Hifiman x Drop HE 4XX


Dating back to 2012, Massdrop has long been a active member of the Audiophile community. I remember back when it was still a new and unfamiliar concept Head Fi used to remove any discussion relating to Massdrop! They started to become almost notorious, which seems so strange to me, as quick google search will reveal just how much success they've had over the last few years! Going from black listed underground community of price slashers to the shining knights of affordable audiophile products tuned by the community for the community. Starting in 2015 with the launch of their first collaboration headphone the K7XX, designed for audiophiles by audiophiles in collaboration with AKG. The K7XX was a big hit with the community!

I however, got my first Massdrop collaboration headphone a few months later when they pair'd with Fostex to release the TH X00 which I found compared favorably to my custom modded LA Denon AH D5000 back in 2015.

Fast forward to today and Massdrop has once again established another market first, with the HE 4XX being Massdrop's first planar magnetic headphone, while they pair'd with Hifiman previous to release the HE 350 a dynamic, the HE 4XX is a depart into uncharted waters! An I can certainly say the maiden voyage for the first community tuned Planar has been a huge win for everyone! Priced at $170, the HE 4XX is by far on of the most pleasurable headphones I've heard in a long time. Combined with it's aggressive pricing and exceptional build quality, they've certainly set a new standard for the market!

Starting with the build quality, I have to say I'm impressed and a little jealous honestly. I own a Hifiman HE 4 one of their legacy planars, and the stock build of the HE 4XX is a real step up from what I remember of my HE 4. Long since modded, I stripped away what felt like cheap plastic from my HE 4 years ago and went with mango wood cups and accents instead. Had my HE 4's original manufacturing felt as good as the HE 4XX, I might have kept it stock.

Plush and well manufactured, the headband is what impresses me most. A little more padded than the original and much more comfortable. The Massdrop team made sure to fix this pain point from the original legacy design.

It both sits comfortable atop of my head and balances the weight of the cups well. The headphones overall gave me little to no neck strain or fatigue. They were light weight and easy to manage over long listening periods!

Another big step forward, new connectors! While not unique to the Massdrop collaboration, I am happy to see Hifiman switch over to a simpler connection. Those old mini RF connectors where a nightmare to swap out... the 2.5mm dual entry cables are much more user friendly.

There's a nice weight to the plastic cups and a pleasant matte blue finish on the HE 4XX, additionally the gimbals and slider mechanism are well built. The slider clasps in particular are heftier than what I remember from the OEM equipment on my HE 4. There's a solid in the hand feel with this headphone for sure.

Overall the HE 4XX looks and feels sharp, solid and modern. The classic style headband doesn't make it stand out like Hifiman's own newer hardware nor does it feel as flimsy either.

Hifiman offers two distinct ePad Styles for their circular headphones. The Focus and Focus A Pads, with the latter offering a clearer sound over the former. Hifiman apparently thinks most consumers will prefer the more V Shapped signature of it's classic Focus Pads, thankfully the Massdrop team choose the more balanced Focus A pads as stock hardware for the HE 4XX.

I found the Focus A Pads to be both comfortable and breathable. I didn't have any issues with heat or excessive sweat.

But... looks and build aside, what are the specifications and ultimately how do they sound and how do they measure?
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz–35 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 93 dB
  • Impedance: 35 ohms
  • Cable: 4.9 ft (1.5 m), removable
  • Plug: ¼ in (6.35 mm)
  • Weight: 13.1 oz (370 g)

To leave it at good would be a gross understatement, in short these are hands down the most beautiful sounding headphones I've heard in this price range to date!

The Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX presents a warm full bodied sound, with a thick meaty low end, warm romantic mid-range and a touch tactility of smoothness up top. It proves itself as a exceptionally well rounded headphone, suitable for a wide variety of genres and file formats. While it scales mildly with more resolving gear, the improvement isn't really worthwhile. It's consistency across a wide variety of both entry level and higher end gear make it just a pleasure to own.

Low-End Response

  • The lows were quite fun, meatier than lean with excellent kick for drums and a good punch for Electronic Dance Music and DubStep. It is a little loose, all in all it's not too emphasized. It's slight roll off around 50hrz isn't to obvious either.
  • I found the HE 4XX to be phenomenal with D.R.A.M's Dark Lavender Interlude, the sub bass kicks were heavy and drove the music well.
Mid-Range Response

  • A warm full bodied sound characterizes the HE 4XX's presentation of the mid range. While there is some emphasis on decay over attack, there's still a nice touch of tactility and excellent resolve. An while I couldn't find any real faults with the mid range presentation, vocals are what stand out the most in my mind! The HE 4XX proved it self exceptionally well resolved with vocals especially. It maintains both a beautiful gentile tactility and warm romantic quality.
  • One of my favorite vocalists, Dai Quing Tana, has a distinctly lower register. The HE 4XX was able to present a beautifully romantic sense of weight and body in her vocals while also preserving the delicateness of her lips and breath as she sang!
Top End Response

  • Neither super impressive nor disappointing, the HE 4XX has good balance and extension up top. There are instances where I'd like a little more energy from it but also times were I appreciate it's more tapered response as well.

  • Again, the HE 4XX does place a little more emphasis on decay rather than attack. While this does soften the sound in general, the HE 4XX retains a nice tactility amidst it's beautiful decay.
  • It's dynamics were neither impressive nor too lacking, they felt sufficient given the price range.
  • Ultimately vocalists and horned instruments had the most resolve comparatively, I found more AHMs among instruments and information in that category than others.
  • Speaking of AHMs I found the HE 4XX to max out at about 20 AHMs out of my reference systems, while netting 6 AHMs from my Shanling M2s.
  • Proving it self a real people pleaser, the HE 4XX matains a well balanced image. Intimate when needed and a little more spacious when required. Though it was more intimate than wide, and did lack a little depth at times. The HE 4XX also responded well to the imaging characteristic of the amp driving it, there was an impressive bit of flexibility from the HE 4XX especially in regards to making adjustments to the audible image it presented.

The Carrying Case pictured is not included with your purchase

Function & Scale

While not needed, an amp is recommend primarily for functional gains in headroom or for having a wider range of listening levels. I used the Line Output of my Shanling M2s to achieve average volumes peaks of only 88.9 dBs. I prefer to have peaks right at 93 dBs. While the M2s offered an excellent quality of sound, I did find my self sometimes needing a little more power to maintain an average listening level of 87dBs. While the HE 4XX does scale with more resolving gear... it's not really worthwhile. Starting with the M2s I was able to net about 6 AHMs, I had the MOST gains in AHMs when moving from the M2s into the JDS Labs EL Dac with my Pico Power or my GeekOut v2+ I netted an additional 8 AHMs for a total of 14. Each of these systems can be had for around $500, though part of that price is mark related to portability. So for a purely desktop system, $350 is more reasonable. Finally, moving into my reference level system netted the addition of another 6 AHMs for a total of 20.

The problem here is how little gains were made from moving out of a Mid Fi system that can be had for around $500 into a one that costs upwards of $2000+ & while technically the reference system had the BEST quality of sound... the improvements were disproportionate given the cost. We have a total of 14 AHMs with an investment of $500, vs a total of 20 AHMs with an investment of at least $2000. So we go from about $35 invested per AHM in the mid range tier, to $100 invested per AHM at reference levels. So ultimately I think the HE 4XX offers the BEST ratio of cost to performance within it's price bracket. I see NO need to recommend any one spend more than $500 on a desktop system.

An even $500 is a bit too much, I would say investing in a JDS Labs EL Dac and a good $100-150 solid state would be a smart choice if you intend to use the HE 4XX as your primary headphone! An of course there are a variety of other excellent DACs and Amps within that price range to choose from, depending on what you want!

An finally, with all this talk of AHMs it's time to take a look at how the HE 4XX sounds as it scales.

Let's start with the Shanling M2s, using the line out the M2s HE 4XX combo was outright fun! There's an added touch of kick in the lows and some excellent resolve, the mid range retains beautiful vocal resolve and otherwise romantic decay characteristics. Additionally, the highs open up nicely with the Line Out from the M2s, gaining a little touch of needed tactility. An while the frequency response pairing of the M2S an HE 4XX was spot on, it did lack in imaging and resolve comparatively ultimatley netting 6 AHMs. But, this super simple plug and play combo was just plain FUN! Super convenient to carry and operate while being a real joy to listen to.

Introducing Hifiman squared, this was really by FAR the most romantic sounding portable system I've ever listened. Unmatched in it's beautiful romantic mid range presentation and natural spacious imaging. But... more often than not it was too much of a good thing! Yes the HM 601 and HE 4XX share a very similar tuning, and yes there's just SUCH a VISCERAL quality to the lows, and YES the mids are to DIE for. But the top end is much to tapered for my tastes, and all that mid range emphasis and decay kinda kills the balance. The HE 4XX no longer has beautiful, tactile mids with a touch of energy... but rather a beautiful, romantic and almost sleepy mid range that's often too soft and slow. While resolve and imaging were some times vastly improved on the HM 601 in comparison to the M2s, the pair'd frequency response of the two is too polarizing and there are still times where the imaging and resolve fall behind that of the M2s.

Depending on your tastes, the HM 601/HE 4XX combo may net you 5 or 7 AHMs. Making the M2s a smarter more consistent recommendation for this headphone.

I pair'd the HE 4XX with the Vali 1 fed via the EL Dac, while I don't feel that tube amps are the best fit for the HE 4XX, I will say this combo did combine the best elements of both my portables! Netting an easy 9 AHMs, but ultimately unless your specific taste is for a super mellow, romantic relaxed sound your better off grabbing a solid state amp. Or getting a good DAP for some portability!

Also, my favorite pairing for the HE 4XX was with the EL Dac and my PicoPower! I spoke of this combo earlier, and it was really quite rewarding! The EL Dac has a beautiful naturalness about it, that pairs nicely with a good clean solid state feeding into the HE 4XX. The lows were a bit tauter out of this combo, allowing for a little more resolve, additionally the mid range as a whole experienced a small increase in overall resolve! Not only vocals, but guitars and other stringed instruments had more clarity to them, a well defined edge and beautifully clear decay and vibrato that canvased nicely over a rather wide sound stage. While the highs were still a little lacking and the imaging could have been deeper, this combo was overall the PERFECT amount of many good things. The EL Dac & Pico Power combo netted an easy 14 AHMs.

Still, this price range is where the HE 4XX works it's magic! I feel it has it's best price to performance ratio in systems ranging from $300-500 total cost. There's a lot of customization here for fine tuning the HE 4XX to what you like best without missing out on too much in terms of resolve.

I HIGHLY recommend any one who intends to keep the HE 4XX as their primary headphone to, upon acquiring such a system, seek NO further upgrades to your DAC/Amp until after you upgrade to another headphone.

LH Lab's Geekout v2+ competed nicely again'st the EL Dac/PicoPower combo. The portable solid state dac amp had similar resolve with a bit less beauty, magic and imaging width in exchange for a sharper tauter sound that filled a slightly deeper sound stage. Likewise this combo netted 14 AHMs.

I will state though, that the GO V2+ has both balanced an SE outputs, in most cases the balanced output provides better technicalities with the SE output having a little more natural sound in exchange for a little less resolve. That said, I wouldn't really recommend purchasing a GO V2+ if you only intend to use SE headphones, though while not super cost effective you could balance your HE 4XX if you wanted a more technically correct sound. Though I STRONGLY discourage pursing a balanced amp beyond this price range if you only intend to use it with the HE 4XX, as the total improvements are not proportionate to the overall cost. Really the GO V2+ serves as an excellent portable Dac/Amp that works with both Single End or Balanced configured headphones.

20 AHMs... when you triple your budget and get deeper into reference level gear you gain about 6 net AHMs for a total of 20. That said, the HM 901 [Vintage] Filter and Pico Power are by far a phenomenal sounding portable rig for many headphones. There was an increase in both tautness and the perception of power in the lows, with a marginally heavier more tactile mid range! The emphasis on decay presents it self the least out of systems at this level, it's not removed by there's a much more cohesive balance of the leading edge of a note, it's attack, and the fall to silence that follows it. While vocals still resolve the best, the rest of the mid range isn't too far behind at this point. Additionally, the darker top end really starts to shine with the HM 901 and Pico Power, there's a snappy airy quality despite the darker top end. An of course, the sound-stage is at this point the most cohesive and open, with resolve seeing a final bump in clarity. Really, those last 6 AHMs are the ones I enjoy the most... as they are the result of a more complex combination of transients.

Still though I cannot justify nor recommend any one spending upwards of $1500 to bring the HE 4XX to this level... as you can achieve the same level of AHMs with a cheaper Dac/Amp system and a better headphone all for LESS than what this combo would cost you.

But if you already own gear at this level, and your curious then take some comfort in knowing your HE 4XX will improve ever so slightly with it!

Again, 20 AHMs was the result of this combo. Where as the HM 901&PicoPower have clarity, tactility and power. The NFB10ES2 Pair'd with my Ember II bring better resolve and add just a touch of beauty back into a phenomenally tactile sound. While the lows aren't AS fun or powerful, they are a bit more resolved here. Vocals take a clear step forward on this system, but at the cost of softening stringed instruments a little, finally there's a little more energy up top with this combo as well! Which adds a nice crispness and tactility to percussion but also makes ambient noise stand out a little more.

Overall the two systems have equal levels of resolve, but slightly different presentations in terms of imaging and pair'd frequency response. I personally, prefer'd the NFB10ES2/Ember II combo the most! I found it really to be spot on with every genre I tested, just plain enjoyable! VERY unpractical and again not something I can recommend realistically but, it is undeniably pleasurable to listen to!!

I have to say, I never realized how poorly my 668HD did until I started comparing it to the HE 4XX... functionally the Superlux HD 668B is great. Very clean sound, but it's got some glaring flaws... namely it's kinda thin, harsh and often incoherent. While the HE 4XX presents a different frequency response, it is also technically better in every way. If you've only ever had the HD 668B or equivalent headphones and your ready to upgrade, I'd grab the HE 4XX as soon as it drops again! I guarantee you'll easily experience 2 to 3 AHMs per 5 minuets of listening!

Nhoord Audio's Gen 1 Red Driver is where the HE 4XX starts to fall behind, both are characterized by a warm natural sound, and while the HE 4XX dominates in frequency response from 50hrz down, the Nhoord Red V1 could have the edge from there on up depending on your tastes.

Sub Bass and Synth's are where the HE 4XX will perform better, but even with an electric bass I found the Nhoord Red V1 to have both better clarity and speed. It's bass was punchier and more resolved for both electric and acoustic instruments. The timbre especially is more accurate, closer to reality with the Nhoord Red V1.

That naturalness continues on into the mid range. Where as the HE 4XX has a beautiful romantic sound, the Nhoord Red V1 has a more natural beauty! A more defined transient response overlayed atop of a slightly romantic decay, this results in amazing resolve with both vocals, stringed instruments, horns, and everything in between!

The highs also really come to life with the Nhoord Red V1 as well, percussion snaps and crashes alive with enthusiasm! High hats gain a more airy playful quality as well.

Really the Nhoord Red V1 is a departure into a more lively energetic sound that the HE 4XX can only dabble in. The problems though are in the imaging. In most cases, the Nhoord Red V1 is a little more intimate than what's necessary. It's also kinda of oddly tall and tilted, what should be behind you sometimes sounds a little beneath you. These are issues the HE 4XX doesn't have, the other issue you need to overcome with a Grado Style headphone like the Nhoord Red V1 is synergy! That $350 JDS Labs EL Dac and Schiit Vali 1 combo are MAGICAL for this headphone... but finding a Vali 1 is a bit difficult as is finding another $100 tube that's on par with the Vali 1. If your thinking about using solid state... I can tell you when I plugged the Nhoord Red V1 into the Pico Power and it becomes more shouty than beautiful, like wise the SE output of the GeekOut v2+ makes the Nhoord Red V1 a bit too warm and slow in some cases. I've actually got my pair balanced as it really compliments the GO V2+'s balanced output.

I paid around $275 for my Nhoord Red V1, another $70 for the balanced Cable/Adapter to use with the Geek Out V2+. And while I get around 18 AHMs with the Nhoord Red V1 out of the same system that only netted my 14 with the HE 4XX, those gains are the result of quite a bit of experimentation and exploration. That's the difference though between the beautifully simplicity of owning the HE 4XX and chasing after upgrades, for literally half the price and 1/10th the work the HE 4XX get's me 77% of what the Nhoord Red offers, and that's assuming you LIKE the brighter top end of the Nhoord Red V1. If you prefer the darker sound of the HE 4XX than you'll wind up with losses in AHMs instead of gains.

While more different than similar, the HE 4 is ultimately the more resolving headphone. It has a cleaner bass response, no humps and less distortion, while not as much fun it's faster, heavier, harder and kicks like a mule at times!

The mid range is more resolved, more tactile and has all of the beauty and decay without any of the sluggishness. The HE 4 also presents an amazing creamy quality with some electric guitar solos, and it's the increase in transient information like this that launches the HE 4 above and beyond what the HE 4XX can do!

The only problem area for the HE 4 is it's top end, which is HYPER RESPONSIVE, you either like brighter headphones or you don't. In the event that you don't than despite having a plethora of gains in AHMs the over emphasized top end will literally pick away at your face. The other problem with the HE 4 is power, it's very in-efficient. So not only do you need enough power to drive it to listenable levels, you also need enough quality to preserve all it's speed, magic, beauty & hyper real resolve/imaging! Ultimately like the Nhoord Red V1, you'll need to work at building a system to compliment this headphone. Assuming you can even find one any more.

I've spent the last 3 years trying to perfect my reference system around the HE 4, and while I've enjoyed it. It's been work... in comparison, while the HE 4XX tops out at around 20 AHMs the HE 4 on the same system pushes closer to 50 AHMs if not more! Proving it not only have more potential when you scale, but also requires a system at that level! If you underamp it or pair it with poor source material, then you'll start to net some negative AHMs, or you'll have moments where details your used to hearings AREN'T there any more.

At the end of the day, the Massdrop X HE 4XX earns nothing less than my wholehearted recommendation. It's tuned beautifully, for our community by members of our community. It brings enough resolve to be an eye opener and is still forgiving enough to always be pleasurable. Additionally it's modest amping requirements and limited scale really help any one new to this hobby grasp many of the basic concepts of upgrades without having the temptation to fall too deep into the rabbit hole. The next time it drops, if you've never taken the plunge on an "audiophile" headphone I sincerely hope you choose to make this your first and maybe even your last!
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