How did HiFiMAN pull this off? Part of the answer involves leveraging the firm’s extensive experience with building planar magnetic drivers. Until now, the planar magnetic driver used in previous HiFiMAN models all required a significant degree of hand assembly in order to achieve the desired sonic goals. With the HE-400, however, HiFiMAN founder Dr. Fang Bian and his team found a way to create a planar magnetic driver that could be mass produced and assembled via automated machinery—a step that yielded huge cost savings that are passed on to the customer in the form of a much lower retail price. Further, HiFiMAN made some judicious choices in terms of packaging and included accessories for the HE-400, which also helped to control costs. For example, all other HiFiMAN ‘phones come in hinged, padded presentation cases and typically include detachable signal cables fitted with some fairly expensive jack/plug assemblies. Those detail touches, though welcome, add costs. By contrast, the HE-400 comes in a more consumer-friendly cardboard box with a clear product-viewing window on the front and with a simple molded packing tray to hold the headphone in place during shipment. In turn, the HE-400 is fitted with a detachable signal cable, but one that foregoes the more expensive connectors used on top-tier HiFiMAN models. Steps like these help reduce costs without undercutting the performance potential of the product.
Playback (and its sister publication from Europe, Hi-Fi+) has a full-on review of the HE-400 coming up in the not too distant future, so I won’t go into great depth here, but rather will try and give you a few sonic “snapshots” to go on.
If you heard the HE-400 in side-by-side comparison with a high-quality dynamic driver headphone in its price class, you would find the HE-400 offers arguably more powerful and articulate bass, somewhat better levels of overall resolution and focus (especially through the heart of the midrange), and—most importantly—eerily good coherency from top to bottom.
If you’re familiar with other HiFiMAN headphones, I think you’ll quickly discern that the HE-400 bears a strong family resemblance to its more expensive siblings, while putting forth a sound that is just a touch warmer and more overtly powerful in the low-end, that provides a desirable degree of focus on the midrange (where most of the music really lives), and that is slightly more subdued in the upper midrange and treble regions.
Is the HE-400 fully the equal of its more costly brothers? Not quite, though it comes pretty close in light of its dramatically lower price. If you listen to the HE-400 alongside the HE-5LE, for example, you’ll notice that the more expensive model offers more nearly “textbook neutral” tonal balance and a heightened level of focus and resolution. But the key point to bear in mind is that the HE-400 is no slouch in those areas and strong enough in performance to contend for best-in-class honors among other mid-priced headphones. And that, in my book, is good news for us all.
Stay tuned for the upcoming Playback/Hi-Fi+ review of the HE-400. Until then, happy listening.