Reviews by grumpy213

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
A bird in hand is worth...3900 USD
Pros: Excellent natural tonality
Excellent resolution
Relaxed yet detailed listening experience
Cons: Price
Doesn't blow your socks off in any particular regard
IMG_5562.jpg

Many thanks to @Damz87, @Vision Ears and Minidisc for arranging the Australian tour of the EXT and the PHöNIX.

Preamble​

The amounts commanded by the top-of-the-line (TOTL) IEMs in the market are something to behold. These sums would likely be seen by some to be inordinate and perhaps obscene but what do you actually get from this sum? Some would say that the increasingly high sums that you pay yield less and less results, and that much is true. But how much do you value the last 5% of something? Today’s review concerns a TOTL level IEM, the Vision Ears (VE) PHöNIX, and like the FiR Audio kit that I had reviewed earlier this year, this is a highly-priced IEM that seeks to appeal to a small percentage of music listeners who are seeking the absolute best of the best. But whether the PHöNIX can deliver best-in-class is a question that I seek to delve into today.

The Factual Stuff​


The VE PHöNIX comes in a rather spartan-looking cardboard box that belies its rather hefty price tag. Within the box are some basic literature, basic accessories and a handsome leather zip case containing the IEMs, a 4-wire 23 AWG silver-gold alloy and copper litz cable terminated in 2.5mm and a 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter.

The earpieces are made from carbon fibre shells accompanied by a faceplate made of aluminium and sapphire glass with a PHöNIX underneath.

Within the shells is a 13-driver setup consisting of four balanced armatures (BA) for the lows, four BAs for the mids, four more for the highs and finally one BA for a “super tweeter”.

These are all put together with a 5-way passive crossover.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​


The low end of the PHöNIX is something that I would term as distinctly controlled and measured. The sub-bass thump is something that is present when required and the mid-bass punch is also quite good, however, the PHöNIX ultimately seems to have an emphasis on mid-bass rather than sub-bass. These never descend into the territory of being overbearing on the rest of the frequency response (FR) curve but rather imbue a sense of fun into the listening experience. The mid-bass lift imbues a sense of warmth and excitement into the low end creating a thumpy experience. On lesser IEMs, this particular tuning choice may lead to a less distinct mid-range and perhaps some boominess in the lower end but I feel that the PHöNIX manages to balance it well to not detract from anything else.

The quality of the bass is distinctly good, it remains speedy and well-textured managing to provide a dynamic rendition of low end that is readily dissectible. There is a common adage for BA drivers being used for bass and that is that it generally pales in comparison to a dynamic driver. Prior to listening to the PHöNIX, I did not make any efforts to look into the driver configuration and it was somewhat surprising to hear that it was an all-BA construction. The bass quality and quantity are good and hearty and provide a distinct sense of physicality to the music. However, when A-Bing the PHöNIX against the likes of the Fir Audio XE6, with its massive 10mm Kinetic Bass Dynamic Driver, one could see that there is sometimes, no replacement for displacement.

Despite this shortcoming that is only really apparent when A-Bing against the crème de la crème, the PHöNIX holds its own and manages to provide a detailed, warm and impactful low end.

Mids​


The mid-range of the PHöNIX, by virtue of the aforementioned mid-bass boost, is imbued with a sense of warmth and stronger note weight. This is made readily apparent in the lower registers of the mids wherein certain male vocalists reside. Songs such as “Ain’t no Sunshine” by Bill Withers present a deeply bodied and robust rendition of Bill’s voice that one could say is venturing into unnatural but to me, remains readily detailed and not overly done.

Higher registers of the mid-range presided by female vocalists remain distinctly sparkly and forward in the mix. “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish and “DFMU” by Ella Mai present their voices in a natural, intimate and sweet manner. Belting from Whitney Houston also manages to straddle the line of being slightly discomforting in an enjoyable manner with certain sibilances starting to creep in. You may read this negatively, but I feel that any female singer belting in a real-life situation will cause you some form of slight sparkle in the ears and a tingle through the spine.

Instruments remain distinctly characterful and analogue in their presentation. The strum of guitars and piano keys striking resolve wonderfully and with a natural timbre that is rather sweet to the ear. I feel that the PHöNIX again, belies conventional thinking for BA drivers in that timbre manages to present in a wholly natural manner.

Overall, the mid-range of the PHöNIX is rather well done with a healthy amount of warmth and a slight lift in the upper mid-range creating a delicately balanced mid-range that manages to present with strong note weight as well as with some bite and sparkle.

Treble​


Moving on to the upper regions of the FR curve, the treble on the PHöNIX is something that remains delicately balanced with the mids and the bass. Listening to songs such as “Lomsha” by Air Hadouk, with its subtle and delicate percussion in the background, the PHöNIX remains sparkly in its rendition and there is a tremendous tingle-inducing crystalline quality to the hi-hat throughout. “Reckoner” by Radiohead, similarly has percussion throughout and the PHöNIX renders it with a strong shimmery quality that reflects what I feel is a critical element of treble tuning, that is, a very slight sense of sibilance that manages to not delve into the fatiguing realm.

In an attempt to render some fatigue from the PHöNIX, I jumped into “4 walls” by f(x) and “You & Me” by Disclosure and Flume, two tracks that present a fatiguing level of sibilance with nearly any IEM with strong treble. The PHöNIX remains distinctly fine with these songs and demonstrates a slightly subdued approach to the highs in that they are not the star of the show but a more critical listener is able to discern the quality at which it is rendered.

Overall, the PHöNIX is not going to wow you with its treble extension and heightened sense of sparkle but rather does a respectable job of rendering notes in this region with a speed and sense of sparkle that ensures a balanced and enjoyable listen.

Technicalities​


Staging on the PHöNIX is somewhat unremarkable in that it doesn’t particularly extend wide out nor super deep like some of the standouts in this category. However, I feel that it doesn’t really need to. The PHöNIX manages to render orchestral pieces in a manner that is respectable with decent depth and height to the staging. Overall, this aspect of the PHöNIX isn’t particularly amazing but there is not much to fault, it doesn’t feel overly confined nor does it feel diffuse to the point of being unengaging.

Imaging and resolution is a key element of what I think makes the PHöNIX special. The ability of the PHöNIX to resolve in a manner that is coherent yet clearly layered allows the more critical listener to accurately dissect certain instrumentalizations but also the laid-back listener to simply just sit back and go brain dead whilst enjoying their music. Busily produced tracks maintain a sense of layering and detail. Hardstyle is a genre of music that I definitely do not enjoy very much in my day-to-day listening for the fact that it has a tendency to sound like a cacophony of random synths and sounds with everpresent basslines. “The Calling (Da Tweekaz Remix)” by TheFatRat alternates from sparse instrumentalization and focussed bridges and heavily produced hardstyle sections and the PHöNIX handles both with gusto, rendering each note and beat with the requisite speed required and not smearing all of it into one mass of sound.
“Fine” by Taeyeon has a number of voices layered on top of one another in the reprise and the PHöNIX correctly and accurately distinguishes them from one another and places them distinctly in certain areas of the headstage.

Overall, the PHöNIX, whilst not remarkable in terms of its staging, its imaging and resolution seem to be very TOTL in nature. I do not feel that there is much left of the table despite its rather subdued treble tuning. And that is potentially the only knock on the PHöNIX in my books is that a slightly more aggressive treble could really draw out the microdetail on the PHöNIX.

Overall​


With a warmer tilt, the PHöNIX may alienate some listeners looking for a more dry rendition of music to readily dissect. However, the PHöNIX presents a tremendous amount of resolving ability and detail combined with an easy-to-love tuning. In doing so, the PHöNIX may shoot itself in the foot by not presenting itself as being singled out as the “best” in terms of any aspect of the FR curve but rather does a great job of being the all-rounder. Whether that is worth the TOTL price tag when nothing will really jump out at you from the first listen is a question for yourself.

Comparison​

Vs FiR Audio RN6​


The FiR Audio RN6 was something of an anomaly when it crossed my desk in that the IEM, along with its fellow FiR compatriots in the Neon and the XE6, were quite unique in their tuning, opting for a very coloured tonality. The RN6 is perhaps the closest comparison to the PHöNIX owing to its more ‘neutral’ tonality out of the three FiRs. The RN6 injects considerable air into its FR curve creating a very spacious sound that is book-ended with strong bass performance and a rather neatly tuned treble region. The RN6 takes a more coloured approach to tonality when compared to the likes of the PHöNIX with the former presenting a much more prominent low-end that imbues a strong sense of physicality through the Kinetic Driver that seeks to leverage bone conduction to add to the bass. The PHöNIX is distinctly more “pedestrian” in that it is a warm-neutral tuning. The PHöNIX, however, seems to cut an advantage over the RN6 in its more balanced tonality and ability to render detail at both a macro and micro level. The RN6 takes a more aggressive approach to engage listeners with exaggerated elements of air and bass whereas the PHöNIX doesn’t necessarily excel at anything in particular but rather just provides an easy-going listening experience.

Overall, the RN6 presents a unique tuning profile combined with strong technical capabilities however in doing so, loses its ability to appeal to all people. The PHöNIX, whilst decidedly more “boring” in its approach, does so with such precision that it seems to be more universally appealing.

Vs VE EXT​


Another entry in the Vision Ears line-up, the EXT utilises 2 dynamic drivers and 4 electrostatic drivers to deliver its sound signature which seems to emphasise bass response and treble response over mids.

The EXT seeks to take a more engaging listening experience to the end-user with its bass quantity pushed up over the PHöNIX. However, I feel that the PHöNIX remains distinctly more detailed and more speedy than the EXT. The EXT remains distinctly more physical and robust in the low-end but I feel that it is at the cost of some speed and detail which I believe are more appropriately done with the PHöNIX. The mid-range is a range that I would readily give to the PHöNIX in that it manages to achieve accurate timbre, a relaxed listen and maintain detail throughout. The EXT, whilst no slouch in the mid-range, remains distinctly recessed and somewhat of an afterthought in the mix.

The treble is an element that I believe that the EXT does better than the PHöNIX in terms of its ability to replicate crashing cymbals and harrowing synths. However, the PHöNIX is smoother and more rolled off in its presentation, lending itself to a more long-term, relaxing listen compared to the hyperdetailed EXT.

Overall, the character of the two IEMs are rather different and the EXT, perhaps like the RN6 seems to take a more coloured approach to tonality in order to jump out at the listening and engage them with heavily emphasised strengths being the low-end and sparkly upper-end. However, the PHöNIX remains the stalwart all-rounder and I feel it is the better choice for most.

Synergy​

Shanling M6 Ultra (M6U)​


The M6U is a device I would characterise as imbuing a warmer and richer presentation of music with a greater emphasis on note weight and a stronger sense of presence.

The M6U places greater emphasis on the already warm PHöNIX and creates a hearty sense of sound that is more rounded and smoother in nature. The caveat of this injection of silky goodness is that the PHöNIX becomes less defined and elements such as microdetails, subtle nuances and textures of whatever you’re listening to become a bit smeared in the grand scheme of things.

This is not to say that the M6U and the PHöNIX coalesce to create something that is an undefined mess it is simply just not as resolving as it is with a more neutral source.

Overall, I feel that the diminishment in technical prowess ends up providing a more relaxed listening experience that softens the hard edges of the PHöNIX further but I definitely feel that the already warm PHöNIX likely doesn’t need this synergistic pairing.

Chord Mojo 2 + Poly​

The Mojo 2 is something I would characterise as a slightly warm-neutral source with tremendous DSP capabilities and an emphasis on detail sharpening.
The Mojo 2 and the PHöNIX combined to provide a rather excellent if a little underwhelming combination as oxymoronic as that sounds. The Mojo 2 simply represents the PHöNIX with perhaps a touch more resolution and focus on microdetail when compared to the other sources in this review without any particular emphasis on tonality apart from (maybe) a slight more warmth and presence in the mid-bass. The result of this is an excellent IEM with slightly more excellency to the listening experience. There is not much to write home about with this pairing but rather a simple conclusion that it works and it works well at that.

Hiby R6 Pro II:​


The R6P2 is a source that I would characterise as more v-shaped in its tonality, seeking to elevate sub-bass and place some edge on the treble region of whatever IEM you are listening to. It also benefits from a perceived boost in terms of dynamic performance in which swings of volume are much more pronounced, creating a sense of greater dynamic range and a more enveloping listening experience.

The R6P2 matches well with the PHöNIX for those who are looking for a more engaging and less laid-back listening experience. The heavy emphasis on sub-bass injects a fun factor into the PHöNIX with certain songs and the dynamic swings between silence and blistering volume create a heavily engaging listening experience that retains the control and detail of the PHöNIX.

Ultimately, I feel that this combination is definitely one to note for those who may find themselves a little bored of the PHöNIX upon first listening. Unlike the Shanling M6U which seemingly colours tonality on the whole, the R6P2 seeks to boost regions that don’t detract from the overall character of the IEM but rather simply inject some engagement into the mix.

Value and Quality of Life:​


Coming at 3900 USD, the PHöNIX is a TOTL-priced IEM that commands a hefty price tag for its sound. In terms of a value proposition, it is impossible to say that this is 200x better than a Moondrop Chu but rather it is important to look at its competitors in the price bracket and consider what the PHöNIX does better than the rest.

I do not have a huge amount of experience with TOTL IEMs but when compared to the FiR kit that I had (the RN6 and XE6) with somewhat similar pricing, I feel that the PHöNIX is a much more liveable and enjoyable listening experience for the long-term. Whilst the PHöNIX doesn’t necessarily blow your socks off with any particular element, it retains an easy-going listening experience with a healthy amount of warm and technical prowess that elevates long-listening sessions into a wondrous experience.

The PHöNIX doesn’t stand out on first listen and this may be disappointing to anyone paying as much as the PHöNIX commands but it remains something that I feel would be a stalwart within a person's collection, something that remains distinctly enjoyable despite not being able to point out anything in particular. The PHöNIX is a reference for what is possible when someone simply wants to sit back, relax and put on some tunes without being punched in the face with bass or treble. It is a simple experience, but there is excellence in this simplicity and as such, I don’t feel remiss saying that the PHöNIX is worth 3900 USD when contextualised against other TOTLs in the market. I would simply just ask you to temper your thoughts on first listen and give it some time.

The PHöNIX takes a rather exaggerated approach to ear-piece design and seeks to sit very neatly in your ear canal and while it was successful with my ears, I feel that this IEM is likely not going to be suited to ears of all shapes. The weight of the earpieces is a definite bonus with the carbon fibre construction seemingly reducing weight to the point of being unnoticeable over long listening sessions.

The cable included in the package is sufficient from an audio and ergonomic standpoint but nothing particular stands out about for the rather hefty price tag. The zip-case is well made from leather and the included accessories are a bit spartan comparatively speaking but other, the accessory package is half decent.

Conclusion:​


The VE PHöNIX is a wonderful listening experience that attempts to go for a more low-key sonic tuning. Opting for warmth and a rather smoothed-out response curve, the PHöNIX is the quintessential relaxed listening IEM in my books. One would generally expect standout portions of the IEM for the price tag commanded and unfortunately, I do not feel that the PHöNIX offers that. However, becoming used to listening to the PHöNIX and drawing out all of the great detail and natural timbre over long listening sessions leads to a huge sense of wanting when switching to lesser IEMs. There is simply no real deficiency that I can see in the PHöNIX despite not having any real standout strength. Whether balance and subtle excellence are enough for 3900 USD is a question for you and your wallet but I am simply enamoured with the PHöNIX and would love to one day own one.

IMG_5570.jpg
o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Nice review, grumpy Pepe :dt880smile:

I love these IEMs. There is something utilitarian about them that make them so good for EDC, though their price make it scary to take them anywhere. Does the crossfeed of mojo helps with the staging of the phoenix?
grumpy213
grumpy213
@o0genesis0o day 1938 of you asking about stage improvements 😂

It does but probably not to the lofty standards of In Ear Gems 💎 I find that the cross feed on the Mojo never blows my socks off but rather just subtle improvements to all IEMs in my experience.

I’ll be sure to start addressing DSP more directly on the synergy section for the Mojo from here on out!

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Spooky Sound
Pros: Tremendous bass response
Airy mids create a sense of space
Spooky soundstaging
Technical capabilities are excellent
Cons: Coloured tuning may divide
Earpieces may cause fitment issues
Price

IMG_5410.jpg

Preamble​

Thank you to @Damz87, MiniDisc Australia (http://minidisc.com.au) and Fir Audio themselves for arranging this Australian tour of the Fir Audio RN6, XE6 and NE4.

The realm of top-of-the-line (TOTL) IEMs is often one that is undiscovered country for a large number of people within the hobby. I mean what’s the point of looking at something I know I cannot afford? I, for one, was in this realm of the hobby, sticking at the price point I could “afford” and being happily content in my collection of IEMs. However, after a prolonged period of exposure to people suffering with similar fixations on little speakers you shove in your ears, I thought to myself, “why shouldn’t I buy a TOTL, I deserve it” as well as other forms of mental gymnastics. Thankfully, before I blind bought something, I managed to get a taste of the TOTL life with these, the Fir Audio RN6.

And so, is the taste of the high-life something that is ultimately an exercise of “diminishing returns” or something that does not permit you to return to the realm of slightly more affordable (but nonetheless expensive) audio?

The Factual Stuff:


FiR Audio was founded in 2018 by Bogdan and Alex Belonozhko and Daniel Lifflander, previously at 64audio, they sought to begin their own journey with Fir Audio.

The Radon 6 (RN6) is a limited edition IEM celebrating their 5th anniversary and this particular unit is 1 of 300 units worldwide. Within the machined, black aluminium shells are a total of 6 drivers, with 1x “Kinetic Bass” 10mm dynamic driver, 2x mid-focused balanced armature drivers, 1x high-mid BA driver, 1 high-focused BA driver and 1x electrostatic driver. The housings feature a sapphire crystal glass faceplate containing within a carbon-fibre pattern interspersed with gold flake and featuring their rabbit logo and the name of the IEMs themselves.

The unboxing experience is rather straightforward from the understated packaging, containing within it, the earpieces, a pure silver shielded black cable, a variety of eartips, a cleaning brush, a hex driver to change out its ATOM modules and a leather case.

What are ATOM modules? Well the RN6 features a pressure relief system that utilises a number of modules to alter the amount of noise isolation and therefore impacts the sound signature of the RN6. The modules are:
  • Gold = 17dB isolation;
  • Silver = 15db;
  • Black = 13dB; and
  • Red = 10dB.
What is Kinetic Bass? A 10mm dynamic driver is nothing new but in the RN6, the DD is open and ported in manner that exposes it to the ear through the shell. This allows the bass frequencies to be transmitted to the ear in a manner that causes bone-conduction, usually a separate driver in other IEMs that seek to achieve the same effect.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

The following review was largely conducted using the silver module

Bass:​

IMG_5411.jpg

I was rather sceptical when I read the “Kinetic Bass” marketing material, chalking up the rather lofty claims as being simply a means of spruiking their wares. However, upon listening to the RN6, the bass truly is physical in a sense. This is something I have yet to experience with any IEM on my journey so far with the exception of perhaps the MEST MK3 turned up to rather high volumes but the RN6 delivers a visceral and physical experience with its bass response.

I am happy to say that this is not merely a matter of pure quantity but rather the bass in the RN6 remains textured, detailed and fast. The physicality of the bass would lead one to believe that it would come at the cost of some bloat or some slowness imbued but the overall bass response of the RN6 is nothing short of amazing.

Extremely fast bass lines in songs such as “The Calling (Da Tweekaz Remix)” by TheFatRat, an extremely busy hardstyle song, remain wonderfully resolving and very visceral with its bass response. I could physically feel the air being pushed by the dynamic driver and the physical sensation of it on my ear. The experience is partly novel but the results in terms of discerning the detail and texture of the bass when listening cannot be doubted in my experience. The RN6 presents bass in an excellent manner.

Mids:​


Moving on to the mids, the RN6 does a rather good job at reproducing instruments and vocals in this area. The overall tonality and nature of the sound signature in this region is one that is rather airy and sparse in presentation. There is a ethereal character to the way in which it reproduces frequencies in this region, they seem to float out rather than come at you in a more aggressive manner.

Male vocalists in songs such as “7 Days” by Craig David are reproduced with gusto and a naturality that starts to veer on the edge of being overdone. There is hardly anything “digital” about male vocals but there is a loss of note weight in this region that seems to detract from having a hugely engaging experience.

Female vocalists in songs such as “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish take front and centre stage that is more forward in the mix compared to the male vocals. Again, the naturalness and the airiness imparted in the vocals lends itself to a rather excellent experience.

Instruments such as acoustic guitar also are represented in a manner that is forward, resolving and natural in nature.

Looking to duets such as “Can’t Love You Anymore” by IU and OHHYUK with an excellent call and response in the bridge, demonstrates that the RN6 presents female vocals in a more forward manner where as male vocals appear to sit ever-so-slightly recessed in the mix.

Overall, the mid regions are reproduced with an excellent sense of naturalness and airiness that is hugely addicting. The way in which this works with the staging of the RN6 (more below) seems to yield the experience of listening to a vocalist live on a stage, say a 1,000 or 2 seater theatre.

Treble:​


Treble is perhaps the last thing on my list of elements that really jump out to me (unless its missing or making my ears bleed) but on the RN6, treble reproduction was executed in such a manner that distinctly stood out to me. It seemed to manage the balancing act of maintaining a level of elevation that imbued a sense of excitement and drama to certain songs, leaving me with a goosebump inducing listening experience without forcing me to yank the IEMs from my ears. “Reckoner” by Radiohead has a prominent percussion line throughout the entirety of the song that on lesser IEMs becomes entirely too much for my ears or is so undercooked that it remains distinctly unremarkable. The RN6 resolves this song with gusto, with speedy reproduction of the percussion in a manner that is crisp and wonderfully present in the mix without causing undue fatigue. The spicy chorus treble in “You & Me (Flume Remix)” by Disclosure tickles my eardrums where as other IEMs seemingly assault them. One element that I would have to criticise is that the uplift into the treble region is not exactly a smooth one and this becomes rather apparent in dynamic songs with large swings in volume and with lilting instrumentals wherein the ascent into a peak can be a rather jarring experience.

Overall, the treble has been executed rather well but I could definitely see how some would see that this is a rather energetic and exciting IEM that would eventually lead to some fatigue over time.

Technicalities:​


The soundstaging capabilities of the RN6 is a rather mysterious element of this IEM. The RN6 seems to adapt to each song in a manner that is almost spooky in its ability to predict what you’re listening too. Got an intimate acoustic song? You get a rather comfortable representation that makes you think that you’re in a theatre watching a performance on a small stage. Got something orchestral? You get an entire cathedral to yourself.

The depth of the stage on the Rn6 is rather great with a great amount of depth to the tracks that I had listened to that did not leave me wanting any more. The width also projects rather wide, something readily apparent with more panning instruments or vocal lines. The height is similarly great compared to the IEMs that I have tried so far (with the caveat that they all have been cheaper). But ultimately is the manner in which the RN6 shows a difference between songs that have been engineered to sound wide and songs engineered to sound narrow. Lesser IEMs either try to tune a certain level of stage width at the cost of depth, other IEMs are able to simply reproduce width rather well but ultimately these lesser IEMs do not seem to discern between the songs intent and rather imbues its own special sauce on whatever you’re trying to listen too. The spooky RN6 seems to enhance whatever the engineer wanted to do with songs reproducing a manner that seems fitting for their genre and the nature of the song in question.

In terms of detail and resolution, the RN6 is no slouch. Micro details are made readily apparent and perhaps to the detriment of the RN6, it is hardly forgiving in the upper end. Recording errors, vocal fry and the odd inhale are all laid bare in the reproduction of songs such as “Rush Over Me” by Haliene (Acoustic Version). The layering and imaging of all of my test tracks were done in a manner that made each instrument, each vocal line was readily discernible from another with no apparent incoherency in even rather busy tracks. “Fine” by Taeyeon is a rather popular test track with overlapping vocal lines by the same singer through a portion of the song that, on a lesser IEM, tends to sound like it is coming from the same “area”, but the RN6 provides the nuances in a manner that allows you understand I am receiving vocals from 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock and 1 o’clock readily.

Synergy:​

One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy!
Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers.
There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy

Chord Mojo 2​


I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

The RN6 seems rather well represented on the Mojo2 as it presented the rather odd tuning in full effect. There is a bit of bite in the upper mids and treble but overall the bass and the mids remained rather enjoyable.

Experimenting with DSP features, I had learnt that the 10mm Kinetic Bass driver was highly capable with outrageous levels of boost in the low-end not leading to a complete collapse of quality.

Overall, there is not much to say here in terms of synergy, it works well and there is nothing in particular to point out.

Shanling M6 Ultra​


I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

If there is one thing the RN6 and perhaps the XE6 and the Neon 4 do not need more of is warmth or note weight. The robust boost in the mid-bass on the RN6 is reigned in from the XE6 in my opinion but remains distinctly elevated when compared to a lot of IEMs in the market. The M6U seeks to enhance that even further and the result is a much more impactful listen. However, the added warmth and note weight seems to detract from more “lo-fi” produced songs with the low-end becoming overwhelming at times.

The M6U and the RN6 seem to work well if you wish to really lean into the tonality but overall I did not feel they were the best pair.

Comparison​

Vs XE6​

Compared to the XE6, the RN6 presents a much airier reproduction of music with upper-mid lift and a slightly less overbearing low-end. A-B’ing the two would have you believe that the RN6 is a much more neutral IEM which is true I suppose in the same manner that comparing the sun and candle would make you believe the candle is practically ice-cold in temperature. The RN6 remains distinctly coloured against other IEMs but when compared to the XE6, it is far more “audiophile” in its approach to tuning.

In terms of technicalities, I do not believe either really do imaging or resolution better but due to tuning differences, the RN6 appears to bring out the details in a more prominent manner. This tuning difference also creates a greater sense of layering and imaging in a manner that definitely helps the perception of “stage” as the RN6 seems quite claustrophobic in comparison due to the bass boost.

Overall, I believe that the RN6 is a safer bet for most people but the XE6 seeks to flex its muscles with its tremendous bass.

vs Neon4​

Where the RN6 seemed more neutral than the XE6, so too does the Neon 4. However, there is a distinct difference when A-Bing the RN6 and the Neon 4, whilst the Neon removes some of that low-end impact, it remains rather incoherent and odd in its presentation. The Neon feels overly smoothed out the mids are rather recessed, creating a sense of veil. The perception of resolution and technical prowess is loss and what remains is a rather underwhelming sound which remains enjoyable but when compared to either the RN6 or the XE6 there is nothing that stands out. This is a very unfair comparison considering the price difference and so feel free to read Neon 4’s review to compare it against some more similar IEMs in terms of price point.

Quality of Life​

The RN6’s earpieces are rather large and not exactly “sculpted” to the natural curves of the ear. It remains distinctly oblong and as such some fitment issues may arise. With that being said, the RN6’s aluminium ear pieces remain lightweight and rather comfortable to wear should they fit you correctly, causing no issues for me during long listening periods.

The cable is a rather decent one, adopting a 2 wire approach sheathed in some rather shiny (and slightly grippy) material. The ergonomics of this cable remain okay but not my favourite as I prefer more malleable cables.

The RN6 provides you with the ability to swap out ATOM modules to adjust isolation and affecting sound signature in the process. The differences were rather stark with red opening up things considerably, lessening bass and increasing the amount of outside noise let in. However, with the exception of the last point, the changes in tuning were not as stark as say, a tuning switch or what I’ve seen (in squigs only) in 64 Audio IEMs.

I do enjoy this ability however to alleviate pressure or isolate noise completely should you choose to in a manner that is not entirely obtrusive and rather effective. Just try not to lose the tiny things.

Value​

The RN6 is a 3,300 USD IEM. This is distinctly in the prohibitively expensive region but is this for good reason? The RN6 definitely takes chances with its tuning, seemingly completely different from a large number of other IEMs in the market, not even its price range and the gamble is a rather successful in my books. Despite being somewhat warm and having an aggressive bass response, it retains a very strong sense of technical capabilities. It is almost a paradox in an IEM, one would think that this tuning doesn’t work but seems to imbue a characterful and enjoyable listening experience. Now whether this experience is worth the pricetag? I would say no. I did not have any sort of out-of-body-experience outside of the novelty of the Kinetic Bass and just the sheer oddity of the tuning that really made me forget the asking price of the IEM. For those with cash to burn however, I believe the RN6 represents the road less travelled, a bit of a dark horse in the TOTL race.

Conclusion​

The RN6 represents a more accessible sound signature in the Fir tour, with its airy mid-range, strong bass response and delicately balanced slightly spicy treble. It remains rather warm but not to the extent of the XE6 and whilst not ruler straight, it projects a more ‘audiophile’ tuning compared to the likes of the XE6.

For the price, I am reticent to recommend the RN6 but when viewed in a vacuum against the XE6, I believe it is the safer purchase. Technically proficient with a bass response that excels against the competition, the RN6 presents a coloured approach to tuning but the injection of air in the upper mids combined with its technical prowess presents a more versatile TOTL IEM compared to the RN6 and as such I can recommend it more.

IMG_5392.jpg
Last edited:
OhmsClaw
OhmsClaw
Great review!
I linked you some other great tracks over in the Fir thread.
As for the Haliene track! I have phone captures from her birthday stream during the COVID lock-down I really hope her husband (Mathew Steeper) recorded through the DAW. She did all her greatest hits stripped live and it was amazing. I'll have to go back and listen to the version you referenced!

PS: The red module in the Rn6 makes the stage even more ridiculous but some may find too diffuse, and I totally see why the majority prefer the silver for some more meat on the bones but ultimately the black when the silver is too spicy. The gold just tries to make the Rn6 its something that it didn't set out to be and detracts from all its top qualities (i.e. shoulda went with the Xe6 if you want the gold signature!)

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Fusion 1 and Cable Round-up - Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Snake Oil
Pros: Rather good ergonomics despite thick wire
Tremendously well-rounded sound
TermX and ConX provide great compatibility
Cons: Price
TermX has a tendency to get a little loose

Preamble​


10E747D6-EA39-41E7-BF40-1AB41A47446E.jpg

Stupidly I forgot to take pics of all the cables, so please enjoy this one I took of the Fusion 1 and a terrible photo rounding them all up later on.

Many thanks to @Damz87 and @EffectAudio for arranging the Australian tour of the Fusion 1, Ares S, Cadmus S and the Code 23. Shoutout to @GiullianSN as well for lending me his personal Cleopatra II Octa for the sake of this review.

The IEMs used to for this review included:
  • Fir Audio RN6;
  • Fir Audio XE6;
  • Fir Audio NE4;
  • UM MEST MK2;
  • EA x Elysian Gaea; and
  • Elysian Diva.
The world of cable rolling has been a rather divisive one, with two parties seemingly slinging mud at one another over a fence. On one side, lies the denier, who vehemently disagrees that there is any sonic benefit to be gained from a cable change. On the other side lies the enthusiast who swears by synergistic pairings and the importance of cable rolling to eek out as much performance as possible. And in the middle, the fence sitters such as myself, who had little experience with a variety of cables and had little funds or interest to investigate further.

And so, when the opportunity arose for me to experiment with a venerable cornucopia of cables from well known manufacturer, Effect Audio, I jumped at the opportunity.

Today’s review concerns the Fusion 1, their latest entry into the market but also includes a review of:
  • Ares S 8W;
  • Cadmus S 8W;
  • Code 23;
  • Cleopatra II OCTA

The Factual Stuff​

IMG_6148.JPG

Ares S 8W:​

Part of the Effect Audio Signature line and also available in a 4 core version (4 wires instead of the 8 on this model), the Ares utilises 8 wires of 24 AWG UP-OCC copper litz. Combined with their rather handsome aluminium and carbon fibre hardware, the Ares also utilises EA’s ConX interchangeable IEM connectors and a TermX interchangeable termination.

The Ares is priced at 279 USD.

Cadmus 8W:​

Similarly to the Ares, the Cadmus is also available in a 4 wire version and utilises the ConX and TermX technology. Where it differs is it’s use of 24 AWG UP-OCC silver-plated copper litz. The Cadmus is priced at 299 USD.

Code23:​

Utilising a 2-wire configuration of some thicc 16.5AWG cable, it utilises a solid copper core surrounded by 12 multi-size strands of copper litz. The Code23 adopts some very serious looking hardware.

The Code23 is priced at 599 USD.

Cleopatra II Octa:​

Part of the Heritage line, the Cleo utilises 8 wires of 26 AWG UP-OCC silver litz that are insulated and enamelled. The Cleo opts for more lightweight hardware compared to the other cables in this shootout.

The Cleo is priced at 1799 USD.

Fusion 1:​

The latest cable out of EA’s labs, the Fusion 1 utilises a mix of gold-plated silver litz, pure silver litz and pure copper litz to form a two-wire configuration with 21 AWG wire. This is combined with some very clean looking hardware.

It is priced at 999 USD.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound:​


Now let’s get this out of the way, there is plenty of literature and double-blind tests and other evidence to point to that there is no perceptible difference with cables.

With that being said, I heard a difference. Chalk it up to a trick of the mind, preconceptions or simply me having ded ears, I don’t think you would read a cable review if you had an inkling that changing cable would change sound.

Ares:​


I am well aware of the various traits held to pure copper cables and as such, that preconception may have coloured the following opinion but the Ares is definitely all about that low-end warmth. Utilising the Ares with IEMs such as the XE6, an already warm and impactful IEM seemed to indulge even more with the mid-bass frequencies. Combining the Ares with more neutral IEMs such as the MEST MKII imbues a much needed sense of warmth and note weight creating a increased sense of impact.

Outside of the bass, the Ares seemed to pull back female vocalists away from the mic and recessed the mids of my IEMs slightly.

Outside of tonality, when comparing the Ares against stock cables, it seemed to minorly improve some technicalities by deepening the stage ever so slightly but this may be a trick of the mind through the increased bass response and seemingly more recessed vocals.

Overall, the Ares provided a warm and engaging listening experience that would be suited to imbuing a sense of easygoingness to more clinical and neutral IEMs in the market.

I would feel comfortable buying the Ares to have in rotation but also note that the difference was not hugely significant to me to swipe my credit card immediately.

Cadmus:​


Compared to the Ares, the Cadmus injects a sense of airiness to whatever IEM it is paired with. Upper mids come forward in the mix and there is a greater sense of perceived detail retrieval with all IEMs that I tested with it. There is a slight emphasis on sub-bass compared to mid-bass on the Cadmus but overall, it is not doing noticeable increases in the quantity of bass. The increased airiness adds a sense of drama to the upper end of the frequency response curve with a greater sense of tingliness with treble-heavy tracks in my library. However, the caveat of this was increasing levels of shoutiness with certain instrumentation and female vocalists. This was apparent in an A-B test of the Cadmus with the Ares.

The adjustments to the tonality of whatever IEM I was listening to appeared to present the Cadmus as a much more technical representation of an IEM. Things felt more neutral if it was already a coloured tuning and more neutral IEMs started to shift into the realm of more bright. There was a sense of greater clarity and detail but again, this may be a result of tuning differences.

Overall, the Cadmus seems more suited to injection some life and energy into more “lethargic” IEMs that may seem dark or veiled. The difference between stock cables within this test demonstrated a more significant difference than if I was A-Bing between stock and the Ares.

Code23:​


The Code23 represented a specialist cable through and through. Combined with any IEM in this review, the Code23 opened up the stage wider and deeper. Vocals became very forward into the mix presenting the image of a singer in a rather large auditorium singing at you instead of a phone booth like the Ares.

The note weight seemed to float away into a very light and effortless reproduction of instruments and vocals in the mids. With certain IEMs such as the Gaea, the bass felt slower and more boomy than the stock cable. However, on the whole one could potentially characterise the Code23 as reproducing an overly thin representation of whatever IEM you are listening to owing to the upper mid lift and increase in spaciousness. Technical performance in terms of layering, imaging and staging seemed to be substantially different to the Ares and Cadmus with these elements being sharpened out and microdetails becoming far more present.

Overall, I felt that the Code23 was less of a one-size fits all cable when compared to the Cadmus or the Ares but rather coloured sound in a manner that felt faster, more technical and less weighty. This was a rather good pairing with more dark sounding IEMs like the XE6.

The Code23 demonstrated a rather large difference against the stock cable but this isn’t necessarily a good thing given the above notes.

Cleo II 8W:​


I would term the Cleo as a more relatable version of the Code23 and perhaps the lovechild of the Code23 and the Cadmus. Silver is usually associated with brighter tonality and the Cleo seems to eschew that for a more balanced approach to sound signature. The vocals became quite forward in the mix and the staging opened up rather well, not to the extent of the Code23 but wider than the Cadmus. The leading edge of certain notes seemed to be smoother than the Code23 and I felt myself cringing less to some sibilant notes in EDM songs in my playlist when compared to the Code23. Furthermore, there appeared to be the retention of sub-bass impact.

All of these elements combined to a greater sense of perceived technical performance. Pinpointing certain sounds and instruments within a complicated song became easier yet retained a naturalness and smoothness that was very easy to listen to.

Overall, the Cleo presents a wonderful balanced approach to music reproduction with the slight caveat that vocals (and perhaps mids in general) may have been brought too forward into the mix.

Fusion 1:​


The subject of this review is the lucky last cable in this shootout, but that is for good reason. The Fusion 1 is a wonderful all-rounder in the same vein as the Cleo. This generous mix of materials seem to delicately balance all of the qualities held to each material. The Fusion manages to have a responsive and punchy low-end, a strong presence to the mids that is neither too heavy nor too thin in terms of note weight and the treble was lifted slightly imparting a sense of drama and sparkle to any IEM it was paired with.

The retention of low-end impact without being overly done with darker IEMs like the Ares was a refreshing benefit of the Fusion 1, it seemed to do so at little to no cost in terms of becoming too boomy and overly warm.

Moving on to technical performance, the Fusion seems to stage the deepest out this round-up and creates a greater “out-of-head” experience with any IEM that I threw at it. It did so without the cost of diminishing any particular element of the frequency response curve and thus presented to me, the most enjoyable experience with certain acoustic and orchestral music. Detail retrieval and imaging also improved to other IEMs in this round-up, representing a major jump from the Ares and the Cadmus and a subtle but apparent jump from Code23 and potentially the Cleo.

Overall, the Fusion 1 seems to be best all-rounder out of the cables in this round-up and I feel that it would not feel out of place on most IEMs in one’s collection. It potentially may lean a little bright and I would hesitate to pair it with an already-bright IEM but otherwise, if I was to speak in potential hyperbole, seemed to make everything 5% better.

Ergonomics & Quality of Life:​


Ares / Cadmus:​


Considering the similarity of these two cables, I believe they were largely the same in terms of ergonomics. Considering the 8 wire configuration, these are much beefier and chunkier than the usual cables you get with your IEMs or the 4w versions of these cables (duh).

This additional weight and heft does limit ergonomics slighty in that the ear hooks are rather cumbersome and the weight of the cable tends to add to the potential of dislodging the earpieces.

However, despite the rather large size of the cable, it remains fairly pliable and does not seem to retain much memory, unfurling quite nicely and not kinking unless you tangle up the cable and shove it back into its case. These are hugely beneficial when compared to more stiff cables such as my PWAudio MEST MK2 cable.

Aside from that, both cables adopt some rather chunky metal hardware for the Y-split leading to a rather ostentatious presentation and something rather annoying if you use a cross body bag such as myself.

The Ares and the Cadmus also implement creature comforts in the form of TermX and ConX, allowing the user to switch between 3.5, 4.4 and 2.5 (yuck) mm terminations and between MMCX, 2 pin and Pentaconn connectors. These are huge benefit to those with a range of IEMs in their collection or simply see their cable as a longer term investment, to go through various IEMs over the course of several years. There are however, some caveats with the TermX and ConX connectors. The TermX connector utilises a 4 pin connection between the wire and the relevant termination, there is potential for this to be dislodged and lead to the rather concerning experience of wondering why there is no sound coming from your IEM. Whilst easily rectifiable, this does not inspire much confidence as to the potential longevity of these connectors.

Overall, I feel that the additional heft of the wires themselves is not much of an issue. However, the hardware chunkiness presents some difficulties in comfortably using the cables when on the go.

Code23:​

Where do I begin with the ergonomics of the Code23, perhaps with the statement that there are no ergonomics. The Code23’s thick wire use and its sleeving reminds one of Hifiman’s medical tubing cables and leads to an extremely stiff and unwieldy cable. It retains it shape and develops kinks extremely easily and the stiffness and weight of the cable seems to be fighting against gravity as soon as the earpieces go in. The stiffness of the cable also made it very uncomfortable with larger and heavier IEM earpieces.

I do not believe the Code 23 is viable for anything else that some at-home listening which for my use case is a huge disadvantage. The hardware is also similarly chonky and issues arise with changing out the TermX connector in that the hardware requires some muscling to be pulled back on the wire. All of these elements combine for an unwieldy and annoying listening experience that detracts from comfort and from long-term listenability.

My observations relating to TermX and ConX outlined in the Ares / Cadmus discussion hold and this is worsened just by the sheer volume the Code23 takes up.

Overall, this is potentially the worst cable I have used ergonomically and as such I cannot recommend it to anyone that I believe would ever have to move slightly with their IEMs in their ears.

Cleo II 8W:​


Similar to the Ares and the Cadmus, the Cleo has a rather thick cable owing to its 8 wire setup. However, where the Cleo differs is its rather lightweight hardware which has a smaller footprint than the Ares/Cadmus. The result of this is a rather elegant looking cable that is ergonomically more viable in my use-case when compared to the Ares/Cadmus.

Compared to the Code 23, the Cleo II seems as if I am using a 2 wire twisted cable from Moondrop it feels that light. I am a tremendous fan of the ergonomics of the Cleo II when compared to the other cables in this review. Whilst the 8W set up inevitably causes issues with ear hooks and just the thickness of the main portion of the cable, the lightweight hardware and the rather malleable nature of the cable itself lends itself to being liveable compared to the Ares and the Cadmus.

As was the case with the other cables in this review, the Cleo’s ConX and TermX connectors provide you with tremendous compatibility.

Fusion 1:​


Like the Code23, the Fusion 1 adopts a two-wire construction utilising thicker cable. Where they differ is in the sheathing of the cable and the overall pliability thereof. Where the Code 23 seems like it can stand up with its own stiffness, the Fusion 1 remains more malleable. In this regard, the Fusion 1 presents a far more ergonomic solution compared to the Code23 but when compared to the 8 wire setups with thinner gauge cable, the Fusion 1 does remain cumbersome.

However, its ergonomics do not restrict or destract from the listening experience in the same manner as the Code23 and its perceived performance provides me with some greater desire to work around its slightly thicker than usual construction.

Where things start to fall apart is with the TermX connector, which as noted above, has a tendency to disconnect with the application of slight tension. Whilst this was true for most of the cables in this line-up, this issue was particularly prominent with the Fusion 1. Whilst the Code 23 had enough cable stiffness and very slight tolerances against the hardware, the Fusion does not have such idiosyncrasies to prevent disconnection.

Value​

The cost of these cables differs quite considerably but some general points can be made regarding the value of these things. If you plan on chucking any of these cables on a Salnotes Zero I would probably say don't bother and use the cable funds on another IEM. If you have a collection of IEMs or have a TOTL you're looking to squeeze out some extra performance or merely synergise better with then its a different story.

I cannot comfortably say that I recommend everyone run out and buy any of these cables but I can definitely say that the investment that a Fusion or the Cleo commands is somewhat alleviated by the ConX and TermX capabilities of all these cables. These cables will outlast a range of IEM changes and will be able to adapt to you as your collection changes.

Otherwise, I would say that the differences that the Ares and Cadmus brought were not significant enough for me to go out and buy one myself.
The Code23 has horrendously poor ergonomics and I cannot say it is worth it if you don't intend to sit perfectly still at a desktop setup.
The Cleo is the most expensive but the combination of great ergonomics and great sound mean that it is perhaps an investment that is worthwhile to someone having consistent changes in their IEM lineup.
The Fusion 1, like the Cleo, seems like a great all-rounder and thus justifies its pricepoint somewhat.

At the end of the day, I am a mere mid-fi, kilobuck enjoyer and as such, none of these cables will probably find themselves in my cart but if you have the means, I can heartily recommend Fusion 1 and Cleo.

Conclusion:​

Call it placebo, call it confirmation bias, call it simply having ded ears, the experience of rolling cables has given me an appreciation for them outside of their aesthetic appeal and ergonomic benefits. The subtle shifts in sound quality and signature with changing cables provides an added layer of customisability that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and experimenting with. Synergy is a word that is often thrown around and in the case of cable rolling, it seems to me that it is a crucial part of those looking to play around with the nuances of their IEM.

On that basis, I note the following conclusions on each cable:

Ares S 8W:​


Warmed up in the mid-bass and imparting extra weightiness to the notes, the Ares 8W provides an end-user with greater impact and aggression to their IEM. Whilst technical differences were almost neglible in my listening, the Ares 8W is a well-made and rather comfortable cable outside of its sheer thickness and the girth of the hardware.

I rate the Ares 8W as an injection of fun into any IEM but overall, I give it a 6 out of 10 (where stock on each IEM tested is a 5).

Cadmus 8W​


A lift in the upper mids and an injection of air, the Cadmus alters sound signatures to be more clear and layered in its presentation. The perception of sounds and the ability to directionally pin-point these are improved. It appears that bass is diminished, either in absolute or simply relative to the rest of the FR curve, the Cadmus lacks low-end impact.

The ergonomics are similar if not the same to the Ares.

I rate the Cadmus as a brighter cable and overall I give it a 7 out of 10 in that it provides strong technical proficiencies and a more dramatic difference against stock.

Code23:​


Absolutely horrendous ergonomics but a tremendous expansion of staging makes the Code23 a mixed bag. The Code23 provided the greatest difference against stock cables but perhaps to its detriment. It imparts a dryness and diffused signature that may be construed as overly airy and potentially thin.

I rate the Code 23 as a 1 out of 10 simply due to the ergonomic deficiencies. Completely ignoring the elephant in the room of ergonomics and considering certain IEMs in the market that one would pair this with, it could potentially be an 8 or a 9 out of 10.

Cleo:​


8 wire but pliable, angular hardware but lightweight, great balanced approach to sound injection a sense of space, perceived technical improvements and great staging lead me to a 8 out of 10.

Prohibitively expensive yes, but for that I feel you get a cable that could last years and years of IEMs constantly rotating through and the likelihood that each and every one of them would work well with the Cleo.

Fusion 1:​

Good but not great ergonomics combined with a balanced approach to altering the frequency response present the Fusion 1 as a more jack-of-all-trades cable. There is a slight lean to highs in the Fusion 1 but I would not go so far as to say it is a “bright cable”. There is a retention of low-end, a lift in mids and a sparkle imparted in the high-end whilst opening up staging and imaging to a point of superlatives.

I rate the Fusion 1 as a 9 out of 10 due to my belief that it would synergise well with a lot of IEMs with manageable ergonomics
Last edited:

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Armonia e Passione
Pros: Tremendous vocals
Very engaging listening experience
Excellent bass quality and quantity
Cons: Treble lacking energy
Vocals can be overbearing over time

Preamble

IMG_5526.jpg

Thank you to @Damz87, @EffectAudio and Elysian Acoustics for arranging the Australian tour of the Elysian Diva 2023.

In the audio hobby there is a tendency to get caught in the hype, a new release comes out, some enthusiastic impressions at a show and before you know it, it’s sold out and impossible to get your hands on it. Whilst this isn’t necessarily the case for the subject of today’s review, within my bubble of Australian tour reviewers, there was a recurring message for at least several months of “Diva 🐐”.

And whilst this praise has subsided over time, there remained a healthy level of scepticism on my end, “How good could this be?” And so, when I had heard that the Diva was going on tour, I put my hand up and now that it’s here in front of me, it was time to get to grips with what the Diva is all about.

The Factual Stuff

Unboxing the Diva from its rather large box, there is a rather well-made package consisting of two drawers and a main compartment. Within these various compartments contained:
  • the earpieces finished in black resin with a resplendent glitter covered faceplate (also comes in blue and red);
  • an Effect Audio Ares S cable with a 4.4mm termination;
  • a cleaning cloth;
  • a warranty card;
  • a screwdriver for the tuning switch; and
  • a carry case.
Side note, the packaging is infuriating to unbox owing to very tight tolerances with the included foam. Great for protection, terrible for tearing out your new toy from its confines.
IMG_5549.jpg

Within the Diva’s rather girthy earpieces are 6 balanced armatures and a tuneable bass switch, allowing users to select between three profiles. White being the middle of the road choice, red being the lighter bass profile and blue being the most boosted profile. The Diva also uses a Pentaconn connector as opposed to 2-pin and MMCX.

Whilst not on any copy that I could find online, the Diva appears to adapt the same “DiVe Pass” technology implemented on other Elysian IEMs in the market that seeks to eliminate reverberation, provide pressure relief and remove driver flex.

The Diva is priced at 1599 USD and is available in black (this review unit), red and blue.

The Opinion Stuff

Sound

Bass

By virtue of the tuning switch, there is a lot to speak about in the bass section of the Diva. Starting off with the middle, white setting, I chucked on “D# Fat” by Armin van Buuren, a track with a very satisfying bass drop that extends deeply and rather boomy in its production. The result was a well extended and impactful drop that was wholly satisfying whilst maintaining control and texture.

Turning it up to 11 with blue, the fast bass drums that pre-empt the aforementioned drop become far more prominent in the mix, presenting great punch in the mid-bass that was not present in the white setting and when it came to the drop, I can quote Ferris Bueller in that, “if you have the means, I highly recommend it”. This setting seems to lead to some doubt in the often quoted trope of “BA bass is not great”. That is not to say that the Diva trumps the sheer force of a 10mm dynamic driver that I had the pleasure of hearing in the FiR Audio XE6 but remained distinctly remarkable compared to my experiences with all-BA sets in the past.

Apart from this, the lift in the mid-bass with this setting imbued a sense of warmth throughout the mid at the cost of some clarity and separation between the two regions.

Moving the least bassy setting (red), the song’s bassline remained rather good, with a more distinct focus on sub-bass. It felt tighter and faster due to the reduced boost and was more reminiscent of bass I had heard on other all-BA sets. Not stellar but remained tight, detailed and still prominent in the mix.

Overall, the bass of the Diva is excellent in all-three settings and the provision of optionality for the end-user to decide without treading on the rest of the response curve is very well-executed. I am a big fan of this tuning switching on a very specific region of the IEM, the Diva maintains its character and provides you with an ability to tinker to your liking.

Mids


The mids of the Diva receive a tremendous amount of praise from me in terms of the naturalness and effortless nature of its reproduction.

They remain rather forward in the mix but are relatively uncoloured in their presentation. “Day 1 (Brooklyn Session)” by HONNE is a more intimate and acoustic version of the song that has very forward male vocals combined with a piano and lovely violin throughout. Whilst the male vocal is rather overbearing in its forward presentation, it remains wonderfully natural in its timbre and instrumentalization doesn’t simply fade into obscurity. The piano and the violin similarly receive a sense of naturalness in that they feel like they’re in the room with me.

“DFMU” by Ella Mai presents similar traits in a vocal forward presentation but the reproduction of female vocals feel smooth (but not overly smoothed out), analogue in nature and delicately balanced. My classic sibilance test for upper-mids/treble is “4 Walls” by f(x) with lots of sss sounds sung in a heady, breathy voice in the upper register. The result is no sense of sibilance whatsoever, and that is a very good result.

“Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington and Bill Withers contains a lot of instruments combined with the deeper voice of Bill and its representation on the Diva is similarly excellent. The keyboard sounds wonderfully light, the male vocals have a certain weight to them and the refrains of the female back-up singers are airy and pleasant to the ear.

By the sheer volume of songs that I have listed here, I think you are getting the picture. The Diva is absolutely wonderful in the mid-range. If I were to criticise something, it would be the very forward vocals. They are the star of the show here for the very aptly named Diva and for some, I believe this presentation may become a bit overbearing at times with the intimacy of its reproduction.

Treble


Moving on to the upper regions of the Diva, we see there is a slight loss in the special sauce that was present in the bass and mids. The treble region is distinctly okay with the Diva. Percussion remains present but there is a very distinct loss in the sense of sparkle and slightly jarring nature that I like to experience with certain instruments in this region. “Reckoner” by Radiohead has some very present percussion throughout the entire song and with a more robustly tuned IEM in the treble region, you get a very sparkly and very enticing rendition of treble. To me, a great treble region in an IEM would provide an almost harrowing rendition of this song wherein the claps and percussion would flirt with causing a wince. Obviously never venturing into an actually fatiguing experience (I am no masochist) but rather just providing that sense of drama that you get with a more adeptly tuned IEM in this region. There is a synth in “You & Me (Flume Remix)” by Disclosure & Flume that is akin to sharp white noise that is quite jarring on brighter IEMs but on the Diva it remains tolerable. Whilst this may be seen as a benefit, this synth is meant to elicit some form of reaction out of me with most IEMs that I have tried and its rather underwhelming reproduction on the Diva was somewhat disappointing.

Additionally, the smoother and more rolled off treble tuning on the Diva leads to a loss in terms of “perceived resolution” in that more brighter IEMs have the illusion (in my experience) of being more “detailed” by virtue of that sharper response of certain notes.

The benefit of the Diva’s approach is that it never gets fatiguing with the treble and that it remains a fairly relaxed listen if you are particularly sensitive to harrowing violin solos and crashing cymbals.

Overall, I believe that the treble is smooth and rather relaxed in its tuning leading to a more laid-back listening experience that is less likely to cause you fatigue. However, it ultimately lacks that sense of goosebump-inducing sharpness that I quite enjoy.

Technicalities:


Staging on the Diva is a rather odd experience. I would venture to say that it does not project very wide at all when compared to the competition in the market. In terms of depth, the stage is sufficient to discern certain ‘layers’ of music coming at you. However, overall, the staging of the Diva is somewhat intimate given its rather vocal forwardness. Even when listening to bombastic orchestral pieces like “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu, the experience does not seek to amaze you with its broad and deep production.

Resolution and detail on the Diva is rather good but the smoother and more ‘rounded’ reproduction of music leads to a loss of ultra-sharp note rendition. Unlike the Gaea, this is not a sharp and fast reproduction of music but a more amorphous and relaxed presentation which leads to a reduced sense of resolution. That is not to say that Diva falls into the spectrum of muddy or undefined, not at all. It remains distinctly capable of resolving complicated productions with gusto but detail and resolution does not jump out at you at all. All elements of a song seem to combine into a cohesive piece rather than smearing it all together (low resolution) or drawing hard and harsh lines between certain instruments.

Overall, by virtue of its tuning, the Diva provides a different approach to technical performance. Rather than being amazed by perceived detail or an ultrawide stage, it aims to provide an easily enjoyable yet detailed reproduction of music.

Overall:


Vocal forward yet delicately balanced, the Diva is impeccably tuned in the lower and mid end of the frequency response curve. With booming bass that belies the tropes of BA-bass and an excellently executed mid-range, the Diva is only let down by a rather tame treble region. Somewhat confined in its reproduction and slightly rounded and smoothed, this is not a technician and vocals can get a bit overbearing over time but rest assured that this is a wonderful sounding IEM.

Synergy


One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy!
Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers.
There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy

Shanling M6 Ultra

IMG_5534.jpg

I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

The M6U pulls back the vocal forward nature of the Diva leading to a slightly more deep stage. The bass performance of the Diva receives a greater spotlight from the M6U that starts to venture into more boomy territory. The strong note weight and the smoothness of the M6U combines well with the Diva to provide a very warm and enticing listening experience. Some may hear this combo to be a little overindulgent but I feel that it heightens the strength of the Diva and that is, the great vocal naturalness.

I can definitely recommend this pairing unless you are looking for a more technical and harder-edged reproduction of music on the Diva.

Mojo 2

IMG_5540.jpg

I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

The Mojo2 presents the Diva in a flatter manner, vocals feel more even with the rest of the stage on the Diva and does not seek to recess nor push vocals forward. Transients attack more slowly and there is a heightened sense of upper mids and treble energy. Bass quanity is not as high but the texture and detail within bass notes are tremendously done.

I state that the Mojo 2 takes a more neutral approach compared to the M6U and whilst it makes the Diva more unforgiving, it ultimately is a good pairing to draw out some more “audiophile” sound.

L&P W4

IMG_5543.jpg

I would characterise the W4 as a neutral tonality with an emphasis on technical performance with a harder edged and more sparse reproduction of instruments and vocals.

The W4 opens up the rather intimate Diva creating a more diffuse stage. Female vocals remain forward in the mix but instruments seem to placed wider in the mix. There is a lift in the upper mids when compared to the M6U and the Mojo2 and this leads it to be slightly sibilant with certain sss sounds. More bitey and more aggressive in this region, the W4 creates a strong edge to the music that heightens drama.

Overall, the W4 leans a little to the thin and dry side for me with the Diva as it counteracts some of the key strengths of the IEM. There is a degree of customisability with the DSP functionality of the W4 and you can tweak the sound within the pre-set confines of L&P.

Cable MADNESS


The Diva comes with an Ares S 4W. I was also lucky enough to have it at the same time as the Gaea’s Australian tour which had the Ares S 8W, Cadmus 8W and Code 23, the Fusion 1 Tour and @GiullianSN 's personal Cleo Octa.

Ares S (Stock)


The Diva’s female vocal forwardness and intimate staging are the most present elements of this combination which sets a great baseline. Bass impact is good and there is very little in the way of sibilance and harshness with the stock copper cable.

Ares S 8W


Moving onto even more strands of copper, the Diva’s vocals seem to come slightly more forward into the stage and mid-bass appears to be heightened. This creates greater warmth and the stage seems to extend wider than with the 4W version of the same cable. Overall, these changes are fairly minute but little nuances that worked quite well with the Diva but over the long run I could feel that this combination would get tiring due to the overbearing nature of the vocals.

Cadmus S 8W:


The Cadmus seemed to inject greater air and depth into the Diva, recessing the female vocals from the stock Ares and the 8W Ares. There is a perceived increase in the stage depth and greater separation between instruments and sections of the frequency response. This seemingly heightens the imaging and detail of the Diva whilst pulling back the warmth.

This pairing would work well for those looking for a more critical reproduction of the Diva and I can definitely see how this would combine for someone’s ideal combo.

Code 23:


This ergonomic nightmare is being judged on purely sound and to this effect the Code23 does a rather good job. Staging is widened and made deeper with improved separation and imaging from the aforementioned cables. There is a slight slowing of decay creating a wonderful sense of space and naturalness. Female vocals are made more analogue and euphonic in their reproduction but bass is slightly thinned.

Overall, there is a strong sense of heightened technical capabilities with the Code 23 and like the Cadmus, would be a good choice for those looking for a more neutral and perhaps natural reproduction of the Diva.

Fusion 1:


Tremendously wide and deep in staging, certain instrumentalization such as the pluck of guitar strings become visceral to the ear. There is an increased sense of layering and separation with the Fusion 1 and this is further heightened by greater left-to-right imaging. Unlike the Code23, there is still a sense of warmth and strong bass performance but there is a slightly brighter tilt to the Fusion 1 which when combined with the Diva seemingly improves its treble response. Overall, a tremendous all-rounder with a great bonus given to the technical capabilities of the Diva.

Cleo Octa:


Vocals, like the Ares S 8W, are front and centre with the Cleo but unlike the Ares, the Cleo balances it well with the rest of the freqeuency response. It still projects wide and deep and bass notes are perhaps the best balance of quantity and quality from all the cables in this round-up. There is a slight sense of sibilance creeping in with the Octa with the upper mids seemingly getting a boost. Otherwise, the technical chops of the Cleo are great but perhaps not as good as the Fusion 1. Overall, the Octa presents a unique combination and its pairing with the Diva would be an excellent choice.

Comparisons


Vs Gaea


The little brother in the Elysian lineup, the Gaea has received fairly good reviews, and one that was not so bad from myself. Within that review, I noted that the Gaea is dry, thin and slightly tilted to elevate treble. However, it does this in a manner that I feel is fairly balanced and still enjoyable to listen to. The Diva however, jumps to the other end of the spectrum with a more warmed and natural tilt to its presentation. These two IEMs are basically chalk and cheese as far as I am concerned and will appeal to very different audiences. A commonality is their elevation of upper mids leading to a very addictive female vocal reproduction but the Gaea does it with speed and hard edged precision whereas the Diva feels more effortlessly reproduced.

By virtue of their tunings, the Gaea highlights detail and clearly defines the edges of notes whereas the Diva presents music in more harmonic blobs of sound. Bass quantity and physicality goes to the Diva whereas speed and texture goes to the Gaea. Full bodied and strong note weight goes to the Diva whereas dry and technical reproduction goes to the Gaea. Smooth and easy going treble goes to the Diva whereas the Gaea gets sparkly and at times, splashy treble.

I personally enjoy the Diva more but for those looking for a highly technical sounding IEM should look to the Gaea.

Vs MEST MK2

The MK2 is my personal daily driver and represents a different approach to music reproduction compared to the Diva. With a highly diffuse staging, the MK2 spaces out and imparts a tremendous “layered” quality to music when compared to the Diva. Bass quantity on the Diva seems to win out but the quality of the bass on the MK2 feels more textured and speedy. The mid-range, specifically the upper mids on the Diva seem to be more visceral and emotionally engaging if a little overbearing over time. The Diva is far more vocal forward and feels more confined compared to the MK2. The treble response on the MK2 feels ever so slightly more sparkly and enjoyable to my ears. The technical capabilities on the MK2 come out to play with more busily produced tracks in that it resolves them with gusto, clearly setting out instruments and vocals in a very coherent and layered manner compared to the Diva’s single-celled organism of sound.

Overall, I would daily drive the MK2 but the Diva’s intoxicating reproduction of vocals and sheer quantity of bass would be an excellent part of ones collection. This is a pick-em at this point.

Value & Quality of Life


The Diva is priced at 1599 USD and as such commands a substantial sum of money for a lot of people. At this price there is a whole wealth of kilobucks to skip over for the Diva and as such it has a need to be an absolutely excellent IEM. In this regard, I have to say I believe that the Diva is a wonderful IEM. Whilst limited in its treble reproduction and sheer technical capabilities, it remains a smooth, wonderfully natural sounding IEM. As long as you don’t think you’re getting world beating treble, I feel that for the price, you will not be disappointed.

The resin shells of the Diva are lightweight and fairly well sculpted, they sat in my ear canal very easily but the nozzle and filter may pose some issues for those with smaller ear holes.

Speaking of the resin shells, it would be remiss of me not to mention their absolutely wonderful aesthetic. Whilst not for all people in the world given that they are quite garish, they definitely are something to behold when they catch the light.

Otherwise, the included cable is a EA Ares with their wonderful ConX and TermX combination, allowing you to repurpose the cable for use with a range of sources and with other IEMs with ease. This is a great bonus in the package given that so many stock cables immediately find themselves in the drawer to be replaced with something aftermarket.

Included within the package is a set of SpinFit eartips which are not hugely different from the market but are a safe choice and a welcome inclusion in my books. The carry case is the world’s most okayest carry case in that it is hard, which will protect the Diva, and it closes, which will hide the Diva. The flap connecting the two pieces of the case is loose and ineffectual leading to some fiddling.

Overall, I would not feel buyers remorse in any regard if I had purchased the Diva.

Conclusion

The Diva’s wonderful euphonic quality reproduces music with an effortless naturalness that is highly addicting. With an element of control over bass, a vocal forward presentation and technical abilities that are good for the price range (albeit not as obviously presented) the Diva is an excellent sounding IEM with tremendous tuning. The shortfalls of the Diva are a rather limited treble region that lacks the sparkle and drama that I crave from my IEMs and a slightly overbearing vocal presentation that may become somewhat fatiguing over time. But the Diva manages the rest of the frequency response curve so well that I am willing to forgive these shortfalls and enjoy the Diva’s addicting quality.

IMG_5532.jpg

Attachments

  • IMG_5540.jpg
    IMG_5540.jpg
    657.9 KB · Views: 0
o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Ey, good review, grumpy pepe :dt880smile:

Did the soundstage gets better with crossfeed on the mojo2?
grumpy213
grumpy213
@o0genesis0o thank you sensei in-ear gems.

It did but those vocals are so forward it pretty much always feels slightly confined 😂

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Warm tuning invites long, engaging listening sessions.
Strong detail and staging capabilities provide for a unique listening experience.
Wonderfully balanced tonality combined with great ‘layering’ leads to detailed yet emotionally engaging musicality.
Cons: Accessories are lacking.
The treble is missing a sense of hair-raising sparkle.
Price.

Unique Melody MEST MKIII – Bone Conduction 3.0​

IMG_4703.jpg


Preamble:​

This is the first of what I hope to be many audio reviews. As a newbie of putting audio impressions to paper, I may misconstrue the meaning of certain terms and phrases, as such I appreciate any feedback that you may have. I do not purport to be the most technical reviewer but I hope to make this entertaining and provide you with an understanding of the experience as a whole.
Many thanks to @Damz87 and @UniqueMelody (UM) for arranging the Australian tour of the MEST MK3 and to @o0genesis0o for ensuring their safe delivery.
The sources used to form this review included:
• Gustard X16 -> Topping A90;
• Shanling M6 Ultra;
• iBasso DC04 Pro; and
• Cayin RU7,
All fed with Apple Music lossless.


Everyone loves the third movie of a trilogy. The Matrix Revolutions, Revenge of the Sith, Spiderman 3, and Godfather 3, are all the pinnacle of the respective series. Okay, not really but today’s review pertains to the third of its name, the MEST MKIII (MK3).
The MEST series of IEMs have long occupied my mind as somewhat of a curiosity by virtue of its bone-conduction driver (BCD) which was described as either a gimmick or the next big thing in IEMs.
And so, when presented with the opportunity to review a set, I jumped at the opportunity (thank you to Damz and UM for arranging the Australian tour) and perhaps, in my haste, also purchased a set of MK2s from @MusicTeck (thank you to Andrew and the team at MusicTeck for their great customer service).
After both had arrived at my doorstep essentially simultaneously, I would have two weeks to realise if I had made a horrible mistake (bought a terrible IEM and have to write about an equally terrible IEM) or if I had made a horrible mistake (bought an IEM that was outclassed by its successor).

Factual stuff:​

The MK3s is a 10-driver hybrid IEM consisting of a single dynamic driver, 4 balanced armatures, 4 electrostatics and a single BCD.
The earpieces are carbon fibre suspended in resin and feature fruitwood faceplates finished with gold accents.
Within the box, you will find:
  • a Peter Wong Audio (PW Audio) 1.2m copper cable with your choice of 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm terminations (the review unit is a 4.4mm) and shielded in nylon;
  • a leather carry case finished in what UM terms “emerald”;
  • a leather cable tie;
  • 7 pairs of UM’s own proprietary tips consisting of:
    • 3 “open” tips; and
    • 4 “petal tips,
  • a cleaning cloth;
  • a mesh storage bag; and
  • the MK3s!
Priced at $3,199 (for the blue) to $3,899 (for the red) dollarydoos at Australian store Minidisc or $1,919 to $2,359 freedom dollars at MusicTeck. Additionally, MusicTeck now offers the MK3 without the aforementioned PW Audio cable for $1,599 to $2,124 USD.

IMG_4663.jpg
IMG_4670.jpg

Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass:
The bass frequencies of the MK3 were wonderfully executed with a slight boost in these regions. The bass extends low and there is a strong sense of presence and impact with the sub-bass. With deep booming bass in tracks such as, “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack, the bass feels physical and at times (perhaps with a rather generous amount of volume, which I don’t endorse) could be felt in my chest, something rather rare for an IEM.

Unlike some of the more fastidious adherents to the Harman curve, the mid-bass of the MK3s receive some elevation providing an overall warm colouration to the rest of the sound of the MK3s. This mid-bass bump imbues a level of warmth and engagement across the board but is especially present in hip-hop portions of my playlist, with “Above the Clouds” by Gang Starr presenting the drums in a manner that is readily present but neither underwhelming nor overwhelming.

These “boosts” I speak of do not render the MK3s the equivalent of a 12-inch sub in a 2001 Honda Civic (ala the Fast and the Furious) but rather elevate the ‘fun’ factor of the MK3s against more neutral IEMs whilst maintaining a delicate balance to not bloat it to the point of intruding on the rest of the frequency response.

Bass texture and quality are also very well done, as these bass frequencies remain clear, coherent and readily discernible compared to more “generously” boosted IEMs out in the market.

Overall, I rate the MK3s as fun and engaging in the bass frequencies without diminishing the rest of the frequency response. Ultimately, these are not basshead IEMs but I feel that they achieve a great balance.

Mids:
Perhaps by virtue of the slightly warmer tonality, the mids achieve something close to my particular preferences. I am unabashedly a fan of warmer mids as I equate this and note weight in this region with imbuing a great level of emotion and engagement with the vocalist or instruments in whatever I am listening to.

Ruler straight response the MK3s are not, nor are they boosted to the point of becoming the sole focus of the song. The MK3s achieve a nice balance between female and male vocalists as both appear to be given an equal amount of footing. This is readily apparent in duets such as “Until the End of Time” by Justin Timberlake and Beyonce or “Can’t Love You Anymore” by IU and OhHyuk, with both songs utilising a call and response between the two vocalists. The MK3s handles both songs readily and presents the back and forth with equal emotional impact and clarity.

Instrumentation remains clear and precise throughout the mix and with the warmer tilt, creates the sense of greater note weight. There is nothing about the MK3 that could be construed as thin or lacking body in my mind.

Overall, it appears the keyword of this review will be “balanced”. The mids, whilst not especially awe-inspiring in any particular fashion in my time listening to them, remained very well balanced, clear within the mix and with the warmer tilt that I thoroughly enjoy.

IMG_4721.jpg


Treble:
The upper end of the frequency response carries forward what appears to be the theme of the MK3 and that is balance.
When I state that there is a warmer tilt, there is perhaps an inclination to believe the MK3 may sound a little dark and perhaps is missing detail. However, the tuning of the treble region manages to carry on the “balanced” nature of the MK3 as it provides a strong presentation of the treble regions.

Hugely varying synths in “Language” by Porter Robinson and hi-hats throughout “Edamame” bbno$ and Rich Brian remain crisp, clear and detailed in the mix. There remains a distinct amount of air despite the warmer tilted tuning as the technical chops of the MK3 manage to juggle all three regions with great gusto.

And despite doing so, the MK3 also manages to avoid becoming too bright as there is no sense of sibilance or fatigue when listening to tracks that seek to draw that out. The MK3 does not attack your ears with such boosted treble in a manner to try and get you to really believe that it has as much detail as other IEMs and in the process did not leave my ears lying on the ground curled up in the foetal position, rather it presents these frequencies in a straightforward yet enjoyable manner.

There is a bit of fallacy as a result as my brain, perhaps by virtue of reading too much about Harman curves and other “detail monsters” felt that there was some detail and sense of sparkle that was left on the table with the MK3s.

Technicalities:
Given my experience with IEMs in the price range are fairly limited, I hesitate to wax poetic about the technical chops of the MK3 in this regard. However, there is something to be said for the resolving ability of the MK3 despite its warmed sound signature and slightly ‘wet’ presentation of sound. These characteristics are usually seen as the antithesis of a detailed and highly resolving IEM as I understand however, the MK3s revealed and represented very well-produced tracks with gusto. From hearing fingers grazing piano keys and the kick of the pedal and subtle inhales of the vocalist in tracks such as Haliene’s “Rush Over Me (Acoustic Version)” were simply amazing.

The imagining chops of the MK3 combined with its tuning as each region of the frequency response curve seems to sit comfortably within layers in a very coherent and organised fashion.
The combination of these factors leads to a very unique soundstage. In my time with IEMs, there have been limited instances wherein it was not abundantly clear that I was listening to (comparatively) tiny drivers stuck in my ears. A suspension of disbelief and absorption in whatever I was listening to led to the belief that the MK3s were essentially replicating an intimate stage beyond the confines of my head and something more akin to what I have termed, “the most hi-fidelity karaoke room you have been in”.

An odd analogy but I hope some of you get what I am trying to get across. The ambience and atmosphere that the MK3s belie the fact they are tiny IEMs pushing big and layered sounds into your ears. Like an intimate stage wherein you’re in the front row, the MK3s present something a little special.

I would like to note that the soundstage of the MK3s will vary depending on the tips you use (see below). The Petal tips provide a deep insertion depth and place the nozzles right next to your ear canal, creating a slightly more intimate rendition of staging. I also used Spinfit W1s, CP145, and CP360 (oddly enough) to good effect to provide a minorly larger staging effect but your mileage may vary.

Overall:
The MK3 adopts a warmer sound signature that provides a punchy and engaging audio experience, when combined with its excellent technical abilities creates a unique ambience wherein music is presented on an intimate stage that belies the fact that it is an IEM.

The MK3, is in my opinion, something that can be listened to for hours due to its rather non-offensive sound signature and is engaging by virtue of its unique staging abilities. This is definitely not an extreme IEM that seeks to wow you by being a strong performer in any region of response but rather provides the mix of the song in a manner that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Perhaps if I was to nitpick, I would have minorly boosted the treble to imbue that goosebump-inducing feeling with certain higher frequencies.

Synergy​

In spite of what Reddit /r/headphones would have me believe, I can indeed hear some differences in source chains much to my wallet and perhaps my ears, chagrin. This section will try to put my “delusions” into words, after all, I could have gotten away with an Apple dongle just fine.

Shanling M6 Ultra
I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.
These elements added another element of warmth and cosiness to the overall tonality of the MK3s perhaps colouring the music to the point of being perhaps “too much”. Bass frequencies were heavy and quite forward in the mix. Hip-hop / RnB tracks such as “Conceited” by SZA felt slightly overwhelming at times. Fun, but still, not exactly the most faithful and flattering representation of what the MK3 was able to offer.
Overall, I feel that the M6U with the MK3 would be something for a very particular bass-head mood and would be indulging far too much in warmth and overly coloured tonality for my personal daily use.

IMG_4696.jpg


iBasso DC04 Pro
I would characterise the DC04Pro as dynamic, clean and has a very low noise floor. The sound signature is slightly bright in comparison to my other sources and tracks seem to “attack” you.
These elements complemented the slightly warm and laid-back tuning of the MK3s, imparting great energy and dynamics to the MK3s. This resulted in me flipping through tracks in a haphazard manner in order to listen to certain portions in an almost feverish manner.
Overall, I feel there is rather good synergy between the two but ultimately, for a very engaged sense of critical listening rather than relaxing with a nice drink to wind down.

Cayin RU7
I would characterise the RU7 as smooth, slightly rolled off and warm (depending on your settings). The sound signature is meant to replicate a more “analogue” sound signature and the result is a more calming and relaxed approach.
The RU7 changes rather noticeably as you flip through DSD64, 128 and 512 resampling with the DSD64 being the most warm and smooth reproduction of music that you can get on the device. This did not play nice in my experience with the MK3, as it started to take away some of the strengths of the MK3, namely imaging chops and its engaging sound signature. DSD128 starts to tighten things up whilst maintaining that smooth sound signature, overall, this setting and the MK3 demonstrate great synergy for the purpose of very laid-back listening sessions for long hours.

IMG_4699.jpg


Topping A90 + Gustard X16
I would characterise the A90 as ruler flat and being entirely overpowered for any IEM but in an attempt to avoid any “u didn’t have enough watts” comments, I sought to see how the MK3s scaled and how they were represented by a (comparatively) very neutral source chain.
With the knob at around 9 o’clock on the A90, the MK3s present themselves as neutral as they can be and my impressions remain largely the same. The warmth of the MK3s remains untouched and so too does largely the frequency response as a whole.
Perhaps there is a touch of added boost to the treble but otherwise, these two go together fairly well in that there is little to add to the MK3s already great tuning. There also may be my brain playing tricks on me but there is a smidge of an expanded stage width. Otherwise, these appear not to “scale” that greatly with the added juice.

Comparison vs MK2​

Perhaps the most pertinent comparison for the MK3 is with its predecessor the MK2. Now there may be some bias given that I purchased the MK2 with my own money but I had essentially both show up at my doorstep at the same time. As such, I have not had any extensive time with either IEM to colour these impressions.

First and foremost, the tuning of the MK2 and the MK3s is noticeably different. Whereas the MK3 leans to the warm side of things, the MK2 tends to move slightly to the lean side wherein note weight is noticeably lighter and certain beats and vocals come across as thinner compared to the warmth of the MK3. The MK2s feel more sparse, and more airy compared to the MK3s which hold their own appeal. In this regard, I opted to test some of the more “sibilant’ tracks in my playlist and whereas the MK3s rendered these comfortably to my ears, there was a mix of tingle-inducing sparkle from the MK2s bordering on some slight puckering of my (ear)holes. The MK3’s additional bass impact and punch definitely added a level of ‘drama’ and ‘fun’ to certain tracks whereas the MK2, whilst very respectable, did not have that same sense of presence in the low-end.

IMG_4694.jpg


In terms of technicality, I do not feel that the MK2 is as resolving as the MK3. That is not to say that the MK2 is no slouch but the MK3’s technical chops are definitely one of the best that I have experienced (noting my lack of experience). Certain nuances of tracks are not made abundantly clear on the MK2s as they were on the MK3.
In terms of staging and ‘layering’ the music, the MK3 once again trumps the MK2s as I feel each particular section of the frequency response comes at you in readily apparent layers that remain cohesive. This contributes heavily to a greater sense of the depth of the stage, however, I feel that the MK2s are somewhat ‘wider’ in their staging compared to the MK3s. Based on the above, one would say that the MK3s are a no-brainer however, the consideration of cost is definitely something to keep in mind.

Overall, I feel that the MK3 represents marked improvements in technicalities and soundstage, with detail retrieval and a “holographic” head stage being readily apparent on first listen. The MK2 represents some elements of this but to a lesser, more subtle extent. I would describe the MK2 as “thinner”, “sparser” and less “engaging” compared to the MK3. There is a charm to the MK2 as the brighter tonality eeked out some definitely goosebumps on certain tracks as the crisp rendition of high notes, hi-hats and cymbals were much more forward in the mix compared to the MK3s.

Quality of Life​

Whilst the raison d'être of an IEM is to produce sound in a manner that is technically proficient and enjoyable, there are always external considerations for something you insert in yourself.

Beyond sound, there are a number of concerns that one would be remiss to not raise in the context of a purchase this significant.

First and foremost, the PW Audio cable is very, very bad in my opinion. Outside of the realm of “sound quality” concerns, there remain distinct ergonomic issues with the cable due to the nylon shielding. The cable is akin to the terrible Focal balanced cable they give you with a set of Clears and is wholly unsatisfying to use due to its memory and like myself on a late night on an incognito tab on Chrome, can get very kinky.
MusicTeck now offers the opportunity for purchasers to opt to not get the cable for a $320 USD discount, which would be my choice.

IMG_4678.jpg


The ear tips included are rather unique in their very shallow leading to the nozzles pressed directly to your earholes. Now this doesn’t cause any comfort issues with me and likely was done to maximise the BCD’s efficacy but this may cause issues for certain people. Other than that, I see literally zero purpose with the “open” tips as they basically suck away the dynamic range and all of the bass from the MK3s.
The petal tips worked for me but at the cost of some soundstage as the insertion depth was rather deep. Other tips that worked for me (in no particular order):
  • Spinfit W1;
  • Spinfit CP100;
  • Spinfit CP145;
  • Spinfit CP360; and
  • Final Audio E-Type.

Comfort was very good to me, apart from the whole experience of being weighed down by that nasty cable when using a cable that made more sense, the MK3s sat comfortably in my ear for hours at a time with me. The lightweight construction made the MK3 feel as though they were an extension of my ear and perhaps like I was wearing nothing at all (insert stupid sexy Flanders).

Driver flex was apparent in both earpieces but was more apparent in the right ear with that crinkly cringe-inducing sound emanating when inserting the MK3s, and with those petal tips, this is really, really close to your ear holes. Not a good look for any IEM in this price category.

Value

The cost of the MK3s is definitely something to behold with the red unit coming in at $3,899 AUD and the blue at $3,199 (Minidisc prices). MusicTeck’s move to offer the MK3 without a cable presents significant cost saving with the blue coming in at around $2,400 AUD (adjusted for FX). With the original MK2s coming in around $2,500 AUD at Minidisc with rather healthy discounts from time to time and especially now that it is at the end of its life, the MK3s present a somewhat questionable value proposition. However, with MusicTeck’s very clutch move, I feel as though the MK3 would definitely be worth its price tag currently and things can only get better from here on out.

The price increase from the MK2s also is disappointing as I feel that the price is somewhat of a tough pill to swallow. Other value considerations are the rather anaemic number of accessories provided with the MK3s. Perhaps by virtue of the “apparently” $320 USD PW Audio cable, the MK3s do not come with an accessory pack to provide you with (likely) the maximum potential of the IEMs themselves. A greater variety of ear tips would have been something appreciated with the MK3’s package.

Overall, the asking price, with the accessories included leaves a lot to be desired. I for one, am now mightily enticed by MusicTeck’s discount without the wire and feel that presents the best bang for the buck.

Conclusion​

And then I saw her face. And I was a believer.
The BCD of the MEST series was something that I had a distinct curiosity about. They now have my attention. There are inevitably caveats with this method of sound reproduction as it is heavily reliant on the fitment of the IEMs themselves. Reports of the effect of BCD has been overblown by some more zealous individuals waxing poetic about its effect but with both the MK2 and MK3 there appears to be some indiscernible "special sauce" in their staging abilities.

With a balanced, rather non-offensive sound signature that leans slightly warm, I feel as though the MK3 presents a unique presentation, a highly engaging tonality and technical chops that leaves you wanting to listen to more and more.
The ends of the audio-enjoyer spectrum in terms of bass heads and treble heads are likely going to be left wanting more but I found enjoyment in the MK3s beyond whether they met my tonality preference and rather I just wanted to see how they produced sound compared to other technologies.

I somewhat lament purchasing the MK2 prior to trying the MK3, the successor being a strong technical upgrade over its predecessor. Whether the rather drastic change in tonality and the not-insignificant price premium justifies such an upgrade is something that I cannot opine on. This is not to say that the MK2s are going in the bin but the MK3s have made an indelible mark on my audio-enjoying heart with their hard-to-hate tonality and whimsy-inducing technical chops.

Ruler flat neutral the MK3s are not, super bright and sparkly either, nor are they bass monsters. Rather, by leveraging wonderful technical capabilities, and unique staging combined with a rather inoffensive tuning, the MK3s present something that I feel would be an everyman sound, albeit, not at an everyman price.
The value proposition of the MK3 stifles this glowing audio review as I cannot justify the full price of the MK3s. Given the MusicTeck discount and likely more discounts over the course of the life of the MK3s, I believe that the MK3s would present a compelling package in the future if you are looking for a technically great, warm and enjoyable listening experience.

IMG_4653.jpg

Attachments

  • IMG_4653.jpg
    IMG_4653.jpg
    785.3 KB · Views: 0
  • IMG_4703.jpg
    IMG_4703.jpg
    696.2 KB · Views: 0

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Heat death of my heart
Pros: Gorgeous, lush and euphonic tonality
Generous bass response
Smooth reproduction of music
Tremendous musicality
Cons: Detail lacking somewhat
Some centre imaging issues
Availability

IMG_4967.jpg

Preamble​

Many thanks to @Damz87 and 7th Acoustics for arranging the Australian tour of the Supernova and to Tom for ensuring their safe delivery.

The sources used to form this review included:
  • Chord Mojo 2;
  • Shanling M6 Ultra;
  • iBasso DC04 Pro;
  • Cayin RU7
all fed with lossless FLAC files.
In any hobby there is an air of pretension with certain hidden gems. Be it a sense of ownership of the hobby, the need to gatekeep the secret sauce to yourself or simply just an emotional reaction to something that you feel a connection to. The 7th Acoustics Supernova is perhaps one of the items of this phenomenon. Ordered off of a Facebook page of a smaller Indonesian maker, the Supernovas have received some attention from larger publications of audio reviews and the results have been rather telling. But in the grand scheme of things, the Supernovas remain as a fairly uncommon choice, a hidden gem if you will. But is this hidden gem a VVS diamond or a hunk of quartz?

The Factual Stuff​


The Supernova is a handmade IEM hailing from Indonesia and comes finished with a rather rounded black resin shell and a beautiful abalone faceplate.

However, there is a degree of customisability with your Supernova as their Facebook page is adorned with variations of the design ranging from clear resin shells to completely blacked out shells with no faceplate present.

Within the nicely finished packaging is a set of Final Audio E-type tips and BGVP A07 tips, a puck case with a screw down lid, a warranty card and a CEMA 4 wire copper cable.

The earpieces contain a six balanced armature setup with 2 drivers responsible for each section of the frequency response curve.

Their price at the time of this review is 800 USD.

IMG_4966.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass:​

The Supernova takes a rather generous approach to the bass region, delicately balancing sub-bass and mid-bass frequencies in a manner that presents a rather fun listening experience. There was no want for more bass with hard-hitting hip-hop songs such as “GATTI” by Jackboys nor with EDM songs such as “Moving Mountains” by Disclosure. There is a sense of presence and punch with both the sub-bass and the mid-bass frequencies with these tracks and the latter imbues a sense of warmth and lushness to the rest of the frequency response.

The quantity does not veer into the inflated region and manages to maintain tonal balance within the music. The quality is also quite good with a sense of decay that provides more presence to the lower-end of music. It remains fairly fast however, as I would not describe the Supernova as “slow” in this region at all. The texture and detail of the bass remains readily discernible and provides great enjoyability to any song with a low-end focus, I was head bopping with the hip-hop regions of my library with great gusto. The one minor detraction I would make is that the mid-bass boost seems to tread slightly on the mids with certain male vocals such as The Weeknd’s “Out of Time” being somewhat lost in the sauce.

Overall, the bass presents an elevated tuning but manages to avoid being bloated and too much of a good thing, it imbues a sense of warmth and lushness whilst retaining detail in a manner that makes this region potentially the best part of the Supernova.

Mids​

Moving on to the midrange, the Supernova does a rather good job with its reproduction of instruments and vocals within this region. The aforementioned mid-bass “boost” provides a sense of warmth and engagement to the mid-range. With songs such as “Just the Two of Us” with Grover Washington and Bill Withers contain strong male vocals and a large number of instruments that reside in this mid-range. The Supernova handles it quite well save for the aforementioned “muffling” of male vocals in lower registers due to the mid-bass, leading to a lack of separation in this portion of the frequency response. However, saxophones, steel drums, guitars and synths are reproduced with a relaxed and smooth tonality that is easy on the ears and feel comforting and emotionally engaging. Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” is a rather sparsely produced song focusing on the rather dramatic chords played by various instruments a very intimately recorded female vocal. The result on the Supernova is a very smooth rendering of the two with Billie’s vocals remaining clear, coherent but coloured slightly with a lushness and euphonic quality that makes it all a very easygoing listening experience. Upper mids such as those in “2easy” by Nive and Heize, a male and female duet with heady voices and lilting progressions are executed wonderfully with neither voice receiving undue precedence over the other. The emotionally charged singing comes across in spades and there is no edge to the voices to speak of.

Overall, the Supernova undertakes a smoother and more warm presentation of the mids that may leave some detail fiends wanting a little more neutrality, but these are definitely addictive to listen to and I find there is very little semblance of the oft quoted “BA plastic timbre”.

Treble​

The upper end of the frequency response curve of the Supernovas presents a relaxed approach to treble tuning. Even when forcing some very aggressively bright songs such as “You & Me (Flume Remix)” by Disclosure/Flume with an extremely grating synth during the chorus did not lead to the usual cringe that I get with any other IEM. The Supernova remains clear, and crisp in its reproduction and does not venture into the overly bright. It provides a sense of sparkle with certain tracks and presents itself with good airiness that matches well with the well-executed speed and decay of the other regions. Comparing to other IEMs however, some of the shortcomings of the Supernova in this region become apparent. Certain instruments such as a brush on a hi-hat in Cliff Martinez’s “The Demon Dance” and the cymbal crashing in Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” does not present itself in a readily apparent and clear manner, being somewhat lost in the sauce of things.

If I had to give some points off of the Supernova, it would likely be in the treble region. I do not feel that it is horrible by any means but given the excellence of the execution of the bass and the midrange, I feel that the treble could’ve done perhaps 5% better in order to make this a slam dunk no-brainer IEM.

Technicalities

Perhaps by virtue of its tuning (which is excellent) there is a sense of speed, crispness and detail retrieval that is left on the table in return for excellent timbre and easy going tonality. The Supernova takes on a smooth reproduction and as such there is a sense that there is a bit of “rounding out” of certain notes that limits the capabilities of absolute detail. This is ultimately a nit-pick as I feel that the Supernova does a great job of rendering detail and resolution, it merely is inherently not at the forefront of your mind when listening due to the smoother tonality. Songs such as “Rush Over Me (Acoustic version)” by Haliene remains excellent in capturing the subtle details of a piano pedal, inhales of the vocalist and fingers floating over keys. There is a teeny, tiny sense of a “veil” but in this regard, the veil is that 5-year-old pair of threadbare underwear with a loose elastic band, it is essentially the equivalent of having a piece of tissue over the driver as opposed to a pillow if that makes sense.

The sound staging of the Supernova has little to no complaints from me. It does not wow me in any aspect but presents a sufficiently wide and tall staging but lacks somewhat in depth in that it doesn’t jump out to me like a MEST MK3 does (noting that the MEST is considerably more expensive). Left to right imaging with panning instruments also is achieved well, with a smooth experience throughout instead of a noticeable jump from left ear to right ear on lesser IEMs. Centre imaging of vocals seems to fall short here of other IEMs and is a rather prominent shortcoming of the Supernova.

Ultimately, these are not detail monsters but they do well enough at their price point. The trade off is an almost perfect laid-back and smooth presentation of music that is hugely addictive to listen to.

Overall:

These have captured my heart and mind as being perhaps one of the best tunings that I have listened to. I described the Supernova as somewhat warm but I wish to clarify that in that it doesn’t lean too hard into that but rather balances it into a smoooooooth, easy listen that remains hugely engaging and highly emotional. I mean that in that there was plenty of singing along and toe-tapping and running through multiple tracks in their entirety instead of skipping ahead to the next test track. These are hallmarks of a wonderfully engaging experience and the Supernova provides that in spades.

Synergy


One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Chord Mojo 2

I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

The Supernova presents itself in a very straightforward but ultimately very enticing manner with the Mojo. The neutral manner of the Mojo 2 combined with its increased dynamics compared to the rest of the sources in this review synergises well with the laid-back Supernova, not adding too much of a good thing. The upper mids seem to gain a little bit of an edge with sss sounds from vocalists presenting a very slight sibilance over the other sources in this review but not falling into the realm of being overly fatiguing.

Aforementioned concerns such as a far from ideal centre imaging capability as well as slightly too much mid-bass are alleviated using the DSP, specifically the EQ and the crossfeed functions. These seemingly confirm the shortcomings that I identified in the non-DSP listening experience.

Overall, there is hardly anything to fault when using the Supernova and the Mojo2 with zero DSP and there is definitely some benefits to have with the DSP. The Mojo2 presents a rather neutral presentation that coalesces with the smooth reproduction of the Supernova and the increased dynamism of its mid presentation creates a mid focus that is definitely enjoyable for more vocal-heavy tracks in my library.

IMG_4984.jpg

Shanling M6 Ultra

I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

The M6U works to enhance the strengths of the Supernova by adding even more mid presence and smoothing out the frequency response even further. The result is an even lusher sounding IEM that feels sparsely staged and notes seem to strike with a relaxed character that feels almost effortless. Songs such as “Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic feel tremendously analogue with instruments and the male vocals feeling as though they are meandering out of the drivers with a laid-back coolness. One could say that the two coalesce to be “too much of a good thing” which I can agree with in that there is a reduced sense of dynamism and attack from the notes and pushes the Supernova into the realm of being almost lethargic.

This is a pairing that is rather good for more folksy, acoustic tracks that perhaps may be poorly recorded (or just plain old) in that it is highly forgiving and just a relaxing listen. Those looking for a pairing that demands attention and greater critical listening companion may have to look elsewhere.
IMG_5001.jpg

Cayin RU7

I would characterise the RU7 as smooth, slightly rolled off and warm (depending on your settings). The sound signature is meant to replicate a more “analogue” sound signature and the result is a more calming and relaxed approach.

The RU7 is the M6U but perhaps to even more coloured approach to music, the resulting combination with the Supernova is a highly diffused reproduction that feels airy and wide. Listening to tracks such as “Out of Time” by the Weeknd, that utilises a rather retro 80s sample heavily sound analogue and out of a time machine. Listening to more aggressively produced modern music such as “Walk with Me” by Cosmos Midnight seem to lose the edge and sparkle of modern production and the result is an overly smoothed out experience. Not bad in small spurts but ultimately, I feel as though the RU7 doesn’t represent a long-time listening companion with Supernova unless you want to heavily lean into the already lush tonality.
IMG_4987.jpg

iBasso DC04Pro

I would characterise the DC04Pro as dynamic, clean and has a very low noise floor. The sound signature is slightly bright in comparison to my other sources and tracks seem to “attack” you.

The DC04Pro embodies what I feel is a running theme in modern chi-fi (especially more budget options) in that it is rather lean sounding and quite bright. These elements seem to contrast with what the Supernova seems to represent but I feel that the two synergise quite well, especially with the fast digital filter on. There is a greater sense of clarity and crispness to certain notes, the slight treble tilt gives an extra edge on wind chimes sparkling and cymbals crashing throughout a number of tracks.

The characteristics work well to bring a sense of crispness and attack to the previously laid-back Supernova and help temper its rather lush tonality with a greater sense of speed and attack.

Comparisons

vs Campfire Andromeda 2019

The Andromeda, especially the 2019 edition takes on a rather unique approach to tuning in that it lacks sub-bass, adopts a heavy scoop of mid-bass and imparts a generous amount of warmth into the frequency response.

The technical chops of the Andromeda are often hyped up as being “holographic” whilst I will refrain from stating that and overblowing it (like I was misled once a upon a time) the Andromedas do present music in a very unique manner. With certain tracks such as “Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran presenting in a manner that feels as though Taylor Swift is singing from a stage in a small theatre imparting a wonderful sense of staging, the Supernova has some stiff competition. A comparison of the two displays that the Supernova has some issues with centre imaging of vocals, feeling decidedly left-right channel in nature whereas the Andromeda feels more capable and precise in its technical abilities.

Otherwise, the Andromeda’s tuning is a love-hate sort of approach whereas I feel that the Supernova is sure to please the majority of listeners out there. Overall, I feel the Andromeda is a Supernova turned up to 11 and whilst some benefits come from that approach (greater technical capabilities) so too does the thought that the music comes off a bit too coloured for most.

vs Symphonium Helios

I was less than forgiving to the Helios in my recent review with my qualms being that the tuning seeks to heighten its technical prowess at the cost of a more natural and calming tonality. The Helios seems to occupy the other end of the spectrum of the cold-warm scale compared to the Supernova. In this regard, it is a matter of preference of whether you are looking for clear, crisp notes that invite a critical hyper-aware listen of your music to seek out microdetails or if you are looking to sit back and relax with a random playlist.

The Helios wins out handily in terms of treble extension and quality, the mids however fail to match the Supernova and the bass is a little too tilted to emphasise sub-bass to be readily enjoyable throughout a more eclectic library.

The Helios gets a little too hot with certain sibilant tracks and certain songs feel fatiguing compared to the laid-back approach of the Supernova.

vs MEST MK2

The MEST MK2 impresses me through its unique staging and imaging qualities as well as its diffuse and rather balanced tonality. It presents technical prowess whilst managing to have a tuning that is enjoyable to me over long listening periods.

Compared to the Supernova, the MK2 wins out in its treble reproduction and in its technical chops but in terms of tuning and tonality, the Supernova trumps it. There appears to be some missing element of the Supernova, that the MK2 achieves through its generous driver count and quadbrid design. However, where the MK2 seems to squeezing the most out of each note and flexing its technical abilities with songs, the Supernova sounds effortless and cohesive in its reproduction. The MK2 is also highly reliant on a good fit and at times does feel as though there is some disjointedness in certain points where drivers seem to be playing hot potato with lilting vocal lines.

Overall, I feel that the MK2 presents a more neutral and analytical tonality that does not veer into the sterile region of the Helios whereas the Supernova feels effortless and more warmth.

Quality of Life

The Supernova is a handmade product and there are some apparent evidence of that in the finishing of the nozzles which are rather rough to the eye and to the touch. The included CEMA cable is rather kinky and microphonic leading to an unpleasant experience when on the go.
The eartips included are rather good in that the E-types are very good value for money, having a well made but rather mid-forward tip type.

The fit of the Supernova is rather good in my opinion, noting that I have rather large ear holes. The shells are well contoured and rounded and I feel that it would work well with most people. The nozzles are somewhat wide but are not long enough to cause me any issues.

The Supernovas are also vented, something that is quite odd to me with my past experience with multi-BA sets usually dispensing with this. The result is a rather comfortable listening experience over several hours but noise isolation is noticeably worse than some of the other multi BA sets covered in the comparison above.

Otherwise, the nature of 7th Acoustics and the Supernova means that you will be unable to simply demo and buy them from your local audio store. These have a wait time, and you are required to send money overseas over Facebook. This detracts from the overall appeal of the Supernova but it does benefit from you being able to customise your own 1 of 1 Supernova with the folks at 7th Acoustics.

Value

At its previous price prior to the price hike, I would have stated that the Supernova would represent the absolute most bang-for-the-buck IEM in the market.

At a price of 800USD I believe that the Supernova represents great value, trading punches with behemoths of the kilobuck region with gusto. It does ultimately lose on detail retrieval and a more technically proficient kilobuck IEM will be able to hold this over the head of the Supernova.

However, in return for this shortcoming, is a reward in the form of extremely well executed tuning and tonality. The Supernova is relaxed, easy-going listening experience, but not to the point of putting you to sleep and failing to engage you. The Supernova is a smooth, well executed sub-kilobuck price tag having kilobuck, and for that, I believe it represents very, very good value.

Conclusion

This review is entitled the “heat death of my heart” and that is because the Supernova’s namesake represents the final stage of a star. But unlike being an exploding star signalling the end, the Supernova represents a burgeoning maker of IEMs that I am hugely interested in seeing what the future holds. I await, with bated breath, the release of their next IEM which I understand will be their new flagship. And whilst this dramatic statement shows an overwhelmingly positive sentiment, the Supernova retains some rough edges in terms of details and technicalities.

The Supernova is a tremendously tuned IEM that presents a warm, inviting and natural tonality that is hugely enjoyable. There is an X-factor here that I feel is very unique and for that, I applaud the Supernova and heartily recommend it.

IMG_4975.jpg
Last edited:

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Bass Paradox
Pros: Hard hitting, physical bass;
Strong sense of note weight
Bewildering technical ability despite tuning
Cons: Overly coloured tuning may divide
Heavy and large shells may pose issues
Price

Preamble​

IMG_5478.jpg

Thank you to @Damz87, MiniDisc Australia (http://minidisc.com.au) and Fir Audio themselves for arranging this Australian tour of the Fir Audio RN6, XE6 and NE4.

The technology involved in the production of personal music listening, specifically transducers or IEMs is hardly a novel concept at this point in time. Reiterated countless times, one would believe that there is likely little room for innovation for such a mature device. However, there remains those at the ‘frontier’ of the audio space, looking to implement new and exciting technologies for their devices in order to separate themselves from the market. Today’s review concerns a device that is the flagship of what the brand terms to be their “Frontier” line. The Xenon 6 commands a hefty price point for an IEM but in return promises an audio experience unlike any other. And so, I wish to explore whether the XE6 represents the frontier spirit, exploring unprecedented territory for the IEMs to succeed it, or rather, represents the video game “The Oregon Trail” in which I have died from dysentery.

The Factual Stuff


Similar to the RN6 that I have reviewed here, the XE6 utilises a 6 driver setup. 1x dynamic driver implementing their Kinetic Bass feature, 1x BA for lows, 2x BA for mids, 1x BA for highs and 1x electrostatic for highs.

These drivers are housed in a polished stainless steel shell finished in gold rather than the machined aluminium in the RN6.

The XE6, like the RN6 utilises ATOM modules, utilising interchangeable modules to provide varying levels of noise isolation and in the process, altering the sound signature of the XE6.

What are ATOM modules? Well the XE6 features a pressure relief system that utilises a number of modules to alter the amount of noise isolation and therefore impacts the sound signature of the XE6. The modules are:
  • Gold = 17dB isolation;
  • Silver = 15db;
  • Black = 13dB; and
  • Red = 10dB.
As such, the XE6 is a vented IEM that seeks to alleviate pressure in the ear for long listening experiences.
Otherwise, the accessory package in the XE6 contains a handsome leather case, a variety of tips, a cleaning brush, a 4 wire cable terminated in 4.4mm and 2-pin.

The Opinion Stuff

Sound:


The following review was largely conducted using the silver module

Bass:​


The XE6 provides a unique low-end experience by virtue of its kinetic bass function. The rather large dynamic driver combined with its open design imparts kinetic energy into the ear and provides a bass that is physical and that you can indeed “feel”. Describe this to anyone without knowledge of the price point nor experience with the IEM itself and I would venture to say that they would have the idea of a terrible Bluetooth speaker physically distorting and shifting slightly on the table whenever a bassline comes in. But the reality of the matter is that the XN6 manages to maintain a level of control and detail to its bassline that defies conventional thinking. The bass frequencies are tight, controlled, fast and highly detailed. The quantity is not lacking either, with sub-bass frequencies such as those in “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack providing a low-end thump that is visceral. Mid-bass in the XE6 is similarly impressive, with songs such as a “Before Dawn” by Slander, which has a constant mid-bass beat throughout the song presenting with such authority and speed that puts many other IEMs to shame.

There is definitely a healthy amount of bass boost both in the sub and mid-bass frequencies that imbues a tremendous sense of presence to whatever it is that you are listening to. Despite this healthy boost, it remains detailed, textured and rather speedy in its quality. I do not wish for you, the reader, to come under the impression that these are the equivalent of a subwoofer. The XN6 remains inevitably an IEM but provides through the dynamic driver, a bass response that seems to straddling the fence of “this bass is punching you in the face” and “oh wow this bass sure is neato”.

With this generous of a bass boost, there is a healthy colouration of the entire frequency response, imbuing a warmth to all music that you listen to and as such there is a loss of perceived clarity but a imparting of a tremendous note weight.

Mids​

By virtue of the aforementioned bass boost, the mids receive a dose of warmth and presence. Male vocals seem to receive a tremendous amount of note weight and this becomes readily apparent in duets wherein the male vocalist receives an almost rumbly quality to their tonality compared to female vocalists. It is not a jarring difference but something that is definitely noticeable. Songs such as “Out of Time” by the Weeknd has an old-school sample and a rather forward male vocal line throughout, the warmth and smoothness of songs such as this is a very addicting experience wherein everything seems weighty and impactful.

Instruments residing in this region also receive some ‘guts’ in that guitars, pianos and the like feel very visceral in their presentation, there is some authority to each strum and keystroke that presents itself very pleasing to the ear but not exactly the most neutral presentation.

Female vocalists receive the short-end of the stick when it comes to the Xenon 6, perhaps by virtue of the warmth and body imbued by the bass boost. Female vocalists seem to lose a bit of shine and sparkle to their voice and feel almost slightly veiled in comparison. Throwing on some very shouty and somewhat sibilant female vocals do not elicit the same spine tingle that other brighter IEMs present. This will be a bonus to some more sensitive audio enthusiasts but for me there is a missing x-factor for a female vocalist ascending into a heady falsetto or are simply belting.

Overall, the warmth and darkness of the Xenon’s tuning imbues a strong level of weight and body to instruments and vocals residing in the mids but detracts somewhat from those sitting in the upper region of the mids.

Treble


The keywords of ‘dark’ and ‘warmth’ so far would lead you to believe there is a distinct lack of treble response and to that I would say, no, not really.

Despite former statements that there is a missing sense of sparkle with female vocalists, there remains rather good treble extension and a great sense of drama with instruments residing in the upper regions of the frequency response. Cymbals crash and synths spike into almost sibilant territory but presenting that goosebump inducing sense of enjoyment. “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding has an ever-present brush on a hi-hat throughout the majority of the song. On less well-tuned IEMs, this is a rather recessed afterthought but the sense of tingle of this seemingly innocuous instrument on the Xenon 6 is rather excellent. The contrast that you get with the aforementioned booming bass is also a part of the charm of the Xenon in that when one element is heightened and juxtaposed with its seemingly opposite counterpart, they are both highlighted. Where the Xe6 seems to fall short of its cousin and perhaps other TOTL IEMs is a sense of airiness. The XE6 seems to be rather confined and rather than have an ever-present sense of brightness and elevated ‘detail’, the treble seems to strike out of nowhere. There is no sense of fatigue with my playlist, even with songs that try to eek out sibilance where possible. But unlike tranducers with an overly smoothed and rolled off treble response, the XE6 remains willing and capable to flex its muscles in this region, it just doesn’t want to most of the time.

Overall, the charm of the treble of the XE6 lays in its ability to contrast against the elevated bassline rather than stand out of its own accord. It is not the strong suit of the XE6 but remains distinctly enticing in its ability to come out in the mix when needed.

Technicalities


First and foremost, the resolution and detail provided by the XE6 remains distinctly wonderful. However, unlike its cousin, the RN6, the XE6 doesn’t have the tuning to present a highly detailed and unforgiving reproduction of music. It is slightly smoother and warmer that the RN6 and as a result, detail doesn’t jump out at you so much but rather effortlessly presents it for you to notice at your own leisure.

There is a distinct sense that the mid-bass boost in the XE6 seems to bleed into the mids and whilst I hesitate to describe it as overly boomy or overdone, it does detract somewhat from the ability to discern the micro details within this region as well as the sense of ‘layering’ and imaging. However, the most interesting element of the XE6 is its ability to resolve and reproduce detail in spite of its warm and highly unique tuning approach.

In terms of staging, the XE6 presents a rather intimate staging. It is rather good in extending in terms of width but the depth seems rather shallow. I would liken the staging to a slightly too large recording booth. However, like the RN6, it seemingly adapts to certain music, as orchestral productions manage to extend in a manner that would leave you confused after characterising it as ‘intimate’ following a run of the top 20 pop songs out in the world currently. Despite this, it is not a soundstage monster and remains distinctly intimate and engaging.

Overall:


Bombastic and hugely engaging, the XE6 boosts bass in order to provide tonnes of fun through a warm and weighty reproduction of music. It does so at an almost neglible cost of mid and treble response but for the price, one would have to be immediately sure that this is the sound that they’re looking for.

Perhaps overly coloured to some, the XE6 falls left of neutral but the reward is almost thick and gooey form of sound that is not very fatiguing and contains a strong sense of drama.

It remains technically adept in its ability to resolve but imaging and soundstage seems to suffer from the coloured tuning approach.

Synergy


One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Shanling M6 Ultra


I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

The M6U combined with the XE6 is basically pornography. You feel slightly dirty after the fact and that’s because this combo is unabashedly indulgent and almost hedonistic in the amount of warmth and note weight imbued into your music. Bombastic orchestral pieces such as “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu feel as dramatic as the final boss battle in a 50 hour long video game would have you believe.

Perhaps not the ideal everyday listen but choral renditions combined with gigantic brass instruments and drums present themselves in an almost harrowing manner. Overall I would say that this is a guilty pleasure pairing rather than one I would have on for a relaxing listen after dinner.

Chord Mojo 2


I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

The aforementioned explosive nature of the M6U’s note weight seemingly floated away for something more reasonable for a regular listen.

The more neutral presentation compared to the M6U seemed to heighten my ability to pick out microdetails in the periphery of the stage and seemed to present a more flatter, more wider stage than the M6U. The Mojo appeared to largely calm the more bombastic pairing of the M6U. It remains distinctly warmed and slightly dark to the ear when comparing it to other IEMs but the pairing of the Mojo and the XE6 seemed to present a more vanilla and linear presentation that would be better suited for an everyday listen.

Overall there is not faulting this particular pairing especially with the benefit of the DSP features of the Mojo that will allow users to fine tune their listening experience.

Cable Madness​


The Fir review kit arrived at the same time as a range of cables from Effect Audio and so I thought it best to compare these.

Ares 8W:​


This is just pure hedonism at this point. A lush, warm and bassy IEM combined with 8 wires of copper lends itself to even more mid-bass punch and even more note weight. The upper mids do become rather recessed and when compared to the stock cable, the technical abilities of the Ares are about on par or maybe slightly better. This is not for the faint of heart and as such, synergistically, I would say not a great match unless you’re looking for nothing but bass.

Cadmus 8W:​


The Cadmus provides a more even-keeled approach to the XE6 by injecting some air into the upper regions of the frequency response. Female vocalists become more forward in the mix, mid-bass is about the same or reigned in slightly and there is greater emphasis on the sub-bass lending itself to a more clear and neutral reproduction of music. This shift in tuning provides greater perceived detail retrieval and a sense of a deeper, more clearly defined stage. Overall, this cable pairs quite well with the XE6 if you’re looking to tame some of the qualities of the XE6’s coloured tuning, but then again, where’s the fun in that?

Code23​

There is a tendency for certain attributes to be lended to certain material choices. The Code23 seemingly dispenses with that. Despite utilising a ‘copper core’ cable, the Code23 greatly thins out the XE6 in a manner that brings it closer to a more lean and neutral reproduction of music. Mids are brought to the forefront of the mix and there appears to be a tremendous expansion of the stage, both in terms of depth and width. Bass is tamed and there is a slight sibilance to certain higher-register female vocals in my testing.

Compared to the stock cable in a quick A-B, one would think that the Code23 is almost too thin and anaemic compared to the big body warmth of the XE6 but longer listening periods really make you appreciate the detail and resolution chops of the Code. Overall, I feel that this is going too far in the opposite direction to what Fir likely had in mind with the XE6 but there may be proponents for this approach to synergy.

Fusion 1​


The Fusion 1 features a rather generous mix of materials in its composition, and it seems to work very well with the XE6. There is an expansion of the stage, a retention of the wonderful bass and all without descending too far into leanness. Mids are forward but not to the extent of the Code23 and there is still a sense of warmth and lushness to the XE6 with the Fusion that I feel represents the most balanced approach to the XE6 in this lineup of cables. I would heartily recommend the Fusion with the XE6 simply on the basis that it seems to just work well across the board instead of not doing enough or doing too much in respect of the tuning profile.

Comparisons​

Vs RN6


The Rn6 and the XE6 come in at similar price points and the sound differences are similar in a number of respects with their tremendous bass response and somewhat coloured tonality. Where they differ however is their emphasis. The XE6 closes off the stage and chucks all the instruments into the recording booth with you where as the RN6 neatly arranges all of the instruments on a rather generously adorned theatre. The RN6 presents music with a huge injection of airiness and speed in the low-end that feels wonderfully resolving and detailed. It sits closer to neutral when compared to the XE6 that is warmer, darker and more bombastic than the flighty and more ethereal RN6.

Technically speaking, both are excellent in their ability to resolve even the most busily produced tracks. However, by virtue of the RN6’s tuning there is an apparent benefit to accurately image certain instruments and vocal ad-libs within a song, there is a greater sense of layering to the music compared to the XE6.

Overall, I would state that if you wish to be attacked by your music and be 100% engaged in whatever you’re listening to, the XE6 is a guilty pleasure machine that injects dopamine through your eardrums. The RN6 is a more refined and snooty type of IEM that rewards keener critical listens and is perhaps a more neutral monitor than the XE6.

Vs MEST MK3


(noting that this is off memory and notes)

The MK3 was my initial dip in the pond of double kilobucks and considering the XE6 is a quadruple kilobuck, I thought I would make the comparison on a value basis.

Where the two IEMs are similar are in their party piece, the leveraging of bone conduction, albeit via alternate means. The bone conduction driver in the MEST MK3 presents a unique experience that seems to provide a benefit in terms of increasing layering and imaging capabilities and generating a stage effect that cannot be defined as “in-ear” by any means. The XE6 utilises an open dynamic driver to make contact with the ear and presents a more prominent “physical” effect of bone conduction. The efficacy of this approach seems to be a boon to the bass wherein the physicality of the sub-bass and the energy of the mid-bass are heightened by the kinetic bass driver. The BCD takes a more subtle approach across the frequency response curve that would potentially lead one to believing it is doing nothing at all. Overall, the XE6 leans harder into the warm sound signature than the MK3 and does so at no cost of bass quality. The MK3 had great bass but it ultimately was not the standout. Resolution wise, the XE6 renders detail in an alternate manner. Whereas the MK3 seems to layer music in a readily digestible manner, it remains slightly incoherent as I found myself thinking “oh I see what the BAs are doing and here comes in the ESTs” whereas the XE6 feels more like two large speakers doing all the work. I am essentially trying to say that the XE6 has better resolution (from memory) but this doubly impressive for doing it in a more natural and cohesive manner.

Overall, the law of diminishing returns seems to be full effect at this price point. I deducted points from the MK3 for not being good value but given some used prices I’ve seen it represents an obvious jump from kilobuck whereas the XE6 (perhaps hampered by its very coloured tonality) is less of an obvious jump except for that delicious bass response.

Vs Neon4​


The most neutral out of the trio of FiRs that I have in for review, the Neon4 provides the closest to a more linear frequency response curve and does not go too far into the coloured tonalty region. With that being said, the Neon 4 still manages to provide a bassier and warmer experience than more reference IEMs in the market but when compared to the likes of the XE6, it is practically ruler straight. This tonal approach provides less emphasis on the bass and seems to heighten the mid range and the treble in a manner that creates a less overwhelming musical experience. The kinetic bass on the Neon 4 still provides a great sense of physicality but to a far lesser extent than the XE6.

Outside of tonality, the technical performance of the Neon4 is no slouch despite being significantly cheaper than the XE6, but even with the latter’s rather extreme tuning, it manages to eek out greater details and is able to image better upon a critical listen.

This is an unfair comparison but nonetheless, the XE6 seems to be more characterful and also technical at the same time.

Quality of Life & Value


The XE6 is a rather thicc boi shell. Less tapered and more angular and girthy, the XE6 shell will inevitably pose an issue for more picky ears. This is compounded by the fact that the XE6 shells are constructed from stainless steel, far heavier than the aluminium shells on the RN6 or resin in most other IEMs in the market. This reduces the ergonomics of the XE6 and requires a rather good seal with whatever eartips you use in order to be tenable for longer listening periods or for use while on the move.

The various atom modules provide you with the ability to alter the level of isolation of the XE6 which is vented, whilst altering the tuning.

The price of the XE6 is definitely the sore point of the IEM. At a rather hefty price of 3899 USD it would be remiss of me to recommend this as the best IEM in the world. The tuning of the XE6 is very coloured as far as IEMs go, with the aforementioned bass boost and oddities in the treble yielding that this is not made for the everyman. It definitely resolves and provides details like I would expect a TOTL IEM would but overall, the tuning is so skewed that I would state that a demo before a purchase is a non-starter.

And when you move past that, you are inevitably receive a specialist, hardly something that I would use for any and all music in my rather varied library but something that absolutely shines with modernly produced music, specifically more poppy or EDM tracks. Paying as much as you do for a XE6 to be absolutely wonderful for only part of the time is something that I cannot recommend. As such, I would say that this is not the value proposition you are looking for, even if you’re looking for something specifically in this price category.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, the XE6 presents an odd approach to the TOTL range of IEMs. Eschewing a safer tuning to appeal a broader audience, the XE6 leans, and leans hard into providing you with a very, very generous bass boost.

This combined with its rather outrageous price presents a very, very poor proposition to blind buyers and I would heartily recommend you auditioning these prior to buying.

In any case, where the XE6 excels is its ability to remain great in terms of technicalities with excellent imaging and resolution with its very coloured and very warm signature.

This is nirvana for a specific person and perhaps hell for a lot more people than not and as such, I cannot heartily recommend it.

IMG_5470.jpg
Last edited:
Valrhona
Valrhona
A man loves your review...
As well as your avatar! 🍻

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Luxury & Precision W4 - Big Fish, Small Pond
Pros: Tremendous technical performance for the form factor
DSP capabilities allows end-user to tweak sound signature
Knob go brrrr
Great build quality
Cons: Expensive
DSP is highly dependent on firmware which is confusing to upgrade
Somewhat dry tonality (with stock settings) may divide

Preamble​

Thank you to @Damz87 and to Luxury & Precision for arranging the Australian tour of the W4.
The IEMs/headphones used in this review included:

  • Moondrop Variations;
  • Unique Melody MEST MK3;
  • Sony IER-M9;
  • Campfire Andromeda; and
  • Symphonium Helios.
All fed with FLAC.

The audio hobby over the last several years has seen a significant growth in portable sources. At the centre of this has been the plucky "dongle". A USB-powered digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) and amp in a pocketable form factor and intended to be used with your smartphone. Whilst the market has been filled with very affordable options for the most part, today's review concerns the Luxury & Precision (LP) W4. The W4 comes at an eye-watering price of 480 USD and seeks to be the crème de la crème of the dongle world. But does it succeed?

IMG_4755.jpg

The Factual Stuff​

The LP W4 takes the road less travelled and implements an in-house developed DAC chip in the form of the LP5108. Housed in an angular aluminium housing with glass on the rear and on the screen, the W4 cuts a rather large and awkwardly shaped silhouette for a dongle. The W4 features an LED screen to display various metrics and allows the end-user to tweak digital signal processing (DSP) settings with the knob that doubles as a button.
Speaking of DSP, the W4 claims to utilise a field programmable gate array (FPGA) to provide the end-user with "lossless" DSP.
Otherwise, on paper, the W4 claims a SNR of 134db, power output of 110mW through the single ended 3.5mm connector and 420mW through the 4.4mm balanced connector.
Within the package, you receive a lightning-to-USB-C cable, a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB-A to USB-C adapter.

IMG_4778.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

It is rather difficult to ascribe any definitive sound signature on a source with some of the internet claiming it is downright impossible (“aPPlE DoNgle iS mOre THAn Enough”), but the following are my impressions of what the W4 characterises.

With a wealth of DSP settings (outlined below), I used the following settings for the majority of my review:
  • EQ: Normal
  • SDF: Normal
  • Gain: High
  • FLT: Fast
  • Tune: 01

Bass​

The W4 takes a quality rather than quantity approach to the bass frequencies, seemingly preferring to enhance the sub-bass rather than any mid-bass frequencies. The result is a subtle and tasteful bump in the lower end but overall taking a rather reserved approach to the bottom end in order to maintain a clean and detailed reproduction. This may be altered by the end-user using a number of DSP presets outlined below.

Mids​

The W4 presents a netural and balanced approach to the midrange, which is further enhanced by its technical abilities (outlined below). There is perhaps a slight precedence given to the upper mid-range as female vocalists seem to pop out a little more in the mix compared to male vocalists. Otherwise, instruments remain crisp and detailed in the stage in a manner that is potentially bordering on a “dry” reproduction. There is a degree of thinness and clinical reproduction of sounds in this region.

Treble​

The W4 provides a nicely balanced approach to this region, continuing the story of a detailed and crisp source. The W4 doesn’t lean too hard in this region in order to squeeze out a false sense of detail and airiness at the cost of coming off too bright. Rather, the W4 toes the line, maintaining a sense of sparkle throughout the treble region as harsh synths and harrowing violin solos maintained their edginess without causing inner-ear bleeding. Very well done in this regard.

Technicalities​

Where I feel the W4 shines the most is its technical capabilities. Staging is wider and deeper than other peers in the dongle form-factor and this is further enhanced with its detail retrieval and resolution capabilities. Listening to the W4 creates a distinct feeling that music is being rendered in clear cut layers, allowing you to accurately place the direction and placement of each instrument in well produced tracks. The W4 resolves well and provides a textured and layered rendition of music versus a rather flat and slightly incoherent mix on lesser sources.

DSP​

The W4 spruiks a field programmable gate array (FPGA) to enable “lossless DSP” and supposedly, a higher fidelity means of adjusting your sound signature. The W4 comes pre-baked with a number of settings, including, EQ, Tone settings, SDF tuning for specific IEMs, and digital filters. These are disappointingly limited to whatever LP decides to keep in the firmware with their updates but nonetheless provides the end-user with a degree of granularity in their tweaking.

I for one enjoyed toying around with the NOS digital filter to give a smoother edge to the sound signature and played around with the two tone options that LP provides you. The SDF tuning on the IER-M9 (one of a handful of IEMs supported) and it appeared to make a warmer IEM into a more neutral one. Otherwise, I did not find much use in the EQ settings but your mileage may vary.

Which brings one thought coming to my mind here, namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy!
Hoping for the one and only holy grail setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the W4 is an exception here.
There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

The DSP settings are unfortunately let down by the fact that all of these settings are reliant on LP and do not offer the same level of granularity as other forms of DSP.

Overall​

The W4 builds a foundation of good quality audio with great technical capabilities that belies its diminutive size. It then builds upon this with a rather healthy suite of DSP capabilities that allow a significant level of granularity for the end-user. Ultimately, the W4 presents sound quality that punches above its size.

IMG_4747.jpg


Comparisons​

vs Cayin RU7​

The most pertinent competitor to the W4 is the RU7, released around the same time and at an elevated price point (albeit still not near the price of the W4), the RU7 takes a novel approach to the digital to analogue conversion process. The RU7 converts all incoming digital signal to DSD and utilises a 1-bit DAC to convert to an analogue signal. The result is what I would term as a more analogue and smoother sound signature. The RU7 also provides some level of tinkering with the user being able to step through DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 with subtle differences between all settings. However, despite this, the RU7 appears to be more warm and lush in its reproduction of music, with a distinct focus on the mid-bass frequencies. Notes hit harder but are not as fast as decay seems slower than the W4, it is less energetic and there is less of an edge.

On a technical point, the above notes of the sound signature would normally lead one to believe that the technicalities of the RU7 are not as capable as the W4 but the truth is somewhat more muddled. The DSD256 setting remains highly resolving and only minorly lesser than that of the W4. The soundstage of the RU7 feels wide and deep to the level of the W4 but the resolution provided by the W4 provides a more distinctive “layering” capability compared to the RU7.

Other than that, the W4 provides far greater performance in the noise floor, with sensitive IEMs such as the Campfire Andromeda, the W4 performs much better in terms of maintaining a dark background in sparsely produced tracks.

Overall, I feel this is a pick-your-poison situation, the RU7 is a smoother and warmer rendition of music more suited to laid-back listening compared to the W4 which provides greater technical performance and a more aggressive, energetic approach to music.

IMG_4762.jpg


vs iBasso DC04Pro​

Dropping a considerable number of tiers in terms of price point, one would think that the DC04Pro is a far lesser dongle and in some respects, that is true.

The soundstage is more confined compared to the W4, the imaging and detail of the DC04Pro is also similarly lesser than the W4. Switching between the two there is a lesser sense of coherency in the mix with the DC04Pro and picking out certain instruments is a more difficult experience.

In terms of perceived sound signature, the DC04Pro appears to place precedence on the upper mids and the treble, lending itself to a more sparkly upper end of the frequency response curve. However, with certain songs, the DC04Pro seems to cross into the overly bright region and may become fatiguing for some, like it did for me.

The DC04Pro was purchased solely for its impressive noise floor and in this regard, it definitely matches the W4 in presenting inky silence with the notoriously sensitive Campfire Andromedas. Overall, there are similar aspects between the DC04Pro and the W4, but ultimately the W4 comes off as a much more refined and technically capable source.

IMG_4773.jpg

vs Chord Mojo 2​

Selected for its DSP chops, the Mojo 2 is a fan-favourite when it comes to portable sources, despite being larger than the dongles that are within this review.

The tonality of the Mojo 2 is minorly warmer and having more of a euphonic quality compared to that of the W4. Less dry and more “natural” the Mojo 2 presents a more “easy-listening” experience with all the DSP turned off. Whilst not as smoothed out to the extent of the RU7 above, the Mojo strikes a nice balance between a laid-back listening experience and attacking you with detail. There appears to be a greater amount of mid-bass and increased note weight compared to the W4.

Technicality wise, both are quite impressive in their ability to resolve tracks and present detail but the drier rendition of notes and the speed at which they come and decay with the W4 presents a slightly elevated sense of technical prowess. The Mojo 2 feels minorly wider and deeper compared to the W4 but overall, both appear to be rather similar in this respect.

Moving on to the DSP chops of either sources, the Mojo 2, despite having somewhat of a learning curve provides greater granularity in terms of adjustments. You are not locked into LP determined presets but rather you are able to step through dB adjustments in certain regions of the frequency response and also utilise a crossfeed function. I feel that this presents greater tuning options to the end-user and in this respect, I believe the Mojo 2 is the much better option.

Overall, the Mojo 2 matches or exceeds the W4 in certain aspects and has the benefit of having its own power supply and a wealth of DSP tuning to ensure synergy with whatever IEM you throw at it. Combined with the recent price drop in Chord products, I believe that the Mojo 2 presents a more compelling option if you are willing to go slightly larger and deal with the quirkiness of the UK-made device.

IMG_4767.jpg

vs Shanling M6 Ultra (M6U)​

With a rather significant jump up in price, the M6 Ultra nonetheless, presents another form factor that is available for people looking at a portable solution. With the obvious differences being the much larger size, the capabilities of a digital audio player (DAP) to surf the web, utilise Android apps and the like cannot be understated. This is a rather big bonus for those who can stomach pocketing two separate devices as one is a fully fledged audio listening device that is not reliant on a separate device such as a phone or a laptop.

The M6U sonically, provides a smoother and rolled off form of sound compared to the dry and edgy nature of the W4. The midbass frequencies on the M6U are subtly elevated compared to the W4, offering a more laid-back and warmer tonality. Vocals come across more euphonic and emotionally striking compared to the clean and technical presentation of the W4. There is a slight edge to the sss sounds on vocal tracks with certain IEMs with the W4 whereas they are not present on the M6U.

Technicality-wise I would say both are on par, with both sources resolving quite well with no lack of detail with both sources. The W4's slight dryness and speed of presentation seems to make these details jump out but as you listen more critically I would say that the two sources are more similar than they are different.
The W4 seems to have a slightly wider soundstage but feels as though it is more shallow than the M6U. This may be due to the more forward vocal presentation on the M6U but that how it sounds to me in the end.

Overall, the M6U lacks any baked in DSP but benefits from the wealth of parametric EQ apps available on the Android ecosystem. Additionally, the bonus of a screen, the ability to run apps, manage your music library and the added juice to run headphones should you require it, present some compelling factors for anyone looking to purchase their next source. In terms of sound quality however, it is closer than what the price tag would have you believe. The M6U ultimately wins for me due to my own biases towards a more smooth sound signature (within reason) but the fact that the W4 sonically trades blows in its small form factor is definitely a big bonus.

IMG_4775.jpg

Quality of Life​

The W4 is a rather well built device, however, it remains fairly large as far as dongles go. The knob provides a rather satisfying sound but the feel remains rather mushy and lacking the precise tactile feedback of “I have increased the volume by 3 steps”. With that being said, the addition of a knob is a rather welcome one as I lament fumbling with mushy buttons on other dongles in the market.

This particular W4 has an issue with Apple devices, and whilst this may not be an issue with other W4s, raises the issue that dongles seem to have with power delivery. There are anecdotal issues I have observed with certain dongles and power delivery from iPhones and this whilst this may be a moot point with the impending release of a USB-C iPhone, remains a consideration for many. Other bugbears exist in the W4 universe with a distinct lack of a readily available English manual to action firmware updates and to explain what each setting within the W4’s menu seeks to achieve.

But on a more positive note the W4's battery drain while using the device seems to stellar compared to the other dongles in this review. I am unable to measure this accurately, but anecdotally, the W4 seems to do a great job in this regard. Noise floor is also impressive, even with a Campfire Andromeda hooked up in the balanced connection, handily beating the RU7 and essentially matching the DC04Pro in their absolute silent noise floor. This is definitely a bonus for those with sensitive IEMs in their collection.

Value​

Coming in a rather eye-watering price of $480 USD, there is a distinct feeling of “pick your poison”. This is likely the “best” dongle there is but $480 USD is rather significant amount of money to be put elsewhere should you not require a dongle specifically. The aforementioned Chord Mojo 2 has experienced a significant price drop that puts it pretty close to the W4. The footprint is considerably larger sure but the greater DSP granularity and overall flexibility in its role in the source chain is undeniable.

I, despite owning two dongles, do not enjoy the idea of carrying a floppy and ineffectual USB cable and draining my phone battery. But your mileage may vary.

Conclusion​

This have been a lot of words for a dongle, but with the exception of perhaps the RU7, this is simply the best dongle that I have ever used. With a wealth of features to provide you with the ability to tweak the sound signature to your liking, wonderful technicalities and a rather neutral, non-offensive sound signature, the W4 would be a no-brainer buy for me except for one “but”. And that is the price. For the price, I feel that there are a number of options that become available and perhaps are far more compelling, but for the form-factor.

If money is no option and you definitely need a dongle for whatever reason, I feel that the W4 is an easy buy, but that’s between you and your wallet.

IMG_4751.jpg
o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Great review, mate!
ruffandruff
ruffandruff
Excellent review man!

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Shake and Bake
Pros: Energetic
Sparkly and well extended treble
Fast and well resolving
Cons: Thin and somewhat dry
Can be sibilant and fatiguing at times

Preamble​

IMG_5486.jpg

Many thanks to @Damz87 and @EffectAudio for arranging the Australian tour of the Gaea as well as the Ares 8W, Cadmus 8W and Code 23.

The audio world is quite partial to a good collaboration. From influencers stamping their name on the latest and greatest of chi-fi, to Astell & Kern putting their spin on various IEMs over the years and to musical artists themselves collaborating at length to the point of their names being synonymous with one another. These collaborations can lead to a hit leaving their audiences begging for more, or simply fade away with a whimper.

And so, what comes when a Malaysian manufacturer of IEMs combines forces with … a cable maker? Before you query that, Effect Audio (EA), whilst known for their cable laying capabilities, have had previous forays in the IEM market with their Axiom and having a previous collaboration with QDC.

The Gaea is a collaboration of what seeks to be a long-running relationship between Elysian, often known for their TOTL, the Annihilator and EA who have been ubiquitous in the cable space.

The Factual Stuff​

The Gaea tour kit does not contain the original packing and so I was treated to a rather abridged unboxing experience to reveal a clamshell carry case containing some Spinfit W1s, the Gaea earpieces and a EA cable.

The Gaea earpiece themselves are fashioned out of resin and stabilised wood finished in a handsome blue hue. The EA cable is of four-wire construction and consists of a blend of copper and silver plated copper. The cable features some nice hardware featuring the same stabilised wood finish and has two of the four wires finished in blue.

Within the Gaea’s earpieces lay five drivers consisting of a single dynamic driver and four balanced armatures. Whilst not listed on the product listing, it appears that the Gaea has the DiVe pass system venting the housing to avoid pressure build up as well as driver flex.

All of this comes in at a price range of around 1300 USD.

The Opinion Stuff:​

IMG_5481.jpg

Sound​

Bass:​


The bass regions of the Gaea present with what I would describe as a clean tonality. The bass regions are well balanced with the rest of the frequency response and there is a decent amount of it to keep you rather engaged with the experience. The Gaea is not winning any awards for the most bassy IEM in the market nor is it copping any flack for being anaemic in this region.

Sub-bass seems to be the star of the show here the thumpy lower regions presenting with a robust enough body to keep you engaged with modern pop songs. “Seven” by Jungkook has a rather fast thumping bass line throughout the initial verse that gets even deeper and more drawn out in the chorus. The Gaea handles this excellently with the authority and speed required whilst maintaining enough separation from the mid-range as to not step on any toes.

Mid-bass is also very cleanly done with a minor boost that seems to give it a punchiness that is absent from more strictly tuned IEMs such as the Variations or the Helios, “Out of Time” by the Weeknd has a tendency for the bass drum to overlap with male vocals in a manner that overly colours the vocals, this is not the case with the Gaea. Yet it still handles old-school sample beat that is lush with any IEM with good mid-bass going.

Overall, the bass region is done in a manner that presents music in a manner that retains its fun factor whilst not overpowering the midrange or presenting an coloured warm tonality to the rest of the frequency response. There is likely not enough to please bass-heads but overall, I feel that this region is inoffensive and very well done.

Mids:​

The midrange of the Gaea is, in my opinion, a slightly mixed bag. It undertakes a slightly lifted tilt up into the upper-regions and has a slight tendency to sound and feel slightly thin in its reproduction.

Male vocals such as “Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic present cleanly with no overstepping mid-bass diminishing clarity but there is a sense of reduced weightiness to certain male vocals. Clean and clear yes, but there is a sense of missing emotion and natural timbre to this region. Songs such as Grover Washington’s “Just the Two of Us” presents the vocals of Bill Withers as rather recessed in the mix. Female vocals such as “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac presents female vocals with a shimmery and ethereal quality that injects a sense of airiness and sparkle that is addicting in a way. I would not say that this is a natural reproduction of female vocals but a very pleasing one nonetheless.

Attempting to draw out some sibilance, I chucked on “4 walls” by f(x) which has an abundant of sss noises sung by heady female vocals and the result was rather harsh at times. This is inevitably an attempt to trip up the Gaea and it skewed a bit too far in the bright region for me. Otherwise, instrumentalization within the region presented with a great crispness and cleanliness that tickled the eardrums. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, the dobro and guitar feel visceral in their presentation, sprinkled with the overlapping male and male vocals, the result is a song in the Gaea’s wheelhouse. Where the Gaea faces some difficulties is the presenting a more emotionally engaging presentation of music as it comes across as slightly tinny and thin at times.

Overall, the Gaea presents female vocals with uniquely addictive quality and instruments receive a rather good dose of crispness and clarity with this tuning. There is a slight loss in note weight, natural timbre and some emotion in this reproduction but I believe it handles it far better than the likes of the Variation or the Helios.

Treble​


The upper regions of the Gaea present a rather bright leaning tonality. The airiness and sparkle of the Gaea is something that cannot be denied with certain percussion presenting in a forward and easily discernible manner. Hi-hats that emanate through songs such as “edamame” by bbno$ hit with a crispness and clarity that provides a slight tingle to the eardrums, brushes against hi-hats in “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding provides a wonderful contrast to the dark and moody nature of the song. However, it is not all subtleties with the Gaea, more extremely produced songs such as the piecing synths in “You & Me (Flume Remix)” by Disclosure and Flume are sibilant and somewhat harsh in their sharpness. The treble region seems to inject a sense of openness and crispness to the entirety of the frequency response, with the Gaea reproducing with some airiness to its tonality. Extended listening periods with the Gaea led to a sense of fatigue after some time, expounded with certain strings of EDM tracks. This was less of an issue with more acoustically focused tracks in my playlist but nonetheless, the Gaea required some breaks from time-to-time in order to relax from the rather bright leaning tonality.

Overall, the Gaea seems to elevate a sense of detail, crispness and sparkle in its frequency response as a priority. I don’t particularly mind this tuning given my relative lack of experience with brighter IEMs but ultimately, I can see why such a tuning would be divisive. At its best, the treble is a very rewarding experience, with the goosebump inducing reproduction of certain production providing you with a tremendous sense of drama but this is not an IEM that you can sit back and relax with as it seems to attack you with this region.

Technicalities:​


There was little to sense of wanting in the region of technical performance. The aforementioned tuning seems to heighten microdetails and injects a healthy sense of air into the Gaea, presenting itself as a readily coherent IEM.

The resolution of the Gaea is inflated on more casual listens as cleanly tuned nature of the bass and lower-mids leading into that rather healthy upper-mid and treble boost presents a leaner and thinner reproduction of instrumentalization and vocals that presents itself as “faux-resolution”. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you are agreed with the tonality as a whole.

Staging is a bit of an odd beast to tack down with the Gaea. I don’t believe that it stages too far wide nor deep but rather presents music in the head-stage in a manner that is like a bubble slightly outside the head. Perhaps by virtue of that brighter-tilting tuning combined with its sense of airiness, there is a sense of a set of speakers in an intimate room.

Imaging within this stage is similarly good, tracks such as “Fine” by Taeyeon images a set of overlapping voices at approximately 2:30 in a manner that allows you to discern the voices from one another, but unlike more capable IEMs that allow you to state “one voice is at 1 o’clock and the other is at 3 o’clock”, the Gaea does not provide this. However, it is not all bad, the aforementioned airiness of the Gaea presents music in a cleanly separated and layered manner. In doing so, it allows the listener to dissect their music as each instrument and vocal line seems to sit on their own plane yet all coming together in a coherent and enjoyable manner.

Overall, I feel that the Gaea receives a lot of help from its tuning in terms of technical performance and for that I applaud Elysian and EA for executing this tuning in a manner that remains enjoyable (to me) and elevates detail.

Overall:​

Bright leaning, the Gaea isn’t necessarily the everyman IEM but remains distinctly enjoyable in my books with its rather aggressive reproduction of upper-mids and treble. Somewhat untenable for those who are treble-sensitive or are looking for a laid-back listen, the Gaea presents sparkle and tingle inducing percussion in spades and doesn’t dispense with a good bass response or mid-range as a cost. The tonality leans somewhat bright and potentially metallic in its timbre at times but clear, concise and sparkly is a rather unique experience.

Synergy​

One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy!
Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers.
There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy

Shanling M6U​


I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

The Shanling M6U counteracts some of the gripes that I have with the Gaea, with the M6U imparting warmth and some weight to the midrange. The result is a more full-bodied form of the Gaea in a subtle manner. The previously clean and clinical bass got a little more oomph in the mid-bass and vocals and instruments were no longer as flighty and light in their presentation. However, these changes are minor at best and at worst, negligible for those who aren’t listening critically and A-Bing their sources. As such, the M6U represents a bit of an odd pairing synergistically in that it does not lean into the tonality of the Gaea but rather counteracts it somewhat, leaving a more confusing sound signature that isn’t really sure what it is. It takes the edge off a little but ultimately is not a good pairing for me.

Mojo 2​


I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

The Mojo2 presents a rather straightforward reproduction of music with the Gaea, there is a sense of reduced weight from the M6U and a greater clarity in music. I do not believe that the Mojo2 and the Gaea leans to too far into the thin territory but rather meshes quite well, especially with the consideration that you would be able to alter the Gaea with EQ.

The bass response feels nice and fast, with less mid-bass than the M6U perhaps less of a slight treble uplift as it felt not as sibilant with songs that sought to bring that out.

The Gaea’s synergy with the Mojo2 is something that is not particularly outstanding in any regard and in this respect I hesitate to make any sort of strong statement. The Mojo2 and the Gaea work fine together.

iBasso DC04 Pro​


I would characterise the DC04Pro as dynamic, clean and has a very low noise floor. The sound signature is slightly bright in comparison to my other sources and tracks seem to “attack” you.

The DC04 Pro seems to close up the staging of the Gaea, creating a more intimate experience wherein sounds seem to be confined within a phone booth rather than a recording studio. This experience may seem detrimental but there is an added energy to music which when combined with the DC04Pro’s exceptional noise performance seems to attack you with sounds out of the blackness of silence.

This combined well with the Gaea providing less of a diffuse staging wherein clarity and separation were key points of emphasis but rather providing a more engaging and dramatic reproduction of music.

Where the DC04 Pro suffers is the perceived brighter tilt of the source versus the M6U or the Mojo2 and when working with an already lifted upper range on the Gaea, seems to enhance a sense of sibilance when listening to more harshly produced songs.

In this regard, I believe that the DC04 Pro is a rather good choice if you want a more engaging listening experience and don’t seek to have an analytical breakdown of whether you can make out a hi-hat at 2:35 of a particular song but rather want to be engaged by simply letting the music wash over you.

Cable MADNESS

IMG_6148.JPG

The Gaea kit came with an assortment of cables, including the Ares 8W, Cadmus 8W and Code 23. I also was lucky enough to receive the Fusion 1 tour at the same time, as well as the Diva (review coming soon) with the Ares 4W and the very lovely @GiullianSN provided me with his personal Cleo II Octa for the following cable rolling experience.

Ares S​


The entry level of the latest series of EA audio cables, the Ares is four wires of pure copper construction. The combination of the Gaea and the Ares S is a distinct sense of taming the upper regions of the frequency response, sibilance is seemingly reigned in, the bass becomes slightly more boomy and there is a slightly slower decay imparted on the Gaea. These seek to enrich what is a rather clinical IEM with some more lushness and in that regard it does so with little finesse. The stage does not feel that deep and the appeal of the Gaea is held back slightly as it is darkened by the Ares S. Overall, it fixes some problems but is as precise as a mallet in this regard and I believe some of the nuances of what makes the Gaea special is lost with this pairing

Ares S 8W​


Its smaller brother didn’t fair too well but the 8 wire version seems to be better. Compared to the 4W and stock cables, the Ares S 8W seems to bring the female vocal more forward in the mix and there is a seemingly greater sense of depth to the stage. There is a boomy sub-bass throughout my testing and slightly more mid-bass. Sibilance is somewhat still present but reigned in from the stock and ever so slightly more spicy than the 4W equivalent of this cable. There is a perceived loss in ‘energy’ with the 8W cable as it seems more slow in the decay of certain notes and combined with the boomier bass creates a sense of lethargy.

The perceived improvements in staging and the slightly more nuanced approach to the Gaea’s FR seems to work well and I believe that this is a better choice than the 4W version.

Cadmus 8W​

The Cadmus’s silver plated copper construction leads to a number of nuanced differences from stock and the aforementioned copper cables. There is a perceived increase in the depth of stage, and contrary to popular belief, there appears to be a reigned in upper-mid and treble region. Bass quantity is reduced from the Ares brothers but it remains distinctly fast, detailed and textured in its reproduction.

Overall, the Cadmus seems to heighten the characteristics of the Gaea ever-so-slightly and presents what I experienced with the stock cable but turned up a few notches. Not the most dramatic difference but if you already love what you get with the Gaea and its stock cable, the Cadmus seems to be a % point improvement that might be worth it.

Code 23​


This cursed ergonomic beast features a rather thick copper core surrounded by various wires of varying materials. The result of this is a greater width and depth to the stage, the Code 23 feels distinctly the most spacious of all the cables in this round up. Otherwise, the bass feels more generous in its quantity with booming sub-bass being handed out in spades. However, there is a slight slowdown in the bass that feels somewhat disappointing. However, the strongest capability of the Code 23 is the perceived improvements in technical performance and the increased sense of imaging. Instruments and vocals are separated clearly and allow for a greater sense of immersion in your music. For this reason, I believe that the Code23 is a rather unique choice for the Gaea and one that I do not believe would be a bad choice.

Fusion 1​


A gorgeous gold cable featuring every material in the book with its 2 wire construction. The combination of the Fusion 1 and Gaea seemed to present a more vocal forward reproduction and a great enhancement of spaciousness. Perhaps not the level of the Code23 above but definitely within the upper range of this assortment of cables. Speed returns to the bass and it remains distinctly punchy and fun. It is faster than the likes of the Code23 and both Ares and is perhaps similar if not the same as the Cadmus. However, unlike the Cadmus, the bass remains readily apparent and quite fun in its boominess.

I believe that the Fusion 1 presents the best all-round approach to the Gaea but note that there is a slight sibilance that remains with the cable.

Cleo II Octa​

A pure silver 8 wire cable, the Cleo coalesces with the Gaea in a manner that is rather excellent. The staging capabilities compared to the likes of Fusion 1 and Code23 seems lsightly more confined but there is a sense of energy imparted to the Gaea. Bass is punchy and quantity is not lacking, sibilance in the upper mids/treble is reigned in and the perceived sense of imaging and resolution of more subtle notes in songs seem to be heightened. The Cleo, like the Fusion 1 seems to be on the best all-rounders that do not seek to overload a certain region nor take away too much. In this case, I believe that the Cleo II is a fine choice for a combo with the Gaea.

Comparisons

Vs MEST MK2​

IMG_5511.jpg

The MEST MK2 presents music with an emphasis in sub-bass and in the upper treble. Mids remain fairly neutral but come across as slightly thin at times. The MK2 and the Gaea share some similarities in the treble but where they differ substantially is in the upper-midrange section wherein Gaea seems to place more emphasis on vocals and eeks out some shrillness whereas the MK2 comes across as decidedly more relaxed.

Where they differ most is perhaps the technical capabilities and the way in which music is presented. The MK2 seems to take a more even approach to balancing instruments and vocals and does so with its odd “3D” soundstaging capabilities. The Gaea injects a large amount of air and upper mids into the mix in order to create a sense of space between certain instruments but there remains a distinct forwardness of vocals.

The latters tuning seems to help with perceived resolution but overall, I would give the nod to the MK2 for resolving busily produced tracks with ease in a more natural manner than the Gaea.

I feel that the MK2 represents a more balanced and approachable tuning and has the benefit of having that special sauce bone-conduction driver that seems to add a level of depth to your music.

Vs Diva​

IMG_5507.jpg

The Gaea’s bigger brother is the next step in the Elysian line-up, and whilst it is more expensive, it is not hugely so. The Diva has some similar traits with the Gaea in terms of its upper-mid lift leading to a forward vocal presentation. However, the Diva differs in a sense of added lower-end weight and warmth that creates a far more laid-back listening experience that is thoroughly enjoyable. The Diva’s treble also seems less aggressive and more smooth in its reproduction. The end result is a vocal forward IEM with the edges rounded and smoothed out as opposed to a fastidious and hard-edged approach of the Gaea. I definitely enjoy the Diva more for its more naturalistic and engaging presentation of music as well as the granularity in the bass-tuning switch. But the bass also is an oddity with the Diva having zero dynamic drivers compared to the Gaea’s single DD. Conventional thinking would have you believe that the Diva’s bass doesn’t hold a candle to the Gaea’s but I don’t believe that to be true. In terms of technical ability, the Gaea sacrifices timbre in the pursuit of what I term “faux detail” whereas the Diva retains detail and resolution despite its smoother and more warm production and in this regard, I would give the nod to Diva. The Diva doesn’t seem to project as spacious of a stage as the Gaea owing to its rather intimate vocal presentation which seems to eliminate any perceived extension in terms of width.

The Diva presents the Gaea’s female vocal speciality in a different context which is for me, is much more enjoyable. As such, I give the Diva the nod here but understand those who want a hard-edged and drier reproduction of music would prefer the Gaea.

Vs Helios (from memory and previous review)​


The Symphonium Helios is an IEM that I characterised as being somewhat thin and with an excellently executed treble region that extended high and was done without becoming fatiguing. The Helios, in my mind, represents the best comparison for the Gaea and I sought to see who won out.

The Helios has a lower-mid dip that does a great job of separating the bass from the mid-range but at the cost of severely diminishing anything that sits in this region and imparting a clinical coldness to the frequency response. The Helios lacks note weight and can be a little too precise in its reproduction of music to the point of reducing my emotional engagement with my music.

The Gaea has some elements of this but the drama and the excitement is retained well with its nice bass which hits slightly harder in the mid-bass region, creating a fun-factor that was absent in the Helios. The treble on the Gaea is less smooth and more peaky compared to the Helios and I would venture to say that it is far more likely to cause fatigue over time.

Overall, the Gaea has some of the traits of the Helios but presents its sound signature in a more enjoyable manner in my opinion. The Gaea, in my opinion, presents a better all-rounder compared to the Helios.

Value & Quality of Life​


At 1300 USD, the Gaea is against some steep competition in the kilobuck range. When compared to the aforementioned IEMs in the Comparison section above, I do not believe I would be incorrect to say that the Gaea is a fine choice for this price, however, I do not believe it is the safe choice for this price bracket.

It leans on the thinner side of tonality and slightly brighter than its competitors and in this regard, I do not believe it to be the “everyman” IEM.

The included accessories in the tour kit are rather skim but the inclusion of a EA cable with the ConX system is a rather good inclusion. However, points are taken off as the cable doesn’t appear to be a TermX compatible cable. The cable uses a Pentaconn connector for the IEM-side connection (P-Ear) which feels to be a better executed form of MMCX. The cable slots in and is removed easily using a guiding pin to ensure that you are not inserting it at an angle. This is a great connector in my mind as it allows freedom of movement (a win over 2 pin) and feels far less fragile than MMCX. However, the issue is that it is a rather rare connector and for those with a collection of cables may feel disappointed.

The earpieces themselves are lightweight and well-made, the combination of which seem to be a comfortable fit for myself and likely a large proportion of the market. The depth of the earpieces are fairly robust and as such may pose some problems but these fit in and stayed in my ears with little to no issues over longer listening periods.

Overall, the combination of ergonomics and the sound quality that you get from the Gaea lead me to believe that this is a rather good choice on a technical and liveable standpoint but a gamble tonality wise.

Conclusion​

The Gaea is a rather bright and thinned out IEM that seeks to heighten a sense of space and air throughout the listening experience. It achieves this in spades and provides a rather unique experience. However, unique doesn’t necessarily mean excellent and whilst I can appreciate the Gaea for what it is, it is tonally out of my wheelhouse and do not believe it would be a very versatile IEM.

For those who are sensitive to treble and for those who enjoy warmth in their mid-range, the Gaea is the one to avoid.

Overall, I would not mind the Gaea in a rotation of IEMs to which I could appreciate more open productions of music and to feel a sense of goose-bump inducing excitement with treble from time-to-time but as a standalone IEM, I believe that it fails to provides a sense of weightiness and emotional impact that I am looking for. It is clean and clinical with a bit of spice in the top end for that added drama.
Last edited:

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Form > Function?
Pros: Hugely dynamic
Sleek design
Excellent software with DSP capabilities
Cons: Middling battery life
Heavily reliant on buttons that don’t feel that great
Poor raw power output

Preamble​

IMG_5554.jpg

Thank you to @Damz87, @Joe Bloggs and Hiby for arranging the Australian tour of the Hiby R6 Pro 2. Big thank you especially to Joe for providing his personal unit on tour.

The digital audio player (DAP) is something of an anomaly among people who do not care much for audio fidelity. Often, they gawk at my oddly shaped brick and query, “what is that?”. To which I must go into an explanation that it is essentially an iPod, and so beings the game of 21 questions as to why I bother when I have a phone and Airpods at my disposal. This is not a new experience to me but at the same time, even audiophiles with a wealth of equipment also find themselves querying, “why a DAP?”.

Today’s review concerns the Hiby R6 Pro II (R6P2) a DAP that is priced to be mid-fi but promises a wealth of features and sound quality that would have you believe that it is a summit-fi DAP. And instead of just talking about the R6P2 I would like to talk about the concept of DAPs as a whole.

The Factual Stuff​

The R6P2 is an Android 12 powered DAP featuring a Snapdragon 665 SoC and more importantly, a AK4191EQ + dual AK4499EX DAC. Finished in aluminium anodised in either purple or black, the R6P2 takes a more design-forward approach to aesthetics, with curves and a machined pattern in the rear. On the underside of the unit is a wealth of ports including a 3.5mm LO and PO as well as a 4.4mm LO and PO.

The R6P2 features a large 5.9” IPS screen with a higher than HD resolution of 1080 x 2160.

Within the R6P2 is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Either side of the R6P2 feature a rocker button and an additional button offset.

The amplification stage of the R6P2 is drive by 2 OPA1652s and 8 NXP bipolar transistors leading to 125mW output through the unbalanced 3.5mm and 383 mW output through the balanced 4.4mm with either Class A or Class AB output.

The R6P2 has a 5000 mAh battery and Hiby report play time of 8 hours at the longest through 3.5mm, Class AB and 5 hours at the shortest through 4.4mm, Class A.

The Opinion Stuff​

But why male models?​

Perhaps delving into why the R6P2 is or isn’t a good DAP, perhaps it is more pertinent to explain why bother with DAPs in the first place. I personally enjoy DAPs as my audio source as I am often listening on the go and whilst the smartphone + dongle combination is something that would likely be able to match a DAP, the DAP remains hugely convenient to me. By having a separate device purely dedicated to music listening, I am able to save my phone’s battery life, remove distractions from my music listening and be able to use various SD cards at my ease. I find that when I plug my IEMs into my DAP I am removing the chance of being distracted by apps (despite DAPs being able to have these apps), emails or calls coming through that can definitely wait.

Sound​

If you’re reading a DAP review, I would venture to believe that you are a believer of source impact on sound quality. If you are not, I would skip this section completely and move to the “Quality of Life & Value” section as you would believe that it is sheer baloney.

Bass​

The most prominent aspect of the R6P2 seems to be a healthy amount of boost in the low end. The sub-bass of IEMs when paired with the R6P2 appears to be presented with added presence and extension in the low end providing a deep rumble with certain tracks. This is not an overbloated sub-bass boost, it remains subtle, nuanced and controlled with the bass notes. To this effect, mid-bass seems to have little to no movement, I would not term the R6P2 as a warm source as more neutral IEMs remain so and warm IEMs do not descend into the overly dark territory.

The bass extension seems to be the most prominent aspect of the R6P2 as there is a seemingly deeper reach into the low end creating a very pleasing sense of physicality with IEMs that had none previously.

Mids​


The midrange of the R6P2 remains distinctly neutral to my ears with no real emphasis on any particular aspect of the midrange. There is not sudden injection of warmth nor is there a dramatic emphasis on sibilant upper midrange notes with more neutral IEMs. There is a certain sense of spaciousness and airiness with vocals on the whole that provides you with a distinct sense of naturalness to the timbre. I would definitely not call the R6P2 as thin nor ‘digital’ in nature as instrumentalization and vocals remain very good in their tonality, but there isn’t much in the way of tonal colouring going on with the R6P2.

Note weight isn’t heavy nor thin in any regard owing to the retention of mid-bass and so I believe that the R6P2 is a good choice for maintaining a neutral mid-range performance unlike some sources which seek to colour this region considerably.

Treble

Treble performance on the R6P2 is similarly a good story with a perceived slight boost in this region. This is not making a dead IEM suddenly sparkly nor is it going to make a sparkly IEM induce ear bleeding but rather there is an enhanced sense of layering and separation between regions and instruments.

Compared to the likes of cheaper dongles such as the DC04Pro wherein sibilance may be a side effect of drawing out additional top-end detail, the R6P2 remains fairly neutral.

Overall, there is not much to say for this region other than there is a slight emphasis on the upper regions of the frequency response that seeks to heighten the fun factor of the R6P2 by creating a edginess and crispiness to the notes in this region. When combined with the low-end performance, one could characterise the R6P2 as having a slightly v-shaped tonality.

Technicalities:

The most prominent element about the R6P2 is the significant boost in dynamic performance of certain IEMs. The MEST MK2 is hardly a dynamic IEM remaining rather subdued with swings of volume in certain songs. The R6P2 amplifies such dynamic swings adding a sense of drama to your music. Soundtracks to films and video games have not sounded better on the MK2 until it was paired with the R6P2 with jarring crescendos being reproduced with gusto and jumps in volume giving me a great sense of scale and dynamic range.

Sound staging is rather good, presenting music in a spacious manner. The R6P2 doesn’t imbue a huge amount of staging width nor depth but rather seems to extend things slightly wider when listening closely. This is unlike certain sources such as the W4 or the RU7 which extended staging broadly to the point of potentially losing some engagement. The R6P2 remains present and thoroughly engaging throughout the entirety of the listening experience.

Detail retrieval and imaging is also similarly good for the price as I feel that microdetails and placement of certain instruments become more well defined when compared to the likes of competitors in the price range. The M6U (more on this below) feels less defined and sharp with its laissez-faire reproduction.

Overall​

It is difficult to fault the R6P2 on the basis of sound. Very dynamic with a fun infused V-shaped tuning, the R6P2 provides the end user with a significant injection of excitement into any IEM that they listen to as well as the ability to tweak sound signatures with the wealth of DSP built into their software.

Overall, I would say that the R6P2 provides a very compelling package from a sound quality standpoint, especially when compared to its peers.

Comparisons​

Shanling M6 Ultra (M6U)​

The M6U takes a different approach to sound quality when compared to R6P2. The M6U seemingly represents a phrase I have heard commonly in audio circles of “Shanling house sound”. With increased warmth, smoothness and note weight, the M6U colours tonality to a greater extent than the R6P2.

This shift in sound signature is likely a love-hate relationship whereas the R6P2 is seemingly able to appeal to a larger audience.
Technical performance on the R6P2 is better with a noticeable improvement in dynamics and a perceived extension in bass frequencies.

Outside of sound, the M6U takes a smaller footprint and features a volume wheel making adjusting volume a much more intuitive. The M6U runs an older version of Android and has fewer built-in DSP features.

Overall, the R6P2 is likely to appeal to more people whereas those who are looking for a more analogue and coloured tonality would likely love the M6U. I can see people owning both to achieve different sound signatures but if it were up to me to have only one DAP, I would go with the R6P2 for an all-rounder.

Luxury & Precision W4​

The W4 with fast filter, Tone set to 02 and all other DSP off creates a fairly dry and fast reproduction of music that seeks to heighten detail retrieval and clearly defines the edges of notes. The detriment of this tonality is a slight unnaturalness to certain instruments as well as vocal tonality. Comparatively speaking, the R6P2 maintains a natural presentation of music with greater dynamics and greater punchiness in the sub-bass region whereas mid-bass gets a little more love with the W4. Technicality wise, the W4 presents in a more wide and more flat staging compared to the R6P2 and as such I prefer the R6P2.

The W4 therefore is a more detail-orientated source with a great sense of speed and edginess to the music whereas the R6P2 seeks to be more engaging with its dramatic low-end and excellent dynamics.

The dongle is something of a love-hate source choice being extremely convenient but also somewhat annoying to carry around with your phone. The R6P2 suits my use case better in this scenario but the W4 is able to trade blows from a detail standpoint but ultimately, I feel that the R6P2 is far more engaging with its presentation.

Chord Mojo 2 + Poly​

The Mojo 2 presents a warmed up signature compared to the R6P2 with greater mid-bass imbuing a sense of low-end punch. Despite this warmth, upper mids remain fairly forward in the mix and the staging of the Mojo2 is wider than that of the R6P2. There is a greater sense of depth with the Mojo2 as well but there is a slightly more coloured tonality compared to the R6P2. Ultimately, where the R6P2 presents its greatest advantage is of course, the dynamics and microdetail retrieval.

The R6P2 also presents a greater emphasis on the upper mids and the treble regions of the frequency response curve creating a greater sense of crispness and tingle in the upper end that I thoroughly enjoy with certain IEMs.

The R6P2 and the Mojo2 present significant DSP capabilities but I, being the simpleton as I am, enjoy pushing buttons on the Mojo more than I do playing with convolution filters and incremental sliding scales on the MSEB.

Overall, the Mojo2 presents a more laid-back reproduction of music whereas the R6P2 seems to attack you more.

Quality of Life & Value​

The R6P2 eschews from DAP conventions to innovate some novel approaches to common complaints. The R6P2 utilises a rocker button and another offset button on either side of the DAP, leading to a total of 6 buttons on the DAP. These control volume, power and media controls and allow for the R6P2 to be rotated in a manner to reorientate the outputs. This is a tremendous design choice as it provides people with the option to utilise their DAP with their cables hanging from the top of the DAP or from the bottom.

The reality of this configuration however is that the buttons are fairly mushy to the touch and are not as intuitive to use as a encoder wheel which provide greater ease of adjustment. The button configuration is also quite odd on the left side of the R6P2 as the rocker is play/pause and skip defying conventional thinking.

The wealth of outputs on the R6P2 is a tremendous quality of life bonus for those who look to use their DAP in a more varied manner than a glorified MP3 player. Line outputs allow users to bypass the amplification stage of the R6P2 and connect to an external amp. This line out is also variable, allowing users to control volume on the line-out which is something that is a bit of a rarity on DAPs.

Android 13 on a DAP is a rarity unless you’re HIby. So often do many DAP manufacturers utilise obsolete versions of the Android operating system which is not an issue if you plan on using local files but poses a larger issue if you want to use apps which are constantly updating their requirements. For example, the Wavelet app only works on Android 10 and above.

Hiby is also known for their significant digital signal processing capabilities when compared to other DAP manufacturers. With their MSEB which seeks to simplify a 10 band EQ into more easily understood terms, various digital filters and add-ons such as a convolution filter and the DRX10K Dynamic plug-in. These elements provide the end-user with tremendous granularity in adjusting the sound signature of the R6P2 and is a definite bonus to those who are looking to tweak their sound signature. The dynamics plug-in creates a very unique shift in sound quality that is more easy to use than messing to use with a 10-band EQ and seems to achieve dramatic shifts in dynamic performance, which on the R6P2, is already stellar.

The variance of class A and class AB seem to be minute if anything with IEMs. Call it a trick of the mind but I noticed the most minor increase in bass quantity and sense of punch when in Class A versus Class AB. This was somewhat more pronounced on headphones with the HD6XX being more confined in staging but with a greater sense of presence and impact in its reproduction of music. Power output is a sore point on the R6P2 with the volume having to be pushed quite high even on high-gain on IEMs. No IEM had any issues on the R6P2 but I am willing to bet that the R6P2 is not ideal for certain headphones in the market. The HD6XX required 75 / 100 to be at the peak of my listening volume on the 3.5mm.

Battery life is also a poor element of the R6P2 with Class A and 4.4mm balanced output being only rated for 5 hours. Whilst you can bring this figure up with AB and 3.5mm it is still hardly a world beater in this regard. I did not do any specific testing but anecdotally, seeing percentages drop considerably with only a few hours of listening is a hugely disheartening factor of the R6P2 when compared to the likes of the Mojo + Poly combo and the M6U.

Overall, the QoL with the R6P2 leaves a lot to be desired. Hardware design, whilst wonderful to look at, leaves a lot to be desired when you’re actually interacting with the device. Software is great with the latest and greatest of Android combined with a suite of DSP, but the lack of a dedicated listening mode that you see with devices from Shanling (Prime Mode) and iBasso (Mango) is something that I miss somewhat. Battery life and power output are the weakest elements of the R6P2 as both are middling and somewhat annoying to deal with. I cannot recommend the R6P2 for people with power-hungry headphones nor can I recommend it for those looking for an all-day device, especially if you find yourself enamoured with the Class A mode.

Conclusion​

The R6P2 brings a very even keeled approach to sound seeking to enhance more technical elements of whatever you’re listening to rather than the tonality. By increasing extension and improving dynamics there is a sense of “opening up” your IEM and improving the dynamic range of what you can hear.

The R6P2 has some creature comforts and excellent quality of life features that seek to improve your DAP experience but fundamental aspects such as power output and battery life suffer considerably.

I cannot fault the R6P2 on a sound quality perspective but on a liveability perspective, it leaves a lot to be desired.
And if you are willing to make sacrifices for sound quality to a certain budget, the R6P2 punches above its weight in this regard.

IMG_5557.jpg

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
I'm afraid I just blue myself
Pros: Surprisingly tonally balanced
Bass cannons
Small and comfy earpieces
Cons: Still not as detailed or resolving as its competitors by virtue of tuning
Weak treble

IMG_5657.jpg

Preamble​

Many thanks to @Damz87 for arranging the Australian tour of these and special thanks to @tfaduh for lending his personal unit for this review.

It’s not uncommon to see new entrants in the world of audio but it is less common to see on as prolific as FatFreq. In a short span of time, this Singaporean manufacturer has managed the capture the imagination of many an audiophile through their rather extreme tunings and their rather robust product line up consisting of musician targeted monitors and the Maestro line. Today’s review concerns the baby of the family in the form of the Maestro Mini, an IEM that FatFreq states was created with the purpose of bringing all the goals of the Maestro line at a competitive price point. And what does the Maestro line aim to bring to audiophiles? A “lifelike concert experience” with their Bass Cannon that attempts to create a deep subwoofer-like experience. But can their IEM deliver?

The Factual Stuff​

Utilising a single dynamic driver and 2 balanced armatures, the Maestro Mini is a hybrid IEM that is encased in a rather handsome blue resin housing. The retail MM comes in a FATBOX pelican-style case with foam to protect your precious new IEMs as well as a dessicant to wick away moisture. A 4-wire silver-plated copper cable comes as stock with an option of a upgrade silver cable. Otherwise, the MM also comes with an assortment of silicone tips and cleaning brushes.

This review concerns the personal unit of @tfaduh which is an earlier production model and is without its stock cable.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​


TL;DR: The MM offers a well-balanced and detailed bass performance with a significant boost, providing deep sub-bass and fast response without being overbearing, distinguishing itself in its price category.
The MM’s purported strong suit is its bass region with a very healthy amount of boost applied to the low-end to separate itself from other options in the price category. This is not a situation of pure low-end grunt at the cost of speed or detail however, the MM manages to balance both rather well. Whilst there is a healthy amount of bass in terms of quantity, the MM manages to be rather tonally balanced overall and doesn’t reach the same boot shaking quantity of bass as its younger cousin, the Scarlet Mini achieves.

Sub-bass extends deep and the physicality of certain songs is felt in a rather engaging manner, with songs such as “Tokyo Calling” by Atarashii Gakko striking with speed and weight in the low-end. The low-end grunt is not at the cost of detail as it remains distinctly textured and readily discernible. Speed was perhaps the most impressive element of the MM as bass notes hit with an immediacy that belies its strong level of boost in the region.

Overall, the bass regions of the MM actually do not really reflect the FR curve (at least in my books) as it remains rather tonally balanced with the rest of the FR curve and whilst strong, is not overbearing by any means.

Mids​


TL;DR: The MM offers a surprisingly balanced and enjoyable midrange, though with a slightly lean note weight and minor timbral issues, making it a good but not flawless performer in this aspect.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the MM was its rather strong performance in the midrange. Following the Scarlet Mini review, I expected the MM to be similarly overbearing in the low-end to the point of diminishing mid-range performance. However, vocals and instruments within this region maintain a level of balance and presence throughout my listening.

“Seven” by Jungkook contains a rather strong and present bassline throughout the song accompanied by a rather simply guitar chord and the male vocals of Jungkook. The MM maintains a tonal balance and imparts a level of weight to his voice that creates a very enjoyable listening experience that doesn’t feel incoherent nor incomprehensible.

“Walk With Me” by Cosmos Midnight is a floaty and ethereal production of electronica and the flighty vocals of Kučka sung in a higher register and the MM manages to combine its robust low-end with the necessary delicacy of the song as a whole in a manner that was extremely enjoyable.

Despite this surprisingly good mid-range performance, the MM is not perfect by any means as I have some slight issues regarding note weight and the timbre of the mid-range. Mids come off on the leaner side with some thinner note weight that is not entirely natural. The timbre of the mids have a slight plasticky twang to it that does not feel as effortless or as analogue as other IEMs. This is not to say that that the mids descends into the highly unnatural territory of more clinical and edgy IEMs in the market but this tonal characteristic is something that I noted in my listening.

Overall, the MM provides a rather excellent reproduction of the midrange with a slight edge to the upper mids but with an overall thinner body.

Treble​


TL;DR: The MM's treble is sufficient and balanced, offering a smooth and detailed listening experience without being overly sparkly or fatiguing, yet it doesn't stand out as a prominent feature compared to the rest of its sound profile.

I am far from a treble aficionado with it being the region that is least impactful to my overall listening experience but for want of a better reviewer, I would deem the treble on the MM as being wholly sufficient and for something as bass heavy as the MM, I would be inclined to believe that this is a victory for FatFreq.

The MM does not wow you with a sparkly and airy treble section but rather is sufficiently energetic and detailed in its reproduction with songs such as “Reckoner” by Radiohead, with its rather heavy use of percussion, providing you with well articulated and smooth treble performance. Unlike more aggressively tuned treble regions, the MM does not give you that hair-raising tingle and the slight jarring that one experiences with a cymbal crash but it remains sufficient for my listening experience.

Lower treble regions is sufficiently well controlled as higher register female vocals remain restrained enough to not elicit large amounts of fatigue over time. Upper treble and the airiness of the MM is similarly restrained as I do not feel that there is a huge amount of extension here to open up the overall FR.

Overall, I believe that the MM’s treble remains dramatic and prominent enough to create a fairly detailed and smooth listen that is not sibilant nor does it elicit fatigue but it is not a hugely prominent element of the MM. It remains balanced and rather good but does not do enough to standout from the rest of the MM.

Technicalities​

TL;DR: The MM offers adequate detail and good imaging despite its bass-heavy tuning, with a wide but somewhat flat soundstage, and manages to maintain clarity and separation across the frequency range without excelling in microdetail or staging depth.

The aforementioned tuning choices of the MM is not conducive to creating a hugely detailed sound signature as the rather underwhelming treble does not highlight the leading edge of certain notes, generate the requisite space between such notes and ultimately does not highly the microdetails. However, the MM is detailed enough in my books, remaining rather well resolving from a macro level, managing to provide a detailed enough listen throughout any region of the FR curve without muddying up the mids nor the treble through its zealous bass tuning.

Imaging is rather good despite the rather significant bass boost with each section of the FR curve still maintaining a sense of layering and separation throughout. Multi-layered songs and directional cues are rather easy to discern but are not extremely pin-pointed with songs such as “Fine” by Taeyeon maintaining a sense of layering but not providing the same directional definition as more standout IEMs in the class.

Staging is sufficiently wide but not exactly a ‘holographic’ out-of-head experience. It feels wide and slightly flat in terms of staging so not the best sense of stage depth. There is some depth imparted by the rather generous bass boost but the rest of the response curve creates a sense of vocals and percussion sitting behind the drums ever-so-slightly.

Overall​

With a strong lower-end, the MM manages to present a fun and unique tuning that maintains a semblance of tonal balance in that the mids are surprisingly good. With a slightly middling treble region, the MM is hardly the perfect balance of all regions of the FR curve but remains engaging and fun to listen to.

IMG_5690.jpg

Comparisons​

vs Scarlet Mini​

The red cousin of the MM is a successor of some sort occupying a price-bracket that represents a minor uplift from the MM’s and shares a similar footprint size wise.

The difference in sound is a rather dramatic one as I feel that the Scarlet dispenses with all subtlety in order to pursue bass. The lower-end is surprisingly more impactful, more punchy and more physical than the MM. The boost in the bass seemingly overwhelms the mid-range on the Scarlet as it is more recessed in the mix when compared to the MM. The treble region of the Scarlet is slightly more bright and sparkly when compared to the MM. This region is definitely more of a standout on the Scarlet when compared to the MM but may eek out some more sibilance out of female vocalist and more jarring percussion.

Technicality-wise, the tuning approach of the Scarlet seemingly reduces its technical proficiencies as the mid-bass into the lower-mids feel more smeared when compared to the MM and the mids as a whole feel recessed to the point of minimising macro-details in this region. The Scarlet requires a far more engaged and critical listen to discern such aspects whereas the MM feels more prevalent in its resolving capabilities comparatively speaking. The treble uplift in the Scarlet does seemingly create the sense of sparkle and air required to highlight micro-details but on the whole I feel like that the technical performance of either IEM is similar enough but less apparent on the Scarlet.

Overall, I feel that the Scarlet is a specialist IEM that occupies a slot in the collection for short-term listens whereas the MM is a daily driver that is more versatile.

Value & Quality of Life​


Priced at 600 SGD the MM is one of the cheapest of the the FatFreq family and provides an entry point to the revered bass cannon. Compared to its competitors in its price range and even those above it, the MM provides a coloured yet still surprisingly tonally enjoyable experience. Unlike the Scarlet, it does not overwhelm the song entirely with its bass boost and whilst it loses out in terms of treble sparkle compared to its red cousin, the MM maintains a coherent and enjoyable mid-range that really accentuates its tonal balance overall compared to the unabashed specialist nature of the Scarlet.

The MM is a bit left of field choice in the price range but considering its significant bass boost, it delineates itself from the market of rather safe Harman tunings and instead opts for an accentuated low-end combined with a competent mid-range and relaxed treble region. In doing so, I believe that the MM is a bit of a dark-horse in the market and whilst you can look at FR curves and immediate dismiss the MM, I feel that it’s coloured tuning creates character and that the IEM is far more listenable on an ongoing basis than what the FR curve would have you believe.

The shells are lightweight and rather small. Getting them seated into my ear was rather fiddly given the accentuated curves of the resin moulding but once seated they remained in-ear happily for hours on end. I cannot speak to the accessory package from an anecdotal basis given my review unit is without these accessories and has an aftermarket cable on it but the inclusion of the FATBOX is a wonderful boon to the value proposition of the MM.

Quality control has become a rather sore point of FatFreq in recent times and combined with some experiences of customer service being slow, it would be remiss of me to not mention that FatFreq may not be the best should there be anything wrong with your MM.

Conclusion​

I was expecting a bassy fun fest for all of about 10 minutes before I got bored and switched back to something more manageable. What I got was a bassy fun fest that was surprisingly balanced and enjoyable for hours on end.

The MM, unlike the Scarlet is not an unabashed bass cannon but rather reigns things in a little bit to be a better daily driver. The bass boost is enjoyable, not for everyone but remains more liveable than the Scarlet’s overwhelming bass region.

Compared to other IEMs in its price bracket, the MM is unique with its tuning and is just plain fun. It is not effortlessly natural nor is it clinical in its presentation but instead blurs the line of what is a ‘listenable tuning’ for me and I can thoroughly recommend it.

IMG_5687.jpg





Silantr0
Silantr0
What a great review, glad you kept it simple and to the point unlike most reviewers who tend to go off tangent. One thing I notice for the Scarlets is that narrow bore tips tend to boost up the mid range and tighten the bass so it's less smeary. My concerns were the same as yours when I used the Tri Clarion tips that came with the Scarlets. Overall, hope to see more reviews from you in the future! 👍

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Bookended with greatness
Pros: Uniquely floaty yet strong bass region
Sparkly and goosebump inducing treble
Organic sounding
Cons: Mids are lacking
Somewhat oddly shaped
Lacking TOTL level detail

IMG_5574.jpg

Preamble​

Many thanks to @Damz87, @Vision Ears and Minidisc for arranging the Australian tour of the EXT and the PHöNIX.

Ask anyone on the street about audio brands and the likelihood that they rattle off brands such as Apple, Beats and Bose is very high indeed. Ask people slightly more interested in the topic and you might get the likes of Sennheiser and Audio Technica. The chances of them stating “Vision Ears” are very low, and for good reason. The German company keeps a fairly low profile mostly sticking to CIEMs and some rather high-priced universal IEMs, keeping their target audience largely musicians and hardcore audiophiles. Today’s review concerns the EXT, a rather garishly coloured anomaly, even for audiophiles, in its approach to tuning and technology. But is the EXT something worth escalating to popular knowledge? Or within the confines of this audio community?

The Factual Stuff​


The EXT comes in a rather spartan-looking cardboard box containing within it, a garish purple case machined out of aluminium. Within the case contains the earpieces fashioned out of black acrylic and adorned with a wonderfully machined aluminium faceplate anodised in a handsome purple hue. Within these earpieces are a rather odd combination of dual dynamic drivers and four electrostatic drivers. The dynamic drivers are 9.2mm and 6mm responsible for the bass and the midrange respectively. The four electrostats are dedicated to the treble region.

The EXT comes with a cable terminated in 2.5mm and features 8 wires of 28AWG silver-plated copper.

IMG_5571.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​

The low end of the EXT presents a rather robust performer in terms of sub-bass with a generous amount of boost applied to the lowest depths of the frequency response curve. The result is an impressively deep and textured bass response. However, the EXT is not simply a bass-boosted monster but rather it manages to balance it with some nuance and clarity in its reproduction of the low-end. It manages to articulate the finer details of bass drums and remains fairly speedy despite the generous boost. “Ghosts” by Tchami has a rather thick and rounded bass note throughout the song, which on a lesser IEM seemingly turns into a pillowy mess with a woollier reproduction of the drawn-out note whereas the EXT handles it with great gusto. “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack has a booming bassline in the initial seconds of the song and the EXT reproduces it with great detail and texture without muddying up the entirety of the song. There is a unique presentation to the bass notes of the EXT as it provides a rather ‘floaty’ reproduction of the low-end when compared to the likes of the Elysian Diva or the FiR Audio XE6 with both providing a very forward and in-your-face bass presentation.

Overall, the 9.2mm dynamic driver seems to be doing excellent work in the low end with a great level of presence and detail in the low-end that feels rounded and smooth to the listener. It is boosted but doesn’t remain overbearing or out of place with the tonal balance of the EXT.

Mids​

Moving onto the midrange of the EXT, there is not much else to say but it is rather good. The presentation of instruments, as well as vocals in this region, is done organically, with music presented in a very natural and analogue manner. Songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac present an organic reproduction of the strumming of a guitar and the vocals of the female vocalist throughout. There is no metallic or plasticky timbre here, simply a relaxed presentation of music. In an attempt to draw out some sibilance and trip up the EXT, I threw on “4 walls” by f(x) which has a large amount of sss sounds from female vocalists singing in breathy head voice. The EXT does eke out some harshness out of these sounds and thus is not exactly the most relaxed presentation of mid-range notes but still manages to be quite enjoyable.

Otherwise, the EXT does feel ever so slightly lethargic in its reproduction of the mid-range with certain instruments seemingly lingering a fraction of a second too long and the leading edge of hard and fast notes coming from strings or a piano not presenting with the same edginess as one would hope.

Overall, the mid-range performance of the EXT is somewhat of a love-hate element of the IEM. I felt that whilst natural and organic in its presentation, it lacked the speed and edginess of what you wanted out of some notes.

Treble​

Moving on to the upper regions of the EXT, treble performance is somewhat a given considering the technology mix in the IEM. The EXT does not fail to impress in this region. The speed and detail that the EXT manages to eke out of songs wherein treble is somewhat of an afterthought is something very enjoyable indeed. “Walk With Me” by Cosmos Midnight has a tambourine and a hi-hat permeating the pre-chorus and chorus and they remain distinctly present throughout listening with the EXT. Lesser IEMs simply have these elements lost in the sauce and if they are more treble forward, still do not reproduce them with the highly detailed presentation of the EXT.

“Reckoner” by Radiohead has oodles of percussion from the outset of the song, the EXT speedily reproduces the claps and metallic tonality of the percussion with gusto, creating a tremendous sense of dynamic range as it extends from the bass up to the tippy-top of the FR curve.

The EXT is somewhat fatiguing however, It remains distinctly within my acceptable level of ear tingle and fatigue-inducing painfulness. However, this may be an element to look out for if you are particularly treble-sensitive.

Overall, the treble of the EXT flexed the muscles of the ESTs that were implemented, providing a very present treble region that sparkled and shined amongst the generous bass boost and overly produced songs wherein treble seems to be a very small element of the song itself.

Technicalities​

The EXT’s imaging chops are decent with songs such as “Fine” by Taeyeon being able to be dissected somewhat with its various layers of overlapping vocal tracks. However, for the price, I don’t think the EXT does a standout job of imaging and positioning certain sounds when compared to the likes of the Phoenix or the RN6.

The staging of the EXT is somewhat inflated by the heavy injection of air in the FR curve creating a sense of spaciousness and width that belies its in-ear nature. However, with that being said, it remains a fairly intimate sound stage with orchestral music not being fully reflective of its concert hall recording. The depth of the stage is something that is rather lacking on the EXT which I feel is partly due to the heavy emphasis on the bass and the treble but also simply due to a lack of layering and separation potential of the drivers themselves.

The resolving power of the EXT is a bit of a mixed bag, with the aforementioned props given to the low-end and high-end of the FR curve. However, the mids do not feel that they are providing all of the necessary microdetails one would come to expect from the TOTL price tag.

Overall, I feel that the EXT does a rather decent job in presenting detail and resolution in its strengths, that being the bass and treble but on the whole, it is rather lacking in terms of mid-range resolution. Otherwise, the staging is not a standout element of the EXT with the airiness of the IEM creating a “faux” sense of space but lacking a significant amount of depth and height that one would want in their TOTL.

Overall:​

With a heavy emphasis on bass and treble, the EXT takes a more U-shaped presentation and it plays to its strengths extremely well on a technical basis. However, the mid-range, despite being rather organic in its reproduction, remains a step too slow and a little undefined for my tastes. The result of this is a wonderful sound signature for a very specific portion of the audiophile community. Strong bass performance combined with sparkly treble within the context of a smoother and spacious presentation create very obvious “signposts” of a great IEM but as a result, it perhaps makes its deficiencies more readily apparent.

Comparison​

Vs RN6​

The RN6, like the EXT, injects a significant amount of airiness into the FR curve and as a result, provides a more spacious and ethereal-sounding IEM that maintains a powerful low-end. This approach means that the RN6 and the EXT share some broad tonal similarities but how do they compare? The EXT’s low-end, whilst impressive lacks the sheer force and physicality of the 10mm Kinetic Driver that the RN6 utilises to deliver its bass frequencies. The result is a much more present and powerful low-end on the RN6 but whilst intoxicating, it may be a little bit overbearing on the sound signature. The EXT feels a little more woolly and floaty with its bass compared to the RN6 and as such loses some of that physical rumble but ultimately remains more tonally balanced and more unique in its bass presentation.

The mid-range of the RN6 and the EXT are also different with the RN6 being slightly more recessed in its presentation yet remaining distinctly detailed and crisp whereas the EXT, as outlined above, is slightly more smoothed out leading to a more relaxed presentation. The upper regions of the EXT and the RN6 take different approaches with the RN6 being distinctly less sparkly and crisp compared to the EXT which lays on the treble pretty thick to heighten the crystalline nature of the upper regions.

Ultimately, the RN6 takes on a more coloured tonality and seems to push the tonal signature of the EXT to the extremes for better or for worse. I believe that the EXT is the more safe choice but the RN6’s bass performance is best-in-class whereas the EXT doesn’t have a valid claim to best of anything in my books.

Vs VE Phoenix​

The VE Phoenix was a wonderful IEM that I had spent time with and whilst not excelling in any respect, provided a sweet and enjoyable tonality combined with excellent technical performance. The Phoenix errs on the side of warm whereas the EXT, whilst still presenting a decent sense of mid-bass presence remains rather airy and ethereal in its presentation. Speed and detail are where the two most differ as I believe the Phoenix excels in providing micro and macro detail in any region in a natural and relaxed manner whereas the EXT trumps it in the treble region but at the cost of some harshness. The bass on the EXT is much more prominent and the quality of the bass is quite odd in that it feels rounded and “blobby” whereas the Phoenix provides a more fast and punchy bass presentation comparatively. The mid-range on the Phoenix is more present in the mix and resolves excellently with a natural timbre that feels fast and direct. The EXT feels more organic and relaxed in its delivery but at the cost of some detail. Both do not have the largest staging but the Phoenix does much better in creating separation, layering instruments and resolving them in a manner that creates a deeper and more dissectible stage.

Overall, the Phoenix presents what I feel is a much more enjoyable tonality that will likely be enjoyed by most people compared to the EXT where its U-shaped tonality seems to elevate the drama and engagement factor some but at the cost of long-term listening enjoyability in my books.

Synergy​

Shanling M6U​

The M6U is characterised by a slightly v-shaped tonality combined with a strong emphasis on note weight and smooth reproduction of music. The result of this with the EXT is an emphasis on the EXT’s strengths imbuing a strong sense of low-end presence and heightening the upper regions of the FR curve. Whether this approach overcooks the overall tonal balance of the IEM is a question for your tastes but for me personally, the recessing of the mids and the imbuing of strong low-end presence had the effect of muddying up the overall performance of the EXT. Whilst the emphasis on these two elements seemed to heighten the sense of dynamism and drama felt whilst listening to the EXT, I found the experience overbearing over time and ultimately something that I did not find enjoyment in after the novelty of booming bass and piercing highs wore off. Overall, this is not a combo that I would heartily recommend unless you want a more U or V-shaped tonality at all costs.

Mojo 2 + Poly​

Characterised as a slightly warm yet ultimately neutral source, the Mojo 2 provides the EXT with perhaps the most neutral representation that I can get out of my sources. The combo doesn’t seem to heighten the tonal characteristics of the EXT in any prominent manner but rather simply reproduces the music as what I believe Vision Ears would have imagined. The resolution and ability to pick out detail in any area of the response curve on the Mojo was better than the M6U and alleviated some of the concerns that I had regarding the lack of resolving power in the mids that I had highlighted in my review above. This is not to say that the Mojo cured it completely.

The crossfeed function of the Mojo expanded the stage somewhat coalescing with the already airy nature of the IEM to broaden and deepen the stage. The effect seemed slightly heightened on the EXT when compared to other IEMs when used with crossfeed.

Luxury & Precision W4​

The W4 on the stock settings (fast filter, Tune 02 and all other settings off) presents a thinner and drier reproduction of sound when compared to the previously mentioned source chains. The result of this is a more edgy reproduction of sound that is faster and more precise in its presentation. The combination of the W4 and the EXT leads to a rather mixed bag of results. The bass and the mids provide a needed sense of speed and precision that seems to correct some of the issues that I previously wrote about and imbue a greater sense of detail and resolution in these regions. However, the added thinness and sharpness to the treble sections of the EXT began to move the IEM into the distinctly sibilant territory as the edgier combination seemed to make female vocalists a bit jarring and cymbals noticeably splashier and harsher. Despite this increase in harshness, the treble was undoubtedly detailed and airy to the ear with songs that were not too treble-happy.

This is ultimately something that was alleviated with the shift to slower filters and the NOS mode of the W4 that seemed to smooth out and roll off the frequency response curve somewhat, creating a more balanced sound signature.

As a result of this, the W4 is a rather good pairing that seeks to correct some of the misgivings of the EXT but may lean too hard into its strengths. Ultimately, the W4 is a rather good choice if you don’t find that you are that treble-sensitive.

Hiby R6 Pro 2​

The R6P2 presents a highly dynamic sound signature that follows what I would term v-shaped tonality. The elevation of the sub-bass and slight heightening of the treble lends itself to a great sense of engagement and dynamism with several IEMs but given the EXT is already emphasising these elements, how would they fare together?

The bass frequencies become a bit too much for my ears with the sub-bass boost becoming slightly more undefined and muddy to the ear, perhaps owing to the already “floaty” nature of the EXT’s bass. The mids remain the same for the most part but with a very slight improvement to the resolution and rendering of micro detail of certain instrumentalization when compared to the likes of the M6U above.

The treble gets a very slight boost but not to the extent of the W4’s overly bright presentation at times. This is a more subtle addition to the already prominent treble regions but did not bother me that much in the grand scheme of things.

The R6P2 also provides a wealth of DSP to a greater extent than the W4 and is seemingly on par with the Mojo with the exception that the R6P2 isn’t necessarily “lossless DSP” as claimed by Chord. This provides you with the ability to alter the sound signature of the EXT and ultimately you can ensure synergy to a certain extent.

Overall, the R6P2 seeks to enhance the already emphasised v-shape nature of the EXT but the improvements in dynamic performance create a great sense of engagement and presence in the low-end. I would say that the R6P2 is a respectable pairing but with the caveat that some tweaking may be required.

Value and Quality of Life​


Priced at the hefty sum of 3000 USD, the EXT commands a princely price for its sound. But I cannot wholeheartedly say that the EXT is deserving of this price. The value proposition of the EXT is hard to justify with my experience with TOTL IEMs (albeit limited). The Phoenix seems to be the greater all-rounder with a safer tuning that is sure to appeal to more people and the RN6 provides a similar airy yet bassy sound signature that feels tighter and more resolving. The EXT excels in terms of treble performance and the uniqueness of its strong bass tuning but I do not feel that this avails my concerns with the price tag and the middling reproduction of the mids.

The shells are lightweight despite the hefty metal faceplate and thus feel rather comfortable to have in-ear for extended periods. The caveat of this statement is that they have to get into your ear in the first place. The EXTs, like the Phoenix, take a rather odd earpiece shape that intends to get deeply inserted and sit nicely in your ear canal. Whilst they did so with my ears, I would be reticent to say that this would work with a lot of people. As such, I feel that the earpieces would likely be a difficult fit for some folks and not as universally appealing as some other earpiece designs in the market.

The included cable is a rather flexible 8-wire cable which was fine from an ergonomic perspective but the hardware and connectors were somewhat disappointing for a product of this price class. The 2 pin connectors felt rather loose in the earpieces and it wasn’t an uncommon experience to open up the case to see that one of the earpieces was no longer connected to the cable. Pin security is not just for ATMs but is pretty much crucial when you have a TOTL priced IEM in your ear. The 2.5mm jack is a 2.5mm jack and I’ll leave it at that.

Conclusion​

The EXT seeks to demonstrate its superiority through its fairly exaggerated U-shaped tuning approach and it does so rather well. The mids, whilst seemingly an afterthought maintain a level of organic presentation that is quite enjoyable and this is book-ended by a uniquely floaty bass that remains robust and a sparkly upper-end that incites some excitement and energy in the treble.

This tuning is rather exciting but diminishes its suitability for more acoustically focused music and the technical prowess of the EXT leaves one wanting for more in terms of detail retrieval and resolution in the mid-range in particular.

Ultimately, the EXT is a rather tough sell for me at its pricepoint, I do not believe it is the best at bass regions despite having a unique presentation, is quite far off in mid-range reproduction and the treble, whilst rather good is not good enough to warrant the price-tag in my books.

The EXT is a TOTL for those looking for a rather pronounced U-shaped tonality and if that is not your bag then I recommend spending your bag on a more well-rounded IEM like the Phoenix.

IMG_5583.jpg

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Blue with Envy
Pros: Much improved ergonomics from Code 23
Good expansion of headstage
Open and natural sounding
Cons: Ergonomics still not great against other cables
Cost

IMG_5698.jpg

Preamble​

Thank you to @Damz87 and @EffectAudio for arranging the Australian Head-Fi Tour of the Effect Audio Code 24 and 24C.

The world of cable rolling is fraught with pitfalls. “Ackchually, there is no measurable difference”, “bro, $1000 on a cable, are you smoking crack?”, “holy crap the XXX cable didn’t do anything, what do I do?”. These are some of the common events that one may encounter in their pursuit of very expensive strands of copper, but is there really a point?

I would venture to say yes, yes there is. In my experience on these audio tours, wherein no hard-earned money has been put forward, Effect Audio (EA) cables have made a difference in my listening experience for the most part. One such EA cable had been the Code 23, and today’s review concerns the Code 24, the creatively named successor to that grey behemoth. But does the Code 24 continue on the tradition of EA in fashioning a well-made cable that indeed improves sound quality?

The Factual Stuff​

Finished in a blue hue, the Code 24 consists of two strands of 16.5 AWG wire made out of silver-plated copper. Diving further in, the wires are made of a three solid cores, surrounded by 12 multi-sized core bundles and finished in EA’s flexible insulation.

These are accompanied by rather industrial design-forward hardware with the splitter and the termination being rather thick and unique in their appearance.

The Code 24, similar to other EA cables, feature their TermX and ConX swappable systems which allow the end user to change from 2.5, 3.5 and 4.4 terminations as well as 2-pin, MMCX and P-ear connectors.

IMG_5732.jpg

The prototype and the production model side-by-side.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

I believe in sonic changes as a result of cable rolling. If you do not, please skip to Quality of Life & Value.

Notes made in this review are in comparison to the stock sound of whatever the IEM is, that is, with its original cable (save for the Maestro Mini) and some commonalities that I experienced.

The Code 24 was reviewed with a variety of IEMs including:
- Letshuoer S12 Pro;
- Unique Melody MEST MK II;
- FatFreq Maestro Mini;
- FatFreq Scarlet Mini;
- Softears Twilight; and
- Elysian Annihilator 2023.


Bass​


TL;DR: The Code 24 enriches bass with natural extension and slight punchiness, but sacrifices detail and speed in fast-paced music.

Switching from the stock cable to the Code 24 elicited a common occurance of increased low-end extension accompanied by a subtle sub-bass boost. In addition, the Code 24 seemed to emphasise a slower sense of decay and attack, creating a more boomy and more prominent low-end that was quite pleasing to listen too. The result of these elements seemed to generate a more naturalistic reproduction of bass with a subtle but noticeable extension into the sub-bass regions and a very, very slight increase in punchiness in the mid-bass.

The pairing of the Code 24 and all the IEMs in this review yielded a perceived improvement in bass response but some may lament the loss of detail and texture that is brought about in the slowing of bass notes. There is a loss of a sense of speed and resolution with more faster paced songs in my library but for more relaxed productions, the Code 24 was a nuanced but rather enjoyable influence on the low-end.

Mids​


TL;DR: The Code 24 enhances mid-range airiness and upper-mids, particularly in female vocals, while adding weight to male vocals and maintaining resolution, resulting in a spacious, smooth, and natural listening experience.

The Code 24 seems to impart a greater airiness to the mids and an elevation of upper-mids, predominantly seen in the rendition of female vocals. This is not to say that male vocals are left in the dust, absolutely not. The imparting of greater mid-bass punch outlined above, adds a sense of weight and emotional impact with male vocals that is very much needed in leaner IEMs and seeks to add more to already-warm IEMs in the market. The heightening of upper-mids lends itself to a more ethereal and floaty rendition of female vocals that is quite addicting to listen to but does not become tiresome compared to other more, mid-forward cable pairings available.

Similar to the low-end, there is a greater sense of relaxed and easiness in the attack and decay of notes in this region, with instruments and vocals seemingly floating out with an easygoingness that lends itself to being characterised as ‘natural’ or ‘analogue in nature.

That is not to say there is a loss of resolution in this region as I feel that the improvements in layering and staging, outlined below, help generate a greater sense of articulation and subsequent digestion by the listener.

Overall, I feel that the Code 24 imparts a greater spaciness to the mids that allow for a relaxing and smooth listening experience. It’s pairing with already mid-forward IEMs may be a concern given the heightening of this region.

Treble​


TL;DR: The Code 24 slightly enhances the treble in IEMs, improving airiness and sparkle without becoming bright or sibilant, subtly expanding the sense of space and dynamic range.

With the upper-regions of the frequency response (FR) curve, the Code 24 minorly improves the sense of crystalline and sparkly sounds. There is an improvement in the air and extension of the IEM that I am listening too that generates an increased sense of space and sparkle of percussion. This is ultimately a subtle change in the upper regions, I do not wish to mislead readers that this cable will turn whatever your IEM is into an Elysian Annihilator but the subtle and nuanced shift in the treble lends itself to creating a greater sense of dynamic range.

I do not feel that this uplift ever ventured into the region of being bright or sibilant (unless of course the IEM is already bright or sibilant) but added a little spiciness to the top end.

Technicalities​


TL;DR: The Code 24 offers excellent staging with increased width, layering, and imaging, enhancing instrument and vocal discernibility, detail, and resolution, similar to its predecessor, the Code 23.

The staging on the Code 24 is rather excellent with great width compared to the stock cables and within that wider stage there is an increased sense of layering. Instruments and vocals are readily discernible form one another and there is a great sense of imaging within the headstage. These benefits help provide a greater sense of technical prowess from the IEM that I was listening to at the time and the Code 24 seems to share some of the qualities of its predecessor the Code 23.

The imaging chops of the 24 was similarly good in this rather wider stage with panning instruments and voices presenting with excellent discernment on my end as I was able to pin-point positioning of certain notes.

Detail and resolution seem to benefit from this slightly more sparse staging and imaging improvements as I feel that microdetail and nuances in certain beats throughout a song became more prevalent in the mix.

Value & Quality of Life​

Ergonomics​

TL;DR: The Code 24, an improvement over the ergonomically challenging Code 23, offers a more manageable design with multiple cores, though it remains thick with some quirks and bulky hardware,

Let’s not beat around the bush. The Code 23, the predecessor to the 24 was an absolute dog when it came to ergonomics. The thicker gauge wire and the rather inflexible nature of the cable combined with its predilection for maintaining whatever shape it was morphed into created a wholly unenjoyable experience with IEMs.

The Code 24, with its structural changes including breaking down the previously single core to three individual cores as well as other changes seems to have paid dividends resulting in a more manageable cable.

I say more manageable, but the Code 24 remains a rather thick cable and as such there are some quirks with its use. The earhook section is still rather difficult to maintain behind a smaller ear and will be rather difficult should you wear glasses.

Otherwise, it remains fairly flexible, malleable and does not appear to hold its shape as readily as its predecessor.

The hardware, whilst excellent to look at for its industrial design is rather thick and unwieldy.

The ConX and TermX connectors make a welcome companion to the fussy audiophile who is constantly rotating gear or simply wants their cable to outlast their IEM purchases.

TermX I am not a huge fan of as I use mostly 4.4mm in any case and there is a tendency for both TermX and ConX to unscrew themselves over time, but this is not a huge issue for 2-pin IEMs.

Cost​

The cost of the Code 24 is rather steep. Coming in at 799 USD, the Code 24 commands a price that is equivalent to a whole ass Moondrop S8 and for that, you would want something remarkable.

I cannot justify the price for this cable considering the rather mid-fi collection of IEMs that I possess but for those looking at bigger, badder TOTLs and want to alter their sound signature or maybe just achieve a cool colour scheme, the Code 24 becomes more relevant.

With that being said, I retain that the Code 23 remains a much more sonically proficient, albeit possessing a much coloured tone despite being cheaper than the Code 24.

Ultimately, I feel that the Code 24, in terms of sonic improvements does not value as great as a value proposition as the Code 23 but if you’re willing to pay more, both in terms of monetary and sonic concessions, to benefit ergonomics, the I would say that the Code 24 is a good choice.

Comparisons​

vs Code 23 (from memory and notes taken from my review of the Code 23)


TL;DR: While both the Code 23 and 24 enhance depth and width, the Code 23 creates a more dramatic sonic shift and colors the IEM's signature more prominently, however, the Code 24 a safer, more versatile choice with greater ergonomics.

Alas, I do not have the Code 23 on hand but from my notes and memory of the cable, I recall the following elements. The Code 23 seemed to generate a more dramatic sonic shift for whatever IEM I was listening to as I previously noted that the changes in staging were far more dramatic than the 24. They both seem to enhance a sense of depth and width but the Code 23 appears to be doing so at another level. This is for better or for worse in that it seemed to ‘colour’ the signature of the IEM in a manner that was more prominent than the 24. Bass performance on the 23 was noted to be more boomy and slower which I cannot attribute to the 24 which is fairly fast and articulate.

Mid-range performance seems to be rather similar in that both did quite well to present vocalists front and centre of this widened stage. Treble performance seemed to be more prevalent on the 23 due to the enhanced lightness and effortless reproduction of higher registers that I pin-pointed in my notes.

Ergonomics are a mixed bag in that both are rather thick and unwieldy behind the ears but unlike the 23, the 24 is readily malleable and does not seem to hold its shape as reticently as the 23. In this category I feel that the 24 is the no-brainer.

Overall, I noted that the 23, whilst commendable for its rather significant impact on sound, was less of an all-rounder and seemed to synergise well with only particular IEMs. I do not think this is the case for the 24 which has subtle but noticeable shifts that may suit a wider variety of IEMs in the market. On that basis, I feel that the 24 is the safer choice but the 23 is for those looking for a larger change in their sound signature.

vs Code 24C Limited​

IMG_5741.jpg

TL;DR: The Code 24C emphasizes upper mids and mid-bass with less detail than the 24, offers narrower staging but more depth, and has weaker treble and less articulation, it is ergonomically better but less refined and versatile compared to the Code 24.

The Code 24C presents music with a distinct emphasis on upper mids as I felt female vocalists were brought front and centre of the stage and presented in a very forward and engaging manner compared to the 24. In terms of bass performance, I would have to give it to the 24 in terms of sub-bass extension, texture and detail whereas the 24C seems to have greater emphasis on mid-bass frequencies adding to the sense of punch but in the process, seemingly diminishing the level of detail.

Treble regions for the 24C does not sound all that great compared to the 24 as I felt that it had a less-engaging upper end. There is not great articulation, sparkle or drama imparted in this region and overall slightly recessed in the mix.

In terms of technical abilities, the 24C’s staging is not as wide as the 24 but there is a great sense of depth imparted, perhaps as a result of that very forward vocal line. Otherwise the detail retrieval of the 24C and imaging chops do not feel as articulate or well defined as the 24.

Ergonomically, the 24C, with its thinner wire gauge, is the most ergonomic Code series cable yet and feels more manageable than the 24. Still not world beating or ergonomically viable for small-eared, glasses-wearing folk but still pretty good.

Overall, I feel that the 24C represents some rather good value in terms of price and its ability to inject some extra boom and punch in the low-end combined with a female forward colouration that seeks to engage you with your music. However, I do not feel it is as refined as the 24 and the seemingly reduced dynamic range when A-Bing the two seems to make the 24 a safer choice.

vs DIY PWAudio 1950s​

IMG_5745.jpg

TL;DR: The PWAudio 1950s cable, rumoured to share wire with Cardas Clear, offers a more intimate stage, faster resolution, and stronger mid-bass punch than the Code 24, while being lighter and more ergonomic, focusing on technical performance and low-end enhancement.
There were murmurs that the PWAudio 1950s cable was constructed out of the same wire as a Cardas Clear headphone cable, and when informed, I was intrigued enough to procure one made by an enterprising Queenslander.

The 1950s cable provides a more intimate stage compared to the Code 24 but generates a similar sense of clarity and separation. There is a greater sense of speed and urgency when compared to the Code 24 as the 1950s seems to want the IEM you are listening to resolve and image things as quickly as possible. I feel that the low-end oomph imparted by the 1950s seems to outstrip the Code 24 in terms of punch and mid-bass presence whereas the Code 24 seems to do a little better job with sub-bass.

Ergonomically, the 1950s replica is a 4 wire cable made of some relatively thin wire gauge and as such remains very lightweight. There is some memory to the wire and it is not exactly an ergonomic paradise but it remains far more teneable in my books compared to the hulking mass of the Code 24.

Overall, I feel that the Code 24 colours whatever your IEM in a manner that is more obvious with an expansion of staging and an injection of air whereas the 1950s seems to just highlight technical performance along with a low-end injection.

Conclusion​

The Code 24 manages to impart a shift in sonics that seems to extend the sub-bass and the treble whilst bringing the mids forward with a floaty quality to them. The result is a rather subtle shift in sound quality that seeks to create a more technically impressive and tonally similar experience that you had with the IEM you know and love.

The ergonomics and the value proposition of the Code 24 is questionable but much improved from the Code 23. However, when compared to the likes of Fusion 1, or the Cleo or smaller, lighter weight offerings from competitors such as Eletech, I find that the sonic advantages are not worth the rub, that being the rather comically thick cable and its impact on my portable, day-to-day use.

If you can live with that caveat than the Code 24 represents a more subtle impact on your IEMs that seems to lift technical capabilities. However, if you’re living with a thick boi cable such as the Code 24, I would just go whole hog and grab a Fusion 1 or a Code 23 instead.

IMG_5722.jpg

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Exponent Impact
Pros: Warm and grand tonality
Excellent bass performance
Rather unique staging
Cons: Detail retrieval only so-so
Lacks a sense of sparkle in the treble

Preamble​

IMG_4435.jpg

Many thanks to @o0genesis0o, Linsoul and Thieaudio for providing me with the Hype 2's for a review.

It feels as though Chi-fi has a new release every other week and in the midst of that, there are a lot of questions to be asked. What is the best at $XXX? Is it worth the extra $XXX for X IEM? Why does Thieaudio get so much hype (pun intended)?

Today’s review concerns the Hype 2, the not really a sequel in that it’s actually Hype2 instead of 2. Thieaudio has garnered significant attention over the last several years with their lineup of IEMs that have captured the imagination of many hobbyists as well as some very high-profile reviewers. That is not to say that they are infallible, there has been numerous detractors to some of their IEMs whose reputation have been less than stellar. But is the Hype able to shake off some of the recent Ls to live up to their name?

The Factual Stuff

While I didn’t receive the Hype in its box, I did receive the accessory package consisting of:
  • foam tips;
  • silicone tips;
  • a grey zip-up hard case;
  • a twisted 3.5mm cable;
  • a cleaning cloth; and
  • a cable velcro strap.
Coming in your choice of two colours, the Hype earpieces are rather lightweight and the faceplates carry a rather understated garishness that is very much appreciated.

Within those earpieces are a drive configuration consisting of two dynamic drivers and two balanced armatures. The party piece of the Hype and the inspiration of their namesake is the IMPACT2 technology that utilises the two 10mm dynamic drivers arranged in an “isobaric design”. The BA are supposedly the latest model from Sonion, the P2356HF/4 and E25ST001/D. The latter being a “super tweeter” focused on treble.

The Hype is priced at 299 USD.

Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​

The Hype seems to place particular emphasis on the IMPACT2 technology used within and perhaps for good reason. The bass frequencies in the Hype are very well done for an IEM in this price range. There is a healthy amount of bass added in the tuning with the sub-bass and mid-bass elevated above “neutral” IEMs resulting in a distinct fun-factor with the Hype. And it’s not a matter of sheer quantity over quality, the bass remains resolving and relatively fast, hitting with good impact and presence but not bloated to the point of becoming hugely distracting from the rest of the mix. “Hype” by Drake (only a coincidence I swear) has a big, drawn out bass line throughout the track at times overlapping with a running rap by Drake and the entire experience remains coherent and easily discernible from one another. The bass remains present, impactful (I swear I’m not doing this on purpose) and quite clean. “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack has an outrageous amount of sub-bass within the first 10 seconds of the song, and the Hype manages to resolve it with the required texture and sense of weight extremely well. The technology that Linsoul have put into the Hype appears to be paying dividends as this region seems to punch well above its price range.

My experience of the low-end of the Hype appears to affirm the claims made by Thieaudio in spruiking their novel implementation of a dual dynamic driver set-up in that it is elevated, fun and still clean in its presentation. A definite win for the Hype in this regard.

Mids​

The midrange of the Hype is imbued with a sense of warmth perhaps by virtue of its rather generous bass boost. There is a sense of fullness and grand tonality to the vocals sitting within this range. “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish elicits a rather relaxed listening experience with the sparse instrumentalization and her voice feeling warm and rounded in nature. “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith also provides a similar experience with the vocals and instruments presenting slightly forward in the mix and with a naturalness that I associate with being more emotionally engaging than some more hard-edged IEMs in the market.

Upper mids appear to be executed well as I ran the gamut of slightly sibilant and shouty tracks through the Hype to little fatigue.

However, the Hype does descend into the region of being overly soft and smoothed out in this regard as detail feels lost with certain instruments in songs such as “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington & Bill Withers which strikes with a laundry list of instruments throughout. The result is a tonality that veers slightly into “wet”, “overly smoothed” and could even be potentially described as veiled. To put an odd metaphor in place, the Hype presents certain notes as a hand formed piece of clay instead of an intricately chiselled marble statue.

Overall, there is not much to hate with the midrange for a casual, laid-back listen but there is a feeling of some detail left on the table.

Treble​

The treble of the Hype is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Whilst it does not make the mistake of grossly inflating this region in the pursuit of what I’ve termed as “faux detail” it is slightly restrained and takes on a very slightly dark tonality in my mind.

Grating synths in EDM tracks such as “Language” by Porter Robinson & “You & Me” by Disclosure/Flume fail to raise the hairs on the back of my neck and give me the sparkle that I listen out for in these tracks. A cymbal crashing and a brush on a hi-hat lacks that sense of presence and detail and whilst this ties in with the rest of the tonality in some regard, I do not feel comfortable saying that the treble is “great”. Elements within this region come across as slightly blunted and lacking the tingling inducing sense of sparkle.

A quick test with some digital signal processing with the Chord Mojo 2 in this region with a very generous boost resulted in a very clean treble region that imbued that sense of sparkle and micro-detail.

Overall, the treble takes a rather safe approach and I can’t really fault them for it. Slightly dark and missing the sense of air and microdetail on slightly hotter IEMs, the Hype is built for the long, relaxing listening session.

Technicalities​


The Hype 2 presents a rather mixed bag of technical prowess that I will temper with the knowledge of its price point.

On the detail retrieval and imaging front, the Hype 2 does decently well but the tuning of the mids and treble as described earlier does lead to a slightly veiled tonality that feels as though some detail is being lost. The bass however, provides great detail and texture that I feel is punching beyond its price range.

Imaging is a bit odd and I can only describe it with a rather obtuse metaphor of being in a 5 speaker surround system. Centre presenting vocals, but expertly mixed tracks seem to only present in the corners of my head, basically to my 11, 1, 5 and 7 o’clock. As a result of this limited imaging prowess, there is a lost sense in the ability to perceive “layers” of music with songs such as “Fine” by Taeyeon with a multi-layered vocal belting at approximately 2:30 presenting with less specificity than other (pricier) IEMs.

Sound staging is similarly odd, the Hype feels somewhat confined in width and depth but feels rather tall. Bombastic orchestral music such as “One-Winged Angel” from the FFVII soundtrack which is already (likely) recorded in a music hall feels oddly narrow.

The combination of these factors lead to a conclusion that the technical capabilities of the Hype match its price point and in any case, sort of fits into what I believe Thieaudio was going for when they put this IEM into production. This is an easy-listening IEM that has its fun-factor in its bass frequencies and in that respect, it is hard to fault the technical performance of the Hype.

Overall:​

I feel that the Hype takes a rather uncommon tuning approach in the Chi-Fi space. Instead of wringing out every ounce of detail possible and following a target curve, the Hype goes for a more relaxed and easy-going signature that is bolstered with tremendous bass performance.

The result is an IEM that seems to rely on the excellent bass performance that punches above its price-bracket at the cost of slightly below average mid-range and treble performance.

Comparisons​

Vs Moondrop Variations MK2​


The Variations represent a step in the price bracket when it comes to Chi-fi and has the benefit of an additional driver type being thrown into the mix with its EST driver setup. The Variations take a different approach to tuning with the mid-bass / lower mids region being noticeably recessed compared to the Hype. In this regard, the present a colder tonality that assists with a greater sense of clarity and coherency throughout this region.

The Hype feels to hit with a greater sense of punch and physicality in the bass with its slight mid-bass boost, whereas the Variations, even with a rather generous sub-bass self doesn’t present itself as a “punchy” IEM.

The upper region also gets a little boost over the Hype 2 leading to a more edgy sound signature wherein female vocals and instruments sitting in this region gain a greater sense of crispness that at time verges on a little bright. However, I do not believe the Variations can be described as sibilant by any means. The Variations present greater clarity and coherency through the mids and the treble region that is thin to the ears when A-Bing against the Hype. The Hype’s vocal tonality feels more natural to the ear but the detail and crispness of instrumentalization suffers compared to the Variations.

Ultimately, I feel that the Variations still best the Hype on a technical standpoint with a wider albeit somewhat flat staging and greater resolution throughout the mids and treble region.

The tonality of the two are rather different and if you prefer a crisp and edgier sound signature with a greater sense of layering and imaging, then the Variations are the no brainer. The Hype is betting on its bass in this shootout and I feel that it presents a competitor and perhaps even a winner against the more expensive Variations.

Quality of Life​

The Hype 2 fits comfortable within my ears with the qualifying statement that my ears have yet to find an uncomfortable IEM with perhaps the exception of the Symphonium Helios but that is more related to the difficulty in finding the most comfortable fit.

The cable is nicely smooth, soft and malleable. The ergonomics of the stock cable are hard to deny and I feel that alone makes the accessory package of the Hype 2 rather good.

The included tips are decent but do not feel particularly compelling in any regard.

I will caveat the next statement in that I received these from a fellow reviewer and I am not sure what sort of wear and tear they were put through but the finishing of the faceplates seem to be somewhat lacklustre with some visible air bubbles. This is definitely not acceptable at this price range and I trust the previous reviewer to take more care with these considering he purchased them and as such I would tell readers to venture with caution.

Driving the Hype 2 seem to be no issue with lower-powered sources such as the venerated Apple Dongle.

Value​

Priced at 299 USD, I do not feel that the Hype completely demolishes the competition at this price point but rather, presents a compelling argument in the price range. The bass quality and quantity are excellent in that it punches beyond its weight class but it is at the cost of some mid-range detail and engagement and treble sparkle. These two elements are quite key in this price range as I feel that the 300 range represents a step up for those looking to jump up from their budget IEMs and any less than a perceptible “detail” improvement will be somewhat disappointing. In this regard, the Hype occupies a rather niche expertise in its excellent ability to reproduce the bottom end of music. If you have been living in this price range and want a standout IEM in terms of bass quality in the same price range, then I feel that the Hype represents wonderful value.

Conclusion​

The Hype seems to eschew the common trends in this price range, dispensing with what I would term a lean and technical tuning in order to emphasise bass performance. The result is a tremendous bass response that I feel competes with more expensive IEMs but at the loss of some quality for the rest of the regions.

That is not to say the rest of it is absolutely terrible, it takes the approach of tuning the mids and treble to be warm and smoothed out in its reproduction, losing some semblance of detail and perceived resolution.

The perceived loss of detail leads me to believe that this will be a hate it or love it IEM as the Hype leans heavily on its bass quality and the mids and treble seem more like afterthoughts. Initial listens are wonderfully rewarding but extended listens inherently leads to a sense of FOMO for everything else.

The Hype feels like a proof of concept for their new IMPACT technology and colour me impressed, however, I would wait for v2 with a greater attention to detail on the mids and the treble and perhaps put my money towards a greater all-rounder that perhaps is not as tight in the low-end but presents with greater balance.


IMG_4436.jpg
Last edited:
DunninLA
DunninLA
have them on the way so went back to read reviews. Your use of the word "specialist" for the Hype2 is confusing. You use that word three times in the last seven sentences

However, comparing to the Variations, you write:

"The tonality of the two are rather different and if you prefer a crisp and edgier sound signature with a greater sense of layering and imaging, then the Variations are the no brainer. The Hype is betting on its bass in this shootout and I feel that it presents a competitor and perhaps even a winner against the more expensive Variations."

That summary was well written. However, you contradict this summary by saying the Hype2 is a bass specialist. You could have just as well said the Dusk is a vocals specialist, or the Mest is a treble specialist. IOW, every IEM that does something especially well could be seen as a specialist by virtue of what it does best.. Including the "crisp and edgier" (your words) Variations.
grumpy213
grumpy213
Thanks for the feedback.

For your benefit, perhaps 'specialist' is the incorrect term in this circumstance, but I do not feel that stating the Hype 2 is a 'bass specialist' necessarily contradicts the quoted statement in relation to the Variations. The Variations, are known for having a rather generous bass shelf but also brings to the table a rather clean Harman tuning that provides that 'crisp and edgier sound signature'. The Hype 2, conceding that specialist is a poor term, is providing a bass performance that is compelling at the Variation's price point whereas the mids and treble are nothing special in my opinion (at the Hype's price point and therefore those above it).

It is on that basis that I term the Hype as a specialist. I will revisit the review at some point to better elucidate this point and utilise a more appropriate word than 'specialist'.

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Symphonium Helios - Mr Clean, for better or for worse.
Pros: Neutral, clean tonality;
Great treble response; and
Crisp and fast detail.
Cons: Rather hard to drive;
Awkward shells and long nozzles lead to odd fit;
Mid-bass/lower-mid dip creates some incoherency; and
Somewhat dry and unnatural tonality.

Preamble:​

Many thanks to @Damz87 and @Sebastien Chiu for arranging the Australian tour of the Helios.
The sources used to form this review included:

  • Chord Mojo 2;
  • Shanling M6 Ultra; and
  • Luxury & Precision W4,
all fed with lossless FLAC files.

There are a number of nations that are associated with the manufacturing of certain products. There is something to be said about a German car, a Scottish whiskey and now perhaps, a Singaporean IEM. Singapore has emerged as a heavy hitter in the audio scene and more specifically, the IEM scene. Today’s review concerns the Helios by Symphonium, a fairly new entrant into the audio market that has made some waves with their trio of initial releases and their association with their compatriots, Subtonic and Nightjar. This trio of makers from Singapore have garnered some attention for their rather exciting releases into the IEM market. But is the Helios a flash in the pan or a foundational product for someone that expects to be a market-leading audio manufacturer?

The Factual Stuff​

The Helios comes in a rather spartan and compact box housing within:
  • Stock Symphonium tips;
  • AZLA Sedna Eartips;
  • An Altatune Audio Nova copper cable;
  • A nice authenticity card;
  • A cleaning brush; and
  • A handsome metal carry case with a screw down lid.
IMG_4827.jpg

The earpieces themselves are an angular and oddly shaped piece of machined alumnium anodized in black and adorned with simple white text. Within these earpieces are four balanced armature (BA) drivers accompanied with a four-way crossover to help the BAs to work together nicely. The Helios also spruiks their Filtered Linear Attenuation Tuning (FLAT) which promises to avoid impedance mismatches and any impact that your source will have on the frequency response curve of your Helios.

You get all of this for the price of 1099 USD, placing the Helios against stiff competition in the fabled “kilobuck” region.

IMG_4820.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass:​

The Helios takes a sub-bass focussed approach to the lower end of the frequency response curve, elevating the lowest of frequencies to provide a satisfying sense of presence with great extension and presence. The low-end makes itself heard in songs such as “Solar Sailer” from the Tron Legacy soundtrack and Jhene Aiko’s “B.S.” each providing a very satisfying sub-bass rumble. The Helios does not sacrifice quality however as these frequencies remain nicely detailed and textured.

The mid-bass on the other hand is rather anaemic in comparison, with this section of the frequency response curve being pulled back rather heavily, potentially in order to maintain the clarity of the mids (further outlined below). Subtle bass lines in tracks such as “Out of Time” by the Weeknd or “Above the Clouds” by Gangstarr remain discernible but removes an element of punch and impact. This definitely renders certain songs feeling thin and lacking that fun factor.

Overall, the Helios takes a rather safe approach to bass tuning to achieve, what I feel is neutrality and cleanliness throughout the entirety of the frequency response.

Mids:​

The shift from mid-bass to lower mids is a rather peculiar one with this region seemingly being recessed to the point of removing certain sounds in tracks that I am quite familiar with. The result is an odd presentation wherein there is a jump from sub-bass to certain vocals and instruments in the mids. I also believe that this dip is also responsible for a seemingly recessed male vocal line, as certain songs such as more Weeknd tracks and “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington & Bill Withers felt a little thin and lacking the emotional impact of the male vocalist’s voices.

The upper-mids seem to be tuned with greater gusto however, as female vocalists and higher pitched instruments felt much more present within the mix. K-pop is characterised by the airiness and heady voices of their female vocalists and that much is apparent when listening to the Helios. There is perhaps a little too much juice towards this end of the mid spectrum as some songs such as “4 walls” by f(x) and “Fine” by Taeyeon came off a little shouty at times.

The timbre of the mids is also a bit off by my listening as each note comes hard and fast, with seemingly little decay. The result is a little bit of perceived thinness and dryness in the vocal tonality. The benefit of this characteristic is a greater perceived sense of clarity in the region as each instrument felt very clear and crisp in its presentation.

Overall, the lower-end dip and upper-end boost seems to target a certain demographic and certain library of music. I feel that the mids are clear, crisp and nicely sparkly, but is somewhat unnatural in its presentation and potentially missing the note weight and emotional engagement that slightly warmer tuned IEMs would offer.

Treble:​

The Helios manages the treble region with great gusto, with piercing synths, harrowing violin solos and crashing cymbals providing a great sense of sparkle and crispness. Brushes on the hi-hats in “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding present readily in the mix and are wonderfully visceral. Piercing synths throughout a variety of EDM songs were resolved resolutely by the Helios with each note being crisp and clear in busily produced tracks.

I do not find the treble peaky nor do I find it overly bright. the Helios manages to balance the treble rather well with the rest of the frequency response curve and the aforementioned speed of the Helios manages to replicate higher end notes with great gusto. Despite not finding it “overly bright”, I did find that it toed the line at times with grating synths in “You & Me” by Disclosure and remixed by Flume came across a little hot at higher volumes. With that being said, the Helios did not seem to cause me any fatigue over long listening sessions.

Overall, I found the treble crisp, fast and extremely well detailed. There is a very slight toeing of the line here but the hair-raising sparkle that certain songs provided on the Helios was very rewarding and I can definitely state that this is perhaps the most well executed portion of the tuning of the Helios and potentially amongst its competition. I cannot find fault in this region even if I tried and for someone with particularly "ded" ears in that treble doesn't immediately jump out to me on first listen, the treble was sorely missed when switching to other IEMs.

Technicalities​

I’ve touched on it somewhat in my discussion regarding the tuning but the Helios appears to be a wonderful technical IEM. The crispness and speed of the 4BA setup combined with the tuning creates a wonderful sense of a highly detailed and greatly resolving IEM.

The aforementioned dryness of the notes may lead to certain notes being overly fast and slightly thin but speed at which the Helios runs through generously produced tracks is something to behold.

It remains layered, coherent (save for that mid-dip) and certain sounds and instruments are easy to pick out from the mix. This is a particularly strong point of the Helios, perhaps by virtue of that mid-dip, notes seem to appear out of nowhere and strike with authority and speed. This style of speed and detail lends itself to a more spacious staging experience as it feels slightly diffuse in presentation.

Soundstaging is rather unique in that the Helios feels quite wide as certain notes seem to extend out quite wide in the headstage. The depth is also decent but I feel that this is helped along by the aforementioned tuning choice leading to recessed lower mids creating a faux-sense of depth.

Overall​

The tuning of the Helios is, in my mind, a mixed bag. The sub-bass is wonderfully executed, the mid-bass leading into the lower mids is a black hole essentially, upper mids are crisp and elevated and the treble is simply wonderful.

This ends up creating a rather disjointed reproduction of music (in the case of my library at least) as I felt throughout listening to the Helios that I was missing out on something and there was less toe-tapping and singing along with my tracks and more just pointing out technical details of certain parts of the song.

On that point however, the Helios is, technically, a great IEM. Resolution and detail is provided in spades but this is perhaps at the cost of some note-weight, tastefully executed decay and a warmer, more emotionally engaging tonality. But this is simply a preference of mine and you may feel that I talking crazy here.

IMG_4818.jpg

Synergy​

One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Chord Mojo 2​

I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

This presentation of music does not impart any coloured tonality on the Helios and provides simply more of the same in that the Helios is able to present itself as it was likely intended. The result of this is a technically proficient and somewhat sterile listening experience wherein the end-user is feeling the music come at them fast with loads of detail within.

The Helios with the Mojo 2 didn’t really elicit any specific emotions out of me apart from just an appreciation of how well it resolved. As such I do not feel that the two synergised with each other well in stock settings but after a bit of tinkering with the DSP to correct some of the perceived misgivings above, I felt the Helios improved due to a greater alignment to my preferences. I altered the mid-bass to give a little more oomph to the bottom end and add in to what I call the "fun factor" of the Helios.

IMG_4834.jpg

Shanling M6 Ultra​

I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

This presentation seems to work well with the Helios as it seemed to elevate that previously mentioned mid-dip and add in a greater sense of warmth and weight to the mids that was previously somewhat thin and dry. The elevation in mid-bass and the euphonic quality it imbued on the mids generated greater enjoyment of the Helios for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Helios on this source.

I feel that the two synergise quite well with one another but considering that the M6U seemingly counteracts the conscious choices of Symphonium to tune the Helios in a certain manner, leads me to believe I am missing the point of the Helios.
IMG_4837.jpg

Luxury & Precision W4

I would characterise the W4 as a fast, well resolving and somewhat dry source. With a penchant for sub-bass and upper mids on the stock settings, the W4 is seemingly similar to the tuning choices of the Helios.

These elements lead to a rather poor synergistic choice in my mind as it seemingly highlighted some of the issues that I had with the Helios as mid-bass remained rather limp, the mid-dip was left alone and the upper mids/treble started to venture into slightly too hot territory.

DSP settings such as the NOS digital filter and some other tweaks alleviated this but overall, I do not feel this represents the best choice for the Helios.

Comparisons​

vs Campfire Andromeda (2019)​

A perennial contender in the kilobuck category, the Andromeda is characterised as a warm-neutral IEM with a rather generous amount of mid-bass and a euphonic, emotional presentation of music helped along with its unique staging capabilities.

Tonally speaking, the Andromeda and the Helios are chalk and cheese as far as I am concerned. A-B’ing the two is a rather grating experience as the Andromeda is seemingly muddy and incoherent at first listen but over time my ears seem to settle in and begin to note the lusher and more relaxed vocal presentation. Sub-bass is a definite win for the Helios whilst mid-bass on the Andromeda edges out a win purely based on my own biases as one could say the mid-bass on the Andromedas are muddy. For the mids, the Andromeda gets the nod from me as I prefer a warmer and more emotionally engaging presentation of vocals despite the loss of the speed and crispness in instruments. This is more of a nod from my own coloured tonality preferences and looking it from an “objectivist” point of view, the mids on the Helios are more detailed and resolving than the comparatively ‘muddy’ Andromedas. The treble on the Andromeda ventures into overly safe and I feel that I am missing out on the detail and extension of the Helios.

Technicality wise, the tuning would have you believe the Helios is the definite winner but on closer examination I do not believe one is a readily apparent winner over the other. The Andromeda’s warmth does detract from the sense of perceived detail in that notes do not jump out at you but overall it appears they resolve as well as the other upon a critical listen.

These two are heavily contrasting and I feel that I cannot give a definitive nod to one or the other from as objective as a perspective that I can give.
IMG_4851.jpg


vs Sony IER-M9​

Perhaps the old-guard of the kilobuck region, the IER-M9 presents a slightly warm leaning neutral tonality and great technical ability but at the cost of coming off as a little too safe.

Comparing the IER-M9 and the Helios demonstrates some definitive differences. The IER-M9’s bass is, in my opinion, better balanced than the Helios with the exception for the detail within the sub-bass. The IER-M9’s bass chops as a whole cannot be denied and feels wonderfully meaty and present in every song that I listen too whereas the Helios flexes its muscles whenever there is a sub-bass focussed track on the queue.

Male vocals are better executed on the IER-M9 and instruments such as an acoustic guitar comes across as more natural and more engaging on the IER-M9 than on the Helios. The upper mids leading to the treble on the IER-M9 are slightly reigned in from the Helios but the result is a perceived loss of some sparkle and detail in the upper end. The extended treble of the Helios wins out in this regard compared to the IER-M9 as I felt it was much more well executed and had a greater sense of air and presence.

Technicality wise, the IER-M9 performs quite well on the detail and resolution front but I feel that staging is a little more confined and intimate on the IER-M9 which some people may like but others may not.

I feel that the IER-M9 takes a safer approach to tuning and provides similar technical capabilities. The warmth of the IER-M9 may have some detractors but I feel that it provides a more palatable tonality and does not lean too hard into the detail at all cost camp that the Helios seemingly occupies.

Overall, the Andromeda takes the most coloured tonality and is likely to be the most divisive tonally. The IER-M9 takes the safest route in my opinion and is a rather safe albeit boring choice in the kilobuck region. The Helios occupies the other end of the spectrum in that its tuning seemingly favours a more clinical approach to music reproduction.
IMG_4844.jpg


Quality of Life Concerns​

The Helios are weird looking. There is no dancing around it, the angular housings combined with the long nozzles create a bit of a kerfuffle with fit. I for one, have had difficulties in finding an IEM which didn’t fit my cavernous earholes but the Helios took some adjusting and fiddling around with to get to fit well. The included cable did not feature earhooks and for good reason, these may protrude slightly and the cables may stick out and above your ear.

The Helios are also rather difficult to drive, requiring a rather healthy amount of juice to be taken to robust volumes. In my testing the W4 had to be cranked up to 70/100 on high gain through the balanced output to get it to border on slightly too loud which is rather a significant amount of power in my experience with IEMs.

The accessory package is half decent but the case is a screw down one that makes a godawful racket and the case is rather cramped if you’re not using the stock cable. I would have preferred a slightly larger case that wasn't made out of metal but I cannot deny it looks very, very nice.

Value​

The kilobuck IEM is an often-fabled price bracket with numerous competitors vying for dominance. There is something to be said for IEMs in this region as there is a great level of technical capability and a wealth of options for tonality. At the price that Symphonium is asking for, I honestly believe that the Helios is a fair purchase when viewing it from an empathetic mindset. The only question in my mind is the tuning. Some may value this detail-orientated and crisp IEM but I for one would rather either the IER-M9 and the Andromeda (noting that I am inherently biased as I paid for these two).

These two kilobuck IEMs offer up a more warm tuning approach and the three could sit on a spectrum with the Andromeda occupying the most coloured tonality in terms of warmth whereas the Helios sits at the other end in the cold, slightly clinical approach. The IER-M9 is warm indeed but sits in the middle of the two being the most balanced in my mind. So it really boils down to what tonality you enjoy but all three offer up their own benefits. Are you a treble head? Helios. Are you a bass-head? IER-M9? Are you just looking for something with off-kilter tonality and a warm and euphonic production? Andromeda.

Conclusion​

“Objectively” infallible, the Helios tries to present a very clean and resolving tonality and achieves it with gusto. Instruments and vocals are clearly separated and the 4BA set up resolves extremely well, providing a crisp and “neutral” tonality.

“Subjectively”, the Helios presents a tonality that is too clean for me and dry in its presentation. Verging on the very edge of being unnatural for me, the Helios’ mid-bass/lower-mid dip as well as the sub-bass boost presents an oddly sterile tonality with certain instruments being thrown into the abyss in order to cleanly separate mids and bass.

I understand the appeal of the Helios for those looking for detail by any means necessary as the tuning seems to emphasise the idea of resolving notes in integral portions of the frequency response curve at the cost of everything else. The result to me at least, is a tonality that I feel fails to engage me emotionally and invites critical listening for random details you feel that you might have missed with lesser IEMs instead of simply relaxing to enjoy your library.

It is a fine IEM, but it is not a kilobuck revelation nor is it something I would welcome into my rotation based on subjective preferences. On my worst days I described the Helios as clinical and sterile. On my best days, I described it as wonderfully resolving, fast and crisp in its precision. The Helios, for better or for worse, is the Mr. Clean of the kilobuck realm and if that is what you’re looking for, then look no further.

This review and the rating I give it is inherently coloured by my own personal preferences but I've made it a point to try and highlight the strengths of the Helios which may have a greater weighting in your personal listening experience. Should you place greater weight on treble response and the crispness of note reproduction, then you may be more forgiving to the Helios.

IMG_4788.jpg
Last edited:
freeryder05
freeryder05
One of the best reviews I have read in a long time. Keep up the good work!

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
“An aurora borealis…localized entirely within your IEM!?”
Pros: Smooth, natural tonality;
Wonderful vocal quality; and
Uniquely smooth bass response
Cons: Treble execution lacks excitement and engagement;
Intimate and slightly confined staging limits versatility; and
Rather middling accessory package.

IMG_4922.jpg

Preamble:​

Many thanks to @Damz87 and to Nicholas Tsu for arranging the Australian tour of the Aurora and to chowy for ensuring their safe delivery.
The sources used to form this review included:
- Chord Mojo 2;
- Shanling M6 Ultra; and
- Cayin RU7,
all fed with lossless FLAC files.


There is something in the water in Asia. The dominance of the region in the proliferation of a large number of IEMs in the last decade has been nothing short of amazing. Whilst Chi-Fi gets all the praise, there are a number of other nations providing a number of noteworthy IEMs. I have previously reviewed Symphonium, a Singaporean maker with ties to two other noteworthy compatriots in the form of Subtonic and Nightjar. Today’s review concerns another burgeoning IEM maker from the city-state of Singapore, the Aur Audio Aurora. With a small operation consisting of two friends, there appears to be an attention to detail and loving care that only a smaller shop can bring to deliver what they state on their website as being “the ultimate in sound quality and clarity unlike any other”. Rather lofty words let’s see if they can deliver such an experience with their Aurora.

The Factual Stuff​

The Aurora does not come with a box but rather in a puck style case containing:
  • The earpieces;
  • A twisted, cloth covered cable;
  • Silicone eartips; and
  • A cleaning brush.
Within the earpieces are an 8 driver setup consisting of two “opposed” 7.5mm dynamic drivers and 6 balanced armatures, with two of those being tweeters focused on the higher ranges and 4 being focused on the mids.
The Aurora is available for 560 USD.

IMG_4916.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

The review was conducted with Spinfit CP145s. The stock tips included were tested and an insight into their quality is provided in the section entitled “Quality of Life”.

Bass​

The Aurora provides a rather heathy dose of bass in the form of both an elevated sub and mid-bass lift that ensures that it is present in nearly every song that you listen to. The sub-bass presents itself as a rather pleasing rumble in songs such as “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack in a manner that is neither overbearing nor overly recessed. There is a rather good balancing act here and the sub-bass shelf remains nicely elevated for that sense of presence with modern-produced music. There is a decent quality to the sub-bass as well as it remains textured and detailed.
The mid-bass is ever so slightly elevated to present a nice sense of punch and added weight to the upper-bass/lower mid regions without treading on any other part of the frequency response. There is a tendency for a mid-bass boost to muddy up some male vocals and portions of the mids but testing the Aurora demonstrates that there is little to none semblance of this.
There is a detriment to the bass on the Aurora and that is there is not a great sense of attack and dynamism to the bass in that the quantity is good yes, but it does not provide the physicality and speed you would get in other IEMs. There is a sense of a laidback and smooth reproduction of these bass frequencies and I didn’t mind it that much, however, for more aggressive basslines in trap and EDM tracks, the Aurora did not keep up that well.

Mids​

The mids on the Aurora are potentially the most well executed portion of the IEM, providing a smooth and natural tonality throughout. “2easy” by Nive and Heize is a female/male duet with rather lilting runs throughout and both vocalists receive an equal amount of attention from the Aurora. The timbre remains natural and “analogue” sounding in nature leading to a very laid-back listening experience. With more aggressive higher mid songs such as “4walls” by f(x) there is no real shoutiness or brightness to be heard throughout. This creates a rather easy-going listening experience that is non-fatiguing but there is a sense of a loss of sparkle throughout this region.
As previously mentioned, the mid-bass boost imparts a good sense of weight and warmth to the mids as well without detracting from male vocalists such as those in “Out of Time” by the Weeknd as it remained nicely separated and easily discernible.
The smooth reproduction, whilst enjoyable, appears to detract from certain instrumentalization throughout tracks such as “Starman” by David Bowie or “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington and Bill Withers with the guitar and the saxophone (respectively) losing a sense of “edge” and being more rounded in their reproduction.
Ultimately, the vocal reproduction of the Aurora is the most noteworthy element of the IEM and is definitely something that surprised me with how well it was executed. However, it does seem to be at the cost of some clarity and sparkle with upper mids and the speed and resolution of some instruments.

Treble​

Carrying on from the discussion of the upper-mids, the treble region of the Aurora is very smoothed out and rolled off in my opinion. There is a lack of engagement in this region even when throwing sibilant and very bright tracks at it. “Reckoner” by Radiohead has a wonderful string of percussion throughout the track and the Aurora provides a slightly limp and not very engaging reproduction of it, lacking speed and sparkle. “You & Me (Flume Remix)” by Disclosure/Flume has a very aggressive synth in the chorus that cuts throughout the rest of the mix with its extremely sharp ascent into the highs and it remained rather non-engaging with the Aurora.
There is a benefit with this tuning as I feel that the Aurora avoids any sense of fatigue over long listening periods with its forgiving and smooth treble regions but there is a lack of engagement and drama with instruments within the region. There is a distinct lack of airiness and crispness as cymbals do not crash with the same brain-tickling effect and a hi-hat ringing throughout a track remains recessed and indiscernible from the rest of the mix.
Overall, I feel as though the treble remains the sore spot for the Aurora as it is too recessed, smoothed out and rolled off to present the sense of sparkle and ear-tickling effect that one would expect. I see what they were going for in aligning the region with the sound signature of the rest of the IEM but ultimately it remains a disappointment for me.

Technicalities​

The Aurora’s smooth tonality belies some rather good technical chops. Despite not having detail “jump out at you” in the case of brighter IEMs, a careful listening elicits some good detail retrieval for the price range. However, the smoothed out and rolled-off nature of the Aurora ultimately limits its ability to communicate very subtle details in well-recorded tracks such as Haliene’s “Rush Over Me (Acoustic)” wherein there is a loss of detail with the piano player floating his fingers over the keys and the mechanics of the press against the pedal are not presented in the same manner as it was with other IEMs.
The staging is somewhat confined as I feel that the lack of airiness of the Aurora and the mid-forward nature leads to a rather limited width and depth to the music as things seem to present right in front of you and do not pan out very far from the immediate left and right of you. Centre imaging is a wonderful thing with the Aurora however, as the intimacy of the staging combined with the vocal quality of the Aurora with tracks such as “Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift creates a very analogue reproduction of what one would imagine an intimate performance would be like.
Overall, the technicalities require a keen ear, a rather high volume and critical listen to present themselves in fullness. The staging is rather confined, but this lends itself to the key strength of the Aurora in its vocal presentation.

Overall​

The Aurora presents itself as a vocal specialist with a dash of fun with its high quality lower-end reproduction. Where the issues (in my mind) lay is the movement into the upper mids and treble region wherein the pursuit of smooth and laid-back listening has limited the ability to communicate the drama of certain tracks and perhaps engagement with entire genres such as EDM.
Whether the great timbre of the mids and the balanced yet fun execution of the bass is enough to forgive this rather glaring limitation is dependent on your own preferences and the genres that you enjoy listening too. More acoustically focused and enjoy folksy music? The Aurora is a no brainer if your budget permits. Grating synths and harrowing percussion? Probably look elsewhere.

Synergy:​

One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Shanling M6 Ultra:​

I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.
The M6U coalesces with the Aurora in a very forthright manner. The smoothness of the M6U combined with the already smooth nature of the Auroras present butter in audio form. There are no hard edges here and the result is a rewarding and inviting listening experience as there is not fatigue at all over the course of several hours. There is a loss of engagement by taking this approach as notes no longer really “attack” but rather simply float out for your ears to listen to.
A rather interesting presentation that will be sure to attract more easygoing listeners but sure to disappoint those looking for a more extreme experience.

IMG_4937.jpg

Chord Mojo 2​

I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.
The Aurora and the Mojo 2 has a rather straightforward interaction with one another, with the relatively neutral tonality of the Mojo 2 bringing a greater sense of engagement and dynamism with the rather smooth Aurora. The attack and speed of certain notes is an obvious difference between the M6U and the Mojo 2. There is a greater sense of engagement with the Mojo 2 rather than having some pleasant-sounding background music.
Playing around with the DSP on the Mojo 2 affirms my previous insights into the treble region as EQ with the upper mids and treble brought about a greater sense of sparkle in the region and improved the overall experience in my mind.
The Mojo 2 synergises well with the Aurora in my mind, and I can happily recommend it with the benefit of DSP.

IMG_4933.jpg

Cayin RU7​

I would characterise the RU7 as smooth, slightly rolled off and warm (depending on your settings). The sound signature is meant to replicate a more “analogue” sound signature and the result is a more calming and relaxed approach.
In the same vein as the M6U, the RU7 seems to amplify the sound signature of the Aurora by smoothing it out even further. Unlike the M6U, the RU7 imbues a rather healthy soundstage and a great sense of detail and imaging in microdetails by separating the mix. The soundstage factor is a welcome element as it widens out the Aurora and provides a nicely layered listening experience.
Otherwise, the experience may be described as overly smooth by some but the experience is a rather euphonic one and I can definitely recommend this for more relaxed, laid-back listens over long periods of time that will retain your interest.
IMG_4934.jpg

Comparisons​

Vs Moondrop Variations​

Occupying a rather similar price range, the Variations present what one could term as the antithesis of the Aurora’s tuning ethos. Leaner and more thin in its midrange, the Variations opts for a more sharp dip in the mid-bass to more cleanly separate the midrange and the bass. Sub-bass is the Variations forte and there is a greater sense of impact in the cleanliness of its tuning but the Aurora remains a very, very close competitor.
There is a loss of mid warmth and a lighter note weight overall but in return is a cleaner tonality that seems to highlight greater microdetails throughout the frequency response. The Variations feel more sparse and wide in its presentation but similar to the Aurora, there is a lack of depth. The vocals with the Variations are more recessed in the mix and thus there is a loss of emotional engagement with certain instrumentalization and vocals. There is a definite preference for female vocals and higher frequencies in the Variations as there is a prominent edge in the sparkle factor of belted female vocals and edgy percussion. This is a definite win in the Variations favour.
Overall, I feel that the Auroras and the Variations represent similar technical capabilities with the difference being their tuning. If you prefer a warmer and smooth reproduction, the Aurora is the clear choice.
IMG_4952.jpg

Vs Sony IER-M9​

The IER-M9 represents in my mind, the gatekeeper of the kilobucks. With its rather inoffensive (and perhaps boring) tonality combined with its technical prowess, it presents $1000 vanilla ice-cream by which others may be tested.
The warmer than neutral tuning of the IER-M9 presents a similarly smoother experience than a lot of modern IEMs in the market but not the same extent as the Aurora. Sub-bass takes a definite hit in quantity but the quality of its detail and texture present a win over the Aurora. The mid-bass punch is also similarly impressive for the IER-M9 being an all-BA set, the Aurora does not win in the quality region but the balance in tuning of the Aurora provides it with a tonality that is more agreeable to me.
Treble is also more impressively executed on the IER-M9 with greater extension and greater prominence in the mix compared to the smoothed out and rolled-off nature of the Aurora. The IER-M9 remains rather sparkly and airy in its reproduction of the treble that lends itself to a rather enjoyable listening experience rather than being an afterthought in the mix.
Detail retrieval on the IER-M9 is also better in that microdetails are revealed to a greater extent in well recorded songs. Staging is somewhat similar with that centre-presenting vocal mix but there is a greater sense of depth and layering in the mix on the IER-M9 that gives a more textured quality to the recording than on the Aurora.
This is somewhat of an unfair comparison considering the price difference but where the Aurora can hang its hat on is its smooth, easy listening experience that is vocally focused and a better balance between mid and sub bass.

IMG_4948.jpg

Vs 7th Acoustics Supernova​

The Supernova is another smooth criminal in the IEM space that I am in the process of writing a review for. Considering these arrived concurrently, I compared the two due to their similar approach to tonality despite their price difference (Supernova = 800 USD, Aurora = 560USD).
The bass presents itself more forwardly in the Aurora with a more generous helping of sub-bass throughout that adds to the fun factor. The more level bass response leading into the mids of the Supernova leads to some issues with male vocals whereas the Aurora’s shelf and subtle mid-bass boost creates greater separation.
The mids on the two IEMs seek out to create a smooth and natural tonality that is pleasing to the ear. Where the Supernova separates itself is the upper mids extending into the treble region wherein the spine-tingling reproduction of female vocalisation creates a more engaging experience compared to the slightly limper production of the Aurora. Vocal fry and the inhales of the vocalist running through their lyrics seem to present themselves with far greater detail and emotional engagement on the Supernova than the Aurora. Instrumentalization such as dramatic piano solos also seem to engage more thoroughly on the Supernova compared to the Aurora.
Treble extension is not the forte of either IEMs here but the Supernova remains more sparkly than the Aurora and creates a greater sense of drama with certain instruments.
Technicalities on the Supernova take the W in that detail retrieval, staging and resolution all seem to be bumped up from the Aurora in a noticeable manner.
Overall, the Aurora and the Supernova are more similar than they are unalike, however, the Supernova represents a noticeable step up in nearly all aspects save for bass quantity and the mid-bass control.
IMG_4961.jpg

Quality of Life​

The 3D resin shell of the Aurora is very well made but the shells themselves are rather beefy. Whilst I had no issues with fitment, I would not be surprised if the rather wide and deep earpieces pose some issues to more smaller ears.

The included accessories are rather limited, and I was not a fan of the stock eartips in any case given they seemed to jump from rather small to very large. With that being said, the cleaning brush is always a nice addition, and I am a big fan of the puck case that does a good job of being rather ergonomically shaped and with a very nice silicone friction fit.
The stock eartips are rather wide nozzle openings that lead to a rather odd sound signature wherein soundstage is improved somewhat at the cost of some dynamics. The bass is sucked out with the stock large tips and lends itself to an even more relaxed and laid-back listening experience that I would liken to having a smaller speaker in a rather larger room. Not the ideal listening experience which is why I opted for a CP145 for my review but would likely be quite ideal for those looking to maximise the inherent qualities of the Aurora.
The included cable is soft and well-made but the memory of the cable and perhaps any cable utilising cloth covers is a rather annoying aspect as it wants to retain its shape.

Whilst related to sound quality, the Auroras are best presented whilst listening at rather high volumes, giving a greater coherency across the frequency response curve. This however, is not an ideal situation given that it may lead to some rather poor consequences. The rolled off treble was alleviated at higher listening volumes that provided a greater sense of excitement but was untenable for longer listening sessions and with songs with greater dynamic swings in volume.

Value​

I feel that the Auroras reside firmly in their price point and do not seem to punch too high up. The comparison against the Variations, priced at 520 USD usually is a rather telling one. The two trade blows in more “objective” elements such as technical performance with the main difference being tuning, which is a more preference based aspect of the game.

The accessory package is quite middling at the price point as I found the puck case on Aliexpress for $4 and the cable, whilst nicely smooth, provided some ergonomic issues for me.

Overall, at 560 USD, I don’t believe that the Aurora is a revelation at its price point but remains a very good option for a specialist IEM that excels in vocal reproduction and for those seeking out a smooth, easy listening experience.

Conclusion​

There isn’t much to dislike about the Aurora, it is a very easy listen in that I can freely just place them in my ears and leave my library to play on shuffle without any song feeling as though they have been wronged in their reproduction. Vocal reproduction is the forte of the Aurora and the intimate staging and smooth reproduction of all facets of the frequency response lend itself to a honeyed and euphonic mid-region.
However, there is a loss of overall engagement with music due to the treble performance of the Aurora that removes from the “drama” and “excitement” of certain instruments and notes hit by vocalists.
I am by no means a treblehead but the Aurora provides very little in the sense of engagement in this region and I sorely miss a more “revealing” tuning and a sense of sparkle and hair-raising peril of certain instruments.
The Aurora is not an IEM I can recommend for everyone but if you are looking for an intimate, smooth and warm listen and understand that this IEM is somewhat of a specialist, then I cannot fault it. More discerning individuals and those looking to jump up to the Aurora’s price point may find the lack of treble excitement sorely lacking.
xxAMAROKxx
xxAMAROKxx
Hard to find iems with sparkling and engaging treble in these days. Every manufacturer smoothing like Moondrop :frowning2:
K
Kazou
Realy like this aurora
grumpy213
grumpy213
It’s a really smooth listen. Unfortunately it falls out of preference basket but glad to hear you’re liking it!

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Red Hot Bass
Pros: Exceptionally powerful low-end performance
Treble is distinct, edgy and clearly defined
Small and comfy earpieces
Cons: Bass gets fatiguing over time
Mids are an afterthought
Detail is lost in the aggressive tuning
Staging is pedestrian

IMG_5673.jpg

Preamble​

Many thanks to @Damz87 for arranging the Australian tour of these and special thanks to @reallynotareview for lending his personal unit for this review.

In a world of Harman tuned IEMs, there seems to be a prevailing idea of what constitutes a well-tuned IEM (at least below a certain price point). Adherence to targets with minor adjustments and a FR curve seems to be enough for a not-insignificant number of audiophiles to praise or malign an IEM. FatFreq is a Singaporean maker that is seemingly hellbent on subverting these targets to attempt to achieve a hugely bassy IEM, in a tuning approach that seems to be unprecedented in its apparent ridiculousness. This review concerns their latest release, the Scarlet Mini (Scarlet) which promises more of this bass power. I mean, just look at this thing:
1705048552679.png

One can imagine what this would sound like but with the benefit of @ really not a review’s personal unit, I would embark on an odyssey in bass. But would this odyssey leave me high and dry in the middle of the desert? Or lead me to a bass oasis?

The Factual Stuff​

The tour unit came in a strikingly red pelican-style hard case that FatFreq terms the “FATBOX” with some rather nice foam within to protect your new toy. Additionally, the FATBOX includes a silica capsule to draw any moisture away from your IEMs, a cleaning brush and a red coloured pure silver cable with various terminations.

IMG_5635.jpg
IMG_5638.jpg


The earpieces themselves are seemingly made of resin with a tastefully red faceplate that is quite handsome to look at. Within the earpieces is a bit of a mystery as the driver configuration is not readily apparent from the FatFreq website. However, they do note their “Bass Cannon” technology to achieve deep yet strong bass with “zero mid-range bleed” as well as their linear impedance to match any source, Sonar La Trompa to provide nice highs and Phasealign to improve coherency.

They are priced at around 799 SGD to 999 SGD depending on your cable combo (this is the 999 SGD cable combo). This is around 600 to 750 freedom dollars at the time of writing.

IMG_5633.jpg

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

Bass​

TL;DR: The Scarlet is a bass-heavy IEM that delivers powerful, deep, and resonant bass with good clarity and depth, although it slightly compromises on detail and might not suit everyone's preferences.

Well let’s not beat around the bush. The Scarlet is an absolute bass cannon as advertised. The tremendous boost in the low-end creates a strong sense of low-end body and presence. It is not just powerful in terms of sheer volume, it also manages to provide such a boost with sufficient clarity and depth. The sub-bass extends deep and rumbles very nicely with authority. “How” by Ella Mai has a pervading bass-line throughout the entire song befitting its genre and the Scarlet reproduces it with deep and resonant bass that adds a palpable texture to the music.

Moving to the mid-bass, I chucked on “Second Life” by Slander that has a mid-bass focussed bass line throughout the song and to no one’s surprise, the Scarlet provides an extremely powerful reproduction of the song. The punchiness and strength of the bass boost in the Scarlet manages to provide a strong sense of excitement and physicality to a rather small IEM that belies belief.

In terms of quality and textures, the Scarlet is not best in class, but this is not a situation of quantity trumping quality. By virtue of the rather aggressive boost, the Scarlet does not render the full detail of certain basslines such as that on “THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack opting for a more full and perhaps rounded presentation of bass versus a reigned in but readily dissectible form of bass.

Overall, the bass on the Scarlet is indeed its strong suit, the significant boost applied here does not turn the Scarlet into a indiscernible mess but rather remains controlled, quite detailed (considering the boost) and hugely fun to listen to. The only detriment to this robust bass tuning is that the detail invariably suffers despite remaining rather good considering the context and that this hugely bassy signature would not exactly be everyone’s cup of tea. I found myself somewhat nauseous after extended listening sessions with the Scarlet.

Mids​

TL;DR: The Scarlet's mid-range performance is moderate, with a tendency for recessed and somewhat veiled vocals and instruments due to its bass-focused tuning, yet it manages to maintain intelligibility and balance in various musical contexts.
Given the tremendous bass boost, I was very keen to see the effect on the mid-range, understanding that a rather robust mid-bass region tends to bleed into the mids and detract from its coherency at times. Listening to “Out of Time” by the Weeknd, a track that uses a rather lush and warm sample from a city-pop track from the 80s combined with the male vocals of the Weeknd. On overly warm IEMs, this song has a tendency to sound rather incoherent with male vocals being thrown into the abyss and injected with a distracting amount of note weight. The Scarlets managed the song very well, with the Weeknd, despite being somewhat recessed in the mix, still managing to come off as coherent, intelligible and with a somewhat natural timbre. However, the male vocalists still remain recessed in the mix as the tuning of the Scarlet is invariably bass focused.

Putting on a duet to see the shift from male to female vocalists, “Can’t Love you Anymore” by IU and OHHYUK contains the heady and airy voice of IU and the crooning of OHHYUK. The Scarlet manages the balance between these two voices rather well, seemingly providing both with ample focus as the song switches between the two. The bridge of the song also contains a call and response between the two singers and the Scarlet doesn’t seem to place precedence on either voice.

Moving to female vocalists, “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish contains a rather intimately staged song that is rather sparsely produced and has a focus on Billie’s whispering singing voice. The Scarlet creates a rather excellent reproduction of the vocals but unlike other IEMs with a more “balanced” tuning, the Scarlet seems to place Billie’s vocals further back in the mix and detracts from the detail and emotion behind such vocals.

More acoustic and less bass heavy productions such as Laufey’s “Second Best” presents in a surprisingly good manner. Without the ever-present bass throughout, the mids are reproduced quite well, specifically the soulful voice of Laufey.

Instrumentalization in this region is a key selling point to me as I do enjoy a full and well detailed midrange. “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington and Bill Withers contains a wealth of instruments as well as the lovely voice of Bill and the Scarlet manages to do a decent job of rendering both. The saxophone, the keyboards and the steel drums are rendered quite well but as was the case outlined above, are thrown to the rear of the mix and inevitably lose a sense of detail and engagement.

Overall, the Scarlet is a bit of middling mid-range performer with the region recessed rather veiled and somewhat lose a sense of engagement. However, the Scarlet does well when considering the context of the FR curve as a whole as still remains intelligible, just not that engaging.

Treble​

TL;DR: The Scarlet's treble is surprisingly refined and present despite its bass-heavy nature, offering a good rendition of higher frequencies with a slight edge in sibilance, lacking the splashiness of brighter IEMs but still maintaining a fun and articulate upper-end.
Moving on to the treble region, one would usually believe that an absolute bass cannon such as the Scarlet would likely have a terrible upper end. To that I would say that you are wrong. The treble on the Scarlet can provide a rather good rendition of percussive instruments such as those on “Reckoner” by Radiohead. The claps, hi-hats and maracas manage to present themselves rather forwardly in the mix and with a slight sense of sparkle and tinkling quality to them that belies the robust low-end.

The brush on the hi-hat throughout “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding is a constant test for treble response as it is a busily produced track and poor treble tuning usually leads to it being lost completely. The Scarlet renders this hi-hat with a whispery quality that is soft, subtle yet articulate in its nature. Treble therefore does not have the same splashy and spine-tingling quality that it has on brighter IEMs but it is definitely not completely dead as one would usually believe on a “bass-head” IEM.

Higher register female vocals reside in the upper-mids and lower-treble and a more aggressively tuned IEM has the propensity to be sibilant at times. The Scarlet has such qualities with sss sound coming from f(x) in “4 Walls” (and perhaps female K-pop vocals as a whole) having an edginess to them that is ever-so-slightly grating on the eardrums. I would not term these as hugely sibilant but there is a slight sharpness and pronounced edge to notes in this register.

Overall, the treble of the Scarlet is not too aggressively tuned but done in a manner that retains the fun-factor of having a present and well defined upper-end. There is no goosebump inducing moments when a cymbal crashes but there is a subtle and refined approach to the treble that allows it remain present in an overwhelming wave of bass.

Technicalities​

TL;DR: The Scarlet's soundstage is relatively confined with limited width and height, and while it offers good imaging and layering abilities within this space, its aggressive tuning leads to some loss of detail, especially in the mid-range.

Staging on the Scarlet is rather confined in the grand scheme of IEMs. There is no real sense of width nor height on the Scarlets with orchestral recordings such as “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu remaining rather pedestrian in terms of stage size. There is perhaps, an enhanced sense of depth in the staging owing to the robust bass and slightly elevated treble leading to a very forward low-end and everything else sort of sitting behind it “on the stage”.

The imaging abilities of the Scarlet are rather good in its ability to adequately position instruments and vocal lines on its rather confined stage, presenting a layered and articulate rendition of overlapping instruments and voices in busier productions such as “Fine” by Taeyeon.

In terms of sheer resolution there is a loss of micro and macro detail by virtue of its aggressive tuning. The recessed nature of the mids seems to present a more ‘muffled’ and ‘veiled’ rendition of music that makes it harder to discern detail in the mid-range and to a lesser extent in the treble regions. That is not to say that the Scarlet is slouch, it remains competent but detail is not exactly jumping at you by virtue of its tuning. Subtle details on songs such as “Rush Over Me (Acoustic Version)” by Haliene which are readily apparent on more neutrally tuned and resolving IEMs in the market remain rather indiscernible on the Scarlet unless listening carefully.

Overall​

There is no mistaking what the Scarlet is all about and that is bass. Powerful in quantity and surprisingly articulate in its quality, the Scarlet is an IEM that could be characterised in a phrase of “in spite of”. In spite of such an overwhelmingly bass-focussed tuning, it remains still coherent, in spite of a ridiculous and sometimes nauseating bass tuning it retains rather good treble performance. The only issue with the Scarlet is that it appears to me to be a ‘gimmick’ IEM as I do not feel that this would be the ideal daily driver of any audiophile but it manages to be enticing in spite of this rather extreme tuning. Mids suffer slightly and if you’re a fan of acoustic folk songs of the 60s recorded in mono, the Scarlet is likely a miss.

IMG_5604.jpg


Comparisons​

vs FatFreq Maestro Mini​

IMG_5687.jpg

The Maestro Mini (MM) is a predecessor of sorts with its spot in the product line being prior to and under the Scarlet. However, the footprint and price-tag remain fairly similar and as such it would be key to compare the two. Thank you to @tfaduh for providing his personal unit for the purposes of this comparison.

The MM presents a greater overall tonal balance when compared to the extremes that the Scarlet pushes. In terms of the low-end, the MM, whilst being no slouch in the grand scheme of things, has a lesser bass boost and perhaps is actually not as detailed or speedy as the Scarlet. The mid-range is the key advantage that the MM holds over the Scarlet as it’s presentation feels more in line with the rest of the FR curve. There is a slight thinness to notes in this region but it feels much more balanced overall. In treble, the Scarlet seems to be more sparkly and more dramatic in this region creating a more crystalline and precise rendition of treble whereas the MM feels more restrained and smoothed out comparatively speaking. IN terms of technical performance, the two are relatively similar in terms of micro and macro detail retrieval on a critical A-B listen. However, anecdotally, spending 2 weeks with the two as my daily drivers I found that the Scarlet feels comparatively more veiled and less detailed due to the more aggressive tuning approach. Stage-width is perceived to be greater on the MM but is not as deep as the Scarlet.

Ultimately, the Maestro Mini could potentially be a daily driver, the Toyota Corolla to the Scarlet’s weekend warrior Miata with a roll cage with an LS motor that has somehow has been shoehorned in and is ready to kill you at a moments notice. Pick your poison.

Synergy​

One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Chord Mojo 2​

I would term the Mojo 2 as a slightly warm but very technical source. The combination of the Scarlet and the Mojo 2 yielded a rather good result, providing a powerful yet controlled low-end, a competent mid-range and some rather crisp treble.

The bass on this combination provided the full-bodied and robust boost offered by the Scarlet but in a controlled and detailed manner, not smearing into a mess like the M6U.

The vocals, whilst slightly recessed in the mix, remained still fairly present enough to enjoy and both female and male vocalists retained a level of emotional engagement.

The treble, whilst not as sparkly nor spine-tingling as the M6U below, created a manageable and non-fatiguing rendition that was still quite crisp in its rendition.

Technicality-wise, the Mojo does not disappoint by drawing out some microdetails in what is a rather coloured tuning. The crossfeed function of the Mojo 2 did help to improve the perception of stage width but considering the already-congested feeling of staging on the Scarlet, it was hardly a revelation.

Overall, I feel that this was the best syngergistic combination for the Scarlet in my small collection of sources.

Shanling M6 Ultra (M6U)​

IMG_5640.jpg


I would term the M6U was a warmer source that seeks to enhance note weight.

The M6U and the Scarlet is an indulgent pairing that essentially boosts a low-end tuning that doesn’t really need any boosting. The combo with more bassier productions rounds out and smooths out the low-end far too greatly. Bass notes become too smeared and lacks the incisiveness seen on other source chains to the point of creating a more indiscernible sound signature.

Utilising the two with more acoustic music such as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” covered by Lana Del Rey being rather veiled and bloaty at times, imbuing a note weight that is highly unnecessary for the sparse production and focus on female vocals. Vocalists, both male and female are fairly recessed in the mix in this combo, overpowered by bass and treble.

Treble is very sparkly and some female vocalists do tend to get a little sibilant as was the case with Ariana Grande’s “34+35”.

Overall, my time with the M6U and the Scarlet was limited and that speaks to the poor synergy between the two.

Luxury & Precision W4​

The W4 is a rather crisp and fast source, providing a somewhat w-shaped sound. The combination of the W4 and the Scarlet was a bit of a mixed bag. The heightened upper mids and treble seemed to draw out some sibilance from female vocalists but also added a layer of crispness and sparkle that was excellent with certain tracks. The mids were brought more forward into the mix and the overall tonal balance became much more in line with other competitors in the market.

However, the aforementioned Bass Cannon was reduced to a bloaty and boomy mess with the W4 with the bass performance being degraded quite heavily. The results of this pairing were very glaring to the ear and whilst some elements were quite good, the bass was basically unforgiveable in my books. This was alleviated somewhat with some fiddling with digital filters but the overall performance in the low-end left a lot to be desired.

Overall, this is not a pairing that I would recommend.

Value & Quality of Life​

Priced between 799 and 999 SGD, the Scarlet inhabits the rather competitive sub-kilobuck market that is crowded with plenty of IEMs. Where the Scarlet seems to separate itself from the pack is its extreme tuning that emphasises low-end. And whilst it does detract from other elements of sound (as outlined above) it presents a wholly unique offering in the market (FatFreq compatriots excluded) that is able to satisfy a rather niche group of audio-enjoyers and appeal to a larger crowd looking to fulfil specialist slots in their collections.

The included accessories are rather excellent with the FATBOX providing a rather robust albeit large means of transportation and protection. The silver upgrade cable is rather striking to look at in its red hue but remains lightweight, ergonomic and rather pliable. The colour and the lightness and thinness of the wire used does present some other thoughts of cheap and chintzy but ultimately I cannot detract any other points from the cable.

The earpieces themselves are rather small and lightweight. When compared to the absolute huge earpieces and huge nozzles occupying the market, the Scarlet is a great breath of fresh air with its smaller and ergonomically shaped footprint. I found that the Scarlet felt at home in the ears for long listening sessions and I would not be too hesitant to say that this will likely work with a lot of ears in the world.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the rather public concerns of FatFreq build quality in recent weeks and months with mention in certain cricles of audiophilia relating to their poor customer service, slow turnaround times and a high instance of QC issues on their range of IEMs. This is something that has not presented on the Scarlets in my time with them but ultimately is a consideration I feel is worth pointing out.

Overall, I feel that the Scarlet, by virtue of its extreme tuning, has carved itself out of the pack and into a neat little niche. There is nothing boring about the Scarlet and that alone is perhaps worth the price of admission. I would not buy it to be my only IEM nor my daily driver (unless you were an absolute bass-head) but I feel what it brings to the table is wholly unique and that is definitely a great boon to its value proposition in the market.

Conclusion​

It is a common theme for marketing to overpromise and then underdeliver. In the case of FatFreq and the Scarlet, bass cannon did not underdeliver. The Scarlet provides a unique but potentially polarising sound signature that has more bass than most know what to do with, a middling lower-midrange, a slightly spicy upper-mid range and a rather competent and subtle treble region. These elements combine to create a rather mixed bag of sound but what it does well in, it does unlike any other IEM in the market. To me, this is a specialist through and through and whether that is worth the price, is really up to how much you love bass or perhaps, whether you have been looking for the fun weekender IEM to complement your daily driver workhorse IEM.

IMG_5622.jpg
Last edited:

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Middle Child Syndrome
Pros: Tremendous bass reproduction
Smooth and easy listen
Cons: Vocals feel extremely recessed
Veiled and dark sound signature
Treble is lacking

Preamble​

IMG_5421.jpg

Thank you to @Damz87, MiniDisc Australia (http://minidisc.com.au) and Fir Audio themselves for arranging this Australian tour of the Fir Audio RN6, XE6 and NE4.

As the beneficiary of a trio of Fir Audio IEMs as part of the Australian tour, I was conversing with the previous reviewer and hearing some of his thoughts regarding this lineup of IEMs. One of the comments that I had found myself making was that the Neon 4 was the red-headed stepchild of this family. Being the least expensive out of the Radon and the Xenon, my expectations inevitably led to the idea that this would be the least amazing out of these three rather expensive IEMs. However, this remains a review, and I endeavoured to shed my preconceptions in order to make a determination as to whether the Neon 4 deserves your well-earned dollar, or is even something worth looking at. And so, would the Neon 4 end up being that forgotten child or perhaps the golden child?

The Factual Stuff

The Neon adopts a 4-driver setup with a “Kinetic Bass” 10mm dynamic driver coupled with three balanced armature drivers. These are housed within a machined aluminium shell that has been polished to a very handsome sheen and combined with a sapphire glass faceplate.

The review tour Neon came with a handsome leather case, a variety of eartips, ATOM modules which provides the end-user with the ability to alter the pressure relief system and a cleaning brush.

What are ATOM modules? Well the RN6 features a pressure relief system that utilises a number of modules to alter the amount of noise isolation and therefore impacts the sound signature of the RN6. The modules are:
  • Gold = 17dB isolation;
  • Silver = 15db;
  • Black = 13dB; and
  • Red = 10dB.
The included cable is 8 wire, finished in black and terminated in 4.4mm. There is no apparent information relating to its materials and other specifications.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​


The following review was largely conducted using the silver module

Bass

The Neon 4 provides a rather healthy bass boost that provides a distinctly punchy and impactful sub and mid-bass response. The Kinetic Bass driver relates to the open setup of the driver, pushing sound directly into your ear. The result is a physical sense of bass that is unlike any other IEM in the market, with the exception perhaps, of those utilising bone conduction drivers.

“THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack has an ever-present bassline that extends deep and hits rather hard, the Neon reproduces this bass with much gusto. The sub-bass extension and boost presents itself in a wholly engaging and physical manner.

“Second Life” by Slander is a bombastic EDM track with very prominent mid-bass. The Neon generates a physical punchiness to the mid-bass in this song that is almost harrowing. The pressure exerted and the prominence of the mid-bass provides a significant sense of drama that is wholly addicting.

The quantity of bass is one thing and in this regard the Neon delivers in spades, however what about the quality? The Neon reproduces these bass frequencies with significant speed and preciseness that almost makes you forget about the generous amount of boost that Fir has achieved when tuning these IEMs. The bass can present itself as potentially boomy at times, but this does not arise in a manner that distorts itself into being an ear-bleeding experience. It remains detailed, textured and readily dissectible instead of being an indiscernible mess. Out of curiosity, I added even more bass via my Chord Mojo 2 and the result was hugely impressive. The DD managed to maintain its composure and reproduce bass in a detailed manner with little to no distortion. This was definitely not an EQ profile that would be listened to on a regular basis but rather a demonstration of the technical prowess of this DD and the seemingly endless pile of bass from which it could draw upon.

Overall, the bass on the Neon is definitely the most prominent aspect of this IEM. It imbues a tremendous sense of physicality that forces you to be engaged with the music. There is a sense of warming up the entirety of the frequency response curve and thus this is hardly an IEM for acoustically focused music but the sheer novelty of the bass is something to behold.

Mids​

The folly of the Neon (and perhaps the Radon and the Xenon) is that the glorious bass comes at a cost. The midrange of the Neon sits behind the that generous mid-bass bump leading to some recessed vocals. This is most prevalent with songs with male vocals and hip-hop such as “Ballin’” by DJ Mustard & Roddy Rich. It feels as though you are seated in front a drum set with the rapper sitting behind it. Even in less aggressively produced basslines such as Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” presents the same issue. There is a veil going on here and the staging of the songs become rather odd in their presentation.

Moving on to female vocals, “Billie Bossa Nova” by Billie Eilish provides a warmed mid-section but higher register female vocals do not suffer the same fate as males. Whilst not forward in the presentation, it is distinctly not as veiled as the aforementioned songs. In terms of instrumentation, the Neons do not do anything that could be construed as “neutral”. “Tank!” by the Seatbelts has a gorgeous mix of instruments and the reproduction of these by the Neon leaves me wanting. The trumpets, the cello and the bongos seem to be resonating from one singular location and lacking any sense of uniqueness in their reproduction.

Perhaps the only potential benefit I could give to the Neon is its rather smooth reproduction of the mids, there is not sense of shoutiness or sibilance from upper register vocals.

Overall, there is a distinct sense of loss in the mids compared to the Radon and the Xenon which manage to balance their coloured tuning well. The Neon, despite having somewhat less bass than its two cousins presents a distinct veil that is quite unforgiving to the midrange.

Treble:​


Moving to the upper ends of the frequency response, the treble region on the Neon is rather smoothed out. “Reckoner” by Radiohead is a distinct song by virtue of its constant percussion which on a brighter IEM has a sense of sparkle. The Neon, provides a minor sense of tingliness when these percussions hit but over the result is rather underwhelming.

“You & Me (Remix)” by Disclosure/Flume is a favourite test track of mine due to the rather disorientating synth in the chorus that seems to tickle the eardrums with a rather good treble tune and seems to gouge out the eardrums with a bright IEM. The Neon did none of these things and the synth seemed to come and go without an afterthought.

However, moving away from these specific tests to really wring out an obvious sense of sparkle, the treble remains distinctly smooth and rather easy going. Over the course of several hours of listening, the NE4 remained restrained enough to not generate any fatigue. The NE4 is more akin to the XE6 in its treble tuning compared to the RN6 but ultimately it is even more limited in this respect. Whilst it was perfect for a relaxing listen to tunes for hours on end there was a loss of engagement in my experience and the prevailing sense that this is a dark IEM and that it doesn’t seek to excite but rather lull you into a comfortable listening experience.

Technicalities:

The aforementioned tuning profile of the Neon lends itself to diminished technical performance. And whilst I believe tuning is not the be-all end-all of a IEM’s ability to resolve, image and separate music on a grand stage, it is rather critical portion of making these abilities abundantly obvious. On the Neon, I believe that these are rather good in terms of their resolution and ability to produce microdetails, it simply requires a far more critical listen to discern these features. “Rush Over Me (Acoustic)” Haliene provides an extremely well recorded vocal line and a very raw pianist recording, wherein creaks, pushes of the pedal and fingers glancing over the keys becomes rather present in the mix with highly resolving and well tuned IEMs. These details are still present with the Neon but unlike say, the MEST MK3, these details are not very clear.

In terms of imaging, I pulled out Precogvisions favourite “Fine” by Taeyeon with its overlaid vocal lines in the bridge. The result with the Neon is a clear discernment of different vocal lines but the ability to image them precisely is rather muddied.

Soundstaging is a rather divisive aspect of IEMs considering the IE part of IEMs. However, there are some gems out there that seem to present an out-of-head experience. The Neons staging capabilities are rather excellent, with songs such as “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu presenting in a rather grand manner. The stage is nicely wide and there is a sense of ‘faux’ depth which I say due to the rather recessed nature of the mids.

Dyanmic swings with the Neon are rather spectacular with the same song presenting in a bombastic nature that is almost harrowing to listen to. Swings in volume, both macro and micro seem to jump out you.

Overall:


The Neon is a strange beast, the bass is reigned in from its cousins but so too are the mids and treble. The result is a rather dark sounding IEM that suffers from a loss of perceived detail, sparkle and engagement with vocals and certain instrumentalization. It is helped by its technical performance and its highly addictive bass, but alas, is not saved by it.

Treble sensitive individuals, or those looking for one of the bass experiences at this price should look to the Neon 4 but should understand its caveats.

Synergy


One thought coming to my mind here namely lessons learnt after multiple DAPs, DACs and Amps plus headphones and IEMs is synergy! Hoping for the one and only holy grail Setup is maybe just a nice wish unless buying according synergy transducers and I don't believe even the best sources are an exception here. There's a reason why people are having multiple devices in parallel or reducing inventory and keeping only the ones with right synergy.

Shanling M6 Ultra


I would characterise the M6 Ultra (M6U) as a smooth, slightly warm source with an increased sense of presence in the mids and a strong note weight.

The Neon and the M6U do not really play nice with the increased warmth and note weight muddying things up further with the Neon. The M6U seems to heighten the already dark sound signature of the Neon and moves it into muddiness. Perhaps more suited for the enjoyer of much darker sound signatures, the M6U seemed to turn the Neon into what I have termed the LCD-2C of IEMs. I would now like to note that I did not enjoy the LCD-2C for sounding as if there was a cushion over the driver.

I would give this combo a miss unless you really need nothing but bass.

Chord Mojo 2


I would characterise the Mojo 2 as a very, very slightly warm neutral tonality with a more natural reproduction of instruments and voices with no DSP enabled.

This was a far better combo that the M6U especially with the bonus of DSP functionality. This is where the Neon became much more enjoyable to me as I turned up the mids and treble and reign in the bass to present a more neutral picture. This really revealed to me that the Neon was not in my wheelhouse. With no DSP, it presented a rather decent reproduction of music but in my opinion was still do dark for my tastes.

I would recommend this purely based off DSP functions.
IMG_5447.jpg

Comparisons​

vs RN6 and XE6​

Yes, yes. I understand that these two older cousins are far more expensive than the Neon but it remains to be said that the leap between the Neon and the RN6/XE6 is absolutely night and day. Whilst all three take a very unique approach to tuning with slight variations, the RN6 and XE6 both work "in spite" of such a tuning. They remain technically proficient in the face of a rather coloured tuning profile that is unlike a lot of IEMs in the market where as the Neon seems to simply miss the mark. The RN6 takes a more airy approach in the upper mids and treble creating a sense of space. The XE6, whilst more confined than the RN6 presents music with a certain bombastic excitement. And then the Neon provides the experience of listening to a drum set with a whole bunch of vocalists and instruments behind it.

Putting aside price, which is not exactly fair, both the RN6 and XE6 blow the Neon out of the water for me.

vs MEST MK3​

(noting that this is off memory and notes)
The MEST MK3 whilst have what I would term a 'warmed' sound signature remains much more neutral than the Neon 4. Apart from this, the MK3 manages to present music in a much more balanced manner. Mids are more forward in the mix compared to the Neon, the treble is executed far better and the technicalities of the MK3 simply beyond reproach. With greater perceived resolution and imaging capabilities, the MK3 presents a much more enjoyable experience both in terms of tonality and sheer resolution.

Considering the closeness of price here, I would go with the MK3 all day.

Quality of Life & Value

The Neon like the XE6 and RN6 is a rather angular shell that is quite deep, posing an issue for smaller ears. Thankfully the shell is some form of polished aluminium and is far lighter than the XE6.

The various atom modules provide you with the ability to alter the level of isolation of the XE6 which is vented, whilst altering the tuning.

For 2299 USD, I cannot really justify the Neon's pricetag when compared to a number of options both below and at the same price point. I do not believe that the Neon, apart from potentially the sheer power of the 10mm DD has anything to offer up against its competitors in this price bracket.

Conclusion

The Neon 4 is the most 'sensible' of the FIr Audio IEMs that I have tried. However, in being sensible (ie smoothing things out and playing it more safe) it seems to lose a certain je ne sais quoi that was present in its older (and much more expensive) cousins. Overly dark with a recessed midrange and without leaning into the same level of tremendous amounts of bass as its more expensive cousins, the Neon 4 doesn’t stand out in any regard.

It remains competent, technically proficient and a rather easy listen but there is not much to dissect with its rather unsophisticated listening experience. In providing a taste of the what the Fir Audio TOTLs have to offer, the Neon seems more like a stepping stone rather than just a good IEM. For the price, I would probably go with a MEST MK3.

IMG_5440.jpg

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Purple Haze
Pros: Best ergonomics in the Code series
Mid-forward enhances female vocalists
Cons: Confined staging width
Least technically capable cable in the Code lineup
Limited

IMG_5718.jpg

Preamble​

Thank you to @Damz87 and @EffectAudio for arranging the Australian Head-Fi Tour of the Effect Audio Code 24 and 24C.

In the history of product lines, there has also been the sense of wanting more for less but ultimately being sad that you don’t have the best of the best. A Civic Type R pulls up to you in your Si, a WRX STi pulls up to you in your WRX, a Continental GT pulls up to your plain old Continental and there is a sense of wanting.

Today’s review concerns the smaller brother of a newly released cable, the Code 24, and whilst limited and finished in a rather pretty hue, the Code 24C isn’t exactly the initial choice for discerning snake oil enthusiasts.

But with a shift in material composition, a lower price and a more tolerable colour scheme (in my opinion), could the Code 24C represent a tremendous value proposition and potentially beat its flagship brother?

The Factual Stuff​

The Code 24C is a limited edition cable featuring a very unique purple hue termed “Galactic Purple”. Unlike the Code 24, the 24C has a thinner gauge of wire at 18.5 AWG instead of 16.5 AWG but still features similar hardware and a two-wire construction. The singular wires consist of a trio of solid cores surrounded by 17 multi-core sized bundles which are then insulated. These wires are fashioned out of UP-OCC Copper Litz as opposed to silver-plated copper in the Code 24.

The 24C features EA’s Conx and TermX system.

IMG_5731.jpg

The prototype and the production model side-by-side.

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​

I believe in sonic changes as a result of cable rolling. If you do not, please skip to Quality of Life & Value.

Notes made in this review are in comparison to the stock sound of whatever the IEM is, that is, with its original cable (save for the Maestro Mini) and some commonalities that I experienced.

The Code 24 was reviewed with a variety of IEMs including:
- Letshuoer S12 Pro;
- Unique Melody MEST MK II;
- FatFreq Maestro Mini;
- FatFreq Scarlet Mini;
- Softears Twilight; and
- Elysian Annihilator 2023.


Bass​


TL;DR: Despite common beliefs on copper enhancing bass, the Code 24C only offers a subtle improvement in sub-bass quantity and a more noticeable increase in bass speed and texture, requiring critical listening to discern these changes.

Given the constant tropes that one reads on head-fi forums, one would generally believe that copper is what you go with for low-end performance. On the Code 24C, the bass regions strike with decent authority over stock cables used with the aforementioned IEMs (some of which include copper cables). However, there is not world-beating transformative existential experience that arises from this cable roll, the bass-response remains somewhat middling with the extent of the sonic shift caused. On all IEMs, the changes were quite subtle to hear and required a rather critical listen to point out. This may just me playing mind games with myself to believe in the value of cables but ultimately I arrived at a very, very minor uplift in terms of sub-bass quantity but a more obvious shift in speed and texture of the bass. This latter aspect seemed to create a greater sense of immediacy and excitement to the bass regions and I enjoyed it with more exciting uptempo songs.

Mids​


TL;DR: The Code 24C accentuates upper-mids and female vocals, sometimes causing sibilance with brighter IEMs, while male vocals appear slightly recessed, making it suitable for music focused on female vocals.

The Code 24C when compared with the stock cable for the IEMs above seemed to create a more upper-mid forward representation of music. Female vocalists came to the forefront of whatever music you are listening to and as a result, there is a slight sibilance at times with the brighter IEMs in this shootout.

The rest of the mid-range seems to present with great crispness and speed overall, with instruments such as keyboards striking out with speed and a slightly drier rendition when compared to stock cables and to the Code 24.

Male vocals receive a shorter end of the stick as they are slightly recessed but also feel well bodied and deeply emotional in their reproduction. With certain IEMs I felt as though there was poor synergy between the two leading to an almost overbearing female vocal without the same airiness and larger stage to accommodate this boost.

Overall, I feel that the Code 24C is great for those with libraries heavy with female vocals and wish to elicit greater, more intimate renditions of such songs. However, beware synergising this with certain IEMs that already place precedence on these elements (see Elysian Diva for example).

Treble​


TL;DR: The Code 24C delivers a spacious, reverberant treble with a smoother, less aggressive presentation than the Code 24.

The Code 24C presents a more sparse and spaced out reproduction of treble regions with slower decay and being more reverberant than some of the stock cables and with the Code 24. There is a retention of sparkle but compared to the Code 24, there is a lesser ‘in-your-face’ rendition and it does not strike with the same attack and speed as the Code 24.

Otherwise, the treble region of the Code 24C seems relatively straightforward and not too forward in the mix, there is a decent crispness to hi-hats and the rendition of higher pitched synths seem to come off rather well. As mentioned previously, there is a slight sibilance to the Code 24C when compared to the stock cables (in most cases) but on the whole it remained perfectly sufficient and well-rounded in its treble performance.

Overall, there is not dramatic shaping of the upper regions of the frequency response here but rather a smoothing out and lighter rendition of treble.

Technicalities


TL;DR: The Code 24C offers a mid-forward, deeply staged sound with clear imaging and layering, enhancing engagement in vocal-heavy music, but without significantly expanding soundstage or resolving power like the Code 24

The Code 24C does a rather mixed job of ‘improving’ the technicalities of anything you’re listening too.

Unlike the 24, there is no expansion of the sound stage to the same extent, but it has decent depth to the stage and is nicely layered within that stage. The mid-forwardness presents a sense of depth wherein the vocalist is front and centre. Outside of staging, the 24C seems to heighten the ease at which I am able to pinpoint the direction of certain notes and sounds within a mix, creating an excellent sense of imaging with panning and alternating sounds within the head-stage which remain very clear and easily discernible.

There is no huge shift in resolving power here, but the mid-forward nature of the cable seems to lend itself to certain types of music and helps you ascertain certain nuances and details within vocalists hitting their notes.

Overall, the shift in technical performance was not that dramatic but rather created a smoother and mid-forward listen that helped to be more engaging with certain types of vocal heavy music.

Value & Quality of Life:

Ergonomics


TL;DR: The Code 24C, with thinner wire than the 24 and 23, offers improved manageability and flexibility but still struggles with thick wire.

I have waxed poetic about how much I disliked the Code 23 for its ergonomics and within my Code 24 review I will talk about how it improved it but ultimately remained not viable for my use case. The Code 24C takes its improvements even further opting for an even thinner wire gauge than the Code 24 (which already took a thinner guage than 23). The result is a more manageable cable that whilst thick remains rather malleable and less prone to retaining its shape. However, it continues to be a rather thiccboi and more awkwardly shaped IEMs such as the Twilight suffered with slight movement as the thiccboi earhooks seeming threw themselves out of wack and just fell out of place.

The hardware design follows the Code 23 with an industrial and rather bulky splitter and jack accentuating its presence. However, compared to the 23 and the 24, the 24C does indeed have smaller hardware which means it is less likely to annoy you on a regular basis.

EA’s ConX and TermX connectors are always a welcome companion to improve the longevity of your cable as you are able to switch connectors to survive any changes to your IEMs or to your source device of choice.

TermX I am not a huge fan of as I use mostly 4.4mm in any case and there is a tendency for both TermX and ConX to unscrew themselves overtime but this is not a huge issue for 2-pin IEMs.

Cost​


Coming at 499 USD the Code 24C is hardly a budget item but I retain that its influence on the sonic signature of your IEM is greater than that of other EA cables such as the Cadmus and the Ares. However, this is with the caveat of whether you would actually enjoy the mid-forward nature of the Code 24C.

Unlike the Code 24 which I feel has more everyman enjoyable influence on your IEM, the Code 24C seems more picky in terms of synergistic pairings in my opinion and for that reason I am reticent to say that this worth the cost of admission.

Whilst I feel that this is practically ergonomic bliss compared to the likes of Code 23 or 24, the 24C seems to be more niche and specific in its application and as such I might be more likely to recommend the EA Christmas Cable (if you are able to grab it since it is limited) or looking to even more ergonomically viable offerings from other manufacturers.

I do not feel that the Code 24C is a safe choice for the price so this will be a demo before you buy pick.

Comparison​

vs Code 23 (from memory and notes taken from my review of the Code 23)


TL;DR: The Code 23 offers a greater sonic shift with enhanced stage width and airiness, but less ergonomic than the subtler, more engaging Code 24C with better-textured bass, making the 24C a safer but less transformative choice.

The ergonomic beast that is the Code 23 is no longer in my possession but I recall and my notes evidence that it seemed to provide a greater sonic shift with IEMs than with the Code 24C. Code 23’s notes represent that there was a very much enhanced sense of stage width and depth and a tremendous injection of airiness whilst retaining some low-end oomph.

The Code 24C provides a more subtle influence but seemingly goes in the opposite direction by confining things slightly to provide greater levels of engagement and forwardness of sound. I noted that the Code 23 had a more boomy bass that was ever so slightly bloated in my opinion and the Code 24C seems to have a more textured and speedy rendition of bass when paired with my IEMs.

Ergonomics are drastically improved in the Code 24C but in the grand scheme of things, that is not much of an achievement in my books.

Overall, the Code 23 is a $100 more than the 24C and what you get with that extra $100 is a tremendous decrease in ergonomics but a rather dramatic shift in sound. Both Code cables are rather difficult to recommend to absolutely everyone but the 24C is the safer choice by far.

vs Code 24​

IMG_5709.jpg

TL;DR: The Code 24C emphasizes upper mids and mid-bass with less detail than the 24, has narrower staging but deeper vocal presence, and is more ergonomic but less refined, making it suitable for music focused on female vocals but less versatile overall.

The Code 24C presents music with a distinct emphasis on upper mids as I felt female vocalists were brought front and centre of the stage and presented in a very forward and engaging manner compared to the 24. In terms of bass performance, I would have to give it to the 24 in terms of sub-bass extension, texture and detail whereas the 24C seems to have greater emphasis on mid-bass frequencies adding to the sense of punch but in the process, seemingly diminishing the level of detail.

Treble regions for the 24C does not sound all that great compared to the 24 as I felt that it had a less-engaging upper end. There is not great articulation, sparkle or drama imparted in this region and overall slightly recessed in the mix.

In terms of technical abilities, the 24C’s staging is not as wide as the 24 but there is a great sense of depth imparted, perhaps as a result of that very forward vocal line. Otherwise the detail retrieval of the 24C and imaging chops do not feel as articulate or well defined as the 24.

Ergonomically, the 24C, with its thinner wire gauge, is the most ergonomic Code series cable yet and feels more manageable than the 24. Still not world beating or ergonomically viable for small-eared, glasses-wearing folk but still pretty good.

Overall, I feel that the 24C represents some rather good value in terms of price and its ability to inject some extra boom and punch in the low-end combined with a female forward colouration that seeks to engage you with your music. However, I do not feel it is as refined as the 24 and the seemingly reduced dynamic range when A-Bing the two seems to make the 24 a safer choice.

vs PWAudio 1950s Replica​

IMG_5745.jpg

TL;DR: The PWAudio 1950s cable, rumored to use the same copper as Cardas Clear, offers similar staging but better layering and resolution than the more confined and less detailed Code 24C, with superior ergonomics despite some memory issues.

There were murmurs that the PWAudio 1950s cable was constructed out of the same wire as a Cardas Clear headphone cable, and when informed, I was intrigued enough to procure one made by an enterprising Queenslander. Both are made with copper.

The 1950s presents a similar staging to the 24C in that neither are that large. The 24C however feels a bit more confined by virtue of the very forward upper mids leading to female vocalists practically whispering into you ear. The 1950s presents with greater layering and separation between notes with no sense of overlap or veil from an overaggressive tuning profile. I feel that the 1950s was more resolving and speedy in its presentation whereas the Code 24C seemingly took a more relaxed approach to offering up notes for you to listen to.

The ergonomics are beyond compare in that the 1950s is far more viable in my use case despite having some memory issues.

Overall, both are tonally similar with the difference in upper-mids and a reduction in resolution and separation offered by the Code 24C.

Conclusion​

The Code 24C presents a rather mixed bag of goodies for the discerning snake oil enthusiast. It looks great, is more ergonomic than its Code cousins (but ultimately not that ergonomic), has a rather enjoyable sound signature, but also may not synergise well with certain mid-forward IEMs.

Ultimately, I feel that the Code 24C presents a gateway to the Code family of cables if you have been apprehensive about the chonk invading your life. I do not feel that it is as good as an all-rounder as the Code 24 and may leave some blind buyer’s wanting. Overall, I feel that if you just want a cool looking purple cable then its great but if you looking to synergise this cable with a specific IEM, I would definitely try before you buy.

IMG_5738.jpg

Attachments

  • IMG_5714.jpg
    IMG_5714.jpg
    718 KB · Views: 0
Last edited:

grumpy213

100+ Head-Fier
Earbuds with isolation?
Pros: Neutral and flat reproduction of music with a slight warm tilt
Great ergonomics and isolation
Cons: Lacks low end presence
Lacks high end presence
Lacks emotional response

Preamble​

IMG_5550.jpg

I would like to thank @Damz87, @Joe Bloggs and Hiby for arranging the tour of the Hiby Yvain.
It is not uncommon to see a manufacturer known more for their sources to dip their toes in the pond and put a IEM into the market. And for the most part, these IEMs seem to be overshadowed by IEMs from more established manufacturers in the space. I mean there is a reason why people like Astell&Kern seek to collaborate rather than putting out their own and so today’s review concerns the Yvain, an IEM from storied DAP maker, Hiby.

Is the Yvain another IEM to be relegated as yet another IEM or is it something that manages to standout in a competitive market?

The Factual Stuff​


The Yvain comes in a very well put together package that seeks to elevate the unboxing experience. Within the box is the earpieces themselves, a case full of eartips, some literature and a copper cable with a changeable connector.

The earpieces feature 4 balanced armatures, one of which is a tweeter, two focused on mids and one for bass. The Yvain features a three way crossover.

The Yvain is priced at 239 USD

The Opinion Stuff​

Sound​


Bass​


The bass on the Yvain presents a bit of an odd move in the current market of sub-bass shelf monsters opting for a very subdued presentation in terms of quantity. The sub-bass on the Yvain is basically non-existent presenting a low-end that lacks low end physicality and the drama that comes with it. Mid-bass is slightly elevated providing a punch and warmth to the mids that is somewhat enjoyable but the overall profile of the Yvain is very flat sounding. The quality of the bass is somewhat more enjoyable as it is tight and controlled, which makes sense since there’s not much of it.

“THE PLAN” from the TENET soundtrack hits with zero authority and no sense of drama but the optimist audiophile could see this experience as a very flat and neutral “audiophile” representation of music. However, I am not that person and as such I am willing to decry the Yvain as wholly boring in the low end.

The bass also has a rounded and boomy nature to it which sort of gives the illusion of additional air being pushed but this ultimately contrasts with the lack of bass impact.

Sure, it is fairly detailed and controlled but these are far less impressive achievements when the quantity is so middling. This is the equivalent of saying that I can deadlift 20kg with perfect form. That’s great, so what.

Overall, the greatest feature of the bass on the Yvain is that it is so off-market that it will ultimately appeal a niche group of audiophiles. It is a path off the beaten track in the audio realm, especially in its price range and I cannot heartily recommend it as it is likely wholly divisive.

Mids​


By virtue of the bass, the mids seem to present in a forward manner with an infusion of some slight warmth. Male vocals seem to render quite well on the Yvain with songs such as “When I Met You” by APO Hiking Society presenting in a very natural manner that was quite pleasing to the ear. Female vocals also seem to do decently well but there appears to be a dip in the upper mids leading to a loss of sparkle with songs such as “4 walls” by f(x) being wholly undramatic in their rendition. This seems to present in a more relaxed manner, which, whilst not fatiguing, lacks the crispness that I am looking for in this region.

“Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington and Bill Withers features a wealth of instrumentalization throughout and is a treat for the ears. The Yvain renders the keyboard with rather good reproduction, the male vocals of Bill Withers in a slightly warmed nature that is analogue in nature, but the saxophone and steel drums are rather lifeless by comparison, likely owing to a upper mid dip.

Overall, the mids on the Yvain are front and centre by virtue of the bass and treble being rather flat in their reproduction. The quality of the mids is rather good and the warmth imbued by a slight mid-bass lift seems to inject a slightly an easier listening experience.

Treble​


The Yvain presents the upper regions of the frequency response curve in a rolled off and smoother nature than other IEMs in the market at this price point. There is a slight brightness to the Yvain but I believe that is not the result of a treble boost but rather the absence of bass to contrast it. Percussion heavy music does not strike with the sparkle and slight splashiness that I am looking for with songs like “Reckoner” by Radiohead being reproduced with underwhelming levels of drama.

Perhaps the redeeming factor of the treble region is that there is not real metallic or over-bright sheen to the music which is usually the result of an overzealous treble tuning but the absence of bad doesn’t necessarily mean good.

The brush on a hi-hat such as that in “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding should present rather prominently on a well-tuned IEM and in my mind, straddle the line of being almost fatiguing but ultimately the Yvain reproduces it in a rather blunt and rounded manner. There is a lack of airiness and as such the Yvain feels rather confined and there is a distinct lack of microdetail and clearly defined notes in this region.

Technicalities​


The staging and imaging of the Yvain feels slightly deeper that some other IEMs in the market but the width of its projection isn’t that great. The depth is also perhaps by virtue of the mid-forward nature of the Yvain which seems to place the upper and lower ends further back in the mix. Picking out directions from which sound seems to be projecting in songs like “Fine” by Taeyeon seem to be rather pointless with things seemingly being unable to be discerned outside of left, right and slightly to my 1 o’clock or 11 o’clock.

Technical performance is slightly hampered by its tuning as a treble lift seeks to highlight microdetails. However, on a macro level, the Yvain does a decent job of separating certain elements and resolving them in a manner that is readily digestible and discernible.

Comparison​

vs BLON BL03​


At 27 USD, the BL03 hardly seems like a competitor for the Yvain and yet it manages to reproduce music with greater depth, texture and excitement. With greater bass quantity, it is rather woolly and somewhat boomy but the injection of warmth and excitement into the music you’re listening too seems to really improve the impact of your listening.

“Fine” by Taeyeon images better with some projection to the rear of the headstage instead of the slightly forward yet still flat staging of the Yvain. “The Demon Dance” brush sounds more prominent in the mix, “Reckoner” renders with the spiciness of percussion that you want, “THE PLAN” has the low-end presence that was sorely missing.

Only thing missing on the BL03 is the mid-forward nature and potentially some greater resolution but listening to music in inherently an emotional experience and this emotional experience is far better than what I had with the Yvain.

Belief, Letmusicburn, Oppoty and Nevergiveup has never stuck me as meaning much but after A-Bing the BLON against the Yvain they appear to be words of wisdom signalling hope for a better audio experience at a lower price.

Synergy​

Hiby R6 Pro 2​


Joe Bloggs, the Hiby rep that graciously provided the Yvain and the R6P2 for this tour had set up a convolution filter on the R6P2 for the Yvain.

The result is a rather good rendition of what the Yvain likely should’ve been tuned to be from the factory. The optimisation adds far greater depth to the Yvain, whilst not fixing the IEM completely, seemed to imbue greater texture to the sound. Deeper staging, less flat tuning and greater enjoyment factor was the result of this filter.

Quality of Life & Value​


The Yvain, for all my issues with sound quality, has some rather good features outside of sound. The shells are lightweight, seemingly well moulded in an ergonomic shape that assists in a very deep fit. This results in great isolation and great comfort for all-day listening. Unfortunately, I don’t want to listen to it all day.

The included accessories are rather good with a wealth of ear tips to choose from, a cleaning brush, a case and an interchangeable cable which is unfortunately is a L shape which I am not a fan of but ultimately seems to be more secure than other interchangeable cables in the market.

239 USD is a rather competitive market in the Chi-fi realm and the Yvain takes a rather unique road in terms of tuning. The result of this is something that I feel most people will dislike. If it wasn’t readily apparent by virtue of my BL03 comparison, the Yvain doesn’t represent good value to me.

Conclusion​

Flat, lacking any low-end and upper-end drama and ultimately uninspiring to listen to, the Yvain feels like an earbud that made love to earplugs. Whilst there is something to be said for an uncommon approach to tuning, that is, a more neutral and flat approach, it is wholly unenjoyable to me who seeks to be more engaged with the music rather than have a something simply reproduce sound vaguely at my earholes.

If you are one for this sound signature than definitely go for it and know that this review has been heavily coloured by my own personal biases.
Back
Top