The price of planar magnetic driver headphones are astonishingly more affordable than in the past. HIFIMAN has specialised in planar-driver over-ear headphones since the beginning. The award-winning HE400 series headphones have also undergone several iterations since it’s launch in 2012. Back then, the retail price was US$399. Along came updates like HE400i, HE400s, HE400i ver. 2020, and HE4XX. In Singapore, AV One is the official HIFIMAN distributor and the HE400se is available at S$229, making it one of the most affordable planar magnetic headphones in the market.
Every warrantied product from AV One comes affixed with a sticker of authenticity. For the HE400se, AV One stuck the warranty label on the shipping box to keep the product fresh for the new owner. Watch the unboxing video here:
The HE400se design is similar to the HE400i 2020 which is S$249 – just S$20 more. On paper, the HE400i 2020 seems to have better specs, so I am not sure the rationale of an “se” edition. What is apparent is the affordability to the masses to appreciate planar magnetic headphones. The HE400se achieves 91dB sensitivity at 25 ohms of impedance, but on the LG V30+, I had to max the volume to get a moderately loud level.
Indeed, the HE400se feels like a good entry-level headphones to own. The plush headband slants at an angle and offers excellent comfort while the silver-gloss plastic housing keeps the overall headphones lightweight at 390g. The earpads are generously cushy and I love the hybrid material design where the velour feels cooler on my skin than a full leather fit, while visually it makes the HE400se looks premium.
The one thing that I did not quite like for the entire package is the silver copper cable. At 1.5m, they are too short for plugging in to home audio systems, and they feel like earphones cable than headphones cable which are usually thicker. Finally, they are stiff and difficult to keep them in place.
Personally I do not judge a product by its technology and how good it is. Most important is the impression and the execution of delivering the outcome. The potential of planar magnetic drivers are a lot greater than dynamic drivers, but it does not necessarily mean the former will always sound better.
Over the weeks of using the HE400se, I have grown to enjoy it, mostly due to its comfort. The sound quality is neutral: there is no heavy bass nor sparkling treble to be super-impressed. Rather, the HE400se makes audio sound natural and open, delivering the details present in the recording without specifically calling out on any particular instrumentation. Once they all lay out, it’s up to my ears to pick them up.
When a pair of headphones made me uncover some more details that I missed in previous reviews, I know the headphones must be special. The HE400se did just that, but it is not merely pushing the frequency range to sound clearer. Rather, it is the finer presentation which probably only a massive driver like planar magnetic can achieve. And this is what I mean when I mentioned earlier that I do not care about the technology, as long as I can discern the quality.
If you want a more outstanding out-of-this-world presentation, the Sennheiser HD 800 S will blow your mind away, but at a higher price point. Comparatively, the HE400se may sound less hyped, but if you can only afford S$229 for audiophile-quality headphones, the HE400se is good enough to deliver detail and musical discipline.
The only other planar magnetic headphones I have with me is the HyperX Cloud Orbit S so I did a comparison. The Cloud Orbit S bass has more weight and warmer which are characteristics of a closed-back headphones. The upper treble sounds more prominent but slightly recessed against the low frequencies. On the other hand, the HE400se is more open, more spatial, more neutral, better midrange transparency. It is a better pair of cans to listen to nuances of the instrumentation.
When listening to tracks that are heavy in treble, the HE400se makes them sound a lot more pleasant and less harsh while not suppressing it. In comparison, the Sennheiser HD 800 S enhances treble intensity while controlling the harshness. On the Cloud Orbit S, the treble range is narrower to fill the ear with highs balanced with the lows, which is kind of cheating. However, when you activate the 3D feature on the Cloud Orbit S, the treble opens up and achieves a magical HRTF experience that is a league of its own.
After playing through all my usual tracks, I have to say that the HE400se sounds balanced in almost all of them. Even piano instrumentals sound clean without the muffled ringing midrange that usually exist in neutral-tuned headphones. Take for instance Yanni In My Time, the piano solo is presented about 2 feet away in front of me while the subtle accompaniment are panned wider. While it does not sound as intimate as most headphones would , neither does it sound too distant and detached.
The tracks that might not sound as gratifying are the deep-bass pop genres, but they are compensated by exceeding musicality at other parts of the song besides the mindless bass. The close and wide sound staging helps in de-cluttering the sound.
I don’t have the Sennheiser HD560S on hand for A-B comparison, but the HD560S wears less comfortably on my head. The treble is easier to be picked up by my ears, and the cable is longer. But I prefer using the HE400se and the neutral presentation while not sounding too warm like the Sennheiser HD 650.
- Bass – 6.8/10. Clean impact, fast decay, disciplined.
- Midrange – 8.2/10. Excellent details and texture, maintains good balance of warmth.
- Treble – 8/10. Ability to deliver details without sounding too domineering.
The HIFIMAN HE400se retails for S$229, and for that price, it is very value-for-money. I would categorise it as a neutral-sounding headphones without emphasis on any particular range, yet it delivers a sufficiently engaging sound that makes me still enjoy music with every musical detail that the recording has captured. What wins me over is the comfort, which I value a lot. I might get get a unit myself after this review.