Of all the headphones I have reviewed, it never occurred to me to share what I was listening to with anyone nearby. I mean, that’s what headphones are all about, right? Personal listening. Well, someone decided that you should be able to share your music using your headphones without actually using your headphones. Yes, you read that right. With their X2 Hybrid Headphones, Zumreed decided to make use of the cup of the headphone and add an additional external speaker. So, in addition to the heaphone speaker, there is also a speaker pointing outward. Back-to-back speakers on each ear, literally. At first glance, the X2 seems to be a solution to a problem no one had. However, taken on face value, is it a good idea? More importantly, is the audio decent in either headphone or external speaker mode? Let’s find out.
Let’s start with the headphones. The build quality of the phone itself is not bad. They are made of substantial – and thick – plastic with comfortable faux-leather cushion earpads and padded headband. Switching from headphones to external speaker is straightforward and simple. Just open a slider attachment on the main cord and the switch is inside. This attachment contains a rechargeable battery that lasts for an advertised four hours on a one-hour recharge time. The headphone selection does not require battery power, so there isn’t a penalty using that mode. Recharging is done through a supplied USB cord.
The X2’s are large. I’m starting to wonder if this is the style among younger people where headphones are becoming as much a fashion statement as an audio accessory. These certainly make a statement. They’re bulky size will make you think that the X2 could spark a party. Well, impressions can be deceiving.
Listening to the X2, I was reminded how my headphones sounded back in the 80s. It felt like I was underwater. The sound was compressed and claustrophobic with almost no airiness. Part of the problem was the bass, both too much and almost none, depending which speakers you used. On the headphone half, it was overpowering and stifling. Add brittle highs to the mix and you’ve pretty much destroyed the midrange. Sadly, the midrange is where most vocals are. Using the earlier underwater analogy, after about 10 minutes, I really felt like I had to come up to breathe.
With the headphones wrapped around the neck, like a DJ or a Dr. Dre Beats wannabe might do, the external speakers conveniently face outward. Using the X2’s external speakers this way highlights two immediate problems. To achieve the volume necessary for friends to be able to hear, the speakers become painful to listen to so near to your ears. So it is only practical to use the external speakers a good distance away from your head. Also, the distortion is so bad as to be distracting. Instead of a rich stereo experience, it sounds like two AM radios side-by-side. There is almost a total lack of bass.
I think part of the problem with the audio is that speakers need air to transmit sound and the X2‘s speakers are so rigid and tough, they hardly vibrate when pushed. On the other hand, if the speakers were flexible enough to vibrate and move air succesfully, then they would be too fragile to be exposed to the elements as these are. So it becomes a compromise no matter what.
I’m left trying to decide what consumer target Zumreed was aiming for with the X2. I can only conclude that they want to appeal to trendy and style-conscious young people, such as the Beats and Skull Candy crowd. They are kinda cool looking for that age group. And let’s face it, with the popularity of low resolution MP3 files, most younger people sadly don’t have a clue what decent audio sounds like. Taking all of that into account, if that’s Zumreed’s audience, then they have failed by pricing the X2 at a whopping $165 (although they can be had for less online with some searching). Only people with an ear for good sound would fork over that kind of money for headphones. The Zumreed X2 headphones fall far short of that mark.