The Austrian Audio Hi-X55 over-ears are the second pair of headphones we have seen from a brand better known for professional-grade microphones. With this model and their siblings, the five-star on-ear Hi-X50, Austrian Audio has made the leap from other sound tech into headphones.
That a company should hit the target so comprehensively at the first time of trying is a rare feat – but it’s perhaps less surprising when you realise that the team behind these headphones is made up of long-serving experts from AKG, who formed Austrian Audio when AKG transferred its headquarters from Vienna to California three years or so ago (the Harman Group having acquired the brand in 1994).
So while the name may be new as far as headphones are concerned, the team behind these cans is anything but.
The Hi-X55 are slightly more expensive than the on-ear Hi-X50. They are beautifully made and certainly present at every penny of that not inconsiderable outlay.
Frequency range 5Hz - 28kHz
Cable length 3m
Dimensions (hwd) 20 x 17 x 8.5cm
Weight 305g (without cable)
There is plenty of metal in this construction, although they don’t feel particularly heavy for this type of headphone. All ‘critical’ parts – including the hinges, much of the headband, and the earcups – are made from metal, and it is, without doubt, a quality-feeling product.
The earcups hinge to make the volume of the unit more reasonable when in transport. These headphones are made with portability in mind, and are certainly not intended purely for home use.
That they are labelled ‘professional’ is another hint at their robust nature; like Austrian Audio’s microphones, these are designed for extended use in a working environment – and they certainly feel built to last. We would have no concerns about stashing them, in the supplied soft tote bag, in a briefcase or work bag.
Items that are likely to wear out with use, such as the earpads and headband cushion, are easily replaceable, so these headphones should provide many years’ service. The cable, too, is detachable and replaceable, though we have a minor gripe here: at 3m, the cable supplied is for all practical purposes for home listening only.
A shorter 1.2m cable is available, but it does cost a little extra; not a deal-breaker, of course, but it would have been nice for it to have been included in the price. A 6.3mm convertor for the 3.5mm plug is at least included, which is useful.
While they look fairly functional and sturdy, the Hi-X55 are comfortable over an extended listen. The memory-foam earpads sit nicely over the ears and even those on the What Hi-Fi? team who wear glasses have no problem with longer listening sessions.
The clamping pressure on these over-ears causes no discomfort or worries, and although our ears do get on the warm side after a good long while, things never get too hot for comfort.
These are not noise-cancelling headphones, but the closed-back design and good seal from the memory-foam earpads are effective at blocking out a decent amount of extraneous noise, while still allowing in enough that we always feel safe (hearing nearby traffic, for example) when wearing them outside.
The Austrian Audio Hi-X55 relay music with tempo and rhythms fully intact, with a tight snappy bass that is in no way overbearing – a fault that some closed-back over-ear headphones could be accused of. James Blake’s Limit To Your Love is a regular test go-to, for the bass that kicks in at intervals through the track, and each bass pulse is clearly rendered, with clean edges to the notes and almost no blurring. It’s an impressive performance.
That precision and snap continues elsewhere in the sonic range. The treble and midrange are clean, crisp and detailed, and everything is fairly even across the spectrum. However, there is a slight tendency towards brightness in the upper midrange; this brings voices to the fore, but doesn’t detract from the rest of the piece. It does mean, though, that you should take care with any partnering electronics, and avoid equipment that errs on the brighter side of things.
This character trait is where the fine Austrian Audios differ from their most obvious rivals, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless or Philips Fidelio X3. Those other pairs provide warm, comfortable listens, where the Austrian Audios are far more analytical and more ‘professional’ in their presentation. One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other – it will be up to the user to decide which one suits them – but it is certainly something to be taken into account.
We’re impressed with the Austrian Audio Hi-X55. They are nicely built, and relay a track faithfully. They won’t be for everyone – they aren’t as easy a listen as some rivals, and will certainly be unforgiving with some recordings. But if you want to hear what is truly in a track or recording, you won’t find better analysts at this price. Definitely worth an audition.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best over-ear headphones
Read our Austrian Audio Hi-X50 review
Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review
Read our Philips Fidelio X3 review
I recently had the chance to test out the Hi-X55, and I think I may have come up with a theory to explain your experience with the Hi-X55.
My first impression of the X55 is quite similar to yours. I found the headphones very detailed (but not overly etched) and I found them quite unpleasant to listen to. In fact, when I first tested it along with the X50 and X65, I liked the other 2 more.
However, when I returned to the store the second day and decided to give X55 another chance, I started to get X55's sound signature. X55 is harsh and there is no doubt about it, but in many ways, it is like that because it is designed to do so. X55's harshness is not a result of bad tuning (I actually find it quite well-tuned because there is still a 'lush' with all the sounds coming through it and its mid-range, especially with acapella vocals, is spot-on); its harshness results from the fact it is designed to be a mixing headphone.
Mixing headphones are not designed to make everything sound nicer (that's the job of Hi-fi headphones), at least according to my research. From what I know, X55 is designed to be "honest": it reveals problems in tracks that mixing engineers want to know, which is why it may not be great if you want it to be a day-to-day headphones for enjoying music. (btw, I also need to mention how X55 makes switching the sound source from an external DAC to laptop or phone DAC super observable.) With that said, X55 is also not trying to emulate the AKG sound that many have grown accustomed to. According to the owner of the store I went to, Austrian Audio's sound signature resembles more of AKG's earlier generation sound signature. The sound that most people associated with AKG is their later sound signature (not the newest though), so many would naturally find Austrian Audio to sound very different from AKG. But many of AKG's gene is still present. For instance, strings and orchestra sound great on Austrian Audio's headphones, similar to many AKG headphones. (I haven't tried this myself so I cannot confirm this claim.)
Anyway, in short, X55 is harsh because it is designed to sound critical, or maybe brutal, toward mixes. I find it personally still quite well-tuned. And after my first day, I will say I get accustomed to its sound. Coming from Grado and Sennheiser, X55 really feels like a new paradigm for listening to music.
Regardless, all it matters is what you enjoy the headphones or not so if X55 is too harsh for you, then so be it. I read your comment and I just wanted to share my thoughts since I had similar speculation. Anyway, I hope this helps and sorry for the long reply.