HD650/6XX ($220): At a $50 premium, the HD6XX has far more serious audiophile credentials, surely a richer pedigree for many. However, in listening you would be surprised to find the PC38X actually provides a more balanced tuning. The PC38X is tonally cleaner, clearer and more separated. It has a more open soundstage. From a cheap source, the PC38X is likely a better buy for most as it is far easier to drive. The HD6XX is a bit warmer and fuller sounding, but this also introduces some veil into its midrange that the PC38X lacks. The HD6XX has a more convincing treble response with a bit more presence and crispness. The main benefit is that the HD6XX has better driver quality throughout and is more nuanced overall. This is especially noticeable on complex tracks where the HD6XX rewards with more defined notes and less general smear.
It is much more detailed in the treble and its bass is not only more textured and articulate, it also has a tighter, more assertive impact by a good degree. Using a tube amp with the HD6XX scales it up dramatically, you sacrifice a little resolution, but gain a much more balanced and euphonic signature and wider soundstage that resolves a lot of the veil I heard from SS sources. The PC38X doesn’t scale nearly as well but, of course, sounding better from cheaper sources, is the clear winner from a price/performance point of view. If you were looking for a long-term investment, the HD6XX can be considered as it scales more with better/expensive sources, opening up the avenue for future upgrades. Of course, you also have to factor in a mic into the price given it has no integrated solution.
HE400i 2020 ($169): At the same price as the PC38X, Hifiman are providing an easy to drive planar design albeit with no mic. It is heavier and not as comfortable long term, but not an uncomfortable design in its own right. The HE400i is more difficult to drive, but not to the extent that a desktop stack is required. It will scale much better with a dedicated amplifier as well. Sonically, the HE400i pursues a similar kind of sound but isn’t quite as linear as the PC38X. The HE400i has a slightly more forward treble, giving it a crisper and more energetic sound. By comparison, its bass sounds slightly more laid-back. The PC38X provides a bit more mid-bass impact, the HE400i is slightly fuller in terms of voicing but also more controlled, retrieving more texture.
The midrange is slightly more even on the PC38X though both have a natural voicing. The PC38X is slightly more accurate and coherent, it has a smoother articulation and slightly more body. The HE400i is slightly more revealing and articulate, it has higher resolution and resolves fine details better. The HE400i chiefly has a more present treble response. Though it isn’t a technical outlier, it is noticeably more resolving of fine detail than the PC38X which is further enhanced by its brighter tuning that brings treble more to the fore. The HE400i has better extension and air. Its soundstage is wider while the PC38X is a bit deeper. The HE400i has much clearer directional cues due to its brighter treble but arguably the PC38X has a more realistic portrayal of distance due to its more even tuning.
The PC38X appeals to two core audiences. Primarily, this is for the budget conscious enthusiast wanting an all-purpose headphone for both music and gaming. Under these circumstances, this represents a terrific and well-realised option in basically all regards. Not only is its feature and accessory set convenient for gaming, even as an enthusiast with a wealth of gear, I found myself very pleased with the tonality for pure musical enjoyment. While the treble could do with a slight bump, impedance adaptors are a possible solution for those with a powerful enough source. Conversely, this may suite those with a pricier audio-dedicated headphone wanting a cheaper gaming headset. Here, I think the purchase makes less sense as these users will be better off investing in a mod-mic; there is really no reason why high-end headphones cannot be used for gaming and many have a more vibrant, substantially more detailed treble which will aid the perception of direction in these use cases. Coming back to a more realistic buyer, the PC38X combines all day comfort and integrated coms with a balanced and spacious sound from essentially any source. For those wanting a headphone for mixed uses, it is hard to deny the versatility and value provided by the PC38X.
The PC38X is available from DROP (International) for $169 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Sennheiser, Epos or DROP and receive no earnings from purchases made through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride