Hifiman Edition XS Review: Overview
Hifiman Edition XS
(out of 5)
- Impedance: 18 Ω
- Drivers: Planar Magnetic
- Frequency range: 8 Hz – 50 kHz
- Sensitivity: 92 dB
- Weight: 405 grams
- Cable length: 1.5 meter (straight)
- Extra large earcup design allows for a vast immersive soundstage
- Excellent detail retrieval
- Outstanding transient response
- Supple bass response
- Reasonable Price
- Not a huge leap over the more modestly-priced Sundara model
- To achieve adequate volume, you will need a dedicated amp or audio interface.
- Dynamic driver headphones in the same price range tend to have better dynamic punch.
- Build quality not as luxurious as similarly priced headphones.
Introducing the Hifiman Edition XS
The Edition XS sparked our interest because they bring the earcup design of higher-end models to a reasonable price point.
Curious to see if these cans could deliver the same performance as the the higher-priced models, we decided to put them through some rigorous testing.
See here for all our reviews of headphones and other audio gear.
Who are the Hifiman Edition XS headphones for?
The Hifiman Edition XS headphones are for audio enthusiasts and critical listeners.
Their open-back design allows the sound to travel past the earcup, resulting in a more natural resonance than closed-back models.
Who are the Hifiman Edition XS headphones NOT for?
With their open-back design, the Hifiman Edition XS headphones are NOT suited for anyone in the market for a pair of headphones with good sound isolation or active noise-canceling.
The open-back design allows sound in and out. In noisy environments or for applications where you cannot tolerate sound leakage (such as tracking), these are not your cans.
What’s in the box?
The Edition XS headphones arrive in a luxurious box with a satin-covered interior. Inside are the headphones and one straight, 1.5-meter cable terminating in a mini-jack with a standard 1/4-inch adapter.
The Hifiman Edition XS headphones have my personal favorite earcup design: extra large, long, asymmetrical ear cups with fat, plush pleather cushions with velour insides. These stem from Hifiman’s earlier models, the Arya and Ananda, both of which have many similar features to the Edition XS.
I want to emphasize that the benefits of this earcup design extend beyond mere comfort. More importantly, the large deep earcups play a significant role in the performance of these headphones. (more on that later…)
Hifiman claims that the Edition XS uses ‘stealth magnet technology’ to reduce distortion. In our tests, we were able to identify total harmonic distortion down to .01% (which is exceptional). So I guess that stealth magnet is doing something.
The headband abandons the dual layer, weight-dispersing design of the Arya and Ananda models for a simpler single bar, cushioned with a pleather surface.
The earcups, with zebra-striped slats showing the planar magnetic innards, have a little give to swivel side to side. They cannot, however, swivel beyond a centimeter in either direction.
Despite the excellent performance of many of the Hifiman premium headphones, it seems the company could use higher-quality raw materials.
The overall build quality, the plastic and the alloys, feel less luxurious than that of other similarly priced models. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a wrinkle they should iron out in future releases.
Unless you have absolutely giant ears, the cups are unlikely to touch any part of your ear. All the contact is with the cushions of the earpads to your head.
The clamping force of the headband is relatively weak. They are not the lightest headphones (405 grams) but the cushy contact points make them feel lighter.
In general, they are comfortable and can be worn for long sessions.
Despite their low impedance (18Ω), Hifiman lists the sensitivity of the Edition XS quite low at 92 dB. In other words, these are not easy to drive. They need a good amount of voltage to achieve optimal sound.
For best results, a dedicated amplifier or an audio interface with an integrated amp is recommended.
The Hifiman Edition XS headphones do what good-quality planar magnetic headphones typically do well: they deliver super-fast transient response. When none of the sounds bleed into each other, you’re left with cold, crispy clarity unlike what standard dynamic drivers can deliver.
Like the Sundara, these quick drivers offer their own kind of detail resolution. If the sound were an image, it’s as if the contrast has been dialed up.
Layered sounds that are blended with most dynamic drivers, come out of the woodwork with good planar magnetic drivers. For example, in the Beastie Boys’ track Root Down with the Edition XS headphones, the sampled sound of a record hiss is clear-cut.
Earcup Design = Better Sound
The extra large, elongated earcup design means that no part of your ears is likely to touch anything on these headphones. It’s as if you are inside the driver. The sound is up, down, and all around.
You are also further away from the drivers than most headphones. If headphones seal well to your head, this distance from the driver gives a natural boost to the bass presence.
The overall frequency response of the Edition XS headphones is mostly neutral. The response of the Edition XS headphones is similar to the Hifiman Sundara, but not as flat.
The difference between the two is in the subtleties: with the Edition XS, the sub-bass area has a slight boost, mids are dipped a bit, then there is a boost around 8 kHz with a quick roll-off at the very top from 8-10 kHz.
The earcup design brings a welcome natural boost to the bass region. This subtle thickening is a step up from the Sundara model, giving lower-end weight.
With their icy, nimble sonic signature the Edition XS headphones’ version of more bass is what I would call presence without punch. Compared with dynamic driver headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pros, for example, the Edition XS still lack dynamic punch or weight.
This was clear in our clinical tests where for example, 10-20 Hz is coming through clearly but you can’t feel it.
That said, Edition XS kind of bass has its advantages, especially on tracks that are machine-like, such as drum and bass or trap. In these genres, the pristine quality of the bass is satisfying and fits somehow.
The midrange of the Edition XS is crystal clear and slightly attenuated to bring out a smiley-face frequency response.
The clarity of the transients comes out when listening to layers of midrange instruments on top of each other. Each layer can be easily distinguished despite the fact that they sit in the same middle frequency range.
With a dip around 5-8 kHz, the Edition XS sound warmer at the top than their Hifiman cousins. And the very top (above 9 kHz, sometimes referred to as ‘air’), is dramatically rolled off. Brilliance is tempered. Cymbal crashes and sibilance feel less brassy.
Personally, I would prefer a more neutral response than the Edition XS but I can’t say there’s any obvious flaw here unless you plan to use them for critical listening.
As reference headphones, this hi-fi warmth at the top makes them less good at identifying recording faults or problems in your mix.
For example, in Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries played by the Wiener Philharmonic conducted by Böhm, its much more difficult to pick out the various tremolos in the wind section at the beginning as well as I can with the Sundara, Shure SRH1840 or AKG K702.
Soundstage and Stereo Image
Soundstage and imaging are two areas where the Edition XS headphones shine.
The Hifiman Edition XS headphones have a soundstage that is almost as extensive as the kings of soundstage in this class, the Beyerdynamic DT 1990.
The Edition XS imaging is a truly immersive experience. This earcup design has the driver further away from the ear and at the same time all around your ear. Consequently, more than any other headphone in this price range, these headphones put you inside of the music.
The overall atmosphere created by the Edition XS suffers from the double-edged sword of quick transient response. On one hand, the perfectly separated attacks are astoundingly crisp. But in some cases the transients are so sharp that the atmosphere of a space is sometimes lost.
For example, the fanfare of a brass section on a live opera recording sounds more like plate reverb than an actual opera house.
Alternatives to the Hifiman Edition XS
Bargain cans with great performance. Hifiman’s most affordable planar magnetic headphones.
A class up from the Edition XS with more dynamic punch and higher detail resolution.
The benchmark for planar magnetic cans in the studio.
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
Some of our favorite open-back, dynamic driver headphones. Especially good for critical listening.
A closed-back dynamic driver alternative beloved by many audiophiles.
Hifiman Edition XS VS Sundara
Both the Sundara and the Edition XS are excellent choices if you’re in the market for planar magnetic cans. Both perform beyond their price points.
The improved earcup design and warmer top make the Edition XS nicer for hi-fi listening. The more neutral frequency response of the Sundara makes them a more obvious choice for critical listening.
But our opinion is that the Hifiman Sundara still gives you more bang for your buck.
See our full Hifiman Sundara review below:
Conclusion: Are they worth it?
The Hifiman Edition XS is priced $200 cheaper than the Hifiman Ananda model, and yet they can match the Ananda’s performance. Essentially, the release of the Edition XS has made the Ananda obsolete and overpriced.
The Edition XS headphones’ immersive experience, vast soundstage, and quick transient response are undoubtedly satisfying attributes, especially at this price.
That said, the performance of the Edition XS is not a huge leap over that of the Sundara, which is currently over $200 cheaper. If you need these earcups, the Edition XS are great. Otherwise, I would go for the Sundara.
How we Tested and Rated the Hifiman Edition XS Headphones
As a reminder, we test everything on this site ourselves.
These headphones were tested under controlled conditions in a sound-treated room and also in a noisy household environment.
Don’t believe any ‘objective’ measurements you see about headphones! The shape of your head and ears alone will have a significant effect on frequency response and other factors. Therefore, all headphone reviews are subjective, this one being no exception.
Our comparisons for the Hifiman Edition XS headphones were limited primarily to other open-back planar magnetic and dynamic driver headphones in the same class. Although we did directly compare a few closed-back and consumer headphones just to keep our ears honest.
In addition to testing these headphones on music of all styles, we conduct extensive clinical tests on frequency response, dynamic range, driver matching, harmonic distortion, binaural tests, wiring, and stereo imaging.
Our rating assumes that you value sound quality above all other factors, followed by comfort/build, then price.
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