Pros: Good build quality, great battery life, U shaped signature
Cons: big mid-bass, limited stage size and extension
disclaimer: I had recently asked for suggestions of Bluetooth in ears in the sub-$100 space that had good sound quality and IKonex stepped up to the plate and asked if I was interested in trying their X7 model. I’ll admit that prior to this introduction on Facebook, I had no knowledge of iKonex or their product line. I looked up the X7 and found a recent indiegogo campaign for the X7 as well as a website for iKonex. Their website shows an eclectic mix of products mostly centered around small consumer electronics. I agreed to review the X7 and it arrived a few days later. At present the X7 appears to be for sale only directly from the iKonex website with a retail of $120 and a promised pre-Christmas sale quickly approaching that may drop that price a bit.
Unboxing / Packaging:
I got the pre-Christmas packaging as the outer slipcover is festive and very holiday oriented with no indication of what is hiding inside on the front. The reverse does identify the contents as the X7 and has the pertinent specs on it. Removing the slipcover reveals a much more standard lift-top style box in matte black with the iKonex name and X7 model in embossed gloss black. Lifting the cover reveals a 2 page instruction sheet that is shown later in this review under the connectivity section. Under the instructions and a sheet of bubble wrap is a foam tray with three sets of plates in red, black, and silver so you can color the X7 to your liking. Under that tray, is the main compartment with the earpieces, three sets of foam tips, and the charging case. The one oddity in the mix is 3 tip sets in SML are provided, but all are isolation foams with no silicone style tips provided.
The X7 itself is a mid-sized bean shaped iem with an earhook and a battery that runs down the back of the ear. the earpiece is mid-sized and fits comfortably and fairly deeply into the ear. One caveat for me, was one of the vents in the shell is at the bottom in direct line with the nozzle and depending on how deeply I seated the earpieces, I could at times obstruct the vent and change the signature. The other vent is on the inner shell slightly above and behind the nozzle and could also be blocked if not aware of it. If you get sloppy bass, check the vents, it does change the signature. fairly dramatically. The earhooks are fairly tight, but not uncomfortable and will be appreciated by those who intend to run or work out with the X7 on. It is rated as IPX6 so should be sweat and water resistant within reason but probably wont survive a bath. The covers snap on and off fairly easily although having a fingernail to get under the edge is helpful during removal. Once on I had no issues with them coming loose unexpectedly. I will admit a mild amusement at the need for a black cover when the body of the iem itself is black. I would have thought maybe a blue cover and just leave the covers off for black rather than two black options. Nozzles do not have a lip for tip retention, but I had no issues with tips sliding during use.
The X7 is comprised of two titanium coated dynamic drivers in 6 and 10 mm respectively. Nominal impedance and sensitivity specs are not listed as no provision for connecting them to any outside source via a mechanism other than Bluetooth is available.
The case is hard plastic with a fitted tray for charging the earpieces with the internals hiding beneath. Unlike most, the tray is fairly easy to remove to expose the internals and the pins are not attached to the tray so it removes completely. The last photo below shows the internals with the USB-C power input at left, the wires exiting at right to the wireless charging pad under the pcb, the battery at the rear, and a single LED at the front. (I don’t recommend taking the case apart, but it is nice to know you could if you needed to replace the battery). The lid of the case has a quick instruction set and a usb-A to usb-C adaptor hidden neatly at the top to allow charging your phone from the case. The cell used in the case is fairly small so the utility of the charging adapter is somewhat questionable. Specs show the case is capable of 7 full charges of the earpieces but in my experience 5 is a more realistic number. This is still substantial as it represents a total playing time of roughly 42 hours before you need to plug the case in to charge as I found the earpieces to work roughly 7 hours on a single charge. One could almost literally go a week on a charge with this setup and it should be more than usable for gym trips etc without worrying about the need to recharge.
The X7 supports SBC and AAC protocols and advertises support for up to 24/192. That may be a bit ambitious, but the AAC connectivity from I-phone to X7 does offer an improvement in bit rate over the SBC transmission standard of Android. The X7 goes into automatic pairing when first used and will automatically attempt to re-pair with the last device used when removed from the case subsequently. On the host device, the X7 will appear as TWS_X7. Voice prompts are in English with cues for power on/off, voice dial, pairing, and google assistant. I found the scheme of tapping the surfaces to be fairly straight forward once I got the hang of it but did find that at times I stopped music while just trying to adjust. Once connected, the X7 has a range of roughly 15-20 meters from the source device in open space and has some ability to beat a single layer of drywall before starting to cut out due to obstacles. Within the 15-meter range in clear space, I had no problem moving around the office without cut outs or lag.
Call quality is very good as the X7 supports stereo calling and the positioning of the microphones are such that wind noise is minimized. That combined with the cVc noise cancellation really does help eliminate outside noises and allows for use of the X7 as a hands-free device in crowded or noise environments.
This is probably the biggest let down on the X7 as up to this point everything had been fairly positive. The fact that it only ships with isolation foams is an obvious attempt to live up to their isolation claims of 25dB reduction in outside noise. The foams do cut outside noise better than silicones, but they also color the signature in ways I found were not beneficial. The best tips for me were the Auvio wide bore large which allowed for good seal, didn’t obstruct the sound bore, and was small enough not to physically fatigue my ear. The downside is isolation is greatly reduced with silicone tips, but that won’t surprise anyone who has tried both foam and silicone tips. My listening notes were all done with the after market tips as the foams simply cut too much treble to be useful for me.
One of the aims of the X7 is to produce a sound signature that mimics the sound of a theater or live presentation. This is a tall order for any headphone, but particularly so for an in-ear with very limited space and a closed back as sound stage is usually minimal. Keep this goal in mind when reading the sound notes as these were not tuned for an audiophile looking for a neutral signature, they are instead tuned to mimic the rock concert the intended user attended a few weeks ago, or the 3d sound of the latest blockbuster movie.
Bass is definitely the emphasis of the X7 with a boost centered around the 80-90Hz range. Sub-bass rolls-off below 40Hz fairly rapidly, but has good rumble and will please all but the hard core bass devotee. Mid-bass starts out big and then drops as you head toward the lower mids but delivers good slam with reasonably good control. Attack is a bit quicker than decay which gives the mid-bass a thicker tone that will please some and feel overdone to others. My personal preference would be for a bit less mid-bass and a bit tighter control of what is there. At times, the mid-bass can dominate the signature and obscure some detail in the signature above it. For those willing to EQ, pulling the 125 and 250Hz bands down by roughly 3db does a good job of bringing balance back to the lows.
Lower mids do have some mid-bass bleed and some detail is osbcured a bit as a result, but overall are less recessed than many in their class. Vocals cut through the signature well with female vocals being a step in front of the male counterparts. Clarity improves as you move away from the low end and the upper mids are distinctly more detailed than the lower as a result. Guitar has good growl to it, and tonality is better on electric guitar than its acoustic counterpart. Strings fall a bit short of realistic as they lack the energy needed to have a lifelike tone.
Treble on the X7 is an interesting combination of really good and a bit grainy depending on source material. With several small peaks and valleys in the treble range, it walks the line between not having enough energy to sound open, and having enough energy to sound harsh. Overall, lower treble is well detailed with cymbals having a better tonality than several other models at this price, but the snare lacks that crisp attack that live performances deliver. Roll-off is fairly early and by 11kHz the X7 has nothing left in the tank. This lack of upper extension keeps the X7 from having as much air as live performance and limits sparkle considerably.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage is better than expected on a sealed unit in-ear with more width than depth, and minimal height. I would liken the stage to that of a neighborhood bar with a small raised band shell in the corner. More intimate than concert hall, but well proportioned none the less. Instrument separation is acceptable, but less than class leading, and combined with layering that is only moderately good, it can become a bit of a challenge to seat the orchestra. (I suspect full orchestral pieces were not the anticipated diet for the X7). Imaging is good and movement around the stage very evident so the X7 might be at home in a casual gamer’s collection as well.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
I received the X7 based on a comment that I was looking for a really good, reasonably priced Bluetooth in ear, and in fairness it does check several of the boxes. Battery life is great, build quality is good, and sound is good depending on genre one is interested in. I can’t recommend the X7 for those who’s interests are strings, jazz, or orchestral pieces, but for those who’s primary genres are rock, pop, hip-hop, or electronic where speed and bass take precedence, the X7 makes a compelling argument. Those who enjoy a mid-bass heavy signature will be right at home with the X7.