Review: Hifiman HE4xx – Affordable Planar Headphones
Hifiman’s brand has been synonymous with quality for more than a decade. Specifically, its line of planar magnetic headphones have earned the marque its notoriety.
When Drop announced in August 2017 that it would be selling a customized version of the Hifiman HE400i (a headphone with a price tag of $499), the Hifi community watched with anticipation.
An affordable planar for the every man? Impossible!
But possible it was. Drop launched the HE4xx for $170 and it was immensely successful, selling more than 15,000 units over the next two years. Today, consumers get an even better deal – the same exact headphone for a mere $130.
After typing this paragraph for the fourth time, I’ve come to realize that the word I’m looking for is “stuffy”.
But more on that later.
When opening the box of the HE4xx, there’s not much to see. Presentation is typical Drop packaging for a product in this price range, but simplicity isn’t bad.
Weight is slightly above average with a bit of heaviness on the head (we’ll touch on ergonomics soon) and a short listen immediately reveals that my ears will need to adjust. I’m still surprised that this cost only $130 compared to some of the other offerings on the market.
The HE4xx is a tough to beat when it comes to construction. It does a great job of feeling sturdy and premium without needing any fancy party tricks or in-your-face branding.
There’s no creaking or loose-fitting parts, just a solid pair of gimbal-mounted cups.
Its driver is tucked neatly behind a black mesh grille. While not in use, a bean of light occasionally shone through the open-back design and outlined the unique shape of Hifiman’s transducer.
The unit’s all-metal design makes it feel sturdy and the cup’s unique swiveling design means that you feel confident in the HE4xx’s ability to withstand a bit of roughhousing.
A no-fills leather headband curves around the top – while it doesn’t exactly excrete signs of luxury or comfort, it perfectly complements the retro-modern design.
Any headband is a major contributor to comfort, and at 13.1 oz (nearly a pound), the HE4xx needs all the comfort it can get. Unfortunately, the headband is one of the unit’s biggest weak spots in construction and comfort; meaning that it might contribute to minor discomfort after long periods of use.
Let’s first talk where the HE4xx really shines – its massively fat bottom. Despite the poorly sealing stock pads, the planar drivers are able to deliver gobs of low-end wonder to appease most modern music listeners.
Sub-bass and bass alike are ominous and make themselves quite present, but not over abundant and unbearable. Tracks like Zeds Dead’s Stardust are extremely enjoyable to listen to and feel fun.
Mids and upper mids seem to be the the HE4xx’s weak point. This is where the “stuffy” description comes into play. Vocals don’t feel intimate, leaving my craving the clarity of the comparable-priced Sennheiser HD 58x. Often, the mids feel like they’re in a constant battle with the planar’s ability to deliver bass.
Highs are fast and responsive; quite to the point and overall crisp. They tend to be a bit bright and can be overbearing at first.
I stand by my recommendation that this is a young man’s set of over-the-ear headphones. Because not only do the HE4xx cater towards more modern bass-heavy music, but they can also be incredible fatiguing to wear during long listening sessions (partly because of the weight, and partly because of the highs).
The sound stage of the 4xx is typical for your open back headphone – it’s nothing to call home about, but enough to promote the idea of free-flowing sound motility and doesn’t contour to the “Sennheiser blob”. In short, the imaging of instruments and sounds are consistent and precise.
Perhaps consider aftermarket pads to help improve the sound stage and tune inconsistencies more towards your preferred listening style.
Clarity and Detail
While mids can feel recessed and congested, overall clarity is exacerbated by the exceptionally excited highs.
Yosi Horikawa’s Bubbles is a perfect example of just how crisp, clean, and detailed sounds appear on these headphones. Perhaps the bright and dry nature of the HE4xx’s sound signature contributes to a bit of artificial clarity that borders becoming grainy.
Hear What I Hear
As always, you can listen to the Spotify playlist we use to test all of our headphones on the sidebar, or by clicking here.
The HE4xx is far from portable. They’re heavy, sound leakage is not only expected, but far more pronounced than many other headphones I’ve tested.
But what makes these Hifimans a stationary listener the most? Power.
They’re extremely difficult to drive with just your typical on-board sound card or passive DAC. A powered amp is an absolute must for these.
Manufacturer-provided specifications are found below:
- Drivers: Planar magnetic
- Style: Over-the-Ear, Open Back
- Weight: 13.1 oz (370 g)
- Frequency response: 20 Hz–35 kHz
- Sensitivity: 93 dB
- Impedance: 35 ohms
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Cable: 4.9 ft (1.5 meter) with right angle 3.5mm (6.3mm with included adapter)
The Hifiman HE4xx are some of the best entry-level audiophile headphones you can buy. They sound exceptional and, despite recessed mids, provide a unique planar experience that emphasizes clarity.
But most importantly, they’re insanely affordable.
Where to Buy
At the time of writing, these fantabulous headphones can be found exclusively at Drop for a rock solid price of $130. Used examples on Reddit’s /r/AVExchange seem to be hovering at an appropriate $100.