Introduction to the HiFiMAN HE-400 Planar Headphone and HM-601 Slim Portable Player

HiFiMAN was founded in 2007 by Dr. Fang Bian, a man with a passion for portable audio. His love for music and sound quality is immediately present in his HiFiMAN products. HiFiMAN has been known for producing some very well regarded planar magnetic headphones, like the HE-6, but up until now, those reference headphones required a lot of power. Carrying around a decent amp attached to a portable player isn’t desirable, so Fang set out to develop a more efficient planar driver and his result is the HE-400.


HE-400 Planar Headphones

  • Sensitivity: 92.5 DB
  • Impedance: 35 Ohm
  • Weight: about 440 gram or 14.5 Oz
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 35 KH
  • MSRP: $399

HM-601 Slim Portable Player

  • D/A Chip: TDA1543
  • Freqency Response: 20-20K Hz
  • Distortion: 0.09%
  • S/N: 92 DB
  • Stereo crosstalk 74 DB (Lineout)
  • Headphone Amplifier
  • Output level: 1.1v at 32 Ohm; 2.2v at 150 Ohm
  • Max Output: 30mw at 32 Ohm; 26mw at 150 Ohm
  • Size: 62mm*103mm*26.5mm or 2.4 * 4.05 * 1.04 Inch
  • Weight: About 200g / 7Oz
  • On board Flash: 8 GB
  • Battery time: 9 to 10 Hrs
  • I / O: Headphone Output; Line Output; USB Data Exchange; SD card (up to 32GB)
  • MSRP: $249 (8GB) $100 (4GB)
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  • SECRETS Tags: Headphones, Portable, Player
  • HiFiMAN Website

To go along the HE-400, Fang created the HM-601S (Slim) music player, capable of playing high-resolution 24/96 audio files. Sure the iPod is incredibly popular, but Apple needed to a large audience and not necessarily the picky audiophile. Apple iPods may be extremely popular, but they cannot properly drive more demanding headphone loads. Following my review of the HE-400’s I take a look at the HM-601S portable audio player.

If you happen to be familiar with HiFiMAN headphones, then all you need to know about the HE-400’s is that they have a cobalt blue finish. If however, you have never seen a set of headphones from HiFiMAN, then please indulge yourself with this photo.

As you can see, the HE-400’s are quite large and, with the exception of STAX electrostatics, I don’t think many headphones are much bigger than these. Given how headphones have become almost a fashion statement with so many artists branding their own models, the HE-400’s say all you care about is how the music sounds. Not that I would necessarily wear the HE-400’s on the go as they are an open air design and do not cancel out ambient noise very well. They are best used at home, with a nice glass of the drink of your choice.

I was wary at first when I picked up the HE-400’s. They were heavier (14.5 oz) than what I am used to, but after placing them on my head, my worries were quickly put at ease. These are easily the most comfortable pair of full sized headphones I have ever worn. The padded headband sits softly on the top of my head and evenly distributes the weight. The speakers fit neatly over my ears without too much pressure, which I greatly appreciate as a man who wears glasses most of the time. Often headphones will place too much pressure on my ears, creating a bit of pain over time where my glasses rest in between my ears and head. I had zero issues wearing the HE-400’s for most of my 8-hour workday.

Connecting the HE-400’s is a long detachable cable with 1/4″ plug and they include an adaptor for a mini plug. Having a detachable cable is great as it allows for easy upgrade to a high-end cable, or even a balanced cable for connecting to a high end headphone amplifier. The ear pads are a soft, comfortable, suede-like material that is quite pleasing to the touch. They should last quite a long time, unlike foam pads that eventually break down.

For my ears and musical tastes, the HE-400’s are a near-perfect match. The open air design leads to a lovely soundstage- where you can hear and sense the space around instruments. The bass is solid, but not overwhelming, with excellent tightness. It may be pumped slightly too much for some purists, as Fang did mention to me that he added some bass response to the HE-400’s for the American market. Again, for me, they sound wonderful. Finally, the midrange provides a warm and detailed image. Even at lower volumes, I feel the HiFiMAN’s could hold my interest longer, allowing me to drift off into the music (Not always a good thing when you are listening at work). The HE-400’s 92.5 DB efficiency meant that I could get more volume than I needed hooked directly up to my iPhone.

While listening to the Miles Davis classic, Kind of Blue, on the HE-400 and AKG K701 via the HiFiMAN portable player, I found the HE-400’s to be much warmer, with an intimate yet open soundstage. Coltrane’s sax has that body to it that lets you feel the sound and not just hear it. The midrange in general is fantastic on these headphones. There is a delicate balance between midrange thinness and bloated sound and I think the HE-400 hits the sweet spot with ease.

Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” felt open and tight with some great clarity to the drums. Stevie’s voice seemed to step out of my head, creating a wonderful soundstage, especially for headphones.

M83’s hypnotic synths sounded smooth and dreamy without any sign of harshness that I have come across on some headphones. Bass lines had just the right punch and weight that help carry the music.

At $399, the HE-400’s are certainly not in the realm of cheap headphones to most people; however, audiophiles are indeed not most people. In the realm of planar headphones, the HE-400’s represent a tremendous bargain. Not only have they lowered the cost of acquiring a pair of planar headphones, they have designed them in such a way that you don’t need to spend even more money on an amplifier capable of driving them. Their ability to deliver beautiful music from smaller power sources is downright impressive. Highly recommended!

HE-400 scores

  • Looks: 3.5
  • Build Quality: 4
  • Comfort: 4.5
  • Sound Quality: 4
  • Value: 5

HM-601 Slim Portable Digital Audio Player

The HM-601S takes a bit of a stealthy approach to its performance. On the outside, it has a decent little color LCD and a few buttons. On the inside, a TDA1543 D/A chip, headphone amp and 8GB (there is a 4GB model as well) of on board flash memory. That may not seem like much, but on the side there is an external SD card reader that supports up to 32GB for a total of (I didn’t even use a calculator for this complicated math) 40GB of memory. The goal of this player is not to impress your friends with how thin it is, or that it can play games, but rather with how great the music sounds coming from it and it does sound very good.

The ergonomics are decent, but I did find myself fumbling a few times with the navigation. I would want to hit the right arrow to skip to the next track, but that just brings up the “Add to Favorites” option. Instead I had to train myself to click the down arrow to skip tracks. Once I got the hang of it, navigating was quick and easy. Even though the 601S fits in my pocket, I found it to be a bit bulky by today’s standards. Hopefully future editions will reduce the unit size a bit.

For myself and most audiophiles, these are trivial complaints and sound quality is what really matters when choosing a portable device. The HM-601S sounded great and was a definite improvement over an iPod or iPhone. Low end response and detail was improved by noticeable amounts as were high frequency details. Most portable devices will struggle to play at reasonable listening levels if you present them with the harder load of high performance headphones, but the HM-601S includes a gain switch for high and low. If you are using earbuds, you would probably choose low gain. For the HE-400’s I kept the setting at high gain for the best sound quality. In terms of portable HD file playback, the HM-601 doesn’t have much competition. I would say if you have a nice collection of HD FLAC files, or if you have a set of harder to drive headphones, the HM-601S is an excellent choice.