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Superlux HD381 Series - Mini Review & Comparisons

post #1 of 116
Thread Starter 

I've posted this mini review in other forums, but since there is not many info about Superlux HD381 here, maybe this mini review can be usefull for the forum members here.

FYI, I'm not Superlux dealer, distributor, or their company representative, and have no relation with them.  This is just purely my personal review and opinions.  The pictures here are all taken by me, not from Superlux website, therefore I put my nickname there for copyright.



Superlux, maybe better known for their microphones, also has headphones & IEMs in their product line. Superlux HD381 is their IEM model that comes in 3 different sound profiles:
HD381 (black color): Rich bass and powerful low end.
HD381F (white color): Flat frequency response.
HD381B (grey color): Crystal clear sound.






Graphics of frequency response showing the difference between those 3 profiles are available on their website:


Type:Dynamic, In-ear
Frequency Response:20 to 20,000Hz
Driver:Φ13.5mm, neodymium
Rated Impedance:16Ω @ 1KHZ, copper-coated aluminum wire
Sensitivity:103dB SPL, 1mW
Total Harmonic Distortion:˂0.25% at 1KHz/1V
Maximum Power:50mW
Cable:0.6 m (8.2 ft) 'Y' cable + 0.65 m extension
Connectors:Φ3.5mm adaptor, gold-plated connections
Net Weight:12g (9.75 oz)






The HD381 series is a semi-open IEM, so isolation is not as good as normal fully sealed IEM. Using them for the first time, people might have the feeling that they don't get the fit, because of the poor isolation, but it is actually normal since the noise isolation is somewhere in between earbuds and IEM. Not ideal for noisy environment, and those who need good noise isolation. But maybe perfect for those who requires to hear some outside sound, such as announcements, etc.




The HD381 series semi-open design may also contributes in it's imaging, the imaging is wider than normal IEM, sounds more relaxing, not so 'in your head', compared to common IEM. Like what we hear on fullsize headphones, the semi-open design usually has more 'out of your head' imaging than the closed design.


HD381 sensitivity is lower than average IEMs, I usually set iPod volume about 10% - 15% higher than other IEMs to get normal listening level.


I use iPod 6th Gen, 80 GB for comparing the IEMs in this review. Sometime with desktop PC with Foobar2000 v1.0.3 + Focusrite Saffire LE Firewire Audio Interface, for playing 24 bit audio tracks.


Some of the music used for this review:, all 24 bit, either 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz, on PC. Down sampled to 16 bit 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz for iPod:


Album: The Super Audio Collection Volume 4
Record Label: Linn Records


Album: Open Your Ear
Record Label: Head-Fi and HDtracks (David Chesky)


Album: Sara K. - No Cover
Record Label: Chesky Records


Album: The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings
Record Label: Chesky Records


Album: Ultimate Demonstration Disc (From CD)
Record label: Chesky Records

HD381 (black), the bassy type, has big bassy sound, but the mid and high are still in pretty good balance. I have some other bassy IEMs, that cost more, they usually tend to have very recessed high, with poor clarity. But HD381 high is not much recessed, the clarity is still quite reasonable for bassy type IEM. Although I prefer the HD381F, the flat type, basshead maybe prefer HD381.


HD381F (white) is my favorite among the 3. Very good tonal balance from bass to treble, I didn't spot any unnatural rise or fall across the spectrum, it just sounds natural. Good amount of bass precisely what I like, well controlled and no boomy bass at all. Natural midrange that is suitable for I can say any genres of music and vocal. The midrange doesn't sound dry, just natural, and a bit warm, just nice. The high is also natural, with enough sparkling.


HD381B (grey) has a very sparkling high and bright mids, but not excessively bright. While bass amount is less from HD381F, the bass is still nice, extended very well to very low bass. The mids and high are more dominant than the bass, but the bass harmonic is still very much present & rich. The HD381B sound has good sense of space and atmosphere. Tuned for mids and highs clarity, HD381B is my next choice after HD381F.


As for imaging, overall, HD381 series have good imaging, slightly wider, less 'in your head' kind of imaging, than other fully sealed IEMs. Pretty good instruments separation and sense of space (especially HD381F and HD381B), although not as good as full size headphones. Detail and clarity is very good, especially considering this is a normal dynamic driver, not balance armature, on my ears, details can be as good as those IEM with BA drivers.


All the three use the same driver, therefore they share similar sounds signature, just tuned for a different tonal balance.

Next is comparison with other well known IEMs. I did this comparison for about a month or more. I usually take 2 or 3 models daily, and use them. I found that most of them sound good, but they are different in sound signature & tonal balance. To help me to find which sounds more natural, for some music tracks I compare them with full size headphones, ATH-M50 and Shure SRH840. Also sometime with Sennheiser HD25-1 II. For the comparisons, I only compare the HD381F, as it is my favorite among the 3.


HD381F Compared to:




Westone UM3X
Westone UM3X mids and high is warm and very appealing, I doubt anyone will dislike UM3X mids and high, it is so 'likeable'. UM3X sounds big and warm, with very polite presentation, I like it. But UM3X bass is not perfect, the low bass is a bit boomy, and the mid bass is weak, I cannot get proper mid bass impact. Those hard hitting bass, and explosion sound, sounds big, but weak, not enough impact. FYI, I use Westone 3 grey silicon tip for UM3X, the white silicon didn't give me a good fit, the bass is worst with the translucent white silicon tip.


Overall tonal balance, HD381F is better than UM3X. UM3X sounds warmer, with better treble.  I think people will like UM3X mid and high more than HD381F, I also like UM3X mid and high very much, maybe the most musical mid and high amongst the IEMs tested here. But when playing saxophone, HD381F sounds more realistic than UM3X, I can feel the aggressiveness of the saxophone sound (Chesky Records - The Ultimate Demonstration Disc, track 15, McCoy Tyner/Joe Henderson -Ask Me Now). But in general, UM3X mid and high is nicer than HD381F.  For bass, HD381F has a more proper bass than UM3X. UM3X has better comfort and isolation, and I really like the twisted pair Westone cable :)


Westone 3
Westone 3 is not warm like UM3X, it is rather sounds cold, and a bit harsh in the high. I can easily hear sibilance with Westone 3. The tonal balance curve doesn't sound flat, rather like V shape or smiley shape, boosted in the bass and treble regions. The mids is not recessed, but rather muddy, maybe caused by the boosted bass. The bass is a bit boomy. Overall I prefer UM3X over Westone 3. I found the Westone 3 imaging is very 'in your head' kind of imaging, quite narrow. Westone 3 sounds energetic and aggressive, very forward and 'in your head' presentation, but for me, not musical.


Changing from Westone 3 to HD381F, I immediately feel relax, much more relax presentation, wider and more natural imaging, with a more natural tonal balance throughout the whole spectrum. HD381F is much more musical than Westone 3. But Westone 3 has better comfort & isolation.


Shure SE530
SE530 has nice, sweet, and thick midrange. Nice for vocal & guitar. SE530, overall, sounds more natural than both Westone 3 & UM3X. Although SE530 mids is not as warm as UM3X mids, but to me, sounds more natural. SE530 has forward presentation as well, but more natural and wider imaging than Westone 3 (but not so wide).


SE530 mid bass and mids are very dominant, so overall spectrum is not too flat to my ears. HD381F has a more flat spectrum, with better bass compared to SE530, especially the low bass. HD381F also sounds a bit brighter, a bit more treble than SE530. I like them both, but more often I take the HD381F, as to me it sounds more balance, and a better all-rounder than SE530. I use SE530 when I need more isolation. SE530 also has better comfort.


Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10
One of my favorite IEM, Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10, to my ears sounds better than Shure SE530, better tonal balance accross the spectrum. UE TF10 sounds silky smooth, and natural, excellent mids and treble, very nice vocal. Actually vocal sounds best on UE TF10 than other models reviewed here. UE TF10 bass, although good and well balance, is weaker than SE530, the Westones, and HD381F. UE TF10 maybe not for bass lover, even the bass is in good balance, but sometime the bass sounds shy. The bass level is somewhere in between HD381F and HD381B. For me the bass is not too much an issue, overall UE TF10 sounds beautiful.


HD381F has better bass than UE TF10, and for some music that need more energy and aggressiveness, such as percussion & saxophone, HD381F can sound better and more realistic than UE TF10. HD381F also has a bit more sparkling treble than UE TF10. But some other music, like vocal, UE TF10 may sounds better. And being semi-open, HD318F has slightly better, more relaxing imaging than UE TF10. UE TF10 and HD381F are both very good IEMs, I like them both.

Comfort wise, HD381F is easier to wear, UE TF10 need quite some effort to wear them (over the ear). But after that, both are about the same in comfort level.


Audio Technica CK100
To my ears, CK100 has a very poor tonal balance, very weak and distorted bass, colored mids. Only the treble is nice. CK100 bass is somehow missing. HD381B, the weak bass version of HD381, has much better bass than CK100, not to mention HD381F. CK100 is really comfortable to use, and I like the soft and rather thick cable, but CK100 sound is just wrong to my ears. So I cannot comment much for CK100, for me HD381F sounds much better in all departments compared to CK100.


So that's all for the comparisons, hopefully you enjoy it :)

For the price (around USD 30 each), and the sound quality, I'd say HD381F is really value for money

(at least for my musical preference devil).




04 June 2010: Summary Added


Base on my musical preference, first line is better than the second line, and so on.


1. Westone 3, Westone UM3X, Shure SE530, Audio Technica CK100
2. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 & Superlux HD381F


1. Westone 3, Westone UM3X, Shure SE530, Audio Technica CK100
2. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10
3. Superlux HD381F

Tonal Balance:
1. Superlux HD381F
2. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10
3. Westone UM3X
4. Shure SE530
5. Westone 3
6. Audio Technica CK100

Bass Quality:
1. Superlux HD381F
2. Shure SE530 & Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 (different, depend on personal preference)
3. Westone 3
4. Westone UM3X
5. Audio Technica CK100

Midrange and Treble Quality:
1. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 & Westone UM3X
2. Superlux HD381F
3. Shure SE530
4. Westone 3
5. Audio Technica CK100

1. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 & Westone UM3X
2. Superlux HD381F
3. Shure SE530
4. Westone 3
5. Audio Technica CK100

1. Superlux HD381F
2. Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 & Westone UM3X
3. Audio Technica CK100
4. Shure SE530
5. Westone 3

As for detail, using iPod, I have no issue with detail, they all reveal excellent details

Edited by earfonia - 6/3/10 at 8:10pm
post #2 of 116

Cool! thank you for the mini review, sounds like incredible value for the money! i think i'll try buying some from Taobao, because ebay sellers sell them at twice the price... ha, nvm that, found them for about 40$ in a local internet store.

Edited by FirsToStrike - 6/2/10 at 11:54pm
post #3 of 116
Thread Starter 

So far the best purchase I made   The more I use, the more I like them, the tonal balance is really good, a very good all rounder indeed. As for the detail and clarity, you can compare them with BA drivers


Underrated gem, modest price, modest look, diamond sound!

post #4 of 116

Could this be a worthy upgrade to the SoundMagic PL50? They still serve me well, but my hands are itching to try something new and more exciting.

post #5 of 116
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Belabor View Post

Could this be a worthy upgrade to the SoundMagic PL50? They still serve me well, but my hands are itching to try something new and more exciting.

I don't know, haven't tried the SoundMagic

post #6 of 116
Thread Starter 

Summary Added

post #7 of 116

wow even on head-fi... hehe nice job.

post #8 of 116

I saw these 3 on my local store few days ago haha :P

But that time I was busy listening to the HD681 and HD660.

post #9 of 116

These really needs to be more popular, i mean- at their price all i can buy where i live is some Sennheiser CX300... SE530 COSTS X20 MORE! How ridiculous is that?

post #10 of 116

I'm really interested about how detailed these canalphones are.

post #11 of 116

What do you think about your other superlux headphones?

post #12 of 116

I didn't buy the superlux, I just went there to try it out. The HD660 is the beyer dt770 clone, well it doesn't sound that good while being more expensive. The HD681 is not that bad, the bass is good, but treble is a bit harsh to me, not very detailed too. I forgot how the mids sounded. At that time I haven't heard amazing mids before (I do now after listened to the ms pro ) O_o


The HD668B's box is pretty nice, it had foams inside the box to hold the headphone in, kinda like the innards of hippocase. But I didn't try the 668B because it's not in the "audition rack". I would feel ashamed if I tried the 668B and didn't buy it afterwards. :P

Edited by terradrive - 6/4/10 at 12:11pm
post #13 of 116

I see...

But when you criticize it like that i understand you're comparing them to expensive headphones. since the hd-202 is my alternative in that price category, how would you rank the HD-681 compared to headphones in that kind of level?

post #14 of 116

I never had those headphones, just tried it at my local headphone store. I only owned AD300 headphone and it sounds better for me. I didn't do A/B test with the HD681 though.

post #15 of 116
Thread Starter 

I have both Superlux HD668B and HD660 (DT770 Pro copy), and they don't sound more than their price, just so so, you know what I mean :)


But the IEM HD381F sounds much more than it's price :D  I even prefer to listen music with HD381F than the full size HD668B and HD660 which cost more :D

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