Pros - precision and resolution despite the little price tag, open and airy soundstage, cable extension
Cons - cheap feeling cable, bass quality could be somewhat better (it is a little soft and boomy)
Superlux – the Chinese/Taiwanese company really doesn’t need any further instruction for anyone who is at least just a little into audio and headphones. Being in the business for over 30 years, the company is manufacturing microphones, portable PA systems, conference gear, monitoring systems and of course headphones.
Especially their headphones and also in-ears were very positively received by the audiophile community and headphone lovers for delivering exceptionally good value for the money and sounding good despite being so inexpensive. A large part of this “secret” is the abandonment of large (or any at all?) marketing and ad campaigns and re-using the design of existing products.
Less commonly known, Superlux also acts as OEM manufacturer from time to time.
I jumped on the Superlux train quite late – it must have been around spring of 2013 or 2014. That’s when I thought it could be fun trying such an inexpensive circumaural headphone and therefore bought the Superlux HD681.
Not expecting much, the ~ €20 headphone surprised me a lot and delivered anything but a cheap and unrefined sound – yeah, it was actually quite enjoyable and sounded like it cost considerably more. Based on what I heard, I wouldn’t have hesitated to spend ~ €70 for the sound and likely even more if the treble was somewhat less forward and more even.
This year I also got the chance to listen to the HD668B, and just as the HD681, it offered a lot of sound for little money.
Even though it is a very cheap in-ear, I am very excited that I got the chance to review the HD381 in-ears now – the HD381 line also received thoroughly very positive feedback, so this review will focus on how it performs on its own and compared to other in-ears in the lower price range that offer good value.
I received the sample (after requesting it myself) of the HD381 in-ears from GearBest free of charge for the purpose of an honest, unbiased review. Just as for all of my reviews, I am not affiliated with either the manufacturer or the store and what you are reading are my unedited words that I don’t receive any financial compensation for.
Most in-ears this cheap arrive in a package that you forget really soon and when it comes to Superlux, this is also true for some of their full-sized headphones. However, the HD381’s small package appears quite nice and I really like the idea of the porthole-like dome with the in-ears being showcased behind.
Inside, one will find three pairs of differently sized silicone tips that are colour-coded depending on their size, an extension cable as well as a cable wrapper tool that you can bet I won’t be using (a real carrying case can be found starting from less than $5 and is much more protective). Although no carrying case/pouch is included, the accessories are really not too shabby for the price.
Looks, Feels, Build Quality:
The in-ears are made of plastic and have got a red indicator on the right side to easily find the correct one. They are made of rather cheaply feeling plastic but don’t show any sharp edges. The shape is comparable with in-ears from DUNU, Atomic Floyd, and I think also Foster and others – I don’t know which manufacturer used it first, so I will leave it at that.
The actual cable is quite short and has got the ideal length to use the HD381 with audio players such as the Apple iPod Nano 6G or SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip. Using the extension cable, the total cable length can be brought to the average length for in-ears.
The y-split has even got a chin-slider but the cable feels quite cheap and also rather fragile, not unlike with some entry-level Sony in-ears. Nonetheless, there is strain relief on every single transition, which is quite commendable.
The in-ears sit very comfortably in my large ears and I get an immediate fit plus seal.
Due to the shape of the ear pieces, the in-ears are intended to be worn with the cable down, however I prefer to insert them that way and then to guide the cables around my ears.
Microphonics are already quite low when worn down but can even be pretty much entirely eliminated by using my method.
Noise isolation is a bit more on the weaker side of average but definitely not as weak as with the DUNU Titan 1.
In case anyone of you is wondering about the last letter of the naming scheme of Superlux’s products, it is quite simple: of each product type, there are three iterations that differ in bass quantity. The one without any additional letter has got the most amount of bass, the one with a “B” at the end is right in the middle (“Balanced”) and the one with an “F” at the end is the one with the least amount of low-end emphasis (“Flat”).
So the HD381 should be the model with the most “exciting” tonality out of the three.
My main sources for listening were the iBasso DX80, Cowon Plenue M2 as well as HiFime 9018d and LH Labs Geek Out IEM 100.
For listening, I used the largest included silicone tips.
What I am generally hearing is a strong, (almost) omnipresent and growling midbass and a bottom-end that is generally not lean at all and more on the warmer side, tonally relatively accurate vocals (which really not that many in-ears manage to achieve at this price point), a lift in the lower treble between 1 and 2 kHz followed by a recessed and smooth as well as slightly dark treble from 3 kHz on and up.
Listening to sine sweeps, I hear somewhat of a v-character between 500 and 2000 Hz that makes low vocals sound a bit warmer and adds clarity to bright ones, however without really skewing the tonality.
I hear the bass as starting to climb around 500 Hz, reaching its climax around 80 Hz, nonetheless the root, especially the lower root region, is on the warm and full side due to the bass more following the shape of a hump. From 40 towards 20 Hz, the bass is losing some quantity and therefore follows more the character of a growling midbass-driven bottom end that is ca. 10.3 dB more present than on a strictly flat in-ear like the Etymotic ER-4S when doing volume-matched and equalized comparisons to see how much quantity the bass has.
In the highs, I hear a slight dip between 2 and 3 kHz, with small lifts around 5, 8 and 12 kHz that are however somewhat below neutral level, making the highs appear overall smooth and slightly dark but not veiled due to the slight clarity lift in the upper mids. Above 14 kHz, level is decreasing.
If there is a flaw, then it is probably that trumpets and pianos sound slightly skewed to the brighter/squeakier side due to the lift in the upper mids (that however also suggests clarity) and that the midbass is sometimes growling a bit too much with some acoustic recordings (the latter is obviously a thing of personal preference – I wouldn’t say it already reaches basshead levels but is not that far away and shows a quite strong impact). Then again, the HD381 doesn’t sound unnatural at all and has got a tonality that appears harmonious, and I wouldn’t be able to name many in-ears that achieve that at this price point (some great Asian budget offerings are an exception).
For the price, this is really not what you would expect in terms of detail retrieval – the HD381 does a great job here and I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised if it had cost twice as much with the basis being the general retail price of around $20 (at $12, it is quite of a no-brainer in my opinion).
Compared to some of the better/best in-ears in the $50 to 100 range, there is a really slight veil on male/deep vocals, and cymbals could be slightly better separated, but it is nothing major and is probably not even noteworthy for the price as I know some solid $50 in-ears such as the SoundMAGIC E10 that are comparable in this regard but have some other flaws like a rather slobby bass.
Speaking about the lows: they are on the softer and slightly boomy side but really never fail when it comes to resolution or texture in this area – they sound good but are just soft. Overall, control is fairly good, too. The only music where the bass is somewhat too soft and lacks some control is Metal or really demanding and multi-layered as well as fast Electro, but single bass notes, while they are then mushy, can still be guessed which is a thing that is not always the case even with a few dynamic driver in-ears that are (partially much) more expensive than the Superlux.
What quite surprised me about the Superlux HD381 is that it sounds really open and spacious. The soundstage has got plenty of width and also depth and appears realistic. The openness and airiness somewhat reminds me of the DUNU Titan 1 which however has got even somewhat more depth and width.
In terms of separation, layering and instrument placement, the HD381 doesn’t fall short either and the imaginary room sounds never smeary, even with busy tracks.
In Comparison with other In-Ears:
Xiaomi Piston Colorful Starter Edition:
Neither of the two in-ears has got a good cable or premium build quality, however the Superlux’s cable has got decent strain relief on all of its cable’s transitions.
Both in-ears have got a comparable amount of bass and bass extension (the HD381’s is just a slight bit more present and warmer in comparison) and the Superlux has got the somewhat brighter vocal range whereas the Xiaomi has got somewhat more sparkle in the treble due to its mild upward lift towards the upper treble.
The Xiaomi’s bass is tighter compared to the more body-focused but slightly better textured and separated bottom end of the Superlux while control is comparable. The resolution appears to be pretty similar with the Xiaomi probably having the slightly better separated and textured mids and highs.
When it comes to soundstage, the Superlux’s is somewhat larger in both dimensions and appears airier while instrument separation doesn’t show a clear winner.
One could say that on the technical level, both are pretty much on par.
Knowledge Zenith HDS1:
The HDS1 has got the better cable and appears to be better built due to its solid aluminium housings.
Tonally, the HD381 reminds me of a bassier version of the HDS1 with a stronger clarity lift in the upper mids and a slightly darker treble.
When it comes to bass, both are comparably on the somewhat softer side while the HDS1 appears to be slightly quicker decaying. In the mids and treble, I really cannot really make out a qualitative difference (HDS1: slightly better separated highs; HD381: slightly more layered mids) and both are great here for their little price.
The HD381’s soundstage is larger in all directions and somewhat airier while placement and spatial precision are on the same level.
The Fidue’s cable is superior and its lacquered copper housings are of a much higher class (having both next to each other feels a little like if a luxury class sedan was parking next to a Dacia Logan).
The Fidue has got less bass quantity and less sub-bass extension but is also less warm in the lows. The A65’s mids are on the darker side. In the highs, the Fidue sounds a little darker.
The Fidue has got the tighter and better controlled bass and slightly better separated treble along with the better layered mids.
When it comes to soundstage, the Superlux’s is much larger and open sounding but instruments are somewhat more precisely positioned and better separated on the Fidue’s imaginary stage.
DUNU Titan 1:
While I don’t like that the DUNU’s cable is nylon-/cloth-coated, it is obviously better and the in-ears appear more premium, too.
When it comes to sound, the DUNU has got somewhat less bass (tight fit, vent holes naturally quite covered by my ears) that extends deeper and has got less quantity in the root wherefore it sounds less warm (actually not even warm at all). The DUNU’s mids appear to be playing more distantly and the in-ear is obviously brighter in the treble.
The DUNU has got the tighter, better controlled bass, resolves higher in the mids and has got the better separated treble.
When it comes to soundstage, the DUNU’s is even a bit more open and airy (as well as somewhat better separated) compared to the HD381’s already large and airy spatiality.
I wasn’t that much surprised about the HD381’s performance – not because it is bad but actually because I am already familiar with Superlux’s great bang-for-the-buck-ness. What it gave me was indeed an overall harmonious tonality with quite accurate mids, a level of details that so many western big-brand in-ears badly fail to achieve at this price point and a very open and airy spatial presentation with good depth.
The tonality is bassy with a clarity lift in the lower treble that doesn’t skew the tonal balance, and with an easy-going and smooth middle as well as upper treble.
As a carelessly treated budget beater, an in-ear for sports, if you are on a budget or have friends and family members who you want to surprise with a good sounding and inexpensive in-ear, the HD381 is a great choice.
Very right, although I am usually mainly using headphones and in-ears in the price range between $500 and $2000, the HD381 left a positive impression and I love its warm-bassy bottom end with the clarity lift and smooth treble, and especially the really open and airy presentation (I’m not trying to imply that it can compete with in-ears in this tier as it slightly cannot, but just saying that it sounds surprisingly nice for its price). Only the cable feels quite cheap and no traveling case is included, however this is not that much surprising given the low price point.
Pros - Excellent sound in all frequencies, Musical AND neutral, near bassy, good texture, good mids and highs, Good soundstage and instruments separation
Cons - A little more sparkle in the highs and we will be in HIFI heaven. Construction look a little fragile.
-SUPERLUX HD381 REVIEW-
After 2 weeks of use, I already feel Necessary to review the SUPERLUX HD381. Why? Because they are simply mind blowing for a sub-30$ earphones!! In the last 2 month I have listen to about 20 pairs of different chinese brands earphones and it was a revolution for me that is use to spend way more money to find good sounding earphones. I was already a owner of Vsonic GR06, but do not feel this earphones was really a bang for the buck at 60$ compared to more popular brands like Sony, Yamaha, Sennheiser, Westone, Shure etc. My real surprise happen with the Xiaomi V2 that was less than 20$ at the time and deliver a very impressive and addictive V-Shaped sound that drive me to use them more than way pricier earphones I have in my collection. Before the HD381 I try the HD381B and was madly deceive, I wasn't able to want to listen at them because the sound was so badly tweaked it was like taking off musicality of your favorite tracks, who want that? Now, with the Superlux HD381 we are in another league....at a cheaper price (depending where you buy them), this earphones have enormous airy soundstage, big bass that doesn't drown the mids, impressive texture and details, and just the right sound signature spot between brigthness and warmness. Really, can't be more enthusiast about an earphones (even if I don't think about the price tag)!
CONSTRUCTION and DESIGN: Superlux isn't know for fancy construction, they sell cheap headphones and earphones that have the goal of being enough serious looking and sounding to be used by professionnal and musicians and yes serious Audiophile on budget. This earphones have and average all plastic construction, the cable is cheap and easily brokable but you get and extension L cable that is very usefull. They aren't beautifull neither ugly, and the earshell have an interesting form with somekind of hole and damping material in the front wich inflict on the soundstage performance I guess. Their no Left right marking, just a red spot to know wich earphones is the left one. The HD381 are very comfortable and the cable tangling do not produce microphonic sound. The earshell go out of your ears a little, so it isn't really advice to sleep with them as they are too big (long). The eartips include with them do a good job, but as always, I use my favorite memory foam tips that do better for noise cancelation and long listening comfort.
SOUND IMPRESSIONS :
First time I put the HD381 in my ears and press play buttom on my Xduoo X3 I barely fall of my chair, I really but really wasn't thinking it would sound that good and precious. I don't say the sound is 300$ worth, it's only one dynamic driver in a particular earshell afterall, but the whole sound experience is so well articulate and wide, it's like having monitor earphones with extra bass and a fun soundsignature. The presentation is airy and authoritative at the same time, with excellent instruments separation and sound imaging, good texture and details but not in an analytical micro details focused way. It's all about musicality here and a very versatile one.
LOWS: I think that even if the lows aren't extremely bumped, bass head with various music taste will adore the bass performance. It is round, punchy, with good decay and texture, and can deal with acoustic and digital bass. The bass sound as good with jazz than with rap, perhaps basshead will like more sub-bass, anyway, we got the sub bass too with these but they do not corrupt the sound and drown other frequencies like with other excellenet earphones as the LETV Reverse. This mean it's a little brighter too, but very very little, it's because the treble is extended and permit this texture we have with cello or slap bass that give realism to the sound presentation. Compared to the Tennmak Dulcimer, bass is less boomy but permit a more neutral sound that give a better instruments separation and details retreival. We don't fell the bass stole the show, but is a vital part of the show.
MIDS: The HD381 excell in low and mid frequencies range. The vocals are over average fowards and did not have the drawback of V shaped sound signature. It is very present and textured, did not feel harsh and is more warm than bright, even if the treble is well extended and can reveal background noise of bad recording. The sound is wide and envelopping, and as I listen to Agnes Obel right now (with Fiio E7), I feel overwhelmed by beauty, it is like being in a big room with her and having the chance to taste all the subtility of her magnificent voice. No strange mids bump here, it is like an amplified neutrality (hum, yes). The soundsignature is not clinical at all, and when I talk about neutrality I talk about a musical one, not a dead serious monitoring one. Now I listen to Linda Perhacs on my Ibasso Dx80, this is a very good album to test mids and whole frequencies capacity because it have lots of instruments, texture and micro details...not alot of earphones can deal with this recording but another time the Superlux HD381 excell! All background voices layers are well rendered and separate, with front signers in the front seat, cymbal, guitars, textures, energy, I really can hear EVERYTHING and to be honnest, i'm not even sure it never happen with any earphones I use, here, we have zero congestion even if we throw hundreds of different sound in this little earshells...sound imagery is magnificent and wide...okay, enough.
HIGHS: Not because other frequencies range are the stars that the highs are rolled off here, nope, the treble is full of sparkle and super extended, wich can lean thinking this is bright earphones. I can't say they are bright cause I find them warm sometime, can't say I find them warm cause I find them bright other time, so, what term to use? I don't know, musical with good warmnest and brightish treble? We can find micro details here, easily, and nothing sound metallic or hissy like the cymbals extension can sound with bright analitycal earphones. The highs are simply not overly focused but can be easily heard as they participate naturally in the whole spectrum of sound presentation. I listen now to Cartography by Arve Henriksen, a complexe ambient jazz album that mix acoustic and electronic instruments, have lot of textural sound and different frequencies in it, a very difficult album to enjoy with earphones because of the envelopping experience we search with this kind of music, if it was too bright it will sound distracting and spoil the whole experience. The HD381, another time, don't deceive at all, saxophone is wide and go up to the top, micro detials are good but not extremely sparkly and more neutral so we can heard much more different details in fact and the sound live in a wide well rendered sound imagery. If the highs are suppose to be agressive it will be too, some snare hit was like this in the album and perfectly rendered. Yes, the HD381 got it ALL!!!
CONCLUSION: I think you already know it: I ADORE this earphones and since I have them I obssessively listen to them even if I have earphones that cost 50-100 and even 500$. Not that the HD381 beat them in all category, it's the musicality and versatility of the sound that I like, I can choose any music style with them and it will sound good or excellent. I say this without thinking the supremely absurb price I paid for them...if I think about this too, I will became insane trying to understand how they could acheive this kind of masterpeice that beat most of sub-100$ earphones I ever heard.
Pros - Excellent sound quality in an unassuming package.
Cons - Looks and feels cheap. Treble is a little bit on the laid-back side.
TL;DR: The Superlux HD381F is an IEM that pops tags with its exceptional sound quality in its cheap-looking and completely unassuming package.
Before I begin, I would like to first thank George at Gearbest.com for providing a review sample of the Superlux HD381F in exchange for my honest opinion. I would like to clarify that I am neither affiliated with Gearbest or any of its staff, nor am I being paid to write this review. All opinions expressed and all photos taken in the following review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified. Finally, please take everything I write with a grain of salt. Thanks!
Though lately I have been looking up towards the higher IEM price tiers, it remains difficult for me to leave my roots completely. There will always be one or two pairs that pass by and wow the budget IEM crowd. Now, this one in particular has been in the IEM market for a very, very long time, and a couple weeks ago George gave me the splendid opportunity to test out the HD381F – a half-in-ear earphone that has impressed me in more ways than one. Read on to find out why.
== Aesthetics ==
The HD381F comes in a diminutive little box, showcasing the earphones through a round plastic window. The rear of the box lists specifications and the accessories (both of which I’ll write below). Taking out the contents, you are greeted with a plastic zip pouch with two extra pairs of eartips, a cable extender, and a strange-looking cable wrapper which I have no idea how to use. Beyond that there’s not much to say.
Design, Build, Microphonics
The HD381 employs a half-in-ear housing design, which we’ve also found on DUNU’s Titan series of earphones. Basically they’re earbuds with nozzles on them that extend into the ear canals, hence “half in-ear”. Shape-wise they resemble the DUNU Titans a lot, from the cable entry, to the nozzle placement, to the 13.5mm driver capsule. One detail that really stands out, though, is their split cable. The HD381’s cable extends only two feet from the housings and terminates in a straight 3.5mm jack. This is where the cable extender comes in – you attach it to the straight jack and the cable is extended to a more usable 4 feet.
As insignificant as that was, I really found the cable to be noteworthy because of how unnecessary it is – Superlux could’ve slapped on a straight-up 4-foot cable just as easily and it’d still fit in its box. If the cable design was for durability purposes, it’d still be completely pointless since the cable is really thin and feels rather fragile. Nonetheless, the thinness does have its benefits in the form of practically non-existent cable noise, even with the housings’ straight-down fit.
The rest of the earphones’ build is pretty much on average for a $13 IEM. The plastic housings feel pretty solid, the connectors are decently-built, and the strain reliefs aren't that bad, either. Again, my only gripe here is with the cable, which feels rather cheap and fragile. Then again, the earphones themselves are pretty cheap, so I guess that's to be expected.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
Since the HD381 shares a very similar housing shape to the DUNU Titans, their fit characteristics, too, are similarly excellent. The housings only accommodate a straight-down fit and cannot be worn around-the-ear, but that doesn't matter as the minimal cable noise keeps that from being a problem (unless you want an around-the-ear IEM in the first place). Probably the only thing I can't say is good here is the isolation – with the music off, one can easily hear outside noise, albeit with it slightly muffled.
The equipment used in this review is primarily a 5[sup]th[/sup]-generation iPod Touch directly running the Superlux HD381. For the amp test, I run the Superlux through a Schiit Fulla driven from my laptop running iTunes 12 and Foobar 2k. The EQ software used in its respective test is TuneShell on iOS and Viper4Windows on PC. The test tracks I normally use to assess the earphones can be found here, although I will include links to specific songs in the review to keep things more concise.
As is standard, the Superlux HD381 was burned in for at least 50 hours prior to writing the sound assessment. No major changes were noted sound-wise. The eartips used in the sound assessments are the stock medium-size eartips. Naturally, I’ve tried some other eartips with them to test their eartip dependence sound-wise. No changes beyond the typical wide bore vs. narrow bore eartip differences were noted.
Before we get to the juicy sound stuff, though, there are a couple things I’d like to clarify. Firstly, the “F” marking on this IEM’s model name. There are actually three different versions of the HD381 – namely the bassy HD381, the neutral HD381F, and the brighter HD381B. To make things easier for all of us, here’s a comparison chart complete with measurements from Superlux themselves:
Second, I’d like to clarify that this is a review of the HD381F specifically; basically, I don’t have any of the other versions (if I did, this’d be a complete three-way review and comparison). And, well, that’s about it. Let’s get to it then, shall we?
The Superlux HD381F starts off strong with a surprising bass response. The HD381F exhibits a level-headed kind of bass authority, with a light-handed yet powerful punch and a clean extension to 20 Hz that I can consider quite a bit of a rarity at this price point. My prime bass test songs (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Jimmy Iovine, Wiz Khalifa – On My Level) both demonstrate the above two characteristics.
Many other IEMs at this price point usually have bass responses more centred around the midbass, but the HD381F goes for a very clean, smooth response from 20 to 250 Hz, which is surprising for an IEM at this price. What’s even more surprising is how they manage to pull it off and come out with bass that exhibits both power and control at the same time. It’s a response I can very easily liken to its 10x more expensive distant relative, the DUNU Titan 1. If that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is.
The HD381F continues to shine going into the midrange frequencies. Their tonality has a warm, smooth, natural feel to them – quite reminiscent of the A151P Generation 2 albeit with an added heft in the lower registers. Though the heft is nice to have, this warmth does tend to make bassier recordings sound a little too thick – just like every other warmer-sounding IEM on the market (Coldplay -- Magic). Regardless, they still keep on shining with a very likeable tonality that works excellently with guitars, pianos, brass instruments, strings, woodwinds, synthesisers – you name it, the HD381F plays them well.
The treble tops the HD381F’s sound signature off with a very smooth finish, again reminiscent of the A151P Generation 2. There is nary a hint of sibilance as I run SineGen through to the highest limit of my hearing. However, I found the treble to be slightly lacking to my ears – that, or maybe the bass’ raw power obscured a bit of the higher frequencies. Whatever the case, they sound pretty damn good.
Despite having a lot of physical similarities with the DUNU Titan 1, the Superlux HD381 series are all closed-back IEMs, and as such, they have an inherently smaller soundstage than the semi-open Titan 1. This is probably where I feel the HD381Fs could be improved upon – even with live recordings I find them to sound rather cramped (Eagles – Hotel California). That, or maybe it’s because of my reference headphones.
The HD381F’s overall smooth, natural signature really works well with……actually just about anything. EDM? Their authoritative low-end has you covered. Acoustic recordings? Their slightly warm, smooth midrange has you covered as well.
Probably the two things the HD381Fs can’t do is reproduce minute details and provide a large soundstage. The HD381F can, however, do just about everything else with flying colours. I’ll admit, I never really took a liking for them before I started writing this review. For most of the time during the burn-in phase, all I really noticed was their smoothly rolled-off treble paired with powerful bass – a combination that I usually didn’t like since they usually never work out nicely. But the HD381 seems to be a very rare instance in which you can have both big bass, but with smoother, more laid-back treble. Kinda like having your cake and eating it at the same time.
When you’re shopping for some audio gear for gaming purposes, you probably won’t even be looking at this review in the first place. But if your budget cannot go beyond $15 bucks, then look no further – the HD381F has your back. They may not have the pro-level detailing of the MEE M6 PRO or the cinematic awesomeness of the DUNU Titan 1, but if you don’t have the cash to spend on either you won’t be disappointed with the 381F. Their smooth sound signature isn’t well-suited for gaming, but they do have pretty good positional accuracy, so you shouldn’t miss out on too much. Bottom line, they just work.
EQ Response, Amplification
The HD381F’s 16 ohm impedance and 103 dB sensitivity figures guarantee the HD381F will play loudly on mobile devices without turning up the volume too much. As such, an amp won’t really do much to improve the sound of the 381F besides the natural improvements from higher-end gear. That being said, there aren't any headphones or earphones on the market that cannot be improved with a little bit of EQ.
As I stated earlier, I felt the HD381F was a little bit lacking in higher frequency “snap”, so a quick boost to the treble did wonders to retrieve a little of the details that they had trouble getting without the EQ.
The Superlux HD381F is sold at about $13 at GearBest.com. As I also said earlier, these IEMs deliver a level of performance comparable to that of IEMs priced much, much higher. With that said, it's hard not to recommend this to anyone looking for IEMs with a tight budget.
Versus DUNU Titan 1 ($130):
Several times throughout this review I've made comparisons to the DUNU Titan 1 – an IEM ten times the price. But despite the massive differences in price and use of materials, the two IEMs sound surprisingly similar. No, I’m not joking around; they really do sound similar, to the point where the only differences I hear are tighter bass, brighter treble, a slightly larger soundstage, and a cleaner midrange from the Titan 1. Beyond that they’re really similar sound-wise – from the tonality, to their all-around capability. It’s safe to say I’m really impressed with them here.
Versus Xiaomi Pistons 3.0 ($16):
I know very few IEMs under $20 that deliver the full package the way the Pistons 3 does. For some reason, they manage to seamlessly blend form, function, and sound into an affordable, accommodating package. That being said, while I do enjoy the 3.0’s overall performance, there are a few IEMs in particular that give a one-up in the most important factor: the sound. The Superlux HD381 is one of those IEMs. Though they look and feel rather cheap, it’s what’s on the inside that counts – and inside these IEMs are drivers that completely blow the Pistons 3.0 out of the water with its smooth, balanced sound signature.
== Conclusion ==
The Superlux HD381F is a bit of a relic in the IEM market – kinda like some centuries-old antique. This little cheapo has no right to be left to bite in the dust like it has way back when. I mean, sure, they aren’t built to last, and they don’t exactly have Pistons 3.0 quality materials, but the sound they put out decimates absolutely everything I’ve heard under $20. This is an IEM you don’t wanna miss, folks, so if any of you happen to look for an IEM that you won’t cry over when it breaks, then look no further. This is it.
Basic cardboard box, two pairs of eartips, a cable extender, and some sort of shirt clip/cable wrapper hybrid. Can’t expect much else from a $13 IEM.
Design, Build, Microphonics
The HD381F’s plastic build feels rather cheap, but isn’t fragile and will last if taken care of.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
Having a similar housing shape to the DUNU Titan 1, the HD381F shares its secure, comfortable fit and mediocre isolation.
Deep, thumping, and very well-extended, the HD381F’s bass won’t leave anyone hanging.
Their midrange is one of the best I’ve heard at this price, with a natural tonality that is simply effortless in its delivery.
The HD318F’s treble rolls off smoothly as it reaches the upper limits of human hearing, but I feel they’re a bit laid-back for my tastes.
Their soundstage is neither spacious nor cramped – to be honest, they sound just about right.
The HD381F does well with media outside of music, with their accommodating sound signature working decently with both games and movies.
EQ Response, Amplification
Amplifying the HD381F won’t bring out much else from the drivers, but EQ tweaks sure will.
The Superlux HD381F looks, feels, and is cheap, but don’t let the outward looks fool you; inside is a monster of an IEM that can play with my personal favourites in terms of price to performance.
Suggestions for Improvement
None that are worth noting.
I’d like to again thank George at Gearbest.com for providing a sample of the HD381F covered in this review. I’m not done reviewing just yet – there are a couple more IEMs I’m looking forward to review in time for the summer.
As always, this has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!