HiFiMAN, a veteran in the headphone and earphone industry, have recently accrued a lot of attention in audiophile circles through their innovative solutions and well-regarded product line-ups. An example of just this is their recently acquired CES 2016 Innovation Award for their HE-1000 headphone – the world’s first in nanometer-diaphragm thickness. Hot in pursuit, HiFiMAN have launched another high-performance planar headphone lauded the Edition X. Much like its elder brother, the Edition X implements an ultra-thin diaphragm that is said to retain some of the same magic that has earned the former its many accolades amongst the Hi-Fi community. However, unlike the HE-1000, the Edition X was primarily developed with the intentions of high efficiency in mind and thus boasts the ability to be driven from any portable audio device such as a smartphone with ease.
Weighing in at just 399 grams, the Edition X is relatively light for its size and is only 49 grams heavier than HiFiMAN’s latest budget-busting HE-400S headphone. Like the HE-400S and HE-1000 before it, the Edition X employs a similar ergonomic headband system that has aided comfort and weight distribution in their new generation of head-gear. The Edition X retails at market for a relatively expensive $1799 which places it in competition with several big-hitters in the headphone arena such as MrSpeakers’ Ether, Sennheiser’s HD800S and ENIGMAcoustic’s Dharma.
With that said however, the Edition X manages to retain a unique selling point in the crowded marketplace with its impressively low 25 Ohm sensitivity. Head designer and CEO of HiFiMAN, Fang Bian, has made this possible with his years of experience in nanotechnology and commitment to advanced research and development. Without further ado then, let the review commence.
The packaging of the HiFiMAN Edition X headphones, while not as luxurious as the HE-1000, is still premium looking as should be for a product for its price. It is evident to see that the packaging is a design borrowed from HiFiMAN’s HE-400i headphones which is a smart and well-implemented revisit to truly show off this product. The silver printed finish on the top section of the box opens to reveal the pair of headphones in the same foam cut-out seen in many of HiFiMAN’s other packages.
Included within are two stock cables terminated at 6.3 mm and 3.5 mm dimensions, a user manual and warranty cards. HiFiMAN have purposefully chosen not to include a balanced cable to deter users from powering these headphones with very powerful amplifiers that would otherwise distort the Edition X’s frequency spectrum.
The Design & Build
As mentioned, the design of the Edition X is very much reminiscent of its flagship brother, the HE-1000 with the latter sporting metal for its headband compared to the former’s plastic. Both, however, utilise the same premium alloys for the patented window-shade grill to maintain openness and subdue unwanted levels of distortion. The grill provides an exotic look to both the Edition X and the HE-1000 making it look not only visually appealing but also distinctive to the marketplace.
The metallic sheen to the plastic rim adds to the Edition X’s unique profile by rendering it stunning in all light levels. A possible critique, however, would be the use of plastic which might not sit well for audiophiles at this price point. It is worth noting though, that the use of plastic has helped to drive down the weight of this product for long-term use and while not the most expensive of materials, certainly looks and feels first-class.
The housings of the diaphragm are rotatable in both the horizontal and vertical planes to allow listeners different variations to achieve an optimal fit. Finally, the cable connects are angled away from the user to prevent cables rubbing along clothing to not only improve ergonomics but also reduce microphonics.
On the subject of fit, the Edition X provides volumes of ear space which is truly comfortable in long-listening sessions much like most of the HE-series. At 399 grams, the weight is evenly distributed and works well to achieve a consoling experience unlike the rather heavier Audeze brand of headphones.
The plush velour pads assist in the ergonomics department but the depth of the ear-cups is an area which could have been improved upon to provide even more room for the user. Overall, however, the Edition X delivers a light and pleasurable experience.
Sound impressions (w/ stock cable)
The HiFiMAN Edition X has all the good low-frequency traits of a planar magnetic headphone; tight, refined and responsive. Unlike the other planar models before it, HiFiMAN have instilled a greater quantity of bass in the Edition X which renders it more voluminous and extensive in the lower frequencies compared to that of the HE-400S. Although the bass appears tighter than Sennheiser’s new HD800S, the latter has better articulacy and resolvement in this side of the frequency spectrum. Next to the Fostex TH500RP, the Edition X has a faster decay response with the former having a thicker and generally more visceral tone. One of the more impressive features of the Edition X’s bass is the sheer detail of it. This, along with its generous mid-bass hump serves to be a powerful expedient for bass-dominant tracks where the Edition X really comes to life. What’s more is that the Edition X beautifully transitions between the low frequencies of the sub-bass to the low-end of the midrange. In Three 6 Mafia’s “Late Night Tip”, for example, the Edition X is easily able to handle the track’s underlying bass tones with depth and proficiency.
The midrange of the Edition X has a real ethereal quality where notes seem to fade in and out from a wide span of nothingness. Coupled with the gentle and organic sounding signature of the headphone, this makes for a perfect laidback and wind-down musical experience. In contrast to the original Sennheiser HD800, the Edition X sounds more polite with greater body and tonality compared to the HD800’s thinner and more anaemic-prone midrange. Unlike the HD800, however, the Edition X loses out on the faster transients of the former which make the HD800 sound speedier with better defined separation. Tonality-wise, the Edition X manages to achieve a linearly integrated frequency response which evades the often lacklustre signature of many ‘neutral-oriented’ headphones. Here, the body, sense of space and macro-dynamics of the Edition X aid in delivering a musical and engaging angle to tracks. In Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days”, the capabilities of this headphone become incredibly clear with the soothingly pleasant vocals, realistic workings of a saxophone and spatially wide signature. The only nit-pick in this department, is the clarity levels which although superb in their own right could have been enhanced to compete with the HD800 and HD800S’ military-precise rendition of notes.
Like the midrange, the treble of the HiFiMAN Edition X is well-behaved with no distinct peaks or shrillness in any territory. The amount of detail that the Edition X manages to portray without instilling any brightness into the mix is something of a unique selling point for HiFiMAN’s latest planar model. The somewhat darker tonality of the Edition X does not go amiss here either with the headphone being able to render subtle artefacts and auditory cues that bring it towards the higher-end of audiophilia. With that said though, the Edition X can lack a bit of sparkle in the very high frequency ranges owing to a subtle roll-off. With the use of different cables, however, this can easily be overcome as explained below. Overall, the Edition X’s treble brings to the table an easy-going yet highly resolving sound that spares the ears of harshness and glare that so many other headphones are seemingly guilty of.
Dr. Fang Bian is never too far from innovation and decidedly so with these headphones which feature trickle-down technology from its big brother, the HE1000. Unlike the HE1000, the Edition X really shines out of an iPhone, iPad or any other smartphone or gadget device. So much so, in fact, that the Edition X is one of the best headphones at the moment from a standard portable device. Owing to its very low 25 Ohm resistance and 103db sensitivity, the Edition X is even able to have enough headroom to spare without optimal volume use. The rather odd thing, though, is that the Edition X is an open-back headphone and so cannot ideally be used out in the public domain but in and around the home. Dr. Bian also recommends against using very high powered amps to drive the Edition X. Although the headphones do scale up with dedicated amps, it is imperative to not use inappropriately high volumes or high-gain settings in any amp above 1W since the headphones will distort in sound.
Impressively and true to Dr. Bian’s strive for ultimate efficiency, the Edition X sounds outstanding from just an iPad device. It is able to retain very much of the sound quality as expected from a dedicated amp which is pretty impressive considering many other headphones are unable to close this gap.
This new technology could ultimately end the search for highly expensive DAC/Amp purchases which many quest for in order to achieve that ‘end-game’ sound.
Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit and Mjolnir 2 Amp
This Schiit stack brings a lot of good out of the Edition X with a more holographic sound and multiple layers that arise from an orb-like soundstage presented to the listener. Though not the most detailed, there is a real sense of organic tone quality that is hard to achieve in similarly-priced DACs with the implementation of ESS Sabre chips. Combined with the Mjolnir 2’s set of tube amps, the Edition X gains a sweeter tone that makes vocals invitingly warmer. It is worth noting that some distortion does slightly blur transients with this combo owing to the Edition X’s high level of efficiency.
ALO Continental Dual Mono DAC/Amp
Although not as layered or holographic as the Schiit stack above, the Continental infuses more musicality amidst a subtle black backdrop. The soundstage is still impressive with the dimensions being greater than out of a standard portable device.
The Soundstage & Imaging
Compared to the HD800 and HE1000, the Edition X does fall behind in soundstage depth and width but it is by no means lacking. The soundstage of the HiFiMAN Edition X is, in fact, another one of its strength. Sonic cues are projected higher than they are wide but the overall field of sound is expansive. This quality does improve with certain amps and DACs such as the Schiit Gungnir/Mjolnir.
One thing to note is that listening to the Edition X through the large soundstage setting on Fiio X7’s Spotify provides a marvellous listening experience on quite a few tracks. The whole experience is immersive and captivating and is certainly a feature worth investigating.
Imaging is also above average as these headphones are capable of separating elements while retaining a softness within its tonality. Music also sounds very balanced with an excellent centre-stage placement as with most other HiFiMAN headphones.
PlusSound is a cable company with great value for money and an impeccable customer service. In this review, I have tested their $299 silver and gold type Echo+ 4-wire cable with XLR termination. Compared to the stock cable, the Echo+ adds a finer layer of details and artefact which were previously hidden. Transients become sharper and the Edition X picks up a faster decay response adding some speed to tracks. As my version of the cable is designed for balanced use, the soundstage becomes somewhat wider than that of the stock single-ended cable provided by HiFiMAN. The Echo+ cable can be picked up here and is a recommended purchase to extract more of the finer details from tracks.
The Edition X represents the next venture in HiFiMAN’s pursuit of innovation and hi-fidelity. With superb efficiency, these headphones work a charm in the home and portable audio setting. At $1799, however, the Edition X constitutes a significant investment which should be considered for those with deep pockets and wanting a slice of innovation. With a pleasant tonal character, rich bass and capacious soundstage these headphones do a lot of things right. Much like the HE-1000, the Edition X masterfully capitalises on the balance between accuracy and musicality. Transients, however, could have been slightly more forthright and treble extended to create some more sparkle but for what it is worth, this is a headphone that can be listened to for hours on end. Together with its distinctive look and comfort, the Edition X is a worthy piece of any audiophile’s collection and definitely for those who can afford it.
HiFiMAN Edition X