The Hifiman Edition S just came out. It’s the cheapest over-ear Hifiman headphone to date, and one with an interesting premise: it can be used as an open-back or closed-back headphone. But at a price of just $249.00, how well does this headphone accomplish its goal?
Hifiman Edition S Review
The Hifiman Edition S comes in a swanky box with a swanky case. There’s also a swanky removable 4 ft cable with a mic and remote. And a cable clip.
Where build and comfort are concerned, it’s a fantastic little headphone. The earcups are big enough to cover my elephant ears with ease, while feeling pretty lush on the head. There’s some decent pleather padding on the headband, too, so plenty of comfort all around. The headphones fold for storage, and while I’m usually skeptical that headphones can maintain a decent build quality while offering such a feature, the Edition S still feels pretty dang solid.
|Sensitivity||113 dB SPL @ 1 mW|
|Frequency Response||15 Hz to 22 kHz|
|Impedance||18 Ω @ 1 kHz|
|Cable||Removable w/ mic and remote|
|Cable Length||about 4 ft|
|Weight||8.74 oz (248 g)|
From the specs at hand, we can get an idea that it’ll probably sound decent, with that frequency range of 15-22000 hertz hinting at some fairly detailed highs and lows. The low impedance of 18 ohms pairs well with phones, portable players, and even my lackluster work computer. But specs aside, how does it actually sound? And what of this open/closed design?
Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
The low end on the Hifiman Edition S is fantastic – pretty much what I’ve come to expect whenever I listen to a Hifiman headphone. There’s ample detail, and the overall impression is one of fair depth and detail. If bass is your thing, this headphone is really going to impress you. That being said, all this fantastic bass makes the headphone weighted on the low end. There’s plenty of detail in there, too. Something we love, and something we definitely recommend for bassheads everywhere. But in relation to the rest of the sound signature, this can be almost unpleasant.
Midrange detail does not suffer on the Edition S. Nor does it really excel. Somewhere in the middle, it’s just kind of there. There’s enough detail to pick apart most songs I put through the ringer, and it can be fairly revealing when it comes to really low-end recordings. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of detailed sound, even for headphones in this price range or for closed back planar-magnetics.
When I first tried these headphones, I wanted to love the high end. It sounded almost lifelike at first. But as time wore on and switched through different tracks, I began to notice a slight thinness in detail in the high frequencies. Some things felt like they were missing, others were there, but they still didn’t sound quite right. While the sound of these headphones overall might be considered dynamic, they definitely suffer from an understated treble. If you want headphones that lean bass-heavy, I guess that’s fine, but for most listening tastes, these may suffer when it comes to the high end of the frequency range.
One word: MEH. It’s okay. Depending on the source, some material can seem to have a decent soundstage (Vivaldi). Other music might sound cramped and forced (Modest Mouse, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac). Of course, this impression of soundstage can also be affected by how you wear the headphones, whether it be open or closed.
So this feature was pretty cool when I first heard about it. Isolation OR Realism? Sign me UP. Or so I thought. In reality, though, these headphones do the Isolation bit great. But when the headphones are open (the side plates on the earcups removed), there seems to be a fair amount of distortion in there. It almost gets downright unpleasant. So big deal, right? Pop those side plates on there and enjoy a closed back headphone, right? Well, then you get a slightly compressed and canned sound. Not the most ideal. With repeated listening, my ears did seem to adjust a bit and I was able to mostly forget about it, but something still sticks in my craw…
As this came from Hifiman, I was a little disappointed. When the HE-400s hit shelves, I was on board. When the Edition X came out, I was on board. Even though I prefer a more neutral sound, I’m not prejudiced against bass-centric headphones, so long as they remain fairly balanced and detailed. I do, however, genuinely dislike a sub-par sound – one that isn’t as articulate as it could be, or one where the frequency range does weird hoodoo to my ears. And unfortunately this headphone, the Edition S, seems guilty on both counts. Don’t get me wrong – if there’s one thing Hifiman does right, it’s bass. Unfortunatly, it seems like everything else about this headphone just misses the mark.
Is it a great headphone Hifiman Edition S? No. Is it middle of the road? Eh, almost. The open-back, closed-back thing was a great idea. Execution doesn’t bring it to the fore, though. So as one or the other, how does it perform? As an open back headphone with a dynamic driver, these aren’t that great. I would tell you to go for the HE-400s instead, even if it is $50 more. As a closed back headphone, they’re not horrendous. Bassheads may prefer them. If you’re looking for an overall-detailed sound, I’d skip these and pay the same price for the Audio Technica MSR7 (or better yet, the planar-magnetic Audeze Sine at $449).
If you’re a basshead, and you want something in a closed-back variety, these headphones can still offer a valid entry-model to the world of decent bass. Sure, they aren’t as perfect as other headphones out there, but they’re relatively inexpensive, and they don’t sound horrible when pumping EDM and electronic music through them.
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