Sound unbound: Hifiman Edition X headphones bring spacious sound and comfort

The Audiophiliac spends some quality time with the new Hifiman Edition X headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Hifiman was one of the first companies to feature planar magnetic drivers, and I remember just how much their sound stood out from the pack when I reviewed the Hifiman HE-5 headphone back in 2009. The sound was a revelation, and over the years Abyss, Audeze, MrSpeakers and Oppo followed Hifiman's lead and now also make planar magnetic headphones. The Hifiman Edition X over-the-ear, open-back headphone reflects the company's latest thinking, and it's also their best looking and most comfortable headphone.

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The Hifiman Edition X headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The Edition X's transparency, dynamic impact and bass potency are light years ahead of the old HE-5. Another key strength is soundstaging, this headphone doesn't confine the sound between your ears. The Edition X sounds remarkably open and clear, so much so that there were times when I had to take the headphones off to make sure the sound wasn't also coming from my speakers. The sound was that spacious, and returning to other excellent headphones was a letdown.

I fell under the Edition X's spell when I watched "Seymour: An Introduction," a wonderful documentary about piano teacher Seymour Bernstein. His "touch" (the subtle gradations of his piano's dynamics) is precisely rendered over the Edition X, and that's one of the things that separates good musicians from virtuosos. This headphone makes it easy to hear the difference.

Then when I watched the "Amy" (Winehouse) documentary where the Edition X really shook me up. There was something about the way Winehouse poured every ounce of her soul into her voice that just blew me away. The live club performances sounded great, but her duet with Tony Bennett in a studio giving an emotionally naked performance was something else again. Edition X was keeping it real, which is what the best gear does. It takes sound to the next level where you connect to the music in a more profound way.

I also compared Edition X with the new $1,700 Sennheiser HD 800S, which was a less vivid and pure sounding headphone. I felt the Edition X was more dynamically alive, but the HD 800S' sound had more weight and body, whereas the Edition X has a somewhat leaner tonal balance. They're both reference quality headphones, but they sound different.

I did most of my listening tests with my Schiit Lyr 2 and Oppo HA-1 headphone amps, but I also tried my Astell & Kern Jr portable music player. That combination worked like a charm: bass on my Aphex Twin albums was healthy and deep while dynamic impact was also hugely impressive. Edition X can definitely be enjoyed with portable devices!

The headphone features user-replaceable cables, weighs 14 ounces (399 grams) and impedance is listed at 25 ohms. I found the Edition X to be extremely comfortable to wear for hours at a time.

The Hifiman Edition X is available on Amazon for $1,799. Then again, the $299 Hifiman HE400S planar magnetic is easily the best sounding headphone of any type I've heard in its price class.

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