Marley Liberate XL Around-Ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Aug 22, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Marley Liberate XL are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Liberate XL (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: The Liberate XL bass is perfect, or as nearly as I would need for perfect enjoyment of this headphone. Mids are equally good, although since the highs are quite shy, some users may have an impression of emphasized bass, or bass having too much influence on the mids. My suggestion: Try it - if it doesn't sound simply marvelous, turn up the treble and repeat. I've had the House of Marley Exodus On-Ear headphone, so this is my second Marley. This one is also a closed-back headphone, but an around-ear design instead of on-ear. The Marley Exodus has gotten great reviews for having a decent hi-fi response, but I see (and hear) greater potential in the Liberate XL, partially because of the around-ear design, partly because of the better earpads, and partly because of sonic improvements that the more progressive manufacturers like Marley build into new products.

    Soundstage is tricky to describe since it's dependent to a large extent on the amount and quality of treble that the headphone presents, not to mention the recording itself. I'll just say that the Liberate XL can sound amazingly good in that respect, depending on where you find your ideal treble balance. In my case, it's better than the last half-dozen $200 headphones I've reviewed. One very demanding track I use in evaluating a headphone is David Chesky and Wonjung Kim's "Girl From Guatemala", and the strong treble percussion starting at 3 minutes in is delineated very well by the Liberate XL. Another track that's a stress test for treble is 'Time' from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and the Liberate XL plays that very cleanly too. Isolation is average or better for a typical closed headphone (i.e. pretty good), but leakage is even better news - the leakage is low enough (given a good earpad seal) to play at audiophile or near-audiophile volume levels in a public library or quiet office.

    Physically the Liberate XL seems to be mostly metal, with a folding headband that's impressive in build quality and aesthetics. On the left side of the headband where stitching ties the foam backing to the canvas to the perforated metal, some of that stitching makes a set of Rasta colors, like a small flag. A very nice touch! Headband joints allow the earcups to fold into the headband, and when the folded-up headphone is placed into the heavy-duty canvas carrybag, you have a strong yet compact package that will resist the usual impacts and banging around. The fit and comfort are extremely good, at least for an average size head like mine, due to the soft and squishy earpads and headband padding. The range of adjustment for different head sizes is 1/2 inch less on each side of the headband, and 1/2 inch more on each side, compared to my perfect fit. There are 10 click-stops on each side, and my position is right in the middle of those - 5 clicks from the top or the bottom.

    The impedance of 32 ohms suggests high efficiency, and the Liberate XL is very efficient. I've never felt a need for more volume than an iPod or iPhone can supply, but I highly recommend a good headphone amp for best quality sound. The supplied and detachable (right earcup) cable has an Apple-style 3.5 mm miniplug on one end and a regular stereo 2.5 mm plug on the earcup end. Although you can use a generic replacement cable with the Liberate XL, I'd recommend getting any replacements from House of Marley, because of the quality and the aesthetic (and this headphone has a great aesthetic). Using with the iPhone, I can start and stop the music track and raise and lower volume with the control box on the cable, which also has a microphone, but I haven't been able to skip tracks forward or backward (don't know if that's possible, or whether Android phones would act differently.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the Liberate XL plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the Liberate XL compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Marley Liberate XL review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Liberate XL plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the Liberate XL.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the Liberate XL.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Liberate XL plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Liberate XL.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Liberate XL plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Liberate XL reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Liberate XL renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Liberate XL plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Liberate XL reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are normally very extended and detailed, but the Liberate XL needs some treble boost to get the full upper-harmonics effect.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Liberate XL plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the Liberate XL plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Liberate XL plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Liberate XL. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Liberate XL provides excellent detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Liberate XL does those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Liberate XL plays this so well that you can almost hear/feel the individual 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Liberate XL is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but impressive with the Liberate XL.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Liberate XL renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Liberate XL reproduces that sound effect faithfully.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Liberate XL conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a typical full-size headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Liberate XL renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Liberate XL's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are very strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Liberate XL delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

Share This Page