In my last review, the closed-back curse claimed another victim: the Austrian Audio’s Hi-X55. Even if it wasn't exactly my favorite, I concluded that review with some excitement to try Austrian Audio’s subsequent offerings. Now that I have their follow-up Hi-X60 closed-back headphones in for review, I’m happy to say that my interest was mostly rewarded, with a few caveats we’ll get into.
At minimum Hi-X60 shows that, in what seems like a sea of companies not learning their lessons, that there is hope a brand can quickly and decisively improve across the board. Sometimes failure is an important step forward.
What we like
- Class-leading build quality and comfort
- Much improved sound from its predecessor
- Looks awesome
What we don’t like
- Sound could still be improved
Build / Comfort / Accessories
When opening the box, buyers are met with two straight cables (short and long), a threaded 3.5mm-6.3mm adapter, a velour carrying pouch, and what looks like an Hi-x55 if it were custom made for Kylo Ren.
I love the look of these. The red accents are perfectly balanced, giving exactly the punchy splash of color this design needed, decisively elevating it over the original.
I find the build quality, industrial design, and comfort are all basically identical between Hi-X60 and Hi-X55. This is the best possible outcome, to be clear, as the latter was absolutely class-leading in these regards. No complaints about anything here at all, as it seems they only made improvements. Two big thumbs up.
Frequency Response and Tonality
Below is a measurement taken on the Brüel and Kjær Type 4128C Head and Torso Simulator by Headphones.com’s own DMS. It is an average of multiple seatings of the pair used in this review.
I assume I don’t have to remind readers how ghastly the response of the prior Hi-x55 is, but with Hi-x60 listeners are met with much more reasonable—if still slightly idiosyncratic—frequency response.
The bass extends well and has a pretty distinct elevation beginning at the normal “Harman-esque” spot around 200Hz. I was pleased to note that placement and seal variation was very low on this pair, whereas the Hi-x55 varied wildly depending on seating position. We’ll touch on this aspect later, let’s focus on sound for now. Kick drums definitely have the beefiness they should, bass guitars and synth-basses have enough presence to their fundamental tones to sound appropriately full and hold together the overall loudness equation of the mix.
One potential problem spot is that, similar to the AKG K371, there’s a small dip in the mid-bass around 80Hz instead of the perhaps more ubiquitous “shelf” shape. I think this has its upsides and downsides.
The upside is that the bass presentation here is clarity-focused across the board while still offering tons of sub-bass. Everything has the feeling of physical volume and size, but the stage never really feels occluded or crowded due to excess mid-bass like some other closed-backs can. We’ll discuss this again, along with the downside, in the Technicalities section.
Another pleasant surprise is that unlike many closed-backs, which dip low-midrange and boost upper midrange, it seems the Hi-X60 opts for something more rounded and relaxed overall. I like that. The overly-hyped midrange found on closed-backs from the popular monitoring-headphone competition (Beyerdynamic, Sony, Audio Technica, etc.) is replaced by a midrange that sounds much more inviting to me.
The low-midrange dip is thankfully well above 200Hz (again similar to AKG K371), so snare drums and male vocals still come across strong and full. Instead of boosting the upper mids dramatically, there’s a noticeable scoop in the 2kHz region. It quickly picks right back up at 3kHz to be a bit too above-target, but overall this midrange comes across mostly warm overall on my head, but with a little extra intelligibility and focus at the canal resonance point around 3kHz.
Male vocals retain the authority they should at the center of their arrangements, given the emphasis to fundamentals. However, the 2kHz dip may not be ideal for all female vocals as I did notice singers with higher voices (think: Ariana Grande) sounded somewhat thinned and hollow as they reached the higher end of their range.
Guitars sound like a mostly-reasonable balance of being on the throaty side, while also being decently textured and aggressive when called upon. However, I personally don’t love what the 2kHz recession does to guitar pick-attack. It sounds a little diffuse and lacking “click” for my taste, even if the intensity is mostly there around 3-4kHz.
While the midrange overall may not be 100% my preference, I do think that the Hi-x60 offers a mostly natural-sounding midrange tuning that coheres pretty well with its bass. Most people likely won’t have issues with these aspects, and that alone is kind of rare in closed-backs regardless of price. The fact that the main monitoring-headphone comparison I can think of regarding the tuning is the AKG K371 surely means they’ve gotten a good portion of the midrange tuning correct here.
Disclaimer: For the readers who haven’t read one of my reviews before, it’s worth noting that this is usually the area of my reviews where I get less forgiving. I am notoriously treble sensitive, and thus annoyingly unable to ignore even the slightest hint of vocal sibilance or cymbal ringing.
In my Hi-X55 review, I found the main issue above 5kHz was a mid-treble elevation, which in the grand scheme of things was mostly a passing complaint given how uneven the rest of the frequency response was.
However, now that both the bass and midrange are in better balance, the treble now makes itself explicitly known as this headphone’s main tuning drawback.
That treble elevation is definitely noticeable (though I hear a distinct peak around 5.2kHz that is seemingly absent on the Type 4128 measurement) and, while it adds a pleasing extra texture to the tippy-top of electric guitars and pianos, I find it pretty grating on vocals. Consonant sounds are really unnaturally sharpened and pushed forward, and breathiness is also much too present.
Some snare drums sounded very hardened on the front-end, almost brickwalled. As our own Andrew Park (Resolve) has mentioned, elevations in this area can trigger a sensation of percussion sounding overly compressed, and this characteristic definitely makes an appearance here.
The even bigger problem to my ear (though perhaps not for all readers) is a nasty peak around 10.4kHz. This along with the lower-treble elevation is enough to tilt what would otherwise be a sub-bassy/warm-leaning tuning all the way the opposite direction, making Hi-X60 sound too bright and thin to enjoy fully without a good bit of EQ.
Even if I tend to have more problems in this area than most, I feel the treble of the Hi-X60 is what prevents me from giving the tonality my full endorsement. That said, I think most people who can handle normal amounts of “audiophile treble” without wincing may have less to complain about here and may be able to enjoy the other aspects of this headphone without being too distracted.
I mentioned the mid-bass dip that the Hi-X60 and K371 share, and I think it may be responsible for Hi-X60 lacking significantly in the punch department. The feeling of lumbering mass is eerily absent, despite the sub-bass and the sense of physical volume being prominent. This paradoxical quality of the tuning prevents the dynamic range from feeling fully represented and coherent, either in quick or more gradual movements.
Although the roundedness afforded by the 2kHz dip is a mostly welcome aspect of this presentation’s tonality, it can’t be denied that this quality has the downside of smudging the feeling of tactile “snap” that I like hearing on most percussive sounds. It seems to almost entirely rob the presentation of its viscera on the front end of kick/snare hits, guitar stabs, horn blasts, and piano plinks.
The attack here is pretty feathery, the decay isn’t especially nuanced, and both of these compromises together makes Hi-X60 a calm listen, that may be unengaging—bordering on limp—to some.
Not much good going on here, I’m afraid. Even though it’s a decisive upgrade over its predecessor, I can’t help but notice that the so-called “material related” timbre of the two headphones is remarkably similar.
No doubt there are reasons for this. They likely both use the same or a similar driver, and the housings and pads are similar between the Hi-X60 and Hi-X55. While the overall feeling of naturalness on the Hi-X60 definitely exceeds that of its predecessor, it doesn’t feel like as huge an upgrade as one might expect after looking at the frequency response.
Most things (but especially things that token the treble) are still plasticky enough to noticeably color instrument identity, and the sense of decay seems decorrelated across the frequency response. Treble seemingly overstays its welcome, while the low-mids could stand to hang around a bit longer. This unfortunately makes the presentation overall quite dry and not especially engaging or “real” sounding.
Soundstage / Imaging
Usually closed-backs don’t have much exciting going on in this department, and that remains true here. The Hi-X60 has an overall intimate stage with images that aren’t especially clear or free of haze/smear.
I actually expected it to be better, because it has the 2kHz dip reminiscent of excellent “soundstage” headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800S and Hifiman Arya. It’s not the worst closed-back I’ve ever heard for soundstage, but it’s really nothing special in the grand scheme of things either.
The treble in particular seems to be partially to blame here. The extra treble emphasis seems to bring vocals and drums closer to the center of the stage than they ought to be, while the 2kHz dip sends things like guitars and pianos a little unnaturally far back in comparison. So overall it’s not the most coherent soundstage, but it’s definitely not as bad as something like Focal’s Celestee, where it sounds like the stage is coming from a single speaker directly in front of the listener.
If it’s not obvious by now, I think the Hi-X55 is rendered thoroughly irrelevant by the Hi-X60. The only place they remain similar is material-related timbre and build/comfort. But sonically, for Hi-X60 this is, as the kids say, an “ez clap.”
If we play in this price range though, I yet again find myself compelled to mention the stellar new Audeze MaxwelI.
Audeze’s new closed-back wireless gaming headset is perpetually on backorder for a reason: the price-to-value ratio is frankly insane. This fact becomes abundantly clear when comparing it to the Hi-X60.
Even if I prefer the comfort of the Hi-X60, I prefer virtually everything else on the Maxwell, which is $120 cheaper and has way more features. Even for the use case of being a “studio reference,” I think the Maxwell is genuinely a superior-sounding product across the board, even if the build means it may not be as good of a “toss-around” tracking headphone as Hi-X60 seems it will be. You can see Resolve’s review here.
I’ve referenced the AKG K371 a ton in this review, and cards on the table—I think they share a very similar set of compromises, sonically. Both get tuning mostly right, but fall short in the realm of technicalities. They both sound eerily weightless for the amount of bass they have, and they both have some treble glare above 5kHz that makes them ultimately hard for me to love (while not quite enough of a problem to make me think they won’t be good for others).
Still, the Hi-X60 is definitely built better, is more comfortable, and has way better coupling consistency than K371. Hi-X60 will probably last a good while longer, be usable for longer periods of time, and its bass response will likely be much more consistent from user to user.
That being said, while I put K371 and Hi-X60 on similar sonic footing… the problem is I’m not even really a big fan of K371’s sound. And I’m even less a fan if I’m paying $420 for that ballpark of sonic performance.
But if you want that sound, and want it in a comfy, consistent, and well-built closed-back headphone, you can reliably get it with Hi-X60, even if you have to spend more. You can see Chrono’s review here.
I think this is one time where I definitely have to step outside myself and not be overly-concerned with the idiosyncrasies of my taste and HRTF. The Hi-X60 sounds totally appropriate as an entry into the “studio closed-back” market. In fact, I’d say it’s on the better side of that market, while definitely still too expensive for how it sounds.
You get a build and comfort that’s great for any price. The presentation is warm-bright and a bit soft, and while that doesn’t make it immediately unpleasant to me, it may do so for others.
If you’re looking for a closed-back headphone with excellent all-day comfort that’ll hold up to some abuse while delivering a mostly unproblematic sound profile, the Hi-X60 may be the one for you, even if it isn’t for me.
Additionally, if you’re looking for a closed-back studio headphone for use with EQ, I think the coupling consistency and lack of placement variation of the Hi-X60 makes it an excellent candidate for that role as well.
While I didn’t get exactly what I wanted with the Hi-X60, I got what I probably should’ve expected. With this offering, Austrian Audio has shown they have a decent handle on what people want out of a monitoring headphone and how to deliver it. The Hi-X60 was enough of a leap forward from the Hi-X55—in a pretty short period of time, no less—that I’m definitely excited to see where they go from here. If it’s a similarly massive leap to the next one, that would be something truly special. So here’s hoping.