Before I go into the presentation proper there are two things worth noting. First, the Dream XLS appeared to change quite noticeably over time. I usually ignore any burn in effects and just let gear run for 100 hours before I start working on the review (as a courtesy to the manufacturer). With the Dream XLS I listened to them early on -how could I resist- and felt they had quite a noticeable lower treble lift and lacked some of the warmth I had expected beforehand. However, once past 100 hours, the Dream XLS sounded noticeably more balanced. The reason I noticed it so clearly was my second point, namely that the Dream XLS also seem quite tip sensitive. Where I usually use Final E-tips because I get a good fit with those and like what they do with the sound, I soon switched to the other, wider bore, silicone tips that were included. With the Final E-tips I found the Dream XLS somewhat fatiguing early on and the wider bore tips toned that down a little. However, after well passed the 100-hour mark, I went back to try the E-tips again and was surprised by how balanced everything sounded. Even with recordings that I knew were prone to sibilance I had no issues. I also found that male vocals got a bit more presence because of a slight warming of the signature, giving male vocals the chestiness they need. So, although I tend to avoid any statements on burn in, I will make an exception with the Dream XLS and recommend a proper burn in of comfortably passed 100 hours.
The Dream XLS have quite a unique presentation that reminds me a little of the Fealty, the same DNA is there, but mixed with a certain reference quality. I would not call them all-rounders, but that is of course subject to personal preferences. For me they do little for EDM for instance, for that I feel they lack some excitement, but when it comes to acoustic music, jazz and classical I think they are a joy to listen to.
The Dream XLS present music in a very large stage that pushes the music out of the head in a way that I have not had with IEMs that often. It is very spacious and feels natural, like the sound is coming from beyond the monitors themselves. It is incredibly pleasant and made even better by the natural coherency that this single dynamic driver can offer. Separation is excellent, but instruments are not isolated or presented with a huge amount of air around them (although there is still plenty of air) and this greatly benefits coherency in the image. The music has liquidity to it where the notes flow from one instrument to another. It is a quality I am very fond of because it is where I find the soul of music, all the emotion that makes music such a unique medium for expression. All the while it remains easy to pick out every single instrument, even those way in the background. Every detail is presented very clearly, surprisingly so at times, and this is where I see that reference quality. All the information is there, and yet it is presented with a gentle smoothness that is incredibly seductive. The image itself is rock solid and positional information is without doubt among the very best I have heard. The tonality is what I would consider neutral-natural, similar to the Fealty. There is a hint of warmth throughout the signature, just enough to give instruments accurate timbre and give the signature a wonderfully dynamic nature. The Dream XLS don’t push anything forward, they don’t force musicality, instead they entice you into the music and reward you plentiful if you let them. I found that with the Fealty and the Dream XLS take that characteristic and lift it up a notch.
Contrary to what you might expect from the dynamic drivers, the Dream XLS are not IEMs that will sooth the inner bass head. I love physicality in my bass and there is very little of that to be found here. I would call the bass, to borrow a term, “unexcited”. The bass extends deep, but feels a little attenuated lower down and the mid-bass kick feels toned down a notch as well. All in all, an understated bass that is positioned perhaps slightly back in the image. However, that does not mean it is boring or lifeless, it simply does not push itself more forward than it needs to. In classical pieces such as Bedřich Smetana’s Ma Vlast ‘Vltava’ or Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ‘The Battle’ scene of Act 1, the capabilities of the bass are clearly displayed. It is dynamic and there is force to the instrument that portrays something like thunder -which in Ma Vlast portrays the current of the river Vltava- while that thunderous rumble is never overpowering. It is polite, yet capable of conveying exactly what the instrument is meant to convey. Here again I find something of a reference quality to it, as the Dream XLS’ bass gives you a lot of information. It gives you all the detail and all the texture of an instrument, while restraining itself from throwing it in your face and muddling up the rest of the signature. It is exceptionally well controlled. Make no mistake, I love a bass that is right there in my face, rattling my jaw, and part of me wishes there was more of that with the Dream XLS, but I think it would ruin their unique characteristic, that effortlessness they have.
Bach’s Cello Suite as performed by Yo-Yo Ma illustrates the strength of the Dream XLS’ bass beautifully as well. It portrays the cello in a highly dynamic way, where you can hear the resonance in the body of the cello very clearly with the low notes, while it transitions more towards the playing techniques on the strings with the higher notes. There is a huge amount of detail in it and seems to pull all the layers of complex passages apart, while never sacrificing coherency.
The mids are very natural with excellent timbre. I am quite a fan of a warmer midrange with full sounding instruments and while the Dream XLS don’t push it quite that far, they are a joy to listen to. I always come back to John Eliot Gardiner’s rendition of Beethoven’s 5th symphony for timbre because his orchestra uses period instruments, which he explained adds a unique layering to the performance. The Dream XLS perform incredibly well here. I dare say that this might well be the best I have heard it so far. The Dream XLS seem to pick apart the complex layering with ease and convey the subtle tonal differences with great precision and a wide dynamic range, yet notes always flow from one instrument to another with the liquidity I mentioned earlier. With a symphony so full of emotion as Beethoven’s 5th, it is an absolute joy to listen to.
Vocals are positioned fairly neutral, not too forward and not pushed into the background either. I am a lover of great vocals and so don’t mind it if vocals are a little more forward, as it can give a sense of intimacy when listening to my favourites like Madeleine Peyroux, Agnes Obel and London Grammar’s Hannah Reid. The Dream XLS don’t quite give that ‘whisper in your ear’ type of intimacy, but vocals are strong, with excellent definition and clarity. Initially I felt female vocals were favoured, but as I explained earlier, with time male vocals have come up nicely with good chestiness to deeper male vocals and it resulted in a better balance between the two. Female vocals might still have a slight edge due to an upper-mid emphasis, but that could also be because I was completely seduced by Elin Manahan Thomas (please don’t tell my wife). The effortlessness with which the Dream XLS portrayed her voice gave it an almost ethereal quality when listening to her sing Handel’s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. It is a great example of how the Dream XLS can entice you into the music, where I found I simply stopped doing whatever I was doing to close my eyes and drift away on every subtle vibrato in her crystal clear voice.
Here of course the difference is most notable between a well-used pair of the Dream XLS and a pair that is fresh out of the box. The Dream XLS have a lower treble lift that is more noticeable early on, although it will always be there. It adds some excitement as it articulates note clarity, but it is an area where some people can be more sensitive, myself included. That is why I noticed the difference over time. After around the 100-hour mark I did not have any problems with it anymore, although I felt that at times some piano recordings still pushed it a hint too far on the higher notes, making the piano sound less rounded than I think is natural. For violins however it works a treat. When listening to Paganini’s Violin Concerto #1 there was great articulation of the violin towards the end of the first movement, it gave me a tingling sensation as the bow jumped over the strings. There is so much texture and detail to the strings that it feels as if I can follow every individual finger movement and every touch of the bow.
The treble is well extended, although not pushed in a way where you get excessive sparkle. Much like the bass, the treble as an unexcited quality. There is a delicate sparkle that is always easy to discern, but never in your face or pushing background instruments forward. A sparkle in the background is reproduced by the Dream XLS exactly where it was intended to sparkle with all the detail you can imagine from it. Here too that imaging works exceptionally well, positioning and layering instruments with great precision.