XENNS, formerly known as Mangird, seemingly came out of nowhere and exploded onto the earphone scene with the Mangird Tea. We, like many listeners, loved that earphone. Today, we’re looking at its flagship XENNS UP, a $699 earphone that combines four balanced armatures, two electrostatic drivers, and a dynamic driver in each ear for an incredible, lush, audio experience.
This is Golden Ears, our column dedicated to exploring the world of high-end desktop audio. Our mission is to explore exactly what makes an expensive piece of gear worth its high cost of entry and just what the audio community is raving about. If you’ve ever wondered why someone would buy a $699 headphone, this is the place to find out.
- Current Price: $699 (Linsoul)
- Driver: 2EST+4BA+1DD
- Frequency range: 20-80Khz
- Sensitivity: 110+/-1dB
- Impedance: 20+/-2ohm
- Distortion rate: 1.0%+/-0.2%
- Cable length: 1.2 meters
- Connector: default 0.78mm 2pin
- Plug: default 2.5mm balanced plug (3.5mm and 4.5mm plug included)
- What’s in the Package?
- 2.5mm balanced cable
- 2.5mm to 4.4mm plug, 2.5mm to 3.5mm plug, 3.5mm to 6.35mm plug, U-shaped plug
- silicon eartips (S/M/L), foam eartips
- storage bag
What Makes a $699 Earphone? (Overview of the XENNS UP)
So, what makes a $699 headphone, you ask. How could any headphone possibly be worth that much money? As we dive into this topic here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Forget what you know about value. When you enter the world of high-end audio, that gets turned on its head. Once you step into the world of HiFi, it’s not at all uncommon to see top-of-the-line headphones go for several thousand dollars. Here’s a list of over-ear headphones that feature electrostatic drivers like the XENNS we’re looking at today. $410 to $6200. This is an expensive hobby steeped in chasing incremental improvements that usually cost more the higher up the chain you go.
- Yes, you can hear a difference. Despite how great your favorite pair of Sony’s of Bose headphones sound, there’s always room to grow and, yes, you can absolutely hear a difference. No, you don’t need to be an audiophile to hear it. Yes, placebo effect is absolutely a thing. But no, that’s not a reason to dismiss an earphone without hearing it for yourself.
- Craftsmanship Costs. As you’ll see with this earphone, it’s not all about the sound. When you step up to these expensive earphones and headphones, you’re paying for the technology inside it and the craftsmanship on the outside. Hand-painted shells. Unique designs. One-of-a-kind finishes. These are all factored into the price.
- It’s not all about price. Just because a headphone is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because a headphone is cheap doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you can only afford $100 on one headphone, there are plenty of amazing options that can also sound great. High-end listening is very much a game of nuance and personal taste.
When it comes to the XENNS UP, what we have is a seven-driver system that combines three different types of drivers. That’s fourteen tiny speakers total — probably more than your home theater. Each earpiece includes four balanced armatures, two electrostatics drivers, and one dynamic to handle the bass. These are premium Sonion components for the BAs and ESTs, and the dynamic driver is beryllium coated for improved speed and resolution. The combination is what’s called a tribrid.
The XENNS Up are my first headphones with electrostatic drivers, and they're a big part of what makes these earphones so special (and expensive). Electrostatic drivers have been around for years, but have only recently started rising in multi-driver IEMs. They excel at very high-end detail, extending the frequency response range from 20-80,000Hz. That's obviously well beyond the range of human hearing, but the precision, detail, and clarity they're able to produce in what you can hear (and the sense of air and space) and extraordinary.
By combining multiple driver types, each is able to shine in the realm where it performs best. The electrostatic drivers are responsible for ultra-high-frequency sounds. The balanced armatures cover the mids and highs (with two dedicated to each band). The dynamic driver covers the bass. These drivers are each controlled with a little device called a crossover which splits the frequency band and makes sure each driver only covers its set of frequencies. This way, those seven drivers aren’t competing with one another and leaving you with a muddy listening experience. Instead, they’re specialized and orchestrated. Tell that to your single-driver Bose (I kid - single drivers can be great too).
What’s the point? By allowing each driver to specialize, the XENNS UP is able to deliver an impeccably clean and detailed sound. When the sounds hit your ears, you’re not hearing seven different drivers. You’re hearing your music, broken into seven high-resolution pieces, and played out as a high-resolution whole. Think of the jump from 720p to 4K. This is what the XENNS UP accomplishes with your music, while also adding its own flavor and color
Back to the practicalities — to the earphones themselves. These are a boutique product: each shell is hand-painted with a beautiful red, black, and white design. The XENNS logo is stamped in gold cursive, like a signature. The earpieces themselves are molded in traditional UIEM form, so should fit most ears snugly and securely. There are small ports on each to relieve pressure and increase comfort. Above these are the two-pin ports, which are very snug (a bit too much, in my opinion, but at least they won't fall off).
The cable is excellent and features interchangeable ends to match any player, DAC, or amp you'd like to pair it with. It's a thick, rope-like oxygen-free silver that is terminated in 0.78 pins that attach to each earpiece. The opposite end features a 2.5mm balanced connection (on my sample), but with adapters for 3.5mm (?") and 6. 5mm (¼") and 4.4mm balanced. A cable might seem small, but this type of cable often sells for $75-100+ on its own.
Also on the box is a selection of silicone ear tips and a nice faux leather carry case. The whole package feels very premium and fitting for such a high-end audio product.
Fit and Comfort
The XENNS Up fit my ears well. They're on the larger side to house all those drivers but have long enough nozzles to fit securely in the ear canal while also being supported by your outer ear. As always, it's important to find the tips that fit your ear best, both for fit and sound.
Despite their larger-than-average size, they don't feel heavy or cause irritation. They're not a great fit for exercise, but they're not intended to be. These are earphones made for sitting down and enjoying music and other content.
Before continuing, it's important to remember that I'm coming from a place of BA/Dynamic hybrids, single dynamic/BA/planar earphones, and many different types of headphones. These are my first EST tribrid, so I can't cross-compare. That said, everyone has a first time and this is mine.
And what a first time it is. The XENNS Up are ridiculously good for the type of music I listen to and games I play. These headphones have punch and power in the low end and tons of detail and air in the mids and highs. Linsoul says this about their tuning:
XENNS UP features an airy smooth high frequency, especially when play instruments and vocals, the detailed changes of emotions is so thrilling and moving. For bass, it’s flexible, powerful and dynamic. Three frequencies are divided clear but precise, full of atmosphere and broad soundstage. It could be one of the most appropriate IEMs for rock and roll, popular music or vocals.
This isn't just marketing hype. It may be one of the truest descriptions of the sound you'll read about a headphone on its product page. I listen to a wide range of music, everything from post-hardcore, to ambient chillstep, to Billie Eilish. These earphones are fun, fun, fun.
In the world of headphones, there's a chase for neutrality and hearing the music "the way the artist intended." That's great, but what about how you like to listen to it? The XENNS Up aren't about neutrality. Instead, they're about pumping the bass (but not overwhelming you with it) and cranking the detail.
The bass is detailed and tight. There's enough of it to fill out songs and create the perception of vibration. The beryllium coating here really shines with the speed and control the dynamic driver is able to deliver. It starts and ends exactly when it's supposed to.
Despite that low-end power, the driver array prevents and bloat or loss of detail in the other frequencies. The mid-range does feel slightly stepped back. Vocals aren't going to be directly in your ear but will still be clear, detailed, and sweet.
Guitars live in the midrange, and there's an almost liquid quality to them. As a guitarist, I listen for texture in the way notes ring out. Do power chords laden with distortion blend together or can you hear the individual notes ringing out? On these, you can hear those details. They're not etched and perhaps not as crisp as some over-ear planars like the HIFIMAN Ananda, but they're detailed enough that without that side-by-side A/B comparison, the shift in micro details isn't something most listeners will notice.
Highs aren't sharp or sibilant. I admit to being concerned about this with such high-frequency-centric drivers driving the "ultra-high-end." Instead, there's a heightened sense of space. Beyond a certain frequency range, you stop hearing notes and instead hear a light airy sound that adds to the sense of atmosphere. Paired with the fairly wide and deep soundstage (which is great for gaming), this creates a great sense of space and separation that excels beyond what the majority of in-ear headphones are able to deliver.
The XENNS Up have become one of my all-time favorite earphones. The sound they're able to deliver is nothing short of outstanding, especially for energetic rock and bass-driven tracks. The tuning and sense of space also make them a great fit for gaming if you'd like to have a single earphone for all of your listening. They don't come cheap, and beyond a few hundred dollars, diminishing returns set in within the audio world. BUT, if you're climbing the audiophile ladder, these are a uniquely fun listen that left me coming back again and again after I should have moved onto the next product. They make a strong case - diminishing returns and all - for what you get when you spend extra and why so many people are hot on the chase in this hobby. Every now and again, you find a gem and this is one.The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.