Reviews by FortisFlyer75


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Well tuned non fatiguing resolving balanced range sounding IEM, pairs with variety of different sound sig sources. very efficient to drive, comfortable, full-range supplied accessories. free custom artwork.
Cons: On sound, could be bigger soundstage and another notch up on the tightness of bass control.
Presentation & packaging design and non protective storage pouch.
universal price could be a bit lower?
Lark LSX – Jan 2019

10 precision-tuned balanced armature drivers:
3x lows
4x mid-range
2x highs
1x tweeter
4-way passive crossover

AVX Oxicap Capacitors
Vishay Resistors
Impedance: 19-20Ω
Sensitivity: 109-110 dB
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20 kHZ

6N OCC 24awg *4 6N 24awg *4 280*0.06mm conductors / TPU Shielding

Equipment tested with:-


Sony WM1A

Onkyo DP-S1

A&k A&Norma AR15


Vorzuge Pure II+ portable amp

Desktop rigs:

Pioneer U-05 desktop balanced amp/ dac

Sennheiser DVD800 desktop balanced amp/ dac

Music on the LSX playlist for this review;

High Res:

Diana Krall – Stop This world DSD 2.8

Elton John – Talking old soldiers DSD 2.8

John Coltrane – Epistrophy DSD 2.8

Queen – Get down, make love DSD 2.8

Gregory Porter – Musical Genocide 96/24 Flac

Muse – Pressure 96/24 Flac

The new Appalachians – Wayfaring stranger 96/24 Flac

Aerosmith – Livin’ on the edge Flac 96/24

Flac 16 bit (lowest compression setting)

The North Borders – Sapphire

Friedemann - Percussive Pyromania

Radio Head – 15 step

Yello – Pacific AM

Kaleo – Glass house

LP – Suspicion

The Staves – Teeth White

Goldfrapp - Systemagic

John Williams – The Jedi steps & Finale from Force Awakens OST

Dick Hyman & Ruby Braff – When it’s sleepy time down south

Ronnie Earl – Marie – WAV file

Imelda May – Game changer - WAV file


Firstly I would like to thank Lark Studios for organising this tour in conjunction with Audio Concierge for the opportunity to be able to listen to these in the comfort of my own living room for ten days to put them through their paces and let me give my impressions on the Lark Studio LSX Universal IEM.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a review on Head-fi as it has been a busy year for me in general but when this opportunity arose and worked out I would be off over the Christmas period to give them the time they deserved to listen to them in depth I thought why not?

I’ll be honest in saying I had not heard of Lark IEM’s until this came about so was going to be an unknown quantity to myself as usually in the past most of the items I would review I already had an interest or curiosity about that said item in what it sounded like as had already known about the product but yet the Lark was an unknown to me or what specie of in sound these IEMS actually were.

I’ll be honest from the outset and say I have tried a few IEMs in the past year or so as I have been looking for a potential replacement flagship for my JH16’s and I know I can’t quite afford the mouth-watering but as equally stunning sound of the JH Layla’s or the stunning Obravo £3K+ range to date.
I had heard plenty of others ranging from the £1-3K mark and I am finding as good as many of them sound they are just missing that X factor in the sound for me or sounding a bit too similar to each other at times and I am referring to the IEMs that are in the realms of a 65-75 inch 4K OLED panel!

I currently am using now as my main go to IEM the Vibro Labs Maya which went largely under the radar to a degree which was tuned by Luke Pighetti who sadly is not in this game anymore which just shows how competitive this market is now days and is more busy than ever the domain of IEMs whether Universal or custom fit.

The Maya is a quad BA driver Maya that strikes the cord in the signature that I fell in love with when I reviewed them a couple of years ago and ended up buying a set which cost $599 when they was out and for me has given a lot of good IEMS up to the £1K mark a run for their money so I was finding it hard to find something to takes it’s mantle so to speak in my eyes especially in the mids with the Mayas deft but exquisite mid detail retrieval despite the Maya fit been one of the more awkward I have ever encountered in a universal IEM using the bigger 600 comply bore tip size really lets it down and wished now I had it turned into custom when I had the chance by Luke.

So for me at the moment it has been about finding a flagship IEM that could replace my beloved Maya sig whilst improving on it technically without costing the astronomical amounts flagships have moved to as their ceiling price last few years whilst currently I am on a more austerity budget in this hobby to what I used to be whilst my good wife starts up a new business from scratch after redundancy so for now I cannot think of stretching to the “super £2.5+ iems” of this world for now.

Build & design:

The pair I had for review was as can be seen in photos is a black looking face plate finish with the LS branding on one plate and the Lark bird logo on the other side with a smoke transparent shell so was not able to see that well at any of the driver workings which is a shame yet from what I could see it had a good finish to the casing and the supplied standard copper cable is very pliable and non-microphonic with a standard straight 3.5SE plug and 2 pin fit for the earphone end. One of the unique selling points that will be tempting is Lark do not charge for artwork on their iems.

Size and fitment:

The shell on this universal LSX on first inspection thought they looked maybe a bit big and maybe cumbersome considering it has to house 10 drivers somehow into each ear and bearing in mind everyone’s ears are different it will always be your mileage will vary depending on your ear shape.

I happen to have small ears, so I was told by my Audiologist when I had my first ever ear impressions done for my JH16’s back in the day but the Larks actually fitted in my ears quite well without sticking out or feeling awkward to fit in and most importantly felt comfortable over long listening sessions staying anchored in pretty well even though it doesn’t feel like it takes much for them to just slot in the ear compared to some other IEMs which can be more time consuming to twist and fit in just in the magic perfect place.

Supplied accessories;

The Larks come packaged in a hard sturdy presentation box with the LSX IEMS and the accessories laid out in the laser cut foam cut out sections.

The LSX comes bundled a plenty with accessories:

Comply/ Spin fit tip pack of multiple sizes and both foam and silicone tips.

Leather carry pouch/ bag

6.5mm adaptor

Plane attenuator adaptor

Cable strap

Amp/ dap band (they refer to it as a sports bracelet?)

Cleaning brush with ear hooks

Lark Studios embossed Cleaning cloth

VIP owner’s card

Only thing for me here which does gripe at me a bit and couldn’t ignore in the end… as sturdy as a job it is doing is the packaging, storage box design and storage pouch supplied with the presentation case red foam cut out for everything it seems out of place, almost dated in design and more like an old jewellery box which I know some far eastern companies in the past have been a bit eccentric with their style and design which is very reminiscent to this Lark offering here also when it comes to the storage box & travel storage pouch.

For example the supplied drawstring pouch is not a suitable for on the go storage solution to protect a $1700 IEM and feels more like a token gesture as I do wonder how many people will use this pouch for its intended purpose?.

For me the overall design and packaging does not reflect the quality of the IEMs themselves and now been familiar with the Lark build and sound quality think a package that encompassed the design styling of say the way Oppo, Meze or RHA or even Flare manage with their design on mid entry products and packaging of their products goes a long way to helping the perception and over all eye to detail of a company’s overall cohesion of a product from conception to finished article which would be icing on the cake if they could give the overall product a more classy and sophisticated modern approach with a travel storage solution that has purpose to protect the said IEM’s when we are still talking above $1600 for a flagship IEM.

I know the company is starting in its formative years as a new company on the block and hopefully in time they will be able to evolve the level of design and imagination on the packaging and travel case storage ideas as the company grows bigger with popularity and sales.


Not knowing at all what Lark’s values were on the sonic side in terms of sound signature I must admit I had some trepidation on what the tuning of the LSX was going to be like as to start with I have sensitivity with treble with overly bright/ harsh IEMs on the top end plus I am not a fan of having the mids sucked out so the treble and bass dominates too much the overall zen balance of an IEM.

In the first minute of putting the LSX in my ears they immediately aligned any fears I had of getting an aggressively harsh over bright or sibilant treble or sucked out mid-range tuned IEM. My first actual worry if any from my first brief encounters on listening with the LSX actually; was the bass going to be too dominating over the rest of the sound spectrum?... Scroll down to bass header for that more elaborated answer.

It becomes quite evident very quickly with these IEMS they are going to be just as easy to listen to as they are with the very efficient 20ohms it takes to drive these 10 driver IEMS.

The LSX sound is one of gliding smooth velvet with rich deep resolving bass lines, non-offending extending highs and a minefield of details in the mids to die for with good level of tonality across the board.

The Larks never sound like they are struggling to deliver the music to you, it has an uncanny knack of making it all seem free flowing organic analogue feel to the sound the LSX offers which makes these IEMS quite easy to find good synergy with other equipment regardless of their signature which in turn also makes these a better IEM for all those poor recordings out there that are over harsh due to the LSX signature. Although a poor recording will still be obvious to hear the LSX has a forgiving nature with the smoothness and finesse in the manner the treble handled by Larks tuning makes any harsh or hard recording sound more bearable than normal but it still won’t hide the shortcomings of a poorly mastered recording in general.

Treble 3 BA Drivers; (2 BA drivers & 1 x Super tweeter BA driver)

Some treble tuning even on a flagship IEM can sometimes be almost trying too hard in been over resolving and become detached from the rest of the music like a separate entity that distracts your mind and becomes an irritation taking away concentration on the overall balance of anything that may be happening with the all essential mids or even bass areas.

With the treble on the LSX it is delivered by two treble BA drivers and one super tweeter BA driver allowing treble notes to extend past any of our hearing thresholds yet does it with smoothness and good full bodied texture to the finer treble details

The lower and mid treble notes on the LSX manage to knit into the mid-range part of the music with good cohesion which doesn’t give that detached feeling when listening to the treble range.

Some might say it is a rolled off or rounded off to be a non-offending treble but this IEM treble still has that airiness and smoothness whilst having that shimmer and lively energy with trailing edges to symbols and hi- hats in the extension decaying well when the treble note arises above the rest of the frequencies in the mix.

This allows the treble to never be lost in the mids and the super tweeter allows the treble extension to rise above everything to the higher frequencies when the recording requires it giving that top end giving it that more feel of openness and a natural ability for the highest notes to become more prominent to hear in delivery and decay more precisely yet does this without ever wanting to sound like someone putting their nails down the blackboard due to the silky liquid smoothness of the treble tuning.

Instead the gently smooth sweet sounding treble notes blend in with the mids and bass on an even kilter making listening sessions a pleasant experience with still been able to enjoy the intensity of those higher frequencies when they happen yet because the LSX has room for instruments to breath you just naturally hear those treble notes shine through the overall mix of the mids instead of you having to concentrate on finding those notes making it more naturally relaxing sounding and not that tuned type of flagship IEM that is trying to scream look at me I am your analytical high detailed thinned out treble that wants to use razor blades in your ears to make it’s point.

Mids; (4 x BA drivers)

The Lark's mids are definitely the engine house of these LSX with its four drivers syncing very well with a vast amount of detail with a full bodied rich dynamic versatile mids which you would think is a given for a flagship IEM that has four drivers delivering the core information yet it does it with a flexibility and subtlety and clarity you hear the fine timbres of instruments are projected with clarity and deft vibrancy and energy to each note attack.

Coupled with a good noise floor on the LSX which these very efficient IEMs never showed any hiss with the equipment I tried it with is what helps it give it still enough room to breathe in the space it has to work in and keep good clarity with a soundstage that is maybe not the largest I have heard on an IEM but it is still competent enough at this level as I think due to the LSX getting the balance so right in many other areas this never becomes a factor unless of course you are a diehard Sennheiser HD800 fan who craves that dizzying vast soundstage to show of the imaging in an IEM also.

The LSX’s characteristic is actually a fairly intimate closer feeling sound which makes you feel very close to the band performing so much so it feels like at times you are in there with them pretty much instead of the performance in front of you.

Some may prefer it as if you was sitting further back in an auditorium feel or the soundstage was huge but I personally love this type of delivery in the mid-section and although it is an intimate feel the LSX still somehow manages to feel spacious enough to have room around the notes to breath due to the way the depth and headroom Is dialled in on the LSX.

The Lark IEMS even though as mentioned above with the close intimate sound has a very accomplished imaging which is accurately pin point and fast which was one of the straits of this IEM that impressed me a lot which also helps with this IEM feel like they still have a good sense of air between each note due to the accuracy in timing with the imaging.

Timbre is one of the corner stones that makes this IEM shine with the ability to do subtle micro detail with trailing edges on Violins or acoustic guitars you could hear those small changes in the string vibrations of the note decaying with ease due to both that closeness to the music I mentioned earlier.

The perfect timing with the start- stopping of notes making string frets really resonate with the note changes with any type of guitar on the LSX with help of the super tweeter kick in with its liquidity on the higher string notes which making these LSX so non fatiguing to listen to.

Vocals have good tonality, clarity and placement in the soundstage with the low floor noise the vocals stand out without ever been overbearing or shouty.

I would normally point out which vocals in particular an IEM shines with and doesn’t yet any vocalist sounds full bodied and powerful without spiking or booming whilst been able to showcase the versatility of been supple finer details with delicate vocals to the aggressive upper mid-range & treble edge of grainy rock vocals styles just adds to the fluidity of the mid-range naturalness in tonality coming through.

Like the overall soundstage vocals feels fairly intimate and I must admit I am one who prefers the feeling like I am front row with Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks, Gregory Porter, Adrea Bocelli…list goes on, yet given the cosiness with vocals on the Lark’s they always seem to have plenty of separation and headroom to work in and breath on their own in the mids as these IEMs just make you want to listen for another hour at a time with the LSX portraying the accurate vocal qualities tonally makes them very rewarding in this section.

Drums had the same ability as strings do with tonality to trans-fixate on the LSX with the rendering of each bass note impact been played as what it manages to pull off in the mid bass section here is how well the low mids are seamlessly in sync with the upper and sub bass section that there is no disconnect allowing for a more natural decay of instruments so with drums there is no hump or in the lower or higher mid bass frequencies here which I have known to ruin a good overall IEM that I owned in the past.

Considering the lush, smooth and warmer side of the LSX the piano also manages not to be coloured at all in tonality allowing most genres of music to stand out when a real piano is used with the good air and sparkle towards the top end of the key notes with flat notes having good resonance with subtle harmonic decay of strings depicting whether a key is been stroked softly comes through clearly or if a key is hit hard delivers good impact to the mid bass.

Sharp notes loudness rise to great effect in the upper mids helping tracks like fast blues piano playing come to life with good zest and dynamics.

Because of the impeccable timing and depth that the Larks possess it makes hearing the resonance and vibration in notes have feel as well as sound even on BA drivers it all adds to piano sounds having a soul on the LSX and not just a hard sounding dull note played each time.

The LSX is far from not trying to be the most analytical Flagship IEM on the planet and does not try anything other than a midrange that has a good focus on a smooth liquid detailed harmonics with mid bass notes allows for a natural layering of continuous decay of the note through to the lower bass floor.

Even though this IEM has a moderate staggered V shape the mids work flawlessly with the sub bass region does help a lot towards making this IEM have that feel of having a consistent balance in the bass response but also over-all balance to spectrum when you are listening to them as even though the LSX is not tuned flat/ neutral it has just the right balance of tonality, timbre and timing to make these sound organic analogue heaven to listen to with most genres I tried (Classical, Rock ,Dance, Pop, Metal, Jazz, Blues, acoustic, live recordings) making this quite a flexible sounding IEM.

It’s hard for me not to say the mids really are the jewel in the crown that shines on these Larks, not that this makes them any more dominant in any way to the lows or high area qualities this IEM possesses, just the mids are very accomplished because they are so harmonious with the lows and highs is what gives the LSX such a natural balanced feel to the signature when listening to them.

Bass (3 x BA drivers)

Bass will always be a decisive factor in choosing an IEM just in terms of the quantity of bass we each personally prefer from a light weight sub bass or a heavy sub bass on the bottom end and there will always be those that want a more studio monitor neutral flat response or those who want Rob D’s Clubbed to Death bass hit you as hard as been surrounded by 400 watt speakers in a night club.

Yet with the three drivers on bass duties the LSX provides a smooth bass transition through the range with a good tight powerfully weighted kick in the lower mid bass which decays well through the lower frequency range with good control and depth without ever losing control. The LSX may not be the tightest ever bass around out there but it has enough grip and control that a bass hit never sounding bloated or soft with any songs I heard.

The LSX is on the right side of a rich deep dynamic bass without been over rich which I think hits the right balance of having enough bass which would reflect how low you would realistically hear a drum kick go in a live environment for example without been over accentuated falsely. This falls between both true bass heads or neutral flat bass response perfectionists and those who like a bit of added bass that won’t over running & ruining rest of the sound spectrum.

The devil is in the detail as well as the quantity of the bass and from the mids to the lows in a bass note is helped by the clear transients which help differentiate the types of bass notes been played. The lowest bass notes attack and impact it gives feels upfront with the rest of the music yet the reverb and decay of the bass note falling away into that black background can still be visceral in feel below 60hz which is always welcome in a BA driver layering it more behind upper bass note impacts giving the bass a healthy field of depth from the mid to low bass region which is great for rock, blues or jazz music especially.

Somehow it seems Lark Studios have paid as much attention as everything else on this IEM to getting just the right balance for it to blend in to the mix without been overbearing into the mids and stops before becoming too heavy or over bloated with songs.

In all a very good high quality tuned bass that suits any genre well due to its well-controlled tuning and smooth consistent manner that can still have good impact in the right places to give it slam when needed yet maintain subtleness when needed with the detail rendering through the fine timbre showcased on these Lark IEM’s.

Comparisons with the equipment used;

I found no matter what source or set up I tried during my time with the LSX it shone and performed to a high standard and had good scalability when going from say a DAP to a dedicated Headphone amp, it was more just a question which one did it shine with the most & least?....

With the Sony WM1A Walkman the LSX soundstage was made to feel more spatial whilst the Sony’s now more balanced airy detailed mids since a major update last year really shows off the Lark’s resolving mid-range ability with clarity and the now more linear tighter bass on the Sony gives a synergy that makes them an ideal pairing with the LSX’s.

It was a similar story with the Onkyo DP-S1 just the SX1 sounded a bit more neutral and brighter in the upper mids with a more attacking emphasis on the mid bass to the Sony whilst still sounding balanced as the DP-S1 more direct lively approach mirrored the warmer smooth nature of the Lark’s signature to great effect. Vocals really stood out with an air and height to a singers range like it had no ceiling felt like vocals on the LSX was the focused driving force that carried the Onkyo to have a good transparency and tempo.

A third different sounding dap in the newer A&K AR15 A&Norma which feels like it has gone back to the more old school smoother A&K sound compared to its predecessor the more funky sounding dynamic A&K 70 mrkii yet the LSX is still at home enough with the AR15 with the clarity of the mids on both the AR15 & Larks been able to capture the subtle details and reveals a good openness with the top end having a noticeable sparkle yet a certain amount of the natural smoothness the A&K provides without both been over bearing in warmth or richness.

I found with all three daps I tried the LSX they all paired well despite all been different sounding daps albeit they seem to step up in warmth with the Onkyo been more dynamic/ bright, the Sony been richer with still a moderate amount of warmth since the f/w update in 2018 and the A&K has warmth with smoothness.

If it was the Sony before it had the major fw update taking it from super warm and rich with it's boomier sub bass I highly wonder if it would have been too much together with the LSX’s but with the new fw update been more refined, linear and airy than previously with this and the Onkyo’s sig make for an equally as good yet different pairing with the LSX and the AR15 although sounding enjoyable enough they were just missing the bit of life & dynamics missing with the Sony & Onkyo players brought to the LSX with the right balance to counteract the smooth richness the Lark’s have to bring the best of both worlds together.

With amps/ dacs:

Moving on from daps running the LSX through a Pioneer U-05 Dac headphone amp and a Sennheiser HDVD800 Dac headphone amp showed even though the Larks are a very efficient IEM they scaled up really well with a nice big desktop amp and again like the daps it was very adaptable to both the opposite scales of sound signatures the Pioneer and Senn amp/ dacs operated at.

The LSX loves the extra currents on tap of these desktop amps yet managed to still sound quite on the noise floor on both amps which just helped the LSX feel like it had more depth & headroom to play with than it did on the daps which was nothing to complain about to start with but again was noticeable if for example I added the very underrated high quality Vorzuge Pure portable amp to the daps via line out just goes to show what extra you can still get out of these tiny micro drivers with good high quality amping.

The only down side I could find from a signature source with the LSX if the source bass was a bit softer or warmer with the likes of the Senn amp or a Chord Mojo the LSX would still enjoyable enough to listen with but was evidently noticeable when I then paired with a more tighter linear controlled source like the Pioneer U-05 or Vorzuge Pure amps that add that extra tightness controlled attack and neutrality with more headroom and airiness or brightness that counteracts the Larks more lush approach have that same effect the Onkyo or Sony daps did paired with the LSX.

The Chord Mojo pair’s fine with the LSX but the warmth of and the lushness of bot the Mojo & LSX might be a bit too much for some looking to strike that balance of the LSX smooth lush side but not overdo it. But if I was to pair the Vorzuge Pure with the Mojo the story changes on the cleaner signal and power tightens it all up with added weight and extension giving a less softer fuzzy lush approach to the LSX’s so they shine at just the right balance without sounding too soft and dark.

With the Pioneer U-05 coming from the same stable it is very much same type of signature to the Onkyo DP-S1 DAP but with a bigger better amplifier and running with a XLR balanced really gave the LSX a more expansive projection with and headroom scaled it up another level on the smile-o-meter with the LSX.

The last piece of equipment I had to try the Larks with was the Mojos older and now newer brother in the Hugo2 which before plugging It in I knew how much improved the H2 is to the original Hugo making it more versatile, further controlled and nimble than ever with anything that now gets hooked up with it due to its vastly improved voltage section, yet until you hear it you still do not know how these things will inevitably might pair up.

Despite knowing how good both the H2 and the Lark’s are it was a bit like hitting the jackpot as the analogue wizardry of the Hugo 2 analogue sounding dac and balance between aggressive and passive aggressive it can walk draws out the full tonality, dynamics, depth and detail these Larks have to offer and combines the power of the amp to deliver plenty of body and resolution to every note played (especially noticed with vocals here) yet somehow find even more calm and space for the music to be delivered to the LSX drivers made it an all-round performer to the highest standards with Hugo2 driving the LSX.

On the cable front the only thing left for me to try which would of been nice to compare which was unfortunately not available was the PW audio Saladin cable that Lark offer as an upgrade cable to see how much better the LSX could sound as the supplied universal cable only had a 3.5se plug thus not been able to try it in balanced mode in theory.

Alas I have a pure Silver custom made cable (to my spec) by a good fellow head-fier LEDZEP who only uses good quality silver solder on the connections and makes it to military spec literally and can hot swap balanced connections using mini XLR connectors. Up to now I had enjoyed the LSX with the supplied copper cable enough but the Silver cable takes it to another level of clarity and control of notes whilst also adding a slightly more neutrality to the signature just enough without taking away what is already the magic of the smooth, liquid detailed LSX sound.

I was then able to find out the also added benefits of running this now either balanced 2.5, 4.4 or XLR 4 pin so the LSX running in balanced, especially with the XLR balanced finds that extra bit of space and airiness in the soundstage whilst giving more controlled higher headroom with a desktop rig.

I have found some warmer sigs like the Larks in the past benefit staying with a copper cable ( i.e. Meze 99 classics for example) more than a silver just for the natural pairing for the timbre side of things but putting a pure silver cable on (even running in SE mode) gave it a further improved performance whilst still maintaining what makes the LSX foundations to its signature sound so great.

*Foot note on above sessions with using the supplied tips:

Like some IEMs out there may prefer foam tips sonically (like my Vibro lab Mayas do) I personally found that foam tips are a bit too stifling and muddying to the mids and treble compared to silicone tips which became obvious to me in like the first hour of using them I used with the LSX which came more apparent when using with the more neutral brighter sound of the Onkyo DP-S1 or Pioneer amp showed how much information was been subdued in the upper mids and treble so I ended up using the silicone Spin Fits in the end. (again like general ear fit of IEMS with tips YMMV)


I’m not sure where to start really as from the word go these were easy to get on with and the natural fluidity and striking the right balance of warm with detail yet keep it still quite airy with space and clarity to breath enough whilst been dynamic delivering a natural timbre & tonal quality all round has made it hard to pick any holes in this IEM for those who appreciate dynamic, rich and smooth force of nature enjoying music which still is resolving due to the high amount of varying levels of detail which I have to say won me over quite quickly with me saying to the LSX’s at the end of my time with them “You had me at hello”!

Only negatives if anything on the sound would be for those ears out there that prefer your signature to be a neutral flat response only or a brighter treble sound or further still like it tuned above the 3db in the sub bass department or you prefer your IEM to have that vast big soundstage then I would say these might not be for you possibly but as one who appreciates and loves the In Ear Prophile 8’s as one of beter neutral IEMs I have heard or owning the bass hungry darker sounding JH16Pros I would say give them a try and they might surprise you how they pull you into the music with minimal effort.

That’s of course if you do not already own maybe a IEM like the gorgeous higher resolution JH Layla’s or Obravo master pieces with mind blowing natural visceral bass I have ever heard from a IEM which comes to mind, both of which are in the £2.5k + £3K + bracket to note.

The Lark LSX to me is simply a beautiful mid centric full sounding tonally organic IEM that strike a good all round balance that when paired with a livelier or brighter or less mirrored image of the LSX gets the best synergy and balance for these IEMS.

I even thought about the price which tugged at me a bit as the price to have customs is no more than the universal which then that initially sounds great from Lark considering they also charge no extra for artwork on either universal or CIEM plates that other CIEM manufacturers do but maybe the universal price could still be a bit lower to start with which I was thinking the latter and still do really as I think maybe $200 lower than the customs would be about right.

After ten glorious days with them and listening to plenty of other flagships out there ranging from £1K to £3K in the last year I would have to say I would actually still pay $1699 for the Universal as all I know is if I had the money at the moment I would of ordered a pair from Lark Studios by now which was only clarified for me by myself when I sent them back and consequently missed them greatly within the first day of not having them to hand.

Only other gripe personally as I am a bit of an overall package/ design & purpose for storage pouch, good as the LSX is on Sonic’s alone and the accessories supplied and packaging is solid enough I feel when you are getting a flagship IEM as both a customer and for the companies sakes from their POV they need a sharper eye in the design department to make them stand out a bit more from the crowd with a more modern and sophisticated presentation. The travel pouch or case needs to be more protective with purpose as also the overall packaging and brand design to reflect their high quality product in this very busy and competitive arena in the IEM business so hope it is maybe something that naturally will evolve and improve over time with the company growing with future success as they release more models.

Despite still not been completely perfect I found it hard to fault the overall sound partly as this happens to be my type of signature anyway so tried to do this without there been any signature bias, if anything I was probably harder on it as I know how I like this type of signature to sound from having my Vibro Lab Mayas at the moment (which after this I have to concede this is definitely another level up to the Mayas in most areas for the record!) but more importantly the LSX regardless of its signature managed to nail every one of the many departments like timing and harmonics in making music sound balanced, dynamic, clear and detailed in a enjoyable manner making the LSX fluidly cohesive and natural to listen to for hours at a time.

I know it feels like Lark is new on the scene to some including myself and is this maybe a case of flavour of the month some might ask as some IEMs can have a touch of that sometimes but all I know if you like what you hear from the LSX with their non-fatiguing sound these will last many moons more than just the latest flavour that passes into insignificant to the next big thing next month.

For me the LSX has the long term addiction to portraying music with detail with soul & emotion combined with deft and uncanny tonal performance could make this a cult legend over time sound wise alone as much as the Noble Kaiser 10 or another great 10 driver IEM by the same great man back in the day which have similar signatures.

To finally sign off I personally would give overall a 4.5 only for the fact I think the presentation/ design & quality with case & pouch could be better for the price as well as the universal price could still be a bit lower but for sound alone these Larks would get a 5 rating only for the fact I could not find much to fault when listening to them despite not been the widest soundstage or the tightest tuned bass out there (still above average though on bass) and that they pair easily with different sounding sources as I simply just could not get enough of listening to them in the ten days I had them.

I hope that going by this Lark Studios go from strength to strength going by this first outing from them so will be interesting to see if they can produce other models regardless of costing less or more than the LSX that they keep to the bar they have set for their house sound and principles in the LSX and produce good balanced liquid detailed IEMS that one can just enjoy the soul of the music rather than analyse with a microscope of concentration.

Good luck in this game for the future Lark studios in making more music loving IEM models…

Long - brief impressions! by a (hobbyist of music) Fortisflyer75 - Jan 2019



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very nice review! i have mojo and considering to get LSX. Which (type of) cable do you think will help to make the mids more forward ? I like listening to intimate vocals, and really like the sound sig of LSX. Or do you think pairing with Hugo 2 will be better?


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound Quality (that scales better the higher file quality used), Size, Light weight, Build & Design, Good slick easy to use UI and button implementation, HiBy remote app, Flexinility of features - USB line out, Bluetooth amp, Dac only feature. Native DSD256, Amazing value to features & sound ratio! list goes on...
Cons: Recessed treble to make this truely & evenly balanced sound across the range is only thing that lets the sound down for me.
Lack of internal storage.
Be nice if supplied screen portectors were applied at manufcaturing stage

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With already been a Shanling M1 owner which I heard the last year at Canjam London 2016 before it was released and was impressed by its size, ease of use and power for such a small unit but did ultimately buy it as a line-out source to either a Chord Mojo or the Hugo at the time and serve as more of a back-up dap to my Sony ZX1 at the time which has since died and gone to DAP heaven.

And now I have had the chance thanks to Glassmonkey once again for letting me have a chance to listen to the new M2s which builds upon the M1 in all aspects but does not cost a king’s ransom up the ladder from the M1 price to acquire the new bigger brother model here.


M2s Design and ergonomics

First impressions are this player is this is a truly compact portable DAP which is light weighing in at only 100 grams! Which fits in the hand very comfortably? Continuing in the footsteps of the previous Shanling daps with been a aesthetically and ergonomically talented eye for design and build with good logistical operations which are slick and fast and easy to use with a sound that is alone second to none let alone the build quality of this device given the still affordable end of the DAP market is a good achievement.

The M2s now sports a multi- function small metal wheel on the side that serves as both the volume and scrolling dial when in options menu and press in to select. This has good feedback although maybe a little to responsive when trying to use fast it you can end up jumping one stop past your desired selection sometimes but I prefer this to been laggy or too slow and the wheel feels solid and well built using a Japanese alps which they quote been good for 500,000 times been pressed and 10,000 rotations so will let you know how it goes on that! I am approx. 559 presses and 350 rotations so far… !

Then there is the return/ back up button which is located on the same side underneath the volume wheel making overall navigation of the UI fairly quick process with one hand. On the opposite side of the player the previous play/pause and next buttons are present which also has the micro SD card slot on the lower half which will take up to 256GB storage.

The top of the player is where they have located the on/off wake up button which just leaves the bottom of the player where you will find your 3.5 jack output and the new and becoming more common USB C type charge connection on the other side at the bottom.

The frame is made of CNC machined aluminium which gives the M2s a solid feel and which keeps it feather and with the small size you will not notice this in your pocket on your commute to work especially as you do not have to keep delving into the pocket with the new HiBy wireless link that can be controlled from an app on your phone which leads me on nicely to a feature they have just added called HiBy link.

This is where you can keep your player in your pocket/ bag and use the app on your phone to control it and view all the songs and albums on the phone as if you was using the player itself or when hooked up in a line out mode to other equipment such as speaker hi-fi for example across the room and control the player from your phone and you can even edit your playlist and add favourites from the phones as well as browse your music on the player and control playback which is a great feature to have and find on a player still this affordable.


The M2s has Bluetooth 4.0 Apt-x which can also be used as a BT amp/dac for your smartphone also. The USB 2.0 connection is the new C connection type as on the M1 and can be used as a OTG function or used as USB line out or even use the player as a DAC only which will do up to 192khz.

Yes there is really not a lot this tiny player cannot do really, but wait there is more!...

The 3 inch retina HD screen is sharp enough which it has to be really on a screen this small to get everything on the screen information wise which for those with less than either perfect vision or overdue an eye test may just struggle with some sections of font on the player having to be small.


Battery time is quoted at 9hrs from the 1800 Mah Lithium Polymer battery which I would say is not far from what I got with it just about considering I was going between flac files to Hi-Res and DSD tracks and playing around with it browsing with the screen on. Charging this back up from empty is a 3 hour wait before you can hit the road again.

The good thing about the size of this player if you are on the go you can just add a small portable battery bank using the USB connection which are similar in size and give another full charge to the player are handy things to have and still do not take up much room together if in your pocket.

The M2s has a good layout in general and navigation once memorized is a breeze to use and makes sense with it been the same UI basically as the M1 just with the button layout been different which was only frustrating in swapping back and forth between both players started to make it confusing with their respective different physical button layouts which logically I would say the M2s has improved over the M2s in where the buttons are located which means they have learnt and moved forward with small details like this.

The options within the player settings are quite comprehensive also for a player in this price tier just like the M1 is which gives the player good versatility and for those who like to tweak the EQ settings you will be glad to know it has a 10 band adjustment with various genre EQ pre-sets already available to select.

For the price in terms of build, design, and features let alone the sound quality at this price all this together you get a very strong player for the money as Shanling seem to have a knack that make players that simply work with good ergonomics and are stable in operation with the software which is not always the case from some of these far eastern manufacturers out there costing more that continuously have bugs in their software. What couple of small issues there have been in software operation Shanling have never hung around in getting an F/W update rolled out to patch it up which is a good sign these guys take it all seriously on the end users part.

Only thing is with it looking good with solid build design and operation been slick with all these features is the M2s able to compliment all that with the sound quality to do this DAP justice of all the hard work that has gone before it so far?....



Sound Impressions:

Because this is still classed as an affordable at the run of the ladder DAP there was me thinking this would be just turn up listen to it then compare to my M1 dap and howay we go but it was anything but with what IEM’s I currently have giving very different results with both daps with the same IEM which made it not so straight forward so from the word go the M2s is different to the M1 in how they both pair with the same IEMS..

So the M2s is still following in the footsteps of the M1 rather than the M5 sound meaning this player is not neutral or flatter sounding with the M5 but is more musical with a warmer overtone and more fun in the dynamics area with good depth as well as a spacious dispersion of soundstage on offer allows this player to provide a big vast sound delivery even with just IEMs hooked up.

This is a sound signature that has plenty low end presence to its signature which is quite a rounded boom type of delivery, not ta slouchy or slow muddy bass but not the tightest or taught bass you will ever hear but you will get a fair share of bass note hits on every track you listen to if your inclined to liking more than average bass on your dap player then you will be at home with this making soundtracks from films by Hans Zimmer have a good amount of sub bass rumbling on low notes that floods the soundstage with plenty of atmosphere to the soundtrack.

The M2s comes across sounding stealthy with its low floor noise making sensitive IEMS (that I had) perform without any hiss issues hiss wise which lends to this player performing with great effect with the soundstage with musical notes when delivered been easily located with fairly accurate positioning.


The mids are evenly balanced with them neither too recessed nor overly forwards but intimate enough this is the driving force which is just as well as this M2s otherwise would be at risk of the low powerful bass been too overly dominant and distracting but here the M2s mids keeps its head above water.

The only time the mids felt like they were going to struggle was with the lower mids been over powered on delicate details if the said IEM or headphone used with them was already bass happily tuned as much as the M2s was they then had the possibility to be domineering over the lower mids especially with more heavy rock orientated tracks. The mids are leaning on the warmer side yet inviting with an acceptable clarity and speed… fast enough to keep your attention from dozing off.

The amount of detail rendering to notes that the M2s provides is pretty good at this level but it is the tonality of instrument’s that help the mids to sound more analogue sounding making the M2s an easy natural listening experience with the M2s that is never overly analytical at any time yet resolving just enough it still shines with finer details to be heard in the execution of leading/ trailing notes.

Listening to Ed Sheeran Bloodline song in Flac 16/44 which provides plenty of depth and dynamics with an ever present mids section with string work and Ed’s vocals coming through to the fore of the track and the lower end bass having a reassuring solidity and body to each note played.

Or Beth Ditto similarly shows her powerful vocals come through with good definition and projection almost leaping out from the rest of the music a stage further towards where you are sitting gives an exciting feel to this album with mids always taking main stage with plenty of vibrancy and hard hitting lows deliver an overall powerful full bodied rock feel.

Although with the treble it just feels to match the upper range with Beth’s vocals anything in the upper register such as Cymbals/ Hi-hats sound veiled like it behind the rest of the music, some treble ranges on daps can sound in the mix evenly clear and can be heard but with the M2s it just seems shaded a lot of the time and would not mind if it was equally balanced in the mix but it is not the case and found treble presence not shining enough to compliment the equal amount of mids and low bass this DAP has to offer.

On the other side with more tepid music such as London Grammar “If you wait” album or Yello “Toy” album benefit from the low noise floor of the M2s where the music is about revealing the finer side of subtle passages of delivery in songs combined with the good soundstage allows musical notes to appear from pinpoint starting positions from the dark canvas into the light which really helps this DAP to shine with finesse at this price point. Again this is not the most resolving detailed dap ever but it certainly helps to hear things a lot easier with location and timing when the noise floor has a black background has the M2s has.

The above was based on using FLAC 16 bit files’ and decided to try a range of High Res anywhere from 176, 192 and DSD 128 & 256 files now the M2s goes this high with DSD.

Listening to some songs I have in both in Flac 16 bit and High Res 96 or 192 there was a difference in terms of overall tonal definition been improved with albums from Muse or Rag N Bone Man having more body to notes and improved headroom with tracks but unless the recording or mastering is not stella to start with there was not a significant massive jump in some cases over the Flac 16 bit on the M2s with some albums in High Res but when it was a good High Res recording the M2s improved in what it would give back over 16 bit Flac files.

Where the M2s did scale significantly and sounded more impressive to my surprise was with DSD files in general had a more natural detail with less colour to instruments like a layer of fuzz had been taken away lifting a veil compared to Flac tracks.. Even when compared with a large number of songs in High Res. There was also an immediate noticeability with the separation and space for instruments and vocals to breath with better control on notes played on DSD albums which means we all do not need to spend over £1k on a dap just to get DSD files to sound noticeably good.

Listening to Blue Coast all stars in 256 DSD gave an organic and natural tone to hearing it as if in the studio you can hear it is recorded a great clarity and air to the recordings in DSD with a more accurate and tighter emphasis on the low end and top end of the register to anything I had heard in Flac 16 bit or High Res up to 192 files. It was probably the first time I really can hear the treble shine and come through a lot more prominent as it should really on the M2s with DSD files.

With what few DSD files I do possess now days still I was pleasantly surprised how well the player scaled and had more room in performance to offer with DSD files which reminds me of the more transparent airy realistic tonal reproduction I hear in WAV files over FLAC which album art on DAPS was only reason to go FLAC for me in first place so if they would make a majority of all mainstream albums we all listen to in the world in DSD as standard would really benefit hearing it like that on the M2s by a Shanling mile. So in short the M2s just scales better & better with the higher files you can give it will reward you back with a higher performing playback in music.

The M2s player has a habit though of pulling you into the music with its warm dynamic and punchy sound like signature and find myself tapping along to it even if with been used to daps like I have recently with the Sony Walkman WM1A or Onkyo DP-S1 which are still another level on the whole but to still just forget those superior performance characteristics of those players and just enjoy the music is a strong testament to the M2s.


M2s with Headphones & IEM’s…

I will start with just how the M2s performs with IEM’s and a couple of headphones then will go onto the second part of how it compares with the Shanling M1 dap I own.

This may also not be quite as detailed or neutrally balanced as its flagship Shanling M5 DAP but is still a relatively detailed sound enough it made my Pioneer Master-SE1’s with over 500 hours on them acceptable to listen to for an enjoyable enough session not just in terms of powering them okay which it does with a fair amount of ease.

I was not wincing as sometimes when you put a budget player through a flagship £1K plus headphone the cohesion breaks up as the headphone cannot handle the low resolution or lack of it the player throws at the headphones but not with the M2S as I was surprised it was acceptable to have a session on the SE1’s which made me think wonders never seize as would of these been the case a few years ago with a budget player and this is just on reflection with cd quality files in WAV or FLAC files I was using. Of course the SE1 is far from been able to perform to its full ability which would naturally come with matching equipment costing a few thousand pounds but was nice to know it could sound above acceptable to be able to have an enjoyable session on the M2s with the SE-Maseter1 headphones if I wanted or needed to.


M2s with Meze classic 99’s...

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Another headphones that was a perfect match that are both in the same price universe as the M2s was listening to this with the well renowned Meze Classic 99’s which have been my surprise headphone I listen to a lot even with the Pioneer SE-Master1 in the fold now I still love listening to the Meze which is still I think is again testimony to how good this headphone is for the price which is a shared trait there with the M2s doing the same equivalent in the DAP arena.

The Classic 99s for those who already know Its warm (not thick warm) signature with a generous deep bass response would think the extra low end they portray combined with the M2s favourably tuned low end would be too much but thankfully this is not the case of too much of the same been overcooked here and they seem to complement each other despite sharing the same type of signature with both been on the warm side by nature.

With the Meze the M2s has an airy big hall feeling to the soundstage with good headroom for these closed back Meze cans allowing for music to have a good perception of depth giving a very immersive feel listening to this combination. Vocals comes across as been seated in the front row giving quite the intimate feel and connection with the vocalist amid the amiable depth of range the M2s has combined with the 99 Classics.

The M2s have a good midrange balance with the Classic 99’s ability to show good amount of detail rendering handled with just enough analytics to give the M2s an edge at this price range to give a good overall balance of both fun and insight into the information needed to be serious enough for the discerning of serious listening sessions.

Even though the very generous low end bass for some who are not used to Meze 99’s bass or find it too much may want a more neutral pairing for the M2s but those who love their Classic 99’s will not find this pairing anymore overbearing on the bass response than It already is.

Considering the ample space and headroom listening to the Classics on the M2s I was just wishing the M2s top end was just a more prominent with the top end to equalize the balance through the range it just seemed a tad too distant at times and buried in with the mids and lows to truly give an overall balance as the Classics are a headphone that is not treble prominent to start with but does show treble well without been over obvious but with the M2s seemingly shy treble it was a little lost at times yet over all it was still a good paring with this combo having a low end punch you won’t forget in a hurry, in a good way!



Moving on to IEM’s which many will be using with the M2s was interesting as I was able to go from a £10 pair of VE Monk+ IEMS then on to a pair of Meze Classic 12’ @ £70 then £170 RHA T20 then Vibro Lab Mayas which cost approx. £400 then my JH16pro customs which was £1k+ so is an interesting and contrasting mix of IEMs to see how the M2s would respond across the board and continuing with the Meze theme with the Classic 12 IEMS which happen to follow the same blood line as the 99 Classic headphones so like its headphone counterpart it is very similar in make-up signature wise.


With it been an IEM coming in almost 2/3 cheaper than the 99 Classics it is not quite so forward or as detailed in the mids and the low end is a little more rolled of and doesn’t have quite the boom hitting factor of the 99 Classics yet it still is an fairly enjoyable listen on the M2s although again this pairing I would say the treble was still a little more recessed still and didn’t feel the clarity entirely there with this pairing. On the whole again not a bad paring but just hampered by a couple of things to be a perfect pairing with the Classic 12’s.


VE Monk+


Next up I thought I would now work my way up from the bottom of the money pile with the VE Monk+ which was at home with the M2s pretty much straight away as it lapped up the mid-range of the M2s ability to remain focused and balanced with the music and sounded how the monk does with most daps pretty reliable and consistent with its sound and is not a fussy EIM with no heirs or graces at this price point so if you want to find out how good a pair of £10 VE Monks can sound try them on the M2s and you might just be in for a shock!


RHA T20...


Trying my RHA T20 was a different contrast all together and the T20 is one of those if you get the pairing right they will be a good balance to them and become very addictive and sound is if they are above their £170 price tag but get it wrong and it can sound bit of a mess in un-equal measures and unfortunately that is the case here even the friendly warmer musical M2s does not shine right with the brighter T20’s with the mids been subdued and pretty recessed then the low end bass comes across as an unrealistic bass reproduction that is very thud like then the treble is also inconsistent and pitchy making it a very hard pairing to listen to with detail rendering suffering as a result due to these issues.

The irony is the instruments had the ability to sound quite tonally neutral and it is just the overall balance to the frequency range matching and presentation in detail which is a miss-match here.

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As I have already touched upon T20 is a very fussy IEM and was not a surprise when they did not match all though one hopes for opposites to attract it didn’t on this occasion sadly.

Vibro Lab - Mayas...

With the Vibro Lab Mayas which are a lovely blend of mid organic open detailed sounding pair of IEMS worked well with the M2s which really balance out well across the board and allow the top end to shine through more than other IEMs here on the M2s with normal flac 16/44 files and the mid-range has ample room to breathe and allow small detail rendering to come through easy allowing good layering.

With higher res files or DSD the M2s made the Mayas become an amplified version of itself just improving in all the areas such as leading edge details more apparent and control of notes resulitng in better sense of clairity, timing and space around each note played on top of its already impressive pairing in sound.


With the Mayas conservative low end it actually just cuts back the M2s tendency to be forceful or too colourful on the low end giving a much more natural and realistic sub bass definition in response. The treble was recreated really well on the Mayas although the M2s still not jumping out with treble enough to be even an equal balance overall with help of the Mayas it made treble notes more easy to notice without having to go looking for it with your brain with the amount of detail and tonality the Mayas possessed on the higher register.

The Mayas have proved to me in my time with them they are one of the easier IEMS to pair with various daps and this is no different here and is simply a very good marragie which is just as well as this is my fav IEM at the moment.


Moving onto the JH16 Pros and it seems the further I go up the tier the more I hear this player improve as if it is not hitting a ceiling at any point for a lower end dap but just seems to improve and has more headroom for sonic improvement when scaling up the IEM ladder and the JH16’s which ultimately can draw upon more resolution than my Mayas does not stretch the M2s so far it runs out of steam.

It was actually the JH16 was the first IEM I had heard with the M1 when I first heard that at the 2016 Canjam London show and that what took me by surprise then was how good it paired with a higher end CIEM for such a bargain dap and the M2s is no different and if anything is able to give you more performance with the M2s which is able to handle and show more detail transients with more agility than the M1.

Yet the only thing I would say with the M2s generous bass response they have given it combined with the JH16’s extra tuned bass gives it a tad too much emphasis on the lower register in terms of quantity delivered with this pairing and takes away from the attention to what is been played in the mid-range area with some tracks, yet at the same time I am still hearing more information within the bass notes with the better resolution the JH16 can reproduce.

....This lower end bass actually makes the 99 Classic headphone combo sound sterile which is saying something! So nothing wrong with the quality of the bass but together the quantity is a bit too much here even for my liking with someone used to or not minding a signature that shows a lower tuned bass response.

Treble is something that sounds at times the most hardest and maybe unrealistic part to reproduce with the lower end IEMS with the M2S but with the JH16’s even though they are not the most neutral treble notes the M2s has enough to make the 16’s shine with more subtle with rendering of notes making them sound more like the individual instrument been played rather than a generic crash mash of metallic sounds no matter what is played through it in the low to high treble region extends with good consistency which again does seem to bring out the M2s treble more than it has been so far with exception of the Mayas.

M2s compared to M1 differences in sound.


For anyone wandering how does it compare to the M1 which is also a little stunner for the money the M2s obviously brings that new bigger footprint to the table so can pack more inside component wise with the like of Native DSD256 now packing on board with a new AKM (AK4490EQ) chip in the M2 which takes what the M1 had which is very good for the price and just adds some more resolution with finer details improved and a sense of a bigger soundstage and imaging.


The M2s is a more punchier affair with more bottom end presence to be heard or felt yet there is more detail rendering going on compared to my M1 with a fuller bodied and smoother sound which leans towards a more richer warmer signature which I did find there was less revealing treble range to be heard on the M2s compared to the M1 which is not that hard given there seems to be a slight recession on the M2s treble presentation and felt it could have been more present in the mix at least in general which is my only real gripe with the M2s presentation on the whole.


Although it seemed to shine through more with either my Maya or Jh16’s or if the files were exceptionally good high res recordings or DSD files somehow brought the frequency range to life and was more clearer and present to hear. The M1s treble because of this I actually preferred as it was consistently just there doing its job with no matter what music or files and was a more forward revealing treble, maybe not in terms of resolution the M2s but making an equally balanced DAP across the frequency range allowing it to breath more with the generous bottom end the M2s possesses.


The soundstage width to the M2s has wider scope than the M1 allowing IEM’s especially to feel more expansive in a bigger room than the M1 to having the feeling of been more like listening to headphones with the feeling of extra space generated through the more roominess of the soundstage surroundings but the M1 sounds more airy between the instruments you hear in the room despite that room not feeling as big to the M2s which I feel is down to the M1 been less warmer than the M2s with its more neutral bass and more forward & higher treble presence.


So, despite the M1 in comparison clearly lacking the edge in detail retrieval and the M2s revealing better trailing edge retention of notes the M1 had a more inviting slightly more forward mid-range with a more evenly balanced low end response and more consistent presence in the top end with various headphones or IEMS.

The M2 feels closer to the stage than the M1 with vocals similar in localization again with the M2s just able to reveal more closeness in attention to detail in vocal notes giving a singer more depth and clearer projection in the process like with Beyoncé - Don’t hurt song Feat Jack White from her album 13 where her vocal notes have that more thicker body with been able to reveal more easily that raspiness to her power vocals with the M2 responding well through the frequencies of her strident singing notes getting higher.

Have to be honest here despite the M2s having the edge in many areas over the M1 for bigger soundstage and lower end impact with bass, those who like the M1 may not necessarily like the M2s
despite the extra detail to be had but going back the M1 from the M2s equally became a bit frustrating not hearing those extra nuances of detail and depth of dynamics the M2s could deliver on its more silent backdrop.

I personally would not discard the M1 with the M2s on the scene but would keep alongside the M1 strangely enough with the both having the added ability and flexibility with USB line outs thrown into the equation give options for when pairing with various dac or amps to suit.

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The M2S is simply a DAP which touches pretty much all bases from the thoughtful design and ergonomics which are very well integrated with a very full feature set spec sheet that doesn’t leave too many stones unturned here if at all (maybe balanced) but hey, look at the price still!

What impressed me was how it scaled well with my higher end IEMs I had and same for file formats as once good High Res recordings and DSD files were thrown at the M2s it sounded more complete sound in a natural tonal setting and cohesive as it had at any stage I had during my time with it. This is still good with flac 16/44 files (omitting bad recordings again) but it is if this has been designed to shine with those higher files with a noticeable difference even at this end of the price spectrum.

I only wish on the sound quality aspect would have been for a more consistency with the treble region but the execution of the detail rendering with the warm smooth mids which is more than good enough at this price and the extensive low end with a generous room for the soundstage pulls you into still listening despite the top end not been a natural presence in balance in delivery and presentation on the top end.

On the whole I could not fault any other aspect of this player and has built a solid foundation on top of the M1 which makes you wonder how the M5 replacement will wow us in the future…

Exiting times ahead for Shanling which are no small players here in this domain and some other far eastern dap companies could take note from how they build and design a reliable easy to use DAP and will be one to keep an eye on in the next couple of years with future products.

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1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Nuetral transparent fast tightly controlled musically damp with plenty of detail & headroom.
Build quality.
Perfectly weighted and smooth volume adjustment.
Connection options which are switchable.
Never runs hot
Vesa mount plate ready
Cons: input level set gain not always ideal. Could do with switchable gain control.
No XLR balanced output
Awkward shaped power adaptor.
Rupert Neve RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier

June 2017


I first heard this headphone amp at the Canjam London 2016 show and despite the usual noisy environment encountered at these types of large hall shows from what I heard from my IEM’s I had on me and a pair of smaller Grado’s that were on the table I heard what I could gleam from the brief 15 minutes I spent with this tiny of a footprint headphone amplifier.

So when the opportunity arose after ordering some modded Kimber cables for my Meze 99 Classics from Russ Andrews Accessories which are based in sunny Cumbria , UK I got talking to Peter who works for their Product Development team who dealt with my order and chatting all things under the sun with hi-fi in general and when we both mentioned the Rupert Neve amp so I asked if I could have a longer demo at home to really listen to it in a quitter environment with my headphones I was not able to take to the show so I was lucky enough Peter been an amical chap let me borrow a demo unit for a couple of weeks so would like at this point to thank Peter for loaning me this so I could chill in the comfort of my own home in peace without 200 head-fi adrenaline junkies all talking shop in a hall to really soak up what you do not unfortunately get to really take in when hearing these at a show to either hear their full potential or actually are as bad as you remember hearing it at a show!

Design & Build…

The Neve amp comes packaged in the same minimalist design of the actual amp itself in just a plain white cardboard box with the a sticker on the lid letting you know you have a Rupert Neve RNHP amp awaiting inside the box. Box contents on opening include the power supply which is a 24DC wall plug adaptor and owner’s manual. The RNHP design mirrors it’s studio heritage of equipment in design with a simplistic and minimalist design which is more akin from hi-fi equipment from the 60’s or 70’s which is probably because it is based on the Rupert Neve studio equipment which has been in many top studios with this amp sharing the same output circuit as their 5060 centrepiece desktop mixer.

This will not be everyone’s cup of tea from the design aspect and I am usually one for a polished design with flashing lights but this is just a clean design with no thrills, just reliable sensible common sense engineering going on with the actual cost going all into the components used rather than trying to dress up the window of the shop on the aesthetics of the unit. The small foot print of this amp is partly down to the decision to have the power supply separate power pack plug rather than an in built linear power supply which I actually do not mind although the actual design of the power plug could have been better as the bulk of the adaptor sticks out sideways so if you use have to use a gangway block set it will encroach onto the plug on the left of it.

The other advantage to this RNHP amp is it can be powered using either the included 6 watt power supply or a 24V, 0.25A min battery if you wish to go completely clean power into the unit. It is to me reminiscent of something you would find in the DeLorean in Back to the Future as this takes me back to the old days of how hi-fi gear used to be designed with its simple black sheet metal casing top and bottom which has overhang on the back to protect the line inputs. The RNHP is also Vesa 100 mount compatible for various mounting options so can be to a stand as it has the screw holes already in place for mounting and the bottom so can be pole-mount arm for mic stands, pivoting multi-arm desk mount, and wall / surface mount for securing upside-down under a table, music stand or other studio furniture. The bottom of the amp also has four clear rubberized shock absorbing feet for surface support when used on a table.

The red aluminium volume pot on the RNHP is a nice size and shape which is a joy to operate and has a really solid smooth feel when turning with very good volume step attenuation, probably one of the better analog volumes I have used on an amp. The RNHP has only one output which is a ¼” jack size which will take anything from a minimum of 16 ohms up to 600 ohm although I was only able to test up to 300 ohm in my testing I can confirm it was at home handling the 300ohm headphone I had to hand which was a Sennheiser HD 560 Ovation open back headphone.

The RNHP sports three inputs which can all be plugged in at the same time ready to switch at any moment by using the input selection buttons on the front. Neve have included the three inputs as follow starting with input A which Line input combo jack which sports a XLR or TRRS plug which is calibrated for 4+dbV signals. Input B is the RCA left & right connection which is calibrated -10dbU Signal then there is input C which is a 3.5 stereo jack input which is designed for hooking up devices like phone, tablets or laptops.

The only thing that is flashy about this amp is the buttons to select the in line inputs which lights up green to let you know which input is selected although you still see a faint green glow on the other two buttons it not too distracting as serves it purpose to let you know which input is selected at a quick glance. When powering the amp on it will default to input A every time.


Maximum Input Levels

"A" XLR I/P: +22.8 dBu @1kHz
"B" RCA I/P: +14.7dBu @1kHz,
"C" 3.5mm I/P: +3.3dBu @1kHz

Output Power:

As measured with typical headphones, Z=44 Ω: 3.617 VAC RMS @1kHz = 300mW RMS
16 Ω typical Load: 1.933 VAC RMS @1kHz = 230mW RMS
150 Ω typical Load: 5.108 VAC RMS @1kHz = 175mW RMS

Output Impedance

.08 Ω @ 1KHz, 16-150 Ω load, 0dBu input

Frequency Response

+/- .2dB from 10Hz to 120KHz


Measured with typical headphones, Z=44 Ω, BW 22Hz – 22kHz
"A" XLR Input: -101.9dBV,
"B" RCA Input: -100.9dBV
"C" 3.5mm Input: -88.8dBV


6.5” wide x 4.6” deep and 1.9” tall

Power Supply Requirements

24VDC @ 0.25Amp (6 watt) minimum. Use with supplied power adapter, as this has been carefully selected for best output power and noise performance. May be used with a properly configured 24V battery as well.

Sound Impressions…

The first thing that struck me with my first listen at home on the RNHP was how there were obvious cues I could remember straight of the bat from the brief time with them at the show and one thing that stood out was this amp is not a shy amp with presentation and takes you closer into the music so you do not feel too far away from the sound yet it does not shout at you either been such a close presentation.

It feels like a quite forward upfront approach this RNHP takes that does not hide from showing you whether you have a sublime top recording in your collection or a dire recording it will just be an extension replicating what the source device outputs which is a good start for any amp as it was not much evidence it was trying to metamorphosis the original sound like some amps are capable of doing even dearer model amps have been known to change the fabric of the signature to much from what is from the source into its own interpretation of how the music should sound. Here the RNHP is very honest in trying to stay true to the signal coming in.

This amp certainly has plenty of detail but not in an over analytical way in detail retrieval like some reference amps out there will do whilst possessing expressive and reactive dynamics with a spacious air allowing the RNHP ability for accuracy in soundstage placement to sound natural and precise making the music flow due to the RNHPs good timing the Neve allows for everything to breath even with more closed in gear like my Meze classic 12’s for example it will open them up on another level with a new sense of soundstage boundaries to play with.

But here the Neve amp is quite faithful in trying to keep the original source signature in which from the few headphones and IEM I tried with the Neve in my two weeks which I will elaborate shortly on how they all sounded with the Neve amp, this amp just solely aims at been just what it says on the tin on the front of the amp where it has RNHP “Precision” headphone amplifier screen printed along the front and this is how I actually perceive it to be after trying different sources through it from a Chord Mojo and Hugo DAC and Sony WM1A Walkman line out. I think the clean articulate accuracy in reproduction of the source material arises from the studio ethos not giving us a coloured signature to the sound that outputs the Neve amp yet this sounds musical and dynamic to listen to whilst maintaining a evenly balanced neutral presentation in sound.

It never seems to bleed from one frequency range into the other so is always feeling neutrally balanced as you are getting to hear more information come through because of this with good mid info retrieval even with the RNHP able to provide a strong solid punch in bass response and control never bleeds into the Mids. Even though this amp is pretty neutral in the way it comes across it is far from flat neutral and is a very musical amp which really shows its prowess is in how it manages to handle transients, speed, separation and timing. The Neve is able to sound open and spacious and shows it has as much height as it does in terms of sound-stage width giving a sense of good depth to the music coming to live with

The higher the source the better this amp scales also and this partly also reflective in which line input you use as good as the 3.5 jack input is it is a shade of what the RCA phono inputs are capable of in sound with of course if you have anything running into the balanced input into the RNHP it will just be able to improve and emphasis better what you get on the already capable RCA phono inputs from what I tried from my time using my only source that could do XLR balanced. The noise floor is impressive allowing subtle details to shine throw like they are just effortlessly suspended in space which can be one of the more rewarding aspects to this neat small footprint of this desktop amp. What impressed me more was how its timing impeccably fast and has an ability to drive the music with good speed in the mid & sub bass with a good tightly controlled focus with a clean powerful delivery to bass notes.

Placing of instruments and sense of space on the black background is paramount to what makes this amp have a 3D realism of depth with its more than acceptable width in sound-stage and height in conjunction with the ability to place instruments and vocals accurately in the amount of space there is allows for a lot of details to be heard on a soundtrack clearly and easily which makes this good for listening at lower volumes although this amp does get tempting to crank that volume wheel around a bit more the more you get immersed with your favourite tracks so be warned as this amp with its very strong headroom is capable of blowing your ears before it blows your drivers.

With this impressive headroom on the Neve allowing music to breathe with great expanse whilst even been driven hard this amp will not waiver and will give you a tight controlled punchy presentation that feels like it could take the roof of the Albert Hall whilst plays music with not just great detail but has a way of doing it without the high frequency’s ever losing strength or focus in their delivery been able to hear everything clearly in that range with music that can be energetic and busy in the mid-range on this amp is very satisfying when you come across say Sia- Bird set free you can track her vocals through everything that is going on in the mids with her vocals soaring above everything else to what almost feels like the hearing threshold with the range of her vocal ability. The RNHP does it with a natural flow and smoothness and never sounded spiky when Sia's vocals were pushing the upper frequencies keeping a natural tonality throughout.

With most of my IEM’s or headphones this amp will tighten up that sub bass with a tight grip and be punchy and impactful when needed which is great for OST scores from like Inception or Interstellar that took me on a journey but when there is a track with plenty of low frequency bass notes it never bleeds into the rest of the other frequency’s staying perfectly balanced. No more so with say my Meze 99 classics or JH16Pros which are both on the bass happy side but on the Neve they sound tight and defined with the detail within those bass notes been very easy and clear to hear. It very much benefited my RHAT20 IEMs’ with their dynamic driver and brought them to live with good timing response and reverberation of the T20’s dynamic drivers with mid and low bass notes.

The same experience was in abundance on my Pioneer Master SE1’s where the Bass can be almost felt as well as heard yet maintain clarity and control no matter how hard the bass note hits with drums on Creams Toad track Live at Royal Albert Hall sounding taught and controlled still been able to hear small details going on around the main drumming. I tried both combinations of the Mojo and Hugo and both are very good pairing with the RNHP but I did find myself swaying a bit more with the Mojo, only because as already mentioned the RNHP ability to just reflect the original sound with some sub average recordings the Hugo is not as forgiving especially in the top end which could be a bit too bright sometimes which had me going for the Mojo a little more out of the two despite the lesser resolution of the Mojo to the Hugo there was that little extra something just musically in the pairing between the RNHP and Mojo which was an addictive combination.

Using with IEM's….


I decided to start with using my RHA T20’s which in all honesty I was looking for a very good back up pair of IEM’s that did not cost the earth with a good build and only use them once in a while but through the Neve amp the way the RNHP controls bass with that firm grip with plenty of punch and speed that really suit these dynamic drivers inside the T20 to come alive and the treble which can be an Achilles hill with certain sources been to bright and sharp is still on the side of its natural treble accentuated nature but with the Neve it never is over aggressive even with the T20’s treble extension matching the ability of the RNHP’s extension this was still listenable most of the time unless the recording was also too harsh on the treble it was then not an issue. Yet with top recorded material the Neve helped the T20 reflect treble notes to be tonally accurate even on this £170 IEM was quite uncanny at times.

The Neve made the T20 sound open and spacious and forgot I was listening to an IEM at one stage which breathed life into some of those Pink Floyd recordings to have a sense of open space for those sound cues to come out of nowhere with Floyd tracks was enjoyable on the T20. The RNHP gave me a sense of wanting to listen to these for a long time and had just as much time with the T20’s on the Neve amp as I did with my higher end IEM’s which was helped by the RNHP working in harmony with the T20’s and allowing the dynamic drivers to work to their fullest potential. Have to say with this amp in the chain I think I would listen to the T20’s a lot more often than I do now with treating them as a back-up pair but with the RNHP it gets the very best from these RHA IEM’s.

Meze 12 Classics….

These are my cheapest IEM’s I have as they cost only £70 which I had just to see how similar they sounded to my 99 Classics with the intrigue to see if they could compare to the headphone version and on the RNHP the timing and control of the RNHP allows the 12 classics to never sound over bloated on the bass accentuated Classics and the fine resolution these IEM’s are capable of for their price tier have a coherent clear rendering of details and help open the sound-stage up on the 12 classics as they can with a source that is not capable sound closed in a bit and this was probably the cleanest and most open I have heard the 12 classics so far yet retains the original richness and warmth of the 12’s coming through. The RNHP again even with a relatively more affordable pair of IEM’s still gave it scope and air with good sense of detail retrieval to shine making the 12 Classics just like it was with the RHA T20 an IEM I could happily listen to on the Neve amp for a session.

JH16 Pro…

With JH16Pros CIEM’s I was expecting there to be a lot of resolution with plenty of articulate detail to be heard on these balanced armatures of the 16’s and again the clarity and depth of a recording added to the extra expansive sound-stage the RNHP was able to deliver to the 16’s allowing those details to shine in an open environment which made the 16’s have a sense of not listening to IEMS at times which I have not experienced on some more expensive amps in the last few years.

The way this amp was able to drive the 16Pros with more than enough authority with the JH16’s designed to have extra headroom allowed the treble to be airy with plenty of space with strong solid extension with treble and vocal notes. Vocals have a translucent clarity with precise imaging gave Tori Amos plenty of insight into her range as well as the smaller details of breathing into the mic on the piano yet been able to absorb the tonal reality of the Piano keys as much as focusing at the same time on the singing with a slight hint of warmth with vocals that were just in front of the stage although not overly done but enough your focus was maintained when listening to vocal segments. The JH16’s sang on this which was made easy by the RNHP bringing accuracy to stage imaging and depth, strong performance with headroom and good detail retrieval showed the JH16’s are really suited to a good desktop amp like the RNHP as well as just DAPS.

Vibro Lab Mayas…

I hadn’t heard any of the Vibro Lab IEMS before and came across them to do a review on and liked it so much I purchased a set from Luke Pighetti and have to say these are still my favourite IEM for musicality even after hearing many other dearer IEM’s in the last year the Mayas have a nice natural balance to the signature yet has mids to die for with a good sense of timing with cues of notes arriving to hit you just at the right time making micro details stand out and on the RNHP I heard what defines the Mayas to be so good but adds to the already natural sense of space the Mayas have adding more body with more control & authority to the lower bass region on the Mayas which is not probably it’s most dominant part of the Mayas signature but the RNHP allows the Bass to sound more dominant or noticeable than when I’ve heard it on a standalone DAP player.

It’s not adding more bass, rather the power of an amp like this with a pair of efficient IEM’s allows the bass to sound more dynamic in response giving a more vivid and stronger performing sub bass that gives a whole new perspective to listening to the Beyoncé track feat Jack White – Don’t hurt yourself come to live with the sub bass been quick, powerful and dynamic with clear note definition whilst the lower mid bass is still very audible with good cohesion with a present engaging and encompassing mid-range that is neither lost in the spectrum or too far forward the neutral balance matches the RNHP very well from the upper to lower mids and sub bass region has a natural transition between the frequency range.

The RNHP will let the Maya’s pick out treble notes as if they are floating on air with a gentle precise tonal handling of the treble giving an accurate and easy to listen to on the ear with the Mayas as the RNHP has an ability to breath a lot of air and space for treble notes to making sound as if treble information can be separated on another plane to what you are hearing from the mids giving a sense equally large height and depth coupled with the excellent timing both the RNHP and the Vibro Labs IEM's made the Maya’s a natural suitor with the RNHP.

With Headphones….

Sony MDR-7520...

After listening to the RNHP with my IEM’s it was time to see how it paired with the headphones which it was primarily designed for so started off with a headphone that shares a studio equipment blood line in the Sony MDR7520’s which I had modded to have the original single cable feed turned into a dedicated left/right cable welded directly to each driver for better performance and also changed the original leather pads for velour Beyer which also brought small improvements to the sound as well as comfort.

The RNHP with the Sony 7520’s allowed them to sound the same signature which is a lively punchy sound with sometimes a slightly bright ended upper treble presentation yet the Neve did not over amplify that bright end and what was already a quite deep bass punch on the 7520’s was not added to anymore in terms of quantity but just gave the bass delivery a more tighter focused approach which actually made it seem easier to follow the low mids and pick up on vocals with clearer tracking. With the RNHP feeding the Sony’s easy to drive 24 ohm 50mm HD angled drivers gives a punchy and lively dynamic presentation of these Sony monitors which like the RNHP which have a studio background they are more musical than analytical approach for monitoring purposes although the mid-range is clean and transparent and with the RNHP bringing out vocals sounding crisp in clarity without sounding to lean in the upper registers.

The only down side I have found with these closed back Sony monitors is they have a tendency to sound a little narrow and lacking in natural sound-stage width as clear as they sound but again the RHP comes to the rescue here a bit with it been able to steer and expand on the stereo imaging much wider and precise than before giving a little more perception of the Sony headphones having more room to operate lending more room in the mids retrieval to operate and location of information that comes from wider starting points actually feels like it is outside the boundaries of the head than usual on my 7520’s.

The Sony’s benefit and sing to full potential with the Neve and have a dynamic more roomier approach that brought a fresh perspective to my 7520’s which was most welcome as the only other time I have heard them sing like this on that extra special something level of magic pairings and I have heard these on many an amp was ironically the portable RHA DacAmp they brought out in 2016. In all was more impressed with these on the RNHP as the Sony has some fussy attributes that were no problem with the RNHP and made for an exciting listening session which is not what I’m sure is meant to come from two items made for the studio initially!

Meze 99 Classics,

The Classic 99’s by Romanian audio-holics Meze caught on to build itself quite a good reputation since its release in 2016 providing a detailed sound above its price point with a warm signature and plenty of bass presence to say the least.

For those who already know and like the 99 Classic sound signature in this headphone is made for the RNHP and just flows with music effortlessly showing all the detail the 99’s are capable of with adding for me what is already a generous spatial sound for a closed back the RNHP brings more height and width to the sound-stage having more room for the top end to work with greater clarity as well controls what sometimes can be a slightly more than exuberant bass shall we say is driven now with more control allowing bass strings to sound more refined and drum notes not to bleed or sound loose when been struck.

Vocals have a more expanded range with that extra height extension which makes for operatic style vocals to soar with a more continuous natural rise or just as equally with deeper vocals there is good separation and clarity it stays separate from the rest of the mix. The Meze sounds good on most things if truth be told but on the RNHP it just tightens it up that much more it really does give it an extra edge in terms of dynamics, control and clarity in the lower to sub bass region and is just a very musical pairing that makes it so easy to listen to the Meze for hours on end with the RNHP.

MR. Speakers Ethers
(open back original non Flow version)…

With the Ether I noticed compared to the more traditional dynamic headphones I had been listening to so far despite these planner magnetic been an efficient 23 ohm seemed to need bit more to the dynamic headphones in terms of the volume dial to get same volume as I had been with the Dynamic cans so in some cases it was around two to three clicks more up on the volume dial with the Ethers.

This did not change the sound of the more relaxing warmer signature of the Ether which is retained with the Neve amp which like my Vibro Lab Mayas has a similar way of showing the finer details in a polite manner and the timing and layering of the RNHP amp really helped the Ethers here to those nuances of sound just appear to be effortless in their delivery. Listening to acoustic material like Antonio Forcione or Adrian Legg strings even on this warmer sounding headphone have a colder steel edge reverberation to string notes which sound sharp without ever sounding overly aggressive to the ears.

The Eagles “Fast Lane” track gave a good fast pace tempo to the mids with a punch to lower mids making this song feel funky as well as sound it or Hotel California trailing edge of notes from the guitar with the slow gradual song build up hanging on the blackness of night this noise floor the RNHP operates at gave the song that emotional drive you yearn for like when I first heard this on my Dads old Rega Planner record player for the first time through a Nytech amp.

The timing and pace of the RNHP does actually add a little more injection of pace and dynamics almost as if it was waking them up into live. It doesn’t turn this into a pair of Senn HD800’s all of the sudden but it is a pleasant welcome as you still get the air and easy going 70’s sound these Ethers effortlessly portray but just adds a nice balance of timing and imaging precision without altering the main characteristics of how the Ethers actually sound.

The RNHP is another good match with the Ethers long into the night.

Grado GS1000e…

The GS1000e some say is one of those headphones that is more suited to classical and acoustic genres of music and have found if the pairing is right it can actually sound acceptable with most genres like for example the Rock or Blues line I like tap too frequently as was the case with my Chord Hugo which has a great DAC but with certain headphones no matter how efficient they were would sound a bit anaemic in the mids with not much body and the highs were quite bright (even with okay recordings) which was the case with my Grados and the Hugo so cured that by strapping a Vorzuge Pureii+ portable amp to the Hugo which transformed the GS1000e into a headphone that would sound good with most music and have lovely full bodied mids that it was capable off with a nicely rounded articulate balanced treble.

With the Grado’s natural if not different in been revealing with detail galore with the RNHP ability to transmit that detail very well it was never in question on that side of it but did the Neve give that more full bodied mids the GS1000e likes that makes it sound more appealing with just Classical Orchestral works or acoustic sets?... Been honest, not quite but the treble was handled in a very even keel showing you detail with extension served in a manner that was never bright or sharp to the ear.

With the mids not been quite full as I have heard the GS1000e was again balanced out by the RNHP’s ability to be quick and flexible in dynamics with its expansive sound-stage only accentuating on the Grado’s already massive sound-stage in those big foam bowl cups still made it a pairing I could listen to all day long all though it was not quite like how I idealistically would want the GS1000e’s to sound the Neve just was adept and showing what the Grado’s could do with fine detail picking and the agility it had with notes from impact on delivery of a note to the trailing edge of notes was like you was peering into a worm hole and seeing inside all the information of a note been played you would not normally get to hear.

It did make me wonder though how the PS1000e which I have heard a few times would be like with the RNHP as I think it would be an even more natural pairing with its more robust rock designed sound over the wooden GS1Ke I have. The GS1000e are special in their own way all though probably my slightly weaker link from what I’ve heard pairing wise on the RNHP they still performed well together despite not having those solid full bloodied mids I know the GS1000e are truly capable of.

Pioneer Master SE1…

These are a headphone every time I went to a show over the course of the last couple of years since they released the SE1 I heard them and every time they just had that sound I was looking for in a headphone and finally acquired the SE1 Masters a few weeks before I received the Neve for review and first impressions getting the SE1’s at home were good with my Walkman as they are so ultra-efficient to drive it is not until you have something like the Hugo or Mojo Dac feeding the RNHP amp I was able to see how much they really do scale up to their full potential in terms of details and accuracy in reproduction when you have a dedicated amplifier driving the SE1’s.

The Pioneers are a very versatile all round headphone that suits any genre thrown at it capable of a very dynamic fluid and accurate sound that is very well balanced and this is what makes the RNHP a perfect match for the Pioneers as they sounded in harmony together from the sound-stage and imaging which sounds seamlessly stitched together with a pace and attack that makes the mids have an amazing transparency which lends to the accurate and pin point imaging which has great depth and width on this SE1’s.

A track from Kaleo “No Good” really stretches the headroom,, speed and dynamics of a pair of headphones but the RNHP’s control & fast harmonics gives this song so much depth to layering of the music even though it is a loud & lively rock blues song with vocals that scale high in the upper mid-range the RNHP delivers it all in perfect separation and timing it just flows naturally on the SE1’s. From playing tracks like the recently released new Goldfrapp album the track System Magic has so much versatility in range with frequency’s and a changes pace and dynamic shifts very quickly with hard hitting backbeat bass and the electric driven mid-centric synthesizers piercing the soundtrack never over shadow Alison Goldfrapp's smooth golden voice throughout the song which is clear as a whistle to follow her singing something special.

Another new found album which really is a highly recorded piece of material that really shows of the scope in space and black backdrop these headphones can perform to with the RNHP is the Yello – Toy album which shows how good just normal 16 bit cd quality can sound when engineered to its ultimate best and then played on gear as wide ranging as both the RNHP and the SE1’s. The above was the same story every time I heard the RNHP SE1 combo with any genre of music from Classical sounding equally as good as my GS1000e’s in scale and detail rendering on a black canvas to film scores involving orchestras like Tron with Daft Punk or the Inception soundtrack are immersive with a natural balance and dynamic range that makes it feel like you are listening to an Atmos system in a cinema room with the headroom and frequency fresh hold both seem to be able to go to.

I have heard these on a few top amps in the times I have tried the SE1’s at shows but the RNHP prowess for musicality as equal to detail retrieval without sounding so analytical it is like a wall paper stripper wit detail which makes the RNHP able to work with a high end headphone such as the Master SE1’s pedigree. The other headphones were all very listenable for long sessions with the RNHP but it was the SE1’s combination with the amp that had me staying up until 2am saying “just one more track” 15 tracks ago!

Sennheiser 560 Ovations open backs…

I borrowed my Dads trusty 25 year old Senn 560 Ovation open backs as they are the only higher impendence headphones I could obtain at the time of writing as my collection consists of efficient headphones now days, not intentionally, just the way it has panned out and do regret letting go of my trusty old Beyer DT770 600 ohm cans two years ago also so with these Senn’s been 300 ohm.

I could at least see how they coped with a semi hard to drive headphone but did seem to hold its own although it was the furthest I had had the volume pot turned up in my time which was also determined with which line input was used with the set gain settings for each input also contributed to where the volume sat on the dial but there was room still left to play with these 300 ohm Senn’s but would be cautious if I was getting a pair of 600 ohm cans and would want to try it first with the RNHP as I am not entirely sure it would keep its control and authority with a pair of 600 ohm cans so for those with monster sucking cans try them together first to make sure this amp will drive a 600 ohm pair of headphones.

With the Senn 300 ohm open backs though the RNHP still controlled the Senn’s well keeping bass notes tight although the Senn's are probably bass light on the low end the mids are more forward on these with an open airy finely tuned sound with plenty of clarity,

These are very different in signature before the days of the HD650 designs and is more the Sennheiser sound I remember growing up with this pair of Senn’s showed an honest signature reflection through the RNHP so matched on a musical level as well as power delivery in been able to drive them.


Having first heard this in the corner of the room at a CanJam show back in 2016 and been impressed with it then for what was just a brief 15 minute quick fire round with favourite tracks on my DAP through a Hugo DAC to the RNHP had been wanting to listen to this again and was lucky enough this time around to listen to this in the comfort of my own comfy chair for a few weeks.

My only worry from that brief initial demo at the show was maybe it sounded a bit too forward and maybe a little shouty which would become monotonous after a period of listening each time… In short and long the answer is no, the RNHP is actually able to bring you closer to the music without fatiguing your ears without sounding shouty nor over analytical in showing you the details in songs and can only conclude after hearing this with my current line up I have of IEMS and Headphones which vary in range across the board they all perform well with the RNHP due to the source remaining uncoloured through the RNHP and just improving IEMs and headphones further.

It may not be quite perfect but for a first time attempt from a studio great into the home audiophile arena (by accident almost) which is already cluttered to say the least with looks that is like Marmite (you either will love it or hate it) and there will be many loving what this amp produces but will be saying where is the XLR balanced outputs for headphones despite its generous and versatile line in options but what you get for your money is attention to the sound as priority which shines through and thee really won’t be many amps out there for the money and then some that will have this all round performance. So would like to see for sure XLR balanced inputs in future and even to maybe get a big jump on many out there would be the 4.4 TRRS balanced which will quickly be the go to TRRS balanced in next year or so and having a selectable gain switching rather than calibrated line inputs which would be more versatile option.

Other than that I can safely say my brief impressions of first hearing it the Canjam show having “liked it” was wrong as having it for a few weeks it turned out I LOVED this small simplistic yet amazing amp that does what it says on the tin desktop amp from Rupert Neve Audio.

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Great review. I see you have a digital line-out adaptor for your wm1a. I’ve been seeking one with no luck. Where can I buy it?
I am just gonna say, I have one myself, and TL; DR - this is NOT SUITABLE FOR IEM because of the noise.
RIP Rupert Neve, preamp and console king.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: 2.5mm Balanced, SQ different and refreshing and very good for the price. Simplistic old school player without all bells and whistles.
Cons: Sharp edge design, finicky jog dial buttons, drab screen (although clear and legible) may not pair well with brighter IEMs or headphones. No EQ
April 2017
I have owned a few daps down the years now and love daps and prefer been a bit old school with keeping my cd rips on what today is SD storage or flash storage on the device and even of late have had players ranging from both ends of the ladder including the pocket friendly Shangling M1 to HIFIMAN Mega and Super Mini players to most recently the Sony WM1A which has replaced my beloved ZX1 Walkman I had. 
One thing that was a realization in 2016 for me was how many products out there didn’t have to cost flagship prices to be very good and some were actually classed in the affordable price to many but were capable of punching above their weight by quite a bit which I think is only a good thing in this industry which is running away with itself last few years with prices touching new heights beyond the average Joe and keep pushing through that glass roof.
So it is refreshing when they do come along that there is a product that can offer good sound quality and features for the money and Aune certainly did that with the S6 amp/ dac I reviewed recently which I have to say did surprise me as I was not expecting it to be that good when looking at features and price it came in at.
So it left me thinking was this a one off or is Aune able to have this continuity through their range of products in the new M1S dap which Is not pretending to be an android app galore friendly portable streamer that can play lazy birds on or make popcorn with its processor but actually just concentrate on providing a good sound without compromise so gone is a snazzy colour screen with album art and is more like the HIFIMAN Mega/Super Mini’s where they just show text info on screen and no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth here to help you out or drain your battery.
This does not even have an EQ included which for many will be a bit of an odd omission for any player but I personally like this idea as again always felt the player should be tuned good enough from the start and with players I have had usually leave the EQ alone anyway for exception of early days with HDD Walkmans or Cowon D2+. 
Aune would rather spend the money on features that you would associate with improving the sound side of things like a balanced 2.5 output alongside the usual 3.5 SE mode and a Aune tweak on the Sabre ES9018 DAC and low jitter clocks to give you a darker background plus choice of three dac filters to cater for preference in different sound presentation is  what makes this player primary target all about the music.   
Design & Build…
On first sight of this player is a polished looking player to look at but the design is kept to minimalistic with no touchscreen here, just all traditional hard buttons to press and all though the front jog dial buttons are big they need still quite a precise press in just the right place to make right contact to engage the desired operation. 
The size of the M1S is a fairly big player with a bit of depth to it which makes it feel chunky but holding it in one hand was okay for me although I found the edges not been bevelled a touch to sharp to hold for a while making it uncomfortable on the hands but this is where again the silicone case solves this as not also does it protect it makes it feel nice to hold the player with the case on. 
The Micro USB charge and both headphones jacks are located at bottom of the player whilst the micro sd card slot is located on the same side as the volume and power/wake button.
The screen is simple and effective at just showing the relevant info via text only with no album art.
Neat and clear as this looks I just felt it could have been a little less drab in presentation every time it the screen is turned on to look at.
The battery seemed to be accurate from what I could tell to manufacturers quoted 11 hour run time using mainly 16 bit FLAC files and a mixture of high res files in FLAC plus some DSD only tracks played to take into account higher drain on battery with those DSD or higher bit rate FLAC files so no nasty surprises with run time or even battery draining quickly over few days when left in standby mode.
  1. Headphone impedance range: 8-600R
  2. Headphone output THD + n: 0.00027%
  3. Headphone output power: 110mW @ 32Ω BAL output -180W @ 32Ω
  4. DNR: 120 dB
  5. CCIF: 19KHz + 20KHz 0.00012% @ 32R
  6. Noise: 2.52μVrms
  7. MAX Level: 1.92Vrms
Supported formats:
  1. WAV: 16bit24bit32bit-44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192K/352.8K/384K WAV + CUE
  2. FLAC: 16bit24bit-44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192K
  4. APE: 16bit/44.1K normal level
  1. Continuous playback of more than 10 hours (16bit / 44.1K file / continuous playback)
  2. The maximum charge current of the battery is 1.3A, 1.5A or more recommended adapter to achieve the fastest charging effect
  3. Interface: 3.5mm headphone jack, 2.5mm balanced headphone jack
  4. Screen: 2.4 inch IPS display
  5. Media: TF card (up to 128GB, FAT32 format)
  6. Font: Simplified Chinese / Traditional Chinese / English / Japanese / 한국 
  7. Size: 55 × 126 × 14.8 (mm)
  8. Weight: 147g
Package Content :
The M1s comes in a smartly finish presentation hard box case which is understated in appearance with just the company logo on the box lid. 
The M1S comes with the usual array of manual, USB data transfer charge cable and screen protector.
There is also a silicone case which is optional which comes in various colours and the one for this purpose was black which naturally suited the overall tone and theme of the player. 
The case actually made it easier to locate those buttons to press and feel more comfortable in the hand not to mention obvious if dropped will be that only bumper cushion between your player and a hard glazed tiled kitchen floor or concrete. 
Sound Impressions…
After hearing the Aune S6 Amp Dac I knew this would be an intriguing proposition listening to this as the S6 had great specs and performance for the price tag it had and then points towards was the M1s able to deliver in the same regards.
Upon first listening this sounds a little different to a lot of daps I have listened to of late and straight away got my attention.  It to me was not a carbon copy sound of the S6 but sharesmany attributes with the same philosophy of Aune keeping a house sound that has continuity with its line of products.
First thing that strikes me was the clarity and neutrality of the music, it flows with ease and is never trying to push hard unless you want it to sound like this you can use the DACS filter setting to make it have faster transients which will give a more attacking faster sound but found it depended on which IEM or headphone it was paired with gave varying results also was a factor for what setting might be best.
In all honesty this is no slouch even when it is on a slower roll off setting which I must admit to is what I had it set to if it was not set to analogue setting although the exception was the Meze 99 classic’s seemed to benefit from the fast balance setting as it made it more responsive without over stepping the mark in being overly sharp with decay of notes due to the Meze more laid back nature in sound.
One of the big factors to this player working well as it does is the black background this player has which is truly exceptional and is the foundations of what this player is built on as it helps serve to give such depth with the clarity of this clean sounding player. 
The good thing about this M1S signature with been neutral is it is not flat to listen to and has some interesting dynamics that help keep you engrossed for those long listening sessions on this player.
This coupled with that nice black backdrop of space helps any type of music genre but with subtle music like classical or symphonic pieces the music can come as if from nowhere in height with the ample headroom the M1S combined with a good amount of depth gives great scale to the Aune player with music like this.
First thing I listen for or want is the vocals to be good in body, tonality and actually be forward enough they are not lost in the mix and melee of what is going on in the mids and for most part the Aune delivers on that with vocals maybe not been full bodied, instead they are handled delicately with an emphasis on clarity and neutrality as vocals are nether too thick or too thin sounding.
There is a nice amount of headroom with vocals that have a higher pitch in the upper mids region and holds strong when this happens without losing pitch or harshness to vocals like Tori Amos live can be quite testing with her scaling the frequency ladder but the Aune is solid in handling the upper registry of her vocals matching Tori going for it.
I am a fan of female vocalist especially which came through as crystalline and clean with a sense of space between the music and the vocalist singing, even when vocals are in the mix more it is audible to pick out and track fairly easy.  
Even something gravelly sounding as male vocals like ZZ top is very clear and precise in tonality without sounding harsh or accentuated in their delivery amongst those heavy riffs from their Fender, Les Paul & Gibson guitars filling the soundstage. 
So once I’m happy with vocals it makes it easier to enjoy the rest of the music and from there the player is actually a well-balanced sounding DAP with no curves or dips to the range so no sucked out mids or over bright treble to distract from the rest of the music or over bloated bass taking away from the midrange information here.
The Aune just interweaves harmonics and timing with great sense of delicate handling with details that are transparent which make listening to the M1S a pleasant and easy listen is respect that I refer to it is easy to hear details and enjoy what is been delivered to you rather than relaxed laid back performance that will make you doze off on the settee within five minutes.
The mids remind me of how I heard the In Ear Prophile 8’s earlier on this year where it is tonally balanced that there is not much colouration or saturation to hearing instruments or harmonics lending to just a lovely natural clarity to notes that is easy to follow with transitions between the mids to treble and bass emphasis engaging seamlessly.
Listening to Lukas Graham “7 years” is another where the focus is shoe upon the vocals projected with a clean precision yet capture his rasping voice with the instruments been separated with good timing and depth to dynamics upon delivery which makes hearing the mids involving with clarity.
Another song showing the mids off well yet challenging it was Elle King - “Ex’s & Oh’s” is quite a quick paced song in this area and has fast transients between upper mids to treble region always sparkles with good clarity and space and can clearly hear the attack and reverb of the snare drum which leads the march of this song. 
Treble is handled like the vocals in a more measured and delicate manner which is resolute in accuracy but never quite gets to been over sharp or bright in the upper register yet still has clarity like crystal glass with the tone of instruments and is reminiscent how the S6 handles the treble section also with good detail in note decay in the upper frequency. 
Bass is certainly not shy on the M1s with capable extension never found the bass getting in the way of the mids at any time. The mid bass has good transition to lower bass notes with a natural flow & progression in transition to the lower bass notes making it not short on depth either with sub bass with a low bass response.
This is probably the area the M1S has most body and texture with plenty of weight in the punch when bass notes impact fast and in control yet gives the most warmth this player will ever have you will hear from this end of the spectrum in the bass section.  
The bass can be quite powerful especially when paired with headphones that are already quite bass orientated like my Meze 99 classics or Sony 7520’s (with beyer velour pads) I have.
There is still plenty of detail in the bass which keeps the continuity in clarity in this player been able to hear the changes in timbre.
Soundstage is very generous and sounds big with a good sense of width as well as depth thanks to that black backdrop again it just feels like everything is suspended in space when you are listening to it which is pretty impressive for a dap costing this amount, some daps do not even manage this feat on a higher price scale so is nice Aune have paid serious focus in managing this low floor level.
With IEM’s….
RHA T20’s,
Been a portable DAP I thought I would start with my IEM’s and first up was the RHA T20’s which is the cheapest set I have in my range for exception of Meze 12 classics which I had loaned to a friend during this period although very similar to 99 classics anyway just in an IEM.
 So the T20 is one of the more Marmite IEM’s I have had the pleasure of owning as they can be fussy with what they pair with but when they do they can sound just right and be a very intriguing listen for what they cost.
The trouble they seem to have is if not matched right they have a tendency to sound to sharp and harsh on the treble end for a lot of users including myself as have been susceptible to headphones or IEMS in the past that have been over treble sensitive.
This issue is not bad with the Aune M1S which helps with its neutrally balanced treble gives a more equilibrium treble with this pairing but is still there sometimes even with this player so for some who find the T20 overbearing will not find total solace here totally but other than this it is a fairly solid as the T20’s neutral tonality matches the M1S like for like here.
Bass is lacking some definition and refinement on the T20 overall but has a solid impact with bass delivery and when there is heavy rock or metal which is clashy when there is a lot of info to cope with seems to bottle neck also making that treble come through on T20’s a little hot it can be a little congested unless it is well organised pieces of rock music like Springsteen, Pink Floyd or Yello.
The T20’s to me seem to suit classical, acoustic music really well and faired well over all with the Aune although not entirely a perfect match which again can be more the T20’s tendency to be demanding in its partner so not bad all things considered and would give it a B if I was giving this marks.
With JH16Pro…
I next tried my CIEM JH16Pro with the M1S which had an immediate impact together with a vocalist been forward and localized to the centre coming across with great dimension and clarity yet with the warmer JH16 they still had a sense of been airy and able to breath. 
The soundstage depth and width was very good on the 16’s which added to the natural headroom the 16’s are already capable of with a good sense of vibrancy and liveliness to recordings and had plenty of definition in detail on the mid and low bass notes and the sub bass has great ability to immerse the floor across the soundstage to great effect.   
The JH16’s love the Aune and really perform together and the combination of JH16’s bass and Aune bass is surprisingly not overdone and hits the right notes. I would summarise an A+ which I didn’t see coming with this combo. 
With Vibro Lab Maya…
Excellent A rated , Just impressive, dynamic, immersive, great soundstaging, cavernous-spacious, good micro detail pick-ups in the mids. Treble clear, mid bass tight and textured, low end only there when needed. Defined depth of sub bass, not too much, not underdone.
These are my favourite IEM’s currently and fell in love with them from the word go, one of those moments when you just hear the first thirty seconds and you know you just going to fall for them.
The Maya’s are one of those IEM’s that have not been fussy with what I have tried it with so far and is a friendly IEM just like a Labrador dog. 
The neutrality of the Aune really is ideal for the Mayas mids to shine how they are without changing the signature of them with the great sound staging the M1S offers makes the Mayas very spacious  listen with the details of the mids the Mayas are so good at delivering making it a very immersive listen. 
Treble has a gentle and tactile approach but is always still tonally candid with clarity which matches the natural tone the Mayas have with high notes. 
Mid bass is tight and textured with good definition and although the sub bass is not overwhelming on the Mayas it seems to be there when the music requires and the M1S response is there for the Mayas when needed.
To me it is a more balanced realistic approach on the Mayas with lower bass frequency’s so it is never too much yet at same time is not exactly underwhelming as the Maya’s have the ability to have a good low sweep sub bass when called upon. 
Again like the JH16’s the M1S is a good pairing with the Mayas and showcases what the Mayas are all about and even though I think for synergy I think the JH16 actually does still pipp it I would still give the Maya an A+ with the M1S. 
With Headphones…
Grado GS1000e,
With headphones I started with my Grado GS1000e open backs which the Aune had no problems driving although they are easy to drive cans anyway. 
Vocals again are very clearand detailed, the mids on these with vocals is where the Grados excel anyway but the M1S brings that to the fore in a very focused manner.
 The speed and dynamics match well together with this pairing showing fast and fluid transients and the Grados GS1K’s are not known for been bass monsters and the M1S does not try and falsify any added bass onto the Grados even though it has an excellent bass extension here but actually represents low mid bass really well with sub bass albeit been more one you hear sonically  but do not feel. 
Good as this was on the M1S I find the Grado will sound okay on many systems but to hit that sweet spot of the GS1000e’s full potential despite been easy to drive I’ve always felt they needed a very good amplification to make them sound just right and not even the Chord Hugo done that so for this player at this price to still sound above average with it is doing well but in all honesty I have only heard these GS1K’s sing to full potential on three or four set ups with two been desktop rigs so bearing in mind this is a portable DAP it would be a B for the GS1K on the Aune player.
Meze 99 Classics 2.5 balanced and 3.5 SE modes…
(both with modded Kimber cable)
With now knowing the M1S player well enough by now I was confident my Meze classics would match up but you never know and trying this in SE mode first with the M1S with the Meze sounding confident  in everything the 99 Classics is capable of doing with its more than highly detailed mids it renders at this price point with vocals forward and very close and clear and plenty of low end bass presence a smoother treble presentation makes it pleasant to listen to and the M1S provides that neutral balance that keeps the Classics warm signature not over warm.
In Se 3.5 mode I would say these are a straight A score. 
Moving to the 2.5 balanced option this Aune has with the 99 Classics does change it up a bit with the vocals shift a bit in the soundstage and are more in the head than in front of you on the soundstage and sound more equally left/right panned which is a slightly different experience to usual, almost felt like a pair of HD800’s can place sounds in strange places, albeit I did like it like this and felt even more intimate with listening to the vocals.
It just seemed the soundstage had more room to breathe with more clarity in general and felt less cluttered to SE mode and noticed with treble notes the triangles on one track came through more cleaner but just there suspended in its own space and time where in SE mode was more hidden away in the mix and was more subtle to hear.
Even the bass was different with this in balanced and resonance of bass notes more clearer and defined sounding less muddier to it in SE mode.  In all the soundstage had opened up more across the board and was a more clearer and precise listen in balanced to the SE mode. After sounding pretty good in SE mode (which would be a B+) with the benefits I heard in balanced I would be an A with this pairing.
With Mr. Speakers Ethers...
Got to say these were just dandy with the Aune, a $1400 pair of headphones sounding enjoyable on a $250 dap probably sums the Aune up from all the ones tested with it so far.
There was a perfect balance to the range throughout and the Aune was able to live up to providing an immersive soundstage the Ethers are capable of with perfect timing with trailing notes sounding natural in the way they roll off. The Ethers although the Aune has a neutral tonality with the Ethers it shared the rich vinyl like sound of the Ethers coming through with good depth to drums with plenty of body and resonance to bass line’s.  Vocals are smooth with full body but have a clean presence and closeness that feels intimate listening to the Ethers on the M1S
Treble is not overly prominent or lively even with the M1S calling the shots but the Ethers have that easy relaxing approach to things and the treble still extended well with good timing and tonal ques are there so treble notes sound authentic still. 
The warmer Ethers signature really play well with the neutral Aune in the mids that just sound warm and detailed with good rhythm combined with really good soundstage made a very satisfying listen with this pairing.  A+ all day long with this $250 & $1400 combo!
With Sony 7520…
The Aune really suits the closed back nature of the Sony 7520’s which compliments each other with their neutral approach suits the tonal qualities of each other which is similar and the sound is lively with good dynamics and imaging  with very impactful bass on the 7520’s due to the M1s been able to attack fast on the lows of the 7520’s 50mm drivers.
Although the soundstage width is still narrow on the 7520’s even the M1S cannot change too much in this department on the Sony’s compared to other cans but the imaging and placement in the stereo mix is very involving to listen to.
This is never going to be a player for those looking for the ability of streaming your content, adding album art to your display or using as a line out with another dac or using various apps using Android. There is not even EQ settings for those who like to tinker with the frequency response.
The M1S has everything just aimed at delivering a player that can play music with everything of the asking price going towards the sound only and this has resulted in a very capable sounding player that on first listen takes you aback with how good it sounds from the word go and what’s even more surprising is how much it cost.
To manage to achieve a player with the black background it does which is key to how you hear the delicate details that the M1S presents itself with quite a neutral sound yet stay musical with enough dynamics going on without ever trying to over exert/ emphasis with what you hear is all the culmination in making this a enjoyable balanced sounding player to listen too.
It’s not perfect by any means even though it is hard to fault the sound especially at this price although there are certain aspects to getting pairing just right for best experience of this player yet felt it just needs some tweaking on small details with the design and operation of the player even though a lot of common sense has been applied throughout and would make this as solely an old school music player without the gimmicks a very tough one to beat.
From the experience I have had now with both their S6 amp/dac and the this M1S DAP is Aune just want to make simple to use equipment with the emphasis on quality of the music at a sensible and affordable price and on both occasions now they have achieved this with aplomb and certainly look forward to hearing Aune in the future as I think this is a company we will hear more of as time goes on for sure. 
Hi linux4ever,

Thanks for kind words on review. :wink:
On subject of paragraphs ... I am aware how to do paragraphs cheers, but when i post recently when it transfers to head-fi it has either been bunching everything up so no spaces or putting in a load of extra spaces for some unknown reason and then have to edit once posted on head-fi but it was silly o'clock when i posted last night and missed a few i had to sort out as it is never like that when in word doc until it transfers to head -fi as you will be able to see if you take a peak at one of my other reviews they are not like that.

Whether it is an issue with chrome or not, I'm not sure even though it coincides with having a new laptop recently also?...
I will edit when i get home from work as on mobile phone replying on the quick as starting a fresh new day for glorious work!
Hi skullophile,

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. :wink:
What a great and easy read,thoroughly enjoyed it,one of the best


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Accurate & clear baalnced engaging signature, features packed, balanced HP out and XLR pre out.solid build & design with simplicity of use.
Cons: No remote for when using as a pre-amp, easily marked casing finish, volume adjustment ratio.
Aune S6 32 bit DSD USB DAC/ Amp
March 2017
First of all I would like to say thanks to Aune for letting me be part of this tour and getting to listen to this in the comfort of my own home for a week.
I have been heavily into my  portable gear and been meaning to look at a desktop amp to go balanced with a flagship headphone at some point and must admit I had envisaged a flagship amp to go with it but with a flagship price that goes with them and other commitments keep delaying it for last couple of years it intrigued me for the money a Dacamp that had such connections as balanced XLR headphone out and pre out for use as a pre-amp with a speaker set up so curiosity killed the cat at this money to give it a try.
Output: XLR/RCA
Headphone output port: 6.5mm headphone amplifier port , four-core balanced headphone amplifier port   
Headphone amplifier matched impedance: 32-600Ω
Headphone output power:
Balanced Headphone Output:
32 ohms: 8000mW (MAX)
         1000mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)
300 ohms:1000mW (MAX)
         246mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)
600 ohms: 500mW (MAX)
          120mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)
Single-Ended Headphone Output:
32 ohms: 2500mW (MAX)
          280mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)              
300 ohms: 250mW (MAX)
          72mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)
600 ohms: 125mW (MAX)
          36mW(1khz@THD+n 0.001%)
Input sampling parameters:
Maximum word length:32Bit          Maximum sampling rate  :384K          Maximum DSD rate(DOP) :DSD128
Maximum word length:24Bit         Maximum sampling rate:192K      
Line out typical value: 
Frequency response: ±0.4dB(20 Hz to 20 kHz)       Dynamic range: 116dB                SNR: 115dB 
THD+N: 0.0008%@1KHz                                          Stereo crosstalk: -132dB
Output amplitude RCA: 2Vrms                                XLR:4Vrms 
More details about the Aune S6 can be found here:

Package Content 
The Aune S6 comes in a nice solid box which has a style that is meant to look polished and sophisticated in an understated way and simply the box lid has a silver AUNE logo on the black box.
Underneath the hood of the Aune box you will find the S6 unit itself sitting in protective foam and comes with a USB stick instruction manual with drivers for the Dac and a USB cable as well as mains cable. 
The design of this from the get go is neat lines, very tidy in appearance and is not sporting a number of switches and lights to compete with the IIS Enterprise. The build is solid with good sturdy connectors with the balanced sockets been good quality Neutrik supplied.
The digital volume also doubles up for mode selection by pressing the in with a push so pressing once will cycle to the next input selection whilst a double quick press will change the output to line out or headphone out.  Holding in for five seconds will put the unit into standby or wake it up from standby mode. 
The volume dial itself rotated with a satisfying click with each step on this digital volume but would say it sometime would get a bit tedious with the amount of turns you had to do in relation to the actual volume percentage it went down or up so is more turning involved than your normal volume dial. 
The display read out is a very simple yet large clear IPS display which is well laid out and gives you the info you need easily readable that even from just over twelve feet away when in my speaker set up I could see the volume level clearly thanks to also showing you via a little ball that sits on a horizon line going from low on the left hand side to higher volume the more it is to the right hand side and looks quite cool as it looks reminiscent of the earths outline from space with the moon just following it’s out edge
The display also shows what input and output is selected as well as the very handy and essential sampling rate and type is currently going through the S6. 
Just a shame there was not an option to dim the display and turn off if wanted or when in off mode came on for 5 seconds every time you adjusted a setting on there.
The design was by a British team which has made it look nice with the arc designed top casing but maybe less practical to stack any source gear on top compared to if it was flat but maybe the more frustrating part of that was the finish of the casing which looks nice again but seemed to mark to easily. 
I liked the overall design and made sense and is made so you do not need a degree in how to do the power up procedure of a Jumbo 747.
Lastly have to commend Aune in this price range bringing all the inputs and outputs which really gives this Dac/ amp an edge with a four core XLR balanced headphones socket as well as THE STANDARD ¼ inch SE headphone jack. 
The back comes with two rca analogue out sockets as well as the option to do XLR 3 pin left right balanced out and then the digital inputs consist of USB ‘B’ type in, Coax digital and Optical inputs as well as an AES XLR socket. Also on the back is the main power button which is next to the 3 pin kettle style plug connection.
What is clever yet simple idea is Aune have taken the trouble to screen print the outputs with writing upside down so makes it easier if you are popping your head over it when it is set up in a rack. That was a nice touch which shows attention to small detail for me. Other than that it is hard to imagine what other inputs/ outputs they could have put on here given its price tier.
Sound Impressions...
Firstly the reason why most of us on here will want to project interest in this rather sleek good looking minimalistic designed unit is to run our Headphones or IEMS through it.
So I will be reviewing this firstly as a headphone source then as a pre-amp through my floor standing speaker set up.
I have to say at this point the only balanced XLR cable I had that I could try with the S6 at time of writing had a break in it so was not working thus could not try it in balanced mode apart form a supplied pair of Zen as part of the tour that was hard wired into a balanced plug, something don’t see every day so will only be able to give my “balanced” opinion running balanced with the VE Zen IEMS. 
From now on I will be buying a back-up balanced cable from now on for such curve balls as this.
One thing I found with this been a versatile ability to pre amp for speaker set up’s also was I had quite a lot of testing to get through in a short space of time and all though the primary objective for most on here will be to use it as a headphone amp I will give my impressions of it running through a reasonable 2 channel speaker set up also as all I can say for those who buy this they have that option if wanted to can run in speaker mode will have an even better value for money set up with the S6. 
Like the design and layout of this Aune S6 unit I would say it is simplistic, not in a negative manner. No far from it, I say it from a point of view the S6 Dac is uncluttered to listen to and tells you a story wit out any complications or overcooking it in any particular area.
 Overall balance is quite an even keel with the S6 and seems to present bass mids and treble all in equal manner than they are presented with a well-balanced pitch and scope that does not take away your attention from one being overwhelmed by the other. 
Soundstage appears to be fairly wide in dispersion, not quite HD800 scope but made a difference to narrower field sounding headphones I have like m Sony 7520 closed backs.
For the amp side of this it is meant to be powerful enough up to those cans hard to drive in the 600 ohm region but was only able to try a pair of older 300 ohm Sennheiser Ovation open backs running SE which had plenty of room left and never felt pushed to its limits from my brief couple of hours with them on. 
With Meze 99 Classics…
Luckily what I started to hear with the first headphone I plugged into the S6 SE input was a the familiar Meze sound signature which I think is complimented by the AKM AK4495 dac used inside the S6 as the dac gives a smoother presentation in sound which is why it feels a more relaxed, easy going listen.  No harsh treble end here or over bright signature with this dac.
 The S6 is not trying to be too clever or over-elaborate in how it is trying to sound , the AKM dac inside is quite natural in tonal  balance with instruments all though the S6 does side towards a warmish feel with it been smooth in delivery yet does it without been overly thick or coloured with instruments which have a good sense of timing and decay, maybe not the most snappiest or fastest response to transients compared to other amps but is hardly laying on its back struggling to keep up with proceedings.
It actually surprised me how tonally balanced the S6 did sound especially with the top end although it is never prominently forward it just plays it like it is and has a realistic reproduction with metallic sounds that symbols will come through with enough shine and sparkle to strikes and crashes of copper/ brass cymbals/ hi-hats without ever been aggressively over sharp.
It may not been the most fastest with keeping pace but is far from the slowest I have heard with it still sounding quite snappy and quick footed with change of notes without sounded muddled and kept good pace to keep the rhythm flowing with the music.
The soundstage helped what is already quite good ability to reproduce it in the Meze for a closed can had some of its most exciting experiences with stereo panning sounds were accurate and far field in the distance in travelled so made the Meze closed backs sounded a bit bigger than usual.
This helped such albums such as the Interstellar OST which relies on space, depth and timing to give the effect of listening to a soundtrack that is all about building up the stunning  aural experience to match the equally stunning the IMAX picture it accompanied.
The 99 classics with its warm signature has a pleasant engaging sound that compliments the  
S6. The Aune is actually sounds like it is tuned to be fairly neutral on the whole so the classic sound is still distinct to its original signature.
In all keeping the Meze signature intact and been easy to drive really suited the 99 Classics and just wish I had my balanced cable to try with these on the S6.
With Grado GS100e…
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 I then moved onto an open back headphones I have in my Grado GS1000e which although again is easy enough to drive and will not vex the Aune into submission for lack of power it still needs the right amount of ingredients to make a Grado sing just right so unlike the Meze been quite a natural fit with the S6 I was more apprehensive how it would pair with the GS1k’s but should have had no worries here really as the clear mids of the S6 dac come through to make the mid driven detailing GS1k’s sound at home also.
The GS1Ks are more of an analytical listen as it loves to show of detail which is its thing rather than just an all-rounder with a wall full of sound so you would think this is only suited to dac amps worth more than the S6 level it resides in.  But the S6 been fairly smooth with a balanced mid-range in conjunction with the GS1KS prominent mid-section allows it to shine those nuances of detail the Grado’s can pick up on. 
Even with the good bass response the S6 can go down to the Grado's never go into overdrive or turn into a pair of hard hitting HD800 bass or say the full rounded bass of the Ethers but just has the right amount of detail and control the Grado's can handle without ruining the mids the Grado does so well. Treble is again accurate in tone and right amount of sparkle to the ringing sound of hi-hats and symbols but is never dominant or recessed.
One thing I have not mentioned yet is vocals and the S6 is clear and crisp with vocals and love the forward raw edge it has makes them come across more real as there seems to be good depth at times between lead vocals to backing bands playing.
Ward Thomas Cartwheels album is handled well with the S6 and Grado's always been able to hear both vocals in harmony yet choose the distinction between both sisters singing with clarity and the S6 places the very good backing band they have well into the sound staging with acoustic guitars sounding sharp and dynamic with the S6 Grado combo.
With the GS1K the vocals excel and easily leads you to be transfixed by the singer with them been forward with a clear outline of their vocals been paramount on the GS1ks.
Over all I liked the GS1Ks with the S6, maybe not quite as good in SE mode when paired with my Vorzuge Pureii+ amp which is also a special little box of amping but I could listen to the GS1Ks a lot with the S6 as it just keeps unveiling what detail in the music the Aune has to offer in a relaxing manner yet stopping short of been too polite.
It is easy with the wrong pairing for the Grado to sound to shrill or thin on top end and the S6 does the opposite here so another good pairing here for the S6 with Grado GS1000e.
After doing two cans closed and open back I thought I would turn my attention to IEMS and start with my four year old trusty pair of JH16Pros which I still love the sound of despite hearing the improvements in the latest V2 Freqphase version. Yet it still doesn’t detract this is still a fine sounding IEM with that added bass response and headroom for those who like their concert style sound.
With JH16Pros…
Again the JH16 sounds like the Meze did and did not sound different at all keeping the JH16 signature in place and recognizable from the word go with the S6 tidy and coherent delivery really suited the way the JH16’s work with those BA drivers and maintained the JH16’s very above average headroom it has as well as a good full bottom end response all though not maybe as tightly controlled as I’ve heard it before on other occasions but in fairness apart from my Vorzuge amp this would have been with amps costing over the grand mark anyway.  
Listening to the latest Yello album ‘Toy’ had a nice holographic feel with this album with very generous amount of spatial cues from all corners of the listening sphere with the way Yello engineer their albums which came through in a very effective manner and there was good definition between subtle and bigger impact sounds going on in the mix which had good timing to the ear.
The JH16’s was very familiar and the S6 made it shine in the right places with the right amount of dynamics and drive with accurate tonal clarity made this a good a match than it is with my Sony W1MA Walkman for pairing compatibility. 
With Vibro Lab ‘Maya’…
I then moved onto my new found love I reviewed recently the Vibro Lab Mayas which have really struck a chord with me and is my type of sound and really wanted for these to match well as I would be crying all over my laminated flooring if they didn’t. 
Why was I worrying again? The Mayas were actually pretty quick and responsive (which I think is helped by not having so many BA drivers to feed) with very concise and pitch perfect prominent vocals that you have that connection where you feel the emotion of the artist singing.
None more so than the Rag’N’Bone Man ‘Human’ album which really connected and keeps you so focused on every word he is singing as his vocal pallet in hearing the pitch changes in his voice is so close you can hear the nuances in detail with every breath he takes to carry on the next line or verse is crystal clear.  This is recorded well in 24 bit but is still sampled at 44khz yet the fullness and richness of the band is very dynamic with good resonance of strings and percussion playing of the Mayas is brought out by the AKM dac in the S6 whilst the amp side helps drive the impact of sudden bass kicks and when a verse stops suddenly on a sixpence you can hear the sudden echo of the trailing sound of instruments in the room trail of into the night.
Have listening to the Mayas on here with any music was a joy with the S6 but listening to this 24 bit version showed how it can scale with well recorded high res files.
The soundstage was quite wide for an IEM with convincing imaging and very accurate panning of sounds. The S6 certainly brought out the best in the Mayas mid- range which is where the Maya really does shine that little extra to an amazing right amount of bottom end which is not too much or too little and the accurate tonal properties and shimmer of treble detail is kept with the S6.
The bass notes actually sounded better controlled, more tightly and defined than it did with my JH16’s all though the Maya bass goes nowhere near the fathomable depths my JH16 does this gave a bit more focus on lower mid-range tracking clarity with the sub bass when it came in.  The Mayas had good transient through the bass response giving clarity to hearing changes easy in the frequencies and different layering of bass notes.
Having the Maya come through the other end of the S6 star was a relief as these are the IEM I would listen to exclusively from what I have at the moment and really loved this combo all day long.
With the supplied VE Zen balanced IEM’s
 I tried the supplied VE ZEN Iems that were balanced and once got them in the right place as a little fiddly with the old school sponge pads design the Zen’s have it was quite a clear sound with quite full bodied signature with ever present mid-range with a solid mid bass and reasonable sub bass that is maybe not quite as tight due to lack of seal so lacking true impact with this style of old school ear buds which was a bit surreal as it took me back to my childhood days in the 80’s of how earphones were designed.  The soundstage sounded just as tall also which felt nice considering it was a pair of IEMS and not headphones plugged in. They seem a fairly reasonable
With the Mr. Speakers ‘Ether’ open back…
The other bright star that shone with the S6 was the Ethers which I love also but have not heard them for a while and have to admit going by the sort of signatures of the 99 Classics, Maya and JH16’s this should be another can with its warm friendly immersive sound should be a natural pairing.
…How wrong was I?! (Once again) It was a magical pairing just like the Maya, the Ether is like it has had a light shone upon it and just excels In the areas that I already know the Ether can perform in with its vast immersive soundstage with great micro detailing cues (just like the Maya).
Listening to DSD 2.8 MHz Bluecoast All Stars Jam really gave a fuller greater extension to notes and the detail in the bass guitar was pretty nice to hear the depth of the vibration of each string.
Whilst the higher pitch sound of the violin is keeps a good amount of extension which is the nearest this gets to been uncomfortable with this higher strung string sound yet is meant to be as it tonally gets the way this dirty southern violin sound is meant to be portrayed.
Hearing some old Tori Amos remastered Little Earthquakes on the piano in 16 bit WAV made my hairs of my arms stand on end as it conveys the echoes and trailing edges of notes on Tori’s subtle to hard hits of the keys very dramatic are carried well on the black backdrop of nothing on the S6 with the Ethers.
Again the AKM DAC inside the S6 is been faithful in rendition through the Ether’s but just has a smoothness with that hint of siding on warm that invites ones ears to engage without trying but the combination is never stuffy or over warm as the S6 still has that ability to be clean and open enough with its delivery with good separation even during heavy going passages of music.
The Smooth and the Rough…
It all looks like plain sailing so far with the S6 but like any amp there is always going to be ones that don’t pair well with them and I had two in the form of the RHA T20 and my old sentimental modified Sony 7520’s with Whiplash Hybrid cable welded to both drivers as well as stock pads swapped out for Beyer DT velour pads.
The RHA T20 is or can be a fussy suiter anyway but I have heard this when paired right is a good sounding IEM despite some finding it too edgy or hot on the treble and I am one that is also treble sensitive and have to say it was not the issue with this amp as after all it has a polite top end compared to how the T20 is designed so cancels that out to a degree. 
 The T20 just sounded isolated with a lifeless un-dynamic cohesion going on which is anything but how I have heard this dac/ amp until now.  The mids on the T20 by nature are also a little recessed but this sounded more evident with this pairing and to me the T20 would not be one I go to first for a session on the S6.
The 7520’s had a similar experience in sounding a bit dull and flat with actual lack of bass energy which is strange to say but what I was hearing from what I have experienced so far with both S6 and my 7520’s with other gear.
 It was not long ago I reviewed the RHA Dacamp and could not believe the pairing with the Sony’s and was the best I had heard them even other my Chord Hugo with Vorzuge Pureii+ amp in tow so sometimes it can really be a head scratcher when you pair two items you have heard sound good but just clash due to the way they are both tuned.
There is a similarity that both the T20 and Sony both are a bit lively top end with been more raw/ stripped in their approach to the others I tried with the S6 which all coincidentally have a natural tendency towards a warmer sound so thinking all though in theory sometimes two opposites like a cold sound and warm sounding bit of kit sometimes off set each other as the RHA Dacamp did with my 7520’s it is not the case with the S6 and warmth & warmth = great things whilst colder and warm do not mingle here at the house of Aune.
I actually do not think it is so much that the Sony and T20 are maybe cold but more a case of the are not so subtle with how they strip away at the details after all the Sony is meant to be a studio monitor par sae all though it is still a musical headphone hence why I have kept it this long (four years and counting) but it at times can bit critical especially with poorer recordings not so forgiven so with this I feel the S6 dac keeping it accurate with instruments tonally this is the area that those slightly less forgiven with such headphones like my Sony 7520 or the T20.
Finally, S6 as a pre-amp in a speaker set up…
Another reason for this one been a hectic review is the S6 can act as a pre-amp with either XLR outs or analogue RCA stereo output and unfortunately I did not have the correct XLR for these as I only had male not female which was needed.
So went ahead and plugged in my two RCA left and right analogue cables to my Tag McLaren 250W Monobloc amps running into my old trusty B&W CDM7SE speakers via Chord Signature speaker cable and have to say once again the S6 does a fine job and scales well with each step up in bit rates from cd quality through to DSD, just a shame again this does not go beyond DSD128 but it holds its own as a pre-amp with a good musical friendly balanced engaging listen without ever offending or been over critical.
There is a good amount of space and air with the S6 running through the speakers with a good dynamic range and certainly sweeps low when needed with tracks that demand it when sub bass comes into play. The treble is smooth but tonally sounds real in reflection like chimes, triangles and symbols have a nice extension to a note ringing with good decay and sound audible in the mix.
The mids are once again like with listening to this with headphones are quite neutral in location, not recessed or pushed forward at all even though vocals have a closer intimate stage setting to the listener which is how I prefer it anyway. There seems to be more depth to the soundstage as compared to listening to them with headphones but is not a million miles away from the overall listening experience the S6 delivers when in headphone mode.
It may not be quite as open or quite detailed still as even my old Sharc Tag DACS but is above average for sure through my speakers that I could quite easily site there and have a good listening session with them in a speaker set up.  I am sure this would just be that much more open and fuller with it running balanced but that’s for another time hopefully….
Over all sound…
It seems to me as long as you pair it with a more forgiving pair of headphones that are not too lively and not one that are either too bright or over analytical then the Aune will provide a natural interpretation of instrumental sounds with an equally balanced signature with a touch of warmth, a reasonable soundstage that allows space for the music to breath allowing the S6 to never sounding cluttered even with challenging more complex passages of music.  It may not be the most sharp agile attacking Dac amp around if that is on your list for a Dac Amp but it will allow for a pleasant easy listen to music that is not over critical on detail so is set up to enjoy the music and not think about it too much. 
Is there anything I would change on the sound of this, probably not the way it has such a good balanced mix of everything without one section being a distraction which is a sign of a good engineered dac and amp that has been designed by someone who just enjoys listening to music rather than analysing it which have to say surprised me as I was expecting something from the Chinese outfit here to try and be all Hi-Fi and concentrate on been a bright top end  detail monster  equals Hi-Fi sound but they have not. 
Probably the S6 biggest test was how it managed to scale from Flac 16 bit files through to 192 and then DSD 128 files with a noticeable difference and gave the player a new lease of life each time with a more defined fuller picture to each note being played just had better leading edge detail to notes and had a fuller dynamic range making songs even more engaging to listen to.
It was just a shame this particular model seems to be capped to 128DSD and not beyond as I had some higher DSD files to try which would not play on the S6 but what I heard in the S6 when sampling at higher rates made a difference but only if the album is engineered and recorded well at source in the studio as some so called high res stuff up-sampled or not true hi-res can sound worse than just the 16bit wav version of a song.
Poorer recordings on the S6 had a similar sound experience to the T20 sound in which the sounded just flat and closed in but still listenable. Just not as enjoyable as what I was getting used to with good material on the S6.
I would say it is an understated sound to a degree and taking into account what is also on this feature wise with at this price is pretty impressive along with the solid build that puts some other companies in this domain asking three-four times more that this should take note a good solid build can be achieved without costing the earth.
My only main negative comes with the remote if they want to take this seriously as a pre-amp as much as a headphone amp and maybe some nit picking with the amount of volume adjustment needed and the surface finished used on the casing for the price and build quality and ease of use with the final delivery of how well the sound quality has been implemented it is hard to fault this Aune S6 and can only imagine if they apply this methodology to their other products they will be one to watch for anyone wanting cost to performance ratio with good spec list look no further.
Certainly one worth auditioning if you are looking for an affordable Desktop Dac/amp combo that ticks the boxes for being balanced outputs and a pre-amp.
I have to say I liked it that much when funds permit a bit later on I am contemplating getting this dac amp at this price for what it has feature wise with the sound as it does not take up much room on my glass coffee table beside my sofa where I sit and will soon have a new balanced cable for my Meze so hopefully when I get it I will update my review here on how it performed balanced a bit more.
Well done Aune on a solid performer that I think will surprise and impress many to come when they listen to the S6.  
No Worries, You can at the MK show in April if you are going ; )

The GS1K is an articulate detail picker with out been over analytical and the S6 certainly helped provide the right balance for the Grados perform how a Grado should!
Hey guys. I got the S6 and also purchased some Hifiman HE-560s. 
I'm using a balanced cable and I feel like volume all the way to 100 is not loud enough. Is there something wrong with my setup/system?
Only thing I could not try at time was a hard pair of cans to drive on the S6 and looking at your HE-560 specs they are a bit in-efficient so maybe the S6 is struggling with them a bit.

Retrospectively I came across someone saying they really handle harder to drive cans with adding on one of the dedicated more powerful Aune amps hooked up to this to drive more stubborn phones.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Very open powerful and dynamic musical sound with very low sub bass floor. simple and easy to use and pair up. Design. Build. Price
Cons: Volume steps to large in BT mode, Cup size to small for some, No dedicated hard carry case. Bass maybe too prominent in quantity for some.
Archeer AH07 Review
February 2017
This is my first experience of using a Bluetooth headphone even though I had been contemplating getting one solely for watching TV late at night when speakers will keep others in the house awake as well as using with music.
The AH07 comes in a nice solid looking box and once the lid is off you will see the AH007 sat in the plastic moulded packaging in it folded position.
Inside the box there will also be a USB cable for charging and a 3.5 to 3.5 jack so you can use the headphones via cable if the battery runs out and you still need to use them until you get to charge the Archeer’s up again.
Also included is a printed manual which is quite comprehensive and straight forward to follow where I did not have to be a mind reader to work out the cryptic clues you sometimes get with a product from China.

Bluetooth Version: 4.0 
Talk Time: 14 Hours
Stand-by Time: 540 Hours
Playback Time: 14 Hours 
Operating Range: 10m/33ft
Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP/AVRCP/HSP/HFP
Impedance: 32Ω
Sound Pressure Level: 103±3dB
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz

Package Content 
1 x Archeer AH07 Headphone 
1 x USB Charging Cable 
1 x 3.5mm Audio Cable 
1 x User Manual 
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Fit and design...
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On first handling they certainly feel compact in general even before they are folded up into their travel storage mode. They feel quite light considering there is battery pack and electronics stored inside the headphone which comes in at 255 grams.  At this price it is never going to be made of luxury materials throughout but it does have quite a good padded headband which has plenty of sponge material to cushion the weight of the headband when wearing.
The adjustable length for the headband has a good solid click when adjusting and the foldable hinges seem quite sturdy and well made with a metal hinge incorporated in this section so should hopefully last a long time.
The pads are the same material as the band is made from which I think is some sort of PU leather effect and the cup size measures in at approx. 27mm wide by 54mm tall which is quite small so for anyone with large ears they may be too small or in effect be on ear pads but you will not get the isolation by design.  I am quite lucky my ears just about fit in there comfortably and also added bonus they do not seem to heat up too much even after wearing them for a longer session. 
I did find though with this small design and not much depth to the pads after a couple of hours I could feel the driver housing was irritating me slightly wear they are making contact with the other ear lobe as these do clamp rather well to the head also and do not feel loose at all when wearing them which would in theory make them probably good for jogging or gym not that I am in any fit state now days to try something as exertive.  I will leave that to the younger generation of reviewers to put it through its paces!
So I feel if the pads where just slightly wider and deeper in depth it might of just been a perfect fit for my personal preference.
Bluetooth and general operation
Been my first time using a Bluetooth headphone setting up was quite easy, firstly turning on for a two seconds until it makes an audible sound to let you know it has turned on.
Pairing the AH07 was an easy experience by holing the power button for five seconds then flashes red/blue alternate to notify headphone is ready to be found by a device as my Sony Walkman picked up the headphone within seconds and once selected it played straight away and subsequent uses the Walkman has found it without any issues each time.  
The power button/ pairing button also doubles up as the play stop button when music is playing just by pressing once. The volume buttons also act as next track by holding down until next track plays.
Taking calls using my HTC M9 (sure this will give away the age of this review one day) is simple and reliable and there is a nice ring tone that cuts in at a volume that doesn’t deafen you regardless of volume you are playing your music at and taking the call is a simple press of the power button to accept a call and also end the call.  Clarity of voices was really clear and concise and wish phone microphones even in top smart phones had this level of vocal quality for taking calls.
Sound Impressions
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Pairing these with my Sony W1MA Walkman where my collection consists of using a mixture of 16 bit FLAC files and some high res files ranging from 96/24 up to some DSD files at 2.8 and 11.8MHZ. 
Firstly they do what they say on the tin as far as bass goes, there is plenty of it there, they sound like my Meze Classic 99’s type of bass just not quite as defined or controlled as the Meze but if your into Rock, Dance, R&B, Hip Hop this bass is really going to add presence to these songs. 
I have to admit I went into this thinking they would amount to much but have to say I am a bit surprised as they have tuned it despite having a strong emphasis with a bass lead signature  they have quite an all-round equal balance from each frequency range with punchy lows, very present mids with clear pristine vocals and an airy forward treble that for a headphone in this price range has quite good extension all though some music can be border line with the treble been a bit too sharp on the ear and Adele in the upper range did sound a tad nasally although for the most part sounded neutral in tone of her voice and had good grain to details in her vocals. 
I did notice also how these headphones pick out detail with things like taking a breath and gasping for air between versus.
These have quite an expansive soundstage for their size and are deceiving to be honest how wide they manage to sound for a closed back can. The AH07 have an ability to pan music very well with a good sense of depth and dynamics always make these headphones sound lively.
What did impress me was how transparent vocals are to the point they sound detailed and tonally life like it was quite uncanny, vocals are quite simply regardless of price here is amazing how it can reflect accurately the tonal palate of a singer.
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The sound-stage is fairly massive for a closed back this size or any closed back any size come to that and imaging and stereo panning and depth of soundstage has a good kilter and been executed well to provide listening to these for hours will still be enjoyable without any listening fatigue.
Adele’s 25 album actually sounds like it has been recorded in a big concert hall even though it is a studio recording.
So listening to live concerts on these is perfect with its vast wide soundstage and cup shaking reverberating sub bass makes live recordings come to life.  Even classical music despite the bass enhanced signature and warmth not really suiting this area of music had good feel to proceedings with an enjoyable clarity to hear fine details in strings been played on violins on Mahler’s No.5 symphony in High Res files.  
The mid bass is fairly warm and bass strings sound really plucky with plenty of body. The definition and tightness in control is dependant of how good the recording is as I found it scaled well with very good recordings could have a could focused tight bass response and the sub bass is one you can feel at times as well as hear and can be quite effective in making songs feel more atmospheric and immersive especially with dance tracks or film soundtracks that use a lot of low end bass.
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Listening to Michael Jacksons Billy Jean has great extension and decay with this treble focused track with a nice underlying delivery of mid to low bass beat giving its catchy rhythm or with Sia’s powerful vocals come through with a sense of a good headroom to her high notes.
The AH07 have a good tendency to reflect recordings in sense of reproducing their original signature recordings with albums like Adele or Sia sounding like they are in a bigger amphitheatre setting with plenty of echoes and very open wide and high soundstage whilst say Fleetwood Macs Tusk album as a more intimate recording in a smaller studio room with a drier flat response to notes is reflected accurately showing the AH07 is faithful to the recordings been played. 
The overall balance of these headphones have been done really well and still cannot quite get over how good they sound at this level as been used to headphones are usually more reference or flagship level and although they might not have the overall control or diligence to fine detail or ability to keep separation when there is a lot going on in some songs.
I could go on with how artist sound on these quite easily as the Ah07 adapts to each genre quite well considering it has a heavy tuned bass lead signature it seemed to just be enjoyable to hear this with any genre I listened to these with which made these reminiscent of another headphone which does that with a similar bass response in the Meze Classic 99’s which also sound better than their price point suggests.
Using with a cable…
If you happen to run out of battery on a journey and still need to listen to them then there is the handy option of going traditional by using the supplied cable which is a 3.5mm to 3.5 jack connection and have to say there is an improvement with control of notes I the high end not been quite squeezed or stressed out.
I happen to own a 3.5 – 3.5mm jack cable I had made for a previous headphone that used this connection and the cable cost me quite a lot a few years ago which is a silver/ copper hybrid designed cable and have to say took it to a level above the supplied stock cable just adding more control all round and tightening up of notes making it sound more defined and cohesive with a slightly more focused soundstage an imaging than previously. 
So using the cable whether a modded cable like I already owned or the supplied stock cable does further improve on the Bluetooth a little but does show these scale even more further when hard wired as they sound good enough to start with in their primary mode but shows a cable can help further if you was in the mood for an ultra-serious listening mode whilst sat in a comfy chair. 
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Archeer have made these sound very pleasant and easy to listen too with a good punchy open live sound yet relaxed at the same time with stunning focused vocals that make these AH07 a joy to listen too.
There are some points that could be improved but they are actually not in the sound department, if they could maybe make the cups a bit bigger as not ears will fit as easily and a dedicated hard case to store them would be nice for transporting when not in use but only main draw back for me was the volume steps are to bigger jump and need to be re-fined so it is easier to get the correct volume as for me it was either a tad too low or too high past my threshold either side of pressing that volume button up or down.
If they could sort out the cons in my list above then I would of certainly given this 5 stars until the cows came home as sound POV I cannot fault it for the money and like my Classic 99's have shown me even after getting used to all these expensive headphones with a feeling of grandeur around now days you can still enjoy music at a very affordable price without thinking about it and just enjoy them for what they are... A very good musical headphone. 
I have and owned many headphones down the years and currently own the like of Grado GS1000e, Sony 7520 with same modded cable as used with this Archeer and Meze Classic 99’s as well as JH16pro CIEMS, Vibro Lab - Mayas IEM which all cost anywhere between £300 - £1000 range and have to say even though these AH07's will never match them toe to toe for detail rendering and subtle micro-phonics apart from the vocals, oh yes the vocals!
For the money these hold a respectable standard that have a good all round well thought out presentation of the way it delivers dynamics, harmonics with the soundstage and imaging gives it the impression of a headphone costing more than It does.
If you are looking for a reliable easy to use headphone when on the go for taking good clear quality calls and listening to a very flexible and adaptable sounding headphone with a good frequency sweep and big sound-stage that has plenty of sub bass the AH07 is a sound choice worth considering for what they cost and then some. Very happy first Bluetooth headphone experience indeed, that didn’t have to cost the earth at all.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Unique best universal fit there is, Transparent, clear, nuetral and musical, bass & treble switch mode, reference sound
Cons: Price, lead vocalists slightly recessed than would like.
In Ears Prophile 8 IEM review
January 2017
I had heard of In Ears but did not know too much about them until I see them on the In-Ear stand at the Indulgence show in London recently. I first listened to their Stage Diver 4 to get to know where they are coming from with their sound with not hearing In Ears before and to where they are going with the new Prophile 8 as this is a departure from the StageDiver series in terms of tuning and signature not to mention it is using double the drivers for In Ears new flagship model.
Since then after researching the forever trident and thorough German way of philosophy in the way they do things in general when it comes to design and performance found out they have been going 25 years and are also in four different sectors which include not just in ear monitors but also a communications sector as well as making hearing aids and hearing protection divisions so are very well experienced across the field and have substance from a very scientific and medical background to help aid them with the audio monitoring sector which is what we are all here for.
I can see the Hearing aid sector is what plays a big part in the way In Ear approach their Audio division as when I was talking Marco at the show I asked what drivers where used inside and turns out they use Sonion for the lows and mids and Knowles for the mids and treble. 
At this stage I have to thank Marco Ramish and his team for letting me have these for a period on loan in the comfort of my own home to try them with some gear I could not take to the show with me so am grateful for the chance to road test these and give my impressions on them.
As hearing them at a show for ten minutes is one thing but then buying something and having it longer at home can be another as my friend found out he loved an IEM at the same show I met In Ears at and purchased them for Christmas as a gift to himself only for the wow factor to wear of pretty quickly and he regretted buying them.  So to have longer than normal with them than usual I am grateful to In Ears for that time with them to be able to give a more balanced view on them hopefully.
Design & Build…
Bass and Treble signature switching feature…
Bass switch (+3db)
Treble (+2db)
This is part of their new Studio Reference Range which is made and designed in Rosdorf, Germany for the Studio engineer by day to use as a tool of his trade where he needs neutral flat response for mixing and then by adjustment of two switches (one bass boost +3db & Treble boost of +2db) inside each shell it can be turned into a more dynamic musical event which In total actually gives you four different flavours in sound signature  This is something I will touch upon in the sound impressions section on how they sound a bit later on but the design is so they sit housed recessed into the shell so it cannot be accidentally knocked or adjusted.
To flick the switch as AD-DC would say you just need the wax tool which can be used to adjust them or any other item that might be appropriate that can get into the small space to adjust the switch.
One thing I think could be improved upon here after the experience of using them for a few days or shall I say night here as I was sometimes in bed at night with a small bed light on so was not brilliant light I found trying to see the black switches inside a dark small black shell was sometimes hard to see which way they was so would be great if maybe the actual switches or tips of the switch had a different colour like a Fire engine red or bright signal yellow or light blue, any colour than black basically!... to see them clearer when in those situations with not much light.
Or even maybe one colour for treble and one for bass would be another thought as I must admit I kept forgetting which side was bass and treble in the short time I had them and did refer to my handy PDF manual from In Ear to confirm again I was flicking the correct switch.
Shell design…
The Shell is in a matt black finish, what I call and maybe In Ears should of called them The Stealth 8’s as they will creep up on you without you knowing it is there and deliver a killer blow… hold on, I am typing my spy novel here, got mixed up and carried away there like I thought I was the Ian Fleming or someone?!
The fit on these Universal PP8’s is like no other I have tried and can honestly say these are the most perfect fitting IEMs I have worn and these is due to the way In Ears have use 500 scans from their customer database to get an average common denominator fit.
This may sound like new technology as you may have heard now another company that is well known to everyone including myself that owns one of their CIEMS is JHA with the new “PRO” range which implements the same way of using an average amount of scans from their database to get a shell that fits for all but In Ears have been doing this for several years now and have to say they have perfected it in my book from every Universal I have ever tried to my only pair of customs I am familiar with for last four years.
And by the power of Grace skull they have cracked it and could not believe how mirrored it was to actually inserting like a Custom IEM also the way it has to twist round 60⁰ to lock behind the Tragus part of the ear is uncanny and once in the PP8 was really snug and comfortable and was not moving anywhere. It is so much like a custom fit I forgot I had that feeling of tips in my ears for most part.
In Ears have even catered for two size ears to cover all eventualities of probability of fitment which must have been born out of the consensus of 500 scans would conclude. 
I briefly tried the small shell after the large shell at the show and then reverted back to the large shell and liked both but think the large one for my ear was more true fit to make sure they did not have play and probably give a better seal.
 Marco did say to me to start with from just looking at me he could tell it was try the large shell with medium tips and I said I am usually for most IEMS a small but he insisted try the medium tips and of course he was right. It was like he was a T2000 cyborg which could monitor and weigh up your ear type and size within a millisecond of seeing you (again with German efficiency built in of course).
The shell quality was amazing and could not fault the finish of these shells which I found myself once in a while just staring at them in appreciation of their grace and effortless in design is “Perfekt”!
So “The Stealth” matt black shells were for me on first seeing them at the show, well that different and usually like something on there but this finish does work and I know some would like to have the company emblem on there to show off they have a pair of £1K+ flagship IEMs that have PP8 emblazoned on them in letters big as the shell but maybe it is nice to be discreet or “stealth” like not to attract unwanted attention.
 I personally would of like maybe a discreet engraving so still in matt black just like they have done the serial number and model No. inside of the shell with their company logo on one side and the PP8 model moniker on the other shell would of looked cool and still understated. 
As this after all is like their cars a German company such as In Ears is bringing the same efficient underrated manner of fine engineering to the world of earphones as they have done to the car world as I do see a resemblance I this was a sports car it would probably be a Porsche…maybe GT3?
The cable that comes with the PP8 looks like most stock cable you get with IEMs now days but it is actually made by a pharmaceutical cable company and is made of silver platted copper with Kevlar and In Ears tuned it using this cable which they of course because of this recommend listening to it with this but we all know as with customs we have that pimp my ride with aftermarket cables going on and there will be cables that suit it and some that do not.
I can testify the Whiplash V3 Hybrid I have is probably not such a good pairing with the PP8 but if you want to keep the essence of the PP8 signature close as possible at still an affordable price I can say the Linum Bax cable was a really good marriage with the PP8 as it does not colour the PP8 signature and replicates the fine details of the stock cable just as well if not better.
The other benefit of the PP8 design here is they have just stuck with the old, tried and tested method of 2pin fitment connection so three cheers to In Ears for that as it was their flagship they could of gone flash and maybe dazzled us all with mmcx connections but almost forgot again the guys from In Ears are German and they do not do looks flash but won’t work properly, they do reliable and solid if it works it stays. 
Cerumen filter system (Earwax filters)
Another first for me was coming across the way they protect the nozzle with a cerumen filter system which can be replaced with the included tool set which has replacement filters included and can be obtained from In Ears once you need some more.
I thought this process was would prove tricky but once you follow the instructions which in all honesty could have been a little clearer from the drawings or used actual step by step photos would have been better you do get used to doing the removal of old dirty filter and administration of the new filter and becomes second nature really but could imagine for those who may have shakes or like me bad eyesight now I’m old in my Hmm Hmmm! Then could prove a little trickier to do this process.
I liked the way they have made the actual filter rings colour coded so you also know which the left and right ear is clearly which is a nice touch. 
Drying Cap…
Does what it say on the tin (almost), basically this is a small round plastic clear tub with minute holes it which houses pellets inside which are used to draw moisture away from your PP8’s when they are stored in the air tight pelican storage case so the drivers and crossovers inside do not get damaged and prolongs the life of your beloved investment.
If the pellets are orange they can still pull moisture in, if they turn beige in colour it is no longer absorbing and time to chuck out and gets a new drying cap from all good drying cap retailers like In Ears.
This is also handy for not just those rock musicians that have done three hours rocking full tilt in a small gig which have turned into sweat monsters but also if you are one of those who live in hot climate country and go from say your Aircon car or house at 15c to outside temperature which is say anything from 30-45c then this method would work a treat for them in the same way. 
Ear Tips: Silicone & Comply tips…
This will take Size TS400 Comply tips and silicone tips and all though there were minor difference between silicone and Comply foam tips the seal with both is perfect it became a personal choice on the sound and comfort, after plenty of testing with both and the unique way they fit in conjunction with the PP8 shell shape in my ear for once did not find foam tips an issue I am used to having with Comply’s and forgot they actually were there even during longer sessions. 
There was only one small but annoying thing that kept happening to me no matter what Comply tip I used with these was they did not seem like a tight enough fit on to the bore as when I went to take them out my left ear tip would stay in my ear no matter how I would try and manoeuvre it to come out and the right ear would be okay but still felt like it wanted to slip of the bore somewhat when taking them out so not sure why this was as it is the first time I have experienced this so not sure if it is the tips not quite right for the bore but it was the only issue I could find here.  
Packaging, Un-boxing & Accessories …
The fundamentals for what you will receive with your PP8’s are as follows:
·       4 pairs of silicone ear tips (sizes XS, S, M and L)
·       3 pairs of Comply TS400 foam tips (sizes S, M and L)
·       4 Pairs of Spin Fit tips (sizes XS,S, M and L)
·       Gold-plated 1/4‘‘ adapter.
·       3 cleaning cloths (throw away antiseptic wipes)
·       IE13, cerumen filter set H3.
·       Drying Cap.
·       InEar Pelican hard case.
The packaging they come in I personally did not get from the review unit I was sent but from photos on Google I can imagine it been a bit underwhelming when you’ve just spent best part of £1200 on a flagship IEM that is way into CIEM territory and maybe think like some must be why is there no 200 year old wooden veneered box with velvet lining with a certificate and brass serial number plaque on the front with brass latch lever to feel like you are cracking a safe. 
Again we are talking Germans at the helm here and can actually understand even with the price these are commanding taking into account they are actually manufactured as well as designed in Germany, so no far east production going on for cheapness and the unique perfect custom fitment feel in design added to the sound it produces is maybe compelling and justifying reason enough these are in a duller cardboard box with a Barbie style window to see them housed in on purchase (reminded me of when stinky Pete was in his box passing wind in Toy Story2!)…all though this is more like Stealthy Feat in In Ears2 with them passing sweet tunes instead of wind.
I personally think though and admit been a packaging junky when I purchase something nice like this would really add to the In Ears experience if they done something breath taking to compliment the actual product itself might be something that is just the icing on the cake in the future?...
Sound impression
The best place to start with these flexible reference IEMS was to try these running flat with the switches set to off which is set to the down position. 
First thing I noticed is there is nothing big or fancy coming from the PP8 to catch your attention but just sounds naturally free flowing and easy on the ear to listen to due to the balanced consistent response across the frequency range with no spikes or bumps gives a feel of natural cohesion in the way the music is connected from the bottom to the top with so much clarity and headroom is matched by its width with the soundstage.
I did notice it is quite a left-right field sounding monitor which I have not heard one like this for a while and always sticks out a bit when you do hear one but what stops this from turning into an A&R ARM2 player experience where it was all left and right field it sucked out the middle staging and sounded unnatural and good as the sonics and detail retrieval was it became too distracting and unnatural more so than IEM listening. 
Where the PP’s differ and safe it from been an ARM2 scenario for me is there is enough information been channelled to the centre staging gives it that natural point of focus as if you was seeing them on stage then the far left/right field effect is helping with the wide imaging and sound staging to create a large area to sit in and hear it all.
The PP8’s nature in depth and width of these monitor adds a vast space and air combined with a very low noise floor gives a real black background for the PP8’s to operate in making them so lucid and transparent.  
This makes fine details arrive with a perfect timing making it easy to be receptive to them with ease.
The PP8’s are defining to be a reference flagship that do not sound flat to listen to and actually is enough dynamics created to make musical in neutral mode to sound enjoyable without ever sounding analytical.
The treble is so non offensive yet maintains a sharp enough clarity to the tone of instruments and vocals in this range to sound lively without making your ears bend backwards in pain.
For anyone who has sensitive hearing and wants a reference flat sounding IEM with a treble that will not spike or pierce your ear drums yet still sound clear and concise enough as it can be in this region then this is spot on as it gives enough air to sound spacious in the headroom and be non-fatiguing to listen to for hours on end.
The treble is not above the rest of the music and is in the mix but still has great extension with that big space for them to work it is easy to hear treble chimes and hi-hats clashing with a ringing edge to notes in detail. 
The mid-range is again easy to follow, very organic and pure nothing jumps out at you too much but details are all there to track and follow without having to try as the precision and placement sounds will just emerge from the black backdrop with a nice finesse in the way it is delivered which makes background sounds or noises sounds terms of distance and depth of where the notes start from and end.
Even when the treble switch is on the treble is never overly sharp or hot anywhere in the lower or high region of the treble even though it then becomes more raised and prevalent to hear above the mid band region.
 The depth is not the most mega immersive or layered running flat you will hear in an IEM but everything you need to hear is done with a clarity and precision which is only achieved because the speed and attack in the mids is quick and decisive and has a good sharp enough roll off which gives a very natural tone to musical notes been played. It is that spaciousness with the black backdrop that I never heard any instruments or sounds cancels each other out as you could still clearly hear all the mid retrieval in information but also track where notes came from and ended in the soundstage mix in songs.
Pianos had space to breath and had an accurate full in body in the low key registry and twinkly brighter real tones in sound that piano keys reproduce in the higher notes end that make them shine with neutrality in the mids and higher treble.
The bass is very linear running flat and will feel closer to the mid bass area than a low sub bass floor delivery although remain distinguishable from each other and is more of a  bass you hear rather than feel in the low end and will be tight and fast in its attack and release. Drums sounded defined and each bass note generated with a kick drum had a transparency with micro details you could hear bass note details easier.
 Or bass guitar would have lovely transient details in notes with the thick bass notes plucked with the reverberation of the strings echo with accurate decay.
The impressive thing here is you here the above so easy in the mix when everything is going on with several other noises all happening yet still you ears will pick this up on the PP8’s almost as if you do not go looking for the details to be heard as the PP8’s bring it to you which is what makes it so natural and free flowing to listen too.
The good thing about the bass especially mid bass is never drowning out the mid-range at all and there is always a steady correlation between the mids and bass connection that sounds naturally open and fluid with transitions.
This is where the switches will be tempting as to really enjoy some types of music in an enjoyable sense with more flexible dynamics for music like rock, dance or R&B tracks might just need that bass switch to be flicked on to add that extra body and depth you will find in these types of songs.
One song I noticed benefited from the bass switch been on instead of neutral was Christine and the Queens “Tilted” or Faithless “Salva Mia” or “Insomnia” where the sub bass becomes a buzzing low line humming with slight vibration signal that now reverberates through your head but without been overbearing with more low end body that runs with good separation still from the mid bass area.
It is like listening to them run parallel on two separate railways tracks to each other which you can see both clearly tracking each other and follow the notes been played clearly on both levels and yet the mid-range is not affected by this and never overpowered with still been able to hear all the delicate information coming through that adds to the layers of subtle dynamics make dance tracks come more to life rather than a quick light yet tight polite sub bass.
The bass tweak does by no means turn these into bass monsters with a seismic shift that will dislodge your brain or colour the sound but is more defined in standing out enough as well as feel a vibe going on to make it become lively with dynamics on the lower end yet there are certain tracks like Dire Straits “Industrial Decease” that do not sound right with the bass switch is on which bogs it’s natural speed of the track down just enough its off balance and is more even kilter running flat as it has a very quick tempo in the upper mid bass section and rhythmic passage which just edges this to be run flat as opposed to bass switch on.
For me I found pure rock tracks or Dance tracks that have a boost to their bass or even OST tracks with the big deep active bass lines is very well suited and amplified enough without been over emphasised with the bass switch on yet more complex tracks like vocals works or orchestra, acoustic sessions are just perfect set running true neutral flat with switches off all though acoustic and orchestra did benefit from the raise in harmonics from the +2db rise in treble as it gave more air and elevation in the headroom giving more space on the top end which made it feel more atmospheric almost ampi-theatre effect.
My biggest surprise was with all the switch combinations was the more widely accepted one to have running was treble only as in general what I mentioned about it with Classical and acoustic sessions applies to most genres I listened too. As it was not a case of just more sharp end accentuated tinging sound to notes, it was more an opening up of clarity within actual notes with more extension still sounding tonally natural and never felt out of balance to the mids or bottom end running on flat mode.
Both switches flicked on is very interesting and can be more hit and miss here depending which genre it is as it starts to take more of a light V shape it again might be well suited to indie, rock or metal but it was more lively for sure like this been extended both ends giving it equal vibrancy both ends did raise the amount of tracks that probably didn’t suit as well as it would flat.
That’s not to say it is not a good setting but once you are used to the flat you might just prefer the honest clarity and precision and accuracy it can operate at in flat mode with still delivering a musical signature to enjoy without having to try.
Overtly after running in say both bass and treble boosted going back to flat will in comparison initially straight of the back of both will sound a tad dull and lacking some bottom warmth and body in bass with less headroom and space but your ears reset due to how easy they are to listen to and the finer details remain to enjoy.
Tracks that stood out for me running both switches was my old Fav demo track Yellow “The Race” remastered or Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance album due to the way it is recorded or again some OST that already have a great dynamic range like Inception or Batman Dark Night rises yet something like Oceans 11-13 OST albums with David Holmes will benefit more from flat running or treble on only to accentuate that upper mid pace and space.
I found the switches actually more useful than I thought to be honest as to start with thought these would be solely a gimmick as I used to have the Vorzuge Duo amp which had a treble and bass boost switch and never really used it as to me it did not quite ever sound right but here with the PP8 the subtle tweak they have done is not over exaggerated and having the switches on in any configuration never really messes with the essence of the core qualities of what the PP8 is all about always giving a clear and transparent presentation. 
There will always be certain songs that will not suit any given setting with the switches on but on the whole I could listen to any configuration with random tracks on shuffle playing with different genres and still enjoy the sound.
It would be only if doing critical listening to an album you would then obviously look to use the switches to the suit the genre of that album to maximise its performance in sound.
I also like the idea that the switches are set inside the shell unlike the way JHA implement their version of it into the cable and let’s face it a majority of people spending at this level will more than likely swap the stock cable out to a new aftermarket boutique cable and do not get why you would want to dial it up to 10+ db that is available on those cables anyway as when I’ve tried them in the past they come across as just too bloated and thick and not natural compared to when JH tune a IEM driver to be bass heavy to start with so much prefer the way In Ears have implemented the switches for this reason.
 I am glad they are there but truth be told which is what makes this IEM special is if you did not have the bass and treble boost option there these would still be an amazing sounding IEM you would enjoy with any genre as they ar
e still not in the slightest flat or dull and sound musical without been forced out of its comfort range for control at any time and has as good headroom as my JH16pros does but with more clarity and room adds to that for the In Ears IEM.
I do think there will be those out there used to always having a tweaked elevated bass that listen to a lot of rock driven music would miss that still with the PP8’s and maybe even with the bass switch on 3+db still might not be enough for some but that is not what the PP8’s are about.  I guess if you want that it would be more a case of check those SD4’s out for the budding hard core rocker out there.
Pairing these with any of my gear was showing these are an IEM that is not too fussy and will work with what I had to throw at it in any case.
 I firstly tried them with my zx1 Walkman as this is the player I would use as a standalone player when on the move and Is easy enough to drive and matched really well with the rich texture of the ZX1 mids feeding the PP8 which relayed all the detail the ZX1 had to offer and had a nice balance and tonality of treble stayed the same on the PP8 but maybe the ZX1 bass was not quite tight enough to make the PP8 shine to its full potential here but still sounded more than acceptable to enjoy my music on.
My other dap the HIFMAN SuperMini also sounded crisp and clear with good mid info retrieval that showed the treble at its best whether it was running flat or on with a good tight bass response even in flat mode. 
I really could not find anything this IEM doesn’t like even the brighter HIFMAN supermini sounded solid with a treble that was in control with lovely breathy mids going on as the MegaMini strength is in this area which really complimented the PP8 Mids.
My worry would be with the Chord Hugo as even with so far the PP8’s nicely balanced breathable treble was worried it might get too harsh in some way but the PP8 is made for the Hugo as a pairing and the veracity and fairly neutral response and timbre of instruments with the two together sounded so organic with a great sense tonal reflection as if they were mirroring each other. Only thing with the PP8 stock cable which is an L shape was the jack unfortunately would not fit into the 3.5 recessed jacks the Hugo has so had to use the ¼ inch jack adaptor.
I really enjoyed and probably listened to this combo more than any other as I had my Vorzuge Pureii+ which again sounds very good with the PP8’s and again with the added power swing and extra authority even these rather still efficient IEMS are at still has a positive effect in bringing the Headroom out on these PP8’s as they do not mind been driven hard if need be just like their Stage diver can handle
But my favourite pairing was the Hugo for these as I think they both share so many philosophies on reference sound signature they just mate really well allowing everything to flow and breath with precision and perfect cues and timing and the analogue texture in timbre of instruments and tonal balance between the two is so easy to listen to without having to try.
My only thing I have to be honest with here and could not quite ignore it was with vocals which I have not really touched upon yet as the PP8 tonality, pitch and timbre naturalness to speech is not in question with the PP8’s and loved them in that sense with both female and male singers.
The only one area I was struggling with was the placement of the vocals  as it just seemed to be one step back to far from the front for me and although not getting lost in the mix or it been the mids recessed as we know they are not but kept feeling I wish the lead singer was more nearer with a bit more elevation so it would be more connection there between me and the vocalist.
It felt like at times I just wanted to dial up the volume a little to bring them up a little more and just give them a little more presence and body to vocals. 
I thought the bass boost might change this but actually did not affect it that much, not enough to change it anyway, so for me I would just love to see the vocals brought forward on the stage a step more than they are now especially with female vocals.  Apart from that the tonal sense and breathability with vocal nuances are nailed on there but just not same level in the mix for me to stand out like a lead vocal should most of the time.
Like anything recording are just as important to get the most from these as with sub average material it will just sound subdued and boxed in, lifeless almost although I prefer this to equipment that can be over bright with poor recordings like RHA gear for example.
With a good to excellent recording or using High res files you can hear the extra solidity to notes and details have more lick and subtle cues to trailing edges of notes and room acoustics improve with better higher quality files. With DSD files this is where the PP8’s actually find some depth and layering running in flat and has better steering with imaging and accuracy in soundstage. 
I have not gone into how it sounds with each instrument as I sometimes do or how it sounds with certain picked songs so much as I have done in the past as in a nutshell this handles pretty much every instrument known to man or woman and cats and dogs to reflect them in a very faithful in been balanced tonally to sound natural and neutral without discoloration anywhere so you just believe it to be real and with the Frequency of these not having any nasty or weird bumps anywhere does not upset the rhythm of this natural reflection of how instruments or harmony’s should sound. 
I could go on all day about these really as you might of guessed by now I am quite impressed with them just for been a honest IEM that is producing a reference level in performance but is doing it in a way that even when running flat mode these still sound musical without been analytical or too sharp as a lot of reference truly flat IEMs will sound to most people and you can just listen and relax with these for hours on end in relation to both the sound quality and amazing unique universal fit I have not experienced until now.
I felt these had a big price tag around their shoulder which might turn some off potential customers but then when I put them on I was hooked on the fit alone but for the PP8s to really deliver a home run with the sound if you was to like them much as I have when you hear them and fall in love with them enough then will always justify saving the extra as it would be worth its weight in Euros not to forget hey are also all hand made in Germany as well as designed there and in theory would not have to have remoulds done every seven to ten years in theory to a custom fit.
I have heard some good IEMS this year albeit not all of them like the Campfires and the only other ones that really shone as bright as these for me was the Obravo range which starts to cost more than these or the Vibro Labs Mayas which for the money I think reproduce resolution as good as some £1K IEMS albeit a more mid centric IEM which is more lush and even more musical focused than these rather than reference. 
I think the build of the PP8 is superb and should last for many years If looked after as one would for something they cherish and think it is one of those IEM sound signatures you simply will not get bored of because of its natural nature in how it reproduces music with still enough dynamism in musical presentation that makes it hard to stop listening too once they are on and with the added ability to change it up with the signatures without over doing it most of the time adding it all up with the Cerumen filter system also is true universal flagship you can say is reference with added options.
 I think if you love what you hear from these and can just get over that initial hurdle with outlay for them there is a truly well engineered a cutting edge performing and fitting IEM that will have its own pedal stool to stand on that the competition will secretly be worries about.
Great job, very detailed! You really enjoyed reviewing this.
This was a joy to review indeed, Thanks for kind words...


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Build & Design, Tone controls, Balanced, Line in-out, external charge function, SQ clean and powerful with extensve range both ends.
Cons: Volume wheel too sensitive, USB layout and switch could be better, balanced connector type or at least supply a 2.5 adaptor..
RHA DacAmp L1 Review
January 2017
To start with, thanks again to Glassmonkey for organising this tour and RHA making all possible to start with.
RHA known for their IEMs at affordable prices with Scottish heritage where they are designed and production from China with even their latest flagship model not breaking the bank as opposed to most modern day flagship models cost yet they do not have a portable Dac/amp in their portfolio that is until now… 
This is the new L1 Dacamp that has been released in conjunction with their two CL range IEMS the CL1 & Cl750 which need an adequate amplifier to drive them @ 150ohm… step forward the RHA Dacamp which will be more than enough to power the new CL range IEMs.
How coincidental is that I hear you ask?, very maybe, but it seems something has been brewing in the RHA back yard for some time as it has been a while since the range with the T20 topping their model range emerged and was time for something new but don’t think many would of guessed what RHA actually had in store with this triple release with one being the Dacamp L1 but here we are about to see RHA’s first take on an amplifier with dac that has DSD and balanced capability.
Below is Dacamp L1 features:
  1. Dual ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DACs & class AB amplifiers
  2. Support for high-resolution audio formats up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and 11.2MHz DSD
  3. Headphone outputs: 4-pin Mini XLR (balanced), 3.5mm
  4. Digital inputs: USB A, USB B Micro, mini TOSLINK (optical)
  5. Compatibility: Mobile and desktop devices including Android, PC, Mac, iOS (MFi certified)
  6. 4000mAh li-ion battery for 10-hour battery life with power pack function
  7. Three level gain control and EQ dials for bass/treble attenuation
 A list of Equipment used with the Dacamp L1 for this review.
RHA CL1, CL750 & T20 IEMS
In Ears Prophile 8
Meze Classic 12’s
Grado GS1000e Open back headphones
Meze Classic 99
Sony 7520 modded with Whiplash cable welded to both cups.
File type used: WAV, FLAC, DSD dsf256
Laptop used: HP X360 Spectre Win10
Sony ZX1 Walkman
Tag Mclaren DVD32R
Dacamp L1 Specs:
Output power (16Ω)
Output power (300Ω)
Output impedance
2.2 ohms
Dynamic range
PCM sampling frequencies   
44.1 - 384kHz, 16 / 24 / 32-bit
DSD sampling frequencies   
2.8224MHz (DSD64),
5.6448MHz (DSD128),
11.2896MHz (DSD256)

Input connections
3.5mm line in, USB A, USB micro-B, mini-TOSLINK Optical
Output connections
3.5mm line out, 3.5mm headphone out, 4-pin Mini XLR (balanced)
4000 mAh
Like the CL1 that is their flagship IEM the packing of the L1 Dacamp is given the same treatment with a nice hard board box with unfolding lid that reveals the Dacamp which is laying on top in a foam holding bay then underneath that is the accessories section which includes the following:
  1. Silicone bands
  2. Cleaning / Protection Pairing cloth
  3. USB micro B to micro B cable
  4. USB A micro to B cable
  5. Manual and warranty card
RHA when designing the Dacamp I think really wanted to cover a lot of basis with what this can do for the money you have to put down on their first ever Dacamp.
So as well as having the tone control functions which has physical 3 step gain this can either be run as an amp only and has 3.5mm line in and a 3.5mm line out jack as well as optical input.
What makes this even more versatile which would come in handy for emergency’s is the Dacamp has a feature where you can use it as a power bank and use the battery to charge a mobile device which is easily set by using the gain switch when turned round to the lightening badge which is a step under the low gain setting will then allow charging of the external device. 
It will give up to 10 hours continuous performance before the battery is out of juice and takes four hours to recharge the 4000mah battery.  I never measured to test the battery accuracy but was getting at least several hours a day listening in some days without battery giving up the ghost then was on charge overnight ready for next day. 
Mileage will vary I think on whether you are trying to power a set of 600ohm monsters and file types and sizes used will determine the batteries stamina.
I personally wished it could do another few hours but cannot have everything I guess in this size footprint without making it bigger and heavier. The battery is simply recharged via the USB connection to the Dacamp.
To top it of RHA Dacamp comes with a 3 year warranty which is commendable but think RHA know they have quite solid reliable build in this that none of us will ever need to use it.  The Dacmap is capable of decoding up to DSD256 and is High Res Certified by the Japanese audio society.
Build & Design
It looks like it is a solid build from the photos and that is because it is as once you see one of these in the flesh it is from a build stance high quality as you can get In its given price structure and even though its design might not be for everyone, hell, yes I was one of them when I first see photos thinking I like the body and general shape but the tone controls are done oddly?
After a while though you begin to appreciate the design once using the Dacamp as things like the volume wheel and tone controls are not just aesthetic to look good and is form and factor by design so has a reason for been designed like it is.
On the whole I do like the design and it is different without been offensive showing a retro hi-fi style with those tone control wheels and modern clean lines of the one piece aluminium casing and actually is something that really identifies it being an RHA amp without mistaking it for anything else out there.
So that volume wheel could be a strange place to have it but when you have it to hand it becomes a feeling of been more logical and makes sense and has been designed not to be knocked by accident. 
I love the volume and the power click with the way the volume numbers are done but it is probably just too light and easy to move for anyone who is still a tad heavy handed with things as wrong pressure can make that wheel turn a few clicks the wrong way pretty quickly. 
I never managed knock it by accident myself but I did have it stationary as a desktop use so was unlikely to happen in this scenario but did notice it was easy when going to adjust the volume wheel if one was not dextrous when making contact with the wheel it was easy for it to go a few clicks on than desired which with IEMS does not take much to blow ones head of if not careful.
For those who would use it on the go I could imagine it might still be possible for the volume to be accidentally moved.  It is not what I call urgent recall status or anything but felt to me like it was half way there to been the perfect balance of not too light nor too stiff so if I was gauging it maybe another 25% resistance on the wheel might have done the trick there.
The power indicator although minimalist was still too much for me too remember all the different stages of where the battery is at and what it is doing when on charge etc. with different colours flashing at different speed, not flashing and although it is minimalist to have only one light bulb tell you everything I think they should of taken a lead out of the OPPO HA2 Dacamp with the way it clearly shows you the level of battery with  a number of led lights that simply go out after a few seconds to save battery.
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I know it may seem a bit nit-picky and will probably come across as being so as there will not be too much to criticize about this Dacamp if the sound is anything to go by from the general high standard of the build is.  Sometimes it is the smaller things like this that can really actually annoy me as there is a better alternative to doing this without compromising the battery.
The jacks and plug inputs feel solid when jacks are inserted and the gold connectors give it that feel of quality when looking at it.
The only port that seemed to be maybe not quite right on my unit was the actual Micro usb port and sometimes was not hooking up straight away to any devices and was sometimes a case of two or three attempts to get it to seem to pair with sound coming through so whether it was just my review unit or not I am not sure. 
Again been nit-picky here but at £400 you still want it to be perfect is still with the usb port just seems a bit frayed already around the edge of the material where the USB plug goes in which compared to the rest of the nicely polished looking unit just looks tatty and raged which after multiple uses seems to be making it look even more frayed with use. I thought it was just my unit but have seen this on photos form a couple of others so maybe just needed a slightly more thought into maybe some sort of trim finish or mini bumper around the port that would not fray when the usb makes contact where sometimes we all miss by a MM on insertion. 
Last moan off would just be to make it less fiddly it might have been better to implement the USB function switch above the actual USB port which would of made life a little easier. 
Other than those little niggles the rest of the Dacamp is just solid as gold bullion  and feels like it will not fall apart anytime in the next 50 years or so.
Sound Impressions
This is not the first time I have heard this as two months prior I was able to listen to these at a show in London which was a mixed bag as I was left a bit underwhelmed with the two new CL range of IEMS at the time although this was to later change with the review units I had for a happier ending I did not have such problem with the new L1 Dacamp.
This from the word go seemed to be an amp that was not going to be a go at studio reference neutral flat with a dampened signature as it is anything but… It actually comes across as having quite a big full sound with a very dynamic signature.
There is an actual touch of warmth without been like syrup so allows details to still shine the acoustic vibrations these amp seems to generate yet the top end is left a little more open and brighter sonics with sparkle and but to my surprise is far from the brighter end the way the RHA IEMS are tuned which is why I think they offset the RHA IEM’s very well and actually made my T20’s shine in a new light I had not heard them until now with the Dacamp.  
The first thing I plugged in to the 3.5 SE jack hooked up to my Sony ZX1 in line out mode listening to this with my JH16Pros with the Dacamp it had an ability to have a big sound with a good range from top to bottom and have a tendency to just convey the rhythm at a pace that pitched just right and is not slow nor too fast and finds a way to suck you into the music. It had plenty of headroom to match the 16’s own headroom which it excels in.
Highs have good range but do not have the same sharper tuning that is incarnated into RHA’s range of IEMS and is in fact very pleasant to listen to without losing the ability and effect to extend that upper range like the CL’s are capable off.
Been these was the first actual IEM I ever tried with the L1 at the show my JH16Pros had an excellent synergy showing straight away this could be an decamp with potential and nothing changed upon plugging it in again when I received this L1  for review as the JH16’s ability for having very good headroom is able exemplary as the Dacamp has more than enough to make the JH16’s have a high range with amazing control. The JH16’s are extremely efficient and had no problem with floor noise and was pitch black allowing the 16’s to have great detail, spacing and dynamic range come through with ease. 
Then I tried the opposite end of the scale with the modest Meze classic 12’s I have which themselves scale well if you give them top recordings for their £70 price tag and the L1 really suited been able to make perform to its best potential with micro details and the signature is a lovely match for the Dacamp and if you already like the classic 12’s ability for a nice rich low end then the L1 will compliment this even further for you.
I will move on briefly on how this dealt with some headphones before I move back to RHA IEMS with the Dacamp, firstly the Grado GS1000e which are a bit different cup of tea for some out there but the Grados detail rendering is great with any string related stuff and the Dacamp matched them fairly well but maybe not as well as I was quite expecting as it was really good in the soundstage and top end but the balance was not quite there synergy wise in the mids to low end and much as I was enjoying it there was something holding me back from enjoying this like when with the Vorzuge Pure amp combo which I think is perfect for GS & PS1000e headphones.
Next up I tried the Meze Classic 99’s which is a more refined and broader range version of their budget Classic 12 IEM and these do not disappoint with the L1 Dacamp been able to show of what the Classic 99’s are all about and again like the 12 classics the L1 will just goes hand in hand signature wise as these are a very easy headphone to drive the amp has plenty there to drive these on low gain.
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I also had a brief listen to my Dads Ether open backs which for the day I had them with the Dacamp like the Meze would recreate the sound of them quite faithfully but even with the slight warmth of the Dacamp it does not manage to overdo it on top of the warm and relaxing technically gifted detailed headphone that it is and I loved the way the soundstage and imaging was retained with the Ethers making them sound expansive as they are capable of been so was another good pairing.
Lastly I tried my old trusty Sony 7520 studio closed back cans which I had modified with a Whiplash Hybrid V3 cable welded to both ear cups and really did not think it would amount to much as the Dacamp had spades of bass scope and punch with a high end suited to get the best out of the CL range and I know my 7520’s are still capable of sounding a bit too sharp on the treble still with certain tracks and the Bass is quite generous for a studio monitor (probably even more since I put modded Beyer velour pads on which is a significant improvement over the Sony stock pads) so thought the pairing would be too much in these areas for the Dacamp to do justice to my Sony’s. 
How wrong was I?! These did intensify in the low end more than usual, but managed to really keep it tight and detail there to keep it driven with an authority and slam that you get on some bigger headphone amplifiers and really could not quite believe how it was engaging with each other with the high frequencies and actually had a good synergy with very compelling tonality & harmonics and the mids had a way of sounding quite big with plenty of depth and quite a lively punch to lower mids.
The combination actually was a perfect match here which surprised me as I have heard these with a lot of good equipment in my four years of owning them and have to say the Dacamp just made the Sony 7520’s sing quite not like I have heard them before.
Back to IEMS with my RHA T20’s before I continue onto the CL ceramic range as I originally got these as a good cost effective back up to my JH16Pros if they went down or missing as I did not have another pair of IEMS to fall back on and the T20 was my choice with build, fit, sound and price taken all into account even though at times it for me has the ability to be to treble lively and be spikey I did find it was quite a lot to do with the pairing of these IEMS with what they was plugged into would accentuate this with the treble more although it is still not too forgiving with certain recordings it is an enjoyable IEM for me I know the T20 is still too much for some out there as after all they will go into the brighter sounding IEM category out there. 
The T20’s paired with the Dacamp L1 even after it sounding engaging and layered enough with either my ZX1 direct or with the Pure amp with Hugo DAC the L1 straight away portrayed this in a different light as if the T20 had been especially tuned to go with the L1 to start just as much as the CL range has been.
This was just a sudden awakening how different and actually how good these IEMS can sound and what was strange the normal slightly recessed mids of the T20 was immersed with a vast amount of detail and texture almost pushing it to the fore of the soundstage. The Bass sometimes may sometimes be a little too forceful in their approach with the T20’s in general even with normal reference filter attached but seems to have quite a good flexible range in the lower mid bass to sub bass and the L1 really just gives it a solid layer of extra body and detail to the low notes but just reigns in the aggressive nature of the T20 bass a bit. 
To sum up the Dacamp transformed the T20 into a IEM that really finds its full potential with this Dacamp that sounds like it had been tuned with this in mind as much as the new CL range of IEMS but maybe it’s hardly a surprise for me was another feather in the compatibility pairing category for the L1.
Finally how did the CL range perform with the Dacamp which were all designed and released at the same time?
First up the CL750 with the Dacamp L1:
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This was interesting to find the L1 does not seem to colour the 750’s at all leaving them to have their open clean linear presentation in the mids and leaves tonal qualities untouched allowing the CL750’s to faithfully reproduce the recording how it is.  Where the L1 will step in a bit is adding to the bass of the 750 with the way it drives them effortlessly with an air of authority in the lower frequency.
The lower treble range is still prevalent but seems to be calmer than on other sources I used in comparison and made it easier in this region to listen to on the ear with the Dacamp.
For anyone who does find the RHA treble on the new CL range too much still this is where the tone controls on the Dacamp come into play as this is made possible to tone It down a little as some may want to also use these feature although it can be dialled up to 9db the reduction only goes down to   -3db which should be enough to take that edge of for those who want the treble dialled down but might still not be quite enough for some.
Apart from maybe a bit of EQ needed depending on personal preference and needs the Dacamp does manage to deliver details which the 750 will resolve an reflect in an honest manner as mids are clear and concise and feel the Dacamp has good timing with cues making it a natural pairing.
One thing I would of liked to of heard if the CL750 was detachable cable like the CL1’s was to try these balanced as I think this would of just made what is a very good pairing even better.
Finally with the Flagship CL1 IEM:
DSC02086.jpg     DSC02216.jpg      DSC02213.jpg             
When RHA designed this Flagship IEM I don’t think many envisaged the signature it was about to have and the way it was tuned and it can tend to still be potentially fussy with pairing this with other amp/ dacs so when the CL is hooked up to the Dacamp you can tell straight away there is a special chemistry happening here. 
The combination of the Dacamp’s low floor noise which I also found with my JH16pros help pave the way for a clean black backdrop making it easy to pick out all the intricacies in songs which also allows for better dynamics at lower volumes. 
The Dacamp with the CL1 is very much again like the CL750 reflecting very much what the IEM portrays. The difference with the CL1 is there is a touch more warmth paired with the Dacamp which is down to partly the Dacamp having a touch of warmth and the nature of the Ceramic shell with harmonics makes this and even more easy on the ear listen  say compared to the CL750 pairing with the Dacamp which is more sharper on the attack in sound.
The CL1 for me seemed to be a little tamer on the hot spot of the treble area when used with the Dacamp but not at the expense of the CL1’s extension and the ability of the notes been able to linger and hang on with clarity and space on the top end notes is retained through the Dacamp. 
The bass combination is definitely a buzz listening to the Cl1’s and there is plenty of quantity there in depth and really has a big spacious scope of field bass that covers the soundstage which with say OST tracks from say Inception,  Batman – Dark Knight, Tron or Gladiator really have atmospheric experience when notes hit the sub bass range and feels very immersive.  I personally liked the amount of bass there and felt although for some might be a bit too much never thought it sounded forced or false in a boosted way and was a natural flow to delivery in this area. 
For me the Dacamp is an even more magic pairing than the CL750 with the CL1 and then like I have mentioned in the CL1 review running balanced makes what is already a good pairing go an extra mile with better localization and precision of imaging and where notes come from and adds to a more height to the field of sound with more space for everything to breathe easier.
For me the Dacamp is the perfect partner for the CL1 especially when running balanced which makes any of the CL1’s shortcomings it does have more easier to bear as the Dacamp just seems to be the block of circular shaped wood a kid uses to learn what shapes go into what and this fits the Cl1’s round hole perfectly or is the missing piece of the CL1 jigsaw puzzle you could say.
I still think for some taste it may either be too much treble or bass there but this is where the beauty of the Dacamp has an ace card with having the tone controls to be able to EQ as desired.
General notes on sound across the board…
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One thing I have noticed is with the Dacamp is how well it scales with well recorded material as you then can hear what the Dacamp is capable of performing too and with good DSD material it really finds more solidity and resolution with notes and finer detail to cues and decay in notes and combine that with the balanced mode is what I think RHA envisaged when they must test it with a good quality sample of files from their library as this is when you will hear the very best the twin Sabre dacs are able to achieve but all too often even with my music there are too many that are not good enough, even ones you would think would have been recorded better when you look at the artist and music involved or just simply your favourite artist or album can let you down with how it is recorded. 
I guess the blessing here is the Dacamp when there is average or poor recordings does not make a fuss of it like some dacs or amps can although it is more noticeable when it is the CL IEMS plugged in as it will always be that treble section that will get hot first with over bright poor recordings. 
I just wish I had other IEMS or cans that had an XLR balanced to of tried with the Dacamp as would have been interesting after hearing the CL1’s balanced how my other gear would of sounded in this mode running balanced and that maybe would have been a nice inclusion if there had been an 2.5 TRRS adaptor to XLR with a lot of people now having that connection as the more popular choice of portable balanced connection now days.  I guess if you end up buying this and falling in love with it you are more inclined to shell out for at least the adaptor or have the cables done to Mini XLR. 
Only thing that I would like to see made for this first RHA Dacamp even if it was an optional accessory to buy would be a nice leather case that it could slide into would be a nice finishing touch to this amp instead of using the separating cloth supplied.
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The Dacamp actually is a very versatile machine that covers most needs.  It may not exude the same amount of detail or openness as my Hugo but then that is a £1400 unit with a seriously good Dac inside but the flip side to that is I think for the money the amp section in the Dacamp is better than the way the Hugo implements their lack lustre way they implement in their unit.
Even with myself owning the Hugo and very capable Vorzuge Pureii+ was missing this Dacamp with IEMs and especially the magic relationship it had with my Sony 7520’s and icing on the cake how it gelled with its own breed in the CL1 running balanced was extra special which I was not expecting at all when I started the review. 
For RHA’s first Dacamp this is a very competent first attempt that with the versatility of this device making it appealing and hearing it may well entice you into buying one as it is a very solid performer that seems to pair with most of the IEMS and Headphones I could throw at it.
Even though I am used to the extra resolution in detail of my Hugo for last two+ years I still enjoyed the Dacamp a lot enough I could listen happily for several hours straight especially when it was with top recorded material running balanced with those CL1’s was a magical listen in its own right.
Just like the Chassis of this amp, it has a very solid base to start from and sure will be a popular Dacamp with many out there and if this is in your price range I highly recommend listening to this solid versatile performer. 
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Great review, I still need to compose mine, but I share many of your impressions of the L1
Thanks very much - that's a great review


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Build & Design, Balanced cable included, accesories, A more fun reference sounding flagship with excellent extension and good bass presence.
Cons: Upper mid bass hump at times, lower treble to sharp. recessed mids losing some micro details at times.
RHA CL1 Ceramic IEM Review
January 2017
This is the second review I am doing on RHA’s new range of CL IEM range with the first one been the affordable £99 CL750   and now I am embarking on the other end of the RHA price scale as this is their new flagship IEM the CL1 which weighs in @ £349 which takes the design in a new direction with this IEM’s in terms of the build which I will touch upon in “Build, Design & Fitment.
I am going to include quite a long intro taken from the CL750 review which can be found here:  as it is the same experience with both CL IEM’s I had when I heard these at a London show recently so if you have read it already from that review or just want to get to the nitty gritty then please scroll down to the “Unboxing” heading to roll on with rest of the review although I will refer to my experience of “the show” where I first heard these which relates to then and now as hearing them in a review two months on.
What’s in the box?, unboxing…
One thing RHA have done which shouts out we want this to be a flagship model is the packaging as even at £349 for an IEM I have seen far, far worse packaging than on here, it actually makes me wonder how much this cost alone as you have the outer card slip case cover which shows you your product.. Then once slid off you are left with a hard case presentation where the lid is magnetic and just flips open like a book to reveal the CL1’s both detached from cable sitting in their own foam protection housing on display and is a wow factor when opening up to see the high gloss polished finish of these ceramic shells.
Once that tray is lifted underneath you are then greeted with the carry case which has the tips inside which uniquely are in a steel sheet holder and just pop out which is a cool touch for tips RHA have always done with their tips.
In the compartment next to it a separate cardboard box which has the user manual inside. Take that box out and underneath on the bottom is the ¼ inch adaptor which is finally crafted and has a nice touch with RHA engraved on the side ( I wish RHA would also sell these separately!) then you have both the SE cable and the Balanced cable and almost forgot there is the cleaning cloth and a clothing  clip, how dare I forget that!
The included accessories as listed below are:
  1. Custom detachable cable system (MMCX)
  2. Braided Ag4x silver-core (4-pin Mini XLR) with MMCX detachable cable
  3. OFC (3.5mm/6.25mm) cable with MMCX with detachable cable
  4. Case protector
  5. 11 pairs of silicone and Comply™ foam ear tips
  6. Clothing clip
  7. Cleaning cloth.
Build, Design & Fitment…
The design is pretty much the same in shape as you see their T20 shells but here the similarity ends with the CL1 to be the first shell to be done by RHA that is a ceramic housing shell which is injection moulded (Zr02 Housings) that uses a seven stage process to manufacture them which is meant to accumulate into a headphone with low acoustic chamber resonance thus eliminating distortion.
The driver is also a first for them using a dual transducer configuration which essentially brakes down into two components with one been the CL dynamic transducer which handles the frequencies below 8khz been the mid-range and the bass then for above that for the treble they have used a High frequency ceramic plate transducer to achieve extension in this area like no other and given RHA track record for liking to show off the treble more than some IEM manufacturers out there makes this interesting to see how it pans out.
The build is no different to any other RHA piece of gear, that is of course to the highest standard with what always seems a keen eye to even the little details throughout the whole design process and these feel and look like a flagship model and the drivers feel fairly weighty in the hand just detached from the cable.
I do like the shiny polished finish of these ceramic shells (just don’t leave them outside in summer with magpies lurking!) and they fit just like the T20 shell does which is easy and comfortable with overall comfort coming part of the way down to which tips you go with from the vast choice of silicone and Comply’s RHA provide with them.
RHA have been kind enough to provide not just the standard 3.5 SE cable but also the balanced XLR cable that coincidentally fits into their new L1 Dacamp but I can actually imagine a few companies that would not of included this in the first place so is welcome to see this although it leads to shall I get the Dacamp as I’ve got the cable ready to go!?
Both cables are of good quality again with very well made machined plugs and the cable is kept simple with a clear PTE jacket which is nice as you can see the copper or silver wiring underneath on both the cables and are both finished off with the sMMCX connectors to attach to the CL1 shells and this was actually my first time in using them and have to admit it felt a bit clumsy to detach and attach that I thought it would be but guess and hoping if I was to own these it becomes easier like riding a bike after a while? Where did those stabilizers go?...
Most importantly I never noticed any micro phonics from them which actually makes a change of late from every IEM I have been come across with their cables which seems to be an afterthought.
Finally the ear hooks are something RHA take notice of any throughout their IEMS in the past and are a good quality build and design with RHA probably have made these even more ergonomically friendlier than the T20’s ear hooks and work a treat and help stay in place really well once on keep them in place without you knowing they are there.
Sound Impressions
To start with before we get to the Dacamp L1 combo I will run through with how the CL1’s performed with my gear to see how they pair for those who might not be able to get both.
The following impressions were done with:
Chord Hugo
Vorzuge Pureii+ amp
Sony ZX1 Walkman direct H/P out, and as source to Hugo/ Pure combo
HiFIMAN Supermini direct H/P out
HP X360 Spectre WIN10 laptop via Hugo/ Pure via Vertere DFI USB cable
Music files used: WAV, FLAC, DSD DSF
With already owning a pair of RHA T20’s I had been saying every time I was at their stand at a show was you guys need to really do a higher model, a new flagship that will just scale up on what they have and two years on almost they have done just that with the CL1 dynamic ceramic hybrid IEM with the ability to gain greater extension in the upper frequency region where 747’s cruise and UFO may be spotted (apparently?)
I must admit it was not quite what I was expecting as I assumed and envisaged it would once again be an IEM that was efficient friendly that would plug into a smartphone or your normal everyday DAP and go but no, RHA have decided it needs an amp to power these new CL IEM’s in order to get the best out of the 150 ohm demanding drivers but we touch upon this subject later on RHA direction of these new models a bit more in the conclusions section.
So, yes for anyone wanting for this to go with their DAP it will need to have a powerful amp built in to take advantage of getting the best from what the CL Dynamic driver can deliver to provide the gusto and guts in balance if what RHA want you to experience in terms of sound and feel as this is a dynamic driver that can and will rock if you feed it with a diet of Motorhead and Underworld.
This does however seem just a tad more easier to drive than the CL750 considering it is exactly the same to drive @ 150ohm but found on all devices the volume would be a couple of clicks down from what I had to have it on the CL750 yet  saying that it still wasn’t enough for my Sony ZX1 (Japan version) to drive properly as like the CL750 even with the ZX1 feature to get more output power by disabling the sound enhancement feature which many ZX1 owners do to drive some headphones out of it still was not enough to listen to how the CL1’s are meant to be heard.
 If in a quiet room with them you could have an acceptable listening session which would still be just a bit too low on volume still with them but it just does not have the guts to drive them adequately.
Just like at the show in London I had been to recently the CL1 was just like the CL750 and did not sound right with  them been too much thinned out and coming across as too hot, I know these are showing a V shape to them anyway but it was still too much just unstable treble with not much bass present but was still doing better than the encounter I had with the CL750 at the show as it was sounding the more promise of sounding like a pair of musical IEMs out of the two as there was a bit more warmth compared to the CL750’s had despite still sounding somewhat too washed out in general.  This was pretty much the case with both my gear and the L1 Dacamp. 
Again like the CL750 review unit I have now received this has changed quite a bit since two months prior at the show to what I heard and is almost a different beast in many respects as there is a better balance now with a treble that is more coherent and tamer, not strained or thrashy anymore [and there is a bass presence that is there from mid bass to sub bass which  is actually tuned quite low. 
The mids seem to be the one that still takes a back seat and sits a little behind both the treble and bass energy but am hoping the ability to find air and space with the soundstage will help keep things clear and concise like some other V shaped equipment I have heard in recent months including the still slightly recessed CL750.
So like the Cl750 I first wanted to try these with my Chord Hugo to see how they would be and much as I wanted it to work with my Chord Hugo which I love the only Achilles heel for me with the Hugo with what I was saying with pairings I find some sources or headphones/ IEMS that are prone to been bright with too much treble energy in the first place gets too sharp and strained on the ears. With the Hugo especially with Headphones I have found the Hugo cannot drive certain cans properly (and I’m not talking about volume levels here either, the Hugo has plenty of power in theory) it is having a detrimental effect when paired with the Hugo and  is the same here with the CL1’s when paired although better than the reaction of the CL750 pairing with Hugo as that was more neutral/ flatter sound which was more brighter signature.
The CL1 ability to have great treble extension also does still not match quite right for balance together with the Hugo still resulting in an anaemic strained sharper treble to point of too sharp and uncontrolled with notes losing real definition there.
This is why I have for this scenario with the Hugo had to re-purchase a Vorzuge amp in the  Pureii+ (sold my Duo originally) which are very good underrated small amps although they are not cheap is a good match with the Hugo in that it seems to counter balanced this issue I find with the Hugo.
With this In the chain the CL1 balance was more evenly matched all round with the treble has this pretty convincing ability to scale with great extension high and wide but it does still show a tendency even with the Pure to reveal a sharper side to the lower treble region like a typical RHA right on cue which will detract away from details more in this area which still might be too much for some even though the Pure calms it down a lot more than the Hugo it is still present which is a shame as the top end extension has a great amount of detail articulation with brilliant decay to top end notes. 
The tricky balance here is trying to execute this with it still been cohesive to the rest of the audio range yet not sound hot which with RHA been known for having a more treble pronounced approach is a fine line to tread all round and this was always the biggest worry after what I had heard at the show and knowing from the way the T20’s are tuned in general which just keep it within the boundaries although at times does come close for me even with some stuff to tolerate on sharp treble as I am also prone to treble sensitivity in the past with certain equipment which I do mention some of them in the CL750 review.
My experience of RHA equipment  they are one of those that can be tricky with their pairing but once you find the right partnership with equipment and found best tips for the IEMS in terms of comfort and sound then it can be the difference between chalk and cheese sometimes but even with the CL1 it is still there to an extent.
The CL1’s ceramic plate balances metallic sounds to sound tonally balanced with a shimmer and to yet it brings just the right amount resonance to trailing notes with plenty of air surrounding them to pick out above everything else playing as the soundstage and separation is also apparent and more vast in scope than it’s now predecessor flagship the T20. 
This is the one thing that has surprised me from hearing these at the show is what I’m now hearing is now a more airy articulate treble that is a lot less piercing although it is still evident in the lower treble it is more detailed as it rises up the range and with the upper mid-range is with the right  type of music can rise and soar with quite an climax when climbing the frequencies like a song I stumbled on with the Eurovision song contest winner 2014 Conchita Wurst “Rise Like a Phoenix” which should have the lead song for one of the James Bond films but anyway this really shows a lot of the good sides to what the CL1 can do with a song that climbs up the frequency range from the bottom and some of the bad all at the same time but it still managed to make this song sound powerful and big with an immersive feeling that makes the hairs stand on end.
They can still have the ability as any RHA with wrong tips and combination of bright or poor recording show symptoms of going over the edge like the T20 is able to but unlike I had heard them at the show it was not doing this in general across the board with my well known tracks with good to Excellent recordings. 
Even though I am finding this area more acceptable now whether it will for others remains to be seen but I do stress to get this RHA balance of their treble more acceptable will be a combination that will depend on tips used, quality of the actual studio recording and file quality used and in general the  paring of equipment synergy wise. 
For those who like to EQ this will not be so much of an issue but for those who like me are a bit old school or just want their equipment to blend first time like a set of Hi-Fi separates used in a speaker set up it with not much patience for finding the right match may be turned off by this.
Turning to the bass section next was another question mark I had from hearing them at the show originally as really there wasn’t much bass as such present which made them seem unbalanced which even when it was with their own Dacamp which was confirmation at the time it was not just my gear.
It was one of the things the RHA team did say the finished versions would have more presence in this area and I must admit I took that with a pinch of salt as I was not pessimistic about this happening but just more cautious of not getting my expectations too much after they had said that to me as I didn’t want to be too disappointed when I finally heard them again.
Well, the depth the bass now goes to is what I would actually call sub bass in a dynamic driver and has a varying level of range in dynamics that makes hearing a song easy to track when it goes from high to mid bass to finally delivering a good amount of sub bass which can rumble when it wants to.
The CL bass is quite layered in texture with what I was hearing, this section sounded good with the Hugo on its own anyway as it does not struggle here and delivers a controlled and punchy low end which can also extend further when required but it does it with a visceral feeling at times as we now have what if a more familiar dynamic type bass response with a nice amount of rumble in the low end without been over bloated.
One thing I cannot be critical off now with the CL1 is its ability to extend low with a good well controlled sonic boom when asked upon and have a punch to upper bass notes makes this signature quite energetic with a lot happening both ends on the CL1’s.
 So… all this has been a revelation on the bass front to me from what I had experienced at the show and was just nice to see RHA had paid as much attention to this end of the spectrum as they have with the  top end with the ceramic plates.
 Only irony thing with the bass I was hearing and was thinking to myself now was some might find it a bit too much bass for those who prefer a flatter bass response but me personally I’m used to a JH16 bass which can sound boosted in an obvious sense much as I enjoy them but the CL1 does come across sounding natural enough with the way the sub bass is handled it does not sound boosted and has an organic free flowing feel when hearing it go down the FR range with songs.
 With the Pure added into the mix with the Hugo the bass is same in quantity but is done with a slightly more broader dispersion of bass rumbles to the more linear controlled bass on the Hugo although the upper mid bass sounds to me at times to be more elevated which can be a bit distracting to the rest of the music especially when its the mid info which is already recessed especially with vocals been sat back makes it then more difficult to hear what they are singing.
Both Hugo or the Pure amp is  good with the CL1 which conveys them well in detail which ever it is paired with here.
It still sounds good on the ZX1 but does not quite have that impact nor slam as when amped with the Hugo or Pure hence I didn’t listen to the CL1 too long with the ZX1 here.
With the HIFIMAN there is bass to be heard rather than felt as the Supermini is a bit like the Hugo in delivering a controlled tight bass but just lacks that more on the ability to portray the detail and depth to the Hugo but shows although it was not the perfect marriage with the Supermini it was far from been a bad one again and would still be able to have a session with just the Supermini and the CL1’s. 
 CL1 showed it was able to perform with another source although the 150 ohms was still pushing the Supermini towards the end of its volume settings depending on the level of the original recordings as quite a few older albums compared to most modern recordings seem to be a few DB lower. 
The Supermini was a much better pairing with the CL1 to what the CL750 was here.
Now the bass has finally arrived on the CL1 and the treble has articulated higher extension makes for a bit of a V shape sound going on but it still sounds fairly clear in the mid-range and gives the impression of more depth with the mids sunk in a bit more like an echo chamber of a bigger amphitheatre style sound. 
 The mids do sound a bit colder, more clinical with the Hugo stand-alone as it is quite a flatter sounding signature with a big open soundstage but is still engaging with enough detail in a dynamic enough presentation that gives the Hugo it’s crown for sounding fluid analogue in the mid-range but the CL1s still translate how the Hugo perceives its more neutral approach here quite well.
 It was just as satisfying with the Pure in the chain with the Cl1s having a slight more forward feel to the mids as to with the Hugo as the Pure is a little above flat mid driven and fills out the CL1’s a bit more than normal in this area which may suit those wanting to bring forward the mids a tad more on the CL1’s which I personally welcomed without having to do EQ adjustments. 
With the ZX1 and Supermini as daps direct they both sounded at home with the CL1’s here as they could still pick up on details fairly well without having to be driven hard but again not quite both having the extra juice with the amps they do not drive with enough authority and lack space, depth and body because of this and with this brings me nicely on to the,,,
Soundstage and imaging is good in general as this is what the CL1’s do well with the assistance of these new ceramic plates with the ability to sound good with the treble extension it is capable off and just space for everything to breath and give clarity for detail and the Hugo compliments the CL1’s perfectly here for space and airiness despite the Hugo not pairing with that top end well with treble been too bright with the CL1’s whilst the Pure in the mix will reign it in compared to the Hugo as it is slightly more centrally focused but speed and timing with imaging is good on the CL1’s through the Pure with above average headroom allowing the CL1’s to be driven a bit more rugged if needed to without fear of losing detail and subtleness of dynamics in a song at louder levels. 
Compared to amping the two DAPS are a bit more underwhelming with soundstage and imaging although the ZX1 is not poor it does not excel or shine like the Hugo or Pure does and the Supermini is a little flat and feeling condensed with soundstage even though stereo imaging is precise enough it felt unengaging to a degree with this combo for soundstage. 
So with my combination of gear I own currently I found they do need good adequate amping and would take a really good amp section in a dap to be a one box solution for the CL1’s but unfortunately cannot gauge which DAPS they would be only owning the HIFIMAN Supermini and Sony ZX1 at the moment (can only say from experience maybe the HIFIMAN 901, Questyle QPR1 or A&R ARM2 possibly?) but it did show again this pair of RHA’s is no exception to having to find that fine balance of getting the paring right for synergy between the CL1 and the equipment feeding it.
In essence get the paring right the Cl1 will be fairly balanced with enough depth and width and height  combined with clarity with good musicality is quite engaging but get it wrong will sound good as two cars colliding in a crash with metal on metal action going on.
So in a nutshell I would say they are fussy (quite fussy in fact) but get it right and they can sound more pleasant with a lot of musicality richness that is quite dynamically fun keeping a sense of tonal correctness along the way so is a bit of a mix mesh mash up between them trying to been linear and fun for a flagship but actually becomes more of the latter to my ears (which is not a bad thing, more just an observation)
With the Dacamp L1
Firstly in SE mode…
After going through the arduous impressions of how the CL1 reacts for those who can only get or want the IEM with other amps it was now down to how does this pair with the new RHA Dacamp L1 that was you can’t help thinking was primarily designed with this CL1 IEM in mind.
First thing I noticed was after comparing the CL1 on my range of gear was how the treble sounded with the Dacamp, again it was nothing like I had heard them when paired together at the show in London that is for sure!
 After a few hours of listening to the two paired together I was finding the treble on the CL1’s were less edgy with the Dacamp which made it more listenable in that hot spot area of the treble and felt like they were not going to scream at me and if anything these were a bit more friendly and sweeter than when I had them on the Hugo/ Pure combination as I think the Dacamp is to me actually warmish sound to the amp which I think is taking a certain amount of edge from the sharp lower treble section.
It is still dependant also on if the recordings are brighter the lower treble will accentuate this more so but I found not too many tracks were given me the normal ear piercing in this area.
The CL1 still retains a sense of tonal presence and clarity with enough extension to details in the higher frequencies and the Dacamp has been designed to go in hand with the CL1 to match each other in the higher extension range which almost supersonic in their range in a good way with the upper treble with that extension which is a shame it is  still a tad hot in the lower treble to a degree. It’s like the good old days of Concorde breaking the sound barrier where it would be a cut-off point where it goes bang and goes hypersonic yet the CL1 is the opposite way round with its treble.
There is plenty of energy going on but it is very measured and even when notes rise up the octaves to a higher pitch there is a nice sense of it been on a crest of a wave  where you really appreciate that area where the notes can hit higher with better accuracy.
  There is a good amount of sparkle with clarity when chimes or triangles ring with a nice resonance.  High notes are also positioned quite accurately and are easy to pick out in between busier passages and was great to hear things shot from left to right when they happened as the CL1 steering or panning was solid and effective in making you take notice when this occurred.
It still does not feel like the most expansive soundstage I have ever experienced but I think the perception of air and space it does create is partly coming from the hollowness of the recessed mids as well as the exceptional extension of these IEMs.
If I was marking the treble over all out of ten with the Dacamp L1 I would give it 7.5/10
The mids which are no doubt recessed, more so than the Cl750’s are and would usually bug me as my perfect scenario if anything is to have the mids to the fore but I could still make out lead vocals clear enough although not as close as I would like them and they did have a good texture to their voices and was actually quite good tonally having a leaner sounding tone which is good for the upper mids in vocals but still enough body to have a fuller type vocal sound powerful enough without sounding too coloured as there is a sense warmth to these ceramic shells that was very noticeable after coming from the CL750’s.
Never overwarm but there was an obvious step up from the 750’s in terms of tonal finesse with notes and harmonics having better resonance and timbre yet it seems to have a little more trouble expressing some details as they seem to be getting hidden a little bit more than normal and was not sure if this is due to the mid-range losing this slightly as it is not projecting it quite enough as I would not say it is been drowned out by anything like the mid or sub bass as it does sound articulate and airy enough in general to pick things out but sometimes after hearing recently IEMS like the Mayas which have great mid articulation revealing everything you need to hear or even my JH16’s which are similar shape I can hear these details a lot more easier. 
Other than that part detail in general that does come through articulated with enough grain and nuances in the details of notes from the twin Sabre dacs and there is good layering and imaging going on in the upper mid-range with good clarity and localization of instruments and upper mids lend to projecting songs that having good dynamics.  If that loss of finer details and vocals been closer with maybe a little more body to them was there then this would be a more in balanced to the accentuated way both the bass and treble have been tuned. 
Again if scoring the mids with the Dacamp I would say it would be 7.5/10 again.
The synergy with this amp is good, no I will rephrase that… It is a match made in heaven (almost) and you can see it was meant to go together as the layering and timing is executed with an ease that makes the sound flow quite freely with good timing between the mids and bass as the improvement in this section is quite a vast one as it has gone from to lean as in I am a studio reference monitor to having quite a flexible response and can kick quite low with a thump which was more so when I heard film Soundtracks with sounded good anyway with the CL1 with my Pure amp but with the L1 it made it more explosive and widespread in bass note reverberations which made this in turn excellent for any live or rock/ metal as with the ability to have a very clear and prominent high treble range really suits those genres above as they exude those ends of the spectrum from which they thrive on those end of the scales for their energy and power. 
The mid bass can actually sound like it did with my gear is a little lifted to me at times and was almost like I was been distracted by this. It is not flat at all and seems to have an bump with the upper mids bass which can sound a bit odd as in not maybe natural in relation to the lower mids and bass connection so may sound okay with beat driven music, dance and R&B tracks maybe but may be distracting a bit with music that has more natural rhythmic passages in the mids. At first I thought it was due to my Pure amp doing this when I first heard it but now it still shows signs of it on the Dacamp I know it is a trait of the CL1’s. 
Apart from that he way bass notes can transcend through to the low bass is a joy to hear and is quite a flexible sounding bass which has good amount of texture and detail as well as subsonic ability to feel this bass when it hits ultra-low frequencies.
The one thing I thought I would never be saying about these IEM’s in this review from listening to them at the show is how much impact and range they do have which has impressed me as I thought with this been a new flagship when they said the finished version would have more bass I was thinking a conservative extra 1-2db extra but feels and sounds like more than that.
Put it this way I never had to turn the bass up on the Dacamp at any stage with these, if anything I would in general only of ever turned it down with the mids to come through or dial down the treble to counter act this a little but in truth with the amount of testing with different gear and music could not quite get this adjustment quite right to suit across the board and was actually better off leaving it all set neutral despite my only main reservation been with the mids area been a little recessed and missing that area with some detail retrieval just not coming through at times.
Out of ten for bass with the Dacamp for me would be an 8.0/10
Also taking into account sound staging and imaging out of ten would be 8.5/10
Over four sections that scored 31.5/40 (before going to balanced mode)
General findings….
The Cl1’s I think are still accurate with tonal reflections of instruments with guitars reproduced really well like the CL750’s can but it just adds a refinement and kid glove approach to the delicate string work with the CL1’s which can really buzz with fret work and make it come alive. Tonally maybe a bit more warmer and accentuated to the CL750 in this area but it still sounds pleasing to listen with string work.
Piano work sounded okay but sometimes actually sounded a little veiled than they should be on the CL1’s and never quite matched what I heard with string work unless it was a piano been strangled by someone like Elton John with one of his faster pop songs back in the eighties which was hitting the upper mids which would catch your attention then it would sound on key with clarity around the notes.
Classical pieces and some cathedral music showed it had enough space and air to move but its depth and head stage is more impressive of the four and is a bit like a see saw ride from top to bottom with this music with the frequency range the CL1 can operate at with the Dacamp. 
I enjoyed it enough on here but feel the sort of genre if any that just slightly losses out with the recessed mids is jazz or blues music just where it was not quite bringing some of those mids info retrieval forward enough to bring it more forward in the soundstage.    
On the whole this does sound good with most genres, I just think a couple just suffer a little bit more in been able to shine fully but I still enjoyed listening to Ryan Adams various albums as he has the ability to cover different sounds with each album he does…
Like the Live at Carnegie Hall suits the way the acoustic set has excellent reverberation and room echoes with the CL1’s excellent string work and feel the mids do not suffer here with this album because of this setting and minimalist amount of instruments needing to share that space to get the finer details out there.
Unlike his other self-titled album released in 2014 which had a dry course electric guitar sound led band filled studio sound then just struggled to hear some of the finer details here which from what I’ve heard with the Pure and Hugo is sometimes was easier to pick this out with the CL1’s so it also would point to the Dacamp also attributing to dealing with finer details which I have become accustomed to with the Hugo in recent couple of years.  Yet on the Hugo with Pure amp the CL1 still could not quite reveal details as easier as the Mayas or JH16’s do in general.
Overall apart from the things I highlighted with the mids as I am admittedly a bit of  mid centric lover anyway with choices like the JH16’s or my T20’s I am not always going to choose the most mid forward sound out there if it can still show the ability to produce details easily enough and the lower treble which was a little below par in comparison to the upper extension these CL1’s are capable of I really still enjoyed the combination of these with the Dacamp.
There is a good synergy on the whole even with the Hugo & pure set up which can gleam more detail and bigger soundscape this combination that made them still listenable for a good session as it was actually has the ability to be just musical enjoyment as the overall layering and tone with its warmish presence is quite an addictive listen with them together despite the CL1’s ability to still be a little too much in the lower treble area.
But how did this sound in balanced mode and I hear you ask as after all this is probably is its obvious point of interest in the armoury when people see this amp and dac has balanced added into the mix.
Well after four days of SE with the CL1 decided it was time to try them. 
So beware the following is from my ears and not plotted using a super computer from the Star ship Enterprise! All I can say is I have had bad experiences of balanced (actual ownership) also before which actually did put me off for many years as I dispelled it in my head as anything worth the hassle of SE until I heard a balanced set up last year on a good set of open backs but was with a relatively cheaper desktop dacamp in comparison which changed my mind a bit on this so I went into this one with an open mind as I have been both ways with the thumbs for balanced so here is my findings using ear lobes only….
with Dacamp L1 BALANCED
I thought it might take a bit of time to start to notice any changes if there was any but it was quite immediate to my ears there was a difference in how the soundstage and headroom was flipped on its head to what I had been hearing as the CL1 becomes wider and more accurate with picking things out as the panning with stereo imaging.
It was another level but what also gave it like an extra dimension was how the sound approached in terms of depth and height in conjunction with the more accurate sound staging and stereo imaging for me to this pairing to another level really as there is even more room for everything to breath and work with just more accuracy of the sound filed and where sounds come at you from and where they are going. 
It still does not bring back the area in the mids with some of those lost details but it helps give a bigger picture to paint with the bigger sound staging in width and height as well as more defined accuracy of where sounds are coming from.   Nor does it at the same time seem to do anything to tame the lower treble which can still glow hot at times.
Going back to one track I have always used as one of my demo tracks for example is Yello - The Race track which just sound bigger with more space been able to hear things pan passed with more cohesion and easier tracking as the racing cars roar past from right to left and the lower to upper frequency’s seem to approach more from back to front with ability to scale over the top of you more in your head which made it feel like a more grandeur in its all-round delivery in terms of scope and scale.
It was a bit like;  imagine being stuck under one of those Gazebos only enough room for two people but have only attached two of the three leg parts it takes usually to get the proper height they stand at, well that was SE ended mode. 
…Then plugging in balanced mode was like adding the last third of those leg parts to get the full height and used a double width Gazebo that can now fit eight people under there and that was how I heard going from SE to Balanced just without the Sausages and Burgers (and indigestion!)
I tried this back and forth over my last four days at different times whilst still trying to keep the volume near damn it by ear and still even in balanced would hear the same effect whether it was lower or higher than the SE volume (more importantly lower to note) using same songs over again then some fresh ones out of the blue I was not hearing any different from my fist lot of findings so for me the balanced part of this despite not having a magic fix to some of the missing mid area of detail retrieval really made a difference so much so it was not the same going back to the SE way after hearing how the Dacamp running balanced performs with this.
I did  try SE several times after but in short now this is killer mode for me this combination of balanced with the CL1 and L1 Dacamp and think RHA know that too! 
For me in my heart this is a big boost in the arm for this EIM which will make it harder to weigh up things even more come the end of the review as this was a good pairing enough in SE mode on the whole and in some ways more enticing listening to the CL1’s with RHA’s own Dacamp despite the Hugo Pure combo bringing more air and soundstage with finer detail retrieval in the DAC area there is an obvious musical synergy going on between the CL1 & L1 and going to balanced has pardon the pun just tipped that balance of these two going together as a perfect marriage that will end up having listening sessions for hours at a time with ease with this combo of Balanced mode set up.
For me now the score is now 3-2 in favour of what I’ve heard from a balanced set up down the last several years and can say this one shines in balanced together as opposed to SE mode.
Pre - Conclusion
This is a hard one out of all of them really as this has so many different areas to take into consideration mixed together with what I heard.
There is the fact I have been used to the Hugo DAC which for me is still one of the best detailed DACS in this portable price range even two years on and have to take into account you do get used to a certain level of sound but on the other hand I never would of thought I would like a pair of £250 headphones until this year as much as some of the other cans out there that can cost three times that even if the resolution on some of those £1K cans are still edging the £250 pair (which was the Meze Classic 99’s by the way)
Then been a long awaited “Flagship model” from RHA does this mean is has to be linear and flat sounding?  I honestly thought when I went to that show in London recently and heard these this was going to be a very flat reference sound especially as I did not feel that both these CL IEM’s sounded right at all… even it was aiming to be a reference studio flat sound it was far from that at the show and did get me quite concerned to where their direction was going at the time. 
I do not mind admitting walking away from the their stand like out of that scene out of the Wedding Singer where Jon Lovitz has just done his audition in front of Drew Barrymore when Adam Sandler has his turn then breaks down singing “Somebody Kill Me Please!) and Lovitz peeps from behind the stage curtain to say “His Losing His Mind!) which is what I thought was happening to RHA at the show with the both CL IEMS but turns out like Robbie Hart RHA turned it around for a happier ending!
Now after having them for 10 days to strip apart like a mechanic does to an F1 car after a race I have found some surprises both bad and good which is where the struggle begins a little.
I have to say my expectations for quite a while of what their next flagship line would be something efficient that could be powered by a normal phone or any DAP like my rather weak powered ZX1 Walkman that was only ever designed for IEM to start with really so was taken back that RHA had decided to make two IEM’s that would need more power with at the end of the day would be in most cases a separate amp need in the chain hence the clever marketing here of the third addition of the L1 Dacamp. 
I can see where RHA are coming from albeit it still relatively at the other end of the pricing ladder they still work in they wanted to cement themselves as been viewed as one of the more Hi-Fi seen companies revolving in the Head-fi world that reflects their British Hi-Fi culture way of thinking with sound and engineering as well as it been apparently the only way (amping) they could get this treble extension like they wanted was to go that route…
But I still feel their next step should have been a friendly efficient IEM we could all use with ease in terms of pairing with equipment which I am sure will be their next chapter now they have their showcase “look at what we can achieve” and they can by looking at what they have produced in the three new products that cater for different taste and needs.
And now I have tried the CL1 for almost best part of ten days shared amongst the CL750 and L1 for time I do like these new flagships and do feel they take off in some areas to the T20 que that does it without thank god making the T20 seem completely redundant as I just purchased one recently anyway! 
But it has raised its game on these with overall refinement in sound quality as well with a change in signature but does not move away far from its previous tuning stable in FR shape although it has been tweaked here and there with some been for the better but at same time some oddly for the worse which is almost like giveth with one hand take away with another type scenario.
Nitty gritty now… I found they can match other equipment really well although I have decided  to label RHA across the board they are fussy with what they pair with to get the absolute best from them as there is that fine line of them either sounding great or poor, so my Hugo – No, my Pure with Hugo or alone with ZX1 then they are magic and really suit the Pure amp despite the CL1’s couple of misgivings.  Unfortunately I only had two daps that although one was better they both were not a substitute for a really good portable amp to perform as the Pure or L1 amps could muster. 
There was a couple of surprises on a negative note with the way it sounds or has been tuned as even though the treble extension has been executed really well and that end sounds tonally good the lower treble was not quite right in detail and still has the RHA ability to come across hot.
For me it was actually not quite as annoying as the mids which like other RHA have sounded before it is somewhat recessed,  enough with the shape of the signature as a whole there was an area in the mids where I could not make out certain details as easy to what I had done before with my fav old tracks I religiously use so did take away a bit from certain tracks you know inside out and enjoy the most so there was just a couple of things that do not quite make this perfect but then again all though not exactly not bottom end now even for a flagship this still far from the big boy’s shoot now days that seems to be standard fair that go above the £1k mark.
And there in my head lays trying to balance what I know how RHA are up till now to what this their next offering is in taking the next step and factor in if someone is also about to hear these for the first time and to top that off what I originally heard at that show which initially was a worry for me. 
So bit of a combination of balancing there to do really.
 For newbies to RHA I feel if pairing these with your own equipment might not be used to the “RHA” treble and understand where you would be coming from on that and would only say do give it time especially with these but it will be the pairing of your own gear and this which is the biggest hurdle also well as and I cannot stress enough getting good master recordings and file type plus the tips right also as this alone could be the barrier between good and evil in hearing them in conjunction with equipment pairing.
If that is not right you might not ever hear how the CL1 could sound like.  This is not a fault of one or the other but it is just one of those Head-fi anomalies, after all look at my experience with them with the Pure amp in the mix, happy as Larry or should say CL1. Just with the Hugo then makes it a no, no!
But if you are open to a new Dac/amp combo and want to hear what it is like when two items are designed in house to work together then this is it and that is before I take into account the balanced side of the L1 Dacamps performance but I will not shy away from it will still not fix the only couple of real negatives I could find with the CL1’s which I will admit and not shamefully even with my bliss ownership of my Hugo and Pure amp for me I just love this combo of the CL1 with L1 which was cemented in stone for me with balanced mode.
If it was not for me buying some non Head-fi related boys toy recently (and Christmas!) thus not enough money left I would of looked at pulling the trigger on the two together for sure as it is a special combination they have made there when it is in balanced mode.
The CL1’s is a case if you can get to hear these for yourself then it is highly recommended so even if it is for the worse at least you know… but at same time it could be something you fall in love with and glad you did take the time to hear it as you just may like the overall way these sound.
For me this was far away from what I heard at the show two months before release and I have to say was relieved with what I heard with the finished retail versions as it was a big turnaround albeit still not quite perfect with a couple of imperfections that just blot it’s paper even at this moderately fair price for a “Flagship”.
So in a nutshell I would personally still have them but even with the gear I have now it would probably have to be with the Dacamp L1 together strange as that sounds as it does sound sublimely magical with that Dacamp L1 especially in balanced.
Final Conclusion
I feel it is like 85-90% there and just needs a couple of tweaks sound wise and would be there for me as perfection with this signature they have gone with and with what they have brought to the table I have actually now manage to overlook on the most part you need to use these with an amp to get the best from them although I should still be peeved with this from my stand point I feel next time is the time for them to deliver with a normal driven higher end IEM that does not need an amp still.
Over all taking into consideration the build quality and design (which is usual for RHA) with the overall fairly decent “musical” sound signature for Flagship with their highest IEM model to date even with the couple negatives with the sound I think this is still an enjoyable IEM which hits it’s peak performance when running balanced in situ with its mothership Dacamp feeding it.
It is taking RHA in the right direction for the future albeit shall we say a work in progress and factor in it has to be used with an amp to make it sing I would still recommend them as an IEM alone (but take head of the caveats I mentioned at your own risk!) and Highly recommend them if using with the Dacamp L1 balanced.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Linear yet dynamic signature, build, design & fit good accessory inclusion, 3 year warranty. Reference type sound at very affordable price
Cons: Needs amping, RHA treble still to much for some out there, cables not detachable so can't go balanced.
RHA CL750 Review
January 2017
Long intro… perceptions, patience and redemption! 
I will approach this in a different way to how I usually do as it is a relevant journey and road I went down although a long one before finally getting to review these so the Intro is quite epic proportions in length but felt it had to be told in relation to what I have heard and experienced from start to finish. So here is my story for Christmas…
I currently own the RHA T20 IEM which I had been looking at getting for a while and finally got them at a show recently after hearing them again and this is where I had my first opportunity to try out the new CL range they had on the table but it was towards the end of the day and had only limited time to try them out in the various different combinations available especially when taking into consideration wanting to try my current own gear with their respective offerings so was like a mad jumble of cables and equipment between my gear and their three new arrivals.
So after my session with them at the show had left me to want to try these for longer and took the opportunity to apply for the RHA tour in which at this stage I have to thank and acknowledge Glassmonkey and RHA for letting me have the chance to review these in the comfort of my own home for 10 days. 
So to start with usually it will be one item to review over several days but this was three bits of kit over 10 days which was a challenge in itself but life is full of challenges and this would be a fun and interesting one.
Going back to the show when I first heard them I have to say and going to be honest here as I could quite easily erase this part from my memory but it wasn’t the most positive experience I had at their table trying these for the first time and started off with the CL750’s which thought be best natural order of things before making way to the new flagship CL1 and their new Dacamp so first of all tried it with my Chord Hugo just to see how it would fair and know the Hugo can be fussy with anything that is bright.
I was surprised when I plugged it in it was sounding strained with quite a harsh treble (more so than normal RHA treble experience of say T20 and I am one of those sensitive to anything too bright or hot with the top end)  but this had the life sucked from the mids with hardly no bass and my Hugo was struggling to drive them and had been at a volume I had not seen before so after talking to the RHA guys I tried another set of 750’s they had and same thing.
So I thought nothing of it and moved onto the CL1s through my Hugo only to find a similar thing so thought this was a bit strange so tried my Vorzuge Pure with the Hugo which is the tool I use when I have any IEM or Headphone that is to bright or cannot be driven properly by the Hugo usually does the trick but again even with Hugo at a high volume or used even line out my to my Vorzuge Pureii+ was even challenged by them even in high gain and they never struggle with anything so checked all my connections as I knew this did not sound quite right.
All connections seemed secure so turned off everything and turned it back on and tried again, this time the 750’s sounded a bit better than before and turns out it was the Chord Hugo must of freaked out and had a funny turn and have not had it before then or since so went about listening to the 750’s and have to say although it was an improvement still took a bit for my Hugo to power them and it was still too much treble ended sharp sound with not right balance across the frequency’s to me and it still was not right so added the Pure again and although better than just with Hugo thought it did not sound right. 
At his point I’m thinking after trying the CL1’s again with same results even though friendlier on the ear than the 750’s at this point thought well might as well give the Dacamp a go at this stage as I thought it has to be the magic ingredient as they have made it to go with each other like the Two Ronnie’s belonged together to do comedy for four decades. 
So plug the CL750’s into the Dacamp and it again seemed a slight improvement but was still far away from what I had expected and still was coming across all treble with no bass at all, same mirror image occurred with the CL1’s after on the Dacamp and the experience left me perplexed as my audition with the Dacamp was good and enjoyed it so knew it was the both IEM’s not right to my ear. I did relay this back to the RHA team at the time and they did say the final production models where going to have a bit more bass but just thought to myself even so the treble needs to be tamed a bit more than I heard there. 
I mean I’m border line with the T20 treble sometimes like I am with my Sony 7520’s can sometimes throw up going beyond the comfort of what treble extension can do to been uncontrolled and sounding what to most 17 year olds must sound like an ASBO alarm outside a off licence.  But the overall balance was not there and was puzzled why even my Hugo and Pure struggled with them.  My Sony ZX1 Walkman was a no go but felt I had to try that from the start just to know for confirmation to myself my ZX1 has all the grunt of a two stroke scooter trying to chase a 750cc Suzuki down the road. 
SO I  walked away thinking the Dacamp would sound good with my JH16’s but already had the very under-rated Vorzuge Pure amp and a Hugo. 
And I must admit I was having second thoughts like a runaway bride about even doing this tour review knowing this and then a couple of people reporting hearing a too much treble and nothing else and feeling disappointed but sometimes we all need to have the full fact’s in front of us to know the full picture and I decided to tell myself stick with it and if they are that bad still you will have to  possibly be first review where I have to give a low rating as to be honest what reviews I’ve done so far I have been lucky with them all been pretty good sounding products on the whole plus ones where I have applied for a tour have gone for ones that have interested me personally and know probably sounded half decent to start with or heard them before anyway but this was a bit daunting it could be my first negative reviews and after buying a T20 recently which I enjoyed with caveats and all thought would be a shame to start with it been RHA gear.
So upon receiving these from Takeanidea I was in intrepidation and suspense how this would all pan out.  So I will now start my review the normal order of merit so if you want to find out how they sounded please fast forward down to the Sound Impressions header to find out.
For now I will talk about packaging, build and design functionality….
The packaging from the outset even for the CL750’s seem to have had a direction of lets make this look like a flagship type of feel to fit in with the new Cl range as a whole although this out of the three new RHA products is the lease luxury packaging it is above average taking into account this is only a £99 product.
So once the bottom card flap is opened the inner box slides out to present the 750’s sitting in a nice laser cut foam protection tray housing and once lifted out the rest like carry case, manual and accessories are all located in two split dividers in the bottom of the box. 
The Cl750 comes with the following accessories.
  1. Protector case
  2. Dual density Silicone ear tips (6 pairs)
  3. Double flange ear tips (2 pairs)
  4. Comply TSX-200 foam ear tips (3 pairs)
  5. Clothing clip
Build, Design & Fitment…
The build of the Cl750 is the normal high standard with its stainless steel aerophinic design that will be so familiar to how the MA750 looks. This are not going to break when you drop them like acrylic shell housings and they do not feel too heavy either, there is enough weight though to know they are made from steel and have a feel of quality about them which is extended in the form of the cable which is a braided oxygen free cable which has high quality 3.5 plug termination which I did not notice any microphonics during my time with them. 
They look like time has been taking on them and look quite cool with the durable PTE which shows the copper cable and the actual cable entry to the shells look to have a durable flexible soft plastic moulding to protect the cable but cannot feel they missed a trick as I know this is a very competitively priced IEM for what is trying to achieve but cannot see why they didn’t make them detachable still like the CL1 so these could also go balanced to go into the Dacamp L1 as would of made it more tempting for the CL750 customer to maybe jump to the CL1 also knowing it already had the balanced cable included and not to mention it would have been interesting to of heard this balanced after hearing the CL1 in balanced mode (but I’m not going to spoil that here, you will have to check out the CL1 review for that!)
Apart from maybe not having detachable cable the design and build is the usual RHA standards.
Fitment for me personally was good but did have to fiddle to initially get it past the Tragus part of the ear but once it got around that all though feeling a little uncomfortable doing so it locked in place and I actually used large Comply’s which I do not usually do as I’m usually a medium size but as the design of the metal shell once locked in place did not budge it was ideal for the Comply’s to expand without moving the ear piece anywhere it shouldn’t off so for me it was quite a good fit but can see maybe this design not been so good for others but will also be a trial and error with tips also in conjunction with balance of fit and sound.
For me I could listen for long periods with these in and have had my fair share of issues with Comply’s with certain IEMS recently which I think also is very reliant upon the design of the shell in conjunction with the tips.
Warning: these will feel cold on a proper winter’s day when inserting if outside out and about!
Solution is for RHA to make a portable rechargeable hairdryer for them or IEM dryer in this case!
Imagine that in the accessories section!?
Sound Impressions…DSC02262.jpg
The following impressions was done with:
Chord Hugo
Vorzuge Pureii+ amp
Sony ZX1 Walkman direct H/P out, and as source to Hugo/ Pure combo
HiFIMAN Supermini direct H/P out
HP X360 Spectre WIN10 laptop via Hugo/ Pure via Vertere DFI USB cable
Music files used: WAV, FLAC, DSD 256
I will start with tips in general as this is quite an important disclaimer before I go on about the ramblings of what I heard in my ten days with them is I tried some different tips but as I have found out in general of late is I preferred the Comply tips overall for the sound approach to silicones for the ability for slightly better isolation and better bass response as well as slightly taming the highs a little even though I found silicones okay in the end with these I personally preferred the Comply’s despite them giving me other headaches in general and been far from perfect with different IEM’s I have tried in the last couple of months.
This reminds me of once hearing a pair of Heir IEMS (cannot remember the model now for the life of me, maybe Tzar350?) which I tried a few years ago which had a same type of sound which was a clean linear sound which was quite revealing that really needed an amp to go with them but were very much treble happy as a few of Heirs earlier models I heard were capable of but the difference here is the 750’s do not have so much of that piercing treble like the Heirs had and more importantly what I heard at the show a couple of months ago from the CL750’s that were on that table which was a shock but at the same time a pleasant and surprising shock.  It was not just the treble but also the mids where there now with an actual bass presence that could be distinguished and have to say from what I heard at that show two months before hand was quite a relief but knew I still had a long road ahead with listening to them to see if they actually did have potential to sound good.
I started off playing safe by using them with the Dacamp L1 as my way of thinking was if it still sounds not right with the Dacamp L1 what chance did I have but luckily for me the more songs that went by I thought well… I’m still here listening so can’t be too bad.
What I was finding was a good clean and crisp linear sounding IEM which had reasonable tight lower bass response that was packing a bit of punch on impact in general at the same time from the RHA’s own Dacamp but not a nasty hump in any particular frequency and had good control with no distortion.
The neutral and clean no nonsense sound coming from these was actually very reminiscent to a not so well known or heard Ortofon EQ8 (have to credit RocketRon for introducing me to those IEMS) which have a good level of detail without been over articulate with enough musicality but without the aid of an amp the Eq8 was dead in the water as it would sound half its potential self with hardly no lower bass response when in fact with the right amp that could deliver the EQ8’s came to life with a really low controlled hard hitting bass that just left you hooked to the sound. 
The CL750’s are very much like that just with not quite as much low end bass as the EQ8’s but the CL750’s are far from shy with the amp powering them. 
So this is not the first IEM designed to really be paired with an amp but to get the best from them it will need a good amp section like the Dacamp to get the 750’s to sing but for the difference here with the CL750’s compared to the old Heirs I heard a few years ago and the later EQ8’s from last year or so is the CL750 comes in at least £200 less than them and is very intriguing to think these are only £99 which is about only £20 more than the acclaimed MHA750’s which I unfortunately have not really heard so will not be able to do that comparison for those MHA750 fans out there.
But the more I spent time with the CL750’s I was finding I was enjoying these with all sorts of musical genres and it did not really phase the 750’s from what I heard.
The treble (no not trouble!) with RHA is some might find it too much and after my long intro about that and owning a pair of T20’s even with flat filter on they have a slight tendency to lean towards presenting the treble with more accentuation and at times with some tracks can find it approaching border line as I do have a treble sensitivity to a degree despite my older age of losing a few DB’s which is natural at my age (which is early 40’s by the way without giving that away)
I had this issue with a pair of Sony headphones a few years back which I really loved in the Z1000’s but the treble was to sharp and piercing despite loving the rest of the sound signature and frequency range till good old Jude at the London Head-fi show a few years ago enlightened me to the non EU version in the Japan made version of them which was essentially same headphone.
The Sony’s labelled them as the 7520’s which had better bass presence (as the Z1K also lacked there a bit)  and the hot treble had been tamed so got them on his advice and true to life he was right (not that I doubted golden ears for a second of course) although the 7520’s still once in a while could exhibit the border line a treble getting a bit much with some tracks like I find with the RHA T20’s so after hearing the CL750’s at that show like I did thought here we go but something has definitely happened in those two months.
I do not know what exactly but these are noting like I heard at the show by the distance from the earth to the moon and (same went for CL1’s in my other review on them) and the treble was now not over piercing yet had an amazing amount of extension still which the 750’s are capable of but without feeling like Sharon Stone is ramming an ice pick into your head! It had plenty of headroom but with an accurate and controlled delivery which aided the tonally accurate side of the treble range.
It is a very clean and un-coloured with the treble to the ears and tonally sounds real enough and this area is probably the only area that sounds a bit raised in terms of frequency tuning to probably get those extension ranges in the shiny metal bits on the drums like symbols & hi-hats to have a real tone to the impact and trailing edge of the notes with a nice shimmer with good decay.
I have to say I was still a bit flummoxed and perplexed at this stage I was not hearing an ear bleeding top end like I did at the show two months before.
But what is a good treble which RHA like to or seem to spend a lot of time on to other companies in trying to perfect without getting the mid’s and bass right.
Well, the mids are not recessed much thus it does give a more hall effect sound with the sound staging but the clean spacey sound of the 750’s make it easy to hear mid information retrieval individually and there is a nice cohesion between the highs and lows to the mid-range which is why there is never any real nasty surprises listening with them as you always know what you are going to get with them once you put them on.
 Of course I mean that in a positive way, not a negative as it just handles any music thrown at it with a consistency of clean controlled accurate hard hitting dose of equal measures in everything it does.
Vocals I really liked as they were just clear and projected considering they sounded a tad distant but had good grain to details with an artist singing so you locked onto them first then the music flowed up to the front door of your ears like a natural wave of sounds and always was just easy breeze to hear the lead vocalist with enough detail in their notes with a sense of openness around the artist singing although maybe male vocals in general just edged female singers I am a sucker for female vocalist and very fussy with the reproduction of a lady’s lungs but the RHA was very adaptable and passed the test for me and to be fair was not far behind how it portrayed male vocals anyway.
The 750’s extension is good and having the mids tidy and informative enough with details which I think are above it’s £99 price label to what I’ve heard from others in this price point recently as most IEMS at this price will try to put a nice enough balanced fun musical signature together but fine details or space for it to breath won’t be there, this is totally different with this CL750 and is trying to bring that reference type neutral sound in at an affordable price I felt that has detail yet musical enough still without been too fun nor at same time not ultra-analytical.  Cannot feel again I am in some parts here describing the EQ8’s in many ways which I think is a testimony really to the 750 perhaps.  
I was liking the string details and rawness the 750’s clean mids gave to guitar works and had a natural low mid bass feel with bass strings.  Pianos sounded good with enough tonal quality and depth but just was felt a bit short in detail and clarity which from experience of using with other gear think this was more the dac on the L1 as opposed to the Cl750 as I then heard pianos sound much more focused, finer string notes in detail with each key and less fuzzy with the Hugo-Pure combo. 
Dance music good dynamics with the 750’s which had  enough thump to groove to with the mid bass been well controlled and sub bass having enough rumble impact without been over flooded into the mid information in the following milliseconds of following notes so made it easy to follow the beats and rhythm at the same time with the 750’s.
But if the Bass cannot match the above average treble extension and neutral clean mids then it all falls down a bit and I heard not a lot of sub bass is the kind way of putting this at the show from them, made the T20’s sound like DR. Beats bass levels mercifully and thankfully from out of nowhere the bass frequency is there in the production model I have for review going deep enough in a natural response so is not over cooked so some die hard bass fans might not find it enough but it gives a more linear low bass end but is done with a tight and quick response making things never sound muddy which complimented the upper bass frequency’s and aligned nicely to always hear that critical area of details from the mids which still had a good amount of impact in the lower mids to help with the rhythmic sections of songs. 
So the bass will never be a flood of sub bass end rumbles that cover the entire soundstage of these IEMS rather they deliver in accordance with the rest of the signature which is a clean and concise not messing around I will tell you like it is with the efficiency of a German built car.
If Scotland built any cars let alone well-built ones I would of course be referring to one of the RHA nationalities built cars, but only if they did build cars like RHA build IEM’s? (…Hmmm, Maybe Ferrari a fast sounding car with that high revving top end engine tuning sound they have!?)
The soundstage I have to admit did not jump out at me or had an extra sense of width but is far from closed in and has enough there to have that sense of space in width and depth of field for it all to work with the way this sound signature as there is a sense of space around notes enough to point them out with great precision which some IEM in this price point suffer from sometimes.
Even during busier periods it does not lose control with it’s very good amount of headroom with a good enough amp  but the only flip side to this is some might find the sound a bit cold or hard in the nature of the way the 750’s roll giving a stripped feel sound with been flatter with  non-colourization of notes but it delivers music without putting icing and strawberries on top and gets to the core of the music without dressing it up unnecessarily.
Some I might feel especially if used with silicone tips also may find it a bit too much on the treble still if you are sensitive to it but like I have said already from someone that has experienced this myself in the past found it acceptable although a poor recording especially if to bright in that area will then make the CL750’s a bit hard to listen to even with comply tips on but for most part with normal to good recordings I am mainly able to forgot about this been ever a potential issue at all as I was enjoying the music too much without it distracting me.   
On subject of recordings with the Dacamp L1 it really made a difference with DSD files and just had a bit more solidity on top with more body in detail with notes as well it becoming clear what the extension in the treble RHA like to achieve becomes a bit clearer with a good DSD recording and notes in general have a more precise tonal quality to them so the CL750’s scale well with file formats.
With other gear other than RHA’s own DACamp….
For those who want the IEM only for whatever reason may be how does this perform with other gear?
From experience with my gear starting with the Hugo, as I already have touched upon the Hugo can be fussy with pairing with anything that shows likeable treble ranges and I found this was one of those it was just a tad too much the both of them together which is equally down to the 750 as well as the Hugo as one thing I have found and have to declare from my findings with RHA gear just as the Hugo is the CL range certainly is fussy with what it is paired with so this may also be an on-going agenda for debates on RHA treble findings as I admit with Hugo it was not a good match in this area.
As well as Hugo seeming not to have the right voltage swing keep control so put the Pure with it and this 750 becomes tame enough again I can listen to it on the high end and sounded as good although different to the Dacamp and it really suited the Pureii+ as it also delivers a clean hard hitting sound with it helping the slightly recessed lower mids come out a little bit more than usual but is just tuned a little more enthusiastically than the CL750 in general but is a very good combination as the sense of overall balance Is in line with the 750’s signature. 
Tried again just with my Sony ZX1 Walkman and is better at driving it than at the show which is weird but not much more and had to deselect the sound enhancement on the Sony which releases more power output which made it listenable.
If at home in quite surroundings despite this been good isolation it makes the difference as it is just enough to hear but is still not enough for the 750’s to be driven properly with the authority needed to get the best from them to deliver dynamics and height they can produce with good amping. 
Next up was my HIFIMAN SuperMini which is apparently designed to power headphones up to 600ohm but myself did not find from this as they were just okay with 300 ohm set of Sennheiser open backs  I tried.
But the Supermini is still great with IEM’s really and have to say they powered the CL750’s okay but only had three or four steps left on the digital volume so if out and about again could be a different issue with them.
They did sound fine out of the Supermini which had a slightly warmer signature although the treble did show a tendency to sound a bit too hot at times  but the CL750 reproduced the detail of the SuperMini quite well in the mids with nearly all genres apart from classical or female vocals with this combination. So it was a mixed bag with the Supermini that maybe would stop me from using this pairing in the long run.
My overall thoughts apart from great relief how these did not sound anything like I had heard these at the show as to be honest I was a bit worried it would be my first review where I would effectively have to put a product down like a vet putting down a rabbit which would have been cruel to be kind scenario as before this CL range come to the fore I really do like the way they have an eye for detail in the build and design with even the smallest of details and the packaging is always above standard affair and love how they pretty much the only ones they pay a lot of attention on universals to things like the ear hook design that will also last long term and not just short term so their offerings up till now had been good value if you liked their signature up till now but the new range had to offer more than just good presentation looks and build. 
It had to have substance in the sound department and my biggest fear after hearing them at the show was they were going more treble hot than ever with very recessed mids and no bass, strange balance but seen people shot themselves in the foot with a double barrel shotgun before!
But once I received these for review everything had changed quite drastically sound wise which I cannot fathom why or how it can change so much in two months even if a prototype at the show but it was a sound I was comfortable with as I found no issues with treble at all like I had at the show and it became a very balanced clean transparent cohesive neutral sounding IEM that had above average extension without losing its head and a nice tight sub bass to compliment the linear mids which gave a good amount of detail retrieval and reproduction with vocal timbre although a little distant still for lead vocals. 
Only word of cation which should probably come with most RHA gear to present for those sensitive to treble they may still be too much for your ears to cope with and it can still be border line for me at times depending on equipment and recording pairing can bring it to the fore more but it is more settled with it mothership Dacamp L1 pairing a bit more to start with before been able to use the tone control features to EQ balance it to your taste. 
For the money if you are after a straight forward no nonsense IEM that is not coloured, veiled or warm and can give a good amount of clean detail with good extension and precise clear presentation at this level but still sound musical and dynamic enough at the same time but do not mind amping to get a the best out of them then for only £99 this are almost astonishing and well worth checking these out.
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1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Natural timbre, detailed without sounding analtyical, imaging and open soundstage, Excellent extension, non fatiguing listen
Cons: Maybe bass light still for some out there, Needs to be more alternative tip selection, had some issues with supplied comply's.
Vibro Labs - Maya Review
November 2016
Firstly a thanks to Ejong7 & Luke Pighetti @ Vibro labs for letting me be part of the Maya tour and be able to spend two weeks with them in comfort of my own home to do a review on them.
To start with I am one of those who had heard of Vibro Labs and kept hearing about the Aria’s in circles on head-fi but had not manage to hear a pair and see the tour come up so decided to see what the talk was about as I was looking for another pair of IEM’s also.So I am glad for the opportunity to try the Mayas in the comfort of my own home for a couple of weeks.
The gear tested with the Mayas in this review is:
  1. Chord Hugo with DFI USB cable from HP Spectre X360
  2. Vorzuge Pureii+ amp
  3. Sony ZX1 Walkman
  4. HIFIMAN SuperMini & MegaMini
  5. Tag Mclaren DVD32R top loader CD player via Chord Indigo COAX into Hugo.
All files in either Flac or WAV format. 
Maya Stats:
  1. California Buckeye
  2. Smoke SLA shells
  3. 20Hz – 20kHz+
  4. 12Ω impedance
  5. 114 dB/mw sensitivity






In the box

  1. Maya earphone
  2. 2-pin detachable cable
  3. Standard & Exhibition cases
  4. Comply Comfort & Isolate tips
  5. 2 year warranty
The Build
The Mayas come in an exhibition case which is essentially a pelican case with Vibro Labs badging on lid which is idiot and tank proof and has had the clever sense to have a laser cut die foam for the IEM shells to sit in and the excess cable sit under the foam whilst the Buckeye finished Mayas are on display through the clear window of the Pelican case.
The Mayas come both Comfort and isolate comply tips in three different sizes for both (small, Medium & large) and also a round soft zipper ballistics type case in addition.
To top it off Vibro labs offer two years warranty which is handy!
The shells themselves are a good quality and the faceplate was a seem-less affair with a smokey see through shell which shoes how sparse the shell is with only packing quad drivers only.  The cable supplied is the standard affair you see with other IEMS which works quite well with the Mayas.
The Comply tips was for me a mixed experience as I used them many moons ago and I tried all sizes in both types but for me after a prolonged listen they became irritable and noticed my ears sweating quite a lot inside (presumably due to such a tight seal) with Comply’s so even though they sounded alright was just a comfort issue for me which led me to wonder if I got these I would be better of jumping to custom fit for only another $100 with Vibrolabs. I would have tried silicone but I had all narrower IEM tips so made it hard to try any other tips with the Mayas in the time I had them.
Sound Impressions…
Sometimes you listen to something for the first time and the first track you listen to within that first minute you think you are listening to something special that is a bit different… well the Maya’s were just that for me but of course you then have to say to yourself was it just that one track that just happened to sound impressive and everything else after that does not live up to expectation of what you initially heard.  This is where the Sherlock Holmes in me was intrigued and investigated further.
First thing that struck me was how intimate and close the music was to me yet had room to breathe with plenty of air and placement and layout of instruments was nothing I had heard for a long time on an IEM and I have heard quite a few this year.
I felt I was having an education in less drivers = more as it sounds like this driver set up of a quad BA almost doesn’t sound like listening to BA drivers the way it has been tuned and almost sounds dynamic like in its cohesive sound field yet is fast in response and keeps a good up tempo to songs as it sounds effortless and engaging like I have not heard for a while in an IEM.  The nearest I can put these too in the way they image and present the music in semi over lapping layers timed perfectly is the Mr. Speakers Ethers and the way Dan tuned them but these seem faster in their pace. 
The way the Mayas are tuned with its energising non offensively tuned signature makes these forgiving with poor recordings even much so that they actually sound somehow quite good to listen to which I found a mystery but some of my old songs on cd from the late 80’s to early 90’s was the first time I could sit and enjoy listening to them as previously these recordings would sound dull and enclosed even through something like my Chord Hugo DAC but yet the Mayas was like some sort of Enigma decoding device for music as it was separating the information better to those old lifeless recordings and think the very close presentation the Mayas provide with the mids, vocals and the treble section been extended with a life like guilt edge to musical notes that pass through the Mayas.
The treble is never harsh or too sharp but at same time is equally gets your ears taking note of its presence yet it just made those old recordings come to life like I have not heard on many other IEMs before with tired old recordings which was a big bonus as you just assume when you’re getting a flagship IEM that can excel with detail it is going to be not so forgiving with those older recordings but with the Mayas this was not the case.
It’s probably the Mayas been forgiven at the top end that is what appeals a lot amongst its array of appeal abilities as you know you are not going to get any nasty surprises and Vibro Labs have shown you do not need a screeching tuned high end to get a good extension with realistic sounding Hi-Hats, symbols etc.  The track I find tests the theory is the Michael Jackson speed demon remix which is fast paced but with a lot of gear will make your ears bleed but the Mayas are so fluid and smooth but not warm or fuzzy at all.  Have to say it is joy to hear this song without my ears been stabbed with what felt like a hot poker!
Imaging and soundstage is wide and spatial with placement of instruments guided with high accuracy. Vocals and micro details are immersive and again all adds to the layers you hear on the Mayas. Arrangement and placement of instruments and vocals is clarity preserved with a good ability to time details to layer in back and forth just at the right moments keeps your attention without your brain having to try hard to listen out for any nuances in details the Mayas reproduce.
My impression painting a picture in my head when I was listening to these was like having a centre channel speaker with the left and right channels and then the extra width in the soundstage was like having two side speakers coming in but the way imaging and soundstage is executed does not sound unnatural to listen to and is one of the more accurate IEM’s I have heard for natural and precise placement when engaged with the music playing. 
I listened to some of my good old tried and tested demo tracks and for first time in a long time when I heard Yello “The Race” song the racing car at the start pans and tracks from left to right with perfect cohesion and the wide soundstage really helps give the effect of it zooming past in front of you from one side the other and then the solid mid bass performance of the  Mayas kick in really well for the tempo as the song starts, it was a breath of fresh air listening to this old great demo track again and was very reminiscent of when I have heard that through floor standing speakers in the past. I would also say the Mayas soundstage has surpassed my original JH16’s which in comparison makes them sound a tad narrow channelled now. 
I could not get over how most instruments on the Mayas manage to tonally sound real consistently with the guitars on anything having great leading edge detail to each string played you can easily tell what type of guitars they are playing.  The detail been heard which is so easy to pick up for starters is not just what I’m hearing here it is the effect which feel real with really good reverb from strings, for instance like Hosiers album with “Get me to the church” track the bass guitar really has great slam and control of each note and is so easy to pick out yet the reverb really comes through in the big hall sound recording it portrays which again the Mayas can really let this song shine and make you believe you are there in that church with Hozier, it just has a great way of putting you right in there like you are there with them instead of been more in the crowd at the front but manages to do it without been weird and not sounding alien or messing up the soundstage with the way it comes across.
Even piano works do not sound coloured or off key and again the Mayas capture the detail of the in each piano note which I could sit there and easily listen to Tori Amos or Jacques Loussier as the piano even though the mids sound a little forward are not pushed in your face and hold a natural presence of tonality with any piano I heard on my time with these. It’s been a while since I heard Ivory’s on a pair of IEMS not sound thin or anaemic and have plenty of body to each note. 
 All Bass and Drums?
I have to say the bass registry is the only thing I really deliberated on in my own head whether I thought it was sitting just right at all placed in terms of imaging and delivery was suiting the rest of the elements that made the Maya signature what it was, there was nothing un-towards with the sound of the drums in terms of tonality and sounded real with hi-hats or the drum brushes are been used sends a tingle down my spine how natural it sounds but how the lower mids to upper mids was easy to separate what was going on but after listening to them for a while it made sense the way they have been tuned and laid out in the scheme of things as it becomes a natural cohesion of hearing the mid information first followed by the bass information just behind it never bleeding into the mids.
The bass never tread over mids at all, always been concise and clear all though prominent to the listener they deliver a balance of real mid bass has great texture in detail and control and lower mid bass has a good slam kick when needed or the recording delivers that info although the sub bass is not exactly far and few between on these it is only there If the recording requires it so after been used to a pair of JH16’s sort of always turned on type of sub sonic bass these are not going to be Richter scale 10 making the earth move inside my head with landslides every minute of the song but this is good as it will only reflect what the recording has to offer so it’s not as if the Mayas do not have a deep sub bass but they will choose to do it when required which gives a better sense of balance to the natural signature the Mayas try to provide with accurately portrayed instrument timbers so for me as long as you have the right size and type of tips in with a good seal you will hear a good quality deep sub bass when it is asked upon by the recording.
My JH16’s good as they rock for bass they are a forced tuned bass and good as this is for reliving all those gigs with super slamming bass it is not a natural response bass and the Mayas reflect the rest of its signature keeping this theme running.  The good thing is when the sub bass is there is still takes you by surprise as you never know when it is going to just drop the beat to the basement floor and it’s like “holy Maya” after say three minutes into a song it can just come out and surprise you how low the Mayas bass just registered. They can deliver some form of bass slam when they want to, just not as often or still low for those familiar with a Jh16 level of bass or simply Beats depth of bass might want to audition these first to be sure if you can live without the thrills every five seconds of blow your socks off sub bass hit. 
The Mayas lower bass to mid-range is arranged with tight grip and clarity with cutting guile to detail and never heard any muddying or tempo slow down at all and the way the bass is done with the rest of this IEM provides the right balance for it to do its magic in delivering a natural feel and sound with music.  Would I still prefer the Mayas to have the levels of sub bass my JH16’s deliver?... yes and no, it would be nice if it had a bit more low bass reaction sometimes but having a JH16 reference of sub bass would ruin the essence and purity of the Maya’s strengths of providing a slightly mid prominent driven sound with a naturalness in tone and the spatial air these have to work would be ruined so I am happy with them where they are albeit another one or two db on the sub-bass would have been interesting to see if it would not ruin the current essence of Mayas signature.
Listening to music which had acoustic guitar… well I thought any of my favourite rock music like AC-DC, Muse, Slash, Joe Bonamassa was sounding fresh and new, no wait; real again then acoustic music is something else on these and listening to a less know English guy who has been around for years Adrian Legg if you can find his cd’s let alone streaming services out there really shows how string work should sound on an IEM let alone speakers yet my mouth was open at times with how nailed on the timing, imaging and minute amount of details to be heard was immense but all sounded natural and fluid with the treble end finely tuned just right to make the most of the fret detail sound sharp and real without bleeding or losing control and sounding unnaturally sharp. The extension on the treble with the Mayas really made acoustic steel guitar of Adrian Legg have a sense of height and realism as if listening to it live.
And talking of live music the Mayas are again just as comfortable with live music and really has the ability to scale the size of the concert with its sense of space ability to image accurately and noticed even the more not so well recorded live sets seem to have a little more energy to songs which is again in part to the mids just been raised a little all though you never notice with everything been so tonally natural sounding other than the closeness and up front sound which make up the Mayas traits to form the signature
As always Rodrigo & Gabriel’s slick hand work really shows up the fret details and how well the Maya deals with the speed of it all and showing the extension of the highs on their highly tuned or strung acoustic guitars.  This is reminiscent to me of when I heard the Cavalli Liquid Gold amp and how it showed it could reproduce highs with great extension and trailing edges of notes and sound tonally so real without sounding thin and strained nor either too warm and really had not heard a treble like that on anything before I heard the Liquid Gold and for this to remind me of that shows how well the Mayas sound in what is just an important frequency path as the mids or bass. 
Even though in general the Mayas are friendly even with poor recordings the only thing the Mayas did not forgive was anything with a poorly mastered top end and would sound quite flaky or crass at times (almost like listening to a mp3 compression with no detail in treble notes) so can only surmise the mids are tuned in a way that bring out dull recordings a bit but the tuning of the treble is a different challenge all together maybe but I’m glad the Mayas concentrated on getting the treble right with high quality recordings as this is not the Mayas fault recordings are bag crap by so many labels to start with but when there is a top notch quality mastered recording done correctly the reward is like icing on the cake with the rest of the Mayas signature.
I have not got lost in all my live albums for a long time going through Muse in Rome, Def Leppard Live in Vegas, Fleetwood Mac – The Dance, Cream Royal Albert Hall with that 19 minute drumming song Toad which is a good showcase for the Mayas maintains tight mid to low mid bass high amounts of energy but the one that was put on the demo peddle stall that complimented the Mayas was Ryan Adams - Ten Songs from Carnegie Hall which is recorded to a high standard as are most of R. Adams albums to be fair but he is one of those artist that seems to almost personally put sound quality at the forefront of everything he does and the Mayas openness with soundstage and ability to hang out fine details so clearly and precisely with even the usual spurts of coughing and people rustling in their chairs was a joy to hear with this recording. 
Those who are a bit sensitive to high frequency’s and like their treble with plenty of detail and extension yet stay smooth enough without sounding warm will like the Mayas treble for sure.
This is another main factor that hooked me straight away was the Mayas take on vocalists, near field positioning yet with plenty of breathing space so vocals always stay concise and easy to track especially backing vocals having a way of steering themselves even busy passages of music to sit in just the right placement depth just between the lead vocals and the rest of the music. 
The timbre and grains of detail make a singer’s palate come to life with neutral tonality which makes vocals have more realism especially when they sound close as the Mayas portray the mic of a singer.  I personally love the vocals which excel with the mids and propel songs with confidence in portraying the emotion of the song to come through.
The Mayas ability with the highs extension allow vocals to soar and hold on to their notes longer like Ellie Goulding’s Delirium album or Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling towards Ecstasy where you can hear the rasp in her voice and the saliva as she sings more notes which is  another old recording (early 90’s) reborn with the Mayas for me. This is one of my more favourite vocal set ups of recent times tuned on an IEM as it really does pull you into the music if you can hear the vocalist properly to start with and Vibro Labs certainly mastered that here as I never get fatigued listening to vocals on the Mayas with the placement, detail and clarity of whoever singing (I most probably do include Shane
When I had my trusty old Sony ZX1 on shuffle one night a couple of OST tracks came on, the  first been the Armageddon soundtrack by Trevor Rabin has great clarity and depth with height give the Mayas a big scope with soundtracks none more so than the master of film scores Hans Zimmer’s Inception or Interstellar really stretches the fabrication of its cohesive sound and tests the low end and high end extension than most music will do out there and the Mayas handle it with ease but listening to film scores through the Mayas will give you the impression you may have open back cans on with its large scale and ability to add weight and body to some of these demanding tracks Hans Zimmer produces. 
Which leads me on the side for a minute to TV & Films as I have been watching the Westworld series every week and one night was a bit late so watched it on my laptop in bed with the Mayas with it through the Chord Hugo and was honestly blown away how good these where with TV shows or films as the large panoramic soundstage and imaging is set for these types of shows so will be watching more films or shows with them from now on as Mayas are perfect with those vocals and clarity and precision of noises and sound effects for films to excel.
The Mayas paired well with any source I put with them and did not have any issues with hiss with my gear unless I put my Vorzuge Pure amp on med gain there was a slight hiss then with no music playing but these do not need med gain so was all okay for me.  They loved been with the Hugo and with my ZX1 Walkman brought great dynamics with a perfect signature match together. 
The Mayas are one of those IEMS that is just simply great with any genre but super excels a tad with more acoustic and vocals and handles anything thrown at it really as it is agile, fast, smooth and quite a forgiving IEM with poorer recordings and with high quality recordings this is a non-stop “Mayathon” of musical happiness as they are non-fatiguing to listen too. 
Jazz, Blues and classical are also perfect match for the Mayas also from tracks I played from Gregory Porter to Nina Simone and BB King and the only genre that for some may not feel there is enough in terms of quantity in the Sub Bass area for those who may like a lot of Heavy Metal or Dance/ Club anthems as some might be looking for that more constant visceral thumping bass but I personally like the balance as I think it would detract away from the balance of this tuned set up the Mayas has. Again after what I’ve heard so far I’m a happy camper in the Maya park so far. 
I have heard plenty of IEMs of late and most that go past the clouds in the price ladder making the Mayas look like a toy but apart from a couple I’ve heard of late which one is two times dearer and the other is six times dearer!  I just feel the Mayas for the money are different and something I feel is more a speaker profound in its delivery which is a feat for pair of IEMS which makes it feel like listening to the Mayas is like listening to vinyl… Analog fluidity will embarrass some of those other BA driver IEMS out there that can sound more digital in comparison with the Mayas natural timbered fluid and open sound.
Apart from two minor quirks for me with maybe a tad more bass could have been tuned just a tad more without affecting the current signature would of given that little extra bit more weight in the sub bass and the issue for me personally with the Complys would be nice to have silicone tips that fit also as an alternative but it has been hard for me to pick any real negatives as this happens to be especially for the price a high performing signature IEM that made me forget wanting to listen to my JH16’s for the first time ever in five years!
Apart from that I have found this one hard to find many negatives with as for me it is the most balanced natural friendly and open soundstage non fatiguing IEM at a good price for the sound I have heard for a long time. 
The epiphany moment with these Mayas was less than a minute into my first song with them and just knew they would be something special… a bit like that famous scene out of Jerry Maguire when Rene Zellweger says to Tom Cruise “You had me at hello”, well the Mayas had me at track one.
I originally thought I was finally getting to hear the Arias putting myself forward for this tour but Luke sprung the surprise on us it would be something different and ended up been the Mayas and how glad I am he did as even after hearing so many IEMS lately even in the sky is the limit price range I have not been more happy with the way the Mayas find a finely tuned perfect harmony balance between detail, dynamics, space, musicality with a sense of tonal realism. I’m off to start my Maya fund and hopefully get these soon as I miss them already.
Maya the force be with you.
It’s not a race, it’s a Mayathon…
Am really happy with what I heard from them so far.... Guess I shouldn't complain when getting a pair of 1k IEMs for free...
Well, but I still want to get into the CustomIEM game sooner or later. Therefore will continue monitoring VibroLabs products.
That's one of the things I like about Vibro Labs is you can get Luke to upgrade the universal version to custom fit for a relatively low price which is what I might do for now and get them converted later on at some stage when I've got the money to have an Exhibition finish on them.
Not to mention they are still a good price for a set of flagship customs to some of the other offerings out there.
Enjoy your Jh13's in the meantime and hope you get them in time for Christmas! 
Nice review! Also, good news for folks, Spinfits do work with these but you'll need to keep an eye on the tips to ensure they don't fall off.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Detailed musical signature, scalability, similar house sound to the 99 Classics, Build quality, real value.
Cons: Microphonic cable, - not detachable, recessed vocals, soundstage not as wide as other IEMs out there.
Meze Classic 12 review
November 2016
I was lucky enough to recently review the Meze Classic 99’s which were a big revelation for a sensible price which took on other headphones in the industry costing a fair bit more than Meze was asking for on their 99’s so again I am lucky enough to be able to do a review on the Classic 12’s to see if these too also exhibit the same ability to out-perform their price point at all and how similar they may sound to their big brother headphone version in the 99’s for those who may own the 99’s already looking for that same house sound to take away with them on the go in the form of an IEM.
I am accustomed now days to really only listening to higher price IEMs and own a set of custom monitors in the JH16Pros which I know are by today’s fast evolving paced world are getting dated now as I’ve heard the freq phase V2 version which is more refined and balanced more so to my original 16’s but still a good IEM which share a couple of traits of a Meze signature and to be honest was not looking at doing a review for the classic 12’s but finally got to meet the Meze team on their CanJam London stand earlier this year.
It was then I had a brief listen to them and was pleasantly surprised with the quick listen I had to them how they sounded but that was in not ideal in show world conditions with background noise still of  a few hundred people all talking about their passion for the same subject which of course us Head-fi geeks don’t get to socialise on this scale too often so is understandable it is not going to be a monastery at these events.  So I decided as I loved my 99’s so much and intrigued with what I had briefly heard wanted to listen to these in a perfect home setting to see how they would compare to my 99’s as well as to see if Meze for the future are going in the right direction for other products with their IEMs as well as their headphones. 
So big thanks again Meze for opportunity to be on the Classic 12 tour and been able to listen to these in comfort of my own home for several days.  
Have to say I’m not quite sure how Meze do this especially with the packaging in terms of quality and design and the way it is presented for the price?  It was one thing to do this with the Classic 99’s with a nice outer box and one of the best headphone travel cases I have ever come across but for $79 I’m not sure how they manage it without compromising on the quality of the given product in hand. 
Meze seem to have such an eye for detail I now realize it is no fluke with the 99’s and is carried over with the classic 12’s and there is always the right amount of detail and info on the box without over-crowding to let you know what you have in this box from top to bottom. The clever little touch was the IEMS on the front of the box shaped into the design of the Meze company crest and also the way the 12's are laid out in the foam insert again has accents of been designed to form of the company's crest. 
Sorry but I’m anal like that and (it’s not the be all and end all as sound is preference but when you get this included anyway!) Meze eye for this sort of thing is just a guilty pleasure I appreciate. Can’t wait to see what they do with packaging when they start doing £1K headphones or £500 IEMS!
Upon opening the box I was again further taken aback to see it laid out in a nice quality foam die cut insert holding the round zipper travel case and the 12’s greeting you laying in their moulded foam inserts. 
The great thing about the 12’s is the small size and how light these are so they fit straight into the ear with no fuss. It comes with a three different size Silicone tips, one pair of double flange silicone tips and most welcome attention to detail is Meze also throwing in a pair of medium size T500 comply tips which is a nice touch especially at this price range there may be some buying this never tried Comply tips before. Also there is a shirt clip included for those who find them useful.
I found silicone or comply tips just as comfortable even though they yield different effects with the sound which I will describe in greater detail later on the Sound impressions section…
They can be worn over ear which I actually found to hold in better into the ear than the hang down style of wearing but did find as they are primary designed for hang down wear the cable is not one for staying looped round the ear properly so gets annoying.  The cable itself is a little stiffer than some out there but not too much of an issue, in fact I found it nice for spooling for storage as was not so tangle happy as some cables and was easy to manage in this respect.
I do wish and from experience no matter what budget of earphone they made the cable detachable by preference and then maybe at least give us the choice of having an over ear designed cable or hang down version and one without the in line control unit with mic for those who do not use this feature with a phone. Yes even on a budget IEM some of us still only use it with a dedicated dap and not a phone.
In-Line remote and mic…
 For the sake of review purposes I did try the in line remote feature hooked up to my HTC M9 and its play/ pause function worked flawlessly and made a call to try out the mic and it sounded clear hearing the person the other end and they had no problem hearing me although they did notice it sounded a bit different to normal and I did find it a little strange talking like that with the isolation of both buds in my ear as cannot gauge your own voice level so was probably like Dom Jolly shouting down the mic piece! But in short it worked well and would be served well by those who use this feature on the move to take calls and have control pause button. 
Even if they just supplied the current in line remote cable bundled and then done the over ear and normal hang down cable as optional extra to buy from them. At least everyone gets an option of how they want to adapt their Meze IEM for best use with their own personal reference of use. One noticeable thing which was present was micro-phonics on this cable which was apparent at times and for some reason there is an omission of a cinch on the “Y” section cable like most IEMS have which would still be nice to of been present.  
Over all though it does feel like a quite strong durable cable and only time will tell how it holds up to the cable join into the actual shell. 
Build and design….
The first thing I noticed is how light these were when I picked them up as it feels like they weigh hardly anything which really aids the comfortable and easy fit I was about to experience with these small wooden delights.  The materials used are with purpose using a Titanium coated 8mm mylar driver with a copper clad aluminium voice coil with a front aluminium nozzle and rear casing plate with the wooden housing chamber in between to give natural timbres and detail with clear and balanced sound with good bass response.
Spec list:
  1. Frequency response: 16Hz - 24KHz
  2. Impedance: 16Ohm
  3. Sensitivity: 101dB (+/- 3db)
  4. Total harmonic distortion: < 0.5%
  5. Noise attenuation: up to 26dB
  6. Titanium coated 8mm mylar driver
  7. Copper-clad aluminum voice coil
  8. 3.5mm gold-plated jack plug
  9. 7N OFC cable, lenght: 1.2m
To see more info on the classics and Meze in general:
Sound impressions…
I had to delay this review as I caught an unfortunate case of man flu so had to wait until I was fully clear of it before starting so in the mean time I was fortunate enough as this was a new unit to burn these in continuously 24/7 for almost two weeks before listening to them in the safe knowledge I would be jumping into a less rigid or edgy pair of sounding IEMS. 
Firstly a note on tips….  I have not owned universal IEM’s for a while (despite listening to many) having customs but recently seemed to gain two pairs of universals in quick succession before hearing the classic 12’s.  They were the balanced pair I received with my HIFIMAN SuperMini that came bundled in and probably come in around the same price area of the Classic 12’s and the RHA T20’s which I got just before that are in the £149 mark. 
One thing I have found from these and some other universals I have had a listen to of late is how much the tips really change the signature for the worse or better or sometimes both so is a laborious job trying to find the best balance for listening to different equipment across the board so for listening consistency after long deliberation In this case I actually found the 12’s better suited to comply tips to the silicone ones as they provide better seal giving more tighter bass response and more depth.
But then lay another problem as I have a few different types of Comply’s anyway ended up with the TS-500 series (rounded end with wax guard) which I found a better balance than their isolation models which gave better clarity and cohesion between the bass, mids and treble range on the 12’s. 
There is nothing too wrong with silicone per-sae which give a more lively feel which some might prefer but in comparison the comply’s really pulled things together with better cohesion which is for me saying something as I have had a strange time with some Comply’s not been comfortable or even staying in no matter which size but these seem to stay there with good comfort and let the full range of frequency’s through to the ear canal. 
Upon finally choosing which tips to go with my first impression was Okay… these do sound familiar, oh yes; it’s reminiscent of the 99’s to a degree straight of the bat signature wise with whichever source I used so I’m thinking we are on the right tracks there but it is not until later on with more time and listening to the 99’s back and forth the real intricate differences are there to be heard which I will touch upon later on under the heading 99’s & 12’s…
Using with Daps…
 The HIFIMAN SuperMini seems to have a flatter signature with little bass roll off which the 12’s reflect in its delivery and resonates bass notes with a hard delivery or slam which has even more impact than the ZX1 actually delivers listening to the same songs. This is a good pairing for having a more reference flat style listening session from the 12’s then the SuperMini will provide this style with the 12’s.  You can still hear the warmth of the natural timbres the woody side of the 12’s bring but it is like having the best of both worlds with the SuperMini source providing more reference balanced signature. 
Not sure how this combo sounds like this as the irony is the SuperMini is also tilted to been a bit warmer just like my ZX1 is which I think might be the SuperMini’s flatter response I the mids giving it a flatter feel as this becomes primary in what you hear before any lower or sub bass delivery. I do love the SuperMinis slam delivery of notes which are precise with authority.
Sony ZX1 really has a great synergy with the 12’s which is really making them have more depth and dynamics with quicker imaging and speed than I’ve heard out of the 12’s although it sounds a little more closed in to the SuperMini which just sounded to have a bit more space to breath with the 12’s to the ZX1 but the ZX1 is the more musical sound when hooked up with the 12’s.
The ZX1 also renders more micro details out of the 12’s to what the Supermini does and has more headroom control and vocals are a little less recessed to the SuperMini with the 12’s. The Meze warmth seems to match the Sony’s warmish signature side quite well and is not overkill having it like this. If anything it brings more musicality and involvement and the mids are closer yet the lower mids and sub bass have great transition between each other with the treble been articulate in detail with been finely balanced not over shouting the rest of the range. 
Only thing I noticed was bass guitar notes could have been a bit more lower with more reverb on the strings as it had a tendency to sound a little underwhelming or muted on tracks using a bass guitar on this player to normal.  Other than that I found the 12’s with the ZX1 really enjoyable pairing with a good balance across the board with a speed to match the dynamism the ZX1 gave the 12’s.
With Chord Hugo & Vorzuge Pureii+ …
After finally trying this with a couple of daps as after all that is what most people will be using this for is trying this with my Chord Hugo with my laptop and this is pretty much the best I will get to squeeze every last ounce out of these 12’s and have to say it is the more balanced sound of the Hugo that matches the Meze warmer signature very well and gives the 12’s an even keel with it been a cross between both my daps having a natural balance with good levels of detail courtesy to the Hugo’s DAC which makes music sound analog to some DACS which helps make the Meze sound more free flowing and easy to listen too.
I did find this on the dap which has become more apparent with the Hugo is the 12’s will sound just fine with run of the mill okay recorded material  as the 12’s are not an analytical IEM but what was a bolt out of the blue initially when I first heard it was with very good mastered recording’s on the 12’s it really transformed the little wooden Meze drivers into a different IEM.
To be honest I was left quite shocked as there was more control and better rendering in details of notes are more accurate and full bodied yet transparency is improved also and to be honest I started to forget they just cost $79.  So with high quality recordings the 12’s scale very well and become a little bit closer too it’s big brother 99 classics as the intricacies in details are more apparent.
Using the Vorzuge Pureii+ hooked up to the Hugo, (Reason being I found quite a few headphones and even certain IEMS like the Ortofon EQ8’s for example the Hugo had difficulty with them and could become too shrill on the top end and the Hugo could not reproduce low end bass the EQ8’s are capable of and sound anaemic with no real authority) and having a Vorzuge amp once before (DUO) found these was a good match for those that struggled synergy wise with the Hugo’s amp side… so the sound is more dynamic with a keen eye for detail  on the bass response region been more prominent and less treble happy with the Pure amp than the Hugo is, but good as it sounds with the Pure amp as most things do I felt the Meze was better balanced on this occasion with just the Hugo running on its own and had a perfect synergy as the Mayas are not that hard to drive.
Sound in general….   DSC01429.jpgDSC01467.jpg
Over all I was finding the evolving amount of detail with the overtures of the wooden timbre balanced by a steely side to it with the aluminium fittings make most genres sound good at minimum and excellent at its peak with Rock, Metal, Pop, Dance, R&B all at home and classical, OST’s  or jazz sounding good but just lacking that bit of air they need to excel like the other genres mentioned.
Instruments sounded natural for most part and top end was tuned with good clarity and detail and not over powering. 
Tonally vocals sound natural and contrasting but sound a little recessed and almost feels like been masked behind the music sometimes and just wish it was a little more forward, closer and engaging in this area. What makes the 12’s exhilarating to listen to is the mid bass which is the driving force to its punchy delivery but has a tight sub bass that can come from nowhere and your left wandering did that just happen!  I feel is only getting better with time still as these IEMS get more use as details for an IEM in this price point is quite an accomplishment as micro details is what just gives these IEMS that extra performance edge in its class.
99’s & 12’s sibling rivalry?…
So the 12’s start out sounding like a Meze signature I am now accustomed too but after X amount of hours in it is becoming apparent the tiny 8mm drivers have their own take on the Meze signature and deliver a more crisp, sharper and more present top end delivery to the 99’s. Where the 99’s was more in the mix and unobtrusive you can hear is more to the fore with the 12’s. There is still good overall balance on the 12’s but is more obvious the treble is wanting it’s place at the table without sounding piercing or shrill. Don’t think Meze know how to do one of them anyway!
 The 12’s possesses a good tight solid deep bass like the 99’s which is not maybe not the most tigh-test bass but has more of a blanket thunder rolling type of bass with having the luxury of 40mm drivers and bigger cups to an IEM to create that effect.  There is a clear cohesion between the mid and low bass with the 12’s but the 99’s seem to have better graduation of transfer through the range that can be heard on the 99’s. 
The mids are similar in the approach with vocals on the 12’s not quite as close and seemed dialled down a couple of dbs’ in the mix to the 99’s but the timbre of instruments and vocals are 99’esque in approach to delivering that familiar 99 signature in a tiny light weight IEM.
They do both share a house sound with similar tuning but the 99’s will always have that luxury of bigger soundstage, depth and height and more essentially more detail presentation which is what some headphones at more expensive prices struggled to reproduce like the 99’s do so it would always be asking a lot for these budget end pair of IEMs even by Meze to be level footing to the 99’s but if you already have the 99’s and love the sound, then the 12’s would give you that familiar tuning you have become accustomed in a more practical solution for on the move when commuting.
In a “wooden” nut shell the 12 is like a little brother to the 99’s which you like to think will evolve with age into a mature IEM later on down the line with a model that is equal to the 99’s in an IEM.
Over all sound verdict  of the 12’s is it’s not perfect by any means as it’s soundstage is a little to enclosed and narrow (even though this did improve on the Hugo to a degree) which even on an IEM this  affordable I was hoping for a bit more room for them to breath and did find sometimes the upper mids would get a little congested losing control and focus when faced with loud heavy music like rock or metal but that is really only couple of niggles apart from wanting the vocals just placed a bit more forward and concise I have to remember these are $79 after all and not my £1k customs!
I have had experience of listening to this end of the scale with the likes of the RHA MA350 & 600’s as well as the Future Sonics Atrio MG7’s and the Meze 12’s probably mixes the best of both worlds between those two brands model versions I heard
The up side was they do many thing’s for their price very well and was pleasantly surprised how they scaled with something like the Hugo’s ability to take on the detail it produced and the better recorded songs in general on any device made these shine.  It was when I heard them like this I got the distinct feeling they could of charged $100 -120 if Meze had wanted the way these scale with top recordings. 
My experience after trying and owning the Classic 99’s is with the 12’s Meze are going in the right direction with making a good detailed musical IEM that punches above its weight and think Meze are one to watch for the future as they grow and evolve.
For those who like the 99 classics and interested in a IEM version of this will like it despite it not quite been on the same level of the 99’s and for those who are just looking for an affordable IEM that is practical for on the go with in line remote control for your phone or just like a warmer side of neutral musical signature with reasonable amounts of detail at this price and a natural timbre produced by its wooden chamber which is not offensive on the top end with friendly mid-range that has a good tight punch and capable of a nice deep sub bass without been obtrusive or over blown which should keep bass heads happy may want to give these a try for sure. 
Classic 12 Review has now ended and left the building….
Thank you for getting this far!


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Solid build, button layout,simple to use UI, Power, Surprisingly pleasant sound grower. quite accurate reproduction tonally. Good SQ for price.
Cons: Uncomfortable sharp edge design, maybe to cold/ thin a sound for some, battery life not as HFM specs. SQ at expense of features.
HIFIMAN MegaMini review
 Oct 2016
I have been in the hunt for a smaller on the go dap for a while now without compromising on the sound in a world where players seem to be getting bigger and heavier and see reviewers wanted for the HIFIMAN SuperMini thread and was not prepared to receive not just that player but a MegaMini also, so could not complain I had two players to try and demo in the comfort of my own home for several days so this will be a unbiased and fair review as I am looking at potentially buying one.
This review is for the MegaMini only as I am treating each player on its own merits and will keep things in more perspective for each player in its own right.
So thanks to Fang and Ryne for making this possible and letting me try these out in comfort of my living room at home for several days to try them out. 
Equipment tested with for this review:
JH16 Pro Ciem (with Whiplash Hybrid V3 cable)
RHA T20 iem
Meze 99 Classics (with original mrk 1 pads)
Grado GS1000e
Mr. Speakers – Ether (open back)
Sony MDR-7520 (modded with Whiplash Hynrid V3 welded to both drivers & Beyer Velour pads)
Sennheiser HD560 Ovation  (300 ohms)
The MegaMini comes in a rather smart more upmarket premium plush looking cardboard box packaging in white with gold border trim with the HiFiMAN logo on the box lid.
Inside there is not actually too much to great you apart from obvious laying on top layer is the player itself followed by the storage compartment underneath which holds just a USB cable for charging and syncing to pc/laptop.
It would be nice if it had a more comprehensive start guide booklet although it can be downloaded from their website via PDF document file. 
When I first agreed to do the review for HIFIMAN I thought I was only getting the SuperMini but was surprised to see I had two players in the brown transport box when I opened it up.
And with focus on the SuperMini been Balanced with slightly better specs and sound I admit I listened to that briefly first before paying more attention to this pocket friendly MegaMini in price as well as size.
The players is very small and light and takes me back to my days with the smaller Sony Walkmans I used to have around five years ago before most moved to 5 inch android bricks for a dap.  Only negative for me after handling the SuperMini was that the MegaMini has sharp angled edges and sharp corners which feel a tad uncomfortable to hold and ideally should have been like the SuperMini with a flat edge and rounded of corners. 
The buttons feel solid to press and are located just right for easy operation but there is a currently a fraction of a second lag to the player responding to button presses which is something I’m sure can be remedied with a future F/W upgrade as this is still currently a beta F/W version prior to official release of the player. The button layout makes sense and the UI has been thought through well enough it is simple and quick to use.
To find a song in the list there is no search function or the like so relies on good old fashioned manual scrolling but luckily here if you hold down the scroll button it fly’s through the list like a supersonic jet with no lag so does not take long to get to the proximity letter in the alphabet for that song, album or artist you are hunting for. 
Not ideal after we have all got used to modern dap layouts with search and album art layouts or alpha index scroll on the android or Apple devices but it still does the job and only takes probably a couple of seconds longer to navigate to the all singing dancing coloured touch screen daps out there.
The screen is fairly clear and concise quality, not quite as good in terms of clarity and standing out as the SuperMini which is OLED but is still legible and clear, laid out in a manner that makes sense to read what info is important.  Only thing so far is I have not been able to get album art up with my flac library but have yet had time to find out why as I type this, all though someone else has so is just a case of finding out how.
The players features normal facets such as shuffle, repeat and repeat all functions and also sports thankfully a favourites function which you just hold the play button down for a couple of seconds on the selected track you want and gives you the option to add this track to your favourites.
Same press of the play button for longer whilst in play mode brings up the Repeat and shuffle options instead of having to go back through to the settings menu which is handy and quick to execute like this.
The bottom of the player houses the 3.5 headphone jack with the micro SD card slot and usb micro USB port for charging as there is sadly no OTG function or digital line out for the usb on this player.
I cannot report on the SD card ability with higher cards at moment as I currently had my 128gb micro card go corrupt on me and only have a 64gb card to hand at time of writing but have had no issues with writing and using the card and transferring between this and the SuperMini with the same card.
In addition there are some small quirks with the player at the moment with turning on power has quite a thump if iems are plugged in when the amp is activated at start up. Slight delay in response to screen activating when home/ power button is pressed. 
No auto cut off if 3.5 jack plug pulled out so potential for playing to keep playing and drain without you knowing about it until it is too late. 
All though the battery is stated as 15 hours I cannot verify pin point precision with the way my testing sessions went but with Flac 16 bit only files and some high res files (192 24 bit) including a few in DSF64 and me fiddling about with the player quite often to navigate and change tracks it was more like 10-12 hours approx even after the 6 hour recommended charge time. Also the battery charge indicator is not quite accurate to where drain status really is as I found the first 50 - 75% went down fairly quickly when on full battery and then last quarter stayed there for almost half the player was on for which is not what I would call a true indicator of time left.
Hopefully as this is still technically a beta firmware I am guessing they are using before official release I am confident this sort of issues can be pretty much sorted out with a firmware update and know there is one due before the year is out. Only two bigger known caveat’s here currently is both the SuperMini and the MegaMini do not support Ex-fat which HIFIMAN have already stated they are working on rectifying before the year is out.  The second is the player is not supporting gapless playback currently but they have announced they plan to release this with the official firmware update later on this year so hopefully these two points will be a irrelevant soon…
The SOUND department
The MegaMini may be small but has quite a big sound that is dynamic, punchy and open sounding whilst still maintaining a natural tonal quality to its signature.
 The MegaMini  gives the impression it has a slight V shape to its signature with the bass and treble a little more  prominent to the midrange but the mids are not what I would say recessed and is naturally clear with subtle harmonics and micro details.
The bass has a good natural feel and sound to it without sounding bloated at all and is tight and controlled with bass and tom-tom drums which is weighted just right in mid to sub bass region and such tracks like Dire Straits in Brothers in arms have a good immersive lower bass with an certain amount of realistic tonality with the symbols and hi-hats gives added emotion to the song.
First thing that struck me was its relatively low floor noise and could not hear any hiss with my JH16’s or RHA T20’s both at 16ohm.  This helps for the detail retrieval to be heard on this MegaMini as it is not as revealing in this department as the SuperMini yet this has just as an addictive pull once you start listening to it.
My initial first impressions were it had a brighter top end to its signature which gives it a more precise sharper treble that has the ability to be harsh or piercing on the ear. But this only ever happens with sub-par recordings thankfully…with good recordings it will stay within these parameters and will reward with real tonality to instruments without the treble spiking or piercing.... with the wrong material the MegaMini or pairing of colder iems or headphones it can sound a bit to shrill and make it all sound a bit too thin as the mids are quite neutral anyway as this player tends to favour the treble anyway so treads a fine balance of sounding great with the good recordings but with poorly mastered ones can be too much edgy treble.  
The mids are clear and coherent with a punch to the mid bass has a lovely weight and depth to it yet sounds clean with a  punchy dynamic pulse in its DNA which stops it from been anywhere near been a truly flat line response dap to listen to. 
Separation is good on a player of this price bracket with very competent stereo imaging and soundstage even makes my Sony 7520 closed backs seem bigger than they usually are and my Grado GS1000’s sound was massive in scale to listen to so kudos to Hi-Fi Man getting this spot on as it goes a long way to the player sounding immersive and involving listening experience.
The bass is tight and controlled and the sub bass can go quite low, actually very low and expansive it can swallow you up with the right song and headphone like my Meze 99’s. The MegaMini has a quick response with timing and imaging which again I almost keep forgetting it’s price area for this player at times. It is apparent this player has sacrificed all the normal specs everyone expects from a player now days like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so forth with instead opting for just focusing on the best it can make a small player to sound with music which to be honest is what I am personally looking for which Is a player that is non complicated, small, light and portable whilst sounding good.
I have been trying this with various eims & headphones and although I do not own any hard to drive headphones anymore I did try a pair of Sennhieser HD560 Ovations which are 300 ohm and quite old now 15 years+ (classed as a classic headphone) but still perform well and with the MegaMini held their own  been able to  drive them with enough authority it kept its dynamic strident clean signature as if you was listening to a set iem’s with the MegaMini.
An even bigger surprise for me was how well it paired with the Grado GS1000 which cost’s £1K yet the MegaMini was a match made in heaven which surprised me as the combination of the MegaMini brighter end signature and the Grado been a delicate complex detailed flower so was pleasantly taken aback when they sounded great together… so much so It hogged my session with these for so long I almost forgot I had to try them with the rest of my collection! 
The Grado is a fairly big soundstage with been open back but the MegaMini gives it a Mega expansive feeling soundstage and has  height as well whilst still been able to stay focused to the centre of the stage still. 
The on a tightrope of treading either side of  treble heaven or hell of the MegaMini really shines with the Grados and showed me this player can reproduce some nice detail still in the upper range with a nice realistic sounding shimmer to hi-hats and symbols. 
The mid-range is perfectly balanced through my Grados with the players ability to do a good sweep in the lower frequencies can make my slightly bass stubborn GS1000’s actually have the ability to  punch lower than the Grados normally do to kick and bass drums.  It goes to show a budget dap can be a good pairing even with a pair of £1k set of open backs that can be an enjoyable listen for long periods of time.
 I also spent a day with the Ether open backs original version which is a very similar experience as the Meze was when hooked up to this player and was a nice pairing with the Ethers just taking a bit of edge on the treble with again the immersive ability of the MegaMinis soundstage and mid to low bass control and response made it another enjoyable listen with the MegaMini.  
I then tried this with my Sony 7520 closed backs which are Whiplash Hybrid V3 terminated to both drivers and this retains the clarity of details but adds a great amount of depth to the low sub bass region.  Dynamics are there in spades with a good pace timing never feeling slouchy or slow. 
The upper mids really show guitars off well and sound like a guitar with the MegaMinis more metallic high end gives that steely edge to acoustic or electric guitars.  Vocals are positioned well which are quite forward to the mix so never a problem hearing the lead vocalist at any time as some.
The MegaMini scores again with my Meze 99 classics which are a balance between warm and punchy with plenty of detail makes this a really good match with the already dynamic sounding MegaMini. 
This might not have quite as much micro detail to its bigger brother the SuperMini but it certainly knows how to do soundstage, placement and timing and have been impressed with how at home this player is with most genres of music as it handles it quite naturally as just sticking it on “all tracks” shuffle it went from Mahler No.5 symphony in high res for example with plenty of soundstage width and depth with a smooth and fluid  presentation with string work and then had Labyrinth’s Earthquake dance track with its slamming deep hard bass and high frequency testing intro and then followed by Gregory Porter Liquid Spirit with a very layered textured double bass and nice organic sounding piano work with G. Porters chesty centred voice is very present and transfixes the listener to every word been sung.
The MegaMini is a very transient player and can stop on a sixpence especially with kick drums and bass notes and does suit my Sony 7520 and Meze which are fairly bass happier than most and drives them with authority and ease.  Then also quite happy with something as detailed and tamer as the Grado GS1k’s so works well with a range of headphones signatures I found.  In a nutshell this is not the most fussiest player I’ve had to try and pair with iem’s or headphones even with my concerns of the possibly bright top end presentation can produce if the recording is not good enough.
The more I listened to this player the more you do tend to forget it at times this is a $250 player as what features are stripped from it to other practical players that offer all the gadgets this has concentrated on just the sound yet at first time listening especially after having a sneaky listen to the SuperMini first this sounded more thin at times to treble harsh yet with more time with listening to different headphones/ iems it is not a truly flat sounding player but has a way of sounding dynamic and just a tad bright yet manages to not add much colouration to the overall sound at the same time so symbols, hi-hats etc have a realistic shimmer and the bass has a realism with it’s different levels of depth, spacialness, texture transients lead to a very evolving player I thought I would be targeting my iems with more solely for its mobility but further listening with headphones has been an immersive addiction for such a relatively budget portable player. 
To be honest I was initially only looking at reviewing the SuperMini as it is balanced and does have a fuller bodied signature with a more detail retrieval but the more I spend with this MegaMini I realized it was indeed a very well balanced sounding player with natural overtones to its signature which made it believable listening experience all the more and for anyone wanting a more natural sounding signature and was looking at the SuperMini you might want to give this a try also as although placed as the cheaper player has griped me to listen with as much as the SuperMini in many respects.
It is a breath of fresh air really with the last few years the players have become bigger in size as well as price and forgot what it was like to hold a dap in the palm of your hands that was small light and can be used with operation of one hand only yet all the emphasis focused on delivering the sound quality rather than load it up with features like wi-fi, Bluetooth etc and no substance to the sound quality and the MegaMini fits in perfectly making a good quality sounding player in a small truly portable footprint as possible with a realistic affordable price and HIFIMAN have achieved this.
 All though the player is not totally perfect although build is top notch the design is a bit sharp to hold and should of followed it’s SuperMini brothers smoother design for more comfort to hold but for pure sound enjoyment and quality for money and been able to drive headphones not thought imaginable with a player this size has been an achievement and any other glitches it may have should be able to rectified through firmware updates. So if maybe the SuperMini features of balanced with bundled iems doesn’t do it for you or your just after the best sound out there on a budget then check this little gem out as it is an impressive player for its small size and can power some heavier loaded headphones yet maintain a consistent sound quality across most genres. 
In a nut shell this is a very accomplished sounding player for the money and to be quite frankly honest it is not usually the sound sig I would go for usually and even alongside the SuperMini it has won me over with its own way of doing music and with its solid build and very practical due to its small size and is nice to see someone deciding to try and offer daps in small size form factor again but with better components inside to bring above average sound and power for the money.
Even with been lucky enough to also be reviewing the SuperMini I am genuinely sad to be given the MegaMini back but with the SuperMini I am seriously considering one of them if not maybe both a bit later on.  I think it is certainly worth an audition and not to be underestimated at this price.
Thanks to Fang and Ryne and rest of HI-Fi Man team for the opportunity to listen to this as It’s been a MegaMini adventure!


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Excellent Build, Sound Quality, Size & Weight, Power, Balanced, Clear Screen, Easy to use/ navigate.
Cons: Battery life not quite as to HFM specs, no music auto cut off when 3.5 plug pulled out.
HIFIMAN SuperMini review
Oct 2016
Just some background on me with previous experience of daps and why I’ve arrived here at this point in time.
...In a Hi-Fi qalaxy far far away since a young age I’ve always had a Cassette Walkman of some sort and then in my teens in the early 90’s moved onto Sony Minidiscs format and went for the smaller top end models that were more compact and then when that had its day it became the HDD players into the mid 2000’s which again on the whole I stuck with Sony Walkmans due to back then there was not the explosion of all the specialist companies around now like HIFi Man for example.
Then after a couple of bad experiences trying early Cowon D2 model and an Ipod Touch 2nd Gen I moved to flash based players but stayed with Sony’s for the most part albeit each model was hit and miss with the sound but the most common theme was I always went with something that was a reasonable small size you could put in your pocket and forget it’s there when on the go commuting.
The last few years with portable daps trying to go for a high quality Hi-Fi sound or studio grade sound in your dap is they have got bigger, one of the reasons I have never really checked out something like the HM901 despite them been good sounding daps is the size to fit in the pocket without been bulky so it is not a annoying presence all the time. 
The biggest I have gone so far was with the Sony ZX1 which I still like and fits in the pocket okay still but the battery is not what it used to be and have been looking at a player that also does SD card slot also.  I have not been one for using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on my ZX1 either in three years I have had it.
So I have been in the hunt for a smaller on the go dap for a while now without compromising on the sound in a world where players seem to be getting bigger and heavier and see reviewers wanted for the Hi-Fi Man SuperMini thread and was not prepared I would be receiving not just the SuperMini but a MegaMini also, so I could not complain I had two players to try and demo in the comfort of my own home for several days (who was I to argue!) so this will be a unbiased and fair review as I am looking at potentially buying one so has to live up to a certain criteria personally in what I’m looking for in a small portable dap which is a good quality sound with plenty of power and ability to take an SD card with good battery life.
This review is for the SuperMini but there will be comparisons along the way with the MegaMini where relevant as I am treating each player on its own merits and will keep things in more perspective for each player in its own right.
So thanks to Fang and Ryne for making this possible and letting me try these out in comfort of my living room at home for several days to try them out. 
Equipment tested with for this review:
JH16 Pro Ciem (with Whiplash Hybrid V3 cable)
RHA T20 iem
HiFiMan – Supplied balanced iem (RE600 equivalent?)
Meze 99 Classics (with original mrk 1 pads)
Grado GS1000e
Mr. Speakers – Ether (open back)
Sony MDR-7520 (modded with Whiplash Hynrid V3 welded to both drivers & Beyer Velour pads)
Sennheiser HD560 Ovation  (300 ohms)
The SuperMini comes in a nice black box with foam housing to protect the player in the box and underneath is another compartment which houses the supplied USB data/ charge cable and the balanced iems that are included with warranty & Quality Control (QC) passed stamped card.  It would be nice if it had a more comprehensive start guide booklet although it can be downloaded from their website via PDF document file. 
The SuperMini comes in a understated black finish made from a block of aluminium for its chassis with a OLED screen which displays text information only but is easy to read and fairly bright but for some reason does not have a brightness control at all so stays at that brightness all the time which is fairly bright but just strange the option is not there which I am guessing is something to do with the battery life. The screen itself although looks the part is a finger print magnet but does come supplied with a Screen protector which in all honesty have not had the time to get around to doing at time of writing so cannot comment on how good that is with its application.
Unlike the MegaMini it sports smoother edges on the corners and has flat side bezels so is more comfortable to hold in the hand to the MegaMini is.
The layout of the buttons is the only thing here that I think could have been laid out a bit better as the MegaMini has the return button along the main buttons on the front so is right next to the other relevant buttons that are in the chain to use so makes it easy and quick to use. 
But with the SuperMini they have made it look tidier having only three main buttons on the front which the middle one is the play/ pause button and the two buttons either side of that are the rewind and forward buttons which has left the back/return button located on the right hand side middle which makes it a bit more awkward to use when using player single handed in the right hand as I do and is a shame it was not like MegaMini and located on the front.  The power/wake button is also located in an odd place on the bottom right hand side and should have been placed on top of the player or higher up on the other side as the volume buttons are on the top right hand side bezel. 
It is a nice designed and lovely to look at and is well built dap but do question the logistics of the buttons for using this effectively with the best layout possible.
A shortcut I found with the play/ pause button is when playing if you press of the play button for longer whilst in play mode brings up the Repeat and shuffle options instead of having to go back through to the settings menu which is handy and quick to execute like this. The bottom of the player houses the 3.5 headphone jack which is next to the balanced plug socket with the micro SD card slot and USB micro USB port for charging as there is sadly no OTG function or digital line out for the USB on this player.
I cannot report on the SD card ability with higher cards at moment as I currently had my 128gb micro card go corrupt on me and only have a 64gb card to hand at time of writing but have had no issues with writing and using the card and transferring between this and the Supermini with the same card.
In addition there are some small quirks with the player at the moment with turning on power has quite a thump if iems are plugged in when the player is turned on or off (even with volume very low)
No auto cut off if 3.5 jack plug pulled out so potential for playing to keep playing and drain without you knowing about it until it is too late. 
Only two bigger known caveat’s here currently is both the Supermini and the MegaMini do not support Ex-fat which Hi-FI Man have already stated they are working on rectifying before the year is out.  The second is the player is not supporting gapless playback currently but they have announced they plan to release this with the official firmware update later on this year so hopefully these two points will be a irrelevant soon once they are updated…
The SOUND department
First thing I have noticed after coming from spending time with the MegaMini for a few days whilst I done a review for that was the Supermini immediately sounded more full bodied and filled out in the mids to the MegaMini and was showing more nuances with detail coming through like vocal resonation and trailing edge detail to instruments are and the overall signature is a slightly warmer feel in comparison to the MegaMini.
It still shares the top end presence and has a dynamic punchy side to its sound yet the bass is a little more seismic in the sub bass region and would say despite the MegaMini having less detailed sounds with a more flatter organic type of sound with the Supermini in SE mode also where the SuperMini is a bit more musical with its fuller bodied warmer and weightier with its lower bass presence.
They are not a million miles apart but there are some characteristics that set them apart to the point I enjoy the MegaMini still with it been leaner and more neutral airy sound. 
The SuperMini still has a nice tight control of kick drums in the mid to lower bass but has a richer texture with the SuperMini. Everything still sounds transparent with a crispness to the top end with vocals been forward still like the MegaMini. 
JH16Pro Ciems
With my JH16pro ciems they really went well together with good cohesion. With the MegaMini which paired well with most of my stuff it didn’t seem to match the best with my 16’s and was a bit of a mismatch.  It didn’t sound bad at all but by experience of how I know the 16’s can sound this was not it.  But with the SuperMini they shine and are at home with the frequencies matching in the right places to the way the 16’s are tuned and think it may just be the fuller slightly more warmer signature complimenting the 16’s warmer preference also. 
Everything with the 16’s has a dynamic driven presentation with great lows through the combination of the SuperMini way of handling the lower end and JHA with the way they have tuned the bass on the 16’s which is about +5 db approx. Very well separated and clean still with a warmer timber to the mid bass and quite a lively treble still even with the sweeter treble drivers of my 16’s.
The SuperMini does not mess around here and shows of all frequencies equally without one overshadowing the other. It’s like I’m getting with a rock track like Nothing But Thieves all – Drawing Pins track the bass and treble info hitting me hard yet the mids are still floating around without been congested and can be heard easily so is quite a full on track but the HIFIMAN somehow manages to present a busy full on rock track in a balanced manner without congestion.
RHA T20 iem (using normal reference balanced filter set)
With the RHA T20 universal it went to show how tips can make so much difference as the tips I found that worked best with the MegaMini did not suit the SuperMini and gave it too much of a mid-bass hump making it sound off key yet it was just a different shape and size comply that done the trick that brought back a right balance to everything which just went to show always keep a varied selection of different tips available for such instances when you listen to a different piece of equipment. 
I am now noticing the Supermini in SE mode is slightly narrower in soundstage width to the MegaMini enough it is a little noticeable so am wandering if this is to do with the different op amp/ dac configuration for balanced in the SuperMini playing a part. There is still plenty of headroom with the SuperMini is still transparent and tonally sounds natural with instruments like the MegaMini does even with the signature overall been a bit warmer with the SuperMini.
The T20 needs a little bit more volume than the 16’s even though both are 16 ohm but guess this is where the customs go in a bit further and do not need the extra volume so with the T20 I have it set to anywhere between 18-22 depending on difference for track volumes and combination of mood I am in and the JH16pro I have set anything between 15-19 depending again on each track recorded volume off sets and mood.
Compared to my Jh16Pro ciems which I have now owned and loved the sound of for last 4+ years I absolutely love the sound of the T20 and perform really well for the money yet they sound like they were made for the SuperMini as they complement the SuperMinis ability to show of each range in a very evenly balanced manner and suit the transparency of the Supermini. 
The T20 keeps up with the pace and reflects the authoritative manner with drums staying tight and responsive and the treble is actually more natural in tone than through my 16’s and scales well with the low to high frequency’s and never gets ragged with songs that are becoming hectic with lots of information even in the upper frequency’s which must be down to the amount of Op-amps this Supermini has to drive with great control and authority especially with thee iems been so efficient anyway.
Despite the T20’s not been able to retrieve as much detail as the JH16’s at the end of the day can I can still sit happily listening to them on the SuperMini which is a testament to both the T20 and SuperMini here.
HIFIMAN supplied balanced iems
Straight away playing Fleetwood Mac Little Demons remastered is night and day to single ended mode here and the soundstage has opened up in balanced with more space and width with the harmony ghoul vocals on this track are more panned from the sides instead of congested in the central region.
The placement of certain instruments has changed and everything is given more air and space to breath. It makes timing better also and with something like Rodrigo & Gabriela’s Hanuman track it plays with more space to work feels like it is not so congested and flows easier now like when you hear a high end speaker to a budget speaker it sounds more natural with its ability to make music feel like it was sprayed with WD40 as it sounds more naturally free in movement and not forced which is what plugging in balanced sounds like after SE mode.
Another track that I heard in depth with both SE and balanced was Ryan Adams Live at Carnegie Hall in New York and this was transformed in balanced. It was almost as if it was made for balanced as it is just an acoustic set recorded very well to start with and Balanced mode really opens up space in the mid-range amongst musical notes in which Mr. Ryans vocals become even more clearer with instrument resonation echoes in the hall been more wider in the hall and more sense of depth to notes travelling with the bigger soundstage.
I must admit I was not prepared for balanced to be this much better over the SE way on a small player like this but it surprisingly is.
I just wish I had other balanced headphones or iems to compare it with but compared to SE in general on this particular machine was surprised how different it all became with sense of space and soundstage width and height as well as placement of instruments been better placed and separated.
In addition to the balanced effect how do the supplied HIFIMAN iems actually sound?
…Well they sound rather good in fact for a supplied pair and by all accounts as they do not have the model version stamped anywhere on these are meant to be good as they are their circa $80 pair but probably better as they are balanced compared to SE version. The sound with these is actually even more relatively flat compared to even my T20’s and adds not much coloration to proceedings and is perfectly balanced (pardon the pun) across the range and has a nice tone and delivery with vocals.
When you see how light and small they are with the fairly thin cable which looks like they have coated it to reduce the microphonics of which there is hardly none by the way with this cable the supplied iem really does sing with its own player that I will probably actually use these just as much alongside my other iems with the Supermini as it has a lovely organic no thrills synergy together. Whether the SuperMini could have been done cheaper as a standalone player is another thing but I’m glad they done it as there will be a lot of people who will not have balanced iems/Headphones when buying this and think it was the right call by HIFIMAN to include them.  It might have been an idea to of maybe done a player only and one bundled with the balanced iem package for first time owners.
All in all I’m impressed not just with the balanced ability but the sound of these supplied iems from HIFIMAN.
Now time for some headphones...
Sony 7520 (with cable and pad mod)
I will start with my Sony 7520’s studio monitors which are modded to both drivers with a Whiplash Hybrid V3 cable SE termination with pad mod to Beyer Velour pads and the SuperMini drives them not too much different to my iems with volume around the 20-22 mark.  The Sony’s sounds really nice with the SuperMini and have a really good combination both producing a timbre to instruments that show the mids with plenty of detail.  
The 7520's are usually quite bass heavy but with the SuperMini it sounds refined and not overdone on the Sony’s and there is plenty of height with the soundstage yet normally the 7520 only major drawbacks has always been a closed in more narrow soundstage but yet here is an irony to the iems in SE mode with this the Sony’s are sounding fairly wide with good dispersion of sound from the sides. I found the MegaMini had a good soundstage with both iems and headphones but not so much with iems for the SuperMini until I used it  balanced but is not the case with the SuperMini plugged into my Sony 7520’s. Do not know why but it is welcomed as the Sony sounds good with the Supermini with the mids really shining with this combo and a surprisingly more refined rained in lower bass on the 7520’s. MJ’s classic Dirty Diana track sounded epic with plenty of scope with a large dynamic presentation and mastered really well it made me imagine how the 7520's would sound if balanced now on the SuperMini.
Grado GS1000e
Once again, the SuperMini pairs quite well but maybe not quite as good in some respects to the MegaMini. The Super seems to give the mids a bit more body which the Grado’s love and vocals seem closer and the detail is definitely easier to pick out but overall tonality I actually think the MegaMini suits the Grado’s just a bit better than the Super all though I could quite happily still listen to the Grado/ SuperMini combo.  The soundstage is much like the MegaMini with the Grado which is just football pitch dimensions with good imaging. 
The volume for these I found I have around 20-24 which is the reverse to what I thought the Sony’s would be with the Grado volume.  This is certainly the headphone for hearing all the micro details the Supermini has to offer and does it in a more delicate presentation to other headphones yet the Supermini or even better still the MegaMini both respect the Grado and compliment it which I was never expecting.
Meze 99 Classics
My newest fav headphone in many ways and goes to show you don’t always have to pay top dollar to get a good bit of kit.  Granted not everyone loves these but for many who like me do the SuperMini is a turbocharged marriage made in heaven. The MegaMini is just as good with the Meze but the Super just does it differently and does what the Grado did for the MegaMini over the Super and just accentuates the already similar characteristics the player and headphone shares.
In this case the Superminis slightly warmer side with that extra little bit of more sub bass region and punchy mids just match perfectly together and the prominent treble of the Super also just brings out the Meze treble a bit more than normal although not recessed has always been the frequency that was just tuned to mix in more with the amongst the mids and bass information but already loving the Meze a lot I’ve found a perfect match player for it. 
Even material that is usually maybe suited better for the Grado’s or even the Sony’s sound good on here even though they have a more warmer glow with the enclosed wooden cups I find even            St. Petersburg Choir or New World Symphony and even Acoustic sets sound still transparent, big and spatial with drive and authority to the mid – low bass.
The Meze I have always said were a more of a fun musical headphone that had the detail added to them where the SuperMini I would say had the detail with the musicality added in which makes them a good match.  Usually too similar can be like added two slices of bread with a ton of peanut butter on each side, when put together it is too much!  But this happens to be like jam on one side with a bit of mustard on the other! Ok, maybe not best analogy there!
Mr. Speakers - Ethers
Just like the Meze are they have followed suit and match the SuperMini just like a glove and just like the Grado’s the large soundstage and amazing imaging of the Ethers really helps the Supermini come to life with to die for mids and the treble really shines with the Ethers and gives a reasonable powerful low end on them even for a pair of magnetic planners. 
The way the Ethers do imaging and micro detail is like having a magnifying glass put on the SuperMini in a washing machine as it gets all the detail information the SuperMini has to offer yet you hear instruments pan in and out with precision timing not even sounds like that on a pair of HD800S in that respect so the SuperMini is just at home as with the Meze here or even more so I dare say. 
Finally with….
Sennheiser HD560 Ovations (approx 15+ year old classic open backs @ 300ohm)
Got to try these for a day with the Senn’s as they are 300 ohm and the Supermini was a great match for them again.  The MegaMini was actually okay with to drive but the SuperMini drives them with more purpose and authority which brings out the Super’s dynamics much easier and lets it sing so can vouch it has enough juice and swing for 300 ohm but unfortunately do not own any 600ohm anymore for what would be the King Kong of Ohm testing with these for those who wanted to know.
I’m sure other reviewers will have some 600ohm in their collection though and report on that combo.
Different to the MegaMini for starters, not so different in many respects but different enough it does add up to enough by the end of the long day or week in this case!
Where the Supermini is tonally still sounding within the bounds natural timbre to sounds or instruments with a good balance across the range at all times it does sound step up in warmth and been more full bodied signature with the mids and has a slightly lower sub bass delivery that is more encompassing and then add in balanced which seemed to make quite a big difference on its own merit does make the Supermini an attractive proposition.
The MegaMini if you heard both might and if you didn’t mind the reduction a little bit on the micro details still like the more, what I call a little more reference & airy with an almost nuetral impression with the treble sounding more prominent to the SuperMini and was not bothered by balanced either could still be a player to consider very much. 
Personally as I was looking for a smaller player anyway which took into account above average sound and power after hearing how they both are with my stuff am seriously contemplating both now but if it was just one it would be a hard decision with all the different factors to consider. Not as clear cut as first thought with the MegaMini if I’m been honest.
All I can say is really it’s been a while coming for someone to take more interest in making smaller players that just focus on sounding good as some of the bigger higher priced models and think HIFIMAN have pretty much pulled it off.  Okay, they are both not totally perfect and a lot of that will hopefully be sorted out with Firmware update coming out before end of the year but really for the money and putting performance and quality of sound first with its weight and size is a major achievement.
So thankyou to HIFIMAN for not just bringing one small good dap on offer but actually two to choose from and look forward to getting one soon or maybe two!
An end to a Mega/Super Mini adventure…
Surely gapless playback is de rigueur at product release for any DAP in 2016 and not an afterthought addressed by a later firmware update?!? Interesting device though and a very comprehensive review with great photo's. Bravo Fortis Flyer75.
@FortisFlyer75 Agree with you on the balanced IEM (or at least making it optional).  Haha I'm not a whiz either...just trying to put some numbers to the stuff I hear.  It's not exactly clear about what goes on inside the player, or the output impedance and other key numbers (which measured fine anyways).  I totally understand not getting a touchscreen player, and have used some myself.  Indeed, it would be nice to get a nice OLED with album art (though battery life will be dead by the time that happens).  Anyways, quibbles.  This player's form factor and battery life are it's greatest sells, and it succeeds in that sense.
Considernig my earphones are all of low impedance, how would this player (or similar players) compare to a smartphone? (i'm using Sony smartphone...should have a good sound quality)


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Big Sound stage, Transparency, Speed, Tonality - naturally balanced, Vocals
Cons: Case not that practical, down ear design only, bulky for an in ear design. Lacking some sub bass quantity and harsh top end with poorer recordings.
Obravo erib-2a Review
April 2016
Sources used:
Sony ZX1 Walkman, HP X360 Spectre with MS Win 10 laptop, Tag Mclaren DVD32R cd player.
Amp & Dacs used:
Chord Hugo & Mojo with QED Reference & Vertere DFI USB cables.
 Vorzuge PureII+ portable amplifier with Whiplash Hybrid V3 LOD
  1. Frequency Response: 20Hz~35KHz
  2. Tweeter: 8mm Air Motion Transformer Tweeter
  3. Dynamic Driver: 10mm Neodymium Driver
  4. Impedance: 16 ohm
  5. Sensibility in dB: 102dB
  6. Weight: 35 g
Please visit here for
Firstly need to say thanks to the Eu Jin for organizing this Erib-2a tour and the mystery benefactor who has supplied these to make it possible to listen to these for several days in the comfort of my own home with my pipes and slippers.  Also have to acknowledge Glassmonkey here for making me aware there was a tour of this intriguing earphones to start with otherwise I would be no the wiser!
Obravo is a name I have not been so familiar with until recently and with planner magnetic technology becoming ever more present in full size headphones today this looked an interesting prospect with these actually making this a Hybrid with a 10mm Neodymium driver and 8mm air motion transformer tweeter which sounds even more complex when this has to be implemented into an iem casing as opposed to a headphone design.
Obravo actually have three different versions of the Erib with a wooden ear cup model for a warmer signature sound and the ceramic version for a more detail and openness although the prices are reflected differently between the three. Here we have the aluminium version for a more balanced sound across the board which comes in at £550 here in the UK currently.
Ergonomics & Design
The design is not your usual iem affair which uses planner magnetic technology in conjunction with a dynamic driver which makes for a different type of listening experience ahead as it is the first such type of iem to be designed like this. The metal casing is fairly deep due to this which does tend to make it stick out of the ear to most iem’s.  The design has been made to wear down from what I can tell although I guess there is nothing to stop you wearing it over ear but the strain relief design makes it feel not so natural to have it this way.  
The actual plug system to connect the cable to the iems is a very solid design and just has a push snap shut connection. Then to disconnect just pull with a little extra pressure to release as it is a nice solid connection that will not come away too easily.
The Obravos also come with clear looking silicone wings which wrap around the iem barrel so when you put them in they will help support the weight and direction of the iem to stay in place and low and behold it works and really does keep them in place which is quite an ingenious bit of designing by whoever done this at Obravo.  
The cord is a 1.2 Metre  cloth type design with 3.5 jack which is not too microphonic when music is playing which makes this passable on the microphonics  side.
I first tried  silicone tips with the erib’s but there seemed to be no bass and sounded washed out with a harsher top end so went on to the Complys which personally I have not got on with in the past but have to say these were okay and found the art of these iem’s as they were a little big on the bore even in small size that I am is to not try and shove the comply tip all the way into the canal like other iems out there, just push gently enough it forms the seal and let it settle.  as when I first tried getting them in further like a normal tip as well as asserting too much pressure it was muffling the sound so this also helps out with the soundstage effects doing this I found.
There is also a balanced cable which was not provided on this tour edition which was a shame as I have a Cavalli Carbon amp on loan from a good friend at the moment (shout out & thanks  to Rocketron around these parts for that) so could of  tested it in balanced mode and would have been interesting  with this iem having an already spacious soundstage already which I will go into in the Sound Impressions section.  For the price it’s just a shame they have not included a balanced cable. 




.... Is a little hit and miss here with the case been a storage case big enough to get three pairs of these iems in theory if it was not for them filling the dead space with foam inserts to house the iem’s unattached and a cut out place for the 6.3mm plug adaptor (which my the way is a very gorgeous low profile plug adaptor to the normal ones you can buy) and then they have added six metal stalks in the foam cut outs that are meant to house ear tips which is really not practical really if you are travelling with them. Cannot fault the quality and finish of the case but it should really be a travel size case just big enough to store the erib-2a’s with tips and the jack plug adaptor. 
It also comes with silicone tips and comply soft memory foam tips and two sets of silicone wings.

Erib-2a Sound Impressions

The first thing you notice with first few minutes of listening is how clear and clean these Obravo’s sound and have a sense of a panoramic soundstage that puts it into the same league of headphones let alone iem’s!
A few tracks in and the erib-2a is balanced in its presentation and is not trying to be a cast type signature of any kind and is not predominant in any section with these iem’s.
The erib presents the music in a very clean and articulate way with plenty of black space around everything and feels quick in its start stop response with instruments which give it good pace and rhythm due to its planner magnetic design.
Instruments do not sound bloated or coloured and have a natural tone to them. The Erib-2a sounds like it should be a studio monitor as it is sounds fairly balanced but is far from flat in response and has a dynamic feel and with its punchy tight bass adds a dimension of been able to still have that emotional attachment to songs.
With my ZX1 Walkman once I worked out how to get the seal just right with these comply tips it was at home playing through the ZX1 which had enough to drive these 16 ohm erib-2a’s but it was around the 80% point on the volume with most songs so was not much left if there was an older recording that was a few db less in recording levels, normally my JH16’s would be around the 55-65% mark volume mark on my ZX1.
Then found myself listening to the ZX1 for a few hours with these with ease using FLAC files with there been a nice compliment between the ZX1 more warmer dynamic signature and the clean calm balanced quick step nature of the erib-2a.
It was just a shame I don’t think from my impressions in the design and ergonomics section outlined that I could use these for normal purpose of iem use on the go when out and about or commuting especially when I’ve been used to my custom iems flush fit or something like the Shure SE535 flush type fit.
Also with the open vented back design and the already outlined these are not so isolated to traditional iem’s but is only apparent when no music is playing which is great for when commuting as would not need to take them out to talk to someone as with the music stopped I could hear people talking just fine.  Unless you listen to quite passages of music all the time these should be okay for commuting or on the move.
With the Chord Hugo running from FLAC files on the laptop it goes up another level from the ZX1 and can start to hear the real response of the bass on these erib-2a’s and they can go low when they really want to all though some will still feel these will not go low enough. It is indicative to the erib signature been pulled off as without the real bass presence been there these would start to sound to washed out or treble edgy but the bass response is just right with the low bass only really going low when it needs too and not all the time.
As from my experience initially with these if you do not get any bass then it is going to be due to an incomplete seal with the tips but once you have there should be a good responsive well controlled bass with the erib-2a. The sub bass is not a big bloated affair covering every inch of room available kind of bass that blanket covers you but more a focused tight controlled bass drop that has a punch to it which you will never hear obstructs the information in the mids even during complex or busy passages of music.
The low bass frequency done in precise manner which is complimented by the mid bass section which really gives the Obravos its nice sense of rhythm & beats that gets me tapping my feet with songs and the upper mids giving clarity to the highs which never feel like they are hiding at any time yet clarity and precision is order of the day with this erib-2a’s.
 This iem doesn’t know how to do cluttered or messy with its magnetic planner technology keeping the pace tight and quick with harmonics and upper mids with trebles not been too harsh on the whole although it can step close to going over the line into slight harshness with some above average recorded tracks.
The only time the erib-2a does cross that line with been a bit too bright or edgy is if the recording is poor and noticed it certainly doesn’t mask poor recordings yet will reward in spades with a well mastered recording, so it’s one of those iem’s that’s going to at times be painful with songs you love but cannot enjoy as they are at best a torture experience with the Obravos exposing that or with a well recorded bit of material suddenly have a full body to the mids with crystal highs never too sharp with really transparent presentation with a good dynamic range.
It is a strange sense of listening to these in a good way which was, as the more hours I have racked up with these I find myself immersed listening to them even though they are very clear, clean and articulate they convey the nuances in detail in a very logical and coherent manner that you get all the information feed at the same time but my brain could easily decipher it all quick as it was been fired at me.
Some headphones or eim’s have a way with their signature which can be warm or bassy to add emotion to songs but the erib just tells it the way it is yet at the same time doing so not sounding cold or flat in in the process but this is one of those iems you just hear it instead of feel it.
The soundstage is what helps make instruments have the ability to come at you from the wings from a distance and add to the panning of the stereo image with great effect that it makes you feel like you are listening to a pair of open back headphones. 
In conjunction with the erib-2a seeming to have a very good “black ground” it lends to instruments just seem to be in their own space and time which I think is also helped by the different driver technology with the magnetic planner keeping the highs fluid with great transients which is a word that can sum up the overall package of this sound as it is just so uber clear and clean sounding like someone has stripped away a big veiled curtain from the music.
I have just recently fell in love with a totally opposite signature with the Meze99 classic headphones yet I find myself loving this just as much even though it is a totally different way of painting the picture with these iem’s although it paint’s a more lifelike painting or to me I would say it is more like a photo as the more I listen to these I think they really would be at home in the studio for mixing as they give a great realistic balance across the range with real tonal qualities to all instruments or vocals that are played through it.
Listening to Muse - Dead inside track I could just hear the vocals of Matt Bellamy project really well in a 3D sense with the more his vocals got stronger and louder yet all the way though this song I could always hear the clarity of the mids clear as a whistle as the mid bass and lower bass kicks are so clean and controlled it sounds like they are detached separately in their own sphere yet still all together sharing the same space as they never interfere with what I’m hearing in the mids with the electric guitars is tonal delight with no distortion or any over thickness to the strings.
 If anything I did notice with some string work was sometimes there was maybe not enough body or crunch to the chords on the guitar strings not that it was ever to thin sounding but felt there could have been a little more meat on the bones with string work on some songs. This did not detract from the overall enjoyment of listening as it still conveys guitars to a good level but would just like to of seen a tad more meat on the bones in this area at times.
Listening to Rob D Furious Angles (instrumental) and Clubbed to Death is easy to follow with great separation and great speed and agility keeping up and the spread of the soundstage makes these songs feel like you are in the middle of it all with the pin point imaging these eribs do with ease.  I might not be getting the full 10K fathom depth of bass on the Erib-2a to other bass hungry iem’s around or headphones out there but it still gives plenty of body to the mids and they still go low enough to give the impact needed to fulfil  dynamics to a song  that have a well recorded bass note.  
It would be nice to have some more low end or a blanket sub bass effect with certain tracks but these will still surprise you once in a while how deep they are able to go like Queen’s You Don’t Fool Me all though just sits straddling along with a nice mid bass tempo which has one drum kick that comes out of nowhere almost goes sub sonic for these iem’s and is a like wow moment… where did that come from?! Dance oriented electronic bass seems to make these reach a bit further down with some tracks too which makes them perfect with the fast stepping mids & highs and the bass punch the erib-2a’s can deliver.
The erib-2a’s are so good at presenting everything else on such an even keelwith a still more than acceptable execution of how the bass is delivered from the mid to low frequency’s I can live with this bass quite happily (this is coming from someone who listens to JH16 bass and likes the new Meze bass) after all I have heard plenty of iem’s out there before that exhibit all the good points like the erib-2a is capable of only to have a very flat bass which equals no bass at all making it feel like the whole experience is flat lining a dull experience  with it too treble accentuated due to lack of bass balancing it all out, which I do not get close to feeling with these iems at all.
Detail is something else with the erib-2a as minute fine micro details come out of nowhere and will sound like they are passed to you on a plate separate from everything else that is going on around you.  Listening to Trombone Shorty has plenty of funk and dynamics on the erib and the trumpets and trombones are dominant as vocals are on these wonderfully focused vocal generators. 
Yes..  vocals sound so clear with great micro detail uncluttered, easy to follow with no warming, just a neutral & natural tone to vocals and harmonies are so well layered in the music too it makes following backing and lead vocals very easy with the erib-2a’s.
Listening to Dido has depth and space with her vocals feeling alive with a lush texture to the tone of her voice the erib sounds perfection whether it be the smooth vocals of Kate Bush or Lera Lynn to the gravel scrapping rock vocals of AC-DC’s Brian Johnson just sound so linear and unveiled and can hear all the nuances of his gritty powerful rock vocals.  It is a joy to hear the vocals so easily right in front of you but at the same time just as easy to follow all the details of the rest of the music which envelopes the listener.
Not the best of recordings for such a band but Queen’s Innuendo and Invisible Man really show how the erib’s deal with detail and imaging with the big soundstage available to great effect.
The depth of these iems mixed with the expansive soundstage makes you feel like you are sitting in the middle rather than traditional sitting in front of stage feeling which reminded me of an experience I had hearing a pair of Eclipse speakers for the first time last weekend (thanks again to Rocketron for letting me listen to them) where the imaging was staggering putting me more in the music than I have heard with a pair of speakers and the erib-2a has ironically done that to me immersing me into the music with its wrap around soundstage width, depth and imaging in spades.
Only trade off with this was sometimes something like drumming that usually comes from the front direction of stage in a song was firing from the side of me which was a bit strange at times was enjoying the overall signature of the erib-2a’s by now there was still enough natural information coming from the centre of the soundstage the times it felt a bit abnormally to the side which is where it probably feels like it is pulling you into the mix at the same time. 
Listening to Ed Sheeran X album has plenty of verve and wide dynamics with nice sparkle to the highs making Ed’s acoustic guitar sound realistically sharp at the end of notes yet still the Obravos still have a way of just sounding not over coloured with a nice balance to preceding’s with plenty of different sounds mixed into tracks on this album are easy to pick out and follow.
 Michael Jacksons 25th remaster of Thriller has so much air, speed & attack on this album with the quick response of the planer magnetic technology, its ability to be quick start and stop with musical notes with not much overhang gives Thriller a “live” feel with a sense you could be listening to this in a 80’s disco club. 
These went to another level was then listening to live music with the erib-2a made me go wow as it is just perfect placement soundstage feeling of measuring a room or auditorium correctly as if it was done by one of those laser rulers, it is uncanny listening to live performances on these, again that almost neutral and linear feel just with so much spaciousness reflect live performances on level of realism with the Obravos.
The erib-2a with live songs really became addictive due to the vast soundstage the Obravos provided and sense of depth and reality with the soundstage to a concert with vocals as good as they already are on the Erib-2a they are just cutting with clarity and my current fav track live with Cream’s Toad – live the Royal Albert with the drums sounding taught and with really great panning from left to right and the symbols clashing have a lovely sparkle and shimmer to them. I could play this track again and again on the Obravos with ease for sure as I get a rush hearing this every time. 


The Obravo erib-2a over the course of seven days in terms of sound have gradually won me over...
They may not be quite there with enough bass for some that place emphasis on plenty of bass type signature to go with their coffee & three sugars but it has a nice punchy focused well controlled bass which can plummet in quantity sometimes which can take you aback a bit.
The emphasis here seems to of been make a well balanced iem with less colouration than possible but yet still make it sound dynamic enough to breathe life into music and have a massive soundstage for a pair of iems that can rival many open backs out there.
I found where the Obravos can do rendering of micro detail with the soundstage well is because  it does not need to be a warm or bass heavy iem as it just brings clarity to everything you listen to.
Sure, it might not be too forgiving with poor or overly bright recordings but when a piece of music is mastered well enough the Obravos really can sing to the point you can listen to these for hours on end.
I am glad I decided to partake in this tour in the end as I have found a really addictive iem that does it in a very understated yet reassuring way of just letting you hear music without all the fanfare of bells and whistles and magic shows.
 It doesn’t try to be something it is not, the erib-2a is just straight down the line in presenting you with a well-balanced natural detailed listen. I just wish they were a little more low profile somehow fit wise with their sense of I’m playing Frankenstein's monster tonight and had a better stream lined storage case and maybe the price will deter some from investigating further as I feel at this price point you are paying for the technology as much as the sound but if you fall in love with these this probably might not deter you.
There is not too much to really moan about on the sound too much, a couple of smaller issues here and there which I have mentioned in the Sound impressions section but it really only losses out on stars for me with the culmination of the bulkiness and design with storage case been impractical and the overall price (they should be including a balanced cable at this price) is what hampers it for me otherwise it would be getting higher marks which is a shame as I like the overall sound of these. 
The short of it which in terms of SQ is Obravo have without doubt made a good sounding iem with over complicating it which is a Bravo from me for the Obravo!
Nice review. It seemed to me like you knocked them for being revealing of bad recordings, and knocked them more for the accessories than me. I agree that the accessories need improvement, and that the balanced cable should be included. I felt like the overall tone of this review said 4*, but they ended up with a 3.5*. We must weight things differently. I will say that the price and accessories will play more into my upcoming review of the EAMT-3w.
I find the bass similar to you, it is the minimum I'd accept from the range, so when I hear that others in the series have less bass, I'm not interested. I also found that the bass extension is actually quite good, but that it doesn't throw out as much quantity as I'd like. With both the ERIB-2a and the EAMT-3w I found that a DAP with a little bit of colouration (lower mids/midbass boost) pairs well. For me, the DX50 has done beautifully with both. I've also enjoyed both out of my Note 2. You can get great sound out of your phone with these IEMs.
A great and insightful review.
Would like to try the rest of the range.


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Build, Design, Warm yet clear exciting natural detailed sound with plenty of bass, case and accessories. Price
Cons: Cable tangles to easily, could do with a shorter option without playback control, Micro phonics on cable. Pads tend to get warm to hot over time

Meze 99 Classics (Gold) review

April 2016

Sources used:

Sony ZX1 Walkman, HP X360 Spectre with MS Win 10 laptop, Tag Mclaren DVD32R cd player.

Amp & Dacs used:

Chord Hugo & Mojo with QED Reference & Vertere DFI USB cables & Audioquest “jitterbug”,
 Vorzuge PureII+ portable amplifier with Whiplash Hybrid V3 LOD


Transducer size
Frequency response
15Hz - 25KHz
103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
Rated input power
Maximum input power
Cable make and material
Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
3.5mm gold plated
260 gr (9.2 ounces) without cables
Walnut wood

For more insight and info please visit here>>> Meze - 99 Classics
The review model is Walnut with Gold finish.  
2 other finish versions available: Walnut & Silver / Maple wood finish with silver.

My Meze story…

It all started for me when I was browsing Head-fi as usual a few months back and noticed the banner on the side of the page and noticed a uniquely different striking looking pair of headphones I had not seen before to the norm with the lovely wooden cup and gold accented metal which is cast zinc had me intrigued and thinking to myself these must be a £1K headphone just by the just on looks alone so headed on over to their website to have a look and was surprised to see the price was only 309 Euros.
I thought nothing of it after that hoping one day I might get to listen to these at a show or I bumped into another Head-fier who might own them to have a listen then I noticed the Meze tour and thought to myself I could not turn down the chance to listen to these for seven days and here is where I have to say thanks to Meze for letting me listen to these 99 Classics in the bliss of my own home for several days so finally my turn has arrived to have these unique looking beautiful headphones, but do they sound as good as they look?
Before I start on the sound of these without too much teasing I will firstly start from the beginning with the Ergonomics and design….

Ergonomics & Design

(Please scroll down to “99 Classic sounds” for review on how they sound)
Firstly you are presented with a nice sturdy high finish printed box with which opens up like a book to reveal the EVA moulded hard case for storage & travel which protects the 99 Classics. This case is the start of the eye to detail that you see Meze apply to the headphones with the case been contoured as low profile as possible so the case is relatively bulk free for when in transportation anywhere. It has a double zipped entry and a nice loop hook for hanging the case. 
Once open you will find the Meze sitting there in the velour glove like protection of the EVA moulded hard case with the cables and accessories stored in a clever round soft case which has zip up closure.  I wish more headphone company’s had this rather common sense approach with eye to detail with thought given to how best to store the cables and plugs and the accessory case sits nicely in the gap between the headband and ear cups. 
In the accessories bag they have supplied two cables, both copper OFC Kevlar cable one with a shorter run which has a remote/microphone cable for use with both Android and Apple phones as well as any other dap that has a 3.5 jack is 1.2 Metre in length and and has play/ stop button which doubles up as next and previous track and phone / end call buttons.
The other cable is a generous 3 Metre length for use at home and then they complete the accessories set with a Gold plated 6.3mm jack adaptor plug and Aeroplane adaptor plug. The Headphone drivers are symmetrical which means the left and right is in the headphone is determined by the L & R marked 3.5 mono jack plugs which are easy to hook up for listening.
Also the left hand cable jack input has a raised ridge to differentiate it from the right cable so can be identified without having to look for the marked L & R symbols which is another simple yet nice touch.
The Classic headphones are light to hold in the hand and are not big as conventional full size headphones making these ideal for travelling especially been closed back headphones although I know for hardcore commuters there is no foldable design or swivel on the cups to make them more compact for storage when travelling which for me would take away from the overall design and implementation of the build on these headphones.
First thing I noticed was how light they feel on the head and this is helped I think by the way the headband is also designed with a simple yet clever and effective way the adjustment works. The PU leather headband is fairly thick and nice soft and supple which contributes to the non-fatiguing fit for listening sessions.
It’s the least fiddling I’ve had to do with headbands for quite a while which becomes bit of a god send, like I say it is the eye for detail for the simple little things that having been taken into the design aspect of these 99 classic’s that makes you start to warm to them before you even put them on.
The ear pads themselves are also a PU leather which have a memory foam inside and for me my ears just fit inside the cups but for some of you who have bigger lobes (like my father who tried them on) may find these become more a case of “on ears” instead of “over the ears” pair of headphones. I will come back to the pads a bit more in the “99 Classic sound” section…
Everything on this headphone is meant to be serviceable in the long term and used no glue, just nuts and bolts so if anything was to go at some stage down the road it can be replaced although hopefully by the feel and look of the way these have been designed they should last a long time unless you are a professional rock star who likes to throw them around in room destroying tantrums then they should be okay.
So how do the 99 Classics sound?….
I am by nature someone that is mid centric with my listening taste and is the first thing I make sure this is the first stop in hearing the music if my ears like this area making sure it is not recessed at all but I am not adverse to a signature that delivers a bass happy signature as I do own the JH16pros as my custom iem’s which are tuned to something like +6 db if I remember rightly and then I have the Sony 7520’s which although not obvious with their bass authority do have some bellows on them in the lows after owning the too bass light EU version of the ZX1000 Sony made which was essentially the same headphone with edgy treble and very light bass response.
Then last year have been listening too a lot of top end open backs after longing for a nice pair of high end pair of cans I finally purchased a pair of Grado GS1000e’s which I love and adore and if I had the money could imagine two or three more flagship open backs I would love to own and have also still been keeping my ears on the pulse with mid-price cans like the Beyer T90’s which I was really surprised with last year how good they were for the money so with looks and the cost box been ticked already on these Meze Classics would the sound match its design & build or was it going to be a shallow listening experience with just a pretty pretentious pair of headphones trying to just shift numbers on its designer looks?
Please roll up finally for sounds from another galaxy far-far away, Well Romania to be precise for design and manufactured in China.

99 Classic sound impressions

First thing I had to try these with was to see if my Sony ZX1 would be enough too drive them as I’ve had a few apparently efficient headphones the ZX1 has struggled with (including my Sony 7520’s) to get the optimum from them so wanted to know if it would be enough to drive the 99 Classics 32 ohms and thankfully they also did not just drive them with ease and effort they still had plenty left on the volume scale if needed so was nice to know they could pair with my ZX1 if I needed to use this for a trip somewhere with just my Walkman without my Hugo or Pure amp.
First thing I noticed before getting into the nitty gritty details on the sound is once I had these on I noticed the cable does suffer from micro phonics, although I personally use them just sitting in my armchair I detect this were also designed to be used mobile given their size, isolation and remote cable supplied so could be an issue for the Meze commuter out there who would want to use them on the go.  I personally love the feel and flexibility of the cable despite its micro phonics but the only other sticking point for me at the same time with this cable is it does tend to get tangled up a bit too easy and the 3 metre cable can be a separate game of un-ravel the snake before you get to have a listening session. 
Back to how this sounds, first thoughts were WOW! The bass immediately stands out when playing these on my ZX1 and you know from the word go you will not be lacking any bass from these headphones ever!  Meze state they are naturally balanced sound with no artificial tweaking but you cannot help but feel these are bass tuned driven from the front line with their signature and does set the stall out for these as been a fun and exciting sounding headphone yet after a few tracks I was starting to notice there was more to them than just been a bass hungry headphone which my fears are when you get a headphone with plenty of bass is; does this mean the mids are recessed or does it bleed into the mids at all but luckily the mids are pretty balanced.

The Meze Bass

What makes these different? Well the more I was listening to these although predominantly they feel like they are on a soul driven bass carpet ride - the bass on these is not just quantity here, bass = quality also on the 99 Classics and has plenty of layers and tonal balance to the bass makes these feel quite life like with plenty of punch and control and can easily differentiate the mid to low bass notes and can be subtle or brutal in their impact especially the sub bass kick it is capable of as the Classics with any recording will engage that into the delivery of what you hear. 
When hooked up to the Hugo or Mojo the bass only gets better as it tightens up even more and becomes focused and even more controlled with even more detail nuances to be heard in the bass notes is what actually makes or breaks these headphones as there are plenty of headphones that can do bass but not with the level of detail, tonality and timbre which feels at home with almost any genre I throw at it.
It’s not totally perfect as there are some songs where it can sound just a tad over cooked with the low bass notes making it sound bloated, this is a hit and miss thing I encountered which seemed to happen with some good recordings as well as the more average ones so could just be a mix of the generous Meze bass colliding with the way it is mixed on that particular recording for whatever reason beyond my technical knowledge in the sound engineering department...
For the most part for someone that has been listening to a lot of open back headphones with a more neutral tuned bass in the last year I found these really addictive as it has an uncanny knack of just sounding quite natural to listen too musically rather than analytical listening sense although it is the ability they have to be analytical enough with details which is mixing well in the warm exciting dynamic fun melting pot with this seductive bass signature which is also in part to the rest of how Meze have built the building blocks of how this sounds overall has a sense of cohesion to everything. 
After all it’s okay having a great bass presence which actually has quality as well as quantity but what about how it co- exists with the rest of the sound on these 99 Classics?...
[size=20.007px]The Meze Mids[/size]
The one thing I started to notice after a few tracks is that the Classics were not just a one trick pony with just been all about the bass as the more I listened the more it became apparent that what I was hearing with the amount of detail in the bass I was hearing across the mids on this headphone and even started to notice nuances in details on recordings I had heard a hundred times over down the years actually sounding different even after hearing those songs on some more expensive headphones in the last couple of years. It was like they had somehow paved a way in the mids for the little details in recordings to stand out quite distinctively on their own.
The mids in general have a good balance of been evident without been to aggressive or forward with a hump to them or recessed and sound clear with an ability for good timing, rhythm & speed which never makes a song slouchy or slow. 
 It did make me start to wonder how they were doing this as I thought I had heard it all before until now considering how much these classics are priced at so somehow they are finding a way for the detail to shine through that you will sit up and notice when listening.
The soundstage quite wide for a closed back considering it’s small cup size also and it is this soundstage with the excellent stereo imaging which gives these headphones a sense of 3D sound with plenty of depth and height which is contradictive to the small cup design appearance from the outside then putting them on is like taking a step inside the Tardis!
These are well insulated closed backs but have to say the imaging is done really well and placement of instruments still have plenty of space around each other and has a very clear presentation which I think lends to the micro details coming through in the mids really well, so well I am trying to work out how I have not heard some of this detail on more expensive cans in last couple of years in the way Meze have managed to do it. 
Vocals are clear and focused in the centre and well placed to rest of the soundstage, like the mids they are not recessed and can clearly hear the lead singer at all times and female or male vocals sound equally as good with a fragile/ tender or powerhouse vocalist sounding just as impressive. 
The mids also have a good sense of speed, rhythm and timing for a dynamic driver and seem to keep up easy with fast music and the more I listened to my vast eclectic library of Flac & WAV files the more I noticed these are suited to any music even classical as the classics portray very good sense of depth and height which the dynamics of the bass range helps give that sense of feeling with recordings. 

The Meze Treble

One thing I did worry about initially was the treble which is smooth as butter at times as the highs were not harsh or edgy (which is always my biggest worry with a headphone or iem) nor forward started to think they may have been a bit lost in the balance of the mids and the powerhouse bass but with more songs that went by started to notice it was there but is evenly spread in the mix with complex songs with a lot happening but with something like acoustic music or more easy going music you can hear the top end very easily with a precision to the ringing echoes in micro details of hi-hats and symbols been struck and with very good recordings can portray an uncannily very realistic sounding treble note with Hi Hats & symbols.
Finger picking of acoustic guitars or sliding the fret board started to re assure me the treble can have a nice extension giving it the lively enough feel a treble still needs all though always though it doesn’t feel like the most forward of sounding treble sounding headphones it is there and with a refined smooth quality. 
With a few straight days under my belt now although you know these are a headphone with a sense of bass on tap in its spades it has a nice balance although not a neutral one with a warmth to its signature and nice natural timbres with anything it plays as even Piano’s do not sound artificial so far but drums and guitar do stand out with this Meze yet it sounds on the most part clear and precise in its execution and delivery and have never heard them sound like they want to distort during music that is hectic, loud and fast and I have been known to listen to my stuff on the louder side of the moon to some out there although not to points of distortion to the ears with treble losing it composure and making the ears bleed. 
I usually do spout about different songs and artist I have heard along the way when listening as references but with just listening too so much across a broad range over last few days (as it’s been that addictive) suggests I actually am enjoying and liking these more than I thought I ever would.
Last few days of repeated listening to some artist as they sound so good on the Meze like I’ve heard guitars from Rodrigo & Gabriel which is very well suited with the way the hand slapping on the guitars comes through with a resonating wooden echo on the bass which I guess is complimented by it actually coming from a wooden cup driver in the 99 Classics.
Fine guitarist such as Antonio Forcione, Lee Ritenour, Kaki King, Joe Bonamassa sound great with good realistic string tones with good speed & decay and just perfect leading and trailing edges to notes with plenty of micro detail in the picking of each string been played with the likes of  AC-DC, Muse, Foo fighters or Pink Floyd have that fluid speed, power and drive that makes electric rock guitars come to life.
Where the quality meets depth and slam with clarity on the Meze and can hear how life like the bass is with Imelda May albums with the string bass really hitting through the floor and another great recording with Imelda’s albums as there can be many instruments and harmony’s on top of each other when one of their songs is in top flight but every one of her band can be heard with ease due to the sense of space and soundstage the Meze lends to this good recording.
One of my favourite bands Fleetwood Mac rocks with the drive of Mick Fleetwoods signature drumming with the lower mids of Mcvie’s bass guitar sounding multi toned notes with good reverb and meat to the strings and Lindsey’s upper mid guitar sounds pin point without been overly sharp and the harmonys of the group are layered on imaginary clouds and correctly placed in the soundstage and re-living Rumours or Tusk remastered with the added studio outtakes & alternative versions of the album songs are meant for these Meze headphones as the 99 Classic 40mm drivers compliment that already rich punchy layered bass and laid back blues sounds Fleety Mac excel at time and time again.
Moving away from my world of Rock genres Dance music really has a kick and slam and this really is how you know how much bass these can throw at you as dance tracks like Sia with her last two albums 1000 Forms of fear & This is acting have bass lines that gradually work their way down to the basement or just a sudden explosion of bass impact like a subwoofer can really emphasis Sia’s vocals which are powerful in their own right but the Classics bring her voice to life with a very energized and clear engagement that is right at the front of the stage. I think I had goose bumps listening to Sia with a few of her songs on the Meze.
… Zola Jesus, Leftfield, Rob D or Daft Punk’s Tron OST has dimension and impact depth, power, height and control with sounding and feeling (yes, feeling) like a real club like Jamo or JBL bass through these CNC & hand crafted wooden cups as it resonates which some might not like but I happen to love it as long as the actual tonality and realism of the bass sounds correct to the relevant song.
This is also why live music really excels on the 99 Classics and really takes you to another place with that vast soundstage with the recordings actually making the Meze soundstage sound bigger than it usually does with studio recordings yet Fleetwood Mac – The Dance Live is where the Meze bass is at home as it makes the drum kicks just like they sound live as the drum sound travels around you as it pans out from Micks centre point on stage and the frequent use of chimes, symbols, hi-hats show how capable it can handle the treble as good as it does in the mids and bass on this album.
Stevie Nicks “Soundstage sessions” Live another example of this with her gritty V10 powered blues tilt into rock driven vocals.
Cream live at Royal Albert Hall especially the ten minute drumming showcase song “Toad” is exceptional to listen to on the 99 Classics and captures the spectrum of frequency ranges and instruments been played whilst capturing the feeling of actually been there with the soundstage presence of width and distance with the crowd in the background. 
I am quite a sucker for female vocalist including Stevie Nicks as already mentioned but listening to female artist like Nina Simone, Sia, Birdy, Tori Amos, Ellie Goulding, Lissie or Florence & the Machines big sound all take control and the addictive bass presence with good textured mids takes a back seat whilst you become transfixed to the focus the 99 Classics vocals manage to capture with the sense of raw emotion and placement with timing and tonal rendering of the vocal pallet feel and sound real enough to captivate and belief allowing me to lose myself in the music. 
Kate Bush - Aerial  is another very well recorded album although there are some oddity tracks on these two cd’s which really exemplifies the spaces and airiness of this album which makes even the obscure tracks on here interesting too.
 Tori Amos Crucify & Under the Pink remastered it really shows what the 99 Classics can do with recordings that are mastered really well and can perform on a level of reference listening in terms of detail and natural feel of music that connects when you listen to these which let you just enjoy rather than analyse the music so must be something about how they have struck a balance despite the uncanny ability to be one of the really bass pronounced sounding pair of headphones I’ve heard for a while but it’s how it handles the mid bass and sub bass with distinction of tonal accuracy and timbre reality has helped me relive these remasters of Tori Amos like the first time I ever heard them.
Despite these been a warmer sounding pair of cans with that Meze sound classical music is really suited to the 99 classics also because although warmish it has the clarity room to breathe with detail to still make symphony’s like Mahler No.5 have authority yet a spatialness and air without It becoming trapped or muffled in the horn section when during the lively passages and the higher than average detail for the price tier can be heard during the quite passages in the background gives the sense of how big the venue is with sound reverb from various movements of sounds made by people rustling and moving.
Wood kid big wide open power sound with Tracks like Run Boy Run and Iron becoming addictive in the mid-range building layers as the song develops and the sub bass again excels with Woodkid recordings and his crescendo high that builds continuously towards the end of Run Boy Run never loses control even when at a high volume lending to the impact the final section of that song builds up too.
Again there are a few songs that have at times when the Meze shows the tendency to bloat with the bass it can bleed a little to the lower mids and muffle or cancel out the clarity of the song yet with Nina Simone it shows the 99 Classics are capable of the nailing it when it keeps the bass in check rhythm and timing really captivating and the classic song “Sinner Man” on the 99 Classics shows the Meze’s ability to shine with the treble section on a track like this.
The piano seems to flow quite naturally and sounds good when it hits the breakdown section at approx. 8.30mins before the final melee run of all the instruments portrays the piano keys not overblown on the bass note edge and the upper mids to highs of notes the timbre sounds natural enough to me so the warmth of the Meze does not ruin the spacious trebly feel of this song or ruin that mid to high driven rhythm & timing that had me tapping my feet along with this 10 min journey of a song.
The reason I think the 99 Classics is managing to pull at my heart strings is because of the way Meze have made this have a cohesion of sound which although warm and no matter how they say it is tuned it has a more than neutral or studio flat tuned feel bass about it to my ears yet there is a lovely balance to these headphones which is only really set apart from the amount of detail they manage to somehow extract in the right areas at the right moments to compliment the overall exciting bass driven signature.
With all this Meze have managed to really gel this into sounding a *non fatiguing fun & enjoyable yet accurate enough for serious listening headphone at the same time which has left me feeling perplexed in a happy way!?
*denote is for as many hours as they are good to listen to with plenty of listening time with them the PU leather pads can get a bit warm at times so not sure how that would bear for people who it will fit on the ear over a prolonged listening session. 
Finally what album I find will pretty much try any headphone in all departments in their songs is an old favourite of mine that I almost forgot to try until the 11th hour of having these on loan and have down the years used: Yello – The Race album as one of my demo track cds for auditioning my speaker Hi-Fi seperates and now use in same way in the head-fi world with trying out equipment which I now have the luxury of now days having the much improved remaster version and have to say listening to this really did blow my mind as it was just spot on as if I was hearing this through my B&W floor standing speakers.
The balance between the different frequency’s is very coherent has an amazing sense of speed and clarity in the mids whilst this bass impacts with a sub bass rumble is continuing in the background to the soundtrack of major drum rolling and and the hi-hats resonate just perfectly as they clash repeatedly.
 The Race track is a very dynamic track and the Meze is faithful to this and adds that meat to the bone where a lot of neutral headphones will lack in reproducing how this track should sound with a really slick and fast presentation with plenty of dynamics and a proper sub bass feel which makes the most of the soundstage and imaging with the sound of old racing cars panning from side to side.
There are few headphones out of all of them that have managed to capture this album just right like always hearing these track on a pair of big speakers and I can truthfully say I have heard it on only two or three headphones that were two open backs and one closed back costing between £500-£1700 which really done this song justice so was in my element listening to this album again to how the recording is across the spectrum.
The Classics also sounded really competent when I heard trumpets and trombone’s with Trombone Shorty’s “For true” album and the trumpet having a focused centralized point of sound delivery with plenty of body and verve blasting the air with a feel of power which gives a very 3D dynamic feel in listening as if been at a parade in New Orleans which then gave me the bug to listen to more blues music orientated music on these 99 Classics. 


The 99 Classics have really surprised me after first visually liking these with intrigue through to hearing them finally thanks to the Meze tour coming along.
Though at first hearing these can predominantly just sound bass accentuated with not much treble end but after listening to this for prolonged period they are more balanced than they appear as my biggest dread is a recessed mid in a headphone so having just the right amount of mids which do not seem to humped or recessed helps build the foundation allowing the really low bass to work on these.
Oh yes that bass, which really would not work if not so much attention had been paid to getting them to sound very detailed with a good sense of accuracy of timbre, speed and space leading to good separation with that BASS and have a good frequency sweep with clarity from the upper mid bass all the way down to the sub bass floor all with a smooth cohesion of dynamics which makes these become addictive despite not all tracks benefitting from this it is few and far between with its warmish tint but not overly warm sound that it becomes a bit fuzzy and sluggish sounded is the quality of detail that is combined and intertwined into this quite inconspicuous fun, rich, dynamic and responsive open sounding closed back cans.
It all adds up to meaning you can just sit back and relax to the music on these and hear a great amount of detail retrieval at this level the Classics are set at without it been over analytical in the detail department that makes these sound good with lesser recordings and sound really great with superior recordings whether Red book or Hi-res tracks so they scale well.
I really think this maybe be the headphone that could ween the bass happy Beats generation onto a headphone that still can do bass but with a natural balance to the order of putting tonality and detail in the music first with a dynamic feel and engagement that has made me rethink that headphones at this price can and maybe still have a place when you own more expensive offerings.
So for that young Beats owner making the jump they might not need to upgrade to the next level for a while before the day comes they feel ready to go flagship level if they ever go that far which then does make me also wonder if Meze can produce this build, design with this sound for this price would and could they do with a bigger budget for a flagship model one day?
Will be keeping my eye on Meze in the future for sure but for now will seriously consider getting one of these later on despite owning the very talented detailed Grados which I love and my current Sony 7520s feel the urge to still have a pair of these for sure which has surprised me as I went into this really thinking they cannot sound good as they look! How wrong I was, sorry Meze, somehow I find myself listening to the 99 Classics happily for hours (when pads do not get to hot) and do have to remind myself I am listening to a pair of headphones that are priced at only 309 euros currently. 
… they may not be totally perfect after all there is room for improvement in some areas the 99 Classics are a lot closer to overall cohesion perfection musically than others at this price point and the few negatives I pointed out would not be a deal breaker for me especially at this price and sure this is a company which will work on those things in time with the amount of attention and effort  they pay putting into the design and build as well as most of it has been a common sense approach with a reasoning behind the design to have a use and not to just look pretty so look forward to the future offerings as I feel Meze could be one to watch grow over time into a bigger player if they can cook up more  headphones like this. 
Although as you can tell by now I am concluding to liking these Meze I will say this with an impartial approach still, if you like your bass in your music you will like these with the added benefit of still sounding fairly balanced still with clarity and more than average detail at this price point with good eye for detail and great thought behind the build. 
But if you are the type of person that likes a more neutral  flatter bass like studio monitoring style reference of bass reproduction or a lighter bass not so much bottom end then you might want to try something else but if you like a real sense of how music is not about analytics in details only and more about emotion and soul with dynamical power and excitement to its signature on tap then these my friend are for you (probably!)
Lastly... DSC05344.jpg 
Thank you for the opportunity to have these for seven fast and fun days that opened my eyes once again to how the audio world can still surprise and is evolving at all levels.
A great and insightful review. Out standing photographic skills. Makes this one of the best reviews I have read on Headfi. Thank you.
Awesome review.  Thanks for taking the time to do this and share with all of us.
Thanks erich6, It was my pleasure as I found a headphone that really does not have to cost the earth to be good.  I am still enjoying these and won't say it too loud but these get more listening time than my Grado GS1K's!  Funny enough I am doing a review on the classic 12 IEM at the moment so is interesting to compare how they have transferred the 99 sound from a headphone into an IEM...


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great Build quality and shielding, Sound has a nice balance reflecting source SQ signature accurately.
Cons: What makes the build quality great at same time makes it to stiff to be truly flexible at times.
QED Reference USB cable review
A-Micro B connection
Available lengths: 0.3, 0.6, 1.0, 2.0 & 3.0M.
Length tested: 0.3M
For the last year now I have owned a Chord Hugo and have been plodding along happy listening to my music with the stock cable supplied as the Hugo was a revelation to start with out of the box in terms of redefining my head-fi set up but in that year have been to a couple of Head-fi gigs one been the first London Canjam and heard how much difference a USB cable had to offer in the chain and been a 2 channel audio speaker set up kind of guy have had plenty of experience with different cables in my speaker system down the years from analogue to digital cables yet had not realized how much the USB would be just as important than any other cable I have plumbed into my Hi-Fi set up.
It was at these shows I decided yes I need a USB cable for my Hugo for sure but I am one usually going the whole nine yards and as I had the Hugo would aim for a £200 upwards cable but as life kept throwing other curve balls at me I had to keep putting off going for an expensive USB cable and thought I really do need one sooner rather than later so had to think of one that fell within a good budget with still somehow performing near as possible as say Sinatra swooning effortlessly in the La Ronde Supper Club at the Fontainebleau Hotel as I knew I would be keeping this USB cable for a long time to come due to me been on a flagship boutique cable austerity budget plan for foreseeable future.
I am lucky here and have to disclose I have a good friend and fellow head-fier had a cable for me to try out and as I needed a USB cable anyway and was long overdue did not hesitate to give it a prolonged try in the comfort of my own arm chair in nice quite surroundings.
I have already had experience of QED cables before and I have an Oppo BDP-105 with a set of QED reference analogue rca’s on the 5 channel out to my Tag Mclaren processors 5.1 bypass and a reference component cable for my Tag DVD32R to Pioneer plasma as it gives a very clear and natural picture and one thing I have always noticed is the build quality is very strong and robust with a nice finish to the plugs and outer cable cover which always look very durable. The QED Reference USB cable is no different with thick strong cabling which makes this very repellent against interference with its tank like shielding.
The first plus to this cable before even getting out of the box that they do this in a USB B micro connector which means for Chord Hugo owners like me you do not need to use the adaptor as currently there are not many manufacturers that are doing micro B USB on their cables so hats off to QED for actually recognising there is a market for a cable with this connector.
The QED cable comes in a nice big solid box for its size and has 24 carat gold plated plug connectors with Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) twisted pair of 7/0.2mm insulated with Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) for all you cable geeks out there which helps with the sonic purity and low signal loss.  It is then triple screened with aluminium Mylar wrap and an OFC shield braid for 100% electromagnetic screening coverage.
I am currently using a HP X360 Spectre WIN10 laptop using both WMP or Sony’s Media Go with both WAV & FLAC files going into a Chord Hugo with either a pair of Sony MDR-7520 Headphones with Whiplash Hybrid cable mod and a pair of JH16Pro’s and upon first launch music fed into my Hugo piped down the QED cable it is immediately apparent there is quite a discernible difference to the stock USB supplied with my Hugo and it feels & sounds like everything has suddenly come to life with more dynamics making the stock cable sound flat and lifeless.
The sound stage is more open and wider than previously with the stock cable with a good sense of stereo imaging I did not have before now really makes my Sony 7520’s open up and almost feel like a pair of open backs which is can be the real Achilles heel with my Sony headphones but the extra space and width is quite a pleasant experience and really helped listening to classical pieces or live music more which excel with that type of space. I think this is in part to this cable has good floor noise giving it a really black background to work on making instruments sound like they have plenty of space to operate in.
 At first though as impressive as the QED cable first sounded compared to my stock Hugo cable still sounded a bit muffled and congested in the mids with some of the information not feeling as if it is getting through as it should but a good 10-15 hours this cable seemed to settle down and open up more with the veil lifting off to “unveil” the mid retrieval section which is kingpin to any music listening to hear the devil in the detail but once it does it really comes together quite well with better clarity and definition with transitions between upper mids  through to lower mids more cohesive and easy to follow. I must admit when I first got this cable it did worry me sounding straight out of the box like it did and if it stayed like that I would off kept the stock cable!
The mid to low bass frequency’s is quite impressive on this cable and listening to Fleetwood Macs Oh Daddy remastered the mid bass sounds nice and tight yet retains that warmth of the recording as if hearing the vinyl version of it and one of the albums of the year for me Nothing But Thieves has a good clear strong driving mid bass with a solid impact and visceral bass extension I was not expecting which the Hugo which for some has been the only thing lacking.
Yet somehow the QED USB cable is able to transfer that from the Hugo and blends timing and slam of bass notes really well through this cable.  If you like bass then the QED has a really nice full bodied mid bass with a visceral low bass response and good resonation which is something I was not expecting from this cable.
This QED cable does not come across as a mid-centric cable at all, not that it is U shaped or anything but it is quite a upfront sound in general and has plenty of bass and treble attack which can make it sound more pronounced more both ends of the Frequency range but the mids are still present in the overall mix with a certain percentage of mid detail actually used wide field of the centre stage as well with the QED presentation of a large sound stage and combination of a quick responsive stereo imaging helps provide a well-timed and fluid listening experience with this QED cable.
 This becomes more apparent with vocal effects that use left & right channels for effect (like U2’s Raised by Wolves for example) makes for an interesting listen.
When I listened to rock music it is also at home dealing with the Chaotic side of rock music rocking the QED lends plenty of weight behind in a confident manner or even some heavy metal like Metallica’s self-titled album it never got muddled and always kept the detail coming through even with heavy going passages of songs were in full swing keeping a competent rhythmic quality throughout. 
Vocals are clear and crisp with no colouration, fuzziness or muffling from anyone singing it is present to the forefront of a song and is easy to listen and enjoy a vocalist different timbres and tones which come across very natural.
 I have also been impressed how good this cable reproduces strings on the guitar whether electric or acoustic which Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Daddy was a great example of this with acoustic and electric both inter-weaving each other during the song yet the tonal sound and detail to be heard from both was of a good quality.
Equally piano work had a good full bodied solid sounding key strokes to every key played whether it was Wes Khalifa “See You Again” track or Tori Amos “Crucify”.
It seems easier to hear the high frequency range more now because of this with the treble placating a stronger presence with more sharper and realistic tone with a nice shimmer to cymbals yet does not sound overly harsh in this region at any stage with any type of music which my ears like.
Only thing to note really that is a negative if there was any is the ergonomics of the cable where the design which lends to the potential of how this cable can sound at the same time is a bit of an Achilles heel this attention to detail to the cable shielding makes it stiff compared to other USB cables so does not have a lot of flexibility to it making it not so practical as it is not so flexible.
So if you intend on using this with a device next to you in bed or on the sofa could cause some issues.
This might be because I only had a 30cm length and might be better overcome with a longer length like the 1 Metre cable that can loop back on itself might help in this area.  If you just to intend using in on a desktop where it won’t exhibit any movement you will be just fine.  Other than that this does not detract from how good this cable can sound for the money and gives a full forward dynamic and punchy presentation yet sounds just clear and precise without any colouration to the signature which makes it good pairing for my Hugo as it keep true to the sound of the DAC more in this respect. 
  Just going back to the stock cable was a painful experience after this as it sounded flat, closed in lacking extra details to the musical notes the QED was capable of delivering.  I was starting to get accustomed to or taking for granted the QED sound already is made stark reminder to just keep the stock cable for that experience once in a blue moon what a jump this QED cable makes from the stock one.
Overall I am really enjoying listening to this cable and what it is capable of as it has surprised me how good it is once it was run in a while to clear it’s lungs with some burn in time (it’s only been two weeks so may potentially only get better with time) and is only hampered by the strong engineered design which is its strength behind the SQ delivery is also ergonomically it’s weakness for flexibility of use.  It would be good to see them somehow keep those properties which makes this cable sound as it does but with the practical flexibility in use would cement this as perfect in every way at this price point as sound wise performs above the price tier it is set at. 
Retrospectively wish I had not waited so long for a USB cable upgrade now as it has transformed listening to my media player on the laptop now and also with my Hugo and ZX1 if I stay still enough for long enough but biggest surprise is how good this sounds in terms of cost and after listening to plenty of USB cables over last couple of years ranging from £100-500 mark this definitely punches above its weight in terms of the SQ it delivers for the price they are asking and after listening to this for a good two weeks now it out performs the stock USB cable by a country mile no question and will never look at USB cables in the same way again after this revelation that you don’t have to spend the earth to get a really good USB cable for your system. 
Glad to see you benefited from these. Would you say the sound became more analogue sounding?
I think my dac which is the Hugo does that so well to start with but listening to this cable just helped that continuity in that regard but I did think it sounded more smoother than another USB cable I have heard in a slightly higher price bracket recently.  I ended up just enjoying the music with these in the end instead of analysing it which is when I knew I was really enjoying this cable in the chain. 


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Nice fair advancement in SQ due to amp upgrades, XLR outputs, stable Bluetooth which sounds good, Metal Remote, Design/Footprint, Longer Battery life
Cons: Digital Coax is a BNC connection, that's it!
CHORD HUGO-TT REVIEW guest starring... Grado GS1000e & Beyer Dynamic T90.
Equipment been reviewed:
Chord Hugo-TT
Headphones used in review:
Grado GS1000e open back(32ohms)
Beyer Dynamic T90 open back (250ohms)
Sources used:
Sony ZX1 Walkman
Tag Mclaren DVD32R cd player & Naim CDX2 cd player.
HP X360 Spectre with MS Win 8.1 laptop
Speaker Hi-Fi set ups used:
1ST speaker set up:
Tag Mclaren DVD32R à Chord Hugo-TT (using Chord Indigo plus coax) àTag Mclaren 250XR mono bloc amps (*using Atlas Mavrox XLR-XLR balanced cables) à B&W CDM7SE floorstading speakers (using Chord Signature cable)
2nd speaker set up:
Naim CDX2 cd player à Chord Hugo-TT (using Chord Indigo plus coax) à Naim Nac 282 pre amp (using Chord Anthem analog rca’s) à Naim Nap 200 stereo power amp à Pro-AC Response 2S speakers (using Van Den Hul Teatrack cable)
*A big thanks goes out to Damien @ Chord Electronics for the loan of the Atlas Mavros XLR balanced cables which has been a long pending desire of mine to be able to try XLR balanced but was missing the link in the chain in needing a XLR balanced cable for trying this and finally got my chance all in thanks to Damien for making that happen and opened my eyes up to running XLR balanced as can be read below in this review….
This is part of the Hugo-TT tour which I am fortunate enough to be part of thanks to OK-Guy and will be reviewing it with the Grado GS1000 open back headphones and the Beyer Dynamic T90 open back headphones. The Hugo-TT is been used in both a head-fi and speaker Hi-Fi environment as one of the Hugo-TT’s new additions is been able to use XLR balanced out as well as RCA out to an amplifier in a Hi-Fi speaker set up.
I am already lucky enough in that I own the original Chord Hugo for the last year and have been fortunate enough to of listened to the Grado GS1000 & PS1000 in the last couple of years at different shows & events so Grado have been on my shortlist of TOTL headphone for a while now (still saving unfortunately otherwise would already own a pair!) and then the Beyer Dynamic’s was my first pair of headphones purchased way back in 1990 which was the DT-770 600ohm which I only let go a few years back and was one of those regrets as it was a very good sounding headphone for the money even back then if memory serves me right £120 of the Queens finest pounds.  
So when the chance came up courtesy of OK-Guy who was doing a Hugo-TT tour with these headphones I could not resist already owning a Hugo and been a previous Beyer owner and already one eye on a pair of Grado’s to one see if the what the difference in sound the Hugo-TT has to the original Hugo which is what many Hugo owners like myself are all wanting to know and find out how it also performs in a speaker set up as this is designed even more than the original Hugo to really sit in the heart of a speaker Hi-Fi set up with the added addition of XLR balanced outputs as well as the traditional analog RCA connectors. 
In addition of course I will be able to report on the two starring headphones on how they sound with both Hugo’s with the Grado’s been a fairly efficient 32 ohms to drive whilst the Beyer T90’s weigh in @250 ohms so will be harder to drive which is where hopefully be able to compare the difference with the amp section for those Hugo owners who were craving a bit more power for their higher impendence headphones to drive.
Design & Ergonomics:
To start with the Hugo-TT retains the Spartan 6 FPGA DAC with 26K tap length filter (26,368 to be precise) which made the Hugo receive acclaim for its natural free flowing highly detailed transient analog sound properties has been turned into a desktop hence the TT is for Table Top so an eye to detail has been set for the amp section to have some spit and polish and has had super capacitors fitted as well as full galvanic isolation on the HD USB port with the connector been able to be a type B USB connection on the TT.  The headphone jack ports are reversed on the TT which been a table top model it now has two ¼ jacks instead of the one the original Hugo has and now only has one 3.5mm jack whereas the Hugo had two of these which makes logical sense in the scheme of things all though you will need to ideally both have near matched headphones impendence wise if you want a listening buddy at the helm for a Hugo-TT ride with you as it could get deafening for one of you!
After the original portable Hugo weighing in at only 0.4kg the new TT comes in at 3KG should be renamed Table Tank not just for its weight but due to the robust build once again using the usual preference of Aircraft graded aluminium for its chassis & cover so just to clarify TT here is not some fast sports coupe by a German motor manufacturer although this is no slouch in its own right it must be said once the listener put’s their headphones on. 
This Table top model which is a bigger foot print equivalent to approximately three Hugo’s  which is to house a bigger battery which gives twice as much juice to run on than the portable Hugo and sports USB-B standard & HD connection’s  on the back inputs as well as optical input and Coax which uses a BNC connection.  The outputs now have the addition of XLR Balanced outputs to the normal RCA analog output which is handy if your Hi-Fi amp has these connections as it means you can connect directly to the amp from the Hugo and miss out an additional pre amp as well as XLR balanced improving sound staging and imaging to conventional RCA out/in.  Lest we forget the Hugo-TT also has Bluetooth which uses the APT-X codec again and always held it’s communication with the Hugo when I used my Sony ZX1 from 15 feet away no problems at all. 
The TT also has a new addition in a remote control and have to say this is one of the best looking remotes I have seen as it keeps the theme running by making it out of graded aircraft aluminium and having the rubber buttons recessed into their round holes housings. The overall design of the TT is just right from the dimensions, weight and keeping the main portal window and volume wheel design and love the addition of the green LED input/filter display window which turns off after a while until pressed again which is a nice touch. 
Hugo-TT Sound:
The first impressions upon listening to the Hugo-TT will be the sense of expansiveness in the soundstage and it been so open yet very precise where everything is and the canvass is so black it feels like something Prof Hawking’s would describe if his theories of space were translated to sound as after experiencing the original Hugo it really opens up and feels like the sound field barriers have been removed and so imaging & placement of sounds travel further out or come from further afield depending where the note comes from to start with so is even more  immersive experience in respect to soundstage with the new Hugo-TT. 
The addition of a bigger better amp section has also brought along a deeper bass that is tight and has plenty of rendering in detail and losses no transparency at all which is what the Hugo portrays well in the first place. Listening to tracks from AC-DC Rock or Bust album the bass is deeper more hard hitting with the detail in the mid & sub bass notes which are more distinguishable as well as the high end where those Zildjian cymbals crash clearer & faster with good attack then followed with better decay and more sparkle in detail to each time it is struck which makes listening to the Australian rockers sound more lively & energetic than ever!
The other dimension the TT benefits from is the mid’s with there been slightly more detail and definition improvement to the edges in notes than previously resulting in a slightly more fuller bodied sound due to the amp been able to drive more efficiently and adds more weight to the music with the TT which just adds to the already slick open transparent expansive experience to the listener.
Vocals with the likes of Tori Amos or Taiga have more tonal realism with the range of vocals having more height with there been more feeling of headroom.  The lead vocals always feel focused and always audible and never feel too far back so never get lost in the rest of the haze and confusion of hectic sessions with bands like Arcade Fire Reflektor or Paolo Nutini’s Caustic Love album which manage to still keep clarity and depth even during their hectic passages in some of the songs they have on those albums. 
The Hugo-TT sounds awesome when you have good mastered High/ DSD files going through it but what I was really starting to love about the TT was albums like Fleetwood Macs remastered Rumours or the first two Dire Straits remastered albums all just standard 16 bit 44.1 khz the TT make them feel with all the improvements with the extra internal hardware is it sounds more analog and naturally smooth than before and can feel like you are listening to the vinyl version of them which is what I think makes the Hugo DAC so special in that regard but the TT’s bigger engine under the hood helps with the speed, transparency and smoothness  to provide albums like Fleetwood Mac & Dire Straits to retain that analog seductiveness we all crave in the new digital domain we live in today. 
Hugo-TT in a speaker Hi-Fi set up.
Firstly I was brought up on listening to music through my Dads Hi-Fi back in the day (so hats off to him for giving me this die hard habit that has cost me £heaven knows how much down the years!) and when I was old enough to acquire my first bit of new kit to replace my Dads hand me down 30 year old separates that had been sleeping in the loft it was a speaker set up first of all and the Headphone inquisitiveness did not come for a few more years and even then it was just to do late night listening for recording without waking up the neighbourhood so I was just stoked to try the TT in my Speaker Hi-Fi which currently consist of Tag Mclaren separates with a pair of B&W floor standers (see speaker set up No.1 at top of page for exact specs) for stereo listening so was able to make the most of the TT’s XLR outputs as my Tag 250 watt amps have XLR inputs so could by pass the Tag processor I have to plumb the Hugo-TT in direct to get best possible sound with this connection set up. (Thanks again to Damien @Chord Electronics as those XLR cables made my day been able to hook it up in this configuration)
Using my Tag DVD32R top loading cd player through the Hugo-TT using a Chord Indigo plus digital coax (which is by a separate company for those not aware “The Chord Company” which is another fine British Hi-Fi company which specialises in design & manufacturer of   Hi-Fi interconnects only) helps extract that fine detail to the Hugo. From there I was about to go on another magical journey as I was about to find out the benefits of going XLR balanced and with one of the only unfortunate down sides with my original Hugo was I could not hook up the Coax digital to the Hugo so was never able to use in my speaker set up with my Tag cd player until the arrival of the TT so was now my moment of truth running the TT with my Hi-Fi speaker set up. 
The additional appearance of the suave & sophisticated looking extruded metal remote control which will never shatter if you drop it as it is rugged as a Land Rover is what the TT will need with it been designed to be hooked up to speakers as much as it is headphones so becomes imperative to have a remote for when you are sitting ‘X’ amount of feet away from it. Not all the buttons on the remote are active buttons with the TT as they are designed for other units they have designed but the important buttons are all there for the TT so you never need to get off your comfy sofa to change anything (apart from maybe line out!)
The remote is something I would still really love to see with technology evolving that Chord can still incorporate this into a Hugo 2 portable somehow when that day or year arrives. (I do like to hint now and then…)
Another advantage which is a nice relief the TT will remember last volume and input selection when turned back on with the addition of a separate chip for the program that runs that to go on as the original Hugo did not have any programming room left on the chip so one now does not accidentally blow up their higher sensitive earphones/headphones when plugged in to start a session.
Next step is to turn on the Hugo-TT whilst holding the filter button setting and once the volume wheel turns a solid white colour you know it is set to line out to use with your speaker system so much as I do not like dispensing H&S notices please do not connect your headphones or even worse your IEM's to it at this time as you will likely blow them up and maybe your hearing all in one go which would be a double whammy if one goes there; not to mention you will cry with regret afterwards like a kid who had his candy taken away!. 
So now already to Rock N’ Roll with line out set is selected….
From the start of pressing play on the cd player the impact and the tightness of the bass notes was immediate and the clarity and control of the highs was not like I had heard before with more room and separation between the highs and mid’s than ever before.  Peter Gabriel’s Hits or Bruce Springsteen has nice extended smooth highs which are so clear and crystal yet feel the tight control of the punch in the low end in the sub bass gives you a nice kick to your guts as you feel the sub frequency as well as hearing it resonate through the floor towards you. 
The mid’s tempo is fluid and are again so detailed as usual with the Hugo but I was still hearing some information come through on songs I had not quite heard in the way that I have listening to it on loud speakers as opposed to headphones, yet again it is because of the black backdrop the Hugo-TT naturally provides plenty of room between each instrument to breath and come through in such a clean delivery of each note it made listening to some older cd test tracks like Madonna Ray of Light album, notably Frozen & Power of Goodbye & Yello – “The Race” plus the “light speed remix” of this track (both remastered) have even more depth, contrast, speed and clarity than I’ve heard trough my system to date.  It just has a natural flow to the music and having that extra weight and punch that can come through a set of loud speakers is where I don’t think any flagship headphone can ever replicate that feeling.
The thing a device as technically able as the TT in what it can do is been able to appreciate music that is not normally in my every day playlist and playing something like the Inception OST has such passages of subtleness building up to powerful crescendos with great depth & height to this soundtrack the Hugo is able to handle the vast range this music is written and played to with very extended highs and sub bass smashes and rumbles it conveys the raw emotion brings back the experience of when hearing the music with the picture when watching the film at the cinema for that first time. 
Another one to send a chill down the spine is listening to the St. Petersburg Chamber choir where it is just spot on at capturing the reverberations and echoes of the choir which fills the room all around you and you actually feel like you are in a cathedral experiencing this and the highs of the female voices alongside the low baritone voices towards the low end is something to be heard on the Hugo-TT through speakers. 
Then to sober up from the relaxing chill session of choir music put on some Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways and the Hugo can give hard hit of the bass drum with lovely full bodied upper mid’s with nice smooth fast precise naturalness about the timing with this album is like listening to an old 70’s rock band on vinyl type of feeling. 
Another artist that has consistent good recordings is some Brad Paisley and the guitar sounds slick, fast and responsive notes with a nice tonally balanced sound to any guitar he happens to be playing which is reminiscent to listening to Joe Bonamassa or Kaki King’s guitars all sound tonally just right without any colouration with the TT.
Vocals sound even coarser, gritty, smooth or sharp depending on who’s singing and present/forward in presentation than with my Tag DAC and that is still a fairly good DAC considering it’s age but with the advancement in technology the Rob Watt’s design just adds all round that more solidity & cohesion with the TT with the extra detail and natural smoothness, control & speed which is not too attacking or either is it too laid back to proceedings making it a very lucid with great dynamics yet organic to listen with the TT plumbed into my Tag amps direct as they have a perfect partnership as the Tag like the Hugo has always had the philosophy of making digital source sound pure as can be analog sound.
I was also able to try this for a day in my Dad’s set up which is speaker set up two on the above equipment listing at top of review and consist of Naim separates with a pair of Pro-Ac speakers. 
Although with the way Naim use propriety connections meant we could not try it direct to the amps so just hooked up to the Naim pre-amp to loop through and the Hugo brought a calming zen to the Naim’s natural trait of wanting to attack with pace and merged the natural smoothness of the Hugo was a surprisingly good pairing with the Naim set up. 
Once again everything was so expansive, deep and precise with placement of instruments and imaging like it was on my Tag set up yet it was the same level of detail and separation just with a different flavour to the signature as the Naim amps sound more warmer and attacking still taken into account the Hugo already subduing that side of the Naims inherent nature yet for first time from my time listening to his Naim set up felt the Hugo-TT had opened up the Naim and made it more airy and transparent without losing the ability or Naim traits of it’s attacking warmth to deliver nice low controlled bass notes and vocals are projected more than before with intervention of the TT.  The end result was the best of the Naim still inherent but with Hugo-TT just been a positive addition in every aspect which would be a good pairing for the Naim set up just for the TT’s DAC alone.
I also tried my Sony Walkman ZX1 via USB which works well as a transport and is a nice way to play a few thousand songs back to back, just a shame the battery does not last that long! So if you already have a media streamer or Media player in your racks you will be in for a treat using with the Hugo whether using it via USB or Digital coax/optical in.
I did try to see or shall I say hear the difference between the optical sound and digital coax but it was never going to be a fair comparison as the optical was a Wireworld SuperNova 5+ optical cable due to never really needing optical in the past for exception of Sky & PS3 hook up’s and my Coax was the Chord Company Indigo Plus so this was not able to give a real level pegging comparison between Optical & Coax although from previous comparison experiences with similar rated cables I have personally lent towards coax cables to optical anyway. 
Another feature I had to try was using my ZX1 via Bluetooth to the TT and was A; pleasantly surprised in the many hours I used it connected via Bluetooth it only cut out for one second and this was using it 17 feet away from my sofa to the Hugo TT so was 99% relative music free listening and B; the sound quality was another pleasant surprise as I was not keeping my expectations high in this department but it tends to make a good fist at been resolving and dynamic but at the end of the day it just lacks some control and definition as well as transparency and loses some detail becoming a bit fuzzy in the mid’s and looser in the bass tightness although can still go bottom end no problem (as I found out) compared to when it is connected via interconnects so is okay for casual listening in the background but would not quite class it good enough for those serious listening sessions when you want to soak up the best the Hugo-TT can dish up in the highest quality playback performance possible.  Still a good way to show off at house party’s getting everyone to hook up their phone or dap to play their songs without having to touch your beloved Hugo musical tool though!
Grado GS1000e Open back headphones:
Having already been able to listen to the original GS1000’s twice and the newer ‘e’ model once at different events so I already knew the potential these mahogany wooden cups could deliver but to hear it for three weeks in the nice quite environment of one’s own dwellings (well, for exception of the wife in one’s ear) with the Hugo TT was something I was looking forward to already having heard them on my portable Hugo previously.
The GS1000e looks like a refined and reserved retro pair of headphones that are fairly light and stable on the head with large foam cups that never sweat like other normal man made material pads can and the sound follows this path been a very open sounding highly detailed pair of open backs that like to always sound different in its timbres to each album that is thrown at it. 
The Hugo TT lets the GS1000e breath and stretch it’s nice big wide… in fact combined with the TT I would say Huge soundstage and the mid’s which stay nice and focused with vocals in the centre stage of proceedings with a nice sense of rich, deep liquid yet natural overtones make these sound quite energetic yet very easy to listen to with highs that are very detailed and easy on the ears, never going to be piercing or harsh.
At times with music that is more mellow it will feel like you are listening to this in a bigger space than you are due to the way these massive foam cups give plenty of room for the sound to circulate, only thing I noticed as comfortable as they are to wear was just getting them in the sweet spot with that extra room in the cups for your ears to sit but once you find it unless your one for air guitar around the room you should be okay. It can be frustrating getting them just in the right spot but maybe this is the trade of for the results you get back from this design with the nice big natural open sounding stage presence.
 The vocals on these are really stand out and faithfully replicate the tonal accuracy of vocals really gives me a rush with any vocals I hear but I have been known to be susceptible to the female gender especially with vocals like Sarah Mclachlan, Vera Lynn, Lana Del Ray, Stevie Nicks, Tori Amos & Birdy to name a few can make the hairs stand on your back with the GS1000’s.
Listening to The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow album is an example of vocals making aural experience blow a gasket with both female & male vocals in harmony whilst the Acoustic guitar is so clear to hear and pick out where it is almost is if the GS1000e has placed the guitar in his hands it sounds that accurate in the soundstage to where the singer and instrument is.  
I was surprised how good these can be with dance orientated music although it has good bass extension which hits the ground it is not seismic by any means, the GS1000e does not have the thump and bass slam as maybe other bass hungry headphones out there for those hard core dance fans but renders micro details so well you get a bass that gives you so much more information back in a more balanced manner that compliments the mid-range as it never over dominates them and the Grados have a good rhythmic timing combined with good dynamics with the nice smooth extended highs as well you get with the big soundstage quite deep as well as wide sound field and these are quite nimble in terms of speed on the bottom end all adds up to dance music like Rob D’s Furious Angels, Nero, Daft Punk, Chemical Bros or Will I Am have a snap to their pace with energy and clarity that is addictive to listen to as it is using the Grados for Rock, pop, blues, jazz & classical music and anything else in between.
I found the GS1000e to have an immersive evolving almost 3D sound that can tonally sound very different due to the recording so they do tend to evolve in their signature as they reflect how that recording does sound than just the same headphone house sound with every different song or genre you hear with the Grados which guess these might be down to the natural wood timbre effect of the cups doing their work here perhaps.
Only down side I have noticed it is another one of these highly engineered products that if you feed it crap it will throw it right back at you and can sound brittle and not very forgiving with poor recordings but anything that is done fairly well to outstanding recordings like the Eric Clapton Slowhand & 461 Ocean Boulevard Gold discs from the original master recordings (thanks go out to Barolo for lending me these discs which opened my eyes up to Gold discs) which really do allow the Hugo TT to pull the best detail and let the GS1000e really play full tilt to their potential as more recordings should be done like this as it just has so much accuracy tonally yet dynamic and uncompressed and seems to be so much headroom with these recordings it is tempting to just turn that volume knob a little bit more!
An album I have rediscovered which sound sublime trough the GS1000e was Ocean Colour Scene’s Mosely Shoales which was a perfect blend for the warm tones yet able to layer the music clearly with a nice rhythmic mellow warm, still lucid & clean mid bass to the kick drum extending those lows that the Grado reminds you it can go there if the recording has it in the tank yet does it in such a nice tight controlled manner with great timing and attack.
The Grados are a tonally well balanced headphone with a touch of warmth that has that wide open soundstage with pin point accurate placement of instruments and insanely rich detailed mid’s with those second to none vocal reproductions and the able  transient tempo make these sound agile and fast with most genres especially stand out memory of listening to Michael Jackson Bad and Thriller remastered albums but it will excel into another dimension with anything that is jazz, blues, live music, acoustical, classical as I found with the Mahler Symphony No.5 in 24 bit 192khz has so much depth and space and imaging is amazing as it is so cohesive with the orchestra set out in front of you with sounds panning from side to side you can pick out where certain players are in your head as the GS1000e’s are so accurate and delicate in where it images sounds from and then the quite passages are painted on such a black background you experience that perception that you are In a big concert hall listening to this.
With Joe Bonamassa playing his way through the GS1000’s is great to listen to as he uses so many different Guitars is a good test for them and you can feel the energy from his playing as the GS1000e’s wooden cups really get the timbre of the strings just right it makes for a good ride with his powerful slightly grainy vocals and the fast hitting mid bass and very fine harmonics the Grado’s have made time go fast going through his back catalogue. 
Another blues experience to behold on the Grados was Sea Sick Steve, not all his songs are great to my ears but the ones he does when he is in up tempo form are golden and his style of being all over the place in a jamming style could really work some cans in terms of speed and decay but the Grado enjoys rendering the mad drumming by Dan Magnusson & the third addition of John Paul Jones with the bass guitar adding another dimension the Grados manage to separate all these so well it has a way of layering the music that you can still pick out the strings been played even with Magnussons drums going full tilt and hearing the vocals so clear at the front the GS1000e just sound easy to listen to even with all the detail it is capable of showing.
The TT really does make these GS1000e’s sing to their full potential although one thing they probably do lack for some will be a seismic type of bottom end sub bass with any big impact but I think the wooden models characteristics have been designed for other genres like a suit-er would tailor a suit to fit then Grado made this wooden suit to fit blues, jazz, acoustic & vocals like no other headphone in Grado’s own special touch.
…But anyone who is a die hard rock fan who primarily listens to that genre might want to audition the PS1000’s if you can stretch another £700 notes that is, not that the GS1000 is not able to handle rock, far from it but it is more laid back and articulate in the detail department with how the bass is presented as the PS1000 just have that little bit more attack and slam from my experience (I keep thinking grit also) as I think the metal chamber on the PS1000’s just add that yet if you want a can that excels with those above genres as mentioned and still capable with rock but not looking for earthquake level of bass then GS1000 will not disappoint as I found out with Muse Dead Inside 24 bit 96khz from their Drones album, the tempo and natural tones and striking nature of the drums and bass guitar with Matt Bellamy’s vocals coming through sound so life like feels he is signing right in front of you as there Is just this black background with no veil, that’s how forward these vocals can be, I wish vocals were like this on all headphones. 
The Grados do things a lot differently to other headphones out there but yet they strike the chord (yes, pun intended) just right in so many places it becomes addictive to listen to these as they are so good with the accuracy, natural tonality with some richness and balance with this amount of detail added in makes these a very good pairing with the Hugo TT as it compliment the Grado’s providing the space and speed to synergize with ample power to drive these efficient headphones.
The only downsides if any would be more ergonomically with the positioning of the cups just right for optimal sound firing in the right spot as the cup area is so big and I’m sure the cable as I have heard for a stock cable sounds fine but it does not match the quality of the rest of the headphone and then there will be many who would of just wanted that option of it been detachable, I’m sure Grado will say this is for optimum quality but at least give the listener/ consumer that choice to be able to swap out if they want. 
It would be nice to have maybe packing to match the status of been second in line to its flagship brother as it is still in the traditional Pizza box but can understand this if it is due to most of cost going towards making them sound good as they do. Just would be nice if there was a premium packaged version even if it meant paying the extra, at least the choice is there as another headphone company has used this approach and I’ll be honest here I’m a sucker for that type of thing anyway so to Grado… I would love to see a GS1000 presented in a wooden matching mahogany  Grado box with nice plush velvet lining inside!  
The GS1000e comes with an extension cable and 3.5 jack adaptor.
Apart from that trivial, maybe not for some on the ergonomics I cannot fault these headphones on the sound and comfort as I love the sound of these with anything I listen to these with and has totally blown away the old conjecture I kept hearing about Grado’s are good if you are after rock music as if it was pigeon holed to doing one thing well only but as I found out anything these sound with is very good. Rock & dance is very accomplished and enjoyable  on these and downright outstanding with anything else I have heard it with regardless of the genre playing.
I am quite smitten after three weeks listening  to the GS1000e’s sound now with them been so resolving, dynamic and harmonically perfect with the magical way it layers the music with the huge sound-stage and pin point accuracy of sounds and it’s second to none vocal reproduction which is just uncanny is in a nutshell an absolute  joy and just want to listen to them all night going through my collection so endeavour to make these the flagship headphones I have been looking for to partner my Hugo sooner rather than later. 
Beyer Dynamic T90 open back headphones:
Already a Beyer admirer from my days with the old DT770 Pro (600ohm) model I had only heard the T1’s and T5p’s briefly but could gauge that Beyer have stayed true to their house sound down the years and has always felt like a pair of Beyers do not pull any punches or try to be something else they are not and really focus on delivering a balanced clean cut sounding pair of headphones that are easy to listen to  as well as pay attention to making a comfortable pair of headphones to wear. The T90 comes in a nice leather looking type of zipper case with foam protection to store it but would not say this is exactly ideal to use as a transport case for them as it is a bit on the big side but nice to see on a pair of sub £400 cans anyway.  Also comes with a cable which is quite long and feeds to one channel only, again this is hard wired in a cannot be detached which is a shame and comes with a 3.5 jack fitted with a 1/4 jack adaptor which screws on to the 3.5 jack so keeps a low profile whilst attached.  The cable does tend to get tangled easily though I found which did become a bit frustrating at times when going to use each time for a session.  
The T90 is no different here been quite able to deliver a clean transparent balanced sound which is tonally accurate with instruments yet can have a nice elegant sounding mid’s with a plucky textured mid bass and can extend effortlessly low and transition from mid to sub bass is rendered really well as the pace and timing of the DT90’s is nice and fast and does not struggle with busy or complex passages when there is a lot of different instruments fighting for space at the same time the Beyer’s take it in its stride and make it sound musical whilst still been able to give you a fair bit of detail like a studio monitor is capable of.
Actually I think the T90 thrives on fast complex loud music as it feels effortless from note to note and this is made more enjoyable by the fact you forget you are wearing these as they are not overly heavy and combined with the comfortable velour pads and padded headband as well as not clamping the head to tight the physical aspect of these cans melt away in the background allowing me to concentrate on enjoying the T90’s to sing. The Beyer's strong point which the Hugo-TT is capable of getting the most out of is the wide soundstage and fast  stereo imaging excels here yet the mid’s feel present without been sucked out due to this, or are they ever to forward or intrusive at any time although I feel I would like my vocals a bit closer up front than they are personally the vocal tones are rendered well  and the way it blends with the rest of the mid-range is a without disappearing is done well by the Beyer’s here.
The High’s on the T90’s are also interesting in that they are fairly forward and present all the time to the point they almost give the impression it is a bright headphone due to this but at the same time it is never harsh and the roll off on the treble seems to be just right and has a good sense of timing with the rest of the mix.
The more I listen to these I forget they are in the sub £400 bracket and have heard some £1K open backs struggle to be as cohesive with synergy as a complete sound and deal with fast passages of music like the T90’s enjoy producing.  Listening to Gregory Porter’s Liquid spirit album with his low to high range and the spaciousness feeling between instruments you can clearly hear range of each note and the decay of the notes and sounds very dynamic been able to hear the bass notes of the bass been plucked to the piano been hammered to the high hats sizzling away his slightly gritty vocals are very easy on the ear and the Hugo-TT again complements another pair of headphones in the T90 in sharing a naturally tonal sound help the T90 give this balanced presentation. 
Trombone Shorty is lively, dynamic and the saxophone is projected forward to the listener with energetic vibrancy and the percussion has a nice tempo with a punch to the mid bass which makes  this album like the T90 a lot as it brings everything to live is like having a New Orleans carnival going on in your head with the T90.
Playing the T90’s from a wide eclectic range of music it seems anything I have played from Jaime-T to Rodrigo & Gabrielle to some classical with Dvorak in high res has been equally as scintillatingly good and really copes with any genre in an accomplished manner as it is quite hard to pick out its weak link with any type of music. 
The T90 highs are crisp and the bass has a heavy weight feel behind it giving it a very present bass which with rock music can feel quite visceral when listening to the low end come in and the mid bass has a good attacking edge to it which makes it sound  forward in its presentation.  This makes it perfect for live music as well as it has that punch behind the T90’s delivery.  Not also are lead vocals sounding solid I found backing singers or harmony sections very infectious as it images them well in the stereo mix and adds great layering to a song been able to too hear the backing vocals as clear as the lead singer. 
Listening to Jessie Wares Tough Love album as liquid smooth vocals with a nice dark earthy sub bass which is very atmospheric to listen to and the clear crystalline highs give contrast to her songs and Ryan Adams self-titled album has a grit in the midrange with been quite good separation In the hectic mid’s like on the opening track “Gimme Something Good”.
With some jazz like the very well recorded Fourplay album 4 it has a good clean precise imaging with a nice amount of warmth in the midrange with the strings sounding life like and the piano having a natural timbre to its notes. Percussion is also very dynamic with nice feeling of space around every instrument been played.
The T90’s can also show warmth as well like with the Fourplay album if the recording has it then the Beyer’s show they can have a more mellow side to them rather than direct hard hitting punchy not messing around type of presentation the T90’s like to thrive on. 
The T90’s have definitely brought back what I loved about my old DT770’s back in the day as they are a no nonsense straight forward clean dynamic balanced pair of headphones that have got weight and punch with the bass into the proceedings and unlike my old DT770’s there is so much detail and expansiveness in the soundstage been open backs Beyer has won a place back in my heart and may very well look at these as a pair of cans to have regardless if I end up with a pair of TOTL headphones later on.
For the money they really do perform with hardly any negatives to pick up on with the sound only other than some may still find it a tad bright if your that way inclined with sensitivity but I will be sad to let these tour set go as it was a surprise factor for sure experiencing the T90’s.
 I have to say with the GS1000e & Beyer T90 I both had with the TT for open back headphone listening was the surprise how enjoyable it was still to listen to the cheaper T90 after hearing the very capable detailed Grados which is in a class of its own there but the T90’s ability to draw me back again and again was due to the synergy it had with the Hugo-TT that has drawn every cylinder these headphones have to offer so is running like a thoroughbred TT T90 horse so all in all they are a very good exciting pairing for sure.  as it could just sound good with any type of genre which goes to show the Hugo-TT is not just for flagship headphones, it can be just as addictive with the T90’s which cost less than £400 notes. 
Other listening apparatus used:
JH16pro CIEM
& Sony MDR-7520 with Whiplash hybrid cable mod to both cups.
The JH16’s which paired really well with the portable Hugo already and as usual scaled well with the TT and which benefitted from the more expansive soundstage to operate from and the JH16’s bass which has already tuned a few db above flat on the bass loves the extra depth and controlled focus the TT bass has to offer and the improvement in the highs is more present out there on its own thanks in part to the TT having that big black canvas to just sound as if it is in space almost yet the extra detail can be heard in the treble notes which make my 16’s highs sound more crisp but at the same time without sounding any brighter. The JH16’s were a treat on the original Hugo and this experience is just elevated using the TT and from my experience there was no hiss which just added to a pleasurable listen.
Still loving my JH16’s four years on and the Hugo-TT just helps maintain this fix!
With my Sony 7520’s which has modded Whiplash Audio Hybrid cable to both cups for better  balanced channels is helped again by the Hugo’s sense of space as my Sony’s are fairly narrow sounding on sound-stage despite the Whiplash cable helping immensely in this area to the stock cable but end of the day they are closed backs and this helped feel like they were let of a leash a little more and the upper mid’s were the clearest I’ve heard them sounding and the lower mid’s good full punch with impact  but not hard or harsh at the top end is again just a bit more crispness overall with high hats sounding nice and sharp and with the 7520’s been closed backs the Hugo’s extra bass presence can have a nice resonance and reverberation whilst still staying controlled and tight with bass heavy tracks as the Sony’s are quite an efficient headphone to drive the Hugo-TT controls it with authority in the lower and sub bass region adding some weight behind driving rock tracks.  Only down side was after hearing open backs like the Beyer Dynamic which is in the 7520’s price range despite the Hugo helping the soundstage on the Sony’s it became evident after hearing the Beyers how much the overall listening experience the sound can breath and have more natural openness & depth and wider field of sound.
It’s been a quick three weeks been able to use and appreciate this equipment and was coming into this with already admiring the Grado GS1000 & PS1000 models from previous listens at events but is nothing like been able to hear a pair of headphones in a quite environment over time and the GS1000e model was a joy to listen to with the Hugo-TT which matches the GS1000’s need to be feed detail in spades which the Hugo is primed to do with the Rob Watts 26K tap Pulse Array DAC chip and with the additional improvements with the amp section with the TT makes them such a good pairing.
The only thing with the GS1000 model is for anyone wanting a heavy bass response headphone that will shake & rattle your head then this is the only area where it is not light on bass at all but just quite lean, tight & tidy with all the emphasis on providing a rich textured detailed presentation where you can hear the continuation of every note so you can very clearly hear the changes in frequency changes going from upper to lower mid to sub bass as they happen.
The GS1000e are other than that masterful listen with warm and rich yet clean detailed – want to say analytical but these sound to musical at the same time for that. Prolonged listening to these and you melt into the details you have never heard before like the GS1000 present’s them thanks of course to the TT’s DAC helping with this. 
The Beyer T90’s were a surprise as eyes were on the Grado’s for the above obvious stated reasons with them been a £1k reference can and all that, although I had a unfinished missed regrets in letting my old DT770’s go was still pleasantly surprised it still had that house sound after all these years that was familiar with yet this was a further detailed and better soundstage version of my old pair so was even bigger surprise was I got hooked to how they were able to handle any genre with ease and enjoyed spending as much time with these as any other headphone going.
I was fortunate to hear both these headphones as well as my own iem’s/headphones to probably their full potential due to the Hugo-TT which going bigger with hardware upgrades in the amp section has made a difference which has just improved on a more expansive vast deep sounding soundstage with more control and extension in the low end with more resolution to the bass notes then the Highs have a certain amount of added clarity and detail with the mid-range notes in instruments sounding more coherently detailed due to more space for the music to breath and is more precise to pick out those instruments which was no more apparent than when I finally got to hear how a a Hugo DAC sounded like through my Speaker set up whilst been able to utilize the full potential of the Hugo-TT’s XLR balanced outputs to my XLR Tag amp’s which like the Headphones was the same improvements but just been able to feel the Hugo’s bass extension through a pair of floorstander speakers was jaw dropping yet retain so much control and resolution of the mid’s was breath taking and really did not want to unplug this from my system. 
The Hugo if it was a V8 engine has essentially just had a V12 dropped into the Hugo-TT which has brought along more performance in its amp section to feed those hungrier ohm headphones and at same time has added sonically refinement to the sound quality but let’s not forget this is just not a Hugo designed for portability, this has been purposely designed to be implemented to be a pre-amp DAC into a Hi-Fi system with the addition of XLR balanced connections as well as just be a table top headphone amp/DAC which has to be taken into account where the extra greens go into laying out for a Hugo-TT not to mention the cost of three times the amount of aircraft aluminium needed to make the footprint for this, bigger battery, XLR balanced outputs, remote made of metal, the added amp upgrades with super capping and USB isolation as well as the small matter the sound quality is expanded on the original Hugo does justify where the extra costs come from although stil eye watering for my wallet at the moment unfortunately hence I now have a Hugo-TT box fund a home as a hint to the wife! 
My only negative (or two) with the TT would really be the decision to have the Coax digital input as a BNC connection which was a strange call as most people will have phono RCA Coax plugs and do not really see the need for a BNC on the Hugo and the volume wheel on the TT just seemed to be a tad too easy to turn compared to my portable Hugo so ability to accidently make contact with it or turn up to fast if not taking care with sensitive cans or IEM’s is possible so always just need to approach with due diligence.
But apart from that it is hard to fault this machine after using it for three weeks and thoroughly enjoying the sound improvements I heard with been able to run this with two open back cans one showing the TT can still sound good and enjoyable with mid-price tier cans in the Beyer’s as well as sound stunning with a pair of flagship Grado’s (I still class them as Flagship anyway at £1K) as well as been able to run this in my Speaker set up was a revelation and does look cool sitting in my rack with the rest of my separates so am obviously having withdrawal symptoms now, although my only caveat is here I am lucky to still have the portable Hugo which after a few hours of ear resetting find I am enjoying very much still in its own right so will thank my lucky stars I still have this capable machine to enjoy until  day arrives to acquire a TT one day.... Sweet Dreams are made of these…
nice review Fortis!  I'm looking froward to getting a Hugo in a few years when they start showing up cheaper in the for-sale section :)   Until then, it's nice to read about that delicious sound!
Thanks LAmitchell, If your talking about the original Hugo you can on a good day pick them up for £850-900 if your lucky on the second hand market but they are keeping their price quite well on the whole. 
 Might have to wait for the Hugo 2 one day (whenever that will be, don't hold your breath!) for the original Hugo's to flood the market and drive the price down ; ) 
If your talking about the Hugo-TT then yes, it will be a very long wait for the day these loose a lot of weight in the second hand market.  Reminds me I must do my Lottery tickets...
Great review, now I've completed my own, I've had a full read, only a peep before!


1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Connectivity options, Unique original design, volume button design, can be used in normal Hi-Fi set up also, Hours worth of non fatigue listening.
Cons: Ideally could do with bigger coax and 3.5 jack ports on connection side and does not reset volume after each use.
I have been looking for a desktop amp/dac for a while now as I have not had one for the last few years (last desktop amp was a Naim headline 2 with NPSC power supply which was okay but nothing magical about them so tired of it after a couple of years)  but never got around to getting a replacement for one reason or another, one being I only got the Sony ZX1 Walkman last year and was happy with my portable set up with my iems and was going to wait until I got a 1-2K pair of headphones (possibly Grado PS1000’s) before looking for a desktop amp but was intrigued when the Hugo was released as it was small enough to be semi portable with its respectable battery life for trips away and with its unique industrial design and emphasis on build quality which houses every connection available this opens this unit up to multitasking in a speaker set up as well which just left the last question does the SQ back up all the other boxes ticked so far above?
Firstly I am using various format & sample rates from Flac 44.1 to Flac high res in 24/ 96 & 192 to a few  DSD64 tracks  I downloaded and source is using either the Sony ZX1 or from the Windows  laptop which is from both Flac & WAV files.
I will be using the Wizard 5.0 iem’s, JH16Pros ciem’s both with Whiplash Audio TWag V3 Hybrid cable plus a pair of Sony MDR-7520 headphones which are the better versions of the MDR-Z1000 (also has by pass mod to both cups with Hybrid V3 cable).
Would have tried my Tag Mclaren DVD32R cd top loader player through my Chord Indigo digital coax cable but apparently it needs to go on a diet to fit in the Hugo’s coax socket as it is too fat for it so a bit disappointed there as I was looking forward to that.
 The build of the Chord Hugo is exemplary and cannot fault them apart from the one reservation with the ergonomics despite this been the improved second gen case for the Hugo the 3.5 jacks could do with accepting the via blue mini 3.5mm jacks which will be annoying as it would mean a lot of cables I have will need re-termination to smaller 3.5 plugs which hopefully is maybe something that could or be rectified on the Hugo 2 design to allow bigger plugs despite them already doing one mod for this, even if it meant the actual dimension of the case been a tad bigger to accommodate both the 3.5 jack & digital coax issue is possibly the only one major issue with the build design on this for me. 
The actual design itself is Unique original, Iconic & exquisite to throw a few Superlative's its way, firstly with it's see through port hole window and use of three different colour led lights to give you indication of battery levels which changes through the discharge cycle and one LED light shows which input mode you are in and the third is for the filter mode when activated with it's three settings which again change colour for each setting. There is a fourth smaller white LED light for when it is charging and this goes out when charge is full.  
There is then a separate round frosted plastic window which shows which sample rate the Hugo has coming through with different colours again for each sampling rate. 
The uniqueness primary focal point of this device is the volume rocker which changes colour to show you what volume it is at and the feel of this volume rocker has been executed perfectly with the weight and touch needed to adjust volume feels just right and would be hard (if not almost impossible) to accidentally knock the volume by mistake. 
The only downside to this very bespoke design of lighting method much as I like it and is part of what makes the design DNA of this device so original and iconic is remembering all the colour lights actually represent which is not so bad at home with the nice Hugo card manual that tells you which colour is what but when out and about it can be trial and error which colour is for which mode especially trying to remember what colour is the sample rate coming through. I guess having a bad memory puts me in the same camp as the colour blind Hugo users which means at least I'm not alone! 
And my only second real gripe with this device apart from the connection ports is the volume level does not reset after each use so beware if you used high ohm headphones last and then plug in your iem's without thinking as it could hurt you and your iem's! Would be nice if Chord could incorporate a reset into this so each time it powers up it does not have the potential for this to happen. 
One wish list request other than the above to Chord would be (and I know this is me been fussy) would be nice if there is another metal finish, maybe preferably a smooth silver finish as that rough texture has always sent shivers down my spine, don’t know why it just does.. More scarred of that than I was Freddy Krueger in the 80’s!  But would be nice if there was maybe some different case finishes or colours even if the cost was a bit more the option would be there for those who want it.
Imagine a Hugo in Pink, might get more girls into Hi-fi Chord?  Anyway, enough of the comedy central as I digress….
First thing I noticed about the Hugo was how much detail could be heard even in the first ever two minutes I ever listened to it with its big natural feeling soundstage and accuracy & timing of this dac really makes it sound 3D in terms of the layers it adds gives it a dynamic listening experience every time and never sounds fatiguing or flat. The instruments have great, no… they have very excellent extension and no rolling off here with this dac/amp and there is no floor noise even with iems unless it is in the recording.
The last three nights because of this I have been rolling into bed at 2am knowing I had to be up for 5.30 am, that has not happened in a long time with a bit of hi-fi kit as this is what this is; Hi-fi meets Head-fi, head on and four days on it is so consistent with whatever you through at it whether it is flac files, wav which sound stunning from the laptop and now I am hearing it through the Hugo it seems to shine more with wav files more than it does FLAC, regardless of which sampling rates it is at it sounds nothing short of excellent through the Hugo.  The Hugo has a natural organic sound it seems without staining with its own colouration stamp onto recordings which is a very positive sign.
It’s just excels in every department and what makes it addictive is its ability to just sound so analogue you forget there is a digital source at work.  The amp section is of course been made to be as good otherwise it would have been a travesty to have a dac so good let down by a amp section not up to complimenting the chain.  I only tired it with a pair of 20+ year old Sennheiser 560 Ovation open backs which @ 300ohm were driven effortlessly with authority by the Hugo.  I do have a pair of old Beyer 600 ohms but they seem to be faulty at the moment so cannot try them unfortunately.
I just had to start with my old favourite test tracks that I am familiar with inside out all in flac 44.1khz like Yellow "The Race", Fleety Mac "Rumours" & The Dance, M. Jacksons Thriller & Bad all coincidentally re-master versions.  Then moved onto a every single genre I have across the board from Acoustic to Heavy rock, dance & electronica, R&B to blues/jazz & OST's to live music as to be honest and have to state again is a very immersive experience once you get started with the Hugo. 
Yellow “The race” really is one of the maddest tracks I use to demo gear as it test nearly every aspect from pace, rhythm and soundstage, mid & sub bass, control and separation all in a chaotic 8 minutes of Yellows finest song writing as the Hugo makes this sound alive and has a good sense of timing and attack as well as the stereo panning effects used in this song are accurately fast and smooth all making for a good dynamic listen.  Michael Jackson’s recordings stand out with the Hugo and actually feel like they make these classics come alive as it reins in the slightly harsh hot top end on what is otherwise a good recording of Speed Demon and makes the over song more balanced and pleasant to listen to as it is a very fast energetic vibrant track anyway.
 I will start with the  Wizards 5.0’s which has a very good sound when paired with my Sony ZX1 or my Oppo 105 headphone out which is acceptable but pairing it with the Chord Hugo is another level and really is getting every last ounce of performance the 5.0's has to offer so this is what I am going to base my following experience of listening on as this it is at the pinnacle in how the 5.0 will deliver in terms of sound quality when paired with the Hugo.
Guitars really excel on the 5.0 especially the ones plugged in to the national grid but with acoustic material will lose natural rawness and openness due to the 5.0’s natural warmness and although  listening to well recorded Brad Paisley or one of the most underrated acoustic guitarist around Adrian Legg still is a serious and enjoyable session on the 5.0’s albeit it is not its most strongest card which also makes it not the most natural contender for anyone who wants to just listen to classical music with these for the same inherent reasons if they want the best out of those genres.
Wizards 5.0’s Vocals really stand out with the Hugo and are fairly forward in presentation and sound tonally faithful which is one of the stand out attributes of the 5.0. It shows what is there in the recording of the vocals which show great nuances in detail especially with those gravely voices.  The more I listen to the vocals on this it really keeps it fresh and alive for those long listening sessions.
The JH16’s just add even more headroom with weight and control, improved resolution even further with a great deal of accuracy and sound staging is perfect with the Hugo feeding the JH16’s with Yellows The race song. The vibrancy and speed of the bass notes and the highs bursting in on the brass section has real attack and is transient at the same time.  It’s the same for the M.Jackson speed demon track of the Bad album really has great depth and accuracy with so many layers of information all at once but yet it is so easy to pick them all out individually.  The bass of Fleety Macs the Dance is like it is at their live gigs with that unmistakable low kick drum bass Mr. Fleetwood hammers out.  Through the Hugo the bass is the visceral and yet refined with hearing the change in bass notes throughout the bass kicking.  The high hats and symbols are spot on having that zing sound to them that lends to a realistic reproduction of what they should sound like.
The Sony MDR-7520’s are a different proposition as out of the three these are the only headphones and have been further improved by having a mod done were the TWag Hybrid cable is run to both cups for maximum quality and these underrated cans are what the EU version, the MDR- Z1000 sister model should have been with some actual bass although still not going to cause an earthquake level but do have a sub bass to them with the treble issue the Z1000 had not as apparent on the 7520’s.  With the cable mod done these greatly improved and is a good match for my ZX1 Walkman (much better than the Sony MD-R1’s) but yet again the Hugo takes things to another level with the 7520’s and for closed back cans they are more expansive through the Hugo.
  The low bass is nothing like the 5.0’s or JH16’s but has a more natural balanced signature and the mids and vocals really shine with the 7520’s on the Hugo.  It has a liquid smooth presentation with the Hugo helping the treble timing and tonal accuracy with high hats and symbol crashes sounding real.  The sub bass only comes in when the recording has it which may point to not too much messing around with the EQ by Sony to the bass but when the Hugo delivers it the 7520’s have the ability to go low enough to clearly differentiate between the mid bass section.
Compared to other sources the addition of the Hugo really opens up the in terms of width and natural sound stage which is the first observation within the first minute of listening as I thought it was just the 5.0 and to an extent the 7520’s tended to have not the most wide open soundstage but the Hugo really helps with this and then it sinks in this is a very smooth, fluid and fast dynamic presentation which is very analogue sounding and feels like you are immersed by the music which is very evolving so can only imagine what the top end open backs will sound like with this Hugo (the mind boggles).  Listening to big bands and classical is mesmerising with the 7520’s through the Hugo which really enjoy the high detail the Hugo throws at it I think because these Sony cans were designed to be used in the studio rather than the consumer models they do, so renders detail very well.
Across all three iems and cans the Hugo has the ability whilst listening to acoustic artist strings are full of micro details of the frets and resonating plucks of the strings which you can pick out still even though two more chords have been strummed out with all the other mix of sounds going on.
Dance beats or Electronica music, The North Borders sounds great in the bass and treble giving a lively snappy listen yet sound blissful and relaxing at the same time and Moby’s mix of Blues and electronics revel in the ability to sound ambient, deep and soulful.  My favourite electronic music test tracks from Portishead & James Blake love the Hugo and with the combination of the Hugo been able to render the bass notes really well you can feel as well as hear those low sub bass notes which don’t roll off and you can hear them resonate clearly even with all the other information vying for your attention.
Listening to Tedeschi Truck Band – Made up Mind, Treme soundtrack or Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis Live at the Lincoln Center and really shines with brass instruments and the ambience and air of the Clapton/ Marsalis performance comes through with the live recordings like this. Sarah Mclachlan – Mirror Ball Live also a well recorded live concert which sound stella with the Hugo as it is a detailed balanced recording with plenty of headroom and ambience giving that like you was there feeling. 
Equally I cannot fault what I hear on the Ivory’s with real pianos which sounds rounded on each key stroke and is particularly just right in the mid to upper treble but have to say I have not heard much dedicated piano excerpts in the few days listening but what I have heard with normal full percussions/ bands sounds a very natural tone to it.  The Hugo also gets the full range out of the JH16’s and I have listened to quite a few top end dac amp set ups with this now and although it has sounded very good with some of those set ups it has not quite sounded like it does with the Hugo.
Somehow the Hugo manages to be perfect balance in every area from the weight, attack and authority with the pace and rhythm, natural sound stage, killer resolution in the upper and lower mids as well as the mid bass and sub bass region have bags of kick and control even when under great loads sounds refined and so much detail in those bass notes with the other end of the spectrum with the highs been so crystal clear and detailed they simply real to listen to and not at all splashy or harsh, there is so much micro detail within each note or chord (pardon the pun) you hear the very slightest nuances which builds up a structure of information to making the sounds of the instruments sound more organic.
The good thing about the Hugo is there it has a really low floor noise and sensitive iems do not suffer and the Hugo works really well at very low volumes with either both iem and headphones. It’s hard to pick a hole in the Hugo and have been trying but it handles everything that goes through it with a consistent manner whilst retaining the habit of sounding non fatiguing way. 
The 5.0is another good incarnation from the  “The Wizard” at the helm and is really complemented by the Hugo dac/amp really helps the 5.0 show what a mid to high end iem can deliver although the it is far from been a natural monitor for anyone wanting it for studio use or is it perfect with every genre but if you just love music to sound rich, warm yet an accurate sound stage, powerful, fun (tried not to use that word!) with the instruments on the whole sounding tonally correct then this is worth a serious listen.
Both the JH16Pro along with the Sony 7520 headphone both also sound great with the Hugo and this dac really lets the Sony cans also shine to their full potential, I would be interested if there was another dac amp this size or any size come to that, could get more legs out of the Jh16 if possible at all but I’m doubting that very much until I hear something else that can…
The Hugo is a quest I have been on for a while now just waiting for that something different, special that comes along In a while to find a perfect desktop dac amp solution and for the exception of a couple of logistical hardware fit issues this is fully loaded with connections, small and still fairly portable considering what is on offer with the ability to run on battery for a respectable amount of time taking various factors into consideration and to make it all worthwhile backs it up with the sound been natural, immersive, extremely highly detailed, perfect timing and sounds great with all genres which is a hard feat to achieve…  after hearing this think I may of found the Holy Grail at long last!
Also recently I have taken this to a couple of events and able to listen to different headphones/iems like the HD800's, Grado Bushmills, PS1000, GS1000, Beyer T1's Audeze LCD3, EL8 & AKG 812's, JHA Layla's, Shure SE535 & 846 and the Hugo partners in harmony with every one of those mentioned and just wished I had most of them to partner my Hugo permanently! But the fact is that the Hugo can scale low range and mid range cans like my Sony 7520's in terms of performance means I am very content and happy with what I've got until I can afford one of those flagship headphones to partner the Hugo.  
I personally may call this the Hugo “Delorean” as the last few days it has transported me back in time with those recordings from the 80’s and made them sound so analogue again like the days of vinyl but with just the added benefit of the high definition of detail and silent floor noise added into the mix. I have been wanting a high end desktop dac & amp really since I let my Naim Headline go and always thought it would be a big box always plugged in to the mains all the time next to me on my coffee table and never would of thought the day would come where it was in a small package with this SQ been able to drive demanding headphones and it dawned on me to be able to just take this to bed at night on the battery’s like a normal portable amp has made my day, like having the cherry on top. 
All I know is from this experience there is finally a high end small desktop answer for a combined dac/head amp that does not compromise on anything and really excels at getting the very best out of  iems & headphones which is a great combo with all three I tested the Hugo with.   
Anyone contemplating a Hugo is in for a many hours of listening to that collection all over again (and again.)
Jeff Y
Jeff Y
There's a Headfonia review that came out a couple days back and the guy's using the ALO Audio mirco-usb cable. There's also Moon Audio's cables. Double Helix would be solid but I never had any experience with their products and their website has WAY too many cables for me to able to judge which one to get. It's a bit overwhelming almost.
I like Chord Company's cables' looks and design but I heard it's not OCC. Something like OFC or something lower in purity than OCC. So many options... not as much money in my wallet...
Terrific, detailed review, nicely focussing on the music
Thanks AndrewH13 for that kind comment, that's what it's all about (the music) which the Hugo allows us to do very easily!

Sorry Jeff Y - might be a bit late here with reply, but if not Double Helix despite so many choices are really good quality, I had them a long time ago (should get around to ordering from him again) contact Peter @Double Helix for guidance as he is a top reliable guy that has time for you and will guide you from your input. Chord cables are top quality also for Hi-Fi ic's, trust me, I have them in my Tag Mclaren set up which I do not take likely. Hope it's going well for you...