Sound – much better than just good
Sound perception is very subjective and varies from person to person. Completely apart from possible hearing impairments. Regular Bluetooth in-ear headphones like the Apple AirPods are trimmed to produce the richest and most dynamic sound possible, but they often lack subtlety and sound a bit artificial. Just like from the can. In order to satisfy the broadest possible taste in mass and to vary the ears for use in noisy environments, bass is usually particularly emphasized, which is perceived as “full and strong” at best, but only bland and exaggerated at worst “fat”.
This “sound” in mainstream headphones has some similarities to the way TV manufacturers set particularly rich colors and contrasts in standard settings. At first glance, it seems sharp and cheesy in the store, but in the long run it turns out to be unnatural.
Special adjustments with DSP correction curves are now possible with almost all Bluetooth headphones. Incidentally, this also applies to the combination tested here, as the qudelix DAC offers very extensive customization options. Including special sound profiles for some headphone models. The HiFiMAN HE400se can also be found long in the list in the app. But be careful: these are individually created sound profiles. In most cases, they do not reflect the auditory sensation. I have tried this with different types of headphones. None of the profiles appealed to me in the slightest degree. As for my taste, it sounded best in the “DSP off” setting. The usefulness of this “sharing of sound profiles” is therefore limited.
Alternatively, the equalizer menu also includes a series of curves preset by the manufacturer for different listening situations. Making EQ adjustments isn’t a cure-all for headphones that are poorly tuned at the factory, however. It sounds perfect without bending the frequency response, as in the case of the HE400se on the qudelix.
The headphones are impressively neutral in their price range, yet alive and lively, with accurate, tight bass that, unlike most other headphones in this price range, thankfully don’t sound steroid inflated. The mid and high tones are also at a level that I know only from headphones that are several times more expensive. In my opinion, the HE400se (in combination with qudelix) can easily outperform competitors such as the B&W PX7 (around 400 euros, test report) and also outperform the AirPods Max (test) thanks to its extremely detailed and faithful playstyle.
Connected locally to a very high-quality headphone amplifier, even more is possible. But it’s definitely a question of price. To get a really good DAC for desktops with a headphone amplifier (at least) you have to add a few hundred euros.
The good thing about qudelix is that – connected to a Mac or iPad via USB-C – it can also be used as a local DAC / KHV. Not with the performance of much more expensive competitors, such as the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 200 M tested here, or with stationary iFi Audio devices, but at a very decent level.
Conclusion: Cheaper and better is almost impossible
Facts: The HiFiMan HE400se currently costs 109 euros, the importer offers qudelix 5k for 129 euros. Together, this amounts to just 238 euros for the truly successful magnetostatic earbuds and a very versatile mobile DAC that can be used with almost all passive headphones.
As already indicated at the beginning, this is of course also a matter of personal aspirations. If the particular features and portability of the earbuds are more important to you, the duo discussed here is obviously out of the question. For all those who expect a more natural sound and uncomplicated realism, but don’t want to spend so much on it, the HiFiMan HE400se with qudelix 5K is definitely worth checking your hearing. I don’t know anything cheaper or better.