Hifiman Edition S review

Open or closed? Hifiman's Edition S give you both types of headphone in one

HiFiMan’s convertible Edition S pivot between open-backed airiness and closed-back intimacy in mere seconds
HiFiMan’s convertible Edition S pivot between open-backed airiness and closed-back intimacy in mere seconds
HiFiMan’s convertible Edition S pivot between open-backed airiness and closed-back intimacy in mere seconds

Highs

  • Crystal clear midrange and treble
  • Wide open soundstage in open-back mode
  • Powerful, well-appointed bass
  • Plush, comfy earpads

Lows

  • Bright upper register lacks body
  • Exterior design feels chintzy

DT Editors' Rating

Long revered by audiophiles as a producer of top-quality planar magnetic headphones, China-based HiFiMan exudes an aura of sonic quality. The name alone calls attention to the company’s penchant for great sound, while the conspicuous presence of its high-priced cans in audio forums across the web gives HiFiMan a seat at a very auspicious table. So, it was with great interest that we turned to a different kind of headphone from the brand, the new Edition S.

Shrugging off the lavish pedigree of their brethren, the middle-class Edition S ($250) are an intriguing proposition. The only model from HiFiMan to use standard dynamic drivers, the headphones also offer a convertible design with removable magnetic plates to provide the advantages of both open and closed back cans. It’s always impressive to see an established brand veer into uncharted waters, but the million dollar question is: Can the Edition S maintain HiFiMan’s sterling reputation at a middle-rung price point?

Out of the box

The Edition S come packed inside a sleek black box, which slides open from the bottom to reveal a pill-shaped case inside. The portrait on the box’s cover reveals sexy lines of silver tracking the earpieces, glinting in the light. Pulling the folded cans from their case, however, offers a lighter package than expected — most of the exterior is layered in plastic, the silver lines painted rather than forged.

Tucked in thick foam above is a small box of accessories, including a detachable headphone cable with three-button inline iOS control microphone, a cable clip, and adapters for both ¼-inch and airplane jacks. A small book of instructions is also included.

Features and design

While the light plastic along the Edition S’s exterior betray its lower class status in the Hifiman family (especially compared to, say, the $1,000 HE1000), the thick leatherette pads inside give the cans a bit more regality, lined with plush strips of synthetic velour on the edges. Originally designed as an on-ear model — and still categorized as such by the company — the Edition S’ ergonomic earpieces actually fit easily around most ears in the circumaural style.

Removable backs easily snap on and off thanks to gleaming magnetic plates.

Suspended on u-shaped arms, the earpieces swing easily on the horizontal axis and fold just as easily into the headband for travel. The plastic band is layered with plenty of padding along the bottom — an important inclusion, as the Edition S don’t grip your ears as much as they sit on your head like a helmet. The band doesn’t have much give, so keeping it free from any undue pressure would be a wise move, as such designs have a tendency to crack in our experience.

And, of course, we can’t ignore the removable plates which easily pop off to reveal the back side of the Edition S’ 50mm dynamic drivers, set behind mesh screens. Removing the covers seems more like popping open a T-top than a full-on convertible, but the sound really expands in the open position (more on that below). The caps easily snap back on thanks to their gleaming magnetic plates, but beware: unless you want to hear some uncomfortably loud clicking sounds, don’t put the covers on while listening.

HihiMan Edition S
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

But why waffle between an open-backed and closed-backed design? HiFiMan doesn’t go out of its way to make that perfectly clear on its website, but most headphone enthusiasts will tell you open-backed headphones sound more … well, open and spacious. The drawback, however, is that sound leaks both out of and into the headphones more easily, sometimes creating a distracted listening environment for both the user and those nearby. Sometimes closed-back is the only reasonable alternative. It would seem HiFiMan wants the Edition S to offer the best of both worlds, bringing the premium sound quality of an open-backed design to a portable, compact headphone.

Stats for the headphones include an 18-Ohm impedance rating (making them easily driveable using a phone or portable player), with a claimed 15Hz-22kHz frequency response, and 113 dB sensitivity. Total weight is just under eight ounces, or 248 grams.

Comfort

While the massive earpieces can feel a bit cumbersome, thanks to a lightweight design and ample heaps of soft padding, the Edition S rest comfortably for long listening sessions.

Performance

Thunder and lightning might be the best way to describe the sound signature of Hifiman’s latest venture. On the low end, the engineers seem to have had some fun playing with the heftier weight offered by the Edition S’s traditional dynamic drivers, heaping on rich, well appointed bass. The sound is seldom overpowering, but it does hold court as the most emphasized and energetic register in the spectrum.

The midrange is clear and detailed, especially in the open-back mode.

Far from the fluid traversal from low to high you’d expect from an audiophile darling like Hifiman, the upper registers are abundantly clear — much lighter in color than what resides below, accounting for the crackling lightning of our metaphor. The midrange is very present and detailed, exposing a lot of subtle nuance in your favorite tunes, especially in the open-back mode.

We far preferred the Edition S’s sound with the windows open, as it were. Pulling off the covers opens up a lot more space, widely expanding the soundstage to the far sides of the left and right channels. The only slight drawback is a bit of a drop in the presence of the center image, as the edges of the sound seem to take precedence.

While some tracks hit the sweet spot, offering a pleasant mix of authoritative bass and crystal clear detail, the lighter weight of the upper register can wear on the ears at times, especially on bright recordings. Vocals tend to come off with a sharp edge on many tunes, such as Albert Hammond Jr.’s In Transit, where Hammond’s voice borders on sibilant — especially at the “S” and “T” sounds. That goes for dialog in movies and TV shows, as well. Elsewhere, the bubbly pop of brass can sound almost synthetic at times, while acoustic guitar often sounds as though players have suddenly swapped out their strings for a lighter gauge.

HihiMan Edition S

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That same tendency continues into the upper treble, as well. While we appreciate the Edition S’s extended range up top, certain sounds ring out too brightly. The high-flying bell sounds of The Boy Least Likely To’s I See Spiders When I Close My Eyes, for instance, pushes towards piercing. Switching out for Aiaiai’s much darker, yet still highly detailed TMA-1 Studio headphones, the ringing triangles in the tune still pop through, but they sparkle with a warmer, golden shimmer.

To be sure, some of our quibbles with the Edition S are subjective — if you like a brighter, more forward character in the upper register, these might well be your new jam. To our ears, however, there are better alternatives for your money, such as the similarly priced TMA-1, or Sennheiser’s Momentum on-ears, both of which lend more natural flavor to organic instruments, and push forth rich detail without the same bright sheen — for us, that balance between the lower and upper registers is much easier to settle into. And though we listened to the Edition S for several weeks, we were always aware of the shifting gears between top and bottom.

Conclusion

While Hifiman’s upper class competes with some of the best audiophile cans in the business, the new Edition S are decidedly middle-rung. Their open-or-closed design is a cool feature, but we would have traded that versatility for richer tone color in the middle of the sound, and better balance across the spectrum. That said, the Edition S offer all the detail and clarity you could ask for at their price point. If you like a little glitter in your jams and some edge to your upper register, you may want to give Hifiman’s latest a shot.

Gaming

Tweak these ‘Fortnite’ game settings for a split-second edge

Fortnite is a very forgiving game, and it can run on just about any PC. How well it runs depends on your system, so we put Fortnite through its paces to see how you can get the most out of your machine.
Web

Be at your most productive with these Slack tips and tricks

Slack is an common means of communication in the workplace, but how do you use some of the app's lesser-known features to get the most out of your experience? Here's what you need to know to stay organized, efficient, and entertained.
Product Review

Amazon’s new Kindle Paperwhite hides serious upgrades under a familiar cover

After three years, Amazon's most beloved ebook reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, got a refresh for 2018. And while it may look the same as its predecessor, a handful of new features make it a worthwhile upgrade.
Home Theater

How to install Dolby Atmos ceiling speakers

When it comes to getting the very best Dolby Atmos sound quality, ceiling speakers are a must. Installing them, however, can be a daunting task for even the most gung-ho DIYer. Don't worry - you can do it. Just follow our complete guide and…
Home Theater

Bask in the glory of your home theater with these 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays

What good is a 4K TV if you don't have the means of pushing it to its limits? Here are our favorite 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, all of which are nothing short of stunning. It'll make you wonder why you haven't always watched movies this way.
Home Theater

PlayStation Vue adds more local channels, bringing the total to over 600

PlayStation Vue is Sony's answer to live TV without the need for a cable or satellite TV subscription. To help you understand the service, its plans, and numerous features, we've created this handy guide.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Deals

Here are the best 4K TV deals for November 2018

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Buster Scruggs,’ ‘Missing Link,’ ‘Mowgli’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's new trailers for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Mortal Engines, and the first trailer for Missing…
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (November 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.