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HIFIMAN Edition XS Review

Coming in with a bang

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

The HIFIMAN Edition XS is the company’s latest headphone. Retailing for $499, it doesn’t come cheap but is out to impress with a wide-open soundstage and tons of detail. It also brings with it the new Stealth Magnet design, a trickle-down feature from some of HIFIMAN’s most expensive models. Whether you’re listening to your favorite music or sinking into your favorite game, these headphones are bound to impress. 

Thank you to Linsoul for sending out the sample of the XS for us to audition!

Specifications

  • Current Price: $499 (Linsoul)
  • Impedance: 18Ω
  • Frequency response range: 8Hz-50kHz
  • Sensitivity: 92dB
  • Weight: 405 grams
  • Cable termination: 3.5m

HIFIMAN Edition XS - First Impressions and Key Features 

The Edition XS is the newest headphone from HIFIMAN and an exciting one at that. It comes in squarely in the middle of HIFIMAN’s pricing brackets, tipping the scales at $499. It doesn’t come cheap, but is positioned squarely as an upgrade to the Sundara, one of the best pairs of headphones we reviewed in 2020. At the same time, its designed is borrowed from the next headphone up the ladder, the Ananda. The pricing on those headphones is $349 and $649 respectively, placing the Edition XS right in the middle. 

Like most other HIFIMAN headphones, the Edition XS uses planar dynamic drivers. They’re big, bold, and tuned to deliver a full-bodied yet wide sound. As we’ve come to expect from HIFIMAN, the frequency response range is expansive at 8Hz to 50kHz. That’s well outside the realm of human hearing and helps to ensure that audible distortion won’t interrupt your listening. 

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The drivers are implemented in combination with HIFIMAN’s Stealth Magnet design. In planar magnetic headphones, the driver is a flat plane lined with electrical traces, held taut in a magnetic field. The magnets here are positioned to avoid wave turbulence to ensure everything you hear comes through with added clarity. It works very well, and I was blown away by the amount of detail I could hear. Listening to Apocalyptic’s version of One by Metallica seemed almost holographic. The texture of the notes from the Cello, and the tiny nuances, like the way the musicians would tap the bodies of their violins to add percussion was some of the best-presented music I’ve heard from a headphone at this price. 

The headphone isn’t the easiest to drive, however. It has a low impedance of only 18 ohms, but don’t let that fool you. With a sensitivity of only 92dB, they need more power than the average dongle dac can provide to sound their best. I would recommend at least a Sonata HD and preferably something closer to an iFi Go Blu or Hip-Dac 2. WIth adequate power, the bass tightens up and the sound seems to crystalize. 

As mentioned previously, the Edition XS looks incredibly similar to the Ananda that came before it. It uses the oval earcup design found on many of HIFIMAN’s higher-end headphones. This larger size won’t be to everyone’s taste but does work to enhance the soundstage and sense of scale the headphones can deliver. If you’ve only listened to closed backs or smaller open backs, these headphones should offer a pleasant surprise in how music is presented, especially for gaming.

The biggest downsides to the design come in the headband and included cable. The headband is the same used on the HIFIMAN HE-400SE. I’ll explain further in the Fit and Comfort section, but it’s not the best choice for users with sensitive heads. The cable, on the other hand, is an improvement over many of the included cables with HIFIMAN headphones. It’s nothing particularly special, but is rubberized and doesn’t kink or hold memory for long. It’s just a bit short at roughly 3-feet, so if you need to move around from your source, you’ll probably need to take the headphones off completely.

HIFIMAN Edition XS -  Fit and Comfort

All of HIFIMAN's oval-shaped headphones I've tried offer similar experiences in the comfort department. The headphones are large and swallow your ears inside their shells. I actually found the lower cushions rested on the edge of my jaw.  The clamp force is fairly light but sufficient to keep them in place well, provided you're not headbanging. I was even able to bend over and pick my keycap puller off the floor without them sliding out of place. This isn't the case on the Ananda, a headphone that, by appearances, is almost identical, so it's clear HIFIMAN has been tuning the overall fit. 

The XS uses a hybrid pad that's very comfy. The inner and outer rings are trimmed in leather while the surface touching your skin is soft fabric. It feels very nice and didn't make me sweat, even when I kicked on the space heater. 

If you have a sensitive head, the Edition XS is best suited for listening sessions under two hours. The headphone features the same headband as found on the HE-400SE, and the more I've used it, the more I find myself making adjustments beyond that point to stave off hot spots. I have short hair and am prone to developing sore spots, so your mileage may vary, but this is a step back from the suspension band on the Ananda and Sundara.

HIFIMAN Edition XS - Listening Impressions 

Onto what matters most with any headphone: how they sound! The TL;DR is simply this: these headphones are balanced, a touch on the warm side, and offer good energy and dynamics. Critics often describe headphones as being "musical," and that terms comes to mind here. 

Often, audio enthusiasts use terms interchangeably without defining what they mean, so allow me to explain what I mean with the Edition XS. This is headphone that feels founded in a balanced sound signature and is rich in detail, excellent dynamics, and a realistically wide soundstage. From that foundation, bits of warmth and sparkle peak out. There are highlights throughout the listening experience, like how female vocals have a timbre that can be at once lush and intimate while also catching your attention with a realistic edge. Or how it surprises you with how instruments pop out of the mix and breathe life into a track. Or how out of nowhere the sub-bass kicks in and reminds you how just how deep it can reach. 

All of this pays dividends in gaming too. Every element translates into a more realistic, enjoyable gaming experience, but its wide soundstage and excellent imaging perhaps matter even more for your situational awareness. 

Bass: The bass on the Edition XS is very well done. There's good sub-bass extension - more than it first seems just listening to music. But, throw on a bass test and you'll hear these headphones rumble in a rather shocking way. The point is, they have oomph when it's called for but don't smother you in it when it's not. Playing games, explosions have a great sense of impact but you don't need to worry about your mix becoming a rumbling mess. 

For music, I found the bass to be very well-tuned. Sub-bass is bass you can feel as well as hear. Mid-bass, or what comes through as audible low-end, has presence. The opening strains of Pearl of the Stars sounded downright ominous as the discordant bass began to swell. Swapping over to Dopamine by Angel Vivaldi was a model in how tight, detailed bass can sit in the mix and fill out a song with realistic body and texture. There were times I found myself craving a bit more, like the string renditions of Metallica’s greatest hits. Enabling the bass boost on my Xduoo XD-05 Plus did the trick with aplomb.

These aren't a bass-head headphone but they can absolutely be EQ'd to be. Even as they vibrated my head with that bass test, they never broke up, so you can feel free to crank the low end for even more punch and impact. 

Mids: The mids on these headphones are sweet and drip with detail. The headphones have excellent imaging and soundstage, so the different instruments and sound sources sound almost pulled apart, which puts the level of detail and clarity center-stage in a very multi-faceted way. Vocals sound eminently realistic, as if Adele were singing behind my desk chair. Male vocals are a bit less bold but still feel well-tuned and enjoyable to listen to. 

Acoustic guitars have a wonderful sparkle on these headphones. The detail within the individual notes in Love the Way You Lie by Eminem and Rihanna came through perfectly. In that song, the acoustic guitar is meant to be an earthy accentuation on top of the modern pop beats and electronica, and the Edition XS draws that out and presents it exceptionally well. 

The performance here reminds me of another HIFIMAN favorite, the Sundara. That headphone is well-loved for its detail, but it could almost sound clinical at times. The Edition XS hits the same notes in detail but is a bit warmer and more lively to listen to. I don't think it quite hits the same peaks as the Ananda, the next headphone up in HIFIMAN's stack, but it's close while still providing a clear upgrade path in the future. 

Treble: Treble on these headphones is also very good. There is a pleasant amount of sparkle in the high end and plentiful amounts of air for atmosphere and your sense of space. Cymbals have realistic decay. Percussion comes through cleanly and with enough detail to discern how the it might have been struck during the recording. The Edition XS was never sibilant in my testing and I never found it harsh or more fatiguing than other headphones I consider "long-term listens." 

Soundstage/Imaging: If the Edition XS stacks up against the Sundara for detail, it exceeds it in soundstage. These headphones are quite spacious. Not industry leading at this price - - the Ananda offers better soundstage, as does the Mr Speakers Aeon Open X, but it's effective and wide. There's nothing constrained about the Edition XS, which is about what I expected from the oval-shaped earcup design and wide-open backs reminiscent of the Ananda. 

Imaging is excellent. Sound sources have defined positioning, so you can close your eyes and picture where they're coming from in both direction and depth. As you can imagine, this is excellent for gaming and allows you to pick out enemies before you can even see them. In general, it's a big part of how these headphones are able to deliver such a convincing and enjoyable experience. 

Final Thoughts

Any $500 headphone is going to be for a limited audience. If all you're looking for is great sound that doubles for music as well as games, there are other excellent headphones out there for less. The Edition XS also could learn some lessons from some of those headphones in terms of comfort: it's time for a new headband design, at least in the opinion of this humble reviewer. Despite that, these manage to exceed the Sundara and instead enter Ananda territory for a whopping $200 less. That's a heck of a deal, which makes these a very, very solid choice for audio enthusiasts looking for that $500 upgrade.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Excellent mid-range presentation
  • The bass can be downright surprising when it comes in low
  • Easy, fatigue-free listen
  • Lots of detail - exceeding Sundara, approaching Ananda
  • Wide, deep soundstage
Cons
  • Headband can be uncomfortable after a couple hours
  • Sundara still challenges it for overall value at current prices


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight