HIFIMAN HE400i 2020: same old, same old, or the new hotness?
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Welcome back to the Neighborhood. Today we are taking a look at the HIFIMAN 400i 2020. I have yet to get around to reviewing the Deva, and that review will come out shortly (before the end of 2020, I promise), but when I first saw the 400i 2020, I was very interested in it because I love the sonics of my 4XX and adore the form factor of the Deva. The Deva just fits my head nearly perfectly. What I am trying to say, is that I was hopeful that the 400i would be just as comfortable as the Deva, and potentially sound just as good, if not better than both that headphone and my HE4XX. So, did this headphone rise to the challenge, or did the 2020 moniker curse these cans like it has everything else this year?
Let’s get InToit!
Getting started with the build, I do prefer aspects of this build to previous iterations of this headphone. The headband is nicely padded and wrapped in a nice leatherette material. The yolks do not swivel, but there enough play in the adjustment mechanism to get a good fit and seal, and I think this will generalize to most people’s domes. While the yolks appear to be made out of a metal or dense plastic, the cups are grilles are for sure plastic. The grilles appear to be exactly the same as the ones from the HE4XX, but the cups are significantly cheaper feeling, even if they are lighter in weight. In general, in comparison the HE4XX this is a notably lighter headphone than the HE4XX from drop, and weight is more evenly distributed across one’s head as well.
The pads on the 400i 2020 seem to be of a hybrid, Focus A variety, and comprised of both leatherette and velour with plastic ring backing. They are fenestrated leatherette on the inside, solid leatherette on the outside, and velour for the portion that rests against your face. These pads are somewhat known for being easily damaged when removed, and I’m not a huge fan of velour in general, but from a sonic perspective I found them quite enjoyable, and softer sounding than the Dekoni Elite Sheepskin variants that I experimented with over the course of this review. I also noted that like the Dekoni pads, the stock pads that come with the HE400i 2020 were also slightly more angled. This is a deviation from the HE4XX, which, came with slightly, less-angled, Focus A pads with terrycloth rather than fenestrated leatherette inside, instead. Furthermore, I found that this pad adjustment by HIFIMAN seemed to not only help out with the sound, but also the fit. My final conclusion regarding these new stock pads, was that the 400i 2020 pads sounded more similar to the HE4XX with Dekoni pads than it did to the original HE4XX without them.
The cable that comes with the HE400i 2020, is one of HIFIMAN’s newest cable types and comprised of a somewhat, stiff cable wrapped in a black, braided material. Like the newer variants of the HE4XX, it initiates in a dual-poled, right and left, 3.5mm connectors and terminates in an angled 3.5mm, unbalanced connection with a quarter-inch adapter. But, despite some chintziness here or there, especially with specific regard to the cup material, the HE 400i 2020 does, nevertheless, feel more polished as a whole in comparison to its prior iterations. And, it is lighter weight, in the end, as well.
With regard to the sonics, let me get this out of the way and say that the HE400i 2020 sounds remarkably similar to the HE4XX. So much, so that they’re virtually indistinguishable. I’ve already reviewed the 4XX, but I’ll place that review in the description below for your reference, in case you were interested.
Generally speaking, both the 4XX and 400i 2020 are excellent planarmagnetics, especially for the money. Like the 4XX, what you get with the 400i 2020, is a neutral headphone with a heightened treble presentation, for the most part; but, I will also note that, with the newer pads, the 400i 2020’s treble appears less aggressive to my ears compared to my memory of the stock HE4XX.
General resolution, detail, clarity and sparkle are great for both sets- especially for the price. Like the 4XX, the 400i 2020 punches well above its price-class. Bass extension is sufficient, and like its predecessors, these also hold up relatively well to EQ; but what you miss out on here vs. other planarmagnetics is a surplus of slam and dynamics. Not to say that either of these qualities are bereft in these cans, but they are certainly less present than other, more-expensive planars by a few Db or so, even despite the fact that they actually have decent bass extensions. Having said that, dynamics are soft, subtle, and detailed enough to appease most listeners in my opinion. And while bass detail is also not mind-blowing either, it is definitely respectable for the price, and adds to the enjoyability factor for these sets.
The midrange is also enjoyable in these sets. They have enough presence, but they are less than perfectly flat around 2K, and as a result, vocals may be perceived as less forward, a tad laid back, and more “in the mix” than others may like, say in comparison to something like the reference, HD600 series from Sennheiser. Nevertheless, I think most would actually prefer this presentation for most music, as most “normies” that I have listen to my headphones prefer the overall presentation of the 4XX to that of the Sennheisers.
The treble is the "Achilles’ Heel" of these sets for some, as they find them too bright. However, I find that on the right amp, with the right pad, the treble presentations of both the 4XX and 400i 2020 are much more tolerable than many tend to indicate. And while I recommended changing to Dekoni Sheepskin pads on the 4XX to tame its treble, the stock pads on the 400i 2020 are mostly fine, and I never really found it a necessity to change to pads here, because sonics never crossed the line into a harsh territory for me. I think the adjustment that HIFIMAN made to include fenestrated leatherette on the inside of the pads on the 400i 2020 may have contributed to a smoother treble presentation in its stock form. And while I don’t like to confuse treble for detail, as many other reviewers tend to do, I do think the heightened treble here in these sets does contribute to the detail retrieval capabilities of these drivers, in these particular cases. Nevertheless, like the 4XX, I tend to prefer the 400i on warmer, class A power with sufficient current. My general amp recommendation for the 4XX has been the Bravo Ocean, which is a class A amp with a tube-pre stage, and I’m sticking with that recommendation for the 400i 2020 as well.
I would describe the soundstage for these as generally spacious with greater width than depth. Depth is decent, but in comparison to something like the Sundara, the 4XX and the 400i 2020 lack some depth of field to their staging, which results in a more 2D sound field compared to the 3D sonics and layering capabilities of the Sundara. Any distinctions in imaging, transients, and decay, I feel were more attributed to pad type than to the headphones themselves, and general imaging, decay, and transient performances are stellar in each set.
With regard to pad experimentation, while I ultimately do not think switching pads for the HE400i 2020 is as necessary of a process as it is for the HE4XX, I do prefer the HE400i with the fenestrated Elite Sheepskin Pads from Dekoni, while I prefer the HE4XX with non-fenestrated Elite Sheepskin ones. Having said that, while, I will save my auditory comparisons with the Deva for that review, I will say here that I preferred the pads of the Deva most from a comfort perspective out of all the headphones discussed in this review.
In terms of other, specific, distinguishing characteristics between the HE4XX and the HE400i 2020, I will say that the HE400i is faster, slightly leaner in presentation, and mildly drier and brighter in timbre. Because of this, I do find the 400i 2020 to be a tad more fatiguing to listen to over the course of time, but I will not label this headphone as fatiguing in general, so your milage may vary. In HIFIMAN’s lineup, I would say that the 400i 2020 sits somewhere in between the 4XX and the Sundara along a characterological continuum- a continuum which is based on auditory characteristics, and not necessarily based on either value or desirability.
And I also want to be clear, that these differences are rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. In terms of my recommendations, I would generally recommend both headphones, but I do have a small preference for the overall sound of the HE4XX due to its additional layers of warmth and liquidity. Having said that, separation, depth of sound, and instrument distinction goes the HE400 I 2020. The HE4XX seemed more musical and immersive, while the HE400i 2020 felt more slightly more articulate and defined.
So, from an auditory perspective, if you already own a 4XX, I would not rush out to replace it with a HE400i 2020 anytime soon, as the two sound more similar than they do different. Also, while the comfort is slightly better for the HE400i 2020 than the HE4XX (due to a lesser weight and more padded headband), I do not find the overall difference in comfort as significant as going from say the 4XX to the DEVA. Yet, if you value speed or want a slightly sharper presentation both with regard to tone and articulation, then the HIFIMAN HE400i 2020 might be, more uniquely, for you.
Thanks to DBS Tech Talks for being part of the Neighborhood, and sending the HE400i 2020 into the channel for review! Check out his channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
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