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Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 MK301

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Pros: Great sound. Great looks. A rock-bottom price.

Cons: Durability *could* be better.

Disclaimer

     Please note that I am not affiliated with Xiaomi in any way, though you could consider me an "endorser" of this product. ;) I was neither paid nor given a review sample by Xiaomi; this pair was purchased personally. Also, do take note that most of the review is my personal opinion, and it should be treated as such; also, the impressions from this review can and will change, so please take this review with a grain of salt.

 

 

Intro

     My, how time flies. I’ve spent almost an entire year on Head-Fi, and I have to say, I’ve learned a lot. Much to my dismay (and to the joy of my wallet), I’ve suppressed many urges to purchase more pairs of headphones – though, admittedly, it was mostly my parents who did that for me. But anyway, knowing that my 1st-year anniversary on Head-Fi is nearing, I thought I’d revisit all of the headphones I have amassed over that year, starting with the Xiaomi Pistons.

 

     I’m sure many of you who’ve been to the Xiaomi Pistons Thread [link] have heard of the so-called “2.1” version, as well as the commemorative iF Edition. For this revision of what you could say is the first review of the Pistons, I’m going to address these new versions.

     But enough talk; let’s get to the review!

 

 

Appearance, Design, Accessories

 

     The Xiaomi Pistons are, without a doubt, beautiful. Their machined aluminum housings are painted in the dazzling color of gold (now more silver in the iF Edition), seamlessly matching with any owner of the iPhone 5S (I do not own one, so no pictures for you :tongue:). Their color is also cleverly accented in their chocolate-brown Kevlar and silicone cable. From the pictures alone, you could see just how beautiful these IEMs are. But underneath that dazzling exterior is a gem waiting to be unleashed. Technically, it’s supposed to be a metal, but never mind.

 

     But what is this metal, you ask? This metal is called beryllium.

 

What is beryllium? (Click to show)

     “Beryllium, atomic number 4, atomic weight of 9.012182, is the lightest of the alkaline earth metals. Under normal conditions, it has a light steel gray color. Beryllium alloy is lighter than conventional aluminum and titanium, is four times the strength of steel, and is an indispensable material in nuclear energy, rockets, missiles, aviation, and metallurgy. It has stable mechanical properties, and it has strength and hardness that can only be cut with diamonds. Compared to titanium, beryllium alloy is three times harder, 1.5 times lighter, and has up to 3 times faster transmission speed. It is also 100 times more expensive.


     The new Xiaomi Pistons’ diaphragms utilize the hardest of all metallic elements (which is nearly 5 times more expensive than gold) through a high-tech process to create the world’s first beryllium diaphragm earphone. Xiaomi partnered with its in-house design team to develop a new type of headphone diaphragm using this beryllium alloy. The beryllium diaphragm, using a vacuum-coating process, perfectly utilizes the light, rigid, and flexible beryllium, with a resulting thickness of only 2 µm. As a result, the new Pistons have a wider and smoother frequency response, enhancing the high treble range from 10 KHz to 20 KHz. (In contrast, earphone roll-off typically occurs from 10 KHz onwards.) The beryllium diaphragm also enhances the bass region, making it cleaner, tighter, clearer, and more stable, without interfering with the higher frequencies.


     Beryllium diaphragms have been used in only a handful of high-end audio products, such as JBL’s top-of-the-line flagship speaker, the JBL K2 S9800, which is priced as high as 250,000 (approx. $40,000 USD). And because of this beryllium diaphragm now used in the new Xiaomi Pistons, its sound quality can be significantly improved.”


     (Source. Translation may not be fully accurate.)

 

     Well, from what you just read, there’s no doubt that beryllium is one “wonder metal.” However, it is extremely rare, which still makes me wonder how Xiaomi managed to manufacture so many Pistons with such a rare metal as beryllium. We don’t have the answer to that yet, so let’s just leave that as one of the many questions for the ages.

 

     Now, let’s move on to the box. The box is special in a lot of ways. First, it’s an exquisite work of art per se. Its flaps unfold, one after the other, to reveal the Pistons in their box and the instruction manual. Second, it’s really, really small. Just how Apple would make them. And finally, the box itself is the manual. Yes, you read that right – pretty much everything you need to know about the Pistons is right there on that box. Plus, you aren’t given anything close to marketing or advertising.  That box is special, without a doubt. And that’s not even the gist of it.

 

     The box containing the Pistons is also a work of art. Its plastic cover would very easily be passed up as glass – except they aren’t fragile in the slightest. Lifting the cover off, you see the Pistons in their chocolate-brown travel case custom-molded out of silky-smooth silicone. (If you ever get tired of that chocolate brown, you could always buy one separately in blue, pink, and yellow.)

 

The eartips in the box, along with the clip, and the box 

 

     Lifting the travel case out, you’re greeted with three pairs of tips – a small pair, large pair, and a bass-ported dual-flange pair. Now, this is where things get a tad confusing. The tips I mentioned only apply to the 2.0 set – that is, if you’ve purchased a pair before around late March of 2014. If you’ve purchased a pair after that, then you will most likely have the so-called 2.1 version (it is so-called because it is an unofficial term used around Head-Fi). Of course, let’s not forget about the commemorative iF Edition of the Pistons after having received the iF Product Design Award. If you’ve purchased either the 2.1 or the iF version, then in those cases you will receive small, medium, and large pairs of single-flange tips. We will come back to this later on in the review to further clean things up.

 

   Appearance: 9/10

   Design: 8/10

   Accessories: 8/10

 

 

 

Build, Fit, Comfort

See that accent? That's beauty right there. :D

 

     The build on the Xiaomi Pistons is something you would not or cannot expect from a sub-20 dollar IEM. With gold on the housings it’s surprising that you’d get this type of beauty from an IEM at this price. The gold is also accented perfectly with the chocolate brown on the cable and the tips. I don’t know about you, but the color scheme seems to match up well with the Sennheiser HD598.

               

     They certainly look as fragile as a piece of jewelry (and they are gems in their own right), but they certainly aren’t. Its Kevlar-reinforced cable has endured lethal yanks and tugs that would probably snap inferior cables. Though I’ve treated them well (so far XD), some accidents were unavoidable and thus they’ve suffered some hard knocks which rendered them unworthy of the photographs. That's why my sister has taken a lot of photographs from her new iF Edition Pistons which are still in perfect condition. Hopefully those will suffice.

 

     The fit on the Pistons are rather fiddly and take some time to get used to. Unlike a lot of IEMs that sound better with a deep fit, the Pistons’ default tips would very much prefer a shallow fit which doesn’t go too far into the ear. Doing so will break the seal and leave you with a tinny sound, devoid of bass. Getting the seal just right should at least make you able to hear what I’m hearing.

 

     Since you’ve most likely purchased the 2.1 Pistons by now (considering the date of this updated review), you should have the new sets of tips in the box. The silicone tips found in both the 2.1 and the iF Pistons are thicker, stiffer, and stronger than the ones in the 2.0 set. Their increased stiffness should be able to give you a better seal with less effort, and allow for a deeper fit than the flimsy-feeling tips of the 2.0 Pistons.

 

     However (with a tip of the hat to user 1clearhead), you could also try the size “M” tips inside the box. This pair of tips are smaller than the regular tips on the Pistons and thus allow for a significantly deeper fit than what you could get with the regular tips without breaking the seal. However, these “M” tips require you to use a deeper fit, as a shallow fit might give the Pistons a hollow sound as opposed to a properly-sealed fit. Also, you might encounter some discomfort from the housings of the Pistons touching your ears because of this deeper fit; the best way to counter that problem is to wear the Pistons around-the-ear, like so:

 

 

     As for comfort, I believe that the Xiaomi Pistons are great in this regard. Their silicone tips are soft and, as Xiaomi puts it, derived from “pacifier-grade silicone.” With the update to the tips in the 2.1 version, comfort is significantly improved. However, there have been some reports of people noticing discomfort from the housing of the Pistons touching their ears. It is an issue, yes, but like I said in the disclaimer at the top of this review: YMMV.

 

   Build: 8.5/10

   Fit: 7.5/10

   Comfort: 8.5/10

 

 

 

Isolation, Microphonics

     I wouldn’t rate the Pistons very high in this area, though I wouldn’t rate them too low, either. Sound leakage is very little, if any (characteristic of most IEMs), but the isolation is not what you would expect of an IEM. Of course, not a lot of IEMs have the -30 dB of isolation that Etymotic earphones have; but all things considered, the Pistons isolate well for most situations, like parties and walks out in the city streets. In fact, they even isolate better than my over-ear headphones.

 

   Isolation: 8.5/10

   Microphonics: 8/10

 

 

Microphone

     Oh yes, I almost forgot; did I ever mention the fact that the Xiaomi Pistons have an in-line remote and mic? No? Well, maybe I said it in the older review, but not in this new version until now. Yes, there is a three-button remote and mic situated in a rather tricky position on the cable (the resulting cable left between the remote to the earphone housings is quite short).

     On the other hand, that’s about the only gripe I’ve found with the remote so far. Now, on with the plus points. The Pistons’ remote is very useful because it is compatible with both Android and Apple devices. However, functionality is limited on both platforms. Most Android phones can work with all three buttons, but what are supposed to be volume buttons are considered forward/rewind buttons. That makes them essentially useless since the middle button, used for Pause/Play, also does the same forward/rewind functions with a double press and triple press, respectively. On Apple devices the volume buttons do not work, leaving the middle button the only functional one. Apparently the only devices that utilize all three buttons properly are Xiaomi’s devices.

     But there is one thing to note: the microphone still works. Yes, you read that right – the mic works with all devices without a hitch. And the best part? They sound pretty damn good. They sound clear over multiplayer games, chat sessions, and even recordings on GarageBand. Now that’s functionality.

 

Score: 8.5/10

 

 

 

Audio: Preamble

 

     And now, for the most important section in the entire review. I worked hard on this one, so I really do hope what comes out will be the most precise reviews I’ve ever written. But before we begin, I would like to address a few things:

 

 

Modification

     Yes, I have, in fact, modified my pair of Xiaomi Pistons. That alone is enough to significantly alter the results of the review. However, though I do not own another pair, my sister owns an iF Edition pair, and she has submitted them in for review. So with that, I’d like to give a big thank-you to her for providing the pair.

 

 

iF Edition vs. 2.1

     I would also like to address the issue about the iF Edition Pistons supposedly sounding “brighter” than the 2.1 and 2.0 Pistons. Yes, some people have reported that they did, in fact, notice that the iF Edition sounded brighter than that of the Pistons. However, from my personal experience, I did not notice a difference between either. I have said this multiple times to the many people who asked, and some also reported the same results. Hopefully soon the “rumours” will subside and all will be well. Now, with all that cleared up, let’s begin!

 

 

Test Tracks

     When writing headphone reviews, you never settle on just one album. You have to take a wide variety of genres and listen to each and every one of them to see just how good the headphones really are. Well, that’s what I did with my test tracks playlist. Over the past couple of years, I’ve collected various albums of various genres from various artists, which should help a lot in getting me that “precise review” I promised earlier. Below is the list, in a fancy table inspired by the tables which a lot of other great reviewers utilize.

 

Album

Artist

Genre

Format

Ariana Grande

Yours Truly

R&B, Pop

MP3 320 kbps

Ben Prunty

Faster Than Light: OST

Electronica, Score

MP3 320 kbps

Carpenters, The

The Ultimate Collection

Easy Listening, Pop

MP3 320 kbps

Chesky Records

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Classical, Binaural

ALAC

Cliff Richard

Still Reelin’ and A-Rockin’: Live in Sydney, The Ultimate Collection

Rock & Roll, Live

MP3 320 kbps

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Electronica, Disco

ALAC

Darren Korb

Bastion Original Soundtrack

Acoustic Trip-Hop, Score

ALAC

Eagles, The

Hell Freezes Over

Acoustic, Rock, Live

ALAC

HAL Laboratory, Inc.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: The Epic Soundtrack

Acoustic, Score

MP3 VBR V2

John Robert Matz
Ryan Ike
Francisco Cerda

Gunpoint: The Soundtrack

Jazz, Score

ALAC

Katy Perry

PRISM

Pop

MP3 320 kbps

Krewella

Get Wet

House, Dubstep

MP3 320 kbps

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

The Heist

Rap, Hip-Hop

MP3 320 kbps

Michael Jackson

Bad, Dangerous, Thriller, Xscape

Pop

ALAC

Pink

The Truth About Love

Rock, Pop

MP3 VBR V0

Secrets of Kaplan

The E.P.

Indie Rock

MP3 VBR V0

Skrillex

Bangarang EP, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP, More Monsters and Sprites EP

Dubstep, House

MP3 320 kbps

Sungha Jung

Paint It Acoustic

Solo Guitar, New Age

AAC 256 kbps

Various Artists

Dissidia: Final Fantasy Original Soundtrack, Final Fantasy XIII Original Soundtrack

Various, Score

MP3 320 kbps

Yiruma

The Best: Reminiscent 10th Anniversary Edition

Solo Piano, New Age

ALAC

张伟珈

把梦写给你

Acoustic, Pop

MP3 320 kbps

 

 

Review Process

     These headphones are subjected to a particularly “hands-on” review process. I never leave them standing out on a stand with pink noise played into them; I always listen to them and hear the changes as time goes by. However, as I hear these changes while they burn-in, there is also the phenomenon called “brain burn-in,” or better known as placebo. I take this into account as I write the reviews, and revise if necessary.

 

     The writing of the review takes at least three days’ worth of work, which is spanned out over the course of a week. Since the mind’s impression of the same headphones can change depending on the time of day, I will also take these into account and combine them into one summarized consensus from multiple tests.

 

     Also, I will be making three different reviews, each with their own focus. The first review focuses on reviewing each of the aspects of the sound signature (bass, mids, soundstage, etc.), while the second one will be focusing on which genres it works best with. The third one is mostly a summary and reviews its general performance in media outside of music (games, movies, etc.) as well as its performance when amplified and equalized. From this alone it doesn’t really make much sense, but hopefully by reading the review you’ll understand.

 

 

Equipment

     Equipment used in the review is an iPad 3, sending the music straight to the Pistons, unamped. In the amplification assessment a Yamaha RX-V359 home theater amp is used. As for the equalization test the EQu app is used.

    

 

 

Audio: Sound Quality

 

     As mentioned in the title, this section will revolve around reviewing each of the sonic aspects of the Xiaomi Pistons. The total score for this section is 100 points.

 

 

Bass

     In tracks like “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Birthday,” the Pistons demonstrated its ability to bring you accurate and yet powerful bass. The bass guitar’s tone still manages to stay audible and accurate despite the powerful kick drum in the former track. However, I would like to note that they do tend to be muddy in the lower midrange, and they can be rather overpowering at times to the uninitiated.

     To summarize it, I could easily say that the Pistons are friendly for anyone’s ears – enough kick for bassheads and non-audiophiles, while tight enough for a lot of audiophiles.

 

   Score: 17/20

 

 

Midrange

     The general consensus on the midrange of the Xiaomi Pistons is rather mixed; those who don’t like it say that they are too recessed, while those who do say that they’re just fine because they are a consumer-friendly IEM. I, for one, absolutely love the midrange on these Pistons because the very first time I heard them, they had this…unreal clarity to them which all of my other headphones did not have.

     On beautiful, iconic piano tracks like “River Flows in You” and “Kiss the Rain,” you could literally feel the emotion put into the recordings as the notes flow into your mind. This clarity is also exhibited in some of the tracks from Paint It Acoustic like “Fanoe” and “The Merry-go-Round of Life.”

     Overall, the midrange is lush, rich, and despite being slightly muddy in the lower end, is crystal-clear.

 

   Score: 18/20

 

 

Treble

     The treble area, for me, is a rather confusing aspect of the sound signature. At first, they sound crisp, lively, and sparkly without being too sibilant (in other words, they’re just right for me). However, at one point, I noticed that the treble gave way to both the midrange and the bass. They became less crisp and sparkly, and they were not as I remembered it the first time. I cannot say what caused this sudden change, but right now, I’m going to blame it on placebo. Right now, as I listen to my sister’s two week-old pair, I seem to perceive that crisp treble I was looking for. It’s unexplainable, but like I said, it’s probably just placebo.

     To sum that up, the Pistons’ treble is crisp, lively, and has enough sparkle for most people without getting too sibilant.

 

   Score: 18/20

 

 

Soundstage

     The soundstage on the Pistons is yet another plus point. Its soundstage is wide and airy, though I couldn’t say anything particular about its depth. To best describe it, the soundstage extends well out to the sides, but has trouble defining front and back. Nonetheless, the Pistons have a great soundstage which is much, much better than certain consumer-friendly headphones about, say, 20 times the price (say, Beats).

 

     Score: 17/20

 

 

Imaging

     The imaging ability of the Pistons are probably one of their biggest selling points. That’s because they image so well it’s insane. Even on Daft Punk’s “Touch,” which is one of the most complex tracks I’ve ever heard, the Pistons manage to separate the instruments enough to distinguish them from each other and not like some jumbled-up mess. And for a pair of IEMs at 25 dollars, that’s not just something worth noting; it’s an achievement. This imaging and separation ability is something you just notice when you put them on and play a track. While listening to “Fanoe,” a guitar duet, you could very easily pinpoint the two guitarists’ positions without even thinking about it.

     I don’t think I even need to sum this up; they’re simply amazing.

 

   Score: 19/20

 

 

 

Audio: Genre Mastery

     In this section, we focus on the Pistons’ proficiency in various genres, assessing which does and doesn’t sound best on the budget IEMs. The total score for this section is 75 points. In this section, instead of paragraphs upon paragraphs of text, you will be treated to yet another fancy-looking graph courtesy of yours truly. Note that I will not try to restate the qualities of the Pistons in this review; instead I will focus on how much I enjoy the music and how the Pistons’ overall sound signature lends to that enjoyment.

 

Genre

Score

Summary

Dubstep | Drum & Bass

4/5

     Both genres are flawlessly executed by the Pistons in all of my test tracks. In tracks such as Krewella’s “Dancing With the Devil,” it demonstrates its beautiful sub-bass rumble at the drop with ease. On DnB, the genre’s characteristic complex drum patterns are played through without the IEMs breaking a sweat.

Electronica | Disco

5/5

     There’s no experience quite like listening to your favorite song for the very first time. And it’s very rare for that to happen again since, well, it was your first time. But some headphones manage to sound so euphonic, so beautiful, that it gives you that kind of feeling. One of those headphones is the Xiaomi Piston.

 

     On Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, my all-time favorite album, the Pistons simply blow me away. There isn’t much of a reason behind this; it just sounds so beautiful, that even though I’ve listened to the entire album over 20 times in the past four months, it doesn’t get old. It’s that good.

Rock | Alternative | Indie

4/5

     Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of rock music at first, because I thought it was just loud and rather obnoxious. That was until I watched a DVD of Pink’s concert somewhere. Things changed after that, and rock is now one of my more liked genres.

 

     On Pink’s “Timebomb,” the drums come through with great prominence, clashing with the guitars and bass. It was in this song that I first noticed the recessed mids of the Pistons. Then again, I didn’t think of it as a major issue.  On alternative and indie rock, this issue didn’t reveal itself as the tracks I tested them with were clearer in the midrange. Still, I had a lot of fun listening to the music.

Rap | Hip-Hop

4/5

     I don’t have many great rap tracks to test the IEMs with, however, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist” is more than a decent album for testing. Listening to “Jimmy Iovine,” a song that I love for its rumbling sub-bass, the Pistons deliver that rumbling sub-bass with great extension and rumble. Though the meanings of those lyrics in each of the album’s songs isn’t exactly clear at first, the actual lyrics shine through with exceptional clarity, every time.

Jazz

4/5

     Listening to Ryan Ike’s “The Five-Floor Goodbye” and “’Round Gunpoint,” I’ve almost come to a conclusion with the headphones. Though I haven’t gotten to the acoustic genres quite yet, they handled jazz (a predominantly acoustic genre) with ease. The upright bass sounded beautifully on these jazz tracks.  The saxophone on “’Round Gunpoint” was what really impressed me during the test. They were clear and shone through like a diamond.

Mainstream Pop

4/5

     Mainstream Pop, as I like to call it, refers to Top 40 hits, which should be more than descriptive enough. I don’t really need to re-describe the Pistons’ strengths here, as they perform flawlessly to my ears, every time.

Classic Pop

4.5/5

     Classic Pop, on the other hand, refers to pop back in the day – say, the 70s to 80s. Michael Jackson’s music is a great example. I have to say, I enjoy classic pop music more than those in the mainstream (except for some really great songs) even though I’m a kid born into the 2000s. There are just some discerning qualities that separate classic pop from today’s Top 40, most notably the ever-present Auto-Tune. That, and the instruments back in the day were very…back in the day, so it had an air of nostalgia to it as well.

R&B | Soul

4/5

     R&B, to me, is a very nostalgic genre since I’d listened to a lot of it a decade ago. But over the years, though there have been some R&B albums, they weren’t as good as the ones back in the 90s were. That was until Ariana Grande’s Yours Truly was released. It really took me back to those days where I listened to my dad’s Wharfedale speakers on the weekends.

Acoustic

4/5

     There are a lot of acoustic genres, I have to admit, but I use this term when I refer to music which doesn’t really have a definite genre to it. The majority of songs on the sole Chinese album in my playlist is a good example. The Eagles’ unplugged version of “Hotel California” is also a great example, though it also fits into the Live section. In both albums, the Pistons’ soundstage plays a huge part in the immersion and overall enjoyment. It’s just great.

New Age

4.5/5

     This genre is a little confusing, since a lot of New Age songs are predominantly electronic, and is simply ambient. However, my usage of the term New Age refers to Solo Guitar and Solo Piano. I think I’ve already mentioned just how beautiful the Pistons sound on both genres, so I guess I’ll just leave it at that – it’s amazing.

Acoustic Score

4/5

     I’m a big fan of VGM and OSTs, and I’ve brought up quite a collection, so I thought it’d be cool to separate them into three genres on their own. Acoustic Score evidently refers to score that is predominantly acoustic. The Epic Soundtrack from Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a good example of this genre, as it comprises of a lot of Latin-inspired music. The album conveys a really calm, soothing vibe, which lets you just sit back and enjoy the show.

Electronic Score

5/5

     The FTL Soundtrack is a great example of an electronic score – an ambient, space-age soundtrack with elements of chiptune thrown into the mix. Its echoing synths give a great sense of space, which is beautifully reproduced by the Pistons’ amazing imaging and soundstage.

Orchestral Score

4/5

     Orchestral Scores aren’t really my cup of tea when it comes to just listening to the music, but they make great accompaniments to the media that they’re featured in. However, I would make an exception for the diverse and beautiful music from the Final Fantasy game series, especially the 13th game and Dissidia, which comprises of all sorts of arrangements of many of the popular and iconic songs of the series. It was a lot of fun to listen to, both on and off the game, and I enjoyed it.

Classical

4/5

     I’m not a fan of classical music, though I find myself needing to listen to it for the sake of testing the headphones. For that, I’ve selected Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, recorded by the legendary Dr. Chesky. Every headphone audiophile knows him for his crazy binaural recordings, which give you an extremely realistic listening experience.

 

     In this album, I count the instruments as less than 15, with probably 3 violins on the left, a harpsichord, and the rest comprised of cellos, violas, a flute, and maybe a lute or harp. It’s binaural albums like these which really test the soundstage and imaging limits of headphones, and the Pistons pass to my ears with flying colours. Of course, its soundstage will never be able to match that of open headphones, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless.

Live

4/5

     Finally, we enter live performances. These albums also test the soundstage and imaging capabilities of headphones because of the audience, which more often than not makes you feel like you’re in there. I know for a fact that speakers are capable of this without breaking a sweat with the right placement and positioning, but when it comes to headphones, things become more complicated. But like binaural recordings, the Pistons demonstrate their exceptional imaging ability, which more often than not makes you feel like you’re there at the concert.

Total

63.5/75

(4.2/5)

     Overall, I give the Pistons a solid 4 because of their versatility with pretty much any genre you throw at it. Apparently, you could label it as a jack-of-all-trades, but it isn’t exactly a master of none – it performs really well on electronic genres.

 

 

 

 

Audio: Miscellaneous Tests

     For the third and final audio assessment, we will be focusing on the Xiaomi Pistons’ performance in areas outside of music, such as in movies and games. Also, we will be evaluating their scalability when it comes to amplification and equalization. This section is, well, miscellaneous, but you will find them still useful.

 

 

Gaming

     Note: The games used in this assessment are Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft. The audio is sent to the earphones through HDMI to a Samsung LED monitor’s audio output jack, which doesn’t really have much of a difference compared to my Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 VX card except for a louder output sound.

 

     I personally don’t use IEMs for gaming purposes, mostly since I either use my speakers or my Razer Kraken to do the job. But in retrospect, the Pistons performed well while playing games. Despite most of the action happening in front of me, the Pistons’ imaging abilities were still challenged when I got close to the enemy fort. Though I didn’t get to play high-quality games like Battlefield 4 during the tests, TF2 was still decent, and the sounds were still realistic (as in direction and volume).

 

     On Minecraft, things were a tad worse because the audio tracks were kept at the same volume, so it was a little harder to know how far the enemy is. But then again, positional audio was still accurate, and the Pistons actually handled it well during a multiplayer session with my sister (who also has Pistons).

 

Score: 8/10

 

Movies

     I never watch movies using headphones. It’s mostly because I watch them with my family, and I don’t like watching alone. Also, I just like the feel of a movie theater in my home. But, for this review and your sake, I took to watching the recent episode of Game of Thrones.

 

     Honestly, I wasn’t really impressed with the audio quality, mostly because the amp had a constant hissing which took away some from the experience. But hardware gripes aside, the Pistons were good at most. The really long Game of Thrones intro was fun, though, and it never really gets old.

 

Score: 7/10

 

 

Amplification

     The Xiaomi Pistons, like most IEMs, do not require amplification and can be driven easily out of a smartphone. However, during the amplification test, I noticed that the extra power gave them a tad more of a three-dimensional soundstage, as well as improving the low-end. Aside from that, I hear no glaring differences or improvements in sound signature.

 

Score: 7/10

 

 

Equalization

     As mentioned in the Audio: Preamble section, the equalization tool used is the EQu app, a visual equalizer. It doesn’t have the same power or effectiveness as a parametric equalizer, yet still gets the job done. Although the Pistons sound perfectly fine without any EQ, they were pretty EQ friendly and improved with a treble boost (EQ preset on iOS).

 

Score: 8/10

 

 

 

Comparison

     No review would be complete without something to compare the headphones to, right? Wrong. No, I’m just kidding – comparisons are probably the best way to rank the headphones and secure their place in the many hundreds if not thousands of headphones and IEMs. And the Xiaomi Pistons are no less.

 

     These budget IEMs hold their ground against all sorts of headphones far above its price range. In fact, they even sound better than that of the new Beats Studio, priced at 300 dollars, which is more than 10 times the price of the Pistons. They could take on more than just Beats, however – I find that they stand their ground against popular audiophile headphones such as the Monster DNA, the B&W P7, and the Sony MA900. Of course, nowadays there are a lot of headphones that do the same thing the Pistons do and more, but these Chinese-made IEMs are still in a league of their own: the league of Chinese-made IEMs.

 

 

Conclusion

     The Xiaomi Pistons are, without a doubt, IEMs with an inhuman price-to-performance ratio. Long before the advent of the Pistons hype train, many people have agreed that there are a lot of Chinese manufacturers with superb quality and a rock-bottom price – something that many headphones in the West fail to achieve. The Pistons have a very fun and lively signature which works with basically any genre you throw at it, although it has an affinity with electronic music in particular.

 

Score Tally

     Below is a list of the final scores, filled out in yet another beautiful graph. I just can’t get enough of these spreadsheets and tables. But don’t worry; this should be the last one…

                              

Category:  

Sub-categories

Score:

Final Score:

Aesthetics

Appearance | Design | Accessories | Build | Fit | Comfort | Isolation | Microphonics | Microphone

74.5/90

8.3/10

Audio: Sound Quality

Bass | Mids | Treble | Soundstage | Imaging

89/100

8.9/10

Audio: Genre Mastery

Dubstep, D&B | Electronica, Disco | Rock, Alternative, Indie | Rap, Hip-Hop | Jazz | Mainstream Pop | Classic Pop | R&B, Soul | Acoustic | New Age | Acoustic Score | Electronic Score | Orchestral Score | Classical | Live

63.5/75

8.4/10

Audio: Miscellaneous Tests

Gaming | Movies | Amplification | Equalization

30/40

7.5/10

Grand Total:       

 

82.8/100

8.3/10

 

 

Shout-Outs

     First of all, I would like to thank my sister again for putting up with all the IEM photo session delays and for lending me her pair of Pistons for review. She’s a really talented photographer, and she’s got raw skill inside of her, even behind a simple Canon Ixus digicam.

 

     I would also like to thank bhazard because without him, I probably wouldn’t have known about the Pistons, and therefore would never have been able to write this review. His extensive knowledge of Chinese-branded headphones and IEMs has opened my eyes to the many hundreds of awesome pairs that were so close to home.

 

     Finally, I would also like to thank all of the awesome guys at the Discovery Thread, Chinese Brand Thread, and the Audiophile Bass Lounge (the three groups the Pistons manage to fall into). You guys are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and this is over the Internet, so that makes you guys all the more cool. Thank you for your support and guidance in my now year-long headphone journey. Of course, I ain’t stopping here – there are far too many headphones left to try out in the world, I wouldn’t want to miss any of them!

 

 

Gallery

     The rest of this section is dedicated to pictures taken by my lovely and very talented younger sister. I really hope you enjoy this new round of pictures, which takes her pair of the iF Edition Pistons into the spotlight. Of course, for comparison, you should also check out the images of the 2.0 version of the Pistons here (link will be added soon).

 

Posted

Pros: Sound Quality, Build Quality, Android Compatibility, Chocolate Smell

Full review:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/717620/review-xiaomi-piston-2-re-defining-budget-fi

 

 

 

Specs:

Weight: 12g

Impedance: 12Ω-16Ω (depending on the version, 2.0 vs 2.1)

Cable length: 1.2m

Sensitivity: 93db

Plug Type: 3.5mm  gold-plate

Rated Power: 5-20mW

Frequency Range: 20-20000Hz

 

I've got my pair from Xiaomiworld, and it's an original one. It seems mine is the 2.0 version, but it was shipped by the end of January, so the ones sold now should be the seemingly newer 2.1 version. They also carry the newer IF version. Anyway, this seller carries the real one, so no need to worry about fake pairs. Their service and communication is pretty good too.

Here're the links:

http://www.xiaomiworld.com/original-xiaomi-piston-earphone-updated-version-brown.html

And for IF version:

http://www.xiaomiworld.com/original-xiaomi-piston-earphone-if-commemorative-edition.html

 

 

Sound:

Sound signature maybe not be far from a consumer-friendly V-shaped one. But as for sound quality, that's another story.

Before getting to describe the sound characteristics, let me just say that this Piston new model doesn't sound as what'd be expected from a $20-30 earphone at all. It simply competes with the best earphones I've listened to in the $50-70 price bracket.

 

The Piston 2.0 presents a typical customer friendly V-shaped response. Extension is quite good on both ends, giving a pretty wide soundstage and sense of space. The low end is quite prominent and rather dominant over the rest of the frequencies, and (fortunately) while it may not be considered as a heavy-bassy earphone, it should be enough for the bass listeners. Despite the strong nature, both sub and mid-bass are very detailed and well controlled, with a noticeable added mid-bass hump for some extra 'fun' factor.

Similarly, the top end is very present without any annoying peaks, and rather linear on its whole, but not overly smoothed or even rolled-off. While the treble won't have the same authority as the bass, it won't lack in sparkle and crispiness.

As for the midrange, here's where I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the mids are really well detailed and airy, and pretty much clean from unnecessarily extra bass bleed. Separation is also quite amazing both in the instruments and vocal dept. In fact, the vocal separation is really surprising, not only for a V-shaped $20-30 phone, but even beats mid-centered IEMs when it to comes to separation.

On the other hand, as impressive as the midrange is, it isn't safe from the common V-shaped effects. While it's not lost in the presentation, it does feel rather cold and distant, and sometimes slightly veiled. Vocals lack texture and sweetness, too. That said, some extra EQ can help in this regard, but still may not fit for the mids lovers.

Yet, the overall detail is much more than what would be expected from this price and matches some of the best sounding in-ears I've owned within the $50-80 bracket.

 

Perhaps I'd rank the Piston 2 around the Vsonic VSD1-S level (even though the signatures are quite the opposite of each other) and a bit better than the RHA MA350 in detail and smoothness (but personally could prefer the RHA midrange richness over the Xiaomi's).

The Moe SS01, for example, are better in most aspects, but the Piston aren't too far from them.

Posted

Pros: 99rmb in China (thats only $17 dollars!). Superb soundstage, strong bass, mids and treble. Great mic, nice design and packaging.

Cons: None yet after 3 weeks

I live in China and have built up a collection of mostly local brand headphones:  Astrotec AM90 and AM800, Soundmagic E10, Ecci PR200, Dunu Hades, several different DIY Yuins and (Korean manufactured) Feels Pro 900.   I ordered the Xiaomi earphones recently without much expectations - the brand is well established in China and the phones are pretty good but they have no previous hifi experience that I am aware of.  After a couple of weeks of using them I can honestly say that they are the best of all the pairs I use - I previous leaned towards the AM800 or the Feels Pro900 but I prefer the Xiaomi's sound to any other options (with the possible exception of the Yuins in a quiet environment!).  They have a really wide soundstage, punchy bass but really good separation across the board. As you can tell from my favourite earphones I'm not a big bass guy but love how these sound bassy but balanced) . As a bonus I've also found the mic really clear and the controls simple to use.  If you can pick up a pair for $20 or so I highly recommend giving them a try. 

 

I've been using this site for a couple of years but never felt the need to write anything before, there has always better written and more expert reviews available. Actually thatbeatsguy wrote a great reveiw of the Xiaomis which inspired mine. Hopefully this will inspire more and better review the Xiaomis :)

Posted

Pros: The Smell (Chocolate) - The Design (Gorgeous) - The Sound (Breathtaking) - The Materials (Beryllium Is As Cool As It Sounds) - The Box (Simplicity)

Cons: Insignificant In Comparison = The Volume Controls (Do Not Yet Support iPhone And Are Located Too Low) - The Cord (A Tad Too Short And Not As Stylish)

The first thing you are going to notice about your Pistons, is that these babies are absolutely gorgeous. I'm not talking about that these headphones simply look nice (although they do) - they are, without a doubt, the most beautiful headphones I have ever had the distinct pleasure to rest my eyes upon (regardless of price group). This extends far beyond the actual headphones themselves - the box is a design-marvel all on its own. Crafted out of a single sheet of thin cardboard, this - surprisingly small - box is equipped with all the instructions you could possibly crave for your new Xiaomi Pistons, and - more importantly - they also include the exquisite box that will - hopefully - contain your Pistons. Under a clear plastic lid - that could easily pass for glass - your pistons will be lying, embedded in a simple silicone mold. The industrial, and at the same time stylish design will jump at you, and once you unwind the cord - through an ingenious method - the sheer feel of the brisk golden beryllium in your hand will flabbergast you.

However, all of these pleasant aspects fade away once you put the headphones in your ears, in sheer awe. I have had a troublesome history with in-ear headphones, but these do the trick really well, especially if I use the smallest ear-size included (which, together with a large size and one for conversations, are neatly tucked away beneath the silicone mold). I'm not going to try to describe the actual audio, any more than this - it is simply amazing. I was completely unaware of that in-ear headphones existed that had the capacity to produce this sort of audio. My switch to using the Pistons was both an easy and rewarding experience. I started picking up subtle new melodies that had never been there before in songs, and even set to "extreme" streaming quality, Spotify had trouble keeping up with the Pistons. What was a more disappointing experience was switching to a pair of Apple's EarPods (actually quite decent stock headphones). The EarPods have always managed very well in my opinion, and although they still produced an adequate audio-experience, they were complete devoid of any feeling. I would compare the experience to drinking your tea without any sugar - then suddenly switch to taking two sugars, and then switch back after a week. It goes without saying that my EarPods have been forced into early retirement following this disappointing episode.

The Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 are, however, not entirely without flaws. Even so, almost all of my complaints are nonetheless related to the cord. Although the play/pause button, housed in the cylindrical volume control hub, works very well with my iPhone (and all other commands for that button as well, like activating Siri/replay track/skip track), the actual volume controls themselves do not work. I'm hoping against hope that this will be fixed by Apple in an OTA update, but I recognise that this is unlikely. While on the subject of the volume control hub, it is not situated on the cord protruding out of the right headphone - it is instead positioned directly below where the two cords intersect and merge into a single one. This is not ergonomically ideal, and it allows for a number of awkward positions when you are trying to pause. Also, the cord is just a bit too short, about five centimeters shy of that ideal length that lets me wrap it around my iPhone when walking. Instead, now a few centimeters poke out of my pocket whenever I'm listening to my Pistons, and if I wrap the cord halfway around my iPhone, then I'm faced with having too short a cord. The cord is also probably the least flattering part of the headphones - composed of a brown mishmash of - tangle-free - nylon-strings (that actually work surprisingly well), it is not quite up to the same level of unchallenged design-supremacy that the rest of the headphones are. Also, the elegant gold-plated 3.5 mm plug is making me regret that I bought the SpaceGrey iPhone 5S, instead of the Gold iPhone 5S (which it compliments vary nicely, looking like the coolest stock headphones you have ever seen). Don't let this fool you, however. The Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 are almost unfeasibly good, and their drawbacks are nowhere near their pro.

I haven't talked about the price of these headphones, simply because it has nothing to do with the Pistons. I would easily buy these Pistons if they cost $50, and I would just as easily order a pair if they were sold for $100. These headphones are a bargain for anything less than three digits, and I cannot honestly understand why Xiaomi would sell them for as little as $25 (!). My advice to you is the - "Go. Buy. One. Now.", before Xiaomi bumps up the price. I think they are fairly comfortable, or, as comfortable as in-ear headphones get. Also, a nifty and unique attribute the Pistons have is their enticing scent. The smell is reminiscent of chocolate, with a hint of vanilla and just the tiniest bit of coconut. Take my word for it - the aroma is very appealing. So, in conclusion - the Xiaomi Pistons are incredible headphones, regardless of price. However, when you add all of the details, like the aggressive pricing, the beautiful design and the crisp, clear and vivid audio, together with the sturdy premium packaging and box, as well as the headphones being manufactured out of luxurious materials like beryllium (an elusive material that is extracted from precious gems and jewels, and which is actually harder to find than gold) - then the headphones really have no match, anywhere in the world.


A Box Fit For A Minimalistic King
The Xiaomi Pistons are delivered inside an almost unfathomably small box. The thin, rigid cardboard is of surprisingly high quality, and the clean exterior of the box has really grown on me since I saw it for the first time.

Xiaomi claims that the 15° chamfered edge on the back of the actual earphones improves ergonomics, and I can only agree. The circular, by Xiaomi patented, “CD-pattern” is a reoccurring theme on the headphones, and creates a nice “vibrating sensation” when you run your fingers across it.

All In Took Was Someone Thinking Inside The Box
The Xiaomi Pistons are delivered entirely without a manual. However, don’t be frightened by the Chinese letters that litter the box - all the instructions your could possibly need (and then some) are printed as large, educative images - on the inside of the firm cardboard -, that provide very little room for misinterpretation.

The instructions do everything from detailing which earphone is the right and left one, to explaining exactly how the Pistons can be winded up in the slick “silicone winder” included.

Style Is Timeless - So Are The MK301 Pistons
The Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 (MK301) are, without a doubt, truly beautiful headphones. From the cool industrial design - that incorporates a reoccurring pattern of precise grooves in the solid beryllium enclosure -, to the soft silicone earphone tips - these headphones have got it all.

Although the volume controls don't seem to be compatible with iPhones, they work fine together with Android phones. More importantly, however - the microphone works fine with all phones, and captures a very clear, crisp and realistic voice transmission.

A Mold With A Secret
The Xiaomi Pistons are securely fastened inside a silicone mold, which in turn is domed by a clear and elegant plastic lid. The mold is a great way to transport your Pistons in style. It also features a “secret compartment” underneath, where all the different sized stock earphone tops are stored.

Xiaomi claims that the silicone used both for the “winder” (the mold) and for the tips are akin to the softness of baby skin. The entire plastic box that contains the silicon mold is also, according to Xiaomi, modelled on “jewellery grade gift boxes”. The cord, which I still believe is made out of nylon, is by Xiaomi said to consist of kevlar.

The Best Is Saved For Last
The Xiaomi Pistons are remarkable headphones. You can only really appreciate their awesomeness by listening to them, but I have managed to decipher some information from Xiaomi’s Chinese website.

Xiaomi utilised new beryllium drivers in their MK301 Pistons, something which they claimed improved the bass-performance of the headphones, and improved the overall sound. Also, the cavity resonance was dramatically reduced which increased the audio-spectrum, boosting the performance of the headphones even further. The headphones also employ a dual dampening system, to provide a more balanced sound, along with sound chambers precision machined by diamond tools.

Posted

Pros: Everything; design, sound, box, tangle free cord, smells like chocolate.

Cons: If something; the comfort. Probably due to my tiny experience with in-ear.

Okay, a great review from thatbeatsguy convinced me to buy these headphones, and I don't regret that I did. I received them earlier today and been playing different kind of music since. 

This is going to be a short review, just to confirm that the earlier reviews are absolutely correct. The headphones are amazing. The sound is extremely clean and crisp, you are easily able to distinguish the different instruments and vocals. The bas is great and the sound level is pleasing. A big plus is the chocolate, or coco, smell on the headphones. Don't know why or how, but it smells good! The box is packed by a design company, which has resulted in a good looking, simple box. The cord is tangle free and it works to play and pause on the control. Unfortunately iPhone users, like myself, can't change the volume on it. I'm not used to in-ear phones, so I don't think they are too comfortable. But hey, so is every other in-ear phone for me. Don't blame the headphones. 

 

The sum it up:

They are the best budget headphones, or even normal in-ear phones, I've ever tried. (I haven't tried so many, but still). The sound quality is amazing, the price is even more amazing. If you are able to; BUY THEM!!

 

And yeah, this might sound a bit one-sided, but I'm not kidding, the headphones are amazing. 

 

Thanks.   

Posted

Pros: Soundstage, bass, nice treble, price, weight, flexibility of tips

Cons: Box contents, build quality, bass quantity (before burnin)

Pretty good for its price. Can be considered as a startup or backup iem if all fails.

Posted

Pros: Nice looking design

Cons: Very uncomfortable, Weak Sound

I purchased these after seeing the price and good reviews. I got the updated version (so called 2.1)

 

These headphones do not sound nearly as good as claimed. The bass is decent but the highs are too high and the mids seem to be lacking. Overall the sound is weak.

 

The design looks nice and the quality and finish is good but the sharp edges of the body dig into my ears. The earphones become unwearable after 20-30 mins.

Posted

Pros: Clear and fun sound, big soundstage

Cons: The buttons are inconvinient, needs replacement tips, may require a CTIA to OMTP adapter, sounds too bassy without modding.

I have the real version 2.0, not 2.1 (with the clip).

 

Build/Design:

I didn't like the provided tips, used the small Sennheiser tips: http://www.ebay.com/itm/110976313070 - much better.

 

When I plug the Pistons into Audio-GD NFB-11.32, they sound horrible, unless I pull them back a little.

I resolved this issue by using a CTIA to OMTP adapter that came with Philips SHE3590, which is weird, since none of other headphones need it.

This doesn't happen with FIIO E12.

 

I hate the buttons placement on the remote - keep pressing wrong buttons.

 

SQ:

Initially, the Pistons were too bassy, even after a long burn-in period.

I have modded them, removing the screen protector and the foam inside. To keep the drivers protected, I have used a small thin napkin:

 

 

The bass cleaned up, and mids and treble stepped forward from behind a curtain.

Now these sound like a baby RE-262.

Recommended for "audiophile bass-heads".

Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 MK301
By:
Description:

The latest earphone to be released by Xiaomi, the MK301 is a 'total upgrade' to its predecessor, the H01. Armed with best-in-class beryllium diaphragms, the Pistons were designed to provide pure listening enjoyment, only with a price of 99 CNY.

Details:
DetailValue
Cord TypeKevlar, Silicone
MicrophoneYes
Cord Length1.1m (~4ft)
Noise CancellingNo
Driver TypeBeryllium alloy
Impedance12Ω ~ 16Ω
Sound Pressure Level93dB
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphones › In-Ear › Universal Fit › Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 MK301