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Austrian Audio Hi-X55: analytical headphones with Hi-res audio

Door Alban Amouroux |

These headphones are rather special in that they are primarily intended for professional use within sound studios. But what’s most interesting is that they also perform very well when listening at home. Hi-X55s are made by Austrian Audio, a young company whose creators are by no means inexperienced in the sound business. All the more reason to try on these Hi-X55s

Austrian Audio was created immediately after the closing of the AKG factory in Austria which manufactured headphones and microphones as part of Harman group. The ex-employees decided to continue their work by developing headphones and microphones under this new brand (which has been very well received by professionals). Their products are all made in Austria.

At present, two headsets are on offer, the Hi-X50s and the Hi-X55s. Pretty much the same product with the same aesthetic and components, but with one small difference: the type of ear pads. On-ear for the X50s and over-ear for the X55s. Which pair you should go for will depend on your intentions. The X55s are better at blocking out external noise, while the X50s are a little less bulky, 20 grams lighter and are sold at a slightly lower price.

Features

● Price: 299 euros
● Impedance: 25 ohms
● Sensitivity: 118dB(SPL)/1MW@1kHz
● Frequency response: 5Hz-28kHz
● Loudspeakers: 44mm
● Included cable: 1x 3.5mm TRS detachable 3-meter asymmetric jack cable, 1x 3.5mm female – 6.35mm male adapter jack
● Weight: 305 grams

General presentation of the Hi-X55

Hi-X55s are distinctly modern-looking thanks to their grey graphite colouring and various metallic parts. The build and its visible screws give off a sense of robustness. As these headphones are made as much for work as they are play, they need to be durable and shock resistant. And they certainly appear to be.

Two sturdy, tubular metal pieces serve to provide adjustment and rotation to the earpieces. They allow the headphones to be folded up into a more compact size that fits nicely into the fabric case provided. The case is rather lightweight and doesn’t provide the headphones with the same level of protection as a rigid case.

Hi-X55s weigh in at a very acceptable 305 grams and the padded headband lightly rests on the head without any irritation. The leather memory foam earpieces provide additional hold. Depending on the size of your head, the pressure exerted by the earpieces may feel a little overbearing.

The earpieces provide a comfortable yet effective barrier against outside noises allowing you to rack up hours of continual listening. However, going the other way, we have noticed that the headphones allow music to escape, more than many of the closed-backed headphones that we know of. For those around you, the headphones may as well be open-backed.

Features of the Hi-X55

Austrian Audio have carried forward the techniques used previously by their designers when they worked with AKG. This headset makes use of the same circular ring-shaped magnet idea, providing two advantages: the creation of a large magnetic field for the 44mm transducer and improved air circulation. The ultra-light, copper-clad aluminium voice coil allows the loudspeaker to move extremely quickly and improves impulse response time.

The amount of bulk behind the transducer has been drastically reduced rendering the headphones less imposing and allowing more space for the ears. This bulk now constitutes a double acoustic cavity designed to cushion any background noise. As previously mentioned, this system works extremely well for whoever is wearing the headphones, but not so well for those nearby who will hear the music escaping from the Hi-X55s.

The headphones are sold with a 3-meter stereo cable which connects to the headphones with a 3.5mm minijack. The minijack is twisted into its slot and locked into place to keep the cable secure. It’s a good idea that competitors would do well to imitate. On the other end of the cable, the 3.5mm minijack can transform into a 6.35mm by using the adapter included in the box.

Upon listening

We carried out our listening test using the Qobuz Desktop application on macOS. Sound from the computer was relayed through its Thunderbolt Universal Audio Apollo 8 interface/card equipped with two headphone outputs with independent volume controls. This allowed us to compare the Hi-X55s with our Beyerdynamic and Focal headphones. As they were brand new, we let the Austrian Audio headphones run for a few dozen hours before listening.

The first things we notice are the headphones’ analytical capabilities which are highly detailed and attentive to microdetails. Such detail creates a large soundstage around the head that isn’t too overwhelming but perfectly balanced. On Marcus Miller's live performance of So What surrounded by the Monte-Carlo Orchestra, the instruments are bold and each easily distinguishable. It is easy to follow the bass at the centre, the piano on the left and the brass sections at the right.

Despite some dropping among lower notes up to 5 Hz, we couldn’t ask much more from the Hi-X55s in this exercise. The bass frequencies are present just as they should be. There’s none of this over compensatory effect that can be heard on a great deal of headphones made simply to impress your less-savvy listener. The Hi-X55 stand strong and add nothing more. We however regret to notice a lack of foundation at the bottom of the spectrum, the bass drum’s characteristic resonance and layers of synthesizers are rather muted.

The tone among the medium and high ranges is the area in which these headphones excel. Their extreme stability and detail give the listener an impression of colour lacking somewhat in warmth. One must therefore become accustomed to a highly analytical listening style. The Hi-X55s will clearly please sound engineers and other musicians that require precision that will miss nothing out from the mixing. The slightest detail, the slightest adjustment in balance or compression will be easily picked up here. The incredibly soft voice of Stacey Kent on the album I Know I Dream is comfortably accommodated by the Hi-X55’s transducers. Highly centered, one can pick up the slightest nuance thanks to yet another large soundstage where the instruments are well separated from the centre towards the extremities. Reverberation is detailed without masking other important musical components. This is also the case on Dua Lipa’s hit Don’t Start Now and its exaggerated amplification. Notes gently begin to fade out as a new bar begins; transitions are often too abrupt with other headphones. This brings a sense of realism and veritable presence to the listening experience.

Pros :
Highly analytical
Wide soundstage
Beautiful sense of clarity
Comfortable
Isolation of exterior noises

Cons :
Audible noise leakage
Lack of foundation in bass frequencies

Conclusion

Austrian Audio Hi-X55s are a formidable piece of professional kit thanks to their high resolvent power. For Hi-Fi listeners, they are not necessarily suitable for all musical styles. The headphones are a little less at ease with heavy rock, R&B or trap. However, if you are more inclined to listening to more intimate music, chamber music, vocal jazz, electro pop or French chanson, these headphones are ideal as they transport one right to the heart of the music. Their rather original technical appearance is built to last. They are easily portable and fold up for storage in the fabric case. Hi-X55s aren’t universal headphones and require a listen for you to formulate your own opinion. But if they suit your musical tastes, songs will be magnified in such a way that these will become your most prized headphones.