Custom Art FIBAE 7 (€1100)
The Dream XLS and FIBAE 7 share several tonal characteristics. Both have that refined, clear and transparent hue, which reveals instruments in a rounded manner; fleshing out the whole note, rather than merely adding crispness through top-end peaks, for example. By tone alone, both in-ears are reference-ready. But, there does lie several differences between them too. The FIBAE 7’s 3kHz rise gives it a far richer, fluffier midrange. Instruments sound fuller and resonant, while the XLS comes across more compact, tight and clean by comparison. Combined with the latter’s crisper low-treble peak, you will hear more definition and clarity out of the XLS, while Custom Art’s flagship will deliver meatiness, intimacy and body.
Technically, I wouldn’t really give one a sizeable lead over the other. I’d hand the Dream the edge in separation and stage cleanliness, because of its tighter notes and more present top-end. Its imaging is only a hair more precise as well. But, in terms of resolution and background blackness, the FIBAE 7 impressively keeps up, despite its richer, more saturated tint. Perhaps its upper-midrange isn’t as definitively crisp, because of its 3kHz peak’s light masking effect. But, you do get lots of texture from both the FIBAE 7 and XLS regardless. Despite their wildly distant configs, I think these two are quite alike; both interpretations of an uncoloured, reference sound. All it’ll come down to is how you like your note size and top-end.
Empire Ears Wraith ($3499)
Empire Ears’ Wraith shares a similar philosophy to the Dream XLS: An everyday flagship that presents music without flash or added punch. However, listening to them side-by-side, it’s clear they’ve approached this common destination through completely different paths. The Wraith is a far gruffer, heftier and denser-sounding piece because of its centre-midrange elevation. Instruments have a heavier, huskier tone to them, which contrasts heavily against the Dream’s lighter, daintier presentation. Lower-pitched instruments like tom-toms, kick drums and male baritones especially sound more reserved and somewhat compressed on the latter, while the Wraith renders them with heaps of presence, gumption and gravitas.
The key difference between the two – both tonally and technically – lies in the highs. The XLS’s top-end is more articulate and direct, and the Wraith’s is noticeably softer; wispier. As a result, the former’s delivery of detail is more forthright. The Wraith is more subtle by comparison, but compensates through a blacker, more defined backdrop. Instruments contrast more cleanly against the Wraith’s background, which makes it feel faster, almost. This is what allows it to match the XLS’s resolution, despite its more substantial timbre. Spatially, though, the Dream’s stage is perceivably more open – due to its brighter highs – and wider too. So, it’s the flagship for you if you love space, while the Wraith is for those who want body.
Vision Ears ELYSIUM (€2900)
If the FIBAE 7 is the XLS’s foil in terms of tone, the ELYSIUM is that in airiness and space. Vision Ears’ flagship custom IEM possesses a similar brand of openness, clarity and articulation as the XLS. Between them, then, are differences in power, positioning and projection, particularly of the midrange. The ELYSIUM has the earlier, steeper 1-2kHz rise, which gives its instruments more heft, solidity and weight. Lower-pitched sounds have greater oomph and authority as well. Conversely, the XLS has the livelier upper-mids, which gives brighter sounds a wonderful vibrance and zing. The ELYSIUM’s are more reserved by comparison. So, whose presentation is for you will depend on which sounds you’d want to have highlighted.
Down low, in terms of raw physicality and texture, the two are not as different as their driver set-ups may suggest. Vision Ears’ ELYSIUM ended up coming out as the more visceral between them, but it’s not because of any shortcomings on the XLS’s part. The former simply has greater sub-bass quantity, while the Dream instead dips to give its soundscape a touch more headroom. What this also does is give its lows a lighter, airier tone, while the ELYSIUM’s is a hair fuller, warmer and more rounded. Up high, the two are similar in aptitude and balance, but the ELYSIUM has the slight edge in smoothness, refinement and speed, due to its e-stats. Finally, in terms of space, the ELYSIUM wins at depth, while the XLS takes width.
The DITA Audio Dream XLS is a paragon of splendour. In a world where everybody’s gone commercial and artisan’s gone niche, it’s incredibly refreshing to find a company who can still fuse the two effortlessly. Behind the monitor is neither a hodgepodge of electronics nor a great deal of fluff. Simply, it’s craft, effort and care steeped into every minute detail with unparalleled finesse. The XLS is stunning before you even hear them, and they’re delightfully smooth once you do. From the packaging, to the accessories, to the build and to sound, DITA’s latest flagship is exactly what they’d said it was going to be: The culmination of all that’s come before, and a true labour of love in reach of perfection. The Dream XLS is DITA’s masterwork without an inkling of doubt, and – I hope – an auspicious look at what this industry can be in years to come.