Hifiman Edition XS is highly regarded since it first came out in 2021 and one of the most recommended headphones under 500$. With the MSRP of 499$, it is mostly compared to Hifiman’s own Sundara and Ananda.
- Very Wide Soundstage
- Relatively Easy to Drive
- Very Clear and Highly Detailed
- Mostly Comfortable
- Good Bass and Treble Extension
- Fast Transience as Expected from a Planar
- Ridiculous Build Quality
- Dip Around 2k Comes with Consequences
- Zingy up Top so can be Fatiguing
- Not very Engaging when the Song asks for More Bass and Impact
Without boring you too much, I don’t necessarily have a sound preference. I tend to enjoy different sound profiles as long as they do well at what they intend to do. I’m not very sensitive to treble so I can enjoy the most notoriously bright headphones, however I’m somewhat sensitive to upper mids area. Please keep these in mind. Also, I bought Hifiman Edition XS as well as other headphones mentioned here with my own money. If a unit I reviewed is given or loaned to me in the future, I will say so here.
Build, Comfort and Trivia
Hifiman is a brand I think every Audiophile is familiar with. They have their bright leaning neutral sound signature which almost all of their planar magnetic headphones have. Edition line of Hifimans was discountinued until Edition XS came out which is revised with Hifiman’s latest Stealth Magnet technology.
Edition XS is not built well. Actually, build quality is ridiculous in this price range. Even cheaper Sundara is build better, feels more rugged and I rate Sundara’s build quality as only decent or fine for the price. Seemingly only yolks and mesh on the drivers are made out of metal on these. Plastic is not necessarily a bad material but the plastic used here is one of the worst I’ve seen and paint on mine began to chip already. They are not dents or scratches mind you because these chipped areas don’t touch anywhere when I put them on the desk.
Headband is although comfortable, it is not my favorite design. It looks cheap like rest of the headphones and I can imagine the faux leather on the headband flaking soon. Also, they don’t clamp enough on my normal sized head and if I tilt my head they move and barely stay on my head. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the seal but I can see it breaking easily.
Packaging and accessories are modest to say the least. Only a 3.5 mm terminated cable and a 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapters comes with the headphones. Cable is better than what came with the Sundara’s but still not very good. Box looks like environment friendly, which I think reduces costs even more. If there were more accessories like another cable or replacement pads, I would believe Hifiman was trying to be more environment conscious but no, I don’t but that.
Frequency Response: 8 Hz – 50 kHz
Impedance: 18 Ohms
Sensitivity: 92 dB (not specified, I assume per mW)
Weight: 405 g
Sound Signature of Edition XS is bright leaning neutral like most of the planar magnetic headphones in Hifiman’s line up.
Edition XS has a neutral and well extended bass. Being planar, this neutral signature come as lean for some and definitely not enough for genres like EDM and hip hop. Bass quality is exceptional devoid of muddiness of boominess. Transience is fast as expected from a planar.
Mids are kind of a mixed bad in Edition XS. While mostly neutral, there is a dip around 2k which helps the perception of soundstage. However, this dip comes with some consequences. Some vocals take step back and lose their intimacy when other instruments are come into play. Also, Sudden rise around 3k can cause unevenness in some instruments like pianos, violins or xylophones. I came across this phenomenon just a handful of times but still wanted to mention. If the points I made left a bad impression, I want to assure you again these are very rare and small gripes.
Treble in Edition XS is both it’s strongest suit and downfall. As I mentioned earlier, these are bright leaning. Therefore, sounding very clear and perceived detail is very high. However above at the air region (above 10k) there is some excessive energy which causes some unwanted zing. If I were to EQ these, I would reduce this region a few dBs before I touch the bass. If you mostly listen to Jazz or Classical music, you might not mind it but with genres like J-Pop, Edition XS can be fatiguing after a while. Although these are not particularly sibilant, it is at the edge of being sibilant. Depending on the source, recording or maybe cable as some people report, you may come across some sibilance.
I may as well name this part: “Why should you buy Edition XS?” Because these are highly technical headphones. When I tried these first, they wowed me with their expansive soundstage. Edition XS might be the widest headphones below 500$. Imaging is also decent, not the best, but good enough. It definitely benefits from the soundstage size.
Thanks to being a planar magnetic, these are highly resolving headphones. Resolve from headphones.com says their resolving capability is more or less the same with 2021 Ananda (that review is here), which I cannot comment on since I haven’t heard them. And as I mentioned above, being bright leaning perceived detail is also very high.
I didn’t notice Edition XS losing its composure during complex parts. Big stage size and high resolving capability really helps instrument separation too. Timbre is not the most natural, but decent for a planar, it didn’t offend me until now. In short, I’d say only imaging is average on these. Everything else is above average or superb.
Edition XS vs. Sundara
Bass rolls off on Sundara earlier than Edition XS, therefore weaker. Well, most of the Sundara users only complain about its bass. Timbre is more natural on Sundara too. Male vocals take a step back on Edition XS and sound nasally somehow compared to Sundara. On the contrary, female vocals come closer on Edition XS and they become more similar than different. They are clearer and more emotional on Edition XS, more neutral on Sundara. Sundara is a little warmer, also hazier. Sundara is not necessarily a warm headphone. In comparison Edition XS is leaner but clearer. They are also, as you would guess, brighter, airier but more fatiguing. Staging is noticably better on Edition XS. Sundara is no slouch but these are that good. Sundara is a little harder to drive. Edition XS clearer and more detailed across the frequency range. Sundara’s imaging was a little better in my opinion but they are both decent. Layering and instrument seperation are better on Edition XS with the help of its resolution capability and the size of its soundstage.
Edition XS vs. HD600
These two although both can be counted as neutral, are more different than similar. You can check out my HD600 review here. HD600 sounds more veiled. Edition XS clearer and much more detailed across the frequency range.
Timbre is more natural on HD600. Bass is a little more tactile on HD600 because of the Dynamic Driver. Transience is faster on Edition XS but not very slow on HD600 either. Bass on HD600 just lingers enough. Edition XS extends much better into subbbass and is rumblier. The unevenness I mentioned is more noticable against HD600. Presentation is usually closer and more intimate in HD600 but the unevenness mentioned can cause sudden shouts on Edition XS. Treble is brighter, zingier and can be fatiguing on Edition XS during longer listening sessions. Soundstage is much wider on Edition XS. As you would imagine, these are is clearer, more resolving, more detailed etc. etc.
If you skipped to the conclusion, I want to reiterate that Hifiman Edition XS is a highly technical headphone, which also happens to be decently balanced in its frequency range. Especially soundstage in these is one of the widest I’ve heard so far. They might really be best headphones under 500$. Some people say you don’t have to pay for the tuning, which I agree to some extent. Minor problems can be forgiven or remedied with EQ after all. For the sound signature of these, some people say they are close to V-shape. Although I understand the sentiment, I don’t necessarily agree. Dip in midrange may cause a V-ish perception but, lack of bass shelf keeps me from calling them close to V-shape. In any case, I try to be critical in my reviews. For the Edition XS, I highly recommend them with a few caveats.