I know quite a few people have asked us how the Edition XS differs from other headphones in the HIFIMAN line up. So when the opportunity for me to sit down and form an opinion presented it self I got to work! The three headphones in question are: their newest model the HIFIMAN Edition XS, the HIFIMAN Sundara and the HIFIMAN Ananda. True to the the HIFIMAN house sound, these three boast a presentation that combines well extended bass, full mids, and airy highs. Edition XS and Ananda both have improved resolution, more audibly discernable details, plus a wider soundstage with better precision and depth relative to Sundara.
These headphones are all relatively easy to drive, but for the purpose of this quick comparison, I listened to each on our HeadAmp GS-X Mini amplifier with the Border Patrol DAC and iFi Audio ZEN Stream as my digital source. Regarding the system itself, I have to admit that this whole setup is one of my all time favorites, being a true master of all trades. The organic tone and detail of the DAC is further complemented by the power, texture, and natural presentation of our GS-X Mini. We are hoping to carry the Border Patrol DAC soon, seeing as this combo is an absolute dream team, providing an exceptionally life-like sound with power for almost any headphone!
To get a feel for these three headphones, I took some time to enjoy the following two albums, utilizing local files on my hard drive as I streamed them through Roon over ethernet. For direct comparisons, however, I'll be focusing on two songs:
- Casiopea - Mint Jams: Space Road
- "Space Road" features all electric instruments recorded live and mixed in a studio. Each musician here showcases their individual speed, precision, and technical ability. This provides a visceral and tactile listen with myriads of texture. This track presents a good opportunity to evaluate how precise and accurate each headphone can render sounds within a busy passage.
- Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile - The Goat Rodeo Sessions: Quarter Chicken Dark
- Where as "Quarter Chicken Dark" features all acoustic instruments, which were recorded, mixed, and mastered all in the studio. This track presents more of a focus on the tone and timbre of each instrument. It also offers a good opportunity to hear and evaluate how natural the headphones sound and how well they present different elements layered together.
Overall I found tone & timbre to be the most natural on the Edition XS and Ananda proved to have better overall definition and clarity. Going back to "Space Road," with Ananda I find it's easier to discern and follow the rapid fire fret work on display from both guitarists. There is a nice distinction on the leading edge of each and every individual note that allows the sheer technical mastery of each musician to shine thru! Where as with the Edition XS there's slightly less distinction and definition on those leading edges and a little more body in the bass and fullness in the tone of the electric guitar especially, I also found that the electric guitar comes a bit forward in the mix and the percussion moves a little farther back.
I certainly enjoyed Ananda's slightly more vivid presentation for this piece of music, however I did feel some of that added definition was less appreciated while listening to "Quarter Chicken Dark." With the Edition XS, on the other hand, those same transients are discernable but don't pop out of the mix as much. With Edition XS the distinct sound of picked strings, the slight buzz of frets and the rasp of a bow against violin strings are slightly pulled back giving the beautiful rich tone and weight of each instrument more ground to stand on.
The dimensions of the sound stage on each is fairly similar, though the position of instruments relative to one another differs a bit between the two. Ananda has a tendency to pull sounds in the upper mid-range and top slightly forward while placing lower frequencies back a little bit. While this can help to open up really dense, compact intimate mixes it also adds a little more vividness to how everything is presented vs the mellower presentation of Edition XS.
In conclusion, I feel the Edition XS is a great addition HIFIMAN line up, it brings rich tone and detail along with a slightly more relaxed top end. Its overall presentation is a bit more forgiving than the Ananda above it while still offering discernable improvements over the Sundara below it.