JM Audio XTC Open

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JM Audio XTC Open Review
Pros: Incredible sound stage (best I've heard)
clean effortlessness bass
Great mids
Super clear treble that takes me on a journey deep into the recordings
JM Audio will tune them for your preference and if you don't love it when you get it you can send it back for a re-tune until its perfect
Swiftest and best customer service I have ever experienced
Cons: Seeing as how they can be tuned for you...what cons could there be?

JM Audio XTC Open Review

To preface this...most of the time I am very wary of reviews like the one I wrote below. I do not love everything I hear in the audio world. I have sold or returned much more gear than I have kept. I am a skeptic when it comes to most audio reviews and I question most things that everyone thinks is amazing. These, however, awed me so much that they have inspired me to do something I have never done. In all the years, I have never written anything like this. It was fun and I hope some people like what I wrote. I had a good time writing it and might even do more now.

I have been trying to wrap my head around how to write this review for a couple weeks so I think what I’ll do is start with what I feel are the main specifics. That way if you want you can just go and jump to the website now, order a pair, then get back to reading my thoughts and feelings because these are extremely special headphones that I am constantly blown away by and I very much feel that if people have a collection of headphones these should absolutely be one of the staples of your collection. They are exactly that in mine and I listen to them more often than any others. They are an experience not to be missed and I truly mean that. I feel like once I took the time to wrap my head around what John achieved in making these, once I understood what they represented, I really could lean heavily into that which showed me how important they are within my headphone collection and how these are the first headphone I have had in years that has made me want to write about them.

Personal Specifics:
-The version I ordered is the XTC Open 50mm Dynamic Beryllium with the N52 magnets. The pads that I have fallen in love with are the angled fuzzy memory foam. This was John’s recommendation. When I reached out to order, I asked for warm yet detailed with scalpel tuning and bass. Yes you are reading that right, you can reach out to John and he will tune them to your specific wants. No extra charge. if you want to pause your reading and just jump on that now. That is the first thing that made me say “Absolutely yes” on buying these.
-The other headphones in my collection: Dan Clark Aeon Noir, LSA HP-1, LSA HP-2 Ultra, Modhouse T60-RP Argon, SJY Starry Night, Audeze LCD-2 Classic - pretty heavily modded by me, Sennheiser HD 600 heavily modded by me (some Custom Cans mods some my own), Beyerdynamic Custom Cans Uber DT880 600ohm, Grado RS-1X, HarmonicDyne Zeus. All of these are VERY different from one another. I list these here because I want to show how these fit well within my collection. I do not believe in the one pair to rule them all idea, I like to look at headphones as specific tools for specific moments in sound. The XTC Open, even within this collection I am very proud of, does something none of these other headphones come anywhere close to doing.
-The source chains I used: Chord Qutest connected to Headamp GSX Mini, Chord Qutest connected to Rebel Amp (fantastic combo with these headphones), BorderPatrol DAC connected to LTA MZ2, Audio-GD R-7 MK2 connected to HE-1 MK2, Chord Mojo 2, and Clear Audio Concept turntable w/Hana ML cartridge connected to Vista Audio Phono 2 connected to LTA MZ2. I also have a Hagerman Tuba and a modified Elekit TU8200R I pull into the chains from time to time. The reason I am listing these is because I want to express the #1 thing about these headphones and that is that they are INCREDIBLY revealing in ways that make it so each one of these source chains to me sounded like a completely different experience. I LOVE how they sound with detailed DACs and warm amps but they sound amazing on anything. They deliver to my ears exactly what is in each chain more so than any other pair of speakers/IEMs/or headphones that I have heard. That is what I mean by revealing. It is as if, when listening on these headphones, I have a direct and totally transparent sonic view into exactly what was happening though the whole source chain with zero distraction from the headphones themselves. I have heard the phrase “These are like a magnifying glass into the music” and I would say yes 10000% for these. I would be surprised if I find another that is more in that zone anywhere close to the price point of these. It is an absolutely incredible experience. Also the same with pads. Pad-rolling is wild on these. More about that later. What this means is that if you are interested in these please make sure you are paying strong attention to the devices in your chain. With some the soundstage is meh, with others it is vast and realistic, with tubes it is super tuby. Its almost like these headphones are finally showing me what all the silly reviewers mean with all those weird descriptor words they use.

Ok now onto the fun part…my opinions! Be warned, these are only my opinions based on my experiences with my ears and as you don’t have my ears or my wonderfully strange brain, yours might differ. For specifics and objective questions I would direct you here… you can find the email there and John is super responsive and super nice. I’ve never met the guy in person but to me his customer service is unparalleled.

I am deep into the Hifi world but I am also a teacher so I cannot afford gear that costs as much as a BMW. I do, however tend to hunt down and collect pieces that have massive value to price proposition and in the past few years I can count on one hand the products that have totally blown my mind into a million pieces when considering how much their cost and the JM Audio XTC Open tuned the way I got them are easily in the top of that small group.

An example of just how perfect these were tuned for me, given the descriptors I posted above, is that when I first got them I was a bit confused. It felt like all I got was deep bass and meh mids and highs. It was as if the mids and highs were covered up and hidden behind a curtain. I let it burn in a few days and it was a bit better but it still seemed like 70% of the sound was in the bass and only 30% was in the mids and highs. The one thing I noticed in that imbalance was that but also hidden within there was some really incredible soundstage magic happening. Even with the muted mids and highs which to me is where the most sound stage definition comes from I was still hearing an incredible 3D experience that was at least up there with or ran laps around many of my other headphones (this is why I listed them all above). I loved the deep detailed bass and thought about reaching out to John for a re-tune to balance it all out but then I had an idea. I have been heavy into DIY audio for the last couple years and I have modified a few headphones on my own as you can see on my list. I thought back to when I modded my Sennheiser HD600 and the first thing I did was remove the thin foam sheet that sits between the driver and pads so there was nothing there and I remembered that this one change opened up the highs and mids dramatically. So what I did with the MJ XTC open was just that. I took the pads and cut away the thin sheet that would be between the driver and my ear, so that essentially made them donuts with a direct shot, if that makes sense, and THAT WAS IT! That was what I needed. This one move instantly rocketed the headphones into another dimension for me. Far more revealing and precise than any others listed in my collection. To be clear, this is not at all a knock on anything John does and designs. They’re amazing and I'm sure he could have worked magic on his end, but I have a huge box of pads, I love pad rolling, and with that slight move alone was an incredible change. Way more so than any pad rolling experience I have had in the past. Those past experiences pad rolling have always been something along the lines of slightly heightened this or slightly exaggerated that pad to pad. What I am talking about here is a completely different sonic experience and I didn’t even change the pad, I just cut away that thin fabric on the inside of the pad. This was the first instance in which I realized just how incredibly revealing these headphones can be because I saw just how much they react to that change.

I briefly mentioned the soundstage above and want to dig into that some more here because to me this is where these truly shine next to how they scale with changes. I mainly do two three different types of headphone listening. The first is the full immersive get lost in the transcendent magic of music, the second is listening as company to another task like writing, grading papers, walking, etc., the third is gaming. Before I go on I will say, I did not mention this before, these are super light so they are glorious for long tasks and wearing for hours. Especially with the angled fuzzy pads. In all these three listening modes my #1 thing I look for is an engaging soundstage. I’m going to get right to the point and say that these headphones do things with the sound stage, especially with the pads opened up as I described, that no other headphone I have ever heard has come anywhere close to doing. It is insane. I hear sounds not only to the left and right, I hear them half left and back, far right to the front, up, and down. With the right music, I hear sounds swirling and moving around me in ways that are so immersive and realistic that if I put the right music on and sit back with my eyes closed I will lose myself and come to thinking mere minutes have gone by and the entire album has played. As I type this right now I am listening to the wonderful Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders with the London Symphony Orchestra album and I hear the harpsichord all around me, the bells up and to the left, the voices right behind me, a harp to the lower right, and the actual actuation of the pedals on the harpsichord behind me and to the left. All of these exist in an incredibly realistic natural space. People talk of the Sennheister HD 800s as the soundstage king and to me, the XTC Open as I have set up are what the Sennheiser HD800s wished it was. I had those Sennheisers and I sold them. To me all it was was basically a sonic cheat code for gaming and an unrealistic expansion of what could be an incredible soundstage but just wasn’t. I’m not going to hold onto a $1200 gaming only pair of headphones when I could have these that do a far more realistic version of everything the HD800s promised while also doing perfectly well all other types of listening I do. Bass that is beautiful, real, deep, and so believable that I don’t notice it when it shows up. That’s perfect! In two channel speaker set-ups when you set up the subwoofer, the rule of perfection is that it should fill in the parts of the sound that the speakers do not reach down to but when it hits you cannot notice it. It is invisibly effective. That is the ideal and that is exactly what the bass is like on these headphones. The mids are gorgeous and super detailed and the highs are super clean and super sharp. The let your ears see deep into the recordings.

I had the experience that many have shared when these revealed to me parts of the songs that I never heard before. Songs I have been listening to for 20+ years. It’s really fun. There is a physicality to listening to these headphones for me. These scale very well so the higher up I go the more I’ll get. I was just listening on my Audio-GD chain described above and there are parts of songs that are so clear that i can hear the actuation of piano pedals. This is NOT to be mistaken with to high and pingy. If you have tried to listen to Beyerdynamics for hours, that is no fun. This is. It is not fatiguing. It is lovely and enveloping. All the elements are laid out so clearly on the soundstage that it reminds me of being in live music. If you’ve ever been in a practice room, it’s like that. It’s a realistic separation and placement like nothing I have heard before. This is not only in the high end Audio-GD set up. If I USB connect my Chord Mojo 2 to my computer or ipad it still happens, just not as profoundly. The only description I have read of a pair of headphones that has such a unique experience associated with them that I can think of is the ZMF Atrium but the MSRP on those is over 3x the price and I hear there is a bit of detail loss for the warmth in their signature. I do not have a pair to compare but I do have a pair coming as a self-gift for finishing grad school and I’ll most likely report back with how these stack up. I’m super curious to see how they compare.
This is the first review I have written and my life is not about finding and listening to every headphone I can. I don’t want that life. I wanted to write this because I wish John had more press and praise because over the years of listening to the headphones by big well loved companies, none I can remember bring the experience these XTC Opens do. I’m not saying they’re better, I am saying they are different. New and fresh and SUPER fun. Like I said before, an experience and I would add an experience not to be missed if you like headphones.

There is something magic to me about the $500-$1000ish price range for headphones these days. It’s as if that price zone is where the possibility for designers and engineers to really experiment with new ideas begins to show up. It seems like this price range is where they can start to take big chances and create niches instead of just doing their version of what other people have been doing. What this means for people like me is that this is where I begin to find incredible value in what I buy because this is where I can find headphones that can be precision instruments for specific experiences with specific types of music. A great example of this idea is the Grado RS-1X I have. Those are flawless for rock, jazz, folk, anything with percussion and live recorded instruments for me. Not my favorite on electronic or hip hop though which means I use them only for rock, jazz, and folk and its always a wonderful time. I have heard a lot below $500 like the Sennheiser HD600s, Fostex, noise canceling Sony Bose, and lower end Grados, and Beyers that do most everything well. They aren’t bold and aren't pushing the envelope. They are resting on their laurels in the comfort zone and they do that very well. To date in my top 5 of all time are the Sennheiser HD600s. That said, the $500-$1000 zone is more adventurous to me. It shows me that every part matters. They reveal enough to let me have agency in my listening experience with taking serious consideration in what is in my source chains. The quality of the recordings I listen to reveal themselves for better for for worse, which means with some effort on my part incredible mind bending experiences can happen in this zone. This to me is my favorite. Above $1000 we get designs that start to take the precision of the super fun middle ground and end up, through the ability to spend much more on R&D and engineering, makeing more do-all headphones that basically end up doing everything perfectly. Like a swiss army knife and into the one headphone to do everything idea. Don’t get me wrong, as amazing as it sounds to get some $4000 headphones that do everything perfectly like my full collection would, that sounds awesome for sure but I like collecting and that sounds like cheating and no fun. I like the dig, the search for stuff like these headphones. For the rest of us, most adults with a job can save up for a while and if they really want, get a pair of $500-$1000 headphones and comparable dac and amp and begin to have one of many “Holy crap I didn’t know what they were talking about would be THIS good.” experiences and I HIGHLY recommend doing so. Every time I put these JM Audio XTC Opens on my mind is blown into a million pieces. Bang for the buck, price to performance, in all my time listening to headphones I don’t know that I have found a set that comes anywhere close to these below $1000 and I will be surprised if I do anytime soon.

If you are on the fence, just reach out and email John at I don’t work for him, I just think he’s a good dude who is super passionate about what he does and what he does is both absolutely incredible and the best value I’ve found in years. Don’t forget, these are extremely revealing headphones if you get them set up the way I have mine, it might take a bit of navigation with pad rolling, tube rolling, source chain combination, or emails back and forth to find your synergy but he is offering to tune these specifically to what you want and will take them back for a re-tune until it is perfect. What is there to lose?
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I agree. They're a stunning headphone.


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