HiFiMan Edition XS Review: A Comparison to the Sundara and Ananda
Review written by @Fc-Construct
Review unit on loan from headphones.com
“If I had my way, I’d merge the Sundara and Ananda.”
I said those words in the conclusion of my HiFiMan Ananda review. Well lo and behold, HiFiMan heard me and created the Edition XS. Just kidding. They’ve had it in development long before I ever had that thought. Jokes aside, the $500 HiFiMan Edition XS seems to be exactly that: a midpoint between the Sundara and Ananda. Furthermore, the Edition XS’ touts HiFiMan’s stealth magnet technology, something that HiFiMan has been pushing towards with recent headphones like the HE400se and Arya Stealth. With all of these factors in play, will the Edition XS live up to its high expectations or will it remain wishful thinking?
Hifiman Edition XS Planar Magnetic Headphones – Product Summary
- Reasons to buy
- Excellent soundstage and imaging experience
- Solid technical performance, almost on par with Ananda
- Very reasonable price point
- Reasons not to buy
- Headband comfort may vary
- Upper treble glare is a point of contention
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Build and Comfort
The design of the Edition XS takes cues from the Ananda and HE400se without a hint of the Sundara. And by that I mean it’s identical to the Ananda except with HiFiMan’s new headband design without the large suspension strap. Unlike the old headband, there is some horizontal wiggle room for adjustment here, rather than only a vertical alignment of the cups. It comes with a 1.5m (5 ft.) cable that’s the perfect length for a desktop listening set-up. The cable itself isn’t too much to write about, a plain black rubbery cable but it gets the job done with no cable memory or noise.
Comfort wise, the egg-shaped cups are comfortable but very large. I have no need to extend the headband at all. The clamping force is quite light, definitely more relaxed than the Sundara or Ananda. Some headband pressure does set in after some time though, limiting how long I could comfortably use the Edition XS. I definitely prefer the old suspension strap headband for comfort and the increased clamp of the Ananda.
Frequency Response and Tuning
Measurement of the HiFiMan Edition XS and Ananda on an industry standard GRAS 43AG measurement rig. The dotted black line represents the Harman target, a reference frequency response developed using consumer preferences. The colored line is how the headphone in question measures. Effectively, this shows how significantly the headphone’s frequency response deviates from the target. Note however that the target is highly smoothed and strict adherence to the Harman target is not necessary for a headphone to sound good.
As with most HiFiMan headphones, it graphs very similarly to one another. A flat bass response, plentiful upper mids, and prominent treble. Soundwise however, the one thing I’ve learned with these HiFiMan headphones is that these graphs really do not tell the whole story. Resolve has a great video on The Headphone Show with a bit of an explanation on this but the general idea is that while the Edition XS is a generally neutral headphone, it does have a minor U-shaped response and a dip in the mids. In particular, there’s a bit of a hump in the subbass and an upper treble glare. Its lower mids has a touch of fat. By contrast, the Ananda is more relaxed without as much of a dip in the mids while the Sundara is the most neutral and energetic. Between the three headphones, the Edition XS is the least forgiving in my opinion. For well mixed and mastered recordings, the Edition XS is fantastically capable and has a great auditory presentation. But for less properly recorded tracks such as alt-rock numbers, the flaws of the Edition XS’ performance are highlighted.
The Edition XS leans much closer to the Ananda in terms of its attack and decay characteristics with a soft attack and relatively long decay by planar standards. This is most noticeable on the high and low toms. It’s as if the drum skins were ever-so-slightly loose, drawing out the trailing end of certain drum notes and invoking a sense of depth. Notes have weight but a softened impact, if that makes sense. The Ananda’s bass is better controlled and a little more articulate though with a tad less weight and oomph to it.
For its hats/cymbals, there is a striking crispness to the Edition XS’ sound that stands out upon the attack of notes. This brings excellent resolution to these notes. However, there is an upper treble peak that gives the Edition XS a bright splash that slopes upwards in the frequency response. This has the effect of overshadowing the decay of these hats/cymbal notes depending on the recording. Overall, I prefer the Ananda’s rendition of the hats/cymbals the most between the three headphones for its mellower presentation.
Bass guitar is solid. Notes are full, defined, and fluid. Acoustic guitars have a faintly lush strum body with airy upper harmonics as the strings ring out. I attribute this to the U-shaped profile the Edition XS has, particularly with its pointed treble. In comparison, the Sundara and Ananda’s acoustic guitar sounds warmer without that upper treble exaggeration. Electric guitars on all three are very similar to each other.
Male vocals shine on the Edition XS while certain female vocals could use a little more body to them. Once again, I’ll point to the upper treble gain. I think it adds almost too much breathiness to some of the higher pitched female vocalists. At the same time, the Edition XS curbs sibilance in the traditional region around 5 – 8 kHz. On tracks where I know a sibilant note is coming up, the Edition XS tames it considerably, something that the Sundara and especially the Ananda wouldn’t be so tolerant of. Like the Ananda, the Edition XS has the ability to layer vocals in a highly coherent manner, exhibiting the unique vocal timbre of each singer in a chorus.
💡 Also Consider: Shop the HiFiMan Ananda at the best price on Headphones.com
The soundstage and imaging presentation of the Edition XS is excellent and very much in the same vein as the Ananda. In fact, I’m tempted to say its imaging may actually be a marginal step up. As usual, stage width is the largest. But the Edition XS has a great amount of nuance in its imaging for the height and depth when close to the center of the soundstage. Imaging of the drums are superb and paint a life-like image of the drummer’s touch across his kit or the physical chording of piano notes. The only headphone in the <$500 category I can think of a staging experience approaching the Edition XS would be the $350 ATH-R70x I recently reviewed. But that headphone has a totally different quality to its soundstage.
From a technical perspective, I do find the Edition XS a small step behind the Ananda. While they absolutely share the same DNA in terms of how they deliver their overall technical ability, the Ananda goes about it more effortlessly. In particular, the articulation and coherency between different instrument notes and how the Ananda separates them. In all fairness however, this may come down to my own preferences in the Ananda’s frequency response. Lastly, there is a little more dynamic contrast with the Edition XS compared to the Ananda but not to the level of the Sundara. Keep in mind these are all slight gradations from one another, not night and day differences.
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Should You Buy It?
Yes. The Edition XS is quite a capable headphone and brings the majority of the Ananda’s performance down to the $500 mark and adds its own eccentricities. However, the Edition XS doesn’t quite live up to the Sundara x Ananda cross I had hoped for. It really is more of an Ananda variant with little influence from the Sundara. It seems like the circular vs. oval cups of HiFiMan headphones have a sizable impact on their sound profiles. As such, if you’re debating between the Sundara and Edition XS, the other major point to consider other than frequency response is how much you value soundstage and imaging as that is where the Edition XS will pull significantly ahead of the Sundara.
If you’re unsure between the Edition XS and Ananda, that’s a harder question. It’s hard to justify the $200 difference for a marginal technical improvement and when there’s the option to mitigate the upper treble glare in the Edition XS with EQ. But speaking from my privileged position as a reviewer, I do prefer the Ananda more than the Edition XS. I just find it more comfortable with as I personally prefer its frequency response and the old headband style and increased clamp force that better hugs my head. If the Ananda were to be on sale for $500, I would pick that up instead.
Either way, HiFiMan continues to make solid open-back planar magnetic headphones for customers at every price point and flavour. Hopefully my coverage of these headphones will give you a good idea of what their differences so you can pick what suits your preferences and budget best.
Buy the HiFiMAN Edition XS at Headphones.com for the best available price.
Discuss the HiFiMAN Edition XS on the HEADPHONE Community Forum Here.