Despite having a sponsor forum here on head-fi, VSonic is not a name that is mentioned often around here. Since the days of their last model, the R02ProII, the company has split in two and become a major OEM for many brands, including some names that should be very familiar to those who frequent the portable forum. But one of the daughter companies, ViSang, has now released a new model under their own brand name, the ViSang R03. The R03 has been on sale in Asia for several months but is only now making its worldwide debut. With VSonic’s massive experience in all aspects of earphone design behind it and retail prices well under $100, the ViSang R03 is an extremely venerable competitor and showcases exactly how far Chinese OEMs have come in the last few years.
Packaging & Accessories:
The R03 comes in a handsome black cardboard box with a slide-out foam insert. Simple and to the point, the packaging is similar to that of Music Valley and Lear earphones. Inside the box you will find:
-3 sets (S/M/L) silicone tips
-1 set foam tips
-Clamshell carrying hardcase
-Manual and warranty card
Appearance & Build Quality
The build of the earphones is extremely impressive - cables are some of the best I've seen on a sub-$100 earphone - sturdy-feeling, fairly flexible, very low on microphonics. Though flexible, the cords have some long-term memory character, which is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, there is now a permanent kink in my cable where I loop it over my ear, which means cable guides are not at all necessary. On the other hand, those who have a tendency to leave their IEM cord coiled up without use for 2-3 weeks at a time like I do may have a hard time uncoiling this one afterwards (had to hang it off the back of my chair to get rid of the loops). The lack of a cable cinch is slightly annoying but it's not a big deal with these cables.
The aluminum housings are sturdy as well, with the black plastic trim serving a purely decorative purpose. The nozzles are outfitted with metal mesh filters and the housings feature long and flexible strain reliefs. One area that bothers me a bit is the left/right markings etched on the rear of the housings, which are extremely hard to see under sunlight. However, there is a small bump on the left-side strain relief that can be used to tell the earpieces apart by touch.
Fit & Comfort
The R03 is a very inoffensive earphone in terms of fit. The housings are light but wearing them over-the-ear can initially be tricky because of the long strain reliefs and resistive cable. The sizable driver bulge on the housing prevents particularly deep insertion unless the stock tips are replaced with longer ones. But the R03 sounds best with a relatively shallow seal anyway, so the only potential loss is in isolation.
Isolation & Microphonics
The isolation of the ViSang R03 is typical of a ported dynamic-driver earphone - similar to IEMs such as the Maximo iM-590 and VSonic’s aging R02ProII. With the stock silicone tips they will attenuate plenty for me to enjoy music on my daily public transport commute but they won’t mach an Etymotic earphone or my ATH-CK10.
Microphonics are fairly low in the cable. Wearing the earphones cord-down while walking is fine but I would avoid it when moving about vigorously. Wearing them over-the-ear is possible and a shirt clip is included. I wish there was a cable cinch but the lack of one is more of a pet peeve than a real complaint.
-Type: Dynamic Driver
-Driver Diameter: 10.7mm
-Sensitivity: 115dB @ 1mW
-Frequency Range: 20~20,000Hz
-Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 94dB
-Channel Balance <= 2dB
-Rated Input Power: 10mW
-Maximum Input Power: 40mW
-Plug: 3.5mm, straight, gold-plated (note: plug may be angled in latest version)
-Cord length: 1.3 meters, y-type
All on-the-go listening was done straight from an unamped Sansa Fuze using a selection of tracks in 192-320kbps mp3 format featuring a variety of genres including different subgenres of Rock & Metal, Pop, Acoustic, Blues, Jazz, and Electronica. Benefits of a portable amp are deduced from running the earphones through a 5x gain mini3 connected to the Fuze via a vampire-wire LOD. All critical listening was done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 with stock opamps using a significantly wider selection of tracks in FLAC and Windows Media lossless formats.
Unlike many of the earphones I get my hands on, my impressions of the R03 were extremely positive right out of the box. Two things are immediately striking about their signature. The first is the clarity, which is on par with heavyweights like the Cyclone PR1 Pro, Phonak PFE, and Panasonic HJE900. The second is the bass weight. While I wouldn’t call the ViSangs bass-heavy, they certainly boast added low-end emphasis. That said, I really like the balance of these. Despite the boost, the bass is very smooth and calm. It stays completely out of the way when uncalled for and really steps up in bass-heavy tracks. The bass also has a softness and delicacy to it that is rather rare and reminds me of my Monster Turbine Pro Gold as opposed to the hard-hitting low end of earphones such as the Klipsch S4 and Panasonic HJE900. The overall tonality of the R03 leans slightly towards darkness as a result of the low-end skew but neither the midrange nor the treble suffer as a result.
The mids are beautifully positioned, front and center right where they should be, except when drums step out of line and too far forward on rare occasions. This is a positioning issue rather than a balance issue and is rarely distracting. Soundstage depth is indeed one of the few areas in which the R03 could stand improvement before it takes down some of the big players in the mid-range segment. Soundstage width is about average, around the level of the RE0, and imaging is rather good for what they cost, though they can’t quite keep up with the hologram-esque spacing of the Soundmagic PL50 and HJE900. Going back to the midrange, clarity is superb, as previously mentioned, and detail is equally impressive across the range but especially in the mids and treble.
The treble is smooth and moderately extended. It is not the focus of the presentation but instead a compliment. It is neither harsh nor bright nor sibilant. Just completely inoffensive to my ears, which makes the R03 an especially well-rounded earphone. Now, up to this point the sound of the R03 has reminded me most of a properly EQ’d Music Valley SP1, which are in my opinion hugely underrated budget earphones, usability issues aside. But the R03 also have traits that the SP1 and many others lack. They are quite fast, at least on-par with the original Monster Turbines. They are also surprisingly transparent. And lastly, they have a very natural timbre, which is something a lot of budget IEMs struggle with. But the R03 presents instruments from woodwinds to brass to electric guitars in a very dynamic and natural way and is a joy to listen to.
As a final note, though the R03 themselves do not require an amp, I did run them through a 68-ohm impedance adapter and a mini3. Together the two have effect of evening the R03 out, bringing forward the mids and treble and raising bass levels just a bit without sacrificing precision and control. Drums are less likely to misbehave with the added adapter and fine detail becomes even easier to catch.
The ViSang R03 is an incredible performer - a wholesome combination of build quality, comfort, and sound at a price well south of $100. In terms of coherency of sound signature they are up there with the best sub-$100 earphones I have heard. The combination of impactful bass, clear mids, and crisp treble give the R03 a very agreeable sound. Unlike my other two favorite Chinese budget earphones, the Soundmagic PL50 and the Cyclone PR1 Pro, both close competitors to the R03 in bang/buck, the ViSangs can be enjoyed by both the audiophile and the casual listener in equal measure. And that fact alone makes them highly recommended earphones with a sound signature geared slightly towards the mainstream market compared to much of the gear talked about on head-fi. Do I personally still prefer a more analytical sound? Yes. But that does not prevent me from enjoying the R03 in the least. They are not perfect, but they are unreasonably good for what they cost. I think these may become the next big budget thing in the land of portable audio.
Edited by ljokerl - 4/4/12 at 10:03pm