Pros - Detailed and clear. A wealth of deep, deep bass. Glistening highs. Perfect Mids. Delivers a thick, full sound.
Cons - Cable is rather stiff.
What would you do if you owned a pair of IEMs you loved completely—if only they weren’t so god-awful big?
That’s my predicament with the Jerry Harvey Audio Siren Series Angie. I’ve now owned her just under a year, and sound-wise she leaves nothing to be desired. Everything I wrote in my review still holds. And then some! Unfortunately, her size causes me sorrow and distress in regular intervals, tarnishing an otherwise miraculous relationship.
Modern wisdom says the solution to this conflict is to go custom with Angie, and I very nearly did. Yet I couldn’t shake the notion this was an opportunity to explore something new, something I may like even better.
My passions run towards a warmer, weightier sound. Angie is capable of superb note thickness, but I wanted to push this philosophy even further. The Noble Kaiser 10 almost got my money, its legendary status as a beefy, warmth-monster speaking directly to my aforementioned disposition.
However, the Solar BA10 repeatedly beat out Noble by Head-Fi members who owned or tried both. So in a reckless leap of faith I contacted Rhapsodio.
Big Boss Sammy at Rhapsodio is highly responsive on Facebook—not so much via email—and he took good care of me. Being a life-long artist, I simply had to design the CIEM myself. I sent him some proof of concept images for the look of my custom Solars and he and his team were enthusiastic about tackling the project.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, Sammy is not the greatest with English. Communication is hit or miss at times. Now and again I must take pains to make certain we understand one another. Although, seeing as I don’t know any second languages, he’s doing far better than me. Plus, he’s very patient with me and willing to work things out until all the details are agreed upon by both parties.
This is my first experience with Custom In-Ear Monitors. I found an Ultimate Ears-approved Audiologist very close to me. She made the process painless, admiring how clean my ears were and commenting on my average canal size… which I felt undercut the praise a little. There’s nothing average about this man’s biology; I’m an experimental mutation the likes of which shall never be seen again.
Wait-time on my CIEM Solar ended up being two months… the first go around. For someone who’s previously only gone the universal route, waiting months for a new earphone is hard on the psyche. So you can only imagine the mental anguish of finding out the left ear piece does not seal well. I held on to them for a week, trying to maintain my denial. Eventually reason won out.
Back to the Audiologist for another ear-mold. And another one-and-a-half-month-wait for the refit.
And the left side is still not perfect!
Placing blame for fit issues with CIEMs is not clear-cut. It could be the Audiologist, the earphone manufacturer, or even your own damn fault. Maybe you tensed your jaw while the impressions set.
The fact the left monitor still does not fit perfectly is fishy. I shall bring my IEMs into the Audiologist and try to figure out what’s going on here. I CAN achieve a good seal. It just doesn’t last like a custom fit ought to. You needn’t worry that my review is compromised by sub-par audio. I’ve put a couple hundred hours on these with absolute perfect seal. I know what these truly sound like.
Who’s at fault over fit issues may be a gray area, but it’s far easier to blame Rhapsodio for the adventure I’ve had with the cable.
During our very first correspondences I stated my want for a 2.5mm TRRS Balanced cable. I went so far as to put that info, along with other specifics, in the PayPal notes upon purchase. I wrote a lovely letter that traveled with my ear impressions across the ocean which also made reference to the type of termination my cable should have. I made further comments about it during the many Facebook chats I enjoyed with Sammy.
The first time my Solars arrived they came with a 3.5mm TRS cable. I laughed. Sammy Laughed. When they came back after the refit, it still only had a 3.5mm TRS cable. I groaned, and Sammy cried. He decided to build me a special cable with a special new connector he found. Sammy claimed it changed the sound in a way he was very excited about.
It’s a fine bit of work to be sure. The only thing different is the termination, and yet he’s right, it does sound truly different. Even when I use my 2.5mmTRRS-to-3.5mmTRS adapter, to rule out my AKs balanced output as the culprit, there is indeed a change. It sounds a tad clearer than the other cable, but the bass is audibly lower, which I’m not a fan of.
The volume in general is also lower, which should not be, since my AK120ii puts out more voltage through its 2.5mm output. There must be a ridiculous amount of resistance in this jack. Unfortunately, the lack of bass is not an illusion due to the lower overall volume. When I volume match, and listen critically, the lows are lessened by a serious margin.
I think I’ll re-terminate this new cable myself when I find the motivation. For now I’ll stay with the single-ended 3.5mm cable.
The standard Pandora cable is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and right sturdy, but I don’t like how stiff it is, or the rough texture coating each strand.
Sammy also turned my regular old standard Solars into FarInfrared Solars, which involves placing magic stickers on the driver clusters inside the shell. It’s meant to make the sound cleaner, with better extension. But no one can explain how or why. Since so much time past during the refit, I’m in no position to give a reliable comparison between the two versions. I loved them before, and I love them now. The stickers are pretty though.
Which makes this a good time to talk about how these buggers actually sound, yes?
The Rhapsodio Solar BA10 delivers a full, bassy presentation, with enough treble to maintain good air and detail. The vocals stand back a pace on the stage, letting the lows and highs swell around them to wonderful effect. Very much like a live rock concert. Solar uses ten Balanced Armature drivers: A pair of large drivers for bass. Four medium-size boxes dedicated to the middle spectrum. And four tiny tweeters administer the highs.
I cannot call the Solar v-shaped. The Klipsch R6 is v-shaped. In contrast, Solar is artfully done, as you never lose the vocals, no matter how much bass exists on the record. Like I said before, the mids simply take a small step back, nowhere near enough for the other frequencies to bury them.
Nonetheless, the Solar’s bass is its defining quality. It blooms and rumbles deep into the lower reaches. It’s fast and smooth and remarkably natural in tone. It sounds more like a dynamic driver than a BA. Such warmth swaths the music, creating a tangible, earthy presence.
You would expect earphones like this to be dark in balance, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Solar’s treble pierces the gloom in clear, bright highs that sparkle like a pearl in sunlight. The treble is clean and honest, widening the soundstage and revealing all the subtle complexities of the track. Upon first hearing Solar, I marveled at how much air there was, given the amount of bass and the thickness of the sound. Those highs truly elevate it above the murky fenlands that often come from too much sub frequency in the mix.
Terms like “recessed” are misleading when talking about the Solar’s vocal range; you can hear them perfectly. There is detail, grit, and vibrato. They sound true and right. With Rock & Roll, they could not be placed better in the mix. Still, if you are a purist at heart, and hold neutrality at top priority, then Solar is probably not for you, as they are tuned for fun and pleasure-listening, not professional/critical-listening.
Solar and AK120ii secure in my Pelican 1060 case, with 1062 foam insert.
I’m cobsmacked at how much the Solar sounds like my early favorite, the Audio Technica IM03. Yes, Solar is much thicker, and noticeably more detailed, yet bass punch and treble sparkle are nearly the same, with Solar just barely edging ahead. Overall balance and tonality are very alike. The IM03 is just a little closer to neutral with the vocals. The Audio Technica is one of the most natural-sounding earphones, and Solar does not necessarily beat it here, but rather matches that high grade.
Jerry Harvey’s Angie has been my closest companion for so long now. She sings with a voice I fell in love with upon first hearing it. Even after weeks and weeks with nothing but Solar in my ears, when I come back to Angie, I don’t know which I like more. Each does a couple of things better than the other.
My preference is to keep Angie’s bass attenuators at 2:30, giving her a warm, bassy profile, without losing detail or air.
Although Solar has two drivers more than Angie, note thickness and weight are about the same, both much fuller than the IM03. Angie is capable of nearly the same volume of bass, but Solar reaches deeper into the sub bass and the lows come off fuller and richer because of it. Amazingly, Solar also possesses FAR greater air in the presentation. Even when I turned Angie’s pots all the way down, Solar sounded brighter, with a better sense of space and atmosphere. This is likely due to Solar’s outstanding treble. I’ve always praised Angie for having clean, well-extended highs, but Solar adds some real sparkle to its top frequencies, and that makes a world of difference here. It brightens the stage up, revealing details Angie might miss.
So you may think by the above paragraph that I clearly favor Solar, but as I’ve said, it’s not quite so easy for me. Angie is smoother and lusher. Probably owing to its lack of sparkle. Every detail is not highlighted, rendering a more forgiving melody. Angie is not dull or muddy. FAR FROM IT. Though compared to Solar, she’s certainly the easier, more euphoric monitor. She pours honey in my ears and I love her for it.
I planned to sell off Angie when the Rhapsodio Custom came in, but I’m not sure I can do that. Her size really is a detriment, but if I don’t have to use her as my every day carry, maybe I can keep her around for the occasional sexy fun time when I lust for that old honey again.
In the meantime, The Rhapsodio Solar FarInfrared BA10 CIEM suits my needs splendidly. It is a killer earphone and I can’t recommend it enough. The same goes for Rhapsodio as a company; Sammy helms a magnificent ship over there in Hong Kong. While it may be young, Rhapsodio has grown mighty, and I look forward to seeing where next it sails.
Pros - Bass depth and impact, Great mids, resolution and clarity
Cons - Lack of accessories
-10 balanced armature drivers
To start, this is my first time writing a review so please bear with me and I would also like to put a disclaimer that everything written here is based on my opinion only and does not in any way undermine products from other manufacturers.
(Credits to my friend for photo above)
For the source, I am using an LG G4 running Onkyo HD Player through a MicroUSB OTG cable into the Chord Mojos. Music genre ranges from pop, rock and instrumentals most of which are from Japanese artists like Nana Mizuki, BACK-ON, SPHERE, fripSide and the like. Below will be a list of a few songs listened to for this review. Lastly, all music formats listened to are in FLAC. The Solars used for this review is the Universal version with Rhapsodio's very own "wind" tips (L). This was used as it provided the best fit out everything else. Though I didn't get a chance to take a photo for comparison, I would say the IEM is roughly, if not the same size as JH Audio Angie's. So if you have ears that are in the smaller side, I would suggest getting the custom version. Also, before anything
Sammy also allows one to put a custom logo and designs/colors not in the website. Feel free to contact Sammy for requests, he is an approachable guy and really nice if I may add.
First off, this is the only element in the Solars that I would say does not 100% fit my preference. To start with, the treble is quite sparkly at least for my taste. Though not my cup of tea, it contributes to the overall fun sound signature of the Solar. Quoting what Sammy said 'after around 100-150 hours of burn in, it should lessen'. The sparkle can easily be heard on relatively high volumes especially on high pitched female vocals. This leads me to my next point, treble extension. The treble extends quite high in the Solars to the point that you think your ears will break but never does. If you're the type of person that likes a V-shaped sound signature, then I would 100% recommend the Solars.
*Note: After roughly 80 hours of listening, I am happy to say that I have learned to love the sparkle in the treble, as a
matter of a fact, I find that it actually enhances female vocals and contributes to the overall "fun" nature of the Solars*
One word, speechless. This is the only thing I can think of that can describe the mids of the Solars. The midrange is full, clear, and natural. I can't think of anything wrong with it at all. As I mainly listen
to Japanese songs, the midrange is extremely important due to the songs being vocal heavy. The main issue I had coming from full sized headphones(HD650) is that the mids sounds veiled but for the Solars it doesn't sound veiled at all even with the amount of bass present. The mids are unique in the sense that it presents male and female vocals quite differently, males vocals have that slight warmth to it to portray that deep voice while still maintaining clarity. On the other hand for female, the amount of clarity and detail is simply breathtaking.It's like the perfect blend of treble,midrange and bass all in a single package, not one element tries to overshadow the other. I would not change anything which regards to the mids, simply amazing.
Before I start ranting on how much I love the bass of the Solars. I would just like to point out that I am a basshead and as such I love earphones that can produce that punchy bass but I am also quite picky when it comes to the quality of bass. Most people think that as long as it has that boomy sound, it has good bass but there is a difference between just boomy bass and good quality bass. And for me the Solar have ticked all the boxes for being a quality bass even exceeding my expectations. The bass of the Solars is fast, punchy and goes really deep. I would say that even if you're used to having little/no bass, you will appreciate what the Solars have to offer. The bass is punchy but in a controlled way, what I mean by control is that even though it extends quite deep for whatever reason the midbass is not muddy at all. The best part is that it doesn't make the vocals sound veiled at all either. I don't know how Sammy did it, but whatever he did it is just amazing.
Coming from full sized headphones, I would say that my standard for soundstage is a bit different mainly due to being used to the wide and surround like presentation. Taking this into consideration, I would say that the Solars comes up quite close, only lacking a bit of width and height compared to their heavier brothers. If I would use figures for comparison, headphones would present itself as half a circle where each of the instruments have a significant gap as to where they are being played almost like attending a concert with a huge stage. And like a concert, you need to pay a premium price
to be able to listen closer. On the other hand, the Solar soundstage would be similar to listening in a bar, a bit narrower but the instruments are closer to each other and more in front of you. Though the depth is in my opinion, better than what full size can give. Lastly, the presentation is nice and airy with great resolution. All these things considered, I would say that the Solars is one of the best I've heard in a while in terms of soundstage/presentation.
Overall, I would say that the Solars is a great all-rounder if you happen to be in the market for one. Also, if you're the type that wants music to be presented in a realistic and fun manner then I would 100% recommend the Solars. It can definitely hold its own against other TOTL iems from other manufacturers. Considering also the price, one should definitely put the Solars up
in the list of contenders. As I would say it is one of the best, if not the best bang for the buck IEM in its price range.
These comparison are based on roughly only 2 hours of auditioning due to time constraints when I met with Sammy. So basically, initial impressions and comparison.
Rhapsodio&Rooth Hybrid Collaboration(MSRP unknown)
First off I would like to thank sammy for giving me the chance to audition these iems. If I had to compare these IEMs, it's like the little brother of the Solars. Like how little brothers are in real life(at least as kids), they are livelier and more in your face type of IEMs. If the Solars are front going to midrow the rooth collab hybrid is on the front row period. Every aspect aside from soundstage is accentuated,
treble is more sparkly, while bass hits hard but not as deep. For me, because the bass hits harder; it felt like the bass is not as fast and sometimes find it difficult to catch up to bass heavy fast paced songs. Also, because of this the sound is a bit muddier and sometimes midrange is slightly overshadowed. As I said earlier in this review, sparkly treble is not my cup of tea and as such the rooth collaboration hybrid is not for people that have similar tastes. Though this is the case, I would highly recommend the IEM to people that mainly listens to rock/pop and just wants to have a great midrange iem.
Rhapsodio Galaxy(MSRP $1600, comes with SG 2.98 as stock cable)
This is an IEM that is still currently in development by sammy so these impressions/comparison will not be the final product but roughly 60%-70% of it. The Rhapsodio Galaxy is what I would say how a reference sounding IEM should sound like. If I have to give a comparison, it is literally an HD800 in IEM form. Treble extends really far when called for(even further than the Solars imo) with just the right amount of sparkle. Bass is there only if it's called for, and when it hits it's just the right amount(might not satisfy bassheads). By right amount, you will definitely hear the bass,but once the next note hits it's gone which is probably why I feel that the galaxy is heads above the Solars in terms of clarity and resolution. As a comparison, Solar bass can be felt but Galaxy is more analytical? Lastly soundstage is similar to the Solars, like the Solars compared to full size headphones,the soundstage is relatively narrower and more compact with one another. Big words as this may be, I think this IEM is a HD800 in a smaller more portable casing sacrificing only some aspects of full sized headphones like comfort and soundstage width and height. Definitely a TOTL item like it's brother the Solars just catered for a different set of people.
Rhapsodio Golden Litz Cable (roughly $650)
This is the most expensive invoking cables that I have ever used from the day I started getting into audio. The cable just screams premium in all aspects(particularly color). Now does it sound as good as it looks. In my opinion, it does though imo it's catered for a different set of people. The most obvious thing when I change to these cables is clarity and resolution in the midrange and improves on what the Solars can already deliver with stock cables. Treble extension became even further with these cables to the point that it is ear piercing. This is where for me how the cables transformed the Solars into more reference sounding. As for bass, compared to the stock cable of the Solars it turned into something like the Rhapsodio Galaxy bass, just enough when called for. Soundstage became wider for sure and height is improved a little bit, small but good change. The cable for me is an attempt to retain all the great things about the Solars while trying to mix in little
bits of how Galaxy and headphones sounds like.
RSD Nylon Mark 1
One word "reference", this is the very first thing that came to my mind when I listened using these cables. the transformation is just unreal for me it's like I was using a different IEM close to that of the Galaxy. It transformed the Solars into something opposite of my tastes. As a basshead,I felt that the bass became less and honestly almost non-existent for me. It's like when you're eating cake and you removed the icing which made the Solars sounded a bit dull for my taste. If you're the type of person that likes the treble and upper midrange then by all means this cable is a specialist in improving those two aspects. Don't get me wrong, it is a good cable just not for me. Honestly the one cable I spent the least time on.
2.98 Silver Litz Cable
Of all the cables mentioned, this is imo the best pair for the Solars. It made the Solars a bit warmer and improved the midrange quite a bit while lessening the sparkle in the treble of Solar. If you're a basshead and you think that the Solars are still lacking then you're in for a treat. These cables gives more authority to the Solar's bass almost like you made the Solars lift some weights. Bass impact and texture is improved and for me brought the drums closer to the vocals in terms of imaging which made it sound like you're in the front row. Mids became slightly more forward resulting in more
in your face yet fun signature. The cable made the Solars sound fuller while still retaining the overall nature of the Solars.
List of some songs used.
1) Vitalization- Nana Mizuki
2) Complication- ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D
3) Imagination- SPYAIR
4) Two souls- toward the truth- fripSide
5) Gyakkou no Flugel- Takayama Minami & Nana Mizuki
6) Brand New Smile- Takagaki Ayahi
7) L.L.L- Myth&Roid
8) The first ending- Myth&Roid
9) Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari - Love Live
10) Irresistible- Fall Out Boy
11) Phoenix- Fall Out Boy
12) Clock Strikes- One OK Rock
Pros - Immaculate balance, natural lifelike timbre, coherence, excellent bass, mids and treble, large soundstage with accurate imaging, robust build quality.
Cons - Slightly veiled mids, sluggish bass at times, blunted note attack (can be too smooth), arguably best sound quality from silver cable.
A wise man once said that in summit-fi, there are no weaknesses, only preferences. He must work in marketing. I’ve been in the head-fi game since 2012, still a relative newbie, and have tested, bought and sold my way up the ladder in pursuit of “the perfect sound”, which does not exist. Still, the journey has been nothing short of enjoyable, as I continue to be wowed by the many new ways music can be presented.
Enter the Solar. Rhapsodio is a boutique brand from Hong Kong led by Sammy, who is active in Head-Fi and Facebook. The company is making waves for its impeccable IEM tuning and fancy upgrade cables. The Solar came highly, highly recommended among its reviewers, frequently garnering 5-star reviews. And being a 10BA-driver IEM, was naturally aligned with the Noble K10. Coming from a small city with no interest in developing head-fi, I had no means of testing either. So based on a few stellar reviews, the lower price of the Solar (at the time), and the friendliness of the guys in the Rhapsodio thread, I took the plunge to depths unknown, and bought the Solar blind. I chose the custom, because there’s nothing like commitment in your purchase, heh.
Adele – 25
Amber Rubarth – Scribbled Folk Symphonies
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Jeff Buckley – Grace
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Xiomara Laugart – Tears and Rhumba
Packaging and Accessories
I was hand-delivered the Solar by Sammy himself. It came in a simple, classy packaging: all-black cardboard box, opening to reveal a metal miniature suitcase that would probably survive an earthquake, and in it… the power and glory of the sun. Also, the Pandora OCC cables. There weren’t any other accessories per se, but it’s a custom IEM, and I wasn’t expecting any. You were expecting a cleaning cloth?
Fit, Isolation and Comfort
Sammy gestured me for a quick fit. Being brand-new CIEMs they had slight resistance going in. Oh don’t worry, they will be coated with a delicate layer of my exquisite cerumen (that’s earwax to you) and will slide right in with repeated fits. And get a really nice sheen while we’re at it. So back to the subject, the fit was perfect, 100% seal for both ears in the first fit. No refits needed, REJOICE! Isolation was near-total blockage of external noise, and that is to be expected in well-made CIEMs. Comfort wasn’t the best and never will be in the first fit, but as of today, they slide in, stay put, and after an hour or so I don’t feel like I have anything inside my ears. Supremely comfortable.
Design and Build Quality
After a quick listen, I took them out of my ears to admire the fruit of my good taste. “Man, I chose good. Look at ‘em!” And I could look at them all day. Black with gold flakes is a Rhapsodio favorite, nearly a trademark, and a timeless design. The build quality is also flawless. I gave Sammy the thumbs up. He gave me an amused “of course” look. It’s really a different feeling when the creator of the CIEM is standing right in front of you. I wanted to gush at his genius, yet had to hold back, as I was certain everyone else has already gushed at his genius. In the end I mustered three words, “好好听 (a very good listen).”
Each Rhapsodio IEM comes with a house cable priced from $130 upwards, and have the look and feel of upgrade cables. The “stock” cable paired with the Solar is the OCC Pandora. After a week or so with it, something felt off, and I had to PM Sammy. This is a matter of preference of course, but to me the notes lacked attack and bite, and I was nodding off even while Rage Against the Machine (a very popular band known for their ballads) was playing. Matter-of-factly, Sammy suggested the RSD silver litz cable for more excitement in the sound, and so I bit. Holding the silver cable in my hands for the first time did not inspire confidence. It was more rigid than the Pandora, and has an unwieldy memory effect. The cable has more of a “backyard DIY” look compared to better-known brands, and the pins did not insert fully into the Solar. The sound had better be good! And true enough, there is a marginal improvement without messing with the overall signature. More note urgency and sparkle. Not a night and day difference, but enough to tell a difference. I didn’t a/b both cables because I sold the Pandora back to Sammy. I’m cheap. Now onto the sound.
I’m a wordy dude, so no worries if you’ve skipped everything above. Bro’s got your back. What you need to know is the sound impressions are made with the RSD Silver Litz cable, not the stock Pandora copper. The cables are ran-in for 100 hours, and the Solar about 200 hours total before serious listening began. Sammy’s a proponent of burning-in, and I understand it’s controversial here, so just assume I’m following manufacturer’s instructions if that makes you sleep better at night. The signature is U-shaped, with enough bass to blow your house down, and a smooth yet sparkly treble that’s perfectly balanced. The mids are slightly pushed back, but still very detailed. Notes are thick and rich with a smooth finish, never fatiguing. Attack and decay is natural-sounding but its speed can be sluggish, noticeable in fast tracks. Very good separation and layering of notes owing to a deep and tall soundstage. On the whole, you get a very coherent sound, with a pleasing, easy-to-like signature, and natural, lifelike timbre in instruments. That’s the Solar’s main selling point.
The bass never ceases to amaze me. It’s definitely boosted for your enjoyment, but the bloom and decay sounds so natural, like a well-tuned dynamic-driver. Double bass, bass guitar, bongos, they sound alive and inviting. It reaches deep into your throat, and you feel it! Subbass is gently elevated while the midbass is plenty generous, with a rich tonal body. It does sound slower in complex passages, and not too detailed. But it segues very naturally into the mids, with no bleed at all. The deep soundstage helps in getting the most out of the bass, yet separating it cleanly from the rest of the spectrum. It has its own playground, and flourishes in it. A top, top bass. Hugely satisfying, like something from high-end speaker systems. And I’m not even a basshead.
Sweet, rich, creamy, a gentle but satisfying bite, and well-layered. I assure you I’m not reviewing a fine slice of cake. Although employing a mild U-shaped signature, the mids are still allowed to shine. You get used to the location of the mids, at the deepest part of a semi-circular stage, rather than occupying centre stage. Pop in a record heavy on vocals, acoustic guitar and pianos, and bask in its magnificence. Lower mids carry some body from the upper bass, lending richness and authority to the notes. Upper mids are intimate and melodious. Vocals are located above and in front of the head, with good heft and weight. They sound natural and pleasing, especially male vocals. Guitar plucks are realistic and have fantastic timbre. Pianos sound like the real thing. A GREAT slice of cake. Smooth as butter with no grain, perhaps a bit too smooth, as detail-heads will be clamoring for clarity. Compared to detail-oriented IEMs, there is a veil, but on its own, its richness and smoothness will make you sit back and enjoy the music.
The most accomplished of the whole spectrum. Where the bass can be sluggish and the mids can be veiled, the treble is hardest to fault to my ears. Hugely resolving, extending for Miles (Davis), with nary a touch of harshness. It’s quite exciting yet forgiving, achieving a splendid balance between smoothness and clarity. Cymbals and hi-hats decay with realism and a certain je ne sais quoi, trumpets bray triumphantly without piercing the ears. Cavalli Audio might have taken the name, but listening to the treble is truly like liquid gold. Some sparkle and shimmer, a fluid and seductive character, and precious to no end.
Soundstage and Imaging
This is the IEM that taught me about height, that it’s not enough for a soundstage to be wide and deep, hang on bruv, there’s a third dimension! Where the width is good, but not the greatest I’ve heard among TOTL IEMs, the depth and height are astonishing. The music achieves a definite 3D space, with width, depth, height and layering used to maximum effect, creating a wonderful, enveloping soundscape. Think back to when you were a kid going inside a circus tent for the first time, the sensation overload and being amaze-balled by everything. Okay maybe not that big but you get the idea. Imaging is stellar. Each instrument occupies their own space inside the tent and is allowed equal opportunity to shine. Even with the note thickness of the Solar, separation and air between instruments are well below the lime (sublime). My jokes might fall flat but not the Solar. Like the first burst of light at dawn, the Solar provides light and warmth and invites you to immerse in its splendor. What a sight, what a sound.
Campfire Audio Jupiter
The Jupiter is a well-loved 4BA universal with a solid build and a neutral-with-slight-warmth signature. Its subbass and midbass are boosted equally, unlike Solar with more midbass emphasis. Note thickness is similar for both, but impact, slam and rumble definitely goes to the Solar. But curiously, bass detail and separation are better for the Solar despite the elevated midbass. It makes good use of its depth for better layering. Jupiter’s midbass stumbles more in fast passages, notes less well-articulated. For mids, Jupiter’s are in-your-head whereas Solar’s are more above and in front (studio vs stage). Solar has sweeter and more natural mids despite being slightly veiled. Jupiter has boosted upper mids and lower treble that increases detail and clarity, however this makes some instruments, especially trumpets, sound unnatural. Treble in the Jupiter also has more sparkle and shimmer, but not as forgiving and once again, natural sounding as the Solar. Jupiter has the wider stage, but is no match for the depth and height of the Solar. Overall, Solar sounds more coherent with a seamless spectral transition. Jupiter no doubt has a more exciting sound and a bigger wow factor on first listen. But its thick bass and sparkly treble, while good individually, can come out disjointed at times. The Jupiter seems like the kid trying to impress the teacher with his knowhow, while Solar IS the teacher.
JH Audio JH13 FreqPhase
The 6BA 13 is my reference, the yardstick by which all TOTLs are measured by. Its exciting, fast, balanced sound makes this an endgame for rock and metal. Against the Solar is a battle between two ideologies, the quick aggressor vs the relaxed slow-burner. Notes are thinner and nimbler on the 13, with a faster and impactful attack and decay. It makes for a very engaging listen. Solar, as I’ve said, has a more natural, lifelike tuning. Sounds sluggish next to the 13, but shines so much more on low-tempo tracks when emotion and euphony are called upon. Then it makes the 13 seem cold and “digital” in comparison. If we go by sections, bass extension is equal for both, but Solar packs more rumble, with a more accurate, realistic timbre. The 13’s mids, probably the weakest point of the 13, is no match at all for the natural, emotive Solar mids. 13’s vocals might sound clearer with a veil removed, but tends to be shoutier. 13’s treble too, is splashier, less forgiving, and can be downright harsh in poor recordings. Certainly more exciting but error-prone next to the Solar. In terms of presentation, Solar has a more immersive, enveloping sound with good layering, while 13 seems to present its music like a flat canvas in front of you. There is width and some depth, but the separation and air between instruments are lacking next to the Solar. And I will again harp on the lifelike timbre of the instruments presented by the Solar. The 13 does cymbals, drums, percussion and high-hats very well, but just about every other instrument is bested by the Solar.
JH Audio Angie
The Angie is an 8BA IEM that’s known for its mid-forward neutral sound, and to me the best-tuned of the Sirens. In contrast to the 13, the Angie and Solar share many similarities. Let’s get to it. Angie (at bass port 2:00 position) has slightly more detailed bass, with cleaner notes and quicker decay. Solar is warmer, slower, midbass-heavy, punches harder, with a natural decay, and sounds dynamic-like. Angie sounds like a very good BA bass. Mids they go blow-for-blow, decided only by preference. Angie’s mids are more prominent and upfront, with a bit more detail but grainier. Excellent tuning, except vocals are in-your-head. Solar's mids are located further back, sounds sweeter and smoother but very slightly muffled compared to Angie's mids. Both sound natural, with realistic timbre. I would gladly go for either. Treble is another close fight. Both have equal extension and detail. Angie with more precise, articulated notes, and Solar with sweeter, thicker notation. More treble shimmer and sparkle on the Solar, very addictive and natural. Both are just as forgiving. In terms of staging, Angie is wider, whereas Solar is taller and deeper, with better layering of music. Not to say Angie’s imaging is bad, but Solar makes a better case, using its width, depth and height to create a splendid 3D image. Imaging is a mighty Solar strength! Overall, both are in the same ballpark of warmish, smooth, detailed premier IEMs. Angie has the thinner and better-separated notes, giving the impression of more detail. But Solar, with its thicker, richer notes actually sound airier because it uses its depth and height very well. A rare feat indeed.
This is my first TOTL review, and with apologies to Sammy, I’ve really taken my time with it. Moments of critical listening were interrupted by hours upon hours of sheer musical enjoyment. I have not heard realism from instruments as good as this. It’s uncanny! And like a drunk uncle who knows not when to leave or shut up, I will drill these words again to you. Natural, lifelike timbre. I’ve said natural like a few hundred times in this review alone, because it really was a revelation to me. If you want a well-balanced all-rounder suitable for nearly all genres, with pinpoint imaging and a satisfyingly large soundstage, please do consider the Solar. Its bass, mids and treble gel together in a super-coherent unit, ignited by its immaculate balance. It truly has no deal-breaking weaknesses.
At this level, and especially with this signature (warm, smooth, detailed), people will gravitate towards fellow headliners Zeus, A12 and of course, the nambawan custom in Head-Fi, the legendary K10. I daresay the Solar stands with that elite group of CIEMs, and trades blows with them week-in, week-out in Head-Fi battles/comparos. Sort of like Austin, Triple H, Undertaker and the Rock. The past year has been a watershed moment in IEM history, with breathtaking TOTLs arriving every other month, portable audio has never been this exciting. With more reviews, good word-of-mouth, and aided by the excellent customer service of Sammy and co., I hope to see the Solar withstand the test of time.