Austrian Audio’s Hi-X55 Headphones Reveal All

Okay, here’s the thing every aspiring voice over wants to know:

“Why was my amazing audition just rejected?”

Well, I am not a certified psychic (if there is such a thing), but without even listening to your audition, I think I can tell what was wrong with it.

It’s the same reason why eighty percent of all auditions end up in the bin:

POOR AUDIO QUALITY

If you don’t believe me, ask experts like Roy Yokelson, Don Baarns, Dan Lenard, and George Whittam.

I dare you to send them a sample of that audition you were so proud of, and they’ll kindly tell you what you don’t want to hear:

– your gain is too high

– your gain is too low

– there’s a persistent low rumble in the background

– your booth isn’t well-isolated and outside noises are coming in

– your recording space sounds too hollow because it lacks proper acoustical treatment

– your audio sample is filled with mouth clicks, lip smacks, popping plosives, and loud breaths

– your cheap microphone has too much self-noise

– you’ve over compressed your audio, distorting the sound

Reading all this, you say to yourself:

“How can this be? I’ve listened to my audition over and over again, and I had no idea this was going on! What did I miss, and how did I miss it?”

THE UNTRAINED EAR

Before you start blaming yourself, just realize that as a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. Folks like Roy, Don, Dan, and George also have a gift. Just like Simone Biles was born to be a gymnast, these guys came into this world with extraordinary ears. Ears which benefitted from many years of training and listening experience.

If you enjoy watching cooking shows like I do, here’s an analogy that will appeal to your senses.

What happens when you give a professional chef a dish s/he’s never tasted before? Within seconds their brain will begin to analyze aromas, smells, and textures. After the second bite they’ll be able to tell you all the ingredients and all the ways the dish was prepared. On top of that they also know what went wrong during preparation, and what needs to be done to make it better.

Think of their palate as an exquisite instrument. It’s almost like a microscope. The more refined and precise it is, the better results you get. That, by the way, is reason number two why beginning voice talent is unable to hear their own flaws. Not only are their ears untrained, they also lack the sophisticated equipment to identify and measure the quality of their audio.

There’s also the bias factor. It is impossible for us to listen to our ourselves with clinical objectivity. Most of the time we see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear. We’ve become so used to the low humming sound of that fridge not far away from our studio, that our brain filters it out as unimportant information.

Our biology limits us in more ways. Some of my older and even younger coaching students are experiencing hearing loss. Thirty nine percent of adults ages 60 to 69 have trouble hearing speech clearly. The first thing to disappear is the ability to clearly hear high-pitched sounds.

BETTER GEAR

While we cannot reverse hearing loss or make up for years of ear training, what we can do is invest in equipment that is better at revealing the weak spots in our recordings. Some people like to use spectral sound analyzers such as the one in Adobe Audition (click here for a quick demo).

I do all my editing in Twisted Wave, and I rely heavily on my headphones to tell me what’s wrong with my audio. If you’re new to voice overs, I strongly suggest you invest in headphones designed for audio engineering purposes since you are in fact an audio engineer. I highly recommend you buy good quality cans before purchasing studio monitors.

In my workflow I first do the precision editing using headphones, and once that’s done I’ll often listen to the audio on my computer speakers because that’s how many people will hear the end result. In the beginning, I relied on AKG’s classic K240 semi-open over ear headphones (55-ohm version). They’re light-weight, very reasonably priced, and reasonably reliable.

Since AKG was taken over by Harman, and Harman was taken over by Samsung, AKG is focusing more on the consumer market than on the professional market. That’s why I hesitate to recommend AKG products for the voice over studio. For audio monitoring I now rely on the Beyerdynamic DDT 880 PRO headphones, the 250 Ohm version, to be precise.

ENTER AUSTRIAN AUDIO

Austrian Audio Hi-X55

Last year, I discovered a brand new brand: Austrian Audio. The team behind Austrian Audio was responsible for the development of most of the AKG products in the past twenty years. When their Vienna offices closed, they made a deal with Harman to buy as much AKG equipment as they could, from office furniture to machinery. Austrian Audio is focused on developing best-in-class, professional audio equipment. Last year I reviewed their stellar OC18 microphone, which is based on the famous C12 capsule.

More recently, Austrian Audio came out with two headphones. One on-the-ear model, and one for over the ears. They were kind enough to send me the over-the-ear model for review, the Hi-X55 which retails for $299. Unlike my DT 880’s which are marketed as “semi-open” (but are really “open”), the Hi-X55 cans are closed. This means no sound is supposed to leak in or out of the headphones.

Whereas the DT 880’s use moderate to low spring pressure, the Hi-X55 feels firmer but not in an unpleasant way. Coming from the gentle Beyerdynamic cans, I did have to get used to the increased pressure on my ears, but there was a payoff. The outside world did not leak into the sound very much, allowing me to focus entirely on my recording. Especially if you plan on monitoring in an environment that’s not as quiet as you’d like it to be, closed back is definitely the way to go.

The Beyerdynamic headphones are known for their soft, velvet ear pads which offer unrivaled comfort. They’re like a teddy bear hugging your ears. The Hi-X55 has leatherette earpads with additional room and slow-retention memory foam to increase comfort and reduce fatigue. They fit my rather large ears and head very well, but the fake leather did cause my ears to sweat a bit after prolonged listening. And listening I did, from the early hours of the morning until late at night

To be honest, I couldn’t put them down and here’s why.

INCREDIBLE DETAIL

The amount of detail the Hi-X55 headphones reveal is -pardon the pun- uncanny. Don’t expect a rich and warm audiophile sound. That’s not what they are meant to reproduce. I’d call the soundstage direct and very accurate. To me that means uncolored with no hyped frequencies and especially no beef in the bass department.

Listening back to some of my previous recordings using the Hi-X55’s, I heard mouth noises and breaths I should have edited out. While I wasn’t happy about that, it’s precisely what I want and need in a good pair of studio headphones. They have to be as unforgiving as the Spanish Inquisition. When you’re performing sonic surgery, your headphones better sound close to clinical.

But I went a step further in my test, realizing that not everyone is going to use these Austrian Audio headphones to edit simple voice over tracks. In order to recommend them, they have to perform well in different soundscapes. Click here for one test I always do when I take headphones for a spin. The Hi-X55’s passed with flying colors. 

Audio engineer Darin Fong has developed virtual speaker software for headphones that replicates the experience of listening to high-end speakers using only headphones. He says it allows the listener to experience their music or movie as if they were actually sitting in the room with the speakers that were measured – but without having to actually be there. Think of it as audio “virtual reality.” Anyway, hearing is believing, and every time I test new cans I have to play this Darin Fong demo:

Lately, I’ve really gotten into a thing called “binaural audio.” Binaural literally means “having two ears.”  Binaural sound is stereo audio that is recorded through a dual microphone setup mimicking human ears. The goal of recording binaural sound is to create a 3D audio effect that simulates sound as if it is being heard live. Binaural sound can only be experienced through headphones. Here’s a stunning demo that takes you to the streets of New York:

On YouTube you’ll find lots of binaural recordings ranging from classical music to pop. If you have trouble sleeping, check out the binaural tracks that supposedly bring you into a state of deep relaxation. It worked for me! For something more upbeat, here’s Pink Floyd like you’ve never heard before:

I am giving you these examples because they really gave me an opportunity to test the Austrian Audio Headphones in terms of realistic reproduction of sound. I have to admit that I often forgot that I was wearing headphones as I was taking a virtual tour of the streets of New York. It was such an immersive experience, and to me that speaks to the quality of the Hi-X55’s. 

LOW IMPEDANCE

What surprised me most about these cans was the low impedance of 25 ohms. Headphones with low impedance require little power to deliver high audio levels. This means you can easily plug them into mobile recording solutions such as your laptop or tablet, and even your smart phone. 

Normally, professional, high-end studio headphones favor high impedance. They demand more power from a headphone pre to deliver high audio levels. But for the low-impedance Hi-X55’s, the secret is in the High Excursion (Hi-X) drivers that were designed in-house, generating a higher sound pressure level.

Monica and Sabine, of the production team in the reorganized production rooms in Vienna, assemble Hi-X headphones.

So, what’s my final verdict?

From the classy design, innovative technology, and high-end materials, it’s obvious that these Hi-X55 headphones are built to last. They are as much at home in the professional studio as they are suitable for recording on the road. Austrian Audio has once again raised the bar in terms of uncompromising sound and build quality, a quality that is often lost in an era of mass production. The Hi-X55 are my new go-to cans for voice over audio editing.

Don’t just take my word for it. The MusicTech Magazine recently awarded these headphones their prestigious MusicTech Choice award. Click here to read their review. Here’s a quote:

“Austrian Audio has created a superb set of headphones in the Hi-X55s. Their sound-for-pound cannot be faulted and, in many respects, especially with regard to the capacious soundstage, they outperform some more costly designs.”

SPECIAL OFFER

If $299 headphones are not in your budget right now, but you would like to get a second opinion on the sound coming from your home studio, I have good news.

Uncle Roy Yokelson has kindly offered to analyze and annotate your studio audio FOR FREE, if you send him an unprocessed 30-second sample (be sure to include room tone) and the same sample using your normal audio processing.

Please label the unprocessed sample with your name and RAW (e.g. paulstrikwerda_RAW.wav), and the processed sample with your name and FINAL. Roy’s email address is antlandprods@aol.com.

Thank you so much, Roy. You are a gem!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Many thanks to Austrian Audio for sending me not only the Hi-X55 headphones for testing, but also for the photos you see on this page. As always, my opinion is independent and not influenced by any manufacturer. 

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerdain Gear, Reviews, Studio

One Response to Austrian Audio’s Hi-X55 Headphones Reveal All

  1. andrew peters

    Great blog, very thorough.

    [Reply]

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