JM Audio XTC-Closed

Pros: Fast response
Excellent detail/precision
Clean, powerful bass without going over the top
Great mids and highs
Massive soundstage
Great fit/weight
Beautiful ear cups
VERY slim earcups – small size (customizable)
Decent cable
Nice carry case
The best closed-backs in this, and many other, price ranges

Cons: Would have liked an XLR4 connection on the cable

XTC-C Aston.jpg

Update: 11 Jan: updated impressions with tuning change that decreased the soundstage, but improved the tuning of the highs. They sound very similar to the XTC-O now, which is a good thing. I also fixed my incorrect driver information (my bad.)


Up for review today are the new JM Audio (JMA) XTC-Closed (XTC-C) back over ear headphones in the limited black color with the slim ear cups. These are the 50mm beryllium driver version (a rare and expensive driver option that is lightweight and very stiff, allowing for lower distortion and higher frequency sound.) These are the same drivers that my XTC-Open (XTC-O) have, though a warmer bio cellulose version is available also. This is similar to what the high-end Focal Stellia ($3,000) and Focal Utopia ($5,000) are driven by. I paid retail for these after listening to the XTC-O and loving them. If you don’t want to read my ramblings below, these are the best closed back headphones I’ve ever heard at 1/3rd the price of the Focal Stellia.

JMA tunes each of their headphones to customer preference. I spoke with them at length about how I hate bass that overwhelms everything else, and about how I dislike sibilant treble. I also chose the thinner ear cup size (which makes it harder to tune and fit tech inside.) They tuned these to my preferences (of course given the inherent characteristics of a closed-back headphone.) They also managed to shove a TON of technology into some very slim and light ear cups with a large soundstage. They put porous carbon graphene and their patent pending fractal fiberglass mesh inside the cups to increase the soundstage and dampen unwanted vibration. JMA named these the XTC Nearly Scalpel Tuning edition and if you’d like the same tuning, ask them for that. Spoiler alert, they definitely live up to that name thanks to the beryllium drivers!

XTC-C Box.jpg

Build Quality:

These are super lightweight at about 400g with an Audeze LCD-2-style headband. The overall build quality is really good, and the ear cups are beautifully made and almost look like black mirrors. The headband is very comfortable for long periods of wear and overall build quality is high. The ear pads are very comfortable, though they are the $50 soft leather ear pads. When you consider how small JMA is, the build quality is impressive compared to larger boutique companies like ZMF (paint chips, wood issues etc.)

The cable is a 3.5mm, 36 strand, 26AWG high purity Oxygen-Free Copper litz cable. While I prefer XLR4 terminations, the cable itself is really good quality and it’s only lightly microphonic (although, oddly, the 3.5mm connectors on the ear cups are microphonic as well.) It’s a better quality cable than the XTC-O came with and I can use the XTC-O cable with the XTC-C to get a balanced connection if needed. Realistically, the 3.5mm is easy enough to drive that I don’t really need the balanced cable.

A quick note on isolation – these aren’t designed to block out all noise, and they do leak some sound as well (for really sensitive people sitting near you) – it’s not an issue for me, but for anything looking to block out the world on a plane or a bus, active noise cancelling headphones like the PX8 or Sennheiser Momentum 4 will be a better fit.

XTC-C Side.jpg

Sound and Comparisons:

I am running these off a Burson Conductor 3X Performance (3XP) and a Shanling M3 Ultra DAP (M3U) using Tidal Hi-fi. The 3XP drove these brilliantly at 3.5mm, but for the first time, and initially the M3U failed to drive these well, but, after a slight modification JMA told me to make over the phone, the M3U drove the XTC-C just as well as the 3XP (43/100.) The beryllium drivers in the XTC-C are harder to drive than the beryllium in the XTC-O (70/100 low gain on the 3XP with the XTC-C vs 50/100 on the XTC-O.) This is due to the XTC-O using a balanced connector vs the XTC-C’s unbalanced connector. On to the sound!

I am going to try something new where, instead of listing out the bass, mids, and highs and how they perform, I am going to list songs that excel in those particular areas, but I’m not going to leave out the mids or highs on a song testing bass for instance. It seems silly to do so, as almost all song have bass, mids, and highs (except weird ones.) So, without further ado, the sound impression of the headphones with courage, heart, and brains as well.

There’s no place like home, so starting off with my typical EDM bass-test song, is The Knife’s “Silent Shout” – the opening bass drums come in powerful and clean. The bass and sub-bass are fast with very little roll off – it is quickly apparent why JMA calls these the scalpel edition. I am not a basshead, and while I would classify these as boosted bass headphones (as most closed backs are) with neutral mids and highs, they don’t overwhelm the vocals or synths in the background. The overall soundstage is more full and wide than any other closed-back headphone I’ve heard – but, as expected, slightly smaller than the XTC-O. These have a tighter bass response than the Gjallarhorn GH 50 JM Edition Mk2 (GHJM) without the bloated bass and the sharp highs (which can be tuned out by JMA if you like.)

Another EDM bass test song that is excellent at illustrating sub-bass is David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)” and the bass drums come in hard in the intro. The bass and sub-bass once again manage to be strong without overwhelming the mids and when the synths come in with the sub-synth at 0:36, everything is very clear and tight. The vocals are easily distinguishable and don’t fall into the back.

Skillet’s “Stars” begins with the excellent bass response expected from these headphones and then moves into clear vocals with no sharpness when Skillet’s voices reach the high registers of the song (unlike some other headphones I’ve heard recently *cough MEST cough*.) The large soundstage on these is a common theme with these headphones and likely has to do with the fractal mesh inside the cups. JMA has the ability to make the soundstage larger with the larger ear cup option and different tuning than what I prefer.

Something Corporate’s “Hurricane” illustrates good, clean, accurate, guitar distortion and a fast response throughout the song. The vocals come through clear, and the piano can be heard throughout the song, which cannot be heard on some headphones – so the headphones are very accurate. The bass drums slide back further than in songs designed to highlight the bass – as they should.

Switching up genres to folk vocal, John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” once again shows the strengths of the mids as the synths come in sharp and accurate. They’re followed by John’s voice clearly shining through (as it is intended to do.) The presence of a large soundstage is apparent once more.

XTC-C Cable.jpg

Moving over to rap, NF’s “The Search” shows off some excellent vocals with excellent clarity and response. The strings are beautifully represented and the bass comes in extremely hard at 1:58. Eminem’s “The Monster” has the fast/boosted bass with vocals coming in evenly with the bass and Rihanna’s voice coming in very clear. There’s no sharpness to the high notes that she hits (something I asked JMA to tune out for me after the GHJM.)

Speaking of highs, I would be remiss if I didn’t post impressions of the song that killed the UM MEST Mk2 for me, Michele McLaughlin’s “Across the Burren.” The piano comes in beautifully and accurately (there is no sharp reverberation – high note solo piano is a challenge for a lot of headphones, especially closed-backs.) There is a sense of being in an empty concert hall listening to her play. Despite the extremely high notes presented in this song, there’s none of the cringe sharpness that the MEST, or, to a lesser extent, the GHJM, had. Brian Crain’s “At the Ivy Gate” shows a detailed and accurate presentation without being too sharp as well. The Piano Guys “Code Name Vivaldi” doesn’t have any issues either – the strings helping balance out the high piano notes. JMA has tuned out the harsher highs.

Now to the flying monkey in the room. Yes, there is an open-back version of these – the XTC-O. So, how do these compare to their open-back brother? The XTC-O and XTC-C are tuned similarly and have a very similar overall presentation as they use the same drivers and similar tech. The soundstage is slightly bigger on the XTC-O (which is typical for open-back headphones,) but it is really close. I will say that the XTC-O has a slightly better presentation of the mids and highs, while the XTC-C has more bass (again, just slightly as these are almost the same headphone.) JMA’s XTC line really knows how to do bass for people like me, who don’t like earthquakes in their head (get the GHJM if you do – bass cannon,) but who don’t want to miss out on any part of the bass (like you can on the Rosson RAD-0.) Both headphones are excellent, but have their different focuses and use scenarios.

The XTC-C feels like a legitimate Stellia fighter at 1/3rd the price – I’d need to get a set of the Stellias in again to do a direct comparison, but from memory, the Stellia has more forward mids, similar bass, and a smaller soundstage with similar highs. In comparison with another of the best rated closed-backs on the market, the Sony MDR-Z1R, the XTC-C has: tighter bass (slightly less of it on my tune – that’s a good thing to me,) a more intimate soundstage, more pronounced mids and less sharp highs than the MDR-Z1R. The Sony is no doubt a bass cannon, and the soundstage and instrument separation are impressive, but as the closest logical competitor to the XTC-C, I found they fell flat outside of the bass department (the mids sound so far away.) The Sony’s come with a better cable and have a little better build quality (as expected from Sony,) but they also make my ears hot quickly and the mesh on the outside is annoying and they’re huge (thus the soundstage.) They are still great headphones, and without the XTC-C to compare them to, they would be better received – although they cost more.

XTC-C Top.jpg


These are the best closed-back headphones I have ever heard (and can be tuned to your preference,) and at a price that throws water on the major headphone makers (melllting.) ZMF will charge you almost 3 times as much for their closed-back wood headphones and it will weigh more (I’m trying to get a hold of one for review, but the price gap remains no matter how they sound.) A high-end beryllium driver closed-back headphone for under $1k? Dang, they’re so fast, clean, and responsive – very similar to the Stellia, but you can have JMA tune it however you like (go ahead, ask Focal to do that for you haha.) In fact, the only reason these are so cheap are because JMA is still a relatively unknown manufacturer with no advertising budget, and they sell directly through their site. I predict that in a few years, these won’t be anywhere near this price.

The XTC-C and XTC-O I have are similar, but different. Which one should you get? They’re both excellent headphones at stupid-low prices (for now.) If you need closed-backs for the office or at home with family, get the XTC-C – it’s a no brainer. But, between the two, I will use each one for different scenarios. If I’m trying to be quiet while people sleep, or I’m playing a videogame, or I need more bass to listen to EDM, I’m grabbing the XTC-C. If I can have more noise leak and I want a little mor soundstage, I’ll grab the XTC-O. They’re both a win-win and they’re both the best headphones I’ve heard in their categories. Feel free to reach out to JMA and discuss what you’d like with them. Follow the yellow brick road and pick the one that suits you (yeah, I’m going hard on this Wizard of Oz thing.) I can’t wait to see what JMA comes up with next – an IEM? No pressure.

Start paying attention to the man behind the curtain – he’s the Wizard of Audio.

Headphone Scoring – Each category can be split into quarter points:
Build Quality0.75​
Ear Pads / Tips1​

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