August is finally here and the beaches on the Shore are surprisingly quiet considering a 70% vaccination rate in the Garden State. Living only a few blocks from the beach affords me the opportunity to sit in my favorite spot and wave to my friends on the other side of the pond in Portugal. Minus the winds, I’ve been able to enjoy the HiFiMan HE400se headphones outdoors with Dongle DACs and an iFi portable headphone amplifier. I plan on a deeper dive into these very affordable headphones in a few weeks but I have a quick take that should peak your interest.
Headphones have become very expensive over the past 5 years and while I don’t have an issue with anyone spending $3,000 – $5,000 on a pair of Meze Audio Empyrean, Audeze CRBN electrostatic headphones, or HiFiMan HE-R10s — I think it’s important that the technology trickles down to more affordable products.
HiFiMan have done an excellent job with this; the Sundara being the prime example of a high-end planar magnetic headphone that delivers exceptional sound quality for under $450. It’s one of the headphones that I use at my desk most of the time and on vacation when I’m able to relax indoors and don’t have to worry about disturbing other people with the sound.
I’m slightly amazed that HiFiMan can sell the HE400se for only $150 but they also manufacture them at home in China where they have a lot more control over production costs.
The HiFiMan HE400se feature an adjustable lightweight headband that is 100% not real leather. I have a rather large head and I’ve figured out (after 5 pairs of HiFiMan headphones) how to make them sit properly and create a decent seal.
The earpads are comfortable for longer listening sessions and I never felt that they were allowing too much bass to leak out. I did have to wipe them down after sitting outside in the hot NJ sun but a very comfortable material for indoor listening.
The weight is quite good for an open-back planar magnetic headphone; the HE400se weigh 13.8 ounces and feel relatively solid on your head.
The included headphone cable is detachable but not the best I’ve used with HiFiMan headphones over the years. It’s pretty obvious that they had to save money somewhere and I swapped it out for another one in my collection.
The 91 dB sensitivity rating (25 ohms) is probably accurate but I’m not sold on using these without a Dongle DAC or portable headphone amplifier. My iPhone didn’t feel powerful enough listening to music with both Tidal and Qobuz; I tried the Clarus Coda, AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt, Helm Bolt, THX Onyx, iBasso DC03, and Periodic Rhodium Dongle DACs and the results were fairly consistent.
The THX Onyx delivered the most power but I found the treble to be slightly etched and fatiguing after awhile. Bass response was excellent but I’m not sure I could live with a hot sounding treble with this combination. The HiFiMan HE400se needs something with less bite for sure.
The Helm Bolt is quickly becoming one of my favorite Dongle DACs because it’s so easy to listen to for extended periods of time. It doesn’t overly emphasize any part of the spectrum and the midrange is very smooth and full sounding.
It doesn’t deliver the brute force of the Clarus Coda or THX Onyx but it’s more than capable in the bass and the treble never strays too far that poor recordings are unlistenable. A detail monster it is not.
The HE400se deliver the trademark midrange resolution and color that makes HiFiMan headphones so good, but not with the same degree of clarity or detail that you would find with the more expensive Sundara.
The Sundara are $200 more and worth the extra money; tighter bass, smoother treble, more spacious sounding, and I find them more transparent sounding with the same Dongle DACs and headphone amplifiers.
I’m going to give the HE400se another few weeks of listening time but they’re off to a rather good start for $150. I can’t think of another pair of headphones at this price point that can compete with them.
For more information: HiFiMan HE400se
Where to buy: $149 at Amazon