With the Dream XLS, DITA set out to make the everyday flagship; a monitor that – for lack of a better word – assimilates to the music and immerses the listener as seamlessly as possible. For better or for worse, DITA have achieved just that. The XLS is an in-ear that comes across uncoloured and unexaggerated; eschewing both punchy, contrast-filled dynamics and gooey, euphonic warmth for a response that simply sounds neutral. While the signature isn’t exclusive to the XLS, what is is how refined it sounds at the same time. While the Dream is a detailed, nuanced piece, never is any of it ever forced. Its delivery is dainty, its dynamics are calculated, and instruments are even and light; no one really overshadowing another.
At the same time, it’d be unfair to call the XLS sterile or soulless either. While linear and natural-sounding, this Dream also boasts a radiant, organic timbre. This wet tone extends from bottom to top, and provides a pleasing togetherness, which prevents it from sounding cold or clinical. Instruments are realistically textured as well; resolved without much egregious help from the highs. Much of this comes from the XLS’s delicate tonal balance, but also a key contributor here is its clean background. Instruments sit on a crisp backdrop, further enhanced by stereo separation, layering and a stage that spans wide on every axis. While its tone largely lies unassuming, the XLS’s spatial and technical faculties are nothing to scoff at.
The XLS’s low-end is perhaps where its reference tuning most clearly shows. Unlike the Sennheiser IE800S’s or the FAudio Major’s of the world that emphasise the bottom to highlight that DD, the Dream opts to sit back and prioritise clarity and control. Its lows are tight and clean, cocooned all-around with pristine air. Kick drums in particular are loaded with detail. Tonally, though, they do have a hair more thwack than thump; a slightly brighter bass in timbre. But, when called for, that diaphragm is capable of delivering some real body and weight. Mark Lettieri’s Chicory is a perfect showcase for the bass’s capacity of both finesse and fun. Dirty Loops’ Work Sh*t Out on the XLS sees a seamless transition from one to the other.
Obviously, then, this is not a tuning you’d prefer if you were a basshead. The lows sit squarely behind the mids and highs, which is what gives the XLS its light, dainty response. But, it’s also what limits its warmth and rumble. Though its low-end detail retrieval and control are fantastic, I hesitate to call it transparent, because I believe that label requires an even split between that clarity and presence. For example, the kick on Mark Lettieri’s Bubinga – the track following Chicory – feels a tad flat and one-dimensional without those heavier, rumblier overtones. Genres like EDM or metal will also miss a touch of punch. So, while resolving and pristine, bass quantity is certainly worth keeping in mind, especially if you like lots of it.
The XLS’s midrange was a surprise at first listen. Rather than the tight, crisp, clarity-focused sound most dynamic in-ears tend to opt for, the Dream had quite a rich, brazen, vibrant presence. Instruments were big, boisterous and bright; along the upper-mids, especially. It sounded like they had a longer decay, creating this radiant glow. Now, that exuberance did end up tightening throughout the burn-in process. Instruments don’t linger as much now as they did out of the box. But, they nevertheless still maintain this articulate quality, adding punch and size to horns, guitars and synths alike. Listening to those instruments on Snarky Puppy’s Go, you get this light, clear and airy timbre with forwardness and impact as well.
Now, when I say forwardness, I don’t necessarily mean this warm, buttery sort of intimacy. The Dream’s vocal range is still a tad neutrally-positioned. Rather, I more so mean a sense of immediacy and force to its projection; again, more so in its higher ranges. The XLS’s low- and centre-mids are less present by comparison, because of a slow incline from 1-3kHz. As a result, instruments don’t have that much density or heft to them, especially lower-pitched ones. Baritones like Michael Bublé miss out on that last bit of gravitas; sounding more throaty than chesty. A steeper rise from 1-2kHz would’ve given it a meatier, more natural timbre in my opinion. But, the benefit of this tonality is the clarity and pristine-ness it brings to violins or woodwinds. Combined with capable technique, this is a tone ideal for lovers of lightness, transparency and air.
Up high, the XLS shows great restraint. While past iterations of the Dream sported an elevated high-treble for clarity, the latest has a softer, rounder edge. Transients are less brittle, and notes are easier on the ear. Cymbals and hi-hats have a touch of thickness to them; not too crisp. But, this doesn’t mean they’re dulled or muffled either. They still have excellent resolution, due to the XLS’s great texturing. Nuance is there by the truckload, and attack is as swift as ever, but it’s just a tad more bodied, silky and feathered in texture. And, because the XLS’s lows are tight anyway, there isn’t any warmth for the highs to combat, really. To me, this is an exquisitely balanced treble: Open, dainty and smooth with zero metallicity.
Where this top-end is most strongly coloured is the lower-treble. For clarity, in space of the high-treble, the XLS employs a 6kHz peak for its articulation. As mentioned on my First Look, it’s a rise that – while crucial for the monitor’s signature – makes this Dream somewhat pairing-sensitive. While there are vintage (or vintage-style mixed) tracks like Larnell Lewis’s Beignets or David Benoit’s Cast Your Fate To The Wind with some of the most realistically-rendered cymbals I’ve heard yet, you’ll also have modern material like Charlie Puth’s Done For Me, where every other line is a wince. While it is an ironically perfect vouch for the XLS as a reference monitor, it’s also a word of warning for those of you with less forgiving libraries; never painful, but off-putting, for sure. More mindfully-mastered material, then, will be rewarded with wonderful clarity.
The Dream XLS’s colourless, calculated response makes it endlessly versatile, as long as you buy into its philosophy. This is an in-ear for those who want music presented without any extra oomph or flash, and those who want to drift away into their own, personal soundscapes. You would be one of these individuals, if you’re looking for any of these three aspects:
Tonal, dynamic and positional transparency: Again, the XLS is defined by its refinement and neutrality. Its instruments are smooth, clean and matter-of-fact; never projecting more than the one next to them. While it won’t do much for contrast, it is ideal if you want the monitor to simply vanish when you’re listening; natural, transparent and oh-so-easy on the ear.
Clean, precise imaging without sounding cold or clinical: At the same time, though, that neutrality never comes off surgical or humdrum either. The Dream still has soul to its sig via a wet, vibrant and radiant timbre. So, while instruments aren’t necessarily close to the listener, they do mingle with one another to create a cohesive, unified and musical soundscape.
A clean, balanced sound without a sharp top-end: The XLS’s transparent, even-handed signature comes without too big of an emphasis on the highs either. Besides a 6kHz peak for articulation, the Dream’s top-end largely remains calm. So, it’s an ideal response if you want a reference-type sound prioritising no one range over another, that’s smooth and silky too.
But, at the same time, the Dream’s reserved, even-handed sig is rather stubborn as well. You can’t quite push it towards any sort of colour or tonal bias. The same goes for its dynamics, which – while equipped with range – never really kick in if it’s gonna be to the detriment of balance. If you deem the three traits below important, the Dream may not be for you:
A punchy, energetic response: The XLS’s refinement inherently lessens contrast, energy and sparkle. If you’re coming from more coloured monitors, instruments may not seem as dynamic or rhythmic as you’re used to. If you tend to prefer lots of sparkle with your in-ears, or you prefer more dynamic genres of music like hip-hop or EDM, the XLS may not be ideal.
Gooey, intimate warmth: Heading over to the opposite end of the spectrum, the Dream doesn’t sound pillowy or intimate either. Instruments aren’t thin, but they don’t have great amounts of body or thickness either. So, don’t be mistaken, the Dream’s silkiness and refinement will not translate to butteriness or warmth. It is more-or-less as neutral as neutral gets.
A rumbly, visceral bass response: Despite the XLS’s dynamic driver, one shouldn’t expect the guttural, woofer-like sub-bass that those diaphragms are known for. While the in-ear is certainly capable of a physical, solid bass, it isn’t emphasised in any way in terms of quantity. So, do not go into the Dream XLS expecting lows that are anything beyond linear or neutral.