VSonic joined the upper-tier potable audio market a bit over a year ago with the introduction of the GR07 dynamic-driver monitor. The GR07 made quite a splash, quickly becoming one of the most commonly recommended earphones and maintaining its popularity to this day. My personal opinion of the GR07 was quite positive from the outset and it remains my dynamic-driver benchmark for entry into the top-tier club.
This year, VSonic is expanding into other market segments with the introduction of several new models. The GR01 is the first of the 2012 models to reach my ears and the subject of this review. It utilizes the popular Knowles TWFK transducer – a tiny dual-armature system used by everyone from Audio-Technica to Ultimate Ears. The GR01 is not your typical TWFK-based dual-BA earphone, however - the engineers at VSonic have put their own special touch on the design and sound. I was lucky to get a chance to compare the GR01 to four other earphones all using the same TWFK driver to see how special it really is.
Packaging & Accessories
Tips & pouch
The GR01 ships in VSonic’s simplified new packaging – a clear plastic outer box with cardboard and foam inserts displaying the earphones and obscuring the accessories. The accessory pack consists of 15 pairs of eartips and a padded spring-clasp carrying pouch. The tip set includes seven pairs of Sony Hybrid-style tips, all in different sizes, as well as 3 pairs of foam-stuffed Hybrid tips and 5 pairs of standard silicone tips, including a bi-flange. The soft carrying pouch is very well-made, probably the best I’ve come across, but I would still have preferred a clamshell carrying case like the one included with the 1st-gen GR07.
Design & Build Quality
Close-up, filter removed
The design of the GR01 is very unassuming and the form factor is of the slim, straight barrel variety, albeit with fatter-than-usual 4mm nozzles. The metal housings are very small and remind me of the Klipsch Image X10. A rubber strain relief is present at the rear and the outer part of the nozzle, along with the metal mesh filter, can be unscrewed and removed for cleaning (Note: the nozzle may need to be tightened occasionally as it tends to come loose with use). Cabling, though thinner than what’s used on my 1st-gen GR07, is smooth and reasonably tangle-resistant. The 3.5mm L-plug is very well-relieved but the cord lacks a sliding cinch. A bump on the inside of the right strain relief makes the difficult to see L/R markings a non-issue.
Fit & Comfort
Close-up of earpieces
The housings are very slim and easy to insert deeply for a good seal. The sheer variety of included eartips should allow the fit to work for anyone, though earphones with slimmer nozzles such as the q-JAYS might allow for more fitment options still. The cable exits at an angle but the GR01 can still be worn both cable-up and cable-down.
Isolation & Microphonics
The GR01 is a fully sealed BA-based monitor and isolates very well – not quite as much as an Etymotic Research HF5 or ER4 but on-par with ergo-fit monitors such as the Westone 2. Cable noise is bothersome when worn cable-down but becomes low with over-the-ear wear. The inclusion of a sliding cable cinch or at least a shirt clip would have helped in this regard.
Left->Right: Audio-Technica CK10, Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII, Brainwavz B2 (aka DBA-02 mkI), VSonic GR07
Driver configuration: Dual Balanced Armature
Input sensitivity: 108 dB @ 1mw
Frequency response: 5 to 20,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Cord Length: 4.3 ft (1.3 m) L-plug
Note: Most of my listening was done using a Cowon J3 or an iBasso D10 DAC fed by an optical signal, and my FLAC audio library.
For reference, reviews of almost all of the other earphones I have heard can be found in my multi-IEM review thread here.
With the sound of VSonic’s dynamic-driver GR07 model so widely praised for its accuracy and balance, it should come as no surprise that the tuning of the armature-based GR01 had to be kept fairly similar in order for the new earphone to remain a proper monitor. Though the GR01 is based around the popular Knowles TWFK dual-armature driver – the same one used by the Audio-Technica CK10, Ultimate Ears 700, Fischer Audio DBA-02, and a number of other models – the engineers at VSonic have still added their own unique touch to the sound, making the GR01 the smoothest and most musical of the TWFK-based sets I’ve heard.
Though it doesn’t quite have the bass depth of the ATH-CK10, the GR01 is only missing a bit of extension in the lowest octave. The GR07, which has solid deep bass as a good dynamic-driver monitor should, easily trumps the GR01 here. The GR07 also has better impact and fuller, thicker notes. The GR01, on the other hand, is quicker and less impactful than the GR07 but still has slightly more drawn-out decay times compared to some of its more analytical competitors. In terms of punch, it is just behind the DBA-02 mkII and about on-par with a well-amped Etymotic ER-4S, but the real treat is the accuracy. Compared to the MA-based Final Audio FI-BA-A1, for example, the bass of the GR01 is significantly tighter, cleaner, and more accurate, and the same can be said - though not to the same degree - when it is matched against the GR07.
The lower midrange of the GR01 is a little more laid-back than is typical for a TWFK-based set, resulting in a safer, smoother sound. It is even slightly warmer than a UE700 or DBA-02, though the bassier GR07 is a warmer still. The natural clarity of the armatures is very good, though the smoother GR01 lacks a bit of the absolute transparency of the DBA-02 and Ety ER4S. Detail, similarly, is on-par with the CK10 and DBA-02 without being presented quite so aggressively.
At the top, the GR01 is surprisingly smooth and non-fatiguing, perhaps the most inoffensive of the TWFK-based dual-drivers. It is significantly less bright than the UE700 and lacks the hot treble of the CK10. It is also less prone to sibilance than the GR07, displaying a seemingly smoother response where the GR07’s treble peaks fall. The tone is kept fairly neutral and timbre is among the best I’ve heard from an analytical armature-based earphone. The downside is that there isn’t quite as much energy to the sound compared to the CK10 or DBA-02, resulting in a signature that may be too ‘safe’ for fans of analytical earphones but still to neutral and accurate to appeal to the masses.
The presentation of the GR01 is nice and spacious, yet very cohesive. Though it doesn’t quite have the soundstage width of the GR07, the GR01 is more well-rounded, with decent depth and a better on-center feel. There is still slightly more width to the stage compared to the DBA-02 and the GR01 is clearly more spacious and airy than the Final Audio FI-BA-A1. Separation is good as well, though imaging lags behind the CK10 a bit, partly due to the more elongated shape of the soundstage. Overall, the presentation is solid and reminds me of the Etymotic ER-4S, but those looking for an enveloping sound a-la Earsonics won't find it here.
Value & Conclusion (MSRP: est. $206)
Though the VSonic GR01 strays little from the dual-armature monitor formula, it is undoubtedly one of the more competent such earphones I’ve heard. For an IEM built around the TWFK driver, the GR01 is neither overly bright nor fatiguing, managing almost all of the resolution of the more analytical Fischer Audio DBA-02 with a more laid-back signature. The GR01 comes across restrained, yet refined – a great monitoring earphone and a solid alternative to the GR07 for those who would rather do without the bass and treble emphasis. The GR01 has more going for it than just the sound, too – its slim form factor is very comfortable and user-friendly and the design shows good attention to detail aside from a few minor quirks. Construction is solid and there are enough tips included to accessorize several earphones comfortably. For those in search of a direct GR07 upgrade, this isn't it, but the GR01 won't have any trouble finding fans regardless.
The GR01 can be purchased from lendmeurears, an authorized VSonic reseller.
Edited by ljokerl - 4/5/12 at 2:52pm