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Echobox Finder X1 Universal-Fit Earphones

Echobox Finder X1 Universal-Fit Earphones

I first encountered the relatively new-to-the-market brand Echobox Audio when I visited the firm’s stand at the CanJam London 2015 event. What initially caught my eye was the distinctive Echobox Explorer streaming-enabled, audiophile-grade personal audio player, which is shaped much like the sort of hip flask one might use discreetly to keep a wee bit of fine whisky close at hand. But attractive though the Explorer was and is, perhaps an even more significant Echobox product turned out to be the firm’s Finder X1 titanium earphones. I say this because the Finder X1 represents a serious attempt to offer a set of very high-quality and also seriously high-performance universal-fit earphones at a sensible, sub-£200 price.

Let me begin by observing that Echobox appears to be doing a great many things right with the Finder X1 design. For starters, the X1’s elegant and extremely lightweight earpieces are beautifully made from machined titanium – a comparatively exotic metal not-commonly used in earphones at this price point. The earpieces, per se, are quite short and have a gently flared shape reminiscent of the curved form of a trumpet’s bell, only in miniature. Protruding from the ‘bells’ of the earpieces are short sound outlet tubes whose rims are threaded so as to provide attachment points for any of the three included sets of screw-on sound-tuning filters. As a welcome detail touch, the sides of the flared earpieces bear faintly visible etched ‘L’ and ‘R’ channel identification markers. Then, Echobox includes tiny recessed, side-facing, colour-coded (red for right, black for left) cable strain reliefs through which the X1’s signal cables protrude.

Internally, the X1 earpieces are equipped with 9.2mm dynamic drivers fitted with PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) diaphragms. PEEK is a light, stiff, and durable thermoplastic polymer material that has seen use in aerospace, automotive, medical, and other applications. Echobox, though, says its PEEK drivers “utilize spread-spectrum technologies to achieve maximum transparency in midranges and high frequencies” – a claim largely borne out by our listening tests.

The 1.2m-long signal cables used on the X1 are special, too, featuring silver-plated copper conductors sheathed in sturdy and tangle-free jackets. The cables terminate in a machined metal mini-jack plug and are not user replaceable, though at this price point one typically would not expect them to be. Our review samples came equipped with audio-only signal cables (that is, sans mic/remote controls), but Echobox also offers a $229 Finder X1i model whose cables include inline mic and remote controls for Apple iPhones.

 

Echobox supplies a generous set of accessories with the X1, including: three pairs of single-flange silicone ear tips (in sizes S/M/L), two pairs each of dual- and triple-flange ear tips, and even a pair of Medium-sized Comply-brand T400 Isolation-series foam ear tips. Completing the package is a set of three screw-on, colour-coded white, black, and red tuning filters that allow users to adjust the sound signature of the X1s to suit their tastes. According to Echobox, the white filter “offers a warmer sound, with more bass and less emphasis on treble, while the black filter creates a more balanced sound, and the red filter is the brightest of the three.” Completing the package is a moulded, zipper closure pocket case for the earphones.

Overall, the Finder X1 package exudes a ‘vibe’ that combines elegance, utility, and robustness in equal parts. The earphones seem remarkably well thought out – especially in light of the fact that this is Echobox’s very first entry in this category.

How do the Finder X1s sound? At its core the X1 offers powerful, articulate, and extended bass, with the potential for very well defined and expressive mids and highs. With that said, however, the fact is that the X1’s voicing and overall musical presentation are highly dependent upon which of the three sets of sound tuning filters are installed at any given moment. For this reason, let me describe and contrast the sonic effects of each of Echobox’s filters in turn.

At one sonic extreme we have the red filters, which are, as advertised, the brightest of the three options on offer. Quite frankly, I listened through the red filters only briefly because, from the outset, they seemed overly bright to me—so much so that I think listeners accustomed to products with neutral tonal balance would find the red filters’ upturned midrange and treble response difficult to embrace. In fairness, however, it might be that the red filters would offer a viable solution for music lovers who have suffered some degree of upper midrange/treble hearing loss and therefore might wish for earphones with compensatory voicing curves.

Next, I tried the factory default white filters and came away impressed by the mid-to-low bass power they conferred and the sheer levels of bass articulacy and transient speed they offered. On mids and highs, however, the white filters struck me as being somewhat a mixed bag. On the plus side of the ledger, the white filters produced mids and highs with plenty of transient snap, definition, and detail. On the downside, however, the filters also caused upper midrange and treble tonal balance to be skewed upward, while at times allowing sibilant and transient sounds to become strident, piercing, and glassy-sounding (perhaps owing to small but audible amounts of transient overshoot and/or ringing?). The overall effect of the white filters, then, was to produce a dramatic sound and a somewhat scooped or ‘U’-shape response curve – one that exhibited the potential for clarity, but clarity marred at times by edgy and uncomfortably sharp-edged transients, etc.

Finally, we come to the black filters, which – for me – gave the best all around tonal balance while also neatly addressing the white filters’ occasionally problematic upper mids and highs. With the black filters in play, bass remained powerful and deep (though perhaps not quite as sharply focused as with the white filters), while mids and highs were much better balanced, exhibiting a desirable combination of detail, clarity, and – this is the really crucial part – smoothness. It isn’t as if the black filters throw a thick, warm blanket over the X1’s otherwise lively sound; rather, they seem to apply a just-right touch of critical damping that allows clarity to shine through, while at the same time holding edginess, stridency, and glare in check. On most musical material and most of the time, the black filters enabled the Finder X1s to go to their sonic happy place, maximising the clarity and expressiveness of the PEEK drivers while mitigating their weaknesses.

With black filters installed, the Finder X1’s sounded uncommonly detailed and expressive relative to many of the competitors in their price class. For a track that highlights all the good things these Echobox earphones can do, try listening to ‘Clear’ from Marilyn Mazur and Jan Garbarek’s gorgeous album Elixir [ECM, CD]. ‘Clear’ showcases Mazur’s panoply of percussion instruments, ranging from deep-pitched, resonant gongs and drums on up through delicate and very high-pitched cymbals and chimes—and most everything in between. Weaving between these piquant percussion flavours is the contemplative and achingly beautiful voice of Garbarek’s saxophone, which has its own mysterious tale to tell. The track thrives not only on dynamic expression, but also on subtlety, textural details, and finesse, all of which the Finder X1s deliver in full measure. This sort of sonic sophistication would be welcome even in more expensive earphones, but it’s all the more impressive in light of the X1’s sensible price and the fact that the X1 is Echobox’s first-ever earphone!

 

From an ergonomic perspective, the Finder X1 is largely a success, thanks to its compact size and lightweight design. These are the sorts of earphones you can wear for long stretches of time while almost forgetting they are in place. Even so, I do have two suggestions for possible future improvements. First, I would urge Echobox to offer more differentiation between their medium and large-size silicone ear tips; in our samples the size M and L tips were so close in size that there was almost no difference between the two. Second, I would like to see the X1 earpieces stretched out to slightly greater length to better accommodate listeners (like me) whose ear canals are very deeply set. Greater length would also make the earpieces easier to grasp for insertion and removal. Please note, though, that these two wish-list items are just that: ideas for enhancing what is already a superb, value-priced earphone.

The Finder X1 is a terrific first effort from a company that I think shows a lot of promise in the ever-evolving world of personal audio. The X1’s offer high apparent build quality, sleek design, sophisticated use of materials, and—with the right filters in place—a sound that is vibrant, expressive, and alive. Given their reasonable price, who could wish for more?

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: Single-driver universal-fit earphone with titanium earpieces
  • Driver complement: Single dynamic driver per earpiece, with drivers fitted with 9.2mm, German-made PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) diaphragms
  • Frequency response: 15 Hz – 32 kHz
  • Impedance: 22 Ohms @ 1 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB SPL @ 1mW
  • Weight: Not specified
  • Accessories: Three pairs of sound-tuning filters (bass, balance, and treble), three pairs of single‑flange silicone ear tips (S/M/L), one pair each of double‑flange and triple-flange silicone ear tips, one pair of medium sized Comply-brand T400 isolation-series compressible foam ear tips, carry case, cable cinch, and user guide.
  • Prices: ~£140 UK, $199 US
  • Warranty: 3-years

Manufacturer information: Echobox Audio, LLC
10900 NE 4th Street, Suite 1430, Bellevue,
WA 98004 USA

Tel.: (425) 503-0903

URL: www.echoboxaudio.com

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