Pros: great value, good middle-point between warm/relaxing and analytical sound signature
Cons: bass quantity can be overwhelming, included eartips of low quality
Price: 30 euros w/ discount coupon + 8 euros for shipping ~~ $40 / $50 inc. shipping
Dynamic driver IEM
About the reviewer
Music lover who played piano for over 10 years. Don't consider myself an audiophile although some friends would disagree
Coming from Shure SE350 --> Monster Turbine Pro Coppers + Apple In-ears, with various cheaper offerings in between. Note that the XE200Pros, which I nabbed for roughly $50 inc. shipping, are cheaper than all of the above by a large margin
Listen to a large range of music, as you will see in my notes
First review on head-fi forums! Tried my best to be specific and welcome feedback!
What I was looking for
It should be noted that I went into this purchase with high expectations. I am on a quest for the BEST set for relaxed listening: warm, rich, smooth, immense open sound-stage, airy, non-analytical
This being my first set of IEMs with wood housing, I had great expectations from what I had heard about wood IEMs: warm, sweet, and with excellent soundstage
On to the review!
Packaging / Accessories
Very simple packaging, arrives in a white envelope and sealed plastic wrapping (no box, kind of like computer hardware)
Comes with a simple Xears carrying case made of synthesized fabric. Not the highest quality (especially velcro snap) but it gets the job done.
Note about the seller: Thomas from Xears was absolutely great. He provided great answers to all my questions throughout the process (I shipped to Beijing, China) and was very nice/helpful. If you chat with him on the Xears website he will readily offer you
Variety of eartips: 3 sizes of rubber tips, 2 sizes of triple-flanged, 1 bi-flanged, and also 1 set of foam tips
Interesting nylon-wrapped cables in Y-shape
Speaker size is visibly larger than most IEMs I have handled (Thomas mentioned they are a 10mm driver vs. the Xears TD-III's 9mm)
Wood housing is large but light, and matched with plastic.
The design is very straight-forward, and although does not feel as industrial or well-put together as my Monster or Apple IEMs, do feel decently solid.
[Space reserved for update in a few months on how it handles wear and tear]
Isolation / Comfort
Though you get some variety, the included ear-tips are not of the highest quality (and that's being nice). The large triple-flange set came disfigured and frayed at the edges. The others were fine but coming from Monster super-tips it was a very noticeable step down.
I did have some problems getting a good isolation with included ear-tips, and ended up with a set of Comply tips (please keep this in mind while reading the rest of the review since they are known to change the sound of the earphones slightly)
Housing is quite large, and not the most comfortable for long-time wear
As is usually the case, I did find that wearing them over the ear much more comfortable than straight-down
High efficiency. Had the volume turned way down on the source and it was VERY loud! Comparable to my MTPCs in this sense!
Bass, bass, bass. High quantity, but also high accuracy. Seems to have a very fast decay time which is not what I expected at all from the reputation that wood-housing headphones have (natural reverb). Because of this, the soundstage does not seem as large as I expected. Make no mistake though, the sound does reach into sub-bass and have a good amount of "boom" (kick drums have kick), but it may be a lot faster than anticipated if you go in with the same expectations as I did.
Because of the high accuracy however, bass-heavy songs that are well-crafted become a true joy to listen to (see Zeds Dead's remix of Paradise Circus by Massive Attack // Hip Hop by Dead Prez // Charles Mingus). The flip-side of this is of course that bass/drums can become quite prominent and attention-grabbing in other songs where it is not meant to be– not in a boomy, poppy kind of way but rather in a "Let me put this bass speaker INSIDE your ear" way. Blame the source, but songs with sub-par bass will not be forgiven while wearing these IEMs. To be more specific, more synthy/organ-type bass sounds might sound overpowering, but faster/clarity-demanding bass instruments with naturally fast decay times and harder attacks like upright basses and percussion (snare drums) will sound great. Just to clarify here: many bass-heavy songs can become overwhelming, and some may be reaching for the equalizer for relief.
On to the mids. I have always been a fan of a little bump in mids and especially the low-mids to create that smoother, more rich sound. This, however, is NOT what the XE200Pro delivers. Instead, you get a balanced sound and the bass does not bleed into the mids at all. Likewise, the upper-mids receive no bump and vocals will not sound "forward". That being said, the mids are present and are present with great clarity if ever so slightly recessed (possibly to my taste).
Although the vocals can be harder to appreciate when competing with the bass, they absolutely soar on tracks where the arrangement and instrumentation matches with the sound signature. The best example I found while listening was Sublime's Santeria which was an absolute ******* pleasure to listen to (yes, I had to use the F word there, I don't even like the song that much). In general, I found that songs that emphasized vocals with guitar or piano accompaniment common to singer-songwriters were very enjoyable to listen to (see Jack Johnson // Kina Grannis // Jason Mraz).
The treble definitely rounds out the balanced sound signature of the XE200s, and is as accurate as the mids and lows. Although in rare cases this accuracy can be a bit fatiguing, most of the time the treble is delivered as is with no frills (and no pain). On more mellow tracks the treble can sound quite airy and pleasant to the ears, as if being played on an open stage. Again, because of the accuracy acoustic instruments are able to communicate more subtlety and emotion (in contrast with softer "hmmmmm"-like choir sounds that would be more suited to a sweeter sound signature). Combined with the open soundstage, this can make the treble wonderful on certain tracks, especially on piano tracks (see Dave Brubeck // Chopin Nocturnes), and guitar tracks (Tender Surrender by Steve Vai // Yngwie Malmsteen's Black Star). On other tracks, though, the subtleties of treble will be hard to notice considering the large amount of bass present. Regardless, this is actually one of the nicer points of the XE200s, so know that they are capable of producing this kind of sound.
Very good for hip-hop, bass-heavy rock (Rage Against the Machine)
Good for SOME electronic music (can be too much bass, although I know there is no such thing for some of you)
Decent but not great for pop / indie / soul / r&b
Great for acoustic vocal music / singer-songwriters / folk
Great for instrumental music like jazz, classical piano, guitar
Were these the IEMs I was looking for?
To be honest, these were not exactly what I was looking for, which was a sound signature warmer, richer, smoother with a bigger/airier soundstage than my MTPCs, with clear, but resonant bass for the most relaxed listening experience possible. However, like the MTPCs they are a great midpoint between that sound signature and more analytical IEMs.
Review Summary/ Conclusion
These are a great, balanced set of IEMs that are a damn steal for the price paid for admission.