A Headphones Reviews Blog
Prior to the review, I’d like to thank Hyein for the sample.
We always hear about Japanese and Chinese audio companies, but probably as most of you, I had never heard of a South-Korean IEM company before getting in contact with EXS (Excellent Sound), which is apparently the best-selling IEMs brand in Korea. EXS is a brand which was established in 2008 by a very big Korean OEM company (which is said to manufacture for some of the world’s biggest audio companies) and by Korea’s biggest Headphones/IEMs store, “Earphones Shop” in a joint venture. The OEM Company had given its designing, developing, producing and manufacturing experience, while the store had given the new brand some publicity and recognition in the Korean market. Their first product was the X10 (which I’ll be reviewing later). It is very successful in Korea, and it is said to be one of Korea’s best-sellers. Later, in late 2011, EXS had announced their brand new flagship-model, the X20, which was developed for more than a year, in order to tune its Knowles TWFK Dual Balanced Armature Drivers to produce as close to original and real sound. Today, the EXS X20 will be the subject of my review.
Before we’ll start, here are the technical specifications of the EXS X20:
Driver Type: Knowles TWFK Dual Balanced Armature
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20 kHz (-10dB)
Noise Isolation: -26dB
Sensitivity: 101dB SPL/mw @ 1kHz
Impedance: 54 Ohms
Cable: 1.2 Meters Long/Balanced Type
Weight: 14 Grams
Packaging: The X20 comes in a fully transparent plastic box. It has a Red-Black-Silver color scheme, which looks very good, and the IEMs which are displayed in the box’s top in both of its sides integrate well with it. Overall, the packaging looks very meticulous, classy and professional, and it is in the lines of the X20s’ design.
the black and red color scheme of the case looks great.
Accessories: The provided accessories are more than enough, and all of them are of very good quality. The hard-shell zippered case looks very good with its red and black color scheme. It has two storage sections, which makes it very useful too; everything that comes with the IEMs can be inserted into it without any problem. There’s also a very honorable amount of ear-tips included: First of all, there are two pairs of Shure olive-like foam tips (both pairs Medium sized), one already comes installed on the IEMs themselves. The silicone tips are very similar looking Shure’s very own “Flex” silicone tips. In the silicone tips zone, there are 3 pairs of single flanged tips (Small/Medium/Large) and a pair of Medium sized Bi-Flanged tips. If I were a customer, such accessories set would’ve made me very satisfied and happy. The Rating is 8.5/10.
Building Quality and Design: The X20s are very tastefully and elegantly designed; the Red-Silver color scheme looks very good and it’s extremely appealing to the eye. Its rear side is covered with a silver metal surface, with EXS’ logo laser-embedded on it. The other side is mainly red, with a black colored nozzle and sound-tube. The housings feel very solid and durable, but yet, they’re still quite light, due to the use of Duralumin, a kind of metal with similar features to aluminum. “L” and “R” markings are embedded near to the housings’ connection point with the cable. The nozzle is protected by a white filter which is placed on the driver’s tube. The cables are flat, and to me, they look the same as the flat cables which TDK’s BA200 is utilizing. In both cases, the cables feel of good quality and they’re flexible and durable enough. There are no strain reliefs, though, it isn’t rare in IEMs which utilize flat cables. A chin slider isn’t lacking, and it’s placed near to the Y-split. The Y-split is made of a small piece of red plastic, with EXS’ logo on both of it sides. Also here, no strain relief can be found. The cable ends with an L shaped gold-plated 3.5mm jack, which feels very strong in its thick rubberized-plastic coating. Also the jack lacks a strain relief. The lack of strain relief isn’t something too risky when using a flat cable, as the flat cable can usually take more stress than regular cables. Overall, the building quality is great and all of the components seem to be well assembled together. The rating is 9.5/10.
the Y-split and the chin-slider
Comfort/Fit: The earpieces are average sized, but the part of them that is actually inserted into the ears is quite small. My preferred set of tips were the Olive-like foam tips, though, the comfort offered by the Single-Flanged and the Bi-Flanged silicone tips wasn’t too different. The fit with the silicone tips is quite deep, while the foam tips offer a slightly shallower fit, which also causes a bit better comfort. The earpieces were designed to be worn straight-down, and that’s also when they’re the most comfortable, and the fit is securer too. Overall, I was very happy with the X20’s comfort. The rating is 9/10.
all of the included ear-tips
Isolation and Microphonics: The X20s are fully sealed IEMs, and therefore, the amount of isolation which is offered by them is quite good. Of all the tips, again, the Olive-like Foam tips are the winners in this category too. The isolation offered by them is a bit better than the one offered by the Bi-Flanges, while the single-flanges are a bit behind. The flat cables do not produce much microphonics, they’re quite quiet and still. The microphonics can be reduced by a bit when using the shirt clip and by wearing them over-the-ear. The Rating is 9/10.
Sound Quality: The X20s’ sound-signature is very bright, treble focused, clear, clean and analytical, in the lines of most of the other TWFK driver using IEMs (DBA-02, UE700, etc.).
The Bass: The X20’s bass is very confined and limited; First of all, its quantity is very small. It isn’t deep, and its body and impact are very lacking. It’s “thin” and a bit unnatural sounding. The speed is quite decent and overall, pretty satisfying. I had discovered that the X20s respond very well to EQ’ing and that’ll be my recommendation for those who feel that the bass is unsatisfying and too light. The driver does have the ability to produce decent bass, but it isn’t tuned to do so. I personally, like to connect the X20’s to Hippo’s Pipe portable amplifier, which has a colored low-end. It makes the whole sound a bit warmer and it gives the bass a lot more body and impact.
The Mids: The X20’s mids are a bit forward, though, they aren’t as forward as for example, the Aurisonics ASG-1’s mids (which are known to be very forward and dominant). They’re quite sweet and flat.
The Treble: The X20’s treble extension is very good. The detailing and accurateness are great, and the sparkle quantity is either. Transparency and clarity are quite pleasing too.
Sound-Stage: The sound-stage and the imaging are decent at-most, nothing special, nor surprising. The instruments separation is very good.
The rating for the “Sound Quality” category is 9/10.
In Conclusion, the EXS X20 just shout quality and professionalism in all of the categories, and EXS did a very good job with it. The building quality and the design are definitely stunning, and more companies should learn from EXS. The sound, minus the lacking bass, is very good either. With a small help from the EQ, the bass can even be quite satisfying. The X20s are definitely a keeper in my own book. The overall score is 9/10.
Pros: Top Notch Building Quality, Elegant Design, Good Comfort, Better than average isolation, extremely detailed sound, Very accurate sounding.
Cons: Lack of strain reliefs, Lack of bass impact, “thin” sounding, lack of availability outside Korea.
Where to Buy? The EXS X20s are officially priced at $198 (in a direct conversion from the Korean price). Currently, EXS has only one dealer outside of Korea (Stage 93, a Singaporean store which ships internationally), though, in the close future, they expect to acquire a few more international dealers. Anyone who’s interested in selling their products can contact me through the contact page and I’ll let them know their contact information.