Apollo Audio Lab Legend X1 Review: In terms of the physical design the Apollo Audio Lab X1’s are certainly unique, but unfortunately their industrial approach comes at the expense of practicality. Simply put, the X1’s are a heavy beast with a slightly unrefined design. In terms of the sonics, the of these Blue Beast X1’s as a pair of premium beats; they have an immensely dark presence with thunderous bass.
Canadian based manufacturer Apollo Audio Lab have been in the audio game since 2013. Over the years this enthusiastic manufacturer has amassed a seemingly well regarded low-mid tier consumer line of dynamic in ear products (Firebolt, Stormbolt, and Woodbolt) and a separate professional mid-top tier IEM duo crafted with balanced amateurs which, coincidentally, undergoing an internal design revamp – the Viper 6 and the Viper 8. In the intermediate stage, during 2014, Apollo Audio Lab wanted to extend their engineering prowess by developing a flagship circumaural pair of headphones. By apparently using the finest materials available, Apollo Audio Lab’s CEO wanted to set a new engineering president, and so he completely designed the slightly odd looking single large 50mm dynamic driver Legend X1 semi-open back headphones from scratch.
Please note that the headphones on review are the standard aluminium Legend X1’s and not the limited edition rosewood Legend X1 Wood.
When the Legend X1’s arrive you’ll be struck by the sparse glossy teal exterior which doesn’t seem to highlight any of the X1’s specifications. This is completely fine because it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to want to keep their exterior canvass as slick as possible, although what is odd is that when you enter into the packaging you will notice that Apollo Audio Lab have strangely continued this theme by not including any spec reference sheet or any detailed warranty information. Usually I’m quite sceptical of a product that doesn’t include any detailed information or measurements, so this simple omission immediately left me with a sinking feeling before I even had a chance to put the Legend X1’s on my head. What Apollo Audio Lab do, however, include is a slick single sided cardboard presentation sheet which details the apparent over engineered fitting procedure, and a metal stamped product authenticity card. I cannot deny that the metal authenticity card is a nice touch, but something feels amiss, maybe this is something to do with the fact that there is no packaging material and everything is loose within the box?! In fact on the long way to me the X1’s were damaged in multiple areas… Anyway, I don’t need to highlight the obvious here so other items in the package include an oversized inexpensive polyester dust bag that definitely should be left in the dark depths of the box for all eternity as it doesn’t match the X1’s aesthetic in the slightest, a nice clear acrylic omega style headphone stand, a standard gold plated 3.5mm to ¼” adapter, the headphones themselves, and their detachable cable.
Build Quality Design, and Function:
First let’s start by saying something overwhelmingly positive, and this is that the Legend X1’s come with a LIFETIME warranty. Yes, you read that right… a lifetime warranty! What’s most impressive is that this lifetime warranty extends across all of the Apollo Audio Lab product range and, apart from the obvious reasons that would void this, there is no doubt in my mind that they will outlive some of the other headphones that you could by irrespective of price so, if the X1’s are for you, you could be quids in. Sadly, for the time being at least, this is where the positives end.
If we begin with the easiest item, the cable, I have to say that the design, implementation, and the materials used is poor in comparison to the X1’s competitors. For example, Apollo Audio Lab have selected an inexpensive prefabricated to order Chinese ‘Choseal OFC Audio/Video High Grade’ cable to transmit the signal from your premium device to your premium headphones. Whilst listening tests have demonstrated that the cables sonics are ‘acceptable’, it’s far from what I would recommend. Yes, the marketing materials get to say that the cables core conductor is made from Oxygen Free Copper (OFC), but there is so much more a cables construction such as shielding, insulation material, material continuity, et al. Likewise, the length of the included cable seems odd to me – 2m. It’s almost as if the Legend X1 doesn’t quite know whether it’s meant to be used with a Hi-Fi or on the go with your iPod (DAP). In terms of the termination, the cable has a factory injection moulded 3.5mm connector with built in strain relief. Because the cable carries the Left and Right signal independently through the cable it, again, seems like Apollo Audio Lab have made a massive error in not using a Y-Splitter to stop the channels tearing apart. It is, therefore, also inevitable that your cable will split apart within a few months. If we follow our way up to the connectors, which are terminated with independent mono 3.5mm connectors, each have an intuitive colour coded jacket so you’ll instantly know what connector goes into which driver housing – blue for left and red for right. Where the cable enters into the connector there appears to be no cable strain relief whatsoever and the heat shrink jacket has already started sliding down the cable on my review model. My conclusion of the cables construction is that it urgently needs a redesign, especially when you consider that the cable has no locking mechanism into the driver housing and that the socket appears to have minimal grip upon each of the mono 3.5mm connectors. Thankfully, at least, the cable is user replaceable.
If we take a look at the external design of the Legend X1’s I cannot deny that, on the surface, they are a very pretty pair of headphones. In fact I have no doubt that, from looking at the structural materials used and their implementation, that the X1’s are a very expensive pair headphones to manufacture. Although, regardless of the BOM (Bill of Materials), I have to say that there are some quality control inconsistencies, odd material choices, and industrial avant garde functional aspects that I feel complicate the act of portable/convenient headphone listening. Let’s begin with the headband because the 1mm thick electro-plated stainless steel material really does feel massively out of place in this setting, yet frustratingly it is still required to keep the headphone structure from falling apart. The reason for this is that the design is too overlooked and materials application is way to industrial for a pair of premium headphones. Likewise, the finish damages easily because if you remember that before I said that the lack of packaging yielded some casualties during shipping, yeah well one of these was the electro-plating of the headband, and there is evidence that the finish will continue to peel due to the mildly rough edges. One other factor that comes into the fray is that the headband just doesn’t have the structural authority needed to cope with the weight of the driver housings and yokes. Something that does, however, go in the top steel headbands favour is that it does deliver a comfortable and continuous clamping force against the head; this is something that I cannot deny.
Underneath the top troublesome headband lies the superbly crafted supporting band and the terrible fitting mechanism because, unlike 95% of other popular headphone designs out there, Apollo Audio Lab vetoed the tried and tested common sliding band mechanism in favour of a seriously convoluted manual thumbscrew method. I despair at the thought that someone could believe that this is a more convenient method, still this is reality. Basically there is a beautiful alligator print genuine cowhide leather band with a series of three holes punched at the end of one side of the band. In order to adjust the driver housings level to the ears, the user must unscrew the (ultra microphonic) thumbscrews and manually select the setting that they feel might accommodate their size of head. Once this is completed you must tighten the screws back up and, if you have excess material now imposing upon the yolks and your comfort then Apollo Audio Lab recommend that you trim the leather ultimately sacrificing their future ability to accommodate larger heads. The biggest problem with this system isn’t that it’s a royal pain in the arse for the user, it’s that, if you have a smaller head (like me), then when the headphones are worn the design looks like you have a radio transmitter stuck to your head – reminiscent of those crazy headphone designs of the 70/80’s. The fact is that you will look ridiculous, like I do right now. Again there is a flip side here and, like before, this is that despite the omission of any padding whatsoever the Legend X1’s are surprisingly comfortable on the top of the head. But, if we revert to the final problem now, it has to be said that the thumbscrews do not stay flush, in fact they are totally unruly… they wriggle around whenever you move your head and, in the process, detract away from the listening experience along with the disappointing fact that the brass oxidises quickly to deliver an unkept uncontinuous finish. Likewise, instead of having easy ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ indicators, Apollo Audio Lab have unusually decided to indicate which side is which with a single sticker placed on the ‘Left’ headphones yoke. This asymmetric design seems strange, as if they’ve simply forgot to put one on the other side, so it probably would have been a better idea if they clearly indicated which side is what. After all it would save the user from confusion.
Now onto the yokes and driver housings… So, it goes without saying these are another two components that follow the industrial vibe and clearly Apollo Audio Lab just love the aircraft grade aluminium! So, lets begin with a short discussion of the yokes. Well, unlike the headband, Apollo Audio Lab have allowed unlimited lateral and bilateral movement so that the driver housings can fit flush against the users head and maintain a good seal. The system is simple and it works well, what I don’t like, however, is that the simple connection between the headband and the top of the yolk is a single screw so there is some wiggle room that slightly destabilises the structure. I have found a fix for this, and that is allowing the yolk to find the correct position against your head and then manually tighten up the hex screw beneath, simple. In daylight I have observed the CNC milled anodised finish of the yokes to be inconsistent, which is again more evidence of a DIY vibe and I don’t know why I like it, maybe I’m just a geek who like that? This DIY vibe, again, continues onto the parts of driver housings where, for example, the jack input is secured in place with an external retaining nut and, again, there is evidence of an inconsistent finish that shows up in daylight – not really ideal when the retail price of this pair of headphones is $680 (with free worldwide shipping) unless you find it oddly charming like I do. In a surprising turn of events I do have to give kudos to Apollo Audio Lab for the beautiful aesthetic of the driver housing, the contract of the striking blue detailing against the dominant Apollo Audio Lab logo is beautiful. Likewise the size of the housing, being 1” deep with a 3.5” radius is a good size that should accommodate most ear sizes and head shapes well. Finally, Apollo Audio Lab finish their X1’s off with one of the most comfortable ear pads that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Whilst the ear pads are impracticable for the long run, as they are not user replaceable, the afford the listener with luxurious comfort in the meantime with an ultra soft protein leather outer material that perfectly matches the soft skin of the outer ears, and a 1¼” depth of genuine memory foam. Interestingly, when worn, the ear pads seem to form a very tight seal with your head in such a way that the drivers distort when putting them on or repositioning them. The reason for why I know this is because in both of these situations you can hear the crunch of the drivers diaphragms distorting. My advice to Apollo Audio Lab would be to offset this vacuum by adding two internal venting ports, a simple task. Let’s come back on to the positives again, because the Apollo X1’s are surprisingly comfortable when worn for short to medium periods of time. Anything above this becomes a bit too hot for me on my ears and the 530g weight of the design, along with its counter moving centre of gravity (even if the bulk of the mass is around the ears and not able the head), becomes more and more apparent. Still, an album or twos listening is fine to deal without too much irritation… One thing to bare in mind is that if you like to bop/dance along with the music then the weight of the headphones will, without a doubt, become an issue along with those rattling thumbscrews very quickly.
In terms of the internals of these headphones, Apollo Audio Lab have listed only the essentials. Internally the Legend X1’s have a single custom 50mm neodymium driver placed into a (1mm) 24 hole open back design which is then back angled in order to deliver the sound into the inner ear without distortion. Needless to say that there is a medium to large amount of sonic leakage into the external environment although, unusually, the external ambient noise rejection of these headphones is much better. I have found that, again due to the lack of internal venting, that if you move the headphones whilst on the head you will distort those drivers and they will make all sorts of funny sounds (including none at all). Although, apparently, the internal structure of the driver housings employs a special dual chamber bass response system. The construction of this chamber system has not been outlined, but how this specifically influences the characteristics of the bass image is something that we shall discuss later within our sonic findings. In the meantime we’ll discuss the frequency range and impedance because the Legend X1’s have a competitive 18Hz to 24kHz and a 41Ω impedance. Now I have to say that I find the 41Ω impedance to be quite telling when you consider the target market for these headphones – the style conscious prosumer market. In this area I typically wouldn’t recommend an impedance above 32Ω, with an ideal sensitivity of 16Ω. With most prosumers (we’re not taking about lurkers of Head-Fi here) I would expect them to be equipped with the likes of an iPod, iPhone, Smart Phone, Sony Walkman, or suchlike, not dedicated audiophile DAPs, not any source with high output OP amps, and certainly not an external amplifier unit stacked to the back of their music player, so the 41Ω output impedance is just too much. I’ve plugged the X1’s into a number of the aforementioned consumer music/multimedia players and have found the output quality to confirm my suspicions. Sure the players deliver an adequate amount of gain, but what is clearly sacrificed is the [flat] dynamic range, mid/top articulation, and top end sparkle – tell tell signs that there is an impedance mismatch, all of which are alleviated with proper amplification.
Lossless tracks from 16bit to 24bit 44.1kHz to 192kHz, iBasso ‘DX90’ (2.1.8 Lurkers Mod), Lotoo Paw Gold, MacBook ‘Air’ Late 2013 i7, iPhone ‘5s’, Chord Electronics ‘Hugo’, Lynx ‘Hilo’, ARCAM ‘irDAC’, and Epiphany Acoustics ‘EHP-O2D’.
Having properly amped the Apollo Audio Lab X1’s, with an appropriately powered source, I have to say that these are a pair of headphones clearly designed for bass lovers. It confuses me as to why these headphones are part of Apollo Audio Lab’s ‘Professional Series’, because if anything their sound signature is a complete contradiction. As a professional I would hate to mix with these headphones, it’s just painfully obvious that any professional activities would yield terrible translation discontinuity and I highly discourage their purchase for this intention. Besides from this I can report that the Legend X1’s seem to delver a bloated lower registry performance with a significant sonic opening occurring around the mid-upper midrange area, which continues into the mid-treble frequencies before sharply reducing in presence past this point. In terms of soundstage there are similar findings as before, where the frequencies between the sub-bass and mid-midrange are horrendously crushed into the central domain with bulldozed nuances, no sense of subtlety, and an in your face attitude. Past the mid-midrange point I can proudly report that the image width dramatically increases, to become something much more expansive and generally impressive. From these findings I believe that the design of the dual chamber bass response system is to blame for this. Funnily enough, I have found that the longer you listen to the headphones the more accustomed you become to their unique charm. I just don’t know why, but everything with these headphones appears to be a double edged sword. Put it this way, for a bit of fun with electronic genres I can genuinely appreciate the X1’s even if it takes me a warming up period. These headphones are so ‘premium’ Beats and electronic music is their ally.
With such a thunderous bass presence it’s clear that the bass does dig deep yet it has a habit of overwhelming the detail in the midrange. Because of this you can be tempted to reach for that gain dial and pump up the volume just so that the vocals can cut thorough enough, the obvious danger here is that you end up giving your ears a bass spanking – ultimately resulting in premature listening fatigue. As someone who likes to listen to music at a modest volume I found that I was consuming X1’s beastly beauty at levels that I never thought that I would ever go to, somewhat scary for an audiophile like me… unless you like to rave at the weekend, then the weekend can come to you with some midweek X1 listening, seriously. The X1’s are a Mecca for bass heads with a penchant for those heavy electronic genres. Obviously I say this because of what’s been discussed before, but also because the down and dirty vibe from these headphones is pure filth. Sadly though, the X1’s just don’t have the authority to cope with any other genre, even Heavy Metal. With lighter genres, such as Indie, the sound feels too imbalanced and particularly slow in the low to medium-midrange to navigate the complex nuances of the lead and rhythm guitars against a solid baseline. Certainly there is a great mid to top midrange presence that does allow the lead and rhythm guitars to be defined to some degree, it’s just not ideal.
Ultimately I would say that the best way to discuss the general viscosity of the sound is thick and syrupy. Without the use of any tube equipment in the signal path, the feeling that I get from the X1’s is that they saturate the sound in a similar way that vacuum tubes do. From this impression I cannot recommend the X1’s if you intend to use them with a vacuum tube signal path, this could suck all minor qualities out of the X1’s that makes the listening process so endearing with electronic genres, so solid state would be the best way to go. Having said this, from the time that I have spent analysing all of the above systems with the X1’s I managed to discover that their synergy with the iBasso DX90 was electric. This particular pairing was so on point that the top-mid and trebles began to pop against the dark background of bass presence with clear shark transient attacks and better decays than usual. Likewise, the Lynx Hilo experienced a similar effect, but I would not expect this piece of equipment to be common amongst the target market. Speaking of transience, it’s best that we get our teeth into a descriptive before this goes on for too long. At the bottom end of the spectrum it has to be said that the bass attack is quite slow, and so is the decay. The X1’s simply don’t give you the full articulated punch that you would come to expect from glithcy techno beats, nor does it allow to act like a surgeon and hear modest details that give away how the beater head has hit the skin of the drum with more acoustic music. Generally the breath of bass articulation feels as though a bulldozer has hit it head on and often its indistinct characteristics mask the presence of forthcoming notes. Don’t get me wrong, the bass is still compositionally complex and digs very deep, and always stays perfectly central, if not a little compressed, it just doesn’t have the attack that would make these headphones much more class leading or recommendable. Arriving at the midrange, the presence is there in the low to mid frequencies, it’s just that the low midrange frequencies carry the same characteristics as the bass over, whereas the mid-midrange has more clearance with a medium degree of attack and decay. In the mid-midrange you can expect the same saturation as previously discussed, although this time less distortionary, and there is a distinct opening in the imaging. In the mid-midrange the stereo field is dramatically open with some sense of saturated space between the instruments – there is clear definition between the far left and right fields, but the foreground and background are still thickly compressed which, when combined with the bass, can make, particularly male, vocals difficult to follow. This is an effect which can be desirable with electronic genres devoid of vocal queues as there is a continuous common glue between the core instrumental layering. At the top end of the midrange spectrum there seems to be an increase of air around the instrumentation where the finer nuances can be easily distinguished, in fact it certainly appears more coherent than its lower-mid frequency neighbour, which is a welcome observation. As we arrive in the treble region it’s definitely apparent that this is an area that is significantly less forward than the bass. Generally the treble region isn’t what I would describe as being light on it’s feet, and this isn’t to say that it doesn’t keep up with complex rhythmic elements, because the X1’s can and they do exhibit modest control, it’s more that it has a super smooth attack and decay that is designed to match the aesthetics of the bass and midrange – moderately slow. If I went one step further and used the adjective ‘velvety’ to describe the trebles you might think I am mad, but this is the absolute truth. Basically if you think of a ribbon microphone (namely the Coles 4038), the X1’s have exactly the same modest treble approach – thick and dark in the trebles with a significant roll off occurring between 14kHz to 15kHz. In terms of imaging, the X1’s unusually take a closed set approach. Sure, they laterally extend to, lets say, and average point, but don’t go expecting a huge soundstage… More importantly low-highs do retain some characteristics as the high-mids, but the general observation is that the X1’s treble imaging is noticeably more closed than that of the high-midrange and come across as exceptionally intimate.
On paper the Apollo Audio Lab X1 (AKA. ‘Blue Beast’) headphones superficially tick all the right boxes, but in person I have uncovered a number of issues relating to their build quality and practicality. All of these issues are seemingly small on their own, but sadly amass to something much larger when combined. It’s clear to see Apollo Audio Labs passion, they have great marketing, use first class materials in certain contexts, and are certainly on the right lines, I just hope that the team will see this reviews criticism as constructive and act upon it by producing an outstanding product, or products to come. In terms of the sonic performance the X1’s really do remind me of a pair of premium/posh Beats. The thick dark signature is best describe as fun, laid-back and on point for bass heads. As it stands The Pro Audio Web Blog generously awards the Apollo Audio Lab ‘Legend X1’ headphones with a three and-a-half star rating.