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View Full Discussion Hi guys, I'm Mad Lust Envy on head-fi (just google Mad Lust Envy), and I have a big gaming headphone guide. I have recently reviewed the XX, and I'll go ahead and post it here as well. This is a direct paste so there may be formatting errors.
While my guide is aimed for gamers, my reviews are done in standard form unless stated otherwise (like when I use a surround dsp). For all intents and purposes, my opinions on the headphone are based on how they mainly sound in typical audiophile fashion. Music, and other media in a standard dac to amp method in pure, unprocessed stereo.
Massdrop x HiFiMAN Edition XX
$599 as of April 2019
Where To Buy: MassdropDisclaimer: A special thanks to Massdrop for sending these out for reviewing purposes. As always, whether products are sent to me or not, I do my best in being 100% honest with my views and opinions. If I don't like a product, I will refuse to write a review of it, as I like to focus on products that people would like or at the very least are interested in. Thankfully, I rarely get questionable products, so the process of reviewing has been largely painless in that regard. In short, it's been quite a few years where I've made the decision to post only reviews about products I look at positively. The only bias I have is to my readers and making sure they know about the good stuff. On to the review!Review posted first here.
It has been an incredibly long time since I have last heard a product from HiFiMAN that wasn't my dearly beloved HE-400, the criminally underrated HE-4, or the RE0 iem from a very long time ago. Suffice to say, my experiences with HiFiMAN have been largely positive, though vastly outdated. You would think that in the many years since those releases, HiFiMAN would've been working on updating and improving their planarmagnetic technology. You'd be correct, as they have built up a strong lineage with highly regarded headphones like the HE-500, HE-560, Edition X, and many other popular models.
The Edition XX (this point forward, I'll simply be calling it the XX ) marks one of a few ventures where HiFiMAN and Massdrop have joined forces to release special models under the Massdrop umbrella. A team-up with the intention to release a higher fidelity sound at a lower price point. The XX shares a similar driver and cup design as the Edition X and HE-1000 headphones, with the older style headband designs of the past used in models like the HE-4, HE-400, HE-6, HE-500.
Personally, I would've liked the XX to have used the newer style headbands, considering they have already used it on some of their other Massdrop variants. That, and because I have never experienced the newer headband designs. That being said, I never had any real issues with the original headband design. If it was good enough for highly regarded headphones like the HE-6, it's good enough for the Edition XX, though visually, the older headband paired with the new cup design looks a bit different in terms of design language. That being said, the most important thing for any headphone is the drivers, which the XX absolutely nails.
As some of you have most likely noticed from the previous section, the XX shares most traits of its build with the Edition X, HE-1000, and other HFM headphones of that higher caliber, with the headband design of the older models. Let's start there.
The old style, spring steel headband with a protein leather covering the innards allow the XX to rest comfortably on the head with great weight distribution. The underside has just enough material and plushness to keep the headband from making any truly noticeable presence on the top of the head.
The plastic 'pucks' where the Hifiman Edition XX labeling is located, are the only pieces on the headphone I'm not enamored with, as they don't feel completely secured to the headband. This is the only thing I would want to see an improvement on in terms of this design.
The size adjustment arms are made of some seriously strong metal, and that comes with the difficulty of changing the extension. It is INCREDIBLY tight and secure. Perhaps a bit too much. My HE-400 is a lot easier to adjust despite similar design, whether by default or perhaps it may have given away with age. Either way, I think the XX could stand to be a little more loose in terms of allowing us to adjust the size extension. Not a big deal in any way, but just something worth noting.
The cups are easily the most impressive looking cups I have ever seen on a headphone. They just ooze quality. I have experienced piano finishes, glossy/wooden finishes, slotted metallic finishes, and quite a few others, but I'd say I vastly prefer the tastefully silver and black open grill design on the XX. It is without a doubt one of the best looking cup designs I have seen on an open headphone. You can see right through the magnetic trace array to the other side, signifying just how open the XX truly is. The cups are egg shaped, and are almost comically large in size. They will easily swallow up the side of your head.
I'm absolutely ecstatic at HiFiMAN's decision to continue using synthetic leather pads with a fabric top where the pads rest on the skin. I will always, always continue telling everyone how I hate the feeling of fake leather on my skin, so the decision to place fabric where pads meets skin is 100% correct, every single time. The use of synthetic leather also ensures that there is no sound escaping between your ears and the drivers unlike full velour or other fabric covered pads.
The openings for the ear are incredibly generous in size, whether width, height, or depth. It is so big, and allows the humongous driver surface area to emit sound unobstructed even well beyond your ear shape. This may be part of the reason, why the XX throws out a truly tall soundstage. This may actually be one of, if not my favorite design of pads ever on a full sized headphone. There is so much space for sound to travel around your ears, it adds a new dimension in headphone listening. There is very thin fabric covering the driver area, which shouldn't cause any discomfort if your ears bottom out on the pads.
I didn't try to remove the pads, as from what I can gather, is not user removable/replaceable. At least not in the way that is easy to slip off and on.
The cable is another strong point for the XX in most aspects, the the actual sleeve is made up of... questionable material? The cable connects to each ear cup via thin 3.5mm plugs. This is a drastic improvement over my HE-400's old style connector which was personally a nightmare to deal with in terms of attaching/detaching, as well as in durability. My HE-400's cable already has exposed wiring due to those questionable connectors, even though I rarely use my HE-400 to begin with. It still works, but it's quite unsightly. The XX connectors being a very familiar 3.5mm, makes them a breeze to connect and disconnect.
The main portion of the cable is covered by a clear, plastic-feeling, tube material. It is flexible, but fights to go back to its straight form, and is ultimately a bit on the short side at 5.5ft/1.8m. For a headphone of this size, I would've preferred a longer cable, closer to 9ft, as I don't feel many people will be using the XX on the go for a variety of reasons, like the large size, and the fact that it's incredibly open. The source end terminates in a chunky, right angled, metallic 3.5mm plug (w/detachable 6.3mm snap-on adapter). I'm personally not a fan of the right angle plug. It makes it harder to connect to some devices, like a phone using a thicker protective case. Considering I wouldn't be using the XX on the go to begin with, it's not a big deal for me, but it is another thing worth noting. Using this with the Creative G6 portable dac/amp, the plug will 'kickstand' the G6 and cause it to flip over bottom side up with minor movement of the headphone cable.
Final Build Quality Impressions:
Despite the online reaction to the old style headband being used in place of the newer headband designs for the newer HiFiMAN headphones, the XX is exceptionally built through and through. My only complaints is limited to just the small plastic pucks attached to the headband, the shorter than optimal length of the cable, and the use of a right angle plug. Aside from those minor irks, I feel the XX is well dressed and exudes the quality worth its price and level of sound.
The review unit sent to me came simply just with the headphone and cable, no accessories. I don't mind a lack of accessories, as more often than not, it is superficial in terms of adding any realistic value to the product. If this is what it takes to lower the cost of any headphone, more manufacturers should follow suit. I get headphones for the headphones, not for the extra fluff.
The XX is unsurprisingly in the upper echelons of comfort for a headphone of this size.
The XX weighs in at a hefty 420 grams, which is just 20 less than the HE-400 (440 g). Despite the heft, I don't consider either an issue in comfort compared to headphones like Audeze's LCD2 which weighs well over 100 g more than either HiFiMAN models I have on hand, and you feel every bit of it. The XX's weight is distributed pretty evenly, so it simply just isn't as much as a factor as people would be led to believe. Yes, it ain't featherweight by any means, but for a planarmagnetic, it is one of the least cumbersome from my experiences. Could it be lighter, sure, but I'm just not bothered by this much weight as much as others may be.
I have never, ever had a problem with the old headband design in terms of comfort (even going back to the HE-4, I praised the headband), and that trend continues here. While it may not be as ideal as the newer designs with the suspended headband design, I feel the curvature of the headband, and the thin but practical amount of padding on the underside of the headband leave it completely inoffensive in terms of comfort. As stated earlier, the weight is distributed evenly on the head with no hotspots. I may want to see the newer headband used, but it's mainly for aesthetic reasons, and not because I feel there is anything wrong with the classic style headband. If there is an improvement in comfort, that'd be an added bonus, not a necessity.
The ear pads are so large and spacious, I can't help but feel like they are absolutely sublime and among the very best in design, shape, size and depth. They aren't the most plush, and don't compress easily. The surface contact area is quite large and depending on your head shape and size may or may not rest in uncomfortable areas on the side of your face. Personally, the pads rest in all the right spots on my head. That being said, there is a slight clamp, which makes the pads not completely disappear in terms of feeling their presence.
The pads press in towards my head just a bit more than I like. It's not a 'clampy' headphone by any stretch of the word, but it was enough for me to notice. This area is completely subjective, as too much is almost as bad as too little, and I'm very picky with clamp forces in general.
Final Comfort Impressions:
Despite what I've said about clamp (subjective preference), If I had to give comfort a rating, I'd put it under great, as the XX is one of few headphones I can wear all day without feeling truly fatigued by them. I readjust here and there, but I have used them for 8+ hour sessions daily without any real complaints. That says a LOT. They're really good, great even, as stated before. This gets a recommendation for me in terms of full sized headphone comfort. Had they weighed as little as say, the HE-4, and had slightly looser clamp, they would have scored likely near the top out of all the full-sized headphones I have used.
As you may have guessed just by looking at the XX, it is a very poor performer in isolation and leakage typical of its design. Seriously, don't expect any privacy in or out. You will want at least one room with the door closed between you and the next person if you need to keep it quiet. These leak a substantial amount.
The XX has some really interesting sonic traits. Mainly excellent, but some that may or may not be suited to absolutely everyone's preference. The balance itself is exceptional throughout almost the entire frequencies.
The bass is one area of the XX sound that I believe nearly everyone will agree with. The bass is absolutely magnificent. The pluck of low range strings, the subterranean rumble in the deepest depths, and the thump demanded of today's electronic music is all there, and is represented masterfully. Nothing is overbearing, nothing sounds dronish, and it all honestly just sounds...correct, musical, and energetic without overindulgence, or anemia. Planarmagnetic headphones in general almost always represent bass well. The XX is no exception and highlights how accurate and meatily defined and impactful bass should be.
Having done some frequency tests, it could be appreciably felt all the way down to 20hz, and was balanced all the way up to the upper bass limits. As far as frequencies go, nothing in the bass ranges sticks out. Just pure balance, and represented evenly without emphasis or deficiencies. Quantity is hard to define, but I think at the very least, most will agree it is either close to neutral or more. Not enough to be basshead level, but enough to satisfy those who like warmth, body, and fullness. So objectively, I'd say north of the neutral line, but subjectively natural, true to life.
In terms of speed, I feel the XX's speed in bass is faster and above then middle ground. Nimble, not slow of decay. It rumbles as long as it needs, and thumps with the agility one would expect of something perceptively correct. I've not heard much faster without thinness, and I have definitely heard much slower. Bass should have some decay, and it absolutely shouldn't linger too long. So for me, the XX's speed is close to ideal.
If you're someone who enjoys bass, and have plenty of bass driven sources, you will not be disappointed with the XX. This isn't basshead bass. To my perception, this is bass how it is supposed to sound. So give it some bass heavy tracks, and listen to the XX absolutely jam out. Give it bass light tracks, and the XX remains reigned in. Put on an action film with explosions, and feel every rumble. There is plenty of fun, immersion, and energy, as well as restraint and control.
There's excellent layering and texture all around. Not much more I can say without repeating what I've said in the beginning: The bass is absolutely magnificent. I don't have tools to measure distortion or the technical aspects of the bass, but subjectively, I will always hold my opinion in saying the XX's bass is excellent to my ears. If someone asked me what I think bass is supposed to sound like, I'd easily point them in the XX's direction. It's that good. I don't think there's such a thing as 'much better' than the quality of bass on display here.
Midrange to treble:
The bass is not ever intrusive to any part of the midrange which will be beneficial in midrange clarity. The midrange is relatively well balanced and subjectively linear to my ears throughout most of the spectrum. Despite these two things essentially making it easy to assume the midrange would be generally clear and spaced in a manner that isn't too intimate or spaced back, and just right (which it almost is), there is still a slight laid back nature to some details.
Vocals and other midrange aspects sound a little on the laid back side, and aren't as full as some of the more intimately voiced headphones. Not so much that the midrange is notably recessed or lacking, but that the presentation of sound isn't forward or aggressive.
Let me at least talk about specific frequencies. The early midrange up to 1khz has plenty of presence, which then dips a little between 1khz-2khz. There is a trend upwards to a 4khz-7khz plateau, where there is presence without shrillness all the way to 7khz, in which then it falls off dramatically to a valley at 7.5khz, picks up a little and falls again to another valley at 9khz and then trends upwards to 10khz and extends well to near 14khz to my ears. The treble truly extends and has a nice shimmer without being 'bright'.
The most laid back areas then are the area between 7khz and 9khz (not all of it, as there is energy at 8.5khz or so), though the slight recession between 1-2khz that may account for some of the spaced back nature. As I have stated, it is slight recession, not an outright culling of details in those areas. In terms of hot spots, while the most prominence to me is between 4khz-5khz, it isn't piercing or overly zingy.
To sum up the midrange to treble sections, I'd say that the XX in these areas is slightly laid back but quite detailed in the very top end. Low midrange is very linear and warm, higher midrange to low treble is a little more laid back, and top end treble sparkles and extends quite well.
Soundstage and Imaging:
With no processing:
The XX has an interesting soundstage. Interesting in a good way. It is very much planar-like, which means that it won't be as wide as the best open dynamic headphones out there, but gain in other areas. Planars tend to lose out on soundstage width but win out in depth and overall projection of a sonic image. A medium sized soundstage in terms of width, but with a noticeable strength of soundstage height, and excellent planar depth.
The imaging properties of the XX are good, though not as 'sharp' as other headphones like my HE-400. What I mean by this is that objects in the virtual space take up a larger area of the sound, but aren't as clearly 'defined' within the space. The ability to draw an object in the virtual space, comes easier on my HE-400.
That being said, I do find the XX to sound CONSIDERABLY 'bigger' and more room filling. Directly comparing it to my HE-400 (the HE400 equipped with Dekoni Audio DT elite velour pads and which has an excellent amount of soundstage depth and good width), I feel the XX has it beat in allowing the sound to envelop a bigger, taller space. The HE-400 almost sounds compressed next to the XX. It is an obvious difference in the presentation of sound. The XX sounds more lifelike and less like a headphone.
I don't usually name specific tracks, but to give an example, in 'Sarah Blasko - Arrow', the XX gives an impression of being in a room where Sarah is in front of you singing, while in the HE-400, it doesn't quite give you that lifelike presentation. She sounds more defined in the space in front of you, but she doesn't sound like "she's there", like she does on the XX. Think of it like squinting, but with your ears. You may see the object better when you squint, but you lose sight of what is around the object.
All in all, if you like complete intimacy, there are better options than the XX, as the XX does put you a little bit further away in comparison to closer presentations like the HD650. It's less "small lounge/front row", and more "concert hall/middle row". Don't get me wrong, it's not a mid recessed type of sound. Just that the soundstage is less headphone-esque, and so it won't put everything right in your face or in your head.
I can't understate how impressive and different the presentation is compared to a typical headphone. It's something to be experienced to truly understand. If the HE-400 places sounds in a horizontaal line, the XX has mountains on the horizon where sounds are placed.
With surround processing:
The XX is pretty brilliant when using surround dsps, like Dolby Atmos, SBX, Dolby Headphone, and others. It projects outward as well as the better headphones I have heard, with an expansive soundstage in all manner of its virtual dimensions. This makes the XX an excellent tool for virtual surround gaming, or movie watching. In terms of sheer soundstage size, I believe a good dynamic like the AKG K702 has it beat particularly in width, though I still wouldn't dismiss the more natural quality to the XX's soundstage shape. Strictly as a gaming headphone with surround, there are better options, but the XX does it just fine. No real complaints. If you plan on gaming with the XX, you seriously won't need anything else.
Clarity is an aspect of the XX's sound that I think will have some debate due to how the presentation of sound is slightly spaced back as opposed to more standard headphone projections of sound. This isn't due to general mid recession or overly large soundstage. It's just an inherent character that belongs to the XX from what I'm hearing. Personally, I do believe and would defend the XX's detail retrieval, but the slightly laid back balancing will not appease the more detail-oriented ears out there, or those who prefer the 'up close and personal' types of headphones where the sound is more forward and intimate.
The bass has good speed, clarity and texture keeping it from muddying up clarity, the midrange is evenly balanced with just a small dip in the 1-2khz range, and the treble has a pretty noticeable drop off between 7khz-9khz which does play a factor in some treble clarity. Treble in the upper end is quite shimmery and extended, but that drop off at 7-9khz can't be ignored as a potential point of detail loss. I think if they had kept that area more in line with the rest of the sound, the XX would have been a mostly neutral, supremely balanced headphone, which also comes with a possible problem of grating on the ears in those ranges. The clarity of its air is good, and sometimes great if the source isn't demanding a lot of low end. Not the most airy of headphones, mind you, but it can do that aspect well at times.
I'd say the clarity overall is very good throughout most of the frequencies and classify the overall sound as clear and detailed if a little laid back.
It isn't the final word on ultimate neutrality, as it ever so slightly treads towards warmth. That means it will be more pleasing for those who like things leaning on less fatiguing, warmer balances, but not overtly so. The highest treble having good extension, keeping the XX from sounding muddy or veiled. So if you like warm, warm headphones, the XX is NOT that, nor is it cold/analytical. Neutral warmth with sparkle is how I'd put it to my ears.
I wouldn't go so far as to claim these are perfect straight out of a laptop, tablet, or cellphone. At the very least, any portable amp worth two cents and can hit high volume levels should be pretty good. My recommendation is to give it at least a decent portable amp's amount of power, as I feel they don't quite hit high volume levels even off a Sennheiser GSX1000 unless I max the volume out, which is far from ideal. For example, the volume off something like a Nintendo Switch was on the moderately lower side of my preferences. That makes it impractical for such a purpose.
In terms of what type of amp flavor makes sense for the XX, I believe a fast, detailed solid state would highlight the XX's strengths and de-emphasize the slight weaknesses. Heck, even a smooth and rich amp could also be a great pairing for it. Really, I think the XX is in a good place that any type of amp coloration would suit it. I don't think it's a picky headphone.
The XX makes for a very high quality headphone for gaming. Even if you play strictly in stereo, unprocessed, focused, and hardcore, the excellent soundstage height and depth really have an added layer of immersion not found in many other headphones. The tonal balance really allows for anything from fun, casual gaming, to serious tournament play, though be aware that the area of sound between 7-9khz in particular is low in volume compared to the rest of sound. I personally think that area is more sheen than important sound effects, but it's something needing mention. For gaming with virtual surround (as I do), there's really not much better than what the XX has to offer. The soundstage, and positional cues are excellent, as can be expected from all the things I've mentioned before.
The XX makes a strong case in terms of a headphone for all use cases, except maybe pure analysis of sound or if vocal intimacy is desired. Music is highly enjoyable and dynamic, gaming is an absolute pleasure, and even anime watching (which tends to always sound crisp/bright 99% of the time) is a treat. I believe they tuned the XX to be on the enjoyable side for most content thrown at it, and if so, they succeeded in that mission. I think perhaps some people will expect the XX to have flagship-y voicing in terms of detail-retrieval and microscopic analysis of sources. The XX is not that. A broader, more consumer-friendly sound is what I'm hearing with the XX.
Real world practicality:
I would keep the XX strictly as a home or private office headphone. It makes a poor choice in terms of portable or transportable uses due to the size, and extremely open design.
Likes and Dislikes:
- Soundstage height and depth
- Tonal balance/sound signature
- Bass in all regards from texture, speed, and quantity
- Non-fatiguing even with good treble extension
- That planarmagnetic 'magic'
Sonically speaking, I can't find much fault here. It isn't perfect, and the balanced, slightly laid back sound will not best the more specialized headphones in terms of basshead uses, detail orientation, midrange-centric duties, etc. The price of having a broad spectrum of things well usually means it won't be the best in any one thing, but it also allows the XX to be more appealing to a larger crowd. Those who want a headphone that does well in most areas overall. If detail retrieval and clinical analysis is the most important aspect to you, there are better options, at lesser cost. However, the total amount of strengths the XX has in most aspects of sound far outweigh the negative traits. The more time I spend with the XX, the more I fall in love with its inherent characteristics.
The Edition XX is one of those headphones that make me feel like they're the only one I'd ever need at home. Massdrop and HiFiMAN have given us a truly spectacular headphone overall.
- Imaging/object definition could be sharper
- 7-9khz valley
- Slightly distant vocals
- Size extension hard to adjust
Absolutely brilliant in depth review which hits most of the issues and good points that may arise.👍🏽👍🏽
I cannot wait for my order to be delivered..
Short non-expert review: Gotten my pair of ordered Edition XX and am absolutely loving it - sounds superb even out of the box (no burn-in yet). The review above is pretty much spot-on and Edition XX is now my "go-to" pair of headphones for most music, especially for jazz, vocals, classic rock & instrumentals songs. While I admit I am no audiophile/expert, I do also own HD-6xx, Fidelio X2 and Bayer DT770 and I would easily pick XX over the rest (though I do note XX belongs in a higher price group in the bunch).
If you prefer a neutral, slightly warm sound signature, XX is certainly highly recommended. Compared to the iconic HD-6xx (my favourite cans before the XX arrived), XX offers wider soundstage, faster bass and overall smoother music. It's also extremely comfortable despite many people's concerns over the headband design. Extreme comfort + non-fatiguing sound = long hours of heavenly music.
Also, it sounds very similar to Hifiman Edition X V2 (I tried those cans before)... so since XX is priced at 40%-50% discount to Edition X V2, it's a pretty good deal to me. No regrets with my order, worth every cent!
You’re my hero! I need more of your reviews in my life!
Phenomenal write up! I cannot believe you went to that depth. I’m Hifiearspeakers on Head-Fi and have always appreciated your posts! Keep up the good work!
A great review. I agree with you about the soundstaging and imaging of these phones. Of all things, I have never experienced sound as presented by the Edition XXs It is almost holographic, the sound sometimes seems to go just behind my ears, almost to the back of my head. Sometimes it seems that the sound is emanating from within the center of my brain, more like I was participating in the act of creation. The sound just rises up into the ether and surrounds me. It is uncanny. At first hearing I found it a bit off putting, now I revel in this presentation. I just really love these phones. Your review is very detailed and informative. A great contribution to the thread.