Pros: Fantastic sound, very comfortable, intersting concept with a custom made app
Cons: Only 3 pair of tips included, not waterproof, needs an app to perform their best
The XTZ Earphone Sports was sent to me by XTZ in Sweden in exchange for my honest opinion on them. I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you to Olle (the CEO of XTZ) for giving me the chance to check them out, TACK!
For people in the EU they’re available from here:
At the time for this review the price was 90 Euro.
I’m not in any way affiliated with XTZ.
XTZ is a Swedish company that’s been gaining a lot of praise for their great value for money speakers and subwoofers in Scandinavia for over ten years now.
Since this is a brand that’s (still) quite unknown in large parts of the world and have a proud and interesting history I’ve choose to use a bit more of the review than normal to present the company (after all I’m Swedish myself ;) ). This is what they say about themselves on their homepage:
For almost 30 years, Olle Eliasson has designed premium speakers for those who are passionate about great sound. Company founder Olle Eliasson started this legacy in 2004, and it continues today with sheer commitment to innovation and delivering maybe the world’s most powerful, detailed and emotional sound reproduction. Today, the brands diverse product portfolio encompasses, stereo speakers, home theater, professional cinema, commercial, computer speakers, amplifiers, measurement systems and headphones. As one of the most competitive loudspeaker companies, XTZ continues to be the high-performance brand of choice for audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts around the world.
XTZ was founded in 2004 by Olle Eliasson that had devoted his whole life to music and Hi-Fi ever since he was 13 years old.Right after his education in electronics 1987, Olle started to work in this business to pursue his passion for Hi-Fi. Meaning that he now has about 30 years of experience. It´s with Olle´s passion for music and many years of experience that has lead XTZ to achieve maybe the most price worthy products available today. Olle has built up an international network of engineers, technicians and producers who all have very long experience in the Hi-Fi business. This experience includes knowledge in all parts of the industry, beginning with the development, manufacturing and also distribution of Hi-Fi products. We work with several companies in Europe, Asia and the US. Production takes place both in Sweden and Asia. We are a relatively new and young brand, but our accumulated experience reaches far back in time. The people involved in our product development all possess unique knowledge and long experience. We are old enough to know when to use proven technology but young enough to incorporate cutting edge discoveries when necessary. These two are then carefully balanced against how high the final cost is allowed to be. A good example is the decision of using class A amplification or well established driver manufacturer brands and pair those with the latest available DSP technology to reach new heights in performance. Our design is modern yet timeless and we simply want more people to afford and enjoy the highest quality of sound - to enjoy life a bit more! My brand is an extension of my personality, who I am and what I stand for! Life is short and this time should be carefully spent!
"To offer the best relation between price, performance and quality on the market " In order to reach this we have the following cornerstones:
- Direct sales - reduce the number of middle men
- High quality strategy
- Happy customer guarantee using Buy & try - three weeks full refund policy
- Producing the perfect compromise
- Cost effective large scale manufacturing
- Product quality before marketing
- Honesty around and about the products
- An absolute sonic reference is important - but the impression of sound is always a matter of personal preference
- Honesty and long-sightedness
About me:Click to show (Click to show)
I’m a 43 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s some years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
I do not use EQ, ever (normally ;)).
I tend to value function over form within reasonable boundaries.
I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
Built and accessories:
The XTZ Earphone Sports is a single dynamic IEM featuring an 8.6 mm driver. They’re only available in a black and red color scheme and have an inline microphone that works for calls with both Android and the fruit company’s offerings. They’re however based on the Earphone 12 which comes in a dark grey and black color scheme, another accessory pack and without microphone.
The XTZ Earphone Sports has a flat cable and although I don’t really dislike that I do prefer a good round cable. The cable is tangle free though and microphonics is about average. I really like the fact that the cable is split in two parts (60 + 65 cm) so that you can use it with a shorter cable when working out with your phone in an armband or when having it in a breast- or inner pocket when out and about. When you need a longer cable it’s just to add the extension part and you’ve got a normal length. The microphone seem to be of good quality since people seem to hear me without any problem when I'm using it to make calls but the pause/play button only seem to work with the XTC DSP app and no other players.
The chin slider is unfortunately missing and I wish that it had been added. Solid strain reliefs are in place on all the crucial points and the Y-split feel also solid in spite of being really small.
The build in general seem solid. The housings are all plastic but still feel quite sturdy and reliable. A nice feature is the fact that there’s magnets inside the housings that makes it possible to stick them together if you for example wear the around your neck when not in use.
The L/R markings are in white on the black housing so it’s fairly easy to spot.
Magnets hold the housings together, a very clever solution
The retail package is quite nice and what you’d expect from an IEM at this price point.
The accessories pack is quite good and includes the following:
2 pairs silicon tips (M,L)
1 pair comply tips
1 pair earhooks
1 3,5 to 6,5mm adapter
1 flight adapter
1 pouch to store them in when not in use
I’d like to have some more tips included but apart from that I’m quite happy with the things included
The XTZ Earphone Sports are quite easy to drive and worked very well with all the sources I’ve tried it with. That being said since they need the DSP app to perform its best it’s pretty much limit to use with phones, tablets and computers.
8,6 mm Dynamic
1,25 m (two parts, 60 + 65 cm)
Fit and ergonomics:
Since the Earphone Sports comes with so few tip alternatives none of the fitted me very well so I was forced to bring out the tip box. After trying few I settled on some narrow bore tips from the RHA S500.
I find the XTZ Earphone Sports to be very comfortable and got no problem wearing them for several hours. They’re designed to be worn straight down and the design brings the thought to the Monster Gratitude and also the ATH-CKR line to some degree. I’ve always liked this type of design sinde it seem to work very well with my ears. There’s also a set of earhooks included to keep them safe in place when working out or doing other activities. The earhooks fits fine but I get such a good fit with the Earphone Sports on its own that I haven’t really used the earhooks much.
Isolation is about average.
They’re average hard to drive.
I’ve used them as my main IEM in the last two weeks and they’ve played for well over 100 hours. I’ve used them both around the house and when out and about and I haven’t really found any significant weaknesses in the way they’re designed.
I’ve used them primarily with my LG G3 phone due to the fact the I prefer the sound of them combined with the XTZ DSP app (more about this later).
Demo list:Click to show (Click to show)
Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
Ane Brun – These Days
Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
Metallica – Die Die My Darling
The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
Eva Cassidy – Songbird
Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Celldweller – Unshakeable
Jack Johnson – Better Together
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
Dire Straits- So Far Away
Tracy Chapman – Baby can I hold you
Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
Adele - Hello
The overall sound signature on the XTZ Earphone Sports without the DSP app is v-shaped with an airy presentation and a good mid-bass impact. When used with the DSP app in the “Reference” setting it’s much more balanced but keep the nice airy presentation and has a sort of “analogue” sound if that makes sense.
Frequency response of the Earphone Sports borrowed from the XTZ website.
The sub-bass extension on the Earphone Sports is good but its presence is a bit toned down making it lack a bit with (sub-) bass heavy music. This is not a big deal but I’ve definitely heard IEM’s that digs deeper and hit harder. Mid- and upper bass presence is a bit too much for my liking without the DSP app active. Using the DSP app the bass is good without being overwhelming. There’s still enough fullness to give voices a nice weight and the overall sound feels much more balanced. Even with the DSP activated there’s still enough bass presence to make them very enjoyable with all kind of music.
The midrange is a bit recessed and overpowered by the bass without the DSP activated but once you turn it on the bass presence is reduced which pushes the midrange more forward and helps to contribute to a more balanced overall sound. Personally I’d like the midrange to be even a slightly more forward but I still wouldn’t call it recessed with the “Reference” filter activated. The midrange on the XTZ is not full and lush but doesn’t feel particularly thin, I’d rather call it quite neutral.
The treble is well extended but comes across as a bit thin without using the DSP, once again turning the DSP on makes it fuller and more in balance with the rest of the frequencies. It’s obvious that some peaks are removed with the filter. I find the treble (with the DSP on) to be really good and without any hint of sibilance.
Clarity and micro details are above what I’d call average for an IEM at this price point. Soundstage width is very good while depth is less than average at this price point. The lack of depth can actually make them feel a bit flat in its presentation with some music.
The speed and separation on the Earphone Sports is really good. On the song “Unshakable” by Celldweller there’s a lot going on and less capable IEM’s is easily exposed by it losing control and sounding muddy. The Earphone Sports plays this song effortlessly with everything in its right place and great bass layering.
Unfortunately I’ve only been able to test the Earphone Sports with Android devices so I cannot comment on the performance with the I-device app.
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
These comparisons were done listening through my LG G3 phone. Where nothing else is mentioned I used it with XTZ’s own DSP app as a player and with the “Reference” filter on.
USB Audio Player Pro vs XTZ DSP:
XTZ’s DSP app is developed in corporation with Dirac (which is yet another highly regarded Swedish company in their line of business). For more information about their products in general and their mobile audio technique in particular please use this link:
The USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) is my preferred player on my Android devices. I use it both when pairing my devices with USB DAC’s but also as a standalone player when using the headphone output on my phone. I still haven’t found any better sounding player.
With UAPP the XTZ Earphone Sport has a v-shaped signature with a very airy sound and a quite impactful mid-bass. The overall presentation is lively and engaging in this set up but the midrange is a bit more recessed than I’d like.
The XTC DSP app is custom made for XTZ’s earphones and headphones and let you choose your earphone/headphone first to get into the options for that particular phone. When using the XTZ DSP app as your player with the Earphone Sports you get six preset correction filters to choose from for the Earphone Sports: Reference, Boost 1-3, Bright and Comply Foam. I prefer the Reference setting as it gives the most balanced sound. With the Reference filter the Earphone Sports has a very well balanced sound without any blooming bass and with a very airy and non-intrusive sound.
If I need a bit more bass impact I prefer using the Boost 1 filter in the DSP app. I prefer UAPP over the XTZ app when DSP is turned off.
Screenshots from the XTZ DSP app
Aurisonics Rockets vs XTZ Earphone Sports:
These two, while still fairly well balanced, are actually very different sounding. Compared to the Earphone Sports the Rockets are warmer and fuller sounding with a more liquid midrange. The Rockets are also more intimate while the XTZ’s has a more airy presentation. Sub-bass extension and impact is quite similar on both. The Rockets also have more forward vocals and are more natural sounding to me. The treble is smoother and more natural on the Rockets. The Rockets have much better depth and timbre while the XTZ’s has a wider soundstage, are brighter and has a much more airy presentation.
I find the Rockets to be the more comfortable of the two.
Although the Earphone Sports feels quite solid the Rockets feel even more durable with its titanium housing. I also prefer the round cable on the Rockets over the flat one on the XTZ’s.
The Rockets are harder to drive.
Isolation is much better on the Rockets.
DUNU Titan1 vs XTZ Earphopne Sports:
These two are actually quite similar. Sub-bass extension is pretty similar as is the impact on the rest of the lower frequencies with maybe a touch more presence on the XTZ’s. They both offer a tight and well controlled bass reproduction. The midrange on these two is very similar both in balance and presentation with the XTZ being a bit fuller and the Titan’s equally slightly brighter and thinner and having a bit more lift in the upper mids. The treble is a bit fuller on the XTZ’s making them less prone to sibilance while extension is similar. Vocals sound more or less identical with both. Soundstage width and depth is similar very similar but the XTZ’s actually even more airy sounding. They both have great clarity, details and separation.
I find the Titans to be more comfortable.
The metal housing on the Titan’s feel more reliable and it also has a really nice cable. The XTZ’s on the other hand has the two parted cable as their advantage. In general both seem solid.
The Titan’s are slightly harder to drive.
Isolation is better on the XTZ.
Soundmagic E80 vs XTZ Earphopne Sports:
The similarities are greater than the differences with these two as well. Sub-bass goes a bit deeper on the E80’s. They both have a bit subdued mid- and upper-bass but the XYZ’s has a bit more impact. Vocals are slightly fuller and also a bit more forward on the E80’s. Both soundstage depth and height is pretty similar but the XTZ’s has better width. They both have a clean and airy presentation but the XTZ’s even more so. The E80’s is more mid centric while the XTZ is more balanced with maybe a very slight V-shape. The treble is also quite similar but slightly fuller and also a bit sharper on the E80’s.
I find both of these very comfortable.
Since the housings on the E80’s are made of metal they feel a bit more premium. The XTZ’s on the other hand has the two parted cable as their advantage. Overall build quality is good on both.
The E80’s are harder to drive.
Isolation is better on the E80’s.
The XTZ Earphone Sports sound decent on their own but it’s when paired up with the XTZ DSP app the magic really happens. Used with the app the airy and well balanced presentation that still has enough bass presence to perform well with all genres of music is very easy to enjoy and get addicted to. I’m not a person that use EQ normally for the simple reason that I’ve got so much stuff and uses a lot of different sources and IEM’s every week so I find it too time consuming to optimize every source with every IEM (basically I’m too lazy). The customized solution with the DSP app is a great solution for me but it still doesn’t change the fact that it makes the Earphone Sports less ideal to pair with other sources than those running Android or IOS.
I also like the fit on them and the two piece cable makes them great for wearing when out and about (easy to use with a phone in an armband or breast pocket) . I’d have wished for them to be waterproof to be better suited for sports and outside activities given their target group.
In total I think that the XTZ Earphone Sports is a very solid offering whether you plan to use them while working out or just to enjoy your music at home. Their signature is quite unique and the usage of a custom app to further improve their sound is an interesting idea. This first encounter with XTZ when it comes to head-fi related stuff really makes me look forward to more offerings from them in this segment in the future.
The 4,5 star rating is when used combined with the XTZ DSP app. Without the app I’d probably drop one star on the overall rating.
If you don’t need the earhooks and the mic the XTZ Earphone 12 should sound identical at a lower price.