Pros: Looks (stylish), comfort, build quality, price, presentation of sound (for bass-lovers), tip selection, cable strength.
Cons: Tips all silicone, cable quite stiff & slightly microphonic, no chin slider, no storage pouch.
The HiSoundAudio Popo is a dynamic driver IEM - using an African Rosewood housing - with a warm, engaging , fun - but very bassy sound signature. I understand it currently has a retail price point around the 70-90USD mark.
Pre-amble (about me)
I'm a 45 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 entry/mid-fi set-up. I vary my listening from portable (i-devices + amp) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > HP). My main headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD600s, HM5's, a modded set of Alessandro MS1i, SE535 Ltd Ed. and B2 IEMs. I previously owned Beyer DT880, Shure SRH840 and 940 + various other IEMs. I have auditioned quite a few entry and mid-tier cans, but have yet to hear any flagships - other than the Shure 535 (at current time of writing this review). I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety - from classical and opera 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 prefer a little warmth in the overall signature. I am neither a bass or treble head. Current amps = NFB12, GoVibe PortaTube, Fiio E11. Previous desktop set-up was a Fiio E7/E9 combo.
Gear used in this review
- iPhone4 / iPod4
- Fiio E11
- PortaTube (with volume attenuator)
Popo Technical Specifications :
Nominal impedance = 16Ω
Transducer = dynamic 9mm
Type = in-ear (canal-phone)
Frequency range = 16 - 23000 Hz
Sensitivity = 110 dB
Maximim SPL = 127db（1khz，1 Vrms）
Cable length = 126cm
Jack plug = 3.5mm (mini)
Packaging and Accessories
The Popo arrived in a hard clear plastic outer case measuring 125 x 75 x 3 cm. The packaging case unfortunately does slightly detract from the actual printed outer cardboard, as it does tend to reflect glare quite badly. As a retail outer though, it does it's job - clearly showing the Popos inside the see through window. Inside is the printed cardboard box - with specifications and information in Chinese and English on the back, and the front having basic description, HiSoundAudio logo and viewing window for the Popos. The cardboard is quite nicely printed in black and red - which also matches the cable and black plastic on the actual Popos - nice touch. Inside the cardboard outer is a plastic mold holding the Popos, a bag with the tips and shirt clip, and a guarantee paper (written entirely in Chinese), and a HiSoundAudio VIP card. Not sure exactly what this does - but it looks quite impressive.
The accessory bag includes a small spring-loaded plastic shirt clip - which works quite well. Also included are 10 silicone sleeves - 3 sets of triple flanges, 3 sets of double flanges, and 4 sets of single flanges - all in different size/shapes.
Two things that I would have liked to see (even if it meant putting the price point up slightly) is a carrying case, and also a couple of sets of foam tips. I've never really been comfortable with silicone 'flexi' tips - I find it hard to get a decent seal & much prefer an expandable foam option.
The Popo body - this looks really sturdy. It consists of a plastic front housing and stem attached to an African Rosewood rear chamber (yes it appears to be real wood). The body from stem to rear housing is approx 2cm long, but only approx 1cm in diameter at it's widest point. They are also extremely light weight. The strain relief appears to be a very solid black plastic (only slightly pliable). There is a small vent hole in the wooden chamber. The stem is approximately 0.5cm in diameter and has an internal filter fitted.
The cable is a very vibrant red, looks very strong, and according to HiSoundAudio - built to last. They state the cable core is made up of a quite thick "high grade 6 ofc core" and that it "can stand a 150kg force, and will never lose it's red colour". So far it has not been prone to tangling - I guess this is due to the stiffness of the cable core. The cable has a hard plastic Y split (black plastic with a flexible strain relief), and terminates to a very slim mini 3.5mm plug (again with black flexi plastic housing). For build quality - I'd have to give the cable pretty high marks.
I do have a couple of issues which if solved could add value to an otherwise excellent build. Firstly - the cable is slightly microphonic. For me - this is usually solved by wearing the IEMs with the cable over-ear (rather than hanging straight down). The problem is that the cable does not like to be molded around your ear - so it does not sit properly initially. This could be fixed by the use of a chin-slider (to pull the cable in) - but sadly there is no chin-slider either. My recommendation to Jack would be to either (or preferably both) include a chin slider in the build, or include detachable ear guides.
In the meantime I have been wearing the Popo with the cables tucked under the arms of my glasses. This also works quite well. Over the last day, the cable has started to sit a little better over my ears - so maybe it is gradually 'learning' my preferred shape. I'd still prefer the guides if they were available.
Comfort / Isolation
Note - I am biased - and prefer foams. I generally do not like silicone tips. However I tried several of the included tips, and eventally settled on the large bi-flanges. Once I got a good seal, they tended to melt away (very comfortable) - and isolation seemed really good. I wouldn't rate them quite as good as my SE535s (rated up to 37dB) - but they are pretty good, and once the music is playing, you're not going to notice much (if any) outside noise.
Mostly I listened to the Popos straight out of my iPod Touch G4 - but also from iPhone4, both DAPS via LOD to E11, and also LOD to PortaTube (using a volume attenuator on the PortaTube because of it's powerful output). In all honesty - they all sounded pretty similar - with cleanest sound being iPhone4 > LOD > PortaTube. Mostly I stuck with the iPod Touch 4 for simplicity though - these are very easy to drive! I've mentioned below some of the music I tested these with - all were 256aac. All are from CD's I've ripped myself (EAC), or HQ flac downloads, which I've then converted to 256aac cbr.
For a self proclaimed 'neutral-head', these are a complete departure from my usual preferred signature. HiSoundAudio describes the intended signature as "The PoPo IEMs have been designed to reproduce Pop and Rock genres as if you were there in the recording studio. They have the ability to create a strong and crisp ambience of any type of music you listen to. Their sound signature is engaging and fun, and you will find yourself getting immersed in the music." Read on for my impressions on individual facets of the signature, and overall impression.
This is probably the most surprising bit - these actually have a reasonable amount of detail - despite the fact that they are unashamedly bassy and have a warm mid-range. They have quite a crisp - but also smooth top-end. Listening to Alison Krauss & U.S. (Dustbowl Children), the banjo picking is quite clear. I also tried some classical (Julia Fischer and the Russian National Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky's Concerto for Violin in D) - and while they do not approach the finesse, separation, or clarity of either my SE535 or B2, they are not dull, and only very slightly muffled.
Again - really surprised. While the staging is not huge (I've personally never heard an overly expansive IEM), these definitely have some width and depth. Often, I felt as though I was in quite a spacious room - especially with live recordings. Most notable for me was Adele (Live at The Royal Albert Hall). There is a real depth in the recording and the Popo copes with it quite admirably. Another is Clapton's "Unplugged" album. There is enough separation to convey space - although as with most IEM's I've tried, perceived listener positioning is still relatively close to the stage.
There seems to be reasonable extension - enough to hear cymbals and high-hats, and the treble that is present is quite clean. To me it is still smooth with an element of crispness - but definitely sits behind both the mid-range and bass.
These are ever so slightly forward with female vocals, slightly further back with male vocals. They are quite engaging (but fun) - to the point that I often found it almost distracting trying to write this review. I'd get lost in the music for a while and forget what I was trying to type. I've always loved a dynamic mid-range, and these definitely have some of that quality. I would describe the mid-range as very smooth and overall warm and slightly dark.
The Popo has a lot more bass than I am used to. Most of it seems to be centered around the mid-bass, which for the most part is punchy and full. Occasionally it does have the ability to overpower and become boomy - but this only seems to be on very bassy tracks. To my ears it extends reasonably low - there is deifnitely a feeling of power when called for. There does seem to be reasonable texture to the bass - and my main cricticism of it (personal view) is that there is just too much for my tastes. It can slightly overshadow the rest of the spectrum at times. I think they were aiming for today's younger consumers with the Popo (pop and rock lovers) - and for their target audience, they've probably nailed it.
Power Requirements / Sensitivity
These operate very well without an amp, and I really can't see too many people wanting to use an amp for included bass-boost features. Again, for probable target audience - straight out of a portable dap - the Popo are going to perform really well.
Comparison with SE535 Ltd Ed
I started to write this - and then realised it's completely unfair. The SE535 Red is a $450+ triple driver, the Popo is a sub $100 single driver. But since I started ...
- Popo has a lot more bass quantity - SE535 has less quantity but better control and texture
- Both have good mid-range with SE535 being more forward, more detailed and again having better control and separation.
- Highs definitely better on the SE535 - especially for overall detail and clarity - but the Popo are still enjoyable, and that says a lot about what HiSoundAudio have achieved.
- Soundstage can be both deeper and wider on the Popos - but I find that I personally prefer the initimacy of the SE535
- I find the SE535 sound a lot more natural - while the Popo are warmer, more laid back, and defintiely aimed at feet-tapping, head-bopping fun.
Notes On Music Genres
I've tested these with a lot of different types of music over the last few days. Here is just a few notes. This may help some prospective buyers.
- Classical - Julia Fischer (Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos) - just a little too laid back to be ultimately enjoyable - didn't match overly well.
- Classical - Mozart (Oboe Concerto) - this was a lot better but it also had better pace - quite enjoyable.
- Jazz - Diana Krall (The Girl In The Other Room) - double-bass is quite well represented (almost too much), does suit Krall's vocals quite a bit - enjoyable.
- Jazz - Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um) - this was quite surprising - handled the trumpet with ease, and the double-bass again sounded really excellent. Really relaxing listen. Just missing some of the top end detail and crispness at times.
- Classic Rock - Clapton (Unplugged) - did this really well - good back-beat, and everything gelled together well. Sense of space in the recording was really quite enjoyable.
- Classic Rock - Little River Band (Greatest Hits) - one of the few albums that the Popos didn't play well with. Sounded quite cavernous at times until a decent bass-beat kicked in - almost like it needed the bass to equalise the bigger soundstage.
- Female Pop - Adele (Live at the Royal Albert Hall) - a lot of Adele's music has a really good deep bass back-beat, and the Popo handle this really well. Enjoyable.
- Female Pop - Christina Perri (Lovestrong) - again, a fun listen with anything having a nice back-beat. At times a little too warm and dark for me (I'm used to a bit more presence in the mid-range and less bass)
- Modern Rock - Alter Bridge (One Day Remains) - bassheads will love these - bass is deep, quite well defined, and really hard hitting. Seems to cope nicely with a change of pace.
- Modern Rock - Linkin Park (Meteora) - I personally found the bass a little overpowering, especially the distortion on the guitars coupled with the drums. Again though - I think bassheads will really enjoy this.
- Blues - Joe Bonamassa (Live From Nowhere In Particular) - not bad, but I found that the drums overshadowed the guitar in some places - and the guitar should be the forefront of this album (back to the grados for me with this album).
- Blues - Beth Hart (Live at Paradiso) - thoroughly enjoyable. Listened to the whole album .... twice. Combination of bass, soundstage, and Beth's slightly brighter vocals was really good.
- Trip Hop - Little Dragon (Ritual Union) - this was what the Popos were designed for I think. Really good. Great bass, and still very clear vocals.
- Dubstep - Salmonella Dub (Live In Concert With The NZSO) - really enjoyed this one. It's superbly mastered, and the Popos do a great job handling the bass in conjunction wioth the symphony orchestra in the background.
- Rap - Eminem (Curtain Call) - can get boomy at times, but again I think this is what the Popo were made for. Rappers will enjoy the beat. Definitely thumping.
- Alternative Rock - Porcupine Tree (In Absentia) - another album that sounded a little hollow and cavernous until the drums kicked in. Didn't really suit this music. Mid-range sounded distant.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure how I would like these when I heard the first reviews describe the level of bass that the Popo has - but HiSoundAudio has balanced this out a little with a nice mid-range, and enough sparkle to make the whole package enjoyable. For the target audience (more modern pop, rock, dnb lovers), I think these will be a big hit - especially considering their price. They are definitely fun, but unfortunately the abundance of bass would detract from long term listening for me. I found that if I was only listening to the Popos, the more I had them on, the more used to the signature I became, and the higher the enjoyment. As soon as I switched to my 535's though, I realised what I had been missing (better clarity / detail / balance).
After listening to these, I will be following HiSoundAudio's progress closely. If they can apply the same build quality and technical ability of the Popo to a slightly different audience (more neutral signature), it could be another very enjoyable experience. I will definitely have to listen to one of their DAPs sometime in the future - these guys know what audio is about.
My take on the Popos - definitely recommended for bass lovers, and anyone who likes a strong bass-line beat. Very good quality for the price. I personally will stick with my SE535 (it suits my sonic preference) - but acknowledge the Popo as an extremely good value (albeit heavily coloured) fun IEM.
Things I'd recommend HiSoundAudio to change : include a carry case, chin slider, and look at possibility of at least one set of foam tips.