Reviewed Jan 2011
Details: Bullet-shaped budget earphone from Xears/Playaz
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: 24.95€)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: 125 dB | Freq: 6-28k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ I-plug j-cord
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock triple-flanges, Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (2.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and padded soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (3/5) – The metal shells are similar in appearance to those of the Fischer Audio Silver Bullets but feel lighter and a bit less solid. The j-cord is thick and soft – identical to that found on the TD100 – but lacks articulated strain reliefs on housing entry just like the Silver Bullet. Some driver flex is present but the XB120 seems to be less offensive in that regard than the TD100
Isolation (2.5/5) – Limited by short nozzles and wide housings but still decent
Microphonics (4/5) – Fairly low but the j-cord is a two-edged sword – it reduces cable travel and therefore microphonics but at the same time makes the earphones more difficult to wear over-the-ear
Comfort (4/5) – The housings of the XB120 are not tapered at the front like those of the Fischer Silver Bullets and the sharp edges prevent deep insertion but comfort is fine with shallow insertion. The light weight of the earphones means that the long shells don’t torque the tips loose, even while walking
Sound (6.3/10) – The sound of the XB120PRO is both quite impressive from a technical standpoint and easily likeable, especially with the price factored in. The bass has good depth and impact. Extension is solid and the mid-bass hump is quite shallow. The Bullets definitely aren’t bass monsters – even the Brainwavz M2 is a bit more impactful – but they aren’t lacking, either. However, the bass is a bit soft of note and can sound a little hazy and slow at times. It’s not muddy but the Brainwavz M2 that I used as a benchmark sounds noticeably tighter. On the whole the bass reminds me of the Thinksound TS02 but with slightly rounder notes.
The midrange is smooth, clean, and clear. Clarity is on-par with the better $60 sets and detail isn’t far behind, either – very impressive for an earphone costing less than lunch for two. The soft and voluminous bass leaves the midrange slightly warm and the roundness of note carries over to vocals and guitars. Compared to the similarly-priced Meelec M6, the XB120Pro lacks crispness and a bit of bite but sounds smoother, more forward, and more cohesive on the whole. Timbre is quite natural as well and the open presentation helps make up for the lack of crispness. So far, then, my experience with bullet-shaped earphones has been two for two in terms of genuinely excellent midranges.
The treble is similar to the midrange in smoothness and clarity but emphasized a bit less on the whole. Still, it is neither forward nor recessed and has decent detail. There is minimal sparkle and extension is not quite up there with many pricier sets but again the XB120PRO is extremely impressive for the asking price. The overall balance is actually quite good, with a slight bass dominance counterbalanced in part by impressive midrange and treble clarity. The presentation, too, is impressive – the XB120 generally sounds big and spacious. The soundstage doesn’t have the greatest depth but sounds quite open. Separation is decent but positioning and imaging are somewhat vague – partly due to the softness of the sound the XB120 can sound a bit ‘smeared’, especially with fast and busy tracks. Still, for the money, the XB120 is incredibly adept at making the competition sound tinny and ‘in-the-head’ in comparison.
Value (9/10) – The Xears Bullet XB120PRO is yet another high bang/back contender from Xears that sacrifices a bit of build quality and isolation to offer more sonic performance per dollar. In some ways the XB120 is an improvement over the older (and pricier) TD100 – the included tips are better, the carrying case has been improved, and driver flex is inoffensive most of the time. It still carries the j-cord of the TD100 and lacks real strain relief on housing entry but for sound this good at the price point. I’m willing to overlook that. Those looking for a sturdy <$30 earphone to abuse be better off with something like the Earjax Tonic. Looking purely at audio performance, however, the XB120 is clearly a top contender in its price bracket.
Pros: Class-leading performance, lightweight housings
Cons: J-corded, tubular shells may be a bit too large for those with smaller ears