Reviews by drewbadour

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: • Very engaging listen
• Authoritative Bass
• Good stage and decent resolution
• Unique tuning
• Unique Tribrid Driver Config
• Smooth treble response
Cons: • Might be a little too intense
• Not the most technical IEM
• A tad shouty
• Not an all-rounder
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Introduction:
Kinera Celest is a brand that has been around for quite a while and their IEMs have have always maintained an aura of intrigue. And despite the brand not being as widely known as other brands like Moondrop, fans of their Kinera and Kinera Celest IEMs have seemed to like them quite a bit. The Phoenixcall is the first of their IEMs that I have been able to listen to and going into this, I had very little to go off of as far as what to expect other than pictures and description of the driver config which had me interested.

Disclaimer: Thanks go out to Hifigo for arranging this sample for me to review! These thoughts are my own and I was not incentivized for a positive/negative review.

Build and Accessories:
The Phoenixcall comes in a nice, solid box that includes the following:
• Gold colored metal bookmark - I surprisingly do like how this looks and wouldn't mind using it
• A very nice and well behaved cable with no microphonics
• A small leather, puck-shaped carrying case,
• An assortment of eartips
• The IEMs themselves
It's clear that a lot of thought was put into the packaging and the overall unboxing experience was surprisingly nice.

The IEMs themselves are smaller in size and made of what seems to be high quality resin. Depending on the color you choose the wiring and drivers will be on full display, which is a nice touch, given the unique driver configuration. Build quality is as solid as any nicer resin IEM I've handled and due to the smaller size, I don't think many people will have issues with fit.

Sound:
Overall:
The overall sound signature is quite lush and engaging. It's not a very clinical sounding IEM and would be well suited for anyone who thinks the flavor-of-the-month, Harman-inspired, or neutral with bass-boost IEMs are boring and thin sounding. It's a very unique sound that surprisingly works a lot better than expected. The tuning, as far as I know, is unique, and would be a great addition to a growing collection of IEMs.

Bass: Bass is full and well-extended with a lot of physicality and oomph. The Phoenix dishes up a very healthy dose of midbass compared to most if not all of the popular IEMs today and does so in a very refreshing way. I think a lot of manufacturers are afraid of tuning midbass into their IEMs in fear of causing bloat or mud. For this reason, I actually find a lot of popular IEMs to be thin sounding and too clinical. This is not so with the Phoenixcall - bass is authoritative and physical here. But somehow, this doesn't have as huge an effect on mids and clarity as I would have expected from looking at the frequency response.

Mids: Mids aren't necessarily the highlight here but they're not as recessed sounding as one would expect. There is a valley in the frequency response but from what I could tell, most instruments and voices aren't affected by it too much. Both male and female vocals sound fairly natural and full bodied to me, both forward in the mix. And yes, I did mention above that the bass tuning doesn't have as huge an effect on mids and clarity as expected, but there is still a bit of that - but not offensively so.

Upper Mids and Lower Treble: This is where things can get a bit dicey and part of the reason this is a more intense IEM - there is quite a bit of elevation in the upper mids and lower treble and this makes it slightly shouty. Those sensitive to this region may wish to look elsewhere. Another IEM I love, the Elysian x Effect Gaea does something similar here and as much as I love that IEM, I will admit, it's definitely a polarizing tuning. As with the Gaea, I am fine with this tuning but it's not one I can listen to for very long periods of time.

Treble: Treble is decently smooth and tapers off after about 10k. This makes prevents the Phoenixcall from ever being sibilant or sharp. It's definitely on the slightly darker side of things, and this is especially noticeable in contrast to the "upper mid lower treble shelf."

Technicalities: Stage is above average. Imaging is okay. Details and resolution are pretty good for the price. Timbre is surprisingly okay - nothing too wonky to my ears.

Summary:
This new addition to the pantheon of $100-$200 IEMs is well worth a look - it eschews all notions of what is correct (cough* Harman) and does its own thing. Usually when people stray too far off the beaten path, it's in for a rough time - not this time. No, this is not a market defining or breaking IEM. And no it's not going to replace all the Wan'er/Hola/Hexa/Aria/Kato/you name it IEMs many of you already own. But it's not trying to do that. The Phoenixcall set out to do something different and to provide a different flavor to complement tuning/driver configs that have all but flooded the market. While I can't recommend this IEM as a one and only IEM or for someone's first IEM, the Phoenixcall still gets a solid recommendation from me, especially as an addition to a collection to provide either a different tuning or driver configuration.
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drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Dunu Alpha3 Review: A Flathead Earbud Revival
Pros: Very balanced tuning
Relatively resolving
Excellent fit
Top tier build quality
Great cable
Above average technicalities
Fun mid-bass punch
Great instrument timbre
Lush vocals
Cons: Bass is slightly rolled off – it does still rumble but subbass quantity might be a bit lacking for bassheads
Treble is rolled off, which does keep it from being sibilant but does lack that last bit of air
Can sometimes struggle and sound slightly congested with busy passages

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WHO THIS IS FOR:​

  • Those looking for a very well balanced earbud with good detail retrieval
  • Anyone looking to see what earbuds are capable of these days without breaking the bank
  • Those looking for an open sound
  • Timbreheads
  • Anyone who finds IEMs too isolating



WHO THIS ISN’T FOR:​

  • Bassheads
  • Those who spend most of their time in noisy environments and need isolation
  • Those who are adverse to a brighter tuning



Build, Fit, Accessories:​

What’s in the box: In typical Dunu fashion, you can expect a quality kit. Dunu’s new case (which is also found with the Falcon Ultra) is included and it is, by far, my favorite IEM/earbud case. Along with the buds come copious foam covers (these do alter the sound quite a bit, even more so than pads for headphones, so definitely try all of them)!

Build and fit: The Alpha3 is the best built flathead earbud I’ve handled. The all metal build is solid and well machined, and the attached cable is quite nice. It is a bell shaped shell with a simple, angular and almost mecha-inspired stem. It’s a very nicely fitting earbud and I don’t think many, except those with the smallest of ears, will have issues wearing them.




Overall Sound:​

The Alpha3 is a very nicely tuned, slightly bright-neutral earbud with decent technicalities and excellent timbre. It’s not a technical monster by any means but it is above average in stage, imaging, and resolution. The tuning is one that many will appreciate!




Bass:​

Midbass is the star of the show here and might I say, the midbass punch is quite excellent. Unfortunately the bass does roll off compared to IEMs. That said, bass does not disappear in the lowest registers but subbass quantity will be reminiscent of other flathead earbuds or most open-back headphones.




Mids:​

Mids on the Alpha3 are great. Both male and female vocals have a good amount of body and lushness without any offensive dips or peaks, with female vocals a bit more forward in the mix, but not offensively so. Good amount of clarity in the mids. Instruments sound crisp and clear. For the most part, flathead earbuds do mids very well and the Alpha3 is no exception.




Treble:​

The treble on the Alpha3 is more lower-and-mid-treble focused with a bit of upper treble roll off. There’s a good amount of sparkle but not as much air as I’d like. The overall tuning of the treble region is slightly bright but pleasant and smooth. Percussive hits sound natural to me as do most brass and woodwind instruments. There is enough bite to give life to violins but not so much as to make it sibilant. If one were to be excessively critical, it does lack that last bit of air that would make this stand out even more, but at $79, it’s hard to count this as a fault.




Technicalities:​

Details and Resolution:

Details and resolution on the Alpha3 are above average for flathead earbuds and quite good compared to similarly priced IEMs. I’d say that they probably are on par with what one might expect from a $300 IEM. I’ve always contended that flathead earbuds are a great value proposition – one can generally expect better sound quality for the price than would be found in IEMs or headphones. And for the price of the Alpha3, you would be hard-pressed to find an IEM that can compete in sheer detail retrieval.

Soundstage, Imaging, and Separation:

Due to the openness of the transducer type (they are completely open as with all flatheads), soundstage will be quite large compared to what one might expect coming from IEMs. However, in comparison to other flathead earbuds, stage is average to slightly above average in size. Stage is wider than it is deep. Imaging and separation are decent as well but it can struggle and start to sound congested with busy passages. Switching to thinner foams does help with this, but this also comes at the expense of increasing brightness and decreasing warmth for those who might be sensitive to treble and/or upper mids.

Dynamics, transients, and decay:

Transients on the Alpha3 are very nice – the initial attack on notes is crisp and well defined. Note decay is on the quicker side but not too quick and this helps keep the sound clean and precise while not being too clinical. Dynamics, however, are about average for flathead earbuds – nothing too standout here, and this, I suspect is why it can sound a bit congested with too many instrumental and vocal lines playing at the same time and I suspect better differentiation in volume would help separate instruments and alleviate some of the congestion. Nonetheless, at $79, it is already much more dynamic than most IEMs available.

Timbre:

Timbre is excellent. Most earbuds I have tried are more natural sounding to my ear than most IEMs. The Alpha3 is no exception to this – vocals and instruments sound correct to my ear. Nothing sounds glaringly wrong to me.




Conclusion:​

The Dunu Alpha3 is an excellent offering and a worthy addition to the flathead earbud pantheon. It’s something that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is, by default, considering an IEM or a headphone and does not need sound occlusion. No, it’s not the best earbud I’ve heard, that title still belongs to the Venture Electronics Sun Copper, let alone many models I have heard from DIY makers, but those are all more expensive. With it’s unparalleled build quality, versatile sound signature, and decent technicalities, the Alpha3 is a new benchmark and one I’d recommend over almost anything else under $100 given one is open to trying something that isn’t an IEM or a headphone.

As a huge fan of flathead earbuds, I have greatly enjoyed supporting the DIYers and smaller companies that have been keeping the medium alive. But at the same time, it’s great to see larger manufacturers re-entering the fray, innovating, pushing boundaries, and introducing a larger audience to flatheads that might never have discovered them otherwise! Kudos to Dunu for knocking it out of the park and I’m excited to see other manufacturers follow up. (From what I have heard, Moondrop and Fiio are both planning releases later this year so stay tuned.) Most of all, it’s great to see interest in flathead earbuds pick back up again!
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drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
LetShuoer x Gizaudio Galileo Review: Cruising the Goldilocks Zone of IEMs
Pros: Very pleasant and very versatile tuning
Very smooth tuning
The build is solid
Beautiful shell and great fit/ergonomics
Zero fatigue
Cons: Lacks a little sparkle and air
Lags a little in technicalities
Could be a little bit more dynamic

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Introduction:​

If you’ve dabbled in this hobby anytime over the past couple years, two names that you are most likely very familiar with are LetShuoer and Gizaudio. LetShuoer is the brand behind the critically acclaimed S12 Planar IEM and the EJ07 lineup, among other less known in ear monitors, and Gizaudio is the brainchild of Timmy Vangtan, one of the most well loved and respected reviewers in the portable audio world. In conjunction with LetShuoer, the Galileo, a one dynamic driver, and one balanced armature driver hybrid is Timmy’s first IEM collaboration and hopefully not his last!

An interesting fact is that the name, Galileo, as much as the space themed packaging and nebula-like faceplates of this beautiful IEM do suggest a homage to the famed astronomer, comes from a Japanese book series and drama, Detective Galileo.

Where to Buy:​

Hifigo

Amazon




PROS:​

  • Very pleasant and very versatile tuning
  • Very smooth tuning
  • The build is solid
  • Beautiful shell and great fit/ergonomics
  • Zero fatigue



CONS:​

  • Lacks a little sparkle and air
  • Lags a little in technicalities
  • Could be a little bit more dynamic



WHO THIS IS FOR:​

  • Those looking for a long-session IEM that is perfect for relaxing with
  • Mids lovers
  • Those looking for a smooth and enjoyable listen
  • Those new to the IEM looking for a great starting point



WHO THIS ISN’T FOR:​

  • Those looking for an incisive listen



Build, Fit, Accessories:​

What’s in the box: The Galileo comes in a relatively small sized box with artwork that resembles a window peering out into space. In the box are the IEMs themselves and one of the most solid (and sometimes tricky to open) IEM cases to be included with any IEMs I’ve owned or demoed. It’s not a case that one would carry around, but there is quite a lot of space inside with eartips and an IEM cleaning tool attached. The cable included is very solid and among the highest quality cables included with IEMs I’ve handled in this price range – it’s very similar to the one included with the S12.

Build and fit: The build quality of the Galileo is great, almost reminiscent of the resin EJ07 shell – relatively small in size but quite comfortable. Your mileage may vary. Overall, build and fit is great with the one caveat – the included cable does have relatively small earhooks, so that might cause some interference with getting a good seal, however, so a little bit of fiddling around will likely be required if using the stock cable.




Overall Sound:​

The LetShuoer x Gizaudio Galileo is a very pleasant IEM to listen to. Never offensive, never too intense. It is a very smooth and relaxed IEM and is very nicely balanced with a slight vocal-centric character. It’s not a very technically strong IEM but it is very easy to listen to for very long sessions.




Bass:​

The sub-bass focused bass shelf is neither too much nor too little and is quite pleasant if not lacking a just bit of texture and tactility. While it won’t blow anyone away with punchiness or slam, the quantity is just right and it doesn’t bleed into the midrange, while adding a nice touch of warmth.




Mids:​

The midrange is my favorite part of the Galileo. Vocals, especially female vocals, have a nice richness and sweetness to them without being shouty. There is a buttery smooth quality to the sound and yet there is a decent amount of clarity.




Treble:​

Treble on the Galileo is a little bit rolled off, which unfortunately is accompanied by a slight lack of air and sparkle. On the other hand, the treble is incredibly smooth. This tuning ensures that the Galileo is never fatiguing and never becomes harsh or sibilant. Things like cymbal strikes and percussion do lack a bit of incisiveness but it’s not offensive.




Technicalities:​

This is not the strong point of the Galileo. Resolution, imaging, staging are all about average for IEMs. Overall timbre is natural sounding with the exception of some instruments lacking bite. It does also lack a bit of dynamics and transients are a bit blunted and lacking a bit of crispness. But where the Galileo lacks in technicalities, it more than makes up in smoothness and pleasantness.




Conclusion:​

Given that the name and packaging does elicit images of space, it’s hard not to ignore space related analogies despite knowing that the Galileo nomenclature is related, as mentioned before, to a fictional detective. In astronomy related concepts, the Galileo makes me think of the goldilocks zone, that is, the orbital zone around any given star in which conditions would allow for a planet with a pressurized atmosphere to maintain liquid water on the surface. In other words, like a planet within the goldilocks zone, the Galileo is pleasant – it’s buttery smooth and infinitely easy to listen to. While it may not blow anyone away in terms of technicalities, it is a safe bet for anyone looking for a mid-focused IEM with sweet vocals. Timmy’s first IEM collaboration is quite enjoyable and I look forward to seeing what he cooks up next!

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
AFUL Performer8 - it's awfully gr8!
Pros: Very balanced and natural tuning
Unique - finally something different from Harman or neutral with bass-boost
Excellent detail retrieval
Good timbre
The cable and build are solid
Pleasant and smooth tuning
Great quality control
Cons: While not compressed or overly intimate, the stage is not the largest
Not the most dynamic IEM

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Introduction:​


AFUL is a company that has been making waves in China for a while, only recently entering the global market with the Performer5 last year. While I haven't personally heard it, the P5 made a big splash on release (for better or for worse) and since then has asserted itself as an excellent choice at the $200 price point. With the Performer8, AFUL seeks to improve upon their previous success, but how does it stack up?


Disclaimer: Many thanks to AFUL for making this review possible! While I was offered a discounted unit, I was not incentivized for a positive review. These thoughts are purely my own.







Where to Buy:​

Hifigo
Amazon






WHO THIS IS FOR:​


  • Those looking for a rich, lush, natural-sounding IEM with good detail retrieval
  • Mids lovers
  • Those looking for pleasant treble with good extension and sparkle without sibilance
  • Those looking for a smooth and enjoyable listen






WHO THIS ISN'T FOR:​


  • Those who prefer very thin and clinical-sounding IEMs
  • Those looking for something very incisive and crisp






Build, Fit, Accessories:​


What's in the box: The AFUL Performer8 comes with a decent selection of ear tips, faux leather carrying case, and a cable. It's neither lacking nor excessive. And depending on where the final price lands, it is par for the course. The included cable has a mix of copper and silver plated strands and is also solid - well-behaved and of decent quality.


Build and fit: Build quality is excellent. The P8 comes in a 3D-printed resin shell standard for multiple driver IEMs. The IEMs themselves are very light and are small/medium in size. They are very ergonomic and are among the best-fitting IEMs I have tried. I can't imagine many people having fit issues and my wife, who has tiny ears, had no problems wearing these.







Overall Sound:​


The overall sound signature is very balanced, with excellent natural tonality. The sound has a satisfying lushness/richness with good extension on both ends. The bass is punchy and rumbly, the mids have a nice body and good clarity, and the treble is well extended, smooth, and pleasant, with a good amount of sparkle. The Performer8 is a very well-rounded IEM that does almost everything well!







Bass:​


The bass extends deep. The shelf is slightly sub-bass-focused, but midbass is still quite satisfying! The bass quality is good, with a decent amount of texture. It's a relatively tight bass with a lot of tactility - it punches, slams, and rumbles on demand without sounding overwhelming. It's not particularly incisive, but it isn't boomy or sloppy sounding. It's simply well done.







Mids:​


Mids are rich and lush. Both male and female vocals have a good amount of body and presence. There is a decent amount of warmth, but it's not bloated or muddy. It does retain quite a bit of clarity, and for lack of better words, it sounds nicely balanced.







Treble:​


The treble on the Performer8 is well-extended with a good amount of air and sparkle. It's pleasant and smooth, perhaps with a slight brightness, but no sibilance to my ears. Violins, for example, sound sweet but not piercing.







Technicalities:​


Details and Resolution:


Details and resolution on the Performer8 are excellent - competitive with IEMs currently priced around $500-600. Regarding detail retrieval, it outperforms the ThieAudio Oracle and is competitive with the Dunu SA6s and Xenns Mangird Top. Depending on where the final price lands for the Performer8, it could be one of the more, if not most, resolving IEMs in the price range. When listening to violin quartets, for example, you can easily pick up the quartet members placing their fingers on the fingerboard, taking breaths to cue phrases, etc.


Soundstage, Imaging, and Separation:


The stage is average to slightly above average for an IEM. It is not particularly wide, but there is some depth. Imaging is good with a decent amount of layering, but separation is average, which keeps it from being pinpoint accurate.


Dynamics, transients, and decay:


Given that this is a smoother IEM, it might not be surprising that transients aren't incredibly incisive - the initial attack on notes is clear and defined but could be crisper. Decay on notes is neither too fast nor too slow. The dynamics are decent but not standout.


Timbre:


Timbre is good. Overall, the Performer8 is a very natural-sounding IEM, and most instruments sound correct to my ear. Nothing sounds glaringly wrong to me.







Conclusion:​


The AFUL Performer8 came out of left field and really surprised me. When I was offered the chance to review the AFUL Performer8, I was curious but did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect to be as impressed as I was!

For $369.99, the Performer8 is absolutely a new benchmark - you'll be hard-pressed to find anything better.

The AFUL Performer8 is an excellent IEM, and it gets my recommendation for anyone looking for a very well-tuned IEM that is easy to pick up and listen to. And while it isn't a technical monster by any means, the well-balanced, lush tuning of the P8 handled every song I threw at it in stride with great detail retrieval to boot!
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drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
AFUL Performer8 - Smooth and Balanced Benchmark
Pros: Very balanced and natural tuning
Unique - finally something different from Harman or neutral with bass-boost
Excellent detail retrieval
Good timbre
The cable and build are solid
Pleasant and smooth tuning
Great quality control
Cons: While not compressed or overly intimate, the stage is not the largest.
Not the most dynamic IEM
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Introduction:​


AFUL is a company that has been making waves in China for a while, only recently entering the global market with the Performer5 last year. While I haven't personally heard it, the P5 made a big splash on release (for better or for worse) and since then has asserted itself as an excellent choice at the $200 price point. With the Performer8, AFUL seeks to improve upon their previous success, but how does it stack up?


Disclaimer: Many thanks to AFUL for making this review possible! While I was offered a discounted unit, I was not incentivized for a positive review. These thoughts are purely my own.






Where to Buy:​

Hifigo
Amazon





WHO THIS IS FOR:​


  • Those looking for a rich, lush, natural-sounding IEM with good detail retrieval
  • Mids lovers
  • Those looking for pleasant treble with good extension and sparkle without sibilance
  • Those looking for a smooth and enjoyable listen





WHO THIS ISN'T FOR:​


  • Those who prefer very thin and clinical-sounding IEMs
  • Those looking for something very incisive and crisp





Build, Fit, Accessories:​


What's in the box: The AFUL Performer8 comes with a decent selection of ear tips, faux leather carrying case, and a cable. It's neither lacking nor excessive. And depending on where the final price lands, it is par for the course. The included cable has a mix of copper and silver plated strands and is also solid - well-behaved and of decent quality.


Build and fit: Build quality is excellent. The P8 comes in a 3D-printed resin shell standard for multiple driver IEMs. The IEMs themselves are very light and are small/medium in size. They are very ergonomic and are among the best-fitting IEMs I have tried. I can't imagine many people having fit issues and my wife, who has tiny ears, had no problems wearing these.






Overall Sound:​


The overall sound signature is very balanced, with excellent natural tonality. The sound has a satisfying lushness/richness with good extension on both ends. The bass is punchy and rumbly, the mids have a nice body and good clarity, and the treble is well extended, smooth, and pleasant, with a good amount of sparkle. The Performer8 is a very well-rounded IEM that does almost everything well!






Bass:​


The bass extends deep. The shelf is slightly sub-bass-focused, but midbass is still quite satisfying! The bass quality is good, with a decent amount of texture. It's a relatively tight bass with a lot of tactility - it punches, slams, and rumbles on demand without sounding overwhelming. It's not particularly incisive, but it isn't boomy or sloppy sounding. It's simply well done.






Mids:​


Mids are rich and lush. Both male and female vocals have a good amount of body and presence. There is a decent amount of warmth, but it's not bloated or muddy. It does retain quite a bit of clarity, and for lack of better words, it sounds nicely balanced.






Treble:​


The treble on the Performer8 is well-extended with a good amount of air and sparkle. It's pleasant and smooth, perhaps with a slight brightness, but no sibilance to my ears. Violins, for example, sound sweet but not piercing.






Technicalities:​


Details and Resolution:


Details and resolution on the Performer8 are excellent - competitive with IEMs currently priced around $500-600. Regarding detail retrieval, it outperforms the ThieAudio Oracle and is competitive with the Dunu SA6s and Xenns Mangird Top. Depending on where the final price lands for the Performer8, it could be one of the more, if not most, resolving IEMs in the price range. When listening to violin quartets, for example, you can easily pick up the quartet members placing their fingers on the fingerboard, taking breaths to cue phrases, etc.


Soundstage, Imaging, and Separation:


The stage is average to slightly above average for an IEM. It is not particularly wide, but there is some depth. Imaging is good with a decent amount of layering, but separation is average, which keeps it from being pinpoint accurate.


Dynamics, transients, and decay:


Given that this is a smoother IEM, it might not be surprising that transients aren't incredibly incisive - the initial attack on notes is clear and defined but could be crisper. Decay on notes is neither too fast nor too slow. The dynamics are decent but not standout.


Timbre:


Timbre is good. Overall, the Performer8 is a very natural-sounding IEM, and most instruments sound correct to my ear. Nothing sounds glaringly wrong to me.






Conclusion:​


The AFUL Performer8 came out of left field and really surprised me. When I was offered the chance to review the AFUL Performer8, I was curious but did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect to be as impressed as I was!


For 369.99, it is absolutely a new benchmark - you'll be hard-pressed to find anything better.

In any case, the AFUL Performer8 is an excellent IEM, and it gets my recommendation for anyone looking for a very well-tuned IEM that is easy to pick up and listen to. And while it isn't a technical monster by any means, the well-balanced, lush tuning of the P8 handled every song I threw at it in stride with great detail retrieval to boot!
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drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite Review – a new benchmark emerges
Pros: – Good bass response, not just for a balanced armature set – it packs a punch and has decent texture
– Relatively relaxed and non-fatiguing listen
– Decent stage that has more depth than width
– Imaging is quite impressive for the price
– Timbre is quite natural and organic
– Great note-weight – has a good amount of warmth and it is neither muddy nor thin
– Pretty good detail pick up and resolution
Cons: – Spartan accessories and packaging – but perhaps this is where some of the cost savings come from!
– Average separation – can sometimes sound a little congested with busy passages
– Transients and dynamics are a little lacking making it slightly less engaging.
Intro
In recent months, the budget segment of the IEM (in-ear monitor) market has become a hotbed of activity with new “Aria-killers” popping up almost every week. The cost of entry into this hobby has never been lower, and the sheer number of options available to consumers has never been greater. With this increased competition, IEM manufacturers are racing to produce better-tuned IEMs at lower prices, providing consumers with a seemingly endless selection to choose from.

However, for those looking for a step-up in quality without venturing into the mid-fi segment, in which IEMs can typically cost over $500, solid options have remained few and far between for the past 2-3 years. The Moondrop Blessing 2 and Blessing 2 Dusk have established themselves as the go-to recommendations in this realm and all IEMs in this segment are inevitably measured against the bar set by these two stalwarts. Thus far, no challenger has managed to surpass their benchmark throne.

Until now.

Enter the Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite. Coming in at $250, the Orchestra Lite undercuts the Blessing 2 duo as well as the upcoming Blessing 3. Kiwi Ears is a company founded by a veteran IEM designer who is responsible for some of the most popular IEMs to date and their previous releases, the Orchestra ($500) and the Cadenza ($40), were both lauded for being solid choices in their respective price brackets but never really took off.

The Orchestra Lite seeks to change that.


Build and Fit
The Orchestra Lite has a medium-sized, semi-custom-shaped, fully filled resin shell with a completely translucent body that puts the the inner wiring and drivers on full display. It’s very nice to look at and feels quite solid in hand. In terms of build quality, I’d venture to say it is a step up from the Blessing 2 and Variations which were plagued with issues related to the glue used to attach the metal faceplates and 2pin connectors. From memory, the Orchestra Lite is probably more comparable to the Moondrop S8 in build, although admittedly, the S8 is a step-up aesthetically for my personal tastes. Overall, this is the type of build quality that I’d expect to see from IEMs costing twice as much or more!

Fit, while subjective, is nice. It is not a small IEM, but the shape is ergonomic and seals very well in my ears. One thing to call out is that the Orchestra Lite is an unvented IEM which may preclude those who are sensitive to pressure build. On this note, I thought I was in this camp as well – my previous experiences with unvented IEMs had me avoiding unvented full-BA sets for the longest time. Pressure build up with the Moondrop S8 caused me discomfort and the vacuum seal of the Sony IER-M series made it troublesome to maintain proper fit and seal. I was worried the Orchestra Lite would do the same for me, but surprisingly, I have no issues with them at all!

Overall Sound
The Orchestra Lite is a well-tuned IEM with good timbre, a slightly warm sound signature, and decent resolution. Bass is punchy and decently textured, mids are full and rich, treble is decently airy but also subdued enough to never be fatiguing. It’s a good all-rounder and is well-suited for most if not all genres of music.

Bass
Balanced Armature drivers are often assumed to have less than stellar bass response and outliers that do bass well are praised as having “bass that is good for a BA.” I can say with certainly that this is also the case with the Orchestra Lite. While it is not a bass cannon, it still packs a decent punch and texture is pretty nice too. It’s refreshing to see more IEM makers incorporate a mid-bass over sub-bass tuning. To my ears, this adds a nice bit of body to the sound that many IEMs that favor sub-bass over mid-bass tend to lack. This adds a warm characteristic to the sound without making it muddy, which makes it sound a bit more natural to the ear.

Mids
Mids are lush and clean. Vocals, both male and female, are nicely presented. Most instruments sound nice and full with good noteweight. Despite the warmth, there is pretty good clarity through the mids. Pretty good texture and layering. Overall, mids are relatively smooth and relaxed yet nicely resolving.

Treble
The treble is well extended but is tuned more on the safe side. It never sounds sibilant or harsh, and the details are all there. But the safer tuning does have the effect of adding a bit more smoothness to the sound, which depending on what you’re looking for, may be a good or a bad thing.

Techs
Stage is slightly above average and is deeper than it is wide. While you might not get the sensation of sound coming from way off to the left and right, there is a sense of depth and layering to the stage that you don’t quite often hear in this price range.

Imaging is solidly above average. Instruments and voices are clearly positioned, and it is easy to identify where they are on the stage.

Owing to the more tame treble tuning, transients (the sound usually associated with the initial attack on notes – like plucks of a string, or consonants) can come off a bit more rounded or blunted rather than incisive and crisp. On scale of “too smoothed over and boring,” and “too harsh and sibilant,” I’d say it falls somewhere in between, perhaps leaning towards the smooth side, which, if anything, makes it safe.

But, this smoother transient response does seem to have a detrimental effect on separation. Separation is not the strongest trait of the Orchestra Lite, and it can sometimes struggle with articulation and separation during busier passages. This might be a nitpick, however, because from memory, it is a step up from the Blessing 2.

Also, the Orchestra Lite is not the most dynamic IEM. The replay is fairly smooth, and the dynamic range matches that smoothness.

Where the Orchestra Lite shines the brightest, in my opinion, is with timbre. The term “BA timbre” is often thrown around and my understanding of this term is that some IEM balanced armature implementations have an unnaturally thin tonality that sometimes adds a metallic or digital sheen to the sound – the Moondrop S8 sticks out as the perfect example of this for me. The Orchestra Lite doesn’t do this and overall I’d say it has very good tonality and timbre – instruments and voices sound very natural to my ear.

Closing Thoughts
Kiwi Ears really came out of left field with the Orchestra Lite. The pleasant, slightly warm tonality, smooth and relaxed character, solid technical performance, and its superb build quality make this IEM an incredible value proposition. The Blessing 2s finally have some serious competition, and Moondrop will have some stiff competition ahead of their upcoming release of the Blessing 3. At the time of writing, the Orchestra Lite is probably my favorite IEM in its price bracket and it gets a strong recommendation from me!
o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Spot-on, mate! These IEMs are lovely to look at and listen.

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Audio Hekili Review: Off the Beaten Path
Pros: - Very engaging and exciting sound signature
- Extremely fun, tactile bass that rumbles, slams, punches without bleeding
- Technicalities that solidly outperform competitors in the price bracket
- Treble is airy and sparkly, and surprisingly well extended
- Stage is expansive
- The boutique nature of this IEM – build and quality control are excellent
Cons: - Spartan accessories compared to something a large company would provide
- Timbre is not offensive but it is not completely natural

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WHO THIS IS FOR:​


  • Those looking for a very engaging IEM to get lost in the music with
  • Those looking for a very well executed U-shaped IEM
  • Those looking for a set with some very satisfying bass while not being too much for basslets!
  • Those looking looking for something different from the endless stream of Harman and neutral-with bass-boost IEMs that have flooded the market
  • Honestly, anyone with $300 dollars to spend on an IEM





WHO THIS ISN’T FOR:​


  • Those who prefer very forward mids
  • Those who prefer a more intimate listen
  • Those looking for an organic timbre
  • Those looking for a more smooth and relaxed IEM





Introduction:​


In this hobby, it can sometimes seem like there is a hot new release every week and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different choices available. At the same time, it can be easy to get caught up in the hype as there always seems to be something new that has captured the attention of the community. Competition is stiff and while more choice can be a great thing, it almost seems like everything is a variation of the same thing - a continuous stream of Haman-tuned or neutral-with-bass-boost tuned IEMs. On one hand, this has resulted in a race to the bottom with well tuned IEMs available at lower and lower prices. But it can be also a bit tiring and repetitive.


Enter the Audio Hekili, an IEM that has flown under the radar since it was released over a year ago. Hekili is built by a freelance engineer from China that has largely been DIY-ing IEMs in small batches for a few years now. It is almost the antithesis of the current trend we are seeing in the hobby. But how does it stack up?






Build, Fit, Accessories:​


The Audio Hekili comes in a relatively sparse kit that includes a leather carrying case, cable, generic ear tips, a cleaning tool, and the IEM itself. It is definitely nothing to write home and honestly can seem a bit spartan. It's an adequate kit, but it does not get any points for presentation.


Where, the kit is lacking, however, the Hekili makes up in build quality. The Hekili is built with a handsome 3D printed shell with a very aesthetically pleasing black and gray design aesthetic. The fittings (like the nozzle, tubing, and vent), scream DIY in the best sense of the word - meticulously built with attention to detail. It is a very solid and well built IEM.


Overall, fit is pretty good. Housing a DD and 7 Balanced Armature drivers on each side, the shell is on the larger side but it's deeper than it is wide - I can't see many people not being able to fit it but it may stick out of your ears depending on your own ear shape.






Overall Sound:​


Aptly named, "Hekili" means "thunder", or "passion" in Hawaiian. Hekili is a very engaging and captivating IEM that just sucks you into the music.


The overall sound signature is a bassy (but very clean) U-shaped with excellent extension on both ends and technicalities that perform much better than the price would suggest.


There is something about the Hekili that just keeps me coming back for it, and despite owning a few much more expensive sets that I also love, I do still find myself gravitating to the Hekili fairly often. It's addictive, and engaging, and a breath of fresh air.






Bass:​


Bass on the Hekili is deep and rumbly. It slams and it punches on demand. But at the same time, it is very well controlled and never bleeds into the mids. Bass decay is done very tastefully if on the slightly slow side. Much less, and it might lose some its satisfying rumble, and much more, and it would be too boomy and perhaps lose some of its impact and tactility. While I'm not a basshead, I do appreciate very good bass and the Hekili has some of the best bass I've heard on an IEM, regardless of price.






Mids:​


In typical U-shaped fashion, mids on the Hekili are laid back, and while they aren't recessed by any means, they are a bit pulled back in the mix. This, in conjunction with the deep bass and sparkly treble, adds to the sense of space but does mean it isn't a particularly intimate listen which may be a non-starter for those looking for vocals to be right in your head. Mids are clear with a good amount of resolution.






Treble:​


Treble is very well extended with a very good amount of sparkle and air. My litmus tests for treble are violins and cymbals - these two instruments, in my mind, really highlight treble quality and tuning. Both are very well done here. They have just the right amount of bite/crispness to stick out in the mix and but it's never too harsh.






Technicalities:​


Details and Resolution:
Punches above its weight. It competes in details and resolution with IEMs costing much more and well into the mid-fi ($500+) range.


Soundstage and Imaging:
As mentioned previously, soundstage is expansive and this is one of the most interesting characteristics of the Hekili. Stage is wide and deep and almost seems enveloping at times. Imaging is also very good.


Dynamics:
As someone who listens to a lot of classical, jazz, and music with acoustic instruments, dynamics are very important to me. Listening to a violin concerto, for example, dynamics play a huge role in the ability to portray the soloist's interpretation of the piece. With IEMs that lack dynamics, the soloist can sometimes sound flat and lifeless, and even sometimes blend in with the violin section, while IEMs that do dynamics well are able to not only emphasize the soloist in the mix, but also reproduce the subtle changes in volume on each note that add life to the music, the speed and pressure of the violin bow, etc. Dynamics on the Hekili are excellent.


Timbre:
I struggled to come to a conclusion about timbre for the Hekili. On the one hand, timbre is not completely natural. But on the other, as a self-professed timbre-head, this doesn't offend me at all. Hekili is an expansive sounding IEM, and one side effect is that the timbre can sometimes sound a bit like things are reverb-ey (this also makes this a phenomenal set for electronic and ambient music). That said, I do like it quite a bit despite it not being completely natural.






Conclusion:​


The Audio Hekili lives up to its namesake. Thunderous and passionate, the Hekili is an engaging IEM that is bound to captivate anyone who listens to it with its visceral and yet controlled bass punch and expansive stage, musicality, and technical ability. At $300, it's not cheap, but the quality of sound that it delivers is much higher than the price would suggest. The Hekili truly is a hidden gem. Being a DIY IEM from a freelance engineer, perhaps there wasn't a big marketing budget for it, if at all, or maybe it was just overlooked due to the wave of Harman or neutral-with-bass-boost IEM that seemed to pick up steam right around the time of its release. But only having discovered this IEM a year and a half after its release, I find the Hekili to be one of the most compelling choices at $300 and probably even up to the $500-700 range. There is much to be said about taking the path less travelled by and it making all the difference. I'm glad I decided to give a chance to an IEM that wasn't the flavor of the month and can safely say it's definitely going to be a permanent fixture in my collection!

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Solid build quality and fantastic fit and comfort
Great Cable – best of the SA6 models (IMO)!
Smooth and laid-back listen with excellent technicalities
Treble is airy and sparkly and quite well extended
Bass extends deep and with Atmospheric Mode On adds nice body to the sound. Bass is an improvement over the previous models and is very textured
Stage is expansive
Cons: Lacks a bit of upper-mids/lower-treble
Not an incredibly natural/organic timbre/tonality

sa6mk2.jpg

Disclaimer:

I purchased this unit from Hifigo with a discount in exchange for my honest review. These thoughts are my own! Come read the rest of my reviews at www.audionotions.com!


WHO THIS UNIT IS FOR:​

  • Those looking for a very smooth and laid-back listen
  • Fans of the SA6 looking for an upgrade and who weren’t able to buy the Ultra.
  • Those looking for a set with fantastic techs
  • Those who are looking for an expansive stage and presentation
  • Those looking for one of the best all-rounders available!



WHO THIS UNIT ISN’T FOR​

  • Timbre-heads
  • Those who prefer more forward vocals
  • Those who prefer a more intimate stage
  • Those looking for a more natural/organic listen



Introduction​

As a fan of the previous two SA6 models, I was eager to get my hands on the MK2 when it was announced. The original SA6 has been a favorite in the audiophile community for what seems like ages and the Ultra took the world by storm late last year, competing with much more expensive IEMs for a fraction of the price – only being hindered by the limited nature of the release, with only 300 units available world wide. In the month since the announcement of the MK2, there has been much speculation (and in some cases drama). Is the MK2 basically an Ultra released for the masses? Will it be an improvement over the Ultra? I just had to find out for myself!




Build, Fit, Accessories​

It will come to no surprise to those familiar with the original SA6 and SA6 Ultra that the build and fit of the MK2 is excellent. Included in the small box is a wide assortment of ear tips and unlike some other companies that don’t include any usable tips, some of the tips included in with the MK2 are actually among my favorites.

The cable included is the Hulk Pro Mini, a modular termination cable using robust Dunu’s Q-Lock system. Of the cables included with all of the SA6 models, this one is probably my favorite. Yes, it is technically the cheapest cable of the bunch, but it’s significantly less stiff and heavy, which makes it much more usable and comfortable.

The SA6 and Ultra shared the same shell, an incredibly well built, semi-custom molded resin shell that quite frankly was among the best fitting IEM shells I’ve tried. When it was revealed that the MK2 would use a newly designed and larger shell, I was skeptical and worried it might be a step back from the fit of the previous two models. Thankfully my fears were unfounded and the fit of the MK2 is actually an improvement and I’d venture to say it is probably the best fitting IEM I’ve tried to date! Of course, as with all things related fit, your mileage my vary. I did have my wife try these and she was able to fit these with no issues with her much smaller ears.

Also, for those of you who see a full-BA set and run for the hills because of vacuum and pressure build issues – fret not! These use a vented woofer which relieves pressure and prevents the IEMs from sealing too aggressively!

As with previous SA6 models, there is a randomized aspect to the faceplates and each unit will be unique! I think it is a handsome looking IEM, with a natural piece of hardwood embedded in resin!




Overall Sound​

In a nutshell the MK2 is a very laid back listen. Following in the footsteps of the previous models, the tuning on the SA6 MK2 is a flavor of neutral with a U-shaped frequency response – the bass and treble regions are well extended and elevated. When done right, this generally lends to a very clean and uncolored listen. The interesting thing about the MK2, and to a lesser extent the SA6 and Ultra, is that the upper-mid/lower-treble regions are dialed down. This is the region that I like to think of as the shout region. On the MK2, this tuning leans even further into the laid-back aspect of the previous models.

As a result, the MK2 is a very relaxed listen while still maintaining quite a bit of articulation and an excellent amount of air and sparkle.

The “Atmospheric Immersion” switch is basically a bass-boost switch. When turned off, you get a similar bass tuning to the Ultra. Turned on, the MK2 gains a nice heft and body to the sound.




Bass​

Despite being a full balanced armature set, and contrary to the common belief that BA bass is bad compared to DD, the bass on the MK2 is quite fantastic. One of the things I wished the previous models had was just a touch more bass emphasis, and Dunu delivered! The bass has is a good amount of impact and tactility as well – there is a nice physicality to the bass. With the Atmospheric Switch turned on, it rumbles, slams, and punches on demand, while still being very well textured, delivering tons of detail.




Mids​

As with the previous models, mids are where folks will either love or dislike this tuning. The tuning of the SA6 models have been vaguely the tuning of some flagship/TOTL level IEMs like the Anole VX and to a certain extent the 64Audio U12T with tamer pinna gains and dialed down upper-mids/lower treble. For the OG SA6, this was part of the magic of the IEM, making it a smooth and relaxed set while still maintaining clarity through the mids. The Ultra model took that a half step further, taming that area slightly but still tastefully, and the MK2 takes yet another half step (perhaps a bit too much). Many will absolutely love this, but as a self-professed timbre-head and someone who prefers a natural/realistic presentation, this unfortunately might have taken it slightly too far for my tastes. The toned down upper-mids and lower-treble mean that certain instruments that are quite prominent in a lot of my library (classical, jazz, folk, etc) take a presence hit. For example, violins which are generally emphasized in orchestral performances can lose a bit of presence and get lost in the mix. The same applies to female vocals. This is not to say that they lack separation, however. Each individual instrument and voice is still fairly well separated, however, the presentation isn’t as I’d expect. It’s almost as if all instruments and voices are equally distant, rather than vocals and some instruments being more forward. Nonetheless, mids are crystal clear with a good amount of detail pickup and resolution.




Treble​

Upper treble performance and extension is excellent – there is plenty of sparkle and air. The MK2 is a very articulate IEM that will likely satisfy most people. At the same time, there is no harshness or sibilance to be heard. Transients are crisp and the notes are clear, which helps improve instrument separation. Cymbal hits, for example, sound realistic and not overly harsh or emphasized.

My nitpick here is that lower-treble is a little bit tame for my tastes for the same reasons as previously mentioned regarding the upper-mids. However, I can see why this tuning might make sense – it prevents shoutiness and harshness and adds to the laid-back character of this IEM.




Technicalities​

Details and Resolution: The MK2 is quite a detailed set and the level of resolution competes well with sets costing much more – definitely above average for the price point and there are some kilobucks that would pale in comparison.

Soundstage and Imaging: Arguably the most impressive aspect of the MK2 is the very large stage, it’s almost expansive. Imaging is decent as well – pretty much on par or slightly above average for the price. The interesting about the image is that it is out of head. You can tell the location of the instruments fairly easily, however, it is a flatter image that if I am to nitpick, lacks a slight bit of depth and layering.

Dynamics: Sets with good dynamics can almost seemingly come to life, portraying nuances in volume differences more clearly, while sets with poor dynamics can sound flat and lifeless to me. The MK2 is a fairly dynamic set and I’d argue that they are above average for the price range. Two things that I find impact how dynamic a transducer sounds to my ear are transients and decay. Transients being the initial attack on the sound – the burst of energy that adds a bit of crispness to the start of notes. Decay being what follows that initial attack, specifically how quickly or slowly the sound trails and returns to the base level. Both of these are things the MK2 does exceptionally well, decay specifically.

Timbre: Timbre is not the strongest point of the SA6 MK2. The timbre of certain instruments and vocal ranges can sound a little unnatural – almost like there is a slight hollowness and lack of presence for those instruments. Most people will not take issue to this, however, so please take this with a grain of salt. Also, this can be fixed very easily with EQ to slightly bump up the upper-mids and lower-treble.




Conclusion​

Dunu has once again shown us why the SA6 has been a perennial favorite in this hobby. With the smooth and laid-back tuning, it’s so easy to just pop these in my ears and just listen to the music. But at the same time, it is also quite capable of a more analytical listen, with above average technical performance. A lot of folks were wondering whether the MK2 would just be a non-limited version of the Ultra or whether it would be an outright upgrade. The answer to this question lies somewhere between the two. There are a lot of similarities between the two but also some differences. The MK2 does have more bass quantity and is a slight improvement over the Ultra in stage and resolution, but there are folks who will find the tonal balance of the Ultra to be more appealing.

Overall I do think the technical performance of the MK2 is nothing short of excellent. Compared to the Ultra, it is a step forward in techs, however, it does take a slight step back in timbre and tonal balance (this is subjective though and you may actually prefer the tonal balance of the MK2).

That said, they are similar enough where I would be hard pressed to recommend an Ultra owner go out and buy an MK2. But if you weren’t able to get your hands on the Ultra, the MK2 is an excellent choice!
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o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Hey Dr Drew, long time no see. Nice review! These SA6II are fantastic. I use them even more often than my U12T.
drewbadour
drewbadour
Hey bro! Good to see you! They are indeed great! I like them quite a bit!

Let's catch up soon!
Sharppain
Sharppain
Very precise insights and description. Bravo!

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
Why is not one talking about this set?
Pros: Very engaging and fun
Build quality is top notch
Technical performance is quite good
Cons: Can be a more intense listen for those of you looking for a relaxed listen
Included accessories are lacking but as long as the IEM is good right it shouldn't matter right?
Included cable is... a cable
Disclaimer - I bought these with my own hard-earned cash. These thoughts are my own - I promise no one has a gun to my head forcing me to write this. Also thanks to @o0genesis0o for introducing this set to me. I bought these on his recommendation!

Build - Probably among the best-built IEMs I've tried, let alone at the modest price of 79$. This is not surprising, considering they share the exact same metal shell as the $320 Fiio FA7S! That said, the included cable is nothing to write home about - it is a cable. And the accessories included? Well, let's just say, the kit is very barebones! You're paying for the IEM though and not for fancy accessories that will just end up staying in the box or getting tossed out right?

Overall Sound - I'd describe these as a meatier Harman - the upper mids through treble follow the Harman curve almost exactly, but the JD7 has a good amount of midbass whereas Harman tuning would generally suck out the midbass. This makes for an incredibly fun listen - it is slightly-V in that the low and high ends are elevated but not so much that the mids suffer.

Bass - Oodles and oodles of slammy, punchy, tight bass. Quantity is ample, and quality is definitely there. I tested these along side Hexa and these really made Hexa's bass sound slow and poor quality. These will rumble when called for and have a good amount of impact. Basslets be wary though, there is a good amount of bass on this set!

Mids - Nice noteweight here, owing to the ample amount of midbass. Male vocals have a nice body and presence. Upper mids are slightly forward, so it does well with female vocals as well. Fairly good clarity here, certainly above average for the price range.

Treble - Smooth, with good air and sparkle. These are energetic IEMs. No offensive peaks or sibilance here, but they do lean bright - those of you who prefer to listen in the dark might need to be wary. I think the bass response balances out the treble a bit, so the brightness is kept in check more than the typical Harman-tuned IEM.

Techs - Above average detail retrieval and competitive even compared to IEMs like the Kato. The soundstage is wide, and the imaging is pretty good as well! Considering the energetic nature of this IEM, timbre is still good!

Closing thoughts - I'm surprised by how little attention this IEM has gotten. Fiio must not be spending many marketing dollars on this one, but they should! I bought these along with the Hexa, and while Hexa was getting all the hype at the time, I honestly thought the JD7 was the more interesting choice and ended up returning the Hexa. All in all, the Fiio JD7 is an engaging IEM that I highly recommend anyone looking for sub $100 take a serious look at - especially if you're tired of everything following the same curve these days. This is a fun listen with good technical chops that won't break the bank!

About me -
I don't think I have particularly good ears, but I do enjoy listening to music and trying new gear. I listen to a very wide range of music genres (folk, indie, EDM, jazz, blues, punk, classic rock, classical, trip hop, pop, kpop, mandopop, ballads, metal, rock, you name it, I listen to it) and thus prefer gear that can render a wide variety of music well. I prefer a balanced/neutral signature (not to be confused with boring). Gear that leans heavily into one certain aspect doesn't make too much sense to me. This also means that any gear with noticeable deficiencies or dips that affect certain vocal ranges or instruments doesn't really appeal to me. Keep in mind, these thoughts are mine alone. Our preferences may not align and I respect that, you should too.
Ranking lists of the things I have tried in recent memory with shorter form descriptions can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet...WS7nQ6nJ19ghZt3c9U0OnnOrs/edit#gid=2131069758
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Ceeluh7
Ceeluh7
@o0genesis0o that is hilarious and probably correct... Lol. I honestly think it competes quite easily against some of Fiio's more expensive sets. I was listening last night to them and it is very hard to find a set with as much natural dynamism and natural tonal color and all for under $100. Fiio or Jade Audio absolutely knocked this set out of the park and nobody is talking about it at all. When I reviewed that set I don't think anyone else has reviewed it yet, or maybe one other, can't remember. However, I got almost no likes, comments or interaction over it and it boggled my mind. It still is crazy! One of the best sets under $100 and one of the best single DD's under $150 and not a soul really care about t it.. Lol
G
gr4phon
Cool review! I'll give these beautiful IEMs a try, I'm really looking forward to them. I wonder how they dance on the Quidelix 5K balanced output
MASA242
MASA242
Got them today, thank you for the review. And you‘re absolutely right, these are amazing for the money. I got some more expensive IEMs but these nailed it soundwise. Every music genre is so engaging. I don‘t understand these are completely under the radar.

drewbadour

100+ Head-Fier
The True Empress Planar
Pros: - Great timbre for a planar
- Great detail retrieval
- Solid build quality
- Cable is legit!
Cons: - Shell is large and bulbous - they fit well for me, but for those with average to smaller conchas, they might not be a great fit.
- Fingerprint magnet - the smooth finish on the shells catches fingerprints and smudges really easily, and they can get oily and slippery over use.
- The combination of the above 2 cons means the shells can gradually slip out over time and you will have to readjust them.
Disclaimer - I bought these with my own hard-earned cash. These thoughts are my own - I promise no one has a gun to my head forcing me to write this.

Build - Slick black, fully metal shells. They feel like a solid improvement over the original Wu Zetian, which had a plastic shell fitted with a metal faceplate. The Heyday feels markedly more premium, whereas the original felt cheap and had sharp edges where the metal faceplate met the plastic shells. Even the driver used is different as far as I know!

Sound - When one thinks of planar IEMs, chances are planar timbre might be the first thing to come to mind. Most planar IEMs I've tried to date have a strange, artificial timbre and incisiveness that doesn't sound quite natural. You get all the details, but the music sounds slightly off. This means that planars are a great choice for detail heads on a budget, but for those who prefer something that sounds more realistic and natural, it has been wise to stick to IEMs with driver configs that use some combination of DDs and BAs. I can say that this is not the case with Heyday! If you told me this was a single DD, I likely would have believed you!

Bass - Bass on the Heyday is textured and extends deep. It also outperforms some of your more run-of-the-mill DDs in impact, which is quite surprising! It rumbles down low in the subbass region and punches in the midbass region. Bass texture is quite good, and while the decay is quicker, it still feels pretty meaty and substantial. Very satisfying and perhaps only missing that last leg of physicality that a very good DD implementation can have.

Mids - Heyday has a decent amount of midbass, contributing to a fairly decent note weight that is slightly leaner but not thin. This helps the mids sound more substantial and meaty compared to the S12 where the mids take a clear backseat. Planars (the S12 included) can sometimes have a thin nasally sound to the mids. I'm happy to say that this is not the case with the Heyday. Mids here are pleasant and clear!

Treble - Smooth and well extended. Fairly airy and sparkly without being too much. No offensive peaks or sibilance here - just a pleasant listening experience. Snares and cymbals have a nice timbre to them without being too accentuated.

Techs - Soundstage is fairly average for an IEM; it's neither large nor claustrophobic - just don't expect an expansive sound. Imaging performance is decent, as is separation. Detail pick-up is very good - not as in-your-face resolving as some planars can be, but the tradeoff here is much-improved timbre over other planars. I'm a card-carrying member of the tonality-over-tech club, and if something sounds tonally off to me, I don't quite care as much for how technical it is. Good transients. Fairly dynamic. Did I mention that the timbre on the Heyday is quite good?

Closing thoughts - The Tangzu Wu Zetian Heyday Edition is very well-tuned, has great technical chops, and does very little wrong. At the time of this writing, I think this is the best planar available and is among the best IEM choices (if not the best choice) under $500 USD. If you've been waiting for someone to solve the age-old problem of tuning a planar well, look no further - that day has come! Build quality is top-notch, timbre is surprisingly good for a planar IEM. A marked improvement over the original Wu Zetian. In light of the recent announcement that the OG Wu will be discontinued, I honestly believe there was a missed opportunity to name this something else to prevent cannibalization of sales - build quality, sound quality are all greatly improved over the original - they don't even share the same driver! If you are considering spending $200, or even up to $300 on an IEM, look no further!

About me -
I don't think I have particularly good ears, but I do enjoy listening to music and trying new gear. I listen to a very wide range of music genres (folk, indie, EDM, jazz, blues, punk, classic rock, classical, trip hop, pop, kpop, mandopop, ballads, metal, rock, you name it, I listen to it) and thus prefer gear that can render a wide variety of music well. I prefer a balanced/neutral signature (not to be confused with boring). Gear that leans heavily into one certain aspect doesn't make too much sense to me. This also means that any gear with noticeable deficiencies or dips that affect certain vocal ranges or instruments doesn't really appeal to me. Keep in mind, these thoughts are mine alone. Our preferences may not align and I respect that, you should too.
Ranking lists of the things I have tried in recent memory with shorter form descriptions can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet...WS7nQ6nJ19ghZt3c9U0OnnOrs/edit#gid=2131069758
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