Now we’re all different of course, and so it follows that different sound signatures appeal also. I have noticed that high-end headphones tend to present more mid-range and high frequencies than I would like at the moment. I say ‘at the moment’ as my tastes have changed before and may well change again; both in a musical sense and a sound signature sense.
As it goes, these headphones suit me very well. I had the opportunity to try the HiFiMAN HE-400 against its bigger brothers, the HE-500 and the HE-6. For me, the higher priced headphones were a little too forward in the mid range and got in the way of that bottomless bass. This is a common a feature of planar magnetic headphones, and which makes me lament at the fact I can’t grab that bass and cuddle it like a warm puppy.
I understand that people might identify ‘bass presence’ with headphones which owe their success to marketing rather than a decent sound, but these headphones do not overly accentuate the bass. Nor is detail sacrificed. ‘Five years’, the opening track of David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album starts with a kick drum fading in. I can clearly hear that drumskin quivering and for the first time, despite hearing the album many times.
That’s what’s so good about upgrading from sub-£200 headphones, my entire music collection gets upgraded as well!
And that’s just CDs. In the digital realm, my weak link is now a lack of a decent DAC. I have a reasonable Behringer USB sound card which is good but by no means high-end, plus a M-Audio PCI ‘audiophile’ card; but that’s 10 years old now.
Therefore I decided to try some vinyl with them and the sound is incredible. I found it fun to play a lot of 30 year old pop by way of some early ‘Now That’s’ LPs and various imitators such as ‘Out Now’. The fun is in the difference between the quality of that TV speaker, that little radio, or those cheapo headphones which were held together with sticky tape back in the 80s, and the tastier equipment I have now. Today, those familiar old songs can be heard for the first time as a collection of separate instruments and voices all in unison, rather than a single blunderbuss shot of sound within which you might pick up a distinct instrument if you’re looking for it hard enough, using sat-nav. And DNA profiling.
Indeed, the separation of instruments is a strong feature of planar-magnetic (or orthodynamic) headphones generally. I like to wander between instruments, and am really enjoying the feeling of space between them as well as their resolution which makes them all stand out.
The thing to be careful with is that there appears to be a ‘sweet spot’ as with loudspeakers. The earcups are large, and the placement of the ears within them can affect the sound. I like to place the earcups so that the backs of my ears are touching the padding, then ease the earcups backward until I feel I’m there.