Hifiman HE400i 2020 is a new over-ear planar magnetic headphone coming at 169 USD, making it +/- 3 times less expensive than its predecessor.
Sound quality for the price
The unboxing experience is the first surprising thing about this new HE400i. It comes in a box which is strikingly similar to the one supplied with their Sundara. At such a lower price we’re still getting a nice presentation, which is a very good welcoming feature.
The box itself is quite large, and it’s sporting a very nice graphic on top. Inside you’ll find your new HE400i 2020, the cable and some paperwork. That’s basically it, but having their price in mind, you really won’t be expecting anything more.
The cable included is 1.5m long, and it’s pretty decent. It is stiff a bit, but nothing too extreme, so it’s pretty comfortable to use – don’t expect a very flexible and playable cable though. Nonetheless, there’s nothing really to complain, especially for the price.
The build quality of the new HE400i is another positive surprise.
Thanks to the new headband construction, which is actually very similar to the one you can find in DEVA, they feel sturdy and substantial.
I’m not getting any squeaks, everything is well put together and pretty much flawless.
I’m really digging this “all matte-black” design, it’s making them look stealthy and elegant. I’d wish the grills we’re more transparent so I could see this planar driver closely, but it ain’t the con, just my wishful thinking.
Overall, I think that these are built better than the Sundara actually, feeling more reliable and sturdy, without losing any comfort. Actually…quite the opposite.
Quite the opposite, because the HE400i 2020 is wonderfully comfortable, once again better than the Sundara in this regard.
Once again Hifiman somehow managed to make their planar magnetic headphone pretty lightweight, which was pretty impossible a couple of years ago. The original HE-4, HE-500 or HE-6 was sharing a somehow similar design to these, and they were quite a lot heavier.
The change to the headband construction is a welcoming choice not only in terms of the overall design, but also it increased the comfort even further. The new headband is well-padded and just wonderfully comfortable to wear over long periods of time.
The pads are also improved, being quite a lot more squishy and pleasant to the touch. It is once again a hybrid construction, with leather on the outside and velour on the part that touches your skin.
Thanks to that the new HE400i 2020 is a very comfortable pair of headphones. Actually, I’m wearing them right now for like a 5th hour, and I don’t feel any fatigue. Well…I’m gonna spend a couple of hours more with them on my head, and that idea is pretty much okay with me.
The new HE400i 2020 is using the same driver which you can find in the old version of the 400i. I think that’s brilliant news, having in mind how popular and just great the original was. Also, having in mind that almost 3x price reduction, I’m still amused how on earth did they manage to put the same driver in these and to reduce the price that much without any sacrifices in other regards. Well…I might never find out, but it’s surely some kind of dark magic of their accountants.
If you think that the HE400i 2020 sounds like a budget pair of over-ear planar magnetic headphones, then think again.
Starting with the bass, the new release by Hifiman impresses from the first notes. Low frequencies are fast, accurate, full-bodied and refined.
It is not a bass-heavy pair of headphones, nor it is thin and analytical. It’s well balanced and neutral, but it surely can roar. Don’t expect the Audeze LCD3 quantity and thickness though, as the he400i are more into detail retrieval, rhythm and complementing the rest of the frequency response, rather than dominating it.
Nonetheless, you can hear every single strumming of the bass guitar, the kick drums are well defined and punchy, without being exaggerated. I haven’t noticed any inconsistencies whether I was listening to Sylosis (it’s a pretty dynamic and fast metal) or just chilling to blues or jazz. I’d call it very intuitive and simply natural, focusing on being accurate and detailed without a slight hint of being too analytical. The only thing worth noting is that these do lack sub-bass sometimes, but it’s very slight. Not to say these do not have this lovely subsonic rumble, but rather it just accompanied with the rest of the bass response, and the sub-bass itself is slightly reduced in the sake of being as accurate as possible.
The midrange pretty much continues what the bass has started. It is wonderfully neutral, uncolored in any way. It is neither dark nor bright, warm or cold, analytical nor musical. It is flat but in a very good way.
Thanks to that, these sound incredible with just about anything you’d throw at them. Classical, jazz, rock, electronic, rap, pop – it’s a jack of all trades, providing nothing more than just an excellent detail and resolution throughout the whole response.
There are two types of neutral tuning of the midrange though – the one is boring, somehow lifeless and almost dead-sounding. The second one, which you can find in here is full, vivid and pleasant, without sounding too forward or dominating.
It is an extremely well-tuned pair of headphones which makes them a wonderful contestant for being the “one and only headphone you need”.
Even though I’m a reviewer, I read other’s reviews as well. I found some opinions that these are bright and sharp, and require some equalisation to perform well in the treble area.
I’m quite surprised, but I do not hear that. The treble is pronounced, quite forward and detailed, but it’s never too bright or overly sharp for me.
It doesn’t matter if I’m listening to classic rock, metal or modern rap – I’m getting saturated, pronounced and greatly texturized sound, but it never gets unpleasant.
The only thing that might not suit everybody is that the treble sometimes is a bit dry, but it greatly depends on the rest of the setup. While using the JDSLabs Atom stack it is very neutral and pronounced, but tends to sound a bit shallow in some recordings. When I plug them into my Cayin N3Pro, the treble area get’s softened a bit, and it sounds more colorful and natural. So, if you are a fan of smooth and thick treble response, I suggest pairing these with a source that will focus on these factors.
The soundstage is simply incredible for a sub 200$ headphone. The imaging is spot-on both in music and in games. The overall presentation is quite airy, refined and natural, not being super extended, nor shallow and in-your-head like.
The instrument’s separation is brilliant, every single sound source is well defined and pronounced. The vocal is coming from the front of the listener, resulting in a natural and mature staging.
Overall, I’d personally call the HE400i 2020 an over-ear, open-back version of the Campfire Ara, which in my opinion are very similarly tuned. Of course, the Ara has better technicalities and is overall a much better sounding product, but the tuning is very similar in my book.
Hifiman HE400i 2020 absolutely killed the sub 200$ open-back market, delivering an incredible value and not a single factor of a budget sounding headphone. Fast, resolving sound with an incredible detail retrieval and staging in its price makes it the best value open-back headphone in the market today. I’m impressed.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Audeze LCD3, AKG K501, Kennerton Odin, Sivga Phoenix, Sendy Aiva, Focal Clear, Meze 99 Classics, Sennheiser HD650
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, JDSLabs Atom stack, Flux FCN-10, iFi iDAC2
Founder of Ear Fidelity. I’ve been into audio for many years, working in production, distribution, retail, and marketing throughout my career. Now trying to revolutionize the art of reviewing audio gear, but one thing will never change: Music is the most important.