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Following the dramatic stateside shift of production for the once-Austrian brand AKG, a number of its engineers left behind in Vienna defected and went on to form a new outfit, Austrian Audio. Having gained a keen following for developing innovative large-diaphragm OC series microphones, the brand has turned its attention to headphones in recent years.
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With on-ear and over-ear closed-back headphones already featuring in the range, the open-back, over-ear Hi-X65s are designed with mixing and mastering in mind. Using the same 44mm driver as the two previous models, Austrian Audio attempts with this new model to eliminate any resonances associated with closed-back sets. John Pickford described this in his MusicTech review of the Hi-X55 as a ‘cuppy’ midrange, so hopefully, this set will sound far more natural.
Austrian Audio’s driver is developed and manufactured in-house, with no stock parts sourced from elsewhere. Promised attributes include a faster-than-average transient response, strong linearity of frequency response, plus extremely low levels of distortion across the entire spectrum that they claim cannot be matched by other brands.
Unboxing the headphones is good fun. Austrian Audio thinks seriously about presenting their products to maximise the sense of quality and prestige. It’s a trait that will appeal to hi-fi enthusiasts and studio engineers alike. Unfastening a red velcro strap allows access to the box, and the headphone set is nestled in some foam cut-outs. Out of the box, they are pleasing to hold, and the metal headband is manually adjustable with reassuring clicks for feedback. Two detachable locking cables are supplied: a 1.2m one for music on the move and a 3m one. They are both straight, not curly cables, which is a definite win in our book, and they follow the smart grey and black colour scheme of the headset. The memory foam cups and headband are designed to provide comfort and ventilation in prolonged listening sessions and are user-replaceable.
We A-B tested the Hi-X65s with a trusty pair of closed-back AKG K271 MkIIs, which we mainly use for tracking and offer a good quality of reproduction around the £100/$100 mark:
- In Naughty Boy’s La La La, the sine sub bass and kick drum thump are well-rounded and well-articulated, without unnecessary exaggeration. The various pad and piano layers in the mid-range are all clearly distinguishable. Sam Smith’s vocals are really crisp – the Hi-X65s reveal all the high-frequency detail present, but here it’s verging on sounding a bit sibilant at times (certainly more so than on the AKGs).
- For Richard Thompson’s Gethsemane, there’s amazing snare and tom bite and great clarity on Danny Thompson’s venerable upright bass also. The stereo field seems larger than life, and you can become especially immersed when multiple electric guitar lines are hard-panned.
- Jamie Woon’s Sharpness is one of our reference track favourites as it has a fair amount of sub bass and is heavily layered in the mid-range – a part of the frequency spectrum that can sound muddled in headphones. This is not the case with the Hi-X65s, where each layer is clearly distinguishable. Once again, there is an incredibly crisp, airy lead vocal.
- A perennial favourite for listening tests, Steely Dan’s Aja reveals an incredible transient response on the virtuosic drum kit breaks, as well as great stereo imaging of the competing guitar and electric piano lines panned to opposing sides. Both grand piano and hi-hats seemed excessively bright, presumably due to a high shelf boost on that particular master of the recording.
The Hi-X65s are exceptionally revealing for high-frequency details. Deficiencies of high-frequency extension in recordings, bad edit point clicks and glitches can all be heard, so these headphones would be perfect for applications where detailed, precise editing is required. The high-frequency-forward voicing does take some getting used to, but is far less surprising once you’re acclimatised. It is a tiny bit too pronounced for our liking, with some instruments and voices sounding slightly harsh/sibilant on these headphones compared to nearly all over playback systems (perhaps Austrian Audio’s drivers are just too efficient in terms of transient response compared to everyone else’s!)
Despite the apparent high-frequency lift, there doesn’t seem to be any notable exaggeration or scooping further down the spectrum. Track layers are clearly separated in the mid-range, and there’s no ravey bass boost to make music sound more exciting. Low-frequency sounds are consistently well-articulated and don’t mush together like they might on inferior (or closed back) headphones.
Listening to mixes and commercial recordings on the Hi-X65s is a comfortable and pleasurable experience. The memory foam pads, the fit of the ear cups, and the lack of a tight head-clamping force mean that you can forget you’re wearing them after a while. Meanwhile, the lovely tonal qualities and stereo imaging immerse you in the music. This a little like sticking your head in the sweet spot between a pair of mastering grade speakers in the studio. The relatively low impedance is also useful for listening on a wide range of equipment. You shouldn’t ever require a headphone amp, and the Hi-X65s sound great on any modern DAC and headphone amp combination. Do spare a thought for those sitting nearby you, though; open back headphones suffer from lots of spill, and the Hi-X65s are no exception to this rule. For this reason, we don’t recommend them for public listening or tracking instruments using sensitive mics.
Unsurprisingly, following extended periods of listening with the Hi-X65s for mixing and auditioning commercial reference tracks, it’s a definite shock going back to the daily-driver closed-back headphones, which sound squashy and unfocused in the low and low-mid ranges. If you require comfort and incredible clarity in your headphone experience, this pair comes highly recommended, especially considering their competitive RRP pricing when compared to the likes of the higher-end of the Sennheiser HD series and reference-grade headphones from HiFi manufacturers.
- Open-back design
- 44mm proprietary high-excursion drivers
- Extremely low levels of distortion, even at low frequencies
- 25 Ohms impedance
- Memory foam ear cups and headband (user replaceable)
- Comes with soft carry pouch, 1.2m/3m detachable cables and 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter