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Versus Review: Hifiman HE-400i vs HE-400

Pros: Lightweight. Fantastic rich and textured ortho bass, great mids and better sibilance!

Cons: Slightly Narrower Soundstage


  • DAC: Aune T1 with upgraded 6922 tube. Purchased with the HE-400, great little DAC/AMP. Frequently compared against the ubiquitous Schiit Modi/Magni stack.

  • AMP: Emotiva X-Mini A100. Normally a speaker amp, but this one was modded to support a headphone jack. With two 150ohm resistors in series - supposedly a very decent amp for orthos such as the HE-500.

  • Software: Foobar 2000, and FLAC quality rips.

  • Burn-in hours: About 100hrs, wasnt able to get in a full 150hrs due to selling the HE-400s. 

*Both the 400 and 400i have Focus Pads and have been grill modded.


Bass: After reading multiple reviews, and forum goers opinions - the bass on the 400i's holds up remarkably well against the HE-400s. Much better than I thought it would.

The 400i's dont carry quite the body, but it is very much detailed, more punchier and taut. I had a few songs in mind that I would compare against:

  • The first one being the Tron:Legacy OST, specifically "Recognizer" the first 25 seconds there is a run of all kinds of sub and mid bass and the 400i presented bass that was controlled, layered never bled into the mids.

  • The second track was "The Game Has Changed" - and the 400is handles a barrage of bass slam at 20 seconds in without breaking a sweat. Discerning the onslaught of quick bass in the front while being able to render the violins and orchestra in the background seemed easy for the 400i. The 400s hit you in the chest a bit harder, but the 400i's was more refined.

  • Next song was Steve Aoki's "Rage the Night Away", strictly hip/hop EDM (i guess) - and at the 15 second mark there is a "drop" and again the 400i hits it pretty hard. Detailed while taking advantage of ortho speed, it is very very fun - found myself easily dancing along just as i did with the 400. The 400 did have slightly more body though, and hit with pinch more authority. A bit subtle, maybe tough to tell the difference if i wasn't directly A/Bing the two.

The 400i's Achilles heel is its bass, or so I thought. Maybe my expectations were really low coming in, but the 400i's can hold its ground.

A 9 to the 400's 10 when it comes to impact, but where it loses in output it makes up in detail and maturity. It doesn't need to be loud because it knows it just knows its more refined. Bottom line I was pleasantly surprised that the bass wasn't as bad as I feared and was in fact a very very small price to pay.


Mids: This is where the 400i's just straight up outperform the 400s. Orchestral music are a step up on the 400i's.

  • Frozen OST - "Elsa & Anna" - Hey, its a fun movie! Layered violins & brass, flutes & clarinets are presented in a level of clarity that the 400's aren't quite up to par. You get a sense that youre right in the pit of the orchestra - its very easy to get swept up in the music. The 400s are great as well, just a bit veiled compared to the 400i's - it also has no problems with instrument separation in my ears, but the 400i's just seem more pristine.

  • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20: Allegro Assai. A masterful piece that incorporates a very fast piano intro, then segue-ways into a flurry of string work accompanied with woodwind and brass. Then at the 0:56 mark it again features a drop to a single piano which shows the dynamic range and speed/decay of the 400i. The 400s also portray this very well, but with same veil and slightly less natural sounding. I can picture each piano hammer strike its string a bit more clearly compared to the 400.

The 400's mids are noticeably more recessed, especially when doing a direct A/B comparison. Slightly veiled where the 400i's mids are presented without any obstacles.


Highs & Sibilance: The 400's biggest weakness, an abrupt spike around the 10k region which wreck havoc on female vocals. The dredded "ess" sound reared its ugly head quite frequently on the 400s. Apparently the 400i corrects this problem.

  • Ellie Goulding "Burn" - this brought out the sibilance in the 400s almost immediately. This was my goto song for sibilance and damned near impossible to listen to without EQing the 400s by about -4db.

I was hoping the sibilance would magically disappear with the 400is, they didnt. It's better ut the "ess"es sprinkled this track all over the place. Turns out the 400i's do have a slight bump at around 9k, but its much more manageable and rounded compared to the 400s.

I only notice sibilance once in awhile, and when I do I conclude its the track haha.

  • Taylor Swift "Stay Stay Stay" - A really fun song, no signs of sibilance here. The 400i's are a touch more sparkly than the 400s, similar to how the mids are veiled, the highs are shown with a bit more shine.

The 400i handles the highs much better than the 400s, but this just shows how bad the 400s are as opposed to the 400i's doing it perfectly right.

The 400i's arent as fatiguing as the 400s which can sound downright shrill on some tracks. I may still need to EQ by a couple dbs, we'll see.


Sound Stage: Another weakness of the 400i's is its more intimate sound stage against other open backed headphones, not just the 400.

The 400i does have a slightly smaller sound stage, using YouTube's "Virtual Barber" at around 2:10 the barber snaps his fingers on both sides.

Closing my eyes and placing my hands to where it feels like the source comes from its - "left" snap feels about just under a foot and a half away on the 400s and about 2-3inches closer on the 400is (i move my hand ever so slightly closer).

I would've liked a larger sound stage, the 400's do have an advantage here. Luckily the 400i's do have better depth, I can slightly make out layers of an orchestra more precisely.



  • Male - Maroon 5 "Misery (Acoustic)" & Bruno Mars - Not the most manly vocal range, but both Levine's and Mars Tenor/Falsetto timbre do come off slightly more natural on the 400i than the 400. Both do very well with male vocals imo since sibilance isnt really an issue.
  • Female - Adele "Set Fire To The Rain" (Live at the Royal Albert Hall). If I close my eyes, it's almost as if I'm right up on stage with Adele. Her vocal range isnt as high as Ellie Gouldings but her force and power does come through rather well. I dont think the 400i's really get in the way of conveying her emotion. Pretty happy with how she sounds on the 400i. On the 400, her vocals sound great as well, but can be harsh for female vocals that are on the Soprano/Vibrato range

I think the 400s portray live recordings pretty well with its slightly larger sound stage, but the 400i's present timbre more naturally. Where the 400 wins n EDM, it loses when it comes to vocal presentation.


Comfort: No contest here, 400i buries the 400. On hand they feel pretty similar in weight (360g vs 440g) but the suspension style headband really does spread out the weight well across the top of the head.

It doesn't quite "melt into your head" but it is significantly more comfortable. I wore the 400's for hours at a time, but the 400is are a league more comfortable. Coupled with a less fatiguing sound, the 400i's a very easy to wear. The gaudy cable that comes with the 400s is comically long and heavy, it cant help the 400 when it comes to comfort.


Overall: Purchased for $395USD from Razordog, the improvements in comfort alone is almost worth the gap in price over used HE-400s (~$225-250). The cleaner mids, smoother highs and punchier bass take the 400i at least a step above the 400.

I'm pretty happy with the 400i's in all areas, its only weakness to my ears is its sound stage unfortunately, its not bad by any stretch but I wonder how a more spacious headphone like the HD800 sound like. Luckily the 400i also look sexy as hell, and order of magnitude better than the 400s. It even makes the HE-560 look old fashioned and boring in comparison.

I hesitate to call them a "mid-fi" headphone, I'm sure they're a shade under headphones like the HE-560, and Oppo PM-2 while being just outside the HD800s. I almost feel it beats the PM-1 and Alpha Dog in sound quality.

Overall the 400i bring fantastic clarity, detail and fun while being pretty damned comfortable.



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