I’m starting to think that the design folks and engineers at HiFiMAN don’t get much sleep. It seems like every time I check in on them they are showing off a new idea or updating part of their line with something unexpected.
This time around they have presented us with a new headphone model called the Edition X. It owes much to the design and engineering developed for their reference HE1000 planar headphones which has now trickled down and been adapted to a more affordable price point. The other bonus is that the X has a higher sensitivity than the HE1000s, meaning that they can be driven effectively by almost any portable device or smartphone.
HIFIMAN EDITION X PLANAR MAGNETIC HEADPHONES
• Similar sound quality and design as HE1000 flagship headphones.
• High frequencies not quite as airy as HE1000 but EQ can help.
• Very light and comfortable to wear for extended periods.
• Solid build quality.
• Very efficient and easy to drive. Designed to work with portable devices.
Last year, I reviewed the HiFiMAN HE1000 planar magnetic headphones and found them to be some of the best headphones that I had ever heard. At a price of $3,000, however, not a lot of people were going to get a chance to experience how good those headphones would sound. So HiFiMAN has decided to take much of what they learned in the development of the HE1000s and incorporate that into a more affordable model.
Enter the HiFiMAN Edition X which, at first glance, look simply like the HE1000s in a blackened color scheme.
HIFIMAN HEADPHONES REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Planar Magnetic Over-the-Ear-Headphones, Open Back
5.2″ (131.15 mm) x 4″ (100 mm), Oblong
MANUFACTURER FREQUENCY RESPONSE:
8 Hz – 50 kHz (Driver Frequency Response in Free-field)
14 Ounces (399 Grams)
Black with Silver Trim
4.9 Feet (1.5 Meters) Headphone Cable with 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Plug
10 Feet (3 Meters) Headphone Cable with 1/4″ (6.35 mm) Plug
Hifiman, Edition X, Planar Magnetic, Headphones, Over-the-Ear, Open Back
Go a little deeper though and you will find that they have a few distinct differences and were engineered for a specific purpose. They incorporate some less expensive materials to help bring down the price point. The driver also uses a different diaphragm material and has been designed to be more efficient allowing the Edition X to be easily powered by a smartphone or other portable device.
At an MSRP of $1,799, the Edition X are still not what you’d consider an inexpensive pair of cans, but it’s not an uncommon price point for serious audiophiles to invest in for a reference set of headphones. That and the fact that you won’t need any sort of serious amplification to get good levels from the Edition X may be considered an added value in a prospective buyer’s eyes. Let’s see how things stack up then, shall we?
The HiFiMAN Edition X arrive in a nice quality presentation box clad in black and grey leatherette with white stitching bordering around the edges. Visually and structurally, the Edition X mirror the design and build of the more expensive HE1000. You’ll find though that good quality plastics have taken the place of metal in the construction of the ear cups and suspension hinges on the Edition X. The head band, frame and ear pads are also a match to the design of the HE1000 save for the material choice and color. In fact, the entire black and silver color scheme, as a whole, is quite eye- catching and I’ve heard that some users actually prefer
it to the brushed metal and brown leather colors of the more expensive model.
The Edition X also retain the same, unmistakable “Window Shade” open-back grill design on the ear cups which is said to help reduce unwanted reflections in the sound. Where you start noticing physical differences between the HE1000 and the Edition X is in the depth of the actual ear cups themselves. They aren’t as deep on the Edition X due to the differences of the driver design. Unlike it’s bigger brother, the Edition X doesn’t use “nano-grade” thinness material for its planar driver membranes. That, along with a slightly different magnet structure and tuning, account for the thinner profile, higher sensitivity and, ultimately, different sound (which we will touch upon a little later) when compared to the HE1000. As I mentioned in the introduction, the increased sensitivity of these drivers (103 dB) allow the Edition X to be more than adequately powered by a smartphone, digital audio player, or preamplifier. Dedicated, robust headphone amplifiers are not a prerequisite for these cans. The only other accessories that come with the Edition X are two sets of headphone cables. One is 1.5 meters long and ends in a 3.5 millimeter plug for portable use while the other is 3 meters long and ends with 6.35 millimeter plug for home use. Each of these cables connects to the Edition X via a pair of standard 2.5 millimeter plugs, just like on the HE1000 and the HE400S headphones. Lastly, when compared to the HE1000s, the Edition X are about 2 ounces lighter overall which I think most people would find to be a good, but barely noticeable, thing.
For the majority of my testing, I used the Edition X along with my iPhone 5S when on the go. At home, they were connected through either an Audio GD-Compass 2 headphone amp/DAC (for computer based listening) or to the headphone jack of my Bryston BP-25 preamplifier using the supplied cables and adapter in all cases.
The main characteristic that they share with the HE400S is the more relaxed sounding top end. While there is plenty of treble energy when reproducing cymbals, horns and the like, the
Edition X lack a bit of the high frequency “air” and dimension that set the HE1000s apart. That being said there is a heck of a lot to like about this distinctly “Kylo Ren” looking headset. Solo piano sounded excellent through the Edition X, with plenty of detail in the notes and to the subsequent decay. The lower registers also had plenty of weight and sounded suitably impactful when the moment called for it. Bass, in general, was ample but did not come across as overbearing or bloated. Kick drums sounded tight and felt solid to my ears.
When moving on to singers, both male and female vocals sounded properly focused without being too forward in relation to everything else. Multi layered orchestral or jazz pieces sounded properly detailed with individual instruments or sections being easily identified and followed. They really sounded great with just about everything I threw at them and the fact that I could run them easily and effectively off my iPhone was a bonus for situations where I was working late and my phone was the easiest source of music that I had access to. And speaking about working late, the Edition X proved to be eminently comfortable even after being worn over long stretches of time.
My ears remained in good shape and I don’t recall them ever feeling crowded or getting overheated especially after many hours of use. I want to say that the Edition X exert a touch more clamping force than either the HE1000 or HE400S but I didn’t find it uncomfortable by any means. The build quality of the Edition X felt solid and well made, keeping in line with the other HiFiMAN headphones that I’ve reviewed. Any plastics that were used for parts that were metal on the HE1000, felt of good quality and remained durable throughout my use.
Even though the Edition X are designed to be efficiently operated by a portable device, they are quite comfortable being driven by a headphone amplifier. Care, however, should be taken so as not to over drive them since the Edition X really don’t need that much juice to run them loudly. With this in mind, I recommend leaving the gain settings (if you have them) on your headphone amplifiers set to “low” and that should help avoid any dangerously loud playback. Although these headphones don’t come with a balanced connector cable, HiFiMAN says that the Edition X can be run in balanced mode.
I happened to have an appropriate aftermarket balanced cable floating around and was able to attach the Edition X headphones, via said cable, to the balanced output of my OPPO HA-1 headphone amp/DAC. Voila it works, and very well too! The only difference I could discern between balanced and unbalanced mode was just louder operation at a given volume level via the balanced cable.
As I mentioned earlier, these headphones have a more relaxed presentation in the high frequency area when compared to the reference HE1000s. Plenty of people will find this to be an appealing quality but, occasionally, I was wanting a little more presence up there in the sonic stratosphere. While I typically don’t like using EQ on headphones, after a little experimentation, I found that if I gingerly juiced the top two bands of the equalizer in J. River Media center I could get a reasonable facsimile of the top end sound that I felt I had heard from the HE1000s. Not an entirely impractical way to save yourself $1300.00 off the price of the HE1000s if they fall outside your wallet’s reach.
A few musical selections that really caught my attention were:
Frank Zappa “Zappa”
Zappa In New York by Frank Zappa, Barking Pumpkin Records. A 2-CD live recording of one of Frank Zappa’s most well-known concerts, this set features multi-layered, complex and varied orchestrations in typical Zappa fashion. There’s a lot of stuff going on in each track, and Frank Zappa was a stickler for both performance and sound quality in his particular genre of Rock. Listening through the Edition X really made me feel like I was at the Palladium in NYC listening to this show.
Soundstage was appropriately large, but very focused and I was easily able to make out all the background percussion elements through the horns, guitars, bass and drums. Kick drum was nice and punchy and vocals (including the unmistakable resonant sound of Don Pardo’s narration) were front and center and had a touch of warmth to them. Zappa’s guitar sounded perfectly nasty and distorted, in a good way, with every amplified scrape and crunch of the strings coming through clearly. I must tell you that you haven’t heard anything until you’ve experienced the grandiose weirdness of “The Illinois Enema Bandit, “played through these headphones. It is good.
John Lee Hooker “Chill Out”
Chill Out by John Lee Hooker, Virgin Records. A great late vintage recording from one of the most unmistakable voices in blues music. The Edition X did a really great job in capturing all the detail and presence in Hooker’s deeply resonant voice. On the track “Deep Blue Sea” in particular, which is just the artist, an acoustic guitar and his foot keeping time, the Edition X really let all the age and wisdom of that fantastic voice shine right through.
Hooker’s voice also varies in volume from subtle whispers to loud barks on this song, on a moment’s notice at times, and it was plainly obvious that the HiFiMAN’s drivers are more than quick enough to keep up with the changes and clean enough to render all the nuances. You also get a good sense of the size of the room he’s in with the reflections from his voice and the tapping of his foot being accurately relayed by these cans.
The title track “Chill Out (Things Gonna Change)” take things in whole other direction with a full on production featuring Carlos Santana and his band backing up John Lee Hooker. Things on this track sounded equally good, with the headphones throwing up a nice big, detailed image while the congas that were anchoring it sounded solid and weighty. The headphones also did Santana’s soaring guitar work real justice, rendering all the raw emotion in his soulful playing and providing counterpoint to Hooker’s deep and sparse singing.
Swingin’ For Schuur by Diane Schuur & Maynard Ferguson, Concord Records. A big band and jazz vocal fusion that will cause lesser headphones and IEMs to cry uncle. The Edition X’s more relaxed top end allows one to enjoy all the big, brassy, loud horns on these tracks without causing any undo wincing. Diane Schuur’s voice comes across as bright and full, ably matching the power, and occasionally the volume, of the horn section without breaking up while retaining a good deal of warmth.
The track “Besame Mucho” has a fantastic driving bass and drum line that the Edition X lays out for the listener like a path clearly delineated from all the horns and brass with loads of punch to spare. The cymbals on this track also have plenty of sheen to their sound without becoming flat and brittle. Schuur’s vocal runs here will just not be kind to many other headphones either. The Edition X essentially puts her pipes on a pedestal for you to admire and appreciate with a clean and ever so slightly warm reproduction and yet the track as a whole, remains thoroughly balanced sounding from start to finish.
So did I have any qualms about the Edition X headphones during my time with them? Well, as good as they sound, I guess I have trouble with them as a concept overall. In that I mean, while they are designed to be used with portable devices (phones and the like) they are still open backed cans and they leak a fair bit of sound to the outside world. Not entirely practical whilst on the go. Their form factor, while light weight, does not scream “portable” or “take me out on the road.”
Also, are you really going to spend $1799 on a set of big planar magnetic cans to wear outside, hooked up to your smart phone? There’s no provision for an integrated volume control or mic on the cable so that makes these headphones a little phone unfriendly in one regard. A good portable digital audio player would suit these headphones really well, but then again you’re faced with the prospect of people hearing your music when you’re in close quarters outside of your domicile.
Personally, I regard the HiFiMAN Edition X as home monitor set of headphones that just happen to be easy to drive. You don’t expressly need a dedicated amp for them, which does simplify life some. All you really need is a good quality preamp with a headphone jack or a high end DAP that follows you around the house, and with that you are off to the races.
THE HIFIMAN EDITION X HEADPHONES Hifiman Edition X Headphones are a Very Interesting and Enjoyable Set of Headphones.
- Big soundstage.
- Lots of detail and warmth to the vocal range.
- Excellent bass performance.
- Light and easy to drive.
WOULD LIKE TO SEE
- These can be run in balanced mode so, for the price, include a balanced cable.
They incorporate distinct qualities from the both HiFiMAN’s killer top end (HE1000) and entry level (HE400S) models to result in a hybrid that gives a person some of the best qualities of both worlds. They share the effortless soundstage with midrange warmth and low end force of the more expensive model, combined with the relaxed top end and easy drivability of the entry level model.
The Edition X are essentially a close to reference quality set of headphones, with all their planar magnetic virtues, that can be used in almost any situation to obtain excellent sound quality from the broadest possible range of devices. If you want to breathe a little extra life to the highs, then a judicious use of EQ can be your best friend on that score.
The price of $1,799 is not an insignificant chunk of change to be sure, but for a jack-of-all-trades set of headphones that can master more than a few things quite well, the price may not be all that bad for what it brings to the table. If you couldn’t quite pony up the desired coin for a pair of HE1000s, give the Edition X a listen. For 40% off the price, and no amp required, these may be just the ticket for you!
Personally, I Regard These As Home Monitor Quality Headphones That Just Happen To Be Easy To Drive.