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Review - Hifiman HE400se

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 


The Hifiman HE400se has been kindly loaned to me by Hifiman in exchange for publishing this review. They have not requested anything specific and, as always, my opinions will be as sincere and honest as possible but it is always good to be aware of the fact that it hasn’t cost me anything to try these headphones.

Intro…

Before I start with the HE400se, I would like to go back to September last year, when I reviewed the HE400i (2020). In that review, I said that the 400i were a decent set of headphones for their price but that they weren’t great. This has brought a bunch of comments (on my channel and on other forums) where people stated how incorrect I was, to the point that I felt that maybe I had received a pair with issues. 

Now, the HE400se is a set of headphones that are at a similar price point to the HE400i, in fact, they are even cheaper, coming in at around 130€ direct from Hifiman.

I have never had the chance to try a different set of HE400i, so I really don’t know if they had issues or if I simply didn’t like them, but I will say that if the HE400i that I had in my hands had sounded anything like these HE400se, I would have given them a very positive review!

Anyway, enough about the past and on with the present, the HE400se.



Presentation…

The presentation of the HE400se is very basic and it is easy to tell that Hifiman have saved as much on packaging as possible, which is a good thing when talking about a budget set of headphones. 

Inside the box that is very reminiscent of other Hifiman models, we find the headphones sitting in a cheap plastic tray, along with a single ended cable and the warranty documentation.

That is it, there is nothing more to mention. This means that whatever they spent on making these headphones has gone into the headphones and not the packaging.



Build and aesthetics…

I want to get the negative out of the way first... the cable. I am a fan of Hifiman but their cables are usually not great, at least on the models I have tried. I am sorry to say that the cable that is included with the HE400se is the worst cable I have ever received, and I am not just referring to “received with headphones”, I honestly cannot think of a cable I have disliked more with anything I have purchased.

The cable feels like a single strand cable, in fact, it feels like a length of thin fence wire that has been covered in plastic and had some TRS connectors put on the end. It is not only horrible to the touch and feel, it also bends and holds the shape just like any normal piece of fence wire would. Usually, even with some of the bad cables that come bundled with stuff (not referring to Hifiman but headphones and IEMs in general), I would say it’s not great but just swap it out if you don’t like it. In this case, I literally could not use it, it irritated me. The good news is that the HE400se are just regular 3.5mm TRS connectors, one on each cup, so you can easily use a different cable.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, the headphones…

The HE400se do not look like an expensive set of headphones, you can tell that they are not boutique quality, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t good for their price. The headband is the same as that used on the Deva and HE400i, which is a headband that works and is comfortable enough for longer sessions. 

The pads are also decent, with the internal part of the pads using cloth where they touch your face, with an imitation leather around the outside. I also believe that these are the usual Hifiman size, so replacement pads shouldn't prove to be difficult to get.

The cups are made of a silver coloured plastic that, while not being a high end material, makes the headphones very light and helps again with comfort. The yokes that hold the cups to the headband are made of aluminium (or aluminum on the US version) which also keeps them light but makes them much stronger than if they had used plastic for the yokes.

I don't think that the HE400se is a headphone that I would consider beautiful but they are not ugly, at least to my eyes, and seem to have been built to be good without breaking the bank.



Sound…

Presentation and build go out the window when we make it this far, the sound is by far the most important part of any headphone but even more so when we are talking about a budget offering.

The HE400se uses what Hifiman calls the “Stealth Magnet”, which is designed to reduce reflections and other non wanted issues inside the cup, while still being able to present that clear and clean sound that we (or at least I) associate with Hifiman. 

The general sound of the HE400se is something that is easily identified as being a Hifiman planar but let's go through the usual steps regarding sound.

Starting with the subbass, there is plenty of that low end rumble when needed but it does not feel overdone at any point, in fact, I would say that there is a slight roll off as the frequencies drop but the HE400se manages to still seem to be present when needed . Tracks such as “Chameleon”, which is a rather demanding track in the low end, are presented in a way that the subbass is clearly defined but does not invade other frequencies. “No Sanctuary Here” is a very pleasurable listen on the HE400se, with plenty of low presence while maintaining the clarity needed. The low hits are clear and precise, no sense of bloat or loss of control.

Moving slightly higher into the mid and high bass, they deal well with electronic music, sounding very clean in these regions when listening to songs like “I Fink U Freeky”, while still being able to present natural instruments, such as my beloved bass guitars, in a way that is realistic and well balanced. From “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, a modern take on pop music, through to “Elephants On Ice Skates” by Brian Bromberg, a mix of plucking and ringing bass notes, both sound pleasurable and it is easy to identify the various styles happening in the low end.

In the lower mids, the transition from the bass is very clean, no sense of bleed or muddyness, making it very easy to define the differences between the low mids of say a guitar and the high bass of a bass guitar. 

The mids are very balanced as we move through the center of them, although there is a slight dip when starting to reach the higher mids, somewhere around the 2kHz mark. While this dip is slightly noticeable, it is not to the extent of making vocals lose their presence in the higher midrange. “Down to the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss does seem to place her voice slightly further back that I am used to on higher end planar options from Hifiman, making it a little more in line with the backing vocals rather than take that extra step forwards, but it is certainly not unpleasant. I find this to be the case with various tracks that are mainly based on vocals, although I find it more noticeable with female vocals. In the case of “These Bones” by The Fairfield Four, the voices are still very nicely presented and seem well balanced, there is just a little step back in the higher frequency vocals. 

Moving into the higher mids and the lower treble, the presence is back and makes the dip around 2kHz be just that, a small dip. This elevation in the higher mids works well to overcome said dip and manages to do so without causing any side effects such as harshness or nasal sounding voices.

Into the treble areas, there is a nice extension and presence of air and space found in the higher regions. These are not the most “airy” and “spacious” headphones I have heard but I cannot think of another set of headphones at a similar price that are better. I find the treble pleasurable and, although I could say that a little more smoothness would be appreciated, I have no doubt that these headphones are well above the competition in their price bracket.

As far as speed and dynamics, well, I could compare them to higher priced options from Hifiman and pick faults, but if we stay strictly in the sub 200€ bracket, I don’t think that any other headphones could make the HE400se seem like they are lacking in details. There are a few tracks, such as “All Your Love (Turned to Passion)” by Sara K., where I do miss some of those background details but, to be fair, they are details that I appreciate on headphones such as the Ananda which are 8 times the price of the HE400se. Even with very busy and complex tracks, the HE400se may not deal with them in such an effortless manner as the higher end planars but they certainly don’t feel as though they are struggling to keep up.

As far as soundstage and image placement, the width is not huge but it is more than enough to be considered good, with a great placement of images inside that area. Again, as I just mentioned, some of the background details are not quite present, meaning that they are also difficult to pinpoint in the sound stage, but the general placement and transitions from left to right, such as in the case of “Letter”, the placement is very good, in fact, I would say almost excellent if we consider the price range these headphones sit in.



Conclusion…

The Hifiman HE400se are a set of headphones that offer far more than their price tag would lead one to believe. The overall sound and tuning is very good, except for that slight dip around 2kHZ and maybe a little roll off in the lowest regions (which does not bother me personally as I don’t like overly present bass).

Maybe the details are not up to the level of higher priced options but I think that they are way above the competition where they sit (at least amongst those that I have tried). 

There are a few things that I could wish to improve on them but when I think of which headphones do these things much better, I realize that I am thinking of headphones that are way above the price of the HE400se. I would like to have a coherent comparison against the Sundara, which I feel is possible the next step up, but it has been so long since I heard the Sundara that I can’t compare them fairly.

In comparison to other headphones at a similar price, I have no doubt that I would choose the HE400se over the other that I have heard.

I think that if someone is looking for an audiophile experience on a limited budget, the HE400se is a great option that I would have no problem recommending. They do need amplification, at least I have found that they do, but they do not need some ridiculous amount of power to be driven properly. I have mostly listened to them from the Asgard 3, although I have used them a fair bit with the Atom and they were just as pleasurable.

If someone were to pick up the HE400se for 130€, add a Modi3+ for another 100€ and an Atom or Magni3 for another 100€, you have a very very capable set up for just over 300€. Well, maybe add an extra 20€ for a cable that isn’t made of fence wire and for 350€ you have a headphone set up that needs a lot more layout in order to improve it.

I have absolutely no doubt that the HE400se has become my recommended headphones for under 200€, possibly even more!

SenyorC