Time to go portable, at least that’s what HiFiMAN suggests us lately. Its DAP models got refreshed and one new pair of headphones appeared as well. Planar magnetic HE-1000 and its smaller and more affordable brother known as Edition X were designed to work in home environment, on contrary to the latest addition – HiFiMAN Edition S. This particular product will surely do the job outdoors. Yet in its case there’s a surprising twist or two. Enjoy.
HiFiMAN’s main man – dr Fang Bian – was able to make his company worldwide known and greatly successful. He achieved what many audio businesses aim for, he reached the head-fi audiophile crowd and rightfully so earned his place there. To a point where every HiFiMAN’s product premiere is quite an event in our hobby. From manufacturer’s perspective, it surely is good to be in dr Bian’s shoes these days. But not everything is always spotless.Not too long ago HiFiMAN wasn’t there yet. “Where?”, you might ask and let me elaborate on that part for a bit. I’m familiar with vast majority of said company’s products as I’ve reviewed many in the past in various audio related places. Yet each and every time the same feeling appeared once the journalistic job has been done. HiFiMAN isn’t Astell&Kern or Beyerdynamic in terms of build quality, it’s a rather obvious thing to notice when one has more than one product on hand to compare. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re fine with this. In the majority of cases I was, HiFiMAN makes quite the performers. Because of that I subjectively can forgive a thing or two to a nicely sounding set of cans or a DAP.To paint a broader picture, sound quality alone kept me using HM-901 DAP for several years regardless of its ponderosity. Said device was musically that good. To a point where I got used to somewhat awkward user experience, subpar display and fairly short battery life this portable monster offered. The very same story goes with dr Bian’s headphones. Despite of plastic feeling HE-560 provided I thoroughly enjoyed this model’s sound. Being a HE-1000 owner I admit that once these sit on my hand, the notion of holding €2’999 set of cans isn’t there for several reasons and squeaky metal joints are just one. But the sound quality this model provides surely gets me to where I need and want to be whereas its comfort servers as a tasty cherry on top. Not to mention fairly humane amplification demands HE-1000 has. After less than a week, Sennheisers HD 800 were swiftly and quickly dethroned by HiFiMAN’s flagship. Music is above all else after all, yes?Point being, HiFiMAN’s products are somewhat like a high performance racing cars. Subjectively not particularly a looker types stripped from nearly every convenience measures there are to make them go faster. Yet each and every time with lots of HP under the hood. And as long as one looks at said company’s devices in such way, he/she is safe. This kind of a review introduction might seem as quite unfortunate for dr Bian’s work, or odd to say the least. Yet there’s a purpose behind it. Things change and hopefully Edition S is the very first step towards it. Before the loaner’s arrival I suspected the same story again, great sound for the price and build quality not better than just good. Not this time, though. To my great surprise the very first contact with Edition S made me smile and admit: “OK, finally they’ve arrived, now we’re talking”.
If someone asks about why fully portable headphones finally appeared in HiFiMAN’s line-up, there are several reasons for that. These days literally everyone has ’em. Wildly popular Android/iOS ready sticker isn’t a necessity but about $300 price point seems to be the target most of manufacturers aim at. Heck, now even several of these known for speakers or amplifiers offer something along those lines between regular stuff. Sonus faber, NAD, KEF, Oppo, Bowers&Wilkins and many more, you name it. We live in happy times where people use smartphones as musical devices more than ever. And these portable necessities sound better and better. Therefore it simply makes sense to deliver complimentary products for them. Besides, after taking a look at HiFiMAN’s line-up, Edition S was obviously the missing link as there were no real outdoor on-ear headphones in this manufacturer’s offer thus far. And this model will sing loud enough with literally every typical portable device with its 113 dB sensitivity and 13Ω impedance. HiFiMAN’s latest also fits the mobile description perfectly thanks to 248 g weigh, a very compact size and a foldable design. Edition S is based on two 50 mm dynamic drivers, one for each channel. This is interesting as it’s the first one of this sort since HE-300 model. The latter is in EOL state for years now.HiFiMAN’s products are getting better and better in terms of the first impression. Not too long ago rather mediocre (covered in leather alike plastic) cases filled with foams were the standard no matter the product’s asking price. These days the box itself looks more modern and it feels much more decent. Inner foams survived the change but tacky outer material is no more, leatherette is in use instead. At least that’s the case with HE-1000 and both Editions. Latest product comes hidden in a handy, stiff and overall a very decently made carrying bag. For this kind of an usable addition HiFiMAN surely deserves applause. Especially since not every manufacturer goes an extra mile in this regard in particular. Edition S is sold with an airplane adapter, 3,5 to 6,3 mm plug and a 1,2 mm cable with a three buttons loaded remote. It’s worth to experiment with other leashes though. The product responds to certain ones rather well. More on that later on.It was rather unavoidable to think that Edition S will be made out of plastic all the way, the price indicated so. Many competitors know how to pull this one off and aluminium isn’t a rare sight these days, on contrary to many HiFiMAN’s headphones. But Edition S is a damn well-made set of cans and its every non-black part is in fact made out of a nicely polished aluminium. Bravo. All its elements are matched seamlessly and this is another reason to praise dr Fang Bian’s company this time. In some aspects I’d like my HE-1000 to be assembled in a way this meticulous and I’m deadly serious now. As for the looks alone, you be the judge. Subjectively and surprisingly Edition S looks much better on hand than on the photos. Usually it’s the other way around.The most important feature of Edition S is that it’s actually a closed and open type of headphones. Yes, this is unusual to say the least and a rare sight to be seen. Only a handful of manufacturers offer two models based on the same driver, i. e. Audeze with its LCD-X and LCD-XC. Yet what HiFiMAN did is obviously something different, one gets two approaches for the price of one. The plastic part with company’s logo is detachable. No force is needed as it goes without any obstacles with the help of a fingernail. The inner side of said element uncovers a fairly large metal element presumably glued to it. Thanks to driver’s magnetic force this part fits the protective steel mesh. Once the parts are connected there’s no movement there, unless one really wants to. Though I see no scenario in which the cover would come off all by itself, not a chance. Maybe a drop from a height would do the trick. Yet I had no intention in checking this one out.Asymmetrical ear pads are quite deep and covered in velour plus leatherette combo. These are fixed, at least I couldn’t figure out a way to replace them. As I’ve mentioned above, ear cups are aluminium and there’s a 3,5 mm socket on the left one. Getting a wire of higher quality or doing some soldering at home shouldn’t be neither an issue nor a pricey investment. The yoke is also made out of aluminium. It’s connected to a small T-shaped metal element which begins a regulation mechanism based on a plastic rail. The whole assembly is mildly loose yet not overly wobbly, which is good. The headband is also plastic and on its inner side there is a leatherette covered foam. It’s decently thick. While looking at the headphones from the front it’s easily seen that both the headband and the foam are profiled in a particular way, there’s quite a recess in the middle. Thanks to this solution the pressure is evenly distributed on the head.HiFiMAN Edition S are comfortable to use. The clamping force is a spot on and the ergonomic headband works like it should. Ear pads won’t fit larger ears in 100%, the product is of on-ear and not over-ear breed after all. Yet there’s enough space inside to make sure that people with small conchas like mine won’t feel any fatigue for quite a while. And the headphones are foldable, which certainly makes a difference to some of you. To sum things up, this journalist honestly can’t complain about product’s build quality and comfort. On the contrary in fact, things look really good for HiFiMAN this time around.
It’s a rollercoaster with HiFiMAN lately. When HE-1000 showed up, I instantly transitioned from my trusty HD 800. The former model had almost all of the latter’s strengths yet without its obvious weaknesses. HE-1000’s spacious, detailed and highly saturated character simply made my day. Then Edition X case happened. It was a shocker actually as this product sounds nothing like HiFiMAN’s flagship. With its dark, quite veiled, thick, but also spacious sound profile it somewhat resembled HD 650 model by Sennheiser. The takeaway is that performance wise we didn’t get scaled down HE-1000 for less coin but something of completely different sort. When HiFiMAN’s rep informed me that they’re ready to send Edition S, I honestly had no idea what to expect. The main question was to which of aforementioned models it’ll have the closest distance to in terms of its sound profile. My guess was that it might be tuned to be at least somewhat similar to more universal HE-1000. If I’d put my money on that scenario, I’d regret. But the very same thing would have happened with Edition X resemblance bet. Brightness, that’s the most precise word of Edition S description. These headphones are simply bright. Not slightly, not a little bit, not mildly. Plain clearness is what this product is all about, that’s the key feature. It’s quite safe to write that if Edition X sits at one end of the spectrum, HE-1000 has its place somewhere in the middle, latest addition is far on the other side of this scale. One can say that with its latest, HiFiMAN filled the obvious void and made new generation’s line-up complete in terms of available sound profiles. Now, after this model’s place in the family is known and rather indisputable, let’s find out what one gets for $249.Brightness means product’s tonal balance shifted audibly upwards and treble emphasis happens in the process. Edition S model is all about that and detail retrieval is the obvious upshot. Its another strong feature is dynamics. These headphones are very fast and it can be heard even after pairing them with gentler DAP-s, we’ll get to that in a second. That aside, bass is very good and punchy above all else. It doesn’t flood the midrange, these two connect seamlessly. Low end is also nicely extended and very well-controlled, especially after taking product’s price into consideration. It has fair amount of density, surely isn’t overly thin. Bass is not only heard, one can feel it as well as it reaches really low. Past that point, things get a bit rough. Midrange doesn’t stand out of the crowd. It doesn’t fail in any aspect as it has fair complexity and texturing. But it doesn’t excel in anything as well, it simply is. Moving upwards, treble is extended by quite a bit and has lustrous character. Not to a point of being piercing, but it’s definitely there. Lack of sharpness is a good thing, but texturing is missing a bit, highs could be more delicate and that’d be a quality change. The soundstage is a bit tricky and complex topic, I’ll save it for later. All things considered, HiFiMAN Edition S performs in quite raw, untamed fashion. It doesn’t provide polished, smooth and lifelike experience, other things are put to pedestal. In some aspects it sounds a bit dry. That’s why it’s mandatory to figure out synergic company for this product, otherwise the outcome will be overly edgy for most listeners. To make it short, warm and smooth DAP-s/amplifiers are the most viable choices here.Edition S can’t compete neither with HiFiMAN’s flagship, nor with more affordable Edition X for obvious reason. The price gap is still too big. Latest model was built to compete with +/- $300 and fully portable products and this can not only be seen, but also heard. This price range is heavily crowded. With jewels like Meze 99 Classics or Audeze Sine among them, things are even harder for HiFiMAN. I’m not equipped with the latter competitor, yet Meze’s most popular product is a part of my platform, therefore this model’s comparison to Edition S is in order.Meze 99 Classics sounds downright gentler, this was to be expected. It’s also smoother, that’s not a surprise as well. These factors make this product’s sound much more easygoing in the process. With Edition S one might struggle more or less, it depends on individual preferences, yet I think that it’ll happen in most listeners cases. Moving on, Romanian headphones have much more elevated upper bass regions, which makes their performance of more boomy nature in comparison to its rival. In that regard I’d pick HiFiMAN’s latest headphones without a single blink of an eye. Yes, 99 Classics handles bass exceptionally well too, but at this point it’s about this journalist’s taste. Things are the other way around with midrange, Romanian product is denser and has more body and presence. Despite of having less highs, these are airier and more lifelike. Edition S also tends to sound in more chaotic fashion with heavier recordings and is less resolving in the process. The opponent has bigger, more expansive and precise soundstage, though of less direct nature.It’s time to bring up open vs closed mode’s case. In Edition S it changes a lot. When open, these headphones sound bigger and airier. Also the soundstage becomes deeper, distance between instruments and a listener increases, especially to what’s heard directly in front. Once drivers are covered, things get more direct, in your face attitude is present instead of more open approach. In such scenario the product is more audiophile alike, in exchange for less fun-giving nature. But another distinctive difference between two operation modes is that while open, Edition S is audibly less edgy. Subjectively I prefer this scheme over closed one. Such turn of events makes the product somewhat versatile soundwise, yet quality differences are a big part of said story. Subjectively, I grew fond of e.g. direct and authoritative guitar parts in closed mode and I’d really like to have that with soundstage extension in open one. If it wasn’t for increased smoothness in the latter scenario, I’d simply switch accordingly to mood swings and music type. But it is and drivers vented is the only choice for me.Lastly, a word about Edition S pairings outcome. HiFiMAN with MINIBOX Gold module delivered plenty of juice and and said cans turned out to be impressive in “power” aspects; dynamic and directness. The outcome was marvelous indeed in these regards, but it came with a price. Saturation was rather skimpy. After switching to PAW 5000, things still were punchy, yet more alive and less rough overall. Subjectively I gladly sacrificed some of that directness and feisty attitude in exchange for more humane, somewhat softer approach, especially with harder music types.
HiFiMAN Edition S is built like a tank, nicely finished and comfortable to use for many hours. At least that’s my experience with said model. But what stands out of ordinary is that this very model is exceptionally decently made in comparison to all of HiFiMAN’s products. Let me point out again, that in some regards I wish my HE-1000 would be as well-made. Yes, $249 product triumphs over $2,999 one from the very same manufacturer. True oddity, isn’t it? In any case it’s good that HiFiMAN gets the design and build quality work better and better. The ability to make Edition S open or closed in an instant is appealing as well. The sound and quality difference between these modes is easily audible.
Soundwise things are of quite complex nature. The gist is that Edition S isn’t an universally sounding product, on the contrary. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that the manufacturer purposely tuned said model in order to make it unique in several aspects. Feisty sound regardless of music genre is the very outcome and it has its price. Edition S can be a joy provider, yet not with every device out there. Warm and soft company seems to be mandatory in order to bring some colour and life to the table, the rest is already there in fair amount. The takeaway is that Edition S is a special product which – dare I say – seems exceptionally affordable considering the overall package if one is after fast and direct musical experience above all else. ‘Till next time.
- Headphones: Meze 99 Classic
- Amplifiers: Xonar Essence III
- Digital sources: Xonar Essence III
- Headphone cables: Forza AudioWorks Noir Hybrid
- Portable sources: HiFiMAN HM-901s, iPhone 5S, Lotoo PAW 5000
Retail prices of reviewed components in EU:
- HiFiMAN Edition S: €249