Digital Signal Processing, or DSP for short, is used by Apple and others to facilitate the transformation of audio in a dynamic fashion. This is often done to improve the playback based on the audio data that is being interpreted by the DSP engine. Swedish high-end audio manufacturer XTZ has developed a set of earphones to take advantage of real-time DSP reproduction. Read on to discover if XTZ has cracked the audio code with their EarPhone-12 product.
Unlike other earphones designed for iOS devices, the XTZ EarPhone-12 is packed with just the basics. In addition to the earphones themselves, the box includes sets of small, medium and large rubber ear pads, a 6.3 mm audio plug adapter and an airplane stereo adapter. It seems that XTZ has focused in on the headphones rather than the overall unboxing and accessory experience.
The earphones themselves are solidly constructed though a touch on the larger side, being quite noticeable while wearing them. They are also slightly more bulky feeling than other earphones, giving a bit more weight hanging off the ear than lighter earphones from competing manufacturers. One unique feature I liked about the earphone design is the inclusion of a magnetic backing that allow the right and left earphones to be magnetically clipped together. I found this came in handy when the earphones were out of my ear. Other earphones dangle and often get in the way, but the magnetic clip on the EarPhone-12 turned the earphones into a necklace of sorts when I wasn't listening to music.
While plugging the earphones into my iPod Touch, I noticed there wasn't any integrated mic or inline click remote to manage my music playback or use for Skype or VoIP calling. Honestly, I don't know of any high-end iOS platform earphone manufacturer that doesn't include these necessary components and find it not only odd but rather annoying that XTZ chose not to build this into their earphones. Perhaps it's all about the sound, so I let that disappointment pass to focus on the key selling point - the earphone's Dirac Research DSP technology implementation.
Notably, you won't hear much difference between these earphones and other similarly priced competing products until you match the headphones with a DSP audio player application. In the case of the EarPhone-12, XTZ offers their free XTZ Player
through the App Store. It's a bare bones audio player that only plays music from your iTunes library. The software looks only at what is in your iTunes music folder, so forget any third party apps like Downcast, Rdio or Spotify that download or stream their own music. The good news is that when you activate the Dirac HD Sound using this player, the EarPhone-12 really comes to life. It's a dramatic difference in clarity and dynamic range of sound, and is a real payoff for what the XTZ audio engineers strived to attain.
That said, the main hurdle for the EarPhone-12 to take full advantage of the DSP technology baked inside these earphones is the need to have DSP software such as the XTZ player running on your iOS device. Without the software, the earphones really don't sound much different than other, more feature-laden earphones I've used in this price range.
Overall, I found the lack of an inline mic or click control a drawback, especially when having to dig into my pocket to pull out and look at my iPod Touch for pausing or skipping music. I was also disheartened by the fact that the earphones required a DSP audio player like the XTZ Player to experience the earphone's full potential. But if you're seeking a pair of headphones that takes advantage of Dirac DSP playback, the XTZ EarPhone-12 might be worth a closer look… and listen.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars