HiFiMan's Fang Bian has done as much as anyone to bring about the renaissance of the planar magnetic headphone. While most full-size headphones you'll find these days use dynamic drivers — basically scaled-down version of the speakers you're familiar with. Rather than using a heavy motor assembly to move a paper or fiber cone, planar magnetic drivers uses a thin, flexible membrane, printed with a conductive voice coil, current run through the traces moves the diaphragm back and forth between a pair of suspended between two sets of magnets.
The diaphragm's quick response means particularly good high-frequency response; but it comes at the cost of a difficult-to-drive headphone. Also, the assembly has been difficult to produce inexpensively. But over the past few years, models from HiFiMan and Audez'e have reintroduced headphone enthusiasts — who were willing to invest in headphone amplifiers that could dish out the required current — to the concept, with some of the most highly regarded headphones on the market, among them HiFiMan's flagship HE-500 and HE-6 models.
With the HE-400 ($399), HiFiMan has brought the benefits of planar magnetic technology to the masses. It's higher efficiency means it doesn't absolutely require an amp, but more significantly, Dr. Bian's streamlined assembly process has brought the price down to a reasonable figure.
But most importantly, the HE-400 sounds great — involving and exciting, with both high-end clarity, a vibrant midrange, and plenty of oomph in the bass. Bian tells us he had a more "American" voicing in mind for the HE-400, while the HE-500, had been designed with more mannered British loudspeakers in line. And it's indeed a more visceral, exciting listen — if you've been envying ultra-high-end planars like the HE-6 or Audez'e LCD-3, the HE-400 gets you most of the way there at a fraction of the budget.
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