Austrian Audio isn’t the most interesting of names for a new hi-fi manufacturer, is it? But though it shows a certain lack of imagination, it also has the air of a belt and braces company – and we like that.
While Austrian Audio is a new company, the people behind it are ex-AKG employees and some of the most experienced in the industry. That maturity shines through in its Hi-X50 on-ears.
The brand has launched with two headphone models: the on-ear Hi-X50 on test here and a slightly larger over-ear model called the Hi-X55. There’s much commonality between the two, from the shared aesthetics and closed-back design to the use of the company’s new high excursion 44mm driver. Even the difference in weight is marginal, with the Hi-X50 coming in at 285g (without cables), just 20g less than their bigger siblings.
The Hi-X50, like the Hi-X55, feel like solid, no-nonsense headphones. The headband structure is nicely designed and sturdy with it. The extensive use of metal in the headband, folding hinges and mounting brackets gives these cans the aura of quality lacking in more plasticky rivals. It helps that components prone to wear and tear, such as the headband cushioning and memory foam earpads, can be easily replaced, too.
Headphone comfort is good once the initially high-clamping pressure eases off with use. We find our ears heating up over extended listening, but that’s the nature of this type of closed design. Beyond that, these Austrian Audios are light and easy to ignore, and that’s a good thing.
Frequency range 5Hz - 28kHz
Cable length 3m
Dimensions (hwd) 19 x 17 x 7cm
Weight 285g (without cable)
The standard cable is detachable and 3m long, but a 1.2m option is available to buy as an accessory – worthwhile if you’re planning on using these headphones on the move.
Portable use is something worth considering, despite the ‘professional’ tag these headphones are saddled with. There’s certainly nothing we found during testing or in the specifications to suggest that price-compatible portables will have any issue here – unless you count the Hi-X50’s forthright nature, that is.
These headphones won’t suffer fools gladly: if your source or the recording is bright or aggressive these cans won’t sweeten the results. They’re ruthless but also pretty balanced on the whole, and that’s evidence of the company’s studio roots coming to the fore.
It’s interesting to note that Austrian Audio doesn’t really believe in the idea of 'running in', as the engineers can’t find any technical evidence to support the idea. Fair enough, but we have no doubt that the Hi-X50 improve considerably over the first few days of use. An initially forward nature mellows and a hardness in the upper mid area recedes, leaving an impressively clear and explicit mid-band.
We listen to a range of music from Steve Wonder’s Innervisions and Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate to Mahler’s mighty Symphony No.2, and these headphones never miss a beat. They resolve lots of detail and manage to organise it into a musically cohesive presentation. It’s a pretty even-handed sound, without much in the way of undue emphasis on any part of the frequency range.
Unlike the slightly pricier and open-backed Grado SR325e, these headphones aren’t an overtly exciting listen. Mostly, they simply reproduce the signal they’re given. While there’s a tendency to favour analysis over enthusiasm, it’s never taken far enough to be called unemotional or clinical. If you want to hear deep into the recording and track subtle instrumental strands, these cans do it better than almost anything else we’ve heard at this level (certainly if we stick to closed-back rivals).
At this price, there’s little to criticise when it comes to dynamic expression and low-frequency punch either. The Hi-X50 simply get on with the job with little fuss. They sound a little forward, and are more direct and less spacious compared with the over-ear Hi-X55, but beyond that the two share pretty much the same sonic signature, as would be expected by the similarity of design.
If you’re looking for well-designed wired on-ear headphones for portable or domestic use, these Austrian Audios should be right at the top of your shortlist. The brand may be new, but its Hi-X50 have what it takes to lead the class.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best on-ear headphones
Read our Grado SR325e review