XTZ Earphone-12 Stereo Earphone (IEM) Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with FiiO E17 using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 DAC and the D1's headphone out.

    Note: I'm not an IEM specialist, so if I miss any important IEM issues, it's because I'm evaluating the XTZ Earphone-12 (abbreviated herein as XTZ12) as I would any ordinary headphone, by listening only. My impressions of the sound are based on the ear-canal fit I was able to achieve with the largest of the 3 sets of eartips supplied. Users who insert the earpieces deeper into their ear canals or use different eartips than what I used may experience a slightly different amount of bass and/or treble than what I heard.

    First impression of the XTZ12: Outstanding sound with the Dirac player ON, and less bass and brighter lower treble with Dirac OFF. The sound with Dirac enabled has a strong and detailed bass, a clear and uncolored midrange, and a sparkling high-fidelity treble that many modern** headphone users may find a bit bright. Since all of my full-size headphones have significant colorations, some of which I compensate with EQ adjustments, it's difficult to relate any of those to the sound of a Dirac-corrected earphone, which is as nearly ideal as a good DSP can make an earphone sound. I have 2 other earphones that have Dirac DSP players for Apple i-devices - the Apple Earpods ($30 purchased type only) and the t-Jays Four IEM. The Earpods with Dirac are corrected so well that finding significant differences between them and the XTZ12 requires careful listening.

    **Many modern and fairly expensive headphones have a recessed treble, and some of the major reviewers advocate these headphones, although they generally refer to the sound as "fun" rather than high fidelity. As more of these headphones become available (especially the fashion brands), a growing number of customers will become confused about what constitutes high quality sound. A far worse problem is that these consumers are encouraged to turn up the volume in order to hear details that are obscured by the recessed treble, and thus acquire an increased risk of hearing damage.

    Note on amount of DSP correction and earphone quality: Since I have only 3 Dirac DSP's (XTZ Earphone-12, t-Jays Four, Apple Earpods), it's not a large enough sample to establish a reliable correlation between the amount of correction a Dirac DSP performs for its target earphone and the fundamental (uncorrected) quality of that earphone. That said, the DSP for the XTZ Earphone-12 does much less of a correction to the sound than the DSP's for the other 2 earphones do. This is easily tested (if my test conditions are valid) by plugging a good quality headphone into the i-device and playing a familiar music track on each of the 3 Dirac players with the DSP turned OFF, then turned ON. You can then hear the A-B comparison of the corrected and uncorrected sound. Since these DSP's have many correction points (hundreds?) with different correction parameters for each point, there is no chance of a significant cancellation of effects when testing this way with a good quality headphone.

    If someone were searching for the kind of sound that Dirac brings to the XTZ12 in a different IEM that doesn't have a Dirac or equivalent DSP, that search could prove difficult or impossible because of how precisely the DSP corrects both frequency response and impulse response errors. My summary of the sound then is, it should be comparable to the best IEM's available, because full-size headphones have much larger drivers that make greater excursions in producing sound, and because the sound within large headphone earcups bounces around causing some smearing of detail. The XTZ12 I got came with 3 sets of rubber eartips, the largest of which fit me perfectly. The cable (with no controls) is thin and light, is flat instead of round, and is terminated with a standard right-angled 3.5 mm mini-plug. Supplied accessories are the extra eartips, a standard 6.35 mm adapter plug, and a standard airplane seat adapter.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the XTZ12 compares with each individual track.

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has very good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The XTZ12 plays this near perfectly.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds good and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. Overall, the XTZ12 plays this music very well.

    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 XTZ12 reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    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 sounds more like a tambourine than it does with any regular-size headphone I play this with.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The bass in this track has a strong impact but little detail, while the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The XTZ12 plays this track extremely well given the limited quality of the recording.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the XTZ12 renders those notes very well. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct on most headphones, but render very well with the XTZ12, albeit quite softly.

    Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail here, and the percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced. This track has a huge amount of high-frequency energy, but it didn't become irritating with the XTZ12.

    Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the XTZ12 handles this very well. The trumpet is slightly soft but has great detail, and the voice sounds just right.

    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 XTZ12 plays this music extremely well.

    Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is subtle, but the XTZ12 plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the XTZ12 gets this right.

    Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the XTZ12. The voice is slightly forward, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix. The subtle background percussion (cymbals?) audible at the beginning of this track is reproduced better here than with most headphones. The XTZ12 balances the different elements in this music very well.

    Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a good balance, and the XTZ12 plays this very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some slightly soft deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The XTZ12 plays this very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The XTZ12 plays the percussion pretty well, and the voices sound good too.

    Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The XTZ12 renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

    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 may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the XTZ12 reproduces those effects well.

    Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is fairly light here, but the XTZ12 renders the notes superbly, with more accurate harmonic detail and decay than any of my full-size headphones.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the XTZ12 renders the tones and transients superbly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The XTZ12 delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string(?) tones beginning at 0:18 have appreciable detail, and while the bass isn't very strong, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina

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