Hippo VB Review
Not the newest earphones but intriguing none the less. Hippo is a company, which is the “House Brand” of popular earphone store Jaben so that is were you could purchase these. As Hippos flagship earphone they do not have a bad price that is 50 pounds plus postage so a fairly budget priced earphone.
So is these just another 50 pound earphone? Not at all. These have a pretty unique feature as it goes and that is one similar to what I have seen before with the filters in the Phonak PFE. They have tunable or an interchangeable bass port which gives them there name VB or Variable Bass.
So for 50 pounds this so far seems like a basshead dreams surely and it also sounds like my new bass reference, which for me is an exciting prospect.
The set-up I have used is a bit different to normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier.
I used the Ultimate Ears medium single flange for the main testing.
The design of these is pretty low profile. Everything is black and they are not made to stand out or be a fashion statement which is nice as it will not bother anyone were as if someone really liked the sound of the Beats by Dre (do not think they exist) they may be put of by the lairy red cable for example.
The build, starting from the cable is quite good. The cable reminds me and shares in common most parts to the Jaben ES8 cable for the Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 (which I reviewed on an earlier date), which had a good build except from the braided cable, which had fallen apart a bit. This is a like identical cable just without the braid so as you can guess it is very nice.
Starting at the jack it is right angle and terminated with a gold plated plug. The housing is very standard and rock solid and it also has a great and flexible strain relief. The cable is average in thickness and but as a silky smooth matte finish like the Phonak PFE which is my favorite cable. They both share the properties of being sturdy yet malleable, which is very good. The y-split was one of the reason I really liked the ES8 cable and it features a total of 3 super flexible strain reliefs as well as the center of the strain reliefs a super solid shell. The top half of the cable does get fairly thin, in fact a bit thinner than what it goes on the average. There is a cable cinch on the top half, which is very nice. It is round but also has little bumps on for grip.
Moving on to the housings, the cables entry is in to a solid strain relief that does not flex. It is connected to the housing but not very plush and you can see a gap. The housing are metal and as you can guess are extremely well built and there is nothing but metal on the housing including the fairly thick nozzle.
With the earphones you also get a carrying pouch and some tips included as well as the three different bass ports. They also have a shirt clip already attached.
The case is a fairly hard clamshell, which is on the larger size of case while remaining portable. Inside there is some mesh were accessories can be held and on the outside there is a strap you can hold it from or maybe or clip it something. I have found the case to be very nice as it is hard and also bigger enough to carry the earphones and some spare tips and of course the bass ports.
On to the tips and you get three pairs of silicone single flanges, which are rather different to any I have very had before as they are both long and wide and are in a peculiar gray colour. You get them in small, medium and large. You also get a small, medium and large pair of dual flange tips. These are not conical dual flanges were each flange is smaller as they go up like a Christmas tree but they are both of the same size on top of each other. They are black.
Finally you have the bass ports. They are distinguished which is which by white dots on the back of them. They come with the ports with no dots on which have not mesh inside and are therefore they are the bassiest. The two dots have a bit of mesh and then finally there is a pair with three dots with the most mesh. I will explain more on the sound difference later. Screwing them of the back of the earphones and then screwing the desired port on the back easily change them.
Finding a seal on these was easy enough with the stock tips and although I tried a few others tips not many others fitting on the earphones rather large nozzles. In the end I found the best seals with the JVC and Ultimate Ears single flanges and the stock single flanges.
Comfort wise they are actually all right. Because of their large nozzle they do not get a large insertion depth, which does not feel intrusive at all. Although they are on the heavier side because of there metal body they do not get to a fatiguing point due to there weight.
The isolation was actually slightly better than I expected from these as they have a slightly below average insert depth but they are also ported/vented so I though they would leak in the outside world quite bad. I was pleasantly surprised to find although a tiny bit of ambient noise does come in if there is say a person shouting or a quick loud noise but other than that these have done well enough. It is also accessible to better isolation by using the dual flange or some foam tips.
Microphonics (Cable Noise)
Microphonics are present on them but not to an unbearable point. This is mainly due to them being worn cable down. If you put the cable cinch up to your chin though, it removes most of it, which is good and why I love cable cinchs.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so dint make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
Soundstage and instrument separation
The size of the soundstage is really quite large and this is likely due to the fact that these are vented earphones. It is all really airy and also nicely wide. It is very similar to the soundstage of the Final Audio Design Adagio III. It does not have the depth though and that stops it being truly three-dimensional and stops it being one of the best earphones in terms of soundstage is regarded. Another property it possesses is the fact that it is really distant and you feel like you are a distant away from what you are hearing. It is a very similar property to what the Sennheiser IE8 has with its soundstage.
Because of the bass peak on these it does make the other instruments from other frequencies feel a bit more muffled but the bass instruments are easily distinguishable. This problem is mainly noticeable in bassy music and in bass light songs it is a lot better.
The mid-bass is slightly peaked when you using this port. Not as much as with the others though. There is a good amount a control with it and is not loose or boomy but still not describable as being tight. It is also not fast or slow. The quantity is fairly big and the body it hits with is rather huge.
It is when we move to the sub-bass section we really get some shine as this thunders your head with a huge pound of warm bassy air. It is like not bass I have felt before. It is all feel and the sub-bass is very dominant with these earphones. On these setting they are a lot more about the sub-bass than the mid-bass.
The mid-bass does take a bit of a slight boost and are still sitting in the middle of being tight and loose which is nice and the body is now warmer and bigger by a tad.
The real improvement comes in the sub-bass, which has gone from mind blowing to well… what comes next. It is oh so powerful and by far as strong as I have ever felt in an IEM. What is surprising is that it still gets better.
Now we have the top bass setting that these have. What we have here is a load more mid-bass than what we got before and also a bigger peak. These now sit a hell of a lot more in front of the other spectrums. The quantity is quite literally huge. While they were still large in the mid-bass before I had heard more but these take such a leap and are probably the biggest that I have heard in this frequency. However they are more loose and boomy and un-controlled than they are with the other ports and the bass can get a bit carried away.
The sub-bass does not take quite as much as a leap but I am pretty sure it is at a point that it is now as head pounding-ly deep that a IEM can physically get.
I am someone who really appreciates their mids and is the reason I tend to stay clear of bass heavy earphones as their mids are always so far behind and veiled. Now on this setting they are not to far behind. They are behind the bass and treble in a slight V but they are not pushed to deep by a long shot. The lower mids are very warm and thick. The low mids are also the furthest recessed.
The high mids are a lot better. They are thinner but therefore more detailing. They also do take a bit of brightness from the treble but are equaled out by the warmth of the bass to dry sounding. They are less recessed and almost flat and they also very airy and breezy which is very nice.
Seeing as there is an increase in bass the mids to take a tiny hit. Like with the one dot there is not any bleed still, which is fairly good. The low mids really do go back a bit more now but are still not quite fully described as recessed and as they move up the frequencies they do come out a bit more. They share the same detail as before which is not bad at all but obviously you get more refinement with BA drivers at the same price. Like before the mids are fairly airy and dry.
Now when the bass takes over you can find yourselves loosing the mids but when the bass in the song is less and controlled they are as clear as they always have been. To be honest I think it is unbelievable that the bass I get with these and the fact the mids are still not getting bled into or really recessed or veiled. Most of the time they are clear and visible and it is rare that they get properly overwhelmed.
The highs on these are as forward as the mid-bass but do get slightly overshadowed by the sub-bass. They do roll off a tad too early losing them a bit of sparkle but they are still lively and have great energy to them but they can be a tad to aggressive.
Apparently these suffer from sibilance but in all honesty I yet to experience any.
The bass increase does not affect the highs and they are the same as they were before with the 3 dot port.
Again the treble is still mainly the same just not quite as aggressive but it still manages to shine through and have effect.
These are basshead earphones with a slight V shaped signature. These actually have a very similar sound than the more expensive Final Audio Design Adagio III and to think they come with more customizable sound and more accessories that are rather impressive. If you want an earphone that can deliver bass that is huge, deep and pounds you head then these are my recommendation. I am also still gob smacked by how clear the mids maintain to be.
I have found a new bass reference, which I am happy about and think that these are an absolute steal to be had so if you want bass, do not go spend hundreds of pounds in the hope you get the bass you crave but invest a measly 50 pounds on these from Jaben with a guarantee that the bass will meet your needs!
I would also like to add if you do get a pair of these to think about picking up some Ultimate Ears single flange tips as they do really help out with the sound.
Can be purchased here:
Edited by Swimsonny - 7/30/12 at 2:13pm