So moving on from Josh’s look at a couple of Canadian Apollo Audio Lab’s IEMs, the Firebolt and Woodbolt, we have the X1, another of Apollo’s products, this time a full sized semi-open headphone, which they have proudly nicknamed the BLUE BEAST! It is yours for $680, which sits pretty solidly in the mid tier of headphones, with company from Audeze, Oppo and ZMF Headphones among others. Now this headphone is striking in many ways, from its bold design to it odd way of functioning, it is clear that once again, Apollo really are trying to do things their way but it shows with some negative aspects as well as some things that are overlooked in real world use.
Demanding the Best Materials:
Inside and out, we have great quality materials. The drivers are 50mm neoodymium that is custom to them and rated at 41 ohms and 103dB of sensitivity. Just like all the best headphones now day, these are also angled towards your ear. Externally it is also great with the housing being made completely from aluminium alloy (which does give it a fair bit of weight at 530 grams) that looks closed apart from a ring of ports (isolation is not near as bad as open back but isn’t ideal for noisy environments) around the Apollo logo smack in the middle of the electric blue outer frame. These headphones feel monstrous because of the metal construction and while I reckon they could be subject to a scratch or two, I reckon these are going to be serving for a long time. The cups also swivel 360* on the yokes, which allows them to lay flat in a case, on a desk or even be worn round the neck a bit more comfortably.
Cables are removable which is great; at this price I think it is almost unforgivable not to feature them, my biggest complaint with the Fostex TH series. That cable is pretty standard Choseal cable, utilising OFC copper. It feels fine to me, other than its lack of y-split meaning over time I think the two wires will unglue and split down to the jack, maybe I am just a pessimist.
Everything that you wouldn’t want metal because it has contact with you is high quality and some type of leather. The 3 cm deep pads are amazing, soft, and squidgy and gives a great seal with no clamping pain at all. That is because under the coating of ultra soft protein leather is contoured memory foam, as ear cushions go, these are epic, rivalling even my alpha pads for comfort. The headband is one of the oversights I mentioned earlier and I find it a bit stupid. Now it looks similar to the leather headband on my ZMF Blackwood, but it is not executed near as well. Like the ZMF one, this is Italian leather and also has a crocodile skin aesthetic, which is all-fine by me, it feels good and looks a bit crazy like the rest of the headphone.
Now my problem with the headband is unlike with the ZMFs headband, which will fit anyone perfectly because of the adjustability using the headband sliders, you can not actually have any quick adjusting of this headphone. Now I don’t need to tell you that everyone’s head size is differently, for example I think I have a bigger head and Josh as a micro head, you’ve seen how small his custom in-ear monitors are! Out of the box the headphones were silly, placing them on my head they would fit over one ear and the other driver would be only half on the other ear, in Josh’s case one ear was in the pad and the other driver was at his neck, it was tragic and I could not find anyway to solve this. I gave Viktor HPL, CEO & Founder of Apollo an email and here is his response along with ideas behind the headband in italic.
“For the x1 headphones, the strap is designed to be adjustable. One end of the leather straps would have more adjustment holes punched out than the other.”
I think he means to say that there will be more holes in future so all you have to do is cut down to the hole of your choice, which is much better than the case with my pair, where only the stock holes were available and I had to get my dad to use a power drill to put a new hole in after cutting down to size.
“To shorten the length, unscrew that leather strap using the gold coloured thumbscrew. Remove the leather strap and trim it to the next available hole. Screw it back and test if the length now fits better. The default strap length that comes is long. The instructions paper that comes in the box has a diagram as well.”
It is quite annoying with all the small cuts then having to try again and again but once it fits it fits great, these are super comfortable, for you only, not anyone else. Also if someone was to own the headphone after me, there is probably a good chance they would have to cut more off to get it to fit, no problem. If someone was to own them after Josh, you cant grow back more headband, making them something that could be no good for resale. They still don’t fit Josh properly being made for my head so they are a very individual headphone.
Oh and I must add that the screws are also rather microphonic and clink around when moving your head.
“The strap adjustment is a little hassle but it has lots of other advantages, it fits better once you get the height adjusted, your head doesn’t feel like getting smash comparing to beats.”
I agree on no painful clamping like on the Beats by Dre Pro, which I used to own and is a pile of garbage in all areas. As I said a second ago, they are a VERY COMFORTABLE headphone.
“The other main point is its robust and does not slip or sag even after years of usage or putting it on stands for prolonged period. AKG is a big fan of suspension headband but elastic bands ultimately stretch overtime till to the point it sags and unusable. That’s the reason we chosen a screw adjustment method. And stainless headband doesn’t breaks or deform easily.”
After you have cut the leather band down, the stainless steel headband sits 2 inches above your head and it looks absurd! I have no objection to the build being great quality though and his points are valid.
“Other adjustable headbands such as Beats and Senheiser the contacts adjustment groves are normally plastic and they get really worn out and loosen if you treat them roughly.
In future headphone models. We will devise a way that the leather strap can be shorten on the strap itself without even unscrewing it out of the steel band. That would be a winner!”
I think the best solution if they do want to stick to this way of designing a head band would be to send with 5 or so headbands, all at different lengths, or even at the same starting length so you can customize one for individual users and also leave some untouched for resale purposes.
Finishing this section on a more positive note Apollo includes a clear acrylic headphone stand and this is great. Viktor told me why waste and package stuff that isn’t used when they know a stand would be invaluable and I agree. It fits all my headphones sweetly and has a full time place on my desk. More headphone manufactures should think about including a stand.
The Beast Bellows:
Lets cut to the chase now and talk about sound! Now from my communications with the company this certainly seems like the sonic voicing was set out to be one that people will love and have that be a priority above all else, such as a linear frequency curve or perfect technicalities. In fact the first prototype of this was a headphone that the designer made for himself to enjoy. This all shows with the headphones tuning, which in all honesty would be described as a ski slope, gradually losing prominence from the bass down to the treble. This makes the overall sound, dark and bassy, yes VERY BASSY! The sound is also very thick and bodied, in fact these are much thicker than any planar magnetic I own. The thickness and bass combined make them a very different experience to anything else I have and take some getting used too.
Now there is no denying that these headphones are for a specific type of listener and by no means for everyone. They are also not what I would call an audiophile or HiFi tuning and certainly not a reference tuning, these are more consumer. Trying to think of a similar tuned headphone, I may be tempted to say the Fostex TH900, but this still has more bass and less of the rest. A big positive for me right of the bat was that they sounded fairly spacious, airy no, but open to a point that I did not feel trapped in. They certainly don’t feel or sound closed when wearing them so the ring of vents on the headphone is clearly doing their job. This is by no means me saying this has a HUGE soundstage, but it gets width outside your headphone and overall does a stellar job of enveloping the listener.
Self proclaimed bass heads, please put your hands up and read on, because these are a headphone that took Meghan Trainor’s song to heart. Maybe even too literally because they also live by the “no treble” line. But seriously if you like a headphone that is both driven by bass and can handle all ranges, including them deep, dirty lines, then this jumping up and down trying to get your attention. The bass is not very fast or very tight for that matter. All it cares about is hitting hard and once it has done that it does linger, sometimes it can be distracting, sometimes it can just add to the warmth and wetness, adding to what this headphone already has. What it can do is display everything that is going on in the bass with decent layering, so even if we are getting the prolonged decay of one big bass note, it doesn’t take a way from whatever comes next. These don’t show any quick signs or rolling off and that bass is truly deep and meaning full, I can almost imagine the headphones shaking on my head.
The midrange has just enough recession that I end up trying to turn the volume up and then end up get smacked around the face by decibels and decibels of sub 100hz frequencies. Once out of that habit, depending on what I was listening to, I had good times and my fair share of bad. If it was produced music, lets say something from Yello, I found the decay long and the forward bass gelled with the mid tones nicely and everything was warm thick and coherent. Some classic pop like The Police or Elton John (in DSD) I just didn’t get near enough balance, I did find myself wondering whether vocalists were going to make an appearance. Isolating the midrange I find it to be tonally preferring the lower mids off the bass, which have a hearty decay on them, which sometimes makes them seem like they lack focus, and generally to sound warm and a touch compressed from the bass. Because of the slight slant too the lower mids, I do find a lack of clarity.
When I first got them I have to admit my first question was where is the treble. Maybe it was burn in or maybe the better fit after adjusting the headband but it has now shown its face a little bit. What treble we do have is rather thick and smooth, and it makes sure that no one will ever be offended by it. I don’t find extension great and whether or not the treble will shine through depends on how much bass is going on, in The XX’s “Sunset” you have some snares being hit throughout the track, before the bass hits you can make them out but when it slams into the scene, the snares are lost momentarily. Listening to the same song on my EL-8s, which are without doubt much brighter, there is a better understanding between the highs and lows, the bass still comes in and hits but they allow a separation so both can be pinpointed.
Moving onto another positive and that is how you can play these from anything, I’m not saying they don’t sound different from different gear, but in terms of music files, not matter how useless the producer was, the song will hold together and not sound ruined from all the bad details a headphone can bring out. I also find that while these are not detailed or transparent, they aren’t slow, or muddled, they still separate instruments into their own space and always keep up with the music, even with the prolonged decay through out the spectrum.
Some Great Ideas:
What has really impressed me here is Apollo’s decision to innovate, to try something new, something different, and not just make yet another generic headphones. Yes there are some rough edges but I know they take feedback well and already lining up a second wave of products that I have very high hopes for. The sound tuning is something that personally isn’t what I am after, but the decision for this headphone to sound like it does is very obviously predetermined and what they are after. My only question would be that the sound might contradict the rest of the design. I think the design is very audiophile in that it is not a portable headphone in my eyes, and is for someone who will sit at home or in the office and listen. The sound though is much more consumer, lots of bass, thick easy sound, the list goes on but what average consumer who loves bass has £450 to spend on a pair of headphone not ideal for in the high street, or is reading my site for that matter. Obviously there will be the headphone audiophiles that double up as self proclaimed bass head and I think they may even be in for a treat here, I hear a bit of the Fostex TH900 and that wasn’t really for me either but is a raging success. For me though, they just arent tuned in the right way, I would like to see them make a similar headphone, with a more balanced sound signature and you know what, I think they are 100% capable.