XPUMP — A Kickstarter Review

Surround sound with plastic forks

The XPUMP is a product said to change any stereo speakers into a surround sound system.

“Turn any sound source into a home theater experience”

While I do watch a lot of movies, I am more finicky with audio when it comes to music. Movies I tend to go for image quality, as long as the audio isn’t fuzzy or weak I’m fine with it.

That being said, when I heard about this product I thought,

Why don’t I enjoy movies the way I enjoy music.

So I jumped on the Super Early Bird price at $69 on Kickstarter, and thought that it would be a fair little price to pay to change my movie experience.

Disclaimer: While it was made with the intention to use with speakers, they have also optimized it to work with headphones. Which is what I wanted. As I do not own any speakers to test it out, this is only a 50% review solely based on headphones.

Unboxing

For a crowdfunding project it comes in quite a fairly satisfying techie packaging, away from all the pull-up covers and tabs we get in every products now thanks to Apple.

Package comes with a 3.5mm male-to-male cable, a micro-USB cable, and a nice fabric pouch. Everyone loves free pouches.

The “Chocolate Bar”

At first I thought the chocolate bar design would be cumbersome as it looks like it would stick out of everything and it isn’t exactly flat as well. But after putting it beside my laptop, it actually fits in pretty nicely.

It comes in a half-matte and half-gloss plastic finish that is one of those things that, eh it’s gonna scratch itself up over time. It’s not heavy, nor does it feel premium. The plastic feels thin and hollow, and you can actually see bits of heat marks at the seams. But overall it feels tight and firm in the hands and it doesn’t feel like it’ll just fall apart and break on it’s own.

It’s just one of those things where the build quality doesn’t make you care or complain about it.

The big round button at the top is the effect switch, it’s extremely easy and satisfying to switch between effect modes, with a ~sexy~ ring light. The volume buttons and the power slider are all on one side. But the power LED is placed on the opposite side which makes it annoyingly annoying not knowing if I had already turned the power off or if the battery is low (in my case it’s facing away from me).

There is also no auto-off feature because it‘s a switch to power on. No volume indicator as well so bite onto your OCD!
It connects via the 3.5mm input jack from your device, then you connect your headphones/speakers to it via the 3.5mm output jack.

The 2 effects

It comes in 2 output modes, you get to slide between speaker or headphone mode, both acts as power on.

And 2 levels of effect modes.

Level 1: “Detail booster and good for all types of music”.

level 2: “Full-scale enhancement designed for movies, games, and music”, which is the one you’re gonna go for.

ORANGE RING LIGHT (Level 2)

You can also use it with all effects off, which acts as a bypass. To my baby ears I couldn’t hear any change in sound quality with and without. But you would still need to have it powered on.

EDIT: While watching movies I’ve noticed distortion during explosions. I thought it was one of the effect modes causing distortion so I turned all effects off and ran it as a bypass. Yet the distortion was still present. I knew it cannot be the movie so I unplugged the XPUMP and to my surprise, my movie ran crystal clear.
So even with the XPUMP effects off, running it as a bypass still affects sound quality. It’s almost as if there is a volume cap.

So let’s get to the point.

Does it work?

Short answer, No. Long answer, Nooooooooooooo.

It claims to give you a surround sound experience, with sounds throwing at you from different angles. But all it does is up the treble, and PUMPs everything from behind forward. Giving you that “in your face” experience. To illustrate surrr-round mayb-beee?

You may think “hey, I love more treble!”, so did I. But actually the boosted treble loses clarity and turns everything fuzzy and grainy. It’s like it can only push it to where your headphones can go. Everything from behind or the low end gets pushed up to the highs, making any slight separation you had non-existent.

Everything sounds artificial.

That being said, they do sort of give you the illusion of being in the cinema. Like slightly grainy/warm dialogs, rumbling in-your-face explosions, that boxed feeling you get in the cinema (at least for me), everything is thrown at you. Everything is so forward it literally rumbles your ears. I think that’s what it’s trying to represent, not surround.

The highs sound somewhat meaty? It’s like every gap or space is filled up and it just constantly punches you.

While the highs don’t try and pierce through your brains with sharpness, it somehow manages to get painfully high enough to stab AROUND your ears like with a plastic fork.

It’s murderous,

From what I just described you know that it’s gonna SUCK with music, and it does. It’s horrible. The fact that they advertised it for music as well and a dedicated mode for music is just insulting.

Increased treble? Sure, with added artificial grains ewwwwwww. More bass in your face? Get some bassy headphones to blow your brains out. Or since you’re gonna carry around a chocolate bar, might as well get a portable DAC/AMP with bass boost.

The first level, which is said to give you a boost in details and good for ALL TYPES OF MUSIC, only increases the treble and kills all the lows. If the highs were clear, sure, some people like that. But everything just becomes fuzzy and grainy like it’s coming out of a car radio. I feel like this mode was added so that it makes you feel, “UGHHH, HURRY SWITCH IT TO LEVEL 2”, so that you can hear how much it changes the sound and how much “better” it is.

The second level, pushes everything so forward that it gets somewhat suffocating. Everything becomes boomy, even calm and sexy low end that makes you wanna move your hips come forward and murder you with plastic forks. Separation is gone and space is lost and that isn’t what you want in music. While it gets me pumped up in movies, with music I want to be able to relax and have room to breathe.

Though my experience with the XPUMP were not entirely pleasant, some users have reported that it doesn’t work to it’s full potential with headphones, rather it works better on speakers. So take that as you will.

yet thunderous.

While I do not game with them, watching gameplay videos of Battlefield 1 on YouTube is thrillingly satisfying. Because of the amped up bass, sniper shots in Battlefield 1 sound GLORIOUSLY THUNDEROUS. You hear the rumble and echo of a wildcat roaring with every shots fired.

If you sometimes think that commentators speak over the gameplay, then the XPUMP brings everything to level.

The XPUMP sounds like something that can be created with EQ. During the campaign they’ve uploaded several demo clips, while not a direct representation, they said that it would give us an idea of how the sound would change.

While the demo did not excite me, I took it as a 50% representation of the final product. Sad to say, It sounds almost identical to the demo, if not a 10% improvement.


EDIT: I recently discovered that the XPUMP can be used on speaker mode with headphones.
It makes everything sound echo-y, which I imagine is to illustrate the sound of a spacious room to give it that surround effect when used on speakers. It is painful and sad on headphones.

bits & pieces

The XPUMP does produce some hissing noise when powered on. It’s similar to that you get with noise cancelling headphones, just a bit louder.

The loudness depends on how sensitive your headphones are, using it with my Sony h.ear ons they are quiet enough not to distract me. However, using it with my ATH-IM02 IEMs, it gets relatively loud to the point that it’s unusable for me.

Battery life is also rather disappointing, measuring at around 5 hours for my use, or at least 2 movie sessions. I guess it’s fine if you charge it after every session or so, but it‘s infuriating when it dies during a movie. Though you can charge and use it at the same time. It fully charges in an hour.

Battery indicator is said to flicker red when it’s low, but I have yet noticed any warnings, maybe it only flicker seconds before it dies. “???”

So,

Are they worth it? They are taking pre-orders now for 20% off at $99, and later retails for $119.

As this is only a 50% review, I can’t say much. But for my use and headphone use only,

I’d say a solid no.

While it sounds like an interesting device, it’s far from delivering it’s promises. In fact, it actually delivered nothing advertised. No surround sound present, music with it is atrocious, and the only reason I enjoy them is because they sort of, just sort of represent the feeling of being in the cinema.

Do I regret backing it on Kickstarter?

This again is one of those moments, where if I don’t back it, I’d be curious to know what it sounds like. For $69 (not including shipping) I would have to say that I am not happy. But at the very least it wouldn’t be collecting dust just yet.

For the price of curiosity and a little different experience,
I accept it.

The Team

Despite the bad review, I would still like to thank the team for their prompt response and good support throughout the whole campaign, and on until we received the product. They replied to almost every questions we throw at them, almost everyday.

When I left a comment about the hissing noise issue on their Kickstarter page, because some users are reporting the same issue. The team contacted me straight away and even had their tech team called my phone from god knows where.

While the product was delayed for a month and did not fulfill it’s promises, it was still an exciting and interesting journey.

This is what Kickstarter is all about.

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