Given everyone’s apparent obsession with wireless headphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days of wired headphones were numbered, especially at the more affordable end of the market.
But, we’d be surprised if those thoughts ever surfaced in the corridors of Austrian Audio’s Vienna HQ. The company, born out of ex-AKG employees, has hit the ground running with its first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X.
We’ve heard, enjoyed and given five-star ratings to the more expensive Hi-X55 headphones but the Austrian Audio Hi-X15 are the first model we’ve heard from the brand which we’d consider a proper budget offering.
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Design and build
Although, from a quick inspection, it’s apparent that these wired over-ears look and feel anything but cheap. Their design and finish put a lot of plasticky competitors to shame. The use of proper metal hinges results in a pair of headphones that fold away neatly, with zero fuss. And you can even slip them into the supplied carry pouch to protect them from bumps and scrapes.
The matte plastic on the arms is a nice change to glossy plastic, while the black, red and silver colour scheme gives them on-desk presence. In each earcup you’ll find a 44mm driver and ring magnet system with a copper-clad aluminium voice coil.
Frequency range 12Hz - 24kHz
Impedence 25 ohms
Cable length 1.4m
In-line controls No
In the box you get a 1.4m long headphone cable with a 3.5mm jack at one end and a 2.5mm connector on the other. This slots into the left earcup (a 6.3mm adapter is included in the box). It’s then a matter of twisting and locking it into place.
Put them on your head and the grip level is nicely judged, with just enough pressure applied to keep them from sliding around your head. The soft, ‘slow retention’ memory foam earpads are also comfy and during our time with them didn’t seem to generate too much in the way of heat.
Given the portable element of their design has been executed so well, you might think it a shame that the cable isn’t just a little bit shorter and that it doesn't have in-line smartphone controls. But we’d still class these really as home headphones.
Now, we found the Hi-X15 sounded quite lively straight out of the box. This means you’ll need to be prepared to give them a decent running-in period (we’re talking a good couple of days at least) so they have a chance to calm down.
Once they settle, the Austrian Audios sound so transparent and grown up that they belie their relatively modest price tag. We suggest using them with a DAC/headphone amplifier such as the DragonFly Red to make the most of them rather than simply plugging them directly into a smartphone (though they will still sound good). In fact, the Hi-X15 would quite easily work with a more expensive option like a Chord Mojo.
Any rough and ready recordings are mirrored in how the sound is fed into your ears, and this transparency gives them a huge advantage over rivals, especially when you take into account the close-backed design. This sense of openness allows an immense amount of detail to be served up to feast on, without having to worry about sound leakage.
Throughout the frequency range, these headphones deliver consistently high detail levels and fantastic dynamics. Play The End by Kings Of Leon, and the Hi-X15 pick apart and deliver the funky bass guitar riff at the start, the drum kit and lead guitar with consummate ease. You can almost feel the texture of each instrument as it’s being played, the headphones drawing you deep into the performance.
There isn’t an ounce of fat on any track played through the Austrian AudioHi-X15 headphones. But at the same time there’s enough weight and substance to low frequencies that you don’t feel as though you’re missing out. Massive Attack’s Angel is obviously known for its deep, probing bass notes and the headphones punch their way along, each note dispatched with force and power.
Yes, we’d consider the Hi-X15 an analytical pair of headphones, but they still manage to make music entertaining with it – they extract bags of detail but keep the soul of your music intact.
We wouldn't insist on you partnering them with a suitable DAC/headphone amplifier, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a mature-sounding pair of headphones that go above and beyond at the money.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
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However, I bought a pair of JVC HA-S91N instead. While that is irrelevant and my opinion isn't worth much, I wanted to bring these to your attention as a possible alternative. The design is a little more plasticky and they're presented in a cloth bag inside a card board box that Apple execs would roll their eyes at, but I care for function over form. The cups on the JVCs look similar to these Austrians and I found them comfy (with no airtight sucking effect, though snug). The outside however is more matte plastic than shiny metal. There's no reviews of these JVCs anywhere as far as I can tell and it seemed I could only buy them directly off JVC (Kenwood) or via Bezos' evil empire. However, for £150 they offer the hybrid form of the Hi-X25BT, as well as Active Noise Cancelling. Of course JVC might not be who/what they once were, but my experience with HA-RX700 cans gave me enough confidence to take the plunge. I'd happily share an opinion on the sound etc, but I'm no expert and I'll mostly use these with Spotify and streaming video on iPad and Android phones, laptops, PS4.. If the advertised 42 hours on BT (37 with ANC) are solid, this for me offers the right functionality at the right price - I gazed longingly at Sony WH-1000MX4 of course but I can't afford the extra £120 and I like the hybrid promise of longevity and adaptability (the PS4 doesn't connect to Bluetooth headphones!). Anyway, time will tell. Hopefully I won't have to come back here in 6 months bawling my eyes out over some snapped cans. I'd really love to see these headphones put t a proper test by yourselves though.