Pros: Vivid and clear presentation, captivating bass, stellar build, fit, value
Cons: Sparse accessory package (but not expected to be better considering value), blue foam tips too easy to come off in ear.
For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images
SWP Shinwoo (http://swpshinwoo.com/) is a Korean electronics company founded in 1986 who started developing earphones in 2012, changed their company name to T-Peos in 2013, and at the same time launched their first 3 way hybrid IEMs. Their focus is on quality (reading their website is impressive), and it shows in their latest product release – the T-Peos Altone200.
Until recently I did not know a lot about T-Peos or their product range – just a little information following the release of their H200 and H300 hybrid designs. I followed the reviews of my Australian “cousins” (H20 Fidelity, djvkool, D marc0, Loquah and others), envious of their proximity and ability to organise product tours – and wishing I wasn’t quite so isolated at my location - in the deep south of New Zealand.
The first I really heard about the Altone200 was a PM from Mr Sunggoo Kwon of T-Peos, saying that he had contact from Luke (H20 Fidelity), and was wondering if I would like to sample and review their latest offering. I accepted gratefully – and the Altone200 duly arrived from Korea a little over a week ago. I just want to take this opportunity to thank both Luke (for suggesting me) and Sunggoo (for the opportunity).
In the last week I have split my time between assessing and reviewing the Brainwavz S5, and also getting to know the Altone200. For the last 3 days I have listened to the Altone200 almost exclusively – and it has been a very pleasurable experience. To say that I am highly impressed would be one of the major understatements of the year! I’d estimate that so far I’ve logged around 30-40 hours with the Altone200.
I’ve listed price at USD $125.00 (normal list price exclusive of freight) – however this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample). I will definitely be contacting T-Peos to offer payment for the Altone200 – simply because it’s one of the best sounding IEMs I’ve personally heard in the last 3 years.
EDIT : I paid T-Peos USD 125.00 for the Altone200s today. Although I could have simply kept them as a review unit with payment, I wanted to make sure i did pay for them - simply because the Altone200 has become my go-to pair of IEMs. Have since been told by Sunggoo that they are in fact sending me a 2nd pair - the first were a gift - and I am grateful, but also pleased that I have paid for these.
I was provided the T-Peos Altone200 initially as a review sample. I am in no way affiliated with T-Peos - and this review is my honest opinion of the Altone200. I would like to thank (again) Sunggoo for making this opportunity available.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD600, Beyer T1 and DT880. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Dunu DN-1000 (and more recently also the Brainwavz S5 and RockJaw Alfa Genus). A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the DT880.
For the purposes of this review - I used the Altone200 straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X5, and iPhone 4. Sadly I did not log enough hours with the Studio V3, as I sold it very recently (miss it already). I did not amp them, as IMO they do not benefit from additional amplification. In the time I have spent with the Altone200, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in). Unlike a lot of other IEMs, I fell in love with the Altone200’s signature from day 1 – and that has not diminished over the last week. I will respect others choice if they believe in physical burn-in, but I am yet to experience it.
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
|Front of retail box||Rear of retail box - X5 adjacent for perspective|
The Altone200 arrived in a quite small (by today’s standards) spartan black and white retail box – with an inner plastic moulded container housing the IEMs and a small inner box covering the accessories.
|Inner box exposed||Altone200 + accessories|
The packaging is utilitarian and very much no frills – and you would be forgiven thinking that this is simply a budget line of earphones. The retail box doesn’t really have any catch phrases or marketing ‘hooks’ – simply stating the Altone200 to be a 3 way hybrid. In very small letters toward the bottom of the box is the mysterious phrase “comfortable wearing, hit on the sound”. T-Peos could not be more understated. On the rear of the box is a list of the specifications and accessories. The only thing that I found slightly confusing was the reference to an in-line mic and controller – so I guess the box may have been used for an alternate line previously – or is a work-in-progress.
The accessory package (like the packaging) is also ‘limited’ – consisting of a card (warranty?) written in Korean, a set of 3 silicone tips (S,M,L) a set of blue foam tips, a shirt clip, and a soft carry case.
|Tips and short clip||Tips and short clip|
Whilst the carry case is a soft mesh (single pocket and zip), what I love about it is the ability to slip it into any pocket. It doesn’t offer the greatest protection – but T-Peos built the Altone200 so well, that IMO (as long as you wind the cord carefully), they only need minimal protection anyway. So what you get is the perfect slim-line portable solution. I love it.
|Carry case comparison - Altone200 is bottom left||Carry case comparison - Altone200 is bottom left|
Dual Knowles TWFK BA + 8mm Single Dynamic
22 ohm / 1 kHz
105 dB / 1kHz
20 Hz – 20kHz
3.5mm right angle gold coated plug
1.2m PVC sheath over OFC Copper
I have requested this information – but not sure if it is available. If it becomes available, I will re-edit the review and add the information later. For the record – I’m expecting a mild V shape with relatively neutral, or very marginally north of neutral bass (well extended though), relatively flat (maybe slightly recessed lower mid-range, slightly forward upper mids and lower treble, and clear and extended upper treble.
Edit : Frequency graph attached - raw data but (thankfully) mirrors my original expectations.
The Altone200 has a cylindrical but quite petite bullet style body made from a combination of stainless steel and aluminium. My sample is extremely well machined and very smooth. The body measures approx. 19mm in length from the bass to the filter at the tip, and has a diameter of approx. 10mm (it is really petite). I’d love to see the internals, as I’m quite intrigued as to how they got dual BAs and a dynamic into such a tiny frame.
|Altone200 excellent build quality||Rear of Altone200|
The nozzle stem is only approx. 5mm in length, but the lip is well designed, and I’ve had no issues with the included silicone tips or my preferred comply T400s. Unfortunately this does not extend to the blue foam tips included – which came off repeatedly in my ear. Trying my Monster Super Tips had similar issues with not staying on the nozzle.
|Top view of mesh filters||Comply T400s fitted|
The strain relief from the IEM housing is short but relatively rigid rubber moulded onto the housing. It could perhaps be a little longer but should do the job well enough. I would advise not adjusting the fit via the cable though (just in case) – always use the body of the IEM. The right ear piece body is marked with a small “R” (nothing on the left body) – but IMO this is not an issue, as T-Peos cleverly coloured the right strain relief red, so it is very easy to distinguish the two (the left strain relief is black). There is a small port/vent on the back of each body.
|Cable Y split and cinch||Right angled 3.5mm plug|
The cable is a 1.2m in length copper cable in an outer PVC sheath. It seems pretty solid, and doesn’t have a lot of microphonics – just some “bounce’ when jogging if I don’t have the cable tucked away properly. The cable has a cinch (neck slider) above the Y split – and it is very well implemented. It is quite small but holds its position well. The Y split is small and has relief at both ends.
The 3.5mm plug is 3 pole, right angled (this is my preference), gold plated for conductivity, and has very good strain relief.
Overall the build quality is stellar – especially at this price point.
FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) - so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don't fit overly well. I initially tried the included large silicone tips, and they actually fit pretty well. They were also quite comfortable. I also tried my trusty pair of Monster Super Tips (dense foam that almost always give me a complete seal). They also fit very well – but simply aren’t quite as comfortable as my preferred Comply T400s (plus they had an issue coming off the nozzle when removing the IEMs). The T400s fit perfectly, and I’ve had no issues with tips coming off. All of the tips I tried gave me reasonably good sonic results with only small changes to the overall sound.
|Altone200 with T400 Comply tips||Altone200 with T400 Comply tips|
Isolation with the T400s fitted is slightly better than average (nowhere near Shure’s almost perfect isolation – but reasonably effective), and I think they’d be good enough for long distance air travel (yet to try it). Because of their small profile (when worn they do not extend past the ear) so I have no issues at all sleeping with the Altone200. They would rank up there as one of the more comfortable IEMs I’ve worn – especially with the T400s
So what does the Altone200 sound like, and did they “wow” me ……… ?
The following is what I hear from the Altone200. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X5 as source.
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
Thoughts on General Signature
If I was to describe the signature in one word – I’d chose the word “vivid” – maybe “captivating” would also cover it.
I’m finding the Altone200 to be relatively balanced across the audio spectrum with beautifully extended bass, a slight dip in the lower mids, and boost in the upper mids and lower treble (but not excessive for my taste). This combination gives an extremely clear and articulate sound with fantastic bass slam that shows up when it’s needed, but remains firmly in the background when not required. The forward upper mids and treble definitely lend to a brighter sound signature – but I’m finding it pretty smooth. So far the only sibilance I’ve encountered has been on tracks where I know it is present.
Overall Detail / Clarity
For this I always use both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in both tracks, and the recording quality for both is excellent.
The Altone200’s detail retrieval is simply incredible, and to me it sounds similar to my Beyer T1 – but the Altone200 is not quite as bright, and has far richer bass with both tracks. With Gaucho, the sax intro is simply heavenly – and although the overall presentation is definitely on the brighter side of neutral, there is no hint of peakiness. Cymbals in this track usually sit delicately behind the vocals and other instruments, and the Altone200 performs beautifully here. Everything sits exactly where it should be. What I love about listening to this track with the Altone200 is the contrast between the deadly accurate beat on the snare, the deeper punctuation on the bass, and then over the top there is the clarity of vocals, sax, and guitar.
Switching to Sultans of Swing, and once more the speed and clarity of the bass is stunning. Contrast that with the crunch of Knopfler’s guitar, and the coherency of the track just really sings. Detail is just incredible – but it’s not isolated to the upper-mids and treble. Everything about the track is exceptionally clear – and for a want of a better word – vivid. The contrast throughout the frequency range is intoxicating, and the music just seems incredibly alive.
Separation of every instrument is excellent, and there is no evidence of smearing on any track I’ve listened to so far.
Sound-stage & Imaging
For this I use Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage.
It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The Altone200 does give more of a sense of space than most typical IEMs, showing good width with this track. It doesn’t quite have the overall staging of Dunu’s DN-1000 but it’s better than most IEMs I’ve tried recently. Directional cues are once again excellent – so for a value priced triple hybrid its imaging is very good.
I also used Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” and the Altone200 once again gave a captivating performance. The sense of space is nowhere near what can be exhibited on full sized headphones, but it’s not overbearingly intimate, and there are some directional cues present. In this track, the applause at the end is so well presented that with some headphones (HD600) I can actually close my eyes and imagine myself in the crowd. With the Altone200, the clapping does take me into the audience – and there is a sense of space. Bravo T-Peos.
This review could not be complete without mentioning both the quality and quantity of the bass on the Altone200. This (to me) is how bass should be presented - particularly on an IEM. Listening to Zoe Keating’s “Escape Artist” (Zoe plays Cello – and has a Bandcamp site – definitely worth looking her up!), and the cello’s depth and timbre is just rendered beautifully with incredibly life-like decay.
Then switch it up to something with huge sub-bass impact like Lorde’s “Royals” or Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and the impact goes up a notch – yet still with that overall sense of vividness and clarity.
Change to the Eagle’s “Hotel California”, and you get the impact of the bass drum – but it’s where it should be, and it’s not overpowering – just providing a stunning backdrop to frame the rest of the track.
The Altone200’s bass is powerful when it needs to be, always articulate, never overpowering. I don’t think I’ve heard better bass quality from an IEM in this price bracket before.
Note 29 July - It has been pointed out by a few that they were expecting far more bass, and that the Altone200s may even be a little bass shy. I certainly am not finding this (with either pair I now have). I do acknowledge that the quantity of bass is going to come down to preference. What may be perfect for my "neutral-head" tastes could be very different to other's preferences. Please bear this in mind. The Altones are in no way bass monsters.
Female Vocals – A Special Note
I had to add this section simply because around 60-65% of my music revolves around female vocals – be it jazz, pop, rock, electronic, or even opera. I’m an unabashed fan. For me the most captivating thing about the Altone200 is how it renders female vocals in virtually all genres I’ve listened to it with. Other IEMs I’ve owned in the past have sometimes struggled with some of the artists I like – and this includes IEM’s like Shure’s SE535 LE (upper-mids on the SE535 LE are quite forward). The Altone200 just nails everything though – often bringing an almost euphoric quality to the overall presentation. Artists like Agnes Obel can sometimes appear shouty with other IEMs – but two days ago I meant to just sit down and gather some notes, and ended up sitting back mesmerised by the whole album “Aventine”. Gabriella Cilmi’s jazzy track “Safer” is another example which reaches new heights for me with the Altone200 – and Norah Jones ……. let’s just say stunning, and leave the rest for you to explore!
Genre Specific Notes
Again for tracks, albums, artists – please refer to this list: http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks
Rock – For me, the Altone200’s perform well with this genre, with the most noticeable feature being the incredible clarity (especially guitar), and also the very punchy bass. 3 Doors Down “Away From the Sun”, and Alter Bridge’s “Broken Wings” are both captivating – and the only slight criticism I’d have is that the vocals of Miles Kennedy don’t have quite their normal timbre – which might be the slightly less relative presence with the lower mids. But it’s a small price to pay for the overall presentation. The other thing that I’m surprised by is that despite the brighter presentation, I’m not getting any signs of fatigue (YMMV here – remember that I am not treble sensitive). Even on the much faster “Diary of Jayne”, although there is definitely a tinge of enhanced brightness with this track, I’m enjoying the presentation, and the drivers are having no problems keeping up.
Alt Rock – First up was Pink Floyd’s “Money”, and finally here is an IEM which able to do this classic track justice. Nothing is missing, everything is very clear, and the Altone200 is handling the complex changes of contrast with aplomb. The sax is pretty darn good too! Switching to Porcupine Tree’s “Trains”, and here is a track that again suits the Altone200 extremely well. The bass is fantastic – and Wilson’s higher voice seems to suit the Altone200s slightly better than some artists with deeper vocal registers. If you’re a PT fan, you should love the Altone200’s presentation.
Jazz / Blues / Bluegrass – Moving to Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” and this track is just toe tapping brilliance. The crispness of the cymbals is really matching well with the undertone of the double bass, and the sax is simply sublime. Switching to Miles Davis “So What”, and I’m struck once again by how well the Altone200 handles jazz. I think it’s the overall contrast (double bass, brass, cymbals and percussion). A highly detailed, yet at the same time, smooth journey. Very occasionally I hit a slight peak with Mile’s trumpet – which you don’t get with headphones like Brainwavz S5 – but the S5 struggles at times to produce the Altone200’s detail. So it’s a bit of a trade-off.
Next up was Blues – so I fired up Joe Bonamassa’s India-Mountain Time, a track that I like immensely. The guitar work is mesmerising with copious sparkle and crunch. Joe’s vocals are perfectly matched, and the bass is once again simply punctuating the overall experience.
Rap / EDM / Pop – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is pretty good with the Altone200 but I can’t help feeling that some of Marshall’s vocal impact is not entirely perfect (needs to be slightly deeper – less bright) and with the Altone200 it’s just slightly missing the mark. The bass is really good though – but this is one track that definitely sounded better to me on the Brainwavz S5 I recently reviewed. Switching to Norah Jones “Light as a Feather” (a fusion of pop with jazz undertones), and as I alluded to earlier, it is pure vocal heaven (euphoric). I could lose hours, even days, just laying back and letting this wash over me. Switching to EDM – and Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin”, just slams! Lindsay’s violin is perfectly clear, smooth, and utterly enjoyable – and the contrast is the bass - thumping, but clearly defined – the perfect compliment. I also tried some Little Dragon and some Flashbulb – and it is clear to me, my electronic music shines with the Altone200.
Classical / Opera – I was expecting some fairly good things with the Altone200 and for the most part it delivered. Netrebko and Garanca portrayal of Lakme’s Flower Duet was heavenly – and I found even Netrebko’s upper registers perfectly smooth (if you’re more treble sensitive you may struggle). Kempff’s Moonlight Sonata was once again very captivating, but I don’t think it delivered quite the same tonal balance that a slightly darker IEM (Brainwavz S5) can do with this piece. Still very enjoyable – but not perfect. Switching to Julia Fischer’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violoin Concerto in D – and the magic is back again. I think the Altone200 sometimes needs contrast to show its strengths – and full orchestral passages are able to allow it to shine.
The Altone200 is very easily powered straight out of virtually any portable device, and I didn’t experience any issues with the 2 DAPs I tested (iPhone 4, or Fiio X5).
RESPONSE TO EQ?
This was a really tough one for me – because I pretty much love the way these are now. But for the review I thought I’d try and use Accudio Pro on my iPhone to EQ the Altone200 to give Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” a little deeper vocal presence that better suited my personal preference. The Altone200 reminds me a little of the AKG K701/2 in it’s overall presentation of its midrange and treble – so I used this EQ preset, and left it as reference. Eddie’s vocals immediately gained more impact and without killing the rest of the Altone200’s overall coherency. It’s actually really enjoyable in this setting for anything requiring more depth in the lower mid-range – so I can confidently say that the Altone200 can EQ really well.
QUICK COMPARISON OTHER IEMs – T-Peos Altone200 vs DN-1000, BA100, Alfa Genus, and Brainwavz S5
|IEM comparisons L to R - Alfa Genus, DN-1000, Altone200, S5, BA-100||Beautiful pairing - Altone200 and X5|
For this exercise I’ll try and give you a rough general comparison with some IEMs which I have on hand, and which range in value from around USD 75 – 200 (the Altone200 sits squarely in the middle of this range). Rather than referencing particular tracks – I’m trying to make this general, as each IEM has its own strengths with different genres/tracks. I’ve volume matched as closely as possible when performing the comparisons (using test tones and an SPL meter) – but it is relatively difficult to do this without a perfect set-up, and I fear that the results may not be entirely accurate. So as always – take the following with a large grain of salt. Remember these are my preferences only.
Vs HiSound Audio's BA-100 ($70-100)
The BA-100 are thinner through the mid-range, and have a lot less bass. The Altone200 have a lot more bass impact – and also bring a little more lower and upper treble presence. Overall perception of clarity is similar. The BA-100 sounds a little hollow in direct comparison.
My preference Altone200
Vs Dunu DN-1000 ($200)
This one is really interesting. Both have a similar overall signature – but the DN-1000 bass is IMO actually slightly overshadowed by the quality of the Altone200, and the Dunu’s upper midrange is a little more strident. The DN-1000 has a marginally better lower midrange to me – but the Altone200 is slightly more coherent over all. I’ve had the Altone200 in my ears a lot during the last week – so this may not be fair on the Dunus.
Edit : After receiving a few more comments regarding the bass on the Altone's vs the bass on the DN-1000, I retested again. I've found that it very much depends on which frequency you volume match - as different frequencies will give differing overall presentation. An example - volume matching lower mids causes me to increase the overall volume on the Altones - making it's bass bigger than the Dunu. Overall -both hybrids have excellent bass - and this is augmented by the separation through the rest of the frequencies.
My preference Altone200
Vs Alfa Genus (ebony filter) ($85)
Alfa Genus has less bass presence and impact. Both have excellent clarity. Alfa Genus is slightly thinner through the mid-range, but has more balance between lower and upper mids The Altone200 has more cohesion over the entire frequency range though. I am looking forward to the third filter being developed for the Alfa which should bring some of the balance it’s currently missing.
My preference Altone200
Vs Brainwavz S5
S5 has more overall bass quantity and darker tone. Altone200 has more bass impact and better bass definition. Both are very clear – but Altone 200 has more vivid presentation. S5 actually has better cohesion between upper and lower mids, but again Altone200 has better overall cohesion across entire frequency range. I do prefer the S5 for deeper male vocals, but the Altone 200 for everything else.
My preference Altone200
ALTONE200 - SUMMARY
Sorry in advance – this review has been longer than most – but it’s a testament to how much I really have enjoyed the Altone200.
The Altone200 is an extremely well built IEM with a nicely balanced and coherent sound signature. It has excellent bass texture, definition and impact, with great extension into the sub-bass. The mid-range is slightly forward in the upper mids (but not excessively so), and perhaps very slightly recessed in the lower mids (again this is slight). The treble is full and extended and overall it has a bright tilt to the upper end.
IMO the Altone200 performs exceptionally well with female vocals, and overall delivers vivid clarity, with a dynamic presentation. Due to its size, and shape, the fit for me is extremely comfortable.
My litmus question is “would I buy these for myself”, and “would I recommend them to my family”. The answer to this question is YES (emphatically YES!), and I will indicate to Sunggoo without reservation that I want to purchase this sample pair. EDIT : and this morning (a day after posting the review) I did indeed pay for them.
I’m still trying to come to grips with the idea that a triple driver hybrid that sounds this good can be purchased for sub $150. T-Peos has set a new standard with the Altone200’s and I have no issues with recommending them. For my personal preferences I would take these over any of the IEM’s I’ve previously owned – and that includes Shure’s SE535 LE.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO T-PEOS
Don’t change a thing. Maybe reissue this model with a replaceable cable – that would be perfect