Review: HIFIMAN Edition XS (Stealth Magnets Design) – Nothing Extra Small

The Edition XS are the middle of HIFIMAN's lineup and easily outperform their category.
The Edition XS are the middle of HIFIMAN’s lineup and easily outperform their category.

The XS are XL in terms of value and size, with excellent tuning, build, and comfort.

First, a sincere thank you to HIFIMAN for providing a loaner unit and allowing Headphonesty to review the Edition XS. As is my standard, I did not read or watch any reviews of the Edition XS before my evaluation.

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.

“The new Edition XS expands on its predecessor’s achievements with several essential upgrades. Featuring Stealth Magnet Technology and the company’s NEO supernano Diaphragm, the Edition XS produces a wide, natural soundstage that puts the listener in the best seat in the house.” – HIFIMAN Electronics
The Edition XS are the middle of HIFIMAN's lineup and easily outperform their category.
Bottom Line

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!

What We Like
  • Tuning, sound quality, and overall performance are stunning compared to most headphones in the sub USD$500 range
  • Highly refined, balanced sound profile
  • Very easy to listen to and non-fatiguing, despite high energy
  • Design, build quality, fit, and finish
  • Long-listening comfort with spacious ear cups and pads that breathe freely
  • Excellent for BHC (Big Head Club) members
  • High dynamic range
  • EQ is unnecessary to enjoy most music
  • The included cable and headphone stand
What We Don't Like
  • The open-back design may be an issue for those in louder environments or with others who don’t want to hear what you’re listening to
  • Requires more power than a mobile phone can provide to perform at their best
  • For critical listeners who love treble and detail, the XS may be a touch too smooth compared to some higher-priced options
  • XL size ear pads and solid headband may cause poor fit issues for those with smaller or pointier heads
  • No carry/travel or protective case

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).

I begin formal evaluations after a lengthy burn-in period (72-100 hours). HIFIMAN recommends 150+, which I surpassed before completing this review. In addition, I do not use secondary EQ adjustments while testing.

First Impressions

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.

The XS ear cups articulate well to accommodate head shapes.
The XS ear cups articulate well to accommodate head shapes.

Company Overview

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.

“Our mission is to create great-sounding products that stand out and have the potential to change the game. We are not interested in repeating ourselves for the sake of increasing sales.” – Dr. Fang Bian, President and CEO, HIFIMAN Electronics

Technical Specifications

  • 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)
The XS weigh in at 405g (14.3oz). They feel much lighter while wearing.
The XS weigh in at 405g (14.3oz). They feel much lighter while wearing.

Packaging

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.

Do you want to feel like royalty? For that, buy a pair of Focal headphones for the ultimate unboxing experience.
The XS arrive in a plain cardboard box adorned with a sticker, much like other newer HIFIMAN products.
The XS arrive in a plain cardboard box adorned with a sticker, much like other newer HIFIMAN products.

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.

The best example of this I have seen to date is Olllo Audio. Their packaging for the excellent S4X Reference Headphones V1.1 is a model example of recyclable, environmentally friendly material choices and outstanding design.

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 box contains a foam insert, the headphones stand, and a small black box that holds the singular included cable.
The box contains a foam insert, the headphones stand, and a small black box that holds the singular included cable.

Cable

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.

Keep in mind that the stock length may be a touch short for some applications.
The included cable is perfectly good. Specifications of the cable construction are not provided by HIFIMAN.
The included cable is perfectly good. Specifications of the cable construction are not provided by HIFIMAN.

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!

Design

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.

HIFIMAN asserts that the lightweight, ergonomically correct headband offers maximum comfort. The exterior is made of refined matte black material, and the interior features high-grade memory foam. The XS’s structure is designed for overall durability and fit retention.

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 patented “window shade” metal grates on the outside of the ear cups are there for driver protection and optimize the open-back design.
The patented “window shade” metal grates on the outside of the ear cups are there for driver protection and optimize the open-back design.

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.

There is a notched headband size adjustment system that works well, though may still be too big at the smallest setting.
There is a notched headband size adjustment system that works well, though may still be too big at the smallest setting.

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.

The ear pads are comfortable and provide lots of room.
The ear pads are comfortable and provide lots of room.

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.

Internals

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 new NEO supernano diaphragm (NsD) is 75% thinner than the original version, resulting in lightning-fast response and detailed sonic output without discernible distortion. Edition XS offers performance levels and musical purity that exceed expectations, especially for such an affordable headphone.” – HIFIMAN Electronics
New generation HIFIMAN Stealth Magnets reside in the asymmetric oval cups.
New generation HIFIMAN “Stealth Magnets” reside in the asymmetric oval cups.

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.

If you’d like to evaluate how your source(s) will power the Edition XS, please consult Headphonesty’s super nifty Headphone Power Calculator!

HIFIMAN Edition XS Sound

The links posted are generally YouTube or YouTube Music links. The quality varies drastically and are provided for quick reference. I primarily listen and evaluate from original source CDs, high-quality lossless digital files, or high-quality/resolution streaming music.

For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:

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.

It occurred to me that so many people ask about/refer to “dynamics.” To keep it simple, dynamics are the variance in loudness. In headphones, it’s a sense of being able to hear and clearly differentiate loud and soft sounds. Even better when there is no loss in resolution or clarity.

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.

Build quality is on par with sound quality - excellent and robust.
Build quality is on par with sound quality – excellent and robust.

Bass

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.

Midrange

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.

The XS have 3.5mm jacks on the ear cups, making cable swapping simple.
The XS have 3.5mm jacks on the ear cups, making cable swapping simple.

Treble

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.

The XS playing with its kin, the magnificent and powerful HIFIMAN EF400.
The XS playing with its kin, the magnificent and powerful HIFIMAN EF400.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

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!

1 comment

  1. 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.

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