Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: Budget wired headphones exude brilliance

These wired-only headphones might be cheap, but they're far from merely cheerful. Here's why they're some of the best around

T3 Platinum Award
Austrian Audio Hi-X15
(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
T3 Verdict

When spending this sort of money on a pair of over-ear headphones, even the most optimistic among us knows there will be compromises. What’s remarkable about the Austrian Audio Hi-X15 is just how mild those compromises are, and how far from the actual sound the headphones make they are too.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Spacious, detailed, unfussy sound

  • +

    Convincing soundstage and dynamics

  • +

    Reassuring build quality at the price

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Can sound quite lively when fresh

  • -

    Too many colours for our liking

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Austrian Audio is the oldest new company around. Though less than five years old, it's the brainchild of a core of twenty or so ex-AKG employees with a total of 350 years of experience between them.

It hasn’t taken long for Austrian Audio to establish itself as the purveyor of high-quality, no-nonsense headphones and microphones. Being able to attach the legend ‘designed and engineered in Vienna’ hasn’t done its credibility any harm, either.

But Austrian Audio is no high-end company with a product catalogue packed full of esoteric and unattainable equipment. Just take these Hi-X15 wired closed-back over-ear headphones on review, for example. Bespoke drivers, detachable cable, the whole ‘Vienna’ thing. There’s got to be a catch, surely?

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: price and release date

The Austrian Audio Hi-X15 closed-back over-ear headphones are on sale now, and in the UK they’re priced at £89. American customers will have to part with $119, and while there’s no confirmation as yet that the Hi-X15 will make it to Australia, exchange rates suggest they’ll cost AU$159 or so if they ever get there.

The world’s not short of affordable headphones, of course – but given that Austrian Audio has built itself a very agreeable reputation in a very short period of time, we’ve probably a greater sense of anticipation where the Hi-X15 are concerned than for any other sub-£100 pair of over-ear headphones we’ve heard in a while. 

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: features and what's new?

Austrain Audio Hi-X15 headphones review

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Given that they’re a) wired headphones, and even more pertinently, b) affordable wired headphones, no one should be expecting an extensive list of features. Manage your expectations a little.

The Hi-X15 are fitted with a couple of 44mm full-range high-excursion transducers, featuring copper-wound aluminium voice-coils. Austrian Audio is claiming a frequency response of 12Hz – 24kHz which, if it’s anywhere near accurate, is fully competitive. 

And in truth, that’s about your lot. There’s nothing remarkable or unusual about the Hi-X15, no unexpected features, no Bluetooth wireless, and nothing omitted you might reasonably expect. ‘Purity of purpose’ might be the most charitable way to explain the ‘features’ list.

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: performance and sound quality

Austrain Audio Hi-X15 headphones review

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Initial impressions of the Hi-X15 are not great. When first taken from their (ostentatiously large) box, these headphones sound perky to the point of unruliness. They sound disproportionately excited and altogether too upfront. 

Despite only getting one chance to make a first impression, though, the Hi-X15 are most definitely worth persevering with. The concept of ‘running in’ is far from unheard-of where headphones are concerned, but it’s been a good while since we heard a pair who change their sonic attitude quite so thoroughly after the first couple of dozen hours of use.

Once you’ve allowed the Hi-X15 to punch themselves out (as it were), they settle down to an altogether more relaxing and realistic state. And from there on out, the news is basically all good.

The Austrian Audio prove an open, spacious and very well-organised listen. There’s a clarity and a level of insight to their presentation that’s by no means a given in more expensive headphones and nigh-on unheard-of in headphones as competitively priced as this. They don’t even have to peer all that deeply into a mix – their soundstage is so well defined, so roomy and so well controlled that the details come to the listener rather than the listener having to stay alert for them. 

Tonality is convincing, and consistent from the top of the frequency range to the bottom. Some listeners may hanker after a little more low-frequency punch, but in fact the Hi-X15 are winningly faithful to the music they’re presented with – so if the song doesn’t have thumping bass you won’t hear any. This puts these headphones quite strongly at odds with alternative designs at this sort of money – but be in no doubt, these are your more realistic option.

Dynamic headroom is extensive, so when the going gets raucous the Austrian Audio can go right along with it. They’re equally adept with the less demonstrative, but no less important, second-stage dynamics of harmonic variation, though – something else which sets them apart from a lot of price-comparable rivals.

Ultimately, the Hi-X15 are a quite analytic listen – but that’s not the same as saying they’re po-faced or dispassionate. They simply serve up the fundamentals of your favourite recordings, for good or bad, and don’t make a judgement on it. Which, at this sort of money, is rare enough to be considered unique.  

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: design and usability

Austrain Audio Hi-X15 headphones review

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Even expensive headphones don’t trifle with the over-ear headphones design template, so it follows that an £89/$119 pair look exactly as you’d expect. The Hi-X15 aren’t built from the most indulgent-feeling materials, but they’re screwed together properly and – as long as you don’t mind the rather random and altogether too extensive colour-scheme – they actually look quite sophisticated. They fold in on themselves for easy portability, and the integrity of the hinged parts seems well up to standard.

The padding beneath the protein leather on the inside of the headband and the earpads is pliant and comfortable – and, says Austrian Audio, is slow to retain body-heat. And having had our head inside them for a good number of hours, we’d have to agree. The earcups are pretty deep, though, which may affect the fit for the more liberally eared among us. A weight of less than 260g means the headphones stay comfortable in situ for a good while. A nicely judged clamping force doesn’t do any harm here, either.

The Hi-X15 are a hard-wired design, which naturally impacts a little on their usability. After all, how many smartphones have a headphone socket these days? But it’s worth bearing in mind these headphones are so capable that using them in conjunction with one of the best DACs on the market (albeit a budget one) is perfectly valid. In any event, the Austrian Audio are supplied with a 1.4m cable (perhaps too generous a length, to be honest) with a 3.5mm termination at one end (it can be fitted with the supplied 6.3mm adapter) and a 2.5mm jack at the other. The smaller fits into the left earcup, where it twists to lock.  

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review: verdict

Austrain Audio Hi-X15 headphones review

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

If it’s detailed, unfussy and thoroughly engaging musicality you want, along with a hefty serving of effortless dynamism, and you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg getting it, your headphones have arrived. The Austrian Audio Hi-X15 are remarkable value for money and a very convincing listen. 

Downsides, such as they are, have nothing to do with the sound the Hi-X15 make – they’re more to do with the numerousness of colours that constitute the frame and the length of the cable they’re attached to. Get past these trifling objections, though, and the news is all good – making these among the best wired headphones for those on a budget.

Also consider

As far as pure sound quality is concerned, the nearest the Hi-X15 have to a rival is Grado’s excellent SR80x. These too are wired headphones that sound way more expensive than they actually are – but the Grado are open-backed, which makes them a bit of a no-no in public. And while we may not be the biggest fans of the Austrian Audio aesthetic, the SR80x have more than a hint of the WWII ‘pilot to bombardier’ about them – which is, let’s be honest, an acquired taste. 

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.