Pros - Size, build quality, weight, cable (good), value, sound, nice carry case, good fit (if you find the right tips)
Cons - Selection of tips could be better, no chin slider, L/R markings are hard to see
Introducing HiSound Audio's Crystal IEMs
After reviewing HSA's E212 and PAA-1Pro recently, Jack approached me and asked if I'd like a review sample of the Crystal (IEM) and Living (Earbuds). I jumped at the chance, and after paying for the freight - they duly arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve listed price at the RRP of ~ USD $69 – this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample which I only paid the freight cost)
I was provided the HSA Crystal for just the cost of shipping. I am in no way affiliated with HiSound Audio - and this review is my honest opinion of the Crystal. I would like to thank Jack and the HiSound Audio team for making this opportunity available.
Preamble - 'about me'. (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review). I'm a 46 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile - just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current mid-fi set-up. I vary my listening from portable (i-devices) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main headphones at the time of writing are the Shure SRH1840, Senn HD600, AKG K702, Shure SRH840 and Shure SE535 Ltd Ed. IEMs. I have auditioned quite a few entry and mid-tier cans, but have yet to hear/own any flagships other than the SRH1840 (at current time of writing this review).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz to grunge and hard-rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I am neither a bass or treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). Current amps = NFB12 and LD MKIV. I also formerly owned several portable amps - the most notable being an Arrow 4G and GoVibe PortaTube.
For the purposes of this review - I used the HSA Crystal straight from the headphone out socket of both my iPhone 4 and iPod Touch G4. I did not bother with amping them, as IMO they do not require an amp – and the likelihood is that HiSound have targeted them toward an audience who may not use additional amping anyway. By now I have probably notched up around 40-50 hours listening on the Crystal. In that time I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in).
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
Packaging and Accessories The packaging is ideal for a retail presentation - an easy to display rectangular retail box - with an 'average' footprint. The specific sales blurbs / description on the box are interesting. The Crystal’s claim is "the crispest sound ". It also claims to be “audiophile grade earphones” with “unbeatable sound quality”. We shall see (keep reading).
For accessories, included is an excellent semi-rigid soft-shell case (dimensions approx 75x75x30mm). It is an ideal size for the IEMs - and has inner pouches for spare tips etc.
It also comes with a rubbery 'fish' cable management tool. As per my other HSA reviews, I'm not really too sure what to make of this. I have tried it - but it's terribly cumbersome. I can't really see anyone actually using this.
The Crystal comes with a variety of silicone tips (large, medium and small) and also includes one set of triple flanges. The tip range included is adequate IMO, but once again I would have liked to see some sort of foam tip. There is also a shirt clip, and a warranty written entirely in Chinese.
Technical Specifications (From HiSound Audio)
Type : Dynamic, Inner Ear Monitor (IEM) Driver size: ~7mm impedance : 16 Ω sensitivity : 108db Maximum SPL : 125db（1khz，1 Vrms） Frequency response : 17-23 khz Jack / cable : 3.5mm angled, 120 cm
Build / Fit / Comfort / Isolation / 'Style'
The Crystal is a tiny but stylish looking IEM. It’s hard to show the actual size of these – so I’ve included a coupel of photos alongside my Shures. These are tiny and very light. The body is a silvery polished aluminium alloy, and looks and feels really solid.
Apart from very tiny L & R markings on the metal chamber – there is no other easily seen identifiers of which side is which. Note to Jack – a strategically placed blue and red dot would have really helped. With my old eyes I have to look very closely just to make sure I have the correct earpiece for each ear.
There is acceptable strain relief at the shells (but it is quite rigid). The 3.5mm plug is angled (cable at about 40-45 deg from plug), looks relatively sturdy, and includes strain relief. The cable split has strain relief at the apex of the V. There is no chin slider though. This to me is a real shame – as this can really help with fit – especially for listening while on the go. The Crystals are designed to be worn over-ear.
The cable is wound in a circular motion, and covered by a smooth sheath which is shiny, very malleable, and has extremely low micro-phonics. It’s also pretty much tangle free, and for an IEM in this price range – is really well executed. Bravo HSA. Please include this on all of your models (get rid of any rubbery ones!). There is some slight memory issues with this cable (bends tend to stay once made – unless deliberately straightened).
As far as comfort goes – these are very small, very light, and disappear into my ears. It would be possible to sleep with these in – for my ears, they do not protrude past the outer ear. The fit (for me) is good. I tried the stock large tips, and triple flanges, and achieved a good seal with both. There was no sign of driver flex. For the review I actually used another set of triple flanges (from another set of IEMs) which I’ve cut down to doubles. With the absence of foam tips – I personally find bi-flanges the next best thing.
One last thing in relation to tips – the nozzle shape is really good. It is slightly pointed toward the tip – which makes putting tips on very easy. It also has quite a prominent lip – so the tips always feel securely locked. This system is even better than my Shures! Isolation is good for an IEM. My Shure SE535’s have truly excellent isolation – and if I can find the right foam tips, I’d imagine the Crystals will not be too far away.
Overall very positive on build and fit – no foam tips would be my only grizzle – and I guess that is simply personal preference.
The following is what I hear from the Crystal. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).
For this I’m using Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” as there is a lot of micro detail in the track, and it is pretty well recorded
The Crystals display reasonable detail with a nice crispness, and enough balance that detail is present without having everything spot-lit. They are not in the same league (detail wise) as more expensive IEM’s (my 535s) – but for their price point – they do show a level of clarity that is better than most sub $70 offerings I have heard.
Sound-stage & Imaging
For this I’m using a binaural recording – Amber Rubarth “Sessions Form The 17th Ward” - “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage. I also used some other live performances (Loreena McKennit’s “Dante’s Prayer” and others).
The Crystal’s cues are average (OK for an IEM) – IMO it’s always going to be difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The imaging can be very slightly smeared to me with instruments being positioned where they should be, but very occasionally overlapping. On LMcK’s D-P the stage is intimate/small – but the presentation overall is quite pleasant with reasonable separation and clarity. The applause following LMcK’s D-P did surprise me (positively!) – as it did convey some of the space of the auditorium.
Rather than referencing tracks – I’m going to give general impressions – as I’ve tried to listen to as many varied genres as I can.
The Crystal actually has some a nice top end with just enough shimmer to make it interesting. Whilst they have a slight crispness to them – it is not overdone, and never borders on sibilance. It is actually very pleasant and in very good balance with both upper and lower mids. Cymbals are clearly heard – nothing is masked – but nor is it over emphasised. If anything I’d describe the treble as sweet and smooth. Treble heads and extreme detail freaks – look elsewhere – these aren’t for you.
The mid-range is how I like it – nicely balanced with the rest of the spectrum – yet relatively full and rich. Vocals are very clear – guitar has a slight edge to it. There is enough warmth to be involving – yet nothing appears too coloured. Both male and female vocals are realistic. The more I use the Crystals the more I really like them.
The Crystal really surprised me. I knew these were the IEM that HSA targets more toward their ‘audiophile’ customers – so I was expecting something that was going to be quite light. For me – the bass is perfect. It has a slight mid-bass hump (which gives it impact, and some reasonable decent lower bass extension. Bass texture is pretty good – can be slightly boomy (the mid bass coming through I guess) but has good definition for the most part – and most importantly does not overpower the lower mids. One of my new tracks for testing bass is “Royals” by Lorde (I know – a bit poppy – but she’s a local Kiwi girl and has heaps of talent). The Crystals handle the bass well and surprise me with the amount of bass they can handle. Definitely not bass light by any means.
The Crystal is easily powered out of an iPod Touch G4 or iPhone4, and on most tracks I am well under 50% on the volume slider.
What About Response To EQ?
For me – these are bordering on perfect without thinking about using EQ. Overall they are quite flat with maybe an upward tilt in the bass region (the opposite to what I was expecting). But regardless – if you do want to use EQ – these respond pretty well. I used some of the presets on the Equaliser app – and there was no noticeable degradation – in fact the Crystals responded pretty well.
The Crystal is a really capable IEM – nicely built with what I would regard as close to perfect tonality (especially for the consumer market). For me personally I like a slightly crisper edge.
There is enough clarity and detail to make them a step above normal consumer grade earphones – but enough bass to make modern music (house, rap, electronic, pop etc) very enjoyable. At the price of $69 they represent amazingly good value – and I’d be prepared to recommend these unreservedly to my friends.
Before I completed this review – I did a side-by-side with my SE535s. Whilst the 535’s remain in another league on clarity and definition – for value, the Crystals cope admirably, and would be my pick for a cheaper back-up pair when it’s not practical to be out and about with your best IEMs.
As to HSA’s claim “the crispest sound” – to my ears – not really. Maybe they are from HSA’s own range – but to me these actually are more warm than crisp. But that is actually a very good thing.
Recommendations to HiSound Audio
Here is a short list of what I’d change if I could. Hopefully this may be helpful to you Jack.
Lose the fish
If you can – add at least one pair of foam tips.
Add a chin slider – please.
Add easy to see L & R markers
Once again Jack – thanks for the opportunity with these. Loved the experience. These are keepers.