Pros: Nice look and feel, free inclusion of cable with phone controls
Cons: Slightly imbalanced sound, treble emphasis and slightly recessed lower mids prevents these IEMs from excelling
I am reviewing the H-300s as part of the Australian tour and for that I must say a sincere thanks to @H20Fidelity for coordinating the tour and of course T-PEOS for supplying the tour unit.
Reading previous reviews, the H-300s have received mixed reports so I was looking forward to trying these with equal parts curiosity / doubt and excitement. Every mid-level hybrid IEM I've tried so far has missed the mark by a fraction so I'm still looking for the one that gets it right. Comments from others on the tour had me concerned that the H-300s might have a little too much treble energy, but others still said it wasn't as hot as other offerings on the market so what's my perception? Let's step through the pertinent details...
Design & Accessories
The H-300s are a quality piece of kit with aluminium and steel housings, 2 cables provided in the standard retail setup (one with phone controls and one without) and a nice range of tips including various single and dual flange options plus some foam tips. There's also a nice carry pouch so I'd say the H-300s meet the highest standards for IEM accessories and options - good start.
Fit & Comfort
I was surprised at how large the H-300s were and expected comfort issues, but I'm pleased to re
port that even my somewhat difficult ears were completely fine with the size and shape of the H-300s. They stick out a tiny bit further than some other IEMs, but nothing extreme and I never felt like they wanted to fall out or looked like I had a couple of bolts stuck in my ears like Frankenstein gone wrong.
The H-300s employ a simple DC style connector for their cables meaning that aftermarket cables should be easy enough to make or order. The fact that they provide 2 cables from the factory is outstanding because it allows you to choose to have phone controls if you want them, but to not deal with the extra weight and cable elements that could catch on clothing, etc. if you don't. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the H-300s cables is that they actually work with non i-devices! The H-300's in-line remote even worked with my Nokia Lumia 920! Please be aware though that it's microphone and play / pause / answer / hang-up only via a single button - no volume control.
The cables are nicely insulated with good Y-splits and strain reliefs so they haven't cut any corners despite providing 2 different options.
As I said earlier, I was so hoping that the H-300 would finally strike the right balance of sound signature for a hybrid. I recently spent time with both the Atomic Floyd Super Darts and the Astrotec AX-60 and loved both in many ways, but couldn't quite get past a couple of factors with the sound of each. Enter the H-300 - was this my saviour?
The bass from the H-300s is smooth and deep. It reminds me of the bass from the beyer T1s in that it's there when it's meant to be, but it's not adding anything or blooming into other areas. This allows the H-300s to be very revealing and transparent, but without enhancing other frequencies (for the most part). Instead of enhancing subtle sounds the H-300 approach is to just get out of their way and I think it results in some special moments.
In terms of bass impact, the H-300 is subtle. The bass is accurate and full, but didn't really wow me with it's impact in the way that something like the Super Darts do. The H-300s are significantly more accurate and true-to-life with their bass presentation though so it's a question of wow factor versus reality - you choose.
The mids from the H-300 are frankly a bit disappointing to me. They're fine. There's nothing wrong with them, but I should be saying more than that at this level (>$300). To my ears there's a hole somewhere in the mids that just prevents the H-300s from ever sounding as magical as they probably should. T-PEOS flat-out nailed realism in the bass and lower mids, but somewhere higher up they've just missed the mark in a way that's not bad - it's just not up to scratch with the incredibly natural and realistic bass.
If I had to put a word to what's wrong I'd say that it's missing weight in the mids. The sounds are all there without any particularly noticeable colouration or emphasis, but the whole picture is just lacking in weight and that makes it all sound a little artificial - I always knew I was listening to a recording and never had a "Whoa, what was that?" moment. By contrast, the AX-60s were able to provide these moments despite some other issues I had with them.
Talk about "so close and yet so far". The H-300s are the first hybrid design I've heard in this general price range that hasn't been too hot in the treble. Other hybrids have literally made me wince from time-to-time, but the H-300s are absolutely fine in terms of sibilance and hot treble. Unfortunately though they still haven't quite hit the mark for my ears.
Similar to the scenario with the mids, there's just something missing with the treble presentation from the H-300s. The treble is slightly enhanced compared to the rest of the frequencies and it leaves the H-300s sounding slightly soul-less to my ears. This could be more about the mids than the treble, but I think both have a degree of interplay that hurts one another. Are the mids to light or is the treble to bright by a fraction? I can't really say, but I know that what I hear from the H-300s is a (very) slightly thin sounding headphone that is in no way offensive or bad, but is also to my ears not special.
As a perfect example, the HiFiMan RE-272 is a notably bass-light earphone. I'd go so far as saying it's a bit anemic at times, but I still love it because it has a certain magic - it's special. So it's not just about getting everything perfect and I feel like maybe the H-300 got quite close to perfect from a simple sound signature perspective, but somehow lost some magic along the way.
Staging & Imaging
The image created by the H-300s is clean and solid, but the stage isn't huge. Clean and coherent, yes, but limited in size to my ears. Once again I feel like I'd choose the AX-60s over the H-300 in this regard despite the fact that the H-300s are a more balanced sounding earphone.
To my ears, the stage stretches ear-to-ear (not beyond) and has reasonable height, but limited depth forward or backwards. Once again, it's fine and the coherence of all sounds and their placement is good, but there's nothing spectacular going on with the staging and imaging, just a solid, competent rendition of your recordings. (Not necessarily a >$300 rendition though in terms of stage size.)
The ultimate litmus test I always finish with is the question of "Would I buy these?" and the answer this time is no. They're nice. They're fine. They're inoffensive, but they're not stirring the passion and excitement needed to pry the locks and chains off my wallet. If I were about to spend >$300 on an IEM there are a few I'd put before the H-300.
Having said all that, this wonderful hobby of ours is all about personal taste and I'd encourage those who can to take a listen to the H-300s if you like a (mostly) balanced sound, natural and accurate bass that is smooth and deep, and a coherent and well-placed sound image. The H-300s pull off the feat of doing everything quite well, but nothing exceptionally (except perhaps natural, accurate bass) and they leave me uninspired by the whole package despite having huge respect and appreciation for nearly all the individual parts.