Pros: Good tonal balance with the right tips. Real bass extension without the bloat. Excellent build quality and fit.
Cons: Sits in a very competitive price range.
South Korean company UCOTECH (formerly UBIQUO) might be a new name for the west. But it has been around for about seven years and has roots going back much farther. Started by a former employee of Cresyn (OEM maker and Phiaton) and Sambon (OEM with JVC Victor), the company has been making only earbuds up until now. Although earbuds still sell a little bit in Asia, everyone is focused on IEMs; and now so is UCOTECH. Their first creation is somewhere between upper entry-level and middle-range (street price 149,000₩ or ~145 USD), though from the looks of the IL300 you would think that it was more closer to the upper-echelon. *Disclaimer: This set of IL300s were sent to me from the manufacturer as a review sample.*
I’m one of those easy to please type of guys. Sort of. There is definitely stuff out there I don’t like. In fact I’d say I don’t like most stuff! But that still leaves a lot left to like in today’s marketplace. I do enjoy different sound signatures and slight colorations. My thoughts about a headphone can change depending on my mood, musical genre, and listening environment. My headphone references for tonal quality are the Etymotic ER-4S and the Sennheiser HD600. That is not to say these are my favorites or that they are the flattest headphones I own. They are just what I consider to be good baselines from which to judge other headphones. For most of my listening I probably do prefer a very slight vee-curve. I wouldn’t say I have any particular dislikes except for sharp peaks, especially in the upper midrange (1kHz - 4kHz) and of course in the bass region. I don’t particularly like bright either. But it doesn’t make my ears bleed like it can for many. One more thing: When I say “headphone” in this review, I usually mean headphone, IEM, earbud, etc. collectively.
I have little to no fit-related trouble with 90% of IEMs and maybe a little bit of trouble with larger multi-driver universals such as the FitEar 334, Sony XBA-H3, or JH Audio Roxanne. That said, I initially had some issues getting a good fit with the IL300. Although they did come with a pretty decent assortment of tips (a curious combination of two types of silicone (large bore and small bore) and a medium set of Sony ‘hybrid’ tips) I could only get a good fit with the Sony tips. But this was more of an issue with the tips rather than the IEM body itself. As mentioned before the stainless steel housing is on the petite side so I can’t imagine it being a problem for anyone. With the Sony tips however, because they have a smallish bore and the nozzle of the IL300 is quite large, I did get a bit of driver flex when inserting them into my ears. I also thought the sound was a bit on the bright side with all of the silicone tips including the Sonys. So I dug into my IEM tip stash and settled on the Comply TS-400. These not only solved my fit issues, but they also softened the treble a bit and smoothed out the sound overall. I would really like to see UCOTECH include either these or the T-400 tips with this IEM. I think the added cost would be well worth the benefit. NOTE: My listening evaluation was done primarily with the Comply tips.
Isolation is about average. They are similar to the Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10, not as good as the Etymotics (almost nothing is), and better than heavily vented IEMs like the JVC HA-FX700. For me, the Comply tips increased the isolation a little more since I wasn’t getting the best seal with the included silicone tips.
Cable microphonics is about average when worn the ‘regular’ way straight down- not the worst cable noise I’ve heard but definitely there. Using them in an over-the-ear style will cut the noise by about 80%, effectively making it a non-issue for me. The symmetrical design and flexible cable make this IEM very easy to use in this manner.
APPLES TO APPLES
To make things clear and perhaps save you some time, if you are looking for a ruler flat or reference sort of sound you’d probably better look elsewhere. If you are used to something like the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors or Etymotic ER-4 and that is what you are hoping for, these will probably not be for you. But if you are looking for something that frankly most people seem to want- something with a signature more closer to the UE TripleFi 10, Westone W3, or JVC HA-FX700- then the IL300 will be something you’ll want to check out. Keep in mind that I own all but one of the aforementioned IEMs; so I am not passing judgement on the IL300 by saying this. I just want to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.
As I mentioned, with silicone tips I thought that these were a bit too bright. So you can gauge what I think “bright” is, I think that the Sennheiser IE800 and most Ultrasone headphones are WAY TOO BRIGHT. With the Comply tips the treble is almost perfect for me on the IL300. It might be a little bit rolled off at the extreme top end which means that it might not have that ‘air’ that brighter headphones have. But it is rarely harsh or sibilant to my ears. I say “rarely” because if a recording is sibilant, bass-heavy, etc., then it will sound that way unless something is really off.
Vocals are smooth. They might not be as clear as my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors- frankly, few things are regardless of price. But to me the key here is that they do nothing really wrong. There are no peaky piano notes or significant dips. To me the midrange is where most of the ‘musicality’ lies. And the IL300 does a good job in keeping things musical and relaying information without having any major technical distractions.
This is really where the IL300 shines. And it’s not just because there is lots of it. In fact while I consider this IEM to be on the slightly bass-heavy side compared to my references, it will probably not satisfy the most hardcore bass-heads unless you apply EQ- more on that later. The bass on the IL300 goes deep and there is very little if any mid-bass bump. I wouldn’t characterize it has hard-hitting or visceral like the V-Moda M80/100. It has a strong presence only when called upon and is not something that sticks out or features itself constantly. The bass overall is just a bit north of neutral to keep things fun without ruining the rest. I think the key here is the lack of peaks and a gradual but smooth increase in low frequencies that builds all the way down without dropping off.
Frankly, headstage or soundstage is not the first thing I look for in headphones. To me it's secondary at best because it’s more of an illusion compared to an actual live performance or two speakers in front of me. That said, I have heard headphones with poor soundstage which was often brought on by certain tonal issues; and I have heard headphones with decent (for a headphone) soundstage. So I would simply place the IL300 in the good/ average/ nothing really wrong here category.
I mentioned earlier that if you were looking for something flat to stay away from this IEM. Well if you’re willing to use EQ (either via iPod presets or an actual real EQ), I found these to be very responsive to such treatment. Even with the baked-in iOS presets I found that you can get much closer to tonal neutrality by simply using the ‘Vocal Booster’ or ‘Spoken Word’ setting. It will literally transform the the IL300 into another IEM. In fact all during my listening for this review I was torn between whether to use EQ or not. In the end I decided not to since my impressions would be slightly more universal.
For most of my listening, I used my Leckerton UHA-6SmkII (AD8610). I don’t think these IEMs need an amp- I just like using the Leckerton as a reference point. Plus the volume steps on iOS are just too big for most IEM use.
The IL300 is a very competitive IEM in this price range with good tonal balance plus a well-tuned ‘subwoofer’ sound. The build quality makes it a stand out, possibly enough to give it an advantage over other IEMs in this class. But I would highly recommend bringing your own Comply (TS-400 or T-400) foam tips! The IL300 has definitely earned a spot in my regular rotation of IEMs.