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Reviews by corgifall
Pros: Tips are a medium-wide size bore. Two different height flavors to cover most IEMs. Comfortable.
Cons: Price is a little high. Still no option for single size options on W1.
For a few years I’ve almost exclusively used spinfit tips on all my IEM reviews. I’ve cycled through every tip they’ve had minus their double flange offerings. My favorites being the super deep and wide bore CP500 and their medium size bore CP145. When I saw the release of the W1, I instantly purchased some to see if they would make for a better fitment and replacement to the CP145. Then, for the IEMs that wouldn’t work with a longer tip like the CP145/W1 I would normally use a shorter and smaller bore CP360. After using the W1 tips for many months, whenever I did need to use the CP360, I always wished they would just make a shorter W1 tip since I preferred that design. That’s where the new Omni tips come in! The W1 tips have been out for a while but the OMNI is a new set of tips that complement the W1 tips well from my testing. The W1 tips are sold in a single pack of S,M,L for $19.99 and the Omni comes in single packs for ~$9.99.
Quick shoutout to my friends over at Spinfit for sending a few packs of their Omni to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The W1 tips and Omni can be picked up from Amazon in the US. I’ll link to amazon(no affiliate links) and to their website for more info on the tips.
W1 tips Amazon:
Omni tips Amazon:
Onto the review of the Spinfit W1 & Omni tips!
Looks and fitThe W1 tips use a different design than their older CP line of tips and the W1 has a more grippy silicone texture which for my ears does really well at holding IEMs in place. Assuming I can get the correct fitment and angle on different IEMs for my specific ears. These use their original flexible tip which is just a little bit of thin and flexible stem between the top of the tip and the thicker stem which allows for the tip to bend at an angle in any direction. This is where the “Spinfit” name comes from and I’m glad they continue to use this design. This makes for a more comfortable fit inside the ear or even at the entrance of the ear canal since you have less pressure from the IEM nozzle angle or even the IEM cable which means a more stable and consistent fit when moving around. The bore is a medium- wide size and the stem is a stiff straight double layer design. The stiff design has good grip on the inside of the stem which means IEMs without a lip on the nozzle won’t likely have the issue of the tip eventually sliding off after months of use. They still stretch so taking off the tips off a thick nozzle IEM months later and throwing them onto a thin nozzle will be an issue. The length and width of the W1 tips are a little longer in length and the width is about average compared to most normal tips. Great for getting deep seals or cheating and getting a seal with a bigger size at the entrance of the ear canal.
The new Omni shape is mostly the same design as the W1. It uses the same nice silicone that grips well and the same double layer stem design that grips onto IEM nozzles well. The tips are shorter than the W1 and are closer in overall length to the CP360 tips. The difference is that the CP360 has a stem that doesn’t reach down to the end of the ear tip and the Omni stem will reach all the way down or close to the end of it’s ear tip. So you get the benefits of the shorter CP360 but in a W1 design. The Stem isn’t straight walled like the W1 and instead has three different points to lock in the tip to the nozzle of an IEM. In theory you could adjust the length of the tip from the nozzle but I rarely did that and just moved the tip as far down the nozzle as possible. This should help with the large variety of nozzle designs. Plus it’s still a strong silicone stem so it grips to lip-less nozzles just fine. The bore is the same medium-wide size as the W1.
Packaging and accessoriesThe W1 still only comes in a S,M,L pack but the packaging looks nice from memory. I was only sent packaging for the Omni this time so I won’t have W1 package pictures. I do wish the W1 tips could be purchased in a specific size. I only ever need the medium most of the time and a few large sizes here and there.
The Omni is only available in specific sizes which is fine. If you’ve used the W1 tips, then pick a size up. As an example, a medium W1 tip width is large in Omni sizing. The large W1 is an extra large size for Omni. If you’ve used the CP360, the sizes match, large is a large in Omni and extra large is extra large in Omni. The omni boxes are small recycled paper boxes and they look super well designed. Might seem silly to get excited about packaging but they make good use of the box size and I feel like someone at Spinfit put effort into the package design.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Spinfit W1 and Omni tips sounded like to my ears with all the IEMs I used. Things like IEM/TWS selection and ear shape will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The W1 and Omni tips with their medium-wide bore provide a nice balanced sound. I would say the bass maintains a good balance of slam and impact and adds just the smallest amount of color to the sound. The mids sound about the same with other equally sized tips and I usually find the vocals sound a little more natural and life-like with these tips. The upper mids sound about accurate vs other equally sized tips but the treble can have a little extra energy depending on the IEM. If a specific IEM has a metallic end tone, it will definitely come though on both the W1 and Omni. Which gives me the sense that the W1 and Omni resolve well with paired IEMs. I do feel the treble tends to sound more airy on the W1 and Omni but this could be the design of the inner bore. The sound stage is a little wider and deeper sounding vs other wider bore tips and the imaging is accurate.
The Tip sound DifferencesSo what’s the difference in sound between the Omni and W1? Nothing! When I get both tip sizes to match and do my best to insert both the same depth into my ear, I don’t notice anything different sound wise. Given the design of both being almost the same minus the length of the tip and the different catch point for the nozzle on the Omni, both should sound the same. The reason to pick one over the other really comes down to what fitment works better with your specific IEMs. For those who have multiple IEMs, will understand the struggle of tip rolling and probably just buy every size they normally use from other brands and play the tip rolling trial and error game. The newcomers to tip rolling might want to grab the multipack of the W1 and a few sizes of the Omni in a size up from their normal ear tip size and experiment with what works best with their collection.
Why I use Spinfit TipsI use Spinfit tips for pretty much all my IEM reviews. Why don’t I stick with the normal stock tips most of the time or use other tips? Well, it comes down to my ear canals and the fact that they tend to get lightly wet/oily when using IEMs. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have wax issues and I’ve never had wax get into my nozzles but because of the light moisture, many tips will lose their seal after a few minutes. I’ve tried every type of tip I can think of, everything from Azla’s line of tips, Spiral dots, all of the funky stock manufacturer tips and lots of exotic tips I run into here and there. While a lot of the tips I’ve tried were hit or miss when it came to comfort and the ability to hold a seal in my ear, the Spinfit tips almost always seem to work on any IEM I try them on. The slight grippy texture of the Spinfit W1 and Omni really do hold well in my ear and I almost never have to readjust them in my ears. The closest tips I can think of that work for my ears consistently are the Azla Xelastic tips that shape to the ear with heat. I think they’re great but even those deform and don’t work out long term for me.
Overall thoughtsSo! Does this mean the Spinfit line of tips are the best out there and nothing beats them? No, I think there are other great and very neat/unique options out there. For years, I've had Spinfit tips work on every IEM I’ve listened to and reviewed. The W1 and Omni cover pretty much every IEM I’ve tried recently and the W1 tips have held up well over a longer period of time so far from my personal collection. I love the sound I get from the W1 and Omni and these tips both get a high recommendation! As with all ear tips, it takes trial and error to get the best fit for one's ear shape but I think the W1 and Omni are both worth checking out if possible. The W1 and Omni tips cover both my CP145 and CP360 needs but I did mention in the beginning that I really liked their unique CP500 which was a long tip with a super wide bore but those are hard to get to work with most IEMs due to the wide stem design. So I’m hoping they make an updated version of CP500 one day utilizing the stiffer stem design. Great job to the team at Spinfit and I look forward to what they come out with next. For my ears, their tips are truly everything I need! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Great balanced tuning. Interesting pad retention system. Includes an extra set of pads. Price.
Cons: Looks uglier than it feels in the hand. Headband system looks like old school HiFiman suffering. Heavy.
I have an interesting love-hate relationship with Moondrop products. I love their early IEMs and I’ve always enjoyed their DAC/amp dongles. The last year of their IEM releases have been rough for me since I found them all very unrefined. I never got a chance to hear the original set of Moondrop fullsize headphones but I did get the recent Joker headphone in…. Which I thought was an absolute joke and waste of materials. What I’m trying to say is that I had some low expectations coming into the PARA. I can confirm that all my expectations were thrown out the window and I find the PARA quite interesting. The PARA is a planar magnetic open back headphone using a 100mm FDT Diaphragm and N52 magnet array. The PARA comes in at $299.00.
Quick shoutout to my friends at @shenzhenaudio for sending a unit out to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The Moondrop PARA can be picked up below:
Onto the review of the Moondrop PARA! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Hiby R6 PRO II, Letshuoer Cadenza 12, MEST MKIII and Everolo Z8/SMSL SP400 stack
Looks and fitThe PARA’s design will be subjective for sure but I find it mostly ok. I think it looks much uglier in photos vs in the hand but then again it doesn’t feel as cheap in the hand as it looks. The hinges for swiveling and pivoting are all super stiff and I added the tiniest amount of oil(tiny drop) on each hinge. I let it sit a few moments and wiped away any oil and it moved smoothly after a few movements of the hinges. This allowed the PARA to conform to my noggin way better. I think Moondrop could have added something to help the hinges move freely but I rather add the right amount of lube to the moving parts myself instead of risking them drenching the hinges in oil or grease. The headband has an old school “HIFIMAN” vibe though this feels much more comfortable from memory vs their older designs. I’ve not had any hotspotting with this specific set on stock pads. The Para is a heavier full-size headphone though and the alternate pads they include do cause the PARA to slide around on my head and that seemed to cause some unwanted hotspotting. The adjustment notches on the head-band are way too spread out for my personal preference. I’m of course in between two notches and there’s no good solution to get the best fit on my head. I would like to see more adjustment notches in smaller increments on Moondrops next full-size headphone. Overall not a bad fitment. Just some little adjustments needed for a future revision.
I did want to mention the system for the pads and the design of the headphone interior as well. So for the pads, they use a metal plate to attach the pads. It's a simple pull over design for the pad and actually really easy to swap pads with minimal effort. The plate then magnetically attaches to the planar magnet array to hold and seal the pads in place. I like this design. The inside of the cup is actually mostly transparent plastic holding the magnets in place. The diaphragm looks to be evenly flat with no noticeable defects I can see. The magnets are ugly and seem to either be raw or coated. They look like they’re rusty but it’s definitely not the case. I don’t see any problems with this design but I wonder how long the plastic will hold up in a very long term usage scenario years from now.
Isolation and sound leakageWell, it’s very much an open back headphone and it does let quite a bit of sound in. Some open backs block out a decent amount of outside noise. The sound leakage is pretty bad as one would expect with open backs. Seems comparable to my HD650S.
Packaging and accessoriesWe get an appropriately sized box for the PARA that makes good use of the interior space. I will note I’m actually a fan of the waifu box art this time. Though I just like all the flowers/plants with the more “spring” colors. Once inside the box, we get a little box with the extra pads, cable and the normal warranty cards and waifu card. The headphones are under that in a fancy looking loose cloth material to help with presentation. It doesn’t come with a carrying case which is a slight bummer. I don’t ever travel with open back headphones but I like the cases for storing them and keeping unwanted dust out of the drivers. I’ll let it slide given the price. I would have preferred to see a balanced cable instead of a 3.5mm and the 6.35mm quarter inch adapter. A simple XLR balanced cable or 4.4mm Pentaconn cable would have been really nice. It looks like normal stereo 3.5mm connectors so it should be easier to find a balanced cable if needed.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the PARA sounded like to my ears. This was also using the stock flat leather/suede pads. Things like ear pad selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I also really want to make a point that I’m an “IEM Person” and I’ve only reviewed a decent chunk of full-size headphones. While I have owned and listened to full sized headphones ranging from $80-$5000, I haven’t had any new full-sized headphones in my audio inventory for like 8 months at this point. I do keep the Sennheiser HD560S around as a reference for new full-size reviews. So take my subjective sound impressions of the PARA as you will. While I do plan to try and review more full-sized headphones down the road, I just won’t have a lot to compare the PARA to.
The PARA goes for a mostly neutral tuning when used with the installed stock pads. The bass is well controlled and while it lacks any boost to the low end, it still provides accurate and “good enough” hints of slam/impact when a track calls for it. They went for a safe neutral bass tuning which means there should be some potential for those who EQ to possibly squeeze some extra performance out of the lows. The mid-bass sounds in line with the sub-bass so it doesn’t sound lean which is nice. For my personal tastes, the bass overall needs a boost. The mids are a little more relaxed but they have some speed so instruments sound accurate and detailed. Vocals are pretty good. They do have a hint of artificial sound at the end of tones from voices. It’s not super noticeable but it’s there. I would say vocals sound more natural than overly sharp. The upper mids are super boosted when you look at the graph for these but I was surprised that the upper-mids seem to be well controlled and rarely lean over into the sibilant territory for me with the stock flat pads. It’s more sibilant with the alternate pads they include but I’ll get into that in a bit. The treble is fast enough with a short decay so it sounds detailed and sharp. It does sound like it trails off a little in the upper frequencies but I think it’s good enough. I wouldn’t call these extremely resolving sounding headphones but given the price, it’s very good. I would have preferred a neutral-warm tuning with a slightly more pronounced bass boost but I think this will be a safer bet and allow those who like to EQ or make use of physical bass boost switches on their source gear.
The alternate pads have a slightly stronger bass response and mids are a little more spacious sounding as well. Vocals are noticeably more artificial sounding and more sibilant as well. The upper mids have a strong peak with these pads. I found myself more uncomfortable with more noticeable sibilance that kinda detached me from most tracks. The treble is mostly the same and it sounds sharp enough with not much of a boost but it’s also overshadowed by the upper mids. Not my favorite pad pairing and I don’t plan to use these pads again with the PARA. I think a full leather pad might make a better pairing instead of this perforated leather set.
Soundstage/ImagingThe stock flat pads provide a more intimate stage with width being decently wide for an open back and a little less depth overall. I found imaging was pretty good here and I could still pick out specific details in busy tracks. The side to side sweeps were pretty good so tracks with neat effects will shine here.
The Alt pads have a more open sounding stage with pretty good width and more depth vs the stock flat pads. The imaging was ok here and I found it easy to pick things out in tracks with the stock pads. The side to side sweeps felt a little off track near the middle so not bad but not great. I still prefer the stock flat pads.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe PARA isn’t super hard to drive and I was able to get the volume up loud enough on all the normal dongles and desktop gear I had. I do think it benefits a little from more powerful gear but I was happy with the results on Moondrop’s own $50 Dawn Pro dongle. I didn’t hear any floor noise or oddities from any of the source gear I used so I would say this is a good enough planar design.
Stock cableThe stock cable is a basic nylon cable with a light braid. It’s pretty basic but I think it gets the job done just fine. I would personally swap it out for a balanced cable but I just simply like running everything balanced when possible.
Sennheiser HD560SI don’t like the HD560S cause it’s kind of boring sounding but I do find it a good reference point for or palate cleanser for when I do use full-size headphones for reviews. Both the HD560S and PARA have a similar tuning but I would lean towards the PARA if given a choice. The 560S sounds a little warmer in the bass but the PARA provides a faster and stronger bass hit. The mids on both sound relaxed but I do think the 560S has a better vocal presentation over the PARA. A little more natural vs the slightly more artificial sounding vocals of the PARA. The upper mids are strong on both but I prefer the faster upper mids on the PARA. The treble isn’t the strongest for either but once again, I like the fast and slightly sharper sound of the PARA. There is a slower overall feel to the sound out of the HD560S compared to the PARA.
Hiby R6 PRO IIThe slightly warmer R6 P2 does help with the overall sound but on a full-size headphone like the PARA, it’s not much of a noticeable difference. I did however feel I got the best performance and sound quality out of this portable solution since I ran it in Class A mode and it provided enough power to sound good enough. Staging was close to a desktop setup but still sounded a little more closed in on both pads. I would say this was a good pairing if you really want to take this on the go.
Moondrop Dawn ProThis little Dawn Pro was able to power the PARA just fine volume wise. There’s always trade offs on portable gear with full-size headphones and the common thing I run into is sub-bass and mid-bass issues with not having enough power overall to run full-size headphones properly. This is the exact issue I ran into with the pairing. Bass for the most part is fine but it does lack impact in slam. Which isn’t strong when used on better gear. There is an overall lean sound to the bass which is a bummer. The mids still sound about the same across all source devices. Vocals don’t show as much artificial sound which is nice and the treble lacks a little detail retrieval. This actually is pretty good performance given the fact this is a $50 dongle but I would still power the PARA with something a little stronger.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This desktop combo is what I use to review all my current audio gear with. I do think I got the best performance out of this stack. I would say it’s just pulling slightly better details and staging was noticeably wider and deeper compared to the portable gear I tested with. I also got good results on cheaper stacks such as the SMSL D6S and Topping L70 stack for almost half the price.
Overall thoughtsSo! The Moondrop PARA… Is actually pretty good! I was surprised how non-offensive the tuning was. The comfort is pretty good if not a little heavy and at least for my head shape, I've been consistently listening to these. Which is rare as I mostly listen to IEMs, even at home. Does it dethrone my favorite IEMs in the same price bracket? Absolutely not and I still find IEMs just sound better to me for the most part. This was a good attempt from Moondrop and I think it will do pretty well in the community. Overall, I recommend the new Moondrop Para! While I don’t personally EQ stuff, I’m curious to see how the community does with the PARA once people get good EQ profiles out there. Good job to Moondrop and I’m very interested to see if they can pull off some more wins in the full-size market now that they’ve had their feet in the water for a bit. Thanks for reading!!
Pros: The GO Blu but as adapters for IEMS. Comes with the common connector attachments. Snazzy case.
Cons: Case is huge and not very portable. No xBass or xSpace.
I haven’t reviewed any iFi gear in forever. I normally like their gear and the last thing I reviewed from iFi was the GO blu portable DAC/amp. So given the enjoyment I got from that unit, I was interested in checking out what looked to be the GO Blu but in the form of adapters for IEMs to make them into a TWS. The GO pod uses a Cirrus Logic DAC in combination with the higher end Qualcomm QCC5144 chipset for better Bluetooth performance. This unit comes in at $399.
Quick shoutout to @iFi audio for setting me up with a review unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The iFi GO pod can be picked up from their website below.
Gear usediPhone 14 Pro Max, Mackbook Pro M1, DUNU SA6 MKII, THIEAUDIO Monarch MKII, Moondrop Blessing 3.
Looks and FeelThe units are stiff but not overly heavy. The actual IEM connector arms are also a little stiff but somewhat flexible. On first use they felt so stiff that IEMs would lose their seal after a bit. After some flexing of the arms and tip swapping, I could get all the IEMs I used with it to work fine in my ears for long sessions. The units are big enough that most people might think you’re wearing a hearing aid. There isn’t much to say about the looks which isn’t a bad thing.
Now, for the charging case! The charging case they provide is quite large. I’ll have some complaints later about it but they at least get points from me for making it the most over the top case in terms of quality. The case when you open it has two LED lights inside the case which shine down on the IEMs attached and make everything I put in there look like exotic jewelry with the way the light shined on them. The case is felt lined and has a lot of room to fit what I imagine are any type of IEMs and possibly CIEMs as well. The case also supports wireless charging but with how big the case is, I didn’t try in on my small wireless magsafe puck.
Accessories and unboxingAs with most iFi packages, they make good use of the space of their boxes. Inside the box we get the charging case with the TWS adapters inside the case. Under that we get a basic USB-C for charging and a few extra IEM connector arms to swap. Their website claims you get a 2 pin and MMCX arm set but my sealed production box came with those and a set of Pentaconn arms as well. So I’m not sure what is included in general but not many IEMs use Pentaconn so it might not matter if they don’t include them normally.
Sound(overall)These final impressions are from Bluetooth via my iPhone 14 Pro Max. These impressions will be what the GO pod sounded like with all the IEMs I used. Things like headphone pairings or different Bluetooth codecs will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
While it’s been forever since I last heard the iFi GO blu, I took notes on the GO pods and compared them to my GO blu notes. It’s mostly the same so much so I’m pretty much parroting my review impressions from the GO blu review. There’s indeed some subtle difference in my notes between the two however.
The GO pods go for a neutral signature but with a hint of a brighter sound. The bass performance is pretty good and provides a strong sense of bass if called for. I would call this a more controlled quick decaying bass so not a warm sound at all. The mids are accurate and relaxed but still keep good details coming through. The vocals are detailed and sound natural. The upper mids and treble are a little stronger sounding but they add some perceived detail retrieval to the sound. The GO pod, even on AAC from my iPhone and Macbook Pro, sounds quite detailed and I had a hard time picking up the differences once I moved to my Hiby R6 Pro II DAP using LDAC. While this might be a short sound section, I do believe the GO pod does well at simply providing a good representation of a IEMs sound quality without adding any unneeded color to the sound. It won’t however replace going wired to a strong performing source device depending on the IEM being used.
Filters and fun featuresNone? I didn’t see anything about activating xBass or xSpace so i’m guessing the feature is missing here. This GO pod is kinda like the original iFi NEO and it’s missing what makes iFi products so special to me. Which is fine at the end of the day. It sounds good enough and since it’s neither too warm or bright sounding, It gets a pass.
Imaging/SoundstageThe soundstage and imaging tend to be headphone specific(at least to me) but DAC/amps can add a little extra on occasion. I found the staging to be about average in comparison to a good dongle and high end desktop amp. Won’t do anything to add staging or imaging but it also won’t subtract from an IEM with fantastic staging/imaging.
Battery lifeI unfortunately didn’t do a battery test but I only used the GO pod a max of a few hours at a time and I of course put them back in their case when I wasn’t using them. I did make it home after a 8 shift with about half the case battery left so I would say it can make it through a whole day without any real issue. I would recommend looking for battery life results from other reviewers for the GO pod.
Personal grips with the G5?My only real gripe with the GO pod outside of wanting my iFi xBass/xSpace features would be the charging case. When the GO POD TWS units turn off from timing out, I can’t get them to turn back on unless I throw them back in their case and pull them out again. The case is gigantic. I know it would be hard to make the case smaller while supporting all the possible IEMs out in the market but it would have been nice to see them shrink this down in the future. The GO pod is unusable to me in my normal everyday work schedule since I don’t want to carry around the giant case and it doesn’t even fit in my pocket. Which means I’m down to having to use the GO pod with my IEMs only in a sit down situation. If I’m sitting down, I’m running wired IEMs normally. If the GO pod units I had would turn on again after timing out, I might throw them in a portable case to use and then bring them back to the charging case when needed but for now, this setup just doesn’t work for me personally as a true portable solution.
GO pod power outputPower output from the GO pod is 120mW into a 32ohm load. This will power most IEMs just fine. I can think of a few really expensive $2k+ IEMs that might not get the full power they need to sound magical but I think these power numbers will do fine for everything else IEM wise. If you use an adapter and connect these to full size headphones, it might not be enough juice to get full volume or bass response from harder to drive headphones. The GO pod isn’t meant to be used with full size headphones though.
IEM pairing opinions
DUNU SA6 MKIIThe SA6 MKII still maintains its nice warmer sounding bass and sounds about right when compared to a comparable dongle. The mids are accurate natural sounding. The vocals still sound natural and warmer. The treble is a little lacking normally but there is just a hint of added treble splash which compliments the SA6 MKII pretty well. The staging sounds about the same here which is great. Overall a good pairing and I’m happy to see no noticeable degradation even from the ACC codec on both my iPhone and Macbook.
THIEAUDIO Monarch MKIIGiven the more flexible arms of the connectors, I was actually able to get a more comfortable angle which has always been a problem for me. The MKII still sounds just as good as it always has. Bass is still strong and fast. Mids are super accurate and sharp. Vocals are a little sharper with a slightly more artificial color and finally the upper mids and treble are still very detailed and sound quick. The only real difference I could find between the GO pod adapters and a comparable dongle would be a slightly more closed-in soundstage. It’s just barely noticeable but something worth mentioning. Still, getting most of the performance out of the Monarch MKII from a source device that is half the price is quite impressive.
Overall thoughtsSo! At the end of the day I think the GO pod sounds pretty good but I don’t find it works as a portable solution for me specifically. Is it worth the price, yeah, sure. If I was gonna use these in a sit down situation or in short bursts throughout the day I would definitely want these for some of my favorite IEMs. The bluetooth range is great so you don’t have to be glued to your source device either. I’ll give the GO pod a recommendation. Just keep in mind the case is crazy big and it won’t fit in most people's pockets so it’s not the perfect portable solution. It does allow you to enjoy your favorite IEMs in a TWS setting with no degradation to the sound quality. I liked the GO blu so it’s nice to see the same awesome performance but in a TWS adapter. Good job to the team at iFi and I look forward to what goodies they come out with next. Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Dynamic dark tuning. Price
Cons: Color scheme might not be for everyone.
I’m so used to reviewing IEMs from the bigger audio brands that a lot of the smaller brands and their hidden gems fly right past me. While I’ve never heard of Yanyin before, they seem to have a few mid range IEMs out in the market. I was offered to check out a demo unit of the Yanyin Canon II for a bit so I jumped on the offer. The Canon II is a 4 BA and 1 DD hybrid IEM coming in at $379.00.
Quick shoutout to @Joe Bloggs for sending a unit out to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The Yanyin Canon II can be pickup below:
Onto the review of the Yanyin Canon II! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Hiby R6 PRO II, Moondrop Moonriver 2 Ti, Moondrop Blessing 3, Dunu SA6 MKII, Eversolo DAC-Z7/SMSL SP400 desktop stack.
Looks and fitThe shell reminds me of some of the older THIEAUDIO shells but only becuase it uses the same looking vent that is color coded red and blue. The shell is lightweight and fits my ears pretty well. The shell has the switches on the back which are flush with the body so I never had the switches touching my ears while wearing them. The faceplate is a green-ish color on my unit with sparkles in the faceplate. The design will be subjective but I’m not a fan of the faceplate design at all. I would prefer no sparkles and a different color over the green-yellow color I see in my unit. Minus the complaint about the faceplate, it looks and feels good enough that I would still daily this IEM.
Isolation and sound leakageThe passive isolation isn’t bad for being a vented hybrid IEM. It is slightly above average in isolation vs other hybrids. The sound leakage isn’t terrible either. It will still leak a decent amount of sound so lower volumes will be required if you don’t want to annoy anyone in a quiet area.
Packaging and accessoriesInside the box they have the manuals/warranty card, some ear tips and finally, the nice leather like case with the IEMs and cable inside. I would prefer a smaller box to make better use of the room but overall, a basic set of accessories. I do really like the leather-ish case they include.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Canon II sounded like to my ears. This was also using the new soon to be released Spinfit OMNI tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The Canon II with my preferred tips sounds like it's a darker tuned IEM. I would call it more of a neutral-warm-ish IEM but it has a darker background signature overall. Meaning it has a deeper bass but doesn’t suffer the normal warm bass sound and instead has a strong bass presence that is fast and doesn’t linger around more than needed. The Sub-bass performance is strong and quick sounding. Decay is short so it has good impact and slam but it sounds tight and strong. The mid bass is about average in weight but again sounds quick and gives off a strong bass presence without the warmth or slight bloat one might hear on warmer sounding IEMs. The mids are pretty accurate and instruments sound more natural than sharp and clinical. The vocals sound more natural but do have a little sense of bassy tone at the end of tones. This definitely adds to the darker tuning overall. The vocals never get sibilant either so it has a good balance here. The upper-mids don’t sound boosted and I would call them more neutral sounding so the upper-mids sound super enjoyable with almost all the tracks I tested with. The treble also sounds fairly neutral and matched to the upper mids so this makes for an enjoyable upper end of the frequency response. The treble is surprisingly detailed and sounds sharp and with a short decay so I was surprised initially. After a few weeks of listening, I would say this pulls in details really well for its price. It however doesn’t sound very bright so those looking for a more splashy and intense treble might want to look elsewhere.
As for the bass switch on the shells. There are a total of three tuning options via the switches. I went from the standard to the next level of bass and it was a little too strong for my tastes. Not bad but I can see this being a basshead IEM with the highest bass setting. I would personally leave it on the stock setting.
Soundstage/ImagingThe Canon II does staging about average and sounds more intimate. It however has a bigger sense of space within its soundstage. I’m gonna guess this is due to the darker tuning that has a little more bass presence. Imaging was accurate and I could pick out things easily in the Canon II’s stage.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe Canon II is pretty easy to run powerwise. I had no issues powering it off any of the devices I used. It had no sensitivity issues at all with any of my balanced cables either. I didn’t feel it scaled much either on higher end gear so any dongles in the $50-$200 range will be more than enough for this unit.
Stock cableThe stock cable is a silver plated cable with a good looking weave and texture. The cable furniture all has an industrial silver metal with texture for easy grip. It doesn’t tangle much and looks like a good stock cable. Just nothing fancy going on here and that’s fine. I would leave the cable as is unless you get it in 3.5mm and decide later you want a balanced cable.
Moondrop Blessing 3The B3 does come in $60 less than the Canon II but I still wanted to compare the two regardless. The B3 has a decent sub-bass performance but lacks some mid-bass power so it can sound lean compared to the Canon II which has a better balance in the bass . The Canon II does however have a darker overall tuning so it sounds way better in the bass department. Both IEMs do well in mids and vocals with the B3 sounding a little more artificial in the vocals over the Canon II. The upper mids sound more sibilant on the B3 over the Canon II but both are at under the sibilance line compared to other IEMs I’ve used. The treble is stronger on the B3 but both pull in really good details. The bigger difference is that the B3 is lean sounding and bright and the Canon II is dark sounding and neutral. The Canon II sounds more lively and interesting over the B3 on pretty much any track I listen to. The B3 has a slightly wider soundstage but I do prefer the more intimate and darker tuning of the Canon II which gives it’s staging a sense of more space.
DUNU SA6 MKIIThe DUNU SA6 MKII is a neutral-warm IEM and it costs $200 more than the Canon II. I think both have good bass performance but I do like the darker tuning of the Canon II. The mids are neutral on both and the vocals both sound more life-like and realistic on both. The upper mids and treble is where the two start to sound different. The Canon II has a little more energy in the upper mids and treble but it sounds like little spikes of energy and both still sound neutral to my ears. The SA6 MKII sounds like it lacks a little sharpness than the Canon II but it does sound a little more detailed than the Canon II. Both do soundstage pretty well but the darker sounding Canon II does feel like it has more space in its average staging vs the average staging of the SA6 MKII. Both great but neither is a clear winner and I would use both for different situations.
Moondrop MoonRiver 2 TiThe MR2 Ti has been one of my favorite dongles as of late and I’ve been using it more often at work with my Macbook Pro. The neutral-warm sound signature of the MR2 Ti works really well with the Canon II. It was probably my favorite pairing and added a little extra warmth to the Canon II tuning. This in combination with the good detail retrieval of the MR2 Ti makes for a good listening experience with all the tracks I listened to. A wonderful pairing.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This desktop combo is what I use to review all my current audio gear with. I didn’t find the Canon II really scales past something like the Moondrop dongle I mentioned earlier. It did sound the best on my review desktop stack but then again, this stack gives the best results in terms of sounding neutral yet dynamic. It really does seem to bring out the best of any IEMs/Headphones without adding unwanted color to the sound. It won’t hurt to use a nice desktop unit or high end DAP for the Canon II but I find it nice that you can get a good amount of performance out of the Canon II without having to spend the same amount or more on source gear for this IEM.
Overall thoughtsWell! I’m a fan of the darker sounding Canon II. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this was my first time listening to an IEM from this brand. My first impressions are pretty positive and I’m interested in checking out their products going forward. The Yanyin Canon II is a nice diamond in the rough that is the Chi-Fi IEM market. The Canon II gets a full recommendation! I really liked the dark tuning and it doesn’t seem to really fail at anything which is a win in my book. Great job to the team at Yanyin and I look forward to what’s next! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Fun and dynamic tuning. Wonderful looks. Does everything well.
Cons: Can be a little too bright with certain ear tips. Rare fitment issues for some.
As a huge fan of both the Triton and Helios, I was beyond excited to see a new Symphonium IEM coming out. I always liked the more fun tuning of the Trition but I wanted it to have the detail and magic the Helios provided. I initially thought the Crimson might be a follow up to the Helios but the marketing seemed to suggest the Crimson would have its own tuning. The Crimson doesn’t have any public info on the driver count or even what drivers are being used at the moment. The Crimson comes in at $1499.00
Quick shoutout to my friends running a short tour before CanJam for sending over a production unit to check out on short notice. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The Symphonium Crimson can be pickup below:
Onto the review of the Symphonium Audio Crimson! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Hiby R6 PRO II, Letshuoer Cadenza 12, UM MEST MKIII and Everolo Z8/SMSL SP400 stack
Looks and fitThe Crimson comes in a nice black shell that isn’t overly heavy. The outer faceplate has a really nice red outline and the faceplate is a nice mix of what looks like carbon fiber with a little red mixed in. I had a softer feel to it so maybe it's a different material. Regardless, it's quite a beautiful IEM to look at in person. It’s also about a medium size shell compared to other IEMs in the $1K+ range.
When it comes to the fit, I know both this and the Triton/Helios fit others ears just fine with no problems. I’ve had a different experience only with Symphoniums IEMs and due to their fully sealed design(no vent holes), I have an issue with their IEMs causing too much of a seal when I use them. No matter the tips, I get an extremely strong seal that causes eventual over-pressure discomfort and a headache after an hour or so of listening. I’ve not had this issue on sealed CIEMs in the past so this is less of a design issue and more that all the Symphonium IEMs make the ultimate pressure seal in my specific ear canals. I’ve not heard any other person complain about this issue I’ve had. Had this been a vented IEM, I think it wouldn’t be an issue for my ears. I do however like the slightly smaller shell design.
Isolation and sound leakageSince the Crimson is a sealed design, It has wonderful passive isolation. It also doesn’t leak sound(at least from arms length) which makes this a good option for those in quiet areas that want to listen at louder volumes without disturbing others.
Packaging and accessoriesSince I got a tour unit on a short notice. I only got some tips, their standard carrying case and the new stock cable with a swappable plug. I will mention they have included some very good tips. I’ve been wanting to try the Divinus Velvet tips for a while now and they include them with the Crimson and they are a wonderful premium tip. Same thing with the standard Sednafit 2 standard tips they include. These tips will also be included for those who buy the retail units.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Crimson sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I will note that the Crimson does benefit from tip rolling and I’ll be listing my impressions with my preferred Spinfit W1 tips. The treble seems to be affected the most by tip rolling. I found the W1 tips sit on the more sharper side of treble when paired to the Crimson but I like this pairing regardless.
The Crimson has a nice strong bass response that provides very good slam and impact in the sub bass region. It has a more balanced mid bass so it sounds strong yet controlled. On the first listen I had quite the smile from the bass hits on the first few tracks I listened too. I really enjoy a strong bass like this that doesn’t overpower the rest of the tuning. The mids are very detailed and don’t sound artificial. Same thing with the vocals. Very detailed and life-like instead of sounding metallic or artificial at the upper end of the vocals. The upper mids aren’t super boosted but they sound fast and accurate. Somewhere in the lower treble(maybe upper mids) I do hear a more spicy peak. I would call this a more overly sharp sound vs a sibilant or splashy bright sound. I found that tip rolling did affect this amount of sharpness and I later confirmed that this can happen with some tips on the Crimson. With the Spinfit W1 tips I used, I did find the treble to sound sharp but with a fast decay so everything and I hear a nice sense of detail. The resolution the Crimson provides is indeed top notch and I found it competes with some IEMs that come in at a high price. Overall, a wonderful tuning that is well executed.
Soundstage/ImagingThe Crimson is a surprisingly wide sounding IEM with a good amount of depth in the soundstage as well. This is probably one of the better examples of good staging and imaging. I didn’t quite experience the neat imaging I remember the Helios provided but overall a very good IEM for those hunting a wide and deep soundstage. The imaging was spot on and I was able to pick out details in busy tracks with ease.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe Crimson is a little harder to drive than most IEMs on the market. This is the same thing with the Helios and Triton. While I think it can run off most modern source gear, I think mid-range source gear will provide a bit more detail and staging. Since it’s harder to drive, I had no issues with floor noise/hiss when running balanced.
Stock cableThe stock cable looks like their prior cables but it now has a swappable plug at the end which is a nice addition. It looks like the plugs I’ve seen on a lot of newer IEM cables so it might be compatible with other plugs but I would still stick with the OEM plugs if possible. The cable has no ear guide which I think makes sense due to the shape of the Crimson shell. I personally prefer a ear guide but for Symphonium’s IEMs, I like it without the ear guides.
LETSHUOER Cadenza 12The Cadenza 12 is still my all time favorite TOTL IEM to date. Keep this bias in mind as I tell everyone that I do like the Cadenza 12 over the Crimson. This is mostly because I like the highly resolving and neutral sound the Cadenza 12 provides. Both the Crimson and Cadenza 12 have what I would consider vastly different tunings. The Crimson is a dynamic sounding V/W shaped IEM that works very well with everything. The Cadenza 12 is a neutral turned IEM that also does mostly everything well but just a bit more safe. The Cadenza 12 can’t compete with the treble energy the Crimson provides but I found the detail retrieval to be slightly better on the Cadenza 12. Does that constitute a $700 price increase over the Crimson? Not even close. However, I do really enjoy the tuning and fit of the Cadenza 12 over the Crimson for my ears specifically. Read my note on fitment above.
UM MEST MKIIIBoth the MKIII and Crimson do wonder bass and soundstage/imaging. I’m gonna start off by noting that I found the MEST MKIII has some of the widest soundstage due to their unique bone conductor. Which provides a neat light echo to the entire stage which gives a high sense of space in tracks. The Crimson is just really good at a big sounding stage but without any of the tricks. Which is impressive given that both have about the stage soundstage width and depth to my ears. The bass impact on both is fantastic but I do find the bass sounds a little more controlled on the Crimson but doesn’t lack the slightly thinner mid bass the MKIII has. The mids on both are about the same with both sounding accurate and natural. The vocals on both are darn close to my ears and neither are artificial sounding. The big difference comes to the upper mids and treble. The MKIII has more upper mid presence and then starts to trail off in the upper treble. The Crimson can be much sharper sounding in the treble area and it has way more energy in the upper treble unlike the MKIII. I think this is where one has to choose very strong treble performance or a safe and more tame treble between the two. Both pull in great details and the resolution on both is really good.. For my personal preferences I really like the Crimson tuning but I have a hard time choosing between the two.
Hiby R6 PRO IIThe R6 P2 is my favorite neutral-warm DAP and I like the pairing with the Crimson. The R6 P2 does well at not coloring the sound when listening with the Crimson. It also does well at bringing out a bit more energy when paired with the Crimson. The bass is nice and strong, the mids are fast and accurate, the vocals are smooth and natural sounding. The upper mids and lower treble do sound a little less intense here but I think the upper treble is still fast and detailed. Staging is close to the desktop stack I use but still very wide and deep sounding. Overall, an easy pairing to love.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This desktop combo is what I use to review all my current audio gear with. I think the Crimson does scale with better gear and I found a small but noticeable difference going from my DAP to something like my desktop stack. I think any mid-rang source gear wise will be enough to make the Crimson sound great. Maybe avoid overly cold and bright sounding source gear as I can see that negatively impacting the upper treble if paired with the wrong tips.
Overall thoughtsSo where does the Crimson sit in the Symphonium lineup? Well for me, I think it pulls the best parts from both the Triton and Helios and it very much feels like the perfect mashup of the two tunings. Ignoring my weird fitment issues with all of Symphonium’s sealed IEMs, I absolutely love the tuning and performance the Crimson provides. So on that high note, I highly recommend the Crimson! If anyone goes to the upcoming SoCal CanJam, definitely give it a try! Symphonium Audio does really well at spending time to design well tuned IEMs. They continue to be one of my favorite audio companies and I think as long as they continue their trend of high quality over quantity in their product line, they will continue to be one of the top players in the IEM market. Great job to the team and I look forward to what comes next. Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Wonderful neutral-bright tuning. Great detail retrieval.
Cons: Stock ear tips might not work for everyone. Flat cable causes kinks.
I liked the UM MEXT when it launched and I gave it a positive review. I’ve only ever heard great things about the MEST series and while I’ve never had the chance to hear the MEST or MEST MKII, I was excited to check out the new MEST MKIII. The MKIII(for the rest of the review) uses 10 driver hybrid made up of 1 dynamic driver, 4 balanced armatures, 4 EST drivers and topped off with their in house bone conductor. The MKIII comes in two colors with two price points. I have the blue version that comes in at $1919($1599 without the cable). The red version can be had for $2359($1899 without the cable).
Quick shoutout to Unique Melody for sending the MEST MKIII to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The MEST MKIII can be pickup below:
Onto the review of the Unique Melody MEST MKIII Carbon Fiber Edition! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Hiby R6 PRO II, Letshuoer Cadenza 12, THIEAUDIO V16 and Everolo Z8/SMSL SP400 stack
Looks and fitThe MKIII is a little on the bigger side for an IEM but it has a decent amount of space between the stem and shell. Which in my case, makes for an extremely comfortable fit and good seal on most tips. The shells are lightweight but they look and feel pretty sturdy overall. The shells have a nice looking semi transparent blue color with visible strands of what I’m guessing are carbon fiber from the name. The faceplate has a pretty wood design and I like the color scheme with the gold accent. I normally don’t like gold anything but I think it looks good here.
Isolation and sound leakageThe MKIII isolates well for a hybrid and it’s on par with all the other better isolated hybrid designs. It doesn’t leak sound as much either so louder listening won’t irritate those around the listener in quiet areas as much when running at normal volume levels.
Packaging and accessoriesI always liked UM’s boxes and while the box is a bit on the larger side height wise, they do fill the space well enough. When you pull the sleeve off the box, it opens up with a neat little quote written inside. In the box were greeted with the warranty card and under that is the IEMS, the two different types of UM specific tips, the cleaning cloth and a nice round leather circle case which holds the cable. They also include a leather cable strap buckle which is a nice touch. I would have liked to see normal tips included since not everyone's ears will work well with the new tips they include. That being said, I think the buyers of this IEM won’t mind spending a little money to tip roll anyways.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the MEST MKIII sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I will note that the MKIII does benefit from tip rolling and I’ll be listing my impressions with my preferred Spinfit W1 tips.
The MKIII goes for a somewhat safe neutral tuning with a hair brighter overall sound. It’s mostly neutral but there’s a good balance between the whole frequency range which makes it more of a jack of all trades IMO. The sub-bass comes in nice and strong with good thumps when called for. The mid bass does feel a little lean which on first listen can make it sound a little thin overall. After a track or two of adjusting, I can appreciate the bass in general though. The mids are accurate and neutral as are the vocals. The vocals do have a good sense of space and presence without sounding artificial or too far forward. The upper mids are a little sharp but I think it stays under the line of sibilance. The same thing applies to the treble which is still somewhat bright in the lower treble but it never sounds extreme and it starts to trail down near the upper end which results in detailed instruments without the splashy or ultra sharp annoyances. This could possibly sound a little tame to those but I think it pulls in wonderful details regardless. I actually really like this tuning but I’ve come to appreciate the safer neutral tunings as of late for higher priced IEMs.
Soundstage/ImagingI personally believe what sets the UM products apart from the competition is the use of their bone conductors which almost always add a more unique and bigger sounding stage. The drawback is a slightly noticeable “echo” effect as I call it. I would say that while it might take a track or two to adjust, I think the staging on the MEST MKIII makes it stand out and adds to the overall enjoyment. The imaging is accurate though but it can sound strange at times before adjusting to the staging from the MKIII. Especially if you go from one set of IEMs straight to this set.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityI find the MKIII to be mostly easy to drive. It does get up there on my desktop stack for volume but it only requires slightly more power than normal. I would say anything modern will be able to drive these fine. It does scale decently from higher end gear but isn’t required. It’s also not sensitive and picks up zero floor noise from my current audio gear.
Stock cableSo the neat thing with the MEST MKIII is that it can be had with or without the cable. Which is nice since the stock cable will definitely not be for everyone. The stock cable which is super high quality, is also a flat-ish cable which makes it somewhat annoying to unravel once out of the case. Not a deal breaker but I almost always have to fiddle around in order to get it “prepped” for listening. The nice thing is that once the cable is straightened out, it never tangles or kinks on its own. I wouldn’t swap it out and continue to use this cable with the MKIII. I like that they however offer the option for those with their preferred cables to simply buy just the MKIII on its own.
LETSHUOER Cadenza 12Both these IEMs go for a somewhat safe tuning. The Cadenza 12 has a slightly stronger and fuller bass vs the MKIII. The mids are about the same but I would say the Cadenza 12 does sound a little smoother here. Vocals sound a little more natural and life-like on the Cadenza 12 but its a small difference over the MKIII. The upper mids are a little more intense on the Cadenza 12 but both are very good at not being sibilant. The lower treble sounds brighter on the MKIII but I think it’s well controlled enough that it doesn’t sound too sharp. The Cadenza 12 in comparison sounds like it has a strong upper treble but I found both to be comparable in detail retrieval and resolution. With the edge maybe going to the Cadenza 12. Staging however sounds wider and deeper on the MKIII thanks to the unique staging caused by the bone conductors. I think both are fantastic and I find myself struggling on which I want to listen to constantly.
THIEAUDIO Divinity V16The V16 continues to be another favorite of mine. Mostly for the warmer and smoother tuning. I would say the V16 produces a fuller overall bass where the MKIII produces the stronger sub bass thump but lacks that mid bass the V16 manages to provide. The mids are fantastic on both but the MKIII has a more accurate presentation. The Vocals are more natural on the V16 and I prefer them here over the MKIII. The upper mids and treble go to the MKIII however. It just sounds better tuned and provides better detail retrieval. The staging also goes to the MKIII as well. That unique bone conductor staging really beats everything out IMO. I still love the V16 but I do find myself constantly using the MKIII over it.
Hiby R6 PRO IIThe R6 P2 is my favorite neutral-warm DAP and it really compliments the MKIII tuning. It adds a little of the missing mid bass presence back which can make the MKIII sound a little more balanced down low. I would say that’s about all it really adds compared to my desktop stack. The mids and vocals sound about the same and the treble is a little more relaxed sounding. I would say the staging, while wide, doesn’t quite sound quite as spacious compared to my desktop stack. Overall, a good pairing and I would say for most, something like the R6 PRO II is gonna perform super well with the MEST MKIII.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This desktop combo is what I use to review all my current audio gear with. I do find the MKIII does actually scale and I can notice a small but decent difference between something like the Moondrop Moonriver 2 Ti dongle and this desktop stack. Do I think the MKIII needs super high end gear? Nope!! I think you can get away with mid range gear and be super happy. I mostly use this set on my Hiby R6 P2 DAP and even the Moondriver 2 Ti dongle attached to my Macbook without any complaints.
Overall thoughtsI always enjoyed the way UM designed their IEMs and the added unique sound stage via the bone conductors really make the MEST MKIII stand out from the pack. I never had a chance to hear the original MEST MKI and MKII but I have to say I really like the MKIII. It plays it safe but indeed sounds like a well tuned and detailed sub $2k IEM. This is an easy recommendation and I think if you can at least give the MKIII a listen, you won’t be disappointed! Great job to the team over at Unique Melody! I look forward to what they conjure up next!! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Good neutral tuning. Wider soundstage. Price
Cons: Leaks sound more than normal IEMs. Leaner sounding bass.
I’ve been quite a fan of LETSHUOER’s recent releases such as the S12 and Cadenza 12. They’ve had a harder time IMO breaking into the ~$100 price bracket. They had the D13 which I wasn’t a fan of and the ~$100 and under price point has quite the competition already. They would need to come out with something that was unique if they wanted to stand out in the crowd IMO. They definitely came out with something different for the entry level IEM bracket. The DZ4 is using 3 dynamic drivers and a passive radiator setup. It comes in at $89.
Quick shoutout to LETSHUOER for sending the DZ4 to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The LETSHUOER DZ4 can be pickup below:
Onto the review of the LETSHUOER DZ4! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Hiby R6 PRO II, Moondrop MoonRiver 2 Ti, Moondrop Aria, Truthear HEXA and Everolo Z8/SMSL SP400 stack
Looks and fitThe DZ4 shell has a different design compared to the rest of the LETSHOUER lineup. It has a beige “hearing aid” like color that is softer on the shell. I like the way this feels against my ear and it makes for a comfortable experience on longer listening sessions. The faceplate has a close matching silver-beige color and an orange design that is vented. The vented design on the faceplate does make this an semi-open IEM design. I like the comfort and fit of the DZ4.
Isolation and sound leakageThe DZ4 does passive isolation pretty well. It does however leak more sound than other hybrid designs. It seems that semi open faceplate probably helps with the passive radiator which has the benefit of a better isolated seal for the user but the trade off is a lot more sound leakage in quiet areas. I wouldn’t use this at normal or higher listening volumes in quiet areas.
Packaging and accessoriesThe DZ4 comes in a nice and average size box. When you open the box up, it has the IEMs in some foam, under that is the set of tips on top of a circle style case. The tips come in small bore and large bore sets of 3 sizes. I think this works well as the DZ4 does benefit from tip rolling. The case is a screw on type so it does require a second or two to unscrew which is fine. A more secure case but I still really like their magnet style case from their more expensive offerings.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the DZ4 sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit CP100+ tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The Dz4 has a neutral tuning which is surprising given the 3 dynamic drivers. I was expecting fun bass cannons but instead I was decently surprised and given a very balanced tuning instead. The Bass does have some decent slam/impact. The mid bass is full but it doesn’t have much weight to the bass notes. It just sounds neutral to my ears. The mids and vocals are nice and relaxed. They don’t sound super fast or artificial. They also don’t have any sweetness or warmth so we get a really neutral sound here. The vocals IMO could use a little extra energy since they blend in with the background instruments more than I personally like. The upper mids are really balanced here but I would say they do lean into a neutral-bright sound which gives a little needed energy to notes. The treble is really tame and it doesn’t sound metallic or lacking in sharpness. Once again, neutral. I would say the treble does trail off pretty quickly which makes sense for the dynamic drivers used. I tend to only like neutral and safe tunings in really high end IEMs but I do like the sound the DZ4 produces. It does feel like it could use a little energy either in lows or highs to make it sound unique but I think it’s fine given that it doesn’t sound bad at anything, it just doesn’t sound fantastic at anything either.
Soundstage/ImagingThe staging is a little strange here. With my preferred tips, I get a wall of sound type of staging. The depth isn’t very good but I do get fantastic width and a little reverse imaging which does make it sound a little different. The imaging is very good which makes sense given how safe the tuning is.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe DZ4 is very easy to drive and it doesn’t scale much with higher end gear so I think almost anything modern in the last few years will work well with the DZ4. Some super high volume output amps might be too much for the DZ4 and if you have bad channel imbalance at lower volumes, the DZ4 will possibly not be a good pairing with those specific amps. I also had zero floor noise issues with any of my current gear when run balanced.
Stock cableThe stock cable looks a lot like the ones they include with the standard S12. I like the braid and cable material is a little thicker which I prefer. This makes for a really high quality feel. I also find it light enough to be comfortable when listening for longer sessions. I wouldn’t swap the cable unless you really wanted to run it balanced.
Moondrop AriaThe Aria is my favorite under $100 IEM. Does the DZ4 dethrone it? No, it's just a good alternate option to the Aria IMO. I would still pick the Aria for a more exciting listen with the drawbacks being I might run into some sibilance on some music. The DZ4 is just a safer listen for pretty much all genres. The Bass impact is stronger on the Aria and the mids are a little sharper as well. The DZ4 has a more balanced lows and mids and I find the vocals are a little more natural sounding on the DZ4. The Aria has a little more energy in the vocals however which makes them pop. The upper mids are much stronger on the Aria which will result in sibilance issues on some genres. The DZ4 never has this problem which can make them boring at times. The treble is tame on both but the Aria is still sharper but a little more metallic sounding. Both pull in good details given the price. Staging is a little more balanced on the Aria vs the wall of sound I get from the DZ4. Both are great. Aria is more fun and risky. DZ4 will play it safe and be more enjoyable.
Truthear HexaThe Hexy is another neutral tuned IEM and is a little more traditional with DD and BA drivers. Bass is stronger on the Hexa but the bass sounds a little more natural on the DZ4. The mids are a little more artificial on the Hexa where they sound a little more realistic on the DZ4. The vocals sound great on both with Hexa still sounding just a bit more artificial. The upper mids have a little more of a noticeable boost on the Hexa over the DZ4 but I prefer the Hexa here. The treble is way more sharp and brighter on the Hexa. The downside is that it also sounds somewhat splashy and not as refined. That being said, both are super neutral sounding in the treble, this in no way suggests the Hexa has a strong treble because it doesn’t compared to other IEMs. Both have about average staging but the Hexa has a more balanced soundstage. The DZ4 has a more pronounced wide but short depth to its soundstage. Both are good in my book.
Moondrop Moonriver 2 TiThe DZ4 is a really nice neutral sounding set of lower cost IEMs. This is also a pairing I like with the MR2 Ti. The bass does sound like it has a little extra warmth and adds to the already decent bass performance. Mids and vocals sound accurate but they still sound a little on the sweet/warm side. The treble is about the same as other source gear and it performed the same to my ears. The staging was average(but wide) and imaging was spot on. A good pairing but it doesn’t have much of a sound effect from the small changes as some other IEMs I tested.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This combo is what I use to review all my current audio gear with. I found the DZ4 did sound a little more lively from my desktop stack. This might be due to the more powerful amp playing well with the 3 DD setup in the DZ4. I however got the same or close to the same results from my DAP as well. So I think an entry level DAC/amp will be good enough.
Overall thoughtsI do like the DZ4 and I’m interested to see what they can do with this design if they pursue it going forward. A Semi-open design is always neat, even if it’s not quite a traditional semi-open setup. I don’t normally like safe tunings for entry level since it doesn’t normally do anything special. This is still the case for me. I don’t think the tuning is anything special but I do like the way it sounds and I have no issues with the DZ4 that I can think of. My preference for something unique in the ~$100 price range is just a preference and the DZ4 does perform well overall. As such! The DZ4 is an easy recommendation for those hunting a safe yet well balanced neutral tuning. LETSHUOER is willing to think outside the box and try new designs with their IEMs and I really like that mindset. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Nice warm sound. Great looks. Customizable options via smartphone app.
Cons: A little heavy. Requires app to customize settings.
When the MoonRiver 2 came out, I was impressed at the performance out of Moondrop’s first dongle. While it had a very bright sound signature, It still performed well and it was a unique shape and lightweight. Now that some time has passed, Moondrop has decided to release an updated and alternate dongle called the MoonRiver 2 Ti. It uses a new Titanium shell and has a plastic(maybe glass) window on the bottom to show off the internal board design. This new unit also has customizable features via their own Moondrop Link app. The MoonRiver 2 Ti(Ti going forward) uses the Cirus Logic CS43198 that the normal MoonRiver 2 uses and comes in at $189.99.
Quick shoutout to Shenzhenaudio as always for setting me up with a review unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The MoonRiver 2 Ti can be picked up from Shenzhenaudio at their website below.
Gear usedMoondrop Moonriver 2, Audirect Beam 4, Moondrop B3, Letshuoer DZ4 and UM MEST MKIII.
Looks and FeelThe new Ti version is a little heavier as it’s using a new thicker Titanium shell. It also has the plastic window at the bottom that almost feels like glass. Nice and smooth feel overall. The titanium however on mine was scratched a little right out of the box and I would imagine this will get all beat up looking should you use it a lot. Moondrop decided to go for a somewhat brushed finish so it should only show deeper scratches. The unit does get a little warm if running at full upscaling speed or DSD but it's very minimal compared to something like a DAP doing the same thing. Overall a good looking and high quality feeling dongle.
Accessories and unboxingThe MR2 Ti comes in a standard Moondrop waifu box but this time with a unique designed outer sleeve and of course the waifu mascot on the front of the box. Different art style this time around but once we get the box opened up, we have the dongle sitting on top. Underneath the foam, we have the cable, USB-A to USB-C adapter and the manual/warrant cards. I would have liked to see a smaller box used but it's fine. The accessories are good enough but I would have liked to see a lightning cable or adapter included for the IOS users.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were via the stock USB cable into my Macbook Pro. This will be what the MoonRiver 2 Ti sounded like with all the headphones I used. Things like headphone pairings will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The MoonRiver 2 Ti goes for a neutral-warm sound signature. This is a departure from the cold and bright signature the original MR2 had but I really like this different sound direction. The Bass is warmer but it does well with impact/slam though it’s not an extreme amount. The mids are also a little on the smooth and warm side. Instruments sound accurate and lack dullness but it still comes in relaxed. The Vocals are on the warm side again but they have a more natural if not slightly compressed presentation. The upper mids and treble are detailed but they do sound a little more relaxed and the decay sounds a little slower. This makes for an overall relaxed and warm sound signature that I think works really well. Especially if the goal is to sit back and just enjoy music. I think the Ti version still pulls in really good details, it’s just less intense and I can listen longer without feeling like I need to stop and take a break. Much easier to get lost in the music.
Filters and fun featuresI can almost never tell the difference between filters. Same thing here. I couldn’t tell the difference but one thing I enjoy is that the Moondrop Link app actually gives you a quick and sweet explanation of what each filter should do to the sound.
Imaging/SoundstageThe soundstage and imaging tend to be headphone specific(at least to me) but DAC/amps can add a little extra on occasion. I would say the staging is about average compared to other dongles in this price range and the imaging is accurate as I would expect from a modern dongle.
Stock USB CableThe stock cable the Ti comes with is actually an updated USB-C to USB-C cable and it is much sturdier than the one that came with my original MR2. The cable is thicker and they attempted to fix some of the EMI noise issues that last cable had by shielding the internals more which you can visibly see. The connector housings are thicker and they feel like they won't wobble or break with normal use.
Personal grips with the MR2 Ti?The new Ti version has the same ultra bright LED that the original MR2 had but it’s located at the bottom now. Which will blind you and everyone around when it’s turned on. Luckily, it can be turned off via their Link app on either Android or IOS. The device allows you to change the DAC filters but it no longer lets you change gain like the original MR2 did. Without using the app, it is set to high gain and the LED is set to be on. Which is fine. I prefer the option to set it via the app and then not have to worry about anything else. The issue with the original MR2 was that you couldn’t turn off the LED(at the time I did the review) and that it always started at high gain so you always had to change it and it was finicky to do. This is much improved with a might higher range of volume even at high gain.
So while that wasn’t much of a grip, the next thing is an awkward disconnect between the engineers and PR material. There were some initial issues with the capabilities of the MR2 Ti on release. No fault to the reps but the Ti version does have a different design going on with the firmware hence the differences such as the two buttons being pressed at the same time, no longer changing gain. The manual doesn’t tell you anything about the fact the two volume buttons being held down actually changes the DAC filters. The product material has little quirks like how the Ti version can only go up to PCM 384kHz even though I’m listening at an upscaled 768kHz just like the original MR2. So it seems the engineer team made some adjustments without letting anyone on the PR team know what's current vs what they thought was correct. This is fine as it doesn’t affect anything in an important way but I figured I would mention it.
Single ended and balanced power outputCompared to the original MR2, we have power numbers this time! At least for the 4.4mm jack haha. We get 280mW into a 32ohm load which is more than enough for most IEMs and normal full sized headphones. I’m not sure about the single ended jack but I got more than enough volume out of it even on my Sennheiser HD560S. Good enough to get the job done but most gear in this price range. I prefer the under 400mW for dongles as this normally keeps the heat down and it consumes less power from the source device. I’ve had high power portable DAC/amps burn through my Macbook Pro battery life and it’s an annoying thing at times.
IEM pairing opinions
Moondrop Blessing 3The B3 was somewhat of a disappointment to me especially since it’s quite the bright sounding IEM. This pairing with the MR2 Ti does help it IMO and it falls out of the bright and clinical tuning to a more bright and fuller sound. This won’t fix the brightness of the B3 but it does add a little extra warmth in the mid bass and mids which helps the B3 sound full and less lean vs other neutral and bright source gear. The treble is still bright but it’s a little more contained and has less of a metallic sound. The staging sounded about the same here as my main testing source gear. I like the pairing here and I think it’s a great combo. This won’t “fix” the issues I personally had with the B3 but it makes it a combo I do use more often on the go.
LETSHUOER DZ4The DZ4 is a really nice neutral sounding set of lower cost IEMs. This is also a pairing I like with the MR2 Ti. The bass does sound like it has a little extra warmth and adds to the already decent bass performance. Mids and vocals sound accurate but they still sound a little on the sweet/warm side. The treble is about the same as other source gear and it performed the same to my ears. The staging was average and imaging was spot on. A good pairing but it doesn’t have much of a sound effect from the small changes as some other IEMs I tested.
Unique Melody MEST MKIIIThe MEST MKIII sounds pretty good on most gear but it does scale decently well. I think the MKIII pairs well with the warmer sounding MR2 Ti. The bass is nice and impactful yet warm. The mids and vocals are smooth yet accurate and the treble is sharp enough to sound very detailed. The staging is still pretty wide though it doesn’t produce the same “wow” factor that some higher end source gear. The MR2 Ti is a really good pairing though and it brings out quite a bit of the potential performance the MKIII can produce.
Moondrop Moonriver 2I’ve already touched on it a little but the biggest differences will be the sound signature directions these two take. The original MR2 is bright and goes for as much perceived detail as possible at the cost of being a little cold sounding. The new Ti version goes for a neutral-warm sound that is extremely enjoyable yet pulls in around the same detail retrieval as the original. I was expecting them to both sound the same given the same DAC chip being used but it seems the Ti version was implemented in a different way. Both exhibit the same staging to my ears and both are fantastic at their sound signatures they go for. I do personally prefer the new warmer sounding MR2 Ti however and it stays in my bag with my MacBook Pro in case I want to use it over my DAP.
Audirect Beam 4The Beam 4 does come in $50 more than the MR2 Ti, but I do like the warmer sound signature of the MR2 Ti. The Beam 4 does have the benefit of having a battery that is built in to provide power to help with possible power current issues from the USB port when listening. I’ve personally never had issues with this on modern hardware in the last few years. The MR2 Ti has a warmer bass and mids. Vocals are smooth and sweet on the MR2 Ti and the treble at times with sound a little more relaxed and tame over the Beam 4. The Beam 4 has a more neutral bass and mids performance. The vocals are a little more accurate and sharp sounding. The treble is a little sharper and faster so it can sound a little more detailed than the MR2 Ti. Either option is good though and I prefer the MR2 Ti for the size and the sound signature but the Beam 4 has a more performance focused design.
Overall thoughtsI really like this updated MoonRiver 2 Ti and I appreciate that the original is still offered which makes sense to me. Both have different directions for their sound tunings and both will cater to different audiophiles. I like the new app integration and the fact you can set the features you want on and off and they stay saved on the memory of the MR2 Ti. Overall, a win in my book! The MoonRiver 2 Ti gets my recommendation. While I still find dongles a niche market as I’ve murdered many cables trying to use them with my phone in a pocket. I still use dongles for my laptop when on the go or at work. Great job to the team at Moondrop and I look forward to their future releases! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Comfort. Warmer sound. Price!
Cons: None I can think of at this price.
I really liked the initial Truthear ZERO so I was very excited when I was offered a chance to review a re-tuned version of the ZERO called the ZERO:RED. I will admit I was surprised to hear the new “project RED” IEM was another version of the ZERO since I felt that was good enough that it didn’t need a retune. Well, I’m glad a new version of the ZERO is out since it definitely brings its own flavor and I think it’s a good compliment to the ZERO. The RED comes in at $54.99 and is using a double dynamic driver setup.
Quick shoutout to Shenzhenaudio for sending me the ZERO:RED to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The RED can be picked up Shenzhenaudio below:
Onto the review of the Truthear ZERO:RED(RED going forward)! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Moondrop Aria, Turthear ZERO, Moondop MoonRiver 2, hiby R6 P2.
Looks and fitThe shell is the exact same size as the OG ZERO. I do find this fits my ears well with my trusty Spinfit tips. The IEMs are lightweight and I find long session comfort pretty good. I like the look of the red faceplate that has some depth to the design. I was hoping it would have the same color changing effect the OG ZERO had at certain angles but it looks a little more solid and less flashy so it might appeal to more people.
Isolation and sound leakageJust like the OG ZERO, it leaks very little sound and passive isolation is about average for a vented IEM. I think with lower volume levels, it can be used in quiet places without worry.
Packaging and accessoriesThe unboxing experience between the ZERO and ZERO:RED are pretty much the same. The only addition is the added 10ohm adapter. The RED box is a little smaller as well which I always appreciate.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the ZERO:RED sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit CP100+ tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The RED goes for a neutral to warmer tuning. It still has very good bass performance and thumps very well. Bass reaches down low and sounds both powerful yet detailed. Which results in a non muddy bass which sounds great for lots of electronic music with deep bass hits. The mids sound a little more relaxed but still very enjoyable. Instruments don’t sound super fast or ultra detailed but I find them good enough given the price. Vocals do sound natural and detailed and I did rather enjoy the presentation here. The upper mids are a little closer to what I prefer and they aren’t super boosted. I’m so used to IEMs having upper mids that are either over the top or on the bleeding edge of what I personally find comfortable. I think this will appeal to most people as “pleasant” upper mids. Treble isn’t that bright but I do feel it sounds just a bit better controlled and less metallic vs other stuff in this price range. It pulls in decent details and while not super fast or sharp sounding. The treble is very enjoyable and still competitive given the price. I really don’t have any complaints with this enjoyable tuning.
10ohm Resistor AdapterTruthear includes a 10ohm resistor adapter in the box and I think it does well at adding extra bass without ruining the lower mids. It does require more power to get the same volume without the adapter but I like the option. Plus it allows you to play around and use the adapter on other IEMs to see what results one might get from the adapter.
Soundstage/ImagingI think the staging is about average in width and depth. Maybe hovering a little on the smaller stage presence but still good enough. The imaging was accurate and I could still pick out details even in more bass heavy tracks.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe RED isn’t hard to drive nor is it sensitive so I had no issues running balanced with floor noise and I could run it off my DAP in single ended with now issues power wise. Keep in mind when using the 10 ohm adapter, it will need more power to get the RED up to regular volume. Not a big deal but it could cause some low power source devices to struggle or get closer to max volume.
Stock cableThe stock cable is the same as the other Truthear IEMs and I think it's fine overall. It is that shiny black rubber texture and it’s neither bad nor good. I wouldn’t replace it given it’s a $55 IEM unless you really want a balanced cable.
Truthear OG ZERO/HEXAWhile I don’t want to parrot everyone else, I was in the middle of moving while writing up a review so now that I’m releasing this review late, I’m just gonna combine both IEMS into one section.
The OG ZERO has a slightly brighter sound but the bass performance is still really good. I think those who like a brighter sounding IEM will prefer it over the RED. Does the RED sound better than the ZERO detail wise? Not really, I couldn’t tell a difference minus a lack of treble brightness so ignoring the perceived detail from a stronger treble, I would call them about the same in the detail retrieval and resolution department. Both are awesome ~$50 IEMs and I have no issues recommending either one. Having both to listen to might even be a good way for new audiophiles to get a sense if they prefer a brighter tuning or warmer tuning without spending an extreme amount of money.
The HEXA is an extra $25 over the RED and while it’s a better neutral sounding IEM, I still find the RED a little more fun sounding and it fits in my ear a little better so comfort definitely wins at the end of the day. The HEXA is better in terms of detail retrieval but once again, I’ll take a more enjoyable tuning most days over a neutral tuning when it comes to the low-mid range IEM price brackets. Both good, but I’ll still recommend the RED to new audiophiles.
Moondrop AriaThe Aria is pretty old in the IEM world at this point but I’m still patiently waiting to hear something that sounds as good or better than the Aria. The RED is a little closer in tuning to the Moondrop Snow Aria but regardless, the Aria still sounds better to my ears overall tuning wise. The Aria brings in better details and while the bass isn’t as impactful as the RED, I simply prefer the tuning of the OG Aria over the RED. Is the Aria worth the extra $25 over the RED? I don’t think so. I think the RED is a safer bet honestly.
Moondrop MoonRiver 2 TiThe newer MR2 Ti sounds a little warmer but very detailed and I found it paired pretty well with the RED. The lows are still strong with an added sense of warmth which helped the awesome bass slam the RED provides. The mids are smooth and while not overly detailed, still provide a sweet sound that I really like. Same thing with vocals. They sound extra sweet and come through with workable details. The upper mids are relaxed and same thing with the treble. It doesn’t sound overly warm, just smoother and more enjoyable. I would say those who want a little brighter experience, will want something like the OG MoonRiver 2 or something a little brighter overall to pair the RED with.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This is the newer setup I use for my sound impressions on each review. Do I think the RED scales well with high end gear? Not at all. I think you can get most of the way there with an Apple dongle or even something like the $189.99 will be overkill for the RED. A better power output dongle will be better when trying to use the 10 ohm adapter however. Either way, I wouldn’t stress about source pairing a RED and I would just say buy it and enjoy it with almost everything.
Overall thoughtsI loved the Turthear ZERO and I like this new variant as well. I think the ZERO and ZERO:RED are good options for those who want either flavor of tuning. I’m happy to say the Turthear ZERO:RED is an easy recommendation! While I was hoping for a new design from “project red” I think this is competitive and will continue to be a wonderful option under $100. Great job to the Truthear team and Uncle Crinacle and I look forward to what comes next. Thanks for reading!
Pros: Fantastic sound signature, Price, Modern OS, Snappy speed on OS, PURPLE!
Cons: Battery life, Button layout, Power output to full size headphones.
I recently called the Hiby R6 III the “future” of DAPs, complimenting a modern OS and a non potato SOC for device performance. The sound was great and the price was even better. So here we are with a post R6 III release using the same SOC and modern Android 12 OS called the R6 Pro II or R6 P2 as I’ll call it for the rest of the review. I was thrilled when I saw that this new R6 P2 was being released with the newest AKM AK4499EX that I found extremely impressive from the recent Topping E70V review I did. Since Hiby had a good SOC and OS setup from the R6 III, they decided to do a new design for the R6 P2 which not only looks good to my eyes, it also comes in a purple option with a matching purple leather case! As a huge fan of purple, I decided to bite and pick up a R6 P2 out of interest and hopes it might be a better fit for me over the R6 III. The R6 P2 uses a snapdragon 665 SOC, 4GB of RAM, 64GB internal storage and the AKM AK4191+ dual AK4499EX DAC. The R6 P2 comes in at $749.
Quick shoutout to my friends at MusicTeck for setting me up with a review unit at a discounted price. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The Hiby R6 Pro II can be picked up MusicTeck below!
Gear usedHiby R6 III, Shanling M6 Ultra, Moondrop Variations, THIEAUDIO Monarch MKII, Letshuoer Cadenza 12
Looks and FeelThe R6 P2 comes in a new design from Hiby which comes in a little shorter than my iPhone 14 Pro Max. It’s a much thicker device but the width and thickness is about the same as the R6 III. There is some heft to the P2 but it doesn’t feel as bad as some of the flagship DAPs I’ve held in the past. The screen is flat this time and the casing is very unique. They have these waves which an audio friend said looked like the lines in socks and I agree. I do like the way it looks overall though and at certain angles it looks as if the top half of the unit is super thin. The curved angles do make it seem smaller than it is and like the feel in my hand. The P2 is a little more slippery due to the angles however so I do recommend the leather case it comes with. I do wish the purple was a little darker on the unit itself but I like the darker purple leather case so I’m fine with it.
Android performanceThis is just gonna be a copy paste from my R6 III review since both had the exact same SOC and hardware config.
“I’m happy to say that a mid range DAP finally has a modern OS with very snappy performance. The R6 III is running Android 12 and is using 4gb of RAM as well as a Snapdragon 665 SOC which really makes this feel like a speed demon compared to even some high end DAPs like the Shanling M6U but at a much cheaper price. I had no real issues with Android outside of some normal here and there OS quirks that show up on custom Android setups. Nothing immersion breaking at all though. This continues to be a very reliable and great experience for my daily use.”
Accessories and unboxingThe R6 P2 comes in a thin but wider box that looks pretty fancy in terms of box art. Inside is the DAP in some foam and under that is the USB-C cable which is a little thicker but feels like good quality. The little sleeve with user manuals, warranty cards and the extra screen protectors sit above the leather case. I always say I would prefer a charging block but it’s common practice for DAPs so I won’t ding the R6 P2 for not having one in the box. Overall a good chunk of goodies and I like that they give you a leather case instead of something like the stiff silicone case included in the cheaper R6 III.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done via Poweramp. This will be what the Hiby R6 P2 sounded like with all the headphones I used. These impressions are also all based on the standard Class AB mode unless otherwise stated. Things like headphone pairings will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I found the R6 P2 sound signature to be more neutral sounding but more dynamic in a way and not the standard “boring” type of neutral. The R6 III had a bright-neutral sound signature and while I’ve been used to warmer sounding Hiby DAPs, the R6 P2 wasn’t what I would call tilted towards a warm or bright sound signature. The bass is strong but only when called for. It is extremely accurate so when something calls for impact, it produces a very deep impact and it lingers just long enough to give a sense of space down low. Mid bass is accurate and never sounds boomy. The mids are fast yet lack any added sharpness which makes instruments sound more natural and the details are very good here. The vocals are really nice and are a little more intimate and closer to the ear than I like but they do bring in better detail this way. I wouldn’t call vocals the highlight but it does the job well enough given the price. Upper mids are accurate and mostly flat. I don’t pick up any extra spice on some of my strong upper mid IEMs which I personally prefer. The treble is really sharp and fast. It pulls in really good detail but doesn’t sound artificial or metallic. Even with the fast decay, it still doesn’t sound bright or splashy which is why I’m calling the sound signature overall neutral. I really don’t like neutral sound signatures since most neutral DAPs sound flat and tend to be boring to my ears. The R6 P2 implements the AK4499EX really well here and I like this “dynamic” neutral sound quite a bit.
I did find on certain IEMs that the Class A mode did provide just a bit more presence to the overall sound and may have a hair more bass impact. The most noticeable difference was the bass impact when using class A mode on full size headphones which I'll mention a little more later on.
Filters and fun featuresThe standard AKM filters are all here and I couldn't tell the difference on any of them minus the “low dispersion short delay” which sounded a little more compressed to my ears whenever I switched to it. I left it on the stock “Sharp roll-off” for the whole review.
Imaging/SoundstageStaging is actually wider and deeper and that was the first thing I noticed after moving from my R6 III to the R6 P2. There is a better sense of space overall and while the closer vocals can sound a little strange with a lot of stuff happening in the distance, I do like the way this sounds. It’s darn close to my desktop setup in terms of staging. Imaging was fine but I don’t ever run into imaging issues on modern source gear. I believe that is more of an IEM/headphone thing.
Battery life and heat levelsBattery life on the R6 III was very impressive at 12 hours from the 4.4mm jack. The battery life isn’t wonderful here on the R6 P2 unfortunately. They give an overall rating of 8H from 3.5mm and 7H from 4.4mm on Class A/B mode. Running Class A will get you 6H/5H from the same 3.5/4.4 jacks. This is more than likely from low gain and that’s how I tested for battery life. I ran two of my daily driver IEMs and grabbed a rough estimate from most of my 9 hour workday using the DAP as much as possible throughout my shift. I got darn close to the battery ratings they mentioned and exceeded the ranges a little bit on some days. I think running on high gain will really drain the battery on this thing and I would call this a DAP for shorter trips if you can’t charge in between listening sessions. I do set the max charge to 90% since I hope it will help with long term battery life capacity. I will mention that while one can simply charge the device during playback, the charging does add unwanted heat to the DAP so it will be extra toasty should you fast charge the R6 P2 while using it on long sessions.
When it comes to the heat situation, the R6 P2 does get warm from normal use and it’s noticeable when in a front pocket for longer than 20-30 min. I would say it's on the cooler side of some of the ~$1K DAPs I’ve tried. When it’s in Class A mode, it does get very hot and on the edge for comfort in a mobile “in pocket” use for me personally. I don’t really use this or the R6 III in Class A mode often though. If you plan to run the R6 P2 as hard as possible and in Class A mode, be prepared for some heat.
Bluetooth/Wired connectivityI noticed no difference in bluetooth performance from the R6 III so same copy paste here.
“I didn’t really run a bunch of bluetooth headphones off the R6 III as I don’t really use bluetooth on my DAPs and I tend to use Airpods Pro 2 with my iPhone only when I know I need to take a call and stay hands free. I don’t normally use bluetooth on my DAPs and use airpods pro 2 on my iPhone if I need wireless playback. I did check range on LDAC and I had no issues at arms length which is normally the max range most LDAC stuff works in my experience without connection issues.”
As for wired performance. Using the headphone jacks was the way to go for the best sound performance overall. Now onto maybe something a little different, I did use the R6 P2 as a portable DAC/amp for my Macbook Pro to see how it did as a DAP and dedicated portable DAC/amp for another source. I was very happy that the time to get the R6 P2 into DAC mode was very quick with little steps and they give you easy access to features like low and high gain. The R6 P2 easily hit 768 kHz sample rate but I couldn’t get it to produce the claimed 1536 kHz sample rate it can do. I wasn’t able to get Roon or Audirvana to play at the max sample rates but that might be app issues more than the device itself. There was some extra heat at 768kHz but I see no issue with that since the R6 III will probably be used in DAC/amp mode near the source device.
Personal grips with the R6 P2?I do have a complaint about the R6 P2 but I was able to fix the issue by using the leather case and modding it a little. You can check the R6 P2 forum if you want to see how I solved that issue. Outside of the one design issue I’ll talk about in a moment, I don’t have any other complaints outside of the battery life issues once might run into driving power hungry full size cans.
I don’t like the button layout and they have the track changing/pause buttons on the left side and the volume and power button on the right side all at the same height on both sides. So initially I was pressing the track pause or next track buttons whenever I wanted to adjust volume while holding the R6 P2 in one hand. I then threw it in the case but the plastic buttons inside the case caused me to switch tracks whenever I picked the unit up off the table. It was fairly irritating since the R6 III keeps the buttons up high and out of the way. I think placement could have been better but with my lightly modded leather case, I have zero issues now. This isn’t an end of world issue but something to keep an eye out for depending on your use case.
Single ended and balanced power outputPower output is kinda mediocre when it comes to the on paper numbers. We get 125mW from the single ended 3.5mm jack and 383mW from the balanced 4.4mm jack. The R6 III funny enough has the same single ended performance but gets 405mW out of its balanced jack. Hiby does a great job at defending its lower power output due to the implementation of the AKM DAC design. Whether or not this is true or not, I can say it can power all my IEMs on low gain just fine and the sound quality provided by the R6 P2 is extremely close to desktop levels of sound quality for at least IEMs. It does struggle with full size headphones but its a lack of bass impact/slam and mid bass leanness that I mostly notice. The Class A mode does seem to help with the lack of slam though but I would say a bigger and hotter DAP is gonna be required to really get the best out of power hungry full size headphones.
IEM pairing opinions
Moondrop VariationsThe Variations are normally my daily drivers at work when I know I’ll be able to use IEMs for a longer period of time. I was very happy at the result of this pairing. The bass is already strong overall on the Variations but when something called for bass impact, it delivered! I was quite surprised at first how clean yet strong the bass impact was when I went through my list of test tracks. The mids are pretty accurate and sound very detailed. The vocals do sound a little more neutral and maybe a little boring on this specific pairing. Good sense of presence and naturalness. Upper mids stay in good control here and I found the lack of added upper mids to make the Variations sound a little more V shaped with this pairing. The treble was sharp and accurate and the Variations were able to bring in good details without sounding splashy. Staging was wider with this pairing and overall I really liked this pairing.
THIEAUDIO Monarch MKIIThe Monarch MKII isn’t my favorite IEM but I find it's a little more of a bright neutral IEM to my ears so I wanted to see how it performed here. Lows come through with a good warmth and it does well with impact and slam. The mids are on the leaner side and have a hint of artificial sound but still pretty good. The vocals are really nice here and there is a good sense of presence in the track. The upper mids are on the brighter side but the R6 P2 does well to control it here. It still sounds sharp but it lacks the brighter zing I hear on other setups. Same thing with the treble. Sharp, detailed and well controlled. Staging is about average with this set. I do feel it pairs a little better on a good desktop setup overall.
Letshuoer Cadenza 12My current all time favorite “all rounder” TOTL from Letshuoer pairs extremely well with the R6 P2 and it does benefit a little from the Class A mode. Bass comes in really strong when called for, the mid bass sounds a little cleaner and better controlled. The mids are laser accurate and present well. The vocals are wonderful and sound both accurate and give a sense of life to them with this pairing. The accurate and neutral upper mids means the C12 was able to bring good details without sounding too sibilant. The treble was fast and super enjoyable. This has been my favorite pairing for the Cadenza 12 next to my desktop setup. Class A did provide a slight wider sense of staging. Which in turn made imaging seem better to my ears.
Over ear pairing
Sennheiser HD560SThe HD560S is the only full size can in my personal inventory at the moment and I keep it around as a higher ohm test headphone. The HD560 does sound fairly good on this pairing. The lows are still the lacking part but I believe this to be a portable DAP issue across the board under $1k. It just doesn’t get enough power to the 560S to really give it the same low end thump and fullness I get from a decent desktop setup. Using Class A mode does actually help a little with this but it still sounds a little lean for my tastes. The mids are still very smooth and have very good detail. The upper mids and treble are still super sharp and pull in good detail retrieval as well with this pairing. Overall a good pairing and while not quite the same level as a desktop setup around the same price as the R6 P2, very serviceable for sure.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400 StackDoes the R6 P2 compete with my trusty desktop stack? Yes! It actually gets decently close. The obvious trade-offs are that the higher heat and lower battery life are required to get the R6 P2 close to desktop levels of audio performance. The desktop stack I use does simply sound better overall when it comes to detail and resolution but it’s a heavy dedicated desktop setup and I honestly like having the portability on the go. Especially at work when I know I can listen to IEMs in my cube without sacrificing space and risking something getting stolen. Easy to bring the R6 P2 with me vs bringing a high end portable DAC/amp and busting out my MacBook Pro.
Hiby R6 IIIBoth the R6 III and R6 P2 go for different sound signatures and both have their positives and negatives. I Find the R6 III sounds bright-neutral and the R6 P2 has a more neutral overall sound signature. The biggest things will be the DAC implementations on both DAPs. The R6 III has an older ESS flagship DAC and is a more power efficient DAP so it has better battery life and less heat issues when used in a pocket scenario. The R6 P2 goes for a newer AKM flagship and they focused on sound performance so it's a less efficient overall package and it has less battery life and produces more heat than the R6 III. So Which do I prefer? As a seasoned DAP user, I like the R6 P2 quite a bit. For new DAP owners, I would still recommend the R6 III though. Mostly due to its efficiency which results in a battery life and less heat produced. I believe it’s an awesome price and will make for a better first time experience. For the seasoned DAP owners or those who are ready for less battery and more heat, I would say the R6 P2 is a real winner and worth a look.
Shangling M6 UltraThe M6 Ultra goes for a neutral tuning just like the R6 P2 but I complained it was a little too neutral and sounded pretty boring. Very accurate but not overly exciting. Both DAPs get toasty on longer sessions but the M6U does get an additional 2 hours of battery life and about double the balanced output power so it’s a little better for full size headphones. It however gets way hotter than the R6 P2 on longer sessions and the R6 P2 uses a newer OS so it is a little better future proofed. I do actually like both but I do prefer the newer R6 P2 just a bit more. Plus, I can get the R6 P2 in purple! We have the M6U in their dark green color and it's wonderful to look at as well. Both are awesome DAPs and you can’t go wrong either way.
Overall thoughtsI think Hiby really hit it out of the park with the R6 P2. While it does suffer from a shorter battery life and power output to intensive full size headphones. It still manages to do everything extremely well and punches above its price tag IMO! I still think the R6 III is another great mid range DAP and my continued recommendation for new DAP owners but I find the R6 P2 tries to reach up a price bracket in sound quality and performance. Which I think will vibe well with seasoned DAP users. A big win in my book and the R6 Pro II is an easy recommendation! I’m happy that modern OS/Faster SOC DAPs are hitting the market and I think the competition will really heat up in the coming months. The R6 P2 however is my new favorite DAP and I think it will stay in my rotation for a long time. Great job to the team at Hiby and I look forward to what they come up with next! Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Comfort. Good detail retrieval. Might be a good EQ candidate?
Cons: Lacks life to sound. Lots of opportunity left on the table.
I will admit I’m quite a fan of Moondrop’s IEMs. I love the OG Aria, the Kato and I still consider the Variations my favorite ~$500 IEM. When the Blessing 2 came out, I didn’t like it at all. It sounded fairly bright and metallic to me. Whether that was an issue with tip choice back then or something else, I simply choose to skip reviewing it. The B2 and B2 Dusk had quite the fan following so when I saw a tinner nozzle B3 with a Double DD design, I was fairly excited and very interested in checking it out. The B3 is using a double dynamic driver and four balanced armatures. It comes in $319.
Quick shoutout to Shenzhenaudio for sending me the Blessing 3 to check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The Blessing 3 can be picked up from Shenzhenaudio below!
Onto the review of the Moondrop Blessing 3(B3)! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Moondrop Kato, Moondrop Variations, Dunu Vulkan, Letshuoer S12.
Looks and fitThe shell is close if not the exact same size as the Moondrop Variations. I like the new thinner nozzles and it allows for a comfy deep fitment for my specific inner ear shape. The IEMs are fairly light so they don’t cause me any non sound related fatigue from longer sessions. The shells look nice and the faceplate design looks good. I don’t like the mirror finish and my unit already looks scratched up from minimal use. The double DD enclosure is blue and looks a little weird and doesn't match but I like color in my IEMs so I prefer the added blue color haha I’m fine with the overall design though.
Isolation and sound leakageThe shells do a good job of keeping sound out even with the vented design. Still not as good as some other vented IEMs but I would say it will keep most sound out in loud environments. The B3 does leak a little sound from the vents so in a quiet area at louder volumes, everyone will hear your music.
Packaging and accessoriesThe packaging is a little bigger than needed for the B3 so you get a bigger box and inside on the left sits the B3 IEMs. The right side has the case which holds the tips and cables. Warranty cards sit under that. This feels like a fairly baron unboxing experience since you only get one set of tips. The case looks like the old style grey case but with a different design. Overall a lacking experience compared to Moondrop’s other products. I would have preferred a smaller box overall.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the Eversolo DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Blessing 3 sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 tips. I went with the W1 since they provided the best seal and comfort. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The tuning is brighter sounding to my ears. The sub-bass performance isn’t bad and I would call it average(at best) when it comes to slam and impact. It does sound really fast for a set of DD drivers so it lacks the nice low end decay that gives a good rumble. The mid bass is somewhat weak however and it causes the bass to feel like it’s missing something overall in terms of weight. The mids are mostly neutral but instruments sound a little lean at times. They do sound accurate though and pull in good details. Vocals are decent here and I find the B3 pulls in good details but I do think female vocals can sound a little artificial at times. The upper mids are borderlining sibilant to me. Not bad though, just doesn’t help the overall thin sound. Treble is kinda the weird part. It’s bright but it doesn’t sound overly metallic or splashy. The decay is fairly fast so everything sounds sharp and detailed. I would say the top end treble is the highlight here. It does resolution well enough and I think in combo with the staging it has, will wow some listeners. I really don’t like this tuning overall. It’s average sounding in presentation due to the thinner and lean sound. It just feels like the tuning lacks life to the sound.
The Fix????So what is the fix for this fairly lifeless tuning? Well the first thing I could think of is a re-tune. Which might already be in the books given how popular the B2 Dusk was. If I had to guess the fix, I would say make the sound tube or “guide” from the double DD enclosure bigger/thicker. They went through all this effort to make a neat enclosure to house two DD drivers and they have the tiniest little sound tube going from the nozzle to the driver enclosure. I would guess simply allowing more sound to leave the sound tube would provide more bass which was the weakest part of the tuning to my ears. I however could be wrong and maybe they purposely made the sound tube thin for a reason.
Soundstage/ImagingBesides the detail retrieval, I would say the staging in combination with the imaging are the other highlights of the B3. The staging is average in depth and width but the imaging is spot on and things like left and right panning is top notch. I can also pinpoint instruments and little sounds out in the background that I normally only hear on higher end ~$1k IEMs. I’m very much impressed with the imaging given the average staging.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe B3 isn’t super hard to drive so it will run fine off everything. It does seem to scale a little more depending on the source gear. I don’t think it needs lots of power however. I’m getting extremely good single ended performance from the 125mW Hiby R6 P2 DAP and equally good performance from the 3W SMSL SP400. It’s also not sensitive which meant I had no noise issues when trying the B3 with a balanced cable.
Stock cableThe stock cable looks a lot like the original B2 cable. I figured they would use a slightly thicker cable like the one on their Kato. The cable is thinner and while it’s comfy and doesn’t pick up microphonics, it looks and feels cheap. I think this cable will do fine however but I would say grab a different cable if you don’t like the looks or feel. I’m actually using the stock Kato cable on mine for everyday use.
Letshuoer S12The S12 and B3 have a similar brighter tuning. The S12 is about half the price these days over the B3. The S12 has better bass performance overall vs the B3. Bass impact is about the same but the S12 doesn’t lack mid bass so it sounds a little more balanced. The mids are about the same on both IEMs but I find vocals sound more detailed and sound more natural on the S12. The upper mids are strong on both and the treble is about the same brightness. The S12 is a little splashier sounding though while the B3 is more refined and controlled. The detail retrieval is better on the B3 and so is the staging and imaging. I think that is where the biggest difference shows in price. The S12 is better tuned to my ears but the B3 does outperform it in terms of technical performance.
Dunu VulkanThe B3 and Vulkan both have a leaner tuning but I find the B3 does sound better than the Vulkan overall. The bass hits just a tad bit stronger on the Vulkan but both lack decent mid bass performance. The Mids and vocals on the Vulkan are a little rough sounding and the B3 does well as keeping a detailed and fast sounding set of mids and vocals. Both have a upper mid sharpness but the Vulkan is more uncontrolled and I don’t like the upper mids on it at all. The treble is better sounding on the B3 as well and simply pulls in better details. I know some people like the Vulkan but to my ears the B3 is a much better option.
Moondrop VariationsThe Variations are not only older but more expensive than the B3. Do the variations sound any better given that $200 price increase? If you can get the Variations to fit your ears, Absolutely! The B3 isn’t bad but when A/B comparing, the Variations fill in the lack of overall bass the B3 is missing. Though a little stronger than some may like. The mids are more natural though slightly more relaxed in detail on the Variations over the B3. The Vocals are way more detailed on the Variations and lack the artificial sound the B3 has. The upper mids and treble are sharper on the B3 and I do find it seems to pull in details about the same as the Variations. Both have a slightly different upper end tuning flavor so that will be personal preference. The staging is wider on the Variations but B3 does better when it comes to imaging. Though not by much. The Variations continue to be one of my favorite IEMs for a good reason. It’s really well tuned and fun sounding without being a bass heavy mushy IEM. If you don’t want a lean sounding IEM and prefer a “fun” sounding IEM that is competitive, the Variations are worth the extra $200.
Hiby R6 Pro II DAPThe newer R6 P2 does well at staying neutral and accurate but bringing out the best in most IEMs. The B3 performed about the same as my desktop stack. This is a testament to how well they designed and implemented their DAC/amp setup on the R6 P2. Which is also why I’m skipping sound impressions here. I do think something like the R6 P2 or even the Hiby R6 III works well given the system wide EQ. I do think the B3 would benefit from EQ. I just simply don't do EQ stuff myself and since I don’t find interest in it, I’ll let the reviewers who’re well versed in proper EQ handle that.
Eversolo DAC-Z8/SMSL SP400This is the first review to use my updated desktop stack. The B3 performed very well on my desktop stack but it did sound lean off it as I mentioned in my sound impressions section. I don’t think the B3 scales all that much and I didn’t notice a big enough difference between the cheaper dongles to a ~$1k desktop stack. Which will be great for those who don’t have the best source gear.
Overall thoughtsI haven’t been that impressed with Moondrop’s releases since the Variations and Kato. Which is a bummer since the Variations continue to be one of my favorite IEMs to this day. I think the B3 is detailed enough that most people will like it and it might be a good candidate for EQ. I don’t think it’s really doing anything unique or special. I also think they really dropped the ball here and left a lot of tuning potential with that double DD setup on the table. I think the B3 has potential for a re-tune and I recommend they put some effort into making better use of that double DD setup for bass performance. Especially since I think with some better low end performance, the B3 can be something special.
So! Do I recommend the B3? If you liked the B2 tuning, yes. If you’re new to IEMs and want a good first time experience with detail retrieval, also a yes. If you have some experience with IEMs and don’t like EQ, probably not. Especially if you don’t like thin or leaner sounding IEMs. For me, this was very much a “what happened?” kind of moment. It’s so close to being good that I’m quite bummed about this release. While the last few Moondrop IEM releases have been all passes for me personally, I have high confidence that Moondrop will make some better(super subjective) stuff in the future. Thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Wonderful ESS implementation, Great looks, VU METERS!!!
Cons: Slightly heavy device, headphone amp might not be for everyone
As a huge fan of ESS DACs, I’ve had the chance to hear quite a few ESS variations over the last few years. I’ve heard quite a few different ES9038Q2M/PRO designs as well. There have been really well implemented DACs and some rough ones too. I’ve personally never heard of eversolo or its parent company Zidoo but I was asked if I wanted to check their new DAC-Z8 offering under this new brand called eversolo. I had zero expectations when it came to the DAC implementation itself and I was way more interested in the digital VU meters and said yes on that reason alone haha. I had no idea I was in for a ride on what I would consider one of the best implementations of the ESS ES9038PRO DACs I’ve personally heard. The eversolo DAC-Z8 is a Desktop DAC/amp that comes in at $699.00. It uses the ESS ES9038PRO DAC.
Quick shoutout to David from eversolo/Zidoo for setting me up a review unit to check out. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The eversolo DAC-Z8 can be picked up from Amazon below.
More info on the DAC-Z8 as well:
Gear usedSMSL SU-9/SP400 stack, Topping E70V, Moondrop Variations, THIEAUDIO Monarch MKII, EA GAEA, Letshuoer Cadenza 12, Sennheiser HD560S.
Looks and FeelThe DAC-Z8(Z8 for the rest of the review) is a fairly large unit given it’s mostly a high end DAC with value added headphone amp built in. The unit weighs quite a bit and the black finish feels and looks super high quality. The feet are nice and wide and have good traction. That and the added weight means this thing doesn’t move on a desk unless you really push on it. The front of the unit has a very nice display and the multifunction volume knob feels good too. There is a power button on the front which I appreciate since I never was a fan of holding down a capacitive touch button or volume knob in order to turn power on/down a DAC/amp. The screen is decently sharp and it gets bright. The display is definitely meant for desktop and up close use. I don't think this would be easy to see from far distances. A really good looking device IMO.
Power switch and volume knobThe power switch on the back is fairly wide so if you like to leave stuff powered down, this is a nice feature. The volume knob rotates easily and while I thought it was meant to control the headphone amp side of the Z8 only, I assumed it didn’t have a “DAC only” output option so at first I was a little bummed about that. Once I tried the headphone amp side of the Z8, I found out it has two different saved volumes for when there is a headphone plugged in or not. Which is great. Crank it up for DAC only usage and when you plug in a headphone, it will swap over to the last headphone volume you set.
Inputs and outputsOn the back of the unit we get RCA and XLR outputs, Bluetooth, optical, coaxial and two USB inputs. The RCA and XLR jacks look high quality and I like that you can have two source USB inputs. I currently have the USB-B set to my desktop PC and the USB-C available for my DAP or Macbook Pro. There's also a standard USB-A port for firmware updates which I’ll get into later. I’m super happy with this layout though!
Accessories and unboxingThe Z8 comes in a very nice well designed box which gives an extremely high end unboxing experience. Once inside the box, we get the Z8 in its own little fabric travel like bag, remote, a nice power cable, braided USB-B cable and user manual/warranty cards. I do like the included braided USB cable quite a bit and it gives a sense of attention to detail.
Sound(overall)These impressions were done with the DAC-Z8 connected to the SMSL SP400 headphone amp via XLR. While I’m treating this a DAC first over DAC/amp combo, I will mention the amp section later on.This is what the DAC-Z8 sounds like with the current headphone/IEM inventory I have on hand. Things like headphone pairings or different headphone amps will produce different results and impressions versus what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I will say this right off the bat. I’ve heard a good amount of ES9038 DACs and I’ve come to the conclusion that designs with a really good implementation of a ES9038PRO or any ESS DAC will almost always have very little to no “Sabre Glare” that a lot of ESS DACs are known for in the audio community. That’s not to say that “Sabre Glare” is bad but that those who steer away from ESS DACs for that reason might want to give something like the DAC-Z8 a try.
The Z8 has a fairly neutral sound tuning but I would call it dynamic. The bass is fairly neutral sounding but when something calls for impact and slam, it delivers it really well and it sounds strong with clean force. Bass is accurate and doesn’t show any compressions or bloatedness when paired with the few amps I connected it to. The mids are laser accurate and stay true to the source but speed from the instruments is fast without sounding too sharp. The vocals are accurate but they sound more intimate and “lifelike” if you will. They have a great presence and I really enjoyed this on my specific setup. Upper mids and treble lack the “Sabre Glare” seen in other ESS implementations and while they do sound sharp and neutral for the most part. The Z8 really pulls out every last detail of the ES9038PRO(I think) given the price. I’m not saying this is the best DAC out there or even the best ES9038PRO implementation but it does sit at the top when it comes to my experience which is right around the $1.5K mark for DACs.
The Headphone Amp SectionThe headphone amp section seemed like a value added feature and when I asked about it, it was confirmed to be just that. I can say that I think those starting off with the Z8 as an all in one device and then adding a nice headphone amp later on will be really happy going this route. For the rest who just want an all in one desktop unit, I think the Z8 headphone amp is good enough but I feel a lot of performance is lost relying on just the included headphone amp. That’s not to say it’s bad but let's get into my thoughts on the sound from the built in headphone amp!
The bass has a weird boost somewhere where it sounds like there is extra subbass impact but it sounds a little lean in the mid bass so it sounds like it is missing something in the bass area. Mids are alright if not a little hazy sounding but I would say still decently accurate. Vocals are ok but they lack some presence so once again, not bad, not astounding. The treble does sound neutral and a little soft. It lacks some sharpness and detail retrieval comes in about average. Staging has a more closed in sound. Imaging was perfectly fine. If someone told me this was a good entry level amp around $100-$150 I would agree. I think the headphone amp side of the Z8 will be perfectly fine for those starting out. I would prefer people put more money into a higher quality DAC before an amp personally so I see this as a good starting point then adding an headphone amp later.
Filters and fun featuresThe Z8 does have all the standard ESS filters and as usual, I couldn’t hear a single difference. I set it to Apodizing as I do all ESS DACs to keep things consistent.
Personal grips with the DAC-Z8?I don’t honestly have any issues with the Z8. Which is kinda strange to just be like “every is fine”. I suppose I would personally like the Z8 as an option without the headphone amp side but that’s really just an attempt at splitting hairs over nothing. One thing to note might be some firmware issue concerns I’ve seen online. While I don’t have any issues with the current firmware I’m using, I’ve seen others mention issues with dropping out audio problems. I updated my Z8 the moment it came in and so far I’ve only used optical, both USB inputs and only function checked the Bluetooth input. So in my use case, I’ve not had any problems. I’ve also been upscaling in Audirvana so I figured if I was gonna have something happen, it would show up there. I’ve been alerted a new firmware would eventually launch on their site that should fix any possible issues others have. So take that as you will.
Firmware UpdatingSpeaking of firmware! The process to update is fairly easy, the only real issue I personally ran into was a USB drive to update the Z8 with. You have to use an exFAT formatted device which I had none on hand due to all my portable storage being too big to allow exFAT(outside of portable SSDs and I wasn’t formatting those). I happened to find an old 8gb SD card on a determined hunt for an old storage device so, I used that and an SDcard reader to update and it worked just fine.
SMSL SU-9The SU-9 is another DAC that is fairly close in sound signature to the Z8. It does sound neutral yet dynamic with everything I throw at it. It’s been my review workhorse for over 2 years now. I found the bass was a little thicker sounding on the SU-9 and the vocals are quite detailed. Detail retrieval in the treble is also noticeably better on the Z8 as well as staging and imaging. I still think the two are great options but I do think the Z8 edges it out sound quality wise. I don’t think those with something already good like the SU-9 need to upgrade but they might want to and I do find the Z8 is an upgrade as an overall package.
Topping E70VThe E70V also impressed me recently but I do find the bass is punchier on the Z8. Both do good mids and vocals well but I do find the vocals a little more artificial sounding on the E70V. Treble is sharper and can be uncomfortable sounding when you run both side by side. I think the E70V is a little more clinical sounding and the Z8 is a little more neutral sounding without being boring. E70V and Z8 have close to the same sound detail retrieval but the Z8 just adds something special to the overall sound. I find the Z8 is better for longer sessions due to a better controlled sound signature as well.
Overall thoughtsI had low expectations going into the DAC-Z8 and I walked away so surprised by the sound performance and overall experience. So much so that I actually decided to retire my SMSL SU-9 as my review DAC and the Z8 is now my main DAC to review stuff going forward. So! To possibly no one's surprise, I highly recommend the DAC-Z8! I do want to mention that I think of the DAC-Z8 as a “DAC” first and it should be paired(IMO) with a good desktop headphone amp and used as a type of “stack”. I think the headphone section is ok to get started but the Z8 really shines and scales well when it has a separate headphone amp to pair with. Overall a really good experience and I really look forward to seeing what eversolo releases next. Especially their upcoming DMP-A6 Stream AIO. Great job to the eversolo and Zidoo team and thanks for reading!!!
Pros: Fantastic sound signature, Price, Modern OS, snappy speed on OS, doesn’t get toasty during long pocket sessions
Cons: Slightly lower 720p resolution, Makes most $700 DAPs feel obsolete including some of Hiby’s own offerings, all the normal weird OS quirks of an Android DAP
I bought a Hiby R6 2020 when it launched but I had a lot of gripes with the heat it produced as well as a bunch of broken features within the Android OS it used. I ended up liking the size and feel of the R6 2020 but I wished it had been refined just a bit more given its initial $799 price when it launched. Since then we’ve had a few entry level and upper end DAPs in and out of our home. When I saw the announcement for the R6 III, I was in shock since it had a more current Android OS, a good mid grade SOC spec’d like a $800-$1k DAP but came in at $499. It even had new features like the option to switch between Class A or A/B. All seemed too good to be true given its price. So with my love-hate relationship with the R6 2020, I was super excited to see if the new R6 III was what I was hoping the R6 2020 could have been. The spoiler alert here is that I love the R6 III and if you want to simply skip all of this review, just buy it and give it a shot. For those who’re interested in a little read, let's get into it! The Hiby R6 is a DAP that is running a Snapdragon 665 SOC with 4GB or RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It is also running Android 12 and makes use of the ES9038Q2M DAC as well. It comes in at $499.00
Quick shoutout to my friends at MusicTeck for setting me up with a review unit at a discounted price. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The Hiby R6 can be picked up from MusicTeck below!
Gear usedTopping G5, Shanling M6 Ultra, Moondrop Variations, THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance, Letshuoer Cadenza 12
Looks and FeelIf you’ve seen the R6 2020 in person and held one, this will be the exact same experience. The R6 III has a really well designed body, if not a little on the thicker side. I do really like the placement of the volume knob on top as well as the button layout on the right side of the unit. The bottom of the unit houses all the output jacks as well as the charging port. I don’t quite like the placement nor having line outs next to headphone out but I personally stuff rubber plugs into the line outs so if someone needed to use my DAP, there isn’t any worries about sending max volume to their ears. The memory card slot is exposed to the elements and I would like to see a dust plug integrated. I don’t really take my DAPs out into any extreme conditions though. All in all, I liked the design of the R6 2020 and nothing has changed here with the R6 III.
Android performanceI’m happy to say that a mid range DAP finally has a modern OS with very snappy performance. The R6 III is running Android 12 and is using 4gb of RAM as well as a Snapdragon 665 SOC which really makes this feel like a speed demon compared to even some high end DAPs like the Shanling M6U but at a much cheaper price. I had no real issues with Android outside of some normal here and there OS quirks that show up on custom Android setups. Nothing immersion breaking at all though. This continues to be a very reliable and great experience for my daily use.
Accessories and unboxingThe R6 III doesn’t come with a whole bunch of stuff in the box but I do like the smaller box that holds the DAP, manuals, transparent harder silicone case, extra screen protectors(with some pre installed) and the charging cable. I would have liked to maybe see some AUX cables in either 3.5mm or 4.4mm for the line out jacks included with the R6 III. I think this is a good starting set of accessories and while a cheap small charging block would be nice to have in the box, it's an industry standard to not include it in DAP packaging I feel like. Plus, most people will probably have a USB-C power block. I would have preferred glass screen protectors as well but I believe with the slight bend at the end of the glass corners, it would need to be cut shorter to avoid the curves which probably costs too much to mass produce and that’s fine given the price.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done via Poweramp. This will be what the Hiby R6 III sounded like with all the headphones I used. These impressions are also all based on the standard Class AB mode unless otherwise stated. Things like headphone pairings will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I found the R6 III sound signature to be bright-neutral. I was somewhat surprised as I’ve always considered all of Hiby’s DAPs to sound somewhat warm overall. I found the R6 III does show a little “Sabre Glare'' and I’ll get into the effects of this shortly. The bass on the R6 III is on the neutral side. Though I do find it doesn’t quite allow headphones to hit as hard as I would like. The bass isn’t bad in any way and the lack of bass impact isn’t noticeable on IEMs but I can tell on full size cans. The Class A mode does help offset this a little. The mids are once again fairly neutral but I find the details do shine through and have good speed. Instruments sound accurate without any extra color added. Vocals are really natural and present well. Upper mids and treble are a little on the brighter side. I can hear the somewhat artificial ESS “Sabre Glare'' I've heard in many other ESS DACs and while I have no issues with the added sharpness, I know this can be a let down for others. I do find that DACs and amps don’t really add an extreme amount of flavor to sound but the little extra sharpness can be an issue on brighter sounding IEMs for sure. I do think the R6 III does extremely well at bringing in details. Overall I really like the sound signature and details that the R6 III produces.
Filters and fun featuresThe standard ESS filters are available to use and as always, I couldn’t notice any difference so I set it Apodizing like I do for all my ESS DACs and left that way. Hiby does have a built in MSEB EQ that I believe is system wide which is a fairly neat feature. As someone who almost never uses EQ, I didn’t test it other than for function checking but I see others liking it so I’m happy the option is available.
Imaging/SoundstageStaging is average here and not quite desktop level in terms of both width and depth but I do think it's good enough for its price. I do find that most IEMs I know excel at staging and imaging are running close to their full potential on the R6 III.
Battery life and heat levelsBattery life on the new R6 III has improved quite a bit over the R6 2020 model it replaced. Running it on the stock Class AB mode, we get 12 hours max from the balanced jack and 15 hours from the singled ended jack. When in Class A mode, it drops significantly to 6 hours from balanced and 9 hours on single ended. I find all of these claims are usually via low gain. I found using a few different IEMs on low gain at work, I got about 10 hours of poweramp upscaling to 176.4 kHz with about 15 percent battery left. So I would call the battery life claims fairly accurate.
When it comes to heat from this DAP on extended use, I actually had very little heat discomfort issues. Running it in Class AB mode and using normal streaming apps doesn’t cause any heat for about an hour or so when stuffed into my pants pocket. Upscaling to a high sample rate and using Sox for resampling does cause it to heat up fairly quickly but it’s never uncomfortable for me personally. The only time heat can be an issue is when the R6 III is being run in Class A mode. Letting the amp section run at full power does mean the R6 III gets to uncomfortable levels like many high end DAPs do. I don’t believe many people will be running Class A in their pockets and even when I do use it, I just let the DAP sit on the desk so it doesn’t cause me any discomfort. I think for 90 percent of people, the R6 III will never reach a heat level others find uncomfortable.
Bluetooth/Wired connectivityI didn’t really run a bunch of bluetooth headphones off the R6 III as I don’t really use bluetooth on my DAPs and I tend to use Airpods Pro 2 with my iPhone only when I know I need to take a call and stay hands free. That still stays true and while I did use some TWS like the new Bowers and Wilkins PI7 S2 in LDAC mode, I don’t normally use bluetooth on my DAPs and use airpods pro 2 on my iPhone if I need wireless playback. I did check range on LDAC and I had no issues at arms length which is normally the max range most LDAC stuff works in my experience without connection issues.
As for wired performance. Using the headphone jacks was the way to go for the best sound performance overall. Now onto maybe something a little different, I did use the R6 III as a portable DAC/amp for my Macbook Pro to see how it did as a DAP and dedicated portable DAC/amp for another source. I was very happy that the time to get the R6 III into DAC mode was very quick with little steps and they give you easy access to features like low and high gain. The R6 III will easily hit 768 kHz sample rate with some extra heat but I see no issue with that since the R6 III will probably be used in DAC/amp mode near the source device.
Personal grips with the R6 III?I would love to tell everyone about gripes I had with the R6 III but I really don’t have show stopping issues with it. I do notice some little OS quirks here and there but I’ve not had any bad experiences. I do think the biggest thing that bothers me is the inconsistency of the double tap to wake feature. It’s so hit or miss for me that I’ve just started pressing the power button on the side instead of trying to mess with the screen double tap to wake feature. Outside of that I haven’t noticed any concerning issues. Keeping an eye on the forums for the R6 III, it looks like some people are running into little random software quirks but Hiby seems to be active with making firmware updates to fix issues as they come up which I’m happy to see.
UPDATE 4/27/23: Since the most recent firmware update, they've fixed the double tap to wake feature! Happy they took feedback and fixed the issue!
Single ended and balanced power outputPower output is fairly good but I do find it a little on the low side given how well it does at everything and the fact it has the option to run in a Class A mode. It can do 125 mW into something and 405 mW into something as well. Unfortunately they don’t specify what ohms this is rated with. If I had to guess, I would say this is tested on a 32 ohm load but regardless of the paper numbers, I do find the R6 III can power everything really well. On low gain in balanced I can keep my collection of sensitive to power hungry IEMs all in the low gain mode. Some single ended power hungry IEMs do get me closer to max volume on low gain but I don’t see the need to run IEMs on medium gain. Full size cans are a different story. I only have two sets of full size headphones on hand but one is the 120 ohm Sennheiser HD 560S and the other a little more picky Monoprice M1570C planar. Both require high gain on the R6 III and both do show a slightly more bassy and wider sounding stage when using the Class A mode.
IEM pairing opinions
Moondrop VariationsThe Variations are normally my daily drivers at work when I know I’ll be able to use IEMs for a longer period of time. I was very happy at the result of this pairing. The Bass is still very punchy and I find it sounds a little tighter than I’m used to. Mids are very accurate and stay neutral with good speed on the decay of instruments. Vocals are great and natural sounding. The upper mids do sound a bit brighter than I like but the treble is also boosted a little which helps the Variations quite a bit. Staging was fairly wide and somewhat deep. Overall I found this quite a good pairing and probably one of my preferred combos both the Variations and the R6 III.
THIEAUDIO ClairvoyanceAhhhh, the Clairvoyance! My all time favorite IEM tuning even though I have a bunch of stuff that sounds better as the Clairs age in time. The bass is both tight and provides just enough impact to make me happy. Mids are laser accurate and I found the decay to be quick as well. Vocals are exactly what I expect from the Clair and it provides a good natural presentation with the R6 III. The upper mids and treble are extremely clear but never too intense. Decay is fast on instruments in the treble and I find the detail retrieval almost on par with my desktop system. Staging was both wider and deep and I found imaging wonderful as always. Keep in mind I have an extreme bias towards the Clairvoyance so take this specific pairing as you will.
Letshuoer Cadenza 12My current all time favorite “all rounder” TOTL from Letshuoer pairs extremely well with the R6 III and it was the only IEM I found to actually benefit from the Class A mode. On Class AB mode, the bass hits really strong and is well controlled and fast. The mids are still neutral sounding but they still sound really detailed. The Vocals are still very natural sounding, if not a bit more artificial on the R6 III. The upper mids are a little brighter with this pairing and the treble is really sharp but its still a little on the neutral side for sure. Staging is where I saw a difference between Class A and AB mode. Staging is slightly wider and deeper on Class A mode and swapping to A mode does add a small but noticeable extra sense of space to the stage. Overall, a very good pairing. I will say that I think this is very much “enough” gear for the Cadenza 12 but I do think it benefits from a good desktop source.
Over ear pairings
Sennheiser HD560S/Monoprice M1570CSo the only two wired full size cans I have on hand are two that I hate but I find they have good qualities in certain genres. Plus both are a little harder to drive so they act as power testbeds. I can confirm that the R6 III via single ended and balanced has no issues getting to a good volume. The lack of bass on these two slightly more demanding headphones can be somewhat counteracted by turning on the Class A mode but at the cost to battery life and heat from the R6 III. I don’t have an abundance of full size cans so it’s hard to say if the R6 III is enough to power other more demanding headphones but I think this is about 70 percent of the way to a good desktop amp or more powerful DAP in terms of amp output.
SMSL SU-9/SMSL SP400Does the R6 III compete with my trusty desktop stack? It gets close but it doesn’t quite match the performance when it comes to detail retrieval and staging compared to my review stack. The “gets close” part is very impressive to me however since I like to detach myself from my desktop setup as much as possible and things like the Topping G5 and now the R6 III make it much easier to have a solution away from my room or when I’m at work where I can’t confidently leave a mini stack sitting around on my desk. The only DAPs I’ve used that got close or matched the performance of the desktop all were near the $1k mark which is a lot in my book to spend on a dedicated player with a non user replaceable consumable battery.
The R6 III uses the same family ES9038 DAC that my SU-9 uses but the SU-9 has a more accurate and dynamic sound signature which is hovering closer to neutral while the R6 III goes for a bright-neutral sound signature. I also noticed the staging is a little more closed in on the R6 III over the desktop stack but given how much is packed into the R6 III without it overheating on Class A/B mode, I’ll take the slight loss in details and staging anyday for portable enjoyment.
Hiby R6 2020I don’t have a R6 2020 anymore but I was smart enough to note down all my issues with it as I had planned to give it a 2/5 star review but didn’t feel like wasting my time with it anymore back then. The big issues I had with the R6 2020 started with the internal design of the device itself. The device picked up an obscene amount of EMI noise and if I had anything like a cellphone, my apple watch or even my laptop near it, the R6 2020 would get that irritating static noise and clicking that really ruined the overall experience for me. It also heated up pretty intensely and caused discomfort when using it in a pocket for more than 20 min. Lastly I had a lot of issues with the Android 9 OS it was using at the time. I had lots of freezing and the worst was issues with sound popping through my IEMs when switching tracks on Tidal or Soundcloud. I believe a lot of the OS issues could have been fixed via firmware and they might have been over time. I’ll list the differences I found but I can easily say that the small headphone power output difference and the display resolution differences don’t amount to much in my book and I personally think the R6 III is a huge upgrade over the R6 2020 if you’re coming in fresh into the R6 line looking to buy either one.
The big differences I could find between the R6 2020($799) vs the R6 III($499) are as follows:
R6 III uses a Snapdragon 665 vs the R6 2020 660.
R6 III is running Android 12 and the R6 2020 is running Android 9.
Both have the same 64GB storage and 4GB of RAM.
The R6 III uses a 720p display vs the R6 2020 1080p display.
The R6 III has the option for Class A or Class A/B amplification modes. The R6 2020 doesn’t list which class it uses
Both use a ES9038Q2M DAC and same battery size
The R6 III has a max power output of 405mW vs the R6 2020 max of 750mW
Topping G5I like the sound quality I get out of the G5 and it continues to be one of my favorite portable DAC/amps for portable use when I don’t want to use a DAP. Even if it’s fairly bright sounding. Both do bass fairly well though I find the R6 III is a little stronger when it comes to impact/slam. The mids are more neutral sounding on the R6 III as well. I would say both allow vocals to come through well but I still find the G5 is a bit more sharper and somewhat less natural sounding. The upper mids and treble on both are fairly brighter and sharper and while both have noticeable “Sabre Glare”, I think the R6 III handles the treble better. The G5 can be a little too strong for a lot of gear where the R6 III can stay sharp and detailed without overdoing it. The Staging I found was wider on the G5 but depth sounded about the same between both. I would say the biggest difference between the two is the power output. You get a peak of 405 mW on the R6 III and full 1.2W from the G5 so for full sized headphones, I find the bass is stronger and things sound more spacious on the G5 over the R6 III when it comes to full size usage.
Overall thoughtsThe Hiby R6 III like I said at the beginning is a winner and I can easily recommend this DAP. I’m really happy to see a more modern DAP right at $499, though it makes a lot of older DAPs under $800 IMO seem fairly obsolete in a long term use scenario. Which is kinda a bummer. I also feel like we’re seeing multiple DAP releases per year from the DAP companies which I think kinda hurts their lineups when you don’t know how soon a better version of your recently purchased DAP might appear. I get Moondrop single DD IEM release feelings here haha I imagine we will begin seeing a lot more of these modern OS DAPs in the near future but for now, the R6 III is the king of mid range DAPs in my book! Good job to the Hiby team and I look forward to checking out what they have in the future.
Pros: Fun Basshead sound. Light and comfortable units. Wonderful design and looks.
Cons: Not quite audiophile quality sound. Price. Airpods Pro 2 does everything better.
I personally bought a pair of the original Bowers & Wilkins PI7 when it launched. I was so excited for it but I found it was plagued by lots of firmware bugs and issues for what I needed in a daily TWS at the time. I eventually sold it or returned it(can’t remember) and I just “dealt” with the OG Airpods Pro sound quality. Now we have a PI7 second gen or “S2”. The awesome people over at Audio 46 asked if I wanted to check out a set for a bit and I was excited to see how it performed this time around, especially with the wonderful Airpods Pro 2 existing.
Quick shoutout to Rigo from Audio 46 for letting me borrow the PI7 S2 to both check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The PI7 S2 can be picked up from Audio 46 below:
Onto the review of the B&W PI7 S2! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max, Macbook Pro M1 Pro and Hiby R6 III.
Looks and fitThe S2 version looks exactly the same as the original PI7. While I don’t have the original on hand, the headset and charging case down to the unboxing experience all gave a sense of deja vu. The shape of the PI7 shells are like most other TWS and rather unique. I actually have pretty good luck getting these into my ears and getting them to stay. This is a larger body with short nozzles so keep that in mind if you have issues with other TWS that adopt the same style of shell.
Passive Isolation and ANC/Transparency ModePassive isolation with the passthrough and ANC turned off is actually pretty good when a good seal is achieved. The ANC is pretty good but it’s not quite class leading at least to my ears. It’s good at keeping outside sounds to a minimum. The PI7 S2 does allow for adapted ANC which was fairly hit or miss for me so I just manually adjusted ANC as needed. Transparency mode or passthrough via the mics is pretty average at best but I appreciate they have something to let sound through. I find it's more of a mild passthrough and things still sound more muted and less natural with sound quality coming in from the outside world very artificial sounding.
Packaging and accessoriesInside the smaller box we get the charging case with the PI7 S2 inside, under that we get user manuals, a set of their own tips and a charging cable as well as the USB-C to 3.5mm cable. I think the set of accessories is perfectly fine.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done with the standard bluetooth(AAC) connection to my iPhone 14 Pro Max. These impressions are what the PI7 S2 sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Stock large tips. Things like ear tip selection and bluetooth codec selection can produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The PI7 has a very consumer oriented tuning. It’s extremely bass heavy with a neutral to soft midrange/treble. Let's get into it! The Bass has a very strong low end rumble and impact. It absolutely sounds over the top and while it does sound somewhat bloated at moments, it’s in the “acceptable” range of bass bloat given how close these get to being bass-head or “blam” territory TWS. The bass does bleed into the mids and there’s constantly a fight for attention which makes details on instruments somewhat dull and slow sounding. The vocals however are really on point and I find they sound detailed and fairly natural. There is a fight between mid-bass presence and vocals so it might be distracting depending on the music genre but overall, good vocal performance. The upper mids have a slight boost to give some extra perceived detail but it stays non fatiguing which is a plus for my tastes. The treble stays a little on the artificial and splashy side. The treble is constantly all over the place and sounds super recessed at times and then decently detailed with the splashy treble at other times. I do like this specific tuning for EDM music and even some rock music but this tuning isn’t meant for audiophiles that want neutral or neutral-warm/bright sound. This is definitely meant for consumers who prefer the industry standard of lots of bass and neutral everything else. I think bass-heads will dig this sound though quite a bit I find it fun for sure.
Soundstage/ImagingStaging isn’t bad here at all. I found it is fairly wide sounding but lacks a lot of depth. Wall of sound to my ears. Imaging is a little below average since trying to pick anything out in the swamp of bass during busy tracks can be challenging.
The Charging Case FeaturesThe charging case is fairly tall but somewhat thin which at least keeps it looking slim in a pocket. The case has a good magnetic lid and the PI7 units latch into their charging housing really well. The case has some extra neat little features like the ability to do direct connection via an included USB-C to 3.5mm jack for a higher quality connection. I did test range on this function and it’s about the same as most LDAC connections so like arms length. Given the sound tuning, I didn’t see the point in trying to pick out sound differences between AAC, aptX Adaptive or their own wired case solution.
Personal gripes with the B&W PI7 S2I will get into the sound gripes I have in the Airpods Pro 2 comparison section in a bit but my only real complaints are price and some of B&W app quirks. I’m under no delusion that this is a Bowers and Wilkins product which instantly demands a higher price point that people will be ok biting on. The biggest thing here is that B&W did clean up the original tuning of the PI7 but it’s still a bass heavy tuning that doesn’t quite match their claims of “High-resolution sound” or “Hear music and movies as the artist intended”. I would normally say this can be EQ’d via their app but I didn’t see a single option for EQ in their B&W Music app which is the only app they have that is allowed to connect to the PI7 S2.
Apple Airpods Pro 2The Airpods Pro 2 or APP2 improved the sound quality quite a bit over the original airpods(which I wasn’t a fan of). Both TWS units go for different tunings. The APP2 has a more balanced yet still punchy bass. The PI7’s bass sounds very intense in comparison. There is little to no bleed into the mids that sound more neutral on the APP2. The vocals on both are good but the APP2 has a more detailed and better balanced mids for both male and female vocals. The upper mids and treble are a little less splashy on the APP2 but the overall balance and details come through better on the APP2 over the PI7 S2 which in comparison sounds splashy and artificial at times. Staging on both is good but the imaging on the APP2 is way easier to follow in busy tracks. I think for those who have an iPhone, the choice is easy and I would personally pick the APP2 for an all rounder tuning.
Overall thoughtsI really like that they fixed all the connectivity and jankiness that the original PI7 had. If the Airpods Pro 2 didn’t exist I would probably recommend the PI7 S2. Since it does exist and outperforms the PI7 S2 in every way, I don’t recommend the B&W PI7 S2. Well… at least to anyone who can make the Airpods Pro 2 fit their ears well and are able to use it on an iPhone. For the hardcore Android people, I believe the bigger recommendations are things like Samsung's current high end TWS offerings When it comes to a more balanced and detailed sound. I suppose those who want a “higher end” bass-head TWS will probably love these. I do actually enjoy these quite a bit but I would never pick these over the Airpods Pro 2 when it comes to features, price and sound quality. I love B&W’s speakers and I have a few pairs in my home but their mobile offerings are still super hit or miss for my tastes. I do look forward to seeing if they can release something in the future that tries to compete more with the sound tuning of the Airpods Pro 2. Thanks for reading!
Pros: Neutral-warm tuning works well with everything. Great detail retrieval. Nice set of accessories included
Cons: Neutral tuning isn’t overly exciting, Price
I really liked the S12 from Letshuoer but I’ve honestly had little interest in checking out some of their mid-range IEMs. When I was asked about checking out a future flagship, I was interested to see what they could produce given the hybrid setup and design I was told about. The Cadenza 12 is a 12 driver hybrid using a single dynamic driver and a mix of Knowles and Sonion balanced armature drives(11 in total). The Price for this shiny little IEM is $2299 MSRP and $2099 for pre-order at the moment. While I’ll have some thoughts on the price later on, time to get into the review!!
Quick shoutout to Joseph from Letshuoer for letting me borrow the Cadenza 12(for a whole month!!) to both check out and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The Cadenza 12 can be picked up direct from Letshuoer or from HiFiGo as well. I’ll be linking Letshuoer below.
Discussion thread below as well
Onto the review of the Letshuoer Cadenza 12! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, THIEAUDIO V16 Divinity, EA Gaea, Hiby R6 III and SMSL SU-9 feeding the SP400 amp.
Looks and fitThis is a somewhat boring shell design to my eyes. I will note this is a high quality feeling shell with good balance in terms of weight both in the hand and in ear. The shell is titanium and is polished to a mirror finish. This has survived pretty well with over a month of heavy usage both at work and back home. I consider myself to be pretty gentle on my audio gear in general but I’m happy how well the finish has held up. The fitment was great and the nozzle has an intense ~90 degree bend but it fits perfectly in my ears with my preferred spinfit W1 tips. I think the nozzle is a little on the thicker side but I found no comfort issues when using it at work or at home for long periods of time(more than three hours at once). The weight in the ear doesn’t feel heavy and overall I like the comfort. This has definitely been one of my favorite fitting IEMs. I would have personally preferred a matte finish or dark polished color to offset the eventual scratches I will cause to the finish but I’m a little picky about this kinda stuff.
Isolation and sound leakageThis shell is darn close to a sealed design. It has one tiny pin hole vent per shell and I do my sound leakage test via holding my fingers on the nozzles and only listening from arms length for any volume leaking from the vents. In this case, barely any volume leakage even at my preferred volume. The passive Isolation is pretty good and with my ear shape, I barely hear any outside noise. I would say these would work great in quieter environments.
Packaging and accessoriesSo the leather looking box it comes in acts as a 4 way partition style carrying case which is pretty neat. When you open the box up, you’re greeted with the IEMs and a little mini envelope containing the basic warranty cards, cleaning cloth and a showcase of Letshuoer’s current IEM and dongle lineup. Under those we have the adjustable partition slabs and three different styles of tips included. We get some bass tips, balanced tips and some Symbio W looking tips. Which are the silicone outer material with memory foam inside. We also get a really awesome compact case that is wrapped in grey leather or leather like material. It locks in via magnet when closed and feels ultra nice and it’s not obnoxiously big and I’m a huge fan of this case. We also get a stand/slab design of the Letshuoer mascot. I don’t remember if this is supposed to be a dog or frog but still an interesting addition to have. Better than another typical waifu I suppose. I found the usefulness of the case and the included accessories(not including the mascot thing) very useful and I like that we're making the most out of the box it comes with instead of being wasteful.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Cadenza 12 sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 tips. I went with the W1 since they included a bunch of different style tips and while those were all fine, I got the best comfort as usual with the Spinfit tips and the W1 is my current favorite fitting tip for my ears. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The Cadenza goes for a safe and neutral-ish tuning. I would call this a neutral to warm tuning or even just neutral with a good bass boost type of tuning. The bass has really good impact/slam and it reaches down pretty low. The bass also has a fullness to the sound and doesn’t sound lean or thin which I always enjoy. I wouldn’t call this a basshead style of bass though. The bass just sounds strong but well controlled without any bleed into the mids. The mids are pretty accurate and this actually sounds pretty neutral. Nothing exciting from instruments and I found the speed and decay to be pretty average. I prefer this to a slower sounding set of mids. Vocals are very detailed and probably the star of the show here. Both male and female vocals come in fairly smooth but detailed. Vocals feel a little more intimate and I found they fill up a lot of the center stage and feel very natural. I was very happy with the performance here. The upper mids do have a slight boost and I find it extremely tasteful given my love and hate relationship with upper mids and IEMs. The upper mids sound fast and detailed as it breaks into the treble. This definitely helps as the treble is a little more safe and slightly relaxed sounding. The treble still sounds accurate and it pulls in details really well. It just lacks a little sparkle and bite. I think the decay could be a little faster up top in general. This does make the Cadenza 12 sound like it lacks just a little sharpness. I still find it sounds airy even though it’s not really boosted. Overall I really like this tuning. While maybe not special, I find it very good at everything I listen to.
Soundstage/ImagingThis is a pretty balanced soundstage to my ears. I find it's the widest and deepest sounding stage compared to what I have on hand IEM wise at the moment but since it’s a balanced stage, It lacks any neat effect when listening to music. I did find that the imaging was rather great and I had zero issues picking up on instruments with busy tracks. Including a few things I couldn’t pick up with a few of my mid $1K IEMs.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityI don’t find the Cadenza 12 hard to drive and I would say it's about on average with other hybrid IEMs. It isn’t super sensitive either so I didn’t pick up any hiss from any of my balanced sources which is always enjoyable. I’m mostly using this on my SMSL stack and Hiby R6 III without any issues volume wise.
Stock cableThe stock cable has a half sleeve design. As someone who was a huge fan of older Null Audio cables that used half sleeve nylon cables, I absolutely love this design. It has a not overly stiff nylon sleeve up to the split which then exposes the really nice sleeved hybrid copper and silver strands. The plug is using the same quick swap style plug system Effect Audio and a few other companies use which is probably my favorite system currently. It requires you unscrew the plug housing and then the plug can be pulled out and swapped to other options. I prefer a strong locking system so this and DUNU’s QD plug system are my favorite. I really like the design and weight of this stock cable. I honestly wouldn’t swap them unless you had a preferred cable to pair to it.
Personal gripes with the Cadenza 12I think my only two complaints with the Cadenza 12 are the shell design and price.
The shell is polished titanium so it will get scratched up from regular use which is a bummer for someone like me but others might not care. The shells slip out of my hands easily too after a few days due to the oils from my fingers and ears causing them to be slippery. Once again, a small complaint.
Finally, the biggest thing for me is the price. This IEM is getting a 5 star review since I genuinely enjoy the tuning and design but I’m still gonna complain about the price a little. I wanted the Cadenza 12 to launch at $2000 or right under $2K ideally. There are a few situations where the Cadenza 12 can actually be had close to my preferred price right now via pre orders till the 14th of March which will get it right at $2099. I do believe Letshuoer also does discounts for their VIP newsletter but I didn’t confirm whether those discounts work as well.
THIEAUDIO V16 DivinityThe V16 is my absolute favorite warm IEM and it performs really well for an all BA design. It however doesn’t quite meet the Cadenza 12 in terms of overall performance which is a real bummer since it’s a favorite IEM of mine. The bass is strong on both IEMs but the Cadenza 12 has more bass impact and it just sounds a little more engaging. The mids on both have a more neutral sound but I find the Cadenza has just a bit more accuracy from both the instruments and vocals. The V16 is just smoother all around in this region however. The upper mids on the Cadenza brings out a little more energy that the V16 can’t match. The Cadenza 12 can get a little hot if a song has an intense upper mid boost in the song which the V16 doesn’t have issues with ever. The treble on both are more relaxed but after A/B testing both back to back, the V16 sounds a little hazy and pulled back. I think this was what bummed me out. Both sound pretty close but the Cadenza 12 really excels in bringing in more details even though it doesn’t have a strong treble performance. Both are wider sounding but the V16 has more depth than width which make it sound unique on some tracks. The Cadenza is also very good, it just has a more balanced stage and does everything well. Both are extremely good IEMs in my book and if I had to choose between both, I would pick the Cadenza 12.
Effect Audio x Elysian Audio GaeaThe Gaea is almost half the price of the Cadenza 12 and both have very different attempts at tuning but I thought it would be a good comparison to another favorite of mine. The bass on the Cadenza sounds like a super clean basshead IEM when A/B tested against the Gaea and it’s quite a difference in tuning and DD driver performance. The Gaea isn’t bad at bass it just has a very controlled bass with decent impact on its own. The mids are way faster and sharper on the Gaea and the Cadenza 12 really goes for accuracy instead of perceived detail from enhanced speed. The vocals on both are very detailed but the Cadenza wins with natural vocals. The upper mids are stronger on the Gaea but once we hit the treble the Gaea goes all in on speed, sharpness and treble energy. I think this works very well in helping with perceived detail retrieval given the $1.3k price of the Gaea. When it comes to overall detail retrieval and resolution however, the Cadenza 12 while not nearly as intense as the Gaea, really pulls in way more details over the Gaea. I find the Gaea a really neat IEM to listen to though. The staging on both is good but the Gaea is like the V16 Divinity and it has a deeper staging so the unbalanced stage does give a neat effect on some tracks over the Cadenza 12’s balanced stage.
Hiby R6 III DAPI find the R6 III a somewhat neutral-bright source so I actually really liked this pairing overall. The lows are still strong and the mids sounded laser accurate. I found the vocals came off a little artificial at times with this pairing but it took effort to pick that out over other source gear. The R6 III has a small but noticeable “Sabre Glare” so it helped in this case by adding a little extra sharpness and spice up in the treble area which I found tasteful. Staging was about on par with my desktop impressions above. I had no issues with volume and I was around 55/100 max volume on low gain via the 4.4mm jack. Overall I think this is a very good pairing with the Cadenza 12.
SMSL SU-9/SP400This stack is what I base my sound impressions on with every review. Do I think the Cadenza 12 needs a mid-higher end desktop setup to sound good? No in this case and while I did like this pairing overall, I think something even like a simple dongle will get you 85-90 percent of the way to a good performance out of the Cadenza 12. I consider anything above 32/99 volume on my SP400 amp harder to drive for IEMs and the Cadenza 12 sat around 26-28/99 volume so not hard to drive at all.
Overall thoughtsI think at the end of the day, anyone who listens to the Cadenza 12 will have the same reaction of “Wow! This is really good”. I do worry that most people who have lots of experience with higher end IEMs will come to the same conclusion I did…. Which is that the Cadenza 12 is really good and competitive but it’s not super unique sounding given the price and I believe this is simply due to the safe tuning they went with. I think this works really well as an all rounder and especially for the people who listen to a wide variety of music genres who don’t want to have multiple IEMs for each genre. This is very much a “buy it once and never worry about anything else ever again” type of IEM. While it may seem like I’m being harsh on the Cadenza 12, I really like this IEM and it has been one of my favorite IEMs in recent times. As such, it gets a full recommendation but I think price will be the big thing here. I would like to see this sell right at $2000-2100 instead of the $2299 MSRP. This can be had for a little less during pre-orders but this still remains a really high priced TOTL(to me anyways). I’m hoping it sells well enough though and that it stays relevant for more than a month or two after the reviews start popping up. While not the most unique flagship, this does everything right and I’m very interested to see what Letshuoer can do next. Thanks for reading!!
Pros: Great detail retrieval, Unique UI, Price
Cons: Wonky UI menu, Not a typical AKM sound
I just reviewed the Topping E70/L70 not that long ago and I was rather impressed by the L70 amp but I was pretty lukewarm on the E70 DAC. With the L70 performing well above my expectations, it felt like something was off in terms of the original DAC pairing for the “stack”. To my surprise, a new version of the E70 DAC was around the corner using AKM’s newest flagship instead of an older ESS 9028pro DAC from the standard E70. I’ve never been the biggest fan of AKM DACs and every one I’ve used in the past was always neutral sounding and somewhat boring/bland. This new AKM 4499EX is a real performer and the E70 Velvet comes in at $449.
A bit of this review will be a copy and paste from the E70/L70 review since the only real difference here is the sound performance of the new AKM DAC being used in the E70V.
Quick shoutout to Shenzhenaudio for setting me up a review unit to check out. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The E70V and L70(wonderful amp to pair with) can be picked up together or separately at Shenzhenaudio’s website below.
Gear usedSMSL SU-9/SP400 stack, Topping E70 and Topping L70.
Looks and FeelThe E70V came in silver this time around and it has a nice bead blasted looking finish applied. While the displays are fingerprint magnets, I do like the glossy display. The numbers are a bright white and I really like Topping’s UI looks when it comes to the numbers displayed. The unit has a decent weight to it which I prefer since I usually put the DAC on top of a headphone amp to keep it secure. Overall a good looking design though I prefer the black with red accent color I have on the original E70/L70 stack.
Power switch and volume knobThe power button is actually a touch sensitive button. I would prefer a button I can physically press but the provided remote works as a backup should the touch sensitivity die in the future. There’s a power switch in the back next to the power cable should you wish to power it down completely for longer periods of time. I do like the added switch and prefer that over having to unplug the cable. The volume knob feels smooth and easy to rotate. I usually set my volume adjustable DACs to max output or “DAC only” modes when I have the option to get the most power out and into a headphone amp. The volume adjustable DAC is nice for those using powered monitors however.
Inputs and outputsFor the E70V, we get the standard XLR and RCA outputs as well as COAX, Optical, USB-B and BT inputs. There’s the 12V trigger ports to link the remote(if you use the L70 amp) but I didn’t test that at all. It is lacking the TRS output, so those with different Topping Amps might run into issues if they wish to run balanced to their TRS input amps.
Accessories and unboxingWe get a newer designed box that comes with the bare essentials. We get a remote and power cable plus manuals. I think this is mostly fine but I would have preferred a small cheap 3.5mm cable to make use of the 12V trigger connection. Not the end of the world but I think most people will be buying this in a stack setup so maybe it will be offered in a bundle.
Sound(overall)These impressions were done via the E70V paired to the L70 headphone amp via XLR. This is what the E70V sounds like via the current headphone/IEM inventory I have on hand. Things like headphone pairings or different headphone amps will produce different results and impressions versus what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The new E70V still sounds somewhat neutral to me but it definitely has more life throughout the frequency range. I find the difference in DAC sound signature to have a minor to moderate impact when it comes to the sound chain. I don’t think a DAC will make a night and day difference per say but I was able to pick up the differences fairly quickly after listening to the original E70.
The lows have a more dynamic reproduction and have a little extra fullness and speed I was surprised to hear. The mids are very accurate but instruments sound fast and dont feel hazy or bland sounding like I’ve heard on older AKM designs. The vocals are detailed but they sound a little more clinical/artificial and lack just a bit of presence when paired to the two amps I tested with. I have a hard time since I like how detailed the vocals sound here but I do enjoy more natural sounding vocals when I’m not reviewing stuff and just want to enjoy music. The upper mids are laser accurate and I don’t think it adds anything extra to the upper mids and stays neutral in tone. The Treble is very sharp as well which I was surprised to hear given my past AKM experience. It pulls in really good micro details and overall does resolution really well. This sounds more like a really good(if not better) ESS DAC when it comes to speed and sharpness from my specific E70V unit. I usually don’t talk about staging and imaging on DACs since I find those to be headphone specific things. The E70V however does have a somewhat light but noticeable echo, at least on my unit. I say echo but it’s a little hard to explain and might be better to say it has something going on with the stock filters. The result is a slightly wider and deeper soundstage no matter what amp I paired the E70V to. I actually like this kinda sound and I’ve heard it on other source gear before too though I can’t remember which ones off the top of my head. Regardless, I really like the sound signature and performance of the E70V!
Filters and fun featuresThe E70V does have filter options but I couldn’t hear any differences between them like normal so I left it on the stock filter.
Personal grips with the E70V?As I complained in my original E70/L70 review, the UI is still pretty messy and while you can do most things in the menu when the device is on, some things need to be accessed via a different menu which is only accessed by holding the volume knob button in while turning on the unit from the back. This and having to keep the manual near to translate what the short codes mean in the menus doesn’t make for an enjoyable experience should you need to change things. For most people it's going to be a “change once and never mess with things again” thing but it still feels like quite the chore.
SMSL SU-9/SP400The SMSL stack I use for all my reviews is a somewhat unfair pairing since the SMSL SP400 headphone amp costs an extra $300 over the L70 amp I’m using from the sound impressions section above. I however said in the L70 review that it’s quite the performer and was extremely close in sound performance to my trusty SP400 and that still stands. Which is why this comparison is the E70V/L70 vs SU-9/SP400.
I will start off by saying both have very close sound performance to my ears and the sound signatures off both are ever so slightly different with their overall presentation. The SMSL stack is more dynamic sounding with a more prominent bass response. The bass provides a fairly good impact/slam over the Topping stack when called for. The mids on both are pretty good but the SMSL stack seems to produce more natural sounding vocals. The Topping stack is a little more artificial sounding but it’s still no slouch and I found the vocals still very detailed sounding. The treble on both setups are really accurate and provide great detail retrieval overall. I find the slightly better staging of the Topping stack edges out the SMSL stack. The Topping stack also sounds faster(decay) in the treble to me over the SMSL stack. The detail retrieval does come through a little more prominently on the SMSL stack. I find the Topping stack is more enjoyable to listen to for long term sessions. I think both are wonderful and the E70V when paired with the L70 headphone amp, is a better value over my SMSL stack. Which is why I exclusively use the Topping stack now when I need to do listening via my iPad or Macbook.
A Note on the E70 vs E70V
So I decided not to do a big comparison between the two but I will add a small set of notes. The E70 is still good but it has a warmer if not a relaxed sound signature where the E70V sounds more dynamic and full of details. I think The E70V is a better DAC, but I wouldn’t recommend an upgrade if you already own a E70. If you like the E70 then I would keep it. If you didn’t like the E70 and wanted something a little more, I would say grab the E70V if it doesn’t require trying to sell the E70 at a big loss. For those looking at the two as new buyers, I would say definitely grab the E70V.
Overall thoughtsI was impressed by the Topping L70 headphone amp I reviewed before and I find myself extremely impressed by the E70V DAC. Especially when the two are paired together. I give the E70V a full recommendation. I think it will work as one of the better mid-fi DACs and I find it very competitive in terms of the price. This isn’t quite dethroning the SMSL SU-9(when paired to my SP400) I use to review all my gear but I honestly prefer the Topping E70V/L70 stack when I just want to chill and enjoy music away from reviewing. I’m happy to see AKM is finally back and while I had low interest in their DAC offerings from past experiences, I find myself way more interested in seeing how their future DAC designs sound. Great job to Topping as well for getting the new AKM 4499EX setup into the same shell as the original E70 instead of making a different shell/design and possibly charging something like $600+ for it. Overall a good design and I look forward to seeing what’s next from Topping. Thanks for reading!
Pros: Good detail retrieval, Wonderful looks, Brighter but balanced tuning, Deeper soundstage
Cons: Brighter tuning not for all, Bass lacks a little impact, Doesn’t pair well with brighter sources at all.
The $1000-$1600 range of IEMs has some of my favorite IEMs to date so I was excited when I heard Effect Audio was doing a collaboration with Elysian Audio and producing a new IEM coming in at $1299. I’m quite the fan of Effect Audio’s cables and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Elysian’s tuning with their IEMs. The Gaea is a 5 driver hybrid IEM design using a single Foster dynamic driver for lows and 4 Sonion balanced armatures for the rest of the frequencies. The Gaea comes with Effect Audio’s ConX IEM swappable connector system and choice of standard plug terminations.
Quick shoutout to Jordon from Effect Audio arranging a Gaea for me to review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
In the US, the only authorized store that sells the Gaea are my friends over at @MusicTeck . In other regions, HiFiGo sells these and that is who I received my review set from. I would recommend HiFiGo for the Gaea if you wish to purchase outside of the US or HK.
The Gaea can be purchased directly from Effect Audio at their site below:
While I always prefer to order from the manufacturer directly , I’ll link to Musicteck below as well should EA run out of stock:
HiFiGo for the overseas friends as well:
Onto the review of the Effect Audiox Elysian Audio Gaea! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, THIEAUDIO V16 Divinity, Campfire Audio Solaris,Topping G5, and SMSL SU-9 feeding the SP400 amp.
Looks and fitThe Gaea is quite the looker to my eyes and it comes with a black shell that has a beautiful stabilized wood faceplate. Every unit will have a slightly different design on the faceplate but most will have a mix of blue and orange/brown wood in the faceplate. The gold manufacturer logos on both sides are nice accents as well. The shells also have two metal vents/ports that they call the “DIVe pass II” that give the shell a really high quality look. While I can’t confirm it personally, they even include some of Effect Audio’s higher quality custom wiring inside of the IEM making the level of detail put into the Gaea somewhat over the top if not next level. The shells are a medium size IMO and I find them comfortable for long term listening sessions for at least my ears. They are big enough shells that I can’t lay on my side with them due to them sticking out of my ears a bit.
Isolation and sound leakageEven with the two DIVe pass II vents on the shells, passive isolation is pretty good. It’s not as good as a sealed IEM but it’s about the same if not slightly better than most vented IEMs I have used before. It does however leak sound from those two big vents. If you listen at louder volumes, everyone near in quiet areas will absolutely hear what you’re listening to. Quieter volumes and even medium listening resulted in very little to no sound leakage so I think some could get away on say a flight or in bed with someone sleeping next to them at lower volumes.
Packaging and accessoriesThe box that the Gaea comes in is a little big for my tastes. On the outside we get some wonderfully designed line art in gold. I rarely care for box art but this and Effect Audio’s other cable boxes simply impress me. A very mature and attractive art design in general in a sea of box art anime “Waifus” from other manufacturers. While my unit came from a dealer, I was surprised by the amount of unused space inside the box. Inside is a felt section that holds the IEMs with the cable installed. A note from both companies sits on top of that. Under that is a felt case that is a little oversized but it feels nice and sturdy. It does pick up lint and cat hair like crazy though. There was a box deeper in that looked bigger and inside the two mini boxes were a set of Spinfit W1 tips and the other box had a cleaning cloth and cleaning tool. At first I thought I was missing accessories since the accessory boxes were so big but after confirming with people who have the IEM, it’s just a lot of empty space. I would have liked to see maybe a second set of W1 tips included but I think it has everything needed. I always prefer slightly smaller boxes to save on space. I do however have a lot of boxes that I store long term and I prefer saving as much space as possible.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Gaea sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit W1 stock tips. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The Gaea to my ears has a brighter tuning but it’s very well controlled and finely tuned to my ears. The bass has good reach and it produces fairly good impact/slam when called for. This is by no means a bass head IEM at all but it is tasteful. While it has just enough bass thumps to make me happy and keep it out of the “lean” bass category, it still lacks a thicker sound down low. The bass hits fast and the decay is too quick for me to really enjoy more bassy tracks. The mids are wonderful here and all the instruments have great speed and great sharpness at the end of tones. Male vocals sound pretty good, though I would say female vocals are the real star of the show here. Very good presentation and presence, not the very best I’ve heard or the most natural vocals but overall great for this price bracket($1k-1.6k). The upper mids and lower treble are very much boosted and I feel they always sound on the very edge of what I find comfortable before things get too bright for me. It’s rare for me to be tolerant of strong upper mids and this is the first time in a while I’ve been ok with an upper mid focused IEM. The rest of the treble is sharp and has a good sense of air up top from my listening. As someone who really pays attention to the decay on cymbals and hi-hats, this was a very crisp set to listen to. Details came through really well on this set and I find the Gaea impressive for sure. It strikes a good balance of producing very good details without sounding too harsh in the upper frequencies. At least when used with neutral sounding source gear. I have heard better and more detailed treble from more expensive sets but almost all the other sets I’ve tried out were usually too intense for more than 10 min for me personally. While I really like this tuning, I would have loved to maybe get a stronger mid bass or whatever seems to keep the low end from sounding fuller or sticking around for a bit longer. I always prefer a stronger bass when possible however.
Soundstage/ImagingI found the staging was above average in width but it was very deep depth wise. This wasn’t a balanced stage but I found myself enjoying it as someone who likes a wider or balanced soundstage. This wasn’t holographic but I did find the depth to provide a good sense of placement of both instruments and vocals. All in all, the staging and imaging were great.
Note on my sound impressionsI normally don’t mention the music I test with and I honestly tend to play random songs from a pretty big personal library of many different genres. I do however have a list of tracks I do know well enough or find unique for specific things. That being said, every single bit of audio gear I review always gets the final listen on Glass Animal’s “ZABA” album since that is one of my favorite albums and it checks a lot of neat audiophile staging/imaging checkboxes for me personally. The Gaea did phenomenal here. It’s been a while since I was like “oh wow, this sounds special with this album”.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe Gaea shouldn’t be too hard to drive off most gear. My unit came in with the 4.4mm cable and I wasn’t in the mood to go unscrew this Pentaconn connector off the ConX connector to try on a single ended EA cable. I got to 29/100 on my SMSL SP400 and -44.5/0 on the newer Topping L70 headphone amp. Which I would call not very hard to drive. I also picked up zero hiss on any device I used with the Gaea.
Stock cableThis is a very pretty and flashy cable. It has a vibrant solid blue and dark smoke transparent mix of stands that really make it stand out. The plug housing and Y-split both have black anodized housing which I scratched accidently so the bare metal is showing a little(pain). The inserts on the housing are claimed to be stabilized wood like the faceplate but on first look I thought the inserts were just printed and sealed in with resin/epoxy. The cable does use a rhodium plated plug which I’m not a huge fan of. I personally have issues with this and other rhodium plugs from past to present that don’t always play nice with all my 4.4mm source gear and on some, I have to twist the plug to get the channel imbalance correct. Not sure why rhodium plugs are picky on some 4.4mm gear but I would prefer to see a copper plug in general. The stock cable also comes with the ConX interchangeable connector system from Effect Audio which I really appreciate.
Personal gripes with the GaeaNow onto the only gripe/concern I have with the Gaea.. The connector the Gaea uses is the Pentaconn Ear connector. I’m not sure how new this connector is and I’ve not attempted to see who else is using this connector but it looks to be a hybrid of the MMCX connector. It has a thicker pin that seems more sturdy than the fragile MMCX pin found in the connector housing and it spins freely like an MMCX connector. This Pentaconn Ear connector looks like it holds more securely than a 2 pin and isn’t a nightmare to unplug like MMCX. My issue was that when I got the Gaea in, the first day of walking around resulted in one side wiggling its way out of the connector. This was concerning and I quickly noticed the cable unplugged from both shells with little effort. I believe this is a defect in my specific unit and upon further inspection I noticed there are 4 little tabs on the female side of the connector and I very gently stuck the blade of my pocket knife in between each copper tab and with the smallest adjustment, had a secure hold from the connector that wasn’t too tight or loose. I’m not sure how common this might be in the future or if it’s an issue if you constantly cable swap on the Pentaconn Ear connector and need to adjust the tabs at some point. While I complained about the issue I had with this sample of one, I actually kinda like the concept of the Pentaconn Ear. I prefer old school long 2 pin recessed sockets(with the gaskets) but since that design is dead and very old now, I think this could be the next big thing eventually. 4.4mm Pentaconnn really changed up the balanced game so maybe this connector will do the same in a few years.
THIEAUDIO V16 DivinityThe V16 and Gaea are polar opposites in their tuning but they both manage to achieve similar detail retrieval. The lows are more impactful and sound fuller on the V16. Even though the V16 uses BA drivers for the bass, it really does sound much stronger and performs better to my ears. Mids are smooth and detailed on the V16 but the Gaea handles mids with the same details but sounds faster and cleaner. The vocals however do sound more natural on the V16. The treble on the Gaea is sharper and has a little extra bite that gives a better perceived detail over the V16. I find I can pick up the same impressive details across both IEMs however. The V16 does sound more relaxed though in the treble and I would say those who want more speed and accuracy will want to grab the gaea and those who want a more multi genre friendly IEM that is more on the smooth side, will want the V16 in their inventory. The staging is wider and more balanced sounding on the V16 but I find the deeper staging on the Gaea does make it sound a little more special if not somewhat strange on some tracks over others. Both are great options!
Note: I did run the V16 with its stock cable when I compared to the Gaea. I just had to retake photos so I was too lazy to swap the cable on the V16.
Campfire Audio OG SolarisI really like the Solaris even if it’s a little older at this point in time. The two IEMs have brighter sounding tunings but both handle things very differently. The bass is fuller sounding and has better impact/slam on the Solaris. It simply has a bass response I wish the Gaea had and makes it a fun listen in the low end. The mids on both have good details but I find the Solaris lacks a little speed with instruments. Vocals on both are fantastic with the Gaea having a little more focus and presence over the Solaris. When swapping back and forth, the Solaris sounds a little more congested in the vocals. The upper mids on both are bright and the Gaea is very strong while just staying under my tolerance for upper mids. The Solaris has more intense peaks that hit me the wrong way. The rest of the treble is where things are vastly different, The Solaris has good detail retrieval but sounds a little hollow at times. The decay at the end of tones sound slower on the Solaris where the Gaea is much faster in decay. I don’t think one is “better than the other” in the treble however. The staging on both are pretty good with the OG Solaris sounding like you're in the middle of a stage and giving a more “holographic” sense of space. The Gaea has me feeling like I’m front row with little bits of sound sneaking behind me at times. I like both these IEMs but I find the Gaea is just a bit more refined sounding than the Solaris which I use in rotation daily at work.
Topping G5I didn’t like this pairing at all versus some of my other portables but since it’s one of my favorite DAC/amps, I wanted to include it anyway. The G5 is a brighter source but it’s perfect as my go to portable device with my laptop. I consider myself a little treble sensitive so the added brightness of the G5 pushed the Gaea a little over my comfort threshold for upper mids and treble all the time which was a no go for me. That being said, all the positives of the G5 still remain. The bass is still strong and accurate, the mids are clean and lack any lean sounding issues. The treble just has a more noticeable “ESS Sabre Glare” issue that I can notice on some IEMs over other gear. In this case I simply don’t use the pairing but for those who might not have the luxury of having multiple source gear devices on hand and might lack tolerance for sharper and brighter treble, this will be a deal breaker. If I only had a G5, it would be a dealbreaker for me anyways.
SMSL SU-9/SP400 & Topping E70V/L70The Su-9/SP400 stack was used in my sound impressions above. I normally don't think IEMs need full on desktop gear to sound their best but I did find the Gaea did benefit from both this stack and the E70V/L70 stack from Topping. The biggest things I found going from a portable amp like the G5 or dongle came down to refinement and control. When the G5 got way too intense or the Lotoo PAW S1 pulled back on the treble too much, the desktop stacks I used always sounded better controlled and kept the upper mids under my limit for comfort more consistently. There was also the added sense of space in the staging that I really enjoyed from the desktop gear.
Overall thoughtsI really like the Gaea and I’m simply gonna call this an easy recommendation. I’m also gonna call Gaea a little more of an brighter all rounder. I think it does really well at highlighting details throughout the frequency range. It has a brighter tilt in the tuning so I don’t think it will please everyone but it’s impressive enough I would be fine using this with any genre without feeling like I’m dealing with too many trade offs. The only real problem I find with the Gaea overall is the stock situation. I’ve seen this go out of stock twice already and I’ve heard of delivery time issues on Elysian Acoustic IEMs in general. Effect Audio is handling the manufacturing I’ve been told so it seems that stock is coming in steadily as of late. I think this collaboration between Effect Audio and Elysian Audio produced quite a wonderful and special product. I look forward to checking out what may come next from both these companies in the future and I very much have Elysian Audio on my radar now. Thanks for reading!!
Pros: Neutral tuning, price, fitment, good detail retrieval
Cons: Lacks some treble sparkle, not for those who like some excitement to their sound.
I raved about the Truthear Zero when it launched and continues to be a fun sounding IEM I use when I go play music arcade games or just something to enjoy music with from time to time. The HEXA is their newest IEM coming in at $79.00 which means it competes with my favorite under $100 IEM, the standard Moondrop Aria. The HEXA is a hybrid design using a single dynamic driver and three balanced armatures.
Quick shoutout to @shenzhenaudio for sending the HEXA to review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The HEXA can be picked up from Shenzhenaudio at their website below.
Onto the review of the Truthear HEXA! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Moondrop Aria, Shanling UA3 and SMSL SU-9 feeding the SP400 amp.
Looks and fitThe HEXA has a more industrial design this time with a semi transparent shell with a dark matte finish. The faceplate is a dark black metal finish that looks good as well. The shape makes this look somewhat like the much loved Symphonium Helios but only the shape from the front looks similar. These are lightweight and I can get a pretty decent fit with the HEXA. I like the way these look and I think they will be more attractive to the masses.
Isolation and sound leakageAs a hybrid IEM, it does passive isolation alright. About average against other vented IEM designs. The HEXA does leak some sound but it’s not super loud and at normal volumes in quiet areas, it might leak enough for others to hear. Something I think works well for commute use or on a plane.
Packaging and accessoriesThe HEXA comes in an average sized box and it comes with the IEMs, 3.5mm cable, two sets of tips and a carrying case. The tips are a mix of small bore and large bore tips plus a set of foams. This is a nice array of tips since I find the bore size and bore length can change the tuning of IEMs. The box and insert sleeve both have one of the Truthear mascots printed on it. I don’t normally care for the box waifu art but I think it will stay with IEM boxes for as long as big companies like Moondrop continue to print mascots on their boxes. The carrying case is more of a soft pleather pouch that locks up in a different way. I actually quite like it for their Zero IEM since I can carry it in my pants pocket without it taking up much space. I wouldn’t call the case very protective though. I think the set of accessories included works well and I have no complaints given the price.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the HEXA sounded like to my ears. This was also using the Spinfit CP100. I found the small bore stock tips provided the same sound to my ears but the long term seal held longer on the CP100. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
The HEXA is tuned for a more mature and neutral sound. I like a little excitement in my IEM tunings so this was initially a real letdown on first listen. After a good chunk of time listening and A/B testing I think this is a very competitive set. The low end is neutral with a light bass boost. Bass hits with decent impact but doesn’t sound overly full. Sounds average with the ability to slam slightly harder when called for. Mids have decent instrument details but vocals sound very good with a more natural presentation. The Vocals however don’t have as much life to them and sound like they’re lacking a little something. Upper mids are boosted but they still lack sharpness and rarely get sibilant. There is a lack of sparkle and bite at the end of instrument tones in the treble. Sounds softer than I would like. That being said, I still hear good details coming in. Which makes me feel the HEXA is absolutely capable given its price. I do find the overall tuning does feel slightly thin though. While it probably sounds like I hate the tuning, I honestly don’t. This is simply not a set that caters to my personal preferences but I think it’s a good option in it’s price bracket.
Soundstage/ImagingStaging is narrow width wise but depth is really good. I believe this helps with vocals and while I prefer a wider stage, I do like the staging here. Imaging was fine though It sounded congested at times to my ears. This could very well be the CP100 tips I used for my final impressions. I did find the stock small bore tips matched closely to the CP100 so wider bore tips like the ones included might offer a wider stage.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe HEXA is mostly driveable off most modern ~$100 dongles. I did notice the HEXA does like more power on the included 3.5mm cable and I found myself turning up the volume on some source gear and only slightly on other source gear. The HEXA isn’t sensitive so there was no floor noise when I tested it via a balanced cable.
Stock cableThis cable is the exact same cable included with the Truthear Zero so I’ll just paste in the same thing from that review.
“The stock cable is a black glossy rubber braided cable that is on the simple/cheaper side. I think it works perfectly fine but it does get tangled when I pull it out of a portable case with the way I wrap my IEMs for storage. I personally prefer a thicker cable but I plan to leave the stock cable on the Zero and use it as is. I didn’t cable roll other than to check hiss via balanced.”
Moondrop AriaThe Aria is my go to for under $100 and these two IEMs both cost $79.00 so I find this a more interesting comparison. I’ll say this right off the bat! The HEXA pulls in slightly better details but I find the Aria has a much more enjoyable and exciting tuning without any type of EQ. I don’t EQ but I normally find most people are able to get really good EQ results from neutral tuned headphones. When it comes to bass performance, the Aria hits harder and it simply sounds more dynamic with more energy overall. The mids are very close to my ears on both but I find the Aria has better decay and speed to the instruments and vocals. Vocals are better detailed and natural on the HEXA but I find there is more energy and life to the vocals on the Aria. The upper mids and lower treble are brighter on the Aria but I personally don’t find the Aria too intense for the most part. The details in the treble go to the HEXA again but just like the mids, the Aria simply sounds more lively in the treble. The end of tones have a good amount of energy and bite which simply sound better to my ears. I initially thought the Aria had better details on first listen after the HEXA but only with intense A/B testing on the same CP100 tips, I found some extra details coming in on the HEXA. Finally comes the staging and imaging. The HEXA sounds closed in compared to the Aria and imaging is easier for me to pick up with the Aria as well. Both of these are extremely competitive to my ears and I find both of these IEMs very good. The Aria is still my number one pick however for my personal tastes.
I normally do a few IEMs for comparison but the next best thing is the Letshouer S12 and that isn’t the same style of tuning and comes in more than twice as expensive. I thought about running the Moondrop Stellaris against the HEXA but I find the Stellaris to be a bad example of a ~$100 IEM. The Aria Snow Edition does however sound very similar. Though I find the snow Aria does have a slightly hotter upper mids compared to the HEXA but I would call them similar enough. I would choose the HEXA over the Aria Snow Edition however.
Shanling UA3The UA3 is a $110 dongle and I wanted something in the price range of the HEXA to pair with it. The UA3 provides more than enough power to get the most out of the HEXA IMO. The bass gets slightly warmer with a thicker sound. Mids and vocals sound warmer and almost on the hazy side. Treble is fairly laid back with less precision. I wasn’t a fan of this pairing and I would recommend a brighter sounding dongle for portable use. Something like the Moondrop MoonRiver 2 or for a more precise warm sound, maybe something like the Lotoo PAW S1/S2.
SMSL SU-9/SP400The HEXA does seem to like a little more power but I still find a full desktop setup to be overkill. All my sound impressions came from this setup but I’ll add a little extra to this section. I did try this with a few other desktop stacks I have on hand. I think the best sound does indeed come from desktop use vs portable gear but it’s not enough of a difference that I would recommend something better than a ~$100 dongle or even a cheap Schiit stack.
Overall thoughtsSo how do I feel about the HEXA? I think it’s competitive but it really doesn’t sound special at all to me. I can tell it performs above its price point but it just lacks a little magic and excitement I personally want from a sub $100 IEM. I can easily give this a recommendation for the neutral lovers though. Especially those who might want to see if EQ can bring this HEXA to their preferred tuning. I was hoping for something fun sounding like their initial Zero IEM but the HEXA indeed goes for that grown up sound that I think a lot of people will end up really liking. The HEXA ended up not being an IEM I like and I think I’ll still recommend the standard Aria over it for a more exciting listen. I’m very interested to see what Truthear brings out next and continue to be excited to see what this company can do as they get more money to develop more expensive IEMs. Thanks for reading!!
Pros: Strong L70 performance. Price
Cons: Softer E70 sound presentation.
I’ve been a fan of Topping’s recent releases such as their portable G5 and the now older E50/L50. I’ve been busy reviewing a lot of IEMs and portables as of late so dipping my toes into the desktop source gear is a nice change of pace. The E70 is a new Topping DAC using the ESS ES9028Pro and comes in at $349. The L70 headphone amp comes in at $349 as well. Both are designed to be used together in a “stack” setup but they can be used separately with other source gear. I’ll be reviewing both together for most of this review.
Quick shoutout to @shenzhenaudio for sending me up a review unit to check out. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The E70 and L70 can be picked up together or separately at @shenzhenaudio website below.
Gear usedSMSL SU-9/SP400 stack, Topping G5, Campfire Solaris, Moondrop Variations, Sennheiser 560S and ZMF Atrium.
Looks and FeelBoth my units came in black and both have a very good matte finish applied. While the displays are fingerprint magnets, I do like the glossy display. The numbers are a bright white and I really like Topping’s UI looks when it comes to the numbers displayed. The units have a decent weight to them which helps when unplugging headphones from the jacks. The red ring on the volume knobs are a very nice accent touch as well. Overall, a pretty and sleek looking stack to my eyes.
Power switch and volume knobThe power button is actually a touch sensitive button. I would prefer a button I can physically press but the provided remote works as a backup should the touch sensitivity die in the future. There is a power switch in the back next to the power cable should you wish to power it down completely for longer periods of time. I do like the added switch and prefer that over having to unplug the cable. The volume knobs both are smooth and easy to rotate. They both spin infinitely but the L70 has volume relays which is an extremely attractive feature for me personally.
Inputs and outputsFor the E70, we get the standard XLR and RCA outputs as well as COAX, Optical, USB-B and BT inputs. There’s the 12V trigger ports to link the remotes but I didn’t test that at all. It is lacking the TRS output, so those with different Topping Amps might run into issues if they wish to run balanced to their TRS amps.
The L70 has more going on and I find it more attractive given the price. The L70 has a combined XLR/TRS which I think is a wonder compatibility option for those who might not have the XLR output option on their DAC. I could personally care less about TRS quarter inch but I like that it isn’t abandoned here since it allows those with Topping DACs that only use TRS for balanced out to have an headphone amp upgrade path. The L70 also has a standard RCA input. We get XLR and RCA outputs for passthrough use. Only the L70 input XLR is a combo connector so no TRS output for the L70. The L70 has a ground loop noise fix built in via a switch should you pick up any noise in the source chain. I never have noise issues so I left it set to the stock GND setting. Even when running The DAC out to both RCA and XLR, and having the XLR and RCA inputs active with an XLR output on the L70, I never heard any noise so I think this ends up being a feature for the those who already have noise issues in their normal systems due to the power problems in the home. The front of the L70 also has a XLR, 4.4mm Pentaconn and quarter inch jack for headphone use.
Accessories and unboxingWe get a newer designed box that comes with the bare essentials. We get a remote and power cable plus manuals with each unit. I think this is mostly fine but I would have preferred a small cheap 3.5mm cable to make use of the 12V trigger connection. Not the end of the world but I think most people will be buying this in a stack setup so maybe it will be offered in a bundle.
Sound(overall)These impressions will mostly be from the two stacked together. I did however run the amp separately hence the separate sound impressions for each device. The L70 impressions will be from using both the SMSL SU-9 and Topping E70 to get the perceived sound signature. E70 impressions will be from the paired L70.
E70The E70 is a neutral to warm sounding DAC from my testing. It has a softer presentation which I’m not overly wild about. The lows are accurate and so are the mids with a more neutral sound. I would call this accurate and I have no issues with the lows and mids. Vocals and treble do both come in a little softer than I’m used to. I find the vocals sound good but it just feels like a little something is missing. Same thing with the treble. It sounds accurate yet it feels like it’s missing just a little extra detail and bite. Almost sounds slightly muted. That being said, I think if someone just bought this without having another mid-range DAC to A/B test, The differences wouldn’t be as noticeable. Staging is also average and imaging is accurate or at least comparable to the stack I use to review everything. This is still a very good DAC and given the amp is so dang good, I would actually recommend this DAC with the amp since they look good stacked together. Speaking of the amp…
L70I’ve mentioned already that I love the layout of the L70 when it comes to connections. How does it sound though? I personally prefer warmer sounding amps or at least clean sounding amps that don’t lose low end bass dynamics. The L70 is a very linear amp that doesn’t add any real sound signature differences but it also doesn’t have any downsides I could hear. The bass is dynamic and the impact/slam produced is still strong and doesn’t feel lacking. In the past, this was an issue with lower cost amps due to power supply constraints and the L70 seems to not have this issue which is wonderful. Instruments in both the mids and highs sound clean yet they don’t add any unwanted shimmer or sibilance. The vocals are accurate but don’t feel thin or lacking at all. The treble sounds sharp and fast on most headphones with a sense of higher resolution and details. I think the Staging does sound about average(depth and width) with the headphones I used for this test. I would definitely say the star of the stack/show is indeed the L70.
Filters and fun featuresThe E70 does have filter options but I couldn’t hear any differences like normal so I left it on the stock filter. The stack is missing any “fun” features such as bass boosts or onboard EQ options. I think this is honestly fine and someone can easily EQ via software if they really need to.
Bluetooth/Wired connectivityI did most of my reviewing with the wired connection but I do test range on bluetooth. LDAC has a decent range when used with the newer Shanling M6 Ultra and extended range using AAC from my iPhone 14 Pro. Keep in mind that only the E70 can take a bluetooth signal. I do see some amps in stacks like this that will also take a bluetooth input but that is not the case with this stack. I think the sound from wireless was fine and as time goes on, I’m not as picky when it comes to wireless vs wired. I still opt for wired when possible but I can see this being nice if you want a friend or someone to send their music over to the E70 without much effort to play their own music.
Personal grips with the L70 and E70?
I only have nitpick issues with the Topping stack. Though my nitpicks won’t be deal breakers for me, they might be for others.
First thing that bothers me are the two separate remotes. SMSL has one remote they can use between products and they usually have a full GUI built into their mid-range source gear. The Topping stack lacks an in depth UI so it requires the remotes to get some features turned on and off. Both remotes are different as well so it can be a pain if you have to remember which remote goes to which amp/DAC. The remotes aren’t labeled well part number wise either.
The UI is also pretty messy still and while you can do most things when the device is on, some things need to be accessed via a different menu which is only accessed by holding the volume knob button in while turning on the unit from the back. This and having to keep the manual near to translate what the short codes mean in the menus doesn’t make for an enjoyable experience should you need to change things. For most people it's going to be a “change once and never mess with things again” thing but it still feels like quite the chore.
While I love the relays they’re using for the volume control on the L70, it’s super loud when adjusting volume. This is loud enough that if I’m testing multiple headphones at night, a pillow or something is thrown at me since the relay changes wake up the Ms. I think most people will only be adjusting volume between tracks in one to three volume increments so this probably won’t be as big of a deal for others.
Single ended and balanced power output/SensitivityThe L70 is a monster when it comes to output power. Output from the balanced XLR or 4.4 Pentaconn will produce a peak 7.5W into 32 ohms! Using the single ended quarter inch will produce 2.3W into the same 32 ohm load. This is impressive and my main amp I use for reviews that cost $630 can squeeze out 6W into the same 32 ohm load. The power output numbers don’t seem to matter at all when it comes to balanced vs unbalanced inputs. This makes me believe this isn’t a truly balanced design and in 2022, that is completely fine by me. I haven’t heard an amp in recent times that sounds better from balanced vs single ended like some of the older devices I have on hand. The L70 also has zero hiss(floor noise) from both the XLR and 4.4mm Pentaconn jack. My OG Campfire Solaris picked up nothing on the L70 which is quite the feat.
IEM pairing opinions
Moondrop VariationsThe Variations took pretty well to this pairing. The bass was strong with good impact and kept its fuller low end sound intact. Mids sounded warm but clean and the Vocals sounded pretty good with the stack. The treble can be a little hot on the Variations for me but usually not enough to cause discomfort and the softer or relaxed sounding E70 from the stack pulled the Variation’s treble down just a little. Staging was accurate and I didn’t notice any changes on the Variations vs my personal baseline setup.
Campfire SolarisThe OG Solaris is a slight V shape with an intense upper mids for me personally but I do rather enjoy the Solaris regardless. The bass is strong but still has average impact. The instruments in the mids do sound clear and the vocals have good detail. The upper mids and lower treble don’t sound nearly as violent to my ears but it’s not enough of a difference that I would say the E70 softness from the stack made a big enough difference to matter. Staging was still fairly deep and wide sounding which was nice to hear. The big thing here is that the Solaris is a silly sensitive IEM when run balanced and I had zero hiss from the L70 amp. This impressed me quite a bit as the Solaris brings out a small hiss that is noticeable in my main desktop setup that I don’t normally hear with other sensitive IEMs. I was also listening at around -51 volume ro 50/0 volume which was nice since I had a lot of room to go down in volume.
Over ear pairings
ZMF Atrium/Sennheiser 560sBoth the Shenn 560S and Atrium tend to sound best from desktop gear IMO and the L70 provides great power overall to both. Both are power hungry headphones and I could run both on low gain just fine via balanced. Running single ended would require high grain on at least the Atrium. The lows were strong and didn’t lack bass impact like I’ve heard in the past. The mids and vocals sound natural on both headphones with this stack and the treble does have a slight softness and as a result, lacks a little resolution on both headphones when the E70 is involved. Staging is fairly average when using both but the point I’m trying to make is that the stack can produce good results on some more power hungry headphones. The L70 is very capable however and I really like these headphones on the l70 paired with a different DAC(SU-9).
SMSL SU-9/SP400The SMSL stack combo I use does cost more than the Topping E/L-70 stack but I do think it has some stuff that makes it competitive in a sense. The E70 DAC does sound softer and leans to a neutral sound signature which is fine but the ES9038Pro in the SU-9 does outperform the ES9028Pro at least in these specific devices. The SU-9 has better resolution and detail retrieval, even if it has a warmer sound signature vs the E70. I’m not sure if this is because of the design or DAC differences but it’s the first thing I pick up when running both DACs into the L70 or SP400 amp. The amps on the other hand both sound extremely similar. I think the only true difference I could hear was the staging sounded wider and deeper on the SP400. The floor noise on the SP400 while very low still produces a light hiss on super sensitive IEMs like the OG Solaris or V16 Divinity IEM when run balanced. This floor noise is non-existent on the L70 and it’s impressive. Especially since the low gain is very wide and I can use IEMs and most headphones without ever needing to switch gains. The two amps use volume relays with the SP400 being an older design but it has quieter relays so it's less noisy when doing volume changes. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with the Topping stack.
Topping G5The G5 has been my goto portable since I reviewed it and it is used daily at the office in rotation with my Airpods Pro 2. The G5 is a slightly brighter sounding device vs the Topping E/L-70 stack. Both the stack and G5 can handle bass really well and both produce good mids/vocals. The G5 has a slightly brighter sound signature in the treble but when I A/B the two, I find the G5 adds enough sparkle in the treble to come off sounding better detailed. I would say the sound signatures are close but I don’t find the E70 sounds vastly better if at all over the G5 when it comes to DAC performance. The E70 is a desktop unit so we do get better compatibility with things besides USB or bluetooth inputs. I think for those who don’t need the massive power output of the L70 or the extra inputs from the E70, the G5 is extremely competitive and can be substituted as a desktop unit for those who may not want or need a separate setup for desktop and portable.
Overall thoughtsI’m lukewarm on the E70 DAC but I absolutely love the L70 amp and it will be used in the future for reviews next to my SMSL SP400 amp. Both provide great results in a good sized package. While I am reviewing this stack together, I do think I need to score them separately and meet myself in the middle. As much as I would love to just throw a 5 star rating, the E70 is competitive but not quite the performer I want given the price. Hence I think the E70 is a 4/5 rating. The L70 is extremely competitive and I was very impressed and it is an easy 5/5 for me. Regardless of the ratings, the E70 and L70 both get a recommendation if you want the stack together. However, I would personally opt for something like the SMSL SU-9n($50 more) for a better sound signature and stack it with the L70. The L70 to me, is the star of the show and I was very impressed by the performance of the L70 and its power output specs. I always love seeing Topping evolve over time and this is another step in the right direction for them. Thanks for reading!!
Pros: Wonderful design, relaxed but detailed sound, strong bass impact
Cons: Larger shells, meh cable, not for bright tuning lovers
I’ve always wanted to check out 64 Audio stuff for years. I was most interested when the N8 came out since that sounded right up my alley. While I didn’t have luck getting in contact with anyone before to get something to try out, I’ve always kept my eye on the 64 Audio releases. I have some reviewer acquaintances that I hold to high regards such as @Precogvision who preaches the good word of house 64 Audio . I took a shot at seeing if the Bloom Audio family would be willing to send something to check out. To my luck they had a Nio on hand I could check out! I jumped at the chance to review it. The Nio is a 9 driver hybrid consisting of one 9mm dynamic driver and 8 BA drivers. It comes in at $1699 here in the states.
This will be mostly a full review but I only got the IEMs, the M15 module and newer 64 audio branded stock cable/upgrade cable. So I won’t have a full unboxing or info on the sound differences between the module plugs.
Quick shoutout to @Andrew DiMarcangelo and Matthew(for the super nice letter) for sending the Nio out to borrow and review. While I always appreciate the chance to test and review products sent in from manufacturers or dealers, it never affects the rating of my reviews.
The 64 Audio Nio can be picked up from Bloom Audio at their website below.
Onto the review of the 64 Audio Nio! My personal preference is a hybrid/tribrid IEM where I get good hitting bass and have a detailed treble with decent mids. When it comes to an over ear headphone I prefer a spacious sound with a deep low end, the mids to be more forward and the highs to be a little bright with some sparkle. I listen to a lot of genres but I hover in the classic rock, blues and edm music with some rap here and there.
Gear UsedIPhone 14 Pro Max with headphone adapter, Shanling M3X, Topping G5 and SMSL SU-9 feeding the SP400 amp.
Looks and fitThe Nio is a good example of an industrial style shell design that can also be beautiful to the eyes. The shell is a slightly bigger and bulkier design that is a simple black shell with a silver faceplate. What makes this design unique to me is the nice blue abalone insert that they have in the faceplate. It’s rather striking and I’m very impressed by the way it looks against the silver faceplate. They also have their Apex module on the faceplate which can be swapped out for more or less pressure. If it isn’t obvious, I love the way this looks and I was able to get a comfy fit with some Spinfit CP100+ tips on my first try and I can easily listen to the Nio for longer sessions with no problems. I did end up using the W1 which is my current favorite set of tips from Spinfit, when I can get them to fit.
Isolation and sound leakageWhile I only have the M15 module on hand, it does well at passive isolation and leaks less sound than I thought it would. I would still recommend lower volumes for quiet public areas.
Packaging and accessoriesLike I said above. I didn’t get the entire Nio box or accessories but I did want to mention the Bloom Audio extras and the nice letter I received from the Bloom Audio team. I was surprised to see they still sent candy with their orders and I got a bag of skittles with the IEMs. I only received the stock M15 module, IEM shells and both a newer stock black cable as well as the 64 Audio branded silver upgrade cable. I also got a really nice letter from Matthew sending some nice words about a prior review I did a long time back so I appreciated the kind gesture!
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the SMSL SU-9 connected to the SMSL SP400. These impressions are what the Nio sounded like to my ears. This was also using the W1 eartips from Spinfit. Things like ear tip selection and DAC/amp selection will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but the Nio seemed to have a tuning in line with what I personally like and I can confirm it was absolutely turned the way I wanted it. Starting with the bass, It hits pretty hard and while super full sounding, it doesn't sound bloated and manages to blend well into the lower mids. It still sounds really strong so this gets a little more into bass head territory. The mids sound fairly detailed and a little more relaxed overall. It doesn’t suffer from any veiling and I enjoy the instrument presentation overall. The mids sound fast which gives it a sense of speed even if it’s somewhat relaxed/sweet sounding. The vocals are a little recessed(which I prefer) and blend into the rest of the music but I feel there is some good quality here. There is enough sharpness to female vocals that it feels more natural sounding. The treble is tame but still has good detail retrieval. I can still hear some sharpness and the decay is a little slower on things like cymbal hits. I would say this is a smoother sounding IEM with a thumpy bass overall and I quite like it.
Soundstage/ImagingStaging is above average with a good sense of space for an IEM. It could be due to the venting module system but I feel like things have more air all throughout the frequency range. There’s better IEMs in the staging department but this is pretty good overall. Imaging is really good if you’re not listening to anything too bass heavy. Hard hitting bass is distracting to me and I have a harder time listening for details when I get good bass thumps. I was able to pick out details and when things were located easily on normal non EDM music.
Sensitivity/DrivabilityThe Nio isn’t super hard to drive but will require higher volume levels on lower power dongles. I think most modern dongles will power the Nio just fine though. Especially when running balanced.
Stock cableThe stock cable is garbage to put it nicely. While I can’t comment on cables included with newer 64 Audio IEMs, these are the old school black skinny cables. They feel like $10 cables and have the very old school “American” IEM cable look and feel that most US made IEMs come with. I also received the upgraded silver cable which I did most of the review with. It too sucks in terms of looks and feel and has an obnoxiously large 2 pin connector but it works well. It also looks like poor quality for $200 that they sold these for. Minus my complaints, I would leave these cables alone if you want utility and function over looks. They work fine and while I can’t comment on the long term durability of these or my confidence in them, I would say maybe keep a backup pair of decent quality cables on hand from another brand.
THIEAUDIO V16 DivinityThe V16 and Nio take similar approaches in tuning with different strengths. The Nio does low end impact/slam better than the V16 but the V16 manages the bass better and while it too can hit hard, it just sounds better controlled and less exciting. The mids are smooth on both IEMs but the vocals did sound forward and more detailed on the V16 over the Nio. Nio let more instruments come through with a slightly recessed vocal presence. Both feel fast in the mids. The treble is tame on both IEMs but the Nio sounds a little more exciting than the V16 and is a little brighter sounding to my ears. It however doesn’t quite have the same control or refinement that the V16 has. The V16 sounds more detailed and while it doesn’t quite have the same sharpness or decay as the Nio, I hear instruments with better detail and enjoyment overall. I also think the Staging and imaging is better on the V16. It has a wider stage with more precision overall. I like both and while I wouldn’t personally own both at the same time due to the similar tuning, I would keep one on hand for sure when it comes to smooth and detailed IEMs on hand that have a bass focus. If I had to choose personally, I would go for the V16 Divinity since it has a better all rounder performance.
Campfire SolarisThe OG Solaris is newer to me but it’s been out for quite a few years at this point. It’s my daily driver however since I do enjoy using it at work. Both IEMs are designed in the US but both go for very different tunings. The bass hits much harder on the Nio and the Solaris goes for a somewhat relaxed bass that lets impact and slam come through when called for. The mids are more crisp and sharper on the Solaris but I find vocals are more forward sounding on the Solaris over the Nio. I think the Nio has a more natural/neutral sounding vocals which results in the Solaris sounding sibilant when I A/B test them. The upper mids and lower treble have a pretty sharp peak somewhere that makes the Solaris a little harsh and bright sounding where the Nio has a good balance of brighter sound with less roughness. The rest of the treble is pretty tame on both IEMs and I think both pull in about the same amount of details with the Nio sounding warmer overall and the OG Solaris sounding brighter. The staging on the Solaris is much better and I feel like it has one of the wider if not the widest soundstage I’ve heard in a bit on an IEM.Imaging is great on both but I think the imaging falls into the “holographic” type of imaging on the OG Solaris while the Nio sounds more like a standard IEM with good standard imaging. I like both but I think I would pick the Nio as it aligns closer to my personal preferences.
Topping G5The G5 is my daily driver lately and I use it a lot at the office where I do a good chunk of reviewing and typing. The G5 is a favorite due to it sounding like a much bigger amp than it is. The bass thumps nice and hard via the G5 and keeps things clean but fun sounding. The mids from this pairing is a little more forward and the vocals have a better presence over the rest of the performance. The treble is very clear and adds a little extra sharpness to the Nio that I enjoy. Staging sounds a little more intimate and I feel the Nio had a wider sounding stage via my desktop amp but it’s close. A great pairing to my ears.
SMSL SU-9/SP400As with all my reviews, this is the setup I do my sound impressions from. I don’t think the Nio needs a desktop setup to sound its best and I achieved comfortable volumes around 30-34/99 on high gain so not bad. I do believe the big difference with this pairing was the slightly recessed vocals and the wider sounding stage.
Overall thoughtsI always wanted to try the 64 Audio stuff and having a lot more experience with many IEMs over the past few years, I can really appreciate the Nio. I think it’s fair to say I’m a “believer” and I can highly recommend the Nio for new and experienced IEM users who like strong bass, sweet yet fast mids and detailed, yet smooth highs! Those hunting a detail monster with intense and sharp highs will want to look elsewhere however. I have quite the interest in checking out other 64 Audio IEMs in the future and look forward to seeing what they come out with down the road. Thanks for reading!!