Pros: Mids, highs, extension, cable, build quality, aesthetics, portability
Cons: Comfort issues
I'm a production manager, but mainly focus on live sound engineering and lighting. I install and tune P.A equipment, and mix live acts in:
- live venues,
- concert halls,
- bars, and
I've taken a huge liking to headphones - IEMs in particular. I like the idea of having my own personal PA system that I can take with me anywhere. With Rockbox being in such advanced stages, and great low-impedance portable amps becoming available, you can really seem to get any sound signature you wish out of a portable rig.
Enter, the HiSoundAudio “Living”.
HiSoundAudio is a Chinese based company, responsible for products such as the Studio V portable DAP, which gets a pretty good wrap around forums such as head-fi. I've done a review of another product of theirs, the Wooduo 2.
I was surprised that such a product like "Living" even exists. My initial thoughts were along the lines of: "An audiophile ear-bud? Really? The only other ear-buds I've ever had experience with were the original stock Apple ones."
I've done a comparison later on in the review, for those who are interested.
Packaging and accessories:
They came with three different sets of ear-bud covers. Three! Two sets seem identical, the usual expected ear-bud covering:
The other, interestingly, has an “open” design. It seems like the design principle here was to let more sound through unfiltered, but I did not notice any audible differences. I think this is a great idea for those who want to further tweak their audio experience.
Also, a great little hard case with a storage pocket, and, in true HiSoundAudio style, a fish. A little reminder for us to keep those cables tidy!
True to the usual HiSoundAudio style, build quality is impeccable. I haven't honestly had much experience with ear-buds before, but these things actually look stunning. They look like a top-notch piece of stereo equipment.
The cable is interesting, and doesn't tangle too easily. It's the HiSoundAudio signature "Blast" cable: Silver plated, twisted, and shielded. It's strong, and effectively eliminates microphonics.
Everything is nicely put together at the points that it matters most:
This is some of the nicest looking portable audio gear that I own.
This, unfortunately, is where I had some troubles. However, just like with IEMs, everyone is different. They are largely unnoticeable in my ears for the first hour, due to their light weight, but after that, my ears start to feel a little tender.
I think this is mostly down to their size. They are BIG. I'm curious as to the design principle here. Why are they so big?
I'm also not 100% sure exactly HOW I'm supposed to wear them. I may be the one at fault here, but I always seem to have two or three different “options” for how I would like them to sit in my ears:
Straight in my ears
Slightly angled downwards
Slightly angled upwards
I'm not sure if this is normal for ear-buds, or if my ears are just unusually shaped.
If I press them right into my ears, the sound dramatically changes. I found this a little worrying. I've noticed the same with all earbuds. I will be giving my impressions of the sound based on the most comfortable “straight in” wearing position. Not the “pressed in” position, or with any angle.
For reference, when I use IEMs, I pretty much always use the “Medium” tips with no problems.
Isolation was an interesting and difficult point for me to analytically cover, as I've never really heard of an ear-bud that isolates well.
I can, interestingly, still converse with other people whilst I have these playing at lower volume in my ears. Perhaps this is good for low-level listening on public transport, or in public, for those who are uncomfortable with the complete isolation offered by IEMs.
When I was unwrapping this product, I thought to myself, “oh boy, here we go. Strap yourself in, we're going for another HiSoundAudio bass slam adventure.” Last time I reviewed a product from this company, I fell in love with the bass. It was so heavy, slamming, in-your-face, unavoidable.
But, to my surprise – not this time around. Bass-heads: look elsewhere. These buds make bass take a back seat.
My test tones indicate that audible bass roll-off is heard around 60-80Hz mark – this is greatly altered by pushing the buds into my ears, so it might be different for everyone.
Regardless, the bass is still present. It's still audible and has a good amount of detail to it. If you're into your more refined, acoustic recordings, and prefer your bass in smaller doses – this might be the bud for you. I would not recommend it for electronic or bass-heavy music.
Now the bud really starts to shine. Vocals really hit that “sweet spot” here. Realistic, smooth, balanced. I don't feel like there is much colouration here. These units especially shine when listening to vocal or orchestral pieces. I feel like the general “Grado” style of sound signature is being emulated. Very mid and high focused. (Of course, I'm well aware that there are Grado products that have great levels of bass as well)
Due to the great levels of detail and imaging, each instrument can easily be identified in a piece, if the quality of your recording will allow for it. This permits for very analytical listening sessions.
With a wide sound-stage, I'm going to harp on the idea of this being the “Open” can, whilst an IEM is a “closed” one - but more on that later. Just like a good open full size headphone should, these have less bass impact, but an arguably higher sound stage, and have a more “airy” feel.
Now we're talking. These buds are hitting up to 16.5kHz mark for me – which is the limit of my hearing. I know a lot of headphones that can’t reach this level, or if they can, not as accurately. These buds are very mid-high focused, so the highs have a very sweet sparkle to them. Again, fantastic for vocal, orchestral, classical and acoustic pieces. They resonate accurately with anything above 10 KHz – so some may find them to be a little sibilant, but you won't be finding any high roll-off up here.
Overall opinion of sound:
Honestly, I would have to disagree with what's written on the box. HiSoundAudio advertise them to be a good, flat response partner in the studio, where as I wouldn't personally go down that route. I feel that based on the way they look, and their sound signature, they are best suited for home use, or office use - a more casual, relaxed atmosphere, where one might want to listen to their favourite pieces, but still would want to be aware of their surroundings.
Here is an interesting comparison that I found in my notes, whilst listening analytically to this ear-bud for the review:
By comparison, IEMs feel like a “closed” can, whilst this ear-bud feels more like an “open” one.
Seriously, the sound-stage benefits are there, and the bass presence echoes the above sentiment nicely - Just some food for thought.
Analytical listening of these buds was a pretty interesting experience for me. I'm not quite used to the fit and comfort of ear-buds, so I tried to make that have as little impact as possible when trying to determine the entire sound signature.
That being said, they’re definitely not suited for electronic or bass heavy music. Lovers of classical, vocal or acoustic recordings, who prefer to be able to listen to their surroundings – rejoice. Your bud has come.
Comparison to Apple iBud:
You would be surprised at just how large the differences are here. It's almost unfair to compare the two.
Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Size. By comparison, “Living” ear-buds are huge.
Secondly: Material. The Living ear-buds are of a much better build quality, and are (in my opinion) far more aesthetically pleasing. The cable on the iBuds is cheap and rubbery, whereas the silver twisted “Blast” audio cable of the HiSoundAudio offers far less micro-phonics, less tangling, more strength, and is more pleasing to my eyes. The Apple cable also offers a remote that the HiSoundAudio does not. But then again, they aren't exactly marketed to the same demographic. For what it's worth, the Living unit also is also terminated via a gold plated jack, whereas the Apple one is silver coloured.
Bass: The iBuds, whilst having more bass presence in general, have a “cheap” sounding, plastic-like bass. It almost sounds “hollow” and synthetic, by comparison.
Mids: The Living ear-buds have a more mid-focused signature. The iBuds feel more “coloured”, probably by the mild mid-bass emphasis, where as the “living” buds feel a little more detailed and realistic.
Highs: On the iBuds? What highs? The highs are the main strong point of the Living ear-buds. The roll-off on the iBuds is at around 14kHz. So really, the living ear-buds have more extension.
Isolation: roughly the same.
Comfort: Unfortunately, as the iBuds are smaller, for my ears, they fit a little better. Again, I'm not sure if this is the same for everyone or not. On that note, they are also more prone to falling out of my ears.
Overall conclusion of the HiSoundAudio "Living":
Due to my limited experience with ear-buds, this was a very interesting experiment for me. Lovers of classical, acoustic, vocal, orchestral pieces, who would rather not have the isolated feel of an IEM, this is for you.
These definitely sound like an "open" version of a dynamic IEM, in all senses of the comparison.
Thanks for reading guys - a big thanks to Jack from HiSoundAudio for the demo pair. Keep up the good work!
Price and Specifications:
Type: Dynamic, open
Driver size: 16mm
Maximum SPL: 125db
Rated frequency response: 18-22khz
Earphone jack: 3.5mm
Cable length: 126cm
Chamber: Aluminium alloy