We review the HIFIMAN Edition XS, which is an update of the popular Edition X headphones with an NsD diaphragm and stealth magnets. It is priced at $499.
Disclaimer: This was sent to us as a sample for our honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or services We thank the team at Hifiman for giving us this opportunity.
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Note, this article follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read up on here.
HIFIMAN constantly keeps their evolution tree growing and it eventually gave breath to the asymmetrical cup design. This evolution emerged from the more common round pad headphone design and from the first HIFIMAN model, the HE5 which was released back in 2009 and sits at the trunk of the evolution tree.
However, the HE1000 was the first model that employed the asymmetrical cup and was released back in 2015. From there the design crept over to other models like the Arya, the Ananda, and to the edition X just to name a few.
Recently, HIFIMAN is maintaining a constant pattern it seems of either improving on their present designs or lowering their admission costs with headphones like the HE400SE and the introduction of the Stealth Magnet design.
So, it also seems HIFIMAN took the same direction with the new Edition XS which at present is their lowest price asymmetrical cup design headphone and a remake of Edition X that to the benefit of the buyer seems to employ both concept patterns mentioned above.
The one particular design feature that is well highlighted on the new Edition XS versus the old model which was the Edition X is the incorporation of the Stealth Magnet design which is a rework of the magnets to minimize interference as sound waves pass through the magnet gaps.
The way it works is that the Magnets themselves were reshaped to reduce wave diffractions, turbulence, and reduce distortion by retaining the integrity of the sound waves as they leave the diaphragm. The HIFIMAN Stealth Magnet design seems to improve mostly the perceived soundstage particularly but also improves them in other areas like in frequency spectrum and tonality.
Speaking of the diaphragm, HIFIMAN in combination with the stealth magnets used their new NsD NEO Super Nano diaphragm on the Edition XS which is claimed to be 75% thinner than their previous diaphragms and particularly compared to the diaphragm which was used on Edition X.
The HIFIMAN Edition XS employs their new headband design which I believe is their fourth-generation headband style. The Edition XS headband was basically borrowed from the HE400SE which also happens to be basically the same headband used on their higher-tier HE-R10P and some other models.
It seems HIFIMAN has been fairly successful with the introduction of this fourth-generation headband design. It seems robust enough to stand up to some abuse but I do miss the first headband version as it seemed to be the smaller in profile up on top with full swivel cups. I’m speaking about the headband used on the HE5 and other models like the HE4XX.
The adjustable yokes do not swivel as with their counterpart headband designs and barely do but just enough to get those large pads to sit comfortably enough on the side of your head. The yokes seem to be made of lightweight aluminum along with the back grill but the rest of the components seem to be made of a hard polymer including the cups.
Comfort & Isolation
Clamping force is a nice medium amount on the Edition XS but do not expect any isolation from outside noise. Just the same, they leak a lot of sound so be forewarned. The Edition XS is as open of a headphone as they get but, yea, they’re very comfortable. I mean just look at those pads. You could probably fit two ears in there.
These pads are large, angled, oval, Hybrid type and are very comfortable. I would say almost unbeatable in the comfort category. Actually, these pads look very similar to the HIFIMAN Ultra pads and perhaps their only difference might be the foam that was used inside.
HIFIMAN’s literature states that memory foam was used at least on the headband padding from what I gathered but the foam bounces back so quickly on both the pads and headband that I am dubious to the fact and doubt there is any memory foam anywhere.
The padding is comfortable enough so regardless I have no complaints when it comes to comfort. I could wear these all day long.
If you’ve had or seen the cable assembly that came with the Drop HE4XX then this stock cable assembly will feel familiar to you. The wire is wrapped in a flexible rubber shield. I prefer this cable over, for example, the one that came bundled with the Sundara which seems to be made of wire insulated or let’s say inside surgical-type tubing.
The cable terminates in a 3.5mm TRS right-angle plug and HIFIMAN includes a 6.35mm adapter. On the other end, there are two 3.5mm plugs in a rather common positive tip and negative sleeve configuration which makes it easy to obtain an aftermarket cable if you so desire or to go balanced which by the way I do recommend doing with the Edition XS.
Packaging & Accessories
This might seem rather funny to some but I prefer the new style boxes that are simple and not so fancy. When I get a product in a very fancy box it makes me wonder how much of the product cost I just spent into paying for the box which will most likely stay in a closet forever.
The box is just large enough with plenty of real estate inside for the headphones to sit in comfortably and protected within a foam mold and on top of a nylon taffeta cloth with the cable assembly, a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter, and a warranty card with an owner’s manual.
To me, the porridge is just right this time around and I’m really enjoying it. I always considered HIFIMAN cans to be either bright sounding or midrange forward which is fine by me but lately, they’ve seemed to have found a particular point in tuning where the three major frequency bands are meeting up in equal representation and this is fully displayed in the Edition XS.
The first thing I noticed is a deep low-frequency output which was rather satisfying and honestly somewhat uncommon to HIFIMAN cans. The Edition XS has more bottom low bass response than let’s say the 4xx but it’s way tighter, deeper, punchier, and just better defined overall.
To my senses, the Edition XS seems to be the meatiest sounding HIFIMAN headphone I have in my collection and I have many. I use the word meaty because it’s the only way I could describe the bass, especially the very bottom frequencies in comparison to other HIFIMAN cans and finally there’s some meat on the bones.
The midrange response is very well behaved, balanced and rarely strays from smoothness, and has a pretty accurate tonality only surpassed by some of their higher tier headphones. The midrange is somewhat warm, wide, large sounding but intimate all at once.
The treble response follows suit the same but it has a curious characteristic to me and that is the ability to apply a large amount of volume to the treble response without distortion. I bet the Stealth Magnets are responsible for this characteristic.
If we start with the bass, the Edition XS takes on that lowest octave very well and the bass extension is excellent.
In past models like the Sundara, the HE400i, and even some other dynamic cans I’ve had I usually had to turn up that lower octave starting at 50 and below to bring out some emotion from their neutral-sounding bass response. However, the bass seems present enough in the Edition XS, and to me, no boosting is needed unless you want to go into basshead territory.
The bass tuning does produce some punch and slam and it can almost approach the speed of a good electrostatic due to the very thin diaphragm but does so with a poignant character and a good amount of bash. The bass frequencies have acquired some welcomed emotion and musicality compared to some past cool-sounding HIFIMAN cans.
The midrange response takes on a well-balanced character that seems to produce the spectrum fairly evenly with no perceived irksome peaks. There is a bit of forwardness that compliments the stage by taking on an intimate character that brings things forward and inward and I would consider the general characteristics as warm but neutral with a high level of micro-detail.
One characteristic I noticed was a more forward presentation in the upper midrange which gave an extra presence to female vocals for example and that character at times pushed them past the edge but male vocals remained warm and better toned in general. I would say the area in question sits in the 2 to 3kHz region so I would just drop that area around 3dB and call it a day.
To my ears, the highs are very well executed and detailed. They could take a large amount of volume level before distorting. Just as in the midrange, they have lots of micro-detail; lots of nuances come through and with plenty of airiness and crystallinity.
Staging & Dynamics
The HIFIMAN Stealth Magnet design has a particular character and I could only explain the effect by using this metaphor. Imagine every element in a recording within the soundstage to have an aura around it that somewhat smears its pinpoint location. Now imagine that aura being removed from each element as to focus its presence within the soundstage in a more precise way.
That said, the imaging and staging capabilities of the HIFIMAN Edition XS are on a very high level that constantly supplies the listener with lots of precision especially comparing class and tier. It seems that a certain amount of smear has been lifted by these Stealth Magnets that allows a recording to come through more accurately.
The soundstage in general is large and wide but it still remains personal and introverted at times which I prefer over a sound that seems to come from way out there or is too spacious sounding. There’s a good amount of 3d detail and micro placement, especially within the higher frequency bands.
Transient response is excellent as well along with dynamic range and in combination, the Edition XS produces a good amount of attack with a quick recovery that seems to keep things sounding rather quick and crisp.
I would say that the overall tonality and resolute abilities are just around 10% or less in general on the Edition XS and veered from true tonality particularly compared to the higher tier HIFIMAN headphones which puts the Edition XS at a very good price-to-performance ratio in my opinion.
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