The XS are XL in terms of value and size, with excellent tuning, build, and comfort.
If you cavort in any audiophile or headphone communities, you will have inevitably caught the buzz on the Edition XS (hereafter referred to as the XS). They are the most spoken and inquired about of numerous new HIFIMAN models to make a splash, with the possible exception of the most recent 2022 release, the Sundara Closed.
In the HIFIMAN headphone hierarchy, the XS sits above the Sundara and Deva, and is the lowest-price model to share the large oval-shaped ear cup design of their upper-line models. Just above the XS is the well-regarded Ananda (now available in Bluetooth).
In This Article
My first experience with the XS comes on the heels of my time with the HIFIMAN Arya Stealth Magnet Version. Despite being an order of magnitude apart in price, they share many similarities, including their sound signature and strengths. As such, much of what I said about the Arya also holds true for the XS.
The XS are immediately recognizable as a HIFIMAN, even without seeing the imprinted name on the headband yolk cover. They share DNA and design language with HIFIMAN’s upper planar headphone line.
Dr. Fang Bian founded HIFIMAN Electronics Corporation in 2007 and, two years later, introduced the acclaimed HM-801, the first digital audio player to feature true audiophile-grade performance from a pocket-size form factor.
Since then, HIFIMAN, under Dr. Bian’s guidance, has developed an extensive selection of headphones, digital audio players, and headphone amplifiers consistently recognized as the best in class, offering performance that belies their price point, no matter the cost.
- Type: Circum-aural, open-back headphones
- Transducer driver: “Supernano” diaphragm planar stealth magnet driver (HIFIMAN proprietary patented engineering)
- Frequency range: 8Hz – 50kHz
- Impedance: 18Ohms (nominal)
- Sensitivity: 92db/mW
- Cable length and type: 1.5m (6.6ft) 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm detachable single crystalline copper cable
- Connections: Each ear cup has a 3.5mm input jack
- Plug type: 3.5mm TRS gold-plated right angle plug with 6.35mm (1/4”) adapter
- Weight (excluding cable): 405g (14.3oz)
Minimalism is the dominant theme of the day.
No frills, basic cardboard. Function over form. This applies to the XS themselves as well. Virtually identical to the packaging of the Arya, included is the same foam headphone stand (a very nice addition and less material to trash!).
Open the box, and you will find the headphones around the stand and a small cardboard box with the cable and adapter. That’s all folks.
As I’ve mentioned before, I highly support companies advancing environmental stewardship with conscious material choice and less waste. That said, it would be helpful to broadcast this to buyers and possibly avoid disappointment with the minimalist packaging.
In the box
- HIFIMAN Edition XS headphones
- 1.5m long cable with 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm plugs
- 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
- Owner’s guide
The XS come with a 1.5m cable with a black rubberized wrap. The source termination is a 3.5mm TRS plug, and dual 3.5mm plugs to attach to the ear cups. Included is a 6.35mm adapter.
The cable is flexible and memory-free, feels good in the hand, and appears to be of much higher quality than those included with historical models and some of the lesser HIFIMAN offerings, which buyers often despise and discard immediately.
I have only compliments – the cable is well-suited for the XS.
The cable seems durable with the fortified splitter, strain relief, and plug housings. Most importantly, and thankfully, no microphonic noise – huzzah!
The XS are circum-aural, open-back headphones, a descendant of the now classic HE1000, with asymmetrical ear cups that follow the natural shape of the human ear.
In my experience, I have no issues with hotspots from the fixed headband. While it is mostly comfortable, I prefer suspension headband systems, such as the ones employed by the Ananda and Arya. Adjust the arm sliders for height, and you will discover a strong positive click with each movement.
The tilted oval design makes them immediately recognizable as a pair of HIFIMAN headphones.
Materials choices are adequate, and feel like they will last if taken care of. A mix of metals with little plastic is employed for lightweight comfort and durability. They look and feel well-made. The black and silver aesthetic appears clean and well-assembled.
The window shade outer cup design is metal. The asymmetrical ear cups have enough freedom to articulate (rotate and tilt) to adapt to most users’ heads. 3.5mm connectors are employed to allow for easy cable swapping.
Moving parts have enough movement to allow for some personalized fit. They are noiseless (e.g., no creaking, cracking, or rubbing sounds), which is another big plus for me. The fit and finish are very good in all areas and contact points.
Comfort and Isolation
The ear pads are deep and wide enough to accommodate those with large lateral head appendages (aka ears). The foam, while soft, does not compress much while wearing, as the clamp force is not high, and the fit is generous.
Surprisingly, a tight pad seal is not required for exceptional sound reproduction. Note that the pads may extend down and apply some pressure to one’s jaws. This is not likely to bother many wearers, thanks to the low clamp force.
The caveat is their physical size. The XS may still be too large for those with smaller heads, even on their most compact setting. A headband cover may help with size and reduce the possibility of hotspot pressure at the crown. Another option is additional padding, such as Dekoni Audio Nuggets.
The XS are BHC (Big Head Club) certified.
For reference, I have a medium-sized head and wear these with no extension in the slider adjustments, and they barely fit. Even in the smallest setting, they could be more secure and move around quite a bit on my head with any quick movement. The XS are meant for quiet (and not highly mobile) listening.
Their weight (405g) may look somewhat heavy on paper. On my head, the XS are well-balanced and feel much lighter. They are easy to wear for long listening sessions without any irritation.
Like most HIFIMAN models of this design, comfort is very good while isolation is zero.
Look elsewhere if you want to be isolated from your environment and lost in your sounds.
As expected, you will hear everything around you, and everyone will hear your music. The plus is that there is no claustrophobia and little heat buildup, as the ventilation is above average. With the XS, there is a lot of room to breathe, literally and figuratively.
The Edition XS with stealth magnets are a follow-up to the original Edition X, introducing HIFIMAN’s new acoustically invisible stealth magnet technology. The result is intended to reduce distortion and improve sound quality.
Degradation of sound quality in a conventional planar magnetic headphone may be caused by the magnets getting in the way of the sound wave. The unique shape of stealth magnets enables soundwaves to pass through the magnet without generating interference. They use a nanometer (super-thin) diaphragm that guarantees fast response and minimum distortion.
The addition of a dongle DAC/amp will likely be adequate on the go, though a higher-powered desktop headphone amplifier is recommended.
The XS will be underserved by most portable phones or weak power sources and need more power to perform at their best.
Portable DAC/amps such as the Khadas Tea and the TempoTec Sonata E44 work well from most sources (both via USB-C). Helm Audio’s powerful DB12 AAAMP and/or BOLT provide plenty of power.
HIFIMAN Edition XS Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V60 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
- Khadas Tea
- S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amplifier
- HIFIMAN EF400 Headphone Amplifier
- HELM Audio Bolt and DB12 AAAMP
Overall, the XS’s sound signature is exquisitely well-balanced. The planar stealth magnets are super fast and clean. While they are revealing and detailed, the XS lack surgical precision, which for many may be just right. For comparison, although legendary, the greater technicalities of the HIFIMAN Arya Stealth can be overwhelming for many listeners.
Like the Arya, frequency response and tuning, tonal balance, and dynamics are among the best in their price bracket.
They have all the expected strengths of a planar without the typical somewhat metallic or sterile-sounding “planar timbre.”
While they do not require significant equalization (EQ) fixes, the XS are tolerant of minor EQ adjustments for those who would like to tweak the sound a bit. Do expect that they are tuned as is for a reason; don’t expect wild variances or improvements in the sound with EQ.
Soundstage width and height are above average, and depth is average. Sense of space and imaging are excellent, as are resolution, precision, speed, detail, and dynamics. Like the Arya, there are almost no areas of sound that the XS do not excel in. The only exception is slamming heavy bass.
The frequency response of the XS is very similar to the Arya Stealth Magnet version and appears to be tuned in a way that is consistent and favored by HIFIMAN. Overall, the tuning is excellent and well-balanced.
We are going to begin our global audio journey today in Rome, Italy, at the Colosseum.
Notable examples of high dynamics are everywhere in many soundtracks and orchestral music, including the awe-inspiring Gladiator soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance). The XS handle these dramatic variances with sublime grace.
The XS slightly favors mid-bass impact over sub-bass. They will satisfy most listeners except for those who require enough bass to rumble fillings loose. The bass is fast, tight, and clean, as is typical of planars. There is virtually no noticeable bleed into the midrange or masking of higher frequencies.
While impressive, there is a divergence here from the upper-tier Arya. This is not to suggest that the sub-bass is missing or inadequate on the XS – it is just not as textured, authoritative, or deep as the Arya.
Continuing our journey to Helsinki, iconic Finnish power metal band Stratovarius’ new release Broken is great for evaluation, especially the first 30 seconds. Drums are crisp, clean, and fast, with additional sounds coming with distinction and separation. When the vocals come in after 0:23, they are clear and present, without feeling out of place in the mix.
Now we will return to Italy – a few hundred years in the past! Toccata IV in A Minor: I. Arpeggio, is an instrumental composed by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). This recent recording features Philippe Grisvard on harpsichord.
The realism of instrument reproduction provided by the XS is excellent and accurate, with little hint of so-called “planar timbre.” Speed and resolution are also on full display without compromise.
Overall, the XS sound natural. While the lower midrange does not suffer from bass bleed, I hear a slight recess in the upper midrange. Depending on the overall recording mix, this may affect the forwardness of female vocals, especially mezzo-soprano voices. Lower-frequency vocals are less affected.
Either way, without direct A/B comparisons, this will not be evident to the vast majority of listeners and not be heard as a deficiency. It’s important to note that the midrange, compared to most popular headphones under USD$500, sounds smooth and clear without a sense of being veiled.
Treble presentation also varies from the Arya, which non-audiophiles might consider to be overly sharp – meaning, extended and detailed to the point of fatigue. Treble through the XS never becomes harsh. It is more laid back, though not dull.
Moving back across the Atlantic Ocean to Washington D.C, USA, we can hear Animals as Leaders’ Kaskade. The treble detail is good without becoming piercing for a complex track with rapid transients and very complex layering. Details in the upper ranges are good – arguably great compared to similarly priced competition.
I find the XS’ treble to be nicely balanced with little harshness. Sibilance and splashiness rarely make an appearance unless they are prominent in the recording. While the XS are more forgiving of poor recordings than the Arya, they will still reveal deficiencies and are not as tolerant as many dynamic driver headphones.
Where to Buy
The Edition XS easily compete with headphones in their price range with a very high price-to-performance ratio. The XS are an amazing value and offer performance not far off from headphones more than twice their cost.
These will be a mind-blowing revelation for enthusiasts and music lovers who have only heard standard big-brand mainstream headphones.
The tuning, sound quality, build and finish, and comfort (for bigger heads) are all excellent. With so few compromises, the XS have earned an XL-sized thumbs up!
Please comment below with your thoughts, and as always – happy listening!
Great review! Are these a new version of the XS with stealth magnets or were they part of the original design too? I’ve used the launch XS and really like it but can’t remember if stealth magnets were part of it or if this is another revision.
Thank you! Stealth Magnets are new to the HIFIMAN Edition XS (Stealth Magnets Design). They were not in the previous iteration. I believe these are currently one of the defining headphones for “point of diminishing returns.” Let us know if you get these, or have an opportunity to hear them!
would you choose the XS or MG for rock, metal and movies? I read that the MG is a bit muddy and veiled. But more punch, dynamics and better built quality. So the XS is better if clarity is important? The better headphone? And with dekoni headband pads also for normal sized heads?
Christoph, I would choose the XS for all three. The Mg is not muddy or veiled in any way whatsoever. That said, the speed and soundstage/dimension of the XS is best suited for your requests. RE: Dekoni, I highly recommend, that will make a difference. What I am not sure about is the adherence of the nuggets to the specific headband, as I have not tried that yet. Best to check with Dekoni directly to make sure that the curvature of the headband will not affect their ability to stick. Let us know what you decide and how it goes! (Also, just saw Nox’s comment below, great advice!)
Nice review, it helped me to decide in getting these. I had a pair of HD600. Never looking back. The difference in about everything is immense.
I don’t know how the MG sound, but the XS is just too good of a bargain not to get. I also listen to mostly rock and metal. As long as the mastering is good they’re perfect. They’re very sensitive to source material. More than dynamic drives.
I have them paired with the same setup I had for my HD600. Despite everyone suggesting to get a normal amp for them, I recommend going for a tube setup. Search for something that adds bass and soundstage and gives them a warmer feel. In that regard the things that make them better are very similar to HD600. They’re already very fast and detailed. Also they have a little too much high-end for my taste so I use EQ APO with -4dB at 12khz.
I tried them on a normal amp and tube is just better. If you want to go transistor route, there are EQ APO settings on the net that fix their downfalls.
Knox, thank you, and you’re welcome! Great reply/advice to @Christoph and anyone else who reads. I am reviewing a new xDuoo TA-22 and will report on the pairings soon as well. Enjoy your Edition XS!
Thank you very much for your helpful answers @ Nox & Eric D. I think i will buy the Topping E70 and L70 and I will save some money to get the HE1000V2 because it is better for smaller heads. Can you compare the XS with the HE1000V2. Is the HEK a better version of the XS? A big difference? I think Hifiman is a good decision for music and movies.
Can these headphones be driven by a Fiio K5 Pro Ess dac/amp on a PC? Also, how are they for classical and jazz?
Have you had a chance to compare them to the iBasso Sr3’s?