AT A GLANCE
High resolution and sensitivity
Ultra-thin planar diaphragms
No friend to dirty amps
Can sometimes sound over-etched
The HiFiMan Edition X are high-resolution headphones that tell an emotionally fulfilling and balanced version of the truth about your music files.
Head-fi is somehow more personal than hi-fi or home theater. I may love my loudspeakers, but I don’t wear them on my head. Speakers bring music into my room; headphones bring music into my head, and voices in my head are the very definition of personal. So if the sound of my fairly stable main system is aesthetically consequential, the sound of my constantly rotating head-fi system is emotionally charged. That may explain the intensity of my bond with the HiFiMan Edition X headphones. The look pushes my bling buttons, and the sound brings me closer to music—close to what I love, to my original motive for getting into audiophilia in the first place.
Founded in 2007 by Dr. Fang Bian, HiFiMan makes not only headphones—including both full-size and in-ear models—but also portable hi-res music players and a hybrid tube headphone amp (EF100, $499). The four music players range from $199 for the affordable HM700 to $1,499 for the top-of-the-line HM901s. The in-ears range from $49 for the RE300h and RE300a to $199 for the RE600 Songbird and RE600S. The Edition X ($1,799), reviewed here, is one of five full-sized planar-magnetic headphone models—the only kind the company makes (apart from inear models). The others include the top-of-the-line HE1000 ($2,999), HE560 ($899), HE400i ($499), and HE400S ($299).
The Edition X is one of the most glamorous full-sized headphones I’ve ever seen. The blue-gray of the shiny earcup ring happens to be my favorite color. Its asymmetrical inverted-egg profile and beveled earpads are designed to fit the contours of a variety of skulls—they certainly fit mine—while the “window shade” thin-slat grille design is intended to reduce reflections from the open back. Incidentally, you probably won’t want to use these headphones outdoors. Open-back headphones don’t seal out noise, and the loveliness of the Edition X might attract the wrong kind of attention.
Planar headphones have flat drivers. HiFiMan went to pains to perfect the ultra-thin Mylar diaphragm, described as “near Nanotech grade” and barely visible when viewed from the side. Both sides of the diaphragm are covered with what the company calls an “advanced asymmetrical magnetic circuit” that seeks the optimum balance between efficiency and sound quality as it propels the driver into motion.
Every headphone designer has to decide between leather-like or fabric earpads; some offer both options. HiFiMan splits the difference, ringing the comfortable velour pads with simulated leather. The headband also seeks the best of both worlds, combining a metal alloy band for strength atop a separate softer leather band, which adds comfort by directly supporting the weight of the headphones. The headband adjustment is quite stiff. That makes it hard to change but then keeps it in place more or less permanently once you’ve made up your mind.
The cable is something special, said to be made with single-crystal silver conductor. Its slender blue-gray fabric sheath matches the color scheme of the earcups and is somehow resistant to kinking and tangling. The 60-inch dual-mono cable is terminated in a 3.5mm plug and uses a standard 2.5mm plug at the headphone end, making it replaceable or upgradeable, though the latter is probably unnecessary. A quarter-inch plug adapter is provided.
I listened to the Edition X with headphone amp/DACs ranging from the Moon Neo 230HAD ($1,500) to the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149). I also logged some time with the Astell & Kern AK Jr music player ($499). None of them had any trouble driving the HiFiMan. The headphones are efficient enough to run off a smartphone’s flea amp—though also revealing enough to make that a bad idea.
With an appropriately clean signal source, the Edition X performs well from top to bottom. Bass is firm but unexaggerated; midrange fully developed, uncolored, and open; and highs proportionate with the rest—at least through the lower treble (measurements from our sister publication innerfidelity.com did show a rolloff above that point).
Like planar headphones in general, these have a pleasing clarity that flatters voices and brings them to the fore, as well as an openness that captures ambience embedded in the recording and fosters a feeling of freedom from enclosure. Images are big and bold and close up, occasionally verging on being overetched with some content and amps. But once you get used to HiFiMan’s version of the planar sound, it becomes a new standard of realism.
After a few weeks of unstructured break-in and listening, I trawled through several dozen test tracks that have passed through headphones or headphone amps of recent acquaintance. With the HiFiMan, it was hard to find a loser. Even in MP3 at 192 kilobits per second, XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime” had all the dynamic drama and drum punch it needed, which distracted from any loss of resolution in the top end. In MP3 at a higher-quality 320 kbps, Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers’ “I F---ing Love Science” lofted its rapid-fire lyrics over machine-gun guitars, and I didn’t miss a word. When I stepped up to FLAC at 96 kHz and 24 bits for Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days,” the track hurled its savage mock–Middle Eastern twang into the flat diaphragms, and it emerged as a tasty playit-loud metal treat.
The HiFiMan brought out the best qualities in singing voices without bending them out of shape. It integrated the parts of Nick Drake’s voice that tend to detach—the breathiness and the chest resonance—into a holistic human presence in “Time Has Told Me” and “River Man” (FLAC, 96/24). The string section on the latter track was lush and velvety. The headphones also juggled the wide-ranging dynamic and timbral demands of Peter Gabriel’s dramatic vocal in the orchestral arrangement of “San Jacinto” (FLAC, 48/24) and accurately weighed Richard Thompson’s baritone in the Acoustic Classics version of “When the Spell Is Broken” (ALAC, 44.1/16). Thompson’s acoustic guitar on that recording can turn steely and hard, but the HiFiMan kept it under control.
I never tire of putting the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to work. For the HiFiMan, I trotted out two very different versions. Bernard Haitink’s recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (48/24) has an uneven distribution of frequencies across the stage with much of the lighter-textured instruments at far right, requiring high resolution, precise imaging, and a certain amount of treble prominence to balance out the darker-toned instruments at the left. The HiFiMan maintained the recording’s idiosyncratic equilibrium. Carlos Kleiber’s historic recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (FLAC, 88.2/24) is my go-to version for texture, layering, blastability, and emotional connection. The HiFiMan painted the sections of the orchestra with a broad brush, then filled in the fine details with masterly touches and made volume peaks not just palatable but hearty. I needed an emotional catharsis; I got one.
HiFiMan’s Edition X headphones are about as good as headphones get (though, admittedly, I haven’t experienced the top-line HE1000 at nearly twice the price). These well-balanced performers aced any kind of music I threw at them, and they aren’t too fussy about the company they keep, though a high-quality amp/DAC and high-resolution content will get the best out of them. Pretty much every moment I spent with them was golden.Specs
Type: Over-the-ear, open back
Driver: Planar magnetic
Impedance: 25 ohms ±3
Sensitivity • 103 dB
Weight (Ounces): 14.1