Review: HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Edition – big sound, small price tag
There’s not much to dislike here, especially at the price point.
We’re looking at the HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Edition today, but before we dive in I’d like to go over some history. See, headphones using planar magnetic drivers used to be the province of audiophiles, with the original HE400i that came out in 2015 costing over $500. That’s a hefty hit to the wallet, but the benefits of planar drivers were worth it.
Then Drop (when they were called Massdrop) decided to get into the volume game, collaborating with HIFIMAN for the $180 HE4XX. Those sold like hotcakes, with well over 40K sold to date. Compare that to normal $500+ headphones that might sell in the low thousands, and you can see where the bulk of the headphone market is. HIFIMAN learned something valuable here, first bringing out the wireless-enabled Deva at $300, and now the updated HE400i, which has dropped in MSRP from $500+ to a staggeringly-nice $169.
So, can a pair of planar magnetic headphones that only costs $169 hold its weight? Let’s dive into the HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Edition.
So, what’s it all about?
The updated HE400i are using HIFIMAN’s revised headband style, first used on the Deva. Thankfully, it’s not brown this time, with everything on the HE400i in matte black. The stylish ear cups are smaller than the Deva, but they’re still plenty enough for the largest of ears without touching much. They’re also very lightweight at 370g, and breathable due to how planars are constructed, so they’re great for long listening sessions or gaming.
There’s a lot of metal in the construction, with everything other than the cups being metal, with a lot of that covered in fake leather that’s well-padded. That’s almost unheard of in this price bracket, with the competition from Sennheiser being almost entirely plastic, and the Audeze LCD-1 being hard plastic and over twice the price. HIFIMAN might have a strange rep for build quality in the past, but I can’t see anything wrong with the solid build on the HE400i.
The headphone cable is solid, with dual 3.5mm jacks (one per cup) and a 90-degree 3.5mm for your source. The best thing about this cable? A lack of microphonics, which is when you hear noise in the headphones when the cable is tapped or rubbed along your clothes.
The 3.5mm plug is an indication that HIFIMAN wants you to use these headphones with everything, and you can, within reason. They’re only 35 ohms of impedance, with 93 dB of sensitivity, and a frequency response of 20Hz-35KHz. That’s over the usual range of human hearing at the top end, since adult hearing often drops off above 17KHz. As with all planars though, they’ll sing if you have a more powerful source.
So, how do they sound?
Okay, they look nice but what about the sound? Well, after the first ten minutes with the HE400i 2020 Editions on my oversized ears, I couldn’t quite believe how good they were. Let’s never forget that this is HIFIMAN’s entry planars, and they’re the cheapest planars I could find on a Google search as well, by well over a Benjamin (that’s a $100 bill, y’all).
They’re one of the most balanced sound signatures I’ve heard. While the Deva was crisp and airy, the HE400i is a little bit more intimate, like you’re inside a small venue when you’re listening to your favorite tracks. Even low-powered DAC/AMP combos, like the one you get with your smartphone, can power the HE400i 2020 Ed well, giving you thumping, tight bass, clear mids without weird peaks that could distract, and the treble is clean without sibilance or any shrillness.
They’re also great gaming headphones, with a physicality to every gunshot or explosion, and the clarity in the midrange gives you all the detail you need for positioning. You might not think of buying a non-gaming headset for gaming, but good gaming audio is really just good audio.
So, should I buy them?
For $169, the HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 Edition gives you a sound that’s unmatched in this price category. They’re almost unmatched until you get over $500, which is the price that the original HE400i sold for. Yes, they’re fighting against themselves, just an older, chunkier version. If your next headphone budget has enough for this pair, grab them without hesitation – the only thing you’ll regret is not doing it sooner.
The only annoyance? The cable can feel a little short depending on how your audio is set up, so get an extender cable or some custom replacement cables with more length.
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