Reviews by hevelaoak

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Alpha 3 - Flatheads Vocalist
Pros: Praiseworthy tonal balance
Natural timbre
Good resolution
Excellent build quality
Cons: Lacking a sense of macro & micro dynamics
Performance varies depending on isolation or positioning (with/without foam & buds' placement/movement)
Fixed cable (scaling limitation)
Alpha3b.jpg


(total 6 mins read)
Introduction
I believe a company as big as Dunu needs no introduction whatsoever, especially a name with products that I’ve been writing about lately, so let’s skip this part.

To be frank, I haven’t been interested in any earbuds for the past years since I left all my Venture Electronics & other Chifi buds in the drawer waiting for the redemption day that never comes. It could be simply because they’re not giving me the isolation, the proper diffused projection, & the sort of immersive audio reproduction that most current budget IEMs can provide. Yes, it is known that such a comparison is unfair given the nature of earbuds begs for a different usage & different approach in music listening; say while working with heavy machines, in bed, or in the office. In general, I think tonality is the main reason they have been neglected or ignored, at least in my case.

A quick search on the internet shows there was Alpha 1 which is interestingly a hybrid earbud (dynamic driver & balanced armature) that seemed to have undergone a freak accident out of an experimental lab back in 2015. Everything about it from the shape to the reviews doesn’t look so pretty. There’s no Alpha 2 in between but looking at Dunu’s prowess with single dynamic driver releases in recent years forcing me to voluntarily take on HiFiGo’s request to give Alpha 3 a review. Its release is somewhat random in my opinion, even though it sports no less than a “flagship” dynamic driver with an LCP diaphragm that seems very well-built.



Packaging & Accessories
The packaging is rather simple that comes with a medium-sized box in a sleeve. There are 3 pairs of each donut & full foam and a cleaning brush inside a sturdy carrying case which I think looks way better than those that came with Dunu Kima or Talos. Still, they are all Dunu's standard and I have no complaint.

Alpha3a.jpg




Specifications
Single Dynamic Driver - Liquid Crystal Polymer Composite Diaphragm with Highly Compliant Suspension Surround
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Sensitivity: 105 dB at 1 kHz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Housing Material: Stainless Steel & Aluminum Alloy
Cable Wire Material: High-Purity Silver-Plated Monocrystalline Type 1 Litz Copper
Net Weight: 30 g

Gears Used & Source
Tidal via Windows 10 Pro -> Topping EX5
Apple Music via iPhone XS Max -> Apple dongle
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 -> with/without Hidizs S9 Pro / Ovidius B1
Apple Music via MacBook Pro


*Please note that I used everything stock for this review for 2± weeks of listening time. My preferred signature is neutral with or without a bass boost, but truly I'm a signature agnostic when it comes to gear review.



Additional details:
  1. I don’t review earbuds, yet here is my first earbuds review ever.
  2. I’m using donut foam for most of this review as I believe they provide better sonic enjoyment versus full foam and without foam to my ears. However, I find full foam to be equally satisfying at times while giving better isolation & comfort.
  3. There are slight differences in tonal balance and technical performance between full, double, donut, and without foams. Comparisons and differences are mostly minor unless stated.
  4. Earbuds don’t isolate well naturally, and naturally, the objective of usage is different than IEMs.
  5. Note that earbuds can be perceived as “colored” or “warm sounding” because of the effect of the foam which acts as a filter or “blanket” over the frequencies other than lacking isolation.
  6. Because of the lack of the same tier earbuds for comparison, terms and definitions are relative to IEM, though, I’m reviewing an earbud, not an IEM.

Signature & Presentation
To my ears, with the donut foam, the sound signature of Alpha 3 can be described as warm neutral for the lack of sub-bass and treble response while accentuating the mid-bass area. Pinna gain peaks at around 3kHz that’s gradually depressing towards both ends of the frequency spectrum with a smoother drop towards higher registers. The presentation is rather "forward" and “in-the-face" with extreme coherency across the board. The other type of foam that’s provided in the package is the common full foam which can alter the overall tonality to fuller sounding or perhaps to the warmer side of things.



Alpha3c.jpg


Tonality
As expected with any earbud, the bass is overall thumpy and punchy than rumbly. Though, that doesn’t mean Alpha 3 doesn’t rumble at all. The lowest octave is almost muted due to its isolation issues just like most cases with earbuds, hence the bold forwardness of the bass presence on top of much-needed sub-bass volume nullifying a more correct tonal balance or perhaps an ideal bass response to me. The deficiency, however, is not up to the level where I would call the bass “wrong”, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.

Drake’s One Dance is an example of the maximum sub-bass replay that Alpha 3s are capable of without sounding too lacking. On the other hand, the intro bass drop in Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack that exhibits, and requires a deeper sub-bass reach is where Alpha 3 hits its limit. Unless you want to listen while holding and pushing the earbuds towards your ears for full range effect, it is going to give what a typical earbud does typically; poor to “boxy” bass quality relative to IEM.

The only thing that Alpha 3s do properly and well is the midrange. Vocal reproduction is arguably close to realism, be it male or female singers without the “thinness” that plagues plenty of neutral-style IEMs. There are no shrill or shouty-ness thanks to its appropriate lower treble quantity that evens out the peak for a smoother and crisp replay while giving good texture to the notes. Lower midrange to mid-bass is well-tuned so the vocal frequencies (especially female vocals) can take the main stage without being bassy, honky, or husky like many other Chifi earbuds I've heard.

There's no outright offensive characteristic to be reported, and though Alpha 3 may also be perceived as too smooth towards the top end yet there’s ample energy and "bite" to be interesting enough to my ears. Alpha 3’s treble is a little subdued compared to say, Truthear Hexa, but minus the boosted treble of Hexa, the overall tone and extension is pretty much about the same. I wouldn’t resist if anybody ever said Alpha 3 has little amount of clarity, given how high frequencies function within the realm of frequency response and to each HRTF. However, removing the foam or at least using the donut foam will improve the clarity by a good margin.

Overall, I think Alpha 3 is simply the best-tuned pair of earbuds I’ve listened to so far. I'd gladly recommend it just for the tuning alone, plus with a timbre that’s more palatable than most earbuds in the market.




Alpha3f.jpg


Technicalities +
In terms of the intangibles, I’d consider Alpha 3 as simply good for general music playback. To be honest, I’m going to say that Alpha 3 is performing at the same level among IEMs from the same price bracket such as Truthear Hexa, if not slightly better.

Transient attack is not as sharp per se, yet fast enough to retrieve a good level of detailing up to micro details only with slightly lesser clarity on the nuances. The decay is natural, and the notes show little to no hints of smearing into one another, especially with the full foam. Instrument separation and positioning are distinguishable and fairly accurate while decently layered in the sense of depth.

Despite showing a good level of detail & separation, Alpha 3 might get a little congested on busy passages and fast tempo lines as heard in the first minute of Extremophile Elite by Between the Buried and Me. Though I don’t think it should be a real concern because it rarely happens throughout my huge playlist.

Imaging is not great yet not completely bad. It lacks the little essence to make it “pop” relative to its roll-off treble perhaps. It’s not vivid or thick. Soundstage-wise, it’s somewhat typical and not too dissimilar to many IEMs, except that it lacks depth because of its “forwardness” in projecting images.

One thing that I want to point out the most is its overall sense of dynamics. Alpha 3 seems to suffer from “flat dynamic syndrome” where its volume swing capacity is lacking when needed most. Be it macro or microdynamics, it relatively feels flatter compared to most IEMs, especially the Hexa. To give an example, horn attacks in We’ve Just Begun by Sinne Eeg require a good sense of dynamic shifts that is necessary to convey the big jazz group's musical liveliness, yet it’s almost absent on Alpha 3.

All in all, I still believe the driver used in Alpha 3 is a good one only bottlenecked by the nature of the earbud itself, which is the form. And because of this, it’s difficult to show and see what the driver is truly capable of, especially for those who prefer IEMs.



Alpha3d.jpg


Comparison
I'm not going to talk about any lower-price earbuds here because it would be an unfair comparison, and as you can see, I’ve been comparing Alpha 3 to Hexa from the start, so, please let me elaborate a little bit more.

It’s understandable if one said Alpha 3 sounded dull especially for the first timer, though I’m still going to say that it’s oddly resolving regardless of how little treble it seems to put out. In my opinion, there's enough “snap” although not as boosted as Hexa. Heck, in an A/B test, I find the resolution is larger with better coherency than Hexa, only with a slightly different presentation in detail retrieval. And because of the boosted treble, musical nuances are easier to be perceived on the Hexa, though the note weight is thinner with a quality that’s grainier, especially at a high loudness level. Hexa’s treble also can sound “compressed” which is commonly known as “BA timbre” while there’s no distortion whatsoever on Alpha 3.

Regarding which is the best pick, I wouldn’t be superior to the other either so it’s really up to your needs. While I like Hexa for the isolation and overall sonic qualities it delivers, I find Alpha 3 is similar if not more satisfying in a different fashion.



Synergy & Drivability
With 105 dB sensitivity and 32 Ω impedance, it’s evident that Alpha 3 is easy to drive even with smartphones. Any neutral and transparent source will be a perfect combination, though, with a more capable amplifier, Alpha 3 shows a significant improvement in terms of soundstage depth & sense of dynamics. Its scaling ability also begs the question if Alpha 3 should be packed with swappable terminations for balanced output to give it more power.

Who Is It For?
It’s obvious that Alpha 3 is targeted to cater to earbuds connoisseurs and to those who'd want to experience a pair of earbuds for the first time without leaving bad impressions. While it’s different from IEMs in terms of overall presentation and usage, it’s able to retain almost every aspect of good-quality audio reproduction. If you’re someone who’s looking for the utmost isolation & clarity combo, you’re looking at the wrong place.



Alpha3h.jpg


Evaluation & Conclusion
As with many earbuds out there, especially those expensive ones coming from the DIY community, I think the release of Alpha 3 is going to be special and perhaps set a new standard in a price-to-performance ratio within the realm of flatheads. It is well-tuned plus Dunu’s high standard build quality and rich accessories, the price seems just & right. With a performance that also can match a good IEM from the same price bracket (and maybe higher), it gets a recommendation with caution from me, so, know your needs.




*I would like to thank HiFiGo for sending this unit to me in exchange for a review. All words are mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.

Dunu Alpha 3s are currently priced at $79.90

Purchase Dunu Alpha 3 here:
HiFiGo
AliExpress
Amazon

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Inoffensive & Sonically Satisfying Monitor (at Any Desirable Loudness Level)
Pros: Engaging tuning
Good resolution
quite Coherent as a hybrid
Minimal BA timbre
Near-holographic imaging
Large headroom
Ergonomic
Good accessories & build quality
Cons: Lacking clarity
Blunted note definition
Might get slightly congested in busy passages
AP51.jpg


Tonality: 6.6/9
Technicalities: 6.6/9
Preference: 7/9
Overall: 6.7/9 (A-)

(star rating is for the price-to-performance ratio)




(total 6 mins read)
Intro
As we have heard, there’s a new rather good-looking kid on the block making noise and all but mind you, this is not a common kid. First of all, I want to give a warm welcome to AFUL in this never-ending quest for sonic ecstasy. I believe it’s always a good thing to see new competitors in the market every now and then, especially the ones that bring “new tech” or new sound to the table, because most of the time, new is always better.

AFUL claimed that they have the latest technologies that “break through the sound quality barriers of the traditional hybrid design” with their firstborn Performer 5. There are mouthfuls of designs and patents that played a part in the production of Performer 5 after 3 years of research and innovation. Usually, I don’t really bother about the long story behind a product, but I find it’s rather nice for companies to be transparent and bold. But the same question remains, how good is Performer 5?




AP52.jpg


(Packaging & Accessories)
As a new company, it's evident that AFUL studied the market to be as competitive with the offerings of their debut product. Performer 5 comes in well-constructed minimal packaging with the expected standard of accessories consisting of 6 pairs of silicone ear tips, a circular hard carrying case, and a good quality 8-core single-ended cable except for foam tips.

The build quality is very good with a relatively small shell size, and they are quite light in weight. It's all 3D printed including some special air pressure & damping designs, and I can confirm that I have no issues regarding the fit and comfort every time I put them in my ears. They are really comfortable but as we all know, one mileage may vary.

AP55.jpg





(Specifications)
Configuration: 1DD + 4BA
Frequency response: 5Hz – 35kHz
Sensitivity: 110dB @ 1kHz
Impedance: 35 Ω

(Source pairing)
Tidal via Windows -> Topping EX5
Foobar2000 via Windows -> Topping EX5
Apple Music via iPhone 6s -> with/without Cayin RU6
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 -> with/without Cayin RU6 / Hidizs S9 Pro / Ovidius B1
Apple Music via MacBook Pro
FiiO X1

*Please note that I used everything stock for this review for 2± weeks of listening time. My preferred signature is neutral with or without a bass boost, but truly I'm a signature agnostic when it comes to gear review.



AFUL P5.png

measurement graph courtesy of Gizaudio (normalized at 1000Hz)


Signature & Presentation
On paper, the sound signature of Performer 5 can be described as neutral with a bass boost that emphasizes the sub-bass that glides smoothly to the mid-bass and with a sort of “polite” pinna gain. It could be described as mild V-shaped depending on one’s sensitiveness to the treble but it’s virtually not quite Harman.

On subjective listening, while it boasts a great rumble, it’s surprisingly great at delivering punch and slam too. 2 of the best (preference) bass aspects combo that’s rarely found in IEM, particularly in this price range. I guess the frequently-talked-about technologies behind it are working, and I can confirm that they work well as a unit. From my observation, this kind of neutral tuning makes the whole frequency spectrum appear more even and closer relative to loudness while having a good note weight and warmth. Instruments also appeared closer to each other in the mix.




Tonality
A potent bass response has been my not-so-recently adopted criteria in music reproduction gears after being a moderate "neutral head" for the most part of my head-fi years. This “potent” bass must include a good amount of sub-bass rumble while not discarding the required amount of mid-bass kick & punch together with good texturing and agility without disturbing the melody lines. For the asking price, I could say that Performer 5 does all this with flying colors and in an effortless manner especially for energetic drum-forward music, though the transition between the mid-bass to the midrange may get a bit congested on busy passages sometimes, such can be heard in Don Caballero's "Don Caballero 3".

1991’s Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” starts off with a sort of sub-bass boosted kick drum programming that rumbles on the left stereo field before the actual kick drum and percussion sampled in the center. While it reproduces excellent rumble, Performer 5 also shows a good separation between the sub-bass and mid-bass instruments with good texturing. However, I think some people might perceive the bass texture as a bit “blurry” or “bloomy” (like most sub-bass focus sets) simply because of the nature of its “intimate” presentation which makes it a bit difficult to see the whole picture altogether. It’s like watching a screen monitor up close rather than watching from 2 meters back if that makes sense. Nevertheless, I still think that the bass could be a tad better in terms of texture or overall quality. In other words, I think Performer 5 has everything that you could ask for "a bass" at this price point.

The midrange of Performer 5 is quite neutral without displaying the “thinness” that plagues most neutral IEMs I’ve heard. This is because of the moderate pinna gain as a tuning choice that rarely shows any hint of shouty-ness but rather introduces a bit of "lushness" & smoothness without being dull. Vocals are still forward yet some may appear a bit buried or hidden in the music but also depending on the mixing style. Nothing sounds out of place or too colored, yet full-bodied, rich, and quite "natural” to my ears.

The treble response is neutral and linear from the midrange where the overtones of midrange instruments seam evenly with their fundamental frequencies. This is indeed one of the smoothest BA trebles I've heard, yet it has ample energy with crisp attack and decay and can be considered "natural" for a balanced armature. There are no weird peaks or wonky dips so there's no hint of harshness or sibilance to be noted, yet I wish it to have slightly more shimmer, sparkle, and extension here and there even though I wouldn’t consider them lacking in overall playback. On a side note, I find wide-bore ear tips such as Azla Sedna Earfit Light help to give a more palatable treble response where the upper treble has a bit more breath and better coherency between the lower treble and the upper midrange. Overall, I think Performer 5 has a good tonal balance with a few minor things to nitpick than fault.


TLDR; AFUL Performer 5 is tonally inoffensive yet energetically & sonically satisfying to a great extent.


AP54.jpg






Technicalities +
Resolution-wise, I’d consider Performer 5 as “not bad” or rather “decent” in the grand scheme of things. It’s obvious there’s a trade-off for the smoothness it presents where the note definition comes off as slightly blunted even compared to other IEMs with the same driver configuration (or less). Given its somewhat "fuzzy" attack, Performer 5 mostly lacks the delicate nuances or subtleties in well-produced music such as Scott Walker’s “Corps De Blah” or Florence + the Machine’s “King”.

On a positive note, I find Performer 5 is highly dynamic in terms of macro decibel shifts that demonstrate nimble attacks & releases with impactful slams & sustains, though I’m not so impressed with the micro dynamics. For example, the string & horn attacks in Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte" by Patricia Petibon & Concerto Köln feel slightly relaxed and soft, but I wouldn’t say it’s bad either. It’s just a nitpick that I can’t ignore most of the time.


(Soundstage & Imaging)
The sound stage is rather average but might appear as wide because of its intimate presentation that we talked about previously. As we all know, the sense of space and depth is partially governed by the type of ear tips used and how much wattage one’s feeding in music playback. In this case, I find there’s a better perception of depth at a moderate loudness level than cranking it loud which makes the stereo projection go a few steps back for a better overall “head-view”. It’s not an issue for me but it could be a deal-breaker for some to have every piece of information presented very near or aligned to one’s head.

Imaging is all nice with more density in the lower details than the upper parts but not as vivid or strong as what I’d call “true holographic”, especially with its close projection that seemed “2-dimensional”. However, one could argue that Performer 5 has near-holographic imaging where it’s not hard to point out and focus on any instrument in the "stereo field" although it lacks clarity in terms of positional cues. Its intimate sound staging is also the reason for its 2-dimensional and “in-your-head" effect in the lingo of overall imaging. Moreover, the background is also not as dark as what I'd prefer which can be found in IEMs like ThieAudio Oracle. Generally, I can say that the imaging is not as sharp or well-formed yet it’s able to produce a quite holographical sense of the stereo image.


(Separation & Timbre)
Instrument localization is decent as it relates to its average positional cues and sound stage which are all derivatives of the imaging itself. There’s ample “air” to separate instruments reasonably although they are projected very close to each other. One might find overlapping notes at times, but my report is that it hardly happens; depending on how many instruments are played, some overlap and smearing can occur and create a little bit of congestion.

There are hints of minimal BA timbre, and it could become more apparent when pushed, though I find it still very minimal & well-controlled; I don’t think that anyone would crank it that loud. In my opinion, Performer 5 is quite cohesive as a hybrid as it almost sounds like a very technically capable single dynamic driver on many occasions. The BA used for the treble range is tuned for smoothness and moderately extended, yet it’s able to maintain a good amount of “authority” of the common balanced armature transient attack, but I doubt it will satisfy hardcore treble-heads in a long run.

Perhaps thanks to its RLC crossover technology & its large headroom, one could enjoy their “harsher” music at a desirable loudness with pleasantness. Substandard production and lo-fi metal music never sounded so rich and satisfying.

A little reminder that this is all relative to the standard of IEMs that I'd consider TOTL in terms of technicalities, nevertheless, I still think Performer 5 should be sufficient & capable enough in its own right.





(Drivability & Synergy)
Performer 5 is assuredly very easy to drive even with low voltage output devices like older DAPs and smartphones, but it will appreciate & benefit from a higher output power. Neutral to bright-sounding sources are most recommended to complement the nature of Performer 5's sound signature. In my case, I find the single-ended Ovidius B1 to be a better pair for Performer 5 than the analog-sounding R-2R resistor ladder dongle Cayin RU6. Performer 5 & Ovidius B1 combo is deadly glorious and extremely fulfilling.




AP59.jpg


(Comparison)
For comparison, I could not think of any better IEMs than the (in)famous Blessing 2 for the same driver configuration and as a benchmark set even though it’s about $100 pricier. Realistically, Blessing 2 Dusk is a better challenger for its sub-bass focus tuning, but apparently, I don’t have it in my hand during this review. From the same price point perspective, there are others like See Audio Yume Midnight, 7Hz Timeless, Dunu Falcon Pro, and ThieAudio Elixir to name a few, but they are different in terms of driver config. So, I’m going with Blessing 2.

In terms of tonality, Blessing 2 comes off as more neutral with an actual forward midrange and leaner bass response that emphasizes the mid-bass over the sub-bass. On the other hand, Performer 5 has a more polite upper midrange that sounds fuller with thicker note density. There’s mild to strong shouty-ness and sibilance on Blessing 2 but there’s almost none to be noted on Performer 5. For example, Performer 5 shows a strong resistance towards sibilance in the first verse of Interpol’s “Barricade” or Bjork’s “Where Is the Line?” that’s very noticeable and unpleasant sounding with Blessing 2. Other than that, Performer 5 is also better extended on both ends of the frequency spectrum, especially the sub-bass.

For the intangibles, it’s safe for me to say that Blessing 2 is more analytical and more detailed with better overall resolution. It’s cleaner, tighter & more disciplined in the upper half of the frequency range, with sharper imaging toward realism. However, I suspect that Performer 5 has a better-quality dynamic driver that does everything better in the lower half of the frequency spectrum other than the advantages of the new acoustic structure design. With its intimate presentation, Performer 5 also boasts a larger spatial imaging with a wider stereo effect.

One of the negative points about Blessing 2 is that it lacks headroom. I find Blessing 2 distorts earlier than Performer 5, which gives a sort of “compressed” quality or commonly known as “BA grain” when pushed to a higher loudness level. Based on the specifications, Blessing 2 is supposed to be the easier set to drive, yet Performer 5 requires a lesser amount of power and can be cranked louder with less to no distortion. There’s plenty of headroom even paired with low-powered devices.

Objectively, one could say that Blessing 2 is the better set overall, but this is where preferences come to draw the line. From my perspective, Blessing 2 is a real reference-style studio monitor where one could analyze while enjoying their music at a moderate loudness whereas one could have more enjoyment with a full-sounding, musical & livelier music reproduction of Performer 5 at any desirable loudness level.

AP56.jpg

raw size comparison




(For whom?)
It’s obvious to me that Performer 5 is made for people who prefer musicality and “naturalness” over technical chops in their music playback without losing too much detail, and for those who listen to loud music and also those who listen to music loud.




Evaluation & Conclusion
As much as I wanted to have the best detail possible in my music playback, I also wanted the kind of musicality that I always savored back then in my teenage years, though I know it’s kind of hard to find a good balance between both worlds nowadays, especially from a certain price tag. AFUL Performer 5 is a rare case where I find myself basking in the music more than analyzing the details which makes me question the purpose of this hobby over and over again after every listening session.

Other than the questionable name choice of the company (honestly, I’m tired of the same joke), I think that AFUL has made an excellent debut that’s greatly pleasing in many aspects of pure musical satisfaction which I believe deserves its place high in the community and every enthusiast. With that being said, I’m going to name Performer 5 as one of the best 2022 releases if not the best in the $200 - $300 price segment. Thank you for your time.


AP58.jpg

close but not quite. faceplate comparison with ThieAudio Monarch MKii




*this unit is sent by HiFiGo in exchange for an honest review and I thank my buddy @OspreyAndy for the unit. all words are 100% mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.


Purchase AFUL Performer 5 here: (non-affiliated)
HiFiGo
Amazon
Amazon Japan
AliExpress






key songs & ratings (pure enjoyment without comparison)
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar (Tango) 4/5
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro (Jazz Fusion / Classical Crossover) 3/5
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Classical [Aria]) 4/5


Yellowjackets – Summer Song (Jazz Fusion) 4/5
Lewis Porter-Phil Scarff Group – Journey (Jazz) 4/5
Dave Brubeck – Blue Rondo à la Turk (Cool Jazz) 3/5


Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun (Jazz) 4/5
Lady Blackbird – Ruler of my Heart (Vocal Jazz / Soul Jazz) 3/5
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night (Jazz Pop / Film Score) 4/5


Florence + the Machine – King (Chamber Pop / Pop Rock) 4/5
Father John Misty – Funny Girl (Baroque Pop / Singer-Songwriter) 3/5
Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love (City Pop) 5/5


Minnie Riperton – Lovin' You (Smooth Soul) 3/5
Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye – The Things I Will Not Miss (Pop Soul) 4/5
Nina Simone – Baltimore (Pop Soul / Reggae) 4/5


Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta (Delta Blues) 4/5
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Tin Pan Alley (Blues Rock) 3/5
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand (Alternative Rock / Punk Blues) 4/5


toe - 孤独の発明 (Math Rock) 3/5
Don Caballero - Don Caballero 3 (Math Rock) 4/5
Tera Melos - 40 Rods to the Hog's Head (Math Rock / Avant-Prog) 4/5


Scott Walker – Corps De Blah (Experimental / Post-Industrial) 4/5
Swans – Lunacy (Experimental Rock / Post-Rock) 4/5
Zu - Carbon (Avant-Garde Metal / Avant-Garde Jazz) 5/5


My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck (Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore) 3/5
Arab On Radar - God is Dad (No Wave / Noise Rock) 4/5
Shellac - Crow (Post-Hardcore / Noise Rock) 4/5


Interpol – Barricade (Post-Punk Revival) 4/5
Young Widows – Young Rivers (Noise Rock / Post-Punk) 4/5
Between the Buried and Me – Extremophile Elite (Progressive Metal / Metalcore) 4/5


Mastodon – Divinations (Progressive Metal / Sludge Metal) 4/5
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse (Post-Hardcore / Metalcore) 4/5
Botch - Japam (Matchcore / Post-Hardcore) 4/5


Radiohead - Idioteque (Art Rock / Experimental Rock / Electronic) 4/5
Lingua Ignota – The Sacred Linament of Judgment (Neoclassical Darkwave / Avant-Folk) 4/5
Björk - Where Is the Line? (A cappella / Art Pop) 3/5


TheFatRat - Warbringer feat. Lindsey Stirling (Electropop) 4/5
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Trip Hop / UK Hip Hop) 4/5
J.I.D – Surround Sound (Southern Hip-Hop / Conscious Hip-Hop) 4/5
Drake – One Dance (Pop Rap / Contemporary R&B) 4/5
Lizzo - About Damn Time (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 5/5
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove (Dance-Pop / Nu-Disco) 5/5
Last edited:
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@szore glad you love it. it's loud, does it? :ksc75smile:
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szore
szore
I am listening to the P5 as I read your descriptions and I think you really knocked it out of the park with this review!
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@szore hey thanks again man, I try my best to explain what I experienced.

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Dunu Kima - The First Pop Princess
Pros: Tuning
Warm-balanced tonality
Good technicalities
Ergonomics
Accessories
Cons: Average performer
Slightly blunted than its predecessor
Many stronger competitors
DunuKima3.jpg


Tonality: 5.6/9
Technicalities: 6/9
Preference: 6/9

Overall: 5.8/9 (B-)

(star rating is for the price to performance)


(total 5 mins read)

Intro
Recently I’ve been impressed with Vulkan & Talos, especially the latter for its overall sonic performance plus value versus the rest of the market. I have had nothing more than a relatively high expectation for every Dunu product ever since. Although I haven’t had the chance to listen to Dunu’s TOTL stuff like Zen, in my opinion, Dunu is one of the most flavorful Chifi producers who don’t really follow the trend but rather set their own standard, especially in terms of tuning & product presentation.

Kima is their latest budget offering at a $100 price point which seems somewhat familiar at a glance, yet it feels different than other IEMs in person. It sports a single 10mm dual-chambered dynamic driver with a diamond-like carbon diaphragm inside a solid-yet-smoothed metal shell that ends with a brass nozzle. When it comes to build quality, Dunu is simply among the best even if it comes from their budget series. Not to mention their exceptional attention to accessories, they are just well-built and well-thought inside and outside except for the carrying case which I find a bit mismatched just like the one that comes with Talos. Another thing is the introduction of the (first?) waifu that I can’t quite fathom because this is not the Dunu that I’ve known. However, mind you, that’s just me. So, let’s move on.



Dunu Kima vs Titan S.png

Dunu Kima vs Dunu Titan S measurement comparison graph courtesy of IEF


Signature
The sound signature of Kima can be described as Harman-neutral although it’s not actually hitting the Harman target, it should be derived from it. In subjective listening, it leans towards neutral with a mid-bass boost and a slightly depressed lower midrange. Some may say that it’s a mild V-shaped but as we all know, neutrality is very subjective that’s totally depends on one’s HRTF.


DunuKima1.jpg



Tonality
The tonality of Kima is what I’d call “warm-balanced” and perhaps “warm-neutral”. There's nothing really lacking as the music sounds correct throughout the whole playlist or whatever I throw at it. The bass sounds “natural” enough with a slight boost in the mid-bass relative to other frequencies. There's ample rumble that can be felt in the sub-bass although it rolls off pretty quickly and the mid-bass has enough kick and punch although it’s lacking in authority when compared to the lean bass of Etymotic ER2SE yet it maintains a good degree of musicality. That means the overall bass possesses adequate tactility while boasting natural decay. As a neutral lover, I can say the low region of Kima is pretty neat and satisfactory for what it is.

The midrange is perhaps the main attraction of Kima from my perspective. It's transparent & clean, forward with clarity, crisp with nice bite & attack, I simply couldn’t find anything wrong with it. At an average loudness, it's truly neutral and natural to my ears and in my opinion, the midrange of Kima is its best trait of quality complete with a tasty timbre that is quite addicting at times. The treble is also done right without any detrimental effects. Not too much and not too little, a bit on the safe side tuning-wise if I may, with an adequate hint of sparkle & shimmer. It’s either crisp or smooth truly depending on which ear tip one’s using but it never gets sibilant or shouty (none of the stock tips work for me though). There's enough air but not as airy as most recent hybrids, yet it’s very coherent and natural sounding.

In general, the tonality of Kima is pretty balanced and clean even though not up to the level of ER2’s clarity. Still, I think it’s well-tuned, tonally matured, and pleasant to listen to.


DunuKima2.jpg



Technicalities +
In terms of detail retrieval, Kima comes off as average for a dynamic driver in the grand scheme of things. But for the asking price, I find it very serviceable and up to a good level of visual satisfaction. Compared to its older brother the Titan S, I find Kima comes off as slightly less resolving and smoother on the notes. Imaging is very average with a somewhat intimate presentation that’s quite 2-dimensional.

Nothing so impressive in the imaging department especially if you’re coming from a more expensive set, yet it still does justice to instrument localization & placement together with average sound staging in height and width (the proprietary ear tip somehow makes the spatial image even worst although the timbre gets marginally better). Macro & micro dynamics are also not as interesting or lively or rather “realistic”, but I think it’s doing fine for overall dynamics, especially in micro decibel shift. It gives everything you could expect from a $100 single dynamic driver IEM from the technical performance perspective.

Overall, Kima is quite competent in the intangibles, but I’d still prefer the Titan S for being slightly more resolving and more neutral in tonality. But that totally depends on what one’s after. If you prefer a more pleasant, warmer, and “musical” playback, Kima might be the answer for the budget, or you might want to look at Titan S otherwise (if it’s still available).


Dunu Kima vs ER2XR.png
Dunu Kima vs Etymotic ER2XR measurement comparison graph courtesy of IEF


Valuation
Just like many other Harman-inspired single dynamic drivers in the market, Kima’s participation perhaps just adds to the quantity rather than quality for the money, because to be honest, that’s what Kima is. It’s an average yet pleasant-sounding single dynamic driver IEM. Maybe a little different flavor in the crispness of treble timbre that you can savor from time to time as I did, however, just to give you an idea, there are Tripowin Olina, Dunu Titan S, & the mighty brothers of Etymotic ER2 series out there sitting on the top of the $100 realm.

Unlike its unconventional older brother, the Titan S, I find there’s nothing so exceptional or unique about Kima sonically or physically, but it can work handsomely when you hit the right song. As I said previously, it totally depends on your preference and your budget. I’m going to recommend Dunu Kima for its warm and musical character without skimming too far from accurate music reproduction, or if you’re looking for a daily beater, or you’re simply new to the hobby. Apart from that, I’ll always recommend the Etymotic ER2 series for accurate reproduction, as also a reference for tonality & technicalities especially for the $100 price point*. Thank you for reading and enjoy music.

*Etymotic ER2 price varies from different vendors



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**this unit is sent by HiFiGo in exchange for an honest review and I thank my buddy @OspreyAndy for the unit. all words are 100% mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.



Purchase Dunu Kima here: (non-affiliated links)
Amazon
HiFiGo





hey look at how dedicated I am with my playlist of a variety of test music & enjoyment ratings below
tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro / Cayin RU6
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s

key songs & ratings: (technical & pure enjoyment without comparison)

Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar (Tango) 3/5
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro (Jazz Fusion / Classical Crossover) 3/5
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Classical [Aria]) 4/5

Yellowjackets – Summer Song (Jazz Fusion) 3/5
Lewis Porter-Phil Scarff Group – Journey (Jazz) 3/5
Dave Brubeck – Blue Rondo à la Turk (Cool Jazz) 3/5

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun (Jazz) 3/5
Lady Blackbird – Ruler of my Heart (Vocal Jazz / Soul Jazz) 3/5
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night (Jazz Pop / Film Score) 4/5

Minnie Riperton – Lovin' You (Smooth Soul) 4/5
Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye – The Things I Will Not Miss (Pop Soul) 3/5
Nina Simone – Baltimore (Pop Soul / Reggae) 4/5

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta (Delta Blues) 3/5
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Tin Pan Alley (Blues Rock) 4/5
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand (Alternative Rock / Punk Blues) 3/5

toe - 孤独の発明 (Math Rock) 3/5
Don Caballero - Don Caballero 3 (Math Rock) 3/5
Tera Melos - 40 Rods to the Hog's Head (Math Rock / Avant-Prog) 3/5

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah (Experimental / Post-Industrial) 4/5
Swans – Lunacy (Experimental Rock / Post-Rock) 3/5
Zu - Carbon (Avant-Garde Metal / Avant-Garde Jazz) 3/5

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck (Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore) 4/5
Arab On Radar - God is Dad (No Wave / Noise Rock) 4/5
Shellac - Crow (Post-Hardcore / Noise Rock) 3/5

Mastodon – Divinations (Progressive Metal / Sludge Metal) 3/5
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse (Post-Hardcore / Metalcore) 3/5
Botch - Japam (Matchcore / Post-Hardcore) 4/5

Slowdive - Star Roving (Shoegaze / Dream Pop) 3/5
The Shins - Simple Song (Indie Pop / Psychedelic Pop) 4/5
ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me (Art Pop / Elctropop) 3/5

Radiohead - Idioteque (Art Rock / Experimental Rock / Electronic) 3/5
TheFatRat - Warbringer feat. Lindsey Stirling (Electropop) 3/5
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Trip Hop / UK Hip Hop) 3/5

Justin Bieber - Holy feat. Chance the Rapper (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 4/5
Lizzo - About Damn Time (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 4/5

Kylie Minogue - Real Groove (Dance-Pop / Nu-Disco) 5/5

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
A well-tuned balanced-neutral planar magnetic IEM
Pros: great tuning
nice resolution
excellent build quality
rich accessories
Cons: the hybrid mode is practically unusable
relatively narrow sound staging
Talos1.jpg


Tonality: 6.3/9
Technicalities: 6.3/9
Preference: 7/9

Overall: 6.5/9 (B+)
(star rating is for the price to performance)


(total 5 mins read)

Intro
Recently I reviewed Dunu Vulkan and I was quite pleased with its performance the whole time. I think it's healthy to have a variety of tuning choices in the market, especially when a company trying to be different or rather original and somehow succeeds. Today I’m going to share my thoughts on Dunu’s own take on the planar magnetic in-ear monitor as it’s getting crowder if not more competitive in the game than ever before. I’m not going to write anything about the company because it will be a copy-and-paste job at this point, so, I’ll be straightforward and brief.

Talos is Dunu’s first planar or their first hybrid planar set that sports a 14.6mm “Dual Chamber Dual Sided Orthodynamic” and a “Custom Dual Supertweeters” according to the website’s description. I guess it's a fancy way to describe a configuration of hybrid planar and balanced armature drivers if not scientific. The unique shape might raise a concern regarding the fit yet I find it quite comfortable for a long period of usage. It comes with premium accessories but not a modular cable as everyone expected yet the overall build quality is the usual Dunu’s standard. They are simply great. Talos has a switch to turn on/off the BA tweeters for the hybrid mode which somewhat makes me feel a little anxious based on my experience with every IEM that comes with switches. Regardless, it’s the tuning that matter. So, how good are Talos?


Talos2.jpg



Signature
The sound signature of Talos on pure planar mode can be described as neutral with a bass boost that’s pretty balanced in my opinion. It’s the most neutral and natural-sounding planar IEM among all that I’ve tried. In the hybrid mode, the treble is boosted significantly to a point where it becomes brighter-neutral as it may give a better sense of perceived detail and a little harsher too. My guess is that the treble boost could be useful for some old recordings or classical music, but at the end of the day, I don’t find myself using the hybrid mode even for the track that could use more treble.

*Please note that I’m only reviewing the planar mode for the reason above.


Dunu Talos.png

measurement graph courtesy of precog.squig.link


Tonality
To be frank, minus the hybrid option, I really like Talos for what it is as an IEM regardless of its minor shortcomings. It’s not perfect but it’s serviceable up to a great level of satisfaction. In short, Talos is tonally pleasant to my ears.

Although there are some peaks and valleys after the pinna gain (around 2k-5kHz), unlike other planar IEMs, I don’t find it harsh or sibilant at all. The treble offers an ample amount of sparkle and bite and even though it’s a little bit on the thin side of note density, it’s organic-sounding with lesser to no hint of planar timbre that I forever distaste. On the surface, the treble is downright fine, but I think there’s room for improvement and in need of a deeper conversation.

What I don’t quite like with its upper register performance after the first listening session is that there was a slight imbalance between the upper midrange to the air region for a “natural” music reproduction that I used to, especially with loudspeakers. While subjectively there are no detrimental effects as I’ve mentioned earlier, the upper midrange to the treble response is not the smoothest as also can be seen on paper.

Overlapping of notes may happen when there is multiple treble information at one time perhaps because of the lack of air response (imbalance response). Some might also experience a sense of “compression” in female vocals at times. However, one can achieve a smoother and more coherent treble response with a simple ear-tip rolling. I find wide-bore ear tips especially the Azla Sedna Earfit Light to be the best pair for Talos as it helps to give better balance in overall upper frequencies. While not as airy as I’d prefer, the treble is now smoother and more natural-sounding than using any of the stock tips. Dunu has provided a very nice variety of ear tips but they really are all just sonically... okay-ish (including Dunu’s new proprietary tube-like silicone tips).

The midrange of Talos in my opinion is neutral and natural-sounding to a good magnitude of realism. It doesn’t sound like a planar or balanced armature or even a dynamic driver to me. It’s just vibrant and "lively" with a fair level of note weight. I believe this is easily the best-tuned midrange-to-bass of any planar magnetic IEM I’ve heard as it goes smoothly and seamlessly with its lower frequencies. Coherent is the word that comes to mind. The mid-bass is fast and tight with a good measure of balance for a clean presentation while the sub-bass digs deep enough with ample rumble when summoned upon. Excluding personal preferences, there’s really nothing much to fault about Talos in terms of tonality, especially once one gets the ear tip right.

Overall, I can say that this is a pretty well-tuned IEM if not the most well-tuned planar IEM I’ve heard so far. From the tonality angle alone, I’d recommend it as my top 3 IEM for under $200 alongside See Audio Yume Midnight & Moondrop KATO.


Talos3.jpg

Talos comes with 3 different types of ear tips. Azla Sedna Earfit Light is not included and Bill Evans is judging you.


Technicalities +
Talos boasts great resolving capability with excellent detail retrieval for the price, but just like all planar magnetic IEMs (or common planar magnetic in general), it suffers from weird or rather not-so-great imaging in terms of spatial projection or “stereo effect”, especially from the lowest octave to the lower midrange. Instrument localization is somewhat "untidy" and notes are sort of smeared onto each other at times. It doesn’t mean that the instrument separation is bad, but rather there’s little to no sense of layering because of its not-so-great positional cues. In short, the imaging has lack clarity and is far from holographical, especially on busy passages.

Related to imaging, from my perspective, the sound stage comes off as 2-dimensional-ish rather than 3-dimensional for its lack of depth. The width is relatively narrow as it appears "tight" and "compact" with an average sense of height, but I believe it’s not that bad or... important.

Regarding dynamics, Talos performs pretty well in terms of macro and micro dynamics in a timely manner with a good range of nuances and subtleties. Transient attacks are fast and sharp for impactful macro decibel shifts while maintaining a nice measure of naturalness for decays although I’d prefer a slightly more extension for decaying. Micro dynamics are natural and believable in Tia Cabral’s vibratos and trumpet attacks heard in Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band’s We’ve Just Begun.




[micro dynamics test]


Technicality-wise, I think Talos is more than capable to hammer out all the information in the music and perhaps the best in the planar game right now, although subjectively the imaging is not what I’d consider as solid or top-tier. I’m not sure what’s causing that but from my experience, all planar magnetic drivers with a simple construction or simple design do have imaging issues regardless of their excellent resolving capability and micro detail retrieval. It seems like a contradiction, a paradox nature of a planar magnetic driver if I may. Perhaps I need to listen to the next-level planar magnetic design like Meze Empyrean to refute or maybe strengthen my unorthodox belief of planar magnetic technology for peace of mind.


1665552128696.png

MEZE Empyrean's "Isodynamic Hybrid Array Driver" design is unique compared to common planar magnetic design


Verdict
As I mentioned earlier, I like Talos for what it is. Simply put, I think this is one of the easiest recommendations for all in-ear monitors I’ve reviewed. For $200, it’s obviously a no-brainer for its overall sonic performance alone. It is well-tuned, well-resolving, well-built, and packed with rich accessories (except that I don’t dig that somewhat mismatched carrying case), and even without the hybrid mode option, it’s still a pretty solid purchase in my book.

I wish Dunu could make another version of Talos without the balanced armature driver and sell it for a cheaper price so that more people are able to experience this excellent IEM (or maybe replace the cost for the BA with a better/modular cable like DUW02). Let's hope Dunu hears my prayer. Having said all that, I'm still going to say, buy Talos.

(test song ratings below)



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*this unit is sent by HiFiGo in exchange for an honest review and I thank my buddy @OspreyAndy for the unit. all words are 100% mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.

Purchase Talos HERE (HiFiGo - non-affiliated)
or here on Amazon


tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s

key songs & ratings: (technical & enjoyment without comparison)
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar (Tango) 4/5
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro (Jazz Fusion / Classical Crossover) 4/5
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Classical [Aria]) 5/5

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun (Jazz) 4/5
Cécile McLorin Salvant - Ghost Song (Vocal Jazz) 5/5
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night (Jazz Pop / Film Score) 4/5

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta (Delta Blues) 4/5
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Tin Pan Alley (Blues Rock) 5/5
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand (Alternative Rock / Punk Blues) 4/5

toe - 孤独の発明 (Math Rock) 4/5
Tera Melos - 40 Rods to the Hog's Head (Math Rock / Avant-Prog) 3/5
Don Caballero - Don Caballero 3 (Math Rock) 5/5

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah (Experimental / Post-Industrial) 5/5
Swans – Lunacy (Experimental Rock / Post-Rock) 4/5
Zu - Carbon (Avant-Garde Metal / Avant-Garde Jazz) 5/5

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck (Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore) 4/5
Arab On Radar - God is Dad (No Wave / Noise Rock) 5/5
Shellac - Crow (Post-Hardcore / Noise Rock) 4/5

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose (Progressive Metal / Sludge Metal) 5/5
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse (Post-Hardcore / Metalcore) 4/5
Botch - Japam (Matchcore / Post-Hardcore) 4/5

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me (Art Pop / Elctropop) 4/5
Slowdive - Star Roving (Shoegaze / Dream Pop) 5/5
The Shins - Simple Song (Indie Pop / Psychedelic Pop) 4/5

Radiohead - Idioteque (Art Rock / Experimental Rock / Electronic) 4/5
TheFatRat - Warbringer feat. Lindsey Stirling (Electropop) 5/5
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Trip Hop / UK Hip Hop) 5/5

Justin Bieber - Holy feat. Chance the Rapper (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 5/5
Lizzo - About Damn Time (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 5/5
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove (Dance-Pop / Nu-Disco) 5/5
Last edited:
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
R
Ron Damon
I also hope they launch a version without BAs, I'm digging this set. Did you happen to have a Shouer S12 to compare it to?
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@Ron Damon I've listened to and reviewed the S12 previously. S12 is V-shaped while Talos is neutral with a sub-bass boost. So S12 has more punch and kick with a slight spiciness on the treble while Talos has a more neutral bass to the midrange response with lesser planar timbre. I would say the S12 is a more "fun" set while Talos is more true to accurate music reproduction. I still like S12 more than Timeless or other planar though. but Talos is what I'd pick among all planar IEMs although it has a narrower sound stage. you can check my S12 review here

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
A musical-Blessing 2 or a pair of desktop speakers-in ear?
Pros: coherency
musical tuning
good resolution
near-holographic imaging
relatively wide staging
excellent build quality
excellent accessories
Cons: clarity
detail retrieval
mild-BA timbre
lower treble harshness
Vulkan1.jpg



Tonality: 6/9
Technicalities: 6.66/9
Preference: 6/9

Total: 6.2/9 (B)

(star rating is for the price to performance)


(total 5 mins read)

Intro
Dunu is one of those matured Chifi companies who have made numerous statements with their releases like Luna & Zen (though I haven’t listened to them) and the ever-popular SA6. I believe they have their own niche in the market and always looking brilliant and metallically-solid with every release even with their entry-level IEM called Titan. I’m not going to pretend that I know Dunu that much, just like most people do, I read.

Vulkan is a new hybrid offering from Dunu for the mid-fi market that competes with the likes of Tanchjim Oxygen, Yanyin Canon, Unique Melody UM 3DT, and Moondrop Blessing 2 just to name a few. It sports an 8mm coaxial dual dynamic driver for the bass, 2 Knowles balanced armatures for the midrange, and 2 Knowles balanced armatures for the high response. The housing is CNC-machined aluminum that feels very solid as usual that comes with a nice Mokume Gane-inspired faceplate. Overall, I’m loving what I’m seeing here. But the question is, how good is Vulkan sonically?


Signature
The sound signature of Vulkan can be described as neutral with a bass boost that skewed towards a darker & warmer tonality that’s pretty balanced in my opinion. Some might call it mild V-shaped or U-shaped depending on one’s sensitiveness towards treble and bass response.

The treble here is done tastefully, which is not the common "in-your-face" kind of treble for perceived detail we mostly find these days. The bass glides smoothly from the lowest octave to the mid-bass before its relatively relaxed midrange. It’s like a colored neutral tuning but in a good way. Overall, I think the tuning is pretty solid and enjoyable if not as refined as other competitors within the same price bracket.


Vulkan vs B2.png

measurement graph courtesy of precog.squig.link


Tonality
Tonally, I find there’s nothing wrong with Vulkan but perhaps lacking in certain areas like the upper midrange and upper treble response for a more "natural" playback other than its marginally dry timbre (more on this later). Although I’d love to have a smoother and airier treble with a more forward upper midrange presentation, I kind of dig what Dunu did here with the Vulkan.

One of the good things is the transition between midrange and treble is fluid and coherent like a full-range dynamic driver. The midrange is not the cleanest but rather dense with a good note-weight and warmth. But there’s something bothering me at times. It could be the peak around the presence area or the lack of upper midrange response that somewhat makes the treble appear “compressed” at a higher loudness listening level or when there’s overlapping of treble information. There’s no detrimental sibilance whatsoever, but there’s lower treble harshness or excessive lower treble energy for sure. The issue varies with different sources which evident that Vulkan has a good range of scalability.

While the bass is not a true "bass-head" level, it’s satisfying enough in terms of amount and quality and perhaps the best trait of Vulkan. Mid-bass is punchy and articulate while the sub-bass digs deep enough with good rumble while not being too forward or overpowering. It has decent texturing with a natural decaying ability that also helps to give a bit of “life” to the overall playback. In my opinion, it’s not the best but also not the worst bass at the same time. Overall, I can say that Vulkan is tonally balanced and musical at most.


Technicalities +
Vulkan boasts good resolution which presents a relatively wide than tall sound stage that I find quite impressive. However, it’s not the most resolving regardless of the big image it reproduces. The transient attack is fast yet the note comes off a little dull in terms of solidity (density). Thus, the imaging is good and unique in a way but sort of hazy or not as crisp or sharp. This is to say that Vulkan has an average clarity in the grand scheme of things which is absolutely not a bad thing, but just middling in hammering out micro details.

In other words, Vulkan has a kind of big “out-of-head" image projection yet it’s not as clean or detailed to be able to see the overall picture. What I like about Vulkan’s presentation is the sounds feel almost tangible. It feels like the imaging is holographic with a good sense of space & separation between instruments.

Regarding the timbre, I honestly think it’s not the worst kind of BA timbre I’ve heard. It appears to me that this timbre is what makes its "big sound". It requires some time to adjust to this kind of big sound especially those coming from a neutral or reference-style tuning. Imagine every note is enlarged, so, the smooth treble you’re accustomed to now appears in a more lifelike manner rather than the typical miniature sound coming out from your typical earphones (it almost feels like listening to a pair of desktop speakers).

Speaking about dynamics, I’m going to say that Vulkan is doing just fine. To be frank, it’s great with the lower part of the frequency spectrum but a little bit compressed around the top. For example, Vulkan shows great slams & impacts on Zu’s “Carbon” from start to finish but comes off as slightly flat or moderate for brass instrument attacks on Sinne Eeg’s “We’ve Just Begun” at around 0:40-1:42 minute mark. Generally, to me, it’s simply adequate and serviceable in terms of dynamics.




Zu - Carbon



Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band - We've Just Begun



Vulkan2.jpg



Comparison
I believe Moondrop Blessing 2 is the most compared IEM if not the only true challenger to Vulkan. Both of these IEMs have a similar configuration and are priced within the same realm of competitiveness (Vulkan with dual dynamic driver and an additional $60 premium).

Blessing 2 is by far regarded as the standard or benchmark for IEMs below $500 by many enthusiasts in terms of tuning-wise and resolution-wise. Some might even say it’s the best within the kilo buck range if not the best in value. Coming from Blessing 2 or neutral camp generally, I find myself leaning towards Blessing 2 most of the time. However, after some time, I can vouch for Vulkan to be an equal or a rival to Blessing 2 for different reasons.

While Blessing 2 is a true studio monitor with an analytical or reference-style tuning approach, Vulkan is a more natural and musical set. Other than near-top resolution & a cleaner presentation, Blessing 2 boasts better micro dynamics too. Vulkan on the other hand boasts an atmospheric presentation that is a wide sound stage and a bigger image with explosive impacts. Musical instruments sound more realistic on Vulkan whereas Blessing 2 is more detailed. So, it’s totally depending on what one wants in their music playback fix. I find myself liking both of them for their own strong qualities.


Valuation
As much as I like to listen to my classical music collection with the Blessing 2, I find Vulkan to be slightly more enjoyable, more pleasant, more satisfying, and more delightful overall (you get what I mean). This is not to say that it’s only good for classical but also with most of the music tested (mainly acoustic and live recordings). I can say that I realized a different perspective once I started digesting the tuning, especially the treble (please check out my test track ratings with the Vulkan below).

For those looking for top-level resolution or absolute clarity within the price, Blessing 2 might be the answer. While Vulkan is not perfect, it’s honestly very good for what it is. I think I’ve never heard anything like it since into the hobby (particularly IEM). It’s simply unique and fun. Without talking more nonsense, I’m going to recommend Dunu DX-F6 the “Vulkan” for its "true to musicality" nature while retaining a solid degree of Dunu's own elegance. Good job Dunu.


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*this unit is sent by DUNU for the Malaysia tour in exchange for an honest review. all words are 100% mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.


Purchase Dunu DX-F6 Vulkan here (non-affiliated)



tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro / Dunu DTC 500
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s or Aune S7 Pro

key songs & ratings: (technical & enjoyment)
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar (Tango) 5/5
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro (Jazz Fusion / Classical Crossover) 5/5
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Classical [Aria]) 5/5

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun (Jazz) 4/5
Cécile McLorin Salvant - Ghost Song (Vocal Jazz) 5/5
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night (Jazz Pop / Film Score) 4/5

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta (Delta Blues) 4/5
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Tin Pan Alley (Blues Rock) 5/5
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand (Alternative Rock / Punk Blues) 4/5

toe - 孤独の発明 (Math Rock) 4/5
Tera Melos - 40 Rods to the Hog's Head (Math Rock / Avant-Prog) 3/5
Don Caballero - Don Caballero 3 (Math Rock) 3/5

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah (Experimental / Post-Industrial) 5/5
Swans – Lunacy (Experimental Rock / Post-Rock) 5/5
Zu - Carbon (Avant-Garde Metal / Avant-Garde Jazz) 5/5

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck (Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore) 4/5
Arab On Radar - God is Dad (No Wave / Noise Rock) 5/5
Shellac - Crow (Post-Hardcore / Noise Rock) 4/5

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose (Progressive Metal / Sludge Metal) 4/5
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse (Post-Hardcore / Metalcore) 3/5
Botch - Japam (Matchcore / Post-Hardcore) 4/5

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me (Art Pop / Elctropop) 4/5
Slowdive - Star Roving (Shoegaze / Dream Pop) 4/5
The Shins - Simple Song (Indie Pop / Psychedelic Pop) 4/5

Radiohead - Idioteque (Art Rock / Experimental Rock / Electronic) 3/5
TheFatRat - Warbringer feat. Lindsey Stirling (Electropop) 4/5
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Trip Hop / UK Hip Hop) 4/5

Justin Bieber - Holy feat. Chance the Rapper (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 4/5
Lizzo - About Damn Time (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop) 5/5
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove (Dance-Pop / Nu-Disco) 4/5
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hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
One of the better-tuned planar magnetics
Pros: Enjoyable tuning
Good planar timbre
Good technicalities
Build quality
Cons: Mild sibilance
It may sound metallic to some
Hazy imaging
S12a.jpg



Tonality: 6/9
Technicalities: 6.3/9
Preference: 6/9

Total: 6.1/9 (B)

(star rating is for the price to performance)


(total 5 mins read)

Intro
LETSHUOER (formerly known as SHUOER) was a Chinese OEM company that joined the community market with the (in)famous “low-voltage electrostatic” Tape/Pro and the tribrid EJ07 IEM. S12 is their attempt at planar magnetic driver after the release of rather hyped 7Hz Timeless. There are rumors regarding S12 being the same driver as the Timeless, though then countered by LETSHUOER, but, I honestly don’t mind especially if it’s tuned better (as reported) and cheaper. Priced at $120, where it’s about $70 less than Timeless, I think LETSHUOER is making planar magnetic more affordable for everyone unlike all earlier offers available in the market.


Signature
The sound signature of S12 can be described as V-shaped which emphasizes bass and treble region similar to the 7Hz Timeless. To be frank, I’m not a planar magnetic enjoyer regardless of how technical it can get, mostly because of the overall tonal quality or the general presentation of planar magnetic in music playback. Nevertheless, unconventionally, I think S12 is a pretty well-tuned planar magnetic IEM.


LETSHUOER S12.png

(LETSHUOER S12 measurement graph courtesy of IEF)


Tonality
Objectively and subjectively, the main difference between Timeless and S12 is in the treble response. While I don’t find Timeless to be harsh, it lacks a certain treble quality that I always look for in music reproduction regardless of driver type. S12 on the other hand offers more volume on the lower treble which gives good energy and bite yet it can cause mild sibilance at times. I won’t say it’s lacking air response but it definitely needs to be ironed out for a smoother listen. There’s also a hint of metallic sheen that’s very common with planar magnetic, though it’s treatable with ear tips rolling. I ended up with Acoustune AET07 which helps to give a smoother treble response and more authority to the bass.

While I enjoy the overall good balance of the frequency response, there’s nothing truly commendable to be pointed out about the midrange. I just find it's serviceable to the point that there’s nothing to be criticized about the tuning either. Anyhow, the bass is pretty good overall, perhaps naturally the best feature of S12. It exhibits good extension with an ample amount of focused-rumble and punchy mid-bass kick. I could say the bass is tight, crisp, or simply satisfactory.

In general, I think the tonality of S12 is legitimately good with a nice balance across the frequency response, however many times I find it prone to be shouty with heavy & busy music like I normally find in many other planar magnetic sets. My thought is: that the proportion of energy distribution in certain frequencies is not appropriate which I think is related to its own resonance or perhaps it’s just the nature of the planar magnetic driver.


S12d.jpg



Technicalities+
Resolution-wise, it’s up there in the line with the Moondrop Blessing 2 or perhaps just slightly behind with average detail retrieval. Don’t get me wrong, micro details are there, but they just don’t come as forward as opposed to highly resolving sets, but who am I kidding, it’s a $169 set.

The transient attack is fast and sharp that’s responsible for its great resolving ability, though the transient decay rolls off pretty quickly which is accountable for short-lived notes, especially on lower frequencies. This also directly affects the imaging density and note weight. Notes are relatively thin and, in my opinion, the sparsity might also influence the occasional “shoutiness” as said above.

While the resolution is great, imaging is rather light & hazy. The presentation sort of lacking weight and a sense of realism as it feels very unlike any other traditional driver configurations. Instrument localization is a little weird & perplexing. There’s a hint or shadow of separation & layering but it feels like it never happened. What I mean is, it feels like the image didn’t complete as a whole, at least to my mind’s eye.

The sound stage is rather tall than wide, and it feels near too, but I don’t think the earphone alone causes the staging effect and sense of space as the ear tip also plays a part in it. Generally, it’s safe for me to say that the sound staging is average. One thing I can easily commend is the dynamic scaling. S12 exhibits good macro & micro dynamics with timely control and polished nuances although unmistakably short on decay. Other than the resolving ability & dynamics, nothing really impress me in terms of intangibles.


Valuation
While demonstrating agreeable tuning and functional tonality unlike many other planar magnetic drivers, I still find the same issues in S12 in terms of the imaging department, or I’d say the overall presentation. I got to admit that I have a distaste for planar magnetic because of these attributes but I always keep an open mind. Based on my years of experience as a musician, engineer, and audiophile, there’s no planar magnetic that can give the same reproduction qualities as a pair of good old loudspeakers. I guess I’m so used to vintage & traditional stuff as archaic as the dynamic driver which I personally think are still the closest presentation & reproduction of the real thing. I also understand why people are crazy about planar. On the surface, they are simply resolving. Even though planar in general might not satisfy me in a long run, I think my time with S12 is filled with joy and good thoughts.

With that being said, I’m recommending LETSHUOER S12 to those who are relatively new to this hobby, those who want to step up within a lower budget range, and those who love electronic, dance music, or modern production at large. Otherwise, I’d recommend Moondrop KATO or Tanchjim Hana (2021) for a more natural presentation in the same price bracket.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*this unit is sent by LETSHUOER for the Malaysian demo tour and loaned by my buddy @ywheng89 for an honest review. all words are 100% mine and I'm not compensated or influenced by any party.


Purchase LETSHUOER S12 here


tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s or Aune S7 Pro

key songs+:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar (Tango)
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro (Jazz Fusion / Classical Crossover)
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Classical [Aria])

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun (Jazz)
Cécile McLorin Salvant - Ghost Song (Vocal Jazz)
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night (Jazz Pop / Film Score)

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta (Delta Blues)
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Tin Pan Alley (Blues Rock)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand (Alternative Rock / Punk Blues)

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah (Experimental / Post-Industrial)
Swans – Lunacy (Experimental Rock / Post-Rock)
Zu - Carbon (Avant-Garde Metal / Avant-Garde Jazz)

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck (Noise Rock / Post-Hardcore)
Arab On Radar - God is Dad (No Wave / Noise Rock)
Shellac - Crow (Post-Hardcore / Noise Rock)

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose (Progressive Metal / Sludge Metal)
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse (Post-Hardcore / Metalcore)
Botch - Japam (Matchcore / Post-Hardcore)

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me (Art Pop / Elctropop)
Slowdive - Star Roving (Shoegaze / Dream Pop)
The Shins - Simple Song (Indie Pop / Psychedelic Pop)

Radiohead - Idioteque (Art Rock / Experimental Rock / Electronic)
TheFatRat - Warbringer feat. Lindsey Stirling (Electropop)
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (Trip Hop / UK Hip Hop)

Justin Bieber - Holy feat. Chance the Rapper (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop)
Lizzo - About Damn Time (Contemporary R&B / Dance-Pop)
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove (Dance-Pop / Nu-Disco)
Last edited:
hevelaoak
MGee1
MGee1
Nice review...any recommendations on choosing a portable dac for use with these? Would they benefit from the r2r sound of the RU6?
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@MGee1 I think RU6 is a very good combination. other than that, I like CEntrance DACport HD, Lotoo PAW S2, xDuoo Link2 Bal, & Ovidius B1.

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Musical, Analytical, Coherent, & Honest 2.0?
Pros: Tonal balance
Organic timbre
Ergonomics
Build quality & accessories
Cons: Lacking upper-midrange energy
It may sound too "safe" for some
Narrow sound stage
MACH204.jpg



Tonality: 6/9
Technicalities: 5.6/9
Preference: 6/9
Total score: 5.8/9 (B-)

(star rating is for the price to performance)


(total 5 mins read)
Intro
I’ve written a long introduction about Westone in the previous MACH 10 review which you can find it here, so, anything I’m going to say in this review is pretty much a copy-and-paste job. Even so, I think a company as legendary as Westone needs no lengthy introduction.

MACH 20 is one of 8 recently-released IEMs of the MACH series starting from MACH 10 that comes with a single balanced armature driver and up to MACH 80 with... 8 balanced armatures. As for the Asia & Australia tour, I received MACH 10 & MACH 20 which pretty much look alike in every aspect. They weigh almost nothing, a good build standard with the expected quality of accessories including a very thin and “ultra-strong Linum BaX true high-end reference” silver plated copper cable. MACH 20 consists of 2 balanced armatures for bass and midrange/treble respectively.

To be frank, I’m liking MACH 20 over MACH 10 if I ever need to pick one between both. It’s a clear upgrade for MACH 10 with very minor things to fault. Now, for a $399 price tag, where does MACH 20 stand in the market?


*this unit was provided by Westone as part of their Asia & Australia tour and I thank @Zachik & Westone for including me in the tour. all words are 100% mine


MACH201.jpg



Signature
The sound signature of MACH 20 can be described as neutral with a bass boost. In my opinion, it's very well-balanced and properly tuned for a dual-balanced armature earphone.


Tonality
I’m saying that unlike MACH 10, MACH 20’s treble response is slightly above the safe limit that carries just enough amount of presence and air response for natural music reproduction. What I mean by “natural” is it sounds almost studio monitor speaker-like in terms of frequency response on subjective listening. It doesn’t sound forward like most hybrids do which also tells that MACH 20 is very cohesive as a unit. There's no sibilance, shout, or harshness to be found at all times. I think the treble is just good although one might find it’s lacking in higher octaves of extension.

One can rely on its reproduction accuracy no matter what kind of music is on the main menu because of its ruler-flat midrange response. It doesn’t sound thin nor colored and blends seamlessly with the treble & the mid-bass, though I find it’s lacking energy in the upper midrange, for example, to give a snappier snare or a more forward vocal reproduction.

The bass is ample with a good punch and minimal rumble that I find reasonable for a neutral earphone. One thing I can commend is how the mid-bass and sub-bass are easily distinguishable, though I’m afraid the sub-bass might be actual non-existent for bass-heads.

Objectively, overall, I think MACH 20 has an almost perfect neutral frequency response. Nothing sounds wrong or really lacking except perhaps the upper midrange & low-end response, but for a neutral set, it’s quite competent and gets the job done especially for a live musician like myself. For music listening, everything seems so seamless and coherent that makes up for “oneness” in music reproduction.

The minimalistic live recording & production approach by Todd Garfinkle (MA Recordings) makes me feel like I was transported to the hall where La Segunda’s Taquito Militar was made. It’s not perfect, but it's functional.


Technicalities
In the actual world of "resolution", there’s not much to say about MACH 20’s resolving ability than to say it’s pretty average. One might say the resolution is great if coming from the Etymotic ER2 series, even though any ER2 is much better in reproducing a proper bass response in terms of weight and realism. The fact that the transient attack is a bit blunt directly affects its overall detail retrieval.

I would say that imaging is just slightly above average for its asking price. Instrument localization is considerably fair, however, notes are kind of intertwined with each other at times, so, instrument separation and layering are almost-good in the grand scheme of things. The sound stage is average or rather narrow when compared to top-tier IEMs, but it’s not congested or to the level that I’d call as claustrophobic. In another word, it’s not visually excellent. Imaging-wise, MACH 20 is average to decent at max.

For a dual-balanced armature earphone, I find MACH 20 has decent overall dynamics. It’s nothing like any good dynamic driver would achieve in terms of macro and micro dynamics scaling, yet I’d say it’s capable enough to pull off all the ascendings and arpeggios promptly.

One important thing I need to point out is that MACH 20 needs more voltage than wattage to perform better. When fed with proper amplification, it will give a better sense of depth, a wider sound stage, and thus, better instrument separation. And another thing is regarding the cable. I have this premium Linum UltraBax cable lying around and after some thorough A/B comparisons, it definitely helps to give an even better sense of everything I’ve mentioned above.


MACH202.jpg



(Comparisons)
Moondrop Blessing 2 - $320
The Blessing 2 arguably has one of the most well-balanced & pleasant tunings in IEMs, though it may sound dry or harsh on the upper midrange to the treble at times. MACH 20 on the other hand, doesn’t exhibit the dry-ness or metallic sheen as commonly dubbed as "BA timbre" or "BA grain". Although lacking in treble extension as well, Blessing 2 reproduces a more correct and palatable frequency response, especially on the top end to give a better definition of overtones and reverb trails. Another thing to point out, MACH 20 is far more cohesive than Blessing 2 where everything seems so seamless and solid as one, whereas Blessing 2 is audibly disjointed on the treble and bass. I think it’s very clear for anyone at this point about which presentation to go for between these 2.

On technical performance, Blessing 2 comes off as a superior set in almost all aspects. Notes are well-defined and crisper with excellent detail retrieval. Imaging is richer with better instrument separation & layering. The sound stage is also wider accompanied by a finer sense of depth on Blessing 2 unlike MACH 20 that’s more center-focused.

Etymotic EVO - $499
Compared to Etymotic EVO, MACH 20 comes off as softer or “monotonous” in the overall presentation. It doesn’t give proper energy in the upper midrange as well on the treble region. The bass on EVO is cleaner with better texturing but sometimes I like MACH 20’s bass better for its “naturalness” that mimicked dynamic driver. Also, MACH 20 boasts more kick on the mid-bass with greater mass while EVO’s raw bass quality emphasizes the sub-bass that yields actual rumble.

Regarding technical performance, MACH 20 comes off as slightly blunt around notes compared to EVO, although not much of a difference at a glance. On a large scale, EVO is more capable to pull out micro details with better instrument separation & layering. Imaging-wise, it seems EVO is quite holographic with a better sense of depth compared to MACH 20’s flat display, though I wouldn’t label EVO as “holographic” in reality. In terms of staging, MACH 20 seems closer and narrower, yet I believe they are pretty much alike in terms of width.


MACH203.jpg



Valuation
As much as I like this new release by Westone, from a consumer point of view, personally, I think it’s a bit overpriced to match what it has to offer purely in terms of sonic performance. Don’t get me wrong, MACH 20 is definitely a good earphone, especially for professionals, but the market today has so many high-value products to choose from at the same level of performance. Nonetheless, I’m still going to recommend MACH 20 for its sheer naturalness in terms of sound and its reliability for live performance.



Purchase MACH 20 here


tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s or Aune S7 Pro

key songs+:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Cécile McLorin Salvant - Ghost Song
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
Slowdive - Star Roving
The Shins - Simple Song

Radiohead - Idioteque
TheFatRat - Warbringer (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy

Justin Bieber - Holy (fear. Chance the Rapper)
Lizzo - About Damn Time
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove
Last edited:

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Musical, Analytical, Coherent, & Honest?
Pros: Tonal balance
Organic timbre
Ergonomics
Build quality
Accessories
Cons: It may sound dull to some
Detail retrieval
Dynamic
Sound Stage
High impedance (80 ohms)
MACH102.jpg



Tonality: 5.3/9
Technicalities: 5/9
Preference: 6/9
Total Score: 5.4/9 (C+)

(star rating is for the price to performance)

(total 6 mins read)

Intro
I never had a chance to experience any of Westone’s products but I’ve read a lot about them from time to time. They manufacture a large number of audiology-related products ranging from hearing protection, clinical & audiological supplies, custom communication & hearing healthcare earpieces, and most importantly in-ear monitors for professional musicians and audiophiles. Established in America back in 1959, Westone is undoubtedly one of a few professional auditory-related brands that have gained legendary status for their contribution to society.

Recently they have released the MACH series of IEMs consisting of 8 new models into the market specifically for working musicians & professionals. The main difference is in the driver configuration starting from MACH 10 which comes with a single full-range balanced armature and up to MACH 80 with 8 balanced armatures in total. I have received MACH 10 & 20 for the Asia & Australia tour and I can say that they’re very similar in terms of build and package. I believe all of them have almost the same housing construction and packaging except for different cables starting from MACH 40 that comes with Linum SuperBaX and Linum UltraBaX cable for MACH 70 & 80. The difference between the cables is in the number of wires & resistance rate as stated on the official website.

Despite being related to Etymotic via Lucid Audio (both Etymotic & Westone are acquired by Lucid Audio), Westone is still opting for the same old shell design with some minor re-constructions for this new MACH series. The build is quite good, they are plastic, and they almost weigh nothing. The accessories are as expected including 5 pairs of foam and 5 pairs of silicone ear tips, a crushproof & watertight mini case, a Westone audio cloth bag, and the very thin & almost non-microphonic Linum BaX T2 silver-plated copper cable. So far, I like the presentation here with nothing to complain about.

Westone may be a giant back then (for the lack of competition), but currently, the fast-fashion market is filled with mountains of brands and products to choose from. Minus the target crowd, at a $299 price tag, can MACH 10 compete in the whole earphone market?

*this unit was provided by Westone as part of their Asia & Australia tour and I thank @Zachik & Westone for including me in the tour. all words are 100% mine


MACH101.jpg



Signature
On subjective listening, the sound signature of MACH 10 can be described as neutral with a bass boost. The tuning is well-balanced and natural-sounding but definitely lacking in both low & high extensions. I believe MACH 10 is meant for moderate loudness audio playback as per its driver configuration & high impedance rating suggested.

my preferred signature is neutral with a bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly EVERYTHING but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large.


Tonality
I think the treble of MACH 10 is a love-or-hate situation depending on where one’s coming from or which type of stock ear tip one’s using. The level is at a bare minimum condition, or I could say it’s very safe. At most times, I find it lacking actual bite or sparkle in the presence & top end area to give a better definition to the overtones or instruments that fundamentally reside in the treble area such as hi-hat and cymbal. I guess the depression is starting from around 3kHz and upward. Even so, the treble is so smooth without any hint of “BA grain” or distortion. Smoothest and the most natural-sounding balanced armature treble I’ve ever heard. At times, I also feel like this is how a treble should sound like. No emphasis or boost for a better perception of detail.

The midrange response is perhaps the best attribute of this earphone. It's neutral and natural-sounding with a good note density across the range. Vocal reproduction is bold and forward. The electrical guitar sounds like an electrical guitar, the piano sounds like a piano, and nothing sounds out of place, thin, or colored. I have nothing to complain about the midrange as it’s pretty well-done in my opinion.

The bass amount is not plenty nor really lacking. The whole quantity is just right for a neutral response to be “alive”. Although roughly it’s lacking in the sub-bass region, I can still feel the semi-deep rumble and weight when called for. Honestly, I really like to listen to soundtracks with this set. Titles like 2049 by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch, Hand Covers Bruise by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, and Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto’s The Revenant Main Theme are among my favorites.

The mid-bass section is ample with punch and kick as needed. It's borderline warm and lean. Every kick is clean with a smooth edge to make it appear “musical” while being semi-analytical at the same time. It doesn’t really sound like a balanced armature bass but not quite like a dynamic driver, so, it’s somewhere in between I suppose. It's quite impressive what a single balanced armature can do. Everything is in unity and sings in harmony.

I think everything is pretty well-done except perhaps the treble where I prefer a tad more presence and air response, but that's just me. Nevertheless, it’s not the worst treble. I believe the treble response is also related to the insertion depth which directly affects the treble peaks whereas MACH 10 is not physically possible to go as deep as Etymotic earphones. So, the key importance for the best response here is to get the best insertion depth or a good proper seal with the right ear tips. Overall, from a consumer perspective, MACH 10 is tonally not-wrong with very minor things to fault. Ear-tip tip: long foam tip for the best response!


MACH105b.jpg



Technicalities +
Despite the fact that it has an almost perfectly natural-neutral response, the transient attack of MACH 10 is a bit blunt as it also feels like the transient decay of the lows is purposedly prolonged for a more “natural” sound reproduction. As a consequence, I think the “naturalness” of the bass benefited from this. Resolution-wise, MACH 10 is pretty good with the exception of its detail retrieval. I don’t want people to get confused between resolution and detail, so let me explain a bit.

When compared to highly resolving IEMs like ThieAudio Monarch MKii, the glaring difference mostly is in the detail retrieval other than in the imaging department. I need to drop down the volume of Monarch MKii to match the loudness of MACH 10 for an impartial comparison. While not as near as Monarch MKii, the resolution of MACH 10 is considered pretty good for a miniature-sized image (in this case, the size of the note). The decay of bass is smoothed while retaining the sharp transient attack of the treble that rolls off as quickly as the treble usually does. This is believed to be related to the tuning because as a single balanced armature unit, it behaves wholly unlike one. And while treble quantity is also related to the perception of detail, it doesn’t account for pure resolution. So, I hope that explains.

Imaging is considerably good but not as near as true 3-dimensional or holographic even. Instrument localization is fair with decent separation and layering capability. It doesn’t mean that it has poor clarity but just not enough to hammer out an articulate positional cue for better-concentrated imaging. While doing fine on imaging, it’s rather average or narrow on sound staging that’s more like a reverse ‘U’ shape in front of my face, but I bet not many IEMs out there that excel in staging too. Overall, there’s not much to say about the imaging department besides the presentation is in between average to decent as much as all I can say about its most intangible aspect.

Here is where I think MACH 10 stumble. It feels a little bit compressed in terms of dynamics, especially nuances of the treble response. I find MACH 10 is striving to scale greatly as noticeable in tracks like Mozart: Die Zauberflote, K. 620, Act 2: “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” by Patricia Petibon, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s Tin Pan Alley, and Muddy Waters’ My Home Is in The Delta. I also find “post-loudness war” or modern productions sound much better than most live recordings or analog music in terms of dynamics. This occurrence highlights the dynamic issue of this set, especially on micro dynamics. It’s not awfully bad yet not good enough. Music that is required to scale flawlessly for all the nuances and subtleties struggles the most. There’s also a lack of headroom where everything feels crammed together with less to no room for the music to breathe.


MACH104.jpg



Comparisons

Etymotic ER2SE - $100

Compared to Etymotic ER2SE, tonally speaking, ER2SE is very neutral that also might appear bright to some people. As we all know, ER2SE is a flat-response dynamic driver in-ear monitor (or “canalphone” as dubbed by the community) that requires a proper deep insertion to get the best overall response. (I don’t quite agree that it’s a Diffuse Field target, but I digress). Isolation is so much better with deep insertion which also helps to give more “agreeable” overtones for music playback, but that doesn’t mean MACH 10 sounds wrong. I honestly dig both of the tunings; I could say they have a superbly neutral and natural tonal balance where ER2SE is the true natural-neutral whereas MACH 10 is organic-neutral with a bass boost that makes it sounds fuller.

Resolution is “bigger” on MACH 10, accompanied by better detail retrieval, a proper note weight, and a better sense of depth while ER2SE has slightly better imaging although it feels boosted because of the treble. The transient decay on ER2SE is more realistic especially for bass & drum reproduction while MACH 10 is slightly faster and better textured. MACH 10 is definitely a few small steps ahead in terms of overall technical performance and for an additional $199, it’s firmly an upgrade for ER2SE even though not as dynamic and punchy as the latter.

Moondrop Blessing 2 - $320
For an additional $20, multi-driver hybrid sensation Moondrop Blessing 2 offers a slightly different kind of neutral tuning that’s leaning towards a brighter tonality. Some might also find it mild V-shaped in the signature as well. It's definitely not as coherent as MACH 10 where Blessing 2 feels a bit disjointed at the mid-bass and particularly in the treble area, but it does offer a fuller and tonally-correct sound at a higher loudness level. Even so, Blessing 2’s treble might appear boosted or “unnatural” that comes with a mild BA grain that can be harsh at times. Tonally, I can commend both of them and prefer one above another depending on the music, though I find Blessing 2 a tad bright when put straight head-to-head with MACH 10. One might also find MACH 10 a bit dull coming from a brighter set like Blessing 2.

Instrument localization and separation are distinctly visible with a better sense of depth & a wider stage presentation on Blessing 2, whereas MACH 10 boasts a more “oneness” & compact presentation that’s quite realistic & believable when putting attention to it. I think both of them respectively have an almost similar imaging density in their own way with Blessing 2 appearing slightly leaner and perhaps displaying enhanced perceived details while MACH 10 is simply organic. I’m giving Blessing 2 extra points for the overall technical performance and for its finer dynamic range. One might find MACH 10 to be a more natural earphone but I think most people would rather add another $20 for Blessing 2 for its majority-pleasing tuning & high technical chops.

Etymotic EVO - $499
I know this is not a fair comparison based on the price tag (because I don’t have any of the ER4 series) but just to give a picture of where they’re at. EVO is tonally more accurate and crisper yet also microscopically smoother on the edges. It boasts more presence that gives proper overtones of lower frequency instruments towards realism. Both produce a transparent, uncolored playback in their own way where it’s cleaner with sure-footed sub-bass on EVO and warmer presentation on MACH 10, yet both of them have equal pleasantness to my ears.

MACH 10 is more cohesive as a unit where the whole frequency seems so well-attached or simply seamless even though EVO is extremely coherent as a multi-driver unit. It feels like I’m listening to a single balanced armature with EVO while MACH 10 sounds like a single dynamic driver. So far, I love the presentation of both sets although EVO had a great deal of my attention most of the time. I believe the longer nozzle of EVO also plays a big part in getting a deeper insertion, better seal, and thus better frequency response other than the tuning itself.

Although not a top-tier material, EVO’s resolution is still pretty good and technically many steps ahead of MACH 10 in almost all aspects. One of its obvious superior traits is the dynamic scaling ability. EVO exhibits good macro & micro dynamics with timely control and polished nuances that make it appear vibrant & energetic between the two. EVO’s faster transient attack gives a more “analytical” experience compared to MACH 10 while still maintaining a fundamental magnitude of musicality. The sound stage is almost similar but imaging is way better that’s quite holographic with finer instrument separation & layering compared to MACH 10. Although in the real world, I wouldn’t label EVO as “holographic” for imaging. Overall, I’d say EVO is definitely an upgrade for MACH 10 though I still find it a bit steep for some small improvements. Perhaps MACH 30 is a better opponent to EVO?

MACH 20 - $399
The difference between MACH 10 and 20 is very audible in terms of tonality alone. MACH 20 has a better presence & bass response with proper loudness proportion across the frequency response that makes it tonally more pleasant to my ears. The bass on MACH 20 has more authority that’s better textured and also capable to separate sub-bass and mid-bass eloquently. I think MACH 10 has better midrange quality that’s more forward and bolder but that’s pretty much about it. In terms of overall balance, MACH 20 is definitely the superior set between the two.

Imaging is slightly denser and sharper. The sound stage is slightly larger with more headroom and air to breathe. In general, MACH 20 is like a step ahead in technical performance, and probably 3 steps ahead overall except for instrument separation where I think MACH 10 is just very slightly “holographic”. Anyway, it sounds much better coming from MACH 10 to MACH 20, but in the bigger picture, they are so much alike. Is MACH 20 worth the upgrade? I think I need to answer that once I’ve listened to MACH 30 for a firm conclusion, or else, any of them works fine.


MACH106.jpg



Valuation
It’s understandable why Westone did this kind of super safe-tuning approach for the “budget” set of the new series. It’s evident that MACH 10 is free from any sibilance or listening fatigue for long hours of usage which will greatly benefit professionals & audiophiles alike. It’s tonally smooth and pleasant at a moderate loudness, although it might get shouty when cranked, that also depends on the amplification as its high impedance rating suggested.

In the technical department, MACH 10 confidently shows that treble is not always equal to resolution. The resolution is pretty good considering only a single balanced armature is doing all the work. It makes me question my choice of IEMs for music listening, again and again, every time I’m trying to compare them to MACH 10. However, at times, I also feel like it’s missing something in the line which I cannot truly explain except all that I’ve said above. It worked for me in the studio and I don't think it's going to be a problem on stage. I can say that I might get myself a pair of MACH 10s for the love of neutral & naturalness even though it seems a bit overpriced and late to compete at this age.

Last but not least, those who love Etymotic ER2, ER3, or ER4 (especially XR) but don’t like the fitting, might want to consider MACH 10 because of its much more comfortable fit.



Purchase Westone MACH 10 here


tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 / Macbook Pro with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s or Aune S7 Pro

key songs+:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Cécile McLorin Salvant - Ghost Song
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night

Muddy Waters – My Home Is in The Delta
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
Slowdive - Star Roving
The Shins - Simple Song

Radiohead - Idioteque
TheFatRat - Warbringer (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy

Justin Bieber - Holy (fear. Chance the Rapper)
Lizzo - About Damn Time
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove
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hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Bottlenecked Organic
Pros: safe tuning
sibilance-less
organic timbre
good technicalities
build quality
ergonomics
accessories
Cons: lacking treble extension
occasional shouty upper midrange
dynamics
finish (scratch-prone)
ShiminLi2.jpg



Tonality: 5.6/9
Technicalities: 5.6/9
Preference: 5/9

Overall: 5.4/9 (C+)
(star rating is for the price-to-performance)



Intro
TForce Yuan Li is one of my favorite single dynamic driver IEMs in the plethora of budget Chifi mediocrity out there. It is one of the most balanced-sounding earphones with a matured tuning from originally an OEM/ODM company, TForce (now Tangzu).

Shimin Li is the second part of the “Trilogy” that carries the same vibe & bold aesthetic on the packaging rather than the typical weeb-pleaser with waifus that most companies adopted conscientiously. I have nothing against waifus as I simply prefer something more minimal or simpler in a package. Anyhow, the IEM unit itself is a bit “extravagant” for my taste that comes in shiny gold. There's also a tolerable silver color option which I think is similar to Yuan Li. A little contrasted to the packaging theme the tone of the gold color seems, still I believe there will be people who will appreciate it.

It sports a 10mm dynamic driver that’s said “tuned to deliver a neutral and balanced sound output” and is priced to play in a highly competitive bracket with a $35 tag a pair. The main question is, can it compete? Also, will Shimin Li fit the bill in the Trilogy?


*This unit is sent by Hifigo (Lvy Yan) in return for an honest review. I listen to everything stock, without any modifications, or additional accessories. My source is varied depending on the occasion. Apple Music, Tidal, local files, LG G7, Windows PC, and dongles for a week duration with no EQ.


Signature
On subjective listening, the sound signature of Shimin Li can be described as neutral with a bass boost that’s skewed towards a slightly warmer tonality for the lack of treble response. It’s also could be described as Harman but definitely not V-shaped. The tuning is arguably one of the most safe-sounding among other sets I’ve tried in the under $35 price segment.


FR & Tonality
Let me be frank, I’ll be nitpicking here. The first thing I notice with this set is the overall slightly “thonky” sound which I believe is the main issue of its tonality, or perhaps the tuning. The upper midrange has peaks without the appropriate treble loudness around 5kHz to 7kHz to compensate for a more natural & smoother listen. The lack of air response (or overtones) also makes the instrument like a cymbal or metal percussion sound a bit bland and less definition at times, but I bet it might be sufficient enough for some people. There’s no sibilance whatsoever coming out from this set.

Vocal reproduction is forward & satisfying. It’s quite natural or I could say, safe. Vocal lovers should consider this set. But there's a balance issue with the loudness of the frequency response that makes up for the occasional “shoutiness” in the upper midrange. This is believed to be related to the tuning more than the driver’s frequency response itself. For example, the nozzle length or the volume of the shell directly affects the resonance.

The bass is probably the best feature of this set. Good mid-bass punch and warmth without muddying the midrange. Ample sub-bass rumble though not that shattering low. I think I’m pleased with the bass.

In the real world, the tonality of Shimin Li is decently-good but the tuning could be better even for a budget set. Nothing spectacular or really bad to write home about. It’s tonally listenable or perhaps enjoyable to a certain extent at a moderate loudness level.


ShiminLi1.jpg



Technicalities +
Shimin Li has a bass texture that I’d consider quite good. The whole resolution is pretty good for the price with the exception of its detail retrieval. The imaging is a little fuzzy, especially on busy passages but it’s still fairly decent with a rather not thin nor thick note density. Instrument localization is not the worst though I think that’s pretty common with budget single dynamic driver IEMs, yet that’s the fact. Imaging is not its forte. Sound staging is average as it’s lacking in depth mostly, however the width is slightly wider than Tripowin Olina’s.

It has a quite organic timbre, by not being too bright or dark which is something that I could really enjoy at this age. In terms of dynamic, it’s a bit compressed, especially on the treble. Firmly to say, dynamically it’s average for a dynamic driver. It’s a pity because I believe this is a good driver as it has potential based on the transient response alone. Perhaps some overhauling or retuning could save it and thus turn it into an excellent IEM.


ShiminLi3.jpg



Comparison & Valuation
Compared to the (in)famous Blon BL03, Shimin Li easily wins in many departments perhaps except for the timbre. BL03 has an arguably more pleasant or more “correct” timbre although tonally it’s not as ideal or “natural” as Shimin Li. In terms of resolution & imaging, the award goes to Shimin Li. I could say, it’s an upgrade for Blon BL03 though indirectly.

How about Tripowin MELE? I prefer Shimin Li against MELE any time. No doubt that Shimin Li is way better in terms of tonality & technical performance. I know it’s a matter of preference as it's a different tuning yet somewhat a different class too. Shimin Li also feels like a budget Yuan Li whereas Yuan Li has slightly more control & balance. Overall, they both are like the same thing with minor differences.

I honestly think that Tangzu is doing themselves either a kind of stationary or dilly-dally by going this route with releasing a budget IEM that’s probably not just indifferent or ordinary, but rather almost-good and also passable at the same time. Yuan Li was a good debut in my opinion. So, I was expecting something different with a more refined tuning that's tonally pleasant from a company that I really look forward to but it is what $35 is. Nevertheless, I still think it’s a service for the masses, specifically the community to have more choices for their little money.

Good thing about listening to Shimin Li after a few days (because my first impression was not this good) is it reminded me of the good old times when my younger self was blasting some good music to his mind with cheap but decently functional earphones. To me, Shimin Li is just another decently functional earphone that some might find adequate to satisfactory for their library. For $35, I think it’s worth the price and it fits fine in the Trilogy. Maybe add a matte-black finish too?



Purchase Tangzu Shimin Li here: HiFiGo


tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 with/without Ovidius B1 / Hidizs S9 Pro
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s

key songs:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Lady Blackbird - Ruler of my Heart
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night

Muddy Waters – Big Leg Woman
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
Slowdive - Star Roving
The Shins - Simple Song

Radiohead - Idioteque
TheFatRat - Warbringer (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross & Karen O - Immigrant Song

Justin Bieber - Holy (fear. Chance the Rapper)
Doja Cat - Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove
Last edited:
Zerstorer_GOhren
Zerstorer_GOhren
Nice and honest review.
hevelaoak

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Titan Reborn
Pros: good Harman tuning
excellent treble extension
technically-competent driver
great build quality
Cons: near-bright timbre
fit (YMMV)
dynamics
TitanS.jpg



Tonality: 6/9
Technicalities: 6/9
Preference: 6/9
Overall: 6/9 (B)

(star rating is for the price to performance)

(total 3 mins read)

Intro
Recently I’ve been impressed with the new Tin Hifi T3 Plus and have been talking about it for at least 2 days but I guess that’s just evaporated. This is because it feels like there’s a new Harman target IEM every month since last year. The market is flooded with single dynamic driver IEMs from different ranges of prices, a variety of tunings, and plenty of offerings to choose from, especially in this interesting price segment, the sub $100. As consumers, we are just going to benefit from this.

Dunu is one of those matured Chifi companies who have made numerous statements with their releases like Luna & Zen (though I haven’t listened to them). I believe they have their own niche in the market and always looking brilliant and metallically-solid with every release even with their entry-level IEM called Titan. I’m not going to pretend that I know Dunu that much, just like most people do, I read.

Titan S is Dunu’s latest effort in reviving the old Titan with a new driver, with a new steampunk design that is aesthetically satisfying to look at. “TITAN reborn” sports a new 11mm multi-layered, polycondensated LCP diaphragm dynamic driver in a lightweight zinc alloy shell, dual-chamber anti-resonance housings, and unlike other Dunu’s IEMs, it’s standardized with 2 pin connectors with mixed copper & silver-plated copper wire.

So, the question is, will Titan S stay relevant longer than other competitors? Will it be at least successful like Moondrop Aria* or will it be just another flavor of the month?

*as a $100 benchmark & as a direct comparison to Titan S by many people


Dunu Titan S.png

Dunu Titan S & Harman IE 2019 v2 courtesy of IEF


Sound Signature
On subjective listening, Dunu Titan S can be described as neutral with a bass boost with a slight tilt towards the brighter side of tonality, while on paper, it looks like a Harman-neutral. One might also call it bright-neutral with a tasteful bass boost but as we all know, neutrality is very subjective as determined by one’s own HRTF. However, in my case, it’ll be Dolby’s reference room target (X-Curve) which is the Etymotic’s target.


Tonality
The overall tonality is very good for what it is. There's no obvious bloat or bleed from the bass response. While the bass amount is good, it lacks authority even when compared to the flat response Etymotic ER2SE. Titan S’ overall bass is what I’d call “plain-good”. the sub-bass has less rumble and the mid-bass lacks punch when put head-to-head with the ER2SE even though Titan S is the louder set. Don’t get me wrong. On individual listening, the bass response is considered fairly good with decent texturing and density. It's just that the driver does not have the ideal raw bass quality, but that’s just nitpicking.

Titan S has a forward presentation yet is pretty balanced and nothing feels out of place or lacking. Even so, there is a minimal “shoutiness” going on in the upper midrange as it’s slightly favoring female vocal more than average male vocal. The treble has sparkle and is well-extended without detrimental effects as it's well-masked by its appropriate bass amount although not to the level of smoothness that I’d like. Albeit not the best kind of quality, the overall tonality is pretty balanced and clean, even though not up to the level of ER2SE’s clarity. Nevertheless, I think it’s really well-tuned, tonally matured & pleasant.


Technicalities +
Being an almost neutral set, Titan S doesn’t feel like lacking in the note definition. The resolution and its imaging capabilities are pretty good. Instrument localization is also quite good with average sound stage width, height, and depth. An ‘accurate reproduction’ should not produce a wide or deep stage, (as proven with forward and backward masking principles) especially for track-by-track recording or heavily mixed song. In this case, Titan S performs in a direction towards accuracy, with a little twist of its own flavor.

By saying everything is good, do not expect excellent, “top tier” resolution. However, it’s fair to say that Titan S is technically very competent for a budget single dynamic driver. The treble transient considerably fast & sharp coupled with its apt treble peaks makes up for good resolution & imaging. As a consequence, the timbre may sound slightly “metallic” or rather bright, especially to those who are used to more "bassy" or warmer signatures. I guess it also has to do with the use of zinc alloy shell affecting the transient response and timbre, and it seems the design is favoring the treble more than the bass. So, those who lean towards balance & neutrality like myself will appreciate the Titan S.

In general, there’s not much to fault because Titan S does nothing wrong at all except perhaps the underwhelming macro-dynamics & raw bass quality other than the weird fit to my ears. Yes, your mileage may vary.


Valuation
Unlike many other Harman-inspired single dynamic drivers in the market, Titan S is one of a few that is closer to neutral or Harman-neutral than the warmer side of tonality. It's highly recommended if one is looking for a closer to accurate music reproduction, especially to those who are too afraid to shove a pair of Etymotic deep into their ear canals. Otherwise, I’ll stick with recommending ER2SE for accuracy, a reference for tonality & technicalities especially for $100 price point**.

**Etymotic ER2SE price varies from different vendors


***this review unit is provided by Dunu (Kevin & Thomas) for the tour and loaned to me by my buddy Heng. so I thank him and Dunu for the opportunity. I have 100% control of my words and am not compensated by any party.

Titan S Product Page
Dunu Webstore
Dunu Aliexpress Store


(I used everything 'stock' for this review)

tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 with/without Ovidius B1
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s

key songs:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Lady Blackbird - Ruler of my Heart
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night

Muddy Waters – Big Leg Woman
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
Slowdive - Star Roving
The Shins - Simple Song

Radiohead - Idioteque
TheFatRat - Warbringer (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross & Karen O - Immigrant Song

Justin Bieber - Holy (fear. Chance the Rapper)
Doja Cat - Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove
Last edited:

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
mini-B2 in the Midnight
Pros: tuning
good tonality
good extensions
great technicalities
Cons: BA timbre/grain
thin/shouty treble
cohesiveness
midnight1.jpg


Tonality: 6.6/9
Technicalities: 6.3/9
Preference: 7/9
Overall: 6.6/9 (B+)

(star rating is for the price to performance)

(total 6 mins read)

Intro
SeeAudio X Crinacle Yume: Midnight is self-explanatory. Together with HiFiGO as a three-way exclusive collaboration, “Project Midnight” is an effort in building a “technical Yume” for the better.

In April last year, Crinacle himself criticized Yume for its subpar technicalities and called it a “One Trick Wonder” for its only good quality trait which is the tuning. While I agree with most of the critique, Yume’s tonality alone didn’t do enough justice to be considered an all-rounder for a huge library holder like myself. Months forward today, I received the Midnight for the SEA Midnight tour review.

Everything is still pretty much the same Yume on the inside with the same driver configuration except it sports a different crossover, driver positioning & acoustic tube length. On the outside, the build has changed in terms of shape, nozzle, color, & material. The accessories are also have been updated to suit the design of the new earphones better. I’ll be comparing Midnight to Yume from time to time.

my preferred signature is neutral with or without a bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large.


Midnight vs Dusk.png

Dusk vs Midnight measurement comparison courtesy of IEF

Signature
On paper, the sound signature of Midnight is based on Harman's target curve. It's actually a composition between Harman IE and Crinacle’s own In-Ear Fidelity target curves. The pinna gain is virtually in line with the In-Ear Fidelity’s while the bass is more or less following Harman IE 2019’s target. On subjective listening, the sound signature of Midnight can be described as "neutral with a bass boost" that skewed slightly towards bright-neutral tonality. One could also argue that it’s pretty much Harman especially with the amount of sub-bass response as shown on measurement, but more on that later.


Tonality
To be frank, Midnight’s tonality is pretty balanced throughout the frequency spectrum. It has the appropriate note weight and sufficient extension on both ends to be regarded as a good all-rounder for its asking price.

There's no glaring fault to be pointed out except perhaps the extra sparkles or presence that might be glitching off of ideal tonal balance, especially instruments that fundamentally reside in the treble region. Though, the overtones of, for example, cymbal or fricative consonants may sound “extra” rather than an offense. Occasionally, it can force out mild sibilance but nothing sounds wrong or detrimental. I’d say, it'll totally depend on individual taste for how much treble is too much. To those who are treble sensitive, please take note.

Midnight focuses on a natural mid-range reproduction just like the Yume. The bass and upper treble responses are tastefully boosted to compensate for the 4k to 6kHz treble cut for a more balanced tonality. The bass is now more pronounced with good texturing but it doesn’t feel like “plenty” as shown on the graph, whereas Blessing 2 Dusk feels more bass-y in direct AB-ing. This is perhaps caused by the dynamic driver material, the nature of raw bass quality, or perhaps it’s just the sheer amount of perceived treble (as we perceive treble louder than lower frequencies). Nevertheless, there’s no sense of lacking any sort of bass rumble or mid-bass punch in a long music playlist, though I’m afraid it won’t satisfy hardcore bass heads.

Overall, the tonality is pretty good though I’d love a little lesser of “pseudo air” but I’m afraid that would change everything from the tuning.


midnight6.jpg



Technicalities +
The overall presentation is somewhat pretty common but it goes more in height rather than width. So, the instrument separation & layering take advantage of a good yet distinctively tight instrument localization. The image is somewhat stretched vertically in the stereo field. It's not a bad or strange thing but I’d say that it has an indirect effect on the image’s clarity.

Transients is relatively fast and sharp which helps for good imaging. Somehow the timbre is not the most natural-sounding, especially on the upper mid-range & treble. It is the common grainy-BA timbre that can also be extra spicy on Midnight (no pun intended). Perhaps it has to do with the “compressed” quality of the balanced armature being used and how much it’s being squeezed for every last bit of juice. However, I don’t find any serious issues with the macro or micro-dynamics range, but there’s audible incoherency between drivers, and I know they did their best.

There's also some minimal bluntness going on which is way lesser than the original Yume; the consequence: the micro details are slightly depressed but it makes up for a “livelier” reproduction. Yes, in the real world, Midnight’s resolving capability is not excellent, but it’s quite competitive with its decent detail retrieval offering. Meaning: it’s pretty good for what a mid-tier 3-multi-driver configuration can do. I think it could be the best in the $150 to $200 price bracket in terms of technical performance alone.


midnight5.jpg



Comparison & Valuation
When talking about Yume, Blessing 2 Dusk is one of a few, if not the only one that has been mentioned many times for a direct comparison in terms of tuning. At first listen, I immediately recognize the resemblance of Dusk’s transients on Midnight. The tuning is also quite similar but it’s even closer in terms of treble transients particularly.

Yes, it’s not a fair comparison but at least in this case, both are a retuned version of existing IEMs by the same person; Crinacle. Here is my observation. For $130 less, Midnight is following closely from behind in technical performance. The imaging is as nearly as good, the separation is as closely as good, though the sound stage is a bit narrower than Dusk. Tonally, it feels leaner & thinner or more “neutral” on Midnight yet the micro-dynamics are slightly better. I’d pick the bass on Midnight than Dusk for its texture or raw quality.

For a $130 premium, Dusk is a more resolving monitor with better micro details and a tonality that’s more balanced. For discerning ears, it's an instant realization of the quality difference between the 2 when AB-ing. While Dusk’s timbre is not perfect, it’s smoother & denser which makes it tonally pleasant. The extra +1 balanced armature for each treble and mid-range in Dusk definitely improved its resolution & detail retrieval without being too shouty. Dusk also feels more solid & full-bodied even though the bass is one of its weakest traits.

There’s more treble extension on Midnight, but it feels “forced” rather than a natural extension. On Dusk, the reverb trails & the gap (depth) can easily be “seen” just to show the difference of pure resolution coming out from the extra driver configuration. Of course, this is mainly related to the tuning, but the number of drivers is also the key for effortless & successful tuning.

In a simpler way, it’s safe for me to say that the Midnight is a “mini-Dusk” or perhaps a “mini-Blessing2” for its more neutral than bass-y tonality. As a Blessing 2/Dusk junkie, I’m recommending SeeAudio Yume: Midnight for those who want to taste some of “brilliance to come” but don’t want to step up too much in their audiophile journey.


midnight2.jpg



*this review unit is provided by SeeAudio as part of their SeeAudio Yume: Midnight review tour and I thank Bryan and SeeAudio for including me in the tour. all words are mine and I’m not compensated by any party.

purchase SeeAudio Yume: Midnight here

tools:
Tidal / Apple Music via LG G7 with/without Ovidius B1
Tidal / Foobar2000 (FLAC) via Topping EX5 with/without Aune X7s or Aune S7 Pro

key songs:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Lady Blackbird - Ruler of my Heart
Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone - A Lovely Night

Muddy Waters – Big Leg Woman
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam

ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
Slowdive - Star Roving
The Shins - Simple Song

Radiohead - Idioteque
TheFatRat - Warbringer (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross & Karen O - Immigrant Song

Justin Bieber - Holy (fear. Chance the Rapper)
Doja Cat - Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)
Kylie Minogue - Real Groove

Attachments

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hevelaoak
J
jmwant
Great write-up!
hevelaoak
hevelaoak

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
TForce episode 1 - "balance in all things"
Pros: fit
build
organic timbre
balanced tonality
natural decays
detail retrieval
coherency
dynamics
imaging & separation
price to performance
Cons: finish
clarity
needs amplification to 'kick'
lacks extreme low & high extensions
average sound stage
lacks depth
layering
tforceyuanlib.jpg



Tonality: 5.6/9
Technicalities: 6/9
Preference: 6/9
Overall: 5.8/9 (B-)

(this is useless but to give an idea - star rating is the price to performance)

my preferred signature is neutral with or without a bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about music & music reproduction.

(total 6 mins read)

Intro
first of all, I feel like this is the first ChiFi IEM that truly represents 'China' or 'ChiFi of the people of China' that I’ve ever come across. as we can see, they really put some thought into naming the brand, the product, and the design-making rather than just randomizing everything, and I can say that they quite nailed it. the whole presentation is bold with full of character and I totally dig that.

like GS Audio, TForce Audio has made a good move by actually selling their own creation as a complete product rather than just being an OEM/ODM company. as a debut release (part 1 of the “Trilogy”), it’s admirable that Yuan Li has received rave reviews and praises within the community, but I didn't bother that much.

Yuan Li is a single 10mm DLC dynamic driver IEM with an asking price of $119 which seems fair for today’s market. the whole package presentation is pretty neat but I’m not going to elaborate more on that now. so, does Yuan Li worth the hype?

*please bear in mind that I’m trying my best to impartially write my thoughts even with the usage of some unusual audio terms. I might sound like nitpicking hard on this one but seriously this is more like a preferential complaint so please take it with a grain of salt as always. spoiler: Yuan Li is plain-balanced-good.


tforceyuanligraph.png

Yuan Li frequency response measurement courtesy of Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews


Signature
the signature of Yuan Li can be described as neutral with a slight bass boost that may tilt towards a little warm and bright at the same time. it's not wholly warm or bright, rather it has a warmer low region while the upper register is brighter. I’d call it balanced-neutral because to my ears, it sits in between the usually-warm dynamic driver and the speedy-bright balanced armature character. I think this is one of the most balanced tunings I’ve ever heard in an IEM. (I admit it took some time to comprehend the sound)

FR & Tonality
mind you that it sounds 'weak' with mobile phones or DAPs. it needs to be amplified just to be 'alive'. when amplified, it’s another different kind of beast with thundering bass and a better-textured mid-range. the treble remains smooth and neutral with no sign of shoutiness nor sibilance. for this reason, I’m using Aune X7s & Musical Paradise MP-301 for most of the review.

being a part-time neutral-head, I appreciate the amount and the quality of the lows in here. other neutral-heads or treble-heads might call Yuan Li a ‘bassy’ set with its sub-bass emphasize that feels “boosted” rather than a natural extension of the tuning, yet it doesn’t taste artificial in any way. there is a little hint of excellent rumble & thump in the sub-bass not like many other neutral-with-bass-boost IEMs, though in my opinion, it lacks proper depth. it is warm up to the mid-bass but not to the level to be considered as ‘muddy’ or bloat to the mid-range. the punch and slams are pretty good too although it feels a little loose and less controlled.

the mid-range can be ‘forward’ or a step back depending on the music. I think it's properly tuned and not overly done nor deficient. Scott Walker’s Corps De Blah shows a thoroughly balanced presentation of the mids up to the treble with full-bodied texture and realistic timbre. the note-weight is about right, even with the aluminum guitar and aluminum bass guitar on My Disco’s A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck are sonically correct.

the treble might be one of the best examples of what a good tuning should sound like. meaning, it doesn’t have to be shouty to have a good resolution. it’s amply spacious & airy accompanied by smooth natural decays albeit the lack of the upper treble extension. there is no sibilance or harshness in the vocal or cymbal crash. every instrument sounds natural and organic. in general, there’s not much to complain about Yuan Li’s frequency response & tonality. it's exceptionally well-balanced and matured in tuning.


tforceyuanlic.jpg



Technicalities +
one of the first keys I notice about the bass is the amount and its tactility as can be heard on fast-paced tracks like Mastodon’s The Wolf Is Loose. this type of response is quite uncommon for a boosted sub-bass to have a speedy attack, especially on a single dynamic driver at this price.

while the attack is fast, it’s not as super sharp or extremely precise. the decays are natural on many tracks yet occasionally, it can sound a tiny bit blunt on the bass in comparison to the Blessing 2 Dusk. for example, Eddie Daniels’ Baião Malandro’s intro speedy bass plucking and kick drum combo should sound a little ‘snappier’ and tighter but it’s a tiny bit sloppy in the sub-bass region. it's not overall ‘sloppy’ in terms of transients, but more like smoothed on the edges that could make the crowded passages & fast-tempo lines a tiny bit congested & grainy. yes, it’s an unfair comparison but simply to give the idea of how it should sound like.

the detail retrieval is considerably very good although not the cleanest. it boasts full-bodied, textured micro details that somewhat could use a tad more clarity in the tuning for better separation and layering. but it’s no slouch either. the imaging is pretty good although not to the pin-point accuracy nor 3 dimensional.

Yuan Li’s sound stage is average in terms of width and height that’s also lacking in depth. it is commonly what to be expected from a single dynamic driver IEM but the recently released Moondrop KATO has proved otherwise.

KATO’s sound stage is as wide as the stereo field can stretch, and that results in better separation and layering on KATO while retaining thick imaging as Yuan Li’s. I find KATO is overall more delicate in timbre especially when the brass nozzle is attached, but Yuan Li has a better dynamic range as in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s dynamic guitar playing on Tin Pan Alley. yes, the macro & microdynamics of Yuan Li are truly impressive. therefore, there’s no absolute superiority as both of these new dynamic driver IEMs are trading blows here and there. while the KATO subjectively seems like a ‘better’ set to many, Yuan Li is $70 cheaper, and substantially a more neutral and natural monitor from my perspective.

despite all the complaints and nitpicks, I still think the technicalities of Yuan Li are near-excellent for a single dynamic driver. it's extremely balanced in terms of tonal & technical performance and for that, I think it should be a new balanced-neutral standard for the $100-150 price point.


tforceyuanlia.jpg



of unimportance
the build is perfect but I don’t find myself wearing aesthetically flashy or mirror-like IEMs that much outside. the shell is on the average size, weighty but not heavy, and it’s very comfortable with a superb fit (YMMV). it's definitely fingerprint and scratch-prone, thus a matte or a more low-profile finish option would be another additional good selling point.

the stock 6N OCC cable is not bad but I'd prefer the Faaeal Hibiscus cable for a better ‘body’ and sound stage width. I think Yuan Li would benefit more with silver-plated copper cable as my Litz 5N OCC gives more upper treble extension to the response. there is a variety of ear tips but none of them sonically work for me except my favorite Azla Sedna Earfit Light. the black faux-leather carrying case is nicely made and is one of the nicest-looking carrying cases that comes with a magnetic lid.

Conclusion
I admit that I had very little expectation & excitement about Yuan Li earlier. as an inoffensive monitor, it didn’t ‘wow’ me at first but after about 9 hours of casual listening, plus amplification, it made me sit down and listen. the conclusion: I think Yuan Li can easily be misunderstood at 'introduction', but I'm confirming that it's the most balanced single dynamic driver tuning I’ve ever heard, period.

it’s arguably hard to find a speedy & technically competent IEM with an organic timbre, let alone excellent tonal balance, especially in the $100-$150 price range. in the real world of performance, Yuan Li may stumble in the technical departments but it’s really not that critical in the grand scheme of things. what more important is the fine balance between the tonality & technicalities and the coalescence as a whole that what makes it an excellent earphone.

with this kind of production & performance, I have to place a higher bet on the upcoming 2nd & 3rd parts of the Trilogy. and to answer the earlier question, yes, TForce Audio Yuan Li is definitely worth the hype and it’s going to last forever as long as they keep producing it with strict QC practice. (and maybe add a non-shiny finish as an option too)


**this review unit is provided by TForce Audio as part of their TForce Yuan Li review tour and I thank Bryan and TForce Audio for including me in the tour. all words are mine and I’m not compensated by any party.

purchase Yuan Li here
(non-affiliated)


key songs:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Eddie Daniels – Baião Malandro
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Sinne Eeg – We've Just Begun
Jean Frye Sidwell – I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Spellling – Boys at School

Muddy Waters – Big Leg Woman
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand

Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Swans – Lunacy
Zu - Carbon

My Disco – A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck
Arab On Radar - God is Dad
Shellac - Crow

Mastodon – The Wolf Is Loose
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Botch - Japam


tools: Tidal & FLACs via foobar2000/UAPP
Topping EX5
Aune X7s
Musical Paradise MP-301 MK3
LG G7
Ovidius B1
Hidizs S9 Pro
Last edited:

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
For BGVP DN3 in In-Ear
BGVPDN3
Pros: fit
solid build
punchy bass
full-bodied mids
microdynamics
enjoyable tonality
good ear tips selection
Cons: clarity
macro dynamics
lower treble peaks
fatiguing at high volume
narrow soundstage
2D imaging
BGVPDN3c.jpg



Tonality: 4/9
Technicalities: 4.33/9

(this is useless, but to give an idea - star rating is for price to performance)

my preferred signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about music & music reproduction.

(total 3 mins read)

Intro
BGVP is not a strange name in the ChiFi world today. they got more than a dozen of earphones from budget to high-tier hybrid, tribrid & multi-driver BAs including their top-selling TWS, the Q2S. DN3 is a new dual-driver hybrid IEM with a Beryllium-coated dynamic woofer & a HEVK balanced armature that’s charging at $74 a pair. the whole package is pretty neat & practically good for today’s standard.


BGVPDN3d.jpg

frequency response measurement courtesy of BGVP


Signature
the sound signature of BGVP DN3 can be considered as ‘warm’ that’s not quite V, W, or U-shaped. it emphasizes the mid-bass, a little upper-mids & the lower-treble at the same time. people might call it “balanced” or W-shaped depending on one’s sensitiveness towards the whole frequency response but that’s not wholly important. believe me that anything could work, if only they’re tuned right & well-balanced.


FR & Tonality
the overall tonality in here is pretty balanced (again with the word) at a low to medium volume, but it gets honky and fatiguing at a higher volume of loudness. there's hardly any sibilance or harshness but it's definitely fatiguing. it doesn’t scale that much but mobile phones or DAPs are preferable and more suitable than amplifiers.

it has a little boost on the mid-bass for the good old physical kick and punch but it lacks rumble and thumps considering coming from a Beryllium-coated diaphragm. it's not overly bloated or muddy, but leaning towards the warmer side of things that helps the mid-range to sound fuller while being 'forward'. the vocals are considerably good though colored.

the treble is crisp yet lacks presence, sparkle, and air. the recessed upper-mids and the 6-7kHz scoop make the whole presentation is somewhat ‘veiled’ at first listen and when swapping to other IEMs. however, the lower treble energy is a bit aggressive that may cause listening fatigue for a long period of time especially on high volume. consequently, most rock & metal or snare-drum-forward music are going to give exhaustion sooner.

in general, the tonality is decent and it can sound ‘incorrect’ yet likable, especially with those nicely recorded jazz. I find it a bit unforgiving to improper mixes, not by revealing the flaws in the mix but rather its own shortcomings.


BGVPDN3b.jpg



Technicalities +
DN3 has good driver’s tactility with fast attack, yet the detail retrieval is just on the light-average side. the resolution is considerably good with textured micro-details but dragged by its subpar clarity. I’d not call it 'true resolution' though but more like ‘perceived detail’ that’s held back by its poor resolving ability.

the imaging is average in ‘size’ and a little dull on the edges because of the smoothed transients plus the short decays. it's 2-dimensional-ish with a narrow, compressed soundstage projection that stays within the headspace. although the depth is almost non-existent, the separation & layering are noticeable.

it has a good range of microdynamics that can be heard, for example, the blues virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan’s dynamic guitar licks on "Tin Pan Alley", but the macro dynamic is somewhat lacking. a huge jump in loudness would feel less impactful and rather compressed.

like every IEMs that stumble in the technicalities, DN3 also needs a little bit of tweaking in the crossover design, or perhaps more driver mix-and-match work. the dynamic driver and balanced armature are just not... up to par. at the end of the day, I could say DN3 is overall musical and it can be fun, but the problem is, there are so many other fun IEMs in this sub $100 price range.


BGVPDN3a.jpg




of unimportance
the build is notably exceptional with a smooth matte finish body made of CNC-machined aviation-grade aluminum-magnesium alloy. the faceplate design is cool looking with the left piece somewhat resembling the HiFiman Ananda. the stock 5N OCC MMCX cable is not great but the rich selection of ear tips is awesome and commendable.

I find the fit is super comfortable with its small shell and ergonomic shape that I think should give no issue to any size or shape of ears. the good thing about it is, once the music is playing, the earpiece disappears.

Conclusion
honestly, I don’t find any serious issues with the performance of DN3 for the asking price except that I’d still consider it an underperformer in my book. in the fast-paced crowded market especially in the sub $100 range, I think DN3 is going to be struggled just to find its spot and a position for the long run. it's arguably a decent IEM that serves its purposes even if successfully sold throughout the promotion period, I’m afraid it’s going to collect dust for the rest of its existence.


*this review unit is provided by BGVP as part of their BGVP DN3 tour, all my words are mine and I'm not at all compensated by any party.


purchase BGVP DN3 here
(non-affiliated)


key songs:
Eddie Daniels - Baião Malandro
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Yellowjackets – Summer Song
Charles Mingus – Open Letter to Duke
Scott Walker - Corps De Blah

Thomas Adès & Boston Symphony Orchestra - "Totentaz": Der Prediger / Der Tod / Der Tod zum Papst
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Finale (Alla breve)

Steely Dan – Jack of Speed
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley

Shellac - Didn't We Deserve a Look at You The Way You Really Are
Future of the Left – You Need Satan More Than He Needs You
Queens of the Stone Age – My God is the Sun
Mastodon - The Wolf Is Loose
Young Widows – Doom Moon
The Chariot – Teach:

tools: Tidal & FLACs via foobar2000/UAPP
Topping EX5
Aune X7s
LG G7
Ovidius B1
Last edited:

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
the one Brave-ry See-ing Audio
Pros: clarity
cohesive
isolation
fast attack
driveability
BA timbre (+)
enjoyable tonality
good separation & layering
good quality build & design
good accessories
Cons: fit
depth
resolution
dynamics
BA timbre (-)
short decays
2D thin imaging
imbalance level between BAs
brave5.jpg



Tonality: 5.6/9
Technicalities: 5.6/9

(this is useless, but to give an idea - star rating is price to performance)

my preferred signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about music & music reproduction.

(total 6 mins read)

Intro
SeeAudio released the infamous Yume earlier this year and I had my chance to experience the hype within the community first-hand. I kind of liked the tuning yet it felt rather strange for most of the time when I’m listening to it, but I’m not here to talk about that (maybe a little). when Bryan put me on the tour list, I was expecting the tribrid SeeAudio Miu but things went against the company’s plan and Miu was replaced with Bravery. I didn’t bother with the changes as I was really looking forward to any releases by SeeAudio since the Yume. with its sonic offering & a handsome price tag at $169, Yume & SeeAudio are hard to be ignored when purchasing an IEM.

you see, SeeAudio is kind of ‘new’ in the ChiFi scene but the people behind it aren’t. with the fast-paced crowded market, they already have 4 models on their shelf including the newest full-BA design, the Bravery which is selling at $280. it's a dangerous game they're in for the sub $300 IEM market the way I see it. perhaps that's the reason for the name.

*this review unit is provided by SeeAudio as part of their SeeAudio Bravery review tour and I thank Bryan and SeeAudio for including me in the tour. all words are mine and I’m not compensated by any party.

**please bear in mind that I’m trying my best to impartially write my thoughts, even with the usage of some unusual audio terms. I might sound like nitpicking hard on this one but seriously this is more like a preferential complaint so please take it with a grain of salt, as always. spoiler: Bravery is practically good.



Signature
the sound signature of Bravery can be described as a warm or mild U-shape that emphasizes its bass up to 200Hz and the upper treble, with slight recessed mids. it's an inoffensive all-rounder that seems to pave its way to many ChiFi enthusiasts’ collections really quick.


brave4.jpg



FR & Tonality
to be honest, the Bravery has a weird spot in my mind just like the Yume, except that Yume is more focused on the mid-range reproduction that’s well-executed and loved by many. while not being bloated or muddy, the bass quality should be one of the highlights of Bravery where I think it betters the Yume’s.

the bass kicks a good clean thump considering coming from a set of 2 Knowles balanced armature drivers yet it feels not quite natural. the texture is decent enough though on good recordings it may sound artificial with the usual BA timbre. the sub-bass lacks extension and perhaps a deep physical rumble that’s achievable with a dynamic driver woofer. it's definitely fast but more on that later.

the quality and quantity of the mid-range are tolerable & adequate, although, a little laid back. from the upper-mids to the lower-treble, it’s depressed onward. on casual listening, there's nothing wrong with the mids and the treble response at a glance. it is all fine and subtle until it hits some quick change in dynamics or some sudden peaks where it throws a short mini burst of energy that can get pretty intense at times. yes, it can be harsh sometimes though considerably a safe tuning. it is perhaps the forceful-compressed character or the typical complication of balanced armatures that’s not well-addressed.

the consequence; not quite natural timbre on the treble as it may sound a bit metallic to plasticky especially on the hi-hats, cymbals & vocals. it's still enjoyable on a small scale, yet a bit thin and lean on the notes at large. I don’t find it as ‘airy’ nor spacious as its lofty upper-treble response might suggest but it’s sparkly enough. in general, the tonality to my ears is not great but not bad at all.


brave6.jpg



Technicalities+
while I like the tuning of Yume, the Bravery is a better technical performer in terms of transients, detail retrieval, separation & layering. the whole presentation is not as mushy or smeared as the Yume’s and that makes Bravery a clear winner. however, it’s not technically excellent either.

despite the fact that it boasts a quick attack, I believe it could use a tad more decays on the bass & treble for a better sense of a more natural reproduction but perhaps that's a bit too much to ask from a quad-BAs set? I honestly think it could be better. any good drum recordings by Steve Albini can illustrate that.

while having an above-average separation & layering, the depth is somewhat ‘shallow’. with an average sound stage width, it’s comparatively intimate than other IEMs in my collection. in a quick-critical comparison, its thin 2D imaging is not as sharp or precise as the Dusk’s. the micro details are cluttered with the imbalance of loudness from both mid & high BAs that should be resulted from the imprecise crossover design. I think that is the biggest problem of Bravery. it has good clarity but not a good resolution.

as expected from a full-BA IEM, it's flat and compressed. the micro dynamics are lacking with some of the nuances but a decent range of macrodynamic can clearly be heard. a cheaper option, ThieAudio Legacy 3 seems to have a more balanced presentation across the frequency spectrums with better dynamics, though not as detailed and in the same level of clarity as to the Bravery.

it is hard at first, to continuously listen to Bravery for an album-long without constantly swapping to other different folders or IEMs, but a foundation is established after some time. while being ‘not good’ to decent, within half of my metal, classical & jazz library, it’s sonically good enough for most of the modern glittery pop recordings.


brave3.jpg


brave2.jpg



of unimportance
this review unit comes in a round black metal case with SeeAudio bunny headband logo on it. a rich set of accessories consisting of 3 pairs of Azla Xelastic ear tips and a custom Hakugei 6N OCC cable that looks like Hakugei Little Harmony, with “SeeAudio” printed on the termination jack are all included as stock. good involvement of Hakugei and I think the accessories are pretty neat and well-thought.

Bravery has a bulky-sized clear resin shell, bigger but not as thick as the Dusk’s however I find the Dusk is more comfortable. the faceplate is nicely made with a random black & white swirl motif that looks marble-ish. it has a metal nozzle with a lip and a metal filter.

the combination of Xelastic & the nature of Bravery’s airflow system doesn’t work well for me. there is a vent but it feels like it has none. I need to make adjustments to get a correct fit EVERY TIME and it’s uncomfortable especially during inserting and any jaw movement. although the fit is not great for me, the isolation is very good. your mileage may vary.


brave1.jpg



Conclusion
objectively speaking, the Bravery is a decent-good pair of IEMs that performs quite well. the tuning is good enough but it needs a little bit more fine-tuning to be really good. if you’re looking for a highly dynamic, detailed, or accurate monitor, look somewhere else. Bravery is clean, fast, and fun but for the asking price, I’m expecting a little bit more. just a little bit.

despite all the complaints, SeeAudio Bravery definitely has the tone, technicalities, and most importantly, “the potential” to be one of the best monitors in the price bracket ($250-300) and I definitely had some nice moments.


purchase Bravery here: https://hifigo.com/products/seeaudio-bravery
(non-affiliated)


key tracks:
Será Una Noche – Taquito Militar
Avishai Cohen & Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – Arab Medley
Patricia Petibon - Mozart: Der Zauberflöte – Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Zu – Carbon
Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
King Crimson - Elektrik
My Disco – Always Measure Wait
The Chariot – And Shot Each Other
Shining – In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster

Jean Frye Sidwell – I Left My Heart In San Francisco
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Tin Pan Alley
Nancy Ajram – Ah W Noss
St. Vincent - Cruel
Spellling – Little Deer


tools: Tidal & FLACs via foobar2000/UAPP
Topping EX5
Aune X7s
LG G7
Ovidius B1
Last edited:
bryaudioreviews
bryaudioreviews
Amazing review as always. Thanks for sharing bro
hevelaoak

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Kato Prime? --- a quickimp
Pros: tuning
tonal balance
natural timbre
great imaging
driver's tactility
wide open sound stage
good instrument separation
good depth (for a single dd)
Cons: fit
kato1.jpg

KXXS Advanced Technology Optimized

Tonality: 6.3/9
Technicalities: 6.6/9
Preference: 7/9
Overall: 6.6/9 (B+)

(this is useless but to give the idea. the star rating is the price to performance)

my preferred signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large.

(total 6 mins read)

Intro
Moondrop KATO or “KXXS Advanced Technology Optimized” is the newest Moondrop’s release which appears as their new flagship single dynamic driver that’s clearly a follow-up to the famous KXXS in and out. I think it’s priced handsomely at $189.99 (same as the KXXS) for the great package that’s bundled with its excellent performance.

it sports a 10mm ULT dynamic driver (Ultra Linear Technology) that is claimed to achieve “unparalleled linear distortion performance with outstanding in both amplitude-frequency response and phase-frequency response to restore the timbre and sound stage better”. the specially made new silicone Spring Tips also “helps to optimize the timbre while improving comfort and sound leakage”.

it has a quite impressive back story of the new-old tech that’s been developed at Moondrop for years. their own new DLC composite diaphragm design is also said to "exceed the performance of Beryllium" with a combination of special materials that can enhance the extension details of high frequency and the dynamic range, the damping, and transient. from the Kanas to Aria, yes, I could believe all of that.


kato5a.jpg

upon removing the waifu cardboard sleeve, we're greeted by the silver word "KATO" on the double door mid open matte black box that is looking more 'matured'


Signature
the sound signature of KATO can be described as neutral with bass boost with a little colored mid-bass (bassier VDSF target). one may call it a mild v-shaped depending on one’s sensitiveness to the bass. being an all-rounder, I think this is one of the best mid-tier single dynamic drivers I’ve ever come across so far as being a newcomer to this head-fi side of the HiFi world. so, pardon the lack of experience with the other single dynamic drivers in existence and the unusual audio terms.



kato.jpg

KATO with Spring Tips vs VDSF target


FR & tonality
in my opinion, the bass is nicely tuned with a little emphasis on the mid-bass. it has good tactility though not as crisp or sharp to compose a solid & impactful bass reproduction, especially with the steel nozzle. the bass attack is quick enough but it seems a little blunt & a bit light in the energy where it's a tad shy on the punch and slam. don't get me wrong, it still punches and slams with a physical kick, deep rumble and all but, it’s just a little subtle to my preference.

the bass quantity is about right with a good quality texture that never bleeds to the mid-region. the bass is boosted & colored but I’d not consider KATO as a bassy set, and if to be more nitpick, I’d say the bass is the 'least special' about KATO especially when the steel nozzle is attached, but overall I do like it. I like it more than any other single dynamic I’ve tried. more on the technicalities later.

the mid-range is rich and engaging yet a little laid back. the female vocal is forward as usual yet sits even closer to other instruments behind it. some of the shoutier snare drums are now tamer. although a bit relax, it's still a tasteful mid-range reproduction with its natural decays. the male vocal is bold & strong as it is supposed to be, thanks to the mid-bass emphasis. it's full-bodied yet it can be as smooth and airy which is very coherent up to the upper treble. I’d say perhaps the mid-range is the weakest part of KATO that could use a bit more 'bite' but it’s not bad really.

the treble is the best part of KATO though not as well-extended or super polished. it still feels airy & spacious with an organic timbre that’s delicately crisp & smooth. I bet it’s pleasant enough to please any type of appetite. there's not even one time it gets sibilant or feels dry though sometimes it can sound wispy on the hi-hats, but that is all. in the end, I feel like the measurement graph doesn’t do justice to its overall response & how it reacts on different nozzle materials.


kato4a.jpg

the meaning of "KATO" printed behind the left door


Technicalities +
It's very important to get THE RIGHT SIZE of the Spring Tips for the best performance and to get the most natural presentation out of KATO. I find the other 2 sizes don’t give the same level of performance that might affect the technicalities and that may change my judgment 90 degrees.

I prefer the brass nozzle as it gives a sense of better transient response, with a definitely better imaging & separation while slightly reducing the sound stage width. it feels tighter, faster & punchier. these different nozzle materials certainly affect not only the timbre but also most part of the technicalities on a tiny scale.

the overall response from the steel nozzle somehow reminds me of SeeAudio Yume at times which previously I had difficulty in judging for its performance while liking the tuning and some technical aspects of it. the brass nozzle unmistakably corrects many of the 'mushy' or 'blunt' issues with the steel nozzle. the tactility is actually very good with its natural short decays and it's not particularly ‘mushy’ but rather ‘rounded’ transients. well, the steel nozzle is perfectly fine but I find the brass is overall a better "wave conveyor" or sympathetic resonator in this case.

the imaging is very good with an above-average depth and the separation is very visible though can get a little smudgy when the song gets busy, but that’s occasional. it's very smart of Moondrop to properly stretch the stereo field as wide as possible so it’d get less congested with better separation. in my opinion, the imaging capability is one of KATO’s best traits that’s good in definition & visual projection.

KATO also has good macro & microdynamics as can be seen (heard) on Tia Cabral’s vibrato & Eddie Daniels’ Baiao Malandro string section to the woodwind. the brass nozzle is simply great, especially for brass instruments. I can hear & feel the microdynamics easily which are perfected by the brass’ sensitivity and its timbre (density). the brass nozzle is a perfect match for the new driver, which is a very nicely tuned dynamic driver. sometimes I also think that the driver is uniquely sensitive where it behaves differently to a higher volume of loudness.


kato2.jpg

Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk vs Moondrop KATO raw size comparison


Comparisons
there's nothing wrong with KATO tonally or technically. it's a fine piece of engineering & craftmanship on its own, from the tuning to the nozzle design. while being a competent earphone that excels at many departments, it’s still lacking in certain areas in objective measurement.

recently I reviewed the 2021 Tanchjim Hana and if my memory serves me right, Hana is a more energetic and a more forward yet leaner sounding set than KATO. I can say that Hana has a narrower sound stage with decent technicalities though I like its treble energy and its natural timbre. KATO is a tad crisper with a better imaging capability and a wider sound stage. I honestly like both of them perhaps on different occasions but now I'm leaning towards KATO that's charging an extra $10.

comparing to the Blessing 2 Dusk, I find KATO is overall smoother with natural tonality that is more pleasant at a higher volume of loudness. it has an organic timbre that feels less ‘dry’ especially on the treble region against the glassy BA timbre of Dusk. KATO also has better macro & microdynamics than the hybrid with 4 BAs, the Dusk.

the sound stage is wider on KATO with an ‘open’ presentation that gives a sense of plenty of space to breathe though not as clean as the Dusk’s while the Dusk is more spatial on the image projection. the imaging & separation capabilities are surprisingly not far behind yet not as sharp or snappy as Dusk’s but KATO boasts a larger ‘image size’. it has good detail retrieval too but it's not up to the analytical level of the Dusk.

however, I can’t say that the Dusk has an overall better resolution just because it’s more detailed. perhaps a bit better on the treble extension but technically they both have a slightly different frequency response focus and different things to highlight on the same song replay. for example, I love the reproduction of some chamber music like Vivaldi's Four Seasons on KATO better than the Dusk, and some modern recordings like Fear Before the March of Flames' High as a Horse on the Dusk better. KATO is also a bit ‘forward’ and occasionally it can get a little congested on busy passages. even though having a lesser mid-bass amount & smaller image size, Dusk punches and slams harder.

simply to say, if you want to focus on your music, if you want a slightly more detailed, analytical yet musical neutral monitor, save a bit more and get the Dusk. it's a legit sweet deal that you could be happy with for a long time, or you can get the KATO if you just want to purely enjoy the music mindlessly without sacrificing not more than say 6% of the technicalities, with less money. (don’t quote me)


kato vs b2d.png

Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk vs Moondrop KATO (steel nozzle) - frequency response comparison courtesy of Crinacle


of unimportance+
I can say that the build is... nice? I can appreciate the hand grinding, polishing stuff but I don't really like the flashy or mirror-like aesthetic. thankfully Moondrop just released a new matte finish that's more 'low profile' which is acceptable by me. the mirror silver finish is also fingerprint and scratch-prone. the fit is fine but not the comfiest. the geometrical shape on the shell doesn't really work with the fit and it might cause discomfort to the wearer for a long period of time. I think the shell design at the back and the fit are not great. at least to me.

much to my surprise that for the first time Moondrop includes some really good necessary accessories as stock. with the right size, the new silicone Spring Tips work perfectly close to my favorite Azla Sedna Earfit Light though I need some time to accustom myself to its elastic nature. the cable also feels great and is nicely made though the famous Faaeal Hibiscus cable seems a better one. the exchangeable tuning nozzle system is a bonus which might be useful for many but frankly, I just need the brass nozzle. at first, I think the whole package is generous, but it really is a ‘necessity' which I don’t bother to talk about normally.


kato3.jpg

the whole richer package than other mid-tier Moondrop IEMs which is a necessity for today's standard


Conclusion
I think KATO is a very good single dynamic driver IEM that performs really well within a large part of my library, period. honestly speaking, I’m leaning towards KATO than Blessing 2 Dusk in terms of imaging size, timbral balance & coherency. the lack of its technical performance is very much acceptable because it’s not really the worst thing in the grand scheme of things.


*this review unit is provided by Shenzhenaudio for the tour and loaned to me by my buddy Heng. so I thank him and Shenzhenaudio for the opportunity. I have 100% control of my words and am not compensated by any party.

get KATO here
(non-affiliated)


key songs (it’s a different list every time because I have a really huge library)
minimal trio (3 instruments):
My Disco - Land (aluminum guitar & bass)​
Neil Cowley Trio - Couch Slouch (piano jazz & upright bass)​
GoGo Penguin - Raven (atmospheric yet rhythmic piano)​
Zu - Ostia / Carbon (baritone bass & saxophone)​

multi-instrument/multi-timbre/separation/layering:
Eddie Daniels - Baiao Malandro​
Sera Una Noche – Taquito Militar​
Sinne Eeg - We've Just Begun​
Ibibio Sound Machine – Give Me a Reason​
Shining – In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster / The Red Room​

transient/tactility/decays/dynamics:
Muddy Waters - Big Leg Woman​
Scott Walker – Corps De Blah​
Mastodon - The Wolf Is Loose​

vocals:
Lee Ritenour – River Man​
Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive​
Billie Holiday - I'm A Fool To Want You​
Spellling - Always / Turning Wheel​

blues/jazz/classical/live recordings:
Jean Frye Sidwell – I Left My Heart in San Francisco​
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tin Pan Alley​
Gil Shaham & Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - Vivaldi: the Four Seasons "L'inverno" - 1. Allegro​

distortions/saturations/compressions:
St. Vincent – Cruel​
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse​
Future of the Left – You Need Satan More Than He Needs You​
Mastodon – Sleeping Giant​
Mogwai – Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever​
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hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@ywheng89 thanks to you buddy. I love it. I love KATO & Kato Prime lol :ksc75smile:
Sunstealer
Sunstealer
I've been considering KATO versus B2D. In terms of warmth and coherence, sounds like KATO may be better for me?
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
@Sunstealer definitely! B2D suffers coherency issues, a little bloated midbass, thin mids, and "glassy" BA grain/distortion.

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
TRI I3 Pro [tribrid] -- a critical quickimp
Pros: size & fit
good BA & planar timbre
good bass quantity & quality
good for classical & instrumental
Cons: driver flex
blunted upper mids
slight unbalanced FR
overall mushy & smeared presentation
unique tuning that shines on certain songs
TRI I3a.jpg



Tonality: 5/9
Technicalities: 5.6/9

(star rating is for the price to performance)

(total 6 mins read)

TRI I3 Pro is supposedly a revamped model of the original I3 that was released in 2019. however, I haven’t had the chance to audition the original I3 for comparison but it’s said to be an upgrade in terms of tuning and fit (26% smaller). hence, the “Pro”.

it has the look or finish that has become quite the choice of many entry to mid-tier IEMs nowadays, such as HZSound Heart Mirror & Moondrop KXXS. it's a kind of no-brainer aesthetically for people who love shiny things, but I find this style is a little dull while sometimes 'extravagant' for my taste. this tour unit noticeably already spotted hairline scratches everywhere on the shell and it’s a bit concerning if the mirror aesthetic is what one’s looking for in purchasing an IEM. it comes with a plentiful of ear tips, a 5N OFC cable, a polishing cloth & a small faux leather carrying case with a magnetic lid. the package is rather fine as one could expect for today's standard, which I don't bother.

Price: US$189
Configuration: 8mm DD, 10mm planar magnetic, BA
Impedance & Sensitivity: 15 ± 2Ω / 103 dB


TRI I3 Pro.jpg

measurement graph courtesy of Hill Audio Malaysia


my preference signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, mild V-shaped but to be honest, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Post-Rock, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about [my acquired taste] music & music reproduction.


Frequency response & tonal balance
the first thing I notice about TRI I3 Pro is the bass quantity and quality. it has good bass slams with authority but maintains a tad longer decays than I expected. starting with pop music, Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now is entirely enjoyable with good quality, textured lows. the mid-bass is fluid and nicely blends to the mids without obvious bleed. the overall bass of Nancy Ajram’s Ah W Noss is so lush yet punchy with decent microdynamics.

I don’t find any serious lacking in the bass department especially with bass-heavy music except maybe for its tactility. Mastodon’s The Wolf Is Loose shows the lows of the kick drum is always fell behind chasing the mid-high tones of pedal hit to the drum skin that makes it perceivably a little loose and disjointed. nonetheless, I think the overall bass presentation is quite good as long as one’s not going specific on the speedy metal’s requirement or bassheads' subwoofer-like appetite.

the overall mids are fine honestly. not great, and not bad either. the female vocal is about half a step to the back and sometimes it’s like standing in line with other instruments. once in a blue moon the vocal can go behind the woodwind & horn instruments for certain recordings. the male vocal is good thanks to its fine bass response & quality, but like any other instrument that exhibits more in the mids to the treble region, it lacks the correct overtones & presence that seems to be the 'missing link' to my ears. the upper mids also can get a little hotter if pushed, especially with metal songs. I think this has to do with the whopping 4-6kHz scoop for its imbalanced response.

"non-fatiguing" is not my concern or considered as a good point for an IEM in this price bracket, because I think it shouldn't be an issue for today's standard. I’m paying more attention to how well an IEM is going to execute a harsher recording such as of metal & hardcore genres. so far, I don’t find any serious issues related to 'fatigue' for most pop and radio-friendly music. however, my favorite progressive metal song, Mastodon’s Capillarian Crest is a bit shouty in the vocal, snare, cymbals & guitars combined (almost nothing's left). it's not a sharp kind of harsh, but I might call it blunted-peaking-crunch. it's the upper mids to the treble peaks that are lacking resolution if that makes sense. more later in the technicalities+.

from my metal library, that is normally where the true capability of treble reproduction is revealed. other than metal, the tricky track like Shudder To Think’s X-French Tee Shirt sounds not quite natural than average IEMs playback to my ears. it is as sibilant as it can get. Herbert von Karajan & Berliner Philharmoniker’s Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” is good enough but not up to the sonic quality standard that I'm so used to. everything seems a little congested and sacrilegiously bleeding when the choir part is blasting at 6:32 that’s supposedly heaven-like. not quite hell, Biffy Clyro's God & Satan does fairly give me the emotion or feeling that I'm accustomed to but with a lesser sonic quality that may be forgivable.



TRI I3d.jpg
into the void we go


Technicalities +
TRI I3 Pro has an average sound stage width & depth that’s acceptable to my listening needs. however, the imaging is not that very good with subpar pinpoint capabilities. to be honest, the imaging is a little blunted and hazy. I find the reproduction of the magnificent Será Una Noche's Taquito Militar is kind of vague and uninspiring. the playback here somehow is lacklustered with the absence of the last bits of resolution that does injustice for the masterpiece. (FYI, MA Recordings is known in the audiophile community with its famous dual omni mics live setup that’s outputting in a lively and 'presence' recording especially with Será Una Noche's second album La Segunda).

by embracing its mild BA & planar timbre, I3 Pro is a decent IEM but its slight imbalanced tuning might be a problem. it seems like either the planar or BA driver has a very short decay that makes the treble sounds not quite natural. the combination with the long decay of the dynamic driver shows the overall incoherency; a configuration that's not properly tuned. thus, the blunted imaging & the overall smeared presentation.

it requires a higher loudness to achieve or in this context, for me to receive a more 'balanced response' and just to squash out for the last bits of information which sometimes resulting unpleasant lower treble peaks and sibilance. at a lower volume, I’m afraid the playback might not satisfy one’s musical desire (like mine) with its somber characteristic. nevertheless, I believe most classical and instrumental music can benefit best from this tuning. multi-layered tracks like St. Vincent's Chloe In The Afternoon also does pretty well with highlighted synths texture.

Comparison
it's surprising to me, that the recently released Tripowin Mele has an overall cleaner presentation here. it also has a more balanced tonality & organic timbre across all frequency spectrums. for example, Zu's Carbon shows a more realistic & believable playback on Mele than I3 Pro. little strange that a budget single dynamic driver like Mele can compete and trade blows while sometimes slightly outperform the multi-driver I3 Pro not only in terms of tonality & timbre but also the separation & imaging.

for certain songs, the instant sense of 'resolution boost' when swapping to Mele is so obvious that it makes it harder for me (if it's not already difficult) to evaluate the I3 Pro's performance impartially. fair enough to say, it's a more enjoyable and pleasant listening experience with the Mele for more than half of the songs compared. but sometimes, TRI I3 Pro seems like a more competent set. (I'm suggesting Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now, Fear Before the March of Flames' High as a Horse, Daughters' Satan In The Wait, or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand for additional self-comparison to everything I've said above)

comparing to a closer priced IEM, ThieAudio Legacy 3 has a better definition all-around although it's a bit on the leaner side. I3 Pro is superior in terms of delivering note weight & depth but inferior in terms of imaging and timbre. Legacy 3 is a bit hotter and shoutier at times but boasts a more balanced frequency response. both are decent & equal to my eyes (ears), to each of their own fortes.


source: Tidal via Topping EX5 with/out Aune X7s & UAPP via LG G7(it does scale better with amplification)
tested with: stock cable & cut-short Azla Sedna Earfit Light



TRI I3b.jpg

mirror mirror on the faceplate, who's listening to a planar up this late? - it's 5 am here while I'm writing this


I can see why people love this set and many more will enjoy it because it's really a not bad IEM in and out, especially for those who focus on a small number of musical genres or styles. honestly, I don't mind the BA & planar timbre because they're considerably good but for my huge library, it's undeniably a decent IEM but an underperformer that might only succeed in certain areas. for its price, I'm expecting a bit more given the tribrid driver configuration, but certainly a good attempt by (KBEAR) TRI nonetheless.


this review unit is provided by Hill Audio Malaysia for the local tour, and I want to thank Hill Audio & my buddy Bryan for including me in the tour. I have 100% control of my words and am not compensated by any party.

purchase from Hill Audio Malaysia Shopee here (non-affiliated)
*quickimp = quick impression
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K
Krucoz
Hi, what iems would you, in this price range, recommand for rock or metal? Thanks
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
it should be FiiO FH5 or the younger brother, FH3. good driver's tactility, speedy and punchy. Audiosense DT200 is also great. other than that, maybe you can check out ThieAudio Legacy 4.

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Hisenior Fe3 the risqué three (a quickimp)
Pros: fit
imaging
good BA bass
driver's tactility
near-neutralness
perfect stock cable & tips
Cons: tonality
resolution
BA timbre
driver flex
high BA tuning
febos4.jpg

Hisenior Fe3 somehow reminds me of ThieAudio Voyager 3, but not in terms of sonic qualities


Tonality: 5.3/9
Technicalities: 5.6/9


(5 mins read)
this is my first experience with Hisenior especially a full balanced armature set that's purposely made for musicians in the first place. the price is a little fierce at $249 for a 3 BAs IEM but hey, it's Sonion's. with a beautiful faceplate that whispers "Febos...", it comes in a minimal matte black box with a magnetic lid. there's also a protective round metal case with a cleaning brush other than an 8 core silver-plated 6N OCC cable, foam, and silicone tips. I'm using the stock cable and ear tips for this quickimp because they're made right.

please bear in mind that I'm trying my best to give subjective opinions & thoughts, even sometimes with the unusual audio terms, please take it with a grain of sugar, as always.


FR & Tonality
I cherish neutral tuning, flat frequency response with or without bass boost for all my life. Hisenior Fe3 has a tuning that's quite balanced to my ears. this is the best part of my listening session. surprisingly it has good BA bass quality & quantity, very well textured with good punches and slams. instantly, the uniquely-tuned ThieAudio Voyager 3 pops up in mind but it's better in here especially in terms of timbre.

the Sonion bass BA embodies fast transients' response with smooth decays that could make any song enjoyable especially if one's focusing on the bass or the groove. even if not focusing on the lows, one will straight away notice how well the bass is tuned. however, it's not for bass heads but the amount of sub-bass in here is adequate. it's also not as organic nor powerful or deep as a good Harman-tuned single DD IEM, but it is surely pleasant to listen to. although the bass is good and all, I don't feel like listening to most of my metal library with this IEM where I will tell more next.

the mids reproduction is working smoothly with the mid-bass. it possesses a clean & detailed mid-range response that is much appreciated for the better parts of my library, though not the cleanest. the first 20 secs of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive shows how much the mid-range can do and I'm sure anyone could enjoy the next 20 secs onward when the bass kicks in. it's all good until the upper-mids meet the lower treble where I think Fe3 stumbles.

surprisingly, as prominent as the Sonion BAs may be known for, Fe3 boasts a treble response that is not as smooth nor crisp in here. it's less detailed but the upper treble is decent enough to provide a good sense of depth with its reverb tailings. the timbre is well balanced but it doesn't sound quite right especially with Sinne Eeg's We've Just Begun. I can't even get highs 'high' enough with this set, no matter how many times I replay John Williams' Theme From Jurassic Park or Minnie Riperton's Lovin' You with different setups. I think this has to do with the crossover design.

overall, there is not much I can point out if the main aim was to match the performance to the Shure SE535's. I guess they nailed it? to be honest, I don't quite like its treble glassy timbre and the overall presentation that's a little blunt for my taste. it feels like its treble-BA is clotting the true potential of its sonic qualities. I can't enjoy my metal library because of the treble albeit the good mids & bass.


febos3.jpg

"Febos - Sounds Perfect" - beautiful faceplate design & a well-made shell

Technicalities+
the sound stage is above average with almost 3D-like imaging. arguably, it can be beaten by the cheaper yet notorious ThieAudio Legacy 3 in terms of sound stage width, separation, resolution, & imaging. but it's not really a bad performer either. it just undergoes some slight slacks here and there thus labeling itself as an underperformer in my book. it can be overshadowed by many other IEMs at cheaper price tags.

if I can put it this way, Hisenior Fe3 is like a sick IEM, but a handsome one. with the current tuning, I'm afraid it's going to need some voodoo magic or immediate "hospitalization" to thrive in the fast-paced crowded market. though weirdly to say, I'd remember it as having a slightly better bass texture or a quality that I like more than of Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk's.


febos5.jpg

yes, the fit is great. thanks to the new universal earmold with good noise canceling at around -20dB.


Conclusion
although at first, I didn't really enjoy it as much as I keep swapping to other IEMs just to check my head from time to time, I sincerely enjoyed it more in the next half an hour forward. I can picture that Fe3 has big potential if it's tuned right. it should be working fine for live musicians, but a bête noire for hardcore audiophiles. yes, it truly can be the perfect neutral-tuning all-BA IEM if they fix the driver flex, and put a little more effort in fine-tuning the mids to the treble. just. a little bit. more. tuning.


febos1.jpg



the handcrafted cable and ear tips seem to be made and tuned exclusively for the IEM and I can see why. the provided stock tips are unavailable anywhere else and they are perfect in terms of having the correct bore width, tube length, the flexibility of/and the material used (plus the extra pairs for every size). the 8 core silver-plated 6N OCC cable is nicely built and well-matched to the Fe3. I think they're made to naturally boost the treble response as much as possible, which is working if you ask me. well, I don't really talk much about accessories except for the right ear tips and cables. other than that, I don't bother much. this is the first set that comes with perfect cable & ear tips.


this review unit is provided by HiseniorAudio in their Hisenior review tour, and I want to thank my buddy Bryan for including me in the tour. I have 100% control of my words and am not compensated by any party.

get Hisenior Fe3 here
(non-affiliated)
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bryaudioreviews
bryaudioreviews
Amazing write up as always! Love your reviews 👍👍
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
thanks Bryan! appreciate it

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Tanchjim Hana 2021 is the one to go for
Pros: fit
tuning
musicality
driver's tactility
beautiful package
small & lightweight
Cons: price
'thin' sounding
smaller imaging
might get a little too energetic
hana2021a.jpg

Tanchjim Hana 2021. a feast to the eyes

Tonality: 6/9
Technicalities: 5.3/9


(5 mins read)
my first relationship with Tanchjim was through Tanya and it's getting stronger ever since. so I've been always wondering what Tanchjim has to offer from their top-shelf even before Tanya. apparently, they have this thing called "Oxygen" which is well known as one of the best single dynamic driver IEMs in the world by many enthusiasts, but that's Oxygen. while Hana has a very close frequency response, build, and shape to the Oxygen, does it perform, if not the same but close to the Oxygen? is it a mini Oxygen? I can't answer that but according to some reliable accounts, it's not the same as Moondrop Starfield to KXXS kind of comparison and sadly there is no such thing as 'mini Oxygen' until now.

Tanchjim re-release the Hana as Hana 2021 with a new tuning that seems to soften the mid and treble peaks to achieve a "more neutral and smooth in the treble orientation, and the overall sound that is more delicate..." according to Tanchjim. it's also has a new look that's more... 'feminine' with a new gold paint job which is further in the direction of the jewelry part of accessories. I can imagine where they're going especially with the recent release of Prism.


Hana 2021 vs Hana.png

Tanchjim Hana vs Hana 2021 frequency response via squiglink courtesy of Super* Review


* I'm using Azla Sedna Earfit Light because others just don't work for me. it's like a shorter Spinfit with a wider bore. comparing to stock tips, Azla Sedna helps to produce a better instrument separation & layering, better accuracy & clarity, better soundstage & imaging = better music reproduction. no more blurry, hazy, muffled, chaotic, or congested sound. you don't know your IEMs' true capabilities until you tried Azla Sedna Earfit Light. buy a pair and hear the difference! (I have no affiliation with Azla whatsoever. wide bore [Azla] rules! but seriously they should pay me money)

I think the wide bore ear tips are suitable for the Hana 2021's frequency response but I'm using Azla Sedna for the reasons above. the stock cable is nicely built, with a pair of beautiful connectors (although the L/R indicator is a little hard to see), well in some way it sounds a little too bright for my taste. the copper cable I got gives a more 'earthy' tone that makes the bass more solid while tames the treble. it also provides a better separation, but I'm using the stock cable for this quickimp.

my preferred signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, or mild V-shaped but honestly, I'm a "signature agnostic" because anything can work. I listen to mostly everything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about music & music reproduction.

FR & Tonality
the bass is fast and lean which is something that I can appreciate and adore very much. but does it play well with other regions? the answer is yes. it slams hard without any bloatedness or muddiness even with my clean Topping EX5. really good slams. its fast attack, short and smooth decays are the selling points for fast tempo music. progressive metal songs like Between the Buried and Me's Extremophile Elite & Mastodon's Capillarian Crest showcasing a perfect example of good bass agility from the sub-bass to the mid-bass with good texture & dynamics, though I'd love a little bit more body. the rumble is surprisingly quite deep with a satisfying amount of bass coming from a single dynamic driver at this size.

the mids also go along & are nicely glued to the bass and treble. the lush mids gelling the mid-bass and lower treble, connecting these regions fluidly & coherently. everything seems perfectly tuned. it does a great job at reproducing pop music like Nancy Ajram's Ah W Noss & Dua Lipa's Don't Start Now.

its punchy yet controlled continuation from the bass, clean & clear mid-range presentation is capable to please my brain. I love what I'm hearing right now. the timbre, the tonality, the dynamics. it's so pleasant to listen to. but be informed, albeit retaining the ability to intercept any sibilance from the treble, it can be a little aggressive & energetic at times.

while not being the best treble I've heard, it does embody all the mandatory elements that I can think of as a good treble reproduction. the upper treble gives ample sense of air and space though I'd love a little bit more extension to the reverb & room depth. nonetheless, it's never too forward or shouty like the presentation on let's say, the fad ThieAudio Legacy 3. Hana's treble extension is just a little shy from what Blessing 2 Dusk is offering. but to be frank, it's still very good coming from this small single dynamic driver. I can say the tonality is more organic to compare to Blessing 2 Dusk's glassy BA timbre.

hana2021c.jpg

size comparison: from top left Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk, Tripowin Mele, Tanchjim Hana 2021


Technicalities+
the sound stage is above average with good height, width, and depth though it doesn't quite reach my preferred standard. while having a considerably good sound stage, the imaging size is rather 'smaller' than what I used to (emphasis on the 'imaging size'). while having good imaging, it feels overall thinner and that in my book, makes it dipping into the warm mild V-shaped territory. a good kind of V-shaped I suppose.

the instrument separation & layering is just slightly better if not almost equal to the cheaper Tripowin Mele in my opinion. not the best separation if you ask me, but wholly acceptable. like many single dynamic driver IEMs, 3D imaging is almost non-existent.


hana2021b.jpg

Tanchjim Hana jewelry edition: like a perfect spice; it always complements what's already there

Conclusion
Hana 2021 is undoubtedly one of the best single dynamic driver IEMs I've heard up to this point but the existence of Oxygen for a little more money challenges the objectives of purchasing a pair of Hana today. in my opinion, it could be the top choice among all other Harman-tuned single dynamic driver IEMs if priced at a little lower price tag. from my consumer perspective, Tanchjim is somehow overshadowed by its counterpart whenever it comes to price to performance value.

I can see Hana as a perfect gift with its beautiful look, package & packaging as a whole unless you'd want something more low-profile like I do. but seriously, companies like Tanchjim (Moondrop too) really need to put more effort into making and providing the right ear tips and cables because they do not get it quite right even until now (emphasis on 'right'. ps: Azla Sedna exists). to be honest, that's all I care & that's all what people need in the first place and at the end of it all. other than that, I don't really bother much about the packaging or accessories.

thanks for reading.


*this review unit is provided by Hifigo for the tour, and I want to thank my buddy Bryan for including me in the tour. I have 100% control of my words and am not compensated by any party.

purchase Hana (2021) here
(non-affiliated)

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hevelaoak
hevelaoak
thanks. I got the long ones because the short ones have a narrower bore width.
Lamim Rashid
Lamim Rashid
How do these compare to the kxxs/starfield?
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
sadly I have not had any chance to audition those models. but these are truly good, the Hana 2021. one can't complain much given the overall good package and price. outstanding performance.

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
the cheaper DF-neutral alternative (a quickimp)
Pros: fit
musical
aggressiveness+
near-neutralness
near-naturalness
small & lightweight
price to performance value
Cons: cable quality
aggressiveness-
some mids hotness
stock tips degrade overall music reproduction
! these are loaned units from a fellow audio enthusiast Bryan who is generous enough to lend them to me for trying purposes. so thanks to Bryan & (Shenzhenaudio + Moondrop) for this opportunity. this is a straightforward amateur impression of the new Moondrop Quarks which has been released recently. I have 100% control of my words here, with zero influence from anyone and entirely based on my experience alone.


quarks2.jpg

bold yet a brilliant name for a tiny little pair of earphones with 3 'quarks' as the logo. a clean presentation.

Tonality: 4.6/9
Technicalities: 4/9

(this is useless, but to give an idea. star rating is for price to performance)

I'm going to say this straight, I love these earphones! (especially for a certain type of music)

a few months ago I purchased a pair of Tanchjim Tanya and I was (still) recommending that set to everyone who's into music reproduction that I know (still the top budget recommendation). they are lovely as they are and very hard to resist because I find myself grabbing for Tanya every time I'm going out. Quarks gives that same feeling to me. I'm not going to write everything that Bryan already pointed out here. he's pretty much right about most things and I can say that we're in the exact same boat, except that I stay outside for the sunlight while Bryan is reading the map in the cockpit, I guess.

Summary
soundwise, Quarks does something different than the popular Tanya and MH750/755 at most parts of my library playback (you can read my Tanya quickimp here). Quarks, for example, hits differently on acoustic instruments, some string pluckings, vocal intimacy, bass texture, & perhaps the aggressiveness without being too harsh that many super budget sets are incapable of doing so. it sounds smooth in the treble region but with a little more dehydrated bite to it. it's extremely comfortable and easy to handle. the overall build is fine without any vent, a non-detachable cable that feels rubbery-plasticky-cheap that doesn't stay flat like Tanya's, but a lovely small packaging and package nonetheless. it could be a perfect $12 if you ask me, but I don't bother.

* I'm using Azla SednaEarfitLight because others just don't work! it's like a shorter Spinfit with a wider bore. comparing to stock tips, Azla helps to produce a better instrument separation & layering, better accuracy & clarity, better soundstage & imaging = better music reproduction. no more blurry, hazy, muffled, chaotic, or congested sound. you don't know your IEMs' true capabilities until you tried Azla SednaEarfitLight. buy a pair and hear the difference! (I have no affiliation with Azla whatsoever. wide bore [Azla] rules!)

A better library for Quarks
after many leisure hours with Quarks on moderate volume, I find it performs best on certain songs at certain loudness. Lee Ritenour's Riverman's clean bass has a little bit more texture than usual. Kurt Elling's voice feels nearer without losing or throwing anything too obvious at first listen. the drums' timbre is correct and everything is engaging & pleasant to listen to. this is true with Neil Cowley Trio's Winterlude too. the hard-right panned double bass on the right channel has more presence and clarity which I like, other than the extra piano's ringing overtones and bites.

Avishai Cohen & Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra's Arab Medley sounds wide enough for a pair of 6mm little dynamic drivers. Avishai's upright bass plucking is more pronounced and dazzling snappy towards the end. I like the overall texture of this song with Quarks, nothing is out of place nor feels wrong. Swans' A Little God In My Hands' sonic qualities give a brutal sense of its close relation to Blessing 2. it's uncanny for a moment.

Thundercat's Uh Uh can be an example of how good the transients' responses are on Quarks. I find myself bopping to the quick attacks and short decays as agile as Stephen Lee Bruner's fingers and that continues towards the end of the next song which is a fast jazz jam, James Francies' Crib. Topping EX5 with the number 5 digital filter surely helps make Quarks as punchy and fast. math-rock legend, Tera Melos' 40 Rods to the Hog's Head proves that to be true as well as it plays fast yet warm like the first time I heard it on MySpace. it brings back some good memories.

the soundstage is rather shallow and small with 2D-like imaging but this is what to be expected for any normal $12 earphones especially with a bullet design. well actually, I can pinpoint every instrument and get a better layering gap between multiple instruments with the right amount of loudness. that says it does scale better with amplification & more power (max 60/100 on high gain Topping EX5). nevertheless, my LG G7 has no issue in making it sing with its high impedance mode though the EX5 is definitely richer, wider, deeper, bigger, faster, louder, or simply effortless.

other song examples I love on Quarks:
Mogwai's Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever
Fear Before the March of Flames' High As A Horse
Gorillaz's Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon)
Converge's Eagles Become Vultures
Father John Misty's Pure Comedy
Neurosis' Water Is Not Enough
Yellowjackets' Summer Song
Sonic Youth's Pink Steam
Mastodon's Divinations
The Chariot's Teach:




quarks1.jpg

Quarks with the wide bore Azla SednaEarfitLight. the only ear tip that works for any IEMs without/less sound alteration or degradation

Conclusion
I think Tanya or MH750/755 perhaps is a better all-rounder to be compared to Quarks. they both have more similarities to compare to Quarks and are both smoother & bassier, as MH750/755 being sub-bassiest. at this point, I'm not sure which of the 3 have a more 'correct' tonality as I enjoy their musicality & 'naturalness' very much each of their own as they perform better for different parts of my library (without comparing to other more expensive IEMs). they're about the same on the technicalities at a different volume scaling as Quarks might need a little volume adjustment to reach the same level of MH755's. Quarks' aggressiveness could also be both pro and con at the same time depending on the situation.

Moondrop Quarks is an amazing tiny pair of super-budget earphones with a warm, near DF-neutral tuning. IMHO it could be an all-rounder like Tanya or MH750/755, depending on one's library & preferences. with Azla SednaEarfitLight, it's perfect for me. I love it and I think it has a spoonful of that special sauce that Moondrop has been using since their successful creations like Blessing 2 if not since their inception.

whether you're a veteran or a first-timer, just go get the Moondrop Quarks if you can. 1 for yourself, and another 1 for your friend or family member. sit and enjoy. sit and listen. but above all, sit together forever.

get Quarks here
get Tanya
here
(non-affiliated links)
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bryaudioreviews
bryaudioreviews
Amazing review bro. Thank you for sharing! 😍
hevelaoak

hevelaoak

100+ Head-Fier
Chinese HE400se (the non-international)
Pros: neutral tuning
detail retrieval
spatial imaging
dynamics
minimal design
comfort
price to performance value
Cons: timbre
slight sibilant
need amplification
weird sound stage
no carrying pouch/bag? (no care)
HE400se5a.jpg

in the package: HE400se headphones, a black rubber sleeve stereo 3.5mm to dual 3.5mm cable (Chinese-non-stealth-magnet)


Tonality: 5/9
Technicality: 6/9
Resolution: 6/9
Biased Score: 4.5


I've been wanting a pair of budget open-back planar magnetic headphones since early this year but I didn't really have the time to start digging into another rabbit hole. but during my leisure time recently, after some readings & the double money-back guarantee from the seller, I was convinced to purchase a pair of the HE400se (Chinese version) for myself purely for the planar experience & the super cheap price tag (RM399/USD94.24). I kept telling myself that it might not be good enough to start with one of the cheapest models of Hifiman, but who knows. (this is my first experience with planar magnetic headphones and I will try giving a simple amateureview of the Chinese version HE400se alone)

No expectation
when I first listened to the non-stealth magnetic HE400se, I didn't like it very much. to say the truth, I've heard some open-back dynamic cans before, so I might have had a little expectation for some similar type of response from these cans. clearly, it was something new to me. although I didn't really like the tonality out of the box, I was quite passionate & became interested to learn more from this pair of headphones until it hit my classical library later that night.


HE400se1a.jpg

a minimalist; from the font to the headband design (without the Hifiman logo)


Build & design
minimalism is an idea that I hold dearly whenever possible. HE400se is minimalistic in many ways, from the font choice to the headband design. it's working minimalist. built with a sturdy pair of yokes with a simple mechanism, I find the headband is very comfortable that I can wear it on my head for hours. the overall build is truly alright and it came with a good working cable in a rubber sleeve. very reasonable package as per the cost. (I've been ignoring most of the Hifiman cans just because of the logo on the headband)

Revelation
I didn't bother with the 'International Version' nor 'Stealth Magnetic' as my intention was very clear and simple. I want to experience an open-back planar with a tight budget and heaven I'm indeed grateful and pleased that I made the purchase as of writing this.

the first hours with the HE400se was the usual favorite test tracks session consists of music like, from My Disco's A Christ Pendant Comfort Her Neck to Sunn O)))'s Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért). immediately I grasped the well-balanced and almost neutral signature of the driver. I can totally dig this kind of sound and for my musical diet although there was some sibilance here and there on certain pop vocals. (the first hours' session was a car driving and walking around the room using my LG G7 on high impedance mode; 80% volume)

Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major by Alexander Rudin (Naxos, 2002) was the key to my understanding of (this) planar magnetic response. almost everything in my classical library plays like birds of paradise. symphonic sforzando or fortissimo won't do too much harm to these headphones. it can reach a good depth even with crowded parts on live or studio recordings.

it made me smile throughout the night because of the music. it's alive and realistic. yes, I've experienced these words before, but this time it's differently different. to add & to be more precise, I just found a way to bathe myself in the sea of classical music recordings, and it was indeed pure ecstasy.

(listen to this recording and tell me I'm wrong - if possible please listen with HE400se or planar alike)


HE400se4a.jpg

the build is truly alright, but it's kinda irritating to see the wires like that - 7 pieces of non-stealth normal magnet bars


Tinkering
I read stuff online but nothing satisfies me or justifies the purchase more than listening to my classical library with my modest Chinese HE400se. a review by Mr. Ichos on April 27 & a comparison thread on Reddit surely helped beforehand. but there was something about the grill mod on the internet. some of them on Google image are really good just to look at.

I opened the soft pad, it was lovely, nothing extraordinary. removed the grill and the headphones responded slightly differently. the produced sound was more lively and airy but less thumpy, and it stayed like that for a few days until I put the grills back on but without the black cloth. I removed the black cloth & left it that way. I didn't bother to do any further modification because it was good enough for me.


HE400se2a.jpg

inside out: gotta love the look. swapped only the right cup to easily spot the channel. it's not plastic!


Technicalities & extras
music was always playing though I was not listening. sometimes through FiiO BTR5 or LG G7 on low volume. (150 hours burn-in as suggested in the manual)

I don't know anything about burn-in for planar drivers (or any kind of drivers really), but it doesn't produce any sibilant and the tonality is quite to my liking after a few days of continuous burn-in. it doesn't sound 'plasticky' like when I first heard it out of the box but the sound has slightly opening up and it's leaning towards neutral-organic. is it just me or is the HE400se is changing? does it mean the headphone is inconsistent? maybe, but it sure sounds nice.

other than classical, songs like Zu's Carbon, Lee Ritenour's Riverman & Mogwai's Rano Pano clearly sounded better than last time. these songs are sensitive & really good for gear testing. to highlight, the texture on both baritone bass & baritone saxophone on Zu's Carbon is very clear and full-bodied considering the lean bass response on HE400se. My Disco's An Intimate Conflict is one of my favorite tracks for saturated texture too. big jazz band piece like Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band's We've Just Begun is so addictive with an articulate instrument layering & separation. dynamics are also great with tracks like Muddy Waters' Big Leg Woman, Chick Corea's The Trial, and Casiopea's Eyes of The Mind.

overall for me, it was a satisfying listening on multiple sessions with a variety of genres and mixing styles especially live classical recordings. it has a good dynamic and is almost transparent in nature. ultimately, it will shine better with better production quality. a quiet or treated room is a requirement to achieve supreme exultation.

Driveability+
I find the new Topping EX5 is a great match to the HE400se. ample power for maximum satisfaction with 1.3W @ 32 ohms peak. the dual ES9038Q2M DAC is also great. the soundstage is wide enough with great instrument separation & layering. transient is spot on, with fast attack and agreeable decay. while imaging is good, overall it behaves differently than what I used to with Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk or ThieAudio Legacy 3 and on with other amplification. it makes me want to listen to everything that I have in my huge library again. Topping EX5 really helps to achieve the utmost joy.

the Chinese HE400se has great technical capabilities considering the price alone. but these cans really need a good amplification to perform better. yes, it's driveable but it won't reveal its true form or showcasing a balanced tonality with mobile or portable devices although it only has a 25 ohms impedance with 91dB efficiency (as advertised).


HE400se3a.jpg

Topping x Shenzhenaudio; the EX5 is a good match to HE400se. beautiful sound


Sit & listen
is this the best budget open-back planar magnetic headphones up to this point? I don't know, I just got started. it's not perfect, but I can confirm that it can produce a very musical and technical audio playback with decent amplification. I can see myself listening & bopping to these headphones for another year or two if no one ever provides me the 'honey'. at this point, I don't see why I need an upgrade with a 'perfect' budget setup like this.

despite the not-full mark score, I'm giving the Chinese HE400se a strong recommendation (4.5 stars) based on my audio reproduction product experience + the overall package. who cares about the no-carrying pouch or stealth magnetic? (I do actually care & curious about the stealth magnetic version. please send me a pair)

whether you're a veteran or a first-timer, just go get the Chinese version if you can. 1 for yourself, and another 1 for your friend or family member. sit and enjoy. sit and listen. but above all, sit together forever.

thank you for reading.


(yes, it's biased, not an objective review)
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Osiris89
Osiris89
I really don't know how anyone who reads this review won't buy these pair of cans. Heck, it won't even hurt their wallet to just try out!

Great review, mate!
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
thank you. it's a newb perspective and without any comparison. I don't urge people to buy but the non-stealth magnetic version alone is really good for the price. at least to me
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