(Pocket-lint) – It can be a little difficult to stand out from the crowd in the wireless earbuds world at the moment, whether you’re an established presence or a newcomer.
Having a big name attached to your ‘buds could be a help though, and music producer Kygo has been making some waves with his headphones brand over the last couple of years.
The earbuds, called Xellence, are a creditable addition to his oeuvre. But in this bustling market are they particularly memorable?
- Plastic case and build
- 60g weight (including case)
- Touch-sensitive controls
Unlike other audio brands named for or endorsed by celebrities, these earbuds from Kygo really don’t look too glaringly brash. Yes, there’s a repeated ‘X’ blazoned on both the case and each earbud, but it’s a logo subtle enough to blend in nicely, and aside from that these ‘buds look pretty normal – in a good way!
The case is small and lightweight, built from plastic, and easy to pocket. It’s got indicator lights to let you know its charge level, and the earbuds clip in easily with the help of magnets. The case charges by USB Type-C – we’d have liked to see wireless charging, too, but that’s life.
One slight worry on our end is that the case’s lid, while sturdily hinged, is pretty thin – if there’s a potential point for breakages, this could be it. However, it’s satisfying to open and shut, so doesn’t feel fragile in the hands.
Moving to the earbuds, each has a round exterior that corkscrews in toward a silicone tip (with multiple sizes included). A twist gets each into your ear canal and we found them comfortable enough to wear for long periods. That said, those with smaller outer ears could find them a little chafey.
In terms of controls, the whole flat outside surface of each ‘bud is touch-sensitive. A tap on the left or right earbud will alter the volume of playback, while double-taps can pause (and unpause), while triple-taps can change noise-cancellation mode (or ‘ANC’ as it’s often called).
Each earbud also has a small button to its rear so that can activate your chosen voice assistant, but this is so awkwardly placed and hard to press when the ‘buds are in your ears that you’ll doubtless almost never use it.
That ‘X’ on each Kygo ‘bud has a backlit LED which looks fairly classy, but you can turn the lighting off easily if it doesn’t suit your style.
Overall this is a solid showing in design terms – there’s nothing here to redraw the lines for all wireless earbuds, but Xellence looks nice and feels good to use.
- 10mm drivers
- Personalised sound with Mimi
When it comes to actually listening to music, Kygo’s Xellence ‘buds offer a fairly similar picture: it’s a solid performance, not that it rehapes the mould of sound potential. The sound stage here is entirely decent, with a richness that makes plenty of different genres sound warm and natural.
If you use the optional Bass Boost setting, you’ll get a welcome added oomph on the low-end, and while we didn’t find that highs got particularly defined, it’s still more than capable of punching through whatever playlist you throw at these ‘buds.
One nice twist on this is that the earbuds use sound personalisation in partnership with audio engineers Mimi. In the companion app, you can take a hearing test that takes a couple of minutes. It assesses how each of your ears receives different frequencies, then creates a custom EQ (equaliser) to make music as natural sounding as possible. It works nicely and you can really hear the difference if you toggle it on and off.
That’s further enhanced by decent ANC. There are three settings for Xellence – noise cancellation, ambient mode, and no cancellation. With cancellation on you’ll unsurprisingly get a more isolated sound, and we found that it did a very decent job of drowning out external sound without impacting our music.
Ambient mode boosts the volume of sounds around you using the included microphones. As is often the case, it works fine but is eerie and too distracting for prolonged use. With both turned off, meanwhile, the in-ear shape still gives solid passive isolation and you’ll save some battery life.
Earbuds aren’t just for music in modern life, though. Call quality is a key factor, and Kygo’s Xellence doesn’t excel here. Your voice will come through slightly muffled and echoey, sadly, meaning these aren’t a great pick for conference calls or long catch-ups.
Software and battery
- 10-hour battery life, 20 further hours in case
- X by Kygo companion app
- Bluetooth pairing
The aforementioned X by Kygo app is where you’ll get a bit of added control over these earbuds, and it’s a fairly slick affair. It’s easy to pair new earbuds through it (although this is also straightforward in your phone’s settings) and you can toggle between a bunch of settings.
This includes the Mimi sound personalisation test, changing the earbuds’ lights, turning the Bass Booster on, and adjusting ANC. You won’t necessarily find yourself opening it up all too often, but it’s a useful hub.
We found our connections over Bluetooth to be pretty strong and reliable, meanwhile, although leaving the room that your phone’s in can still be a risky affair.
On the battery front, meanwhile, you get a stated 10 hours of battery life that shrinks to 8 hours if you’re using ANC. The case adds 20 more hours to make for 30 total before you need to plug it in again – and those numbers line-up with our testing. That makes for battery life that isn’t the best in the industry but is solid enough to see you through most working days or journeys.
Xellence delivers good sound quality, the sound personalisation is a bonus for those who use it, while active noise-cancellation does well enough in blocking out ambient sounds. The design is equally fine without standing out to excess – except maybe for those lights.
X by Kygo’s Xellence is a dead solid pair of wireless in-ears, then, but you’re unlikely to be blown away by any one particular element. Which isn’t deep criticism, but it does feel like something ‘X-tra’ would be needed for these ‘buds to really stand out in what’s a hugely crowded market.
Apple AirPods Pro
If you don’t mind spending a bit more, and especially if you’re on iOS, Apple’s own in-ears are simply superb, offering all the software conveniences you could want, alongside extremely impressive sound and some of the best active noise-cancelling (ANC) you can find.
Klipsch T5 II True Wireless
Alternatively, to keep the cost down, a slightly better-priced pair of earbuds can be found here from Klipsch. These don’t have active noise-cancellation (ANC), but they don’t really need it too badly. That feature absence explains their simply superb sound quality for the price.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Mike Lowe.