Reviews by inscythe

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Simgot EA500LM Review - "Refinement doesn't always have to cost more"
Pros: - Very technical for a single DD
- Easy-to-like tonality, not too coloured
- Excellent extension on both ends
- Great build quality
- EQ friendly
Cons: - Stock cable only available in 3.5mm, quite mediocre
- Bass might sound a tad lean
Disclaimer: Simgot provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated link here.

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Introduction and Packaging Impression​

Simgot EA500LM ($89.99) is a single dynamic driver IEM with all metal body and swappable tuning nozzles. It is an incremental improvement over EA500, with the "LM" here referring to their new diaphragm material, lithium-magnesium (previously, it was DLC diaphragm in EA500). Back in early 2023, EA500 made a huge waves for being the "new benchmark under $100", dethroning the ever-popular Moondrop Aria. Personally, I was not really impressed by EA500 sound-wise, but I was intrigued at the accessories and potential tuning possibilities with the release of EA500 tuning kit. I guess all that experimentation bore fruit in this revision of EA500, the LM version sounds to me like a huge leap over the original, despite a modest $10 price increase.

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The packaging is virtually identical to EA500 with a difference in the cover art. There are also very similar set of accessories, with the EA500LM having an extra set of different type of tuning nozzle (the default gold nozzle). There are a set each of S/M/L eartips, a stock 3.5mm cable, and a hard carrying case. For the price, this is one of the most generous accessories set, although I do hope that they can provide a 4.4mm cable option.

Sound Impression​

Sources: SMSL H300+D300 stack, Fiio Q15, Hiby FC6, Simgot DEW4X, Fiio M11S, L&P W2-131, Hiby Digital M300
Setup: Stock L size eartips, stock cable (3.5mm), Simgot LC7 cable (4.4mm)
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

The IEM has undergone a 24-hour burn-in at a medium volume for prior to the review.

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary. I personally listen mostly to pop, jazz, some rock, and very limited metal.


First, I have to address the tuning nozzles. This is my brief impressions of each of them:
- Gold with red ring (default): the smoothest nozzle, no sibilance nor sharpness, decent details and treble texture
- Silver with black ring: sparklier than the default nozzle, most detailed and textured at the cost of being the sharpest, closest to Simgot's target
- Silver with red ring: in-between tuning between the other two nozzle, some more treble texture and moderate sharpness, closest to Harman target

Trying out all three nozzle, I prefer the gold nozzle in the end due to the smoothness and tonal balance across the spectrum. I will proceed with the review with this nozzle.

The EA500LM tuning seems to be based on general Harman target direction (DF neutral with bass boost), with subbass emphasis that slopes into midrange smoothly, giving it a mild U-shape signature. It is definitely targeting a more neutral-leaning group of listeners. The technicalities are pretty impressive for the price range, most notably in the bass and treble extension, giving a very wide dynamic range. The timbre is natural and organic.

Bass​

I think EA500LM has a very clean bass with decent amount of subbass rumble. The bass expression is on the faster and lean side with snappier attack and somewhat short delay, having enough sustain to keep it from sounding too thin. The quantity and texture aren't basshead level, but adding some bass with PEQ would easily solve that in case you need more bass. Luckily, the the driver is very receptive to EQ very well and does not distort when pushed. The bass texture is quite detailed and deep. For most genres and types of listeners, the bass is adequate and enjoyable.

Midrange​

EA500LM delivers an excellent midrange, easily the strongest element of the IEM. The midrange does sound more forward without sacrificing the bass and treble details. The layering of vocals and instruments is clean and impeccable, bringing out a very nuanced performance out of both male and female vocalists. There are enough thickness and weight to the midrange to also render most midrange instruments like guitar and saxophone very well.

Treble​

There is enough treble energy in EA500LM to bright out the airiness and details in the treble. The treble extension is quite exemplary for this price range and the texture is impressive without being shouty or sibilant. Throughout my listening sessions, I did not experience any excessively sharp notes that I normally found with similarly-graphed IEMs.

Technicalities​

The soundstage of EA500LM is moderately sized, closer to a small studio or cafe, more on the width than the height. The resolution is amazing due to that excellent treble extension, bringing out the subtle details in live performances very well. Imaging and layering are great despite the modest soundstage, which I attributed to the excellent lithium-magnesium driver here.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

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(with Simgot LC7 upgrade cable)

EA500LM is very easy to drive, even through 3.5mm single-ended outputs. With more power, it does scale a decent amount on the stock cable, but with the LC7 upgrade cable, it does open up even more: snappier bass, wider soundstage, and improved dynamics.

Select Comparisons​

Simgot EA500 ($79):
I think EA500LM is a straight upgrade to EA500. If you like EA500, you will be very likely enjoy the EA500LM more. The subbass extension is improved while taming in the sharpness in the upper midrange. Resolution is also increased, soundstage is slightly larger, and the layering is improved. To be perfectly honest, with EA500LM, there is very little reason to buy EA500.

Simgot EM6L ($110):
Slightly moving up the price tier in Simgot to EM6L, I personally prefer the EA500LM. The EM6L might take an edge in resolution and layering, but my biggest issue with it was the coherence. EA500LM is smoother and being a single-driver IEM, it has no issues with coherence while keeping very close technical performance to EM6L. Timbre is also more natural on the EA500LM. Depending on individual preferences, I can still see how EM6L might be preferred over EA500LM, but personally I think EA500LM is a winner.

Simgot EA1000 ($219):
Quite an unfair comparison here, but this is just to highlight a diminishing returns in audio. EA1000 easily beats EA500LM in both technical and tonal aspects: the EA1000 has higher resolution and wider soundstage, having stronger subbass rumble and texture. However, the difference between EA500LM and EA1000 is much closer that it is between EA500 and EA1000. The EA500LM sounds like a more laid-back version of EA1000, while giving it a more relaxed technicalities and more balanced tonal characteristics for a much cheaper price.

Moondrop Aria 2 ($90):
Another steadfast contender in under $100 range, the recently released Aria 2 is pretty similar in tuning to EA500LM. Tonally, I find Aria 2 is slightly warmer and darker, with weaker resolution but wider soundstage. Both are excellent improvements over their respective predecessors, however I think that the leap that EA500LM made over EA500 is much more significant than Aria 2 over Aria. As a whole package, I personally prefer the EA500LM.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts​


EA500LM positioning is weird, which I feel kind of cannibalizing Simgot's own product line (especially the EA500 and EM6L), a move that I really respect Simgot for. This thought came to me because I find EA500LM to be way too good for its price range and at the current state of the market, I believe that this is indeed the current under $100 benchmark. I am very thoroughly impressed by Simgot by beginning 2024 this strong, and I do hope for an even stronger year this year too. I am highly recommending the EA500LM.
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Colin5619
Colin5619
A great review, I too prefer the LM over the original ea500. In fact just yesterday I gave my ea500 to one of my sons, who loved its sound. I think it’s a reasonable upgrade over the ea500.
A
Abbeyrd1969
I have had my LM's for a week now. I have found that the Brass nozzle with Final E-Type tips works best for me. In comparing them to other single DD's in my set, the closest I can find to the LM signature are the MEZE RAI SOLO. Everyone trashed them when they came out, but I found them to be just as good as the LM's for micro, macro and soundstage. Of course the MEZE are $200, but that was several years ago when they came out.,. LM's definitely punch above their weight. Now I have the KATO and MEZE back in my rotation for a wonderful comparison. Great review. Thank you!

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Simgot DEW4X Review - "X hits the right spot"
Pros: - Warm-neutral, very little coloration
- Excellent bass control
- Solid build quality
- Really small and compact
- Clean output and black background even on sensitive IEMs
- UAC 1.0 mode for compatibility with consoles
- Inline mic support on the 3.5mm port (CTIA standard)
- Relatively low power consumption
Cons: - Gets really hot on high impedance load
- Difficult to check the current state of settings, only a hard-to-see LED (also lack of documentation of what it meant)
- Not the most powerful dongle, struggles with planars
Disclaimer: Simgot provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Non-affiliated purchase link here.

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Introduction​

Most people who recently followed Simgot are probably more familiar with their IEM offerings like the popular EW200, EA500, and EA1000. However, in Chinese domestic market, Simgot also produces a few DAC/amps in their DEW lineup, starting from DEW0, DEW1, and DEW4. While I didn't have any experience with them since I didn't really find them interesting. However, when Simgot announced the DEW4X, it caught my attention. Instead of using the more common dual CS43131, the DEW4X is using dual CS43198. At $80, it is the second cheapest dual CS43198 next to Truthear Shio, and the cheapest in the market right now since Shio has been discontinued at the time of writing. That said, the dongle market has gone through significant changes since I wrote my review of Shio, I am impressed by what DEW4X can bring to the table among the stiff competition.

Side Note: CS43131 vs CS43198​

About these two very popular chips from Cirrus Logic, one might wonder what are the difference. On paper, CS43131 is just CS43198 with a built-in headphone amplifier. Everything else, CS43131 technically has exactly the same DAC portion as CS43198. A manufacturer might go with CS43131 so that they don't have to implement their own headphone amplification component, making it ideal for smaller space and power budget, or they can use the built-in headphone amp in conjuction with their own to increase the output power further. This could be seen in a similar situation in the past when Luxury & Precision W2 (dual CS43198) was replaced by W2-131 (dual CS43131) due to chip shortage. The W2-131 ended up having higher power output while consuming less power than W2. However, even L&P admitted that the chip doesn't sound exactly the same and the change made it difficult for them to tune it exactly to their intended house sound.

Now, Simgot has a similar story with DEW4 and DEW4X, but their power specs doesn't change much on paper. I suspect that they chose the CS43198 due to the cleaner DAC, allowing them to fully express their house sound.

Specifications​

DAC: 2x Cirrus Logic CS43198
PCM decoding: 384 kHz/32 bit
DSD decoding: DoP 128/Native DSD256
Body material: Black anodized, sandblasted aluminium alloy
Cable material: Sleeved, shielded OFC
Output plugs: 3.5mm (TRS, TRRS), 4.4mm (TRRRS)
Output voltage (RMS):
- 1V SE, 2V BAL (low gain)
- 2V SE, 4V BAL (high gain)
Max output power: 70 mW SE, 150mW BAL
THD+N: 0.00025% SE, 0.0002% BAL
SNR: 125 dB SE, 130 dB BAL
DNR: 125 dB SE, 130 dB BAL

Personally, I think this is a very solid numbers for the price. I have no resources to confirm them unfortunately, but easy to say DEW4X does sound as good as the specs.

Packaging & Build Quality​

DEW4X comes in a very spartan packaging, just a box containing the unit itself, a short USB C to C cable, and a USB C to A adapter, along with an information booklet. Sadly, the booklet did not really say anything about LED operation. The USB cable is very solid, with good amount of stiffness that keeps the DEW4X from flopping too much while used on the move. The shielding on the cable is also sufficient enough to prevent RF interference.

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The unit itself is made of solid blocks of CNC-ed aluminium. This greatly protects it from outside interference and also acts as a heatsink in heavier operation. Not to mention, it feels really hefty and premium in the hands. The big volume buttons are easy to press and give satisfying clicks when pressed. You can change gain settings by pressing both volume buttons at the same time, and you can see the LED colour changes. The LED is located near the USB port, and it is quite small and dim, which is good for people who listens in a dark room before sleeping, but bad for people who are using it outdoors.

To decipher the LED colours meaning, I went to test it with my PC. Luckily it's quite simple.

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- Low gain: red (44.1kHz-48kHz), green (88.1kHz and above)
- High gain: yellow (44.1kHz-48kHz), cyan (88.1kHz and above)
- Solid light (UAC 2.0) or blinking light (UAC 1.0)
(to enter UAC 1.0 mode, press volume + button when plugging in the DEW4X)


The volume adjustment has 30 steps with a non-linear curve that is generally more comfortable to listen at lower volume.

Additionally, the 3.5mm jack does support inline mic with CTIA standards. However, you need to plug the cable with mic before plugging in the USB C for this function to kick in, otherwise it will treat it like standard 3.5mm TRS.

Sound Impression​

I am very impressed at how well Simgot implemented the CS43198 in DEW4X. There isn't any significant coloration overall, very slightly warm with some emphasis in the subbass region, which seems to be a common characteristics in C43198-based DAC/amps. Speaking about bass, I find that the driver control in the bass region is exceptionally tight, giving a lot of texture and rumble. The mids and treble are very linear, with excellent details and timbre that's easy to like. Honestly, for under $100, if you're looking for something close to neutral with a tight bass control for IEMs, this is one of my recommendation.

All testing are done on 4.4mm unless specificed.

Mild Stress Test: Verum 1 (8Ω), Simgot EW200 (16Ω), Simgot EM6L (26Ω), Simgot EA1000 (16Ω) at low gain
At this load, DEW4X handles this like a champ. The subbass does not sound bloomy, nor bleeding into the mids. The treble are crisp and there are no sibilance even on a somewhat bright EW200. The dynamics and texture are excellent to the point that it matches its more expensive CS43198 siblings, although mostly at this level of load. This perfectly matches most of Simgot's own set of IEMs, so no surprises here. The DEW4X does add a slight improvement in staging and layering due to that distinct subbass expression and wide dynamic range.

Moderate Stress Test: Hifiman Edition XS (18Ω), Thieaudio Monarch Mk2 (36Ω) low/high gain
Edition XS does seem to be one of the easier Hifiman headphones to drive, but that doesn't mean it is very easy to drive. When underdriven, the bass is noticeably loose, while the overall dynamics seems to suffer. Similarly, the Monarch Mk2 seems to require more amping to reveal its EST-powered upper treble energy. I have to say DEW4X did pretty well in this segment, keeping the dynamics in satisfying levels. Some technicalities does suffer a bit, like the soundstage and imaging get slightly more compressed, but the resolution is overall maintained. I would use this to regularly drive the Edition XS. It also doesn't really heat up the dongle at this load.

Heavy Stress Test: Hifiman HE400SE Stealth (25Ω), Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro (250Ω), high gain
Now, this is the real challenge for the DEW4X. The HE400SE will indeed sound sharp when underpowered, and it does seem to be the case with the DEW4X. Dynamics in the bass seems to be missing and the staging gets more compressed. The volume gets loud enough though. On Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro 250Ω (modded to run in balanced) is a different kind of challenge: while the dynamics and solid bass are somewhat maintained, the dongle gets EXTREMELY hot during operation that I stopped testing the Beyerdynamic halfway.

Pairing Suggestions​

I personally prefer using the DEW4X on simple driver config, preferably 1DD or low driver count hybrids where it shines the most. One of my earliest IEMs to test was the EA1000 and I was quite surprised at the dynamics that DEW4X can provide. In more complicated driver configurations like the Monarch Mk2, it is still serviceable, but I can name a few dongles that perform better (of course at a higher price point). As for full-sized headphones, just keep to an easy-to-drive ones and generally lower impedance. Dynamic driver headphones are preferred over planars with DEW4X.

Select Comparisons​

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Within the CS43198 siblings, I would say that this is the closest to the L&P W2 in terms of tonality (tight bass, great resolution) and driving characteristics (both seems to not perform best with complex driver configurations), but at lower power output and less customizability. As you go up to heavier loads, the gap easily widens and W2 does not really have heating problems even with higher impedance loads. However, considering the huge power consumption of W2 and the fact it is more than triple the price of DEW4X, I'd still call DEW4X a steal.

Compared with Shio, I have to say that DEW4X easily outclasses it. The Shio trades technicalities for analogue sound signature, making it sounding quite dull and rounded, while gaining a certain level of euphony and softness characteristics. I also find the the dynamics are way better with DEW4X. They're roughly the same in terms of power. I'd pick DEW4X any day.

Fiio KA5 offers slightly different approach to the tuning, being even closer to neutral and being overall somewhat more bland. The tight bass control is not as prominent compared to DEW4X, but the dynamics are still somewhat comparable. Of course the KA5 is more powerful and that leads to better compatibility with heavier loads, plus the customizability on the dongle itself from the OLED screen, as well as the accompanying app makes it better for those who likes to tinker. However, if you just want to have something simple to carry around and plug-and-play, DEW4X is still a strong contender.

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My last minute addition to the CS43198 is the Colorfly CDA-M2. I find that CDA-M2 has a slightly more relaxed bass and midrange, but still maintaining a slight musicality. DEW4X is a bit more precise and tight. CDA-M2 is definitely more powerful and offer more customizations, but it is also still almost double the price of the DEW4X. The verdict is similar to comparison with KA5: if you want something easy to plug-and-play and you don't really need to power complicated loads, the DEW4X is still a great choice.

Other similarly priced and comparable sidegrades are Colorfly CDA-M1/M1P, Moondrop Dawn Pro, and Fiio KA13. They offer varying amounts and types of colouration to the sound, and overall driving power and technicalities are similar. That said, I find DEW4X particularly stands out in detail retrieval and overall bass texture.

Conclusion​

Simgot now has an entire affordable ecosystem to build upon: excellent value IEMs with the DAC-amp dongle to power them. At the current state of competitive market, the DEW4X is a solid beginning dongle that can power most IEMs and even some easy-to-drive headphones. At $80, I can recommend the DEW4X to anyone looking for a simple dongle to start the hobby and even beyond. It definitely hits at exactly the right spot for the entire lineup of Simgot IEMs.
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OhmsClaw
OhmsClaw
My man tested the lack of current protection on the device 🤣Nice review! Just don't plug up any low impedance full size cans
RONJA MESCO
RONJA MESCO
am I tripping...the fido KA17 has this similar 'X' design scheme going on like this, Are Fiio and Simgot sister companies because its odd they are offering similar looking dongle daps at the same time.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Simgot EA1000 Review - "Big Sound in Small Package"
Pros: - Expansive sound
- Great technicalities for 1DD
- Beautiful design
- Tuning Nozzle
Cons: - Stock cable only available in 3.5mm
- Bass amount could be improved a little more; not very EQ friendly
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Disclaimer: Simgot provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Introduction and Packaging Impression​

Simgot EA1000 "Fermat" ($219) is a single 10mm dynamic driver IEM with a 6mm passive radiator. I've been quite intriqued by Simgot's naming scheme, with some interesting write-up inside the box about the famous mathematical problem "Fermat's Last Theorem". For those who are not familiar with it, it is one of the most difficult mathematical problem ever solved in human history with the largest number of unsuccessful proofs, and Simgot is drawing parallels between the humanity's effort to solve this problem with their work in designing EA1000 as an homage to the eventual proof of this theorem in 1995. Quite a lofty idea here, but Simgot indeed is one of the first IEM manufacturers who popularized passive radiator in IEM design with the EA2000.

What is a passive radiator?
This is a more commonly used technology in full-sized speakers, it is basically a speaker unit without voice coils or magnet that will resonate with the main speaker driver at certain frequency. It is usually used to resonate with the bass frequencies in a non-vented (non-ported) design.

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However, if you see the shell of the EA1000, there seems to be a vent as well as the big hole for the passive radiator, making it pretty puzzling. Also, as I was researching about this IEM (and also its big brother, the EA2000), there are a few skeptical people who expressed doubts whether this PR is just a gimmick and basically useless due to the lack of full seal and the fact that IEM is being used so close to your ears, it would not matter so much. However, as I listened to EA1000, I would say that there is definitely some merit to the passive radiator here. I will get into more details in sound impression.

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The packaging feels premium, with an excellent carrying case. The cable is very pretty with a very nice finish, however only available in 3.5mm. Given the power demands on this IEM, I really would have liked it if it is available in 4.4mm. There are 6 pairs of eartips, 2 pairs of each size, so you will have some spare in case you lose some. There are also 2 pairs of alternative tuning nozzles: one pair golden copper, one pair silver steel with black ring. The default installed filer is silver steel with red ring.

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Sound Impression​

Sources: SMSL H300+D300 stack, Fiio Q15, ifi Gryphon, Hiby FC6, Topping G5, L&P W2-131
Setup: Stock L size eartips, stock cable (3.5mm), Yongse SCC SPC 2-core cable (4.4mm)
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

The IEM has undergone a 30-hour burn-in at a medium volume for prior to the review.

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


First, I have to address the tuning nozzles. This is my brief impressions of each of them:
  • Silver with red ring (default): smoothest upper mids with good amount details
  • Silver with black ring: sparklier than the default nozzle, best treble extensions among the three and the most resolving, but can be shouty
  • Gold: quite shouty, but offers the most distinctive texture in upper mids; personally not my favourite

I personally prefer the silver with black ring nozzle, but I do acknowledge that I'm quite tolerant towards some shoutiness. I believe the default nozzle will be have the widest appeal. Also, I think most people will go with the default settings at first, so the rest of the review with the default configuration.

So, the big question is: does passive radiator (PR) make a difference?
I would say it does. Let me explain: in a hybrid design, the tuner can individually adjust individual frequency ranges to match the target sound independently, but in single-driver design, any changes will often affect the whole frequency range. PR allows the tuner to specifically target just the bass frequencies more accurately. Comparing the EA1000 to its PR-less sibling, the EA500, you can tell that in EA500, the tone and texture is uniform across the frequency range, but in EA1000, the bass region is noticeably more resonant and has more reverberation than the rest of the frequency range, something that's unusual in a single-driver configuration.

I find that EA1000 is very technical in the upper mids and treble with a decent amount of air. The overall tuning can be described as neutral-bright, but there is a slight midbass emphasis to add that "thickness". It seems that the PR does something to the bass perception of the IEM, since on graph, it should be quite similar to the EA500, but I feel more rumble with EA1000.

Bass​

I would say that EA1000 has one of the best bass texture and timbre regardless of the price range. The low notes are rumbly and deep, with long enough decay to get that smooth bass sensation. The only thing that I sometimes find missing is the bass amount, which I think separates this from TOTL-class IEMs' bass performance. I attempted to rectify the bass quantity by adding a modest bass boost with PEQ at around 250 Hz and below or by using ifi's XBass, but I noticed some audible distortion. That said, in majority of my tracks, I find the bass quantity and quality to be sufficient. I think EA1000's bass is definitely the highlight of this IEM.

Midrange​

The midrange is very well done at this price point with a lot of details and natural timbre. There is a slight concern of shoutiness in certain tracks, but nothing that some tip rolling can't fix if it really bothers you. The vocals are neither too forward nor too recessed, and I find both male and female vocals are equally well-reproduced with great texture and note weight. I think the overall midrange impression is very positive for me.

Treble​

I find the treble to be excellent. I think the presence of the passive radiator allows Simgot to put in a very fast DD with a very good detail retrieval without making the bass too tight. This makes the treble performance also equally a highlight and impressive for the price range. The treble does seem to perform more similarly to a BA, but without the BA timbre. The treble texture is also relatively smooth without any harshness, and the treble extension is excellent. I think EA1000 can easily go toe-to-toe or beat hybrid IEMs at its price range.

Technicalities​

Soundstage and resolution are the two standout technicalities of EA1000. I find EA1000 to be grand sounding, some sort of opera house effect to a certain extent. EA1000 does have that lower frequencies reverberations that keeps the staging natural and enhances the sense of spatial awareness. The resolution, as I mentioned earlier, is excellent due to the really agile driver. Layering and imaging also benefit a lot from the expansive soundstage and excellent detail retrieval. For the price point, nothing to complain about.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

While EA1000 is relatively easy to be driven, it does scale a lot with power, especially in the bass department. Some amps with tighter bass control like the H300 and L&P W2-131 have noticeably better bass rumble and texture. I would also avoid pairing it with brighter sources like Topping G5, which may exarcebate the potential shoutiness.

Select Comparisons​

Simgot EA500 ($79):
People with EA500 would be more likely to look into EA1000 as potential upgrade. I would say, EA1000 is indeed an upgrade from EA500 in all aspects; if you want more from EA500, then EA1000 is the answer. Tonality are very close, but timbral quality is much better with EA1000. However, I find that EA500 to be the less fussy one in amp pairing, so depending on your existing setup and upgrade budget, you might want to plan well if you think of upgrading to EA1000 from EA500.

Tangzu x HBB Wu Zetian Heyday Edition ($199):
I mentioned in my previous review that WZT Heyday is my $200 gatekeeper personally. Given that EA1000 is slightly above $200, I think the status quo is undisturbed, but if I was asked to buy one right now, I'd spend the extra $20 and get the EA1000. The level of technicalities are similar, but tone and timbre of EA1000 is way more superior. The rumble of the bass and vocal performance is also much better with the EA1000, I find that the performance difference is much larger than the price difference.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts​

I think Simgot did hit the homerun with EA1000 this time. I personally did not find EA500 to be that special (in fact, I prefer the EW200 instead), but EA1000 is really offering something special. The PR technology certainly works in this implementation to my ears, and it's hard to find what not to like about this IEM. I would easily recommend this to anyone even for blind buy. Easy 5 stars from me.
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inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
7th Acoustics Supernova Review - "An Absolute Package"
Pros: - Amazing coherency
- Excellent timbre
- Great tonality
- Build quality
- Vented design so no air pressure buildup
Cons: - Stock cable was a bit short (resolved)
- Not the strongest in technicalities
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Disclaimer: 7th Acoustics provided me the unit at a discounted rate in exchange for this review.

Introduction​

7th Acoustics is a boutique IEM maker hailing from Indonesia, primarily focusing on made-to-order builds. However, recently they have been shifting towards a few standard lineups including Proxima (1BA, discontinued) and Stargazer 3 (1DD+2BA, discontinued), mostly not really catching international attention until the Supernova.

7th Acoustics Supernova is a 6BA IEM with dual Sonion vented bass BAs, two Sonion BAs covering midrange and upper-midrange BA, and two Knowles BA handling the treble and upper treble. The IEM is vented to give a more natural bass response, as well as for comfort to reduce air pressure buildup. Upon purchasing, you can get choose from a selection of abalone shell colours, or go with other custom designs at an additional cost as it is still made-to-order.

For accessories, it comes with 5 sets of Final Audio Type E tips and 3 sets of BGVP 07 eartips in various sizes, metal carrying case, cleaning cloth, and warranty card. The cable was a tad shorter than typical IEM cable, measuring at just 1.1m, largely due to the very tight braiding of the strands. However, after informing 7th Acoustic, I received a new cable at the more common length of 1.2m and was given assurance that the subsequent orders of Supernova will be of at least that length.

Sound Impression​

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Sources: SMSL H300+D300 stack, Quloos MUB1, Fiio Q15, L&P W2-131, Questyle M15, ifi Gryphon, iBasso DC04 Pro, and many more
Setup: BGVP Y01, Nostalgia Audio X, stock cable, Liquid Links Westlake
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


For a multi-BA sets, it's typically straightforward to boost technicalities by stacking more and more BAs (at the cost of increasing BA timbre and incoherency). However, 7th Acoustics managed to extract the best out of a relatively modest BA count at just six. I let some friends who were unfamiliar with the brand and they were suprised to find out that Supernova is an all-BA set. But of course, you can't cheat physics and it eventually hit the technicalities ceiling in terms of resolution and layering with this BA count but still competitive at its asking price. Additionally, they managed to get an amazing coherency and beautiful tonality with a very natural timbre.

Bass​

Being an all-BA set, most people would expect a lacklustre performance in bass department, the so-called "BA bass". However, I think Supernova managed to avoid that stereotype and deliver a very natural bass with great subbass extension. Usually with other all-BA set, to get the subbass extension, the manufacturer would opt for a non-vented design. Instead, Supernova is a vented BA design, allowing the bass BAs to breathe and deliver an effortless rendition of the lower frequencies: not sounding over-damped or constricted. You could very easily mistake this for a DD bass. While the bass amount itself probably won't satisfy bassheads, it is mostly enough to balance out the rest of the frequencies.

Midrange​

Usually in Harman-tuned IEMs with aggressive bass shelf that's popular in the recent times, you tend to find this ultra clean midrange due to the precise separation from the bass region. Thankfully, Supernova has an immaculate midrange, rich and detailed with a smoother transition from the midbass. That also allows vocal, both male and female, to be rendered very beautifully and naturally. Indeed, this slight bleeding of the midbass into the midrange will impact the crispness of the midrange slightly, but it gains better musicality and timbre instead.

Treble​

I describe Supernova's treble as "unassumingly impressive". It managed to do nothing gimmicky or having a "special sauce" in treble, whilst having an amazingly smooth, fatique-less treble expression. Other IEMs might stuff in some ESTs there or PZT here to make the treble that extra special. However, by using the same type of drivers, the impeccable coherence from bass and mids also continues here that the music just flows right into the upper registers effortlessly. The treble details are also not lacking with a treble extensions that's competitive with those in kilobuck range. While it is maybe not as airy as some other summit-fi IEMs, Supernova delivers a more natural, delicate treble.

Technicalities​

For the price, I think Supernova delivers as good technicalities as it is possible at this budget and driver configuration. Due to the emphasis on naturalness of the timbre and the coherence, it does not have the bleeding edge resolution or layering. Also, soundstage is more on the intimate side. That said, with some tips and cable rolling, you can definitely improve on some aspect on technicalities. With the XWB tips, I find that the treble extension and details are improved slightly. With the BGVP YO1 tips and Westlake cable, the soundstage opened up slightly.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

While 7th Acoustics did not list the sensitivity rating of the Supernova, based on my usage, it is quite an efficient IEM. It does need some decent amplification from at least a dongle. I would recommend a slightly warm source or warm-ish cable to bring up the midbass slightly, but careful from going too warm. With ifi Gryphon, the warmth gets overwhelming quite easily and gets in the way of the mids. Somewhere along the line of MUB1 or iBasso DC04Pro can be a pretty good pairing.

Select Comparisons​

Night Oblivion Butastur ($599):
When I blind bought the Butastur, I was hoping that this is finally the one to dethrone Supernova in my preference list. I would say it is close, but no cigar. I find Butastur did excel over Supernova in resolution and layering, but at the cost of some incoherency in the upper midrange. The BA timbre is also more noticeable with Butastur. However, in terms of comfort, I think Butastur is definitely better. Over the months, Butastur did eventually replace Supernova for my on-the-go IEM, while Supernova still my preferred when I'm on my desk at home. I would say if vocal is your focus, Supernova is hard to beat due to its excellent coherence. I think Butastur is more focused on instrument separation.

Softears RSV ($720):
The RSV is probably the closest to Supernova in terms of tonal balance, coherence, and technicalities. RSV does have a slightly drier timbre due to its reference-style tuning, especially in the transition between midbass and lower midrange. I find RSV performs better than Supernova in layering and imaging accuracy, as well as slight edge on staging and bass texture. Meanwhile, Supernova's treble is better than RSV, with better texture and resolution. I find the comfort with Supernova to be much better too due to the vented design; with the RSV, I often feel some pressure buildup. I still think that RSV to be my preferred "reference" IEM, while Supernova is more for my enjoyment IEM.

Thieaudio Monarch Mk2 ($999):
Monarch Mk2 is still the most technical set in my collection so far. With the Harman-ish tuning and impressive resolution, I find that Monarch Mk2 is still the set that reliably incites a "wow" from non-audiophiles, but it is definitely not the most natural kind of sound expression. Monarch Mk2 can get fatiguing after a while, and the fit isn't the most comfortable. I ended up mostly with my Supernova than my Monarch Mk2 as of late, unless I want to do some critical listening.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts​

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Supernova is a very versatile IEM with close to a perfect coherence, paired with competent technicalities, natural timbre, and great tonal balance. While we can nitpick on individual aspects of the IEM as being not the "best-in-class", as a whole it is an absolute package of an IEM. It is a very easy IEM to love and enjoy.

To be honest, I have been holding on the Supernova since April and was pretty hyped when I got it after hearing about it for so long. I have been holding off this review in fear that I may have praised it too much during the honeymoon period. So, now we're at the end of the year, and after trying many excellent IEMs along the way, I do admit my opinions on Supernova are more tempered now, it still remains on top of my preference list. Especially now that 7th Acoustics just announced Supernova's successor, the summit-fi level Asteria, I do think I have to release this Supernova review.
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inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Thieaudio Hype 2 Review - "Straight to Two"
Pros: - Powerful, textured bass
- Relaxed, balanced tuning
- No sibilance
- Great build quality
Cons: - Stock cable is only available in 3.5mm
- Weak treble extension
- Not very technical for the price
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Disclaimer: Linsoul loaned me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

Introduction & Packaging​

Hype 2 ($299) is a dual dynamic drivers with two Sonion balanced armatures IEM From Thieaudio. Using the technology that debuted with their flagship, the Monarch Mk3, the dynamic drivers are arranged in the isobaric configuration that they named IMPACT² ("Impact Squared"), which Thieaudio claimed to "keep the frequency and pressure constant" in their marketing materials; we'll see whether this actually translates to a better sound quality.

The accessories and packaging are reminiscent to its higher-end siblings like the tribrids lineup. The hard case is exactly the same as the ones that came with Monarch, Prestige, and other Thieaudio flagships. The cable looks to be similar to the Thieaudio EST cable, a silver-plated OCC copper cable. I would prefer it if there were other termination options like in the EST cable listing. There are silicone and foam tips included, with a small microfiber cloth to keep the Hype 2 shiny. Overall, I think it's a solid packaging.

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Sound Impression​

Sources: SMSL H300+D300 stack, Quloos MUB1
Setup: Large stock eartips (silicone), stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

The IEM has undergone a 20-hour burn-in at a medium volume for prior to the review.
Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


Hype 2 has a pretty warm-dark tuning with relatively neutral mids expression. Overall texture is smooth with decent details and natural timbre. Some earlier impressions mentioned that Hype 2 is like a mini Monarch Mk3, which I can agree to a certain extent. From subbass to midrange, I would say that Hype 2 is remarkably similar to the Monarch Mk3, but I just find the upper treble lacks air in comparison. Certain tracks that don't emphasize treble region are excellently rendered with Hype 2, mostly smooth jazz, but as you get to a more complex tracks, you can understand why the Monarch lineup costs more than 3x the price of the Hype 2. That said, the Hype 2 indeed can give you a sneak peek to what the Monarch Mk3 bass is capable of.

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Bass​

Hype 2's bass is definitely the star of the show here. Excellently textured, punchy, and detailed. The IMPACT² technology did deliver what they promised. Having listened to a Monarch Mk3 previously, I can say that it is indeed the same technology and tuning on the bass region. Thumpy beats on the Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes are visceral and detailed, with enough resolution to render that famous bassline well. The bass drops in "DAYS" by Shota Shimizu is also distortion-free and punchy. It's not a basshead kind of midbass, but more focused on subbass.

Midrange​

The midrange in Hype 2 is competent, no bleeding from the bass. There are certain lushness to how the vocal performances from both male and female are reproduced. The timbre is pretty natural here, with decent amount of details. However, if you push some more complexity into it, you can start feeling the limits of a single BA handling this region. "Fragile" by Laufey was a good representation where Hype 2 shines the brightest, with the simple instruments and excellent vocal performance from Laufey.

Treble​

I have to say that Hype 2 is weakest in this point. The treble extension is lacking, especially compared to the competitors around this price point like Moondrop Blessing 3. There are certain wall-like sensation when the track reaches for some airy regions of the frequency range. However, for those who are looking for super laid-back, relaxed listen, then Hype 2's treble would not be of an issue at all. When I listened to "Rather Be" by Jess Glynne, Hype 2 did allow me to still enjoy the song while cutting out some parts of the song that may be sibilant with other IEMs.

Technicalities​

Hype 2 has a pretty good technicalities overall, with the tuning allowing for a decently spacious soundstage and moderate imaging capabilities. It's not as incisively sharp in a way that you can pick out individual instruments, but good enough to have a rough projections of them. I would describe it more of a jazz club sensation than an open theatre.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

Like most of Thieaudio's lineup, Hype 2 does not take much power to fulfill its potential. It remains consistent from low to high power sources. I would recommend a warmer source to play to its strength more rather than trying to balance it out with a brighter source. I would also recommend a mid-sized bore eartips, similar to the stock tips for a better bass to mids balance.

Select Comparisons​

Moondrop Blessing 3 ($320):
The Blessing 3 has a more neutral-bright signature with a slight bass boost. I find that Blessing 3 has a more 'correct' timbre, but still Hype 2 has a better musicality. Hype 2's note weight and texture are overall more natural and made the Blessing 3 sounds too dry in comparison. That said, Blessing 3 has a much better treble extension, resolution, and overall better technicalities. Then on the other hand, Hype 2 has way better bass quality than Blessing 3 with the same driver configuration. While I think both units are still solid choices, the decision would be more of a personal taste. Personally, I would go with Blessing 3, but I can still find some tracks or genres (like jazz and slow rock) where Hype 2 is a clear winner over Blessing 3.

Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite ($250):
Straight out of the gate, I think Orchestra Lite is a more detailed IEM with excellent mids. There is a couple of issues with it tho, which are the BA timbre and the slight incoherence. I think in those two fronts, Hype 2 is a better performer. When it comes to bass quality and quantity, Hype 2 is also the clear winner, with a more natural, textured bass reproduction. I still personally think Orchestra Lite is more of my taste, again, depending on the music library and genre, I can see how Hype 2 would be preferred by some.

Conclusion​

Hype apparently means "Hybrid Performance", an evolution of sorts from their Legacy lineup. If the naming pattern would follow the Legacy series, I am optimistic that we'll be seeing Hype 3, 4, 5, or more in the future. And based on what I hear from Hype 2, there are definitely more rooms for improvement. There are some excellent parts of Hype 2 and subpar parts too, and while it is not for me at the moment, I'm looking forward to the future of the Hype lineup.
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inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
7Hz Sonus Review - "Swiss Army Knife for Sound"
Pros: - Balanced, neutral-ish tuning
- Nice set of accessories (especially the stock cable)
- Solid build quality
- Great technicalities for the price
Cons: - Stock cable only available in 3.5mm
- Large nozzle
Disclaimer: Linsoul provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

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Introduction & Packaging​

7Hz Sonus ($60) is an entry-level IEM from 7Hertz, featuring a hybrid configuration of 1 dynamic driver and 1 balanced armature. In the recent releases, 7Hz is more known for using single-type configuration, either DD (or 2 DD) or planar, with the 7Hz Timeless being its claim to fame. Sonus is 7Hz first foray to a hybrid IEM and it is clear that they are trying hard to get it right.

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Since the Dioko and the Legato, 7Hz has been experimenting with various packaging and accessories set. For Sonus, I do feel that it hits the right spot. There are 8 sets of extra eartips on top of the default one installed, which are similar to the KBEAR 07 and 08 series of eartips. There are 4 sets of spare filters as well as an excellent leather pouch. However, the best of them all is the cable, a 4-core flat wire, not braided. It is indeed a unique presentation among the typical braided design, yet still maintains a good flexibility, no microphonics, and most importantly sounds great with the Sonus.

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The IEM itself is quite understated, a simple resin inner shell and aluminium outer shell with some simple design and 7Hz logo. It is also available in red and white. The body itself is quite large, but understandable considering the 11.3mm dynamic driver. You can also see from the semi-transparent shell that the BA is not in the nozzle or ran in an acoustic tube, but instead both the DD and BA output seem to be mixed in a large acoustic chamber, which would explain the good coherency (more on that later). The nozzle is quite large at 6.3mm at its thickest part.

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Sound Impression​

Sources: SMSL H300+D300 stack, Quloos MUB1, Fiio M11S, Cayin RU7
Setup: Large stock eartips (transparent yellow), stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

The IEM has undergone a 20-hour burn-in at a medium volume for prior to the review.
Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


7Hz Sonus is aiming for a laid-back, relatively neutral and balanced tuning with a very well-extended subbass. It has the kind of tuning that is hard to find faults for, with relatively forward mids and decent overall technicalities. Its timbre is very enjoyable, although out of the box it does have a smidge of that metallic BA timbre. A short burn-in session overnight tamed the slight sharpness and develop into a more analogue-sounding profile. It does have some brightness in the upper registers but far from being fatiguing or sharp, while also having just enough details to hear the tidbits in your music and not being overwhelming your senses. While it is not a technicalities champ, it's a very musical and enjoyable set of IEMs. Due to these characteristics, I find Sonus to be one of the most versatile IEMs under $100, playing well with most genres from orchestra pieces to smooth jazz to pop and electronica.

Bass​

Sonus's bass is more emphasized in the subbass rather than the midbass, giving it a tighter and snappier punch at the beginning, but with a slower decay, preventing it from lacking warmth. There is no aggressive bass shelf and it just glides cleanly to the mids. The bass quantity is not at the basshead level, but if you should choose to do so, you can PEQ a bass boost from 200 Hz and below by 5-6 dB and the driver is capable enough to handle it without much distortion. I really do wonder if 7Hz works on Legato's successor with this driver.

Midrange​

In my opinion, the mids are certainly its main strength with overall pleasant vocal presentation and no shoutiness. There is very little bleed from the midbass, leaving a relatively forward vocal presentation, no matter male or female vocalist. The details in the upper midrange is quite smoothed, but you can still somewhat discern some of the nuances in the instruments in this frequency range.

Treble​

The Sonus has a decent quality treble with good amount of air and extension. It is also quite smoothed out like in the upper midrange and does not have the level of incisive details like from multi-BA setups, but it is still competitive within its price point. It has no problem handling cymbals and hi-hats without being fatiquing.

Technicalities​

7Hz Sonus isn't one of the most technical sets in the market at under $100 price range; I would put something like the 7Hz Salnotes Dioko to be ahead of it. Soundstage is still quite intimate, maybe around 50 cm around the head. Imaging is relatively precise and the layering is sufficiently distinct. Resolution is pretty good for the price but with more emphasis on the macro details rather than the micro details. Overall, I think it is a competent performer technically, but it is not the main focus.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

While it is not hard to drive Sonus (most entry-level dongles can sufficiently drive it), it does scale with better amplification. The bass response gets more energy and opens up the soundstage more. I would recommend a warmer source to add a bit of midbass emphasis to go along with that excellent subbass.

Select Comparisons​

QoA Vesper 2 ($79):
The Vesper 2 is tuned toward warm and dark direction, which is quite the opposite of the direction of the Sonus. I find Vesper 2 to be more laid-back in overall sound presentation, with even more focus in musicality. Sonus does sound to be more technical, but I attribute that mostly due to the tuning direction. I see Sonus and Vesper 2 to be kind of yin-yang of each other and both have its place and purpose in my collection. The Vesper 2 also has smaller shell and nozzle, making it slightly more comfortable for some people. However, if you're not a big fan of the very warm and dark tuning, I would recommend Sonus instead.

Simgot EA500 ($79):
EA500 is the crowd favourite due to the very good technicalities at under $100, with neutral-bright tuning and natural timbre. With the Sonus, the brightness is turned down a little along with some bass improvements. I do find EA500 to be a tad fatiguing with some tracks, but I didn't find any issue with the Sonus. I would personally go with Sonus for an overall balanced listening experience, but if you prioritize technicalities above all else, the EA500 would be a good choice too.

Conclusion​

7Hz Sonus is a great first attempt by 7Hz into the hybrid IEM market. Versatile tuning, decent technicalities, great accessories set, and solid build quality at a reasonable price... I find it hard not to recommend this unit as a daily set. Sonus has certainly taken its spot as my new daily beater set.
8bitfanatic
8bitfanatic
I really like the yellow star art, somewhat hidden inside the nozzle.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Kiwi Ears Dolce Review - "Sweet Notes"
Pros: - Affordable price
- Versatile tuning
- Decent technicalities
Cons: - Poor quality cable
- Design and colour (personal opinion)
Disclaimer: Linsoul loaned me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

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Introduction & Packaging​

Kiwi Ears Dolce ($25) is the cheapest IEM in the Kiwi Ears lineup, a full $10 cheaper than the well-received Kiwi Ears Cadenza, which happens to be one of my favourites. Considering the super competitive market for sub-$50 recently, does this latest 1DD IEM from Kiwi Ears have what it takes to compete? Let's find out...

The Dolce came with a very barebone packaging, only the IEM, cable, and 3 pairs of eartips in S/M/L sizes. It can't be more barebones than that. The included cable is quite stiff and tangly, and honestly you'd better off getting an aftermarket cable. The eartips are very snug and I have no complaints about them. There is no included carrying case, sadly, but at this price point, I am totally fine with it.

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The IEM itself seems to be really well-built. The housing is made out of 3D printed resin, with a metallic backplate. What I didn't really like was the colour and overall design; I'm more of a fan of Kiwi Ears's previous all-resin design. The termination is also the QDC-style instead of the standard 0.78mm 2-pin, which I am not a big fan of. However, all these are my personal opinions, and it is still a very solid IEM when you touch and feel it. The driver configuration is a single dynamic driver, with a brand new composite material called LDP, which is a combination of low-density polyethylene and liquid crystal polymer.

Sound Impression​

Sources: Xduoo XA-10, Fiio M11S, L&P W2-131, Musehifi M1 (all single-ended)
Setup: Large stock eartips, stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

The IEM has undergone a 20-hour burn-in at a medium volume for prior to the review.

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


"Dolce" means "sweet" in Italian, which Kiwi Ears claims to be the direction of their tuning with this IEM. Overall, I find the sound to quite V-shaped, with plenty of warmth in midbass and ample note weight. The driver is also quite capable with decent technicalities all across the board, a pretty solid showing for a new driver material. I would like to see this LDP diaphragm to be more optimized in the future and used more widely.

Bass​

The bass in Dolce is sounding full with a good subbass extension and midbass emphasis. Going with the "sweet" direction, the bass does not decay too quickly and allows for a more mellow presentation. The bass texture is also very well done, sharing some characteristics as LCP drivers.

Midrange​

The midrage is not the cleanest with some midbass bleed, but nothing disturbing. Male and female vocals equally get an extra thickness, making them sound fuller and hence, sweeter. There is no shoutiness or pierce in the upper mids.

Treble​

The treble extension is actually really good regardless of the price point. There are plenty of air and treble details, but some treble-sensitive people might find it overdone. I personally didn't find the treble to be overly spicy.

Technicalities​

Overall technicalities are great for the price. The resolution and imaging are excellent among the competitors in similar price range, while the soundstage is average. Timbre is natural and pleasing overall.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

Dolce is a very easy-to-drive IEM and would be easily driven even from a standard 3.5mm output from a mobile phone. I don't find the Dolce scales very well with sources, and in fact, it does show some fuzziness when paired with a more powerful source like a desktop amp. A simple, neutral dongle like the Musehifi M1 would be ideal to bring out the best out of Dolce.

Select Comparisons​

CCA CRA ($16):
When I think of a budget IEM that has technicalities way beyond its price, I'd think of the CRA. I would say that Dolce would be in similar position with both having an excellent treble extension and detail retrieval. I do find CRA to be spicier in the upper treble and generally bassier, hence even more V-shaped. Dolce in comparison has better timbre and note weight in my opinion. Overall, I would go with Dolce.

Kiwi Ears Cadenza ($35):
Compared to its senior, I find that Dolce sound noticeably more V-shaped and Cadenza more neutral. The Dolce has a better treble details and more airiness. That said, ironically, I do find Cadenza to be sweeter sounding overall with a cleaner mids and fuller vocals in my listening comparison. This is a harder choice to make; I would go with Dolce for technicalities, but I'd rather go with Cadenza for overall musicality.

Simgot EW100P ($20):
One of my new favourites, EW100P is also another great value choice. I find that the Dolce to be more V-shaped again compared to EW100P, giving the Dolce a more exciting presentation. I do find the Dolce to be better in technicalities, but I think EW100P does scale better with different sources. That said, Dolce still have a slight edge over EW100P in the timbre and technicalities.

Conclusion​

Dolce is a very enjoyable IEM for those who like V-shaped tuning, featuring a unique driver with a new material at the time of writing. I do believe that this is a proof-of-concept product from Kiwi Ears to flex their driver development and I do commend them for the effort.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
BLON X HBB Z300 Review - "Return of the King?"
Pros: - Amazing build quality for the price
- Easy to drive
- Smooth and relaxed tuning
- Full note weight
Cons: - Slightly muddy mids
- Very genre-dependent; not very versatile
- Physically heavy
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Disclaimer: Linsoul loaned me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

Introduction & Packaging​

BLON X HBB Z300 ($35) is another entry to the long list of collaboration IEMs from HawaiiBadBoy (or otherwise known as Bad Guy Good Audio Reviews on Youtube). I have owned several others of his collab IEMs in the past and even reviewed one of them here. I have to say, unlike Crinacle, who are very strict with his target signature, HBB took a wider range of sound signatures, ranging from neutral-balanced like the Tangzu Heyday or Tripowin Olina, warm-dark like QKZ x HBB, V-shaped with KZ X HBB PR2, and more. So, where does Z300 lie in this spectrum? I would say... at the root of it all.

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It's no secret about HBB's love for BLON BL03, which is in fact reflected by his very first collab, the Tripowin Mele as an attempt to recreate the magic of BL03. Alas, while I think Mele was a good IEM, it did not really recapture BL03's musicality and timbre in my opinion. My short time with Mele was enjoyable nevertheless. Now with the 'oppoty' to work with BLON directly, this is HBB's second attempt to do what he set out to do in the first place. And, spoiler alert, I think he did way better than his previous attempt.

The packaging is simple, with the IEM, cable, 6 pairs of tips, and a cloth carrying case. Nothing much to really point out about the eartips and the carrying case. The biggest highlights are definitely the cable and the IEM itself. The cable is a beautifully braided 4-core copper cable, which is decently thick and feels very premium in hand. The IEM housing is all metal, 18K gold-plated zinc alloy for the gold colourway option which I have for review. There is another blue colourway which is also made out of zinc alloy with matte painting. Honestly, having it on my hands, I really thought it's way more expensive than it is.

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Now, with the competition under $50 getting so heated up, how does Z300's sound stack up?

Sound Impression​

Sources: Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, L&P W2-131 (all single-ended)
Setup: Large stock eartips (white large), stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


Z300 can be described as a relaxed, warm-dark tuned IEM with a slight V-shaped profile. It has good extensions on the subbass, but has a slight roll-off at the upper treble region. The mids are not perfectly neutral, but that's not the aim of the tuning direction after all. The Z300 is all about fun and musicality.

While Tripowin Mele was trying to get close to BLON BL03 in terms of raw graph tuning, I feel that Z300 is trying to get to the spirit of BL03, focusing on the smoothness of the sound presentation while keeping the richness of the tones. What I find lacking in Mele was the lack of tightness in the notes and overall sluggishness, which are thankfully addressed in Z300. However, I do think that it is indeed targeted to a specific set of music libraries like slow rock, classical, jazz, or hiphop, making it less all-rounder in my opinion. That said, for theese genres, Z300 is indeed very enjoyable.

Bass​

I find the bass in Z300 to be its strongest point. Its subbass extends very well, gliding smoothly into midbass. The bass is tight enough to render decent textures, but not so tight to make it sound too dry. The bassline in "Seven Nation Army" by White Stripes are reproduced beautifully, with enough energy and details of each twang of the distorted guitar.

Midrange​

There are a fair amount of bleed from midbass into the mids, but not to a degree where it affects the listening experience. Vocals do suffer a bit here, especially with female vocals. Male vocals fare better with quite an oomph whenever the right low notes are hit. I personally like vocal jazz with the Z300 here, something like "Hajimete no Chuu" by Platina Jazz feat. Niklas Gabrielsson. This is, again, another example of genre specificity that Z300 excels in.

Treble​

The treble is leaning slightly towards dark without losing ground too much from the bass. It does have enough contrasting energy to provide decent amount of details without being piercing or sibilant. It does have adequate extension and air up top, but not fantastic. However, treble is definitely not the main focus here and I doubt this will affect the listening enjoyment that much.

Technicalities​

For the price point, Z300 is quite above average in technicalities overall. Soundstage is medium-wide, still pretty much sounding near to your head in one giant blob. Imaging is surprisingly good (plus point for those who want to game with this). The layering is actually good due to the pretty responsive driver. Details retrieval is quite average. With a more complex track like "Change" by Monkey Majik feat. Yoshida Brothers, I do find the Z300 does not overly mush the instruments together and I can still piece out the shamisen from the rest of the bands.

Select Comparisons​

BLON BL03 (about $28 at the time of writing):
I do find BL03 is less technical compared to Z300. Resolution and layering are certainly better with Z300. However, there is something about BL03 where the musicality seems to be in the right spot, and that is probably the reason why it leaves so much good impression from people who experienced it (might be a rose-tinted nostalgia glasses here). That said, Z300 still managed to come close to BL03's experience while providing a more updated technicalities to compete with current models, as well as a less awkward form factor compared to BL03. I do think Z300 is a worthy successor to BL03.

Kiwi Ears Cadenza ($35):
This is a bit more complicated personally. Cadenza is pretty much my favourite set under $50, with amazing price-performance ratio and good build quality. I personally think that Z300 has a better build quality and accessories, however I do like Cadenza's genre flexibility better. Cadenza's tuning is more of neutral with bass boost, which tends to be the more versatile one. I do think, however, in the genres like jazz, slow rock, or classical, Z300 does perform much better. Overall, if you like Cadenza and wish for something a little darker than it, Z300 might be your answer.

Venture Electronics SIE ($99):
This is quite a bit of a leap in terms of price, but hear me out... I think Z300 does sound like SIE's little brother. The tuning direction is similar, the build is similarly all-metal, and it seems that the only differentiating point here is the technical performance. VE SIE has a better treble extension and resolution. Additionally, due to SIE's driver superiority, I find it less limited in the genre pairing too. However, as I alluded many times earlier, with correct genre pairing Z300 can easily match others in much higher price bracket, SIE included.

Conclusion​

Z300 is a very fine IEM, balancing musicality and technicality at a very competitive price point. With the included accessories and build quality, I do think we have a hit on our hand here. While its staying power is yet to be proven against BL03 as of writing, I do have confidence that this will be a nice addition to anyones collection in a long time.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Kiwi Ears Quartet Review - "Four Hit Combo?"
Pros: - Solid build quality
- Tuning switches
- Easily driven
- Relaxed, non-fatiguing signature
Cons: - Slight incoherence
- A bit fuzziness in the mids
- Vocal performance is a bit lacking
Disclaimer: Linsoul loaned me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

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Introduction & Packaging​

Kiwi Ears Quartet ($109) is the fourth IEM coming out of Kiwi Ears, which is apt considering it's named "Quartet" as well. Further on the theme of "four", the Quartet features 4 drivers: 2 dynamic drivers and 2 balanced armatures, with the dynamic drivers in an isobaric configuration, making them effectively functioning as a single dynamic driver (no word whether it is a push-push or push-pull configuration). The remaining 2 balanced armatures are each handling the mids and the treble.

The included accessories are pretty decent: a zippered semi-hard case with Kiwi Ears logo, 9 sets of eartips, and a 3.5mm 4-core oxygen-free silver plated cable terminated in 2-pin 0.78mm. The case is pretty much identical to the one in the Orchestra Lite and I find it good enough, although I would like it slightly taller as the IEM does feel a bit compressed when eartips are installed (similar issue with the Orchestra Lite). The eartips are available in 3 different sizes and colours, but I don't think there are any significant difference between the colours to my ears. I personally used the large black-red eartips for the duration of the review. The cable is decent, but not spectacular. I would recommend switching to a nice pure copper cable. Surprisingly, I could not find a tool to change the tuning switches. Normally, IEMs with tuning switches will include a tool similar to a SIM card ejector pin, but I simply did not see it in my package.

On the IEM itself, I find the build quality to be quite premium. The purple-black medical-grade resin looks and feels elegant and robust. The nozzle is also moulded from the same resin, which is also usually my preferred construction. I didn't find any issues with changing the tuning switches using a SIM ejector tool. Comfort-wise, I don't find any issues with the Quartet and I can wear it all day easily with little fatique.

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Sound Impression​

Sources: Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, L&P W2-131 (all single-ended)
Setup: Large stock eartips (black-red), stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.


Kiwi Ears Quartet's sound signature can be generally described to be quite thick in the bass region, with a more relaxed upper mids and treble. The tuning switches of course can adjust the sound slightly, but all 4 possible tuning settings still exhibit this signature. The first switch controls the bass response, while the second switch controls the mids and treble region. Here's a quick rundown of my impression of each tuning:

  • 1 - OFF, 2 - OFF : warm-dark
  • 1 - ON, 2 - ON : slight V-shape
  • 1 - ON, 2 - OFF : warmer-dark
  • 1 - OFF, 2 - ON : balanced (my preference)

The review from now on will be done mostly with the switches in my preferred configuration: 1 OFF and 2 ON.

Bass​

Bass is Quartet's strongest defining characteristics. The isobaric configuration definitely helps with the bass tactility and overall texture, keeping it in pace with a more complex tracks like Dragonforce's "Through the Fire and Flames". If one should turn on the bass switch on, it does increase the bass amount a bit, but at the expense of a slower decay, making the bass too overly thick to my liking. Hence, the bass switch remained off during my time with the Quartet.

Midrange​

I do find the midrange slightly fuzzy and do struggle with vocals especially. There are some bleed from the midbass, but I do feel that it is done intentionally to give a more laid-back listening experience. Male vocals are generally more well-represented here. "Galaxy Express 999" by Platina Jazz is one such track where the deep and lush vocal performance of Niklas Gabrielsson is amazingly rendered by the Quartet. The details reproduction does still suffer from the fuzziness and the bleed, but that's more of a nitpick rather than a real problem, especially at this price point.

Treble​

With the second switch off, the treble does seem dark and quite grainy; with that switch on, the treble does not just improve in quantity but also in quality in my opinion. Hence, this switch remained on for the longest time for me. There is decent amount of air and upper treble extensions, with quite good amount of resolution and dynamics.

Technicalities​

Overall details resolution is average for the price. Coherence could be better. Soundstage and imaging are decent, still mostly in-your-head experience most of the time, which then also impacts the layering negatively. Despite all that, I do think that the tuners do have a priority in mind here, which is Quartet's relaxed tonality. While the weaker technicalities made it not a critical listening IEM, the Quartet sure does give a generally more pleasant and non-fatiquing listening experience.

Driving Requirements & Pairing Suggestion​

Quartet does not need a lot of power to sound its best. I can comfortably drive it at low gain settings in single-ended for most of the testing. I would recommend a neutral or slightly-bright source for Quartet to even out its warmer tonality.

I also tried the Quartet with some different cable materials and eartips. I do find some marginal improvement going with a pure copper cable, giving a more consistent bass texture. Going with wide bore eartips like TRI Clarion brought forward the upper mids further and slightly improved its resolution. However, I still think the stock tips are generally acceptable.

Select Comparisons​

Simgot EA500 ($79):
I find that overall, EA500 has superior technicalities over the Quartet, in terms of resolution, soundstage, imaging, and layering. Bass response is also tighter with the EA500, even though the subbass extension is still better with the Quartet. With my preference, I would say EA500 to be better than Quartet, especially for critical listening. However, I can still see the possibility that those who are sensitive to upper mids zing would prefer Quartet.

7Hz Salnotes Dioko ($99):
Dioko offers a more balanced tuning overall with great technical performance. However, it does suffer from thin note weight and lack of musicality. On the other hand, the Quartet trades off technical prowess with better musicality. So, between the two, I find that both of them offers great value for the price, but it really depends on your priorities in sound.

Truthear Hexa ($80):
For a similar priced hybrid, I think Hexa is a good comparison. While Quartet outperforms the Hexa in rendering of bass, Hexa does midrange better and cleaner than Quartet. I find the vocals to be more forward with Hexa, but overall instruments sound more lifelike with the Quartet. I think this is another musicality vs technicality battle, and again your choice will be heavily dependent on your priorities in music or Quartet's place in your collection. I would personally go with Quartet since it does offer something different from the usual technicalities-focused IEMs of the recent times.

Conclusion​

Quartet is an easy IEM to like and enjoy. However, coming off the heels of the excellent Orchestra Lite and the value king Cadenza, I do worry slightly that the Quartet might be overshadowed. That said, I still personally think that Quartet is a solid IEM in isolation, giving you more options with tuning switches, great build quality, decent accessories, and overall relaxed presentation.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite Review - "BA for All"
Pros: - Solid build quality
- Pleasant, balanced tuning
- Easily driven
- Great resolution and imaging for the price
Cons: - BA timbre
- Lacking coherence
- Bass lacking impact
Disclaimer: Linsoul provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

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Introduction & Packaging​

Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite ($249) is the third IEM coming out of Kiwi Ears, being the continuation of their first IEM, the Orchestra. Their previous release, the Kiwi Ears Cadenza, is a value champ at $35 and brought Kiwi Ears a new reputation as being a high cost-to-performance ratio brand. So does Orchestra Lite follow in this direction? Coming in at HALF the price of the original Orchestra, surprisingly the Lite still comes with the same driver configuration: 8BA per side. While I have never actually tried the original Orchestra, I do wonder what kind of compromises that Kiwi Ears took to get into this price point. Well, as it turns out, with some smart corner cuts, I don't think it's that impossible after all.

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First cut corner that I notice is the packaging. The original Orchestra, aiming at upper mid-fi, came with much more 'elegant' accessories: leather case and nicer-looking cable. The Lite smartly went with a cheaper case and a more 'basic' cable. However, case and cable are some of the things that audiophiles tend to change anyway, so this is indeed an acceptable change. Lite does come with more eartips option (9 pairs, up from 6 pairs). Another corner that may be cut is likely the BA selection, in which Orchestra Lite seems to be using cheaper BA variants compared to the original Orchestra. Lastly, rather than corners being cut, I think it is a more natural progression: Kiwi Ears just simply has gotten better at IEM production, having the trickle down benefits from their previous tuning experience, thus likely lowering cost.

However, looking at the IEM itself, if I wasn't informed of the price, I would have guessed that this is an upgrade instead of the lite version of the Orchestra. The shell is just simply beautiful, with impressively clear solid resin where you can see the BAs and crossover. The backplate comes in green or blue, both are very aesthetically pleasing. All-in-all, I'm very impressed at their final result. Orchestra Lite is a very strong contender in the $200-300 price range in my opinion.

Sound Impression​

Sources: Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, Questyle M15, Fiio KA5 (single-ended)
Setup: Large stock eartips (white), stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

*Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.

Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite is tuned to be mostly neutral with a slight bass boost. I would not say that this is reference-level neutral; there are still some fun to be had with the Orchestra Lite, and it is a very safe kind of tuning that does not interfere with Orchestra Lite's great technicalities. The timbre coupled with the slight lack of coherence will always remind you that they're an all-BA set, and I did find them mildly distracting at the beginning. Still, the overall tonal balance and excellent dynamics quashed any of my misgivings.

Bass​

For an all-BA set, the bass is often lacking in punch. In a similar vein, Orchestra Lite's bass does not have the kind of impact that will blow your socks off, still passable in quantity. It does make it up in the texture and dynamics. Subbass extends very well and the midbass does not bleed into the midrange. The bass note weight is on the lighter side but accurate. Low frequency rumble like in the "Dream of Arrakis" by Hans Zimmer is definitely audible and well-reproduced, just lacking a bit of visceral, physical feeling to it. With the Orchestra Lite, I can definitely tell the so-called bassline in "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes is a down-pitched guitar, a nuance take that often gets blurred in other IEMs with less bass texture and details.

Midrange​

With this kind of neutral-ish tuning, it is only natural for the midrange to be the star of the show. The mids are clean courtesy of the gentle but distinct bass shelf. However, I can sense the BA timbre and incoherence the most here, which is understandable since there are 4 BAs (out of 8) which are responsible for this frequency range. Vocals from both male and female singers are well-reproduced and equally enjoyable. There is no shoutiness or excessively forward expressions. In some jazz tracks like "Galaxy Express 999" by Platina Jazz, the vocal sounded intimate and lush. Emi Meyer's version of "Cheek to Cheek" is also rendered beautifully, with the vocals and instruments well distinguished.

Treble​

The Orchestra Lite is also going with a safe tuning direction with the treble. It has no sibilance, proper pinna gain placement and amount, and decent extension. There is enough air to let the trailing notes of string instruments to linger, also helping with separation and imaging very well. The high notes of Sheena Ringo's vocal in "Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri" would normally be piercing in a more sibilant IEMs, and I found no issues at all with the Orchestra Lite.

Technicalities​

I do not really expect much soundstage knowing that Orchestra Lite is an unvented all-BA IEM, and it is indeed pretty intimate overall no matter what source I use. It does have some width in a 'three-blob' sensation, which I guess came with the tuning. Imaging and layering is slightly compressed but accurate considering the small-ish soundstage. I do experiment with some FPS gaming and I find the positioning is pretty decent overall. I think the best quality is definitely the resolution. The Orchestra Lite indeed makes a full use of those 8 BAs to push out a lot of details. In complex songs like "Phony" by Wagakki Band or "Change" by Yoshida Brothers, the intricacies of the multiple instruments along with vocals are preserved with the Orchestra Lite.

Driving Requirements & Setup​

Orchestra Lite does not need a lot of power to sound great. I can comfortably drive it at low gain settings in single-ended for most of the testing. I do note that a current-biased amplifier like Questyle M15 would yield a tighter bass response and improved coherency.

I also tried the Orchestra Lite with some different cable materials and eartips. I do find some marginal improvement going with a pure copper cable, giving a slight body to the note weight. Going with wide bore eartips like TRI Clarion brought forward the mids further, but does diminish the bass too much to my liking. I would stick with the stock eartips.

Select Comparisons​

7Hz Timeless AE ($259):
The TLAE definitely edges out the Orchestra Lite in the coherence department, being a single planar driver. However, surpisingly Orchestra Lite comes really close to the TLAE's excellent resolving capability; I would say Orchestra Lite has about 90% of the TLAE's resolution with slightly smoothed out details. Timbre-wise, I would give it slightly to the Orchestra Lite. I also found that TLAE has a more impactful bass response and more compressed mids compared to the Orchestra Lite. Sound-wise, I think I can go with either one, depending on music library and preferences.

Moondrop Blessing2 Dusk ($319, but often discounted now):
Orchestra Lite is more resolving compared to the Dusk, and its mids is more forward as well. However, Dusk has one of the most pleasing timbre in a hybrid for this price range and I still gravitate towards Dusk for a more relaxed listening experience. I would go with Orchestra Lite for a more critical listening.

Softears RSV ($730):
While the price difference is huge, I am testing how can Orchestra Lite cope against another all-BA set from higher tier. In my opinion, RSV is one of the most coherent full BA IEM, almost sounding like a single DD with a natural timbre to boot. However, surprisingly Orchestra Lite has almost the same amount of resolution and clarity, with similarly pleasant tuning. Other technicalities are also pretty close, with soundstage and imaging to be competitive with each other.

Conclusion​

If you are looking for your first all-BA set, I would highly recommend the Orchestra Lite to actually get a taste of what the higher end all-BA models could give you, especially in terms of tuning and technicalities. Pleasant tonality and versatile set for a wide range of genres, with a right cable, eartips, and source, I think Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite is a very good value purchase.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
7Hz Legato Review - "Vintage Basshead"
Pros: - Solid build quality
- B A S S
- Great set of accessories
- Scales with sources
- Did I mention BASS earlier?
Cons: - Average technicalities
- Niche tuning
- Quite heavy
Disclaimer: 7Hz provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link from Linsoul.

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Introduction & Packaging​

7Hz Legato ($109) is a long-anticipated new release from 7Hz after a few delays during the production. It features dual dynamic driver (12mm woofer and 6mm tweeter/midrange) and active crossover with tantalum capacitors. Following off the heels of the 7Hz Timeless that restarted the planar magnetic IEM trend and the popular budget killer 7Hz Salnotes Zero, the expectations on 7Hz Legato is high. Moving away from the recent trend of neutral-warm, Harman-inspired tuning, 7Hz certainly took a bold move with a very different, niche tuning direction with Legato.

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Starting from the packaging, it is similar to one of their previous release, the 7Hz Salnotes Dioko: a simple box over a huge carrying case containing the IEM, the cable, eartips, and extra filters. The cable is OCC+SPC hybrid and only available in 3.5mm termination. The included eartips is quite an improvement over Dioko's set, totaling eight sets, pretty similar to Acoustune AET07 and AET08 sets. The IEM shell is made of CNC aluminium with a fairly long stem which might dangle out a bit if you have a shallow ear canal. The entire package is simple, yet feels very premium.

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Sound Impression​

Sources: Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, Questyle M15, Xduoo Link2 Bal Max, L&P W2-131
Setup: Large white stock eartips/Moondrop Spring Tips, stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary. The set has been burnt in for about 20 hours with white noise at medium-loud volume prior to the review. While I'm not primarily a basshead, due to the niche-ness of the tuning, I'll be going through this review as a basshead.


Developed in cooperation between 7Hz engineers and tuners in China and Singapore, the Legato is somewhat a reactionary product to the recent obsession over Harman target. An unabashedly bassy set, Legato does stick out among similar-sounding, Harman-inspired IEMs of recent times. Quoting 7Hz, Legato is tuned to replicate the feeling of vintage big speakers of the 80s and 90s, and I daresay that they achieved their goals amazingly well.

Bass​

Bass is definitely the major emphasis of the tuning. Not just any bass, but a real big, ground-shaking classic subwoofer bass. That does mean that it might not be the tightest bass, but it is certainly not lacking in punch and slam. Achieving this quantity and quality of bass without introducing much distortion is typically reserved to much higher tier IEMs, but somehow Legato does deliver. I have only ever experienced this amount of jaw-shaking rumble with FatFreq Maestro Mini and Maestro SE, but now Legato has joined this rank. The bassline and percussion thump in "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes rarely sound this visceral out of an IEM, reminding me of the big speakers playing the song in the football stadium. Hans Zimmer's "Dream of Arrakis" sounds so grand and vivid that you can feel the droning low frequency rumble shaking your skull.

Mids​

Given the amount of bass, it is understandable that the mids might sound a bit recessed. It is nevertheless still clean enough for the vocal details to still be present. Switching to a more mids-focused eartips like a Moondrop Spring Tips does help bringing the vocal forward slightly. Male vocals might be a tad too warm, but female vocals are a good fit. The Corrs' "Irresistable" live version and Jess Glynne's "Rather Be" sound lively and has some sort of karaoke room effect.

Treble​

The treble is definitely not overshadowed by the bass. I would not describe Legato as dark nor bright, but it's just enough to get ample presence and air. There are some treble edginess out of the box, but after a short burn in, it is mostly smoothed out. Chrono Cross OST "Time's Scar" violin portion extends well and detailed enough.

Technicalities​

I would say that technicalities are not the priorities for Legato, but it's still no slouch. Soundstage is medium-sized, about the size of a family karaoke room. Detail retrieval and layering are very competent for the price, competing with single DD or hybrid IEMs of the same tier or one above. Complex instrumentals in Yoshida Brother's "Change" and Wagakki Band's "Phony" are beautifully rendered with Legato, allowing you to pick out individual instruments pretty well.

Driving Requirements​

One thing I noticed about Legato is that it needs quite a bit more power than average IEMs. I tried running it with the 7Hz 71 dongle and VE Avani/Abigail, I find the bass is a bit loose with them and mids become quite muddy. Stepping up to something like Xduoo Link2 Bal Max, the bass gets tighter and slams harder as well as clearer mids. Running it on balanced (using NiceHCK BlackCat cable) does help bringing the mids forward a bit further. Some warmer sources like Truthear Shio and Tanchjim Space are not a very good match. Even though the power is sufficient, the additional warmth made the bass too boomy to my liking.

The best result to my ears is with the Questyle M15, having a perfect balance of bass texture, mids clarity, and smooth treble. I really recommend at least around 80-100mW of driving power to get a tight bass response.

On side note, there are indeed at least one exception to the power requirement. Trying my friend's Sony NW-A55, even with a mere 35mW, Legato can still be driven excellently.

My final preferred configuration is as such:
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Select Comparisons​

QKZ x HBB ($20):
While the price range doesn't seem fair, there are quite a number of people online who are making this comparison due to QKZ x HBB's reputation as a value basshead IEM. I would say that given the price, QKZ x HBB does deliver an ample amount of bass, but Legato is quite a leap forward. Subbass and midbass are way punchier and more textured with Legato compared to the QKZ x HBB. I like the way that Legato delivers bass overall more effortlessly to my ears; at higher volumes and output levels, Legato remains cleaner and smoother. Tonality-wise, they are indeed similar, but the subwoofer effect is more visceral with Legato. I'd say that Legato is indeed a logical upgrade path for those who likes QKZ x HBB.

Fatfreq Maestro Mini ($599, borrowed unit):
Another unfair comparison looking at the price, but in the reverse now; however, even at 5x the price of Legato, the Maestro Mini is still a natural comparison to Legato, considering their similar reputation as bass monsters. I would describe Legato as a 'mini' Maestro Mini. Having overall similar bass quantity and quality, Legato has stronger emphasis in midbass compared to the Maestro Mini. Naturally, Legato's extra midbass does mean that it has less clean midrange compared to Maestro Mini which has a steeper bass shelf. Resolution is significantly better on Maestro Mini. Coherence are about the same between the two. Legato's timbre is more enjoyable to me. Fit wise, I would prefer Maestro Mini's lighter shell, but I do experience pressure buildup with Maestro Mini. That said, Legato does seem to offer a better value over Maestro Mini if bass is your ultimate priority, given the huge price difference. However, if you're looking for huge bass along with great technicalities, Maestro Mini is probably the better choice if you can afford it. Personally, between Fatfreq's Maestro line, my favourite is the Maestro SE (even more bass!), but comparing it with Legato would be even more unfair.

Truthear x Crinacle Zero ($50):
Since the TE Zero started off the recent dual DD trend, I feel that it is an apt comparison to Legato even though the price difference is quite huge. TE Zero is tuned closer to the Harman curve, so the "subwoofer" effect is not as prominent as Legato, especially since TE Zero has a more aggressive bass shelf. That would also mean that Zero's mids are more forward compared to the Legato and the treble is smoother. The technicalities on both of them are mostly on par, with Legato edging the TE Zero in soundstage width. To make it a bit more of a level playing field in terms of bass, I added a DUNU 75ohm impedance adapter ($16) to the TE Zero. While it made the Zero much harder to drive than Legato, now the bass level is more comparable. However, as a tradeoff, the impedance adapter does reduce the dynamic range and technicalities of the Zero. Again, if your priority is bass, TE Zero with 75ohm impedance adapter and a powerful enough amp might be enough for you. However, for overall convenience and value, I would still go with the Legato.

Conclusion​

7Hz Legato is an excellent basshead IEM priced really competitively given its build quality, technical performance, and accessories included. While the tuning might be quite niche, for a particular music library and matching preferences, I think Legato is currently the best value at this price range at the time of writing. If you've experienced or grown up with those big, vintage speakers of the 80s and 90s, Legato will walk you down the memory lane and immerse you in the nostalgia like no other could.
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D
David Haworth
I agree that your review is first class but I'm with dharmasteve having grown up building my own transmission line speakers and I'm sure up for hearing the Legato!
PROblemdetected
PROblemdetected
From a technical perspective, they are quite impressive. Separation and imaging are so good, reaching high levels on perfomance.

Ive got the same feelings than @dharmasteve. They feels like big speakers on your ears.
Also they dont bleed too much having this kind of bass

Just my two cents
S
slackyboy
Enjoyed your comparison with the Fatfreq Maestro Mini. In fact i was thinking of buying that. Thank you!

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Moondrop LAN Review - "Stick the LAN-ding"
Pros: - Premium build and feel
- Good set of accessories
- Easily enjoyable tuning
- Great technicalities for its price
Cons: - Slight edginess/sharpness out of the box (improved by burning in)
- Mediocre stock cable
- Bass lacks texture
- A bit heavy
Disclaimer: Shenzhenaudio provided me with a review unit. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

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Introduction & Packaging​

Moondrop LAN is a $40 single dynamic driver IEM from Moondrop, following the lineage of the extremely successful Moondrop Chu. Featuring a similar shell design, LAN comes with a detachable cable unlike Chu, fulfilling probably the most requested improvement when Chu was launched. Another improvement over Chu is with the driver; LAN is sporting a Beryllium-coated composite diaphragm.

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LAN's overall design language is following a similar direction as Chu, tastefully simple. The shell itself has been changed to a bigger, bare stainless steel, so people can worry less about the infamous Moondrop paint-chipping issues that has been plaguing Starfield, SSR, Aria, and more. That said, it does mean that the IEM is noticeably heavier and larger than Chu. At the same time, that additional heft made the LAN feels more premium and sturdier.

The tall packaging is reminiscent of the older Moondrop like the Starfield, with the usual Moondrop waifu on the cover. Inside, there are a few standard accessories: cable, leather carrying case, and a set of S/M/L silicone eartips. Sadly, the eartips are not Spring Tips like the one included with Chu, but it may not necessarily be a minus point (see further down below). The soft leather carrying case is definitely a better option over the felt carrying case that comes with the Chu. The cable is pretty standard of Moondrop line, decent but not the best out there. Overall, I think the packaging and the accessories are great for the price point.

Interesting fact: it seems like there is a naming convention for this lineup. Chu (竹 = bamboo) is followed by LAN (蘭 = orchid). My guess is that the future entries to this lineup will be named after decorative plants.

Sound Impression​

Sources: Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, Questyle M15, Cayin RU6 (all single-ended)
Setup: Large stock eartips, stock cable
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless


Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary.

The LAN is tuned to the now-ubiquitous, Harman-like Moondrop VSDF target, which are shared with the Chu, Aria, Starfield, Kato, and many more in the Moondrop lineup. Simply said, it is neutral with a bass boost, a very mild V-shaped. The bass is tight and smooth, having enough punch without bleeding much into the midrange. Subbass extension is deep enough to feel the rumble and the midbass has enough bite to reproduce percussions with some snap, albeit there are some smoothness over the entire bass region. The midrange is pretty clean and detailed. Vocals do not sound too recessed, nor too forward; LAN is not tuned to be a vocal-focused IEM in my opinion. Midrange tones from instruments like guitars, violins, or shamisen are beautifully rendered and natural. The treble extension is great for its price point, with ample presence and some air, as well as plenty of details. Overall, LAN is a fairly balanced IEM with no particular emphasis on any frequency range.

The treble may sound intense out of the box, courtesy of the Beryllium-coated driver; with Cayin RU6, LAN sounds outright sharp and fatiguing to me at the beginning. After about 24 hours burn-in with white noise, it did somewhat improve, and with further source matching (Questyle M15 or Fiio M11S), I am no longer bothered by the treble.

Technicalities-wise, there isn't anything groundbreaking, and pretty source-dependent. On Fiio M11S, LAN's technicalities are pretty decent, but not remarkable. It starts opening up with the Questyle M15, and further with the D90SE/A90D stack. Soundstage is noticeably more spacious compared to Chu. Detail retrieval is remarkably competent too, quite on par more with Aria or Starfield. Imaging and layering are sufficient, not easily overwhelmed in more complex tracks. Timbre is largely natural with a hint of metallic character which is mostly gone after burn-in. Safe to say that LAN scales really well with better sources.

Moondrop's lineup tend to play very nicely with mostly pop music (particularly J-pop) and LAN is no different. Aimer's "Kataomoi" is beautifully reproduced, with Aimer's amazing vocals shining through very well. LAN does struggle a bit with a more energetic Aimer track "Zankyosanka", with the vocals being overwhelmed in some places, but overall still enjoyable. I find LAN to be personally very well-suited to instrumentals like Hoyo-MIX "Liyue" from Genshin Impact OST or the opening sequences of "Change" by Monkey Majik & Yoshida Brothers, demonstrating its layering and imaging capabilities very well. The subbass rumble in The White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" can be sufficiently felt, but does feel a bit lacking in texture. I find that some male vocals to also be quite enjoyable with LAN, with Chrisye's "Cintaku", Yuuri's "Betelgeuse", and Platina Jazz's Niklas Gabrielsson rendition of "Hajimete no Chuu" to be amazingly presented.

Bass: Tight, punchy, smooth
Mids: Clean, layered
Treble: Detailed, well-extended, may sound a bit sharp out of the box
Technicalities: Decent resolution, spacious soundstage, good imaging and separation


BONUS: Experiments with Spring Tips​

Considering that LAN now lacks Spring Tips, does it get improved by using the Spring Tips? I'd say it's a very marginal difference, not necessarily an improvement. Spring Tips are mids-focused eartips, which kind of help with the abovementioned treble edginess, but also sacrificed some bass impact. Vocals did become slightly more forward, but at the cost of overall technicalities. All-in-all, I think Moondrop's decision not to bundle Spring Tips here is more of a tuning decision rather than budgetary one.

Select Comparisons​

vs Moondrop Chu ($20):
Even though it is exactly half the price of LAN, Chu's sonic performance isn't exactly half of LAN, to nobody's surprise. Chu is a very well-tuned, technically competent IEM even in isolation. Sound-wise, LAN does marginally improve on Chu's detail retrieval and soundstage. LAN is also slightly warmer than Chu. So, I can surmise that the price difference is largely due to the other, non-sound related factors like the build quality and materials, included accessories, and of course the detachable cable. As someone who actually spent the time to mod the Chu to have a detachable cable, the amount of effort doing so, plus the additional cost of getting a new cable as well, would easily bring the cost of a Chu to be about the same as LAN. So, if you're looking for these improvements, LAN is a logical upgrade from Chu.

vs Kiwi Ears Cadenza ($35):
Another budget-level Beryllium-coated single DD IEM, I think Kiwi Ears Cadenza can serve as a very good comparison to LAN. Cadenza is quite a bit warmer and darker than LAN, and overall more laid-back in tuning. LAN is slightly better on the detail retrieval side, but Cadenza is more spacious due to its ample midbass. Cadenza is marginally better in vocal performance, while LAN is more enjoyable in instrumental tracks. Overall, I feel LAN edges Cadenza in technicalities department, but it is down to personal preferences in tuning direction and physical comfort. I personally find that Cadenza is easier to wear due to its lighter weight and smoother texture. However, sound-wise, I personally might be leaning slightly more towards LAN due to its better treble extension and resolution.

vs Moondrop Aria ($80):
I have to express my sadness towards Aria; it has been the crowd favourite for so long that there are so many manufacturers specifically targeting Aria, almost spawning an entire category of "Aria-killers". Even sadder, Moondrop itself attempted to kill Aria with the releases of Chu and Aria SE, and now with its biggest killing blow, the LAN. Tuning-wise, they are very similar, with the Aria leaning slightly warmer and overall more relaxed. Technicalities are largely on par. Build quality is arguably better with LAN, especially with the lack of potential paint-chipping issues. Overall, I think LAN just did to Aria what Aria did to Starfield.

Conclusion​

The competition in sub-$50 range is very tough, and no doubt LAN is facing some serious competitors that are often dangerously below its price point. I do wonder that LAN might have arrived too late; a year ago, this would have been a budget-defining IEM. Alas, Moondrop LAN did stick its landing perfectly with its easy-to-like tuning, premium build quality, good set of accessories, and great technicalities for its price. As a whole package, I can recommend LAN for those who are looking for an all-rounder budget performer with a great build quality.
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inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Truthear Hola Review - "Say Hello to the New Contender"
Pros: - Great technicalities for the price
- Pleasant tuning
- Nice set of accessories
Cons: - Cheap feel
- Included pouch is very tight
Disclaimer: ShenzhenAudio provided me with a review unit. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

hola.jpg

Introduction​

Truthear Hola is Truthear's latest IEM entry at $18.99. It features a 11mm PU+LCP diaphragm with 28Ω impedance. As for its naming scheme, I'm also quite unsure of its significance (parts of the box actually say "HALO" instead of Hola). Regardless, it's a certainly aggressive "Hello" from Truthear into the recently super-competitive sub-$20 market.

Packaging and Build Quality​

Hola came in a very small, economical packaging. Inside the packaging, there are some documentations, the IEM itself inside a carrying pouch, and a large selection of eartips.

hola_back.jpg

hola_content.jpg

hola_iem.jpg


Hola's housing is made with 3D-printed matte resin by HeyGears, similar to the one featured in the Hexa (and also many Moondrop products like the Variations). But that's where the build similarity ends; Hola is lighter and therefore feels a bit cheaper with a flat backplate design, especially when compared to its older Truthear brothers, Zero and Hexa. I personally prefer a more raised or textured backplate. Within similar price range, I feel that Tangzu Wan'er looks and feel more polished. However, if minor design issues are the tradeoff to achieve this level of sonic performance, I'd take that tradeoff any day.

The cable is really nice and solid, very little microphonics, and there isn't any complaint about its impact on sound quality. It is currently my favourite stock cable among the other sub-$20 rivals.

hola_case.jpg


The carrying pouch is a tad too small to contain the IEM, bulges noticeably when the eartips are installed. The leather material feels quite cheap, as well as its clunky metal clasp. Not a big issue to me, at least Hola does come with a case when others around this price point do not even include one.

Sound Impressions​

Sources: Fiio M11S, Questyle M15, VE Avani (all in single-ended)
Tips and Cables: KBear KB07 L size, stock cable
Music Sources: Apple Music, Tidal, local FLAC files

All measurements are courtesy of Ian Fann.


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Truthear Hola is yet another entry into excellent single DD lineups, and with yet another familiar tuning. The overall sound signature can trace its DNA from its distant ancestor, the Moondrop Aria. Tastefully elevated bass that cuts smoothly into a very clean mids, transitioning into treble with appropriately-placed pinna gain before rolling off into the air region; somewhat of a mild-V tuning. That same description can also easily be said to other LCP-based driver IEMs like Tinhifi T3+, C2, and C3, with the C2 being the closest in price. So, yeah... We've seen this tuning many times before.

What separates these similar-sounding IEMs is usually technicalities, but alas, Hola's technicalities are still comparable to its competitors at its price range. Detail retrieval is decent, doesn't really scale with source either. Soundstage and imaging are also great for the price, although you can definitely overwhelm the driver if you try pushing complex tracks. While Hola isn't a miracle worker that does magical things, it is an extremely hard worker and would give the maximum worth for the money you spend on it.

Bass: Snappy and impactful, but not very textured
Mids: Very clean, great vocals
Treble: Non-sibilant, decent extension (for the price)

Comparisons​

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vs Tangzu Wan'er ($20):
I feel that tuning-wise, these two are quite close, with Hola having a bit more bass and slightly more forward mids. I do hear more textured bass with Wan'er and a slightly airier treble. Technicalities-wise, they're trading blows very well, so it is quite difficult to pick one over the other. Soundstage is a tad better with Hola, but Wan'er edges Hola slightly on details retrieval. Your choice would be largely dependent on what you prioritize in sound. If you want a smoother experience, go with Hola. If you want something more shimmery with texture, go with Wan'er. Also, while personally I prefer the aesthetics of Wan'er, I like Hola better because of the standard 0.78mm jack and better cable.

1675613865060.png

vs 7Hz Salnotes Zero ($20):
The Zero is a very balanced set with a nearly-reference tuning and amazing technicalities for the price. While some people might find Zero's reference-style tuning not exciting enough, that's probably the way to extract every bit of technicalities from its driver. So, in terms of technicalities (soundstage, imaging, detail retrieval), Zero edges Hola quite handily. However, Hola's more fun and laid-back tuning is easier to personally enjoy and recommend to everyone. So, in the end, between Zero and Hola, it is largely the matter of preferences and personal sound direction. For technicalities, go with Zero. For fun tuning, go with Hola. Or just get both for variety.

Conclusion​

Truthear Hola is an example that technology does trickle down from the high end into entry level. Its driver technology, tuning direction, build construction can all trace its roots from a more expensive models, and it's not that far either from them. Truthear Hola and the other sub-$20 killers have moved the goalposts, and higher-end IEMs need to work harder to justify their higher prices. With the quality accessories and great sonic performance at this price point, it's really hard not to recommend this highly enough. Anyone looking into jumping into hifi for the first time or audiophiles looking for last-minute gift ideas for non-audiophiles friends should really consider Truthear Hola.
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inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Truthear Shio Review - "Worth Its Salt?"
Pros: - Affordable price
- Small, compact size
- Low power consumption
- Cool during operation
- Solid sound quality
- H/L gain selection
- Versatile pairing
- 4.4mm and 3.5mm jacks
Cons: - Low driving power (on paper)
- No MQA (might actually be a pro to some)
- Minor issues with build quality
- Non-independent volume control (UPDATED: there is an optional firmware update to change it to 60-step independent volume control)
Disclaimer: ShenzhenAudio provided me with a review unit. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

shio_box.jpg

Introduction​

Truthear Shio is Truthear first attempt at a USB-C dongle at $70, which also happens to be their first non-IEM product after their highly regarded Zero and Hexa. The word "shio" means salt in Japanese, but I am not sure of its significance; I'll just take it as Truthear's 'salt' to finish off their wonderful dishes of great value IEMs so far.

Packaging and Build Quality​

Shio came in a very small, economical packaging. Inside the packaging, there are some documentations, the Shio dongle itself, and the cable.

shio_packaging.jpg

shio.jpg


Shio has a metal shell covered with a PU leather with visible seams on the side. There were a couple of minor build issues with my particular unit. First, some excess glue from the leather wrap was visible near the 4.4mm port. Secondly, the leather was cut too close to the volume up button, rubbing against it and making it mushy. I fixed both issues without any difficulties. It also seems to be an isolated case as a friend of mine purchased the Shio separately and didn't have any issues. YMMV. Overall, I'm not particularly impressed with the build quality; I would have preferred a plain aluminium housing personally.

Sound Impressions​

Truthear's decision to go with dual CS43198 is a very good one, delivering a top-notch detail reproduction and clarity with high dynamic range and low distortion values. However, going with CS43198 would also mean that Truthear has to implement their own amplifier section, as opposed to the more common CS43131 which has built-in headphone amplifier, which may explain the lower power output with Shio. With that in mind, the amplifier section of the Shio is still pretty capable of retaining a good amount of sonic information from the DAC section.

While the sound isn't the most clinical, Truthear smartly prioritized sound enjoyment rather than the most detailed reproduction. Not to say that Shio is coloured or non-linear, just that the direction of the sound shaping made it sound more analogue and musical instead of dry precision. Each note sounds meaty and sustains longer, adding to the bass impact without making it sounds overly warm. That said, the upper midrange and treble suffer a little bit from a slight 'smear' in the notes, but overall it just manifests in a more laid-back, non-fatiguing listening experience. I can say that Shio shares a similar tuning direction as iBasso DC06 or Xduoo Link2 Bal.

Driving Power and Pairing​

On paper, Shio might look extremely lackluster in the power department:
  • 150mW @32Ω
  • 55mW @300Ω
NOTE: The specifications did not say which connection this is measured on, but I assume that this is on balanced connection

However, I'd like to point out why this might not matter as much as we think. To measure power, it's usually taken by playing a static test tone in increasing source volume until the amp distorts. I always say to people that test tone isn't music and it is often the matter of how the amp budgets and delivers its power in response to the changing dynamics of a music that determines its overall driving capabilities. Of course, having a higher maximum power ceiling would give way more leeway to support wider range of headphones and to allow larger headroom for a more demanding tracks. That said, Shio still drives a wide variety of headphones and IEMs competently despite its seemingly low power on paper.

Testing Environments:
  • UAPP with Tidal or local FLAC files
  • Apple Music on Android (not bitperfect)

Mild Stress Test: Verum 1 (8Ω), Truthear Hola (28Ω), Thieaudio Monarch Mk2 (36Ω), low gain
With these three test gears, Shio drives them competently even on single-ended, barely needing 50% of the volume bar. Great dynamics, full bass impacts, and tame treble. Talking about Verum 1, the manufacturer suggests at least 100mW at 8Ω to drive it at its full potential, which Shio easily exceeds. With the Monarch Mk2, it is a very revealing gear that may expose the flaws in the source. I find that Shio has a little bluntness in upper mids and missing a bit of air. That said, there are no major problem with any of the three gears, and I highly suggest running them with balanced connection if possible.

Moderate Stress Test: Hifiman Edition XS (18Ω), low/high gain
While not being that hard to drive, Edition XS is known to trigger current protection limits of some desktop amps if not careful. That said, at normal listening levels, Shio drives it pretty well with good dynamics and plenty of headroom, about 70% on low gain balanced and just under 50% on high gain balanced. Additionally, the analogue sound signature of the Shio helps with the Edition XS timbre, which may sound a bit plasticky on some sources.

Heavy Stress Test: Hifiman HE400SE Stealth (25Ω), Sennheiser HD650 (300Ω), high gain
This is where Shio starts to fall behind. HE400SE sounds shrill when the amping can't keep up and it does sound quite shrill with Shio, but not severe. However, volume-wise, it's pretty good at around 70% on high gain balanced to drive it to a medium-high loudness. HD650 needs an amp with high dynamic range to overcome its veil. Unfortunately, the limited power budget at 300Ω probably impacted the dynamic range at this impedance load. While I can still somewhat recommend pairing with HE400SE, I can't recommend HD650.

Literal Torture Test: Hifiman HE6SE V2 (50Ω), high gain
Well, I know that taking a headphone with notoriously high power requirements (83.5dB/mW), which people sometimes pair with speaker amps, and pairing it to a dongle might sound extremely stupid, but I'm just doing this for fun. As expected, it needs almost 100% on high gain balanced to get it to a medium-high loudness, but the dynamics are basically dead. Not recommended.

Pairing Suggestions:
Most normal IEMs would be suitable, including Truthear's own lineup of Zero, Hexa, and Hola (EDIT: might be a tad too warm for Hola on subsequent listening). Those with somewhat energetic upper frequencies like KZ PR1 Pro would benefit from the tamer treble range, and also the heavier note weight may also help with IEMs with thinner timbre like 7Hz Salnotes Dioko. As for headphones, anything with medium power requirements would be fine (above 90dB/mW sensitivity at 100Ω or lower), preferably those with a brighter tuning.

As a DAC source:
Shio's big brother, Moondrop Moonriver2, has a lineout mode when the volume is set to 100%. I am not sure whether Shio has a similar feature, but using it as a DAC to feed an amp yields a pretty positive result. I don't hear any noise floor whether it is on balanced or single-ended output on high gain into my Douk U5 or Douk U3 amp driving my HD650. With the additional amping, the HD650 came alive and opened up, revealing the details that the DAC is originally capable of reproducing. You can consider Shio as part of a secondary, semi-mobile setup with another amp.

Comparisons​

shio_compare.jpg

Normally at under $100, my default suggestion for a balanced dongle would be Colorfly CDA-M1 (still my personal favourite) or maybe Moondrop Dawn if you're willing to give up on 3.5mm jack. CDA-M1 and Dawn are more towards the clinical side of things, so Shio still provides something different sound-wise.

Other options under $100 would also include Hiby FC4 or Fiio KA3, and possibly Tanchjim Space. I personally don't use FC4 so much recently after encountering some random volume control issues with UAPP, but it does have MQA in case you need it. I am not a big fan of KA3 with its overly sharp and fatiguing treble, so I sold it. I am still waiting for Tanchjim Space to be shipped over to me as of writing (I'll update this review if necessary). That said, I am pretty sure Shio is still competitive at this price range.

If we expand the price range slightly, we have the Shanling UA3 and iBasso DC06, which I also find to be quite similar in tonality as Shio. While I see some value in UA3 due to its extra features, the DC06 becomes quite comparatively poorer value-wise against Shio (unless you really need MQA).

shio_compare2.jpg

Even though Moondrop Moonriver2 would be an amazing comparison considering the same DAC configuration and shared lineage in production, unfortunately I no longer have the Moonriver2 as I have sold it off. In its place, I'll just compare Shio (unfairly) to Questyle M15 and L&P W2-131. Well, what else to say other than those two easily outperform Shio in every aspects: resolution, driving prowess, and build quality. However, considering the price difference, I would expect nothing less from these two. That said, if you're not running highly resolving gears, Shio should be sufficient for most people.

Conclusion​

Truthear Shio is a very competent DAC-amp dongle with decent resolution and pleasant tonality. Its actual driving prowess challenges its specifications and measurements. Build quality isn't my favourite, but it's a compromise I'm willing to accept for this kind of sound quality. As of writing, it is still the cheapest dual CS43198 dongle in the market, and it is practically a steal at this price.
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littlenezt
littlenezt
you're not alone my friend, the pleather on mine also cut too close to the + volume button, and around the LED is not cut perfectly, also on my unit the seam where the pleather glued, the pleather cutting didnt cut perfectly so there is some left hanging just like 0.x mm, it makes the seam not flush to the touch, tbh it just a little bit, but kinda annoying still :rolling_eyes:
inscythe
inscythe
@littlenezt Yeah, pretty sad about it. I think if they just went with matte aluminium finish, it would look so much better and maybe cheaper to manufacture.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
7Hz x Angelears Timeless AE Version Review - "Just an EQ away?"
Pros: - Great resolution
- Versatile tonality
- Visceral bass impact
Cons: - Price
- Cable might be too stiff
- Large housing
314050513_10159073441791334_8248965160829525519_n.jpg

Thanks to Ray from 7Hz for helping me to get an early shipment of the Timeless AE. That said, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated purchase link.

The following review was posted a few months ago in a different site. Some contents have been edited to reflect current situation with this repost.

When I learnt about Timeless AE, I was pretty excited about almost everything other the tuning changes. I felt that the original Timeless was already tuned really well, just there were a few things I didn't like, namely the stock cable, the MMCX termination, and the kinda sharp metal carrying case. The tuning change is only an additional 3dB in subbass, which anyone can probably just use PEQ to achieve, right? Is it worth its $259 price tag, a $60 premium over the OG Timeless? Maybe, but before we get into that, let's start the review from the build quality and sound impressions.

Build Quality and Packaging

If you've owned the Timeless OG like me, you'll be pleased that Timeless AE has the same solid build quality of the earpiece. The anodized CNC aluminium shell is tough and durable, but now in an elegant blue. To me, the best part is the change of MMCX plug into 2-pin 0.78mm plug. I personally find it difficult to remove the MMCX cable with the OG (MMCX removal tool doesn't fit with the shell design). I have also heard about many people having issues with the Timeless OG's MMCX port; in fact, I had to fix Ray's Timeless MMCX port before. The 2-pin plug is more durable and now I can use it with my favourite cables which are mostly 2-pin, although it may not be necessary now with the new and improved stock cable.

The stock cable has been upgraded to a 4-core thick silver-plated copper cable (looks like 25 AWG) with swappable termination. The cable will eventually be available separately as 7Hz Thunderbird cable at $69 from what I heard. The cable is on the stiff side and may be pretty hard to squeeze into the case. Talking about the case, it is now a rigid leatherette box with AE logo embossed on the top. I kinda love/hate the milled aluminium case of Timeless OG, as it was sturdy but it may damage other stuffs you put in the same bag due to its sharp corners. I like the AE case better. The other accessories are the same, with the same set of 7Hz eartips from the Timeless OG.

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Sound Quality and Technicalities

Testing setup: Topping D90SE-A90D stack or Fiio M11S, running on balanced. 30h burn-in. KBear07 L size tips. I spent the past weekend testing the unit and went around to some local audio stores to compare it to other popular IEMs. I typically listen to pop (mostly J-pop), jazz, movie soundtracks, and occasional orchestral pieces.

The listening experience can be summarized as visceral and intense; Timeless OG in comparison was feeling sharper and lighter. Timeless AE gives you fuller note weight and cleaned up the treble peaks, making the bass more impactful in contrast. Male vocals sound present, while female vocals do not sound shrilly. Timbre is pretty good for a planar, less metallic and a marked improvement over Timeless OG and Dioko. Note that I would suggest against using extra wide-bore eartips like the Sedna Earfit as it may overemphasize upper mids.

The Timeless AE is an L-shaped tuned IEM, neutral with a healthy amount of bass boost. The bass is fast and textured with a tasteful bass shelf that blends slightly into lower mids, giving it a very satisfying punch on bass guitars and snare drums. The mids are largely clean and crisp, allowing the the vocals to keep up with the bass intensity. The treble is smooth and airy but detailed, no distracting treble peaks or shoutiness. The overall tonality is good, pretty versatile tuning that suits a lot of genre of music. A bit of nitpick, but I sometimes do find Timeless AE sounding too crowded on big orchestral pieces with a lot of instruments as the details presentation may feel overwhelming. In typical band scenario with 4-5 instruments plus vocals, you'll likely get a very enjoyable listening experience.

Soundstage is decent, somewhat 2D presentation but still an improvement over the Timeless OG. It feels like you're in the front row of a concert with two giant speakers blasting towards you; having plenty height but little depth. The details are impressive, one of the most resolving IEMs at this price range. I would put Timeless AE in the same class as even Moondrop Variations in details reproduction, which pretty bewildering to me as Variations is more than twice the price. However, the caveat is that the details are presented in a "wall of sound" way, where all the details are in equal loudness, making them seem like coming as a single layer. That said, I wouldn't really take too many points off the Timeless AE because of that, since achieving such a layered and nuanced detail presentation with a single driver is really difficult; we have to go up to the higher-end hybrid territory like Thieaudio Oracle or Monarch Mk2 (just a generalization, I know some high-end single DD IEMs can be just as capable). Note weight is thicker and fuller compared to Timeless OG, but still not at same level as other well-tuned DD IEMs.

Now, probably the most contentious part: is it just a small EQ adjustment away from the Timeless OG? The short answer is "not necessarily".

While you can indeed add a 3-4dB of subbass boost with some parametric EQ, you are effectively changing the input signal with high precision while keeping the overall driver characteristics the same. Doing the adjustments physically on the driver won't be as precise as an EQ, as those adjustments might affect overall characteristics of the driver. To achieve the 3dB subbass boost, 7Hz has increased the damping in the back vent (confirmed through discussion with Ray). My guess is that this has a secondary effect of smoothing the treble region as well, making Timeless AE's treble less piercing compared to the OG Timeless. It also helps to reduce the planar timbre. These changes are audible and you can even see these treble changes in the graph courtesy of Ian Fann.

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Select Comparisons

Tangzu Zetian Wu (demo unit, $149): Zetian Wu's tonality is a tad warmer and more laid back. It has less planar timber and doesn't seem to be pushing details to your face like both versions of Timeless, generally more safe-sounding. I find Zetian Wu to be the mellower of the two, and Timeless AE to be a more fun and detailed.

Dunu Talos (demo unit, $200): I tried it mostly with BA switched turned off. In planar only mode, it is actually very well-tuned in warm-neutral style. It also has less planar timbre, but not as resolving compared to Timeless AE. Soundstage-wise, Talos is a bit more intimate. Similarly, I find Timeless AE to be more fun and detailed.

7Hz Salnotes Dioko (personal unit, $99): Well, the Timeless AE has dethroned the Dioko in my personal preferences list. While tuning-wise, I would prefer the Dioko, Timeless AE's bass made Dioko sound comparatively limp, and Timeless AE upper midrange rendition is much better with less planar timbre. Timeless AE's note weight is fuller comparatively, while keeping a high level of details. Dioko still does edge Timeless AE in soundstage and layering due to the more subdued tonal balance.

Moondrop Variations (personal unit, $520): While the price bracket is totally different, I'd like to bring up the comparison of the details resolution as I mentioned earlier. In my opinion, Variations is one of the most resolving IEM at around $500, but Timeless AE can still somewhat match it. However, both of them do lack finesse in their details presentation, with all details coming in too intense and loud. That said, the bass is more well-controlled with the Timeless AE, while some people might find the bass in Variations to be too intense, although in the end it is more of subjective taste differences. However, I still think Variations is better in other technicalities except resolution, but Timeless AE is scarily close overall.
Note on the demo units, the listening is done in a relatively noisy audio store and I had a limited time to try compared to my personal unit.

Conclusion

Timeless AE is an exciting IEM, with solid and fun tuning, impactful bass, and non-fatiguing upper mids and treble. It is a noticeable improvement over the Timeless OG: better accessories and cable, 2-pin plug, and improved overall sound that's not simply achievable by an EQ adjustment. It's what Timeless OG should have been in the first place in my opinion.

So, is it worth getting? I think if you already have the Timeless OG and you don't mind the issues I mentioned at the start of the review, probably you can keep using the OG. But if you're in the market for a planar IEM, I'd say that Timeless AE is a solid choice as of now. The price might look steep compared to other planar IEMs in the market at the moment, but if you can get it on a discount, it might actually be worth the price.
T
tubbymuc
How much did you pay for it with discount ?
Grim13
Grim13
T
tubbymuc
That's a great deal

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
TangZu x HBB Wu Zetian Heyday Edition Review - "Dark Empress Conquers"
Pros: - Great resolution
- Balanced, more neutral tuning
- Good tonality
Cons: - Some planar timbre (may not be a con to some)
- Very long termination on the cable
- Somewhat big and heavy
PC141699_r.jpg

Disclaimer: Linsoul provided me with a review unit. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

Introduction & Packaging

TangZu x HBB Wu Zetian Heyday Edition is a collaboration IEM between TangZu Audio and the popular reviewer, HawaiiBadBoy/Bad Guy Good Audio Review. It is currently retailing at $199. TangZu Audio, formerly known as TForce Audio, has been having a pretty hot streak recently with a few well-received releases in the latter half of 2022, most notably the original Wu Zetian, one of the more popular entries to the planar IEM war. The Heyday Edition is TangZu's second attempt at Wu Zetian's lineage, this time bringing a lot of improvement over the original Wu Zetian as they claim.

The IEM housing is now made from aluminium in shiny, electroplated gunmetal black, while originally it was resin with metal plate. That change may be an issue to some people, as the full aluminium shell is noticeably heavier than the original, and also giving a colder sensation compared to the original's resin shell. I personally prefer the metal construction, feeling more premium. Also, the electroplating would mean a more durable coating, so you can worry less about flaking or chipping paint (coughAR*Acough).

The Heyday packaging is largely similar to the original version, typical of TangZu with its excesses: intricately designs on the large outer box, complete set of accessories, spacious carrying case, and for a limited number exclusively for Heyday, a cloth mouse pad featuring the dark Wu Zetian design. There are 3 sets of balanced eartips (S/M/L), 3 sets of bass eartips (S/M/L), another set of silicone eartips that were labeled as foam (not sure why), and a set of standard black eartips attached to the IEMs in the package. The included carrying case is a hard case with integrated cable winder and IEM slots, now in black instead of red in the original. The cable is an improvement over the original: from 4-core OFC single-ended cable to a 4-core SPC modular cable. A small nitpick would be that despite being really robust and solid, the modular termination is relatively longer compared to other modular cable systems. For the packaging and accessories, it's an easy 5/5 for me.

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Sound Impression

Sources:
Topping D90SE/A90D stack, Fiio M11S, Questyle M15
Setup: Large balanced eartips, stock modular cable with 4.4mm termination
Music Sources: Local FLAC (redbook/hi-res), Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless, Spotify


For listening test, I ran everything in balanced whenever possible. The Heyday has undergone a 24-hour burn-in prior to testing. My music library mostly consists of J-pop, city pop, and jazz, as well as occasional orchestral soundtracks, rock, and heavy metal.

Listening impression is a very subjective experience depending on individual ear shape, choice of eartips, music library, and personal preferences, so your experience may vary. I believe that FR graph doesn't tell the whole picture, but it's still useful as a comparative tool. All graphs are courtesy of Ian Fann.

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Wu Zetian Heyday Edition tuning can be described as neutral-warm. Bass is very controlled, snappy and yet impactful. Midrange is very clean, very little bass bleed, and a little forward in vocals. The treble has a good extension and smooth. With my usual test tracks, I didn't experience any sibilance issues. It does exhibit some slight timbre issues with a lighter note weight, which is common in planars and all-BA configuration, but I feel the tuning makes up for it by adding an extra meat in the midbass. Talking about technicalities, the Heyday definitely performs well. Similar to other planar IEMs, the soundstage has a lot of width and depth, but little height. Detail reproduction is excellent, but might lack a bit of finesse; all microdetails are presented in somewhat equal intensity, which might be overwhelming (in a good way, to some people). While it is easier to say that "it performs above its price range" probably a year ago, I find it harder to say it now considering that the recent competitions (especially other planar IEMs) within the $100-200 are also getting better and able to challenge the technical performance of Heyday. That said, I would still rank Heyday highly in the $200 class.

In terms of driving requirements, Heyday is quite easily driven with decent dongle DACs. Something like the Questyle M15, with which I did most of the listening test, easily handles Heyday. I did try it with some more affordable options too like the Colorfly CDA-M1 and Shanling UA3 briefly, and I find them satisfactory as well. Even on single-ended, something like a 7Hz 71 dongle can drive it decently. That said, with more power, you get a tighter note and improved resolution.

The planar driver in Heyday is very capable in handling complex tracks, deftly rendering the busy guitar riffs at the beginning of "Sobakasu" by Judy & Mary, as well as separating the interweaving shamisen and electric guitars in "Change" by Monkey Majik and Yoshida Brothers. The Heyday is also no slouch in big orchestral pieces, reproducing the grand feeling in "Baba Yetu" by Christopher Tin and "Dream of Arrakis" by Hans Zimmer. Higher male vocal in "Cintaku" by Chrisye or the deeper one in "Hajimete no Chuu" by Platina Jazz and Niklas Gabrielsson are smooth and forward. Female vocals like Sheena Ringo in "Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri" or Jess Glynne in "Rather Be" are not as forward, but still nevertheless nuanced and textured. In "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, you can hear the distinct twang of the down-pitched guitar very well, but the drum line is missing some more impact based on my preferences. Overall, it is a very versatile IEM that can play with multiple genres competently.

Bass: Fast, textured, and snappy
Mids: Clean, vocal-forward, detailed
Treble: Smooth, non-fatiguing, well-extended
Technicalities: Great resolution, spacious soundstage, good imaging and separation

Select Comparisons

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TangZu Wu Zetian ($149):
As a disclaimer, I have not owned the original Wu Zetian, but I have spent some time trying it thoroughly at a local audio shop for this comparison. My impression of the original Wu Zetian was that it is a completely different IEM than the Heyday. Unlike the other retuned collab IEMs which tend to use the same driver as the original model, Heyday re-did everything from the driver, the housing, and the cable, so the sound is vastly different. In my opinion, the original is a planar IEM that sounds the least like a planar. Note weight is thick like a DD and a very smooth presentation across the entire frequency range, while with the Heyday, you can notice the driver being faster and snappier, giving a more planar timbre but without being too thin. Resolution also went up an entire grade with the Heyday. The original Wu Zetian smoothed out the treble response too much to my liking, while the Heyday has more details to it. Tuning-wise, there might be some people who miss the bass impact of the original, but I still prefer the more textured bass in Heyday. Overall, I can definitely say that the Heyday is just simply a better IEM over the original.

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7Hz Timeless ($199)/Timeless AE ($259):
I have owned the original Timeless for quite some time, as well as currently owning the Timeless AE, so I am very familiar with them. The Heyday is very similar to the original Timeless, but with smoother presentation. The Timeless AE added more bass kick, but that means the midrange gets a bit more bass bleed, but it's not a big issue given the Timeless planar driver's speed. Resolution is better with both Timeless versions, but it does have a bit more treble glare compared to the Heyday. Planar timbre is more noticeable with the original Timeless. With the Timeless AE, the treble glare is reduced, but still not as smooth as Heyday. All these gave the Timeless AE a more energetic presentation, which may appeal more to some. While I find the original Wu Zetian has noticeably weaker technical abilities behind Timeless, Heyday brought them up to an equal footing. Against the original Timeless, Heyday offers a better value in terms of accessories and a better tonality. Between Timeless AE and Heyday, it came down to preferences and budget. Heyday with slightly more laid-back presentation and Timeless AE with more impact and kick. I personally prefer the Timeless AE when listening to J-pop or rock, while Heyday is more suited to city pop and jazz. If the Timeless AE was still at its launch discount price, I think it would be a closer competitor in terms of value.

Conclusion

The Heyday Edition may actually be the new gatekeeper of the $200 range. While definitely there are better IEMs at a higher prices out there, the Heyday provided a very good value at its price. While the change in tuning from the original version towards a more neutral direction might be a disappointment to some, I feel that the overall improvement in technical performance easily makes up for it. Good job TangZu, hopefully this would raise the price-to-performance ratio standard yet again for the rest of the IEM market.
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inscythe
inscythe
@tubbymuc The AE was launched at around $230 with the vouchers. It's frequently on discount, you can wait. Otherwise, just go with Heyday, it's hard to beat.

I have no experience with Aful Performer 5, but I heard good things about it. S12 Pro supposed to address the sharpness in the original S12, but I haven't tried it personally too. Regardless, your BTR5 should be able to handle them, especially on balanced. Just pick the one with the best look to you.
T
tubbymuc
Thanks!
Bitsir
Bitsir
Great review.

I'm betting the planar timbre issue goes away if paired with a warm, midbassy source. I'll try that theory soon enough.

Questyle M15 is not a good fit for this IEM most likely as the M15 is neutral and lean sounding, qualities the Heyday already possess on its own. The same is true for FiiO M11S and especially and Topping gear.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
KBEAR Qinglong Review "Will It Shine?"
Pros: - Great set of accessories
- Solid build quality
- Non-fatiguing, smooth tuning
- Decent technicalities
Cons: - Transients may be a bit muddy
- May struggle with busier tracks
Disclaimer: Keephifi provided me with a review unit. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link here.

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Introduction & Packaging

Qinglong is a $69 single dynamic driver IEM from KBEAR (currently on sale for $59 at the time of writing), featuring PU+PEEK composite diaphragm material. Qinglong is also one of the Four Chinese Mythical Beasts, also known as the Azure Dragon of the East. You can see it is reflected in the cover art of the box, as well as some tasteful dragonscale pattern along the edge of the IEM housing. Talking about the housing, it is made out of aluminium alloy, polished to a shiny finish. While it looks stunning, unfortunately it is a major fingerprint magnet. However, since it is not painted, there won't be any peeling issues. There are 6 sets of eartips, comprising of 3 pairs of narrow bore tips (S/M/L) and 3 pairs of wide bore tips (S/M/L). The stock cable is a 4-core 5N OFC cable, which feels and sounds pretty good. There is a cleaning cloth and a small nozzle brush to keep the IEM in tip-top shape. Lastly, there is also a premium-feeling leather case, which happened to be my favourite among the accessories set (you can buy the case separately at $10). I'd rate the accessories set 10 out of 10, I've had more expensive sets not having the same kind of accessories.

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Sound Impression

Listening setup:
  • Topping D90SE/A90D stack (single-ended)
  • Fiio M11S (single-ended)
  • Questyle M15 (single-ended)
  • Stock narrow bore eartips and stock 3.5mm cable
  • Local FLAC, Tidal, Apple Music, or Spotify depending on the availability of the music
My musical library is mostly J-Pop, city pop, and jazz. Occasionally I'll listen to some EDM, movie/game soundtracks, and heavy metal.

The Qinglong has undergone a 24-hour burn-in prior to testing. I picked the narrow bore for the testing, as the shorter length of the wide bore doesn't give me a good seal. I did a couple of listening sessions with KBEAR 07 eartips as well.

Graphs are courtesy of Ian Fann. Listening was done prior to looking at the graphs.

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I understand that with IEMs, the shape of the ear canals, fit, eartips choice, and personal preferences can greatly affect the impression of the IEMs. I try my best to describe my experiences, however your experience may vary depending on your listening setup. While I might add some measurements and graphs for a certain degree of objectivity, it is nevertheless a subjective opinion.

In short, Qinglong is a V-shaped tuned IEM with a decent bass extension, warm midbass, and slightly forward treble with an early roll-off. The mids are somewhat recessed, but the driver can still deliver some solid vocal performance. Qinglong's tuning is quite a departure from the recent tuning trends, I find the Qinglong to be closer to the more 'classical' sound of the older hi-fi gears, but executed with more finesse and better technicalities. It is not really my cup of tea, but it is still nevertheless enjoyable with some particular music library and taste. In busier tracks like heavy metal, it's just can't keep up, but something like a mellow, slow jazz, it's quite enjoyable.

Technicalities aren't Qinglong's strongest point, but also not the weakest too. Soundstage is quite spacious but the imaging isn't as precise due to the midbass bloominess. Detail retrieval is decent, I wish there are some more upper midrange details and bass texturing. I would say Qinglong's technicalities are still competitive against other recent IEMs in its price range.

I would also say that Qinglong scales pretty well to sources. With extra power, you get slightly better bass textures and improved treble details.

Bass: Smooth, warm, impactful, a bit slow
Midrange: Quite recessed, a bit distant, but still solid vocals
Treble: Early roll-off, smooth, non-sibilant
Technicalities: Wide soundstage, so-so imaging, decent resolution

Select Comparisons

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Moondrop Aria ($80)
Aria's tuning is what I would classify as the more modern tuning direction with a more U-shaped tuning and relatively clean mids inspired by Harman's research. For my music library, I am more partial towards the Aria with its more agile driver and cleaner midrange. But as I go further away from my usual library and went into classical music or big orchestral pieces, I can understand the allure of the Qinglong.

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Tripowin x HBB Mele ($50)
Although Mele is probably out of stock in most places right now, I find it to be similar in the transients. For sure, Mele is noticeably darker and smoother, with more energy in the subbass. Qinglong is more detailed, slightly brighter on the treble. The timbre is really similar to my ear, with a thick note weight noticeable with both sets. That said, I think fans of the Mele might be able to find enjoyment in Qinglong to a certain extent.

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Tripowin x HBB Olina ($100)
The Olina graphs closer to the Qinglong from the bass to the mids, but still, the timbre is really different between them, most likely due to the differences in transient response between the driver materials. Olina with its more agile, faster CNT driver also gives it a tighter bass response and cleaner mids expression, especially in vocals. Olina also has more air and slightly better resolution. However, Qinglong has a better musical instruments reproduction. I would personally pick Olina based on my music library, but that's my personal opinion and circumstances. Overall, I'd say they're comparatively similar in value, so it is really down to preference and music library.


Conclusion

Qinglong is a pretty competent IEM overall, even though it is not really to my taste. At the current sale price, I would say it is still quite a good deal, especially if you're looking for something a bit different from the recent crop of Harman-tuned or neutral sets. With this solid set of accessories and solid build quality, I would give it a chance.

inscythe

100+ Head-Fier
Tinhifi C2 Review - "Robot. Seek. Destroy"
Pros: - Snappy, textured bass
- Clean midrange
- Good resolution for the price
- Natural timbre
- Versatile tuning
Cons: - 'Crunchy' treble
- Minimal accessories
Disclaimer: Keephifi provided me with a review unit. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Unaffiliated product link.

Introduction & Packaging

Tinhifi C2 is the one of the firsts in their new product line along with the C3, a departure from their T-line and P-line. The C2 is currently priced at $29, sporting a single dynamic driver with PU+LCP composite diaphragm, solid CNC aluminium housing, and 2-pin 0.78mm recessed jack. The stock cable is a pretty standard 1.2m cable terminated with 3.5mm plug (materials not specified). Carrying case is not included. There are 6 sets of eartips, 2 sets of each S, M, and L sizes (they do not seem to be different, so the extra pairs are backups). At this price point, I can understand the very spartan packaging, but I was really expecting at least a carrying case. It's a small matter though. Can the Mech Warrior complete its mission to dominate and destroy the under-$50 market? Let's find out!

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Sound Impression

Listening setup:
  • Topping D90SE/A90D stack (single-ended)
  • Fiio M11S (single-ended)
  • Questyle M15 (single-ended)
  • KBEAR 07 L eartips and stock 3.5mm cable
  • Local FLAC, Tidal, or Spotify depending on the availability of the music

The C2 has undergone a 24-hour burn-in prior to testing. Unfortunately, I don't get a good seal with any of the default eartips, so I used my KBEAR 07 L eartips for the entirety of this testing session.

Graphs are courtesy of Ian Fann. Listening was done prior to looking at the graphs.

I understand that with IEMs, the shape of the ear canals, fit, eartips choice, and personal preferences can greatly affect the impression of the IEMs. I try my best to describe my experiences, however your experience may vary depending on your listening setup. While I might add some measurements and graphs for a certain degree of objectivity, it is nevertheless a subjective opinion.

In general, C2 is tuned to a U-shape/mild V-shaped frequency response with a very smooth midbass and clean midrange. The treble does exhibit slight harshness that I'd describe as "crunchy", but some people might enjoy it as it does gave some sensation of improved resolution.

I guess C2's technicalities is still comfortably within the price range. Soundstage is its strong point, there are enough space for each instruments to breathe. Imaging and layering are decent, helped with that safe tuning. The resolution is pretty good with plently of upper midrange texturing. Honestly, at this price point, I don't think there is any complaint about its sound quality and performance.

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Bass: Textured, fast, and snappy.

Midrange: Decent presence, no recession. Male and female vocals are both equally well-reproduced.

Treble: Slightly grainy, decent amount of air and good amount of details. Non-fatiguing.

Technicalities: Above-average soundstage. Decent resolution, imaging, and layering.

Select Comparisons

Moondrop Aria ($80)

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From the first time I listened to the C2, I am reminded of a very similar tuning... That is of Moondrop Aria. When I eventually compared the graph, it's hard not to draw similarities between them. However, Aria is noticeably smoother in the upper mids/treble region, giving an overall more 'meaty' tonality. Build quality-wise, Aria might have a slight edge with a heftier, more premium feel to it. However, the C2 is really close in almost all technicalities at much lower price point. It is quite an unfair comparison as the C2 is a much newer product and would have benefited from the experiences of the older products like Aria, but it kind of shows how insanely fast the IEM industry improves.

Kiwi Ears Cadenza ($35)
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Cadenza is also my recent favourite. I delayed this C2 review since I was waiting for my Cadenza to arrive and would like to make a comparison (review soon too). The Cadenza has much better bass extension and subbass rumble, with a fuller midbass response, courtesy of the Beryllium-plated driver. C2 has a nimbler presentation with better resolution and texture with wider soundstage, but feels a bit lean overall. They are both very competent sets at this price range, so it really comes down to preferences between them.

7Hz Salnotes Zero ($20)
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7Hz Salnotes Zero is currently my daily driver for casual listening. Here, it serves as the sub-$50 'referee' for me. In comparison, C2 is slightly more warmish with a more forward midbass. Midrange presentation is pretty similar, but I prefer the cleaner vocals on the Zero. C2 has better treble and air. The perceived resolution is subsequently better on the C2, as well as better soundstage. Similar to Cadenza, both are very good sets, so it came down to preferences. If you want a more fun sound, C2 would be a good choice, while Zero has a more neutral, reference-like sound profile.

Conclusion

Tinhifi C2 is the proof how fast the IEM industry moves. To rephrase the words from MKBHD, "Good (ear)phones are getting cheaper, cheap (ear)phones are getting better". In more ways than one, C2 is the epitome of that. continuing the trend of trickling down the technology from higher ranks of IEMs. C2 did to Aria, what Aria did to KXXS. While I don't think the C2 Mech Warrior completely achieved its seek-and-destroy-the-competitions mission, it did show how formidable it is. If you're looking to get a stylish IEM at around $30, it's hard not to consider C2.
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