Telefunken TH-120 Review
Thanks to Topdogheadphones for the sample.
First Impressions: The box is just like that of the 140. It’s kinda funky and I’m still liking that little triangular case. Okay so it maybe not the most practical case that ever there was, it’s different. Not sure what the visuals are all about though. Brown seems to be a theme here, again I like that it’s different but brown? The case is brown and weirdly so are the tips. For me in the tips box that’s something I’d find useful but not sure if most normal people would. Again it’s nice to see the two types, thin and thick silicon ones. The buds though, err visually; let’s say I’m not loving them. Still it’s not about how they look is it?
First listen and wow they are an exciting listen. They are tagged with the moniker “Energy” and on the box they claim to have an energetic sound. That they certainly do! I can’t see me using the brighter thin tips with these. God these are fast and dramatic. Burn in time.
Source: 1G Ipod Shuffle with and without a 75 Ohm adapter and a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps, Hisoundaudio Rocoo BA and a FiiO E7/E9 combo.
Lows: Well this is not a bass monster. The bass levels are a bit elevated but in comparison to a lot out there it’s not huge. It is humpy, but more in the middle bass rather than the upper bass frequencies. Rather than the more usual “midbass” hump where the mids and bass ranges meet. Still a party IEM this is and its bass goes along with that. I did find though that I always went with the thicker silicon tips for the bit more bass, bit less treble option. I also found I didn’t want a bright source, the bass here while significant isn’t close to being dominant. Quality was thought its super fast with a tremendous solidity. It’s very exciting and has great impact. Tbh I think I would have liked to see somewhat more bloom as in some songs it felt like all you were noticing form the bass was the initial bass impact. It didn’t always have the fullness you might want. This was especially noticeable in busy stuff like Relient K’s “The Vinyl Countdown.” The bass should have been bigger and a little slower. I shouldn’t say should, it’s a stylistic preference after all. What’s there though is great, lightning fast and very articulate with a control that’s just excellent for this money.
Mids: These may be a bit W shaped but it’s not an even W. The mids while having just fine clarity, more than just fine they are not one for taking centre stage. Very nicely articulate and when playing very vocal heavy stuff I found myself really liking them. There is a tiny hint of warmth to them so mostly I’d characterise them as being very smooth. They were fine with dryer vocals too but when it came to slow and languid stuff (Nora) they did rather feel like they were getting bored. They wanted to race a little. Something more suited to Sophie Elis Bexter or Katy Perry. Poppy, bouncy, fast and just full of enthusiastic and energetic bounce.
Detail is good, very for a party IEM but don’t think its BA challenging, it’s not. Mind you Mr Johnson sounded very pleasant as his stuff is never too busy. Everything has plenty of space to stand out particularly his voice.
Highs: Kinda dominant. Oddly they didn’t have the best extension in the world and their impactful edge was almost muted. Still the quantity of the highs and their detail levels were rather abundant. In the likes of Susan Wong stuff this made the highs really pop out at you. The exaggerated sense of clarity and detail was excellent. With the edge taken of the cymbals too they didn’t get tiring in away other things would too. Ironically I found I really liked it on more high muted songs, it livened them up. The other side is when you go for really treble happy songs then eek, it kinda got a bit much for me. Still despite the quantity it wasn’t what I’d call abrasive. It’s like they have gotten that sibilant point and the exact frequency of the initial impact of a cymbal and dialled them both right down. Yet somehow they have left everything else intact. Decay is pretty good too with a nice trail off, it’s maybe a fraction quick but they can do shimmery decays more than well.
Still it’s not something I wanted to pair with a brighter source. The treble quantity is quite elevated and when you start to push things to the limit it will begin to loose refinement. I’d bet it would go really well with a Sony DAP.
Soundstage: They do sound rather bigish but I can’t say the stage feels particularly coherent. Instrument placement is a little vague. Still it’s not like you were going to be using this to hear orchestral pieces anyway.
Fit: I found very easy. They can happily be worn up or down and it was just a case of shoving in that was that.
Comfort: Equally as good as the fit. They are a touch big so the sit fairly shallow but they were perfectly comfortable.
Cable: The same cable as on the 120, its clearly braided with a sheath over it. It’s a bit memory retaining and a hint stiff but should last a good long while. The jack is a pretty solid little affair as does the Y splitter.
Microphonics: Wear them up and you’ll be fine, down not so much. Actually down there wasn’t much but no chin slider means you can’t cure it if needed.
Accessories: 6 pairs of tips, 3 sizes of thin and 3 of the thick silicon. They change the sound a bit with the thin lowing the bass and upping the treble. Not something I’d think you’d want but choice is never a bad thing is it. Oh and the funky little triangle case.
Amped/Unamped: They really didn’t seem to mind if amped or not. They are really easy to drive things. Oddly they didn’t take well to adding impedance, well depends on your perspective I guess. They muted somewhat becoming rather less dynamic and less dramatic. They highs did refine but if that the sort of sound you wanted more of you wouldn’t be buying this any way. Adding an amp though really isn’t required. Feel free to add if you want but don’t expect lots of change.
Isolation: A bit so so. About what you’d expect for a dynamic so the typical fine for normal use etc etc. Enough for on a bus but not something for a daily Tube commute or trip to New Zealand. Still more than enough to get you hit by a bus though if you aren’t looking where you’re going.
Value: Good, granted you aren’t getting a pair you’ll want to show off to friends visually but acoustically they are a massive barrel load of party time. This is pure and simple, a pop party machine and poppy, bouncy stuff sound awesome on it. Energy and enthusiasm by the bucket load. I’d think it something that would be ideal to wake you up on a morning commute or for exercising. Just super lively. It’s also nice to see that you can get it in phone version for only a little bit more. The TH-120I and I’d wager its exciting sound would counter the warm softness of an Iphone well.
Conclusion: So is the 120 for me? Na not really. This is ye big time party IEM. It’s all about the energy and enthusiasm. The timing and its particularly fast paced bass just want everything to be about having a good time. The faster the music the happier it is as it just revels in speed. Things like The Dresden Dolls “Modern Moonlight” or “Girl Anachronism” are all about fast, ever faster riotous noise hurling itself all over the place. The bass shifts like a rocket on speed and the Telefunken TH-120 just loves it. It more than loves it, it excels at it. Fast, punchy, hard hitting bass in particular is a real forte of the 120. I can’t think of an IEM of its price with an equally solid punch to it, it’s just excellent.
Turning to slow stuff, sure it can do everything nicely and on paper I can’t really pic too much fault with its rendition of Mamma Cass’s version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” but there is that timing. It just wants to pull ahead and it shouldn’t be on that song, it should want to linger and the highs, well they should be a gentle almost soft accompaniment. Here they are too present. Sure they sound crisply clear but they should be more reticent and reserved. Reticent and reserved are not what the 120 does too well at all.
For someone who’s going to listen to mostly in the charts stuff I could see them havening loads of fun with this. It’s not what I’d call aimed at audiophiles, its aimed squarely at the mainstream crowd I think. Now if they can get it domed I’d bet they shift a fair number as its one of the most exciting and thrilling IEM’s I’ve heard. Its looks maybe something that would pass for fashionable in 1980’s East Germany but they sound awesomely spectacularly dramatic. Just a hugely fun and entertaining listen.