Pros: Sound, Nice Case & Accessories, Very Comfortable For Me, Exceptional Customer Service
Cons: Annoying Cable, Not So Great Build Quality
First, I'd like to thank Jack Fu of HiSound Audio for sending me a review sample of the PAA-1 Pro and the E212. It was certainly very generous of him to send multiple units to so many people. I am in no way affiliated with HiSound Audio and this will be a completely non biased review. Tested with my HDP-R10, Sansa Clip+ and SGS3 international version. More on amping later. I have burnt these in for a while now, but not for the 100 hours that HiSound recommends. I will change the review if I feel like the sound changes after burn in but others have not noticed much if any change after burn in.
Design, Accessories & Unboxing
Being a vented earbud, there is close to no isolation, but this is really something that affects every earbud and not just this one. It's shape is more or less the shape of the old Apple earbuds but it is significantly more comfortable with the soft covering. It comes with a cable manager which IMO is just about useless, 3 sets of the soft thing that goes over the earbud and a nice shirt clip. There is no cable slider though if you are one who cares about that. The box is very nice and simplistic, not having too much unnecessary stuff that comes with other earphones. It does come with a very nice square zip case which I find to be extremely handy and something that is generally only included with more expensive products. The downsides to the design are the annoying cable and the slightly shoddy build quality. The cable is plasticcy and very rigid and looks easily tangled and IMO is one of the worse cables that I've seen but it is not too hard to use like the TF-10 cable. The build quality is also not that great, but it is more than what you would expect in a $50 product. I don't feel like it is going to break anytime soon, but I would have rather it be made with some metal even if it made it a bit heavier. The good thing is that all the flaws of the PAA-1 Pro is in this section since I believe that the sound is what you would be expecting in a $100+ product.
Have people started faking HiSound products?
How the PAA-1 Pro comes. The way that the cable is tied makes the cable bent and the cable doesn't seem like it will become straight anytime soon. The case is very nice though.
Those people who have never read one of my reviews before, I break them into 3 main sections - bass, midrange and treble.
Many people label these as a basshead earbud and while I don't completely disagree, I disagree to some extent. While the bass is emphasized, bassheads will probably be wanting more quantity. The bass is very clean and there isn't very much sub bass and instead, the PAA-1 Pro focuses on mid bass. The bass is extremely dynamic and hits hard without any bleed whatsoever into the midrange. The detail is really just incredible, and I feel like I'm hearing textures in the bass that I've never heard before in a sub $100 earphone, regardless of whether it was an earbud or IEM. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting slightly bloated bass, but there is no bloat at all and it actually stays incredibly clean. They certainly hit much higher than it's price might suggest.
I do feel like the midrange was the section that I enjoyed the most. Let's start with vocals. HiSound have got it just right there. They are neither pushed too much forward nor recessed which makes them feel extremely realistic. Vocal separation was impressive as well and they worked very well with bands signing together. Midrange instruments were also portrayed in an extremely realistic way and the timbre was just right. There was sibilance present if it is in the track, but it was not bothering at all and it wasn't piercing like some other earphones. Pianos sound nice, but are just a bit on the thin side. Guitars are recreated exceptionally though and so are violins. Detail levels are once again much better than other earphones in it's price range. HiSound has hit it out of the park with the midrange.
Quite a few people have said that the treble is rolled off. Yes, I do feel like it is a bit rolled off, but IMO there is plenty of sparkle and it doesn't become overly sibilant or cause listening fatigue. I was actually quite shocked when I listened to them because they had quite a lot more treble than I was expecting. Cymbals are rendered very nicely and have a very nice and pleasant decay. They weren't dull at all, like other earbuds that have treble roll off. Woodwind instruments are extremely nice and they really do sound like they are in a total other price range. Now, the treble roll off doesn't mean that they are like the Apple Earpods (which I actually like quite a bit) and they are quite a lot brighter. I find that they brighten up some more if you take off the soft sleeve thing but there is enough IMO.
By soft sleeve thing I mean these. Sorry for the crappy picture.
Separation & Detail
To test vocal separation, I used the song "Some Nights" by Fun. I was actually very pleasantly surprised at how well they handled the start of the song. I could quite easily tell where each singer was. Instrument separation lags just behind vocal separation but it does do well there as well, not becoming overly muddy and confusing on congested tracks. It handles itself well there.
Detail levels are very good, especially for the price. The detail in each drum hit was easily discernible and I could hear the nuances in string instruments. It is very impressive here as well.
Imaging & Soundstage
The imaging is something that I was absolutely blown away by. I could tell where everything was on the stage and the sound was actually quite transparent. Hardly ever did I find that I just could not tell where something was. I am quite confident that there is probably nothing better than the PAA-1 Pro within it's price range that can best it in that area.
The soundstage is quite large as well. It is quite a bit larger than the Sony MH1Cs, a pair of high value $40 IEMs and even a bit bigger than the E212. I'm not sure about earbuds, but it is certainly large by IEM standards.
I find that these opened up a bit more with amping, especially the bass. Drum hits had a bit more weight and details in the bass were more evident. The midrange sounded clearer and the treble detail increased a bit, but quantity stayed around the same. Soundstage opened up even more and everything just sounded more complete. I do find that a cheap amp such as a Fiio E6 can drive them perfectly fine. A budget rig that I would suggest is the Fiio E6 and the Sansa Clip+. These 2 drive the PAA-1 Pro extremely well and IMO sufficiently. I did try them with my much more expensive HDP-R10 but the changes were quite small over the $60 rig.
Sony MH1C vs Hisound PAA-1 Pro
So far to me, the Sonys have been my go to recommendation for IEMs in the $50 price range. Well, not anymore because I feel like the PAA-1 Pro well and truly defeats it. The Sony can sometimes get a but muddy due to the slightly excessive sub bass but this is not an issue with the PAA-1 Pro at all. The mid bass hits a tiny bit harder than the MH1C but the detail is better. There is sometimes a veil on vocals on the Sonys but this is just about non existent on the PAA-1 Pros. There is also more treble on the PAA-1 Pro which I think is a good thing because the Sonys can sometimes come off as having a treble veil. There is definitely more sparkle and detail on the PAA-1 Pro. As for isolation, the Sony MH1C is better by a huge margin since the PAA-1 Pro has next to no isolation. Soundstage and imaging is better as well by quite a lot. The Sony cable is worse IMO, but both are bad. The Sony MH1C is well and truly defeated and the PAA-1 Pro has become my new my budget king.
HiSound E212 vs HiSound PAA-1 Pro
I was certainly very intrigued by the HiSound E212 since it was said as "the best IEM under $100". When I first heard it, I was shocked, and not in a good way either. They were a veiled, muddy mess. The bass was overpowering and the treble really veiled. I let it burn in for a while and after 50 hours, I listened to them again and to my surprise, they had opened up quite a lot. The bass became more controlled and the treble came out a bit. For the bass, the E212 still has much more quantity and more sub bass. The quality is about the same so which is better really does come down to personal preference. As for the mids, HiSound has done extremely well with both of the earphones. They all have this sort of clear but interesting and fun midrange. The E212 has a lusher, more creamy midrange while the PAA-1 Pro has a thinner midrange presentation. The treble is not a competition IMO. The treble on the PAA-1 Pro is quite obviouslybetter in quality and has more quantity. The roll off on the E212 isn't that bad though, and those who are a bit sensitive to treble will like it. The soundstage is a bit bigger on the PAA-1 Pro and the imaging is a bit better as well. I personally prefer the PAA-1 Pro, but I can see why people would like the E212 more.
Apple Earpods vs HiSound PAA-1 Pro
The Apple earpods have been getting quite a lot of praise lately so I decided to go and get a pair recently. I was quite impressed that Apple could actually make a decent earbud unlike the absolutely horrible old Apple earbuds. The bass is more heavy on the Earpods, but the quality of the bass is really not very good. There is significantly more quantity but the quality is also a lot lower. The mids has a veil as well, making vocals sound too dark and adding even more weight to them compared to the E212 except the E212 does not sound veiled for some reason. The PAA-1 Pro absolutely sounds better there. The treble is veiled as well and the PAA-1 Pro has more quantity and much better quality as well. Overall, the PAA-1 Pro sounds a heap better than the Apple Earpods but I do respect the Earpods for what they are - a well above average pair of stock earbuds.
This is yet another example of a product that sounds way above it's price range. I find the sound to be extremely neutral with some mid bass emphasis and a slight treble roll off. Please do not think that it is a knock off just because it comes from Chinese company. Give it a try and I am almost sure that you will be pleasantly surprised at what $50 can buy nowadays. If you are looking for a more noise isolating IEM with more bass oriented signature, I wholeheartedly recommend the HiSound E212. I will be review them soon once they fully burn in.