HiFiMAN Edition XS review: more like XL

HiFiMAN Edition XS review

HiFiMAN’s Edition X have been wildly successful with both critics and public, thanks to a great mix of sound quality and comfort. Their only problem is that they’re positioned as a premium model, which limits the number of possible buyers. The new HiFiMAN Edition XS try to take some of that good qualities, with sound being front and centre, to a lower price point and therefore a wider audience. With great success, I have to say.

Disclaimer: I got a unit on loan from HiFiMAN directly. The Edition XS retail for $499.

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TL;DR: recap

Pros
Cons
+ Very nice, unique design

+ Well-built

+ Fast transients

+ Very good detail

– Weird imaging

– Over-emphasised upper midrange and treble

Rating: 9/10

Packaging & Accessories

Packaging is the usual one by HiFiMAN we’ve grown accustomed to – a cardboard box with some foam to provide protection for the headphones.

Design & Comfort

HiFiMAN Edition XS earcups

The HiFiMAN Edition XS appear quite similar to the Ananda, with the main difference being the headband: they sport the latest version, which is a Beyerdynamic-style headband, instead of the usual suspended one. The earcups are actually identical to the Ananda’s, and so are the earpads. Considering that this is a minimalistic, simple design that works well, I actually find this a pro.

Build quality is the same we always find in HiFiMAN products – decent, but not spectacular. The gimbals are made of metal, so that’s quite alright, and the earcups feel solid and well-built; it’s the headband that feels a bit out of place to me as it looks and feels much cheaper than the rest. One small note goes to the silver grille on the earcups: it is actually made of metal and on my unit it’s quite sharp, so much so that on a couple of occasions I found it had cut my finger slightly – not to the point of bleeding, but to the point of feeling a bit of pain, like a papercut. Making the edges a bit smoother would certainly go a long way towards preventing accidents like this.

Comfort is quite good overall as there’s a decent bit of padding in both the headband and the earpads. The headband is decently soft, though my very sensitive scalp ends up feeling irritated after about one hour – people without this issue should actually be able to wear the headphones for multiple hours without fatigue or discomfort. The earpads are made of synthetic leather on the sides and of fabric where they come in contact with your head, which helps prevent heat from building up and offers more comfort than leather.

Isolation is, as these are open-back headphones, simply non-existent.

The cable is the usual one we’ve now seen on countless HiFiMAN headphones, and it’s identical to the one used for e.g. the Deva, as well as cheaper headphones. It’s a cheap cable, which however is soft enough and tends not to coil, so it does its job quite well. It has 3.5 mm jacks on both ends, with a right-angled one that goes in the amplifier.

Sound & Specs

I tested the HiFiMAN Edition XS using a Topping DX7 with a Drop THX AAA 789 amplifier attached to it, as well as with a Questyle CMA15.

HiFiMAN Edition XS

Frequency response 8 – 50,000 Hz
Impedance 18 Ω
Sensitivity 92 dB

 

The sound is exactly what you would expect from HiFiMAN headphones: it has very good bass presence and depth, but an overall neutral-bright tonality that goes well with many different genres.

Soundstage is wide, as you can legitimately expect from open-back headphones, but it’s not expansive. It sounds a bit like the instruments are close to you in a large hall, but this makes it so that the sense of space is not as significant as with other open-backs. Imaging, on the other hand, is spot-on in both its ability to place each instrument accurately on the stage and in giving it space to develop in – a place for everything and everything in its place, as they say. Instrument separation is significant even with crowded tracks, as each instrument retains its clear individuality and remains full of details.

Bass sounds just north of neutrality, but by a very small margin. It offers excellent depth that effortlessly reaches down to the lowest notes, which lends the whole sound a solid base to build on. The response is pretty even and does not appear to privilege any single part, so there is no prevalent region and the result is a clear, clean bass section. Speed is very good, too, with fast transients and short decay which add up to a great sense of immediacy. There is also a very good amount of details which stays consistently so even in complex and intricate tracks.

Midrange is perfectly in keeping with HiFiMAN’s tradition of offering some emphasis on the upper section, but contrary to headphones such as the Arya, this emphasis is limited and only adds a bit of sparkle. It doesn’t detract in any way from the overall sound and manages to only make it a bit brighter and more lively. This makes the Edition XS quite palatable to a wide variety of people, as it makes the sound more engaging without making it excessively bright. HiFiMAN has effectively managed to strike a great balance. As with bass, here too we find very good speed and a large amount of details, beyond what is normally expected at this price range.

Treble, too, is an area where there’s a good balance, which means there’s good energy but nothing excessive. Treble-sensitive folks (among whom, at this point, I also include myself) will find it quite pleasant, as it never (well, extremely rarely) crosses the threshold after which it becomes fatiguing. There is good consistency between the lower and middle regions, while the upper one shows a relatively steep decline that still leaves it audible. The level of detail is absolutely great and beyond my expectations for sub-$500 headphones.

Final Thoughts

HiFiMAN made a clear mistake here, which is completely out of character for them. The company is notorious for its habit of pricing headphones more or less randomly and often this leads to high prices, but this time it’s actually quite low for what’s on offer. The Edition XS are, from a purely acoustic standpoint, an absolute steal. They’re probably the headphones you want to buy below $500 if you’re looking for a neutral(ish) frequency response. The only complaint I can make is about the headband, really. In any and every other regard, the HiFiMAN Edition XS are simply a bomb. Try them for yourself!

About Riccardo Robecchi

Living in Glasgow, Scotland but born and raised near Milan, Italy, I got the passion for music listening as a legacy from my father and my grandfather. I have reported on technology for major Italian publications since 2011.
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