Mini-me Tesla driver!
PROS: smooth natural resolving tonality, impressive bass slam, quality SPC cables (both audio and in-line remote versions), custom eartips, nice case.
CONS: short nozzle, eartip dependent driver flex.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’m no stranger to Beyerdynamic headphones, and in the past reviewed their various full size cans and consumer iems. Even though I prefer a portable audio setup with IEMs and DAPs, I still enjoy the sound and the comfort of T5p 2nd gen (especially with TWag v3 pure silver cable and Alpha pads) and look for any excuse to indulge myself into their full Tesla driver “Made in Germany” experience. But in the back of my mind I always had a wish to scale down this experience to IEM level, and when it finally happened, I was a bit surprised that Beyer decided to introduce their first Tesla-driver IEM under Astell & Kern brand. If you go down the memory lane of Beyer and A&K releases, their collaboration effort started back in 2013 with a release of Beyer’s A200p dac/amp, based on the original design of AK10. After the success of that collaboration, it continued with releases of re-branded and fine-tuned AK T5p and AK T1p, though in both cases it was released first as Beyer product. Not sure about the logic behind introduction of T8iE first under A&K, perhaps they wanted to give more credibility to this audiophile IEM release backed by one of the better-known audiophile DAP manufacturers.
But regardless of why it was released first as A&K product and my speculative reasoning behind it, after waiting for more than a year, Beyerdynamic finally reintroduced their original 11mm ultra-wide bandwidth mini-Tesla driver under their own brand with a unique Xelento model name. I’m sure many will be interested how Xelento compares to AK T8iE, but unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with AK model, though have read some impressions mentioning about fine-tuning of the sound and improving the cable and mmcx connectors. Don’t know if you can consider the original AK T8iE to be an early design adopter, followed later by an updated mk2 version (with new voice coil and spc cables), but I’m sure Beyer received plenty of feedback that got reflected in Xelento tuning and design. And speaking of the design, single dynamic-driver flagship IEM releases are rare in today’s multi-BA saturated market, but I think Beyer got something very special with this release. So, let’s take a closer look to see what I found.
While Beyer always has an eye-catchy headphones packaging, the overall presentation of their products is typically nice but never quite luxurious, until now. Xelento Remote packaging really stepped it up, maybe even fancier than T8iE (judging by unboxing pictures I saw on-line). Btw, keep in mind that T8iE went from the original to mk2 revision, while Xelento was initially released as “Wired” model with audio cable only and then updated to Xelento Remote with addition of in-line remote cable, and just recently updated again to Xelento Wireless with a Bluetooth wireless cable. Maybe they should just release Xelento Ultimate with balanced and single-ended audio cables, remote cable, and wireless cable to cover all the bases.
The packaging box Xelento arrived in is very compact and solid. The exterior sleeve has a very detailed picture of the shells with a cable and in-line remote in the background. I usually don’t comment about the cover picture, but I thought it would have been better to show one of the earpieces disconnected to demonstrate removable nature of the cable. Also, while the shells have a unique shape, it can give you a wrong impression of them being on a large side. But as you start to turn the box, reading on the side a detailed spec, and turning around where you can read the philosophy behind Xelento design, you will also find a picture of some guy wearing Xelento which looks very small relative to the ear shape.
Another thing that worth mentioning is Beyer’s reference to Xelento as “an audible piece of jewelry”. Many companies take a pride in their products, and Beyerdynamic is no exception. Once you remove the exterior sleeve and open the packaging box, you are presented with a foam insert setting and two sparkling jewelry-like Xelento shells. Lifting this foam insert up opens another grand view with all the premium accessories on display – a very luxurious presentation.
Included accessories were all high quality, and with an exception of Comply tips, everything looks custom, nothing off-the-shelf. You get 7 different pairs of custom silicone eartips (XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, and 3XL), 3 pairs (S/M/L) of genuine Comply foam eartip with a wax guard filter, a custom metal cable shirt clip with Beyerdynamic logo, 2 pairs of SPC mmcx connector cables (one 3.5mm audio one, the other one with in-line remote), a leather carry case, a pair of replacement nozzle guards, and a quick start guide.
While some manufacturers utilize nozzle filters to customize the sound, here it looks like a regular replacement mesh guard you attach to the tip of the nozzle to prevent the earwax from getting inside.
So why custom eartips? Xelento nozzle is a bit short and oval shaped. While any regular eartip with a round-bore opening can stretch to fit, these are custom eartips with an oval shaped bore opening and a custom cap shape designed to form the best seal and the most comfortable fit. I went through my entire collection of silicone and foam eartips, and made a full circle right back to one of the larger Beyer silicone tips. Due to rear-of-the-shell only venting, Xelento is prone to driver flex, thus a selection of eartips will not only affect the sound (especially the bass), but also can prevent that annoying clicking of the driver flex if the seal is too tight (due to lack of front venting).
Just keep in mind, everybody’s ears are different, and whatever works for me, might not work/fit others. But at least you get a very comprehensive selection of different eartips to choose from.
The included custom storage case is very nice, perfectly suited to keep Xelento “jewelries” safe and secure, along with eartips and cables. This is not just a pretty leather case on the outside, but a very well designed practical case with a thoughtful partitioning on inside. In the upper left corner, you have a section for a few pairs of silicone tips, then next to it is custom cutouts for Xelento shells, and below it a section for your cables. There is a snap button in the middle of elastic band which you can open to place both audio and remote cables under the band, and once it’s closed – everything is secured inside of this compact case.
Both included cables feature a high quality premium silver-plated copper wires. While it’s more common for audio only cables, I was pleasantly surprised they used the same SPC wires on remote cable as well. Judging from the pictures, T8iE went through a cable upgrade in mk2 from copper to SPC. While Xelento also uses SPC wires, and the cable looks even more refined.
Starting with a connector, you get a right-angled gold plated 3.5mm plug, single ended TRS with audio cable and 4pole TRRS for remote cable. The housing of the connector has an aluminum shell and a nice strain relief. Cable has a transparent soft rubbery sleeve which helps eliminate microphonics (skin) effect and gives you a glimpse at twisted silver-plated conductors. All the wires inside have a separate insulation, and then inner-twisted together to form a cable inside a transparent sleeve.
Y-splitter has a compact aluminum housing, though no strain relief on either side, followed by a small matching aluminum chin-slider. The remote cable has an in-line remote with 3 buttons that feature a raised functionality ID, easy to feel by sliding a finger. The middle button is multi-function Play/Pause/Call with a single click, double-click to skip to the next song, and triple-click to skip to the previous song – worked flawless on my Note 4. And to my big surprise, both Volume +/- buttons worked with my Android phone as well, raising/lowering the volume without a problem.
Going to mmcx connector housing, I was happy they didn’t use memory wire which I find quite annoying with mmcx connector. The cable is soft and supple, but could get a bit springy, thus it wouldn’t hurt to have one of those flexible pre-shaped earhook sleeves, but even without them Xelento cable has advantage of slightly angled connector mold-housing which helps guide the cable over your ear. The rubbery connector housing is easy to grip when disconnecting the cable, and has L/R marking to attach the shells to a correct side. The connectors are standard universal mmcx.
Before I started my usual cable-rolling, I decided to do a little experiment by letting the original cable burn in, along with Xelento, for 100hrs and then comparing to remote cable which has the same wire and no burn in. While the difference wasn’t exactly night’n’day and I can’t capture it with Veritas coupler measurements, I can hear the cable without burn in to have a brighter upper mids with a bit peaky lower treble. The cable with burn in sounded a little smoother to my ears. I don’t have a huge selection of mmcx connector cable, but with a few I have, here are some comparisons and sound changes I noticed after switching from stock spc cable.
Stock SPC -> Pure Copper – more booming sub-bass, a little stronger mid-bass, smoother top end (less sparkle and a little less resolution), a touch narrower stage perception due to smoother top end.
Stock SPC -> ALO Ref8 – a little more sub-bass and a little stronger mid-bass, a little smoother top end, and a touch wider soundstage.
Stock SPC -> ALO SPC Litz – nearly identical performance, including the same soundstage expansion.
Stock SPC -> TWag v3 – wider soundstage, better controlled low end (tighter, more articulate punch), a touch smoother upper mids. Coincidentally, I also use this modular cable with Beyer T5p2 full size headphones, making it a great synergy with both types of Tesla drivers.
I found the stock SPC cable to have an excellent pair up synergy with Xelento and its sound signature. If you want to get every ounce of performance out of Xelento, I enjoyed TWag v3 the most, but it’s not an absolute necessity since a stock cable does a great job already.
The first glance at shiny Xelento shells can give you a wrongful impression about these being aluminum metal shells. But once you pick them up in your hand and feel how lightweight they are (each shell about 4g w/eartip), you realize it can’t be a metal, especially since it doesn’t feel as cold. I know some people could be disappointed, expecting a metal shell, but Xelento tuning was based on using a housing with a plated/coated plastic shell which feels very solid, smooth, and super lightweight. The ergonomics of the design is excellent, these shells nearly disappear in my ears, you can’t feel them due to their weight, and they are very comfortable to even go to sleep with my head on a pillow.
The shell is small, rounded, with universal mmcx connector (meaning, can use other cables). There is a clear L/R marking on inside of the shell, hard to miss that one. I couldn’t see a front vent, usually found in front of the driver toward the nozzle, and I assume that back of the shell plate with Beyerdynamic logo and serial number is where the back-vent is located. Lack of that front vent could cause a driver flex if you are trying to get a tight seal of our earcanal. That’s why I enjoyed the included custom eartips because they have a soft cap which slightly relaxes the seal and eliminates driver flex for me.
While the oval shaped nozzle is short, these eartips just mold to your earcanal, creating an excellent seal which you can control by switching between different eartip sizes to increase/decrease the amount of bass. As I mentioned before, even so the nozzle is oval-shaped, you can use any eartip with it, if the core of the eartip can stretch. Also, as already mentioned, there is a replacement mesh guard cover for the tip of the nozzle.