New Head-Fier
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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Nice, Patswalker. I've been sitting on the fence (I have communicated with John a few times already) about the next pair of headphones. I do know they will be an open-back design and comfortable. Your tuning sounds excellent to me but I might be looking at the bio-cellulose version hopefully with the clean extended bass you talk about, excellent mids, and possibly a oh so slightly tamer treble? Thanks for the view into excellent audio...
You know he's not me right? Just throwing that out there haha.
Yeah, I caught that right before I saw your post...:) (I must have been re-remembering your review :wink:)


New Head-Fier
XTC – A passion project masterpiece you need to try for yourself
Pros: Feels very light in the hands and the cups themselves are very rigid
Range of adjustment for cups and headband is good (Audeze style headband). Stays seated on head when moving it around a lot
Connectors are placed correctly and use standard 3.5mm. Have a nice clicking mechanism
Proper dynamics are there (different, correct volumes at different parts of the stage depending on the frequencies coming through)
Punchy, good quantity bass without mixing or bleeding into the mids (sounds similar to standing in front of a speaker)
Mids are smooth and sound natural to me
Didn’t notice any harshness in the treble or sharpness to leading/trailing notes, but as I asked for, the vocals are somewhat elevated which some people might not like (I do like that though)
Imaging and staging are great and can be used for competitive gaming at a high level in fps games like Call of Duty
Cons: Vertical adjustment of headband is sometimes difficult because it doesn’t want to move up/down the pegs on the metal rod (the nature of this type of headband).
Requires a decent amount of power to get a full sound. You can still use a dongle on your phone, but make sure it isn’t a gimped one (volume/power wise) like using the Apple one on Android phones (putting this as a con so people don’t use under-powered laptops or dongles and complain about flat sound).



Amp/Dac used: HiFiMan EF400



I’ll keep it simple. XTC Open will be going up against the Sennheiser 8XX sticker mod, the Hifiman HE6SEV2 with a Geekria headband cover, and the Focal Stellia.

All these headphones are great, but I’ll rank them roughly with some quick tests. If I can’t tell much difference (in which one I prefer over the other), I’ll put them as about equal. This ranking may be different depending on ears and EQ but we will keep this as a stock comparison.


Build quality from best to worst: XTC, 8XX SM, Stellia, HE6SEV2.

While the 8XX is built great it isn’t going to survive as much abuse as the rigid materials of the XTC would. The 8XX admittedly has a more flawless look, but I weigh durability higher than then that. Connectors on the 8XX also suck imo.

The Stellia creaks and does not have an easily replaceable headband. It looks great but doesn’t feel like it would survive much damage honestly. The leather stains fairly easily as well. You can also make it clip but I don’t listen that loud.

The HE6 has honestly joke build quality for the price, but you are really paying for the drivers and not the build there. The headband is a hotspot after 30 minutes for me without the headband cover.

Bass from best to worst: XTC=Stellia, HE6SEV2, 8XX SM

Both XTC and Stellia have juicy, full, punchy bass. I give quantity to XTC and quality to Stellia. HE6 loses on quantity and quality, but not by much at all honestly. 8XX has good sounding bass, but just doesn’t have impact/weight. You just don’t buy the HD800 series if you are a bass head since even EQ doesn’t bring them to the level of these other 3 headphones.

Mids from best to worst: XTC=8XX SM, HE6SEV2=Stellia

XTC and 8XX mids both are pretty ideal to me sounding pleasant and smooth. HE6 and Stellia both need EQ to fix mids imo and even then, don’t have the same smoothness as the XTC and 8XX.

Treble from best to worst: HE6SEV2, 8XX SM=XTC=Stellia

I actually find the HE6 to excel in treble more than bass. It sounds the most accurate to me out of all these headphones there. I am able to hear the most treble detail with it as well. 8XX is close behind since it also brings out a lot of treble detail and I put the XTC on par with it since the XTC brings out slightly less treble detail, but has a less spiky sound and has no sibilance I could find. I think the Stellia also has slightly more treble detail, but is spiky as well at times. This section was hard for me though since I like the different sounds of all these headphones in the treble, but out of all 4 the XTC is definitely the easiest one to listen to.

Imaging from best to worst: 8XX SM, XTC, Stellia=HE6SEV2

8XX wins here for precise imaging in games. XTC is almost on the same level, and Stellia and HE6 have good positional imaging, but either lack some depth or accurate distance. The XTC is better at depth to me than the 8XX, but the 8XX is more precise in general for getting the exact location of things. All 4 headphones are actually what I consider great imaging, but if you try listening for footsteps and gunshot locations in games you will notice the differences.

Dynamics from best to worst: Stellia, XTC, HE6SEV2, 8XX SM

Stellia clearly wins here, but can be painful at times with the sudden volume swings. XTC edges HE6 due to bass dynamics (the HE6 does have them but not as pronounced). 8XX at the bottom because of being fairly flat sounding in general in terms in volume variance.

Separation from best to worst: 8XX SM, HE6SEV2, XTC, Stellia

My ears had a hard time with this honestly as all these headphones separate really well. I put 8XX first here because I had the easiest time with it’s staging allowing me to here the most layers in a track. HE6 has the slight edge over the XTC here just seeming clearer on multiple successive fast notes and in orchestral. Stellia actually doesn’t seem to hold together at a very high pace at least compared to these other headphones and I did try at higher volumes as well. It was mushing stuff together more in the treble region especially. Maybe this is caused by being closed back, I haven’t tried Utopia yet to compare.

Comparison extra:

I would argue that all 4 of these headphones are fairly similar on the technical side though overall since I had a hard time comparing them that way. I could again see you having a different preference, but I think overall the XTC still wins this comparison as being the most balanced and easy to listen to even with scalpel (detailed) tuning on it. The XTC has the best all around package. It still comes very close to 8XX in gaming while having much better bass and dynamics for music. The Stellia driver has more detail, but it’s not by enough to justify the weird other things about that headphone considering the high price of it. The HE6 falls over in build quality and to me it excels only in treble. Sure, it has amazing bass compared to a lot of other planars, but when compared to something like the Stellia or XTC it just doesn’t match up there.

Edit: Got Audeze CRBN and Stax SRM-D50 (for a juicy discount so I couldn't refuse).
CRBN are the best headphone I have now imo, but somewhat a pain because of needing to maintain a seal, and needing a decent amp or the diaphragm gets stuck to the stators (with the cheaper Kingsound amp I have the sound is the same as the Stax amp, but it can't handle the voltage swing so it gets stuck if you break the seal then you have to discharge the headphones). Also EQ in bass at the very least is needed for CRBN for my tastes it is too lean stock (and this is one of the estats that are better at bass). Would still daily XTC over it for non-dedicated listening sessions.

Songs used:

Hans Zimmer Pirates – Live in Prague:

AlienPls (turn the volume down or rip ears):

Galaxy Collapse:

3D Binaural guitars with separate strings:

HD Headphone/Speaker test, Low, Mid, High:

Through the Fire and Flames:

Removed twitch link since the streamer seems to have gone MIA.


These headphones are exceptional for the price when you consider the build, sound quality, and tuning/driver selection. If you are looking for all in one package that doesn’t compromise on any aspects this could very well be your musical friend for years to come. The hard work John put in shows. I agree with the other review on here that this is one of the best headphones I have heard for pure music enjoyment. This headphone gives the best of the big name brands a run for their money. You could have these as your main or only headphone and be perfectly satisfied. If I had to keep one of these 4 headphones it would be the XTC and that goes to show the strong value proposition from it.

As a side note I have the JM Opus X (tuned warm) which uses the bio nano wool driver. That driver is also excellent and the better choice than beryllium if you want a warmer tuning or even more bass.
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500+ Head-Fier
Holy Crap, these are how much!?
Pros: Amazing lows
Great mids
Good highs that avoid sharpness
So Freaking light
Cons: The cable is slightly microphonic
VERY slightly muted highs
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Up for review today is the new JM Audio (JMA) XTC (ecstasy?) Open back (XTC-O) - I believe I am one of the first people to receive these. Please keep in mind I bought these with my own money at full price and received nothing in exchange for this review (all of these opinions are my own, sorry, not sorry.) This is the limited Black color, other color options can be found at along with the closed-back version - which has some great looking wood earcups. According to JMA, they are at an introductory price right now to let people (like me) get the chance to listen to them since this is JM Audio's first non-limited in-house release. Spoiler alert for those of you who don't want to read my ramblings below: These are some of the best headphones I've ever heard - go buy a pair before the cat's out of the bag and the price rises. These are true Giant Killers (yeah, I hate that term too, but it applies here.)

So what makes these different from the mainstream audio companies? JMA claims they spent a year trying to find the best-sounding drivers - after listening to the XTC-O, I believe it. JMA also has proprietary technology using their "patent pending fractal fiberglass mesh and porous mesh to expand the perceived sound stage and depth while maintaining integrity of the signal without dampening or attenuating any one frequency." In layman's terms, their tech enhances the soundstage. Also, they obsess over having everything in phase and each XTC goes through a barrage of tests to ensure you're getting the best possible end product.

These are made in the USA and shipped from JMA's HQ in New York. They will also tune each headphone to whatever sound profile you're looking for, so a much bassier version or more detailed version are possible as well. Contact JMA and let them know what you want - this review is based on the version they built for me after some back and forth discussion (I'm not sure what tune mine is, but definitely not the "Club" sound version.) Each headphone also comes with a one year warranty and from what I've seen, JMA will retune a headphone for you if you don't like the sound.

XTC Case Closed.jpg

Build Quality/Comfort:

My first impression after picking the XTC-O up out of the box was how insanely light they were (feels right around 400g). Compared to my RAD-0 (600g), these are very lightweight, and also have a more comfortable headband with good clamping pressure and comfortable earpads. There are no hotspots or eardrum pressure caused by the headband or earcups. The earcups have a beautiful black grill on them that avoids ZMFs gaudy designs while still providing excellent structural integrity. The black gloss earcups look great and feel like premium quality as well.

The XLR4 cable (other terminations are available - 3.5 is standard) that came with mine works beautifully and my only complaint there is that it is slightly microphonic when moving my head. The carrying case was a pelican-style case that will protect the headphones from just about anything. Multiple other earpads were included as well to allow for different sound signatures, but the stock ones work beautifully so the other ones may just sit in the case. There are a ton of pad options that you can order with the XTC as well that will change up the sound signature including fuzzy ones!

Maybe you're thinking to yourself, wow, all of that sounds great, but I only have a potato to power these with, can my potato-amp(tm) run these? The XTC-O are VERY easy-to-drive headphones - literally, they were at listening volume at 1/100 on my Burson Conductor 3XP using balanced XLR-4 with High Gain (the default - RAD-0 were 20.) On low gain, they sit at 45/100 for comfortable listening volume while the RAD-0 is around 65/100. I don't have an unbalanced cable to test how they drive, but I assume it requires more power (side note: I tested my GHJM with XLR4 and 6.3mm and the same volume level was achieved at 40 on XLR4 and 60 on 6.3mm with low gain - assume the XTC are similar).

XTC Case Open.jpg


While I’ve owned a lot of high-end headphones, including the Meze Empyrean, Hifiman HE-1000 v2 (HEKv2,) and Focal Utopia 2020, that doesn’t mean that I can pick apart specific frequencies without instrumentation (feel free to send me things to take measurements with.) On the plus side, neither can most other people, and it makes for a boring read, so below are MY impressions on the sound – deal with it, or go write your own review (I don't get paid to do this and it is a massive time suck.) I will list the songs I use to test certain aspects of headphones and you can find my Tidal headphone test tracks playlist in my sig if you want to try your own headphones to compare. Also, I don’t have an accurate way to differentiate between mids and highs (most people don’t - can you really tell when vocals cross over 2000 Hz without measurements?), so I prefer to list specific instruments and vocals and let you judge.

XTC Case Front.jpg


I am not someone who enjoys having his brains scrambled by insane bass, and these are not tuned to be the headphones for you if you are (JMA WILL tune them for you so that your brain looks like an omelet if you'd like, or try the JMA XTC Closed (XTC-C) or the Kennerton Gjallarhorn GH 50 JM Edition v2 (GHJM), or the Symphonium Meteor for that.) That said, I do like good, clean, impactful bass representation - whether it's drums, bass guitar, or sub-synth. The XTC-O has without a doubt THE BEST bass representation I've ever heard - maybe even perfect. It has crisp, detailed bass that is superior to any of the reference headphones I've listened to (Utopia, HEKv2) without being TOO much - like some basshead headphones (looking at you GHJM with bass plugs out.) The bass is still extremely full and registers some sounds that my RAD-0 cannot reproduce. Also, the bass manages to not overwhelm the mids and highs, which still come through beautifully - no clue how JMA pulled that off, but bravo.

I always start a bass test with The Knife's "Silent Shout." This song is easily the fastest way to test whether the bass is good on a set of headphones - The Utopia, and to a lesser extent, the HE-1000 v2 for instance, are very bass-light on this song. The XTC-O has an excellent presentation of the two intro bass drums without getting bloated or overwhelming. The other song I typically use to test bass is David Guetta's "I'm Good (Blue)." The intro bass drum is full and clean and when the sub-bass comes in with so much reverb that I swear I stopped breathing. Yet, it doesn't take things too far like some other bassier headphones (once again, JMA sells those options if that's your thing.) To conclude, the XTC-O have the best sounding lows I've ever heard in a headphone.

XTC Lambo.jpg

Instruments and vocals:

The soundstage is medium-large - sort of like being in a small performance hall without the terrible school-hallway echo that headphones like the Sennheiser HD8XX have. There is a sense of a large soundstage, but the vocals and instruments still come in like you're standing next to the performers. I have more song comparisons below than normal because these headphones deserve more listening than most:

Starting off with mids, Thousand Foot Krutch's "I See Red" has fantastic detail on the guitars with beautiful reverberation and detail and the same can be said for the vocals when they come in - everything has excellent balance and clarity. This is true for Paradise Fears "Battle Scars" - there is no overwhelming low-end and the instruments and vocals are excellently presented. Ravenscode's "Be The Same" can have a really harsh transition at 0:35 when the distorted guitars come in, but the XTC-O manages to make that transition with no unnecessary harshness and without drowning out the drums or vocals. The Dirty Heads "Sound of Change" has a very challenging transition at 0:35 that a lot of headphones struggle with as they transition from vocals to vocals with drums and guitars, but the XTC-O manages to perform it beautifully without any harshness or distortion and all without drowning out any of the guitars or synths in the background. Seriously, these have fantastic mids to go with the top-notch lows.

Moving to the highs, I do have to point out that they do have slightly muted highs compared to the RAD-0 (which are considered perfectly tuned highs by most reviewers). That may be my fault because I complained that the GHJM had harsh highs, so JMA may have tuned them down for me. I wouldn't say that any part is missing and they do avoid all harshness in the upper frequencies of vocals and instruments. An example of this is Written By Wolves' "Elastic Heart" which can have the tendency to have a very high-pitched and annoying noise (high-hat?) in the background which is most evident at 1:08 - the XTC-O manages to display that sound without it being annoying. That said, the RAD-0 portrays that high-pitched sound more clearly while also preventing any harshness from the sound (to be clear, this is an insane level of nitpick, but if I'm going to say that these compete with $3,000+ headphones, I'm going to nitpick). The vocals and guitars still come through beautifully and the lows don't drown out any part of the mids and highs in this song.

Michele McLaughlin's "At the Ivy Gate" shows how wonderfully the XTC-O represents piano - it literally feels like I'm sitting in the room with her as she plays and every note comes across with excellent detail and clarity, even the high notes. Mariana's Trench's "Astoria" is a great example of Josh Ramsey's fantastic voice, and the entire intro is about as high as you can expect vocals to ever go (I saw this song live in 2016.) Starting at 2:20, the XTC-O manages to do a fantastic presentation of all of the notes, but compared to the RAD-0, the guitars do overwhelm the vocals a tad on this song - more than the RAD-0 does in the same section. Surprisingly, after listening to these headphones back to back, the RAD-0 feels flatter in the same section - it's missing parts in the mids that the XTC-O presents and the RAD-0 sounds a little harsher and less "warm." This is the same problem I had with the bass on the RAD-0 - it feels like parts of the song are missing, which I never would have noticed unless I was listening to both.

After comparing these two headphones back to back (I have both on my desk, so a back-to-back comparison is easy) I honestly think the XTC-O is my favorite of the two (it has the fuller sound) - I never thought I'd say that the RAD-0 was the harsher and thinner sounding headphone in a comparison with ANYTHING since it was my previous favorite headphone. Crap - now JMA just needs to make headphones as pretty as the RAD-0 haha. I may need to get the XTC-C now.


I've already covered a pretty good comparison between the XTC-O and RAD-0 above because it was easy to swap the XLR4 back and forth and listen to songs back to back between the XTC-O and RAD-0. I can't do that with the other headphones I've owned, all I can do is provide from memory (unless you feel like sending me headphones to compare.) To give you an idea of what I've owned on my quest to find the best headphones, I traded my DROP Focal Elex for Meze Empyreans, which had too much bass with the leather earpads and a thinner overall sound with the velour pads. So, I traded them for the Focal Utopia 2020, which does have fantastic speed and detail but is a VERY neutral sound that I never liked that much. So, I picked up the Hifiman HE-1000 v2 (yeah, I was following Crinnacle's rankings for awhile, he and I have VERY different ideas of good sound,) and those have similar detail to the Utopia, but with a better low-end. Lastly, I sold those when I got my RAD-0s because the RAD-0s have an even better low-end with a little less detail, but fantastic mids and highs that are a great "fun" sound (more V-shaped I guess.)

Do the XTC-O have the detail and speed of the Focal Utopia on the highs and mids? Nope, they're not made with $1k worth of Beryllium - but it's close, with a more fun/better low-end. Do they match the RAD-0s highs? It's really close, but not quite, yet they present details in the bass and mids that the RAD-0 doesn't even know are there while providing an overall more-full sound. Are they the bass cannons that the Gjallarhorn GH50s are? Nope, they have less bass, but it is much cleaner, tighter, and more well-represented without losing the bass like the RAD-0 or the HEKv2 and Utopia. They also beat the GH50 in the mids and highs. These are the best all-around headphone I've ever listened to - there, I said it. Good job JMA.

XTC Desk Side.jpg


These are not your next neutral reference headphone with which to critically listen to every string in Mozart's Violin Concerto No 3 while sipping your Pappy Van Winkle 23- those headphones will cost $5k+ (so will the Pappy.) The XTC-O is the headphone to listen to rock, EDM, rap, piano - and yes, even classical strings, for enjoyment and detail and beautifully represented bass. These are my favorite headphones ever. Please keep in mind that mine are pretty heavily modified by JMA to my tastes, so you may have to ask for the Wolfhawk tuning - or, get them tuned to your own preferences. Also, a non-microphonic cable would be nice, but at least the quality/sound from the cable is excellent.

Yeah, yeah - I get it. I sound like a fan-boy, but I actually had several issues with JMAs modified Kennerton Gjallarhorn (that's more the fault of Kennerton's driver design than JMA though.) JMA has managed to put amazing TOTL drivers into lightweight headphones and offer them for an insane price. The XTC-O manages to compete with some of the best headphones on the market for a FRACTION of the price, but I doubt they'll stay at this price - we're looking at the next Audeze-like startup. Grab a pair before they sell out or increase in price.

You can buy these here:

Headphone Scoring - Each category can be split into quarter points:
Build Quality
Ear Pads / Tips
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The closed version I have unfortunately suffer from a weak isolation, on the go it does not isolate well from outside noise and this weakness spoiled the sound.
Yeah, they're not made for that. The B&W Px8 is a good on the go headphone. Pick something with noise canceling for that.
Not necessary, my VC is great on the go and well isolated.