Austrian Audio Hi-X55 by Arthur Stone
Introducing the...Austrian Audio Hi-X55 closed-back professional headphones. Austrian Audio are a new company metamorphosised from AKG; this is discussed in the OC818 review. The Hi-X55's (and their 'on-ear' counterparts, the Hi-X50) are made in Austria, and the sonics, design, and build-quality are of a pro standard.
The key Hi-X55 features are the proprietary high-excursion drivers designed for modern music production; all-metal hinges and bow (headband) for stability and durability; folding design (for compactness and storage); detachable high-quality cable with jack adapter; slow-retention memory foam ear pads for comfort and fit.
The Hi-X name refers to 'high-excursion' technology, unique and developed by Austrian Audio and put simply it means that the speaker moves a relatively large distance and moves a lot of air - however it's not just the raw power but also the design that creates the impressive sonics and user listening experience.
The diaphragm needs to be responsive and move air whilst remaining stiff enough to prevent unwanted resonance; a ring magnet powers the diaphragm, and Austrian Audio used science, testing, and listening, to identify an optimum measurement of 44 mm (1.73228") - so a chunky powerful engine to push out the audio.
Price: $299 US/£249 UK/ Euro 299 with 9ft (3m) cable and jack adapter plus cloth bag. The presentation box can also serve for more solid storage. 2-year warranty.
The design is aesthetically-pleasing: muted tones of light-weight silver-grey metal alloy.
Comfort Level: Austrian Audio are not re-inventing the wheel with the Hi-X55 - just providing a comfortable ride for the listener. The smooth fit and steady sound feel like a ride in a luxury car. The acoustic space created by the headphones is spacious and softly-quiet. A hush puppy.
The headphones feel solid, dense and substantial without feeling heavy to wear; there is a good sense of balance between the padded metal headband and the metal earcups and cushion pads. The weight is evenly distributed.
The weight distribution can be problematic when leaning fully-forward as there is a tendency for the headphones to slip forward. I discuss this further below but for now, it's only a slight issue in certain circumstances.
The slow retention memory foam of the earpads and headband soak up the 305g of weight; the lightweight 9 ft/3m cable doesn't drag or add excess vibrational noise to the acoustic space. There's a nice sense of immersion in the soundstage, the Hi-X55's disappear from the senses, and they feel good even with no audio passing through them. A soft life filter.
I was able to wear glasses and sunglasses as usual without the frames or headphones fighting one another.
Although they appear and perform as traditional high-performance headphones, the Hi-X55 and 50 do have some unique technology under the hood. Austrian Audio designed from scratch and incorporated a unique ring magnet to power the 44mm Hi-X driver (which has the strongest magnetic field in it's class). In use, there is no sense of strain - either in representation of frequency or dynamically.
The Hi-X55 specs show a remarkable 5 Hz to 28 kHz frequency range and in use there is no sense of a limit in the bass, mid, or air. Despite this depth and height of resolution there are no hyped frequencies or obvious speaker/body resonance - the presentation is evenly distributed across the full frequency spectrum. High-resolution. Non-sterile. Soulful and musical.
The problem with all headphones I've reviewed is the noise transfer from cable to the headphone shell and acoustic space. The Hi-X55 is no exception: the noise occurs only in the left side (where the cable is attached), however it is not as noticeable as other designs and I didn't find it distracting in use.
Overall, a very impressive headphone - sonically and in terms of ergonomics, builld/materials, and design/aesthetics.
Sound Impression: The Hi-X55 provided a clear, detailed and powerful sound with no evidence of hype. The soundstage is reassuringly large so no sense of claustrophobia - either in the physical or sonic sense. Similar experience to the AKG K702's but with fuller bass and bass punch. The mid and treble detail reminded me of the ADAM Audio SP-5 headphones.
Whilst tracking hand drums I opted for the more expensive linear Audeze LCD-1 headphones as I could hear the edge dynamic of the drums more clearly; but whereas overall the LCD-1's presented a 'finished picture' the Hi-X55's offered better insight into the details that I wanted to adjust within the mix. I preferred the Hi-X55's for tracking bass guitar or for most tracking in general over the AKG K702's and LCD-1's.
This was confirmed by the next tracking session: again, bass guitar, percussion, keys. I felt really comfortable using the Hi-X55's: I could hear clearly and in detail, no sound leaked. having such a good monitor signal made the session enjoyable and my performance was liberated. I felt part of the music I heard. In an artistic 'safe-space.'
Hot head: It was 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 'round midnight, with 1% humidity; near the coast. It's quite hot plus I have a load of gear on (guitar amps, tubes, monitors, computers, etc.) in a small room 14' x 12' x 8' with windows closed; despite this, the closed-back Hi-X55's were comfortable for the duration of the track (approx. 10 mins) and then a quick 'air break' in the pause between recording. There was a slight layer of perspiration between my small, close-cut head and the Hi-X55 cushions; later in the session, as I leant forward (from standing) to operate the computer touchscreen, the headphones slipped forward out of position but not enough to fall off.
In general, the balance is very good and without a sensation of clamping: but with a smaller head or in hot-sweaty conditions there may be a tendency to slip down when leaning forward.
Conclusion: Good value for the money; far, far better than cheaper cans and comparable to more expensive ones.
The Austrian Audio Hi-X55's worked best in the production of music: recording/tracking, mixing, editing, using plug-ins, using instruments. Sonically, they are perfectly good at final mix/home mastering stage but the strengths are really suited to the studio utility role and this makes sense given the price.
A splendid benchmark headphone from Austrian Audio. A pleasure to use.
Sound Quality: 5/5 Full, balanced frequency spectrum/response. Nothing hyped. Great detail esp. in upper mids and low-highs. Non-fatiguing.
Features: 5/5 The novel drivers work very well. Good quality cable with little cable friction noise transferred to earshell. 2 year warranty. Made in Austria.
Ease of Use: 5/5 Comfortable. Reliable reference. Non-fatiguing. Good fit. Needed 'air breaks' in hot, sweaty conditions. Tendency to slip down when leaning forward.
Bang-for-Buck: 5/5 Very good. Quality design, build, materials, and output. Built to last. Comparable to more expensive headphones.