Pros: Bassy, with good detail
Cons: Mids are not clear and highs are mushy
Build Quality: Not much to say than a solid IEM. The outside is "gunmetal" it looks like metal and feels like metal, but then again. I have been fooled before. The clip ...is just a clip, no deficiencies or poor moving around from it. The L shaped 3.5mm jack is also good. No weird wiggling parts, feels and looks solid. As it's an earphone, this section is generally good. The tip of the earphone has a good metal mesh, no wiggling metal or deficiencies here as well. There is some excess glue and marks from the wire connector to the base of the ear bud itself (see spoiler tagged pictures; last one). But for the price, this can be overlooked. The build of this ear bud won't draw any looks, the wire is ordinary and "un audiophile" likes but it is lightweight.
Microphonics: For those that don't know, the sound that the cable makes. This one is acceptable. The cable itself has a good score form me on microphonics but the clip is where the problems come in. When the clip is not in use and just hanging in there. Moving around and especially walking causes it to rock around. Causing extra microphonics into the sound. When the clip is engaged and in use, the microphonics from that is gone, but then you get another source of microphonics. The proximity of the two L and R wires just bunch up sometimes and just rub against each other. No matter if I move the clip lower or higher on my jacket. Overall this gets slightly a good in microphonics. Not annoying and you won’t' notice it sometimes, but when you do. It’s an annoyance. However, you can largely reduce microphonics by wearing the wire behind your ear. To do so, wear it like normal, and then take the two wires and bring it forward into the direction you are looking. Then bring it up and over your ears so the wire hangs off the back of your ear. That eliminates a good amount of microphonics. Not all but a very good amount
Isolation: This largely depends on each person, the shape of their ears, their canals, and the tips and shape of ear bud body and other stuff. For me, the medium tip worked well with me. It provided good isolation that blocked most noises, even noise from a diner and cafeteria when playing music at moderate volumes. I am happy with the isolation this offers. Not the best, but good enough that you get through most everyday obstacles. The PL11's also don't leak much at all also
In ear feel: The body isn't awkward or anything. I wasn't too used to ear buds when I got these so it felt foreign holding them and putting it in the first few times but it's become daily and easy now. They don't obstruct anything or have a large elongated body or block other parts of the ear. Very solid. They also stay in my ear easy, but that's dependent on the person. These are also very light feeling.
Sound Quality: I have had these for over a month now and have about I would say a combined 40 hours to 50 hours on them. These didn't really need much burn in. After about a few hours it more or less set in stone. Initial impressions from me were high, from a price to performance point of view. When I first got them I could tell I would like them as a portable set. They had a colored sound, warm sounding but muddy. I dislike thin sounding headphones/ear buds. The bass I could tell had quite a bit to them. Not a luscious amount but good enough. The bass were a bit muddy and boomy at first but it died down in a few hours. The vocals more or less stayed the same. I guess you could say it's a bit deeper and not as thin sounding, but very little. The highs are also a part of burn in change. At first the high frequency range, it wasn't harsh but it didn't reach at all. It would get lost and start rolling out of control with artifacts, noise and some slight crackles that you get when the ear buds just can't do it. This is the biggest improvement.
Now for current and a more in-depth review of sound quality, the bass is more constricted than the slightly looser and boomier bass at first. I thought about if it could be due to me getting used to it, as I believe that's also part of the burn in process. But, I would still say that the bass is more controlled now. The vocals kick along nicely. Warm sounding, but far from clear. They are recessed. In the back usually and don't offer much clarity. I would take this over clearer but super think sounding ear buds like the ibuds. It may not be clear, but it is enjoyable when you are just on the go. The separation is also abysmal, even with an LOD and amping with E17 the separation improves and the soundstage improves but really not much. Background instruments are hard to tell apart and despite their being bass, the bass and thump that will usually accompany background instruments just isn't there. Just the primary or regular bass is noticeable. This mainly happens on regular more complex songs, so most modern songs really. The PL11's also show a slowness’ sometimes on generally rock songs where it can't match the "speed" of other headphones by a little bit
Distortion. Of really anything happens after a certain point. Bass just overthrows everything, vocals are cut short and highs are everywhere and uncontrolled. This happens easily either amped or UN amped as the PL11's are not hard to drive. For metal rockers that want good ear buds but also like it to kick with speed and volume. This may not before you. The PL11's work well with all kinds of music but it has to make a compromise and the speed and distortion at crazy volumes makes it unfit for metal rocker people. Not unfit so to say but it isn't its direct field. I still listen to many metal and hard rock songs on it and i still enjoy them, but the speed and volume is lacking at times. I don't encounter the volume distortion barrier much as i don't turn it up too loud but i definitely notice a slight lack in speed. Not enough for me to actual care when using these portably really, but when doing a review like this. It’s noted.
Sibilance on these is ok. Some tracks contribute more sibilance than others but to me only...about 30 tracks from 3 albums have more sibilance than others (on all my headphones and devices) due to mastering and recording. Generally the sibilance on these is controlled. you can still hear the sss'ss and the fffss' and the sh's and all those uncomfortable sound but the warm, colored, less clear vocals and bass really tear down the effects of the sibilance by a lot. It’s one of those. You really won’t notice (in my opinion) unless you remember that this has sibilance. Not really a problem, at first when i noticed it. It was a problem, but after 1 minute i forgot all about it.
The highs, lows and mids don't extend as well as one might hope too. They feel like they are all cut short of their full ability. The warm and colored sound and price make up for this short coming as it really just gives you a good sounding ear bud for the price. The bass has a good kick, albeit muddy at times, it still kicks with everything and does well. The muddy bass can even be said to hide many low frequency deficiencies or problems (it does for me) that i have in a few tracks either due to bad ripping or mastering. The highs aren't high but they give you a good mix and the vocals are warm.
Best way to describe these is. These are portable Logitech speakers in your ear. A more in close personal sound with a good bass kick, vocal, and high
Soundstage: I was very suprised with the soundstage really. It is in fact small and tight as many would have imagined. But it has some artificial largeness to it. You can tell that the soundstage on this earbud is constricted and really kept in one place. But it does have a larger soundstage than some of my headphone's at the same time. Not better, but artificially larger. It doesn't sound as real as the other one. The vocals and instruments lack seperation but dig back a bit deeper than some of my other equipment I have and or have heard. My demo CD's that have large soundstages also show that the PL11 doesn't do this as naturally as some other semi open's I have heard, but does it pleasantly. Artificially I guess. There is not a better word I can think of at the moment other than artificial. I don't want to say it's fake, but it's also certainly not "real". Anyway, I actually like and can enjoy this type of soundstage from the PL11's. Sure I would like a more natural one, but for the price, it's plenty.
Testing: Done with optical out to E17 DAC and then to PL11, also tested with iPod with LOD and then E17 and also used with E5. All of that made up about 30% of the time i used with the PL11; the rest was with direct headphone out on the iPod with EQ options enabled. While writing this review, i had the PL11's in and playing albeit with EQ off.
Drivability: As many will note from the specs posted on the bottom, these are easy to drive: D very very easy. However i have noted a problem. I do not know if it is isolated or not. But when plugging the PL11's into a MacBook Pro, a hissing sound appears. The PL11's ohms are 12 ohms. they do not match the minimum 16 ohms on most devices for best performance, the MacBook pro does not hiss with other ear buds so I’m going to guess it's the non match of the two impendances.it will hiss constantly at the same volume no matter what the volume of the computer is set at, either at low to no volume or to max volume. I didn't try raising it to max volume as the sound is too loud then but yes. It hisses until the MacBook pro's internal amp auto shuts off for battery saving.
Amp: These do not need an amp, these are easy to drive. I argue for amp tonality a lot but these also don't need it. I’m very happy with headphone out. If you have an E5 and LOD sure you can use it as the extra bass boosting is nice on both my E5 and E17. But really no, you don't at all in any way shape or form need an amp.
Conclusion: These have some audio problems and some spec and build deficiencies. The bass is boomy and doesn't kick in for other parts of the music. The separation is very little so don't expect some wonders with your classical tracks. The soundstage is small like one would expect but with a new artificial widening that digs in deeper and expands the space of the sound a lot better than other's I have heard at this price. The vocals are a bit recessed usually and are not "audiophile" clear for most music. The highs improved with burn in as did the bass but ultimately still can't hit many high spots. the entirety of all 3 general frequency areas of highs, mids, lows are cut short at times and just don't extend. The coloration is there and this is not an analytical or even IEM grade if we use the term "monitor" exactly. The 12 ohm impedance of these has some problems with some devices it seems and there are some messy glue spots on the ear bud casing from wire connector to driver. However in terms of enjoy ability this is quite high. I would rather take coloration, cut offs of frequencies and all the PL11 has as opposed to thin sounding ear buds that look perfect with fancy braided cables by Skull candy. This is a great cheap ear bud for those that are short on money or just want to go on a short trip or something. These are meant to be portable and enjoy them as portables. Not to pick apart and think of all the wrongs of the audio that is produced. I got these for $10 with a bundle deal with the E17 and i cannot be happier with this bundle purchase. These retail for $20 but these are worth more than even the $20 price tag. If you need cheap buds that will do, these are it. Of course everyone is different. i imagine that high end audiophiles already know what they are looking for and reading this review will know whether or not to get this or not..
One thing to add is that the L and R differentiators are very small. Look in the images. They are very small and can only be seen in the right light. No other indicators tell if it's L or R. kind of annoying at first but you get used to it very quickly
Build Quality- 8/10
Isolation- 8/10 (depends on person and tips used; i reviewd and used with stock medium tips)
in ear feel- 8/10
sound quality- 7/10