Most of this review is taken from my original longer comparison review here; http://www.head-fi.org/t/679360/review-hisound-audio-paa1-pro-earbuds-e212-iems-opposites-in-almost-every-way
Ignore the green bars on the side - it's not where I set mine (something wrong with the Head-Fi rating system). I listed price at $50 - which is normal price - but I paid $10 (postage only).
Introducing HiSound Audio's E212
I'm always a sucker for trying new things - you never know when you'll find a hidden gem. So when I saw HiSound Audio's thread, giving Head-fiers an opportunity to try their E212 IEMs (just for the price of shipping), I jumped at the chance.
I was provided the E212 for just the cost of shipping. I am in no way affiliated with HiSound Audio - and this review is my honest opinion of the E212. I would like to thank Jack and the HiSound Audio team for making this opportunity available.
Preamble - 'about me'. (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).
I'm a 46 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile - just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current mid-fi set-up. I vary my listening from portable (i-devices) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main headphones at the time of writing are the Shure SRH1840, Beyer DT880 (600 ohm), Mad Dog V3.2, Shure SRH840 and Shure SE535 Ltd Ed. IEMs. My recent headphones have also included the Sennheiser HD600, AKG K701 & Q701, and Grado SR325i (full woody). I have auditioned quite a few entry and mid-tier cans, but have yet to hear any flagships (at current time of writing this review).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz to grunge and hard-rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I am neither a bass or treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). Current amps = NFB12 and LD MKIV. I also formerly owned several portable amps - the most notable being an Arrow 4G and GoVibe PortaTube.
For the purposes of this review - I used the E212 straight from the headphone out socket of both my iPhone 4 and iPod Touch G4. I did not bother with amping them, as IMO they do not require an amp – and the likelihood is that HiSound have targeted them toward an audience who would not use additional amping anyway. By now I have probably notched up around 40-50 hours listening on the E212. In that time I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in).
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is ideal for a retail presentation - an easy to display rectangular retail box - with an 'average' footprint. The specific sales blurbs / descriptions on the box is interesting. The E212 claim is "extreme bass and detailed sound ". It also claims to be “audiophile grade earphones” with “unbeatable sound quality”. We shall see (keep reading).
For accessories, included is an excellent semi-rigid soft-shell case (dimensions approx 75x75x30mm). They're an ideal size for the IEMs - and has inner pouches for spare tips etc.
It also comes with a rubbery 'fish' cable management tool. I'm not really too sure what to make of this. I tried it - but it's terribly cumbersome. I can't really see anyone actually using this.
The E212 comes with 1 spare set of medium silicone tips (they come with medium tips fitted) and one set of small ones. The tips included are very insufficient IMO (see build/fit etc section). Other than that there is a warranty written entirely in Chinese.
(From HiSound Audio)
Type : Dynamic, Closed. Inner Ear Monitor (IEM)
impedance : 16 Ω
sensitivity : 100db
Maximum SPL : 125db（1khz，1 Vrms）
Frequency response : 20-20 khz
Jack / cable : 3.5mm angled, 124 cm
Build / Fit / Comfort / Isolation / 'Style'
The E212 is a really classy looking IEM. The deep red and silver styling in comparison with the black cable look really good. The shape is also nice with slight inward angling on the nozzles – so it is very easy to tell left and right earpieces apart.
The shells look and feel extremely solid. There is acceptable strain relief at the shells. The 3.5mm plug is angled (cable at about 40-45 deg from plug), looks relatively sturdy, and includes strain relief. The cable split has strain relief at the apex of the V. There is no chin slider though. This to me is a real shame – as this can really help with fit – especially for listening while on the go. The E212s are designed to be worn over-ear.
The cable is wound in a circular motion, and covered by a smooth sheath which is shiny, very malleable, and has extremely low micro-phonics. It’s also pretty much tangle free, and for an IEM in this price range – is really well executed. Bravo HSA. Please include this on all of your models (get rid of the rubbery ones!)
As far as comfort goes – these are very small, very light, and pretty much disappear into my ears. It would be possible to sleep with these in – for my ears, they do not protrude past the outer ear.
The fit (for me) is not good. I tried the stock tips, and whilst I eventually got a seal, there was significant driver flex, and the seal would not remain intact (merely moving my jaw would break it). I was extremely frustrated by this as HAS has been too frugal with the tips, and there isn’t enough variety. I was lucky that I had some tips left over from the Popo (and other IEMs) which thankfully fit perfectly. I chose a triple flange – which I cut down to two flange only – and at last I could get a relatively stable seal. I also had a pair of large silicones which worked OK. I do wish I had some foam tips – as these would have been my preferred option.
Isolation is ‘average to slightly below average’ for an IEM. Yes I am probably spoilt by my Shure SE535’s truly excellent isolation – and maybe I am judging these too harshly. But I tried them during a 7 hour flight to Perth a couple of weeks ago – and sorry – but I wouldn’t use them in a noisy environment. They do attenuate noise – but in a noisier environment (public transport etc) , these are not the best.
All-in-all, positive – but let down by the included tips.
The following is what I hear from the E212. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).
For this I’m using Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” as there is a lot of micro detail in the track, and it is pretty well recorded
The major issue with the E212 (stock sound) is that it is just so bassy and warm that the detail in the upper mids and highs seems to sit a long way in the background. The E212 don’t sound bad with this track – it’s just that the bass gets in the way of everything.
Sound-stage & Imaging
For this I’m using a binaural recording – Amber Rubarth “Sessions Form The 17th Ward” - “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage. I also used some other live performances (Loreena McKennit’s “Dante’s Prayer” and others).
The E212 cues are not great – the bass again just gets in the way. The imaging appears smeared to me with instruments being positioned where they should be, but overlapping. On LMcK’s D-P the stage is very narrow and confined – almost “wall of sound” type.
Rather than referencing tracks – I’m going to give general impressions – as I’ve tried to listen to as many varied genres as I can.
The E212 actually has some top end, and when it shines through, it’s actually quite pleasant. The problem is that this only happens on tracks that have been recorded / mastered on the ‘brighter side of neutral”. I have some Genesis and also some Beth Hart which actually does have a shimmer to it. The issue is that the bass overpowers everything else for me and the only tracks that don’t sound excessively dark are the ones I’ve just mentioned. Highs can be heard, but upper mids are often set too far back, and lower mids suffer from bass bleed. Everything is excessively warm and dark to me. And it’s not ‘lush’ and enveloping, but rather just dark (brooding) and lacking life. One of my favourite female artists (new find for me) is Lianne La Havas – and when she is singing the opening of “Don’t Wake Me Up” (the bit where she is mainly solo), the E212 actually does quite a nice job with her vocals (really nice mid-range). The problem is that once the music kicks in – again the bass and resulting bass bleed just kills everything.
The E212 lives up to half of it’s slogan on the box. “Extreme bass” is an accurate description – but the problem is that the promise of “detailed sound” fails to deliver. It can’t when there is so much bass present, and so much mid-bass bleed into the lower mids. It does have a surprising amount of sub-bass – it’s probably the bassiest IEM I’ve ever heard, but for me it’s simply too much. The thing that worries me (for HSA’s intended audience) is that if they listen to bassy music with this much bass emphasis, it’s going to be simply too much.
The E212 is easily powered out of an iPod Touch G4 or iPhone4, and on most tracks I was well under 50% on the volume slider.
What About Response To EQ?
Before I get to the summary, as a last resort I thought I’d try some EQ with the E212. I have Accudio Pro installed on my Touch and iPhone – so I ran the app with the E212s. I use this app because of it’s presets, and the fact that I don’t need to spend considerable time setting up profiles. As they don’t have a preset for the E212, I downloaded the preset for one of the bassiest ‘dull’ IEMs I’ve ever experienced – Sennheiser’s CX300. I applied the EQ and played some of the tracks I’d been auditioning up until now.
Three small letters …… O M G
All of a sudden with the bass reduced, these IEMs start to shine. The bass is where it should be – elevated but separate. Mids are very clear, and upper mids and highs start to have some sparkle. Clarity is actually pretty amazing for a sub $50 IEM. I’m really enjoying these. Everything about them is better – including perceptions of sound staging and imaging. Yes they are still bassy, and still warm – but this time it’s a plus rather than a huge degradation of sound. Why weren’t these voiced closer to this signature to start with?
The E212 – despite it’s devilishly flashy charm and good looks – for me is very unappealing sonically (default sound). Too bassy, too warm, dull, and congested with the bass overpowering the lower mids, and little to no real sparkle. In my view HSA has inexplicably crippled it by the amount of bass they’ve tuned into it’s default signature. Dial that back a bit (via EQ) and you’re left with a very capable and good sounding IEM. For sub $50 – especially for the aesthetics and build – with the new SQ – it’s a winner. Sadly – many may end up being disappointed by this IEM. I hope that if HSA will fix this with the next ones they release.
Recommendations to HiSound Audio
Here is a short list of what I’d change if I could. Hopefully this may be helpful to you Jack.
- Lose the fish
- Increase the number and variety of tips. Driver flex may be tip dependent, so this may help with that as well.
- Add a chin slider
- Dial back the bass. If you can – use an iDevice, grab the Accudio Pro app, apply the CX300 EQ, and you’ll get an idea of the capability of this IEM. Great bass impact without the overpowering issues it has now.
Once again Jack – thanks for the opportunity with these. Loved the experience. I have some other tips on the way for the E212, and I’d be more than happy to give you more feedback if it helps.