Tuesday, 13 March 2012

EXS X10 Review

EXS X10 Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

First Impressions: Okay I just love the case, it’s a felt outer that I know is going to soak up fluff but oooooh it feels pretty. One of the nicest cases around. I have a white pair and I’m never wildly keen on that, why do people like white buds? God knows. Nice selection of tips going here too. Tbh I’m struggling for things to say, it’s just not that interesting or exciting aside from the lovely case.

First listen though and that all changes, I’m going to wager right now this is going to be an overwhelmingly positive review. These are light, crisp and super enthusiastic and yet stupid cheap. Hmmm maybe they are too enthusiastic? Time for a little burn in, they are BA but for consistencies sake away they go.

Source 1G iPod Shuffle with a 75 ohm adapter added and 5G iPod Video line out through a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps

Low: If you’re a bass head then these wont be for you. They are single BA drivers and they just cannot move a large amount of air. Thank fully they don’t really try to either. As the use of the Siren Armature inside these has proliferated many companies have had a bash to tuning them for a more consumer orientated sound, i.e. they have wacked up the bass levels. While many may like the bigger bass they never really compete with dynamics and here EXS haven’t bothered to try. They have accepted it’s a BA and they have tuned it to play to its strengths and it really shows. The bass response is rather limited in quantity; it doesn’t really go too deep either. It can do deep enough but the quantity means it tends to be somewhat overshadowed too. Where it does impress though is that its super tight, super clean and super punchy. It has such wild enthusiasm and energy, the speed with which it can function is really impressive. In some ways this is a bit of a problem as it just doesn’t want to do anything slow and mellow. It wants to party and punch its way through a song, great if its popy, bouncy song but more relaxed things not. The bass here can’t move the air it needs to do rich and mellow so it constantly tries to move to fast and punchy. This just doesn’t suit the slow stuff at all.

If you don’t mind its desire to go fast then the low end here really is a bundle of fun. Just so long so you don’t need lots and lots of it.

Mids: Dry, airy, energetic and enthusiastic. The mids in terms of quality are super impressive. The Siren armature has long been a favourite of mine in things like the PL-50 but here they have taken all its best qualities and gone for the opposite tonal quality. Where the PL-50 was smooth and luxuriant the X10 is airy and dry. The energy levels too have been dialled up a little despite the 50 being a little more forward. The mids on the X10 are rather prominent too with fantastic level of clarity and detail. They however like things to be fast passed with a tremendous sense of enthusiasm. They want to have a party and need things to go a little quick or they just feel out of place. These want to go fast, they need to go fast. It’s not to say they cannot do slow songs but they yearn so for something quicker that I repeatedly find myself hitting next track until something more sprightly comes on. Oh and they just love you cranking up the power too. The more power you can throw at them the better.

They do have a tinge of extra energy in the upper mids that really ought not to be there but that just emphasises their enthusiasm. It does mean that particularly female vocals really pop out at you. I can see some people not loving that but I think its fab. They are so clean and forthright as only a good BA can. Love it.

Highs: I think this is one where you will probably want to go get a set of Comply’s. There is no way around the fact there are little trebly happy. Slap on a little Owl City and I find myself reacting for the volume dial. The wildly abundant energy and enthusiasm these have becomes a little too much for my delicate little ears. They don’t really have much of a hard aggressive edge to them but the energy is just too much. The Comply’s tone it down a touch and with the rubber tips I found it unpleasant at times if playing too loud. Extension wise they don’t really go as high as I’d like but they are capable of doing a really good attempt at a natural like decay. They lack of aggressiveness combined with the energy means a cymbal can trail off rather well in the slower songs. It’s not perfect but for something so cheap it’s good. The trouble is that the energy can be overwhelming in the fast stuff. If you get a particularly treble heavy song then it really begins to dominate. The bass is the first to be overshadowed but that can always be filled back in with little go on the bass boost button on an amp. Out of the little Shuffle 1G itself this want an option and at times the bright source and bright IEM was too much for me. However if you had something warmer like the HM-601 then things were much more tolerable.

Overall I cannot fault its quality but it’s a bit abundant and a bit too enthusiastic at times.

Soundstage: These never took on a grand sense of scale but they do offer up a wonderfully airy presentation. Lots of air and great instrument separation but you’re never going to mistake these for a pair of speakers. The instrument separation is very impressive and about the best I’ve heard for a single BA.

Comfort: Hmm, fine. I cannot say these ever melted away but they were never uncomfortable either. They have a large nozzle and I just always wanted them to sit deeper than they really wanted to.

Fit: They really weren’t the best shape and they didn’t particularly want to be worn up. Still they were okay if maybe they stuck out a bit. In term of getting a seal it was okay but I didn’t like how they wanted to sit so shallow.

Cable: Very nice, the jack was great and the cable was super flexible. It was very light too and I absolutely cannot fault any aspect of it. Hmm maybe it could have done with a neck slider but otherwise its first class.

Microphonics: Even worn down there pretty much nothing. This is thanks to the cable with as I said was just great. Worn up there was nothing at all.

Amp/Unamped: I have already said that these like power. They didn’t like impedance though as it just savaged the low end and did little to improve anything elsewhere. In short I wouldn’t bother with it. Moving up to more powerful players now that it did like. It particularly liked the FiiO E9, just loved it. So open, so expressive and so super enthusiastic. Much fun was had I can assure you.

Build Quality: Very good. I really couldn’t fault anything. Everything looks and feels first rate.

Isolation: With the rubber tips on it was okay but somewhat improved with Comply’s. It also varied with how deeply they were shoved in and since they have larger nozzles they didn’t want to go too far. Not really up there with the best BA stuff but beats pretty much any Dynamic out there. Easily enough for normal usage and to make you road kill if you don’t pay attention to traffic.

Accessories: You get a good selection of tips but really the best thing is the case. It’s a great little case. Sure it’s a fluff magnet but it does the job superbly, looks great going it and is such a convenient shape. Top marks.

Value: I have been told they shall come in at £57 and id buy them at that. Of course I might be inclined to go with the PL-50 for that money as it very much suits my tastes with its buttery, creamy sound. I know that’s not really a flavour that suits everyone and certainly doesn’t play ideally for all types of music. It never comes to life with the energy and enthusiasm the X10 can. The X10 is so much more popy and dynamic, somewhat like an ety out to party. Compared to the RE-0 it isn’t the most accurate or detailed you can get for the money either, the 0 wins there but it doesn’t have the fun or enthusiasm that the X10 brings. Its bouncy, lively and fun. Don’t forget you can give it a FiiO friend and boost up that bass level too to turn it into a real party IEM. Lots and lots of fun with BA accuracy for a pretty fine value price. Like I said I’d buy one.

Conclusion: When I get something I normally have a look round at what reviews and things people have said about something. Usually things match up pretty well and you can always tell certain reviewers react in certain ways to particular attributes. The only thing I really found about these was by Shigzeo, what shocked was that it was dated 2010! How have I not really heard about these before? His review summary on Head-Fi got not a single comment. Was it posted then simply ignored by the world? I fear that in this case the world missed out. The X10 is a prime example in my opinion of what a BA driver can do. It’s not going to be all things to all people and it cannot move a ton of air so it doesn’t try. It has a decent low end quantity but mainly it focuses on the aspects it can do well. That namely being the quality. Not to name any names but some makers have taken the same driver and tried to max out the bass at the cost of the places where it shines and believe me this shines. Maybe it shines a little too bright and a little too energetically. It has an abundance of enthusiasm and exuberance that I find to be wildly fun but for me it’s a bit much all the time. I like a bit of calm now and again and this just wants to play with hedonistic abandon. It’s like it’s had one too many vodka and Redbulls. Yes its fantastic fun but just so brim full of energy it really struggles to do boring and relaxed.

None of that of course is a bad thing it’s all just a choice and it’s an enjoyable one. Super fun and only gets more so if you toss in a bass boosting amp, punchy, lightning paced bass. Super clear, airy open mids and fab shimmery highs. The only down point is the energy level in the upper mids can be a touch too much at times. It may make for a tremendously lively sound but for me it’s too lively for all day every day. Granted I have a ton of IEM’s so I can swap about taking whatever suits the mood I’m in but I realise this isn’t what normal people do. I’m not sure I could live with this level of enthusiasm all the time. It has far more energy than I do, it just wants to have a good time and party. Not something to sit quietly in the library with.

So while I’m being a grumpy old man and protesting at their inability to do boring I cannot help but find them to be bucket load of fun. Popy, bouncy, frenetic fun. Just so long as you pair it with a non bright source and maybe even give it a bass boost then it may be the most lively BA IEM around. Certainly the most lively single BA driver. It’s party time in treble town and the EXS X10 is going to drag you there forcing a smile to your face or drive you mad with its relentlessness.

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