Hifiman Edition S
The portable on-ear or over-the-ear headphone market is, I admit, not something that I’m especially familiar with. I recognize that there is a strong bias towards consumer-tuning in the $50-$300 price-range, with these usually closed cans having emphasis on the low-end with a rolled off high-end. Detail and resolution are generally eschewed for a lively sound that would easily find itself as powering the soundtrack of your daily commute.
My experience with the Audio Technica M-50X in the past was not very much to my liking, as portable cans. Besides how quickly wearing them became uncomfortable, I found that the bass fell through the floor during a commute due to poor isolation and seal – leaving only a harsh treble signature that was displeasing. The Meze 99 Classics fare far, far better in the same setting, with their tight seal preserving the warm and lush sound signature. Preserving the bass seems to be the major key with portable cans; by isolating, bumping it up or a mix of both.
Enter the Hifiman Edition S, a portable headphone with a twist – it can be easily switched from a closed to an open configuration and vice versa. I recognize that this means that I’ll have to double the sound research behind this review, because both iterations have a noticeable difference in sound, but I’m game.
Thanks to Audio Sanctuary for providing me with this review loaner of the Hifiman Edition S for my honest opinion. Based in London, I enjoy frequenting the store due to their large amount of gear (headphones and speakers) set out for demo. They can be found at http://www.audiosanctuary.co.uk/
Style: Open/Closed Back
Frequency Response: 15Hz – 22kHz
Sensitivity: 113 dB
Impedance: 18 Ohms
Weight: 8.74 oz (248g)
Driver Size: 50mm
Build Quality, Comfort and Features
I can’t vouch for this headphone aesthetically, it just isn’t my thing at all. While lightweight, the tradeoff appears to have been the usage of build materials that might result in some calling this headphone “cheap” looking. I had some minor concerns while inspecting it, as I felt the joints connecting the overall frame to the earcups felt like they could easily break. The clamp is not severe, but it is not loose either.
The earpads are a smaller implementation of the hybrid FocusA pads that I had on my Hifiman HE-400i back in the day. As I have larger ears, I found that they would feel cramped inside after a listening period of two hours. This is a far longer period of time than I can handle with the Solo 2’s, but still not as long as I can listen to the Meze 99 Classics – even the ones with the original pads, with the smaller earholes. It’s really cold here in London, but I can definitely feel my ears getting really warm – and I don’t think I would be able to bear these for long in summer.
The cable is pretty flimsy and incredibly thin for a headphone of this price-range. It utilizes a L-shaped 3.5 termination and has a play/pause button along with a volume +/- button.
The consumer-tuning of portable cans in this price-range is pretty much a given at this point, but after some time evaluating the Beats Solo 2 and the Sennheiser Urbanite, I quite enjoyed how the Edition S sounds overall. However, the difference between the two configurations is noteworthy – and deserve their own sections in my opinion.
As it is, essentially, an open headphone in this configuration – the soundstage is quite impressive. Listening to Yosi Horikawa’s Wandering EP revealed that the imaging is quite good also for a contender in its price range and market placement. You won’t obtain an “out-of-head” experience, but you should not be expecting that from this in the first place.
The bass has a nice amount of thump to it that doesn’t sound sluggish or too boosted to the point of distortion. It’s remarkably clean sounding and punchy, reminding me of the bass of Hifiman’s planar magnetic HE-400i that I owned previously, but in a less refined or immediately-impressive manner.
The midrange is really, really clean – with no bass bleed to my ears, despite that being bumped. It is neither highly recessed nor forwarded, but maintains a step back from the listener – leading to an “ethereal” feeling that should not be confused with veiled. Electric guitars, which have so much grittiness and bite on the likes of the Grado SR80e, sound smoothed over and a little processed. Also, acoustic guitars, which have so much heft on the likes of the Meze 99 Classics, sound similarly detached. Despite these minor traits, I still have to commend the ability of these headphones (in this open configuration) to present an expansive and clean experience that is not really found in this form factor.
The treble is at a level that is a few short steps beyond “comfortably-extended.” The Meze 99, on which I used this term to describe the treble extension, actually goes a few steps further to add a snapping element to the sound, making cymbals and snare hits have more impact. The Edition S, however, has a very soft treble that would make listening to this headphone more bearable for the truly treble-sensitive individuals among us. It does not, however, feel chopped off and stifling – as was the case with the Solo 2.
While the soundstage takes a notable hit, compared to the open configuration, it is not as night-and-day in terms of difference. There is ample room for the music to take shape, compared to the likes of the Beats Solo 2 especially.
The bass is comparable to the open configuration, but actually feels lessened in flat amount – which is interesting because a sealed and closed headphone can really contribute to the weight and impact of bass.
The midrange maintains the ethereal nature mentioned above, but the separation and the bass is less precise than in the open configuration. Another characteristic that suffers in comparison is that the midrange feels a tad bit stunted, with less of a natural sound and more of a slightly stuffy consumer-tuning. The treble extends well, but hits a similar wall compared to the open configuration.
Switching between the two, I honestly feel that it is not worth the slight bit of extra isolation to have a reduced sonic experience – but that’s just me.
None required. These are easily-driven headphones made for use with portable devices.
When I think back to the portable headphones that I have reviewed in 2016, I find that the Edition S is close to the top, if only sound quality was to be considered. It possesses a livelier, consumer-tuned (which I prefer for public usage) sound than the likes of the Beyerdynamic DT1350, while maintaining a distinct clarity advantage over the Solo 2 and Urbanite.
However, the comfort issues (my fit dependent) and Hifiman’s underperforming build quality in both the frame and headphones leads me to find this hard to recommend outright. If you can get a good deal on these, and you’ve felt one with your own hands and decided that it isn’t too much of a big deal, then go for it. You will also need to evaluate if you like how it sounds in the closed configuration, and if it provides enough isolation to you for public use.
I, personally, prefer my Meze 99 in every manner over this – but that is another, slightly higher, price-tier so that must be taken into consideration.