DITA Audio provided the Dream XLS on loan for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
DITA the Dream XLS sells for $2,299.
For a company still new to the audiophile industry, DITA Audio has made an impact. Their philosophy of using a single dynamic driver, high-end materials, and expert craftsmanship has birthed in-ear monitors which have already earned legendary renown.
Two years ago I reviewed DITA’s first iteration on The Dream, giving it very high praise indeed. Now I tackle The Dream XLS, their newest flagship.
Where the original Dream looked and felt rugged and almost militaristic, the XLS is refined and luxurious. Gone is the raw, textured steel, replaced with polish and sheen. Thankfully, DITA did not sacrifice build quality for aesthetic. The XLS is just as sturdy and heavy as the original, and you’ll have to go to extremes to break it.
In my review of The Dream, I expressed, perhaps, more than mild distaste for their cable.
“I HATE the Truth cable. I hate it with the heat of a dying star gone supernova. It is so heavy, stiff, and springy, I nearly foreswore DITA on the whole. The truth of the Truth is it does not want to be worn. It fights you every step of the way. If I were forced to choose between The Dream with this cable, or say, the $99 IT01, this thing would not have gotten much use these past 10 days. I may not sound very “audiophile” to you right now, but I couldn’t be more honest.”
When they read my review, they did not berate me or demand I rewrite it. DITA’s very own Desmond Tan told me they too hated the cable, and were researching ways to improve it, without abandoning the standards they sought.
I’m glad to say, their new cable is outstanding. It’s light and malleable, easy to forget, and doesn’t distract from the listening experience in any way. I have felt zero compulsion to switch it out for a different cable. Which for me is a HUGE victory.
Congratulations DITA! Well done!
DITA the Dream XLS is the kind of neutrality anyone can get behind. It possesses a full-bodied, luscious tonality, with each region of frequency represented, and impactful. Slight warmth carries the signature along, revealing a great amount of air and atmosphere. ”Natural” is the best word to describe it, for the XLS does not feel sculpted by man, but wrought of the fluidity found in the wilderness.
Treble is soft-edged and inoffensive. It extends fully, bathing the stage in revealing light and exposing the subtlest of details. Yet instead cold treble, as found in brighter gear, this light comforts you with its warmth, as if cast by the sun. It feels good on the ears, lacking the harshness found in more aggressive signatures.
Vocals stand large on the stage, even with the instruments, neither behind nor in front. They are full and rounded, sounding highly organic. They have a solid, tangible quality. Certainly not wispy or thin. Strong articulation gives voice to the idiosyncrasies of your favorite artists. The females are imbued of a light lushness, the males, a healthy boldness.
Instruments exhibit the perfect balance of soft and sharp, warm and aggressive. They are beautifully bodied, whilst capable of such energy. Electric guitars have mean crunch, and cymbals can be thoroughly vivid. Whereas acoustic instruments convey all the richness and harmonic overtones needed for true timbre.
DITA’s bass is particularly wondrous. It can be tame and innocuous when it’s not meant to be noticed, and then dazzle you with impact and texture when the track summons it. Most of the time the lows are there filling in the cracks, completing the ensemble. Other times, it’s the showstopper. Whether delivering righteous attacks or goosebump-inducing rumbles, the bass from XLS is always correct, the tonality always scrumptious.
The Dream XLS creates a soundstage no one will complain about. Cubical in shape, it stretches deep, wide, and tall in equal measure. The sensation is that of sitting front row in a concert hall. Imaging and separation are utterly top of the line. As are resolution and detail retrieval. These monitors truly perform at world class levels.
I currently have the Astell&Kern T9iE ($1,299) in for review. As it is another single dynamic in-ear of truly high-end pricing and performance, I’d say it’s a good comparison. Their voicing is not terribly dissimilar, both holding to a warmish-neutral. The T9iE, however, takes a more sculpted approach. You can hear a thickness in the lower-mids/upper bass, and a light edge to the notes, indicating a treble spike somewhere in the presence region. It’s carefully done, and inoffensive, but when comparing the two monitors, the AK presents the less natural sound, as a result. Still, I gotta say, it’s an enjoyable sound and thoroughly pleasing to the ears. Plus, the T9iE has the wider soundstage, which is always welcome in my book. Nonetheless, The Dream’s smoother, more lifelike render wins me over every time. Is it worth the extra money? Hard to say, but I do consider it the better product, not only for sound, but also build, ergonomics, and cable design. I REALLY don’t like the Astell&Kern cable.
While the DUNU DK-3001PRO ($469) is not a single-driver setup like the others, it does share much of the same form factor and tuning. My brain grouped these all together, and I’m convinced they compare well. Actually, the DK3001Pro is even more like The XLS than the T9iE. DUNU’S tonality is remarkably close to DITA. I hear a little more bass and warmth from DUNU and a little more transparency and resolution from DITA. But the vocals sound about the same, the soundstage is very close, and the treble is smooth, silky, and airy. Yes, your ears can tell there’s a price difference. The Dream is on a different tier of realism. Yet the DK3001Pro is so musically true, when they’re in my ears, I never feel like I’m missing out on something better. So if you’re looking for that Dream sound, but can’t afford the XLS, these bad boys will get you most of the way there.
Although DITA’s XLS is well balanced and will sound superb on virtually any source, it is neutral enough to assimilate the voice of the hardware you connect her to. So if you use an amp with a thin or bright profile, The Dream will take on those characteristics to some extent. Understanding your own sonic preference is key to achieving the optimal pairing for you, personally. For me, I wanted the most bass and warmth possible, while still operating at the highest level of quality. That seemed to bring DITA right into my wheelhouse.
To that end, the Cayin N6ii with E01 module ($1,319, Review HERE). This thing will give you that warm, analogue musicality, on a budget. It does so deftly and with such acumen you may question the urge to spend more, particularly if you invested in a set of monitors of DITA’s virtue. When things already sound this good, why upgrade?
For a cheaper alternative, but one still very much in the same spirit as the N6ii, I recommend the Shanling M5s ($300, Review HERE). This thing will give you that warm, analogue musicality, on a budget. It does so deftly and with such acumen you may question the urge to spend more, particularly if you invested in a set of monitors of DITA’s virtue. When things already sound this good, why upgrade?
If warmth is not the color you seek, and your pursuit is ever for clearer and more detailed rendering, the iBasso DX160 ($399) is hard to beat. At this price range, it’s flat out impossible. iBasso gives you that sharp, resolving sound, yet does so without slipping into cold or sterile territory. There’s enough body to the notes that DITA never feels too thin or anemic, and everything comes through with power. Yes, this may not be my favorite pairing, but when I’m listing to it, the raw excellence on display is breathtaking. If this is your type of profile, you’ll love it.
So let’s conclude this bitch!
DITA Audio took a world class, truly awesome IEM and made it better. The original Dream had few faults to start with. The XLS, perhaps, has none. While I’m still not the biggest fan of the ergonomics of this form factor, DITA handles it so well I can’t honestly call it a fault. The Dream XLS is one of the most natural, realistic monitors I’ve ever heard. It’s the type of gear that doesn’t sound like equipment, but life.