Pros: Aesthetics, fit, unrivaled bass response for price, nice mids, low price
Cons: Packaging/lack of accessories, cable microphonics, highs not terribly impressive
First-off, I'd like to extend a big thank-you to Hisoundaudio for the review sample. It's not often that you find a company gracious enough to let you not only sample something, but actually keep it. And I'll start off by saying that I'm thrilled they let me keep it
Onto the POPO IEM. A bit of a strange name, granted, but this is a bit of a unique product. I'll step through the packaging/accessories, then talk design, fit, and build, then move onto sound.
NOTE: Included at the end is a TL;DR section for those of you who don't feel like reading the whole thing.
This is definitely where you see the fact that you only pay $60 for these. The packaging is pretty standard and does little more than offer basic protection for the IEMs during transit. The transparent plastic case is held together by stickers on each end, and the cardboard insert interior has a cheap feel to it.
Accessories are lacking as well. The biggest shortcoming here is the lack of case; for those that don't like to wind their headphones around their DAP, lack of case can be a tad irritating. Fortunately, I used the fact that 2 cases come with Monster's Turbine series to employ one of these cases as a case for the POPOs, so no big deal here. What is included is a selection of eartips to play around with on the POPO; I personally found that the stock single flange that are initially attached fit me incredibly well, however. A few other biflange and various sized tips are almost sure to accommodate any user.
DESIGN, BUILD, AND FIT:
It only takes a second of looking at the POPO to appreciate the design. The Hisoundaudio site indicates that the shell is made of African rosewood (ooh!), a feature that you're unlikely to find elsewhere in the $60 range. The red cable may be too flashy for some, but I find that it matches the rosewood well (it even provided me with an opportunity to explain to a friend that the IEMs I were wearing were not in fact Beats, but rather a far superior and sleeker product ).
The build quality is generally high, but some elements seem a tad lacking. The cable feels pretty flimsy and cheap, and has medium-high microphonics (this is minimized by the shirt clip or wearing over-ear, however). The first time or two that I used the plug it was cutting out if I rotated it for some reason (no idea why this went away. Maybe it was just my Clip+ being weird.) There isn't a slider/cable management system included, which could be irritating to those who want to run with it or be particularly active, but I haven't found this inconvenient. Driver flex is pretty unavoidable with these, which is a bit of a let-down, but I don’t think it’s affecting the sound quality too long (it only makes me worry about the long-run). The IEMs themselves are very light, but don't feel particularly fragile, which bestows some confidence.
Fit is perfect, and provides great isolation. The only IEM I've used that isolates better is the MTPG, and that's probably just because of the heavier, metal bodies. In either case, external noise isn't really a problem with these, and they have yet to fall out of my ears (but I generally can get a good fit with almost any IEM, the TF10 being the only tricky case I've encountered thus far).
But that's enough about the surface stuff. Let's hear what my ears have to say, eh?
Allow me to quickly predicate this section with a few notes: I am a basshead. My primary genre is electronica, including trance, happy hardcore, hardstyle, dubstep, etc, but I do occasionally work in a variety of other genres ranging from classical to hip hop, hard rock, or acoustic. In either case, I have a strong preference for quality bass response.
Let's go from the bottom up here. We'll start with the bass. In two words: oh man. Is this really a $60 IEM? It's hard to believe if the first thing you pop on is a FLAC of a bass-heavy trance song. These handle bass and sub-bass like they were built to do just that (and I suppose they were!). I would go as far as saying that I prefer the bass response on these to that of my MTPG. My MTPG have gotten minimal ear time since the POPO hit my desk. It’s not just quantity, either; to me, the quality of the bass on these is pretty unbeatable for this price. It might not be as quick or tight as the MTPG, but the MTPG is also $200 more than these, and it comes pretty close. There is definitely more bass in the POPO. On the whole, the bass remains relatively tight without becoming thick or flabby, but hits you hard. The Electronica sounds beautiful, and the long basslines of hip hop and rap sound just as wondrous. Bass riffs in alternative rock come out pronouncedly in these and sound fantastic. Every time I put them in my ears, I just can’t believe that bass that good can come from such a reasonably priced IEM. As far as I’m concerned, something like the POPO should kick vanilla Turbines square in the balls and knock ‘em out of the market. I owned a pair of Turbines and enjoyed them quite thoroughly, but having heard these I can no longer justify owning Turbines (unless you are someone who needs all the accessories, I suppose). You will not be let down if bass is what you’re aiming for.
Mids are shockingly clear. Part of this is probably attributable to the fairly close soundstage; Nas sounds like he’s right next to my ear in Get Down off of God’s Son. I’m tempted to write that because the bass is so present it bleeds into the midrange, but I think that’s mostly because I want to find a flaw with these. I’m pretty surprised at the separation there; I have yet to find a song where I thought the mids sounded distinctly poor. Guitar doesn’t sound as prominent as I think it’s supposed to in some recordings (e.g., the acoustic bit at the beginning of “Chop Suey” by System of a Down). They aren’t a mid-oriented or balanced IEM, but they handle mids very well in my opinion. I A-B’d with my MTPG in the aforementioned Nas song, and genuinely preferred the POPO (maybe my MTPG are getting old). I’m listening to vocals specifically as I write this, and the more I listen the more I want to praise the mids on these. Vocals sound GOOD! How is this possible?! I thought these were basshead IEMs!
Highs might be the only area I would critique (and even then, it’s definitely not a deal breaker). The treble definitely gets a little bleed from the midrange, and highs seem to roll off fairly prominently. Sibilance can be a problem in some recordings, but it’s not incredibly substantial. The main problem is just that the highs lack detail and are a little veiled. They’re pretty overwhelmed by the lower frequencies, which can hurt some recordings. However, the melodies I look for in electronica are definitely still present, and it’s not as though highs are poor and make me want to stop listening. If you’re looking for an IEM that will deliver outstanding female vocals and convey lifelike upbeat melodies though, these may not be for you. The lack of separation from lower frequencies and detail in the high end would be my primary sonic beef with these.
Soundstage is respectable; imaging isn’t overwhelmingly impressive by any means, but this is generally fairly hard to convey in an IEM. The POPO soundstage is pretty appropriate for electronica, and as mentioned above, vocals sound close but surprisingly lifelike. I didn’t have high expectations for detail and soundstage, so I was a little pleasantly surprised if anything, but not blown away. These exceed expectations in this regard, but lose out to considerably more expensive IEMs like the IE8s (not surprisingly).
For all you lazy folks (or maybe just the rational ones :p):
Packaging and accessories aren’t terribly impressive. Design is very appealing, build quality is sufficient but not awesome. Bass quantity is unrivalled for this price range, quality is very good. Mids are shockingly real and lifelike, male vocals sound excellent. Highs are perhaps the weak area of the spectrum, being a little underemphasized and dwarfed by lower frequencies. Soundstage/imaging are nothing special, but are not lacking.
For $60, I sincerely doubt there is a better option for the bassheads out there. Even for the eclectic listeners, I can’t imagine these being any kind of let-down. Bravo, Hisoundaudio; in my mind, you blew this one out of the water. Looks and sounds like it’d cost $100+ more than it does; outstanding value. A truly unique product.
Feel free to PM me if you have any questions about what I have written; I may get around to uploading pictures later on, but there is an abundance of them around for those curious.
Visit Hisoundaudio’s site for tech specs and further details.