It’s been way too long since we had a brand new open-back planar headphone to sink our teeth into. My prayers have finally been answered in a rather unexpected way. None other than HiFiman has come around and released a new open-back planar headphone, and it’s a new edition to one of their older models. The HE400se is a new version of the HE400s, and it comes at an even lower price of $149, making it one of HiFiMAN’s most affordable items to date. As someone who’s familiar with the original HE400s, I’m excited to find out what exactly has changed about their notable sound signature. Although it was a fine planar headphone, there’s always room for improvement. Does HiFiman make those improvements?
What You Get
- HiFiMAN HE400SE open-back planar headphones
- Dual-sided high-performance 3.5mm cable
- 6.3mm adapter
Look and Feel
These headphones strike a close resemblance to the original HE400s, but this time the suspension headband is replaced with a leather cased band. Strong aluminum yokes support classy-looking silver-colored earcups and soft leather earpads topped with a piece of warm fabric. It’s a serviceable design that sports a good fit, lasting you many hours of listening without causing any notable ear fatigue. In the past, I haven’t been a fan of HiFiman using these leather headbands, but for the quality of build, it works here and doesn’t apply too much pressure to your head. The cups still feel like they swivel too unnaturally, but it’s a minor quibble.
This planar driver is made with a stealth magnet design. It enables the signal to pass through without generating any significant interference in the sound. With this design, HiFiman aims to hold true to the integrity of the signal flow, improving transparency and reducing diffraction. You should expect little to no distortion from the HE400SE.
Planar headphones are one of the best ways to expand the stereo image past its limits. HiFiman has taken advantage of that with a majority of their products, from the flagship Arya to the popular Sundara. However, as a headphone for $149 it should be judged differently than those at higher prices. That doesn’t matter for HiFiman, as the soundstage is still as open as ever. The width is great and its height is even greater, positioning the image in stacks, layering over each other with clarity and articulation. There’s a ton of depth here to revel in, as the HE400SE produces a sound that can wrap around your headspace for heightened immersion.
The stage still relies on a closer image, compared to many other HiFiman headphones that do a good job communicating distance, but the sound still feels like it’s appearing naturally. I wouldn’t consider this completely holographic, but still highly engaging for an open-back headphone at this price. Listening to Daniel Hart’s score for The Green Knight provided the HE400SE with great separation between the chaotic strings and haunting choirs, executing the ideal atmosphere of the track.
I didn’t have as many immediate impressions about the bass as I did the soundstage and imaging, but there’s still a good amount of detail to enjoy here. The frequencies are given a ton of space, but their tone is a lot more reserved. It’s a neutral timbre that has a playful character with some tracks with smooth bass groves, but don’t expect anything too deep or impactful. I preferred listening to this bass with more contemporary rock tracks like Penny Lane from the Beatles, where Paul’s bass can be heard nice and cleanly without being overpowering. However, if you want that bass slam with more hard rock or electronic tracks, you’re not going to get that with the HE400SE.
There’s a refreshing simplicity to the midrange frequencies. Instrumental detail and effects are all communicated with transparency, but what makes them stick out the most is their incredible airiness. This may make it a pickier headphone, but contemporary genres with more of an easy-listening tone will benefit from the HE400SE’s tamer but clean midrange. Tracks like “Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison, which showcase George’s vocals with exceptional clarity and texture, set overtop the acoustic/electric guitars, drums, and piano which all get the room needed to express their fullness. This creates a lively timbre that’s more subtle with its response, and to me that makes it just as engaging.
The treble is similar to the rest of the overall timbre, with neutral tones that are crisp and clear without having too much impact. However, the high frequencies have a considerable amount of emphasis too. Unlike the bass and mids, the treble isn’t afraid to peak, in effect giving you more striking tones instead of consistent smoothness. I was pleased by how much more complete this made the soundstage, as the clear upper highs gave instruments and effects a proper sizzle. It’s a gripping tonality that gives the HE400SE that proper air and planer shape.
Who exactly is the HE400SE for? I think if you’re just starting out in the planar headphone game, but you don’t want to commit to the mid-tier selections like the Sundara then the HE400SE is a worthy choice. The price is generous and its level of build quality and comfort won’t disappoint. The sound signature is quite picky and a lot more relaxed, but its got great depth and detail retrieval. If you’re interested in planar, the HE400SE does the best job of showing you what planar is like and won’t burn your wallet for it.
Pros and Cons
- Soundstage depth
- Detailed midrange
- Airy highs
- Picky timbre
The HIFIMAN HE400SE is available at Audio 46.
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