As long as it’s not drastic, I love a good V-shaped sound signature. Why? EDM, trance, classical: three genres whose most basic cues heavily depend on bass and upper midrange definition/pressure and impression of speed, need the bite. And X1 bites. In a good way.
No matter which filter you use, its bass is powerful. It’s not big as in duff duff duff, bye-bye midrange. It hits hard and fast. It’s clean but far from sterile. It pushes through with weighty pre-decay pressure, and drops off quickly afterward. Even with the black filters in place, it won’t jab your brain, though fed Faithless’s Bluegrass, it positively throbs.
Broadly speaking, the X1’s filters broadly affect how and where bass and upper mids are bridged. The black filters smoothly transition bass to mids, inching forward upper bass footprint, and giving slightly more room to the lower midrange while lessening the impact of highs and upper mids. In effect, they massage that V-slope into the gentle wedge between the soft peaks of a lowercase m. I imagine that some people will find it the most natural. I’m conflicted. For modern trance, I find it provides contrast just this side of ideal. In general, crossover genres and bands such as Faithless, it’s black filter most of the way. The same goes for Bruce Springsteen, Outback, MC Solaar, and of course, John Denver.
Even through the blacks, post impact, bass piddles out at speed, keeping gunk out of the midrange. No matter the filter, outermost bass edges are less weighty and bitey than the main body. And while there is decent amount of space between low-voiced instruments, X1 is more about impact than it is detail. You won’t be swimming around in its bass. And you won’t be sitting back in a soupy tub. You’ll be kicking behind a paddleboard, with jacuzzis at your feet and never too far from any side. It’s a good balance.
Which is absolutely necessary since there is a small gap between upper bass and and upper mids. While the black filters remedy most of it, in any configuration, in small amounts, the X1’s mids lack either bite or body. Not that mids are a loss point. But X1 is more about bass and high mids/treble than anything. Maxi Jazz’s fried vocals cut through all of that. No matter the tip, it is edgy. But Maxi is a bit of an exception, if only just so. The red tips bring out the most bite from vocals, cymbals, and percussion. The silver tips bring out the most bite from guitar and piano. I wish the bass-balance-to-low mids from the black tips would cleave a bit more closely toward the red.
The red filters also wonderfully interpret Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, but the black ones are more natural for more seminal releases such as New Values, whose brighter recordings benefit somewhat from warmth. Actually, it’s why my favourite seminal Iggy Pop player actually is an iPhone 4.
The X1’s high mids are spacious and contrasty. But its midrange band is neither as natural nor as detailed as what spits from Grado’s GR10. But its puts more emphasis on low-to-high contrast, which, for trance at least, is better. And the X1 is both more impactful and more powerful. Highs extend well, just aren’t followed by a tonne of inter-frequency depth.
For a single driver, the X1 puts out a nice, round sound stage that is capable of defining both the space and detail of that stage. While not kicking out a truly immersive 3D space, it certainly paints a good, lifelike picture. If photo realistic mids and 3D instrumental relationships are more your things, the GR10 comes with my highest recommendation. If you dig higher contrast and impact, not to mention the possibility of eking out as much good from a modern selection of vocal fry, the X1 is absolute trump.
On the go
X1 doesn’t isolate any better than the GR10. Put the right tips on it and the background sort of slinks away. But don’t expect it to disappear. What X1 does especially good is give headroom for DAPs and amps of all flavours. 96dB sensitivity at 22 Ω is a great spec. Typically, great headphone amps such as the Lynx Hilo, project noise through sensitive earphones. But through X1, it is mostly silent. Shy of early HiSound crap, no DAP will hiss. This is good design.
With the singular exception of its poorly designed filter insert, the X1 is an inspiration. Beautifully tooled, uniquely shaped, strong, and comfortable, it’s already a winner from a design standpoint. But it sounds good. Yes, more spacious-sounding earphones exist. More detail can be eked from the midrange. But what X1 does, it does exceedingly well; against its fortes, it may, in fact, have no equal.