And, they have summarily been pulverised. The fine powder of my former angst has been cleared by the supremely natural, supremely enjoyable, supremely luxurious sound of the X2.
I hate to do the which-custom-earphone-equates-the-sound-of-which-big-headphone thing, but I will. Forgive me.
The X2 is similar in balance and presentation to the Noble Audio K10. Obviously, myriad differences exist. After all, the X2 is a headphone, not a custom earphone. But its big, liquid midrange that springs to life with glorious – and remarkably smooth transitions – goes hand-in-hand with the K10 schtick.
Bass detail is good. Great attention has been paid to balancing the attack energy of a drumstick thwap with its decay. That attention pays dividends. What the X2 reaps is natural dissemination of detail. The X2 never, ever lacks in detail. Mids extend up high; and transitions to somewhat soft high frequencies is perfect in both speed and volume. Details pour gently, but en masse, into your ears; sound scapes are wide, contrasty, and relatively extended in both directions.
Despite investing heavily in both closed and open circumaural headphones over the years, I’ve long been an earphone guy. You can get great sound from a pair of earphones. But your ears won’t ever wiggle with bass, nor bits of your beard dance in your burns like you will with the X2. In fact, I don’t get that feeling from many full-size headphones. The feeling is refreshingly nostalgic. No, not quite like being in a dance club, lounge, or in a concert hall, but certainly closer to the real thing than what’s possible through earphones. And the X2 provides a much, much closer experience than my long-time favorite, the Beyerdynamic DT880. How is that? Bass. Vibrations are clearer, more comfy, and the balance into high mids is far less aggressive.
Let me restate that the X2 makes the outer flanges of my ears wiggle. And that’s all right with me.
The stereo image is kind of like an inverted Tupperware™ cup: wide and flat at the peak and with steep edges. Midrange details push wide around the ears. Bass buttresses everything up, both down, where the wide lip curls away from your kitchen counter and that damn spot, and sloping up toward the wide midrange. Highs blend quite well with mids, and sit tall and broad. It’s not 3D, but it is wide, and well-defined within the cup.
The question I keep asking myself is: “is what I hear closer to a traditional 2,1 set up, or not?” While I’ve not settled on an answer, I can say that the X2 does stereo well enough to melt me into my drinking chair. What’s left of my normal face becomes what my wife describes as ‘stupid lips’. ‘Stupid lips’ are an unfortunate inherited trait, but they denote fully satisfied (and often slightly tipsy) Nathan.
The X2 is a headphone I could listen to for days upon days upon days. And yet it’s neither droll, nor stultifying like some headphones often touted as fatigue-free. They just cut contrasty corners off; the X2 opens the mids wide and smooth, preserving the most important contrast.
I’m hesitant to add provisos to my part. Why? While the X2 lacks any semblance of V-shaped acoustics, and isn’t aggressively contrasty, I can’t imagine that it would stamp the expectations of fans of aggressive-sounding headphones. And much the same, fans of laid-back phones won’t find the X2 alarmingly aggressive.
It may be the proverbial ‘just right’ phone for just about anyone- no, for me it is the ‘just awesome’ phone that makes me question my allegiance to the DT880, not to mention some other long-time staples. If only it looked and wore as nicely as Master & Dynamic’s excellent MH40.
Which newcomer I prefer depends somewhat on where I am. The MH40 sports a slightly bigger sounding bass, and the X2 sports a wider sounding midrange and what I reckon is better upper midrange bite for violin-heavy classics like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. But both new entrants are fully worthy of your time and money and both do certain things I wish the HD600 did.
I’ve found Linnenberg’s Vivace DAC to be the most enjoyable partner to the X2. The combination of relaxed, but atmosphere-thick Vivace air and transition-perfect, stereo-wide, and perfectly damped X2 air, is glorious. Not that the X2 sounds bad out of anything less (or more). In fact, it is perfectly enjoyable from an iRiver AK100, with or with mods like the RWAK100 or MSAK100. It’s not a hard headphone to drive. It gets enough voltage from the RWAK100 to pump quality volume and detail into your ears. I’m most comfortable listening to the combo at volume settings of 30-45. And the X2 isn’t overly current-hungry, so distortion and the thinning-out you may expect by pairing the X2 with a smartphone won’t happen unless you are first destroying your ears Chase Emory style.
And here I am, trying to plug the laud in this review, but I can’t. Classical sounds phenomenal. EDM: amazing. Hip-hop, as long as you don’t need duff duff bass: great. Trance: my god, even trance sounds phenomenal. Oh, and whoever the hell Banarama are: damn, you got some stuff going on there. I’m discovering new sounds all the time. But Banarama have me freaked out.
I’m a curmudgeon; I hate finishing write-ups on such positive notes. But, as Lieven told me to focus on sound, I have to stay the course. I know I could cook up something about the size/look of the phone, but I’ve been given a specific arena. And, with a headphone this good sounding, and with no bone to pick, I’m as satisfied as I expect ever to be.
Philips, I may have once hated your ridiculous grasping onto of old technology. The DCC sucked. But your battery-powered shaver is the bomb. And, against my worst expectations, your X2 has wowed me to the bone.
Lieven continues on page 3!