Q: After reading your recommendation, I ordered the Hifiman HE400se headphones from headphones.com. Now that my order is placed, I am reading that a headphone port is insufficient to get adequate loudness and you must use a headphone amplifier with these planar magnetic models. Is this true, and, if so, what do you recommend?
A: I received quite a few emails similar to yours. The answer depends on the kind of headphone port. If it is the headphone port on a component receiver, amplifier or preamplifier, you will get more loudness than you will need. A dedicated headphone amplifier might have better sound quality depending on the specific products compared, but when it comes to having adequate volume, you will be fine. I do think these headphones are at their very best in this scenario, connected to a component system at home playing a high-quality uncompressed source like a record or CD.
The answer for a portable device headphone port is a bit more nuanced, especially with these particular headphones. There are many planar magnetic headphones that do require more power than a headphone port or USB output provides, but in my testing, the HE400se worked fine with a direct connection to a portable device.
I also found it to be dependent on the track played from my iTunes library. With some songs anything above 75% volume was too loud to be comfortable, and with others (typically older recordings) I had to go up to maximum or a click below to get the volume where I wanted it. Even then, I never wanted for more volume and was satisfied.
While a good headphone amplifier might improve the performance of these headphones, it is important to keep things in perspective. The Hifiman HE400se headphones are uncommonly good for the money — they are $149 headphones on sale for $109 — and provide a low-cost entry into the world of exotic planar-magnetic technology. It does not make sense to buy an expensive amplifier for them unless you plan on getting deeper into the hobby and buying even better headphones in the future.
Gone ... sort of
Q: I saw you recommend the Bosch Compact Stand Mixer for $139. I went to boschmixers.com, but it was nowhere to be found. I can find accessories for it, but not the mixer itself. Is it discontinued?
A: They are sold out, and when I contacted the company to ask when it would be available again, I was informed that it is "retired" (Bosch's terminology) and will not be stocked again.
Fortunately, you still might be able to get one. As of the last week in December, refurbished units were available from nutrimill.com for $99. Go to the website and look for the "Refurbished" link on the bottom of the site. The warranty is identical to a brand-new unit, so it looks to be an exceptional buy on this product.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.