ViSang, one of the daughter companies of Chinese earphone OEM VSonic, has already released one budget-oriented in-ear earphone this year, the R03. In my review, I concluded that the R03 is a very capable performer in the sub-$100 category. Now, however, ViSang has launched the R02, an even cheaper variant. Falling within the <$50 price bracket, the R02 sources elements from both the big-brother R03 and older VSonic IEMs. My love for low-budget IEMs caused me to pick up a set early on and put it through its paces. My conclusions? With an unambiguous resemblance to the superb R03 in sound and boasting a significantly lighter price tag, the R02 may just be the ticket for everyone confined to spending less than $50 on a set of quality in-ears.
Edit: 11/01/10: For clarification here is a table of the ViSang/Brainwavz earphones to clear up any confusion that the nomenclature causes:
ViSang Earphones and their Brainwavz equivalents
|ViSang R04 ($100)||Brainwavz M3 ($90)|
|ViSang R03 ($65)||Brainwavz M2 ($60)|
|N/A||Brainwavz M1 ($40)|
|ViSang R02 ($45)||Brainwavz ProAlpha ($40)|
|ViSang R01 ($35)||N/A|
|N/A||Brainwavz Alpha ($15)|
Packaging & Accessories:
Like the pricier R03, the ViSang R02 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) single-flange silicone tips
-1 set double-flange silicone tips
-1 set foam tips
-Hard clamshell carrying case
-Manual and warranty card
Appearance & Build Quality
The R02 utilizes the all too familiar OEM VSonic housings shared by past greats such as the Cyclone PR1 Pro and VSonic R02ProII, as well as some less popular offerings (Grado iGi, Skullcandy Smokin’, Lear Le01/Le01+, and more). The rubber strain reliefs are functional and much shorter than those used on the Grado iGi and R02ProII, resulting in earphones that easy to wear cord-up or cord-down. The Cu-Ag alloy cable and 3.5mm straight plug are identical to those used on the R03. The cord is sturdy, fairly flexible, and very low on microphonics but possesses some long-term memory character, leading to a tendency to kink if held in a particular shape for a long time. The lack of a cable cinch is slightly annoying but a standard shirt clip is included.
Fit & Comfort
ViSang R03 on left, R02 on right
Despite the metal nozzles, the R02 housings are light and easy to wear for prolonged periods. The tapered shape gives them an unobtrusive fit and the short strain reliefs mean they can easily be worn cord-up or cord-down. Like the R03, the R02 work best with a relatively shallow fit, which is easy to achieve with any of the included single- or bi-flange tips. The earphones are also easy to insert/remove by gripping the rubber bits on rear of the shells. Though L/R markings are present on the housings, the earphones are actually asymmetric and can be differentiated by feel after a bit of practice.
Isolation & Microphonics
Like all of their similarly-clad brethren, the R02 are ported on the side of the housings for increased air flow. They are a little more susceptible to wind noise than the R03 but the isolation they provide is quite similar – perfectly reasonable for my daily commute but probably not ideal for airplane use.
The cable carries little noise and the included shirt clip helps further. However, wearing them over-the-ear while moving about is still recommended. Though no cable guides are included, the wire will actually conform to being draped over one’s ears after a few weeks of use.
-Type: Dynamic Driver
-Driver Diameter: 10.7mm
-Sensitivity: 112dB @ 1mW
-Frequency Range: 20~20,000Hz
-Distortion: <= 1% @ 94dB
-Channel Balance <= 2dB
-Rated Input Power: 10mW
-Maximum Input Power: 40mW
-Plug: 3.5mm, straight, gold-plated
-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.
When I first got my hands on the ViSang R02, my R03 was out on loan and not available for a direct comparison. Listening to the R02 for the first time I had to keep checking to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake and mailed out the wrong earphone. Indeed, direct comparisons aside, the two sound exactly alike. Like the R03, the R02 boast a full-bodied and weighty low end with an emphasis on mid- and upper bass. The low end response is very smooth and calm, completely unobtrusive until called for. The tonal balance is slightly dark, with a warmed-up midrange and treble almost completely devoid of sparkle.
As with the R03, the midrange of the R02 is right where it needs to be, clean and clear and with no lack of emphasis. Detail is very good for the price though the R02 is certainly no RE0, especially in the treble. Soundstage width is quite good and seems to be one of the areas in which the R02 has the R03 beat slightly. Depth is similarly average, though instruments are very well-separated and imaged.
The midrange transitions effortlessly into the treble, becoming a bit more laid-back along the way. Treble smoothness is very impressive and extension is perfectly tolerable, though not class leading. The treble is never fatiguing – harshness and sibilance are terms the R02 is not familiar with. Overall, the treble of both ViSang earphones takes a backseat to the bass and mids, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them recessed at the top. Like the R03, the R02 also surprise with their speed, which is very close to the much more expensive and very fast Monster Turbines, and natural timbre, which really puts a lot of the other sub-$50 earphones to shame.
Also like the R03, the R02 do not require an amp. However, running them through a 68-ohm impedance adapter and a mini3 evens out the sound signature somewhat, bringing forward the mids and treble and making fine detail easier to pick out.
So, what differentiates the pricier R03 from the R02? Well, A:Bing the two for several hours reveals a few small differences, most likely the effects of different acoustic properties of their respective housings. The R03 sounds a little bit thicker and more ‘concentrated’ in tone. The R02 sounds a bit more diffuse in comparison, with slightly less immediate bass punch (closer to ‘boomy’ than the R03 is, if that makes any sense) and more ethereal positioning. Indeed, the R03 does seem to place instruments with slightly more precision than the R02 but again the differences are extremely minute. I am sure there are head-fiers out there who would be able to tell the two apart without a direct comparison but I am not among them and the average consumer probably isn’t either.
Undoubtedly, the ViSang R02 is another high bang/buck contender for the best sub-$50 IEM title. What’s more of a question is whether ViSang undercut their own higher-end R03 model by releasing the R02 at a significantly lower price point. Honestly, I would say yes. There are sonic differences between the two but they are almost minimal enough to neglect. What it comes down to is the generic housings used on the R02 versus the excellent metal shells of the R03. The R02 housings are slightly larger in volume and look a bit bigger in the ear. However, as the few Cyclone PR1 Pro and VSonic R02ProII owners will attest, these shells are very easy to get used to. There are other small differences – such as the R02 being slightly susceptible to wind noise – but for most users I would expect the R02 to be the better deal. For me, it is one of the top three sub-$100 price/performance powerhouses, trailing the venerable Cyclone PR1 Pro and Head-Direct RE0. Naturally, personal preferences play a large role, but if you are looking for some of the best overall sound available for less than $50, the R02 deserve to be near the top of the list.
Edited by ljokerl - 11/1/10 at 12:25pm