Reviews by ian91


Headphoneus Supremus
Best of Both Worlds
Pros: A careful balance of the tonal qualities of silver and copper
Competitive 'technical' enhancements for the price
Well made accessories
Cons: Little alteration to stage width
Eletech Cassiel - Best of Both Worlds
(Virtues Series)


I’ve rolled a fair share of budget to mid-fi cables over the three years in the hobby. Initially, it was quite difficult to appreciate any difference between cables but to a degree it was also a challenge to identify differences between IEMs! For better or for worse, over time my brain has adapted, my perspective has widened and my familiarity with my IEM collection has grown such that I do hear those differences and even with cable changes. Whether these observations would pass a blind test is another matter, but I enjoy exploring the dimension cable changes add to this hobby and I think that’s the main thing. What a good cable can offer, in my experience, remains a subtle refinement of sound, with accents on particular regions of the FR and sometimes an ability to change the more intangible qualities of presentation such as imaging, dimension and perceived resolution. I have yet to find a cable that was able to make me like an IEM if the overall tonality didn’t ‘hit’ from the very beginning. Rather, a cable just usually makes me enjoy a set more, or less if it doesn’t synergise well.

Generally there are some ‘expected’ changes with cable composition from what I have heard. Namely, the warmth, note texture and density of copper, the extension and resolution of silver, the imaging/layering of palladium and the rich overtones of gold plating. However, it’s not always that straight forward or predictable. A degree of predictability and scaling is what I expect specialist cable makers like Eletech to offer. That and of course excellent ergonomics and attractively machined accessories.

Eric kindly offered me the opportunity to review the Cassiel a silver-plated copper wire, one of their new cables from the reimagined Virtues Series that supersedes the previous ‘entry-level’ silver-plated copper, Prudence (now discontinued). My experience with Eletech cables prior to Cassiel includes the Plato, which I own, and a brief but impressive demo with their 2020 flagship, the Iliad. Both of these have impressed with clear shifts in sonics to a degree that other cables, largely in the budget-mid cable market, seemed unable to replicate. Read on to find out if this trend continues with Eletechs more affordable Cassiel…


The Cassiel is a supple cable. It’s noticeably less memory prone than the Plato (itself already a very ergonomic cable) and I imagine this is partly down to the narrower 25.5 AWG versus 24 AWG of the Plato. The insulation is perfectly transparent, smooth and flawless throughout the length of the cable. Eletech have some of the slickest and well machined accessories in the game and the Cassiel sports their new CNC-milled gun metal colour accessories. These have rose gold geometric, pyramid-like detailing and I’m getting vibes that places my mind somewhere between Ancient Egypt and the Roswell crash site. I like it! There’s always a refined style to Eletech cables and I value that. I spend so long looking a beautiful IEM, it deserves a good looking cable to match.


Sound Impressions

With over two months with the Cassiel now and feel I have a good handle on how it behaves across my IEM collection, especially with my tri-brid Mentawai.


One of the stand-out qualities of the Cassiel during my time with it is how it refines the bass frequencies. Bass is tightened and resolution and texture are enhanced. This seems to have a more significant effect on DDs. For example, the Mentawai sports a large 10mm DD with a healthy bass quantity and a slower decay than a lot of DDs. I have always enjoyed the indulgent low end but it does have some bloom that can obscure low midrange textures on instruments. With the Cassiel more instrumental detail and texture is a retrieved and the bass sounds cleaner and more responsive and yet unaltered in quantity.


The Cassiel is a smooth operator in the midrange. The upper midrange isn’t as accentuated as on my other SPC cables but it manages to retain a good balance of clarity without feeling aggressive. This was noticeable from the get-go and with burn in this quality has only improved. Words I could use to describe the midrange are ‘balanced’ and ‘organic’ while still improving detail retrieval compared to similarly priced pure copper cables. Note weight is full and vocals are well separated, again with a very natural treatment.


Similar to the upper midrange, the lower treble of the Cassiel departs from how I hear other SPC cables. In my experience, other SPC cables do little to subdue treble spikes inherent in tuning and overall sound very ‘crisp’ and very ‘brilliant’. The Cassiel does a great job of softening, or rather naturalising an unruly treble and still managing to enhance air. Not something many other SPCs can claim to do in my experience and it does this without becoming dull or unexciting.


Silver is often attributed to enhancing the less tangible, technical aspects such as air, separation and staging. The Cassiel does a great job of improving note definition which itself seems to have a knock on effect of improving imaging and layering. The centre image is well delineated compared to some of my other cables and laterally I hear more positional information from more angles. This is not something I tend to expect with cables in this price range where often there’s an improvement in stage but no improvement in positional accuracy. Stage isn’t as vast laterally as the bigger brother Plato but for the price I wouldn’t expect it to be. However, at this point, I’m going to put my money on the and say that the Cassiel has stronger imaging than Plato. For it to achieve this at the asking price is another selling point.


  • Mid bass heavy tunings where low mids are obscured
  • Peaky treble tunings that need softening
  • Amorphous or poor imaging, especially within the centre headspace.
Cassiel vs Plato
  • Cassiel is tonally warmer
  • Cassiel has more realistic (i.e. greater) note weight (and more my preference)
  • Cassiel has more dimensional imaging
  • Cassiel preserves macrodynamics better
  • Plato has a wider stage (probably the widest I’ve heard)
  • Plato has greater emphasis on lower treble and air
  • Plato resolves greater detail
  • Plato augments bass quantity whereas Cassiel manages to improve quality while leaving quantity relatively untouched.

If you’re looking for the extension of silver but the note weight and texture of copper this is a superb balance. In one way, it reminds me of when I listened to the Iliad for the first time in the improvement offered on imaging and layering. Not to the same degree, no doubt, but it has a more ‘natural’ impact on the space and retains a warmer and more organic tonality than both Iliad and Plato. When you consider that the Cassiel also manages to one-up Plato (imo) on its imaging prowess for about a third of the cost, the Cassiel is a strong contender in Eletechs line up.
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Headphoneus Supremus
APWS - The Seat of the Soul?
Pros: Perfect vocal reproduction
Fragile transparency and TOTL detail retrieval throughout the midrange
The most resolving earbud I’ve heard (planar-like).
Excellent instrumental timbre (not planar-like in this regard)
Good stage size
Fit & comfort of the Shining bell (can be worn hanging or over the ear)
Cons: Light midbass impact with subbass roll-off
Very expensive
Asura Pure White Shining - The Seat of the Soul?



I entered the portable ‘Head-Fi’ world in 2020 and I still consider myself a relative newcomer to Hifi in general. There are plenty of people who have heard more and know more and many of these are forum members that I owe a debt of gratitude for helping me along my own path. Starting with IEMs and expecting the more recent tech innovations might be the right path to audio nirvana, I started out with hybrid driver configurations and then found the appeal of multi-dynamic driver sets that offered greater coherency. Then I fell into the world of earbuds…

I was taken by the open sound, natural presentation and comfort of them. They often appeared in such an unassuming package and would flaw me with their natural spacial reproduction and tonal coherence. Well, I’ve been consistently surprised by what a good earbud can offer. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my experience with IEMs. It’s quite a minefield out there, with a plethora of tunings and driver configurations and a somewhat marginal difference in performance, particularly when paying any more than $1000 dollars. It can be very difficult to navigate towards a preference. Sometimes it’s only through serendipity that I find my way or where something finds me that I didn’t know I needed…

This chance crossing is also how I found the Asura Pure White Shining (APWS). I got talking to Carlos (@Charlyro222) who kindly sent over some his IEMs/buds and his own touring Venture Electronics ‘Warbag’ that included Sun Dice, Sun Copper, APWS and Zen Su. At the time, I wasn’t even looking for any more earbuds. In fact, I was only looking forward to listening to his TXN Des Ti, a 4BA+2EST IEM. Long story short, I went through the Warbag, sampling them all and for at least a week did an excellent job of completely overlooking the APWS. I gave it a fleeting listen on the Shanling M8 and it didn’t grab me at all. Then after prompting by Carlos to try again, I connected it to the ifi GoBar and was floored! What followed was a rediscovery of my entire instrumental library with a fresh and ‘special’ sound that hasn’t let up (now about 6 months later). I have since also found great synergy with the DX300 + Amp11Mk1 (a somewhat warm, vocal forward amp card).

I will try my best to put this ‘special sound’ to paper but I imagine this will be the trickiest review for me, so far. There is a lot of character in the APWS and I have found it more challenging to ‘unpick’ compared to my reviews of other buds. Nonetheless, I hope this gives some flavour of what to expect to potential buyers.

Note Bene

After quite literally falling in love with APWS, I purchased my own but without the bundled RA2B-FE amp. From what I could establish the APWS has been in existence in some form for a number of years now – possibly since 2018. APWS is only made in small numbers and is not advertised on the Venture Electronics website. This means to purchase you have to make enquiries with Lee (the owner of Venture Electronics) and it seems, at least from my impression, beyond that it is totally at his discretion as to whether he will make one. Part of me has wondered what the value was to writing a review for an earbud that is not widely available and second, for one that costs $898 (with RA2B-FE amp – that sells individually for $298RRP). Let’s get this out of the way, I’m not a fan of the price. It’s difficult to swallow. However, I’ve been far more pleased with the APWS than I have with many of my more expensive IEMs and many (less expensive) earbuds. I’m willing to pay a fair sum for something takes my heart and the APWS certainly has. For that reason, despite the sets scarcity and pricing, I think this review is worthwhile, even if only one reader sees the appeal of this set and finds their own nirvana too.

Fit, Build Quality & Accessories

The APWS was sent in a VE branded metal puck case. These puck cases are functional, solid and last for a long time. The build of the APWS itself is great. It is a stemless metal bell that’s small and contoured with a very good balance in the ear. Fit with earbuds is notoriously tricky and this can be made worse by using the bell shape that lacks the neck to sit in the inter-tragal notch. The bell has to sit within the concha and be weighted properly, otherwise, if the concha is too shallow or the bell too long it will shift and lose its effacement with the ear and this will dramatically alter the sound presentation. This could be a particular issue for the APWS that is tuned quite flat in the bass to begin with and where any deviation in fit will reduce that bass transmission further. This is why demoing is so valuable and if you can’t demo a functioning unit, to demo an empty shell to ensure you can achieve a good fit.

Unlike the shell of the Zen Sun Ultimate, Sun Dice, Sun Copper etc, the ‘Shining’ bell sits flatter to the ear and has no real ‘neck’ to speak of apart from a small plastic strain relief for the cable. For me this allows for a deeper and closer fit within the concha and it doesn’t move an inch, while also allowing the option of wearing it over the ear – which is my preferred way of wearing these. For the other models with the ‘stouter’ bell, I need to use the Venture Electronics Air plastic over-ear clips to keep them balanced and fitted. Notably, the Air clips do not work with the APWS due to lack of a neck to the bell where those clips would normally attach. Fit is incredibly personal but there are measures to help with this and I imagine if you’re considering purchasing the APWS, you are likely aware of these measures already, e.g. silicone rings, doubling up on foams and using fins. The APWS is tuned for use foamless or with donuts so you won’t hear what I’m hearing if you go full foams (or double up). There is a fairly clear change in clarity and overall balance if you do use full foams and I prefer using the APWS with the included VE ExPack Lite donut foams (the lower density ones).

The shell has a nice weight to it and the build is very solid. The cable is non-detachable and is VE’s own pure silver variety. I have the 2pin version of the same cable and it’s an excellent pure silver that manages to retain dynamism and note weight while improving transparency and perceived detail. My unit features a rhodium-plated Furutech plug that can be added at an additional cost (~$50) over VEs own high quality gold plated plug that comes as standard. There is a metal Y split and a plastic chin cinch that does the job. Beneath the Y split the pure silver cable is covered with a grey paracord (other colours available). Ergonomically the cable is very light, helping with balance and over ear comfort, does not retain memory and is somewhat stiff. This stiffness isn’t really an issue in practice and actually prevents tangling and is still able to be wrapped without issue using a cable clip / tie. I couldn’t be happier with the build quality. Check out some of the photos below…



Drivability & Source Pairing

The APWS is rated at about 150ohm impedance. The two main sources used for this review are the ifi GoBar (7.2Vrms) and the iBasso DX300 (Amp11Mk1 – 7.1Vrms) both have no issues driving this earbud. More clarity and space can be pushed from this driver using these higher powered sources but scaling isn’t as grand as I have experienced as on other high impedance earbuds. A modern DAP with a reasonable power output should have no issue making this set shine. In terms of tonal pairing I would lean towards a warmer and more analogue source to fill out the midrange of the APWS that is on the thinner side.


Tonality & listening impressions are made on my own APWS with fewer hours on the clock than Carlos’ unit. I am approaching the 200 hour mark. I have appreciated a tightness to the driver decay that has settled over those hours. Driver response is now more true-to-life while not being sluggish. I am told that by about 100hours, changes become rather subtle. Indeed, there’s very little difference between my APWS and Carlos’ unit with more burn-in.

Source: DX300 (Cirrus DAC), Medium Gain (Amp11Mk1)

Foams: VE thin donut foams

Burn in: ~200hours

Venture Electronics APWS Sound Signature Chart

This plot should be interpreted on all axes at the same time. I have provided the primary sound signature that is represented by the black bullet point, with secondary and tertiary signatures identified by balloons and an arrow, respectively. In grey I have plotted the primary placement of Sun Copper and Sun Dice for comparison.


Primary Signature – Mid-centric aggressive

Secondary sound characteristic (strong) – Forward midrange

Secondary sound characteristic (strong) – Detailed

Secondary sound characteristic (weak) – Flat

Secondary sound characteristic (weak) – Thin and tinny

Tertiary sound characteristic (complementing) – warm

Sound Signature Breakdown

Most earbuds sit within the mid-centric region. It’s no different here. I hear APWS to be mid-centric but due a generous bump after 1kHz the focus is heavily shifted into the midrange and more ‘aggressive’ (however, aggressive isn’t the right word given the delicacy and transparency of APWS and I’ll explain more later). The relatively flat bass leaves the midrange open and pronounced without a sense of congestion. Vocals (especially female) and woodwind feel intimate, detailed and close to the ear. Midrange fundamentals are on the thinner side, as are male vocals (not unnatural) and the focus is on higher harmonics and the acoustic properties of the room. This lighter, more transparent midrange reveals plenty of detail. I perceive this detail as a strong secondary characteristic and central to the magic the APWS can cast with vocals & strings. The flat bass and softer impact places rhythm elements into the background and makes me think of some form of neutral or flat signature (before the subbass rolls off). There’s a thinness to the tonality due to this bass not counterbalancing the upper midrange but dynamics are still good with instrumental music. This thinness can sound unnatural with drums but manages to produce some of the most realistic and nuanced guitar strings and vocals I’ve ever heard. To top the signature off there’s a warmth thanks to little bump to the lower midrange.

The name Asura Pure White Shining is apt – tonally it doesn’t have a colouration. For example, the Sun Copper and Sun Dice are noticeably warmer and weightier.


The APWS is a great performer from a technical perspective. It’s tonality lends itself to midrange detail retrieval and I do believe the driver backs that up with very good resolution. Vocal nuance and string textures are perfectly complete. I consider the stage width and depth to be competitive with other well respected sets in this regard (e.g. Serratus). Imaging and layering is good but not the standout feature here due to the tonal transparency and weight that does not lend itself to localising sound. The presentation here puts you at the centre of the performance as the music swirls around in a delicate, midforward and ethereal harmony. The accentuation of reverb, higher harmonics and the flat bass really gives an open dream-like feeling to the sound.


Perfect. Should I move on? No? Ok! I’ll expand.

Prior to this, TGXEar Alpha was ‘Timbre King’ but that crown was quite easily snatched away once I had heard the APWS. I needed to listen to all of my library again and it was reimagined in a fresh and more delicate light. The driver in the Alpha behaves really well but it’s limited by a warmer tonality and lower resolution. The APWS has a more realistic (lighter) note weight, greater transparency and texture with more harmonic detail. These tonal differences and better resolution across the board makes every instrument more characterful and offers a truer reflection of timbre. Every key hit is more nuanced and vocals more soulful and expressive.

(N.B. as previously mentioned the APWS sounded too tight and incisive OOTB but settles by about 50hours or so).

Listening Observations

To begin I’ll summarise the strengths and weaknesses of the APWS with regards to musicality across genre:


In short, anything that benefits from midrange detail, nuance and transparency.

  • Folk / singer-songwriter – vocal & string elements are the biggest strength of APWS, nothing demonstrates the perfection of APWS better than this sort of music.
  • Classical – the true to life, highly resolving and open character complements large orchestral and small ensemble equally. Viol and Violin are superb. Cello is very good. Bass and double loses fundamental weight and is less enjoyable sounding somewhat flat.
  • Jazz & vocal jazz – the APWS isolates vocals perfectly and it has the ability to bring out the detail, musicality and accents of complex jazz performances.

In short, anything that relies upon deep bass extension or midbass impact. There’s very little reason to include the following genres in my individual track impressions because there are plenty of better options if you want more bass and warmth (VE Zen Copper, VE Zen Su, TGXEar Serratus, TGXEar Ripples, Yinman 600 to name a few).

  • Pop – too delicate and lacking in bass and macrodynamics
  • Electronic – as above
  • Hip hop – as above
Individual Tracks

Billy Raffoul – 1975 – Acoustic

A simple vocal track with male and female elements. The clarity and resolution on show here is superb. Billys voice is tonally spot-on and textured. Beautiful. The bass hits throughout the track do lack substantial weight and impact but the vocals are lifted so forward (but without shout) and done so well that I struggle to care.

James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart – Friends That Break Your Heart

Another great male vocal track and another absolute win for APWS. Every bit of vocal resonance and texture can be appreciated. Not able to criticise APWS on this track.

Chet Baker – Stereo - Alone Together

Brassy and perfectly articulated trumpet and sax here. Incredible detail and a very controlled presentation of these instruments with no nasty peaks. I quickly lose myself in this track.

Dominic Miller – Vagabond – Clandestin

(Not available on Youtube but search streaming services)

This is a very delicate and open recording with guitar, piano and drums. Another faultless rendition on the APWS and very ethereal. The piano is captured from key hit to harmonic decay, the drums are tight and have a light echoing impact and the guitar is textured, resonant and organic.

Lars Danielsson – Lars Danielsson Edition – Pasodoble

The bass strings on this track lack weight but string texture is exposed, entirely. I’ve included this because it represents a limit to the APWS. It’s still an enjoyable track but I would like more weight from the bass here. It’s a similar story for most tracks with bass strings, they fall into the background and are quite flat and harder to identify.

Ballake Sissoko – Les Egares – Amenhotep

This is a warm recording with the kora, cello, saxophone. I always test kora tracks because the strings are very metallic and can sting if the tuning is too hot and if the resolving power is poor they quickly lose their delicacy and nuance. I have no issues with kora on APWS - perfecto. Cello is sufficiently weighty and saxophone is beautiful. The oboe (?) makes an appearance at the 1:00 mark that can become quite shouty on some sets but the APWS tows a very fine line of controlled presence that’s just right.

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – Diamanche

Another kora track but with harp and male vocals. Harmonics galore. You’re right there next to the strings. The quick finger picking, the increasing pace and the Malian singing. It’s a swirling play of sound that touches my soul. No other set can do it like the APWS can.

Angus & Julia Stone – Down the Way – Draw Your Swords

Any fan of this pair should hear their music through the APWS. Their music was made the qualities of the APWS. Perfectly soulful and isolated vocals and strings in a spacious presentation. My only critique for the APWS here is the lighter kickdrum hits and which take a backseat from the vocals and strings (which are arguably the focus anyway).

Oded Tzur – Here Be Dragons – 20 Years

(Not available on Youtube but search streaming services)

A perfect example how APWS works with jazz. Airy, textured saxophone, weighty piano key hits with nuanced decay and crisp drum playing across the snares and cymbals. Nothing is lacking in this from a tonal or technical perspective. Instruments are well separated and dimensional on the stage.

Ulf Wakenius – Momento Magico – Momento Magico

I know this track like the back of my hand. Not all sets have the resolving power to bring out the resonance of the strings or quick enough to express their attack. Technically string replay here is TOTL. With a tonality that controls the upper midrange and treble perfectly to avoid sharpness, this track demonstrates how the APWS is a timbre powerhouse. Listen to D’ici la by Antoine Boyer if you’re still not convinced how well the APWS does guitar.

Vox Clamantis – Arvo Part: The Deers Cry - Part: Most Holy Mother of God

(Not available on Youtube but search streaming services)

I always like to end on some choral with my listening impressions and it seems fitting to do that here given the special traits of the APWS. Harmony and soul is easiest to hear in these simple but beautiful recordings of the human voice. The APWS offers the most sublime replay of this recording I have heard. Male and female vocals are equally heavenly with just the right body to breath. The APWS gives wings to vocals, they rise up above everything else, isolated but not to the detriment of overall balance. There are some very intense vocal harmonies in this recording that mix to great dramatic effect. It’s almost overwhelming at times but the tonal and technical prowess of this set keeps it natural, without congestion, remaining dimensional and vivid but kind on the ear. The open sound of the APWS and the open recording environment of choral work goes hand-in-hand.

My listening impressions could go on many times over for tracks similar in style and content to the above…Hopefully these samples reflect the strengths and if your library is similar, there’s good reason to pursue the APWS.

Closing Remarks

The Asura Pure White Shining is not for everyone. Tonally, it will feel incomplete with some genres but if your library leans heavily towards string instruments or vocal and you prioritise a realism to your music, my best advice would be to demo this earbud at the first opportunity. There is a clear trade off here and I very much doubt the APWS would offer this level of transparency and vocal character if bass were any different in quantity or character. I would happily make this trade off many times over. It offers a mid-centric sound with ultimate resolution and a very natural timbre. When you have listened to your tracks hundreds of times and a you find something that reveals a new level of beauty…this is what happened here for me and is the real joy of the hobby and quite distinct from 'new toy syndrome'. I still struggle to describe the ‘special’ sound on show here, despite 6 months of familiarity. Trying to dissect it feels somewhat futile, as though the APWS is pointing in the direction of a wordless mystery that one can ‘feel’ but not put to paper. As I said at the start, if only one person feels what I feel for the APWS then this review has been worthwhile.

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Thank you @voja, that's very kind!
Superb music selection!
  • Like
Reactions: ian91
Good morning ian91!
after reading your review, which is very well researched, I didn't hesitate too long to follow you because I was looking for earbuds that could give me this high quality in the high midrange, without insisting on the bass.
I've just placed an order with Lee (very good contact).
you're responsible for my little folly:relaxed:


Headphoneus Supremus
Caught in her spin...
Pros: Energetic tonality
Fast transient response
Good balance of micro & macrodynamics
Good stage depth, imaging and layering
Small & ergonomic shell
ePro tips included
Cons: Not an especially wide soundstage
Included cable does not compliment the Vortex tuning
Tonality does not lend to all genres
Technical specifications

Impedance: 24ohm +/- 15% (@1kHz)

Sensitivity: 108db SPL/mW

Driver type: DLC (diamond-like fibre)

Connector: 2pin

Plug: 3.5mm, 2.5mm (BAL), 4.4mm (BAL)

Cable: CS819 (copper & silver mix)


Source: Cayin RU6 (4.4mm, high gain, NOS)

Burn-in: >100hours

The Vortex was provided by Penon Audio at a discount, in exchange for a review. As always, what I provide here is my own honest opinion on performance – Penon does not see my reviews prior to publication or have a say on content herein.




Where do I start? Penon have been responsible for many hours of my audio enjoyment since I started out in the IEM hobby. They have consistently impressed me with their thoughtfully tuned IEMs. They have very rarely reached for neutrality or transparency, choosing to tune with a generous bass section and counter-balance with a strong pinna that places a warm and organic midrange centre stage. The Globe (1DD, 2BA) was a highly coherent hybrid with a romantic tuning that introduced me to the Penon sound, while their flagship the Legend (13BA with tuning switches) took the house sound further and added TOTL dimensionality to that immersive midrange. What these sets have shared, in my opinion, is a safer upper midrange and treble for all-day listening to avoid any listener fatigue. The consequence of this tuning choice are that Penon IEMs that have not placed absolute priority on ‘bite’, transparency or harmonic detail and have rather emphasised the organic fundamentals of instrumental music and rich vocals. This is what I tend to associate with the Penon ‘house sound’ and that full-bodied colouration is something that has been easy to fall in love with, again and again.

However, over time I have begun to gravitate towards more revealing tunings that prioritise subtle character of the instrumental music I listen to. I fallen quite centrally in the middle of the road with my preferences and, while this is hard to quantify, I would say that 50% of my enjoyment is from a ‘musical’ (i.e. not neutral) tuning that highlights natural weight and dynamics of instruments and 50% of my enjoyment is from honest transparency for critical listening demanding a clean bass section and a well extended treble.

When the rumours started surfacing that Penon were releasing a single DD at the $200 price range, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Not least because its Penon brethren, the triple-DD ‘Serial’ was close by and flaunting three times the fun (on paper), but largely because of the stellar single-DD performers that are out there and the new-wave of planar IEMs competing for market attention. Bearing in mind, some of these planar sets cost less than the Vortex and have boasted incredible resolution. This wasn’t going to be an easy sell the Vortex would need to be something special…

Thankfully, the Vortex is a special single DD.

Accessories and Packaging


If you have purchased a Penon IEM before, you’ll be well familiar with the unboxing experience. Included is a nice hardcase, shirt clip, IEM cleaning tool and a leatherette soft case. Also included are a selection of wide bore silicone tips and, quite generously, a set of silicone ePro horn-shaped tips (EP00) in small, medium and large. This inclusion is quite welcome. EP00 tips have sonic synergy with other Penon IEMs and have a unique fit profile that may suit some listeners ears. Unfortunately they did not suit my ear canal shape but they did offer a boost to the bass and capture an organic sound while I was using them. Your mileage may vary and experimentation is key.

The stock cable the CS819 is a silver and copper mix built to the high standards you can expect from Penon. It’s ergonomic, reasonably light has an effective chin cinch and does not tangle easily. I am a cable believer and disappointingly the CS819 is not the best match for this IEM. Its copper elements do well to accentuate the weight and body of the tuning but it all but saps the treble air from the picture. I wouldn’t consider a cable change an essential move upon purchase as, to some degree, the Vortex sounds more traditionally Penon this way, but I would start saving for a replacement. Recommended pairings from reliable sources on the Penon thread, is the Penon OS849 (single crystal copper, silver-plated - $119). Again, experiment and see where it takes you. The Vortex deserves a good cable matchup.

Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The Vortex has a full resin build with brilliant ergonomics. It’s possibly one of the comfiest, smallest and compact single DD shells I have encountered. It sits flush against my concha bowl and easily allows for my side sleeping and listening to music in bed. It has a 2pin connector that is flat and not recessed, but is supplied with a recessed 2pin cable and this could be an area of improvement for future releases. There is a vent at the rear of the IEM that’s covered with a very small vent mesh to prevent dirt ingress and it also has a tuning functionality. Unless you want the intended tuning to change, leave this mesh well alone. The vented nature prevents pressure build up and I haven’t experienced any driver flex either. The metal nozzle is hard wearing and grips well onto all the tips I’ve tried.

The aesthetics of the Vortex are on point. Penon sells it in two colourways – either a Blue-White or a Dark Blue. I chose the Dark Blue. It has a depth to the colours that really shines when it catches the sunlight. The orange PENON / VORTEX lettering might be a love it or hate it sort of thing, but I think it adds a bold and brave accent to this set.



Please see the frequency response courtesy of @tgx78 (with thanks):


Penon Vortex Sound Signature Chart

This plot should be interpreted on all axes at the same time. I have provided the primary sound signature that is represented by the bullet, with secondary and tertiary signatures identified by balloons and an arrow, respectively.


Primary Sound Signature = Neutral-bright

Secondary characteristic (strong) = Detailed

Secondary characteristic (strong) = Airy

Secondary charactersitic (weak) = Flat

Tertiary (opposing) = Warm

Sound Signature Breakdown

The Vortex surprised me from the get-go. It didn’t sound like an IEM tuned by Penon. It’s brighter, less mid-centric, has more clarity and the bass region is balanced differently. The primary sound signature is what I would consider neutral-bright. What emerges quickly from this is the level of detail. There is good amount of emphasis in the presence region that ensures a brilliance and vitality to the sound that never gets boring. Guitars are striking and highly resolved and electric guitars are well…electrifying…! The snappy transient response of the driver combined with this presence leans into a detail-orientated sound character. It offers a very crisp and clear sound, probably the most crisp and clear from Penon thus far. This detail borders on critical at times but the lower treble is carefully tailored to avoid most egregious peaks so it’s not unpleasant or fatiguing to listen to.

The other aspect of the Vortex that jumped out from a tonal perspective is the amount of air. I hear this being a strong secondary characteristic that lifts the signature further into that bright quadrant on the tonal plot. I don’t often hear this sort of extension from a single DD and you can quite easily forget you’re listening to one driver given the degree of reach it offers.

As mentioned, the Vortex is a change from the traditional for Penon that often lift the subbass over midbass, the opposite is true here and there is a graduated lift across the lower midrange. Everything is tight, clear and well weighted thanks to that linear character. This flatters instrumental music as nothing is overtly out of place in emphasis. It also creates the weaker secondary characteristic of ‘flat’. It is balanced on either end, not over accentuated in the lower treble or the bass. This is not synonymous with lacking in musicality, in fact the Vortex is highly engaging and very dynamic.

Finally, a tertiary (opposing) sound characteristic is present – a very subtle but effervescent warmth and fullness that is largely owed to the steady roll into the midrange from the low end. It exists opposed to primary sound signature and although the Vortex remains bright in primary sound signature it achieves a reasonable balance, overall, due to this tertiary sound characteristic.


The other side to Vortex is an undeniable technicality. The brighter tonality encourages a critical ear. The Vortex, as the name suggests, is a swirl of dynamics. Micro and macrodynamics are well captured and the clarity and air produces a well imaged and layered sound. It really is hard to grumble at the technical nature of this set for close to $200. It’s resolving and not just bright, it is quick and responsive and there is no smearing of detail in the busiest of electronic tracks. Soundstage is acceptable for the price but the width it offers is certainly not its forte. Rather you get a stage with very good height, depth and well defined layering. Much of it does occur within the headspace, however. Apart from excellent dynamics the other appeal is the resolution and note texture in the bass. A lot of DDs lack the fine detail to bring out double bass string textures well. In this sense, the DD here reminds me of more recent well-tuned planar sets that manage to extract very good bass texture without bloom.

Listening Observations

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – The Essential – Little Wing

A very vivid and crisp presentation of this track. Lots of energy from the guitar and an airy stage with an impactful and controlled percussion, without any splashy cymbals. It is only limited by its lateral width, however layering on the stage has depth and imaging is quite definitive. Tonally the Vortex is on the money for this sort of blues rock. I have included this because I believe this sort of music library is where the strengths lie for this IEM. A library with plenty of instrumental macrodynamics, like orchestral, rock etc.

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – Echo – Jula Kuta

This track reveals the incisive transient response and texture that the Vortex can offer up. The tonality and behaviour combine to produce a very metallic timbre to the harp and Kora. However, the clarity and upper midrange balance does portray a drier, brighter picture than my personal preference. If there were just a few more dB across the linear bass shelf to offer a better counterbalance, I feel things would lean more towards my preference.

Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & The Big Steppers – Rich Spirit

There’s a throbbing beat that starts quite early on that helps to gauge subbass extension. The Vortex manages to portray this part of the track with decent musicality, impact and dimension but a greater subbass presence here wouldn’t go a miss and I think it could be achieved will little loss to original tuning or much change to what appears to be its aim and philosophy.

Nenad Vasilic – Bass Room – Gavrilo’s Prinzip

(preferably find on your favourite streaming service)

This is a great listen on the Vortex. Midbass is tight and lower midrange lifted sufficiently to give adequate body and character to double bass. Textured string pulls, string harmonics, woody resonance. It’s all there down to the deepest notes, emphasising the transient detail that this DD can kick out. The bass extension or lower quantity mentioned earlier is not a limiting factor here for musicality and this is an example of how Vortex flatters instrumental music through revealing nuance of tone and texture.

Infected Mushroom – Cities of the Future

Despite my feeling that the Vortex is better for rock & other dynamic instrumental genres. I don’t feel the subbass emphasis is too lean for electronic music. In fact, the speed, macrodynamics and clarity make for a very energetic and exciting listen for electronic music. Layering, depth and imaging is maintained despite the increasing complexity of the tracks. Psytrance or other atmospheric electronic music is great fun. You may not get your deepest rumbling subbass but there’s enough thumping midbass to get the heart pumping (or at least in my case).

Agnes Obel – Aventine – The Curse

Female vocals are well placed and naturally reproduced. There’s a good balance achieved between body and breath and they are neither too forward nor recessed. They may lack some richness or warmth but this a matter of personal taste and they don’t lack ‘soul’ because of it.

Muddy Waters – Folk Singer – My Home Is In The Delta

Muddy Waters is a pleasure to listen to on the Vortex. There low mid lift and controlled pinna and upper midrange keeps shout under control. The guitar and drum kit placed laterally with old school stereo separation is great to listen to. Guitar is energetic and the drums are impactful. This track is another point of orientation for the Vortex and its strengths.

Closing Remarks

The Vortex surprised me, I see it as Penon diversifying its offering and exploring new ground. This is a good thing and should be praised. The Vortex is a successful neutral-bright set, that’s energetic, airy and has great dynamics. It will recreate instrumental music, especially guitar work with clarity and presence, percussion is weighted naturally and has every texture and hit explored. If you’re a fancier of single DD coherency, listen to a largely instrumental library (especially rock, blues, folk etc) and want a bright and musical set, the Vortex will no doubt catch you in her spin.

Kudos to Penon for exploring the tonal palette on this one!

I wonder if the Vortex uses the same driver as the DUNU Falcon Pro / Vernus?

Same driver size and coating, not to mention same MSRP

Probably a coincidence.
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Good thought. However, I'm pretty sure DUNU are very much priorietary with their drivers and thus unlikely to feature in a Penon IEM...unless of course there's been a favourable agreement between both...who knows! Both drivers share an excellent treble/air extension but certainly different tuning philosphies. I think I prefer the Vortex tuning for my library though.


Headphoneus Supremus
Discovering A Pearl
Pros: Down-to-earth pricing for TOTL performance
Master of subtlety and tonal nuance – perfect for classical & small ensemble
Spacious centre image
Excellent soundstage width & instrument separation
Great build quality & comfortable ergonomics
Cons: Buyers will likely expect more elaborate packaging for the price
Flatter signature may not be ‘dramatic’ enough for those used to a W/V signature

Source: Cayin RU6, 4.4mm BO, OS, low gain // Shanling M8, 4.4mm BO, low gain. Majority of listening on the Cayin RU6 for tonality/track impressions, with some time spent comparing impact of source on the Alita with the Shanling M8.

Cable: stock (SPC), Tips: small TRN T tips

UAPP and Qobuz

Disclosure: this was purchased at the full retail price of SGD$1393 from, no incentive was given for a favourable review.


Over the past twelve months or so I have remained very much a spectator of the IEM game, favouring earbuds over IEMs for their superior staging, wider centre image and more authentic timbre and coherence. My listening habits have changed very little over the past years, focusing on string instruments, female vocalists and world music. I enjoy detail, texture and a balanced tonality. I don’t mind a three-frequency emphasis provided it remains in balance and has an open and expressive midrange.

There has been an explosion of growth in the IEM market, with new brands entering, old brands resurfacing and new technology vying for our attention. Unfortunately, for the cash conscious amongst us, entry to the top end of the market comes at an increasing cost. We are seeing a weird and wonderful array of driver configurations, tuning profiles and acoustic tech emerge. Largely driven by fierce competition within the market and the desire to offer something ‘unique’. While tuning is all a matter of taste, I do feel some of these ‘unique’ tunings can stray wildly from what I perceive as natural or flattering to the instrumental music that makes up the majority of my library. There have been sets that grab me by the ‘crown jewels’ on first listen but as their novelty wanes, issues of balance, versatility and realism emerge. They just don’t have the staying power and I can’t be the only person searching for something that doesn’t contort itself for the sake of novelty…something more elegant and timeless. By fortune alone (read as: an unhealthy obsession with the Head-Fi forums), I think I have found that in the AüR Audio Alita. A 12 BA set from a small boutique brand out of Singapore, headed by Nicholas Teo and tuned by the IEM alchemist, Abel Hsu.

Accessories, Build Quality, Fit & Comfort

The accessories & packaging are utilitarian. There’s a small metal ‘puck’ case that contains the IEM, a good quality 2 pin braided SPC cable, a cleaning brush and some silicone ear tips. If you’re looking for your money to be spent on the packaging or accessories, look elsewhere. I suspect the vast majority of costing here has been put into what matters - the IEM itself – with the assumption that the majority of users will have their own storage cases, cables and tips. The stock cable is a nicely resolving silver-plated copper with a paracord sheath. If you’re not a cable-believer please look away now…later on in the review I would touch on cable synergy and the Alita is both tip, source and cable sensitive and really does reveal the qualities of the chain it’s attached to in quite an unaltered fashion. The stock cable demonstrates good synergy in emphasising both the low frequencies and emphasising the high, however for me, the quality of high frequencies wasn’t as refined as I’d have liked and I have had better success with other cables.

Hands on with the Alita, it doesn’t take long to see that it is made with love. It has a superb build quality, with a beautiful resin shell with a steel nozzle and a flat 2pin connector. The steel nozzle features a lip to further increase grip on ear tips and measures about 5.5mm-6mm in diameter at its widest point, with a metal filter to prevent ingress of debris. The resin is a pearl white colour and the faceplate has a semi-transparent web-like effect. It looks very special and it’s not something I’ve seen on other IEMs.

The Alita will fit the majority of users without issue owed to comparatively universal contouring of the concha that is anything but aggressive (see pictures). I have smaller than average ears and with the right tips manage to achieve a flush fit. There’s no visible venting on the shell. With enclosed BA sets in the past I have encountered some pressure build up, but that’s not the case here and I can comfortably listen to these for longer sessions that might last 4-5 hours. What’s probably most impressive about the build is how Abel has managed to fit 12 BA drivers into this rather small shell. The faceplate reveals the positioning of the drivers within and they are tightly grouped to make the most of the available space.



Please see the frequency chart provided by AüR Audio below:

Alita FR.png

AüR Audio Alita Sound Signature Chart

This plot should be interpreted on all axes simultaneously. The primary signature is shown with secondary and tertiary sound signatures. I have included the primary tonality plot for the other two AuR Audio releases - the Neon Pro (10BA switch on and off) and Aure (1DD+6BA, now discontinued) for those interested.

AuR Tonality Plot.png

Primary = Mid-centric – warm

Secondary (Strong) = Detailed

Secondary (Strong) = Mid forward

Secondary (Weak) = Smooth

Sound Signature Breakdown

I have to start this section with a disclaimer: I have heard surprisingly elastic changes to Alita with changes in source, tips and cable (in that order) but by on large, the above plot is accurate across those variables. My preferred source is the Cayin RU6, a mid-centric source that reveals organic textures really well and enhances layering, something that by all accounts can be attributed to the R2R sound – if you have an R2R source I imagine it will play well with the Alita. The Shanling M8 opens up staging and adds midbass heft, loses some layering and depth and sounds less organic with more ‘digital’ treble presentation. This digital sound is something I’ve not appreciated from the Velvet Sound AKM4499EQ of the Shanling M8 before and I put this down to the wonderfully detailed and open sound of the Alita.

Regardless of the source, cable and tips, I always hear the Alita remaining ‘mid-centric-warm' in primary signature owing to an open lower midrange, tasteful controlled pinna gain and largely neutral presence and brilliance. The focus always remains in the midrange and it leans 'warm' in temperature thanks to a naturally weighted and gliding bass shelf and subdued (but not absent) air. Despite this warmth it does not come across as veiled or muffled. A strong secondary characteristic that emerges from that warmth is of detail. The upper midrange presence holds your attention and exposes detail in a very natural and effortless way. It does not shout and it displays no sibilance in vocal replay. There is a balance of note definition and transparency that is perfect for instrumentals and this leads me onto the strong secondary sound characteristic of being mid-forward. The bass is controlled and the lower treble and air fall slightly behind the more forward midrange. Notes are not boxy or blunted despite this midrange emphasis. The final, weaker, secondary sound characteristic is the Alita’s ‘smooth’ presentation. This is mostly a product of the aforementioned tonal balance. There is nothing jarring or unexpected about this tonality and even though notes are well defined and textured, they are not sharp, grainy or overexposed.


As an all-BA set, the Alita, not surprisingly has excellent speed and agility. I will cover this more in my listening observations but suffice to say, it doesn’t struggle to keep up with complex, layered tracks and it never feels strained or lacking in transient depth. Having said that, this is far from the most clinical BA set I have heard in terms of speed and transients. Abel has chosen these BAs wisely for a very natural attack and decay that fits nicely with its mid-centric, organic tuning.

The soundstage is wide with good depth and with a very coherent and spacious centre image when sounds pan through or occupy that space. The mid-centric tuning and warmer approach to the bass and treble gives the stage an intimacy but it doesn’t sound claustrophobic or choked. This is one of the reasons I prefer the Alita for jazz and smaller performances, the tonality is more intimate than grand but that is not at the exclusion of performing well with orchestral or large ensemble music thanks to the stage width and good layering.

The Alita is a highly resolving sound, note texture is abundant and enjoyable. The spacious soundstage feels as though it opens up each note. There’s adequate depth to appreciate the textures (this is hard to verbalise), plenty of resolving power and nothing feels compressed or flat. For this reason, instrument timbre is easily discerned and when taken in the context of its ‘natural’ tuning you have a very realistic instrument replay.

A side note here, soundstage, imaging and layering appears source-dependent. I have stuck with the RU6 with a tighter stage than the Shanling M8 but on which tonality, layering and separation improve, to my ears. And yet, with this tighter stage, it still does not feel closed in. I would encourage listeners to experiment. I have not been disappointed with the scaling and adaptability of the Alita.


From left to right: Alita (12BA), Aure (1DD+6BA), Neon Pro (10BA)

Listening Observations

Source: Cayin RU6, stock SPC cable, Qobuz via UAPP

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Chamber Music – Chamber Music

A all-round beautiful example (maybe, only example?) of kora & cello duet. The taught, brittle strings on the kora and the softer, woody resonance of the cello is masterfully captured. The flourish and force of kora plucking can often get quite sharp on some transducers. Not the Alita, just natural through and through. The fingering of the strings is heard and ‘felt’ in all its brilliance and zing. The cello is weighted well thanks to the naturally boosted bass and lower midrange. String texture is present, notes aren’t overly smooth, dry or wet…they’re just ‘correct’.

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Musique de Nuit – Balazando

A large part of this album was recorded open-air on a rooftop in Bamako, Mali. You can hear the nearby sound of sheep and distant pickup trucks passing. As you would expect it’s a very ‘open’ recording with the buzz of a close air always palpable. The Alita, despite having a subtle air past 12k still manages to reveal the higher frequency atmosphere in the recording and places the instruments with superb separation and clarity. How the musicians handle the instruments can be discerned from the informative lateral depth and spacious centre image.

Gabi Hartmann – Gabi Hartmann – Baby

A wonderful smooth jazz album. Gabi’s multilingual vocal performance pops from the track, lush with warmth and detail. This type of warm, female jazz vocal is’ Alita’s ’bread and butter’ – it will never let you down if this is your gig. The various instruments are placed around the head with good separation and dimension. The timbre of both the bass and guitar are informative despite heavy processing. Listeners after bright and heady vocals for Asian pop music may be better served elsewhere.

Hadouk Trio – Air Hadouk – Dididi

Gobs of resolution and texture. The main woodwind is masterfully presented, with maximum clarity but a natural weight and warmth. Perfect percussive tone, texture and decay from the accompanying hand drums. Faultless presentation of a brilliant recording.

Lucas van Merwijk and Aly N’Diaye Rose – Drumix – Meta ‘Tony’ Meta

Another test for percussion. This can be a pretty exciting track and while the Alita gives me every tonal and timbral nuance my heart desire, I find myself wishing for slightly more midbass impact, slightly more lower treble sparkle and better macrodynamics to do this roaring drum performance justice. It comes across as just slightly less vital as a performance because of the Alitas flatter signature. If you’re someone more sensitive lower treble sparkle and want to run far from splashy cymbals, I can see a real appeal to how Alita presents drums.

Rolf Lislevand – Kapsberger: Libro Quatro D’intavolatura Di Chitarone – No.6, Canario

I generally use this to assess imaging and staging (along with some Yosi Horikawa). The wooden percussion and bells give some great placement cues and there’s a lovely dark background for these sounds to hang in. It’s also a great track to catch lute timbre. First off, the stage is wide, beyond the ear and deep, with enough dimension to make out the wooden percussion front right and the bell centre right. The wooden percussion can sound dull on some IEMs with no clarity or texture if the upper midrange is not emphasised appropriately. The Alita has an expert balance of clarity and warmth, enough to pull the subtleties of these accompanying instruments into the soundspace. The lute sounds beautiful through the Alita, it’s sweet, organic and textured and isn’t missing the Baroque romance and allure.

Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – Echo – Jula Kuta

This is a wonderful collaboration from a harpist and a kora player. The recording and mixing is superb too. With the Cayin RU6 and Alita, I’m pretty much in heaven. The kora is not sharp but its detailed and accurate, the harp is beautifully resonant in all its harmonic glory. Note definition and tactility is spot on. The harp has a weighty reach down low that’s very atmospheric thanks to the bass lift. This is another example of what the Alita was built for. Clear but organic with natural string timbre. If you get the tuning at 6-10kHz wrong, this track will highlight that.

Listen to Chaminuka on the same album for some wonderful Malian vocals. They are perfectly placed on Alita. Not forward and invasive, but weighted appropriately and complimenting the instrumental performance. The Alita isn’t what I would consider a vocal specialist or vocal orientated, it’s more about the performance as a whole but feed it vocal work and it doesn’t disappoint. (See next)

Vox Clamantis – Arvo Part: The Deer’s Cry – Summa

*Available on Qobuz and other platforms*

This choral track written by Part really tests the natural balance of female and male vocals. The Alita doesn’t really favour either gender. Placement of singers isn’t as wide laterally as some other sets I have heard like Mentor but it competes in separation and depth.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – The Essential – Little Wing

No shrill replay of SRVs guitar, realistic textures and great separation. While the guitar work is exciting and expressive, I would want more weight and sparkle in the drums here. This track sits on the outskirts of Alita’s musicality for me for that reason.

Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & The Big Steppers – Rich Spirit

Just as a test of bass presence, there’s definitely subbass without roll off and good midbass presence on the Alita. It’s very tasteful and balanced but the focus remains the midrange. The Alita bass is a few dB shy of what would get my foot tapping with this track. Kendricks vocals are clear and textured and neutral in placement. As an aside, the lack of subbass roll off makes the Alita a great choice for OSTs (especially scores from Zimmer).

Nenad Vasilic – Bass Room – Gavrilo’s Prinzip

*Available on Qobuz and other streaming platforms*

I can’t review an transducer without putting it through this album. I love it. There’s a need for textured bass and natural decay. The bass needs to be emphasised naturally and glide from sub to midbass to low mid. Midbass tucks totally sap the joy here. The midrange needs to be clean and open for string texture and resonance to be done justice otherwise things can sound to blunted and soft. The tuning here just works and despite being all BA, the sound has a lovely tactility to the strings movement.

Vox Luminis – Bach: Actus Tragicus – I. Sonatina

A flawless presentation of Bach and vocal ensemble and just bloody beautiful on the Alita. Quite lost for words here (which isn’t great when you’re trying to review something). I don’t listen to a lot of classical but can see the Alita being at the end of the IEM journey for those that do. The tonal balance, large staging, clear layering and resolution means it can handle the complexity of larger performances and everything just sounds ‘correct’.

Closing Remarks

I have been critical of the direction of the high end IEM market as of late, with its diminishing returns and the hype and novelty that some brands appear to play into. Alita has managed to restore my faith and obliterate some latent cynicism. There has been some real thought and attention put into this product. It has a beautifully mature tuning philosophy implemented into a technically adept 12BA set up. For my library and with my preferred source (RU6), the Alita is a sublime match. It wouldn’t be right to close without mentioning the tuner – Abel Hsu. I called him an alchemist in the introduction because he seems to have the Midas touch. The other AüR Audio sets that I have heard are excellent in their own right and are shaped by tuning choices fit for different purposes. Importantly, for those who love detail, they all share an upper midrange that produces a well-balanced clarity while avoiding the majority of fatiguing frequencies in the process (YMMV, but this alone has been a game changer for me).

The beauty here is how graciously Alita presents music. In the age of 22 carat gold, diamond encrusted IEMs this sort of maturity certainly has its appeal.

Last edited:
Thanks - great job

Currently I am using Convolution filters (WAV files) with some other IEM's.

Are the necessary data available some where to produce Convolution filters (WAV files) for Alita?

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Epic review 😎🤪🤘
Que cable tiene


Headphoneus Supremus
Ripples: Making Waves
Pros: Heaps of dynamic contrast
Balanced tonality with genre versatility
Proficient imaging
Exceptional clarity without sibilance
Portable source ‘friendly’ for a high impedance driver
Cons: ‘Narrower’ soundstage than other TGXear offerings
Forward ear gain and presence region may fatigue over long periods depending on tolerance
Alpha remains the most timbrally accurate in my opinion


I’ve spent over six months now with the Serratus, four with the Alpha and almost two with the Ripples. Of my growing earbud collection, including a number of the ‘named’ brands and other DIY/custom efforts, the TGXear line-up has proven to have the strongest staying power at my desk over this time. Each TGXear bud has its own appeal but they feel united by a vision that makes musical realism a primary concern. Jim (@tgx78) takes a carefully considered approach to tuning and over the course of the past year has certainly set a standard for himself in this regard. With this review I hope to give some insight into what the Ripples represents and how it compares to some of the other models currently available from TGXear because there are distinctions that may be decisive when purchasing.

Let’s get stuck in!

Note bene

As was the case with my Alpha review impressions are written using the Valhalla 2 desktop tube amplifier and the Shanling M8. The Ripples is lower impedance driver (100 ohm) compared to the Alpha (600ohm) and Serratus (300ohm). Unlike these two models, it does not feel bottlenecked when running from a portable source but for the sake of consistency and comparison I thought it best to continue using desktop power. Reassuringly, despite being a lower impedance driver, there is black background with little noise and a reasonable amount of play available from the volume pot on the amplifier.

This is the first notable benefit of the Ripples, there’s a greater flexibility and less restriction to source/power requirements and these differences are not negligible in my opinion. Both the Alpha and the Serratus benefit from power from both a tonal and technical standpoint. While this is largely down to preference, with instrumental music I find the Serratus’ note weight and tuning on the thinner side and the lower midrange benefits from the power to offer greater balance to the pronounced upper midrange and lower treble. It is a similar story with the Alpha, the high impedance driver has tighter control, better impact and more natural clarity as you feed it greater power. While the Ripples does perform ‘better’ from my desktop amplifier my enjoyment is not sacrificed when going portable using my ifi GO Bar. This is likely due to several factors: the lower impedance, the impression of an inherently ‘expressive’ driver with minimal dampening and finally, it has a tuning that offers a greater midbass/low-mid emphasis than the others.

TGXear kindly provided this unit for review. As always, rest assured that this kindness will not save the Ripples from criticism, nor has TGXear had sight of this review before publication. Thank you Jim for the opportunity.

Accessories, Fit & Comfort

As they say, ‘first impressions are everything’ and the Ripples definitely made the right first impression. The new hard carry case that TGXear bundles in with the Ripples is great quality, with a solid zipper and smartly branded with the company logo. Adding a personal touch, Jim still labels the each unit with a serial number by hand. In the carry case are plenty of spare foams (to retain the intended tuning), a professional looking business card with a 3-step guide on how to achieve a good fit. Also included is a TGXear pin badge and wrist strap attachment for the case.


The aesthetic of the entire package is cohesive and worthy of the ‘boutique’ standard that TGXear is striving towards. From the carry case, to the smoke grey MX500 shells, the silver-plated graphene cable, minimalist metal cable accessories and the rhodium plated termination. It comes together perfectly and the finish on the earbud itself is very good. There is minimal glue or imperfection visible around the driver/shell and the internal wiring is neatly managed.

A note on fit – don’t overlook this if you’re new to earbuds – reach out to TGXear or drop by the ‘Earbuds roundup’ thread for advice on achieving a good fit if this is an issue. Positioning, fit and choice of foam/wings/silicone rings may alter the perceived tuning of the earbud. If you’re not sure about the fit of the MX500 shell there are a number of cheap earbud options online to purchase to test before purchase. Jim does his very best to work to the requests of his customers and from my understanding, upon special commission, he can create the Ripples in a ‘bell’ shell that accommodates the smaller ear. Similarly, the Tantalus and Serratus are also available in a bell form.


TGXear Ripples Sound Signature Chart

For the background of this chart and its interpretation please see here. Notably, this plot should be interpreted on all axes simultaneously. The primary signatures of the other TGXear models are provided for comparison, compared through the same source. Credit to @WoodyLuvr for providing the placement of Tantalus as I have not heard this model.

Ripples Chart.png

Sound Signature Plot

Primary = Mid-centric – Neutral

Secondary (Strong) = Forward Mids

Secondary (Strong) = Detailed

Secondary (Weak) = Hard-harsh

Secondary (Weak) = Neutral

Tertiary (Complementing) = Warm

Sound Signature Breakdown

The primary sound signature of the Ripples is ‘mid-centric neutral’. Let me clarify this further. This is an unabashed mid-centric signature, as with most earbuds, and therefore is far from ‘flat’ in presentation and frequency emphasis, but in terms of note colouration / temperature, I see it as sitting on the midpoint of the X-axis plot and thus feel it’s better serviced by describing the tonality as ‘neutral’. The forward midrange defines the experience but this is balanced well with a lifted midbass and upper mid and lower treble presence. This tuning bestows a vividness and dynamism to its presentation that is quite unlike the Serratus and the Alpha. If we were using ‘conventional’ terminology I would describe this as a W-shape as opposed to a V-shape signature.

The strong secondary signature that is apparent almost immediately on first listen is one of ‘detail’, and while I would not describe it as ‘critical’, this is a signature that offers up very good presence that will reveal-all in your recordings and were it not for a tertiary, complementing warmth from a full lower midrange it would enter ‘critical’ territory. As my listening impressions will explain, technically, I feel this driver has a very good resolving power. It has a quicker attack and decay with tighter control than both the Serratus and Alpha drivers and not unnaturally so and I feel this lends itself to information retrieval and accentuating this secondary sound signature.

A weak secondary signature is ‘hard-harsh’ owed to the mid-centric tuning that does have clear emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble. I would not describe this as ‘bright’ as there is no shrill tones or sibilance and the lower treble is smoother and less extended than the Serratus with a warmer note. However, with the ear gain and midrange centricity of the Ripples, accentuated by the tightness of the stage it is a hard edged picture. The Ripples treads a thin line but remains on the correct side of this line on the whole. The added presence really highlights a superb note definition contributing to realism, perceived detail and vitality of the tune, but does come with a ‘hardness’ of tone. This does not detract from my enjoyment of the Ripples and in fact is one of the reasons I reach for it, it offers a vital, detail-orientated listen. Some will naturally prefer this more forward, vivid and evocative presentation than the softer, more laidback and delicate presence on other sets, particularly the Alpha.

TGXear Comparison Table

Ripples (100ohm bio fibre)Alpha (600ohm Beryllium)Serratus (300ohm PET BG)
Mid-centric Neutral (1)Mid-centric Warm (1)Mid-centric Aggressive (1)
Forward Mids (2; strong)Forward Mids (2; strong)Forward Mids (2; strong)
Detailed (2; strong)Warm (2; strong)Neutral (2; strong)
Hard-harsh (2; weak)Detailed (2; strong)Airy (2; weak)
Neutral (2; weak)Smooth (2; weak)Sharp (2; weak)
Warm (3; complementing)Airy (3; complementing)Warm (3; opposing)

  • Primary sound signature
  • Secondary sound signature (weak or strong)
  • Tertiary sound signature (complementing or opposing)
(N.B. this is not the totality of the TGXear line up – I have yet to hear the Tantalus or the Totem)

Below are some tonal & technical observations:

  • The most dynamic of the bunch – i.e. accentuates micro & macro-contrast and swings in volume and energy the best
  • The most ‘balanced’ tuning overall, offering a more naturally revealing treatment of the lower treble and with greater note weight than Serratus
  • Note definition & presence is greatest on the Ripples
  • Psychoacoustic imaging is better than the Serratus as a result of the above
  • More body to male vocal reproduction than Serratus
  • Vocals more forward than Serratus and slightly more so than Alpha
  • More natural timbre than Serratus
  • Less spacious centre image and soundstage width than Serratus and Alpha
  • More spacious centre imaging and wider staging than the Ripples
  • Brighter with more ‘atmosphere’ and air than Ripples
  • Greater midrange clarity than Ripples and Alpha
  • Less forward vocal positioning than Ripples and Alpha
  • Greater stage depth & height than both Serratus & Ripples
  • Wider stage than Ripples but narrower than the Serratus
  • Clearer instrument separation & better layering than Serratus & Ripples
  • Warmer note than both Serratus & Ripples
  • Has the most spacious and coherent centre image
  • Lighter note weight and softer definition than Ripples
  • Greatest note texture
  • Most natural timbre overall

As you can tell, each offers something slightly different. Tonally the Ripples offers the greatest versatility with more balance inherent in its tuning than the Alpha and Serratus. The midbass impact and low mid note weight lends itself to more life-like low frequency instrument fundamentals. Reaching deeper into the subbass than the Alpha, the Ripples plays further into modern genres including pop / dance / ambient. The other notable tonal difference is the better lower treble tuning. The Serratus was overly exposed and emphasised in this region which produced a more metallic and incisive tonality that on occasion would catch me off guard. I would argue the experience was ‘hi-fi’ but not ‘true-fi’ and I found this tuning would detract from instrumental realism and my enjoyment. The Ripples has no such issues. It’s a resolving driver with a naturally resolving tuning. Technically, each has their appeal. The Ripples has a lovely definition around the edges and a healthy amount of bite that accentuates positional accuracy. The Serratus a more spacious centre image, wide staging and an airy signature. While the Alpha has the centre image, depth, layering and an enveloping soundstage height.

Instrument timbre, a quality with tonal/technical overlap, has probably been the hardest for me to judge and in my opinion is a battle between Ripples and Alpha. Allow me to preface this by emphasising how TOTL both are in terms of timbre. No other transducers I have (or had) do it like these two earbuds. I was immediately impressed by the perceived detail and note definition offered by the Ripples and what that brings to the experience. Detail is portrayed vividly and with an exacting character, metallic strings have a brilliance and responsiveness to them that is TOTL. Having said that, after a period of listening and close A/B’ing between Alpha and Ripples I still believe the former is more accurate. The Ripples has a sharper onset and offset, while the Alpha feels more relaxed, with attack and decay more naturally extended and with a more revealing note texture between these two points. String texture and resonance are emphasised more on the Alpha and this is particularly important for my library of double bass, bass, cello, viol etc. This is splitting hairs and I understand that Jim adores the Ripples for its timbre. What defines these characteristics is impossible to unpick and its likely a combination of the tuning and driver characteristics. Regardless, both the bio fibre of the Ripples and the beryllium of the Alpha are very honest in their instrument portrayal and you’re not going to be disappointed with either.

To summarise, for a well-extended, technically competent transducer with a cleaner midrange go for the Serratus; for a portable, vivid & versatile, jack-of-all trades go for the Ripples; for lovers of classical, jazz and string instrumentals in general and who index for timbre and tonal accuracy above all else my money would be with the Alpha (please see my review). If you’re flush with cash or a collector of well-tuned earbuds, why not get all three? The value proposition is strong across the board.

Listening Observations

As in my Alpha review, I’ve selected some tracks to highlight attributes of the Ripples. Most of these are the same tracks used previously to allow for comparison and a point of reference.

Nenad Vasilic – Bass Room – Gavrilo’s Prinzip

The speed and tactility of the Ripples is great here. The lifted midbass and dynamism really helps convey resonance. Tone and timbre are very hard to grumble at, it’s all very realistic and textured well. The Ripples offers a more exciting listen than Alpha, however, imaging is tighter and slightly less informative.

[Please find on your favourite streaming platform]

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Rich Spirit

Testing the subbass extension here, there’s plenty of presence to it. Ripples does the track justice and Kendricks forward and ‘whining’ vocal tone is well controlled. The Serratus provides a slightly more atmospheric presence thanks to its soundstage but with less rumble and impact. There’s not much in it but I will go out on a limb and say that the Ripples dethrones Serratus in depth of bass extension. Alpha taps out on this track with a more significant roll off that limits its versatility for modern tracks. To say that my enjoyment from this track on the Ripples is no less than on some of my IEMs is a testament to the bass performance of this driver.

Lucas van Merjwijk and Aly N’Diaye Rose – Drumix – ‘Rumbita

Knocking it out of the park, the Ripples' bass and dynamism truthfully recreates percussion without issue. High-hats, bass drum etc. Cymbal crashes are inoffensive and true to life but lack some of the sparkle of the Serratus and tail end decay present on the Alpha. Despite this, I feel Ripples is the choice set for percussion lovers thanks to its dynamic character and bass emphasis.

Tool – Lateralus – The Grudge

I’ve searched high and low for an earbud that adequately handles Tool. As a genre, I think metal/rock is very hard to do justice to in the earbud form. You need a snappy driver with impact and an upper midrange control to handle the aggressive vocal work and convey metallic tones without being shrill, shouty or sibilant. I think the Ripples come closest to achieving this. I still feel larger drivers of headphones or closed system of an IEM do this genre best but the Ripples really puts in a good showing and I felt it I needed to be included here.

Ulf Wakenius – Momento Magico – The Dragon

The added bite and presence on the Ripples and the speed of the driver really shows off guitar well. It’s dramatic and has exceptional string clarity. The Serratus was slightly too thin for this track and the treble emphasis made things overly sharp. The Ripples finds a beautiful balance and I can find very little to be critical of when it comes to how Ripples handles acoustic guitar. Personally I like the softer and less metallic presentation of the Alpha but this will be a matter of preference.

Hadouk Trio – Air Hadouk – Dididi

A close recording of Didier Malherbe on woodwind shows us the ‘presence’ Ripples has in its tuning. The Ripples, like a pheonix nearing the sun, flies close to being too forward on some of the ‘licks’ but never crosses that line. The dimensionality and imaging of the Ripples is superb. Elements of the track hang in a coherent space on the soundstage. There's enough treble detail and extension to capture the breath within the music.

Closing Remarks

The Ripples is one of the most versatile earbuds in my collection. Selling points include: source flexibility, vivid clarity and tonal balance. It won’t dethrone the Alpha for timbral accuracy and tonally I prefer the more laid back and softer edges of the Alpha, however, taken as a total package including the build, accessories, tuning and timbre, the Ripples is the most ‘complete’ offering from TGXear thus far. Earbud driver technology and its implementation has come a long way in recent years and all credit to Jim for putting this particular driver to good use. The Ripples is beginning to make waves within the community and deservedly so.
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Thank you for catching that! Indeed, I meant better midrange clarity than Ripples and Alpha. I will edit that now.
Great review. I own the serratus and I’m not sure whether to get ripples or alpha next!
That's a tough one but I hope this review helps a little with that decision!


Headphoneus Supremus
TGXEar Alpha - The Perfect Note
Pros: Faultless tonality & timbre for instrumental music
Immersive listening experience
Satisfying technicalities
Scales with amplification
Cons: Tonality & presentation sensitive to source and amplification
Isolation & subbass roll-off limits some versatility with modern genres


The earbud is not new and while I wouldn’t be the right person to recount a history, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that ‘DIY’ efforts have been ongoing for many years and interest has been simmering away in various threads across the internet. The ease of access to parts combined with a shared knowledge base within a generous and inviting community has been a gateway to interested audiophiles and tinkerers alike. These custom crafters have been particularly active in Asia and South East Asia where the earbud medium has been adopted for its relative affordability and comfort owed to their open design and breathability, being particularly suited to warmer climates. It turns out that creativity is contagious, as is the love for the earbud, and we are now seeing more creators based in the West offering for sale their ‘custom’ or ‘boutique’ earbuds. Many of these boutique buds are proving that they can easily compete against branded products but without the QC-lottery of conveyer belt production.

Enter TGXear a Vancouver-based company, started by Head-Fi’er @tgx78, offering boutique earbuds (or high fidelity ‘earspeakers’ as their website describes them – this isn’t far from the truth!). Prior to listening to TGXear offerings I had only brief encounters with Jim on the forums, predominantly in the IEM space where I began to appreciate his astute critique of flagship IEMs. His appetite for texture, accurate timbre and a balanced tonal presentation appeared to mirror my own, as did some of his tastes in music. TGXear has produced three ‘flagship’ models so far – the Tantalus (500Ω beryllium driver), the Serratus (300Ω PET BG) and the Alpha (600Ω beryllium) – all named after snow-capped Canadian mountains. My first purchase was the Serratus a highly resolving and spacious listen that immediately shot to the top of my preferences, proving ‘better’ than most transducers I had to hand, both my existing earbuds and my IEMs (please find my tonality profile for the Serratus here).

I reached out to @tgx78 while atop the lofty summits of the Serratus and he pointed to a neighbouring peak, the Alpha, a set that I was told had a ‘special’ positional presentation with better timbre. My experience with beryllium drivers has been generally very positive, offering natural dynamics and texturing when implemented well, so it didn’t take long to put in my order. I was kindly offered a reviewer discount to provide my opinion on this one but I respect this community enough to not let this affect my judgement and statements of price to performance will be made from the retail price of $249.

Note bene

My review and tonality plot has been made from listening impressions with the Alpha fed by the Valhalla 2 desktop tube amp and supported by comparisons with the Shanling M8 DAP. The Valhalla 2 provides 340mW @ 600 ohms. Interestingly, I have found the Alpha more sensitive than its lower impedance brother the Serratus. However, despite appearing to achieve greater volume levels comparatively, the Alpha scales more with extra power than the Serratus. Both tonal and technical presentation on the Alpha changes in my experience. When fed with greater power the Alpha has a fuller midbass, greater upper midrange clarity and presence but with less transparency and air. Technically, staging expands in width, height and depth and instrument separation improves with the desktop power. I prefer the presentation on the Valhalla 2 over the more transparent Shanling M8, largely because the note weight and dynamics provide greater realism and musicality. Ultimately, both devices can ‘drive’ this transducer to good volume levels and both are very enjoyable experiences but for different reasons. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

Accessories, Fit & Comfort

Tracked delivery from Canada was swift and the Alpha well packaged. Communication was prompt and clear. The fixed silver cable chosen is lovely and lightweight, with minimal microphonics and no memory. The 4.4mm connector is rhodium plated and has the TGXear logo on it. The earbud comes with a firm zip case for storage and a good number of replacement foams - ones that were used in tuning. Also included is a cool ‘TGXear’ pin badge. Regarding fit, provided you don’t have issues with the MX500 shell this is a really lightweight and comfortable earbud. If you’re not sure, purchase any number of cheap MX500 earbuds on Aliexpress to trial for comfort before purchase.


TGXear Alpha Sound Signature Chart

For the background of this chart and its interpretation please see here.

2022-10-09 (1).png

Sound Signature Plot

Primary = Mid-centric – Warm
Secondary (Strong) = Forward Mids
Secondary (Strong) = Warm
Secondary (Strong) = Detailed (but not critical)
Secondary (Weak) = Smooth

Tertiary (Complementing) = Airy

Sound Signature Breakdown

The primary sound signature is ‘mid-centric-warm’. The Alpha is warm (but not dark), sitting at a reasonable distance from the neutral midline on the tonality plot. Although coloured, it remains very natural and displays what I would consider an ‘organic’ colouration to sound. This is very important for my enjoyment of the string instruments I listen to (from double bass to kamancheh). This warmth from a midbass & low midrange lift does not make the sound signature ‘veiled’ and both the secondary strong sound signature of ‘detailed’ and tertiary ‘airy’ sound characteristic ensures string detail is always retained with good character.

The Alpha has a strong secondary sound signature of a ‘forward mid’ presentation. A tendency for earbuds but especially this set, the ‘forward mid’ presentation puts vocals and instruments intimate to the listener and gushes with instrumental focus. This ‘forward mid’ presentation never pushes towards ‘boxy’ and sound is projected into a stage with good dimension. Dependent on the track and volume of replay there is a risk of ‘shout’ that is largely reserved for female vocalists and instruments in the upper midrange. To expand, four things will be at play here that will affect your experience: personal tolerances, mastering, replay volume and the effects of increasing driving power that seems to lift ear gain. Rest assured, it’s not hard to find a comfortable place that retains clarity and presence and without shout. The midrange shows no sibilance having good upper midrange/lower treble control and the ‘smooth’ weak secondary sound signature softens vocal presentation. On the whole, vocal body is appreciated more than vocal breath but the balance struck is romantic and enjoyable. Male vocals are full and not too ‘smooth’ that they lack ‘grit’ or texture. A tertiary complimenting sound characteristic of ‘airy’ is present which is more appreciable on lower powered sources on which the emphasis shifts up the frequency range. This air acts to counter balance the warmth and weight of its low-midrange focus by bringing out the atmosphere in recordings and adding definition, detailing and natural decay.

The Alpha has a beautiful tonal profile that never leaves instruments feeling incomplete. Even from the Shanling M8 the performance is laudible, offering life-like instrument replay with palpable fundamental note weight, complimented by a complete harmonic picture. A related quality to touch on here would be instrumental timbre i.e. how truthfully the Alpha presents complex tones. While I am not a musician I have spent many years enjoying live performances, mainly in the folk and world music scenes, and I like to think I have an ear for this. I put the Alpha through my library of instrument recordings that I have heard live and I couldn’t find a fault. For all intents and purposes, I consider this to have faultless timbral accuracy (or maybe I have reached the extent of my critical listening skill here). Timbral accuracy is something hard to come by. So-called TOTL IEMs often fall short in this regard and for those that index for instrumental realism in their music and still want portability, the Alpha represents a very compelling purchase at $250 for this aspect alone.

Fortunately for us, there is more to the Alpha than excellent tuning and faultless timbre. I would argue the X-factor emerges only when we consider how the Alpha presents this sound in space.


Earbuds excel with staging, offering ‘out the head’ presentations and it’s no different here, except the Alpha doesn’t just offer width that reaches ‘out of the head’, it has a spacious centre image and clearly defined positional cueing around the periphery of the stage. This produces a wonderfully dimensional feeling to the sound and combined with a stage height that reaches above and below the ear line and the ‘mid forward’ sound, you are thoroughly ‘within’ the recording. Stage width isn’t the widest and layering capability suits smaller, less complex performances but imaging in space is exceptional. The self-proclaimed ‘earspeakers’ moniker is well earned here. It’s an engrossing experience that only improves with time and familiarity. This isn’t a clinical, detached presentation, this is one of closeness and listener involvement – make of that what you will!

Listening Observations

Having covered the tonality & technicality I have chosen listening observations from a number of tracks I'm familiar with:

Nenad Vasilic – Bass Room – Gavrilo’s Prinzip

-- find on your favourite streaming service --

The bass and low mid performance is tested here. The double bass is full and impressively assertive. The ‘smooth’ and ‘warm’ tendencies soften some of the fine string detailing but at no loss to my enjoyment. Too many earbuds either go too thin and bright or too heavy and dark, but the Alpha manages to find a balance and do this instrument justice. This track can feel overwhelming at times, as the ‘boom’ and ‘resonance’ of plucked notes combine with the forward presentation, but it would be unfair to attribute this entirely to the Alpha. The recording itself accentuates this and these properties of tone and placement are noticeable when listening through more neutral transducers too.

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Rich Spirit

This is primarily to demonstrate the degree of subbass roll-off. Play this track with enough driving power and the Alpha produces good atmosphere and some ‘felt’ rumble but it is rather distant and thin. This sort of bass quantity is enough for some electronic genres but not all. While on this track, another class-leading facet of the Alpha is clear – great male vocals. Kendricks voice is weighted naturally, textured and undeniably well isolated with other track elements decorating the edges of the soundscape.

Christian McBride – Gettin’ to it – Night Train

Another close solo performance on the double bass. The Alpha conveys the energy of the musician, the body of the instrument and tension in the strings. It’s all there. A lot of sets present this track too dry or thin but the tonality and timbre of the Alpha keeps things locked in just the right place.

Brian Bromberg – My Bass

If you want to get up close and personal with bass guitar strings in all their metallic glory without any shouty mids or peaky treble the Alpha has you covered. It gives a perfect performance here. Quick enough to keep up and expressive enough to move enough air to send the performance straight to your core.

Lucas van Merjwijk and Aly N’Diaye Rose – Drumix – ‘Rumbita

The whole album is great for testing percussion tonality and texture, but I especially like this track as there are all sorts of things going on from high to low and elements are spaced and layered well on the stage. Kickdrums, snares, bells, cymbals, all the different tones and textures are ‘laid out’ to the ear in spacious centre image, fully exposed with nothing too tizzy or overwhelming. With regards to the bass, the quantity sufficiently enlivens the kickdrums but is again not to ‘basshead’ levels. Another faultless performance for the Alpha in my opinion. While on the topic of high-energy drumming, listening to ‘The Grudge’ by Tool there is some percussive weight and presence missing that I want for metal/prog rock – mastering of tracks probably plays into this need too, so it’s not a one size fits all.

Nicolas Parent Trio – Mirage – Désert blanc

Presentation here is well separated but characteristically forward on the Alpha and it really shines as an instrumental powerhouse. Guitar, cello and drums/percussion are all at play here. You can appreciate the guitar down to the tips of the Nicolas’ fingers. The imaging prowess and stage depth places all the instruments comfortably around the head. Percussion has a natural weight to its impact and thanks to strong imaging, the surface of the drum skin ‘radiates’ sound in space revealing all subtlety you could hope for. This is also something well demonstrated on the track ‘Joy’ on the same album wherein the ‘bol’ stroke on the tabla (a sliding palm motion over the skin after a finger strike) has a natural depth and resonance.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Little Wing (Album Version)

I tend to use this track to pick out ‘sharp’ treble presentations. The Alpha with its sensible, smooth lower treble combined with the height of the stage, detailing and imaging wizardry just puts the whole experience on another level. More than ever SRV makes me play air guitar!

Agnes Obel – Aventine (Deluxe Edition) – The Curse

The controlled upper midrange focuses on the body of her voice but the appeal on this track remains. It’s dream-like, intimate and detailed. High notes remain enjoyable and not shouty despite a forward vocal presentation. Supporting elements are well placed around the head for a good immersive effect.

Ulf Wakenius – Momento Magico – The Dragon

Another track I go to for guitar timbre and tonality. The left channel has some sharp plucked notes that if overemphasised or accentuated by a peaky/wonky treble come off entirely one dimensional, invasive and lacking the right emphasis. They’re handled great here, detailed but with softer edges and a natural decay. The right channel is handled just as well, with the flattering treble tuning controlling an aggressive strumming track that can come across harsh on some sets. Timbre heaven.

Wasis Diop – De la glace dans la gazelle – Sogolon

A nice demonstration of how Alpha handles male vocals. The spacious centre stage gives the vocals breathing space and the weighty low end and air gives soul to the voice. The downward vocal slide near 00:20-00:26 is my musical equivalent of a deep tissue massage…!

Serratus vs Alpha

For those looking into the Serratus and the Alpha but with money for only one I hope the following can help:

TonalityMid-forward Warm

(see chart)
Mid-forward Aggressive

(see chart)
Tonal differences lie largely in the treble and low mids. The Serratus is more transparent and revealing and the Alpha has more low-end body and less air. The Serratus is less ‘mid-forward’ placing vocals slightly further back.

Both are what I would also describe as ‘balanced’ from top to bottom and ultimately share a similar tonal DNA.
Timbre+++++IMO, the Alpha finds a more realistic note ‘colour’ thanks to its midbass/low mid lift and ‘smoother’ presentation. The Serratus seems to have a less realistic (quicker) note decay that when paired with its more aggressive/airy tonality makes its handling of complex tones less accurate.
Technicalities+++++The Serratus has a wider soundstage with better instrument separation and layering. The Alpha has a taller stage and more ‘holographic’ imaging.
StrengthsJazz, small ensemble, folk, world, blues, soulModern classical, large ensembles, contemporary jazz, ambientThe embodied low end, accurate timbre and (especially) forward mids of the Alpha lends itself to intimate, small group instrumental performances. The better layering, wider stage and more transparent sound of the Serratus plays well with more complex & atmospheric tracks. However, it is less forgiving of harsh recordings. If you are treble-sensitive the Alpha offers a smoother, warmer replay.
Metal and prog rock listeners may want more presence and impact from their percussion on both sets. Pop/electronic/hip hop listeners may want more bass in general.

Closing Remarks

I’ve found it hard to capture the value and virtue of the Alpha and it has been an even harder task to find a weakness. Sub bass is rarely reached in the genres I listen to so this roll-off (to some degree inherent to the earbud medium) doesn’t bother me. If you’re looking for an earbud for jazz, classical or acoustic music I struggle to see how this could be bettered. Most transducers have a compromise to make in tonality, technicality and/or timbre – rarely do you find standout performances in all three domains. After journeying between headphones, IEMs and earbuds I have found my ‘desert island’ driver and while l feel you need a desktop amplifier to truly hear what the Alpha has to offer, it still sounds great from powerful portable sources too. TGXear with its flagship earbuds has quickly cemented itself as a boutique brand to look out for; selecting drivers with purpose, tuning them with balance and implementing them well. Borrow, buy or bargain your way to an Alpha – you won’t regret the experience.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Hybrid Happiness
Pros: Resolving midrange
Well-balanced, natural tonality
Wide staging and good instrument separation
Versatile 'jack-of-all-trades'
Ergonomic shell
Easily driven by all sources
Cons: Lighter note weight
Soft bass impact
Treble lacking some sparkle
Driver configuration:

1 10mm LCP dynamic driver – low frequencies

2 Knowles 30018 – intermediate frequencies

2 Knowles 30019 – high frequencies

Source: Cayin RU6, low gain, NOS

Burn-in: 60 hours

Cable: stock cable (5N OCC), Eartips: stock silicone

Genres tested: jazz, classical, pop, hip hop


Rose Technics are a brand I was only introduced to this year but they have a strong pedigree in the earbud market and a fairly long-running line of IEMs too. This latest IEM is a revision of their QT-9, now revised for the third time. The predominant change on this occasion has been the implementation of a different DD in the low end. A ‘cutting-edge’ 10mm liquid crystal diaphragm from Sony that compliments 2 mid-Hz and 2 high-Hz BA units. With this revision Rose Technics are reporting improved coherence – something quite essential for a hybrid of this sort. The manufacturer advertises this IEM as a well-balanced and resolving IEM. Read on to see if this is the case…

Accessories & Packaging

The IEM comes in a diminutive package that reveals two snap-shut plastic cases that are heavy duty and can offer a safe travel partner for the QT-9 MK2S. Also included is an MMCX tool, a 6.35mm jack and a selection of silicone and foam ear tips. Importantly, they also throw in a few replacement filters for the IEM should they get dirty. The included cable is braided nylon 5N OCC MMCX terminating in a 3.5mm plug. It has excellent ergonomics as cables go – not too light, not too heavy and doesn’t tangle easily.

No complaints with the included kit, I think it’s reasonable for the price.



Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The QT-9 Mk2S is easily the smallest 5 driver hybrid I’ve encountered and Rose should be proud of what they have achieved here. You won’t truly appreciate how small and flat these things are until they are in your hands, the side profile is really impressive. The shell is contoured well and lies flat to my ears and is suitable for side-sleeping. The transparent plexiglass case reveals all the driver wizardry inside. Small circular vents near the MMCX port and at the base of the IEM provide ventilation for the drivers. Unlike some hybrid & BA sets, there’s not an ounce of pressure build up over time, which make these great for long listening sessions. Together with the comfort of the included cable Rose have probably produced one of the most universally welcoming IEMs in terms of ergonomics.





Tonality – bright, forward midrange, soft treble

Bass – balanced towards subbass, quick, light, soft impact

The bass on the QT-9 Mk2S is well tuned. It has a tasteful subbass presence for excitement and a carefully tuned midbass that rolls quite nicely into the midrange without veiling the overall signature. Utility is the name of the game with this tuning, it can equally handle electronic music and jazz / classical. There’s definitely some rumble here to be enjoyed but it’s not overemphasised at the expense of the texture and detail that the driver can produce. The QT-9 Mk2S was tuned by an experienced tuner and it shows. Double bass, bass and cello are reproduced well with nice woody notes that BA tend to struggle to do justice. The DD is quite quick and manages to keep pace with all manner of genres.

The only notable criticism in my opinion is the softer impact in the bass. This may have been a purposeful move by Rose to improve coherency in line with the naturally soft, ‘airy’ behaviour of the BAs. I should add here that there’s no issues with coherency. The crossover is well integrated and the DD and BAs share a similar character. Thankfully the bass never ends up being the characteristic ‘pillowy’ bass that some BA woofers produce that lack authentic attack and decay.

Midrange – uppermid focus, excellent female vocal rendition, respectable male vocal replay, high note density and presence

The low midrange is clean and male vocals have an acceptable amount of body. Female vocals replay impressively well, with excellent resolution and presence and are easily the star of the show. The midrange plays out on a wide stage with very good separation. There is an uppermid emphasis that keeps the sound lively but this may be off-putting for those sensitive listeners. There is no sibilance (thanks to a judicious anti-sibilance scoop) and only very rare ‘shouty’ vocal replay. This emphasis in combination with the tightly controlled bass and BA midrange drivers makes for a lighter note weight that you may or may not jive with.

Treble – reasonable detail retrieval, not a great deal of air

The treble is not overly emphasised and the life-blood is in the midrange. There’s detailing and definition to be enjoyed but I wouldn’t describe this as a ‘sparkly’ listen, nor particularly airy. This may, or may not be to your liking.


Soundstage – the stage has very good height and a generous centre image and stage depth allows the midrange to be explored. Stage width is good but not class leading for the price. Some of the more recent planar releases surpass this set at half the price.

Imaging, Instrument Separation & Layering – to make up for the somewhat subdued treble there’s good imaging and layering capacity. This ensures that tracks remain dimensional, interesting and exciting to listen to. Directional information is above average for the price I would say, reaching in front and behind the ear with impressive nuance.

Timbre – timbre is actually very good for BA hybrid, helped by the coherent nature of the QT-9 Mk2S I’ve had no issue enjoying acoustic music on this IEM. BA timbre can sound quite ‘glossy’ and ill-defined but the balanced tuning and uppermid presence ensures things stay natural.


The Rose Technics QT-9 Mk2S is a very well balanced hybrid that performs across genres without issue, remaining coherent, musical and resolving. If you’re after a versatile IEM with exceptional levels of comfort, a natural tonality that focuses on the midrange with good timbral accuracy, this could very well be the IEM for you. If you’re a critical listener or after V-shaped excitement of boosted treble, my advice would be to look elsewhere. In terms of competitive pricing, I would like to see this set sold at $150-200 where I believe it offers better value for money. Unfortunately (fortunately for us consumers), the market is moving very quick and the QT-9 Mk2S may just be out-performed by the newer planar and single DD offerings available. However, all things considered, the QT-9 Mk2S remains competitive as a hybrid configuration IEM.



Headphoneus Supremus
On the Edge of Greatness
Pros: Superbly realistic note weight
Dynamic and musical
Deep and full low end
Good layering and imaging
Scales with power
Cons: Female vocals feel somewhat distant & nasal
Instruments & vocals can lack presence and edge
Non-detachable & microphonic cable
Rose Technics Martini


Impedance: 32ohm

Frequency response: 20-20000Hz

Sensitivity: 102dB/mW

Cable length: 1.2m, available in 3.5mm & 4.4mm, non-detachable, copper litz


Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm PO, high gain)

Burn-in: circa 40hours

Primary genres: jazz, classical, ambient, electronic, world music, hip hop


The Martini can be purchased from Penon audio here. This unit was provided in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own and I will always endeavor to be honest and objective.

Accessories and Packaging

The unboxing experience is very simplistic. All outer and inner product information is in Chinese. The rear of the outer packaging has a ‘waifu’ on it – a increasingly present Chi-Fi fad that I will never understand. Rose Technics have clearly gone to lengths to create a novel product with a very classy look and the waifu seems entirely out of place here. Two matte-effect plastic cases are provided and contain the earbuds themselves in one and accessories in the other. In terms of accessories they include several pairs of full foams and, interestingly, at least in unit provided to me, they included a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter. This may be useful to those that opt for the 3.5mm termination and use sources with 6.5mm output. The overall impression I was left with was ‘utilitarian’ and quite basic.


Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The design and build of the shell on the Rose Technics Martini looks and feels very premium. The Martini has a steel driver housing and a two-way, gold-plated brass venting flutes that are advertised as improving bass (spoiler: they’re right!). It is using a 15.4mm carbon ceramic driver and the shell has an external diameter of about 16.5mm – large as earbuds go but they fit in my ears fine and I have smaller and shallower than average concha. They feel sturdy and have a good weight to them but they never left my ears feeling fatigued from long-listening and they never fell out during travel. Rose Technics have nailed the build quality here in terms of weight, durability comfort and aesthetics.

Onto the downsides of the build and looking at the cable, it’s non-detachable, stiff and microphonic. The outer protective weave and the cable within is highly microphonic, especially if you decide not to use the chin cinch. The chin cinch is plastic but well-made and has excellent grip. With the chin cinch raised firmly the microphonic effect beneath is still present but reduced by about 50%. Rose should have used a softer/more loose weave and less stiff cable insulation. The Y-split should be moved further up the cable to reduce the length of potentially microphonic material. Better yet, design the earbud housing to have a detachable cable.




Sound Performance

Bass – midbass focus with subbass extension, impactful, full bodied, good detail and texture


A selling point if there ever was one. The bass is ‘embodied’ with a palpable sustain to it and the Martini make all my other earbuds sound limp and hollow. The impactful midbass is exciting and there’s a rumble to subbass that I’ve heard few sets produce. The bass manages to be dynamic with a softer edge to it that makes long listening sessions a breeze. Bass string instruments sound correct and with enough twang from the upper registers to remain exciting. The texture and detailing to the bass is good and there’s clearly a balance executed here leaning towards quantity over quality but it remains what I would consider Hi-Fi in its depth and nuance and doesn't overwhelm the midrange.

Listen to bass-centric electronic music? These will keep your ears occupied and your brain engaged. Listen to instrumental music? Instruments will have a much more natural weight to them that earbuds often fail to reproduce due their open presentation. Everyone is a winner here. As for the source of the magic, maybe it’s the wizardry of the carbon ceramic driver or the flute venting system, or both? Whatever the case, Rose Technics have managed to push a monumental amount of air from this driver without it losing depth, dimensionality and control.

Notable test tracks:

Lorn – Mercy (from Ask the Dust)

Lorn – Diamond (from Ask the Dust)

Nenad Vasilic – Tscusch Chochek (from The Art of the Balkan Bass)

Midrange – gorgeous lower midrange, male vocals outstanding, no sibilance or shout, female vocals distant and slightly nasal, detailing and presence in the upper midrange is lacking.


The midrange is a ‘mixed bag’. The bass and lower midrange work hand-in-hand to create a strong replay of the majority of instruments and makes for a really special listening experience. Unfortunately, there are some issues within the upper midrange. Female vocals and some male artists with higher vocal range can sound distant and lacking clarity. There’s a slight nasal slant that predominates with vocals that, unless you’re listening for it, or very hard-line in your tastes, probably won’t bother you but it is something to consider. The more distant vocal replay is further compounded by the lack of edge to vocal transients making for a softer listen on vocal-centric tracks. A similar characteristic is seen with string instruments that have a smoother/softer presentation. Finally, a degree of unevenness has revealed itself over time, where on very rare occasions I have had to drop the volume to avoid shout (this may just be personal tolerance issues and only ever seems to happen with saxophone).

The overall presentation of the midrange leans towards the analogue and organic and certainly isn’t analytical.

Notable test tracks:

Agnes Obel – The Curse

Manu Katche – Short Ride



The treble does a reasonable job of completing the picture without significant roll off and providing a degree of sparkle. There is nothing inherently wrong here but I do think we are starting to see the limits of the carbon-ceramic driver in terms of extension, producing a room-like quality to recordings and not much air. If this is the trade off for the incredible bass and body in the lower frequencies, I’m willing to accept it.


Soundstage – good height and depth, dimensions scale with power (give the Martini plenty) and you will be treated to an over-ear headphone-like experience in a much more portable format.

Imaging, instrument separation & layering – probably the strongest technical aspect of this earbud is its cohesive soundscape. Instruments and elements of the track are placed well with good depth and layering. I find it very easy to move my attention between individual elements of tracks and back to the greater whole quite quickly (my less-than-scientific test of imaging).


The Rose Technics Martini is an interesting proposition. Build quality is excellent (bar the cable) and the tuning, despite its idiosyncrasies, remains warm, organic and versatile. Earbuds would not normally be my choice for bass-heavy music but I find myself reaching for the Martini when listening to electronic music. The bass provides body and heft that many of my earbuds cannot compete with.

Who is the Martini for? I would say the primary audience here are lovers of electronic music (D&B/dub/trance, all sorts). This driver has the heart to deliver in the low end and the shortcomings in the midrange will never be an issue. For those people the Martini could easily be end-game. Instrumental music lovers who are after an analogue presentation with good technicalities will also warm to the Martini. As it stands, the Martini is a strong all-rounder playing a variety of genres to a very good standard. However, for my personal taste, I would want more upper midrange and a better vocal replay and I hope Rose Technics continues to refine future iterations to that effect.

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Just say no to silicon rubber rings... at this point it is becoming an IEM!

In all serious, the rings are a good recommendation along with wings and thicker foams/cushions.
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Thanks for the review mate. Any comparison to the st 10 or st 20 bass?
Haven't heard either unfortunately. I hope you find what you're looking for though!


Headphoneus Supremus
Shozy SCB2 - A seductive dreamscape...
Pros: Heaven for the treble sensitive listener
Excellent male vocal presence
Very enjoyable reproduction of percussion and low end instruments
Tall and deep soundstage
Quality stock cable
Cons: Minimal upper Hz air
Some may prefer more uppermid/lower treble bite
Largely redundant filters

Driver configuration:

1 dynamic driver

32Ω impedance, 110dB sensitivity, 20 – 20kHz

2pin 0.78mm connectors, ISN SC4 cable

Source: Shanling M8

Burn in: 200hrs

Stock cable, stock silicone tips

Genres tested: world music, jazz, classical, pop, hip hop

The SCB2 was kindly provided for review by Penon Audio. This review reflects my honest opinion and Penon have had no sight or say with regard to the content of this review. The Shozy SCB2 can be purchased here.


The Shozy SCB2 is a collaborative project between ISN, known for their cables and Shozy the creators behind the original ‘Shozy B2’. This was an IEM I had not experienced first-hand, indeed this was my first encounter with a Shozy IEM. ISN however, are know well for their top quality cables, and in this collaboration ISN bring their expertise in the form of a silver & copper hybrid cable, the ISN SC4, to lift more detail and life from the B2. The result? The SCB2!

The SCB2 arrived into my life during a love affair with the Oriolus Isabellae, an IEM that I have since sold. They are two single DD sets with (almost) polar opposite tuning ideals. I was immediately taken aback by the dark, thick, organic and impactful signature of the SCB2 that played out in stark contrast to the dry, light-footed and brighter tuning of Isa. This impression remains to this day and after several hundred hours of burn in. I feel in a position now to comment on the quality of this IEM, who it might appeal to and what it utility it offers in terms of library replay.

Accessories & Packaging

The packaging and accessories here are what I would consider above average and very smart. A pleasant unboxing experience reveals a useful hardcase to protect the IEM, several sets of silicone eartips of varying size and a total of three pairs of tuning filters (one in situ on the IEM). I have seen a lot worse from Chi-Fi so this was a welcome surprise.

The cable, the ISN SC4, is supple 4-core cable with no memory and has a beautifully clear sheath that reveals an attractive silver/copper twist. The accessories are heavy duty and likely to last a lifetime. The chin cinch works great. As for the sonics of this cable, as a ‘cable-believer’ I have paired this cable with success across several IEMs. The silver certainly slants things towards the high frequencies adding great definition. It just so happens that these are two things the SCB2 tuning greatly benefits from (it’s almost as if they planned this?!). In fact, I have yet to find a better cable to complement this IEM, so you can buy with confidence knowing that there’s no need to switch.



Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

I love an all-metal IEM build. The SCB2 has a satisfying weight to it in the hand and the shell is small enough that it will occupy the concha shelf of most ears safely with very little chance of falling out. The small shell is contoured well with no pressure points in my ears and is light enough that it won’t cause fatigue over long listening periods. There is a vent on the inner surface of the shell and a second larger vent on the outer side that is flute-like and possibly contributes to the very unique acoustic properties of the low-end of the SCB2 (more on that later). The neck of the IEM is reasonably short and acutely angled but should not present a problem for most ears however I would advise readying a selection of ear tips of varying length/height to ensure you have enough reach on insertion to achieve a good seal with the auditory meatus. There is a luxurious gold-plated rim contouring the outer surface of the shell that really goes a long way to improve the aesthetic. It reminds me of something James Bond might wear…

All in all, I struggle to find fault with the build and fit of this IEM. Out of all the IEMs I have tried, this is the comfiest.



On the topic of interchangeable filters, there are three choices:
  • Copper
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
The metal and the varying filter material used in each imparts a change in sound signature with titanium being the brightest. To be frank, there is very little reason to experiment. The titanium is the way to go. Both the stainless steel and, to a greater extent, the copper dull the sound too much and things are much less enjoyable. Don’t fret, even with the titanium nozzle the SCB2 remains a warm listen. This review is based on experiences with the titanium filter.


This is warm and dark with a downward slant as you reach up the frequency range. Either end has a degree of roll-off that when combined with its midbass emphasis produces a full bodied and intimate sound that is incredibly organic.

Bass: midbass emphasis, softer impact, texture and detail intact, natural to slightly extended decay.

The primary characteristic of this IEM is its bass – it infuses character and life. Its quantity is what I would consider ‘basshead’ but its quality is competitively ‘audiophile’ - proving that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The texture and detail to bass instruments is there and to my ear at least, instruments remain realistic and not overtly bloated. Impact is not the hardest hitting I have heard and the decay is somewhat extended. I find this bass suits instrumental solo works well but might lack the snappy character required for electronic or busier tracks, but this is a matter of taste. Another factor to consider here is the slight subbass roll off that I can appreciate. You still get rumble but it’s not the overarching character and people coming from an IEM with a large bass shelf may miss this. There is enough there for me to enjoy both electronic and instrumental music so as always, ‘your mileage may vary’.

Listening to Nenad Vasilic on his album ‘Bass Room’, a stand-out double bass recording, has never been better. Detail is there, timbre is accurate, tonality is organic and the pronounced midbass brings life to this recording. I highly recommend listening to this for those who enjoy acoustic performances and as a test track to gauge texture and detail within the bass realm.

Midrange: warm, good resolution, lower-mid centric, excellent male vocal replay

The heart of the SCB2 lies in the lower mid-range, it serves this up as a decadently rich sonic meal. Male vocals, bass/cello/low-woodwinds/percussion (especially bass drums) are all brought to life. The low-mid emphasis does however reduce the overall dynamics of this tuning with macrodynamic swings from the bass-mids less pronounced, as is the contours of the sound but what you get back is worth it. Male vocalists are soulful with great presence. Due to the lower mid slant female vocals come off as more distant and more dream-like and conveyed from the chest. Certainly not unpleasant, in fact, I would say this is the selling point, the beating heart of the experience and I for one am grateful Shozy went this route instead of the typical Chi-Fi uppermid/treble emphasis. Instead of artificial detail we’re treated to a warm, analogue and organic vocal presentation. Things never reach shouty levels or demonstrate any sibilance. Pianos have a lovely note weight and soft ‘voice’ on the SCB2.

I want to emphasise here that despite the overall tuning being dark and warm in equal measure you won’t miss midrange detail, it’s there and there’s enough upper mid/lower treble for a beautiful crescendo of female vocals to emerge above the lower mids. I’ve not seen a midrange like this before and I’m not sure I will see it again as the market steadily tends toward homogeneity.

Listen to Roomful of Teeth on their album ‘Wally Gunn: The Ascendant’ to see the allure of the SCB2 midrange. This is a male and female vocal ensemble recording with great atmosphere and recording quality.

Treble: good detail, softer definition, minimal air, no sibilance

The treble is in the backseat with the SCB2. There is string instrument detail and definition to keep things lively but the treble is kept in check to impart a natural and intimate listen. While air is minimal, instrument separation and imaging is still above average thanks to the technical ability of the driver. For those with high frequency sensitivity and/or tinnitus the SCB2 would be high on my list of recommendations. Some string instruments can catch you off-guard with shrill notes but this never happens on the SCB2 and it manages it without taking away too much from the natural tone of the note.

Listen to Ballake Sissoko on his album ‘Djourou’ to see how SCB2 handles strings, specifically the metallic twangs of the kora. The detailing is there but note edges are softened just enough to avoid any aggressive property to the sound.


Soundstage – tall and deep with a width that extends beyond the ears, doesn’t leave me wanting any more, music is atmospheric and bass reverberates in space.

Imaging, Instrument Separation & Layering – instrument separation and imaging is good for the price but it won’t necessarily ‘wow’ due to the tuning choice and driver character that makes the image less pin-point but thankfully this doesn’t cloud the image entirely and things remain coherent. Layering is average so I would argue these are monitors best fit for small ensemble performances as opposed to orchestral or modern electronic.

Timbre – this is a coloured sound and the low-mid emphasis and the softer uppermid/lower treble does influence my interpretation here but I feel that beneath it instrument timbre remains accurate.


The SCB2 is a coherent single DD with a unique tuning. The tonality lends itself to long listening and its technically capable at its price point. ‘Dark’ and ‘warm’ are words we frequently see used with negative connotation in the audiophile world but it would be a great disservice to overlook this IEM just because of these characteristics. It would suit those who enjoy warmer tunings, preferably instrumental, small ensemble music (or those with treble sensitivity) and seekers of musicality over reference tunings.

Forgive me for venturing into what might come across as cringe-worthy romanticism but my feelings when listening to music have strong associations with my memories and sometimes those memories are a better reflection of what I'm trying to convey…I’ve had moments listening to world music on the SCB2 that reminds of past vacations, sitting on warm coastal sands as the sun drops beyond the horizon, with a loved one nearby and waves lapping at the shore. Moments that remind you that the beauty in life is best when shared....

The SCB2 has a big heart to share with you. It is far from a classical ‘transducer’ in the neutral sense of the word. This one has a distinct and loveable character and it’s found a permanent place in my collection for that reason.


Miscellaneous Comments

Source matching - the SCB2 is not especially picky and runs well with the M8 and my RU6 dongle. The M8 is a DAP that falls on the warmer side. Naturally given the sound signature a brighter source may compliment this IEM better but its not a neccessity.
Tips - wide bore is probably the way to go but I've also had good results with Final E black silicone tips that have a narrower bore.
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I love my Shozy Form 1.4 and bassy monitors like the E5000. So, yeah I have this one on my short list.
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This has an interesting bass character, with a heavy low end emphasis but without being a rumbling experience. It romanticises all the tunes you put through and matches really well with relaxing jazz and acoustic.

Let me know how you get on if you ever take the dive on it!


Headphoneus Supremus
For ISN H40 in In-Ear
Analogue Grandeur
Pros: Excellent bass response
Wide and tall soundstage
Analogue romanticism and musicality
Non-fatiguing tuning
Quality cable included
Competes above price point
Cons: Would prefer more upper treble extension
Unboxing underwhelming
Driver configuration:

1DD + 3BA
1 dynamic driver (9.2mm) – low frequency
1 BA (custom) – middle frequency
2 BA (composite) – high frequency
22ohm impedance, 105dB sensitivity, 20Hz-20kHz
MMCX connectors, ISN S8 silver-plated OCC cable included (3.5/2.5/4.4mm terminations available)

Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm, turbo gain)
Burn in: 150hrs
Stock cable, stock silicone tips (green bore)
Genres tested: world music, jazz, ambient, electronic, classical

The ISN H40 was provided by Penon for the purposes of review and in exchange for my honest opinion. Penon have no had sight or say on content within this review. This review contains earlier impressions I’ve posted publicly and my opinion is largely unchanged from then. The ISN H40 can be purchased here.



Funnily enough, I entered the hobby at around the same time the ISN H40 came onto the market. At the time I had little knowledge of my own preferences and ended up with the Mangird Tea and the Shuoer EJ07, both had their strengths but I ended up moving on quite quickly and further down the tribrid rabbit hole. Most recently, I’ve returned to single dynamic drivers (in the form of earbuds and IEMs) and armed with the knowledge of my preference curve (somewhere between L-shaped and W-shaped) I discovered the Penon house tuning that I’ve grown to love in multiple forms.

Aware of the close working relationship of ISN and Penon, I was encouraged to try the ISN H40. Prior to receiving the H40 a part of me hoped there would be more than just a little Penon inspiration in there (in the way of mid-centric warmth), to keep me interested. There was also plenty of feedback on the forums complimenting the H40’s soundstage and bass response that piqued my interest…

Accessories & Packaging

To be straight to the point here – the packaging was underwhelming. A very thin cardboard box with outer and inner sleeves in a vibrant foil blue. Thankfully the IEMs are cushioned well within the sleeve using foam inserts. There is a functional and sturdy leatherette ISN carry case included that some might find useful. In terms of eartips there is a good selection of silicone tips and foam tips. All have a reasonably large inner diameter to encourage more treble energy through. A useful cleaning brush and cable clip is also included.

The cable – the ISN S8 – is beautifully made. It’s lightweight and has a very clear plastic sheath that reveals the silver plated OCC inside. The cable accessories are solid and well-built and the chin slider functions smoothly as intended. As a cable believer the choice of silver-plated OCC pairs well with the darker than neutral tuning to clean up and enhance the treble definition while retaining the low end extension and detail offered by OCC.




Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The design of the shell is ergonomic and has a form-fitting shape to it. However, it’s also quite tall to the shoulder so it doesn’t sit flat to my ears and occupies all of the concha (plus more) within my smaller than average ears. It’s not uncomfortable and by virtue of the shell size and the solid resin shell the passive isolation is above average. The nozzle width at its tip is 4mm in diameter and fits nicely within the ear canal. As mentioned the shell is solid resin in a dark blue to black colour with gold ISN labelling. There is a single vent to the rear of the shell. The H40 looks sleek and is reasonably understated in its appearance. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the build but would prefer a shorter shell to the shoulder and a slightly narrower neck (before it meets the metal nozzle) to allow for a deeper fit.





The tonality here is a L-shape to V-shape with upper treble roll off. It’s got a distinctly analogue feel to it. It’s ‘musical’ rather than analytical and makes for emotive listening.

Bass: strong impact, subbass emphasis, deep extension, texture and timbre retained

The bass is the standout feature of this IEM, with some of the best subbass rumble I’ve heard. It has a fine balance of subbass to midbass with emphasis leaning to the subbass. The H40 offers up great quantity in the lower frequencies without losing detail or nuance. Subbass rumbles with authority and fills the stage very well while the midbass impact is satisfying. As the midbass isn’t over emphasised, detail in the lower frequencies are on full display and timbre of instruments is conveyed really well. Listening to stand-up bass and double bass strings is a pleasure. The DD doesn’t display the hardest impact or the quickest transients but its character is perfectly suited to the analogue-inspired sound ISN were clearly aiming for.

The rest of the tuning revolves around this strong low frequency performance.

Midrange: no shout, warm, reasonable resolution, slight recession

The midrange is interesting and not uninspired. It’s definitely not forward – something that became more apparent as I’ve spent more time with it. The large stage (another selling point to be mentioned later) emphasises a slight recession in the mids as does the restrained pinna gain. They don’t feel empty or disembodied but neither do they feel the overwhelming focus of this IEM in busy tracks. I would have preferred some greater upper mid/lower treble presence to add some bite. Tonally the mids are warm and rich and not lacking in detail or clarity. Lower midrange vocals and instruments have some great weight to them that when combined with the bass boost and soundstage gives the impression of listening to larger over-ears.

I personally have a preference for a more forward midrange with greater upper mid presence but on reflection, combining the controlled pinna gain and less aggressive uppermids with the large soundstage and bass enhances the sense of space and analogue warmth. There is an old-school ‘speaker-like’ presentation wherein the bass encompasses and supports with a very engaging atmosphere around the midrange. Thankfully, the midrange never feels cluttered by this bassy embrace and details aren’t obscured in the process.

Treble: good definition, smooth presentation, no sibilance, upper treble roll off, minimal air, some metallic undertones

The treble stays on theme in the H40. It’s smooth and controlled but not subdued. You have definition, but it’s not piercing or shrill. The tuning ensures the overall tonality remains organic, more musical and less analytical. It also allows the listener to increase the volume to bask in the joy of the low end without fear of sibilance. If I could ‘nit-pick’ I would prefer greater ultrahigh extension to balance the tuning slightly and emphasise the space even more.


Soundstage – The second selling point of this IEM just behind the bass is the soundstage. It’s large in height and width and is closest to ‘concert hall’ I’ve heard at this price range (take this with a pinch of salt as the intangibles like soundstage are very subjective). The width means the bass doesn’t become fatiguing or feel invasive and the height brings a sense of scale to the musical performance that makes it feel grand (especially classical music). It also counteracts the lack of treble air by emphasising space.

Imaging, Instrument Separation & Layering – Imaging is great for the price and the H40 gives a great rendition of many of the Yosi Horikawas tracks. There is great depth that makes layering and three dimensionality stand out.

Timbre – As a self-proclaimed timbre-head I’ve not had issue with the BA implementation here. The tuning ensures things stay warm enough and the defining bass character of the DD keeps things organic. There is the rare occasion when there is metallic timbre in the lower treble but it never put me off reaching for this IEM. I have no issue with the timbre presentation in the bass or mids. Fundamental and harmonic detail feels intact and is sustained well with no BA ‘sputtering’.


From the very first listen out of the box the H40 has flaunted a character that I’ve found quite unique and appealing. For the price (and more) it achieves a level of versatility, character and technicality that is hard to find. It quite easily sits as my choice of hybrid below $200, representing excellent value for money. ISN has created a bold and fun IEM that never becomes abrasive. It presents music with an ‘analogue grandeur’ that is as addictive as it is inviting.

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alexandros a
alexandros a
Analogue & grandeur presentation are the key words here...
The overall ambiance that H40 is able of creating of, due to it's bombastic and spacious presentation surely can makeup for the lack of air in the upper treble
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Thanks for the review! H40 or Penon Globe is better?
One of the best, easy to Access review I see over here.

Totally agree with ur conclusion, a fun an analogue way to create a unique iem.

The only counterpart is the MMCX conector.


Headphoneus Supremus
Penon Legend - Where Musicality and Technicality Meet
Pros: Competes above its price point
Warm and musical mid-centric tuning that’s not often executed well
Standout 3D imaging
Excellent soundstage (with burn-in)
Conveys tonal detail brilliantly
Included cable is very good quality and pairs well
Tuning switches do offer a degree of versatility
Cons: Bass impact may be too soft for some
Driver configuration:
4 Sonion open-hole BA – bass
4 Sonion intermediate frequency BA – midrange
4 Sonion high frequency BA – treble
1 Knowles ultra-high frequency BA – treble

20-20kHz range, 112dB sensitivity, 19ohm impedance

Three tuning switches:
1: high frequency control
2: atmosphere control
3: low frequency control

Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm, low gain)

Burn-in: 100 hours

Cable: stock (high-purity silver, 4 share high) / Tips: stock gray-green silicone tips

Genres tested: world music, jazz, OST, electronic, ambient, folk, metal

The Legend was purchased at a discounted price in exchange for my honest opinion. Penon Audio have not had sight or say on the content of this review. All opinions are my own.

The Penon Legend can be purchased here.


Edited 20/01/2022: score increased from 4.5/5 to 5/5. Initial issues with the bass have subsided with prolonged burn in and what remains is an absolute killer IEM at its pricepoint. Paired with Final E eartips, 120 switch position and using the Cayin RU6 I have found my preferred tonality in an absolutely perfect state for my tastes.


There’s no denying in the recent months I’ve become a Penon Audio convert and their 1DD 2BA Globe has stolen my heart. Penons tunings are refinement of a similar theme across various driver configurations. They value expression and romanticism but seem quite good at achieving balance along the way. Although my tastes are, to a degree, flexible, I know my preferences lie in those IEMs that open up the midrange in detail, bring it forward in presence and lean towards the warmer side of the spectrum with a solid tactile bass to support it and good definition in the lower treble. I’m not an ‘air-head’ but I do however, like enough atmosphere and room for instruments to breathe. This was well exemplified in the Globe.

If I had to choose between ‘musicality’ or ‘technicality’ – which is often the choice presented to buyers these days - I would choose ‘musicality’ every time. I want something that plays to the strengths of the musicians I’m listening to and expresses the dynamism and emotion in their performance. I very rarely seek neutral, flat or dry and coherence and accurate timbre are a must.

When I found out that Penon had a new flagship coming I was immediately interested. When I saw that it was 13BAs I was immediately concerned. When I saw that 12 of these BAs were TOTL Sonion drivers I was slightly reassured. It was a bit of a whirlwind! My past experiences with all-BA IEMs have not been especially successful. In the distant past I had a prolonged demo of the QDC Anole VX. It was my first real exposure to ‘TOTL’. I could not get on with it. At the time I didn’t know what my preferred signature looked like or why I didn’t like it but it just didn’t seem to have a heart that I could fall in love with. It was technically proficient but it wasn’t connecting me to the music. I didn’t end up purchasing it and ever since then I’ve leant towards hybrids or single DD transducers, avoiding all-BAs due to a naïve subconscious fear that they all carry the same inspiration.

Fast forward to over a year later and reassured by my trust in the tuners at Penon, I had the Legend in front of me. Full of nerves when putting them in for the first time, I pressed the play button…read on to find out how it went!

Accessories & Packaging

Accessories and packaging are great with this one. A nice zipper case and an assortment of tips – silicone, foam, Comply-like etc, wide bore, narrow bore etc – you’ve got them all! The blue foams are actually quite good and I wouldn’t mind purchasing some more. There’s also a cable shirt clip, a leatherette cable tie, a cleaning tool and a small tool to manipulate the tuning switches.

The standout part is the included cable. A beautifully made ultra-purity 4 share silver cable with great accessories/connectors. It is tied in a loose braid that keeps the cable relaxed and supple. It’s not especially heavy either which is nice. It feels expensive and very premium. Penon are primarily known for their excellent cables and it’s no different here. Aesthetically its great. Sonically it’s even better. As a ‘cable believer’ I played with various other materials paired with the Legend and the included cable (called Penon Flow) has the best detail retrieval and digs deep for as much of the technical information as possible (e.g. soundstage/layering etc). It’s a great pairing and I don’t find any reason to cable roll. The only negative is that the chin slider finds it difficult to travel and needs a lot of encouragement. Having said all of this, I have also heard great things about the Legend and Penon Storm pairing (Penons new TOTL cable) that may be worth looking into, as this IEM was built with consideration for the properties of that cable too.


Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The typography of the Legend is very Penon i.e. bold! A gold/orange font on an all-black background with carbon fibre detailing beneath. It’s quite a sleek look overall. The IEMs themselves have a reasonable weight to them, alluding to the amount of tech inside. They feel very solid. The shell is well contoured and comfortable. It has a small rear vent for the BA woofers and despite this vent, the isolation is above average from my experience. The shell has some depth to it, a necessity to fit all the drivers in, and a long nozzle. It sits well in my small-average ears, any bigger at it would be an issue. I size down on tips to get a deeper fit. Please see picture for relative comparisons of size with the other IEMs I have.

Left to right: UM 3DT, Penon LEGEND, Penon Globe, Oriolus Isabellae. The LEGEND is quite deep to the shoulder as you can see and has a longer nozzle, but not especially wide when compared to the 3DT (i.e. from antitragus to helix crus/cymba).






The Legend comes with several tuning settings as below.

Switch PositionManufacturer Description
100High Hz enhanced
023Low Hz enhanced
123Full Frequency enhanced
020Atmosphere enhanced
120Transparent atmosphere
103Transparent balance


000 above

123 above

The frequency graphs are sourced from Penon and represent 000 and 123 settings. The most impactful change is heard with the low frequency switch (3) and the atmosphere switch (2). The low frequency switch giving the Legend a hefty bass lift across the board and the atmosphere switch seeming to place midrange further back through a frequency change I’ve yet to pin down.

The listening impressions below are on the 020 switch setting that I have veered towards since purchase. With this setting the majority of my music library is covered.

Bass – speedy, dynamic, pleasant impact, on 020 quantity and quality is well balanced, extends well into sub bass frequencies on 003

I should preface that apart from Traillii (now sold), and the historic VX demo, all my daily drivers are DD for bass frequencies. So the transition to BA bass here was quite an abrupt change.

My impressions within the first 10 minutes were that the bass was decidedly average in its quality but did have a very good balance with the rest of the FR. I was struggling to perceive fine texture in bass notes and I could appreciate some smearing of detail. Thankfully this disappeared over the course of a dozen or so hours after which I was treated to a very capable low end.

You can tell there are two dual BA woofers in these, they move a serious amount of air when needed, especially with switch 3 activated. It can produce more than enough rumble and impact for my tastes. Attack isn’t as abrupt or controlled as DD bass and this softens the leading edge of notes and provides a softer impact (more appreciable if switch 3 is off) but sustain and decay are very natural and does justice to world/classical/folk/acoustic music that I listen to. The bass has a lighter body compared to DD but not doesn’t feel weightless or detract from my enjoyment.

The advantage of having this BA bass is shorter potential sustain and quicker decay. It keeps up with the multi-layered bass of busy electronic tracks and it does this with ease. It handles all my library on switch setting 020 with this being my preferred setting for all genres, including electronic/ambient/DnB. With the bass switch engaged things become especially fun and engaging for short, sweet bursts. However, in my opinion this setting is less balanced and some texture is lost as quantity is increased.

Midrange – forward, highly resolving, warm and buttery smooth, no shout or sibilance

If you know and love other Penon IEMs then the chances are this is what you’re here for and to skip straight to the point – this is crème de la crème of midranges that I have heard in IEMs. Smooth but not veiled, forward but not aggressive, transparent but at the same time embodied. The midrange is more forward than all of my other IEMs, both past and present, and that took some adjusting to but following that brief adjustment you start to understand why they are tuned the way they are.

The Legend wants to give you the midrange on a platter, well supported by the bass (020) and treble but unapologetically serving it up with as much space, imaging and detail that 4 Sonion BA can muster. It makes vocals a joy to listen to and the vast majority of instrumental music feels well ‘explored’ with fundamental and harmonic detail, no stone is left unturned and it manages it without feeling clinical. Male and female vocals sit happily at either end of the spectrum, well defined and unobstructed. Vocals and instruments have a warm hue and feel organic thanks to a healthy midbass bump. This IEM is definitely midcentric and it nails what it sets out to do.

The midrange alone is a selling point for this set but not the only thing the Legend has going for it. As I’ll mention later the tuning of the midrange is supported by incredible technicalities. Given that the tuning is very forward the psychoacoustic effect on presentation is that it feels intimate (but still extending beyond ear). Despite the intimacy the space occupied by the sound is very large and is incredibly dimensional, being far from flat and overwhelming. The midrange is presented with great height and depth in space and this produces a realistic and palpable image. These qualities further improve with burn-in that became noticeable beyond 50 hours of use, or thereabouts.

Treble – excellent definition, no vocal sibilance, some might want more air

The treble here is well tuned and not dull with plenty of definition and detail throughout the whole range. It is far from bright or edgy but gives you all the clarity you could want. There is no sibilance in sight. Some listeners (especially those not familiar with Penon house sound) might want more air but I found it suited my tastes as, once again, the underlying tuning is supported by technicalities that act to enhance the sense of space anyway. The treble takes a backseat to the midrange but does its job really well, allowing the midrange to shine and decorating the sound with definition and elements of detail while continuing the overarching theme of warm musicality that Penon do so well.


Soundstage – the sound stage was initially quite deceiving (and slightly disappointing). With the forward midrange it was harder to appreciate the totality of the space. Over time (about 50 hours) the midrange fell further back, whether by brain or driver burn-in, and soundstage truly opened up. Listening to Yosi Horikawa ‘Crossing’ there is no denying how large the stage is. There is great lateral extension and I was particularly impressed by the height. Forward projection is less impressive (as with most IEMs I’ve heard) but still good. Soundscapes and ambient are truly enveloping. Llyr’ Biome release is a good example of soundscapes, in this case captured from jungle field recordings. On the Legend you can hear birds/bats etc in the trees/caves above your head. From slightly disappointing OOTB to exceptional, it was quite a whirlwind ride with a definite ‘bedding in’ period.

Imaging, Instrument Separation & Layering – imaging was excellent out of the box and as close to ‘holographic’ as I have experienced on my IEM journey so far. There is true dimension to sound on all axes. Instrument separation isn’t the strongest at this price point, owed to the large size of its centre image, the more intimate forward projection and underlying midrange emphasis. However, all elements can be identified as distinct and it doesn’t become congested or incoherent with great layering and sense of space. I don’t consider the Legends instrument separation to be a weakness as it copes with all of my music library with no loss of enjoyment. As example, in my experience with the MEST MKII it had excellent instrument separation on the soundstage but this felt overemphasised creating space that most music could not fill – and this did detract from my enjoyment.

Timbre – Instrument timbre was a big concern for me going into this purchase. What would an all BA set up sound like? Would it be ‘natural’ enough for me or would it have the dreaded metallic or plastic timbre of some BA IEMs? Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. The midrange and treble has excellent instrument timbre thanks to an astute tuning and choice of drivers. There is a light touch to note weight that I attribute to BA drivers but attack, sustain, resonance/decay are all great here. I am usually more sensitive to the timbre of BA bass that can rob instruments of life. The Legend does have the character of BA bass in its softer attack but it’s far from egregious in this respect and has a very natural tail end decay. With the third switch on (003 – low frequency enhanced) BA bass characteristics are more noticeable hence why I’ve stuck with 020 in most instances.


I went into this with a fear of multi-BA IEMs, after a long streak of DD/hybrid purchases, and largely driven by the allure of better technicalities often seen in multi-BA sets…did I find what I was after? Yes. Undoubtedly. The Legend is where technicality and musicality meet. None of my other sets have achieved this balancing act as well as the Legend does. It is not a perfect IEM (is there such a thing?) - I still miss the DD bass – but the fact I’m willing to sacrifice that at every turn is proof enough for me that the Legend does so much right and so very little wrong.

Penon have made an very strong value statement to the kilobuck market. The Legend is a contender that exceeds, at least in sheer personal enjoyment, others at this price point. Penon know what they do best and they have executed well. If you’re looking for a versatile IEM that can handle your library with equal measures of technical proficiency and musical romanticism, the Legend should be on your radar.

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Great review!
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Thank you, very informative.
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Nice review, thx 👍
Black Friday is coming… Who knows…
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Headphoneus Supremus
A Brilliant Soul
Pros: Stark improvement in technicalities
Excellent detail retrieval without sounding clinical
Undeniable shift in overall tonality (the marketing is accurate!)
Cons: None
Burson Audio V6 Vivid Discrete Opamp Review


Disclaimer: the V6 Vivid was kindly provided as a review copy by Burson Audio in exchange for my honest opinion.


For context, my experience with tube amplifiers is limited to the Little Dot 1+ hybrid and my experience with operational amplifiers to the stock LM4562 and more recently the MUSES02 from New Japan Radio. The LD1+ is a great little gadget with plenty of flexibility at a reasonable price with the capacity to experiment with various opamps and tubes. There are plenty of amplifiers out there that now allow for this opamp ‘rolling’ for extra versatility and sound signature finetuning, including the much lauded Burson Playmate 2.

The V6 Vivid came packaged safely in a plastic case and Burson also kindly provided opamp extenders so the Vivid could sit on its side and allow the Little Dot 1+ case to close. Installation was a breeze, with clear instructions and guidance on compatibility available on the Burson Audio website. Further support is also available by email should you have any further issues or concerns.


The following assessment of sound is based on about 30 hours of listening over the course of several weeks, comparing MUSES02 (and the stock opamp from memory) with the V6 Vivid. Comparisons were made using Mullard M8100 tubes.


Bass – detail retrieval and texture is improved compared to MUSES02 & LM4562, however it is reduced in quantity with less midbass punch. The overall effect is a sound signature with a lighter body, brighter overall tonality and with a lot more information conveyed in the lower frequencies.

Midrange – midrange is placed further back compared to the stock opamp and is similarly placed to the MUSES02, while transparency is greater than both. Fundamental and harmonic detail is much more apparent and easily appreciated than on MUSES02 and stock. The midrange here is less intimate/forward than the stock opamp, accentuated by the wider and deeper staging. It is also less tactile, but more detailed than both, likely due to an increase in transparency.

Treble – upper treble definition is leagues ahead of MUSES02 and stock, with an exacting character but never becoming piercing or sharp, this added definition improves perception of imaging and instrument separation. Air is more palpable here than in comparison to the others that plays into the larger stage and results in greater atmosphere.

Overall tonality – from what opamps I have to hand the V6 Vivid enlarges the overall picture and creates a lighter and brighter picture with gobs of detail. It moves away from the intimate to a more grand presentation while not losing musicality or accurate timbre.

Technicalities – clear improvement in stage width and depth with greater instrument separation and layering of complex passages. Not strictly falling under technicalities but there was an audibly lower noise floor than on both the MUSES02 and stock opamp.


The V6 Vivid is aptly named! It had an immediately apparent effect on how resolving my amplifier could be. This tonal shift was significant enough that I had to change the tube I was using to a much darker variant with greater bass and midrange emphasis (to the Mullard M8100 that was actually too dark for my tastes with other opamps but now fits perfectly partnered with the Vivid).

Ultimately, there’s no denying that the V6 Vivid has far better technical gusto than other opamps I have tried and with its effect on tonal balance it offers a sure-fire way of tuning your amplifier to taste. That is, if you’re searching for more detail and your tastes lean towards the more grand and technical, you can’t go wrong with the V6 Vivid. Importantly, the Vivid manages this without losing musicality. Well done Burson Audio!



Headphoneus Supremus
The Head And The Heart?
Pros: Rich & organic midrange with excellent timbre
Very comfortable fit
Great technicalities
Excellent male vocals, good female vocals
Cons: Bass texture & detail could be better
Driver configuration:

10mm dynamic driver – bass

Sonion BA driver – mids

Knowles BA driver – treble

20Hz-20kHz, 116dB sensitivity, 10ohm impedance

Source: Shanling M8 (3.5mm PO mode, low gain)

Burn-in: circa 100 hours

Cable: stock (silver-plated copper) / Tips: stock gray-green silicone eartips

Genres tested: world music, jazz, classical, electronic, ambient, folk, hip hop, pop, metal

The Penon Globe can be purchased here from Penon Audio for $339. This unit was provided for the purpose of review, however all opinions are my own. Penon have not had sight of this review prior to publication.


For a long time now I’ve been very keen to hear an IEM from Penon. They have established a strong reputation of offering value for money, with a variety of driver configurations at various price points to suit the buyer, from the single DD ‘Fan’ to the tribrid ‘Volt’. They have also garnered a following for their ‘house sound’, which from my impression of the general consensus is one that puts midrange centre stage with warmth and musicality.

The ‘Globe’ sits in the middle-of-the-road in terms of pricing, sporting a 10mm dynamic driver and two BA drivers. A Sonion BA handling the mids and a Knowles BA for the treble. Having heard Sonion mids before, I knew that if this was executed right, the Globe could be a hybrid right up my street.

For some context to this review my origin in the audiophile hobby were headphones primarily powered by tube (or hybrid tube) amplifiers. Moving into the IEM (& earbud) world for the convenience of portability I’ve also since invested in smaller, portable or transportable tube options to power my IEMs. My tastes fall between neutral-warm to warm tonality and a smoother presentation – something that, traditionally, tubes have provided for me.

Additionally, my choice of IEM largely depends on a tuning & driver configuration that delivers a great/excellent midrange representation. One with sufficient body, detail and room to breathe. When I want to listen with my heart, I prefer something that is further away from the dry and cold side of the spectrum, even if that is at the expense of some detail. I want it organic and smooth with enough character to keep me engaged.

Read on to find out if the Globe suited my preferences and whether it could suit yours…

Accessories & Packaging

The Globes are presented in a blue hardcase that itself sits within in a swanky looking, colourful box. Also included is a small carry bag that hides a cleaning brush (these are very useful!), a cable tie, cable clip and two sets of S, M and L silicone ear tips. The one negative is the included cable which is a thin gauge 8 core SPC cable. I feel there’s a bit of a mismatch between the quality and design of the Globe and the quality of the stock cable. It doesn’t have the weight I like in my cables and can get tangled quite easily. A positive is that the SPC certainly suits the tuning of this IEM and the cable itself is very lightweight. Overlooking the physical and focusing on the purely sonic characteristics, the included cable is not bad at all. Overall, I’m satisfied with the accessories and packaging.


Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The Globes are made from a medical-grade resin shell with a 0.78mm 2pin connector. The body of the IEM is black in colour and is slightly transparent with the drivers visible when holding it up to light. The nozzle is a continuation of the resin shell with a narrowing at the neck to hold the tips. The nozzle itself is quite shallow (about 3mm in length and 5mm in diameter), allowing for a deeper-seated fit of the body into the concha bowls of the ear. There are no sharp edges. At the rear of the shell on the body itself is a vent for airing the dynamic driver. The depth/width of the body itself is on the smaller side compared to my other IEMs.

The faceplate is a wonderful Nacre/’Mother of Pearl’-style colouration with a black stippling effect on top. It catches the light really well but is quite hard to capture in a photo. The black stippling means it’s not over-stated at all. There is the usual gold-amber Penon font with ‘PENON’ on the left and ‘Globe’ on the right earpiece. I actually quite like this font – it’s almost emblematic of Penon at this point!

The comfort and fit is a home-run in my small to average size ears. The most comfortable IEM I’ve experienced yet as a matter of fact.





Bass – sub-bass leaning, excellent rumble, high impact, dense, responsive, lacks some finer textures

Comments –

The bass has a great balance of thump, rumble and punch. It its very agile and conveys speedy passages with ease. Importantly it can moonlight across genres well enough for my tastes, handling instrumental and electronic music and making them both as equally ‘fun’ and not overwhelming the lower midrange. There is some slight sacrifice to texture in the bass, whether by innate limitations of the driver or it’s implementation and tuning which means this wouldn’t be the IEM I would pick up for purely critical listening. Your mileage here will vary dependent upon how ‘critical’ you are and how much enjoyment you derive from the minutiae of your music. This is most notable in acoustic bass instruments, harp etc. What the bass tuning does create is a physicality, especially to lower midrange, to give male voices the body and authority that some of my other IEMs lack.

I have to praise the Globe here for the most engaging presentation of ‘Infected Mushroom’ (electronica / psytrance) to date. The quality and quantity of the bass here is perfect. It excites and conveys dynamic swings well, never become fatiguing. Another strong suite is conveying the impact and authority of various families of drums, even reaching way down low to capture the resonance of the larger bass drum. It does it with great tonal accuracy to my ear and reasonably accurate decay.

Midrange – warm but detailed, accurate instrument timbre, vocal placed forward, no sibilance, good mid bite

Comments –

The selling point for me (and as it turns out, many others) – Penon mids.

If you prefer a warm-leaning midrange that doesn’t feel stuffy or lacking in detail this is it. The balance of transparency to physicality and space to intimacy is just to my tastes. The organic sound from the Sonion BA complimented by the overall tonal balance makes the midrange very romantic. It is coloured but coloured with humanity.

The Globes are my favourite presentation of male and female vocals in my current IEM stable. The Aladdin, while just as smooth, has a colder overall tonality and Isabellae is slightly cooler and brighter. Vocals are emotive and from the heart but can lack the outright detail / breathe-like quality that some people may crave. The stage provides vocals with a very pleasant ‘just-on-the-cusps’ of the ear presentation. It is not invasive, nor recessed or distant.

Instruments are captured well top to bottom with harmonic detail and good note weight and tactility.

Treble – good extension, non-fatiguing, balanced, some may prefer more upper treble air

Comments –

There is enough treble extension here to complete the picture and provide definition. Air is subtle and some may prefer more. I think the tuning here compliments the stars of the show, the bass and midrange, really well. It adds to intimacy and physicality of the overall signature, keeping the listener grounded and engaged.


Soundstage – good lateral extension, lots of height, spherical in shape

Perfect for my tastes. Reminders of small venues (pre-COVID!) but with the listener placed centre stage.

Imaging and Instrument Separation

Very effective imaging with clear depth and position and smooth left-right / front-back gradation when sound is in motion. Very enjoyable for ambient / soundscapes. Instrument separation could be better in busy orchestral pieces but is unlikely to detract from enjoyment.


Excellent layering, track mixing is easy to appreciate and full of nuance.


Yanyin Aladdin –

A 1DD+3BA hybrid, in similar price range, that has seen a lot of attention recently and that I reviewed and praised for its versatility and balance. The best way I can summarise the difference here is with more descriptors. In some places these differences are more marked than others (those marked with a *) and a lot of this is heavily subjective and all down to preference.

BassWet, less textured, quicker
Greater rumble
Greater impact
Attack/decay & presentation suited to dynamic synthetic tones
Dry, more textured, slower
Lighter impact
Attack/decay & presentation suited to acoustic instruments
Mids*Less transparent
More transparent
Analytic but not lacking emotion
Treble*Less extension but retains detail
Less air
Greater definition & extension
More air
SoundstageLaterally smaller more spherical
‘Smokey jazz lounge’
Laterally larger, more flat
‘Well ventilated small-medium concert hall’
Tonality*Warm, smoothNeutral-warm
TimbreLess accurateMore accurate
Resolution / Detail retrievalLesserGreater
Genre strengthsElectronic*, Ambient, Soundscape, Folk, Male vocals, Female vocalists, Hip Hop, Metal, PopJazz*, Classical*, Female vocalists (NB strength of both in my opinion), World music
Listening sessionsLonger sessionsShorter sessions (just by virtue of the detail that grabs my attention, not sibilance or tonal fatigue).
Listening attentionSuited for passive listening and enjoyment derived from warmth and musicality.Suited for active / critical listening and enjoyment derived from detail appreciation.


The Globe does exactly what I wanted it to and has earnt a position in my collection for the long haul. It sits closer to my heart than it does my head. It appeals to the part of me that wants to let go of the constant critiquing and fall into the experience of music itself. It gives me the detail but not with a digital sheen or grain. It reminds me that I’m as much a part of the music too.

If any of this verbosity strikes home – give the Globe a go, I doubt you will regret it.


Tips for your Tips

Go for as wide a bore tip as possible on this one to capture as much treble air and bring out as much bass texture.
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Dig the chart! Great review.
I really enjoyed your review!
Moreover, to the comparison with the Aladdin.
You said that Aladdin is for shorter sessions but almost in every espect Aladdin is might seem as better. So how come it doesn't suits for longer sessions? Is it because it has peaks and it's tiring more tyan the Globe?
@Laleo. Not peaky at all, its more neutral signature just encourages me to listen critically that I typically only sustain for shorter sessions. Aladdin is not at all fatiguing sonically.
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Headphoneus Supremus
Yanyin Aladdin - The Noble Maestro
Pros: Excellent imaging
Balanced tuning
Versatile for a broad library of music
Timbre and tone handled well for BA drivers
Comfortable fit
Cons: Somewhat barebones accessories
Driver configuration:

1 bio-diaphragm dynamic driver - bass

2 balanced armature – midrange

1 balance armature – treble

3-way crossover, 5Hz-22kHz, 108dB sensitivity, 10ohm impedance

Other relevant information:
Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm PO mode, low gain)

Burn-in: circa 50 hours

Cable: Silver-copper mix / Tips: stock

Genres evaluated: world music, jazz, classical, ambient, electronic, folk, hip hop, pop, metal

The Yanyin Aladdin can be purchased here from Penon Audio. This unit was provided for the purpose of review, however all opinions are my own. Penon have not had sight of this review prior to its publication.


My experience in this price range largely comes in the form of the Mangird (now XENNS) Tea, a $300 6BA+1DD hybrid. The first hybrid I purchased and one that I sold some time ago. I have some recollection of the sound, but not enough to make definitive comparisons. I can only say for certain the reason for selling it at the time – I found it too cold with some timbral and coherency issues. It just didn’t have the musicality to back up the technicality, for me at least. I have generally steered clear of BA setups since the Tea, favouring single or multi dynamic driver IEMs, with a brief foray into the land of the tribrids and quadbrids where there is often less reliance on BA drivers.

I saw the Yanyin Aladdin and the superficial side of me immediately liked the look of the swirling greys and blacks on the faceplate. I was also interested in the tuning. It looked Harman-ish but with a linear bass roll off to mids and some sparkle up top. A tuning that was quite different to my current stable of IEMs. More importantly, I wanted to find out how far competitive DD+BA hybrids had come in this price range since 2019.

‘Aladdin’ is an Arabic name meaning ‘nobility of creed’, an individual with clear aims that are guided by high principles. Read on to find out if the Aladdin is a fitting namesake...

Accessories and Packaging

This part isn’t exactly a home run, but it’s not all too bad either. The packaging is your usual affair, largely in Chinese and with English translation. The included cable is a nice silver-plated copper that’s pleasant to handle, terminating in a 3.5mm gold-plated plug. I used it briefly prior to this review without issue. I soon changed to a 4.4mm cable for the purpose of balanced DAP input. You get two sets of S, M and L silicone tips with a reasonably narrow bore. However there are no foam tips or what I would consider wide or shallow bore tips. Included is a suede carry case with a snap-shut top, a warranty card, date of production sticker and interestingly, a VIP card. I’m not sure what this entitles me to just yet - but I does make me feel like a very important person…!




Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The aesthetic of the Aladdin appealed to me from the get-go. The shell has a ‘quicksand’-like grey and black dust that catches the light beautifully and looks very smart. The shell is medical grade resin with a transparent layer overlying the galactic quicksand beneath. The Yanyin logo sits on the right and ‘Aladdin’ on the left. Personally, I’m not a fan of the chosen font but I can live with it. There is a rear vent on each unit covered with a fine mesh to give everything inside room to breathe. The nozzles are made of metal with a lip halfway to catch and hold the attached tip.

The Aladdin is contoured well with smooth edges, supposedly driven by ‘big data’ research. It fits well in my 'average' ears and doesn’t move an inch. There is some pressure in my antitragus but the body of the Aladdin almost fully occupies my concha providing a great seal, achieving reasonable isolation. I can wear these for hours without issue.





Bass – sub-bass focused, deep extension, solid rumble and weight with a light touch of impact, well textured throughout, incredibly natural and organic.

Comments –

Some of the most tastefully tuned bass I’ve heard. The subbass tilt and with a linear roll off reveals great texture to both organic and artificial tones, avoiding the indulgent midbass boom that can detract from the detail hidden in the bass and mids on some IEMs.

Attack and decay is very natural and has a very realistic presentation of udu drum, bass and cello strings. Midbass impact is present but is non-fatiguing with what I would consider a lighter touch. This bass tuning makes most of my other IEMs appear self-indulgent and when I move back to them, I immediately miss the rich textures of the Aladdins bio-cellulose DD.

Subbass extension is very deep and textured to the furthest reaches with a nice thump. Combine that with the large soundstage and excellent imaging you have a very atmospheric experience. The bass surrounds the head giving a palpable landscape to music. Listening to ‘Remnant’ an album by the artist Lorn, that is subbass heavy, is an incredible experience on the Aladdin.

Midrange – good instrument timbre and with fundamental and harmonic detail, exceptionally smooth presentation, non-fatiguing, no sibilance, upper mids / lower treble may lack ‘edge’ or ‘bite’ depending on your preferences

Comments –

Instrument tone, timbre and weight was a big concern for me going into a BA hybrid at this price point. The majority of my musical enjoyment sits in the midrange and if not reproduced ‘right’ I lose interest very quickly.

I was pleasantly surprised here. Instrument timbre is reproduced faithfully and everything sounds tonally correct. I would describe the midrange as lush but detailed. There is not an ounce of shout or any heavy-handed emphasis into the uppermids that could detract from enjoyment here.

The tuning works with both male and female vocals. The two BAs perform admirably giving detail and nuance to the midrange. Female vocals are great with plenty of subtlety and emotion, certainly one of the many strengths of the Aladdin.

There is a tube-like liquidity to the way the Aladdin expresses the midrange and that’s right up my street. It is easy-going, non-fatiguing with perfect note weight and definitely not lacking in detail.

Again, complementing the midrange are excellent technicalities that bring this to life on a pleasant sonic stage.

Treble – natural extension, plenty of definition, not piercing, enough air for me

Comments –

I always find it hard to evaluate treble but straight out of the box I knew this was a winning tuning. The naturally resolving treble gives everything healthy definition and extension without becoming a fatigue fest. String instruments sound very natural with plenty of resonant detail, especially harp, guitar, kora and violin. The treble is exacting with very tight control as you would expect for a BA. Thankfully, it doesn’t pierce or sound unnaturally metallic.


Soundstage – great lateral extension, good height, almost spherical in perceivable shape

The soundstage was great straight out of the box but has opened up some over time. It’s very natural, outside of the head and never leaves the music feeling congested nor stretched or unnatural. Very satisfying. A tip change from stock can enhance this still further (more on this later).

Imaging and Instrument separation

Near enough ‘holographic’ placement in well recorded tracks. You can pick out information like direction and depth of specific elements in a track. Everything has its own space to play out. Motion is expressed with excellent graduation from left to right around the head with no awkward exchange in the centre of the sound field.

Layering –

Very good layering of track elements. There’s no wall of sound to be found here. Busy tracks are handled with no muddying of detail.


Who is the Aladdin for? Well, it’s a great entry point for those new to the IEM audiophile hobby and for those that have yet to find their preferred signature. It would be the next logical step for most who like a balanced tuning and are looking for a technical upgrade into the next price bracket. Another group would be those that have a broad music library and need a one-size-fits-all everyday carry.

Does it best the Mangird Tea? In my opinion, at least from memory, in nearly all respects, yes it does and that’s with 3 less BA drivers on board and at a cheaper price point. It’s tonality is inviting and versatile and it’s technicalities are exciting, giving an out-of-the-head experience. In many ways I see the Aladdin as the Sundara of the IEM world. It’s a very strong value proposition and a safe recommendation.

The Aladdin may not appeal to those who are attached to a V-tuning. The way it presents music is not indulgent but it is, at all times, luxurious. I rarely go through my library which is quite broad in scope - artificial to organic, grand to intimate, aggressive to meditative - and find myself happy at every turn. I could take this IEM with me and know I have all eventualities covered.

So what is the ‘noble creed’ of the Aladdin? In a few words I would say: precision, poise, faithful reproduction and versatility.


Final remarks - tips for your tips

I used stock tips for this review.

Some tip rolling may be required as usual. Start with the stock silicones, they’re not bad at all. They present the IEM as the tuner intended – expertly balanced and tonally/timbrally correct.

If you want to lean further into the technical strengths of the IEM and capture more air and widen the stage, try a wide and shallow bore tip. However, this does enhance the presence of some the upper mids/lower treble, with some sibilants (sh/ss/ch) becoming more prominent. This could prove fatiguing or harsh for some. It also enhances the perception of BA timbre in the treble slightly. It is worth experimenting however as I can cope with it fine. I had success with Oriolus/Jaben single flange silicone stock tips (purchasable online, pictured below), but I’m sure any wide and shallow tip will have a similar effect.


Edit 08/08/21 - adjusted score from 4.0 to 4.5 to better reflect the review & my assessment over time.
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@josesol07 - I made a brief comparison to 3DT in the Yanyin thread. They're very different so it depends what you're after :)

@elindil - Not an easy question. I think the answer to the question is another question...What do I want to listen to and how do I want it presented? Sometimes my enjoyment is found in critical listening (Aladdin), other times its emotional connection (Isa) and lastly there are times I just want to be indulgent and excited (GK10).

And I would emphasise that's not to say I enjoy any one of them any less. The Aladdin is a master of balance and versatility. I can throw anything at it and enjoy it.
Haha, that is a very good answer and now I know what I can consider next, which is the Isa. Thank you!
I should clarify the Aladdin has plenty of soul and is still very musical. It sits in a sweet spot between detail and musical engagement across all genres. That's no easy feat...!


Headphoneus Supremus
Geek Wold - GK10 - Dynamic and Decadent
Pros: Phenomenal value
Large dynamic range
Excellent timbre
Impressive technicalities
Highly resolving
Comfortable fit
Cons: Packaging is cheap
Plastic shell with visible seams
Treble may be too brittle for some
Geek Wold GK10 Review – Dynamic and Decadent

Driver configuration:

8mm dome titanium diaphragm dynamic driver (bass)

7mm graphene diaphragm dynamic driver (mids)

1 balanced armature (high)

2 piezoelectric ceramic drivers (ultra-high)


Source: Shanling M8 (4.4mm LO mode, high gain) > Cayin C9 (4.4mm in, low gain, tube mode, class AB amp)

Burn-in: circa 30 hours

Cable: CEMA UPOCC / Tips: CP145

Purchased at full price from Penon here. This review has not been incentivised in anyway, by anyone.

Disclaimer: what is unclear at this time is the standard of QC on this IEM and we will only know more as people get their hands on it. I would temper this review by saying that if $45 is a lot of money to you, exercise caution until we know more.


For context, my journey with IEMs has recently taken a turn towards single (or multi) dynamic driver configurations. As a general rule, I prefer the tonal colour / timbre of instruments and vocals when presented by a well-tuned DD. The exception to this, from my history, is the Oriolus Traillii with its masterfully implemented and tuned BA+EST that had plenty of tonal and timbral accuracy for my liking. Thanks to @Rockwell75, I was encouraged to try the Oriolus Isabellae (please see @Rockwell75 review on Head Gear for a great read). At a higher price of $659, it’s a single DD with a wonderfully coherent, warm but bright tuning that works wonders for lovers of midrange who prioritise timbre/tonality over technicalities.

Coming from this recent purchase and almost pathological love of DDs, the prospect of a hybrid IEM didn’t initially appeal to me due to concerns regarding coherency. Something that although often hard to convey, incoherency is something that jumps out to my ears and it really saps my enjoyment of an IEM. Three things did spark my curiosity however; a dynamic driver was being used for mids (which isn’t particularly common), piezoelectric drivers were being used for ultra-high (I had never heard these) and at the price of $45 it represented a low risk experiment. Ofcourse the hype generated by @Dsnuts helped matters considerably...

After a day or two with the GK10, I am confident enough to weigh in with my opinion. Clearly I would expect further burn in and slight changes to sound signature with time, but out of the box they are already worth the price they are being sold for (and much more).

With that out of the way let’s get stuck in!

Accessories and Packaging

The weakest part of the whole presentation. A small, white cardboard box with a Geek Wold sticker on it. Included are pairs of narrow bore silicone tips and wider bore silicone tips, a leatherette carry case, warranty card and a cable.

The cable is a 3.5mm terminating SPC cable. It isn’t the worst cable I’ve ever handled by a long shot, it’s light, with only a small amount of memory and has a good feel in the hand however the fittings feel on the cheaper side. I am not using the stock cable largely because of its aesthetics. I used a mid-budget UPOCC cable for this review.

All in all, I can forgive the shortcomings on the accessories if it means a saving to the customer. I would hope in due course, with more money behind Geek Wold they may be able to improve the included accessories.


Design, Build, Fit and Comfort

The shape of the shell itself is interesting. From the outer aspect it appears similar to cartoon heart, and on the internal aspect more like an elephants rear end! The stabilised wood plate is beautiful and catches the light well. It is glued onto the plastic shell and at least on my unit, very little glue if any is visible around the borders of the wood. The plastic shell is light and comfortable but seams are clearly visible and although dead-ended, detritus might ingress over time. The connector is a flat 2pin 0.78mm connector. A variety of colours are available with considerable unit variation.

Having used not so flattering terms to describe the shape, I can confirm those elephant buttocks do a great job of sitting perfectly against my concha! The GK10 inserts easily and sits in place for long periods without any discomfort. The plastic shell offers a lightweight experience. The nozzle is long enough to reach my auditory meatus and hold onto most tips I’ve played around with.

Fitment is obviously a very personal matter but the shape is not obtuse or abstract, like the BL-03 or 01 for example, so I expect it will fit most without issue.

Overall, while I’m not worried about durability I would have preferred a metal shell and hope to see this in a future iteration provided it doesn’t impact sound quality.





This part will largely be descriptors clarified with more general feelings and comments.

Bass – sub-bass focused, good mid-bass impact, very well textured from sub-bass to mid-bass to lower mids, natural timbre


The driver shows great versatility from Baroque bass strings to thumping and dynamic modern electronic. The bass does exactly what it needs to do, no more, no less. The timbre of the bass and its attack/decay is incredibly natural, not taught or artificial, yet not too slow for the fast pace of electronic music. Bass is wide reaching and supportive of the midrange and treble but does not obscure with its intensity or tuning. Provides a room-temperature ambience. Rumble is present, punch is tasteful.

Midrange – relaxed, close to neutral in vocal positioning (neither forward nor back), non-fatiguing, subtle recession, complete in its expression


Male and female vocals have a very refined presentation. Combined with the room-temperature tonality of the tuning and natural timbre of the 7mm graphene DD they are revealing and expressive. Positioning of vocals is unobtrusive but not distant or removed.

Guitar, violin, harp and sax fundamentals and harmonics captured beautifully with a sense of air afforded by the BA and piezo above. Timbre great throughout.

Vocals and instruments lack any sibilance near to 6-8kHz which makes for an easy and non-fatiguing listen.

I hear the mids to have a very subtle recession when compared to bass and treble, but it’s not enough to detract from my enjoyment, which I primarily derive from action in the midrange. Rather, this recessions makes for an easier listen over longer periods compared to my Isabellae.

Coherency between bass and mids is excellent, as you would hope with two dynamic drivers. I think a combination of 1DD for bass and 1DD for mids is a genius move and definitely a success. It allows for cohesive expression of the fundamental and harmonic frequencies of instruments that sit through both the bass and mids which is the vast majority.

Treble – airy, palpable edge, highly resolving


I want to preface my comments on the treble that it may still change over time as the drivers settle.

I have a hard time here distinguishing the BA from the piezoelectric drivers, but my understanding is the piezo’s will be doing the brunt of the work above about 12kHz.

There is certainly no sibilance here, but there is a lot of definition with a significant and palpable edge. Similar to what I recall of the MEST MK2, I can almost ‘feel’ the treble in its expression.

It is tuned well and is incredibly revealing. However, it straddles a very fine line that could pull the overall tonality towards being ‘brittle’. How much you notice this and how much it bothers you will depend on what music you listen to, what instruments are being played and what your personal tastes are.

Whoever tuned this did a very good job, was not risk averse and clearly enjoys living life on the edge. The treble sits in a goldilocks zone for me, personally – just right.

My only point of comparison here is Sonion EST drivers, whose presentation tends to be smoother and less tactile. I have yet to decide which I prefer.


Soundstage – Very respectable stage that is triangular in shape around the head, with some height above and below the ear line. Perceivable stage expands with amp’ing. Larger than what I’ve sampled at this price point. Bass and treble tuning complement the sense of space well. Verging on over-ear experience in some tracks.

Imaging and Instrument Separation – Instruments sit naturally with good representation in space. Transition from left to right is well represented but does narrow as it moves towards the centre.

Layering – depth perception is present thanks to good staging, but track layering is less appreciable. Still acceptable and doesn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Dynamics – Incredible for this price, manages the very low to the very high and movements between with incredible ability. In this sense it reminds me of the Traillii. With the aforementioned technical ability combined with driver response I can throw almost any tracks at this IEM and it will handle it fine.


I challenge you to listen to any album by Yosi Horikawa, with the GK10 connected to a good DAC and amplifier, and tell me you’re not floored by the technical ability of the GK10 for $45.


Admittedly, I have only been with the GK10 for a few days, but I wanted to get the word out and sing its praises as soon as possible to help people make a decision.

The top standout features for me with this IEM is its coherency, technical ability and total dynamic range. For a multi-driver IEM at this price point it is top shelf. The second standout feature is the timbral accuracy where it matters to me most – the bass and mids. The third is its tuning, it’s not offensive, yet it is in no way boring, all while managing to retain detail and texture and not resorting to ‘cheap’ tuning tricks. The first proviso is that you have to like treble detail and not be attached to a warm and rolled off tuning. The second is that you have a source with a low output impedance (<1Ohm) and reasonable output power. On my higher output impedance devices the signature becomes warmer and bass more pronounced. I would recommend pairing this with a warm-neutral source that is not clinical.

If I had to describe the GK10 in a few words it would be: ‘coherent, exciting and dynamic but with heart’. This set easily sits alongside my much more expensive Oriolus Isabellae to tackle the more complex, electronic and ambient music I listen to. It is brighter and has a more refined touch than the 3DT, which is better for some genres and yes, totally supplants the BL-03 on my rotation.

Ladies and gents, dive in without regret. Geek Wold have thrown down the gauntlet and we are all winners.


Helpful tips:
  • Experiment with wide bore tips – my favourite are Spinfit CP145.
  • These DDs like power (despite what the sensitivity suggests).
  • Experiment with sources and source output impedance which may affect frequency response - the lower output impedance the better (<1Ohm) and the higher output power the better.
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I like the subbass and midbass presence for metal on the 3DT. I prefer the balance and detail of the GK10 for Jazz etc.
OK, then the 3DT has more bass presence and impact, right? I've been after the 3DT for a while but I can't quite make up my mind.
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