HIFIMAN Edi­tion X

head­phones

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We have to de­clare HiFiMan’s pla­nar magnetic de­sign one of the best head­phones we’ve heard. And it’s not even the top of their range...

HifiMan (the com­pany writes its name all in caps, lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor Ad­dicted to Au­dio has it as HiFiMAN; we pre­fer to keep caps for acronyms) was founded by one Dr Fang (Fang Bian) in 2007, and the Chi­nese com­pany he cre­ated was soon de­liv­er­ing a stream of pla­nar magnetic head­phones, start­ing with the re­lease of the HE-5 in 2009 (HifiMan’s web­site says 2007, but then it also has HiFiMan founded in New York, rather than Tian­jin). These pla­nar de­signs gar­nered in­creas­ingly pos­i­tive re­views, but Dr Fang was not sat­is­fied only with the play­back end of the au­dio chain, and in 2010 the com­pany re­leased a very early high-res por­ta­ble player (this was, for ex­am­ple, two years be­fore the first Astell&Kern AK100 ap­peared).

Lead­ing-edge stuff, then, now bol­stered by am­pli­fi­ca­tion elec­tron­ics and here, one of its lat­est re­leases, quite a rar­ity, if not a first — a pla­nar magnetic head­phone that the com­pany says is suit­able for use with smart­phones and other por­ta­ble de­vices, as well as at home, prefer­ably with a high qual­ity head­phone amp.

With this end in mind the Edi­tion X is sup­plied with two dif­fer­ent ca­bles, both us­ing 2.5mm mi­cro­jack plugs that con­nect into both head­shells. The first ca­ble is 1.5m long and ter­mi­nates in a right-an­gled stereo mini­jack ideal for those por­ta­ble pur­poses — though lack­ing in­line con­trols and so us­ing a sim­ple three-sec­tion TRS plug rather than the four-sec­tion TRRS shanks which al­low for mi­cro­phone and con­trol con­nec­tions to smart de­vices. A use­ful mini­jack to quar­ter-inch con­verter plug is pro­vided for this ca­ble, but for home use a sep­a­rate ca­ble with a prop­erly bonded quar­ter-inch plug is also in the box, with a full three-me­tre length to avoid those in­ad­ver­tent head-jerk­ing mo­ments. Both ca­bles are tightly braided and ap­pear of high qual­ity.

The head­phones them­selves are beau­ti­fully and pleas­ingly per­son­ally pre­sented, in high-qual­ity pack­ag­ing with plush in­sides, cards with stamped se­rial num­bers, and a friendly in­vi­ta­tion to stay in touch with Hi-FiMan in Tian­jin.

The Edi­tion Xs are size­able, with 13cm-high head­shells that are asym­met­ric in be­ing shaped like ears — which strikes us as re­mark­ably sen­si­ble. Build qual­ity is high, with in­ter­nally in­vis­i­ble swivel hinges and an un­usu­ally high and wide but very light head­band; they weigh 400 grams but once on your head they are among the most com­fort­able head­wear we’ve had the plea­sure of don­ning, their velour and pleather earcups not so much cod­dling as cud­dling your head. With the ad­justable head­strap tilted to the top of our skull, there was barely sense of wear­ing these head­phones at all. Won­der­ful.

As was the sound. We gather there’s trickle-down tech here from HiFiMan’s HE-1000 at around dou­ble the price, and cer­tainly they de­liver in­stantly on the pla­nar prom­ise of speed, de­tail and ac­cu­racy. But they also over­come the light­ness of bass that so of­ten dis­tresses us with pla­nar and elec­tro­static de­signs. With the Edi­tion X con­nected to our iPod touch we tried Blur’s ‘Ice Cream Man’ to hear the deep pulses at the head of each bar —

de­liv­ered here not only with the req­ui­site depth but with its so­lid­ity of thud that gets soft­ened by lesser or overem­pha­sised head­phones.

The low con­tent of Neil Young’s ‘Walk With Me’ con­firmed this de­liv­ery of bass as present and clean but far from in your face — bass mon­sters these are not, yet there’s enough real stuff to bal­ance the pla­nar de­lights of midrange and top-end. Be­cause that’s where these head­phones shine — they proved darned near divine de­liv­er­ing the pop­u­lar Ada­gio from Ro­drigo’s ‘Concierto De Aran­jeuz’ (Rat­tle’s CBSO), the spread of swelling strings to left and right, the cen­tral gui­tar re­vealed down to the sharp edges of the last pluck. It’s that de­tail that de­lights, and the dy­nam­ics too — Chick Corea’s ‘Aus­tralia’ pi­ano con­certo had not only nicely per­cus­sive and tran­sient-tight pi­ano and scin­til­lat­ing cym­bal taps at the open­ing, but the right sense of sur­prise when the or­ches­tra­tion be­gins to burst into be­ing.

And all this still play­ing from files at CD qual­ity out of our iPod touch. We led the Edi­tion X to the mu­sic room for an au­di­tion with ded­i­cated head­phone am­pli­fiers (Lehman­nau­dio and Sennheiser), and, well, hours later the mis­sus had to come and tell us it was past bed­time. A pre­vi­ous slight in­sis­tence to the punchy or­ches­tra­tion on the Chick Corea was now pol­ished as if with a last coat of pi­ano lac­quer, the left-chan­nel strings were thrillingly edged but with­out the re­motest sen­sa­tion of dis­com­fort even as we ad­vanced lev­els to, well, more than enough, even for us. Their visit co­in­cided with the ar­rival of a new John Williams com­pi­la­tion, so much thrilling acous­tic gui­tar went through their pla­nar magnetic trans­duc­ers.

They were tech­ni­cally as well as mu­si­cally sound, their fre­quency re­sponse seem­ing re­mark­ably flat, gain­ing in per­ceived level as they rose up into the hun­dreds of hertz, a tad down around 600Hz and then a peak around 4000Hz be­fore head­ing off to the heights al­lowed for high-res record­ings (they’re spec­i­fied to 50kHz, curve not stated). This could go sev­eral ways when play­ing from the iPod — the at­ten­tion to the high stuff could start to push ma­te­rial with em­pha­sised lead con­tent in that area; we were, for ex­am­ple, notch­ing down the level to ac­com­mo­date 1980s’ Teardrop Ex­plodes, and the Xs didn’t fully flesh out Holly Cole’s vo­cal on her lus­cious ver­sion of Tom’s ‘Ghost of Satur­day Night’. But with proper power, Holly was rounded out, and they pre­sented one of the most per­fectly re­alised images of Diana Krall’s ‘Alone Again, Nat­u­rally’ we’ve yet de­lighted in — you could see her mouth shapes, and we won­dered for the first time if she might pos­si­bly have had a slight head cold when singing this. And for any­one who thinks pla­nars and elec­tro­stat­ics too sharp or sil­bi­lant com­pared with dy­namic driv­ers — well, we were swap­ping A-B with Sennheiser’s lat­est HD 800, and the Edi­tion X were way smoother, the Sennheis­ers semi-sibi­lant on the Krall, the HiFiMen keep­ing the sound safe in a softer en­ve­lope, still per­fectly re­veal­ing, but ca­pa­ble of higher play­back lev­els with­out in­tru­sion (Sennheiser’s own amp on power du­ties.)

So divine when pow­ered fully, and still a suc­cess with por­ta­ble play­ers — though bear in mind the spill of any fully open de­sign like this. Given the Edi­tion X driv­ers de­liver as much sound out­ward through the win­dow-blind head­shells as they do in­wardly, con­sider your neigh­bours on pub­lic trans­port; we might also fear for their ex­posed in­nards were we caught in a rain shower.

But they’re fab­u­lous for wan­der­ing around teth­ered only to a de­vice in your pocket, and just bliss for long long ses­sions un­der the power of some nice head­phone amp — as some­one once said, give and ye shall re­ceive. The Edi­tion X head­phones have plenty to give back.

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