Reviews by eugene2


100+ Head-Fier
An Audio Odyssey the Tale of Two systems The Burson Deluxe Voyager and the IFI Phantom
Pros: Both
Reference technical performance
Additional Capabilities Diverse Headphone Collection (IFI)
Cons: Heat (Burson)
Volume Control (not mine others have complained)
Looks (IFI)
Complex Design (IFI)
Additional Capabilities Wasted No Electrostatic Collection (IFI)
"In the quest for sonic perfection, where each note is both a history and a prophecy, the fusion of masterful technology and ethereal acoustics not only recreates music—it transcends it, inviting the listener to step into the very heart of sound, where the ephemeral becomes eternal."

In the labyrinthine universe of high-fidelity audio, where fortuitous alignments of equipment more often resemble cosmic events than mere happenstance, I recently found myself in the fortunate position of having an extraordinary assemblage of audio gear at my disposal. The illustrious amplifiers—Burson Voyager Deluxe and the Ifi Ican Phantom—accompanied by two distinguished DACs—the Playback Designs Edelweiss and the revered GoldNote DS-10 Plus, supplemented by the formidable GoldNote EVO power supply—formed a constellation of equipment that promised to elevate my listening experience into the realms of the audibly divine.
Such occasions are rare, akin to the aligning of celestial bodies, offering a brief glimpse into the cosmos of sound where the Voyager and Phantom serve as twin stars, each casting a distinctive luminescence upon the music they convey. This fortuitous juxtaposition allowed for an exploration of aural landscapes as varied and vast as the universe itself, where each amplifier and DAC pairing spoke in its own unique timbre and dialect in the language of high fidelity.

This was no ordinary review but a journey, an odyssey through the ether of sound guided by these twin titans of audio engineering, each paired with an ensemble of transducers as varied as the stars in the sky: the ethereal Hifiman Susvara, the expansive HE1000 SE, the reliable Hifiman Deva Pro, and the sublime ZMF Atrium. Each headphone, with its distinct acoustic signature, served as a vessel through which the nuanced capabilities of each amplifier and DAC combination were revealed and scrutinized.

The ensuing odyssey was less a comparison and more a pilgrimage through the auditory ether, seeking out the holy grail of acoustic truth. With these twin behemoths of sound at my disposal, I embarked upon a journey not just of listening, but of hearing – the kind of deep, attentive hearing where one becomes one with the music. The Burson, with its warm embrace, and the Phantom, with its neutral precision, became my guides through the spectral forests of frequency and the cascading rivers of rhythm.

Thus, with anticipation whispering in the silent spaces between notes, I present to you a tale of two systems, a narrative woven from the threads of two extraordinary encounters with the sublime instruments of audio alchemy.

The Burson Voyager Deluxe and Playback Designs Edelweiss DAC, when paired, unfolded a soundscape so wide and deep it was akin to stepping into the very breath of a jazz club. The smoky vocals of Patricia Barber seemed to whisper directly into the soul, while the vibrant strums of Pat Metheny's guitar reverberated through my bones. The ZMF Atrium, outfitted with Caldera perforated leather pads, thrived under this setup, producing a lush, detailed sound that made every listening session an auditory feast. The warmth of the Voyager, coupled with the detailed resolution of the Edelweiss, coaxed out the Atrium’s purely enjoyable tonal balance, wrapping the listener in a cocoon of auditory silk. In the hallowed lexicon of high fidelity, where the gossamer wings of nuance flutter against the ear’s inner sanctum, one finds oneself in a sanctified state, questing for the ultimate sonic truth. The Burson Voyager Deluxe, when married to the Playback Designs Edelweiss DAC, begets a soundstage that's not merely wide but rife with the intimacy of a confessional. It draws one into the inner circle, into the very breath of the jazz club, a realm where the spatial cues and the air around vocals are as present as the weight of a stare. Within this soundscape, the ZMF Atrium is not just a participant but a conduit to the ethereal, unfurling a holographic tableau that swathes the listener in aural verity.

The Ifi Ican Phantom and Playback Designs Edelweiss DAC, In contraposition, yields a tonality of equanimity and poise. Here the soundstage, exacting in its three-dimensional embodiment, is a surgical instrument of auditory introspection. The HE1000 SE's prodigious width and it's big sister Susvara's penetrating depth carve a diorama of sound where each instrument, each breathy pause, is delineated with the precision of a cartographer's pen. This pairing crafted a soundstage of such precise three-dimensionality that every note and breath was meticulously placed within an imaginary scene. Again, not to be repetitive the HE1000 SE’s prodigious width and the Susvara’s penetrating depth rendered Gregory Porter’s soulful performance with the London Studio Orchestra not just audible but palpably present. The clarity and immediacy of these two setups bordered on the transcendental, turning live recordings into ethereal experiences.

When one then migrates to the confluence of the GoldNote DS-10 Plus with the EVO power supply, with the Voyager, a metamorphosis occurs: the soundstage burgeons, draped in textures as rich as a tapestry in a Medici villa. The warmth of the Voyager melds with the DS-10 Plus's detail to weave an expansive musical landscape, an odyssey that takes one through every pluck, every sigh, with a vividness that's as palpable as the humidity of a summer's eve at an open-air concert. This pairing did not just play music; it breathed life into it

The Ifi Phantom with the GoldNote DS-10 Plus and EVO power supply, refined its auditory scalpel to dissect each layer of sound with surgical precision. The resulting clarity was not merely analytical but revelatory, offering a perspective on audio that peeled back layers to reveal the skeletal beauty of musical structure. Similarly transformative, the liaison between the Phantom and the GoldNote components elevates precision to an art form. This configuration doesn’t just sing; it enunciates with the clarity of a glass harmonica, placing each tonal fragment in a mosaic that spans the auditory horizon from the granular to the grandiose.

Each DAC and amplifier pairing revealed not only the inherent capabilities of the equipment but also the distinctive properties of the headphones. The enveloping clarity of the Susvara shone with live recordings, capturing the intimacy and vibrancy of each performance. Meanwhile, the balanced and joyous presentation of the ZMF Atrium allowed this listener to explore a spectrum of genres, each rendered with an artisanal touch.

In weaving together the strands of this complex auditory tapestry, my listening sessions transcended mere analysis; they became explorations of the profound interactions between technology and music. Each combination of DAC, amplifier, and headphones offered a unique insight into the potential of high-fidelity sound to not just reproduce music but to transport the listener to the very heart of the performance.

Yet, in the end, as one steeped in the artistry of music rather than the empiricism of engineering, my proclivity gravitates towards the Burson and GoldNote amalgamation. It affords me the luxury to become lost in the melody, oblivious to the machinations of the apparatus that delivers it. It is the musical message, not the messenger, that ensnares my senses. Your own predilections may vary, perhaps swaying towards the Phantom's exacting renditions of sound’s architecture. But rest assured, whether cloaked in the Voyager's warmth or basking in the Phantom's analytical glow, each imparts a unique keyhole into the very soul of our auditory canvas. My journey ends with the Burson and GoldNote ensemble – an alliance that lets the music take center stage, unencumbered by the trappings of the equipment that ushers it forth. Your journey, should you embark upon it, might trace a different route, each step informed by what your ear, attuned to the technical or the transcendental, seeks in the pursuit of acoustic perfection.

"This pilgrimage through the aural cosmos, guided by a constellation of exquisitely tuned electronics, unveils not just the artistry within the music but also within ourselves, as we traverse landscapes painted in frequencies and sculpted in timbres. Here, in this sacred interplay between sound and soul, we discover that true audiophilia is not merely about hearing—it is about experiencing, feeling, and ultimately understanding the profound narrative that music narrates across the canvas of our senses." Unknown
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100+ Head-Fier
"New" Update JM Audio R7DX with Beryllium
Pros: Clarity
Midrange Tonality
Cons: Headband
Bass Impact
In this labyrinth of sonic exploration, where artistry and engineering intermingle, the JM Audio modded HE-R7DX headphones emerge not just as a product, but as a profound statement of acoustic philosophy. With the ingenious hands of John Massaria, the founder and chief designer at JM Audio, at the helm, his headphones are far from mere tools for listening; they are vessels of musical revelation.

Is John Massaria a sorcerer of sound or merely a cunning artisan of audio marketing? Such was the debate that raged like a tempest with the analytical and mainly pedantic minds at ASR, where measurements reign supreme. They challenged the notion that the modest internal volume of a headphone cup could benefit from John's unique fractal porous fiberglass innovation—deeming it impractical, even absurd. a viewpoint they dismiss as sheer folly. Yet, they stand firmly by their methodology, championed by their venerable head scientist, Amir, whose ears are as much a part of their toolkit as their instruments. Yet, in the audiophile realms where the ear, not the oscilloscope, is the final arbiter of truth, John's simple retort was to ask his clientele—the true connoisseurs of sound—to lend their verdict through experience.

I count myself among these fortunate patrons, having first dipped my toes into the JM Audio waters with the Kennerton Gjallahorn, JM Edition. Upon John’s suggestion and seduced by the allure of sonic perfection, I leapt at the opportunity to upgrade to his version 2 mod. Dubbed by some as mere 'bass cannons', these transducers, to my ears, delivered a symphony of improved articulation and an expansively deeper soundstage —attributes any self-professed 'audiofool' would revel in.. Following this, I indulged in several of John’s pad upgrades, each further refining the auditory experience. Though not considered accurate it was a fun listen.

My journey continued with the acquisition of the JM Audio XTC open headphones—near flawlessly fun save for an initial harsh sibilance which, over prolonged engagement, proved too jarring and when compared to the finest, lacked some refinement. They were returned to JM for an update, post-revision, they returned transformed, the sibilance vanquished, now exuding a sublime tonal balance that could coax tears from a stone with the melodies of Sonny Rollins or Pat Metheny.

Not one to rest on his laurels, John has since introduced a plethora of new designs: the XTC2 and several iterations of closed-back models. Amid these innovations, I have also been upgrading my system, dabbling with internet connections and audio equipment, seeking the perfect symbiosis of technology to complement these auditory wonders.

Recently, I ventured again into John’s auditory realm with a Hifiman R9 for modding, only to pivot to a custom Hifiman R7 at his suggestion—purportedly superior and adorned with bespoke 32-ohm Beryllium drivers from his XTC series and, by the way, the first of its kind. Though initially underwhelming, as I embarked on this latest auditory quest with the R7, initial encounters were bewildering—tones and textures seemed amiss, a discordant symphony between my expectations and reality. Yet patience proved a virtuous ally. Over time, the R7s shed their initial shroud of mediocrity, revealing a soundscape so rich and vivid it could only be described as revelatory. The once-compressed soundstage now unfurled like a grand tapestry, not so wide but intricate, displaying each musical element with a precision and vivacity that brought to mind the opulent expanses of a grand orchestra. After a suitable break-in period, they revealed their true potential, delivering clarity and a nuanced sound signature that belied their modest price. Though I believe something was awry with the system not the headphone, I cant’t contribute the change to break in. In my ceaseless quest to perfect the harmonious marriage of technology and audio, I have methodically upgraded my system, refining internet connections and audio equipment with a craftsman’s touch. This sonic pilgrimage has been supremely graced by the alliance of the Burson Voyager Deluxe and the GoldNote DS 10 Plus augmented by an EVO power supply. This triumvirate of audio magnificence forms a bastion of electronic prowess that robustly punches above its weight class, endowing each musical note with an uncanny clarity and vigor that one might scarcely expect from in this world of the super highend such a modestly priced setup.

Today, I ventured to carry these modded JM Audio wonders into the world, visiting a local Atlanta haunt, the coffee shop known as Drip. Here, amid the casual clink of coffee cups and the low murmur of morning discourse, I connected them to a diminutive yet capable Audioquest Dragonfly, cueing up Stanley Clark’s live rendition of "School Days." While the Dragonfly managed to propel these headphones with surprising adeptness, illustrating their remarkable efficiency and versatility, it became apparent that the Dragonfly and R7, while mighty, could not excavate the full sonic depth that Stanley's performance demands. The foundational elements, those resonant echoes that vibrate through one’s core, were palpably subdued. While these phones could not subdue the shop’s noisey nature. It was highly apparent these were not John’s usual bass cannon fair.

This experiment underscores the dual nature of these JM Audio creations—they are amiable companions to virtually any source, from the humble outputs of an iPhone to more ascendant audio devices. Yet, they truly ascend to their full potential when paired with stalwarts like the Burson Voyager and GoldNote DS 10 Plus, supported by the EVO power supply. In such company, these headphones transcend their physical limitations, offering a clarity and scale that rival far more opulent systems.

The R7, despite the limitations imposed by their plastic cups and pads, deliver an acoustic performance that soars beyond their price point, offering a clarity and speed reminiscent of far pricier models. From Eric Bibb to Diana Krall, their ability to traverse the musical spectrum with finesse is nothing short of remarkable. The soundstage, while not the widest, is meticulously defined, allowing each note to resonate with pristine clarity. Bass while textured and wet seemed to miss the utmost in authority.

However, there exists a singular caveat in this otherwise stellar setup: the propensity of the included cables to tangle itself with serpentine determination. This minor foible can occasionally mar the user experience, reminiscent of a snake coiling in a relentless quest to confound. For those seeking a more manageable alternative, John offers a selection of exemplary cables. Should you find yourself in need of a cable with 3.5mm connectors, do not hesitate to seek John’s recommendation. His guidance in selecting a cable can ensure that your auditory journey is as seamless as it is profound.

Thus, the journey continues, as these headphones reveal themselves to be as versatile as they are remarkable, capable of delivering audiophile-grade performance across a spectrum of sources. Whether tethered to the simplicity of a smartphone or the elaborate circuitry of high-end amplifiers, they adapt and thrive, proving that true auditory excellence is not merely about the equipment but the symphony of components that together create the music.

In the denouement of this grand auditory adventure, the modded Hifiman R7s ascend to their rightful place among the pantheon of high-fidelity champions. At a modest $450, these headphones defy economic gravity, offering a sonic purity and excitement that challenge even their more illustrious brethren in the 1500.00 price point. Though, if this was the only set I am ordering I would spend a few more bucks for the wooden cupped XTC 1.5 or XTC open at 799.00. Again, a more personal and economic choice, this is a remarkable value at 450.00.

In the hallowed halls of audiophile greatness, where the quest for perfection is eternal, John Massaria’s latest creation stands as a beacon of innovation and value, a testament to the magic that still dwells in the heart of music reproduction. Indeed, in this latest chapter of sonic exploration, the modded R7s are not merely heard but experienced, leaving a lasting imprint on the soul of the listener. They are not merely devices for listening but vessels that transport one to the very essence of music. As I eagerly await the opportunity to craft my XTC 2.5 iteration, it is clear: in the world of high-fidelity audio, JM Audio continues to carve its legacy with each ingenious stroke.

In this extended discourse, the centerpiece of our auditory exploration—the JM Audio modified Hifiman R7—takes a prominent role as it journeys through various high-fidelity systems, revealing its remarkable versatility and exceptional performance. The ensemble of the Schiit Midgard, operating in balanced mode, and the HRT HD DAC—both centered by the R7 refined with John Massaria's discerning touch—forms a configuration that belies its cost, rounding out to less than $1,000. This system stands as a paragon of value, delivering a low-distortion foundation,, wide, and deep soundstage often found in systems commanding much higher investments.

Venturing further into the narrative, we again find the JM Audio modified R7 paired with a more luxurious counterpart: the Burson Voyager coupled with the GoldNote DS 10 Plus and EVO power supply. This assembly, with a combined investment approaching $8,500, shares the same listening room with the Schiit and HRT setup, providing a rare opportunity to directly compare their auditory characteristics under identical environmental conditions.

In this shared acoustic space, the Burson and GoldNote system showcased a larger, more immersive soundstage that seemed to transcend the physical confines of the in ear room. The presentation was layered with a tangible sense of air around each note, crafting an almost tactile sensation of a live performance. The modified R7, as the constant in this comparison, revealed its capability to render these expansive, complex soundscapes with breathtaking clarity and depth.

Conversely, when paired with the Schiit and HRT setup, the modified R7, though anchored in a more economically priced system, managed to deliver a soundstage that, while not as wide, was meticulously well-defined and precise. Its straightforward, unembellished clarity was refreshing, allowing each note to be rendered with a crispness that highlighted the texture of the music. The midrange, slightly cooler yet clear, was impressively faithful in revealing vocal subtleties and the nuanced breaths of wind instruments.

The bass performance across both setups further demonstrated the R7's adaptability. With the Burson system, the bass notes were lush, deep, and enveloping, effortlessly filling the room with their resonance. With the Schiit setup, the bass was not as tight but well controlled, providing a solid foundation that did not sacrifice articulation for power.

This cohabitation underscored the extraordinary value of the Schiit and HRT setup, especially when considered alongside the R7. For those seeking a high-quality audio experience without the extravagant expense, this pairing proved capable of delivering a compelling performance that punches well above its weight class. It highlighted that while the more expensive system had its advantages in depth and warmth, the more affordable setup provided an outstandingly clear and engaging listening experience, sufficient to satisfy even the most discerning audiophile’s primary needs.

Thus, the journey of the JM Audio modified Hifiman R7 through these two diverse systems not only reveals the breadth of high-fidelity audio's spectrum but also underscores the headphone’s remarkable ability to adapt and excel within varying setups. It serves as a testament to the rich tapestry of audio reproduction available to those who embark on the quest for sonic exploration, showcasing that whether through a lavish arrangement or a budget-conscious setup, the journey through soundscapes remains a profoundly rewarding exploration of music's essence.

Incorporating this delightful anecdote enhances the narrative of our sonic journey with the JM Audio modified Hifiman R7, revealing yet another dimension of its engaging capabilities. On many a day, while back in the familiar confines of Atlanta, I find myself irresistibly alone without the Burson (returned to my home in Orlando) but drawn to the Schiit and HRT duo. With the modified R7 perched upon my ears, I crank up the volume and immerse myself in the lush soundscapes rendered by this adept pairing.

In these moments, music transcends mere listening. I grasp one of my saxophones and dive into an impromptu session, riffing along to the evocative melodies of Sting, the soul-stirring harmonies of Gregory Porter, and the intricate compositions of Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny. This interactive experience, where I blend my live saxophone with the recordings, creates a dynamic interplay of sound that is both exhilarating and immensely satisfying.

The JM Audio modified R7, through its versatile and robust performance, proves to be a quintessential partner in these musical explorations. It accurately reproduces the complex textures and nuances of each artist, providing a soundstage that is both expansive and intimate—perfect for this kind of active, participatory listening. Whether it’s the intricate jazz fusion of Metheny or the soulful ballads of Porter, the R7 serves as an impeccable conduit for both the recorded and live elements of the session, allowing me to feel as though I'm part of the ensemble, contributing my own voice to the collective musical expression.

These sessions, spontaneous yet profound, underscore not just the technical proficiency of the JM Audio modified R7, but also its ability to inspire and facilitate a deep and personal connection with music. Such experiences are a testament to the R7’s remarkable ability to adapt and excel within diverse setups, proving that whether through a lavish arrangement or a budget-conscious system, the journey through soundscapes with the R7 remains a profoundly rewarding exploration of music's essence, offering endless possibilities for joy and discovery.

As we draw the curtains on this exploration of the JM Audio modified Hifiman R7 and its symphony through various high-fidelity systems, it is clear that this headphone embodies a remarkable blend of affordability, versatility, and exquisite sonic performance. The R7 not only meets but often surpasses the expectations set by its price point, delivering a listening experience that is both immersive and invigorating. Whether participating in a lively jam session or critically listening in the quiet of my dedicated sound room, the R7 proves itself as an indispensable tool for the discerning audiophile.

This exploration across different setups, from the economic Schiit and HRT duo to the luxurious Burson and GoldNote ensemble, has revealed the R7’s admirable adaptability and fidelity. However, the journey does not end here. As one ascends the JM Audio lineup, moving towards the wooden JM XTC closed 1.5, 2.0, or even the 2.5, the musical fare is poised to improve with each iteration. Each step up the JM ladder brings enhanced materials, refined design, and even more meticulous tuning, promising even greater auditory delights. For those who seek the pinnacle of headphone performance, JM Audio continues to offer a path that climbs ever higher, ensuring that the best is always yet to come.


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100+ Head-Fier
JM Audio XTC Open Legend Series
Pros: Extension
Bass Control
Ability to go from ppp to fff
Cons: Headband microphonics

General Information​

My first exposure to John Massaria came while browsing through some Kennerton blogs after purchasing a set of LSA Diamond headphones. I enjoyed his writing style and descriptive prose on Kennerton JM Edition Gjallarhorn headphones as well as other related equipment. This makes sense especially with his background in marketing, he can draw you in with his enthusiastic writing. After trading some messages with him I decided to let John perform his MK II upgrade on my JM Edition Ghallahorns.. The upgrade included removing all the foam inside the cup. Some extensive reinforcement of the surround where the driver meets the wood, included in the mod were two carbon fiber black fractal mesh parts. According to John the fractal material does not mute or subdue any one frequency, however, it distributes the sound in a wider pattern.

There is a lot of controversy wrapped around the use of fractal mesh in closed back headphones, John uses the material in both open and closed back headphones. Fractal meta materials have unique properties that can manipulate sound waves, potentially enhancing soundstage and other acoustic characteristics. However, the specific requirements for interior volume in a headphone to implement fractal meta materials would depend on the particular design, materials, and intended acoustic effects. Many engineers believe headphones do not have the internal volume necessary for fractal materials to have an effect on soundstage. My personal experience is the soundstage in the JM Gjallarhorns became wider and deeper, so much so they replicated open backs and no longer had the claustrophobic effect of their original design. It wasn’t placebo, it was more like wow. So I decided to continue with John and his mods, let him mod the headphone strap and pads of both the LSA Diamonds and the Gjallarhorns and play around with his recommended earpads. Needless to say the experience was positive. That was my first experience with John Massaria.

John is a graduate of New York Institute and has experience in marketing. Though, It appears he has always had a passion for innovating and inventing. He developed technical designs and applied for patents and trademarks as early as when he was 14 years old. He grew up with sound engineers in some of the most prominent NY studios such as, Electric Lady, the Power Station and Platinum Sound recording. He later became an audio engineer and an engineer for on location sound mic and recording. He also has experience as a Director for on set interviews. He became obsessive with sound and how poor engineering can color sound. So he began tinkering with headphones, specifically Kennerton who liked his mod so much they adopted it as part of their design and branded his creation the Gjallarhorn JM Edition. Without getting too deep into his engineering experience it seems to have come from self-study, apprenticeship and experimentation. With the release of the Gjallarhorn II John began getting rave reviews in the “bloggish sphere”. He also began modifying other headphones and experimenting with different pads (i.e. Hifiman closed HP).

If you type in the word Ecstasy you get the generic pharma descriptors of the drug used at raves, dance parties and electronic music. Digging into vast articles on the drug I pulled the following; “Euphoria can occur as a result of dancing to music, music-making, and listening to emotionally arousing music.[4][37][38] Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that the reward system plays a central role in mediating music-induced pleasure.[38][39] Pleasurable emotionally arousing music strongly increases dopamine neurotransmission in the dopaminergic pathways that project to the striatum (i.e., the mesolimbic pathway and nigrostriatal pathway)”. Thus “I guess” the name of the new JM Branded headphones X-T-C. John chose this name specifically intended to express the sonic calibre of these uniquely designed transducers. The fact that he will design them to meet your personal preferences and allow you to reach that emotionally arousing state while listening to your favorite tunes is something his customers must tell you about and is rare in the world of mostly house tuned headphones

There is a lot of competition in headphone land especially with the top of the market being controlled by brands such as Focal, Audeze, Meze Audio, Hifiman, Sennheiser, ZMF, etc. Creating headphones in the under $1500 market and claiming they are competitive with headphones above $3K is a tall order. John decided to give it a go hunting down and sourcing the best Beryllium and Woven BioWool drivers he could find to build his headphones. His current line consist of the open back XTC and his 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 (soon to be discontinued) and newly designed statement 2.5. Unfortunately for me after stating his closed backs could not reach the performance of the open back and fulfilling my order, within days he introduced the 2.5 thus robbing me of being able to upgrade to that model…


Directly from the website:

“I have spent the better part of this past year and this year searching for the best measuring dynamic driver… one that can be customized and tailored for warmth and extraordinary detail - and can be further dialed in, in any way a user may like, before they order. I found what I consider the finest driver on the market - an all forged/cast not stamped basket utilizing N52 magnets and an occ copper coil system with a very fast and agile nano sized 50mm diver - one of the best I ever measured.

Utilizing our patent pending fractal fiberglass mesh system and newly developed and very expensive porous carbon graphene - both used together to open and extend the soundstage and create more depth emulating more space and air while helping create a pin point accurate stage. Fractal porous carbon graphene used in conjunction with the fractal fiberglass mesh allows a new amazingly open sound unlike any we ever heard before.

We also wired the very precious drivers with OFC copper wire - the best I have ever seen in the headphone business available that I know of especially in this price range. We do offer internal wiring using OCC 7n wire as well for a slight upcharge w/silver WBT solder and it includes the COPPERHEAD 1.5M 7N OCC External Wire avaialble in 3.5trs or 4.4 trrs- the same wire and solder we use internally.

The XTC Is tuned to reveal all the details deep inside your recordings. You can expect deep tight bass with no bloat yet at the same time the XTC is even and smooth through the mid-range and treble. The XTC has precise timbre and has a knack of digging out sublime details with air as light as a feather; while remaining composed and never harsh or sibilant. Each song you play you will dive deeper into the recording and immerse yourself like no other headphone I know of currently - a very light weight headphone (14-16 ounces - as a comparison the Hifiman Arya weigh in at 404g / 14.3oz.) and extremely comfortable headband - yet is now a heavy weight in performance- utilizing JM Editions patent pending fractal mesh technology for a wide spread out soundstage. Ez to drive at 32ohms and 114 db efficiency or 64ohm at 113.5 db efficiency.”
JM Audio Edition Wood XTC Open Beryllium or BioNano Wool DynamicThis Option includes One of 3 Different Choices of Exotic woods and finishes: Polished Black, Brazilian Black Wood or Brazilian Zebra Wood.

This option ALSO includes 3 Ear Pad Sets: You get 1 set of Angled Premium Leather Ear Pads and a 1 set of angled memory foam fluffy ear pads AND 1 set of Velour Ear Pads. If you have a preference against the Fluffy Ear pad we do have other options, however the Fluffy is our most loved ear pad by owners. The premium leather is my personal favorite as well.

You also get a choice of our best hand selected custom made drivers: 32, 64 and 300 ohm in a 52nm magnet Beryllium or a 32 Ohm Biowool driver wound with ofc copper specified for JM Audio - we also customize your headphones by discussing your preferences for tuning just for you.

The XTC open also Includes a beautiful 2mm cable- braided w/36 strand 26AWG high purity OFC (Oxygen-Free Copper) cable, Litz structure which means some strands will be mixed diameters yielding best performance. Each ear cup gets a dual 3.5mm male plug for direct wiring to each ear cup driver- choose your amp end as either trs 3.5mm, trs 6.3mm, 4.4 trrs or XLR. Get a second wire plus the ultimate in internal and external matched wiring - - we hand solder your XTC with internal 7N occ and WBT silver solder. This option also includes our own Copperhead (the same wire we use to solder the drivers) in a 1.5m braided wire in your choice of trs 3.5mm or trrs 4.4mm on the amp end. The 7N OCC option gives you the ultimate matched wiring inside and out.

We are including a practical Waterproof Flight Case to protect these during transport and storage.”

Before getting into the sound, a little about myself and my setup. I’m a former musician, specifically a sax player. Yes I still tinker nothing serious. I can tune a sax by ear or using a tuning device. I can generally tell if an instrument or voice is in tune or on/off key. I understand why drummers contantly tune their drums especially the snare and how cymbals like Zildjian sound. More about that later. I’m an audiophile since childhood owning many different brands of speakers from Thiel, Vandersteen, Avalon, Legacy, Talon, Swan, Vapor Audio etc. Currently I have a decent speaker by Swan M5A self-powered I run through my Sonnet Dac.. Headphones I have heard them all, I’ve owned Focal, Sennheiser, Kennerton, LSA, ZMF, Hifiman planar and electrostatic, Stax, JH Audio, Thieaudio etc. My current system includes Schiit Mjolnir II with upgraded tubes heavily dampened with spikes and grounding, Sonnet Morpheus Dac, I2S into Sonnet Hermes with significant power management. I also used a Flux Labs FA 22, Fiio M17 and a Hifiman Ef400 Dac amp.

The ordering process

It starts on line. I pm’d John first and asked a few questions, specifically closed back or open. That’s where he stated the closed backs could not match the “magic” of the open back. I then went to his webpage and picked the Beryllium driver, upgraded solder and wiring and the recommended earpads. Placed the order and sent him this message listing my tuning preferences, “ My main listening is through ZMF Atrium. I want to balance the system with a more reference headphone similar to ZMF Caldera or Hifiman Susvara. I would like it transparent and detailed allowing me to hear the subtle nuances and sonic characteristics of each saxophone model accurately. Wide frequency response: That can accurately reproduce the full spectrum of frequencies produced by the various woodwind and brass instruments from the low end of the instrument to the higher harmonics. Precise imaging and soundstage, Instrument separation and focus, Dynamic range and transient response (I'm choosing Berylium because of it's reputation of being fast) ensuring that the subtle variations in volume and the quick attack and release of notes are faithfully conveyed (especially piano and cymbals) also, allowing me to distinguish between various woodwind and brass instruments in terms of their expressive capabilities and dynamic performance. Lastly, vocals the HP should faithfully capture the nuances and subtleties of the singer's voice, allowing me to perceive the natural timbre, texture, and tonal qualities that make each vocalist unique. As closely as possible faithfully reproduce the microdynamic subtleties of vocal performances. It should capture the delicate changes in volume, breath control, and vocal inflections, ensuring that the nuances and emotional nuances conveyed by the singer are preserved. This level of detail retrieval for me is essential for conveying the intimacy and expression of a vocal performance while maintaining the center focus and depth of soundstage. My musical preferences are jazz, classical (mostly Heifetz and Perlman), rock (guitar focused) and old school bands like Tower of Power, Chicago, B.S&T, Zep, Sly, James Brown, Nile Rodgers, etc. I think you get it. Closed or Open whichever you think you can capture in a headphone to fit my preference. If you can do it in a closed I may go in that direction. I was going to call but I figured I could handle it in a pm... A week later John sent me a message. That he made a set tuned to his preferences in cherry and it was one of the best measuring units he had ever made. He would send me that set from his XTC Legend series.

Upon arrival I opened the box and saw a very nice touch, a hard case with the headphones and accessories stuffed inside. I removed all accessories and put the headphones on. The first thing I do with any headphone is check for microphonics. I tap and rub the headband starting up top on the metal surface, with my finger. The XTC bearing very noticeable microphonics, whether rubbing or tapping on the headband. The balanced fabric wrapped cables fared much better only noisy when rubbing after the Y splitter further up near the cups. Also The headphones sprung off my ears a couple of times, if not for my fast hands they would have landed on the floor. My advice is to make your adjustments, use the supplied allen wrench and tighten them down near the left/right indicators. Also, there is a small plastic screw on the very bottom make sure that is good and tight. I do not move around a lot when listening and do not lean my head against any surfaces so the microphonics do not bother me as much. John is also sending me a piece of dampening material to assist in mellowing out the issue. The build otherwise is ok, especially for the price and weight. The headphone are very nicely finished. As the price moves up I believe the quality of the headband will improve. I like the cups and screens very nice job.

I usually let headphones burn in even though I am suspect of burn in because of the small drivers in headphones. So two days no listening, though I did cheat and take a quick listen.

After two days I started my listening with the fuzzy open ear pads (meaning there is no material over the opening), they are not perforated. A few words about earpads. The ear pads on a headphone can have a noticeable effect on the sound, comfort, and isolation of the headphones. Different ear pad materials and designs can alter the way sound waves interact with your ears, resulting in various changes to the sound profile. Here are some common effects of different ear pads:

Sound Signature: The sound signature of headphones refers to the overall tonal balance, including the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies. Ear pads made from different materials or with varying thicknesses can influence the headphone's frequency response. Some ear pads may enhance bass, while others might result in a more neutral or brighter sound.
Soundstage: The ear pad design can affect the perceived soundstage, which is the sense of space and depth in the audio. Open-back ear pads, with their more breathable and perforated designs, tend to create a wider and more spacious soundstage, while closed-back ear pads might produce a more intimate and focused sound.
Comfort: The material and padding of the ear pads impact the comfort of wearing headphones for extended periods. Softer and more breathable ear pads often provide better comfort and reduce heat buildup during long listening sessions. The most comfortable earpads are JM’s fuzzy open pad.
Noise Isolation: Closed-back ear pads usually provide better noise isolation by blocking external sounds from entering your ears and reducing sound leakage. This makes them suitable for use in noisy environments or when you don't want to disturb others nearby. On the other hand, open-back ear pads allow more sound to leak in and out, reducing isolation but providing a more natural, open sound.
So for the purposes of this review, for now we will stay with the fuzzy non perforated ”open” ear pads. I will test the leather perforated screened earpads shortly. This is day 4 of constant running and having properly adjusted the headband, no more flying off the head. Hiromi Live in Montreal “For Jaco” composed by Edmar Casteneda, talk about clarity and realism. Through the XTC the attack and decay of Hiromi’s piano is amazing, clear and concise the right hand speed of Hiromi is captured in all its glory! The interplay with Casteneda’s Harp is dynamic while exhibiting speed and airiness without being overblown. Tonality is on point and I mean, the way his harp sounds live. On the wrong headphone the right hand of Hiromi may sound harsh, not here I played this track four times, amazed at how well it played compared to playing this song on Focal Utopia’s. Checking my notes from listening to the famous Utopias “right hand on upper register sounding a little harsh.” Not here it slams hard real hard on the XTC without the ear pain. The recording has it’s softer passages delicate pianissimo to thunderous fortissimo and the XTC handles them with the utmost accuracy where powerful chords explode through these headphones. I’m not fanboying I’m calling it as I hear it! Listen at around 10:15 mark you can easily distinguish between the two instruments (by the way I’m using Roon). I felt like I was finally getting what this album is capable of giving. Resonances are captured, providing a sense of spatial depth and recreating the natural ambiance of the live piano performance.

Moving on to Diana Krall’s On Live In Paris, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with the frequency response of these headphones you will get sibilance from this recording. In other words if the S is pronounced in the recording you will hear it in the headphones, this does detract somewhat from the experience, the ringing effect can blur and extend further out then on something like the Atrium that rolls the frequency extremes. John can dial this back for you, probably losing some of the headphones extension. You will hear it in this recording especially since the piano is not as well recorded as on Hiromi’s live recording displaying a little upper right hand harshness. These things are a microscope into the recording. The ZMF Atriums actually mellow this out due to their roll off making it a less critical but more enjoyable listen. The XTC’s still demonstrate good clarity allowing me to hear the nuances, intonation, and articulation in the singer’s voice. The XTC reveals more detail in the vocals, such as breaths, vibrato and micro dynamics. Listen to August Rush Soundtrack “Raise It Up” and Patricia Barber’s Mythologies, “Orpheus Sonnet” not only will you understand, you’ll also get the emotional aspects of the vocals. Capturing the singers emotions and delivering an intimate connection between the artist and the listener. Another recording that will demonstrate the capability of the XTC to dig deep on vocals is Jacinta’s On Autumn Leaves, “Moon River” though also a little sibilant, displaying none of the harshness.

Male vocals are smooth, Eric Bibb’s Needed Time, “In My Fathers House” the interplay between Baritone and Tenor vocals ar spot on, with not a hint of sibilance. Also projecting left side vocals further out and not bunched together. If the width of the soundstage is further out to the side they will portray it for you. Not as exaggerated as on say an HD 800/S, the dimensions seem to be as intended with lots of depth. Again the same thing on Hugh Masekela’s Hope, “Stimela” this is an emotional song and will tell you a lot about a piece of equipment. I found this cd years ago in the cutout bin at Tower Records for $1.99 and brought it over to the high-end audio show at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago I believe in 1999. I started at the Merlin Audio room with my buddy the late Bobby Palkovic and we played Hope and completely filled the room. He made me go back to Tower and get another copy, luckily I found one, next taking it to the Pipe Dreams room, same thing the room became completely packed it was astonishing. Then in the Swan Acoustics room, the sound was dead conveying none of the awesome emotions of this great song. Well the XTC’s handle it with abloom, conveying all the emotions of the live recording. With such complex rhythmic interplay, few headphones can make it portray the intended passion as intensely as the the Merlins or PipeDreams, the XTC can. The thing that I notice most is how these phones call up the bass. The bass is neither overblown in terms of scale nor overemphasized in terms of volume.

Next up is a fun recording of various woodwind instruments by Kip Hanrahan All Roads Are Made Of the Flesh, “The First And Last To Love Me”, demonstrating the proper interplay of various instruments at the 7:23 mark with separation, air and tonality. Listen to Michael Riessler’s Bass Clarinet interplay with saxophone and Dino Saluzzi’s Bandoneon and Allen Toussaint’s piano nice work. Easily distinguishing the difference between the bass clarinet and the sax, this is a great test few headphones make this sound like music.

Another recording I’m intimately familiar with is Victor Jones C.A.F.E. Trio: Live at Bradley's in New York City
as Victor is one of my best friends. The now defunct Sensible Sound named this recording one of its recommended albums. It was recorded with a Dap in a chair, go figure. The XTC’s demonstrates the intimate nature of this trio recording while portraying all of its detail. For example Victor’s drums portray a great sense of air and space through the XTC. During the setup Victor’s drum set sat on the right rear, Essiet’s bass forward and to the left and Kikowski piano even more forward. The XTC gave a great sense of instrument placement, and provided a pretty clear delineation of soundstage boundaries. Essiet’s bass, shows off how this HP handles the lower frequencies. It has an articulate, immediate and commanding presence, delivering low frequencies with an authority, weight and impact, only when called upon. I can’t tell you how well the XTC’s lower octave performance matches up to the JM Audio's closed backs especially his newly introduced 2.5’s, though I can say the opens make for an undeniably compelling physical performance. We do know that any extra bass comes from the closed shell and it’s design rather than from the recording’s instruments. I was enthralled by the headphones ability to take you from fff to ppp without any hesitation, deviation or repetition, one musical phrase growing literally from the decay roots of another. To pull that off takes both bandwidth and unfettered dynamic range.

Then I did it, I pulled the popular fuzzy pads off and put the top of the line perforated leather pads on and in this authors opinion everything got better. Especially soundstage depth, air, articulation, they even seem to reveal more of the recording as I played them all over again. Listen, I’ve written enough, I guess you can tell I really like, no love theses headphones. My suggestion is don’t believe me try them for yourself. Remember I gave John my requirements and he sent me his pair.

John has done a great job with the XTC, especially in the areas of their overall weight and sound quality while maintaining an incredible price point. This is an amazing value even for the most discerning audiophile. Is it the best headphone I’ve ever heard? No I can’t say that, but it is one of the best headphones I’ve heard. Nothing touches it at anywhere near its price, an amazing value. It’s different from my ZMF Atrium, a kinder gentler headphone. Where the XTC goes hard and deep, the Atrium warms and romantically covers some of the detail. The Atrium is a better built (at 3X the price) not better sounding headphone, it’s different, depends on my mood. Do I like it better than the Hifiman HE6 Mk II yes as well as most if not all of the other headphones I’ve owned or heard.

The strength of this headphone is speed and agility, no, it’s not as fast as some of the best estats I’ve heard or the Raal tweeter estats, though its ability to dig deep into a recording is phenomenal , I’m digging it. The plusses out weigh the few negatives John may be able to fix the sibilance without killing the extension (I’m not sure how) or quiet down the microphonic headband. I’m leaving these alone for now. As I mentioned, a phenomenal entry for a startup company competing with the big boys at an astonishing price point. Can’t wait to hear his XTC 2.5 which he claims is a world beater. I will be ordering soon, as I think these have beaten the world….


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