Buying a pair of high-end headphones is an exciting but risky business. You’re going to be putting down a lot of money in exchange for high-quality audio and cranial comfort, so making the perfect choice is crucial.
If anyone were to ask me where to start looking for really high-quality headphones, I’d point them in the direction of Hifiman. Hifiman specializes in manufacturing high-end audio electronics and accessories. Their most popular products, however, are their headphones.
Amongst the best-selling headphones in Hifiman’s range are the HE400i and HE400s models. Because they’re both part of Hifiman’s HE400 series, these 2 sets of headphones are often compared.
However, in my opinion, these models are more different than they are similar, meaning that choosing the right one is even more critical.
Today’s article will be a comparative review of the HE400s and HE400i headphones from Hifiman to help you find your dream audio experience!
An Introduction to Hifiman
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Hifiman as a company, I thought it would be helpful to kick things off with a little background.
Hifiman is amongst the most notable headphone manufacturers worldwide, partly due to most of its headphone models’ high-quality sound despite the comparatively affordable pricing.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Hifiman has had some recent trouble with quality control. For 70% of the company’s customer base, this doesn’t seem to been an issue at all, judging by the available customer testimonials. Nonetheless, it’s still worth being aware of before buying.
Despite the incidence of substandard quality control, Hifiman has managed to accumulate a plethora of awards, including the Phileweb Audio Excellence Award in 2015.
Moreover, the HE400i headphones hold the 2016 Stereoplay Magazines Golden Ears award. The HE400s model, meanwhile, has won the Headphone Guru Writers Choice Award (2015), the Hifi + Value-Priced Headphone Award (2016), and the Image Hifi Award (2016).
Hifiman HE400i vs HE400s
Let’s approach these award-winning headphones in order of development, starting with the HE400s model, which was first released in 2015.
The HE400s is a planar headphone model that uses conductors to vibrate an enlarged diaphragm.
Because of the diaphragm’s increased size and the extensive coverage of the conductors over its surface, these headphones produce excellent-quality sound with minimal distortion.
Casual music listeners will enjoy the profound bass and wide frequency response of 20 - 3,500 Hz. This surpasses the audible frequency range for most humans, meaning that no extreme frequency will go undetected.
With that being said, experience audiophiles with finely-tuned ears are likely to pick up a grainier quality in the sound, especially when compared to other models like the HE400i.
This is a question of audio preference and sensitivity more than anything else. Objectively, the sound is very good for the price, but some customers have expressed disappointment in the coarser sound.
The most visually striking component of the HE400s headphone design is its headband. If you look at the model, you’ll see a wider, fabric-covered band and a slimmer, overarching angled band.
The outer band allows for precise adjustment while the inner band delivers a comfortable, breathable fit thanks to the porous material.
As soon as you take these headphones out of the box, their durability becomes apparent. The metal construction of the ear supports and grills ensures that these headphones will hold up to the pressure of everyday wear.
And weighing just 350 grams, with extra cushioning from the faux-leather earpads, these headphones will feel light and non-constricting, even after hours of wear!
The sensitivity of the HE400s headphones is pretty much what you’d expect from a decent pair of headphones, at 98 decibels. Therefore, while the sound quality might be too grainy for serious music-lovers, there will at least be plenty of it.
- Extended frequency (20 Hz - 3,500 Hz)
- Durable metal ear supports
- Breathable, comfortable headband and earpads
- Good sensitivity rating
- More affordable
- Grainier sound
The newer member of the Hifiman HE400 series, the HE400i, is currently much more expensive than the HE400s - 1.5 times more expensive, to be exact. However, lovers of detailed and accurate sound might just find the price difference worth it.
Just like the HE400s, the HE400i is a planar headphone model. However, the sound technology used in these headphones is more advanced. In fact, the HE400i model was designed by the inventor of magnetic planar technology.
Similar to the HE400s, the HE400i uses a larger diaphragm for increased audio output. This diaphragm is incredibly flexible and responsive, which yields more accurate, crystal clear audio that sounds almost as good as that produced by an electrostatic driver system.
The HE400i has the same extended frequency response as the HE400s, rated at 20 - 3,500 Hz. Again, this means that anyone with undamaged hearing will be able to pick out each and every detail of the soundscape, leaving no bass or treble vibration unheard.
My favorite thing about the HE400i headphone model, though, is its incredible spatial imaging. The soundstage has a real depth to it with enough directional output to fully immerse you in your listening experience.
Whether it’s a complicated piece of classical music or just your favorite movie, these headphones will allow you to experience it like never before.
You can rely on these headphones to provide a comfortable listening experience as well as an audibly pleasing one. This is largely due to the new 2020 headband, which is designed to sit flush against the scalp with padded faux leather.
The newer headband does apply more pressure for stability purposes, though, which may cause it to feel too tight on larger heads.
The HE400i headphones use metal yolks for increased durability. While this does make them slightly weightier than the HE400s headphones (by about 20 grams), they’re still 30% lighter than competitor models.
This means you won’t have to deal with that annoying pressure headache that so often comes with extensive headphone wear.
Other durable components of the HE400i model include the ABS polymer ear cups, which not only resist wear and tear surprisingly well, but also look sleek and shiny.
Unfortunately, the Hifiman HE400i’s sensitivity is significantly lower than that of the HE400s, by a margin of 5 decibels.
Most headphones hover around 100 dB in terms of sensitivity, and with these headphones falling short of what by 7 decibels, the volume definitely suffers.
It’s not so noticeable when connected to PC systems, but when attached to a mobile device, the lack in power from the volume really comes through.
This can be resolved by purchasing an amplifier separately, but with the cost of these headphones already being so high, not everybody will be prepared to do so.
Therefore, anyone who prises powerful volume over detailed sound is likely to prefer the HE400s headphones.
Overall, however, I can absolutely see why the Hifiman HE400i headphones are award-winners. This model absolutely deserves its multiple titles within the audio industry.
If the sensitivity were to be amplified and quality control issues ironed out, these would undoubtedly be strong contenders for the title of best affordable planar headphones.
- Advanced planar technology
- High-quality spatial imaging
- Durable metal yolks
- Wide frequency response (20 Hz - 3,500 Hz)
- Better sound clarity and detail
- Less affordable
- Lower sensitivity (93 dB)
- May not fit larger heads
So, what are my final thoughts on the Hifiman HE400s and HE400i models, respectively? Well, like most things in the audio industry, it’s complicated.
I’d definitely recommend that audiophiles head straight for the HE400i. If you’re used to extremely high-quality sound, the HE400s headphones are unlikely to satisfy your sensitive ear for detail.
However, if your top priority is volume and you aren’t prepared to spend potentially hundreds of dollars on a good-quality headphone amp to go with the HE400i headphones, the HE400s model is likely to be the better choice for you.
Comfort is also an important factor to consider. While both of these headphone models provide excellent comfort levels, my recommendation varies based on head size and how prone a listener is to pressure headaches.
If you have a larger head size and a tendency to experience headaches, I’d advise you to check out the HE400s first since this model exerts less clamping pressure and has more extendibility.
However, if you have a small to average head size and like extra pressure for stability, the HE400i headphones are likely to be your best fit.
Realistically, for many people, the choice between these 2 headphones models will ultimately come down to price. If you’re an audiophile on a budget, rest assured that you can still get a satisfying audio experience from the HE400s headphones despite the grainier sound quality.
Using a sound card and adjusting your device’s EQ and/or bass settings are all easy ways to enhance the audio quality coming through your headphones without having to shell out hundreds of extra dollars.
Ultimately, both of these headphone models are impressive, award-winning builds with a lot of potential. Which one will you choose?