Hifiman has been implementing its “Stealth Magnets” technology into every single new model released in the last few months. The only models that haven’t got this significant update have been the mighty popular Ananda and Sundara.
While the newly released Edition XS isn’t exactly an updated Ananda, it surely shares many similarities to its older sibling.
The implementation of Stealth Magnets in all the new releases is a great thing about Hifiman in recent years. They surely are all about improving what’s already great, and considering the fact that the prices stay the same (or even they are significantly lower), it is simply hard not to appreciate what they’re doing. The technology itself is a magnificent show of technology to ensure the highest possible audio quality, and I’ll be covering more of it in the “Tech” paragraph.
Back to the hero of today’s review, the Edition XS. While it might look like the Ananda with a different headband, it’s really more of an upgraded Edition X, which Hifiman has released back in 2016. With its price set at $499, it sits right in the middle between the Sundara and Ananda, entering a new market segment for an open-back, planar magnetic headphone by Hifiman. Considering the fact that both the Sundara and the Ananda have been hugely successful in the past few years, it should come as not a surprise, that the Edition XS has a lot to prove to threaten its older rivals.
I love reviewing Hifiman products, but this paragraph makes me feel like I was repeating myself over and over again after reviewing a majority of Hifiman open-back headphones. Well, the unboxing experience of the Edition XS is…the same as most of their products.
The headphone comes packed in a basic box with good-looking graphics. Inside the packaging, the only two things that you’ll find is the headphone itself and the included cable. Nothing more, nothing less. Hifiman has been pushing the value to the extreme lately, so you’re getting no accessories, as they would have simply raised the price of the final product. Would you really like it in exchange for some fancy accessories that you’ll probably never (or rarely) use? I definitely would not.
Having that in mind, you simply can’t criticize the kind of approach that Hifiman took with their modern lineup. You’re paying for the performance, not the experience, and considering the retail price, you surely want just that.
Design, Build and Comfort
Same story. The Edition XS is basically the Ananda with HE400i 2020 type of headband. The overall build quality is flawless, I have absolutely nothing to criticize. Yes, I know, the cups are plastic, and it might feel a little flimsy in hand. However, here comes the comfort, where the Edition XS completely destroys many headphones on the market, including the TOTL ones.
You see, I’ve been playing with the Abyss Diana Phi lately, and while its materials and the overall build are absolutely astonishing, the design of this headphone is just unacceptable. A pair of $4000 headphones that you MUST mod to be able to use properly just sounds questionable. Why did I bring that topic to this review? Well, the Build Quality (in terms of materials, finish and design) of the Diana Phi is miles ahead of that of the Edition XS, yet it is becoming totally irrelevant the moment you put them on. This is not a well-designed headphone, it’s literally broken.
On the other hand, the Edition XS (or almost every headphone by Hifiman) is not really impressive in terms of the materials used and overall finishing, but it’s just a masterpiece when it comes to the design. A headphone must be comfortable and convenient to use, and every single Hifiman headphone is just that. Audio equipment can be a piece of jewelry, but it has to be paired with a proper, comfortable, and convenient design (Meze Empyrean/Elite is the best example of that). Hifiman doesn’t design audio jewelry, but they do design headphones that are a joy to use and which you’ll be able to use the whole day, every day. That’s the winner in my book, and it should be in yours.
Let’s dive into the comfort a little bit more. While I’m a huge fan of suspension-style headbands, the solid one found on the Edition XS is a great choice. It’s plushy enough to allow you to use them for many hours without any discomfort (been there, done that), and is simply pleasant to the touch. The only other thing worth mentioning is the clamping force, or rather lack of it. It might be a hit or miss for some people, as the XS sits on your head rather loosely, and I know some people are not really into that type of design. However, it further improves the comfort, creating a feeling of a soft pillow sitting around your ears, rather than having two earcups clamping your head like the Sennheiser HD650 for example. I don’t really mind a loose fit with my open-back headphones, so I’d definitely call it a great feature.
Lastly, the cable is one of the best cables that Hifiman has included with their headphones ever. Fair, it is a plain black cable, far away from anything fancy, but at the same time it’s very comfortable and it doesn’t tangle at all, creating a very comfortable and stress-free performance. Way to go Hifiman.
Let’s cover the elephant in the room…again, the Stealth Magnets. Once again I can’t stress enough how good of a technology this is, so I’d simply paste our description from the Arya SE review:
Stealth Magnets are what sets the tone for the current generation of HiFiMan cans. They came up with a new shape, that makes it easier for sound to pass through it. Conventional, rectangular in cross-section magnets create a resonance between them. That resonance will color the sound in an unwanted manner. Having the edges trimmed at a 45-degree angle strongly reduces the resonance, allowing air (and sound) to move freely. Being all technical it goes like this: moving air changes its volume as it encounters the flared magnets. The changing volume also changes the speed. Less speed means a flatter Q of the resonance. How it’s possible that nobody else does it if it’s so simple? Well, it’s not easy to make magnets in that shape that are repeatable and have very good parameters suitable for planar headphones. So you either pay a ton of money for them, or you order a train of those at a bit less outrageous price. Then you put them in every product you have.
It is wonderful to see that great idea coming at such well-priced products nowadays and having that in mind, the Edition XS should be a brilliant value in the headphone market around $500. Let’s see if it’s true.
Hifiman has its own “house sound” that they are sticking with for years now. It is all about the speed, clarity, and sublime technicalities at the prices that only a couple of years ago would have been called a steal of the century. The Edition XS continues this kind of approach, focusing mainly on neutral tuning with an amazing detail retrieval. Let’s dive into it.
The bass is fast, extended, and has a great texture to it. It’s a planar driver, so the dynamic slam and attack are both somewhat limited, but nothing too extreme. While the Edition XS is definitely not the hardest-hitting headphone you’ll hear, they do create that sensation of seeing the actual shape of the bass notes.
Low frequencies are extended all the way down to the deepest parts of the subbass, creating a thick and natural bass presentation, with a slight hint of relaxation. This is a kind of bass that makes you dig into it and analyze different textures and timbre, not hit you in the face and take you dancing, definitely. The double bass playing in the “Abraham” by Miles Mosley is a great example here. While it might sound a little relaxed, the amount of reverberation and its texture is just so natural and high-quality sounding that it’s very pleasant to listen to. Every natural instrument that does bass sounds just about perfect when it comes to timbre accuracy and the amount of details. Electronic music enthusiasts should look into some dynamic rivals (Focal for example) to get that physical kick and the feeling of energy on the low-end. While the Edition XS might lack in these two departments, they’ll surely pay you off with detail and texture. Did I just describe a rather standard planar-magnetic type of bass response? Yes, but it is just that…a great planar bass with brilliant technicalities, especially considering the $499 asking price.
The midrange is once again – a Hifiman type of midrange. A lot of details, great resolution, forward and neutral sounding. However, the XS also has a slight touch of warmth to it, resulting in somewhat warmer and fuller sounding voices than the Ananda for example. It is a great marriage of technicality and musicality, offering a midrange that is both enjoyable and tonally accurate. Male vocalists sound really good, the likes of Mariusz Duda, SYML, or Ozzy Osbourne are represented in a natural and enjoyable way, without hiding any little details that are present in the mix. While there’s a hint of warmth throughout the lower midrange, the upper mids around 3kHz might sound a bit too hot from time to time. Listening to some poorly mastered albums gave me an occasional sibilance, so I definitely wouldn’t call the Edition XS a forgiving pair of headphones, as it requires a careful pairing with the rest of the system. While most Hifiman headphones pair well with just about everything, especially those great, modern SS amplifiers from Topping or SMSL, the Edition XS might be better off with something more tamed and less clinical sounding, like the Little Dot MK III SE, with its full Class-A, hybrid construction.
While the Ananda comes with a more focus around 3kHz-4kHz, its lesser boost of the upper treble gives it a slightly more neutral sound signature.
The treble is full of details, very extended and forward sounding, but it has that slight boost to the upper-treble that I mentioned in the midrange paragraph. Because of that, the treble of the Edition XS could be a hit or miss, depending on your preferences. If you’ll be okay with that occasional hot-sounding upper-treble, you’ll be rewarded with the amount of detail and resolution never found in this price bracket. This is the type of performance that lets you rediscover your favorite tracks in search of sounds that you’ve never heard before. If you’ll ever listen to the Edition XS, play the song called “Evil Dub” by Trentemoller and you’ll be amazed by the amount of micro-details throughout the whole track. That kind of crispy, hyper-detailed sound performance really does wonders for this kind of music, so if you’re a fan of artists like that, this is definitely the headphone for you.
Other than that, the rest of the treble performance is very solid, with a very neutral 7kHz to 10kHz spectrum, which gives you that detailed and insightful type of experience.
At the end of the day, it is an open-back, planar-magnetic Hifiman, so you should definitely expect it to be neutral and vibrant sounding, instead of a dark or muffled type of sound signature.
The soundstage is pretty standard for the latest Hifiman releases. It is big, but not artificially too big. Both width and depth are presented in a natural and impressive way, giving you an absolute “out of your head” type of experience. The imaging is flawless as well and paired with that fantastic detail retrieval, you can use the XS as an audio microscope, getting inside music and pinpointing the smallest details with ease. The album “Hell Freezes Over” by the Eagles is a brilliant example of a record that has a great soundstage. It is a live performance after all, with a lot of musicians on the stage, and the Edition XS does a great job showing each of them with perfect accuracy. There’s really nothing more to it, the Edition XS is a great staging pair of headphones with a lot of air, accurate imaging, and realistic size. Hifiman got to the point where I don’t really know how they could improve their headphones staging capabilities, it’s just that good.
Hifiman Deva Pro
If we remove the Bluemini R2R from the equation, the Edition XS would be about two times more expensive than the Deva Pro. This comparison is actually quite interesting, as I find the tuning of both headphones to be fairly similar, with the Edition XS being a little more pronounced in the upper-mid to the lower-treble region as well as in the upper treble frequencies, maybe a little too much. Because of that, the XS comes as a less relaxed and more extreme sounding of the two, with the Deva Pro being more musical and romantic sounding. It is not only about the tuning though, as the Edition XS is an upgrade to our awarded Deva Pro in terms of raw technical performance. The detail is slightly better, it has a better sense of dynamics and its soundstage is wider. If you don’t care about the Bluetooth functionality, simply treat the Edition XS as a more unforgiving, more detailed successor to the Deva Pro. Something to please different types of people.
The Edition XS is cheaper, as well as more intense, and warmer sounding than the Ananda. In terms of its raw technical performance, I would say these are quite similar, so it’s really a matter of preference. The Edition XS has a thicker note throughout the bass to the midrange and a slightly shoutier upper treble. They both stage just about the same, with only the imaging being even so slightly more accurate on the Edition XS (Stealth Magnets!). While I definitely won’t be calling the XS as the Ananda V2, nor the Ananda SE, it is significantly less expensive, offering basically the same technical level. While the Ananda is a touch more aggressive in the upper-midrange frequencies, the XS is tilted more towards the upper treble region, which results in a slightly more aggressive and less forgiving performance.
Speaking about the bass, these two perform very similarly, with the Edition XS being very slightly more pronounced in the sub-bass region. This gives the new model a touch more vigorous and dynamic low frequencies that will be a better choice in most modern music releases.
Having all that in mind, I’d call the Edition XS as a better value than the Ananda, even though it is NOT a better headphone, which many of you would have expected, considering the technical improvement. For half the price though, it is simply a better buy, and you can invest the rest in a better system.
These two have a vastly different approach to their technology, yet they do sound significantly similar in terms of their tonality. Both are fast, detailed, and slightly hot sounding in the upper regions. It is in the technicalities though, where the Edition XS arises as a clear winner. It has more detail, its resolution and accuracy are better and it stages more naturally as well. The Gyfu is a more boutique type of experience, with a far superior unboxing experience and more luxurious materials used, yet it falls short in terms of ergonomics to the wonderfully comfortable Edition XS. If you’re all about the sound quality and comfort, and you don’t really care about the presentation and craftsmanship, the Edition XS is a rather easy choice here.
Hifiman just doesn’t disappoint. Their new Edition XS is a wonderful addition to the current market of +/- $500 open-back planar headphones. With its fantastic technical capabilities, great comfort and neutral sound signature with a touch of spiciness on the top it will surely become one of the best selling headphones in their current lineup. While this might get repetitive, they simply deliver great audio quality at prices that are constantly lower and lower. You can’t get bored of that.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman Deva, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman HE1000se, Meze Elite, Little Dot GYFU, Hifiman Arya SE
- Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, EarMen Tradutto, Musician Pegasus, JDSLabs Atom DAC+/AMP+, Cayin N3Pro, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon PRO + iFi Zen Phono, xDuoo TA-26, XI Audio Broadway S
Big thanks to Hifiman for providing the Edition XS for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.
You can get your Edition XS on Apos Audio here. This is an affiliate link.