same time having a further extending top end. They also have a cleaner top end but both have that big planar sound presentation.
For some years now, if the situation calls for an open back but, a budget-friendly headphone that was comfortable to wear for hours and had decent sound quality then the Phillips SHP9500 was one that had an almost cult following amount of people recommending them.
I have a pair and to be honest, if you are on a tight budget you could not do better unless you’re willing to spend at least twice the amount of cash. The open can segment seems to be reserved for the higher tier, higher-priced cans and there are not many open-back models under 100 bucks.
One thing I give to the SHP9500 as a win over all the rest is their comfort level which to me is one of the best around in the particular category.
However, Phillips dropped the ball and you will agree once you buy them and find out that Phillips never made replacement pads. Of course, there are modifications that allow you to use aftermarket pads but the sound signature usually suffered.
Speaking of sound, the Phillips sound signature could be summed up as having a rather flat bass with an early roll-off and a lack in energy compared to similar-sized dynamic drivers, a midrange that was somewhat forward and somewhat smooth but was edgy at times with highs that were emphasized around the 7 kHz that also presented a ringing effect.
For the times, they were a breakthrough headphone in price versus performance especially in the open back segment because most cans in that price segment that were any good were closed back. Of course, there were always Grado SR60/SR80 cans that might beat the SHP9500 in some areas and for a similar asking price but I’m not one to gossip.
The bottom line here is we should move on now to better things. Some were saddened that the SHP9500 production was going to end even though you could still get them today, but you know what? With a can like the HE400se, I’m not going to miss them much. I feel content seeing the direction our beloved hobby is taking.
I have one thing to say to HIFIMAN, you better rev up those production lines because I have a feeling the HE400se is going to sell by the truckloads because they strike a balance of performance per buck that can only be offered by a company that has the backbone and the know-how to pull off something like this successfully.
The HIFIMAN HE400se has an ability to do well in all areas of sound and while not being the best at anything, are not the worst at anything either in any part of the sound signature which makes them an all-around generally good set of cans, not perfect, but great for the price and a well-rounded offering.
The number of cons are practically eliminated by cleverly ticking off most marks to an acceptable amount of quality while maintaining the price low.
I could be a critic and complain about things like a lack of a carrying case, or remind the reader of my dislikes of the included wire but honestly, these cans will probably remain in use rendering the case an unnecessary accessory and you could always get another wire.
If you want to jump into the planar magnetic realm but are afraid of committing a large sum of cash to try them out, then start here, but, be warned. These will then open up your curiosity gland and you will start to wonder what the top tier planar cans sounds like and at that point, well, I will just have to welcome you to the club pal.
HIFIMAN HE400se Specifications
- Driver Type Planar Magnetic
- Frequency Response 20 Hz to 20 kHz
- Impedance 25 Ohms
- Sensitivity 91db
- Weight 390 grams