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Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…
Out of all the questions I receive on a daily basis, one that really stands out and deserves an article of its own is the HIFIMAN question:
To clarify, I’m not going to go into an in-depth comparison of each model today.
I may use some for quick, in-passing comparisons, but by no means will it be an exhaustive A/B back and forth.
Today’s article will simply cover what you can expect when making the step up from their mid-fi lineup to hi-fi.
And rest assured, there are rather significant differences in my mind!
We’ll cover what stands out in terms of everything that has to do with the overall sound of these.
By the end,
you should clearly know whether the price jump is worth the money.
To make things simple,
I’ll list out the 5 most important aspects that change quite considerably when moving up.
With that, let’s dive in!
I would classify the Soundstage on 400 series headphones to be above average, but not exemplary.
You’ll get more out-of-your-head moments for sure, but they won’t be as frequent as with something like a K702.
What’s also interesting is that while the DEVA works incredibly well for gaming, the 400se does not.
Its imaging, while good, isn’t quite open enough to pinpoint footsteps and enemies with any sort of immense certainty.
A lot of this has to do with the cups, but you’ll find all are much more open, and spacious, and provide plenty of width and depth.
If you were getting semi-frequent out-of-your-head moments with 400 model headphones, a headphone like the Ananda, Arya, or Edition XS will provide them in spades.
A lot of this depends on the track, but these headphones do contribute to the sensation more than others.
Attack, Sustain, & Decay
This is one of those improvements that make you realize just how much you were missing before.
If you were unaware, these elements are essentially what shape the sound and give it fullness, body, and realism.
So if an artist sings something, you’re hearing them as you would if they were in front of you; to an extent.
I like to think of these components as the way an instrument or voice comes across as it reaches its peak and then comes down.
With the Ananda, Arya, and Edition XS, you’ll be able to hear all the intricate details of the vocal as it rings out and trails off.
In other words,
the detail in the words themselves, and how they emanate from the artists’ mouths, are both heard in an incredibly intimate way; almost as if they’re singing directly into your ear.
The same goes for instruments. The instrument will almost feel as if it’s kind of there with you.
Like you could reach out and touch it.
While 400 series headphones do have a good sense of decay, the Ananda, Arya, and Edition XS really take it to another level.
You’ll start to discover how your favorite artist’s voice truly sounds, picking up on extremely subtle inflections, utterances, and tones that can seem like an afterthought, but really tie the song together.
Again, remember that how the track was recorded is super important.
This feeds directly off of the elements mentioned above.
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So if a 400 series headphone portrays the recorded instrument as “pretty realistic”, a headphone like the Ananda, Arya, and Edition XS makes it sound incredibly realistic and lifelike – to the point where it kind of actually doesn’t sound like it’s coming through your headphones.
In other words,
it’s illustrated so well that you may, for a split second, believe the artist is in the room with you.
This has happened to me many times while listening to an artist like Sufjan Stevens, but also excellent recordings in general.
His guitar is incredibly intimate and you may feel as if he’s performing for you rather than on a record.
Every individual pluck, string, and chord change is felt and heard with great immediacy.
Again, this isn’t a constant phenomenon, nor is it particularly intense.
Rather, it’s subtle, and your complete and undivided attention is certainly required.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the jump in price points and headphone models is the way sounds are actually separated.
As good as 400 series models are, they sometimes have an image that’s a little bit too narrow and claustrophobic.
You may feel as if sounds run together just a teensy weensy bit too much.
Keep in mind I’m kind of nitpicking a little.
On their own, you may not really notice it with any degree of frequency.
But pitting an Ananda, Arya, or Edition XS against something like a 400se or Sundara is rather jarring as you’ll clearly be able to hear that the sounds are spaced out much better.
This is an incredibly important distinction, but it’s also paramount in the justification of spending more on expensive headphones like the Ananda or Edition XS.
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In my mind, instrument separation is key, but it also gives way to our most valuable improvement in sound when making the leap.
Because instrument separation is so good on a more expensive model, it automatically makes the resolution better.
This is because if the sounds are spaced out, they’re much easier to distinguish and decipher.
This is also why lyrics become easier to understand.
You may hear something your favorite artist sang and go,
“Finally! I could never understand what she was saying before!”
And resolution is perhaps the most crucial aspect of getting the sound right.
What is resolution?
I like to think of it as those elements of the song that are almost completely forgotten in cheaper models.
The stuff you pretty much never hear even if you’re paying attention.
A headphone like the Arya provides a level of resolution that’s almost limitless in scope.
Put more simply,
imagine holding a magnifying glass over the top of an ant.
Or better yet, a fly under a microscope.
Now imagine zooming in on the fly until you can see and account for every intricate detail.
All of the “things” that make up what a fly is are revealed in towering, complex, and intricate detail.
Now apply that to the track in question.
When listening to these more expensive models, everything is there.
You’ll hear 99.9% of what went on in the studio – good or bad.
This is why sometimes the experience may not be all that great – or maybe it is!
It really depends on you the listener and your preferences.
Do you enjoy hearing every raw detail?
Do those potential blemishes add to the enjoyment of the track?
Those are just some questions you may ask yourself before plunging in and making a purchase.
It’s one of my favorite things ever, so listening in this way is like being a kid in a candy store.
Every. morsel. of goodness.
This is kind of an add-on to Resolution, as I personally believe the 2 go hand in hand.
If you have a headphone with good resolution, most likely the speed of the driers and how fast they process sound is also very good.
This is because for the resolution to be good, speed and “processing power” also have to be excellent as well.
With HIFIMAN’s pricier models, you’re getting that in spades.
With that said, what do I recommend?
I think the Edition XS is a perfect step up from the Hifiman Mid-Fi models.
It provides all the sensations we discussed while simultaneously not burning a hole in your pocket.
It also happens to be incredibly comfortable and the design improvements HIFIMAN made are quite admirable.
In addition to that,
for a planar magnetic headphone, its weight and overall distribution factor on your head are nearly perfect.
Interested in my #1 Step-Up from Mid-Fi?
Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this HIFIMAN discussion on Mid-Fi vs. Hi-Fi and came away with some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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What are your thoughts on the step-up from Mid-Fi HIFIMAN to Hi-Fi? Do you think it’s worth it? I’d love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,