I received the Hifiman 400i 2020 version as part of a review tour organised by Headphone Zone. Thanks Headphone Zone for such a nice initiative. It has been the 3rd week now with the HE400i and it is getting ready to reach the ears of the next person. So if you ask how has been the experience? In short, pretty good and just to let know my background on planars. I currently own HifiMAN Ananda and had owned HE560, Mrspeakers (Now Dan Clark Audio) Aeon closed & HiFIMAN Sundara. You can see that I am pretty much experienced with planars but I am not a very Technical guy. Please do look at my review from a user point of view however I have used a few references to the frequency graphs of old HE400i from www.rtings.com.
Build & Comfort: 4/5
Hifiman decided to put an end to the nightmares folks had with the breaking of the plastic Gimbals and cleverly did that with a light weight metal. The ear cups are claimed to be made of ABS polymer so no more worrying about scratching the painted metallic cups and it looks very nice too. The head band is padded nicely and does not put any pressure at any point on your head, the ear cup grilles are lifted from the old HE400i/HE560 parts bin but it jells well with the new design.
The pleather/velour ear cushions are comfy and feels luxurious, the clamping force is minimal and it feels like your head is resting on a sofa! In fact, I would call it the most comfortable headphone I have ever used. Even more comfortable than the Aeon closed which I had owned before and which is known for its comfort. You might want to ask, it is looking all good why 4/5? It takes a bit of time to rebuild a damaged image we just need to see if it is durable enough. If the ear cups can be replaced and if head band is supplied as a spare, it is looking good and I can give a 5 out of 5 for that.
HiFiMAn had decided to take a detour from the original HE400i sound and has made it pleasantly warm without compromising the details. I am writing about old HE400i sound from memory so take my comparison impressions with a pinch of salt. HE400i was my first planar buy which I quickly upgraded to HE560 and I kept it for a long time! I will not get upset if you call me a HiFiMAN fan boy, at least they know to make better sounding headphones but not build them good! 2020 version is a different beast altogether!
I am not sure how the 2020 version sounds considerably warmer than its predecessor as the drivers are claimed to be the same with a sensitivity of 94 dB/mw. It definitely needs a powerful DAP like DX160 or good DAC amp like the ifi hip DAC and we have to shell in a few bucks more to get the balanced cable as it is not going to sound good on single ended on either the DX160 or hip DAC. For this review I used hip DAC & the obscure Quloos QA361 both on balanced, with DX160 I got to listen to it for a few minutes and I can say it is not much different than hip DAC without going into it in detail.
Quloos QA361 drives the HE400i with authority both in single ended and balanced but once you have a listen on balanced you may not go back to SE, the imaging is more precise on balanced and the dynamics are felt much in balanced. QA361 is an analytical sounding with tons of power with a gentle warmth which will not intrude into imaging, I have used Sundara for quite some time with QA361 and cannot listen to certain tracks with it especially the bright recorded ones. QA361 does not have any Eq and it sort of reveals the peaks in the HP making it worse, HE400i 2020 version is a much easier listen on the QA361 than the Sundara and the peaks are less tolerable. The added warmth in the 2020 version is coming to rescue here.
Just by reading the frequency graph of the old HE400i from www.rtings.com we can see there is a peak of 5db at around 7 to 8K which shows up clearly while listening to the 2020 version too, I am guessing it is just the bass that is boosted on the 2020 version and to make it more consumer friendly sounding and it helps alleviate the treble peaks. I would not comment on the sub bass as I don’t listen much to genres that would require that kind of sub bass, it could be rolled off like its predecessor. For me, I am very much satisfied with the bass response of the 2020 version, I am more in to the live recorded songs of the 80s and 90s of Ilaiyaraaja and a few selected songs from the new age composers of Kollywood (in reality it is a few too) and a bit of Jazz.
Voices sound a bit forward compared to Ananda, sorry for the odd comparison I could not exactly recollect the mids of the old HE400i or HE560 but I can confidently say there is more warmth and it feels like it comes from the boosted upper bass. The mids are much rounded and it does not feel thinner like the Sundara even though Sundara can convey micro emotions better. As I said earlier 2020 version is a much easier listen and one can enjoy for longer periods (even comfort) without much Eq than Sundara, thanks to the boosted bass.
Treble is boosted at an average of 5db from 6K to 9K and it shows off. Given the overall warm signature I would say this peak helps in getting the overall tonal balance. It can be tamed down by taking 8K a couple of dbs down on for songs that may be brightly recorded. Here we can do an interesting comparison with HD 6XX, if you are not behind tube amps and happy to keep sailing with moderately powerful DAC/Amps like ifi hip DAC like me I feel that the 2020 version is a much better alternative than HD6XX. It does much better than 6XX in sound stage (in fact many of them), treble response, bass response and definition, however imaging could be close. Given a choice I would any day take the HE400i 2020 version than 6XX and in fact I sold mine after hearing the 2020 version.
It is a very good package for a killer price and HiFiMAN is clearly setting the trend in pricing, at least they are trying their best in their low end offerings ☺ and it is time that competitors like Audeze give a serious look at the pricing of their entry level offerings. It feels like HiFiMAN has a clear vision on how they want to take it forward, it wants to appeal more consumers by boosting the bass on their low cost offerings like HE400i and slowly move towards audiophile sound with their expensive offerings. Ananda sounds slightly less warm than HE400i 2020 version and more so with Arya.
It gets my highest recommendation for someone is going to take their baby step towards planar, the journey will be definitely exciting and not disappointing!