Founded in 1924, Beyerdynamic has a long and storied history. Not only were they an early pioneer in building loudspeaker systems for the cinema, they created the first ever dynamic driver headphones. While they no longer make loudspeakers, their headphones and microphones are highly regarded in professional and personal audio. Many of their products are designed with the studio in mind, but their Xelento IEM has a more fun, engaging presentation. Can the 2nd Generation Xelento upgrade the level of sound quality in an otherwise more consumer-tuned IEM?
Build and Design
Designed and built in Germany, Xelento has a smooth, simple, two piece metal shell with its name and logo emblazoned on the vented faceplate. The IEM is lightweight and ergonomic, providing an easy fit that disappears into your ears and remains comfortable through long listening sessions. Inside you get a single dynamic Tesla 11 driver, designed to deliver a fast, accurate full-range sound.
The Xelento packaging adds a high-end, luxury feel to what looks at first to be a standard retail box. Outside of a novel unfolding mechanism for the inner box, it’s clear that extra care went into the selection of materials for the box’s build. Inside there’s a selection of specially designed eartips, a travel case, a smaller sleeve with a shirt clip and cleaning cloth, and the cables. You get two cables, one is a 3.5mm cable with a mic and in-line controls for volume and muting, and the other is a 4.4mm pentaconn. Both cables are a simple silver plated copper, but aren’t particularly surprising otherwise.
One of the defining characteristics of Beyerdynamic’s over-ear headphones is their reference detail, and highly revealing – sometimes TOO revealing – treble. Xelento goes a different way, with a fun sound and a silky treble that makes for a pleasurable, engaging listening experience.
Bass is clearly the emphasis here, with deep extension and elevation through the midbass. If you’re looking for an IEM with a focus on bass impact and rumble, Xelento has it, but it doesn’t lose the texture or detail of bass instruments, and the bleed up into the midrange is minimal.
The midrange is a little bit scooped, but not excessively. The overall balance demonstrates less midrange than a Harman neutral tuning, but more than a typical V-shape. The timbre and presentation of instruments and vocals is slightly warm, but not bloated. Using a source that’s characteristically warm can result in some bloat though.
The treble is somewhat reserved in comparison to the bass, with some lift from the upper mids into the treble, and then a roll-off into the top end. Putting all the pieces together puts the tuning somewhere in the vicinity of a bass-boosted Harman neutral, with the mids and treble feeling largely neutral, and the bass having extra emphasis and subtle lift through the extension that colors the tuning.
The stereo image is well constructed, if not exceptional for the price. There’s a good sense of a well-rounded three-dimensional image, and good placement of instruments within the image. The overall sense of positioning and spacing is balanced more towards cohesion than to separation, giving you clear positioning, but also a lot of blending in between.
Let’s get this out of the way: Xelento sounds great with electronic music, hip-hop, and just about anything that plays well with emphasized bass, so I thought we would look at some other genres: like solo piano! On pianist Josh Cohen’s cover of “Everything in its Right Place,” the overall tone of the piano is warm, but natural, and there’s a good feeling of the resonance of the room and space where the piano is being played. Xelento delivers the playing dynamics and subtleties of the song quite well, but the highest notes can feel smoothed out. Where the heavy right hand should feel just a little piercing and visceral in a crescendo it’s just a little rounded off at the top.
Past-their-prime grunge rockers Bush comes a bit closer to the sort of music Xelento is tuned for. “More than Machines” features thick heavy guitars that build a wall of sound around singer Gavin Rossdale. Along with the guitars, there’s plenty of impact from the bass, and good snap in the snare that helps ground the band and deliver a wall with a good sense of width, height, and depth to it.The bass emphasis could result in vocals being lost, but Rossdale’s baritone vocals cut through this wall of sound, and Xelento delivers energy and emotion that captures the essence of a live performance.
While more analytical sounding headphones can often be too revealing on older recordings (especially those that haven’t had a remaster every decade since the 80s), often a strong bass can result in bloat and the sort of exaggerated low end that ruins the listening experience in a totally different way. Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “Eleanor Rigby” has all the ingredients to turn into an incoherent sludgefest, but Xelento instead delivers smooth, slow, deep grooves. The imaging is especially impressive, with the drumset spread out across the stage for a huge, wide sound. Voices pop in from every direction, and get closer and further with the dynamics of the song. There’s loads of detail and texture in the instruments as well, giving the organ a dirty, gritty edge and delivering a nice drumhead resonance with the kick on the bass drum.
Comparison: Campfire Andromeda
While there are a number of great IEMs in the $1000 range, Campfire Andromeda remains one of the best out there. As a comparison to Xelento, Andromeda offers a generally neutral, but slightly sweet sound, while Xelento goes for a little more color in the overall sound. So how does Xelento stack up with such a legendary IEM?
In terms of the general build, Andromeda has the edge, but the Xelento is more comfortable, and will provide an easier fit for most people. For pack-ins, both provide a nice unboxing experience with a quality case and eartips. Xelento gives you two cables, one of which is balanced 4.4mm and the other is 3.5mm and includes the mic and volume control (the volume controls and mic may or may not work depending on your device), while Andromeda gives you only one single-ended 3.5mm cable.
In terms of the sound, Xelento has a much stronger emphasis in the low end, and stronger impact along with it. Both have very textured bass, but Andromeda’s bass has a little more detail. Andromeda has a stronger midrange, but where Xelento is slightly warm, Andromeda’s timbre feels slightly bright. In the treble, Xelento has good presence in the upper mids through the lower treble, but rolls off the top end, while Andromeda has more sparkle and air.
In listening to a number of tracks, more electronic or guitar driven music has a sort of “fat” sound with Xelento, that presents the emphasized bass in a pleasing, euphonic manner. Andromeda gives you stronger separation and a more holographic feeling, even where Xelento has a stronger engagement factor. While the tuning leans towards the bass, Xelento’s timbre, and well controlled bleed help it still perform well with most forms of acoustic music and even small classical ensembles, but Andromeda provides a more coherent sound with larger orchestral pieces and more complex pieces in general.
Xelento doesn’t match the sort of balance that made Andromeda an audiophile favorite, but its tuning might be just right for someone who might ask, upon spending a few minutes with the Andromeda, “where’s the bass?” And, unlike many bass heavy earphones, Xelento provides strong detail alongside vivid imaging that elevates it far above your average basshead IEMs.
The Bottom Line
Few brands can claim close to 100 years of experience in making headphones, and Beyerdynamic puts that experience to good use in every aspect of Xelento Remote 2nd Generation. Xelento isn’t a reference IEM for the studio or critical listening, but it’s addictive, relaxed, and versatile, with strong comfort and convenience. That combination of fun and detail help Xelento blur the line between consumer-friendly design and audiophile appeal.