Hifiman Edition XS
Hifiman Edition XS - A Long-Term Review
Only maybe 3 or 4 times in this hobby have I come across a product that completely upgrades my expectation of the quality that I should expect when listening too music. The Hifiman XS has done that for me for headphones.
It’s been about 6 months now since I upgraded to the XS, so I felt it was a good time to write a long term review. For those holding out on Planar Headphones, it is time to jump on-board as these headphones fulfil an experience that you can’t get with similarly priced and highly regarded dynamic driver headphones.
Before I get into the details I thought it might be useful to provide a little background into my headphone audio journey:
A Headphone upgrade journey
Having been a Sennheiser fan for many years starting with the iconic ‘yellow’ foam HD-414 (anniversary edition) then moving to the HD-560’s and finally getting the incredible well regarded studio reference HD-600, I had thought I was finished in my search for the best headphone, but then at the start of COVID I found myself working from home and wanting to experiment a little with headphones. From reading the latest research into the Harman Over Ear target curve, I decided to pick up an AKG K371 as this was Dr Sean Olive’s “baby” created to be a reference headphone for that preference curve and while I thought the bass was great (much better than the HD-600) being a closed back it lacked any decent soundstage and the midrange wasn’t nearly as good as the HD-600. I then thought lets go for a headphone with great / wide soundstage, this time trying the AKG K702 and while it has a great soundstage, the bass was lacking, and it wasn’t the most comfortable for long working hours.
And then this is when I realised that I had to get a planar that would provide that ideal ‘goldilock’ headphone with both bass and that wide ‘open back’ soundstage, some experimentation with different models for comfort, and it became obviously that the Edition XS was the most pragmatic choice.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing from them on, read on to find out why:
Give the Edition XS the power it deserves
So initially I was using the Edution XS a few different amplifiers around my house but also using it with an older Macbook Pro and with my iPhone (using an Apple Lightning adapter sadly the underpowered European one). And while it sounded amazing from say my Volumio ‘Integro’, and even my Denon AVR the bass wasn’t quiet right on the Macbook Pro or the iPhone or even the cheap desktop headphone amp I had tried as an alternative to the Macbook Pro’s headphone socket.
I was curious and the Edition XS while realatively not that hard to drive can soar, especially in bass response when given enough power. I immediately bought a FiiO K7, and I was astonished how well it sounds, this combination has become my evening goto setup for listening to music. I also upgraded my Macbook Pro and found the latest models have much better audiophile headphone support and while it’s far better than before it is not the equal in power to the FiiO K7.
So how does it sound in practice?:
Rather than give a list of my subjectively impressions of songs I will just focus on 4 areas where I think the Edition XS shines:
Bass worthy of a subwoofer
It not just the bass is deep and natural with the Edition XS (as say the AKG K371 also has excellent bass) but the combination of bass with an open back headphone that is incredbile. It is like being in a room with no “room modes” because of well-placed subwoofers. The amount of tracks where I was in awe from the physical bass response in my ears (sometimes even ’textured’ bass which I have never heard in a room), it totally satisfied my need to listen late at night but not annoy the rest of the house with thumping bass.
Planars have a flat diaphragm and Hifiman Planars especially have extra thin diagphram’s providing much more sound from a larger surface in each ear.
Further the earpads on the Hifiman XS are angled which enhances that sense of listening to music presented in front of you.
This together with the open back mean they sound much more like I can in a room than with other headphones (including the AKG K702) with different instruments / vocals in clearly separately distinct places in 3D space.
The midrange is a high point of these headphones. It’s transparent and natural, capturing the intricate nuances of vocals and string instruments with striking clarity. This makes the Edition XS ideal for genres that rely heavily on vocal accuracy and instrument detail. While I would say the Sennheiser HD600 has slightly better midrange tonality, the midrange on the Edition XS massively benefits from that wider soundstage. I have watched Movies late at night with the XS and have not missed my surround sound system and found the vocals clear while still having that bass punch when required by the movie.
Realistic Treble and Imaging
Poeple sometimes complain about planar treble sounding metalic and maybe that is the case with cheaper planars but I think Hifiman have the right treble tuning with the Edition XS to give a nice ’edge’ or ‘air’ but still sound natural to me. I actually found the AKG K702 was slightly too bright (a bit sibiliant at times) and I was a bit worried that the Edition XS might be similar but I think the better bass evens out the treble response providing a perfect balance with percussive tracks with symbals and high hats and lots of details to the imaging.
Specs and Measurements
- Impedance: 18 Ω
- Drivers: Planar Magnetic
- Frequency range: 8 Hz – 50 kHz
- Sensitivity: 92 dB
- Weight: 405 grams
- Cable length: 1.5 meter (straight)
It is problematic doing graph comparisons between planar’s especially with large angled ear pads and dynamic drivers, the headphone measurements rigs do not accurately represent the bass response and angled drivers cause other inaccuracies.
More details in this issue are described on diyaudioheaven here but a small quote:
The dip between 1kHz and 5kHz is smaller in reality than how it measures because of the so-called concha gain. This is because the drivers are angled (only 6 degrees) and thus makes slightly more use of the concha which ‘boosts’ certain frequencies that arrive under an angle.
With that said here is a comparison from rtings.com between the Sennheiser HD-600 (in green) and the Hifiman XS (in blue) showing the a much stronger bass (in reality its even nearer that dotted line target):
Build quality and Accessories
The Hifiman Edition XS inherits a mature design from previous models like the Edition and Ananda and is the build is both lightweight and durable. This ergonomic design ensures that even during extended listening sessions, fatigue is kept to a minimum.
However, it does have large oval ear cups so may not suit everyone, I have large ears so I appreciated the shape (say compared to the Hifiman Sundara which has massive circular shaped pads).
The Hifiman XS comes with a clever “stand” built into the box and a short 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm cable.
I have since upgraded my cable with a 2m one and given it a nice stand:
There are alternative Planars both from Hifiman and others at various price points, for example the Sundara is typically a little cheaper but for me, it wasn’t as comfortable and while Planars are a fairly new technologies I believe other competitors (like the recent Moondrop Para) do not have the experience that Hifiman have in building Planars. Obviously there are many more expensive Planars but the Edition XS seems to me to have that correct balance of price versus performance.
Priced moderately in comparison to other planar magnetic models, the Edition XS offers considerable value for the money. It provides a balanced combination of sound quality, comfort, and practicality, making it a compelling choice for those unwilling to compromise on either front.
I believe with the Edition XS, Hifiman successed in bridging the gap between high-end audio fidelity and pragmatic daily usage and have made an astonishing headphone that is a worthy upgrade for those seeking headphone nirvana.