JM Audio XTC-Closed Back (XTC-C)


Headphoneus Supremus
The most customizable headphone I know of
Pros: Options
Cons: some of the finishes could be of higher quality
Attention!!!! You must read this review with a grain of salt. Why? Because these headphones are tailored to my wants and needs. Your headphone may be different. It will be more in line with what you like.

Why dont you call Focal and tell them that you would like to order a Stellia with a little bit brighter tuning. How about emailing Audeze and ask for a LCD 5 with little bit more bass. Good luck with that.

What makes JM Audio Editions different is part of the reason that this is a special new audio brand. You can tweak pads, cables and such to change the sound of most headphones. But John Massaria is different and his headphone company JM Audio Editions is different. You will order the exact set of pads and cables that fit your listening preferences just like quite a few companies, but John requires you to tell him exactly how you want the tuning of your new headphone so he can craft your personalized headphone. What if your headphone was ordered for bass and you realize that you made a mistake and there is too much bass in your final build? Not a problem. John will retune your headphone for you. Just send it back and you will get exactly what you are wanting in tuning. What other company does that? So if you buy one of these gems second hand is the only way that you are stuck with the tune….Wait, What?! John will actually retune a second hand XTC so long as the new owner covers shipping. This is unheard of!

Who is John Massaria? You may have heard of the Kennerton Gjallarhorn. It is a very unique horn headphone made by the wonderful company Kennerton. If you do not know Kennerton that is another company you must check out. John made his name modifying headphones and he developed a modification for the Gjallarhorn. Kennerton actually took notice of the modification and tried it for themselves. They agreed that the sound change was outstanding. Kennerton decided to make a production version with the Massaria mod of the Gjallarhorn and named it the Gjallarhorn JM Edition. Today Kennerton doesnt even offer the OG Gjallarhorn and only offers this headphone in the JM edition.

Back to what we are talking about ... The JM Audio Edition XTC. This headphone is available in a open and closed back variant. I have owned many headphones over that last 5 years or so. About 1 1/2 years ago, I sold my entire headphone collection to help with purchasing a new home. I had a listening room built in my basement for a 2 channel dedicated system and I didnt believe I would be listening to headphones again. I ended up getting a Astel & Kern ACRO CA1000T for a power hungry IEM and found that my wife and I really enjoyed having the flexibility of moving around the house while listening to quality music. This new music devise also has plenty of power so naturally I wanted to see what it could do with a headphone or two.

I called John and told him that my favorite aspect of a headphone is separation and detail. I like bass but never at a compromise to any other frequency range. I also will never EQ. It is my preference because to my ears, it hurts the sound. I respect the fact that most use it though. John's tuning for my headphone is called "XTC Warm Detailed"

My headphone is the 1.5 Closed with the Beryllium driver. I ordered mine with one of the one of a kind Limited Edition cups.

The options I chose included having my headphone internal wiring done with the upgraded 7N OCC. I ordered the OCD memory foam fuzzy angled pads, the solid top grain deep cushion leather, and the perforated angled sheepskin leather pads. I ordered both the Copperhead 7n OCC cable and the OFC Litz flexible cable.


The XTC is extremely comfortable. It is very lightweight, the clamp is fairly loose (on the other hand dont go jogging with these) and the pad I used the most, the sheepskin leather, did not make my head hot. You can listen for hours without discomfort. I really like the cables. Both of them. They are not microphonic, they do not tangle, the copper is pretty firm and the Litz is very soft. Did I mention I really like the cables!

Isolation is outstanding. My wife listens across our sectional couch from me and I hear nothing.

The build quality is a mixed bag for me. I really dislike the emblem sticker on the cup. I would have much preferred engraving or something like that. it just cheapens the headphone a bit for me. The great news here is the emblem is now optional on the cup. Just ask John to leave it off! The headband is reminiscent of the Audeze style for adjusting size which isnt my favorite. neither of these are a deal breaker. Quite frankly, a different headband system would only increase the cost and this headphone is grossly underpriced as is. The headphone itself is solidly put together with tight fitting cable jacks in the cups which is very important to me.

How about the sound? Air and separation. Loads of it for a closed back. The separation of instruments is outstanding. It is different too. A lot of times when you have great separation, it means that you also get a analyzing sound. The separation is there but in a very cohesive way. What does that mean? Have you ever heard a single driver full range speaker system? I mean a GOOD single driver speaker system! The way that a single driver system can put everything together to sound so natural compared to speakers with multiple types and sizes of drivers is something you must experience. You will actually listen to the music and not the speakers in a room like this. This is the best way I can describe what John has done with his separation and air.

The bass is surprisingly strong on these. Given my request in tuning I expected a bass light pair. I have plenty of bass. Sometimes just a tad bit boomy for me depending on the music...but John has a fix for that. There is a port that you can plug with tape which decreases the bass and increases the upper mids and highs. Perfect. He also gives great pad options to do the same trick. Bass can really be exactly what you crave with these guys. A big win here.

Mid bass is outstanding. Very good. Chocolate Chip Trip just beats up my ears a great way. The pressurization of the sound here is excellent. Another very strong point.

Mids can be just a tad recessed. This is because of my requested tuning. In order for more air, separation and soundstage in a closed back, you are not going to have a forward sounding midrange. I like this sound though. I would much rather recessed mids than forward...but that is my preference. Yours may be different.

The highs are not fatiguing at all. This is not a bright headphone. It is not dark either, but it does lean on the warm side. The detail is there but you will have to listen a little harder to notice compared to a headphone like the Utopia which has highs that are much more emphasized. If you are looking for a sparklely headphone, I am not sure this is your cup of tea. But this tuning makes this headphone a lot more versatile with different music types.

John asked that I send my pair in to lighten the bass and give the set more detail. I decided to decline this request because my wife listens to music that is more geared towards the tuning of my pair. I enjoy the tuning myself very much. So this tuning is a better all around tuning for both listeners. What I do realize is that this makes my review a little unfair for the XTC as it can be made into a headphone to better suit my personal taste but I am the one who decided that this all around tuning is best.

What this tuning does do is make the headphone more enjoyable for listening to recordings that are not done very well. 2 songs I love, sound like garbage on most of my headphones that I have owned. The XTC makes Adams Song by Blink 182 and Gone Away by The Offspring sound as good as I have ever heard them. This is a huge plus for me.


I have had so many great headphones but I do not own them any longer. It is unfair for me to compare any headphone based on memory. What I can tell you is that these compare well with all of the closed backs I have owned which include the Ultrasone Edition 8, Ultrasone Signature DJ, ZMF Vibro Mk 2 and Blackwood, Beyerdynamic AKT5P, Audio Technica ATH-a2000x and AWAS, Sony MDR7520, Meze 99 Classics, Focal Stellia, both versions of the Ollo S4R, Kennerton Gjallarhorn JM and the Kennerton Rognir Planar. From memory the only one of these that I would absolutely take over the XTC is the Rognir...but that headphone is 4x as much.

What I have on hand is the newest revision of the Ollo S4R and a Hifiman HE1000SE.

Ollo S4R- The XTC beats this in every way. The Ollo is anemic. It is has no air. Separation is good but the instruments are on the same plane with zero soundstage. Detail is about equal. This is a boring and unlistenable headphone in comparison to the XTC. Comfort wise they are both outstanding, but the Ollo is a little more secure and tighter on you head.

Hifiman HE1000SE- It is very tuff to compare these two as the Hifiman is open back and a lot more expensive. It is a brighter headphone and the detail is stronger on the HEKSE. The air is comparable which is remarkable but the Hifiman has a pitch black clean background that the XTC just can match because of the nature of being closed back with a request for the openness in the tuning. The XTC can edge the HE1000SE in bass dependent of the type of music it is asked to play. Billie Eilish Everything I Wanted is better on the XTC without question. The HEKSE is the technically better headphone but the XTC is not that far behing.

Value this now because it is Wayyyy to cheap. It didnt really exceed my expectations because I knew what John is capable of. But my expectations were especially high because of what I knew John is capable of. This is as good of a closed back headphone that you will find in the $1000ish price range. I can say this because this was to me and your pair will be catered for you!

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Gracias for the nice review! Would you be able, in a few words, compare them against Argons or Night-owls?


100+ Head-Fier
One of the finest closed backs I've ever heard
Pros: Excellent soundstage
Very detailed
Deep, tight, controlled bass
Excellent bass does not sacrafice mids
Controlled highs - not sibilant
Dynamic without being fatiguing
Built-in options to further tune the sound
Cons: Misses a little high end sparkle (if I have to be picky, but that's my tradeoff preference anyway)
Headband maybe not the most comfortable (fortunately weight is good)
I've spent a few days listening to John Massaria's new XTC closed back headphones. This is a brand new custom design of his own under his JM Audio Editions brand. When I found out he had released this, I knew I had to get one and I was very excited to see this progression. JM is well known for headphone modifications including his work on the Kennerton Gjallarhorn GH50 which was so popular that Kennerton worked with him to release a JM Edition (something that is on my wish list).

I first was introduced to JM's fractal mesh technology with his modded Hifiman R7DX JM OCD Extreme Stealth + Bass Edition headphone. What he was able to do with a pair of headphones in that price bracket was truly amazing. To me, it proves that there's really a great pair of headphones at many different price points. There are some other headphones out there that are hidden gems in terms of price to performance ratio, but JM's work has been a delight to research and watch.

Watch out headphone world, if John is putting out his own headphones, there's going to be some pretty interesting competition coming. New to JM Audio Editions? You might want to get on this train.

The JM Audio Editions XTC Experience

For now, what he has with the XTC is truly a custom experience. These aren't mass produced headphones -- this is boutique and custom. I'm sure you could maybe just walk up to the website and order a pair without much dialogue. However, he doesn't try to hide the fact that you have some options here. It's literally in the first sentence on the product page in capital letters.

The headphones come well packaged in a nice case to keep them safe. There's some extras included as well. This is something much appreciated as we see less and less of it with new headphones these days. The XTC comes with some extra ear pads and cables - none of which is of bad quality. No fluff in there.

I chose the dark wood cups from a selection of a few he had in stock and ready to adjust to your needs. They're pretty, but the headband doesn't compete with the attractiveness of Meze's headbands. Still, it's a well constructed pair of headphones. It's definitely a small production, so expect variations.

I must have exchanged nearly two dozen emails with John during this process and, starting with his base model, he was able to make some adjustments based on my direct input. Truthfully, the other review on head-fi here sounded so good that I said "I want that." Or at least close to that. There may have been some additional small uknown tweaks based on some answers to questions and back and forth email exchanges. It didn't take long for these final adjustments to the headphones and for them to be shipped out to me. I can't understatate this here...This is truly a unique experience.

Further Tuning - Bass Ports

I thought that experience would be over once I had them in hand. Transaction over. Nope! You see, several ear pads were included in the box and there's also some small adjustments you can make to the headphones yourself. There's bass ports on the top of the earcups (and to a lesser extent small holes on the sides too). These can be covered partially or completely to adjust how much bass you get from these headphones. The hole provides air which allows for greater driver excursion and therefore more powerful bass. This isn't anything new or even unique to these headphones. We've seen this in the past, but you don't see it all the time. This isn't a marketing gimmick either. This is just physics.

The small adjustments you can make yourself and having everything you need to do so out of the box fits the narrative here and is right on brand. It will let you continue the experience and further tune the headphones based on your preferences in the future. You may want to listen to a different genre of music or just be in a different mood.

So if you find the bass aggressive - cover the holes. It's as simple as that.

Ear Pads

John included a few options here included some premium authentic leather angled pads. These really enhance the bass and bring out details in the music.

Then there's some fuzzy ear pads. These reduced the bass a little bit. This let the mids and hights stand out a little more. Female vocals took a step forward and things were overall a bit smoother heading toward neutral, but still dynamic.

Then there's perforated pads that take another leap toward neutral. The bass impact here is lessened and if you combine that with covering the bass ports you can really drop a lot of heft out of the bass. So even if you found yourself not liking the bass these headphones can have, you can completely change that. These two adjustments combined make a dramatic difference. They end up being what I would certainly consider neutral. They also end up being a little less dynamic too. Completely unoffensive, but still not too bland or boring.

Sound Quality - Detail

There are actually a few options when it comes to the drivers, but you're not going to be changing these once you get them in hand of course. JM sells these with either a Beryllium or Woven BioWool driver. There are some other options here too like the internal wiring being upgraded to OCC 7N copper.

I opted for the Beryllium driver, which John also suggested after I explained what I was looking for. I have never heard a woven wool driver (at least not to my knowledge) so I was open to it, but he steered me in the right directon here.

These headphones are very detailed. I suspect this is due to the beryllium drivers and I know he spent a lot of time finding and sourcing them. I compared these to some of my other headphones. They are more detailed than both the Focal Elegia and the Meze 109 Pro. The XTC is more in the direction of Focal headphones being dynamic, so while they are a straight upgrade from the Elegia, the Meze 109 Pro still has something different to offer. The 109 Pro is perhaps more fluid and soft. The decay or transient response is just different here between the two drivers. It's hard to change that, so you end up with a different sound signature and that's not to say one is better or worse. It's just different.

I'm dying to listen to the Focal Stellia again now as it's been a few months since I have. Same goes for a few ZMF headphones, specifically the Verite Closed and Atticus. From memory? The XTC's details are on the level. I listened to the Focal Clear and then Stellia right after listening to the Meze 109 Pro at CanJam SoCal and noticed the difference a beryllium driver could make. At the time I kept asking myself if more than twice the price for it was worthwhile. While it may not have been twice as good in terms of detail and speed, it was still noticeably different. You don't even need to be testing the headphones side by side to tell either.

Lows, Mids & Highs

Where does the XTC sit on the spectrum here? It leans towards the low end. Though truthfully, I'm not sure I would call it V shaped. Not after some pad swapping and adjusting with the bass ports. You get to really see what can be done with the driver after you tinker a little. You're going to listen to the XTC in one way and put it distinctly in the V shape category. Then you can listen to it another way and say it's not V shaped at all. The XTC strikes a good balance, but I also wouldn't call them neutral either...But I'd seriously love to see some measurements to test my ears haha.

Out of the box with the angled leather ear pads it was a bit V shaped, but that's precisely what I asked for. I also explained that while I like bass leaning headphones, I prefer that not to come at the expense of the mids. It doesn't with the XTC.

If there's only room on the boat for two, I'd throw the highs overboard. Kinda my saying if anyone asks. That's where I'd be willing to sacrafice something. The XTC could never be called sibilant. It may even lack a little bit of "sparkle" if you will. Though it's still not missing the highs either. They are there and they are airy and detailed. They don't roll off too much or do anything weird up there.

Overall, everything is under control. The drivers are very competent and quick. Maybe not planar speed, but I also said "give planar a run for its money" and these headphones do. Again this may be owed to the beryllium drivers, but what about that fractal mesh?


JM Proprietary Fractal Mesh Technology (tm) is a patent pending fiberglass mesh that will diffuse the sound from the drivers without attenuating, or muting, the frequencies. It's placed in front of the driver and others have done similar things, but not using the same materials or design patterns.


It's important to note that this design doesn't detract from the sound like if you were to stick foam or felt in front of your drivers. In fact, you can buy kits for this called attenuation kits because that's what they do - they attenuate or reduce the force of the sound. If you found a pair of headphones too bright for example, you could cut out some felt or foam and put it in your ear cups. That type of modificaton is not to be confused with JM's fractal mesh.

The fiberglass fractal mesh will spread out the sound, greatly increasing the soundstage. There's some more detailed information available on JM Audio's website. I'm sure white papers could be written on the subject if there aren't several already. It's interesting, but a bit over my head to be honest. I get the idea though and I can definitely tell you it works. What I can't tell you is how it might compare to other attempts to do the same.

For a closed back headphone, the XTC has a surprisingly good soudstage. It's wide, provides good separation, and allows you to accurately place sounds in a space. It competes with open back headphones. I was comparing with the Meze 109 Pro here. I know the 109 Pro isn't exactly renouned for soundstage or anything, but like many open back headphones, it has certain almost expected qualities (and it does have a good soundstage). Qualities people have grown to accept missing in closed back headphones, but missing out on a good soundstage isn't always true for closed back headphones and it certainly isn't missing with the XTC.

The fractal mesh is good and even if the XTC is out of your budget, you should find a way to try one of JM's headphones with this technology. I think it's distinctly different and insightful to hear first hand and compare with other headphones.


The XTC is about 400g. It's not really heavy, though is slightly heavier than the Meze 109 Pro. It has a comfortable enough headband with what I refer to as the Audeze style headband (not sure if they were the first to use it or not).

You can wear this for a long time without worry. Not much else to say here. It's not the most comfortable I've seen, but it works just fine and does its job. The ear cups swivel and tilt and can be positioned for a proper fit.


I compared these headphones to what I had on hand. This included the Meze 109 Pro and the Focal Elegia. I've yet to compare with the AudioQuest Nightowl, but I know some of the differences and I rarely compare any headphone to those because they are a bit of a different animal (absolutely nothing to do with quality there either). I also compared a little bit with the JM modded R7DX just to look at how the fractal mesh use compared (well, these two headphones aren't exactly something comparable, but still I wanted to see if there's anything similar to be found).

Meze 109 Pro: The XTC drivers are seemingly suprioer here. As I said in the detail section above, they are more detailed and quicker. The 109 Pro is perhaps more fluid and gentler. It's a very comfortable pair of headphones on your head and sonically. Some people have found them to be a little too bright. I don't, but they are compared to how I have the XTC tuned. That isn't to say the 109 Pro is lacking bass, it's not and has enough for me, but the XTC has more (well it's a closed back headphone too of course).

The Meze 109 Pro has a more comfortable headband. In fact, it's only bested by the AudioQuest Nightowl in my experience.

The 109 Pro may be a little more airy but, again, the XTC does well for a closed back pair of headphones. The 109 Pro also isn't as dynamic as the XTC or Focal's headphones for that matter. Again, as mentioned above, I find the soundstage on these two headphones to trade blows.

Focal Elegia: Use the more smooth, liquidy, musical 109 Pro and the Focal Elegia (or Stellia or Celestee) as two points. I think the XTC sits closer to the Focal. It has more in common there being dynamic detail monsters.

The biggest difference? Focal headphones are dynamic, forward, and somewhat aggressive. I find them somewhat fatiguing over a long period of time. That's not to defintively say they are fatiguing, but over time, yes I do need some breaks. This isn't the case for the XTC. The XTC manages to be dynamic but not as in your face. It isn't fatiguing.

I also wouldn't call the Elegia sibilant. However, the XTC has things under control better here too. Here's a really really good example - listening to The Cranberries - Something Else. Dolores O'Riordan's vocals are excellent as they always were and the song Linger is where I'm telling you to tune in even just to the beginning. There's some "S's" in there. With the Focal Elegia you'll hear these as sharper and more pronounced than you will with the XTC. Would you call the Elegia sibilant? I wouldn't, but you might if you compared these two headphones back to back. This is being too forward and agressive. XTC has this kind of stuff better under control (and for the record so does the Stellia).

Again, the beryllium driver in the XTC outclasses the Elegia. If you're looking for a closed back upgrade and the Stellia isn't in your budget, the XTC is absolutely an upgrade you should consider.

I'm not sure anything is going to ever really have that "Focal house sound" of course. Reproducing these kind of things I'm sure isn't easy nor the point. So don't get me wrong, the XTC doesn't sound like a Focal headphone. It just shares some similar traits in being dynamic. There's a reason the Stellia was mentioned by others and comes to mind.

The XTC hands down beats the Elegia (and the Celestee and Radiance) on stoundstage. The XTC is faster too with tighter base and more impact (but again, you can pad swap on both the XTC and Elegia and greatly affect the bass - but the XTC will always have more here if you want it to).

Final Thoughts

Again, I really need to get my hands on a Stellia again to compare. This is my biggest question right now...How do they compare? From memory, the XTC is pretty close if not every bit as good or maybe better. I honsetly couldn't say right now, but all of the above is possible at moment. I can't definitively say the Stellia would be better.

ZMF? I don't own any, but listened to every one at the last CanJam SoCal including the Caldera. I'll say I probably would perfer the Caldera over the XTC...I think the Caldera may be one of the best headphones on the market right now, but it's also open backed. So it's different. It's not like if a Caldera magically landed in my lap I'd stop listening to the XTC. Exactly the case with the 109 Pro too. The Meze 109 Pro is my go to open back and the XTC is now my go to closed back. In fact, it might be my end game closed back.

There's always something different to be found in headphones. I have a collection for a reason and yes I do revisit headphones over time, there's 4 on my desk right now...ah 5, there's a pair of IEMs too. I'll exclude the JBL gaming headphones hanging from under the desk and the Monk earbuds I have for Zoom calls lol.

I'd also want to listen to the Fostex TH900 again...But these are the kind of the headphones that come to mind for me. The XTC fits right in and gives us yet another sound signature. It just may be the one you're after and at its current price point? No brainer. I give the XTC a 5 star rating. I reserve 5 perfect ratings for the best even if I don't own the best and also for some buffer for the unknown. I'm sure I'll give other headphones a 5 star too, but not many. My pros/cons list only has some cons because I'm nitpicking and reaching. I don't believe anything is perfect. If there was a perfect headphone, everyone would have it and no one would be reviewing anything. However, I do expect the XTC will work its way into many conversations in the closed back headphone space.

The JM Audio Editons XTC very well may be among the finest closed back headphone I've ever heard.
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I would email and ask JM, but he does spend a bit of time understanding what you're after. These are a fairly custom built headphone. There's a starting point that has a strong direction, but remember there's XTC open, closed back and two different types of drivers. Also there's been a few different ear cup designs over time (I'm not sure how they play a role). I'm sure JM tunes things that you can't exactly do yourself (not without voiding his warranty at least). After that you are still left with non-invasive end user adjustments like swapping ear pads, covering the bass ports, etc.
But yes, you can send them back to him and he'll retune them if you don't like them.
Thanks for the review.
Have you already compared them with audioquest night owls?


1000+ Head-Fier
I’m Off to See the Wizard - The Wonderful Wizard of Audio
Pros: Fast response
Excellent detail/precision
Clean, powerful bass without going over the top
Great mids and highs
Massive soundstage
Great fit/weight
Beautiful ear cups
VERY slim earcups - small size (customizable)
Decent cable
Nice carry case
The best closed-backs in this, and many other, price ranges
Cons: Would have liked an XLR4 connection on the cable
XTC-C Aston.jpg

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Update: 11 Jan: updated impressions with tuning change that decreased the soundstage, but improved the tuning of the highs. They sound very similar to the XTC-O now, which is a good thing. I also fixed my incorrect driver information (my bad.)


Up for review today are the new JM Audio (JMA) XTC-Closed (XTC-C) back over ear headphones in the limited black color with the slim ear cups. These are the 50mm beryllium driver version (a rare and expensive driver option that is lightweight and very stiff, allowing for lower distortion and higher frequency sound.) These are the same drivers that my XTC-Open (XTC-O) have, though a warmer bio cellulose version is available also. This is similar to what the high-end Focal Stellia ($3,000) and Focal Utopia ($5,000) are driven by. I paid retail for these after listening to the XTC-O and loving them. If you don’t want to read my ramblings below, these are the best closed back headphones I’ve ever heard at 1/3rd the price of the Focal Stellia.

JMA tunes each of their headphones to customer preference. I spoke with them at length about how I hate bass that overwhelms everything else, and about how I dislike sibilant treble. I also chose the thinner ear cup size (which makes it harder to tune and fit tech inside.) They tuned these to my preferences (of course given the inherent characteristics of a closed-back headphone.) They also managed to shove a TON of technology into some very slim and light ear cups with a large soundstage. They put porous carbon graphene and their patent pending fractal fiberglass mesh inside the cups to increase the soundstage and dampen unwanted vibration. JMA named these the XTC Nearly Scalpel Tuning edition and if you’d like the same tuning, ask them for that. Spoiler alert, they definitely live up to that name thanks to the beryllium drivers!

XTC-C Box.jpg

Build Quality:

These are super lightweight at about 400g with an Audeze LCD-2-style headband. The overall build quality is really good, and the ear cups are beautifully made and almost look like black mirrors. The headband is very comfortable for long periods of wear and overall build quality is high. The ear pads are very comfortable, though they are the $50 soft leather ear pads. When you consider how small JMA is, the build quality is impressive compared to larger boutique companies like ZMF (paint chips, wood issues etc.)

The cable is a 3.5mm, 36 strand, 26AWG high purity Oxygen-Free Copper litz cable. While I prefer XLR4 terminations, the cable itself is really good quality and it’s only lightly microphonic (although, oddly, the 3.5mm connectors on the ear cups are microphonic as well.) It’s a better quality cable than the XTC-O came with and I can use the XTC-O cable with the XTC-C to get a balanced connection if needed. Realistically, the 3.5mm is easy enough to drive that I don’t really need the balanced cable.

A quick note on isolation – these aren’t designed to block out all noise, and they do leak some sound as well (for really sensitive people sitting near you) – it’s not an issue for me, but for anything looking to block out the world on a plane or a bus, active noise cancelling headphones like the PX8 or Sennheiser Momentum 4 will be a better fit.

XTC-C Side.jpg

Sound and Comparisons:

I am running these off a Burson Conductor 3X Performance (3XP) and a Shanling M3 Ultra DAP (M3U) using Tidal Hi-fi. The 3XP drove these brilliantly at 3.5mm, but for the first time, and initially the M3U failed to drive these well, but, after a slight modification JMA told me to make over the phone, the M3U drove the XTC-C just as well as the 3XP (43/100.) The beryllium drivers in the XTC-C are harder to drive than the beryllium in the XTC-O (70/100 low gain on the 3XP with the XTC-C vs 50/100 on the XTC-O.) This is due to the XTC-O using a balanced connector vs the XTC-C's unbalanced connector. On to the sound!

I am going to try something new where, instead of listing out the bass, mids, and highs and how they perform, I am going to list songs that excel in those particular areas, but I'm not going to leave out the mids or highs on a song testing bass for instance. It seems silly to do so, as almost all song have bass, mids, and highs (except weird ones.) So, without further ado, the sound impression of the headphones with courage, heart, and brains as well.

There’s no place like home, so starting off with my typical EDM bass-test song, is The Knife’s “Silent Shout” - the opening bass drums come in powerful and clean. The bass and sub-bass are fast with very little roll off – it is quickly apparent why JMA calls these the scalpel edition. I am not a basshead, and while I would classify these as boosted bass headphones (as most closed backs are) with neutral mids and highs, they don’t overwhelm the vocals or synths in the background. The overall soundstage is more full and wide than any other closed-back headphone I’ve heard - but, as expected, slightly smaller than the XTC-O. These have a tighter bass response than the Gjallarhorn GH 50 JM Edition Mk2 (GHJM) without the bloated bass and the sharp highs (which can be tuned out by JMA if you like.)

Another EDM bass test song that is excellent at illustrating sub-bass is David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)” and the bass drums come in hard in the intro. The bass and sub-bass once again manage to be strong without overwhelming the mids and when the synths come in with the sub-synth at 0:36, everything is very clear and tight. The vocals are easily distinguishable and don’t fall into the back.

Skillet’s “Stars” begins with the excellent bass response expected from these headphones and then moves into clear vocals with no sharpness when Skillet's voices reach the high registers of the song (unlike some other headphones I've heard recently *cough MEST cough*.) The large soundstage on these is a common theme with these headphones and likely has to do with the fractal mesh inside the cups. JMA has the ability to make the soundstage larger with the larger ear cup option and different tuning than what I prefer.

Something Corporate’s “Hurricane” illustrates good, clean, accurate, guitar distortion and a fast response throughout the song. The vocals come through clear, and the piano can be heard throughout the song, which cannot be heard on some headphones - so the headphones are very accurate. The bass drums slide back further than in songs designed to highlight the bass - as they should.

Switching up genres to folk vocal, John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” once again shows the strengths of the mids as the synths come in sharp and accurate. They’re followed by John's voice clearly shining through (as it is intended to do.) The presence of a large soundstage is apparent once more.

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Moving over to rap, NF’s “The Search” shows off some excellent vocals with excellent clarity and response. The strings are beautifully represented and the bass comes in extremely hard at 1:58. Eminem’s “The Monster” has the fast/boosted bass with vocals coming in evenly with the bass and Rihanna’s voice coming in very clear. There’s no sharpness to the high notes that she hits (something I asked JMA to tune out for me after the GHJM.)

Speaking of highs, I would be remiss if I didn’t post impressions of the song that killed the UM MEST Mk2 for me, Michele McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren.” The piano comes in beautifully and accurately (there is no sharp reverberation – high note solo piano is a challenge for a lot of headphones, especially closed-backs.) There is a sense of being in an empty concert hall listening to her play. Despite the extremely high notes presented in this song, there’s none of the cringe sharpness that the MEST, or, to a lesser extent, the GHJM, had. Brian Crain’s “At the Ivy Gate” shows a detailed and accurate presentation without being too sharp as well. The Piano Guys “Code Name Vivaldi” doesn’t have any issues either - the strings helping balance out the high piano notes. JMA has tuned out the harsher highs.

Now to the flying monkey in the room. Yes, there is an open-back version of these - the XTC-O. So, how do these compare to their open-back brother? The XTC-O and XTC-C are tuned similarly and have a very similar overall presentation as they use the same drivers and similar tech. The soundstage is slightly bigger on the XTC-O (which is typical for open-back headphones,) but it is really close. I will say that the XTC-O has a slightly better presentation of the mids and highs, while the XTC-C has more bass (again, just slightly as these are almost the same headphone.) JMA’s XTC line really knows how to do bass for people like me, who don’t like earthquakes in their head (get the GHJM if you do – bass cannon,) but who don’t want to miss out on any part of the bass (like you can on the Rosson RAD-0.) Both headphones are excellent, but have their different focuses and use scenarios.

The XTC-C feels like a legitimate Stellia fighter at 1/3rd the price – I’d need to get a set of the Stellias in again to do a direct comparison, but from memory, the Stellia has more forward mids, similar bass, and a smaller soundstage with similar highs. In comparison with another of the best rated closed-backs on the market, the Sony MDR-Z1R, the XTC-C has: tighter bass (slightly less of it on my tune - that's a good thing to me,) a more intimate soundstage, more pronounced mids and less sharp highs than the MDR-Z1R. The Sony is no doubt a bass cannon, and the soundstage and instrument separation are impressive, but as the closest logical competitor to the XTC-C, I found they fell flat outside of the bass department (the mids sound so far away.) The Sony's come with a better cable and have a little better build quality (as expected from Sony,) but they also make my ears hot quickly and the mesh on the outside is annoying and they're huge (thus the soundstage.) They are still great headphones, and without the XTC-C to compare them to, they would be better received - although they cost more.

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These are the best closed-back headphones I have ever heard (and can be tuned to your preference,) and at a price that throws water on the major headphone makers (melllting.) ZMF will charge you almost 3 times as much for their closed-back wood headphones and it will weigh more (I’m trying to get a hold of one for review, but the price gap remains no matter how they sound.) A high-end beryllium driver closed-back headphone for under $1k? Dang, they’re so fast, clean, and responsive – very similar to the Stellia, but you can have JMA tune it however you like (go ahead, ask Focal to do that for you haha.) In fact, the only reason these are so cheap are because JMA is still a relatively unknown manufacturer with no advertising budget, and they sell directly through their site. I predict that in a few years, these won’t be anywhere near this price.

The XTC-C and XTC-O I have are similar, but different. Which one should you get? They’re both excellent headphones at stupid-low prices (for now.) If you need closed-backs for the office or at home with family, get the XTC-C - it's a no brainer. But, between the two, I will use each one for different scenarios. If I'm trying to be quiet while people sleep, or I'm playing a videogame, or I need more bass to listen to EDM, I'm grabbing the XTC-C. If I can have more noise leak and I want a little mor soundstage, I'll grab the XTC-O. They’re both a win-win and they’re both the best headphones I’ve heard in their categories. Feel free to reach out to JMA and discuss what you'd like with them. Follow the yellow brick road and pick the one that suits you (yeah, I'm going hard on this Wizard of Oz thing.) I can’t wait to see what JMA comes up with next – an IEM? No pressure.

Start paying attention to the man behind the curtain – he’s the Wizard of Audio.

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Headphone Scoring - Each category can be split into quarter points:
Build Quality
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Great review!
would like to see a comparison with the MDR-Z7m2 , which i currently use, thogh not really closed imo.
isolation does not exist on the sony, but soundstage is good